27 March 2016

Back On Top Again

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

The tournament standings at the candidates’ forum is subject to daily changes, reminding a cross between a swing and an exchange market. So far, only Fabiano Caruana is steady in the first place, whereas his "companions" have been constantly swapping places with each other at the top of the table. So, after round 12 Vishy Anand’s place was taken over by Sergey Karjakin, while the former World Champion has descended to the third place.

Surprisingly enough, it happened only as late as round 12 that the Sicilian Defense was played in the tournament for the first time. Sergey Karjakin, who was in charge of the white pieces against Veselin Topalov, opened the game with the most principled move 1.e4, to which the Bulgarian grandmaster reacted with the Najdorf. Black came under strong kingside attack and failed to put up any decent resistance.

Once the game was over, Sergey described it as having developed very well for him. On move 17 Black committed a crucial mistake, upon which the play became one-sided indeed. When reviewing the game Veselin joked about his losing all games in Moscow, not only those in the Najdorf, and added that he somehow forgot all the opening moves.

Karjakin – Topalov 

17…Rc8? was criticized by Sergey as a very weak move because it allowed him developing a very strong attack after 18. h6. 

In this position Topalov blundered in his calculations, believing that 18...fxg6 would be answered by White playing 19. hxg7 first, in which case he would be in time to defend the e6-pawn. However, this blackout didn’t last long: in the game Sergey met it with 19. Nxe6, winning the exchange and then the game itself.

Following the victory in round 12, the Russian has once again joined in the share of the tournament lead to replace Anand, whom he was defeated by the day before. By the way, Sergey said that his defeat was followed by enjoying a glorious supper and taking a walk with his second Vladimir Potkin, which allowed him going into the next battle in an excellent mood.

Viswanathan Anand, yesterday’s offender of Sergey’s, played a risky opening against his "inconvenient" rival Hikaru Nakamura. The players were debating in the English Opening, which used to be the same line which Levon Aronian, playing with the black pieces, employed to defeat Veselin Topalov in the first half of the event. Nakamura’s opening was well prepared, and he managed to have his opponent confused.

Nakamura – Anand 

The natural move 11…Bb6 , chosen by Black, is an error. According to Nakamura, the engine’s recommendation here is 11…gxh4, and Black should be OK afterwards. For instance, 12. Bb2 Nxd5 13. cxd5 Ne5 14. bxc5 Bg4 15. Qc2 Nf3+ 16. Bxf3 Bxf3 17. h3 or 17. cxd6. 

12. Bb2 Nxd5 13. cxd5 Nd4 

A more stubborn continuation, perhaps, would be 13…Ne5 14. f4 Nc4 15. fxg5 Qxg5 (15…Nxb2 fails to 16. Qh5). 

14. d3! 

This move allows other pieces joining in the attack. Each move drives Black’s position into yet a more precarious territory. 

14…gxh4 15. dxe4 Ne6 16. dxe6 Rxe6 17. e5 hxg3 18. hxg3 Qg5 19. exd6 Rxd6 20. Qb3 h5 

21. Rad1 Rh6 22. Rd5 Qe7 23. Qc4 Bg4 24. Qf4 Rg6 25. Re5 Qg6 26. Be4 Black resigns. 

The win/loss games ended relatively quickly, whereas those that ended in draws lasted over six hours. 

Levon Aronian, playing the black side of the Ruy Lopez against Fabiano Caruana, devised a very interesting positional pawn sacrifice strategy. His compensation was so good that after the game Caruana admitted his being close to losing a heavy-piece ending on at least two occasions.

Caruana – Aronian 

Shortly prior to the end of time control an opportunity presented itself for Black to tip the scales in his favour by tactical means: 38…Rxd3! Both opponents were aware of this move, but Levon declined the rook sacrifice idea due to lack of time to evaluate the arising consequences. The follow-up of the sacrifice could be: 39. cxd3 Qxd3+ 40. Ke1 (40. Kg1 Qc4) 40...Qxe4+ 41. Kf1 Qd3+ 42. Ke1 Qd2+ 43. Kf1 c2 44. Qb2+ Kh7, and White is in a state of near helplessness. 

With the time control over, Caruana resumed his aggressive play, bringing his king up into the center right into the scope of the black pieces, but again managed to defend his position with only moves to make a draw in the end. 

The English Opening was also seen in the Svidler – Giri encounter. Black was very well prepared in the opening and even emerged advantageous out of it. Towards move 40 massive trades took place on the board which yielded Giri a pawn. Rook endings are famous for their drawish tendencies, and Peter, being down a pawn, still managed to hold the endgame, even though not without having to invest some efforts along the way.

Round twelve has finished with both Sergey Karjakin and Fabiano Caruana having 7 points each. Half a point behind them is Viswanathan Anand. 

The candidates are going to enjoy a day off, while Sunday is waiting for us with the following exciting encounters: Caruana - Svidler, Aronian - Karjakin, Topalov – Nakamura, and Anand – Giri.