The principled game was Kramnik-Anand. Kramnik went for the Catalan and the rare 11 Na3. Anand reacted well and sacrificed a pawn for excellent compensation, Kramnik even said he started to be careful not to end up worse. The game finished in an uneventful draw and Kramnik admitted that yesterday’s game against Svidler was the nail in his coffin – he couldn’t sleep until 6am and lost all hope of winning the tournament. He called that game “the ultimate game” and it must have been very painful for him – after the tournament he will probably go through some soul-searching and decide on the future of his career, possibly even outside chess. The rest of the tournament does have another principled encounter in store for him, the game against Topalov, but whether that will be enough to motivate him, we are yet to see. The draw brought Anand even closer to his goal. In the remaining 3 rounds he has 2 whites, so everything is in his own hands. I was predicting that he will also start to feel the pressure as the tournament draws to a close, but the way the others are playing, it’s getting doubtful whether they will be interested in playing at all.
The gift-collector Karjakin was very close to receiving yet another present, this time from Topalov. He admitted that he played for a draw the whole game (I’d say the whole tournament) and didn’t find that he could actually win in one moment (45…a3 46 Kc2 Be3). It was Topalov who unnecessarily risked a bit too much and got in danger of losing. It would have been absurd if Karjakin had won this game, it would have got him to second place and within striking distance of Anand – this would have justified his cynical strategy of playing for a draw and taking whatever was given to him. Even Petrosian in Curacao was more aggressive than that! But he’s still in contention, having his white game against Anand in the penultimate round.
Andreikin-Mamedyarov was the second Catalan of the day and it was another quiet game. White did have some chances to try for an advantage (Andreikin mentioned 19 Nc7) but all those improvements are engine-generated and even if they had been played, they would have required further ultra-precise play, something only computers are capable of (and perhaps Carlsen). As it was, for the humans in Siberia, the position always offered too little.
Svidler ruined Aronian’s tournament in London by beating him in Round 11 there. This time he went for the much calmer Reti (just compare to the Saemisch Nimzo from London). Aronian had some problems in this in London against Kramnik and he wasn’t very convincing this time either. But again as with the game Andreikin-Mamedyarov, the position was too solid and the margin of error too big for the tired humans. The computers suggest a few improvements, but again, these have to be followed up with computer-like precision and this is too much to expect from the players, especially at this stage.
As the tournament nears its end it’s noticeable that the players choose safe openings and play very carefully. As they are tired and more prone to blunders (Kramnik the worst offender) they prefer to just sit and wait for the opponent’s mistakes. Even the energetic and dynamic Svidler chose the Reti today! The most “experienced” in this strategy is Karjakin, who employed it from the very start (that’s why I think he may have the best chances)! If we are to judge from last year’s London drama, then the “sit-and-wait” players (have they all become such after today’s round?) have good chances as things will start happening, but I think this time it’s different. Last year there were 3 players who fought for first place and they were very close throughout the tournament, increasing the pressure with evey round, while here it was only Anand who has been leading from the start. I think they are already tired of seeing him in first and trying to catch him. That only adds to the psychological pressure of trying to win games and maintaining decent level (even Kramnik didn’t cope). I don’t think much will happen in the last 3 rounds, but I really hope I’m wrong…