In another great round played in Sochi, the chess fans saw fascinating fights that resulted in four decisive games and three very interesting draws. What more can we wish for? Aronian has taken sole lead with 7/11, followed by Wang Yue, Karjakin and Radjabov with 6.5/11.
Aronian-Gelfand was a heart-attack game! Almost everybody was expecting them to calmly cruise to a quick draw: this line of the Queen's Indian has proved to be quite peaceful and computer engines didn't see big problems for Black.
But suddenly the score said "1-0" as Gelfand had blundered terribly.
Boris had come up with a good novelty, 20…Bf6 (notice the move number!). In Ivanchuk-Leko, Moscow 2007 Black continued 20...Nc5 21.Bxg7 Nd3 22.Bxf8 Nxb2 23.Bxe7, and barely succeeded proving that the queen is a valuable piece (i.e., made a draw).
Criticizing the players’ first moves without deep analysis would be just wasting your time. They looked sensible and logical, and then... And then Gelfand and his supporters suffered from a sudden blow.
The correct 25...Rfe8 seems to leave White with no advantage but according to Aronian, Black hadn't reached equality yet: "25...Rfe8 26.Re5! is better for White." Computers find 26…Qb4! easily but at the board it’s not easy.
However, Boris proceeded with unbelievable 25…Rfd8?, and after 26.Qe5! the Black’s knight was doomed. Taking on d7 is impossible due to a back rank mate, so Gelfand had to resign on the spot.
Hold on, Boris! You still have a chance...
When both players are tired, the difference in strength between them becomes even more obvious. Al-Modiahki is of course a skilled player, but Svidler is one of the best players in the world, and the gap in skill between these players is quite noticeable.
In a sharp line of the Caro-Kann White had attacking chances on the kingside, and Black enjoyed a strategic advantage on the queenside. Al-Modiahki somehow started playing on the wrong wing. After he made a wrong choice, no tactical nuances could overcome a huge strategic mistake.
Instead of capturing on g6, better was 16.Be2!. After that, White had to consider strengthening the queenside by 19.a3. The bishop transfer to d6 did not seem to give White any benefits, and indeed Svidler wasn't enthusiastic about: "There I'm at least equal."
White's anti-positional a2-a4 move made matters worse. Svidler came with a nice pawn sacrifice: "I don't really need to win the pawn back immediately, because the bishop is a bit stupid on a3. Probably 25.Bb4 a5 26.a3 was critical. After 25...Rb3 I was fairly happy already."
After 27...Qb5 Black is clearly better, and a few moves later Al-Modiahki hastened the end with the blunder 29.Qd4. "I had to calculated it well, but because I have Rc4 and Qa4 just in time, there's no fortress for White, and Black's queen comes in," Svidler said.
Sportively, he added: "This game was not an indication of his true strength; he's probably getting tired, as we all are, and he needs more experience in tournaments like this."
Ivanchuk once again played creatively in the opening, and it led to another draw, against Radjabov.
In a King’s Indian, White opted for the rare move 5.Bf4. The resulting structure looked quite Indian, but with the White e-pawn stuck on e3. Radjabov offered a pawn by 8…e5, but it was obviously poisoned.
Ivanchuk kept looking for chances in a closed position. He kept the king in the center and tried to put positional bind on the opponent’s kingside. However, the aggressive (but necessary) 16.g4 was fearlessly met by 16…e4!. Black obtained good compensation for a pawn due to the stronghold on e5.
The White’s king escaped to the queenside, and when Teimour tried to get closer to it, Vassily trapped his queen: 33.a5! However, he was unable to capture the trapped queen, so the game ended in a draw by move repetition. Radjabov: "It was quite a balanced game. OK, he was a pawn up but couldn't do anything afterwards. It was a reasonably correct game."
There are openings where even White cannot avoid well-known tracks without risking to sink. For example, the Gruenfeld Defense!
Wang Yue tried to exclude risk and play safely in the opening, but he failed. The queen maneuver Qd1-a4-c4-d3-d2 led to serious lag in development for White. Black used it by the energetic 12…Nc5!
Kamsky correctly captured the a2-pawn and got the better chances, despite his opponent’s counterplay. It is hard to show any improvements for Black. Maybe 17…a5 could be a bit trickier than the move in the game, planning to delay b7-b5 for a couple of moves. Then Black would get a chance to advance their passed pawns.
"He should have played 22.Rfc1 instead of 22.Ra1, where I probably go 22...Ne4," Kamsky said. "After 23...Rfc8 Black is better."
After 23.Ne5 it became clear that White has serious initiative for a pawn. Gata, playing to win, returned the pawn, got the bishop pair, but failed to overcome drawing tendencies of the ending.
It seems Wang Yue then escaped. "My 35...h5 was a big mistake. I was in timetrouble, as usual," Kamsky said. After the game he was looking at 35...Rc1+ 35...Bd6 and 35...Bf5 as possible improvements.
Navara-Grischuk was a nice and fighting game, in which both players were up to the task. In the Paulsen Sicilian, Black opened the queenside and created piece counterplay that compensated for his structural weaknesses. Navara: "My opponent surprised me in the opening but I could use my preparation against grandmaster Svidler."
Grischuk introduced a strong novelty 16...Qc7! (earlier Black played 16...Bd8 and 16...Bd7), and then forced trading the bishops by the neat 18…Bb5!. Navara thought 18. Bc4 was perhaps an innaccuarcy as after 18…Bb5 Black's position "looks more pleasing".
Black could play for an advantage by 21...d5!, while after 21…Rc8 White timely created serious pressure on the d6-pawn, which forced Black to look for simplifications.
Navara showed the following line that could have appeared in the game: 26... Bxc3 27. Qxc3 d5 28.exd5 exd5 29. Na5 Qxf4 30. Nxc6 Qd6 31. Rxa6 Rxa6 32. Ne7+, "a nice trick but not forced of course".
By 27…Bxc3! 28.Qxc3 d5 Grischuk led the game into head-spinning complications. David handled it quite well. Accurate moves by both players (33.Rxa6!, 36…Qxd1+!) resulted in total annihilation of forces. The resulting ending was completely drawn.
33... Qg4 was mentioned by Grischuk after the game, e.g. 34. Rd4 (34. Raa1) (34. Rd6 Rab8) 34... Qxd4 (34... Qf5) 35. Bxd4 Rxa6. "I was also looking at the crazy line 34. Ra7 Ng4 (34...Nd5 35. Rxd5 cxb3 36. cxb3 Rc1+ 37. Bg1 or 34... Ne4 35. Bc7 Qe3 36. Qxf7+ Kxf7 37. Bb6+ Kg8 38. Bxe3 cxb3 39. cxb3 Rxb3 40. Bd4 Nf6) 35. Bc7 Qe3 36. Qxe3 Nxe3" (Navara).
The players can be proud about this game.
Jakoveko-Gashimov: the end of the Azerbaijan tale. Vugar’s cruiser lost its first battle.
His faith in the Modern Benoni system is truly remarkable, but playing it all the time at the highest level is very unpractical, as it requires utmost concentration and resourcefulness. Every mistake made costs Black more dearly that such in other, more popular openings.
Black failed to equalize; the very fact of developing the bishop on b7, while the White’s pawn solidly rests on d5, has always been considered bad for Black. Jakovenko: "17…g5 may be better and 18...Re7 may be already a mistake."
White placed his pieces excellently, correctly traded on c4 by 19.Be2!, and soon the e4-e5 break because extremely threatening for Black.
In the press room, the Russian said: "At first I thought 20.e5 Nxe5 21.Nxe5 Bxe5 22.Bxh5 was winning, until I saw 22...Bxc3! 23.Qxc3 gxh5. [Using the demo board:] Wait, then 24.Qf6 looks quite strong actually."
Gashimov’s refusal to repeat moves does not mean he did not want a draw. Naturally, he realized that White simply wants to gain time. 26...Bd4 could be met by 27.e5!, therefore Vugar complicated the struggle by 26…b5! – and nearly escaped from trouble!
Jakovenko could solidify his advantage by 32.Re2! instead of 32.Rf1, in order to keep control over the e5-square. "After 35...Nxe5 I first thought it was a draw, but then I found the idea with 36.Qe2. If he plays 36...f6 there follows 37.Qa6."
38...Rxd5? was Black’s decisive mistake. After 38...Qb5! he was close to a draw, for example, 39.Re3 Qxd5 40.Re8+ Rxe8 41.Qxe8+ Kh7!, or 39.b3 Qxd5 40.bxc4 Qd1+.
The pawn ending with a adjacent passed pawn was won for White. The rest of the game did not require Jakovenko’s famous endgame skill.
Karjakin-Cheparinov was immensely complicated, and the player who saved more energy and therefore was able to calculate more accurately, emerged a winner. Apparently, Ivan began to crack under the pressure. He played well for the most part of the game but lost nevertheless. It looks like he made a wrong assessment of the knight vs. bishop endgame.
It is not easy to present a detailed analysis of such a tense and interesting game. We'll will point out a few moves that were indeed non-trivial: 14.exf6, 25.bxa5, 33.Rf4!, 39.Bg7+. I have no intention giving million ways to make a draw for Black, as Ivan was obviously playing for a win.
The crucial error was made in the very end. Instead of 48…Nb4?, he had to look for survival by 48...Ra8 49.a7 Nb2! 50.g6 d3 51.Be3 Ke4 52.Bc1 Rxa7 53.Bxb2 d2 54.Rd6 Ra6 55.Rxd2 Rxg6+. And after 49.Rf6+ Kxg5 50.a7! it turned out that White wins a rook by bringing his rook to d8. The yesterday’s leader is going down.