24 May 2015

Day of Miracles

Vladimir Barsky reports from Khanty-Mansiysk on one of the most exciting rounds of the tournament.

Two stalemates in one day – I cannot recall anything like this in elite tournaments! Interestingly, in both cases the defenders first created problems for themselves, and then had to desperately (and successfully) look for survival. Chess events in Karjakin-Caruana were also interrupted by two controversial decisions of the arbiters.

This round hasn’t changed the situation in the top group, but Evgeny Tomashevsky’s victory may affect the overall leaderboard, as he still has chances for the second place in the Grand Prix series.

Giri-Jobava 1-0

At the beginning of the press-conference Anish Giri explained that his opponent has a very broad opening repertoire, plays original variations, and is difficult to prepare for. Baadue Jobava added: “That is because I opt for positions that the computer does not understand.”

Baadur Jobava and Anish Giri

One may think that such a romantic approach to chess must be praised. The problem, however, is that such positions are rare, and the number is getting smaller and smaller. Besides, a grandmaster armed by a computer engine can find out the truth about practically any position. For the second time in this tournament Jobava went for a dubious 3…Nc6 line in the French, which was surely examined by Giri on the rest day. Consequently, the Dutch grandmaster found an interesting plan associated with an immediate attack on Black’s pawn center.

A critical position occurred on the 19th move. Black had a choice between an inferior (but probably holdable) endgame and a very risky middlegame. True to his style, the Georgian grandmaster opted for the latter. White exchanged his queen for two rooks and a pawn. Jobava thought that position is just slightly better for White, but Giri disagreed, saying that White’s position is likely winning, but he must be very precise, because one poor move may cost him a game. White had 30 minutes for 15 moves in a complicated position, and the game could go on for a while.

And suddenly it all ended: Black blundered the d5-pawn, which was a core for his counterplay, reaching d4 and d3 in some variations. Disappointed Jobava resigned immediately.

After 24...Qe3? 25.Be6+ Black resigned.

Dominguez-Vachier-Lagrave draw

MVL and Lenier Dominguez

In a fashionable line of the Najdorf Sicilian Lenier Dominguez prepared a rare 13.Na4 line. A more or less forced line led to a position that looked dangerous for Black. However, after Vachier-Lagrave confidently took a central pawn – 21…Nxe4, which looked extremely risky, we got an impression that the Frenchman analyzed everything at home.

Maxime did not hold onto an extra pawn, and in three moves allowed the opponent to equalize the material. In this case Black could consolidate and develop counterplay on the queenside. Dominguez concluded that he has no chance for any advantage and started repeating moves on the move 26.

Nakamura-Grischuk draw

Alexander Grischuk and Hikaru Nakamura

Nakamura turned to a Gruenfeld sideline already on the 7th move by 7.Qa4+. Black’s response 7…Qd7 is also not the most popular, but nevertheless interesting. Nakamura spent a lot of time looking for the most accurate move order, but his initiative gradually evaporated. Clearly, Grischuk was prepared for this variation better.

After 17…Na7 (a very strong move in Hikaru’s opinion) Black completely solved opening problems and could even think of something more ambitious. The position was still about equal, but Alexander criticized his decision to trade on d5, as Black would have better practical chances after 24…Rfe8.

Nakamura could play sharper on the 29th move, but he rejected the idea of pushing the d-pawn to d6 and played a safer move instead. After further simplifications the game ended in a draw.

Svidler-Tomashevsky 0-1

Evgeny Tomashevsky and Peter Svidler

Tomashevsky played his pet line of the Ruy Lopez, the one that he used in the 7th round against Giri. He was first to deviate from that game, playing “a slightly riskier” (as he said at the press-conference) 13…Bc6 instead of 13…Bc8.

Svidler’s activity on the kingside did not surprise his opponent. A critical position arose after 22…c4. 

After Black's 22nd move

Svidler took the pawn – 23.Bxc4?, expecting 23…Nxc4 24.dxc4 Qa7+ 25.Qd4, but he completely missed the immediate 23…Qa7+! White’s king had no good retreat squares, so Svidler had to give away a pawn. After 23.d4 Nd3 24.Bxc4 Nxb2 25.Bxb2 Rxb2 26.Qf3! (pointed out by Tomashevsky; Svidler underestimated his move) White is in order.

Black found several precise moves (25…а3!, 30…f6!) and gradually developed his advantage. Only approaching the control move Evgeny made a slight misstep, but it did not shake the evaluation. Svidler resigned on the 42nd move.

Jakovenko-Gelfand draw

Boris Gelfand, Dmitry Jakovenko, and Deputy Chief Arbiter

Black was better prepared in a lengthy theoretical line of the Najdorf, and White had to force a draw by perpetual. Suddenly the Israeli grandmaster started to think and finally deviated from the repetition, avoiding a draw. However, that decision brought him a lost position.

Instead of 24...Qd7 25.Qa8+ Qd8 the game went 24...Nd7? 25.Re4!

“Lapse of reason!” said Gelfand at the press-conference, clearly surprised by his decision. He studied this variation with his second Alexander Huzman, and planned to take a draw, but suddenly changed his mind at the board.

“This is one of the problems of modern chess”, added Gelfand. “The first move after deep home analysis is often a blunder.”

Despite lengthy thought at the board, Gelfand overlooked 25.Rе4! He wanted to resign on the spot, but forced himself to keep fighting. “It is a miracle I did not lose at once”, smiled Boris.

Dmitry Jakovenko got four pawns for the piece, besides, Black’s king was very weak. White had many promising options, but there was no forced victory. Only after the time control was passed, Jakovenko found a clear plan of improving his position. Slowly he got a decisive advantage, but Gelfand fought to a bitter end, and his tenacity was rewarded.

On the 48th move Black gave away his last pawn. Dmitry was again under time pressure, and he took the pawn to protect against the check from f3. After that Gelfand sacrificed a knight and then a queen, forcing a stalemate!

49.hxg4? Qg2+ 50.Ke3 Nd5+! 51.Kd4 Qf2+ 52.Kxd5 Qd4+! 53.Kxd4, stalemate!

Jakovenko: “I forgot about 50…Nd5+. Did not see this idea until Boris sacrificed the g4-pawn. I thought I can avoid taking the knight, and my king eventually escapes from checks. However, 50…Nd5+! forced me to capture the knight, and a draw became inevitable.

Thus, Boris Gelfand first created himself problems, and then heroically solved them.

Karjakin-Caruana draw

Fabiano Caruana and Sergey Karjakin

This game was a symmetrical English Opening, which often transposes to an endgame with a slight plus for White directly from the opening. In theory Black’s chances for a draw are higher than White’s chances for a win, but in practice defending such position is very unpleasant, because White can play without risk. One can recall Boris Gelfand beating Peter Leko quite convincingly at the Petrosian Memorial half a year ago. That game proved that trading the dark-squared bishops by 11…Bb4+ 12.Bd2 Bxd2+ 13.Kxd2 is bad for Black, and Caruana played the new main line 11…Bd6.

For a while the events in this game followed a well-known script: White increased pressure, Black defended accurately. Finally, Black solved all the problems, and the game transposed to a drawn bishop endgame. However, suddenly the events started to develop in a highly unusual way!

First White overextended, looking for a non-existing advantage, and Black got practical winning chances.

Then Karjakin claimed a draw due to a threefold repetition. As he admitted later, he made a mistake due to the error in his scoresheet. However, despite the claim being wrong, the Deputy Chief Arbiter accepted it and ruled the game a draw. Both players signed the scoresheet, however, Caruana was still in doubt. The Chief Arbiter Boris Postovsky joined the discussion and overruled the previous ruling. The game went on, to a great surprise for all spectators!

The scoresheet with a draw after White's 49th move

Using multiple zugzwang threats, Black gradually shook the opponent’s defense. Karjakin used his best practical chance, transposing to a queen ending with an extra pawn for Black. The tablebases showed that Caruana could mate in 59 moves, but the Italian immediately made a mistake and allowed White’s king to join the defense. The game ended on the 85th move with a stalemate!

Black needed to cut White's king off by 74...Qc3+! After 74...Qe5? 75.Qc8 d4+ 76.Kb4 the game is a draw.

* * *

Standings after round 9:

1-3. Dominguez, Caruana, and Nakamura – all 5.5, 4-6. Gelfand, Karjakin, and Jakovenko – all 5, 7-8. Grischuk and Giri – both 4.5, 9-10. Svidler and Tomashevsky – both 4, 11. Jobava – 3, 12. Vachier-Lagrave – 2.5.