In a dramatic 12th round Vladimir Kramnik (Russia) took over the lead from Magnus Carlsen (Norway) at the FIDE World Chess Candidates’ Tournament in London. The former World Champion beat Levon Aronian (Armenia) while Carlsen suffered his first loss against Vassily Ivanchuk (Ukraine). The other two games, between Boris Gelfand (Israel) and Peter Svidler (Russia) and Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan) and Alexander Grischuk (Russia), were drawn.
With the FIDE World Chess Candidates’ Tournament entering its decisive phase, chess fans from all over the world will focus on London this Easter weekend. So far the tournament website has been visited by over half a million fans, even before the start of the 12th round! And every day the organizers are receiving dozens of emails. Christian from Germany wrote on Friday morning: “All of you are doing a marvellous job! Thanks to Socar, thanks to you, and thanks to Laurence and Nigel and everyone else making this fantastic event.”
In what was a truly dramatic round, for the first time all games went beyond move 40. Boris Gelfand and Peter Svidler, however, agreed to a draw immediately after the time control. Gelfand was happy with his position out of the opening, an Anti-Grünfeld. He said he knew that it’s “difficult to defend for Black”. Svidler agreed: “It’s a structure I’m not comfortable playing.”
Making matters worse with the inaccurate 20…Red8 and 21…Bg7, Svidler was looking at an unpleasant position around move 30. “I’m kind of running out of moves. To call it a Zugzwang position is an overstatement but it’s very difficult for me to make moves.” Gelfand, however, missed a tactic with his 32nd move (he should have played 32.Qb3) when the worst was over for Black. “I thought I was winning a piece,” said the Israeli grandmaster.
Aronian-Kramnik, on paper the Big Game of this round, became an absolute thriller, an “epic battle”, as Kramnik called it himself. It started as a Semi-Tarrasch and Aronian, who had to play for a win in this game, chose the modest 6.e3. It could have transposed into a Panov Caro-Kann, but with 10…f5 Kramnik took a different and quite original path. About this move, commentator IM Lawrence Trent said: “It’s like marmite, either you love it you don’t like it at all!”
On move 16 the game became extremely sharp, and every move was crucial. As became clear at the press conference, the players evaluated the position after 17.Rc5 quite differently. Aronian: “Honestly speaking I thought I was close to winning.” Kramnik: “Really? I thought I was close to winning!” The Armenian actually saw the line 21.Rh5 Rac8 22.Ne5 which draws (missed by Kramnik) but thought he had more. In that phase, according to some pundits Aronian “self-destructed”.
Kramnik then missed the strongest continuation (21…Qf4). Instead he went for a promising ending, which he said was “technically winning of course”. However, by exchanging rooks at the right moment, Aronian found a way to draw it, based on the fact that he could exchange all the pawns on the kingside after which Black would end up with a bishop of the wrong colour. This was a “cold shower” for Kramnik, who said it was “a miracle” that he still had a chance to play for a win with 41…Kf8.
The drama wasn’t over yet as Aronian then missed “quite a simple draw” (Kramnik) at the end when he went for 50.g6 instead of 50.h6 g6 51.Kb5, as the Russian demonstrated at the press conference. “Throughout the game I couldn’t calculate one line. Of course it’s embarrassing to lose a game like this but I’ll have to deal with it”, said Aronian. Kramnik: “I’m happy with my play because of course everybody is very tired already and I’m also not totally fresh, especially because it was the third game in a row. If you consider this, I think my level was quite high for this state of mind which we’re all experiencing now!”
The next game to finish was Radjabov-Grischuk, which, because of the dramatic affairs on the other boards, didn’t get a lot of attention in the commentary. It started as a Ragozin and the Azerbaijani (finally!) got an advantage out of the opening with the white pieces. Grischuk: “I thought I had a very promising position but then I realized that [after 16…Ne6 17.Qe5 Be4] White just has 18.Nd2 so I had to switch to defence.” The Russian praised his opponent’s play: “I think Teimour played very well. I completely underestimated the dangers in the endgame.” Radjabov, who probably missed a chance on move 56: “I don’t know if I’m winning but it should be close.” About defending the infamous f+h rook ending, Grischuk said: “I had quite some experience. In one month I had two games with Pavel Eljanov. Both times I had the pawns myself; I drew the first one and won the second. And I read some articles about it.”
And then, after seven hours of play, the chess world was shocked as Magnus Carlsen lost his first game of the tournament, and with it his lead in the tournament. But if anyone could beat him it was the erratic Vassily Ivanchuk, who had the upper hand in their first mutual game as well. In a Taimanov Sicilian, the Ukrainian quickly got a pleasant ending. “When 10.Nb3 appeared on the board I understood that this structure resembles the French Defence and it’s interesting to play. Objectively it’s not better for him but there were many tricks and traps,” said Ivanchuk.
Quite upset about his loss, Carlsen did attend the press conference and was very critical of his play. “First of all I think I played absolutely disgracefully from move 1.” He admitted that it was Black who had an edge in the ending, but after the weakening move 18…a5 he started to play for a win again. But then his 24.Nb5 was “extremely stupid”. “I can do anything. Probably I’m actually not better but I should never lose it.” About the position after move 30, the Norwegian said: “I think there’s still not too many problems for me but I just kept on missing more and more stuff.”
Ivanchuk kept pressing, but even the rook ending should have ended in a draw, e.g. with 71.c6. However, there Carlsen made the decisive mistake: “Here I was actually pretty sure that I would draw, which is why I played so carelessly. I hadn’t seen 71…Ke4 at all.” Although he wasn’t sure about his technique, Ivanchuk didn’t make a single mistake, converted the full point and made Kramnik the new sole leader.
The Ukrainian repeated what he said the day before: he sees the rest of the tournament as “preparation for the Russian league” (his next event). He didn’t want to admit that he found extra motivation in playing the world’s number one. “Of course I wanted to do my best today. I didn’t have a goal to specially win this game but I was thinking after the 23rd move the position is objectively equal. If Magnus wouldn’t have taken risks, I wouldn’t have had chances to win.”
After twelve rounds the standings are as follows: Kramnik leads with 8 points, followed by Carlsen with 7.5. Aronian is third with 6.5 points and Svidler fourth with 6. Grischuk and Gelfand are tied for fifth place with 5.5 points, Ivanchuk has 5 and Radjabov 4 points. Saturday, March 30th is a rest day. After the clock is set one hour forward, the 13th round will be played on Sunday, March 31st at 14:00 British Summer Time (BST) with the games Radjabov-Carlsen, Grischuk-Aronian, Kramnik-Gelfand and Svidler-Ivanchuk.
The FIDE Candidates’ Tournament is taking place March 14th-April 1st, 2013 at IET London, Savoy Place. It is sponsored by the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) and organized by AGON and the World Chess Federation (FIDE). Games and information can be found at http://london2013.fide.com.