The biggest surprise for me was the way Nakamura was eliminated. He played without a spark and tried his newly-acquired technical style in a must-win situation in the second game against Eljanov, but he didn’t even come close. Eljanov continues on the form of his life – he has 8 wins and 3 draws in the classical games with a solid 3000+ performance. His game 1 win against Nakamura was a technical masterpiece in the Catalan. His 20th move bears striking resemblance to the classic game Capablanca-Lilienthal, Moscow 1936:
Eljanov’s 20 Nb7 wasn’t as decisive, but when Nakamura didn’t react in the most precise way it became decisive:
In the second game Nakamura’s technical try was lacking punch and Eljanov was comfortably through. I am sure things would have been different if Nakamura hadn’t secured his place in the Candidates!
Another player who didn’t need a tie-break was the talkative Dutchman Giri. There were times when the Petroff was as common as the Berlin is today, such as the early 80s and the late 90s-early 00s. Thanks to Kramnik’s efforts it became deeply analysed and complex and thus abandoned in favour of the slower-paced Berlin. So I am sure Vachier was surprised when Giri opted for the Petroff in the first game, instead of his usual Berlin or Najdorf. White got nothing, as it normally happens in the Petroff, and the draw was agreed. The second game saw another surprise from Giri, who went for Grischuk’s recipe to avoid the Grunfeld:
That was the end of the road for the Frenchman and an extra free day for the Dutchman.
The other two matches went into overtime. I correctly predicted that Karjakin will overcome Mamedyarov and that is what happened. The local player missed his chance in the first game when he had an advantage but let it slip. I was shocked to read that going to the first game Karjakin was convinced he was playing white, only to find out he was black upon arrival. A really lucky escape for the Russian, who didn’t allow any chances in the 10’+10” tie-breaks after they drew the 2 games at 25’+10”.
I wrote that I wanted to see Wei Yi progress and he was very close. A good friend of mine suggested an idea that I think may well be true – the Chinese players suffer from an inferiority complex when playing the legends. Wei Yi won a topsy-turvy tie-break against Vovk earlier in the tournament and he was close to doing that against Svidler, after escaping a lot of lost positions. But in the second 10’+10” game, when he finally got an advantage (playing 1 b3) he messed up and lost. Wei Yi is still young, only 16, and this is his breakthrough, so even if the above idea is correct, he will probably get rid of it once he starts playing the elite on a regular basis.
There is a free day before the semi-finals, a well-deserved rest for the players. Svidler-Giri and Karjakin-Eljanov. In spite of the form of his life I still cannot see Eljanov in the Candidates, so I’d go with Karjakin. As for Svidler-Giri, it is actually Svidler or Kramnik as Giri will qualify either by entering the final, in which case Kramnik will qualify by rating, or by rating, in which case Svidler will qualify by entering the final. What can I say, I’d still give Kramnik one more chance…