Category : Tournaments

Stavanger 2014 Starts With a Bang (On the Clock)

It’s an interesting idea to have a blitz tournament instead of drawing of lots and it seems it’s catching on. It is based on the premise that the players who finish in the first half of the standings in the blitz will have an extra white in the classical part. All well and logical, but what if the player who wins the blitz doesn’t wish to start with two whites in a row? That isn’t the case with Carlsen though, as he quite likes it – he started as number one in several tournaments and won them all!

He will also start as number 1 in Stavanger as he won the blitz convincingly with 7.5/9, full point ahead of Aronian, which means he will be white against the Armenian in round 2.

I was surprised to see Kramnik collapse – he started well with 2/2 and then drew two and lost 3 in a row, followed by a draw with Carlsen and yet another loss to Aronian in the last round.

The funniest game of the blitz was of course Carlsen-Caruana, which saw the Italian blunder a piece on move 11 and resign immediately. Anything is possible in blitz.

But these results don’t mean anything. My last tournament in Llucmajor also started with a blitz. I was too tired from the trip and the toils of the week before so my head wasn’t working too well – I was playing fast and very badly (which is still much better than playing slowly and badly.) But it did help me in a sense of getting “a fast hand” which was especially important as the tournament’s time control was 90 minutes plus 30 seconds to finish the game – in almost all my games I was ahead on the clock and had my opponents in time trouble. As for the head, once I got a good sleep it started to work as expected and I had a very good tournament.

As a sidenote, here at my training camp I also dedicate time to physical training. One of the things I do is this:

You can see a number on the bottom stair, that’s 214. I climb these stairs at least 5 times a week and I can assure you that the first week I had no eyes for a tiger nor I felt motivated by a punching bag – in fact I felt like one! But things improve with constant practice and now I can proudly say that I climb these 214 stairs without problems!

So after tomorrow’s climb I am looking forward to the games of the first round in Stavanger!

Gashimov Memorial 2014 Round 10 – No Surprises

Everything ended as expected, but we were definitely enjoying the ride! Round 10 saw Carlsen win again, avenging his loss to Caruana from the first half of the tournament and winning the tournament a point ahead of the same Caruana.

The opening was rich in psychology. First we should remember that a draw was enough to Carlsen to win the tournament. He offered Caruana to play the Fianchetto Grunfeld on move 4, but Caruana, needing to win, went for 4…c5 instead, offering a transposition to a Benoni, Benko Gambit or possibly an English. Then Magnus persisted, and went 5 c3, again offering the Fianchetto Grunfeld, but this time the exchange variation (after 5…cd 6 cd d5) where the probability of draw is extremely high. But Caruana again showed fighting spirit and went for 5…d5, sacrificing the pawn on c5, which Carlsen took. And now what we got was a reversed Grunfeld, white a tempo up, obviously! In the normal Grunfeld, when white sacrifices the pawn in this manner, it is considered to be good for black to defend the pawn when white gets the usual compensation with the strong centre, but now white took the pawn and was a tempo up. Caruana did obtain compensation for the pawn, but objectively speaking it was an uphill task from there. That is not to say that the game wasn’t complicated and demanding on both players. But Carlsen showed himself to be the better player on the day, the quality of his moves was higher, especially as the onus was on Caruana to find compensation and create play in the centre and the kingside. Caruana went into time trouble, but the feeling was that Carlsen was always in control anyway and he wrapped up the game nicely.

I doubt he needed any, but this was definitely a confidence-booster for Carlsen – winning a decisive game in a last round, avenging his previous loss to the same, very serious  opponent (potentially even a challenger in the future), winning another very strong tournament and showing character and determination after his crisis at the end of the first half. Like I wrote back then, the great Magnus performed another feat!

The rest of the games weren’t very notable, perhaps Mamedyarov preparation against Karjakin’s already played line in the double fianchetto English (against Nakamura in round 5) was a bit shallow, as soon after he introduced his novelty on move 18 (18 g5) he spent more than 1 hour (!) on his next move. There were obviously many lines to calculate, but in fact they were following the first line of the engine until the perpetual check. So it’s unclear whether he knew everything and was resting for 1 hour at the board, or he was calculating his way to the draw. This draw must have made Karjakin very happy, as he managed to fulfill his dream of drawing all his games.

Nakamura must have been surprised by Radjabov’s first ever Berlin and it showed. White got nothing out of the opening and by move 20 black got everything one wants from a Berlin. The game could have ended there and then in fact, as I’m sure the players knew it was a dead draw, but they still decided to play 57 moves more.

Carlsen won another super tournament. What was different this time was that he showed weakness and lost 2 games and then showed strength of character and resolve to win 3 more games after that. What he did was in fact regain his usual peace of mind and with it came the quality of his moves. Now how did he do that, is really something I’d like to know! He attributed his success to some luck, but let’s not forget that the strong players are always lucky! That usually means that they play strong moves and the opponents crack under the pressure – later this is called luck, as in, “I was lucky he blundered”. But that “luck” is fully deserved by the strong moves played and the pressure put on the opponent. It’s not in vain when they say there’s no luck in chess!

It’s been a great tournament, but more are on our way, with the Norway supertournament scheduled for the beginning of June. The show goes on!


Gashimov Memorial 2014 Rounds 8&9 – 14 f3?!?

Round 8 of the Gashimov Memorial saw two decisive games, for the first time since Round 5, the round when Carlsen lost to Radjabov.

The only game that was drawn was the game Carlsen-Karjakin. Carlsen finds it difficult to get a position when he plays Karjakin, especially with white – the last time he beat him, last year in Wijk, was that long 92-move Reti and he won in spite of the opening, not because of it. You might say it’s the same as with the other players, but it isn’t, with Karjakin it is different. The reason is that Karjakin is wonderfully prepared and when he doesn’t experiment he manages to achieve rock-solid positions that are almost impossible to lose. And another thing is that Karjakin is happy with playing for a draw. In yesterday’s game Carlsen tried to surprise him with an extremely rare line in the Queen’s Indian, but that led to nothing and soon enough he had to be a little careful (as he said in the press conference) to secure the draw. An uneventful game, but a food for thought for future encounters – how to create problems to Karjakin when playing with white. This game continued Karjakin’s drawing streak and he didn’t seem to mind.

The other two games were much more dynamic. Caruana beat Radjabov after the latter missed something in time trouble. In King’s Indian Caruana, like Carlsen, also sacrificed an exchange and the position was dynamically balanced. The game should have been a draw, but it was spoiled by Radjabov’s mistake on move 38. Mamedyarov-Nakamura was a Slav that quickly became sharp and it was black who took over the initiative. This line with 4 g3 against the Slav seems to be getting some popularity, it’s interesting to observe how white players are willing to part with material in order to just get a game – not to everyone’s taste, of course, to sacrifice material that early in the game, but this shows the tendency in elite chess – black is so well prepared that if white wants to play for more than a draw then more drastic measures are needed. In the game though, Nakamura didn’t take the pawn on c4 and soon enough it was white who was doing the sacrificing again. In mutual time-trouble and complications Nakamura managed to keep his advantage and win.

What surprised me most today was the game Karjakin-Nakamura and the post-game comments by Karjakin. It was a King’s Indian (Karjakin said he was “surprised” by this, as he was expecting the Slav – but surely the King’s Indian is one of Nakamura’s most frequent choices, so how can that be a surprise?!) and Karjakin went for the popular line with h3 (usually called the Makagonov line). The game followed the Ostenstad-Nakamura game from 2013 and then on move 14 a bomb dropped. Had a beginner played the move 14 f3, he would have politely been told not to come back for any more lessons, because he had no talent for chess. The move shows complete lack of understanding of the King’s Indian and is a big positional blunder. And yet Karjakin played exactly that. And to make things worse, they were following a game by his opponent, if he didn’t prepare that, then what the hell did he prepare? After the game he whined that he didn’t bring a second with him (implying that he cannot prepare without a second? Poor Karjakin) and said that he played the line for the first time in his life and he briefly looked at the lines, but surely he’s a top-10 player who should have a general positional understanding of the highest calibre, even though he’s never played the King’s Indian in his life? But no, and this is a comfort for the lesser mortals, that even elite players have blind spots and positions they understand nothing about and play them like patzers. To his credit, Karjakin then showed his usual grit at defending and saved the draw. But to me, the 14 f3 move was a bigger shock than a blunder of mate in one.

Caruana won again, his second win in a row with white. He beat Mamedyarov who again couldn’t (or wouldn’t) control his aggressive impulses in a relatively calm position. He set the table on fire with 22…e5 and in the complications he had his chances to draw, but he didn’t take them (I wonder if he didn’t because he was playing for a win) and then Caruana showed good technique to win the endgame an exchange up.

Carlsen was under pressure in the middlegame against Radjabov, but then for some reason the latter switched to defensive mode (as Svidler put it) on move 31 and had to defend for 70 more moves. He did that successfully and the game was drawn.

So tomorrow we have the decisive game of the tournament – the leaders play each other, Carlsen having the white. He did beat Caruana very nicely in Zurich with white, in a Spanish with 4 d3. But in this tournament he’s exclusively played 1 d4 and somehow I doubt it he’ll go for some topical Grunfeld line tomorrow. So I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays something else, just in order to avoid the Grunfeld. Carlsen has had problems with Caruana in the past and lost to him in the first half of the tournament, so we’re all set for an exciting battle tomorrow! The tie-breaks do favour Carlsen, though, so he may not try too hard, but that will also depend on Caruana. Stay tuned!


Gashimov Memorial 2014 – Rounds 6&7: 10-0

The power of football. Or the magic of the ball. It seems that was all it took to get Carlsen back to his old routine.

Usually a free day after a loss is an added torment, let alone two losses. The player keeps going back to the mistakes, analyses the games over and over again, cannot forget the agony of defeat. And this is where the football kicks in. In my last post I said that the recipe for coming back after loss(es) is forgetting what has happened and “just play.” For Carlsen the football match on the free day served as the perfect distraction from his brooding (as any chess player, he was definitely suffering after the two losses) and at the same time as a way of letting go of all the negative emotions that accumulate after a loss of a chess game.

Mamedyarov-Carlsen followed the game Capablanca-Nimzowitch from Bad Kissigen 1928 until move 8 – Capablanca preferred to take on f6 while Mamedyarov kept the pin and later used the bishop to attack the black queen on b6. It was the typical Catalan-type compensation, double-edged and complicated. It’s a tendency I noticed that the players are trying to get this type of position against Carlsen: starting with Anand’s Nimzo with 4 f3 in Chennai, then Nakamura in Zurich (the same Nimzo with 4 f3, he repeated the line today as well, but more on that below), then also Karjakin used the same Nimzo line in round 3 here and Radjabov went for the King’s Indian. All these choices lead to complex positions with not-so-clear positional guidelines and the players obviously think that it is here that Carlsen’s potential weakness lies. They may be on to something, as he doesn’t feel very comfortable in these positions, even though he still manages to win. The game with Mamedyarov followed the same pattern, Carlsen may not have been too comfortable, but he still found good squares for his pieces (I liked 20…Rf7 with the idea of Nf8). Mamedyarov blundered soon afterwards, but black was already clearly better by then.

The other two games of the round were no less interesting, though they both finished in a draw. The funny thing in the Caruana-Nakamura game was that they both played that line of the Open Spanish with black! Nakamura played this line last year against Safarli, while Caruana played it way back in 2010 against Shirov. As it happened, he improved on Shirov’s play and won a pawn, but somehow with active play Nakamura held the draw. Radjabov-Karjakin was interesting because of the endgame that arose: a rook endgame with 3 vs 3 on the kingside and a passed b-pawn with white’s rook in front of the pawn. Fairly typical stuff and the usual defensive method with a passed a-pawn is to put the pawns on f7, g6 and h5 and keep the king around the e6-square. But here white had a b-pawn and the king is closer to it, so Karjakin played 32…g5!? and I found that very instructive – the idea is to reduce the material and in case of h5, like Radjabov played, to play 34…g4 in order to isolate the pawn on h5 and take it with the king. This is exactly what happened and black saved the draw. A valuable defensive idea!

Today Carlsen increased his lifetime score against Nakamura to 10-0. It’s curious how the game followed similar pattern to their game from Zurich: Nakamura again went for the 4 f3 line in the Nimzo and again got a very good position. And again he misplayed it. I am sure that he would never misplay that position (not to talk about the winning one in Zurich) against any other player in the world; yet in happens against Carlsen and on a pretty regular basis at that. Psychology is the only possible explanation, but what exactly does that mean? My guess is that Nakamura places too much importance on these games against Carlsen. With his statements and behaviour he tries to show the public that he’s “the one” who will dethrone Carlsen and all this brouhaha he creates impedes his own chess ability and consequently he plays below his level in these games. He creates the tension, he puts too much significance on the games and then he can’t withstand them. What serves him pretty poorly is the typically American need for self-promotion – it seems that it doesn’t bode well with his character. For some people it works well and gives them extra strength, they feed on their own words, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with Nakamura. If he would just shut up and play, he’ll do much better against Carlsen. However, I doubt he’ll shut up.

I’m starting to think that what I said some posts ago about Karjakin getting the wrong impression from the Candidates, that he can do well by playing for draws, is becoming true. Another non-game against Caruana today, repeating the game Giri-Caruana from Zug 2013 until move 29 and then 5 moves later it was a “dead draw” (as Karjakin said in the press conference). His statement from the press conference that “chess is a draw” seems like a lame attempt to excuse his shameful approach.

Radjabov-Mamedyarov was another friendly draw and not really worth mentioning.

We now have the same situation as at the start of the tournament – Carlsen is winning, the others aren’t. I just don’t think that this time he will crack – I am pretty convinced that he will clinch it.


Gashimov Memorial 2014 – Rounds 3-5: Carlsen Castles Short

It’s an unpredictable place, this (chess) world of ours. Just when everybody was expecting the usual Carlsen dominance, things started to go terribly awry for the World Champion.

It all seemed to go so well – in Round 3 he first got Karjakin out of his preparation, then outplayed him and put him in severe time pressure. Just when you expected the inevitable, Karjakin started to defend with only moves while Carlsen started to waver. Definitely not what he had got us used to! The game ended in a draw. (I noticed that Karjakin was smart to say after the game that he was happy not because he drew with Carlsen, but because he saved a difficult position – saying the former would have been a grave psychological mistake, it would have implied he had an inferiority complex).
I think this draw disturbed Carlsen’s inner peace – he was doing what he usually does and yet couldn’t finish the process, he couldn’t clinch the game, something that simply doesn’t happen with him. After all, he built all his reputation on mercilessly clinching games! He wasn’t his usual self the next day against Caruana, even though he played his usual Berlin. In the press conference he said he wasn’t feeling very well that day, it was just “one of those days” that we all have, when everything that can go wrong, goes wrong. This was indirectly confirmed by Chuchelov, Caruana’s second and coach, when he said that before the game they looked at the exact line that happened in the game – that’s how it goes, when things go wrong for you, they go right for your opponent. The Berlin structure they got in the game, with white’s pawns on h3, g4, f3 and e5, with a Ne4 and Bf4 is uncomfortable for black, this was also noted by Svidler during the online commentary (he even went on to explain that this was the reason for the popularity of the Berlin lines with Ke8 and h5, as they prevent white from establishing this structure). Carlsen was unhappy with his position and just as any other mortal would when under pressure, blundered and lost. What I found insightful was his confession after the game that he misjudged the position several times – this usually means that his positional calculation wasn’t precise (I invented the term “positional calculation” for my own purposes – something similar was mentioned already by Kotov – it refers to the calculation of lines “when nothing is going on in the position”. It usually consists of calculating many candidate moves 2-3 moves ahead both for yourself and the opponent and is more difficult than it sounds). When your calculation isn’t clear and precise, you cannot have good judgement.
Caruana was his usual confident self in converting the advantage (his slip on move 40 only would have prolonged the game, had Carlsen taken advantage of it, which he didn’t). During the game, while observing him, I noticed that he reminds me of the young Karpov from the early 70s (from the photographs I’ve seen). The same fragile constitution and gentle disposition outwardly, but with infinite self-confidence in their ability and will to win.

Not exactly look-a-likes, but they won’t pass the chance to beat you.

Unfortunately, Carlsen’s state of mind didn’t change much today. He tried to go back to what he usually does, going for a fight and outplaying his opponent, but Radjabov was very much up to it. He took too many risks, the positional exchange sacrifice did look good at first sight, but this is again proof of his problems with the positional calculation – your eyes are telling you it’s OK, but you should back that up with calculation, and he couldn’t because, as he said, he was missing and misjudging things. A deserved loss, but all credit should go to Radjabov, who played really well and found all the best moves, and rather surprisingly, finds himself in sole first before the rest day. Carlsen also admitted that he was out of energy, I think this is the first time I hear him say that. From a person who pays so much attention to physical exercise it can only mean that he’s deflated emotionally and definitely needs the rest day tomorrow. This is his first serious crisis in a very long time (people have noted that this is his first short castle (two losses in a row) since Bilbao 2010 when he lost to Kramnik and Anand in rounds 1 and 2), so it will be interesting to see how he responds to it.

The other Azeri player also struck today and showed that Caruana still isn’t Karpov. He got very good compensation in the Grunfeld as black, but then strangely enough started to play somewhat loosely and allowed Mamedyarov to untangle and later on to try to play for a win. But even then it seemed that he could draw with the opposite-coloured bishops (plus queens). And just when one more precise move was needed, he blundered. I don’t think Karpov (from any  period!) would have missed this chance.

Karjakin continues to surprise me. After the difficult draw with Carlsen, he didn’t even try to win against Mamedyarov, as they rattled out their preparation which ended in a perpetual check (was he naively hoping that the cat ate Mamedyarov’s preparation?) Today he showed another interesting opening idea in the English double fianchetto against Nakamura. In the online commentary Svidler said it may have been preparation until well over move 30 and he may be right – all Karjakin’s moves are the first line of the engine, except 29…Qf2 when the engine prefers h4 or Rc8 and gives zeros. I think that maybe the second place in the Candidates gave Karjakin the wrong impression that he can do well with playing for a draw. You never win tournaments when playing for a draw, but perhaps he still lacks the confidence that he can actually win elite tournaments (in spite of Stavanger 2013)?!

Before the rest day we have a situation when the first and the last are divided by only a point. This means that any player can win the tournament and we’re in for an exciting second half. For me the most interesting will be to see how Carlsen responds to the situation he has found himself in, as I have encountered this situation many times in my practice. The key to recovery is the ability to detach from the previous events and “just play”, but as you probably sensed it, that’s easier said that done. Great champions make the difficult things seem easy so let’s see if the Great Magnus will perform one more feat.


Gashimov Memorial 2014 – Rounds 1&2

I met Vugar Gashimov in 2007, in Havana, during the Capablanca Memorial. He seemed a very likeable and approachable guy, I remember we chatted in the lobby of the Triton Hotel about the best way to get convertible pesos and avoid being tricked by the locals in the process (those who have been to Cuba will understand).

I also saw him at the subsequent European Club Cups and European Team Championships and in the meantime I was following with great interest his games in the Benoni, as he was the only elite player to play that opening on a more or less regular basis (and quite successfully too). His games with Gelfand from Linares 2010 and Aronian from Wijk 2012 still serve as a starting point of analysis of the popular line with Bf4.

It is quite rare that players get to have their memorial tournaments nowadays. A more common picture is to see those memorial tournaments disappear, due to financial issues. It is a grand gesture by the Azerbaijan government to establish a Gashimov Memorial and I really hope this one is just a start of a wonderful tradition in memory of a great player.

The tournament started in an expected fashion. Carlsen is winning, the others aren’t. It certainly did help him that he got two whites at the start, but at the time of writing he’s pressing for his third win, this time with black, against Karjakin.

What I found very amusing is how Nakamura’s big mouth is making him look foolish. I can’t easily forget his “Sauron” comments, him being the  “biggest threat” to Carlsen and yet he cannot win a single game against “Sauron” and with every loss these statements sound more and more hilarious and absurd. He is fast turning to what Shirov was to Kasparov, just to remind you, Kasparov had an all time score against Shirov of 15-0 (in classical). Carlsen for now leads Nakamura by “only” 9-0. Just before the tournament Nakamura signed a sponsorship deal with Red Bull. He also put the can of the drink on the table when he played Carlsen. But whatever wings it may have given him, they didn’t help him avoid losing yet another game to the stomping Norwegian. It was another typical Carlsen game, where he “just” outplays the opponent from an equal position. I don’t know if his idea to lose a tempo in the opening (6 Be2 h6 7 Bd3?!?!) was intended to taunt Nakamura or not, but the position was equal all the time until the quality of black’s moves started to drop. And then it was the same old story: strong moves that put pressure, the opponent feels the pressure, but for the time being responds with good moves; this goes on, the opponent spends more time and energy to counter Carlsen’s strong moves, this leads to fatigue and time trouble; the pressure piles up, time runs down; the opponent commits mistakes; Carlsen continues with his strong moves and wins. The process is easy to describe, what I find fascinating is observe it as it happens before my eyes!

From the other players, I can see that Radjabov has done some work to rejuvenate his opening repertoire, at least with black. He dug up his old favourite, the French (remember that he beat Kasparov with it Linares in 2003!) and against 1 d4 he used the Slav to draw comfortably against Mamedyarov. As for the rest, it’s still early to tell.

It certaily looks like it’s going to be an interesting tournament, all eyes will be on Carlsen, but let’s see if the likes of Caruana and Karjakin point to some spots on the sun.


Candidates 2014 – Round 14 and Karposh Open Rounds 2&3

It was a double-round day today at the Karposh Open, so I’m really tired after two complicated games (won one and drew the other). Hence, I’ll keep it brief again.

Anand drew easily today so as not to leave himself with a sour aftertaste. The general impression was that the tournament was won by a player who didn’t make unforced errors. That was Anand, and all the rest were making them quite a lot. The reason for every player was different, but again, generally speaking, it was the pressure they put on themselves (Aronian a typical example), the lack of nervous energy (Kramnik, in his own words) and the pressure of the occassion. Anand didn’t suffer from any of those because he had nothing to lose.

The double-round days are always hell and today at the Karposh Open was no different, especially with the morning round starting at 9.30am (and the one hour less sleep due to the daylight saving time change). I played a long game and I misplayed a winning knight endgame. In the afternoon I played a rather nice and complicated combination against a Croatian IM, which gave me some pleasure in executing.

There were also some upsets on the top boards, the most prominent being Stanojoski beating Granda Zuniga and Donchenko beating Ivanisevic.

Starting from tomorrow the games will start at the usual time of 5.30pm. The top boards can be followed live here: and also on the playchess server.


Candidates 2014 – Round 13: Anand! (& Karposh Open Starts)

This is just a short post, summing up the decisive round at the Candidates, as my own tournament, the Karposh Open in my home city of Skopje also started today. I will do a more detailed round up of this and the final, 14th round of the Candidates when the open finishes (and tomorrow is a double-round day!)

So Anand finally got under pressure, but even though he wasn’t always precise, he managed to draw and coupled with Aronian’s loss to Andreikin, won the tournament with a round to spare. The man who was thinking whether to play at all and who was written off by all the experts, managed to pull one of the most incredible upsets in modern sport! I will write about my opinion why this happened, for now I’ll just say that he thoroughly deserved it!

The Karposh Open started today, with over 50 GMs participating among the total of more than 260 players, a monster tournament! I won my game today against a WIM from South Africa (a revenge for my loss to a South African in Reykjavik). Tomorrow’s morning round starts at 9.30am (after the tournament I will look up and have a chat with the sadistic bastard who came up with this idea) and to add insult to injury, this night the clock is moved one hour forward – meaning one hour less sleep…

So time to rest (but still no pairings for tomorrow, so I guess I’ll just browse the web and read the reactions to Anand’s victory).


Candidates 2014 – Round 12

Another rather calm round. The only decisive game decided nothing in the upper echelons of the standings.

Anand has returned to his old love 1 e4 on a constant basis, it seems, and Andreikin’s choice to repeat Carlsen’s Caro Kann from the game 2 of the Chennai match didn’t seem very wise. When Anand deviated from that game on move 15 they followed theory for a bit more but it seems that white’s position is easier to play (or perhaps Anand was better prepared). Andreikin got into trouble very quickly and soon was lost. He showed his usual resilience but it was really up to Anand to win it. Surprisingly, he didn’t, as he missed several wins along the way. The last one was after the time control when he took the repetition instead of playing on. People were all going crazy as to why he didn’t go on, but Anand said he was too tired by then and didn’t see a clear win. And it is easy to yell 41 Rc4 (especially when you see it suggested by your engine), but in a situation when tournament victory is so close, when your nearest rivals have already drawn and when you don’t see a clear win, it’s perfectly understandable to take the safe way. Anand doesn’t seem to mind to crawl to the finish line as the other players also seem to be crawling behind him.

What many expected to be the tournament’s decisive game, turned out to be a game of two tired players who would rather go home than play the remaining games. I was somewhat surprised by Kramnik’s choice in the Queen’s Gambit, allowing the Exchange Variation with a knight already on f6, something which on elite level is not considered the most exact. Aronian went along the normal lines and even here Kramnik showed how the position should be treated from black’s perspective. After the “strategically very risky decision ” (Aronian) of 27 e4, it was Kramnik who could have tried to play for a win, but he chose to repeat the moves instead, another confirmation that he’s despondent and disappointed.

Svidler 2.0 ran out of steam. Or you could say Santa Claus is on fire, giving away presents in most generous manner. Today the “good kid” was Topalov, in a way getting back what he gave away in their first game. I was surprised Svidler went for a line in the Sicilian which is considered to be good for white and from then onwards he just “started missing stuff” (Svidler) leading to a “result [which] is perfectly deserved” (Svidler). A very one-sided game, something that is only possible when the players are tired and have lost their ambitions and motivation.

Mamedyarov-Karjakin was a wild Nimzo Indian with 4 f3 and it was black who turned out to be better prepared. It was messy and stressful, especially for Karjakin who had 1 minute for 8 moves and 13 seconds for 6 moves, but still managed to make the time control. He then played on in a drawn double-rook endgame. It’s absurd that Karjakin, with his wimpish strategy, is now considered the biggest threat to Anand, but it has been a rather unusual tournament, at a very slow pace and tension that cracked the pre-tournament favourites. So the people who haven’t forced matters are the ones up in front – Anand and Karjakin (I don’t count Aronian and Mamedyarov as they lose the tie-break to Anand). I sincerely doubt that Karjakin will even try to beat Anand, but we may still be in for some excitement before the end.


Candidates 2014 – Round 11

A rather calm round today with all the games ending in a draw. The players must be tired by now and none of them seems very confident of catching Anand.

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…

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