28 March 2016

Summoning a Penultimate Breath

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

The longest play day and the longest game of the tournament happened just on the eve of  the ultimate round.  The seven hours’ long attempts of Fabiano Caruana to defeat Peter Svidler, in which the former was close to success on more than one occasion, petered out into the "rook and bishop versus rook" endgame, but then his own performance, too, was not unblemished. In the end, a fifty-move rule put a stop to the fight on as late as move 116.

The players debated over the Ruy Lopez, in which White embarked on a sharp play but ended up in a worse position.

Caruana – Svidler 

Having sacrificed the h-pawn, Caruana goes for the central break: 31. d4 Qc6 32. Qb3 

According to both grandmasters, an immediate 32. Qa4 was a better option in this position, which could be roughly followed by 32…Qxa4 33. Rxa4 exd4 34. cxd4 cxd4 35. Nxd4 Ree8, resulting in an equality. 

32…c4 33. Qa4 Qd5 34. Rad1 Rae8? 

As it turns out, in certain lines this rook on e8 might fall victim to enemy’s attacks, therefore further exchange of queens and transition into a better for White many-piece endgame could not be stopped from happening.

35. dxe5 Nxe5 36. Nxe5 Rxe5 37. Bxf4 Qb5 38. Qxb5 Rxb5 39. Bd6 

A detailed analysis of this endgame is required, so I will limit myself to describing the essence of events only. First the opponents traded off a pair of rooks and knights, and then Peter parted ways with his c4-pawn, being convinced that it would be the lesser of two evils to give up this pawn rather than the a-pawn. At the final stage of the game Svidler swapped his bishop for two pawns and went on to courageously defend the "rook and bishop versus rook" endgame, as has already been mentioned above.

In some other tournament and under different circumstances Fabiano Caruana could have perhaps refrained from subjecting his so experienced and so strong an opponent to such extensive trials, if not for the fate of the first place in the Candidates Tournament. And now, prior to the start of the ultimate round, Caruana has as many points as Sergey Karjakin has, the latter having salvaged a difficult endgame against Levon Aronian, upon which the chances of the American grandmaster to qualify for the match against Carlsen have dropped significantly. In the ultimate round Karjakin and Caruana are to face each other (the Russian plays with the white pieces), and in the case of a draw the tournament winner will be the Russian grandmaster who has one victory more under his belt (a second tiebreaker). The chances of winning the tournament with a draw against Karjakin are given to Caruana only by Anand’s victory as Black over Svidler (at which point the first tiebreaker, i.e. results of individual games, comes into play). Therefore, the endgame "rook and bishop versus rook" was handled to the point of as far as it would go. As we have noted already, Black started committing errors towards the eighth hour of the game, but White missed out on his goalmouth opportunity as well.

His encounter against Levon Aronian was classified by Sergey Karjakin - yet another leader and potential candidate for the world champion title – as the most difficult for him in the entire tournament. The Armenian grandmaster opted for the English Opening: Black obtained a very nice game and managed to equalize. The turning point came about when Karjakin grabbed the "poisoned" pawn on a3, since following a virtually forced sequence of moves he needed to struggle in an endgame with an unusual material ratio.

Aronian – Karjakin 


When reviewing the game Levon Aronian admitted his having evaluated this continuation as a losing one. 

26. c6 Qe7 27. Qa2 bxc6 28. Rxc6 Bf7 29. Rc5 Nxe3 

30. Qxa3 

Still, more accurate would be exchanging on b8 first, taking the knight only afterwards. However, according to Levon, he lacked thinking time to calculate the consequences up to the very end: 30. Rxb8+ Rxb8 31. Qxa3 Nc2 32. Qc1 Nxe1 33. Rxc7 Nxd3 34. Rxe7 Nxc1 35. Rxf7 a3 36. Ra7 a2 37. Bf1, which is very likely winning for White already. 

In the game, however, the a-pawn, which Sergey managed to advance as far as the penultimate rank, proved very strong indeed and has contributed greatly in terms of compensating for the missing piece. All in all, White failed to convert his material advantage, and the game ended in a draw on move 102.

A second win in a row was scored by Hikaru Nakamura, victimizing on a deeply fallen Veselin Topalov. While the Bulgarian grandmaster was defending as White in a passive and slightly worse endgame, Nakamura, according to his own admission, acted not in the best possible way. However, being in time trouble, Topalov committed a number of errors and went down.

Viswanathan Anand classified his game against Anish Giri as a bad one: the former World Champion was not happy about the way that an opening – the Italian game - unfolded for him. Giri, playing the black pieces, got a very comfortable position and seized the initiative, while on move 24 the Dutchman went on to altogether sacrifice a piece to weaken the position of the white king. Being in deep waters, Anand still found a way to put up an ingenious defense:

Anand – Giri 

Having no desire to defend passively, White parted with all his queenside pawns to pile up on the weak f7-square as much as possible, even though this idea might have misfired should Anish succeed in coming up with the engine-like move 45…Rc5!, for instance: 46. Qd4 Rc7 47. Qxa7 Rxa7 with a substantial advantage for Black. 

The game continued with 45…Rf8 46. Qf6, and Black forced a draw by the perpetual check shortly after. 

We have come to the final straight, and tonight we will come to know the name of the Candidates Tournament winner and the future rival of Magnus Carlsen. Various tiebreakers, white pieces, native walls and support of fans all belong to Sergey Karjakin. Nevertheless, knowing the sometimes capricious Caissa, one would perhaps be better off being guided by the principle: "Do what you must and come what may," and then pepper it with a lot of fighting.