Aronian goes into last round with one-point lead over Carlsen

In the tenth and penultimate round of the Amber Blindfold and Rapid Tournament Levon Aronian kept his one-point lead over Magnus Carlsen with a 1½-½ win over Veselin Topalov. Magnus Carlsen defeated Alexander Grischuk 1½-½.

With one round to go Aronian has already won the blindfold competition, while Carlsen cannot be caught anymore in the rapid standings.

The € 1,000 Game of the Day Prize was awarded to Magnus Carlsen for his rapid win over Alexander Grischuk.

The blindfold game between Veselin Topalov and Levon Aronian was a wildly exciting fight that could have gone either way. Topalov’s 12.Ne5 was a novelty that had not only been studied by the white player, but also by his opponent! Nevertheless the Armenian grandmaster got into serious trouble. According to Topalov Black was lost after 14…Nxc3 and Aronian admitted that he was pretty upset when he reached the position after 21…Ne6. But it was here that Topalov gave the tournament leader a helping hand. The Bulgarian grandmaster wanted to decide the game in great style, going straight for the black king with 22.f4, where he could have gotten a winning advantage with 22.Bf5 (the move Aronian was afraid of during the game) 22…Qg7 23.Qe7. Topalov let his opponent off the hook for good with 33.Rf7+. Now gradually Black got the upper hand and although there were several moments where it was clear that the players were no longer sure where the pieces were, Aronian scored a highly important point.

In the rapid game Aronian got excellent chances from the opening, until he played the ‘terrible’ 16.h4. According to the Armenian grandmaster, Black’s position was ‘extremely suspicious’ after 8…e4 (‘This move just cannot be good’) and he blamed himself for not exploiting his advantage. Topalov gave him a second chance with 19…cxd5 (he should have played 19…Nxf3+), but committed another inaccuracy with the ‘ridiculous’ 27.Qd4. In the rook endgame Aronian didn’t want to take any risks anymore in view of the standings and after 37 moves the game ended in a draw.

The blindfold game between Vladimir Kramnik and Vasily Ivanchuk was a spectacular draw that filled the out-of-form Russian with some sort of relief: ‘At least I finally played an entertaining game again’. Entertaining it certainly was. In a Catalan Ivanchuk played the new move 15…Qc7, a new idea that Kramnik was eager to refute. He started his plan with 16.cxd5, looking for ‘something very concrete, ’but found afterwards that 16.Bf3 was the better move. At this point he had not seen the stunning 19…Ng3 that Ivanchuk uncorked to the amazement of the kibitzing grandmasters. Black got a clear advantage and would have had White on the ropes had he played 24…Bxb4. After his 24…Nc3 Kramnik was back in business and to his mind both sides probably played the best moves in the remainder of the game that led to a draw.

The rapid game was a wildly complicated tussle that left both the players and their kibitzing colleagues guessing what exactly was going on. After the game Kramnik, who thought that he had been better, sat analyzing for about half an hour in the press room. The conclusion was, in slight amazement, that everything had been more or less correct and that a draw was the correct result.

Hikaru Nakamura happily repeated the French line he had tried yesterday against Topalov (which led to a ‘ridiculous’ loss, Nakamura’s words) in his blindfold game against Sergey Karjakin. However, the Russian didn’t go for a repeat of the sensational novelty 13.Ba4, but opted for 13.Bxd7+. Nakamura found that the middlegame position he got was ‘roughly equal, maybe slightly worse’ for him and once he managed to untangle his bishops he felt he was better. However, his 37…Bf5 was careless, allowing 38.Bh4+ and now Black cannot take the bishop because of 39.Nxf5+ followed by 40.Ne7. Nakamura was relieved that his mistake didn’t lose on the spot and started a tenacious defence. In the end he had to defend rook and bishop versus rook and successfully did so after 124 moves.

In the rapid game Nakamura went for a pawn sacrifice that Karjakin was unfamiliar with. White had positional compensation, but Black played well until he gave his opponent an edge in the endgame with 23…Bd7. Perhaps White could have played better on move 29 by moving his knight to f5, but all in all the position looked like a draw. However, Karjakin committed several inaccuracies and ultimately he needed the creative 44…Rd2 (the rook cannot be taken, 45.Kxd2 b3!) to save the game.

The blindfold game between Boris Gelfand and Anish Giri ended in a disappointment for the Dutch grandmaster. ‘I studied this line!’, he said, annoyed with himself.. Looking back he was unhappy with his 19th move and 20…Nh4 was already ‘the losing mistake’. Instead he would have had good drawing chances had he played 20…Nxe5 21.Qxc3 Bc6!. A further mistake (22…Rc2, he should have tried 22…Rdc8) sped up the end, which came after only 24 moves.

In the rapid game Gelfand didn’t play his pet Najdorf, as Giri may have expected, but a Nc6 Sicilian with 4…Qb6. The Israeli number one was looking for active play and kept offering his d5 pawn. In the first instance Giri kindly declined, but once he took it he didn’t regret it. He got the clearly better position and had he captured a second pawn with 53.Nxb5 (on 53…Kg7 follows 54.Rb7) he would have scored a fine win. However, in time-trouble Giri didn’t find the right plan and in the end he had to settle for a draw.

‘Complicated, as Ivanchuk would say’, Alexander Grischuk joked after his blindfold game against Magnus Carlsen. The Russian played against a variation of the Queen’s Indian that he also plays himself as Black. In fact he paid his opponent a compliment when he said that Carlsen got a ‘slightly better version than normal’. The upshot was that Black had enough initiative to make a draw and that was exactly what happened.

In the rapid game Carlsen tore down Grischuk’s Najdorf or, as the Norwegian put it ‘Black was busted out of the opening’. And in more diplomatic terms: ‘He has long-term problems and no counterplay, which usually is a problem in the Sicilian.’ Carlsen converted his advantage and shortly before he was to be mated, Grischuk resigned. Carlsen was pleased that with this win he clinched the rapid competition, but for understandable reasons he was not too happy with the total harvest of the day. Things would have been different after all if Aronian had not won his blindfold game.

The blindfold game between Vishy Anand and Vugar Gashimov saw a brief theoretical discussion in the Petroff. The World Champion was surprised by 13…Be5, which he had not checked before the game. The critical moment came three moves later, where he invested time to check if he could play 16.Qxg7. The variations he checked didn’t encourage him and fearing there might be a pitfall somewhere he chose the safer 16.Qf2 which soon led to a draw.

Anand won the rapid game. From a French Defence the World Champion got a pleasant position. He had the bishop pair and no complaints about his pawn structure. Gashimov called his 19.Nh3 a mistake and Anand agreed that 19.Nf3 would have been better. But White’s real problems started when he decided to burn his bridges and went 28.Rh3 hoping for counterplay against the black king. This counterplay he got but it didn’t compensate for the damage Anand was allowed to do in the white camp.

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