22 March 2016

A Hand in Iron Glove

Round nine of the candidates tournament in the review of Eteri Kublashvili.

Prior to the start of the next round the chief referee of the tournament Werner Stuibenfall, checking on the readiness of the playhall for the new game day, noticed that a white bishop was missing from one of the tables. Heaving searched the room and finding nothing, the referee decided that it was probably due to one of the players picking it up by inertia. His guess came true in the end: the bishop was accidentally put into the pocket and carried away by Anish Giri, who later turned out to be one of the heroes of the round.

Even though all games turned out to be very combative, the main newsmaker was still Viswanathan Anand who, playing the white pieces, defeated Levon Aronian to catch up with the leader Sergey Karjakin. 

The opponents opted for the Giuoco Piano, in which White managed to get a more pleasant position due to space advantage and better pawn structure.

Anand – Aronian 

In this position 23…Qe7 followed, which both grandmaster later labeled as an error because it allowed White occupying the d5 outpost. 

Anand suggested 23…Bd7 and White has nothing tangible, whereas following the text move he went on to gain a substantial edge after 24. Nd5 Nxd5 25. Bxd5 Ra7 26. b5 Bb7 27 с4

Levon admitted he believed he could still keep his position together after 27…Bxd5 28. cxd5 Raa8 29. Rac1 Rad8 30. Rc6 Rd7 31. Rdc1 Qd8 32. R1c4 Ree7. However, it turned out that Black’s position is lost after 33. Qc3 with the threat of capturing on b6, while 33…Qb8 would run into 34. e5. 

“It was at this moment that I began realizing that my problems were only at their very beginning”, summed up the grandmaster. 

Therefore, Black had to defend a very passive position: 27…Qe5 28. Rac1 Qxd4+ 29. Rxd4 Kf8 30. Kf2 Ke7 31. f4 f6 32. Rc3 Kd7 33. Rh3 h6 34. Rg3 Re7 35. Rg6 Bxd5 36. cxd5 Ra8 37. Kf3 Rae8 


Instead of the last Black’s move the opponents also paid attention to the transfer of king to f7 via e8, but Levon rejected the plan following a lengthy deliberation.

38. Kg4 Rxe4 39. Rxg7+ Kc8 40. Rd2 


On the time control move Black commits an error: according to Aronian, stronger is 40…Kb7. 

41. Rc2 Rc8 42. Ra2 Rd4 43. Kf5 Rxd5+ 44. Kxf6 Rf8+ 45. Rf7 Rxf7+ 46. Kxf7 Rf5+ 47. Kg6 Rxf4 48. g3 Rc4 49. Kxh6 


White’s passed pawns on the kingside proved stronger and quicker over the black infantryman on the d-file. Levon Aronian acknowledged his defeat on move 66.

For Anish Giri the round ended in a bitter disappointment, while the opposite was true for his opponent Fabiano Caruana. Following the end of a seven-hour game a smile would never disappear from the face of the usually restrained American grandmaster.

The Dutchman, playing with white pieces, chose an aggressive 3. f3 line against the Grunfeld defense. However, the American grandmaster was well prepared and even tried to surprise his opponent in one of the complex lines, but messed up the order of moves and ended up in a very difficult position down four pawns.

Giri – Caruana 


Black sacrifices a pawn, and then a second one in an attempt to launch counterplay against the white king stuck in the middle of the board.

14. gxh7+ Kh8 15. Rd1 Nc2+ 16. Kf2 Nxe3 17. Qxe3 Bd7 18. Nh3 


This is an overly optimistic move. When discussing this position Caruana admitted that 18...Rc8 was to be played and that he just messed up the proper order of moves.

19. f4 Rc8 20. g3 Nc4? 

"This move has shocked me, but Fabiano produced it so quickly that I it made me believe it all to be part of his home preparation. People begin losing their respect for me, with someone bluffing ever so stronger every other day," the Dutch grandmaster joked.

21. Bxc4 Rxc4 22. fxe5 f4 23. Nxf4 Qg5 

This is likely to be a key position of the game. After 24. Ke1! it looks like Black can as well resign now, but Anish didn’t like the move due to various reasons. Even though Caruana intended to reply with the bishop move 24…Bg4 in order to meet 25. Ne4 with 25…Rxe4 26. Qxe4 Rf5, White’s superiority in material should suffice to win the game from the objective point of view. 

In the game after 24. Rd4 Rxd4 25. Qxd4 Bxe5 Black managed to carry out favorable exchanges and win back two more pawns. Anish tried to outplay his quirky opponent for over seven hours, but the game still ended in a draw following the repetition of moves on move 96. This is a miraculous save for Caruana, with nothing more to add to it.

The other two encounters, Nakamura – Karjakin and Topalov – Svidler, witnessed slightly less dramatic events. 

Hikaru Nakamura and Sergey Karjakin opted for the Queen’s Indian defense. At some point it was slightly better for Black, afterwards - for White, but in general the boundaries of equality have never been violated and the game ended in a natural draw.

Peter Svidler had his fans worried as at one point Black could lose by force:

Topalov – Svidler 

As was explained by Peter after the game, White was winning after 32. Be2 Nxe5 33. Bxb5 axb5 Re1 or 32…Rb3 33. Bxd3 Rxd3 34. Rc1, but in the game Topalov played differently, passing by the strongest continuation, and the game gradually balanced out. Judging by the sad expression of the Bulgarian grandmaster he was extremely dissatisfied with his actions during the game. 

Thus, leading the field prior to the day off are Sergey Karjakin and Viswanathan Anand – both with 5.5 points. Trailing half a point behind them are Fabiano Caruana and Levon Aronian.

Round ten features the following encounters: Svidler - Nakamura, Karjakin - Giri, Caruana - Anand, and Aronian - Topalov.