22 March 2016

Not Every Pawn is Tasty

Round eight of the candidates tournament in the review of Alina Bivol.

The start of the second half of the Candidates Tournament has really pleased the audience with impressive and combative games. Thus, the opposition to the two best Americans has created something incredible on board despite the seemingly logical play of both players. Fabiano Caruana used to be chess player number two in the world for several years, and it seems to me that should the American go on maintaining the kind of attitude that was demonstrated by him in round eight, he might well propel himself into the match against Magnus Carlsen. Hikaru Nakamura, on the other hand, having won his game on the eve, was pushing to get into a full-blooded fight as he obviously wanted to build up on this fresh success to return back to the 50 per cent mark. However, even though both players committed inaccuracies, Black acted in a too straightforward manner and, as a result of that, his attack bogged down while his own king failed to lack of protection.

Caruana – Nakamura
Ruy Lopez

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. d3 Bc5 5. Bxc6 dxc6 6. Nbd2

This continuation, in which White shrinks from the Berlin endgames in favor of the setup reminding the exchange variation of the Ruy Lopez, has become fashionable in the recent years.

6…0-0 7. Qe2 Re8 8. Nc4 Nd7 9.Bd2 Bd6 10. 0-0-0

This is Caruana’s improvement: in one his earlier games with Sergey Karjakin he opted for 10. h4.


The gauntlet is taken up! 

11. Ne3 a5 12. Nf5 a4 13. Bg5 f6 14. Be3 Nc5 15. g4 Be6 16. Kb1 b4

Having finished their preparations, both sides are now ready to storm the royal castles.

17. g5 b3

This is an inaccuracy already, while the 17... a3 18.b3 Bxf5 19. exf5 e4 20. dxe4 Nxe4 21. Qc4+ Kh8 22. Bd4 Ra5 line would have resulted in a position with equal chances for both sides.

18. Rhg1 bxa2+ 19. Ka1 Bxf5 20. exf5 a3 21. b3 Na6 22. c3! 

Limiting the scope of the nasty knight of Black’s. White uses Black’s pawns as a shield to cover his own king, just as the classics advised, whereas the position of the black king looks rather dubious.

22…Bf8 23. Nd2 fxg5 24. Rxg5 Nc5 25. Rg3 e4

In the case of 25... Qxd3? 26. Qxd3 Nxd3 27. Ne4, followed by 28.Nf6+, Black would have ended up an exchange down.

26. Bxc5 Bxc527. Nxe4 Bd6 28. Rh3

The rest is a matter of technique.

28…Be5 29. d4 Bf6 30. Rg1 Rb8 31. Kxa2 Bh4 32. Rg4 Qd5 33. c4 Black resigns.

The end of the American derby was followed by Levon Aronian and Anish Giri finishing their game. The Armenian grandmaster attempted to capitalize on his playing the white pieces, but the bulletproof Anish has proved his tenacious defensive skills yet another time. The opening ended in a calm position in which Black needed to resolve the issue of developing his light-squared bishop. Soon Giri exchanged his passive piece for White’s knight, fixing a draw with precise play in an opposite colored bishop ending with rooks still on the board.

This is how Anish Giri commented on his performance after the end of the game:

– The chances to win the previous round game (against Anand - editor's move) were definitely with me, but my decision to exchange on f6 proved rather poor. It perhaps produces an impression of me aiming only at draws in this tournament; yesterday the situation in the opening was favourable for me, but I refrained from taking risks even though I now feel I had to. As for my game with Svidler, I underestimated the d4-d5 advance and failed to profit from my opportunities. 

Maybe I do not take such risks as other players do and it is obviously integral to my style of play, but eight draws in eight rounds is too much for me. My coaching stuff does a really good job and my openings would usually come out well for me with a definite amount of advantage, which I would usually let go of very quickly, just as it happened in my encounters with Aronian and Topalov. I probably lack concentration in the final part of the game. 

Levon Aronian and Anish Giri

…Meanwhile, Peter Svidler and Sergey Karjakin, Veselin Topalov and Vishy Anand were still waging their battles. While they were busy fighting, your author had time to talk with volunteers, who were trying to restore order in the spectators’ hall. Indeed, the lobby in front of the playhall sports chessboards with chess clocks, and not a few blitz players would from time to time indulge in loud conversations, which is probably distractive to the candidates as the sound conductivity in the playhall is on a very good level. However, the volunteers (who are the students of the MGIMO - one of the most prestigious universities of our country) cope with their job duties in a quite commendable manner.

For some reason Sunday saw very few strong players among the group of spectators. The grandmaster Igor Naumkin politely declined the offer to take part in commenting on the events taking place over the boards, justifying it by saying that he was not proficient with computers and therefore would not be capable of supplying clear evaluation of the positions, even though the grandmaster used to discuss them with some of the spectators.

You are likely to recognize some of the spectators

Yet another hour afterwards Veselin Topalov and Vishy Anand came out of the playhall and were immediately surrounded by the crowd; the grandmasters were happy to take pictures with children and dispense autographs. Their game developed in leisure maneuvering, in which Black demonstrated a little bit of a more skillful technique. In the game that followed Vishy acted quite logically, whereas Veselin expertly built up his defensive formations and the game petered out to a draw as a result.

Finally, the last to finish their encounter were Peter Svidler and Sergey Karjakin. The duel between the Russians progressed in an extremely tense struggle: Sergey Karjakin emerged advantageous out of the opening, but Svidler went on to display an incredible amount of cunny and resourceful play and was even close to defeating the tournament leader towards the final stage of the game.

Svidler – Karjakin

This is a position in which White could have upset his opponent greatly. 

44. Rg4 Kg8 45. Rh5

45. Nf5! was most likely to be a winning continuation in this position. For example,

1) 45... Rd7 46. Rxf4 Rxa2 47. Rb6 Ne7 (47... Nd8 48. Re4 Rxe2 49. Ne7+ Kf7 50. Ng6 threatening Rf4) 48. Rb8+ Kh7 49. Rxh4+ Kg6 50. Ng3 defending the е2-pawn; 

2) 45…Rf8 46. Rxf4 Ne7 47. Nxe7+ Rxe7 48. Rxf8+ Kxf8 49. a4 with a decisive advantage. 

45... Ne7

More stubborn is 45...Nd4. However, after 46. Rgxh4 g6 47. Rh8+ Kg7 48. Ne8+ Kf7 49. Rxf4+ Nf5 50. Re4 White is probably still winning, although converting the advantage would require a great deal of precision.

46. Rgxh4 Ng6 47. Rg4 Nf8 

48. Rxf4

The strong 48. Re5!! would have landed Black in a sort of zugzwang. He lacks any useful moves, as could be seen from one of the possible lines: 48…Rxa2 49. Re7 g6 50. Rxf4 Rxe2 51. Ne8, winning. 

48... Rxa2 49. Rfh4 

This move of Peter’s finally allows his opponent escaping with a draw. The last opportunity of playing for a win was still in the line 49. Nf5! g6 (49... Re8 50. Rfh4 threatening Nd6) 50. Nh6+ Kh8 51. Re5 Rxe2 52. Ng4 Re1 53. Nxe3, and Black has yet to demonstrate a lot perseverance to finish the game in a draw.

49... g6 50. Re5 In this position Svidler resigned to a draw, and the players shook hands. 

Peter Svidler and Sergey Karjakin

Following the end of an exhaustive struggle Sergey Karjakin shared some of his ideas with us:

- When I was taking the pawn on h3, I somehow failed to take proper stock of the Qe5 idea and was in the belief that I could simply pick up the offered material, and then return with my bishop, followed by either committing my knight to g6 and winning the g5-pawn or otherwise transferring the knight to d4. However, the opponent has discovered a worthy rejoinder to come up with. At the end of the game, Peter could have played 49.Nf5 to put me up against a lot of problems, but maybe we were both tired by that moment.

My progress, in principle, has been a decent one so far, but the latest developments cannot but convey the warning signal to me. As for the tournament preparation, I was preparing for the event in Dubai, where for the duration of 20 days I was both working with my coaches and taking rest.

Let us hope that such extensive preparation will definitely help Sergey to finish up the tournament successfully.

The tournament standings after round eight are as follows:

1-2. Sergey Karjakin and Levon Aronian – 5 points; 3-4. Fabiano Caruana, Viswanathan Anand – 4.5 points; 5. Anish Giri – 4 points; 6. Peter Svidler – 3.5 points; 7. Hikaru Nakamura – 3 points; 8. Veselin Topalov – 2.5 points.