6 October 2015

An Illuminated Tunnel

Game Four of the World Cup Final in the review of Vladimir Barsky.

Having won a strong-willed (heroic, pained, illogical, paradoxical, or simply unexpected – please underline as appropriate) victory in game three, Sergey Karjakin started to see some light glimmering at the end of the tunnel. The next day, however, it turned out that the tunnel is illuminated indeed as Sergey managed to get out of it with apparent ease and succeeded in bringing a hopeless match into tiebreak. It went from 0-2 to 2-2 in order to start all over again. Spectators feel happy as  they got a free ticket to a tiebreak show as a bonus. But what about the athletes who need to run another hundred meter race in addition to a marathon that they have just finished running in? One of them, though, is certainly no longer concerned about that!

The final showdown is nearing and the officials are coming in to the World Cup. The FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov arrived at the playing hall five minutes prior to the start of the game, welcomed the arbiters, hugged the chief arbiter Faik Zyulfugarovich Gasanov, and shook hands with the players. He followed the moves made in the opening part of the game and then went over to the Russian broadcast center to answer the questions posed by Sergey Shipov. While you can watch a video with Ilyumzhinov’s appearance in full, we are going to touch upon the main points of his speech only briefly.

First of all, the FIDE President expressed his gratitude to the Azerbaijani officials, members of the government, the Ministry of Sports, and the Chess Federation of the Republic for having organized the World Cup in such a beautiful place. "Baku has turned into one of the European and World sport centers and chess has organically fit into the process." Kirsan Ilyumzhinov noted that the World Cup turned out to be very uncompromising and spectacular, whereas the final match saw a lot of blood shedding to crown it all. After that, he made a brief excursion into the history and recalled the origin and further development of the knockout tournaments system.

The following piece of information proved to be of a very interesting nature:

– I met with potential sponsors and organizers two weeks ago in New York. Several proposals have been received so far. The World Chess Championship match will be held in the United States in October next year. However, it turned out that the American organizers’ plans extend well beyond this particular match only. Several cities such as Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago have applied for the right to host the Candidates Tournament. If the applications prove to be well-funded, then we will hold the tournament in the United States in March 2016. It should be noted, however, that there arrived a couple of other applications as well. As of now we have come to know the names of 7 out of 8 players who will take part in the Candidates Tournament, with one seat being reserved for the organizers.

Let us recall those who won the right to play off in the Candidates Tournament: Vishy Anand (India), Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria), Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura (both from the USA), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Peter Svidler and Sergey Karjakin (both from Russia). If the event is going to take place in the United States, then for the first time in the history the number of Americans playing in the qualification tournament will exceed that of the Russians. This is a new reality!

The author of these lines asked the FIDE President to talk about the first stage of the women’s FIDE Grand Prix 2015-2016, which takes place in Monaco these days. Ilyumzhinov arrived in Baku straight from Monte Carlo and was overwhelmed with impressions, and the following story appeared to be the most vivid and emotional:

– Girl chessplayers have always been harboring covetous feelings when looking in the direction of men's tournaments. As the system has undergone changes during the last 5-6 years, the women's chess has come to feature a great deal of events. The current tournament has come into existence by a pure chance during a meeting with the Monte Carlo casino management a year and a half s ago. After that I wrote a letter to Prince Albert II, and a month later received his reply that the owners were willing to negotiate. Casino has provided two halls, including a VIP one. This is a gorgeous hall overlooking the sea! As for the press conference room, it might be envied by any state president. The room features 25 meter-high ceilings, marble columns, and pictures that date back to 18-19th  centuries. The Secretary of State of Monaco took a liking to our tournament. He says: "It feels so good and quiet here! When we run "Formula 1" it’s an unstoppable rattle and roars all the time! It takes about 10 seconds for a race car to fly past you and then you no longer see who is winning. And here you sit in an armchair and contemplate! How come we have never accommodated chess events before? From now on let's run a major tournament each year!" So, next year we will also have a women's tournament at the casino, and then the Women’s World Championship match, that’s for sure now.

The story of a regular casino customer, who would lose about a hundred thousand euros to this establishment each day and for whom a special area has been fenced off in the hall where the girls play, would be better heard firsthand. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov added that right in the middle of a game the girls can give a brief visit into the adjacent room and place a stake so as to experience an upsurge of additional emotions.

Will K. Ilyumzhinov run as a candidate for the presidency of FIFA? "I have been thinking on it so far, weighing my chances, but have taken no decision just yet. Perhaps I may give an answer to this question in the very near future."

Having finished his press conference, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov gave an interview to those reporters who wanted to pose their original question tete-a-tete, talked to the Minister of Youth and Sports of Azerbaijan Azad Rahimov and the World Cup Director Mahir Mamedov. After that he came down into the playing hall and took a seat at the front row to enjoy following up on a lengthy grandmasters’ game with a great deal of enthusiasm.

Karjakin – Svidler 

1.Nf3 d5 2.d4 c5 

Grandmaster Konstantin Landa, who was commenting on the game online on the ChessPro website, accompanied this move with the following note, “This is an interesting-looking sideline move. Your commentator has recently cooked up as many draws in this line as many times he played against grandmasters.  The point is, if White has nothing stored up in his sleeve for this particular occasion, there is nothing special to debate because after massive exchanges in the center each player goes back home quietly without achieving much”. 

As it was not Peter Svidler’s first time to employ this line, Sergey Karjakin was well prepared to come up with something special for this particular occasion. 

3.c4 cxd4 4.cxd5 Nf6 5.Qxd4 Qxd5 6.Nc3 Qxd4 7.Nxd4 Bd7 8.Ndb5 Kd8 9.Be3 Nc6 10.f3 

This is a novelty as 10.g3 or 10.h3 have been tried exclusively in this position before. My old friend grandmaster Alexei Bezgodov has recently finished a book devoted to this opening system (1.d4 d5 2.c4 c5 and 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 c5), for which he coined up a witty name "The Double Queen's Gambit"; it is a couple of days since his book is fresh from the press. Alex counseled me while the game was being played, so in most cases I will keep referring to his conclusions.


The main objective of Black is to unsettle the knight from b5, for which purpose 10...Kc8 should be best played without any delay. To be on the safe side, Svidler takes an immediate care against his opponent’s pawn advance on the kingside (g2-g4), but this advance is not dangerous.

11.0–0–0 Kc8 12.Bg5!


This allows a tactical blow, which generates a long-term pawn weakness in the Black’s camp. The immediate 12... a6 fails to 13.Na4! axb5 14.Nb6+, and upon further mutual recapture of pieces on a8 White goes on to win the d7-bishop to cap it all. A knight ousting needs to be carefully prepared: 12... Be8!, for example: 13.e4 a6 14.Nd4 Nxd4 15.Rxd4 e5 16.Rd2 b5, and Black is back in the game. According to A.Bezgodov Black's position features a significant margin of safety.

13.Nd6+! exd6 14.Bxf6 Rg8 15.e4 Be6 16.Kb1 Kd7 17.Nd5!

A frontal attack against the weak pawn yields nothing: 17.e5 Re8 18.exd6 Bf5+ 19.Ka1 Re6 or 17.Nb5 Be7 18.Bxe7 (18.Bc3 Rad8) 18...Kxe7, and bad is 19.Nxd6? in view of 19…Rgd8. 
Instead, Karjakin mounts his knight into the central square. 

17...Bg7 18.Bxg7?!

This move eases the defensive hardships of Black. Better is 18.Bh4, leaving both bishops on the board. 

18...Rxg7 19.Bb5 Kd8!?

This is a cute little resource: Black resorts to such an unconventional idea in order to unpin his knight. In the case of a natural continuation 19...Rd8 20.Rd2 a6 21.Ba4 f5 22.Rhd1 White’s pressure is building up.


White should not allow to trade his handsome knight. Better is 20.Ne3 Kc7 21.Rd2, followed by doubling his rooks on the d-file. 

20...Bxd5 21.Rxd5 Kc7 22.Rc1 Re8! 23.Rd4 Re5 

This is an offbeat approach and a strong maneuver, which should have led to equality.  

24.Ba4 b5 25.Bb3 Rc5 26.Rd5 Rxc1+ 27.Kxc1 a6 28.Rd3


When the worst for Black is already over, he rushes with this natural-looking, but rather imprecise move. Correct is 28... f5!, launching an immediate counterplay on the kingside. For example, 29.exf5 gxf5 30.g3 (30.Rd2 is answered by 30... Re7) 30... h4 31.f4 (or 31.gxh4 Rh7) 31... Rh7 32.Be6 Ne7, and Black should be OK.

29.Kd2 h4 30.Rc3 Kb6 31.Rd3 Kc7 32.Ke3

The white king occupies the center, and Black is forced to go into the defensive once again.

32…f6 33.Rc3 Kb6 34.Rd3 Kc7 35.Rc3 Kb6 36.Bd5 Ne7

Black would undoubtedly like to play 36... Ne5, but after 37.Rc8 Rc7 38.Rxc7 Kxc7 39.b4 the resulting ending might well be hopeless for him. A margin of safety is larger with the rooks on the board.

37.Kd4 Rh7

Black once again misses an opportunity to create counterplay via 37... f5! A possible follow-up is 38.exf5 Nxf5+ 39.Ke4 Ne7 40.b4 Rg6, and Black holds.

38.Be6 Rh8 39.a3 Rd8 40.Rc2 Rh8 41.Rf2 Ng6 42.Kd5 Rd8 43.Bf5 Nf4+ 44.Kd4


This mistake is decisive. According to Karjakin, he spent a lot of time analyzing the consequences of 44... d5 45.e5 fxe5+ 46.Kxe5 d4 and came to the conclusion that Black ended up in a very bad position as a result. A computer evaluation is much more optimistic, however: after 47.Rd2 Kc5 48.Rc2+ Kb6 Black features good defensive resources.

45.g3 Ne6+

45...Nh5 46.Bg6 Rh8 47.Bxh5 hxg3 48.hxg3 Rxh5 49.Kd5 looks rather grim for Black as well. 

46.Bxe6 Rxe6 47.Kd5 Re5+ 48.Kxd6 hxg3

An attempt at launching counterplay on the queenside via 48...b4 fails to help Black out either in view of 49.axb4 hxg3 50.hxg3 Kb5 51.Re2! Kxb4 52.f4 etc. 

49.hxg3 g4 50.fxg4 Rxe4


This is the last precise move for White to come up with. After 51.Rxf6 Rxg4 Black was likely to bail out.

51...Re3 52.Rxf6 Rxg3 53.Ke5+ Kb7 54.Kf5 Rb3 55.g5 Rxb2 56.g6 Rg2 57.Ke6 

Black resigns in view of 57…Kb6 58.Kf7+ Ka5 59.g7. 

Sergey Karjakin: 

- I finally realized that I was winning just a couple of moves before the end of the game. The whole game oscillated somewhere in between my great advantage and his stubborn defense. As a matter of principle, it could have ended in any result, that is, I could have let my advantage go. The winning odds were 50 to 50.

If I recall correctly, this is my fourth must-win game in this World Cup. This is not an easy task, however. But there exist no recipes. The main recipe might well be not to get involved in a lot of thinking about the current situation but rather to play pure chess. Today I refrained from going for some extremely sharp lines. I was offered a slightly better ending and I went for it. You need to play according to the position, to play chess and let the result be as it may be. I just try to focus on each game and not contemplate about the tournament situation as a whole. In game three I was very lucky while today I have done everything to play as best as possible. I was able to play a good game as a result, and I'm very happy that I managed to win!

The FIDE President asked Karjakin whom he would like to dedicate this victory to and heard in reply, "To my wife! I have is one else to devote it to."

The tie-break games of the final match of the World Cup are scheduled to take place on Monday, October 5. It starts at 13.00 Moscow time with the white pieces belonging to Sergey Karjakin in the first game.

Pictures by Vladimir Barsky and Eteri Kublashvili