As if the drawing percentage wasn't high enough yet (67% after round 6), round number 7 saw 6 draws, to increase it even further (now 70%). Of course, not much changed in the standings, and Cheparinov and Radjabov are still leading half a point ahead of Aronian and Gashimov.
Thus far, first seeded Vassily Ivanchuk seems to be a bit uninspired here in Sochi – for the third time, he was the first to draw his game, today against Gashimov.
The Azeri didn’t believe 9.Nd2 to be the most critical ("White should try 9.Re1 or 9.d4 there") and believes Black is already very comfortable after 9...h6. Vassily's 11.Bxc6 was new but but he could not create any pressure on the opponent’s position. Black's kingside looked a bit weakened, but with ...f7-f5 always hanging in the air, White has nothing.
The exchange of queens with 19.Qc4 declared the Ukrainian’s peaceful intentions, but Vugar showed his determination by 22…f5!, which yielded him the initiative.
White’s weaknesses looked scary in the endgame, but Ivanchuk finally managed to create a fortress. The only dubious moment in the second part of the game is 29…Kf7. By 29…b5! Gashimov could create some idea for future play, while after White’s 30.c4 and 31.a4 it was all over.
After modest opening play by Aronian, giving Jakovenko no real problems, these two players quickly agreed to a draw as well. The Lasker Variation of the Queen’s Gambit led to simplifications in the center. By 18.Qa4 Aronian tried to improve Alekseev–Jakovenko game from Moscow 2007, where White continued 18.Qh4. However, Black managed to complete the development and secure a solid position.
"13...Bb7, which I also played in my game against Alekseev last year, solves all of Black's problems I think. After 14.cxb6 axb6 15.a3 Nd7 Black has good compensation," Jakovenko explained afterwards. "More ambitious would have been 15.Bd3 Bxf3 16.gxf3 Nd7 and now 17.Be4 (17.c6 Nc5) 17...Nxc5 (or even 17...Rxc5 18.Rd1 Rd8 19.Qxa7 Ra5) 18.Bxa8 Nd3+ 19.Kd2 Nxc1 Be4 20.Qd6+ 21.Qd4 Qc7."
The sharp 20.f4 was insufficient to keep fire on board. There Jakovenko could have tried for a bit more, but he believed 20...Ng6 to lead to a forced repetition of moves with 21.Qb5 Qc7 22.Qc4 Qe7 23.Qb5. However, his simplifying operation that started with 22…Nxd4! completely dried out the game. There is no life in a desert…
Wang Yue-Cheparinov became another page in the Anti-Moscow Gambit book, after the Bulgarian tricked his opponent in the opening. "I deliberately played the move order 2...e6 to reach the Moscow Variation because I knew he never played it before."
After some hesitation and move repeating, the Chinese implemented a novelty – 18.Bg4 (Inarkiev–Cheparinov, Baku 2008 saw 18.e5). Cheparinov’s fearless 18…c5! led to a huge mess in the center, which resulted in a better ending for Black. The powerful bishop on e5 and queenside pawn majority were the most important factors favoring Black.
The initial feeling that White must be able to hold was completely eliminated during the analysis. I (Shipov) am very impressed by tenacity and composure of the Chinese grandmaster, who managed to save the game.
Cheparinov did have some alternatives. About 23...Bxc3 he wasn't sure himself after the game, and on the 24th and 25th moves he could retreated the bishop from b7 to c8, and play with two bishops, ignoring White’s counterpart on d5, which only looks strong. Later there was a very strong move 28...b4! – without trading rooks on e3. The idea is to support the b4 pawn by a6-a5 and only then centralize the king. In my opinion, this plan makes White’s task exceptionally hard.
Wang Yue skillfully neutralized Black pawns on the queenside by 33.a4!, and after that Black didn’t have any real winning chances.
Radjabov-Kamsky was a Gruenfeld Defense – this opening is becoming a dangerous weapon in Gata’s hands. One can feel the fundamental approach of the American in this opening.
In a relatively rare variation (5.Bd2) the players quickly traded several minor pieces, and White gained a lot of space. A fairly natural move 12...Nd7 was a novelty – earlier Black tested 12...Qa5 and 12…Qd6.
Opening experts will probably be interested in a small interval between White’s 14th and 15th moves. Possibly White should keep the pawn on c3, to preserve some diagonals for the queen and the bishop. Then White can try seizing up the center by f2-f4 and e4-e5 with a help of his major pieces.
Radjabov’s actions allowed Kamsky to create a fortress by the timely 15…e5!. Moreover, after the knight was transferred to d6, Black obtained some winning chances, which, however, could become real only if White played inaccurately.
Kamsky:"I think the middlegame was a bit better for Black because knight and queen can maneuver more easily. Especially when he allowed 34...h4 I thought I had tangible advantage. 37.h3 was a good move and there I should have taken on g3. After I allowed 38.g4 it was just a draw."
The final position was dedicated to the starting Olympics: the Great Wall!
The opening part of Navara-Svidler is very mysterious. One can only guess what Peter had in mind against 13.Nd5, the move that often led White to success in grandmaster practice. David’s opening surprise 13.Bd5 quickly gave Black obvious advantage.
Svidler had many opportunities to solidify it. For example, 19...Nxa4 looked fairly strong, and if 20.e7 Qxe7 21.bxa4, then 21…Qa7 22.Be3 Re8 23.Bf2 Qc7 with an obvious edge.
Instead of 23…Be6 Black had the cunning 23…a5!, planning to meet 24.Bg5 by 24…Bb7!, and to respond to 24.Rfd1 with 24…Ra6! followed by Ra6-c6.
Navara timely reduced the bishop population by 24.Bg5!, and here Peter probably had to push the d6-pawn.
The spectacular 26…e4 gave Black only a small advantage that was insufficient to win the game.
Navara: "I played this variation for the first time and I did not know it very well. In the ending I was under pressure so perhaps I should have preferred 28.Ng3 exf3 29.Rxf3 Rxf3 30.gxf3 and put my knight on e4. With 35.Kf2 I wanted to force the draw but I missed an intermediate check. Later, 35.Nd4 was probably better."
David added some more variations: "On 37.Nc6 there follows 37...axb3 38.axb3 cxb3 39.cxb3 Ra6. He could have tried 40...b3 41.Ke3 Rxc2 42.Rb5 Rxg2 43.Rxb3 Rxh2 44.Rc3 and it will lead to a queen ending that's difficult to win. On 41.Kf3 the check 41...Rc3+! is very unpleasant and perhaps even winning. He could have tried 42...Kg6 or 46...g5+ but probably he just missed my stalemate idea."
In Grischuk-Gelfand, the Muscovite failed to alter the evaluation of a modern line of the Catalan Opening. Instead of 18.axb5 (Cernousek-Klovans, Mlada Boleslav 2008), Sasha played 18.Bxe6, and in three more moves his position became precarious. Black’s long-range bishop and adjacent passed pawn outweighed White’s advantages.
I (Shipov) failed to find a simple way to equality. I can suggest 21.Rfc1 Re4 (21...Rd5 22.f4 Rxa5 23.Rxc7 Bxa4 24.Rac1! could be dangerous for Black) 22.f4 g5 23.e3! Rxe3 24.Ng4 Re4 25.Rxc7 gxf4 26.a6! fxg3 27.h3! – and White is acting from the position of strength. However, who can call this line simple, and how can we blame grandmasters for not finding it?
In the game Black got some advantage, but Grischuk defended very accurately. For instance, he avoided a neat trap 27.Nc7 Bxe2! 28.Nxe8? Bxf1 29.Kxf1 a4!, and the Black’s pawn makes a home run.
Gelfand tried his best, but could not overcome drawing tendencies of the position.
In Karjakin-Al-Modiahki, Black reacted to the exotic Bishop’s Opening 2.Bc4 in reasonable manner, but then made irresponsible and even amateur-looking move 14…g5?, which hopelessly weakened the kingside and especially the f5-square. White got a long-lasting advantage, and slowly increased pressure. Maybe even too slowly... For example, 26.с5 could be a decent alternative to the game.
Sergey allowed the opponent creating a powerful defense line. 46.c5 was correctly met by 46…Nxe4!, and White ended up in a queen ending without a pawn. However, the Ukrainian won it!
Naturally, Al Modiahki helped his opponent a lot by missing numerous opportunities of making a draw. There are a few. Firstly, Karjakin said after the game: "If he had played 58…f5 I would probably have offered a draw immediately. 58...Kg5 should also draw but he has some practical problems." I (Shipov) give the following suggestions:
Instead of 59…Qg1 much simpler is 59...Qf4 intending 60.Qxa6 Qe4+ 61.Kd1 Qd4+!.
Instead of 70…h5 I suggest the perpetual check 70...Qd5+! 71.Ke3 Qg5+ 72.Ke4 Qf5+ 73.Kd4 Qf2+ 74.Kd5 Qg2+ 75.Ke6 Qe4+ 76.Kd7 Qd5+ 77.Ke7 Qe5+! 78.Kd7 Qd5+ 79.Kc8 Qa8+, etc.
Instead of 71…Qb3, 71...Qe5! looks good.
However, these are minor adjustments that can be easily overlooked during the game. The main mistake of Al Modiahki is that he allowed the enemy king to hide on the queenside. It was absolutely must to play 72...Qd5+! (instead of 72…Qb2+) 73.Ke3 Kf5! 74.Qf4+ Ke6 75.Qe4+ Qe5! – and Black survives.
After Al Modiahki missed this chance, Karjakin proceeded to win the game.