OSG Baden-Baden takes German League 2018 title

by André Schulz
5/25/2018 – After the teams of OSG Baden-Baden and SG Solingen had ended the season tied, a playoff fight for the title of German team champion was necessary, and was held yesterday in Baden-Baden. The defending champions narrowly won, with a final match score of 4½ : 3½ thanks to wins by Rustam Kasimdzhanov and Peter Svidler, and in spite of a board one loss by Fabiano Caruana to Anish Giri. | Photo: Guido Giotta, schachbundesliga.de

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Playoff win over Solingen

The central finals of the German League season for 2017/18 took place in Berlin's Hotel Maritim. It was a spectacular location but the final rounds had a drawback this year: There was no winner. OSG Baden-Baden and the SG Solingen both finished with the same score, 27 points each over the 15 rounds, and the final decision was postponed.

In the course of the season, Baden-Baden had made a draw against Hamburg SK and then lost in the critical match of round ten to Solingen. The latter had previously given up just a draw against Werder Bremen and would have come to Berlin two points ahead if not for a round 12 mishap against SV Hockenheim. The Hockenheim squad turned out to be too tough and so OSG Baden-Baden was back in the race. Solingen and Baden-Baden both came well-stocked to Berlin and won all their matches. That meant, according to the regulations, a playoff match and a final winner to be determined later. 

The team with the higher board points got "home advantage", although scheduling proved to be a challenge because the Baden-Baden playing hall — Culture House L8 — was not available after the regular end of the season on the weekend. By agreement with SG Solingen, a weekday was found on which most of the players were available. There was apparently no big back-and-forth scramble for the most strategic date to gain some advantage — the agreement was made quickly and privately.

Team Solingen

The Solingen squad in Baden-Baden | Photo: Guido Giotta, Schachbundesliga

The appointment just before the start of the Altibox Norway Chess Tournament was certainly helpful for OSG Baden-Baden as it meant that Fabiano Caruana, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Viswanathan Anand could all play en route to Stavanger. 

Team captain Sven Noppes apparently took the task very seriously and arranged a top-notch team as evidenced by the fact that none other than Rustam Kasimdzanov played way down on the eighth board! Of the top eight players, only Levon Aronian and Paco Vallejo Pons were missing, replaced by Etienne Bacrot (# 9) and Kasimdzhanov (# 12). Vallejo was out of range, playing in the Chinese league (Solingen had to do without their second board, Harikrishna for the same reason).

Meanwhile, Solingen was without several members of their top eight: Richard Rapport (# 3), Surya Ganguly (# 6), Robin van Kampen (# 7) and Benjamin Bok (# 8). But, for the first time in the season, they could bring Anish Giri, their number one, to the fight. The missing players were replaced by Jan Smeets, Erwin l'Ami and Borki Predojevic.

Vachier-Lagrave and Markus Ragger

Playing hall at LA 8, Vachier-Lagrave and Ragger in the foreground | Photo: Guido Giotta, Schachbundesliga

Game on

Loek van Wely and Viswanathan Anand were the first to finish their game. On the 33rd move, after three hours of play time, the point was shared in an endgame in which the Dutchman had a very difficult task to exploit an extra pawn.

By this time, plenty of pieces had already been exchanged in the game of Giri and Caruana, and Vachier-Lagrave against Markus Ragger was already in an ending as well — each with a rook and opposite-coloured bishops. Erwin l'Ami and Radoslaw Wojtaszek had a double-rook ending on the board, which, however, still showed some excitement with advanced passed pawns. In the remaining five games you could still find fairly full boards.

Baden-Baden took the lead on the strength of wins from Kasimdzhanov and Svidler over Nikolic and Smeets.

After a protracted position in the French Defence Kasimdzanov had won a pawn on f7, the anchor point of the black position. After that, the game was over quickly.

 

Black had put his hopes on the pin along the f-file, but with 37.Ng5 White freed himself elegantly and won without effort.

Kasimdzhanov recounts his key win | GRENKE Chess on YouTube

Peter Svidler led most of the way against Jan Smeets in a Petroff Defence and managed to realise his advantage in the minor piece ending with an extra pawn more or less effortlessly as well.

 

With 45.Be2 White now trapped the knight, and after 45...Ba4 46.Ke1, Smeets resigned.

Svidler expounds on his win | GRENKE Chess on YouTube

Games between Michael Adams and Predojevic and l'Ami versus Radoslaw Wojtaszek both ended in draws so that after five hours of play, the score was 3½ : 1½ for Baden-Baden. It would all come down to the games between Giri and Caruana, Vachier-Lagrave against Ragger and Mads Andersson against Etienne Bacrot.

On the first board, Giri stood well against Caruana in an endgame with queen and bishop against queen and knight with four pawns against two — at least theoretically a win. 

 

Giri-Caruana

Giri was the Solingen 'ringer' facing Caruana | Photo: Guido Giotta, Schachbundesliga

Update: Giri himself has annotated this game for his personal web site.

Meanwhile, Ragger had no chance to win and was fighting for a draw against Vachier-Lagrave in the opposite-coloured bishop ending down a pawn.

 

In the last game between Andersen and Bacrot, the Frenchman actually had a much better position after an exchange sacrifice, and was very likely to win, but then let it slip out of control around the time control and into a draw.

 

Black is superior. Maybe the activation of the king would have been best, but Bacrot instead captured the e4 pawn, which allowed White to activate his own king.

The extra half point, however, was perfectly fine for Baden-Baden, and the draw between Vachier-Lagrave and Ragger ensured the home favourites a team victory despite Giri going on to score a nice win against Caruana.

All playoff games

 

The play was a bit overshadowed by the death of the Solingen's Bundesliga veteran Herbert Scheidt. He died a few days before the match after a short but serious illness. He previously influenced the life of the club for over 50 years and also leveraged his contacts in the chess world to ensure that Solingen could send such a strong team this season. We hope, in spite of this loss, Solingen will continue in the league.

Translation from German: Macauley Peterson

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André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.