Some interesting games, two decisive results and one very dramatic game - that was the fourth round of the Sochi Grand Prix in a nutshell. Radjabov surprised Svidler by playing the Dragon, but in timetrouble the Azeri grandmaster erred. After strong opening play, Navara had reached a winning position against Al-Modiahki, but the Czech lost anyway, as a result of playing too quickly. Cheparinov retains his lead of half a point.
"Nothing special," was Ivanchuk's comment to his quick draw against his compatriot Karjakin, and this remark couldn't be closer to the truth. Almost all of the different lines in the Petroff Defence are immune to the Sofia Rule!
(But not all, as we'll see later on.)
An ancient variation of the Petroff's Defense (the first record of the 4.Nc3 occurred in Andersen-Loevental, London 1851!) is now considered mainstream theory and the Ukrainian derby did not bring any news to the world. Ivanchuk went for the safe 8...Be6, avoiding all the sharpest lines. Karjakin tried to created positional pressure, but did not succeed – Black defended very accurately.
In my (Shipov's) opinion, in response to the novelty 12...Bf6, White should have sent the knight to g5, trying to obtain the two bishop advantage. After the move in the text, Ivanchuk played very precisely (14...Bd5!, 17...Bh4!, 18...f6!) to create ideal circumstances for a dry and dull draw.
Despite having entered the Moscow Variation of the Slav Defense, Kamsky and Aronian ended up in the so-called Karlsbad structure. The game developed in classical manner: White attacked on the queenside, while Black initiated activity on the kingside.
Kamsky: "I did prepare for this line, but didn't look at 13...a5 deeply. After 14...Rxa5, Black is OK. Because there is no play on the queenside left, I had to go for e4." Aronian's novelty 15...Re8 (15...c5 was played earlier) became a starting point of an interesting regrouping of Black pieces, aimed at the White king. Kamsky responded by moving the knight from f3 to b3, planning to invade to c5. However, prior to that maneuver he weakened the king's shelter by seemingly standard h2-h3, and it severely complicated his task.
I (Shipov) would like to bring to your attention the fine and unorthodox maneuvering of the Armenian grandmaster. The moves 19...Bf8!? and 20...Qd8! created a dead-lock situation for White, while Black found a promising plan of creating a battery on the b8-h2 diagonal. Probably the American had to maintain the tension by 21.Ra1, but he decided to get aggressive by 21.e4?!, and missed a powerful response – 21...Nf4!. Suddenly Black obtained a significant advantage. Kamsky: "My 20.a5 was not good; I should have played 20.e4 immediately. However, I forgot about 21...Nf4, after which Black is better, but White has reasonable defensive chances."
In the subsequent game, the fortune was clearly on the American's side. After the excellent 22.Re3! Levon made a clear mistake, allowing the opponent to simplify the game, while he could either slowly improve his position by 22...Kg7 or 22...h5, or start a more concrete game by 22...dxe4!? 23.Bxe4 Bd6 24.Rbe1 Qg5 with unpleasant pressure.
Give Kamsky credit for the excellent resource 25.Rbe1!, which allowed White to keep the material balance, provoke massive exchanges and a draw. All in all, Gata was quite lucky to end up with half a point!
Another quick draw for Gashimov, this time against Grischuk. The Russian spoke in the press room after the game: "I have seen an interview with Carlsen in which he says he enjoys playing very much and I realise this is one of the main reasons that he's so succesful. For me it's a different story because I have zero pleasure in playing long chess. Winning is OK of course, but the process not. I'm trying to enjoy chess, and this is way I started to play more different openings."
A surprising introduction to what happened in the game, after which Grischuk continued: "Gashimov went for g3 variation, which I played myself in my youth, but I couldn't remember anything. I played this rare line with 9...Nd7 and I wanted to play ...Nc5, but then I thought it to be dangerous without developing my pieces.
Then I had to take on c6 with the pawn, which turned out to be OK. It's a very standard structure but not for me, I never had such structure, also not with White. So I wasn't sure who is better and what is going on.
The move repetition looked a bit strange perhaps but in fact it was quite logical. My plan is Nb8-c6 and 20.Qf2 prevents this because of 20...Nb8 21.e5! so I have to push the queen from f2 with 20...Nf6."
This relatively short and quiet draw presented us a unique dance of the Black's knight. The Paulsen Sicilian led to a typical Scheveningen position, and then there was a solo of the Black cavalryman. With 9...Nd7!? Grischuk parried the threat of a central blow and created a flexible defensive line. Gashimov didn't dare to attack that one, possibly being hypnotized by the opponent's beautiful maneuvering.
In this game the black knight visited the d7-square exactly four times.
Cheparinov-Gelfand was a highly interesting theoretical duel. The players discussed a very sharp variation of the Petroff, known since Lasker-Pillsbury, St. Petersburg 1895 – the game brilliantly won by the genius American.
Gelfand demonstrated a curious novelty 16...Rb8!?, deviating from the trodden path of 20...Re8 (Anand-Kramnik, Wijk aan Zee 1999, Ponomariov-Pavasovic, Batumi 1999, etc.). Cheparinov's reaction 17.c4 proved unsuccessful – this move is clearly overoptimistic. White has too many weaknesses, and Black's pieces are too active for such a sharp play to work. The powerful 17...f4! forced White to defend.
Then, the Bulgarian was worried about Black's possible mating attack with opposite-colored bishops. "I thought about 18.Rxe4 but after 18...dxe4 19.Qxe4 Qd7 Black is just better. And I didn't like 19.Ne5 because of 19...Bxe5 20.dxe5 fxg3 21.hxg3 Bf3."
And so Ivan returned a pawn and tried to simplify the game. It is possible that Boris was a bit hasty picking up a pawn. Instead of the spectacular 23...Rxf2, he could try some patient move like 23...Qd7!. Cheparinov gave another line: "On 23...g5 there follows 24.Qg4 Rxf2 25.Rxf2 Bxf2+ 26.Kxf2 Qd4+ 27.Kg2 Qxa1 28.Qxg5+ Qg7 29.Qd5+ and it's a draw."
Later in the game a paradoxical (under normal circumstances) situation arose, when the side trailing a pawn strives to trade pieces (30.Qf5!), while the opponent tries to keep pieces on the board (31...Qe7!). "Gelfand: maybe I should have exchanged rooks. Another option was 30...Qd6." Cheparinov: "But then I play 31.Qf7+ Kh8 32.Re4."
Finally the ghosts of draw materialized. It turned out that the rook endings still cannot be won – even with an extra pawn...
An unlucky miss for Gelfand! He showed the world a solid novelty, achieved a big advantage, but failed to convert it. Yet, Cheparinov deserved a draw due to fantastic composure.
"It should be against the law to play the Dragon without warning you!" was what Peter Svidler said, after scoring his first win of the tournament against Radjabov. The Azeri had chosen the opening that seems to be the main weapon of Magnus Carlsen these days, he showed an interesting improvement in the position that was considered difficult for Black after Xie Jun-Gufeld, Kuala Lumpur 1994. Teimour's brave sacrifice 17...Rd4 (instead of 17...Bd5, 17...Bxc4 and 17...Rd5!?) led to serious complications. Peter reacted in the most principled manner, accepting all the sacrifices and returning the material at the right time.
Svidler: "I vaguely remembered 17...Rd5 was the theoretical move." After 19...d3, he said the alternative 20.Qd6 was kind of drawish because of 20...Qb6 21.Bb3 Ne2+ 22.Kb1 Rd8 or first 22...dxc2+ 23.Kxc2 Nd4+ 24.Kb1 and then 24...Rd8.
The key position occurred on the 23rd move. 23.Qb3 looked tempting, with a sample variation 23... Rxb3 24.Bxb3 dxc2+ 25.Bxc2 Nd4 26.Rd3, and White has an edge. However, the text-move also brought the Russian the desired result. He didn't like 24.Bb3 because of 24...dxc2+ 25.Kxc2 a5 but there the computer finds the resource 26.Rhe1! which is still better for White.
For his queen White got two rooks and some back rank mating ideas. Perhaps Black could defend in some superhuman way, but leave this for the engines. I (Shipov) will only mention Radjabov's last mistake: he should have played 36...Qf4! 37.Rd1 c5! with a solid defensive formation, while after 36...a4? 37.Rdd7! White invaded the enemy territory without conceding his own land, and the outcome of the game was no longer in doubt.
Svidler scored a highly important victory and returned to the ranks of contenders.
Navara-Al-Modiahki was a dramatic encounter. Like Kamsky yesterday, it was Navara to be very lucky today.
The players created a wild hybrid of Sicilian Defense and English Opening, and the Czech grandmaster surprised everyone with a good novelty as early as move 6! Before, Black had played 6...e5 and 6...Qb6, and it seems Navara's 6...Nf6 is a radical improvement! Black opened the center by the energetic 7...d5! and created powerful pressure. Al Modiakhi's 10th move seems dubious; 10.Nb3 was more logical and solid.
Navara: "My oponent should have gone for Qb3 on move 16 or 17, and 20.f3 was also better than what he played."
By the 19th move Black's centralization has reached its climax, and it was followed by what looked a decisive invasion. After 19...e3! it seemed that only a miracle can save White (not to mention the inhuman resource 22.Bh5! Nf2+ 23.Kg1!).
And the miracle happened! Navara won a queen for a rook and a bishop, but began to make mistakes during the conversion stage, and followed them by a blunder: 33...Qb4??, missing the elementary 34.c7!. After 33...Rxc1+ 34.Rxc1 Qc7 Black would have winning chances (the a-pawn advances). The blunder gave White another rook, and that was enough to win.
Navara: "I won material but then I made the mistake of playing to quickly – I wanted to exploit my opponent's timetrouble. My 26...Re7 was probably bad, but surely 27...Qxb4 – I missed 28.Bd5. Later I also missed 33.Ra1 and 34.c7."
One can only feel sorry for David after this game...
A Slav Defence was played in Jakovenko-Wang Yue. In the 7...Nb6 line, the Russian showed a tricky novelty (15.Na2!) that helped him to avoid piece exchanges and seize the center by 21.e4! and 22.f4!. However White's significant advantage was just an optical illusion. Black had no weaknesses, and his pieces were well prepared for future clashes. White's 25.f5 was well met by Black, who obtained a structural advantage on the queenside (a stronghold on c5 in addition to White's weaknesses on a4 and c4), however, Dmitry managed to create a pawn storm on the kingside (29.g4, 32.h4!)
Black could have played for a win if he vacated the d3-square for his queen on the 34th move by 34...Nb3!. After Wang Yue's inaccuracy, Jakovenko seized the initiative (38.Ne2!, 44.c5!), but his opponent defended stubbornly, until move 55. There, according to Jakovenko, 55...h5 was bad, and White should have played 56. f6 Bh8 (56... Bh6+ 57. Kd3 +-) 57. f7 (57. Be7+ Ke8) 57... Bg7 58. Bb6 Bf6 59. Bc7 although after 60...Bxh4 Bxe5 Bg5+ it's not clear if White can win. In the game, the drawing tendencies of the position were too strong.
A hard-fought draw that required a lot of effort from both sides.