There were decisive games again in St. Louis because, yes, you guessed it, Svidler starting losing again.
In Round 6 he lost to Ding Liren. I found it revealing to read his comments after the game when he said that he started thinking on move 3 whether to play very solid and something he had played many times before (the Fianchetto Grunfeld with c6 and d5) or to play something sharper (transposing to a Benoni). He went for the latter and guessed wrong as he was faced with difficulties from the start.
Opening choices are always tricky to navigate when out of form. On one hand you want to minimise the damage and play as solid as possible, but on the other hand you still have that feeling (and hope) that perhaps, if you play more boldly, fortune will favour you and you will turn the tournament around. From my experience the latter never happens and this is one of those rare cases when optimism and confidence are actually hurting you. It takes really strong self-control and character to curb your optimism and keep it real and play something safe and dull. A good example of this is Anand, when his tournament is going badly he just wants to finish it and makes a draw after a draw without any hope of turning it around.
So beat Topalov and took over the lead in the tournament. Another interesting opening battle, in a sense that So was better prepared, blitzed out his first 20 moves and achieved nothing. Why? Because Topalov played the best moves! You can get your opening preparation in, but that doesn’t guarantee that you will get an advantage. But Topalov became over-optimistic and missed something simple (not sure what, though):
If in his previous game Aronian declined the Benoni (and drew) with the excuse that he had eaten something bad the previous day, in Round 6 he explained his bad opening play with the evergreen excuse of “my cat ate my preparation.” Of course, in modern times this is verbalised differently, namely “my laptop broke down.” Again, no reason not to trust him (see the game for the explanation), but these excuses become rather conspicuous.
Giri-Anand showed the dangers of repeating a line more than once in a tournament. In Round 4 Anand remembered his 1995 game against Kramnik and drew easily against Ding Liren. So he tried the same line against Giri in Round 6. Anand is very profound in his preparations and checks everything, but the only thing he probably forgot to check was Giri’s year of birth – 1994! Giri was already 1 year old when Anand played Kramnik so he was well acquainted with the line and probably had an idea or two what to do against it. We got to see his preparation today:
And finally a Benoni. I am sure Nakamura and Caruana read my blog and decided to fulfill my wishes! It was a heavy theoretical fight with black emerging victorious – it warms my heart to see one of my favourite openings doing well theoretically!
Round 7 saw Svidler not lose and again all the other players followed suit. Against So he went 1 c4, the move he prepared and played at the Candidates, but he didn’t achieve much against the extremely well prepared American. At least in this tournament it looks impossible to beat So from a harmless or prospectless position after the opening!
Topalov is known for his excellent theoretical knowledge and sharp opening novelties, so it always surprises me when he chooses the Kramnik approach (well, even the name should be enough for him to go the other way…) and decides “just to play chess.” That’s what he did against Giri with 1 c4 e5 2 d3 and he got a slightly worse position with white by move 10. I understand that sometimes the players are tired of going over all those heavily prepared Najdorfs, Berlins and Grunfelds, but giving up one of your main assets is rarely a good idea.
Speaking of the Berlin, the brave Frenchman entered German territory against Nakamura. The American improved on Carlsen’s play and drew effortlessly. What I liked was his comment after the game that stated that all Berlin endgames are drawn, no matter how they look, so this gives you confidence and willingness to calculate and find the way to the draw. Nicely said!
Anand is heavily exploring the Giuoco Piano but without much success against Aronian who first missed (or chose not to play, depending on the state of his laptop) a great shot and then played one!
The longest game of the day was Caruana’s attempt to get the better of Ding Liren, but the Chinese are resilient folk. Ding never faltered and managed to survive after 95 moves.
Round 8 is underway with some results already known, but I’ll deal with that tomorrow. It’s time for bed in Europe!