After five rounds, the French grandmaster leads his nearest rival by a full point.

After five rounds of the Sparkassen Chess Meeting in Dortmund, Germany, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France, the No. 2-ranked player in the world on the Live Ratings list, leads his nearest rival by a full point. 

Round 5 was a pivotal one, full of sharp and interesting games. First and foremost, Evgeny Najer of Russia went down hard against Vachier-Lagrave when he made a disastrous oversight that was partly a result of being in a highly analyzed position that had one critical difference:

Najer, Evgeny vs. Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime
Sparkassen Chess Meeting | Dortmund, Germany | Round 5 | 15 Jul 2016 | 0-1
Qe5 This is a pretty normal theoretical position with the exception that the pawn on c4 is normally on c2. This kills any hope White might have for an advantage, but he is certainly not worse, that is until his next move.
27. Rd3??
27. Qxe5  )
27. Ke2! And White should be fine. the computer even gives him a slight edge at high search depths, but the game should most likely end in a draw.  )
27... Nc5 And White must lose material. The game did not last much longer
28. O-O
28. Qxe5 Nxd3+  )
28. Rc3 Qxd6  )
28... Nxd3 29. Qxd3 Bd7 30. Nxb7 Rb8 31. Bf3 Qc7 32. Nd6 Qc5+ 33. Rf2 a5 34. Nb7 Qb4 35. Qe4 Nh7 36. c5 Ng5

The most interesting game of the day once again involved Vladimir Kramnik of Russia, who played 1. e4 for the second time this tournament. After his game earlier in the tournament with Rainer Buhmann of Germany, I assumed that he had played 1. e4 as a surprise weapon against a weaker player without a particularly flexible repertoire. But in Round 5, he was willing to go into a Open Sicilian against Fabiano Caruana of the United States, who is No. 3 in the world. Early on and for most of the game, Kramnik played inspired chess and got the best of the complications:

Kramnik, Vladimir vs. Caruana, Fabiano
Sparkassen Chess Meeting | Dortmund, Germany | Round 5 | 15 Jul 2016 | 1/2-1/2
Bc6 20. e5! White is in no mood to mess around
20... Qb7
20... d5 21. f5  )
21. f5! Opening more lines
21. exd6? a5! And Black's attack would be very dangerous  )
21... b4 Black did not have time to prepare this advance by first playing a5.
21... a5 22. fxe6 b4 23. exf7+  )
22. axb4 Qxb4 23. b3 exf5 24. Kb2! Calm and cool. White will win his pawn back and have a better pawn structure.
24... g6 25. Bg2! Gaining the d5 square
25... Bxg2 26. Qxg2 Rdc8 27. Nd5 Qe4 Not ideal, but Black had no choice.
27... Qb7 28. Nf6+! Nxf6 29. Qxb7 Rxb7 30. exf6 Black should not survive this  )
28. Qxe4
28. Ne7+ This doesn't achieve anything.
28... Kf8  )
28... fxe4 29. Re3 Kg7 30. Rxe4 dxe5 31. Rxe5 White's pawn structure gives him a clear edge.

Kramnik would up with an edge in a rook endgame, but it needed some precision to win and Kramnik ultimately faltered a little, and the win slipped away. It was unfortunate as I really enjoyed watching Kramnik play 1. e4, and I wish he had won both of the games in which he played the move as sort of a karmic reward for branching out and playing well in highly complicated positions.

Kramnik, Vladimir vs. Caruana, Fabiano
Sparkassen Chess Meeting | Dortmund, Germany | Round 5 | 15 Jul 2016 | 1/2-1/2
Rb6 57. Rc5+?
57. g4+! According to the tablebases, White can Win.  )
57... Kg6 58. Rc6+ Rxc6 59. Kxc6 Rb3 Now Black wins the g3 pawn and he is in time to save the game and hold a draw.

The other games in Round 5 were less interesting. The game between Leinier Dominguez Perez of Cuba and Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu of Germany produced some fireworks in a theoretically complicated variation of the Caro-Kann Defense. But after a series of exchanges, the game ended in an uneventful draw.

In the other game, Buhmann was blown off the board by Ruslan Ponomariov of Ukraine. Buhmann, who had White, already had a difficult position on Move 23. One more error was all it took to render his position completely hopeless:

Buhmann, Rainer vs. Ponomariov, Ruslan
Sparkassen Chess Meeting | Dortmund, Germany | Round 5 | 15 Jul 2016 | 0-1
Qc6 23. Rb1?
23. axb6 axb6 24. Rxa8 Rxa8 25. Bf1 This is not pretty but White would preserve some chances to save the game.  )
23... Rad8! 24. axb6 axb6 25. Nf5 Bxf5 26. gxf5 Nb5 Black's knights are running circles around the White bishops, and Black is up a pawn. The rest was pretty futile for White.
27. Be5 Rfe8 28. f4 f6 29. c4 fxe5 30. Bxd5+ Rxd5 31. Qxd5+ Qxd5 32. cxd5 Nc3 33. Rxb6 Nxd5 34. Rd6 Nxf4 35. Ra1 e4 36. Rc6 e3

With only two rounds to play, and barring a collapse, Vachier-Lagrave seems likely to win the tournament. 


Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 7 in the country. He is a professional player and recipient of the Samford Fellowship in 2013, the most prestigious award in the United States for young chess players. He is at @GMShanky on Twitter and is also on Facebook.