Wijk aan Zee 2015 – Round 7

The World Champion makes it 4/4 after his loss and is finally leading the tournament.

It was widely expected for Carlsen to beat Hou Yifan, but it took a lot of effort. This was mainly psychological – exactly because of the expectations of a win it seemed that Carlsen had to try very hard, in view of the equal position after the opening. Carlsen’s own words of his bad play are also a result of the hightened expectations prior to the game – he (and probably everybody else) expected to win easily, and that made it look hard. In fact, it was just another typical Carlsen game where he out-maneuvered his opponent from an equal position and deservedly won.

The first game to finish was the game Saric-Vachier. The game was a typical nervous breakdown of a player who is new to this elite company. Too much stress, too much tension, hard game after hard game, it takes a lot of games and practice with the elite so as to be able to play constantly on a very high level, without breakdowns like this one:

White’s last 31 Rd2?? (31 Qc1 draws) allowed 31…ab 32 Kb1 Qa2 mating.

No wonder great players of the past and present like Carlsen, Kasparov, Fischer, Karpov, Kramnik, Anand etc. can play on a very high level seemingly without effort – they entered the elite at a very early age and playing on such a high level comes naturally to them, the effort that is necessary to play on that level (the concentration, the deep calculation, the preparation) isn’t really an effort to them, just a normal way of everyday functioning.

Ding Liren and van Wely played a really strange game. In a seemingly equal position van Wely managed to push his passed pawn to b2 and obtain a big advantage. Then this happened:

Just as I got tired of writing “Jobava lost again”, Jobava won! As expected it was a wild affair and he was losing for some time, but Wojtaszek couldn’t navigate the complications and lost his way. Another example of a fluctuating level of play of non-elite players – Wojtaszek beat Carlsen and Caruana, but lost to Jobava. The final part of the game was full of mistakes by Wojtaszek:

So and Radjabov drew a correct QGD with 5 Bf4. I find it really curious to observe the transformation of Radjabov: from an aggressive KID, Jaenisch Gambit and Sveshnikov Sicilian player he evolved to a Berlin and QGD player (this process started with his match against Kramnik in Kazan 2011). I have always found this kind of turnaround in the playing style somewhat confusing – from an aggressive and counterattacking style moving to a solid and slowly-equalising style cannot be easy, as it confuses the instincts of the player. I noticed this with myself when I tried to play the Petroff some years ago, when my life-long Najdorf instincts led to some inappropriate reactions in perfectly normal and equal Petroff positions. Obviously these guys have all the time and resources in the world to make these kind of transformations successful, but in Radjabov’s case I think it was still too early (he’s 27) for this kind of reprogramming (the term Botvinnik introduced).

The game between Aronian and Caruana (world’s number 3 and 2) was a very complex struggle in the Rubinstein Nimzo-Indian. Usually they would have been placed somewhere at the top of the table, but with Aronian on -2 and Caruana on 50% this was an unusual situation. In his trademark style Aronian sacrificed a pawn for murky compensation and he found it. The comp suggests several improvements for black (who was a pawn up) but from a human perspective it looked like a good game by both sides and a well-played draw.

Giri and Ivanchuk should have ended many hours before they did. Ivanchuk turned out to be better prepared in the opening (a small miracle in itself, when Giri is one of the players), where Giri decided to use the same line Kramnik used to annihilate him in Qatar (the Semi-Slav with 5 g3). Ivanchuk managed to keep the pawn white sacrifices in this line and on move 22 he could have cemented his advantage:

22…Qc6! keeps everything under control

But he played 22…Rac8 instead and after 23 Bf1 white returned the pawn. It should have been a draw soon afterwards, but in a queen endgame Ivanchuk slackened and lost a pawn. They transposed to a 2 vs 1 on one wing and with further imprecise play Ivanchuk even got himself in a lost position. But the winning plan was difficult to find and in spite of trying Giri didn’t find it. The draw was agreed on move 102.

We finally have a familiar situation with Carlsen leading the tournament, together with Ivanchuk, who hasn’t had a good result for quite some time. I’m all for the veteran and I hope he manages to keep it up, even though it’s next to impossible to keep up with Carlsen once he starts winning his games.

Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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