Aronian and Carlsen way ahead of the pack
After eight rounds Levon Aronian remains the proud leader at the Amber Blindfold and Rapid Tournament. The Armenian GM defeated World Champion Vishy Anand 1½-½. With three rounds to go Magnus Carlsen seems to be his only remaining challenger. The Norwegian GM follows at half-a-point’s distance after defeating Veselin Topalov 1½-½. In third place Vishy Anand and Vasily Ivanchuk are already three points behind. Aronian defended his lead in the blindfold competition. In the rapid competition Carlsen calls the shots, one point ahead of Aronian. The € 1,000 Game of the Day Prize was awarded to Levon Aronian for his rapid win over Vishy Anand.
The blindfold game between Alexander Grischuk and Hikaru Nakamura was a protracted fight with chances for both sides. The Russian grandmaster got a pleasant game against the Dutch Defense of his American colleague, but when he allowed Black to transfer a rook to c4, the initiative changed hands. But when Nakamura allowed White to start an attack on the kingside with 41.g5 and 42.h4 the tables were turned again. Grischuk felt he was winning, but couldn’t substantiate his hunch with moves. He had to cease his efforts after 67 moves when a threefold repetition forced the draw.
The rapid game was a clash between two King’s Indian titans, this time with Grischuk behind the black pieces. Things were normal until Nakamura frantically started moving around his king’s knight, which might have been clever in a blindfold game, but didn’t bring him much with both players having sight of the board. Black got the upper hand, but as has been their habit in most of their encounters they both got in terrible time-trouble. This time Nakamura was on the right side. Grischuk made the last mistake when on the 51st move he didn’t take on a7. Ten moves on he could resign.
The blindfold game between Vishy Anand and Levon Aronian was a rather short affair. In a d3-Ruy Lopez the World Champion was surprised by the maneuver 11…Nb8 instead of the developing method …Ne7 and …Ng6 which is often played in this type of position. Afterwards Anand was unhappy about 12.Bc4, which he called a mistake. He had been looking at 12.Qb3, but wasn’t too impressed by 12…c6 13.Bc4 d5 14.exd5 b5, which in hindsight was quite promising for White, as both players agreed. After Anand had missed this chance the white initiative quickly fizzled out and led to a draw in 17 moves.
In the rapid game Aronian defeated Anand in impressive manner. After the game the Armenian grandmaster explained that the variation starting with 7.dxc5 was very special to him as he used it in a crucial last-round game at the World Juniors in 2001 against Yakovenko. He vaguely remembered that a strong player had also used it and Anand kindly informed him that this had be him against Polugaevsky at the first Amber tournament in Roquebrune in 1992! In today’s game White had a nice advantage after 22.h3 due to the weakness of b7. Black’s 26th move was not the best, he should have played 26…Ne4, although White retains an edge. Now things went awry for Anand and after 28.Qxb4 Aronian already called the position ‘technical’. There were still more than 30 moves to follow, but indeed the kibitzing GMs never had any doubts about the outcome.
The blindfold game between Boris Gelfand and Vasily Ivanchuk lasted almost two hours. From the opening the Ukrainian grandmaster obtained a favourable position, but the game turned around when in his calculations he missed 30.Ne7+ and lost an exchange. Still, Ivanchuk kept compensation and didn’t really get in danger. The players ended up in a rook versus bishop ending, which is a theoretical draw, but the bishop side has to be cautious. Which he was and after 89 moves Ivanchuk saved the draw.
In the rapid game Ivanchuk introduced a novelty, 17.Rc1. In a game Gashimov-Wang Yue 17.Nd2 was played. Ivanchuk’s set-up worked out well and after 23.Qf3 he obtained a position containing various tactical threats that was dangerous for Black. Ivanchuk could have crowned his efforts with 29.Qxb7. Instead he let Gelfand back into the game with 29.Qh7. But Black’s relief was short-lived as with 31…Qa1+ he got himself in trouble again (31…Qc1+ 32.Kg2 Qc6+ 33.Kh3 Qe8 would have forced a draw). Now there was no way back anymore and a couple of moves later Gelfand resigned.
The blindfold game between Vladimir Kramnik and Vugar Gashimov was a further sign that the Russian grandmaster is struggling with his form. In the opening he repeated a line that Gashimov(!) played against Topalov in Nanjing last year, but his 9.Bb5 was considerably weaker than 9.Bg5 as the Azeri GM played on that occasion. Kramnik was surprised by Gashimov’s 14…a5 and his 22nd move was a clear mistake (he should have played 22.bxa5). After 25…Rxd3 is was clear that White was losing. However, Gashimov also had his weak moment. With 39…Rc3 40.Ra5 c3 he could have kept his winning advantage, his 39…Ra1 allowed 40.Rf5 and White saved the draw.
In the rapid game Gashimov followed a plan, involving Nd2, h3 and g4, that has been played several times by Azerbaijani grandmaster Rauf Mamedov. Gashimov not only criticized Black’s 8th move, but also his 13th and 15th move (better were 13…Be7 and 15…h5). After 19 moves Black was ‘just losing’ and in Gashimov’s words ‘the rest was easy’.
Anish Giri was slightly disappointed that his blindfold game against Sergey Karjakin ended in a draw. He had hoped for more, although he was the first to stress that objectively speaking there were not too many objective reasons for his expectations. In the opening he was satisfied about his moves 15…Ne5 and 16…Qc6 and he believed that White should have looked for equality with 17.Bd4. Instead, Karjakin sacrificed a pawn. This was a risky decision, but he kept good drawing chances and secured the draw without too much effort.
In the rapid game the players repeated the game Kramnik-Karjakin from this tournament. On move 15 Karjakin improved with 15…c5. The position that arose led to heated discussions after the game when Giri’s optimism about his chances was heavily undermined by an enthusiastic group of some of the world’s leading grandmasters. Having listened to their opinions he concluded that in fact White has nothing at all and that Black’s perspectives are better. However, all this didn’t bring Karjakin nothing when he went seriously wrong with 25…g5. This optimistic push was rudely refuted by 26.e4. Now Giri was winning and grabbing his chance he finished the game in fine style.
The blindfold game between Veselin Topalov and Magnus Carlsen, a Ruy Lopez, sped to a draw when the Bulgarian grandmaster missed Black’s 19…Bxe4. The freeing move led to a number of exchanges and when the vacuum cleaning was done, there was not real reason for any side to play on.
In the rapid game Carlsen opted to counter Topalov’s Sicilian with the Grand Prix Attack. Black got into trouble as early as move 10 when 10…f5 allowed ‘the old trick Nd5’ which gave White very good play. After 17.Ra3 the position was ‘really horrible for Black’. Carlsen could play for the gallery, which he did with 19.Rg5, where he might have played it safe with 19.c4. The rest was silence. With pointed moves White ripped apart the black position and after 29 moves the point was his.
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