4 October 2015

Thanks to Kind Elves

Game Two of the World Cup final in the review of Vladimir Barsky.

When the second game was in the process of smooth migrating from the complex opening into the complicated middlegame, Vladimir Dmitrievich Dorokhin, Russian Ambassador to Azerbaijan, dropped into the “Firemont” hotel. The night before he was at the football game Karabagh-Anderlecht, and the Director of the World Cup Mahir Mamedov invited him to visit the final of a chess event in which two Russians play each other. It was not without interest that Vladimir Dorokhin acquainted himself with the "inner workings" of one of the major chess competitions, and then responded to the questions posed by Eteri Kublashvili.

Vladimir Dorokhin and Mahir Mamedov


“Vladimir Dmitrievich, what do you think about two Russian grandmasters playing each other in the final?”

“I feel so extremely happy about it; I think there is hardly any Russian who would not feel delighted about it being his compatriots who made it into the final of such a prestigious tournament as the World Chess Cup! And, being the Russian Ambassador, I am proud that it is at this very moment, when I'm here as Ambassador, that my compatriots play off in this final!

“However, there is one delicate moment here: on the way to the final of our guys "beat" the Azeri players. I hope, however, that neither my work nor interrelations between the two countries will be affected by it in any way (smiling).”

“What is your opinion about the role of chess in the development of the Russian society and of the world in general?”

“This question has already been answered by a great deal of very wise people, and I, being a man in whose life chess is far from being priority number one, can hardly add anything substantially new in this respect. Chess is among those values that can be labeled eternal and despite the advent of computers, electronics, iPads, etc., some people would not quit reading books and playing chess.”

“Can you play chess?”

“Well, I know it on a level of е2-е2 (laughing). [“E2-e2” sounds exactly like “just barely” in Russian – ed.] I can jokingly describe myself as being a man who definitely knows that the chessboard is made of wood and is covered with varnish.

“I used to play as a boy, but then life propelled other priorities to the forefront. Nowadays I follow chess battles from afar, although such important events as the present tournament do, of course, fall into my field of vision and I am familiar with the names of the World’s leading grandmasters. I am aware that at present time attempts are undertaken to modernize chess, to make it more dynamic, more attractive for the public.”

“Is it your first visit to a chess event?”

“Indeed, this is the first time that I come to grips with a real chess action.”

“What is your opinion about the organizational aspect of the event?”

“The organizational aspect would be best described by someone who is an integral part of whatever is going on here. Nevertheless, judging by an outer appearance and reading the feedbacks I have come to know that the level of event organization is a very good one. I am not at all surprised as during my six years’ stay in this republic I have come to know the Azerbaijani people as superb organizers. Surely you know that the first European games, featuring as many as 6500 athletes from 52 countries, have recently taken place in Azerbaijan. The country has never before organized such a large-scale event and she organized it brilliantly indeed! Surely a chess tournament has its own peculiarities, its own nuances, but I am sure that the organizers have them all successfully covered.”

... Meanwhile, the course of the game gave rise to a lot of questions. The opponents went for the Breyer Variation of the Ruy Lopez, which is quite a predictable choice by Svidler. His 17…с5 was accompanied by the following remark from GM Konstantin Landa, who was commenting on the game at the ChessPro website: "This is a powerful novelty, leading to an immediate crisis in the center! Peter has certainly studied this line deeply as the move c6-c5 was made without hesitation.” 

In his turn Sergey also responded quickly enough, while after the next White’s move 19.с6 Peter plunged into a half hour’s contemplation. Had he really missed this "intermediate" in his home analysis? Or perhaps he forgot whatever he studied at home? Did he get his moves in the wrong order? As was explained by Svidler later after the game neither one of the three guesses were true!

White got the advantage of a bishop pair shortly after, while Black’s position started to feature an isolani pawn on d6. The engine’s evaluation of White’s position was quite optimistic, reaching to as much as “+1” from time to time. However, the computer lines were rather unconvincing as they would usually end up in some obviously drawish-looking ending. Meanwhile, Svidler succeeded in successfully regrouping of his pieces and forced his opponent to relieve the tension in the center. As the game was about to end in a draw, I and my colleague Eteri started thinking up of some sort of a wrap-up phrase in the nature of “Having exhausted every possible resource for further fighting, Sergey Karjakin had to resign himself to a drawish outcome of the game”, at which moment Karjakin committed a sudden blunder. The wrap-up phrase had to be put aside in favor of moving back to the course of the game. Sergey set up his last trap and when his opponent refused to step into it, he immediately resigned the game. Svidler took a 2-0 lead, which, frankly speaking, proved to be a rather rapid sequence of events anticipated but a very few people indeed! 

After the end of the game Peter Svidler shared his thoughts and worries with the correspondent of the Mayak radio Elmira Mirzoeva and me:

“I understand that it may seem like a pose on my side when on the one hand I am certainly happy to have managed to win the game, but on the other hand I really feel for Sergey... you go on committing such a silly blunder in such a critical tournament! He had initiative throughout the entire game. Objectively speaking, he was perhaps nowhere close to a sure win, but to have to lose a game owing just to a second’s blackout...

“The semifinal must have sapped so much energy out of him (his match against Pavel Eljanov turned out to be very difficult indeed); he obviously had to use up so much of his inner resources to break through into the final that now… Don’t you see that in the first game he also allowed such overlooks that if he were in his normal condition he would never on earth have committed even one of them!”

“Peter, were you following the semifinal games Eljanov-Karjakin from the spectator’s hall, or did you just know the results when it was all over?”

“Not only was I sitting in the hall, I was also actively involved in commenting upon two games as I was summoned into the commentators’ booth.”

“You said at the press conference that you did remember a forced line which you analyzed at home, but decided to give a try to another move. Is it some sort of an experiment in the World Cup final?”

“This is complete nonsense indeed! I am at a loss for words to describe it. Depending on the reaction of my opponent, I could automatically come up with another 5 to 15 moves and increase my time because we play in the mode of time increment. What was it that urged me to look for something better than what I knew, remembered and repeated before the game? I do not quite understand it myself.

Maybe what I did was no so silly after all because the line that I kept in my mind could have given rise to a position that was not leading to a forced draw. It was probably OK for Black, but it was not a forced draw. However, after 19... dxc3 20.cxb7 it seemed to me that I would somehow cope with finding a path to a forced draw, although I failed to calculate my lines flawlessly. Although I was trying to do my best during the period of half an hour to have all the lines calculated as accurately as possible, it turned out at the end that I was not able to do so. As a result, I ended up defending a position that was close to equal on the one hand, but not entirely equal on the other hand, and, on top of all of that, it was unknown to me and I was already low on time.”

“Perhaps it makes some sense to abandon counting lengthy lines when playing in such an extended and challenging tournament, doesn’t it?”

“You can give yourself all sorts of vows, but when you find yourself in a specific type of position over the board, all your initial intentions are thrown overboard. If you consider it necessary to count, to solve the problem once and for all, you get down to calculating. It is clear that both my today’s attempts to calculate lengthy lines and Sergey’s 37.Rb5 move vividly testify to the fact that calculating lines comes ever so harder to you, but that's of course not a reason to let your hands start thinking instead of your head! This is especially true for complex calculation-oriented type of positions.”

“Could you please be more specific about today’s game?”

“The 17…с5 move is a novelty, although this is not a novelty of mine – thanks to kind elves who carried it over to me! A critical position could have arisen after 19.Nxd4 b4 20.c6 Bxc6 or, as it happened in the game, after transposition via 19.c6 Bxc6 20.Nxd4 b4. This is a complex position where White features possibilities to fight for advantage, although I believe that Black should equalize with an accurate play. Moreover, I kept all the moves in my head for all mainlines and it would require me no effort to recall them. With this in mind, I can hardly provide you with any reasonable explanation why I opted for 19…dxc3 in the final run. Why think too much if you remember and know everything already?

“While Sergey was contemplating his 19th move, I uncovered a whole bunch of positions where I was not so much in the way of being worse, but which seemed rather dangerous for me in perspective. However, after 19.c6 I thought, "Well, I am given an additional option! Let me find a forced draw." But I failed to come up with what I wanted: in the line 22... Rxb7 23.Bc6 Rb6 I overlooked 24.Ra8. It should be noted that I was aware of this move in many other lines, but in this particular position I managed to overlook it. We've been here for almost a month after all...”

“But even after this the position was close to a draw, wasn’t it?”

“I do not think I was in a much worse position anytime during the game, and I do not know what the engine says, but my position was unpleasant to play over the board. If I succeed in coming up with all required precise moves, I should make a draw, and if not. then this is quite a different matter.”

“Could White have played better anytime in the game?”

“I cannot point out any definite moment where something was missed; I am not sure that there was such a moment at all. Instead of 34.Qd4 White had perhaps some sort of a reasonable waiting continuation of the 34.g3 type. Even then the move 34... Nd7 was likely to lead to a draw. But, in general, the position was quite tricky, whereas for me decision-making did not come easy as I had only 8 minutes on my clock.”

“Was White really obliged to carry out the е4-е5 breakthrough?”

“I saw no other option for my opponent as I was constantly harassing his e4-pawn. If I was to be tricked into some setup in which the white knight was allowed to leave the f3-square followed by f2-f3, it would land me in a position that is very far from equal, and it might well be just a difficult position despite the remaining four versus four pawns on the same flank and relatively little amount of material on the board. With the f8-bishop against the a2-bishop and the white knight on f5 you will never get out of it alive. Even if there remain only queens and minor pieces on the board, it is likely to be quite an unpleasant ending.”

“Could White develop any sort of attack?”

“I could not see it.”

“Was it already a draw after 35.Nxf7?”

“It was a draw indeed whatever you attempt to undertake. I would never be able to win the "three versus two" ending no matter what pieces were to remain on the board. If my opponent was to capture my f-rook with his bishop, my intention was to reach move 40 and offer a draw so as to avoid unnecessary waste of physical and emotional resources. I saw no chance whatsoever to go about playing that position for a win.”

Karjakin – Svidler

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0–0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0–0 8.c3 d6 9.h3 Nb8 10.d4 Nbd7 11.Nbd2 Bb7 12.Bc2 Re8 13.a4 Bf8 14.Bd3 c6 15.Qc2 Rc8 16.axb5 axb5 17.b4 

17...c5 18.bxc5 exd4 19.c6

19.Nxd4 b4 20.c6 Bxc6 is the main line. 


19...Bxc6 20.Nxd4 b4 would have transposed to a mainline (via a different move order). 

20.cxb7 cxd2 21.Qxd2 Rb8 22.Bxb5 


At first Svidler intended to go for 22...Rxb7 23.Bc6 Rb6, but then he noticed that it was 24.Ra8!? that he overlooked in his calculations.

23.Rb1 Qxb7 24.Bd3 Qa8 25.Rxb8 Rxb8 26.Bb2 Qa2 27.Re2 h6 28.Qc1 Qb3 29.Bc4 Qb7 30.Qd1 Re8 31.Bxf6 Nxf6 32.e5 dxe5 33.Nxe5 Re7 34.Qd4

34.g3 Nd7!?

34...Nd7 35.Nxf7 Rxf7 36.Rb2 Qc6 

37.Rb5? Kh8! 38.Rd5 Nb6 White resigns. 

“I would like to come back to game one. Did you find a clear-cut win after 22…h6?”

Position after 22...h6 (instead of 22…Qe6)


“No, the computer just confirmed what I showed you last time. He finds an opportunity to win an exchange in the line 23.Nc5 Bxc5 24.Rxc5 Nc3 25.Bxc3 dxc3 26.Qxc3 Kh7, after which White doubles his rooks along the b-file. However, after Black captures the bishop on g2, and I take the rook on b8, the game starts all over again. Although the computer evaluates White’s position as completely winning, the fact is that with white pawns located on f2, g3, h2 versus the queen and his light-squared bishop somewhere in the area of ​​the c6-square I would need to wear out seven pairs of iron boots while trying to do the same amount of harm to Black’s position. Meanwhile, one cannot say that I have missed some better continuation, it’s just that Black’s position features great defensive resources.

“However, after 22…Qe6 Black is doomed to losing the game.”

... Now, in order to become a two-time World Cup winner Peter Svidler needs to score only a half-point in the remaining two games. The third game takes place today in which white pieces belong to the grandmaster from St. Petersburg.

Pictures by Vladimir Barsky and Eteri Kublashvili