By WGM Alina l’Ami
Black’s excellent statistics in the previous round did not mark the start of a new trend in the second half of the Grand Prix. Although generally speaking White failed to pose big problems, the overall result favours the first player, with a win and five draws.
As the tournament advances, players seem to be less concerned about specific preparation before each game, possibly in an attempt to keep their minds in good working shape. As revealed during the press conferences, many of them were not familiar in depth with the theory and acted rather in the over-the-board play mode. Or was it more of a generalized effect of surprise in the opening?
Be it as it may, the tension remained latent in most of the games, with play flowing within the narrow limits of „approximate equality”. The only exception from this point of view was Caruana – Ivanchuk; White’s honour has been saved!
Fabiano Caruana – Vassily Ivanchuk
Caruana made an important step forward today in the fight for the final spot for the Candidates – a full point!
Ivanchuk expressed his bewilderment in the press conference, saying he was calculating 16…f6 but than his “hands moved 16…Bd7”! He could not cope with the shock and quickly lost the game afterwards. The only question remaining was whether the final position was really winning for Caruana but the players established, more or less, that it was. For example:
33…Bc6 34.Kd4 Ke7 35.Bf3 Kf7 36.g4 h6 37.h4 Kg6 38.Bg2 Kg7 39.g5! hxg5 40.hxg5 Kf7 41.Bh3 Ke7 42.g6! f5 43.Ke5 and wins.
Vassily seemed to be excessively emotive and his resignation certainly looked premature. His opponent was visibly surprised, but Ivanchuk explained that he simply “could not stand his awful position”! Ivanchuk remained affected by his worsening tournament fate during the conference, when he started to analyze his loss on the day before…
This win put the Italian grandmaster in the joint lead with Gelfand. There is a long way until the end, but now his aspirations to qualify for the Candidates’ tournament might have increased. Besides, he could not have chosen a better day to offer such a a present (a crucial point) to his second. Indeed, Vladimir Chuchelov celebrated his birthday today!
Wang Hao – Anish Giri
A draw can sometimes be some sort of a moral victory for one of the opponents and for Giri it certainly was! During yesterday’s press conference, he had showed himself worried that after three losses he would have to play against an uncomfortable opponent. Wang Hao had defeated him several times and the black colour would not really help him either. “I hope I’ll survive somehow”, the Dutchman said.
Today Giri mentioned he likes to listen music before playing a game. He had tried different styles this tournament: Hip hop, Classical, Reggae, but it did not give the desired result on the board. Already getting desperate, he made the decision to try Georgian music before today’s round. And this time it did not go in vain! Black was comfortable throughout the game and the only question was if he could have tried to push a bit more in the position where a draw was agreed.
Wang Hao suggested 42…Kg6 and a nice sample line which the players analysed in the press conference is: 43.Ka2 Rf6! 44.Kb3 Kh5 45.g3 Kg4 46.Rd3 Rh6 47.Kb4 Rh3 48.Ka5 Rxg3 49.Rxg3+ Kxg3 50.Kxa5 Kxf4 51.Kxb5 Ke3 and Black promotes on f1 with check! Of course this line is not forced but it does show the dangers in the position.
Ruslan Ponomariov – Leinier Dominguez
Seeing how Anish Giri is always making easy draw on the Black side of the Petroff, Dominguez said he felt like trying it out for himself!
Ponomariov was surprized by the Cuban’s opening choice; he had no special preparation and tried to think and play independently. White did not get any advantage and the game ended in a draw without any special on board incidents. In exchange, Ponomariov was very generously explaining his approach during the press conference. “Maybe it did not work out well today, but in practical play one can always hope to outplay his opponent, despite complete equality after the opening.” He also added that he never thought of the Petroff defence as a problem for the 1.e4 players. There are better openings to play for a draw, without the need of getting such passive and one-sided positions like in the Petroff.
Alexander Grischuk – Hikaru Nakamura
With 5.g3 against the Queens-Gambit Grischuk tried to stir the game into Catalan waters. That is indeed what happened and in the process the queens were also exchanged. In the end, Grischuk complimented his opponent with his precise play and both players agreed that in the endgame it was in fact only Black which could be better. The critical position arised after:
16…Nxc4, when White has to chose how to take back. Since 17.Nxc4 runs into 17…b6 followed by Ba6 with pressure, Grischuk chose 17.Kxc4; In the fight for the initiative, he started an original king march, but this proved far from one-sided.
During the press conference, the players were looking for a way to prove an advantage for Black. Hikaru suggested 17…Bd7 (the point being 18.Bxb7 Bc8! 19.Bg2 Ba6+!) and another option is 17…e5!? 18.Rhd1 Be6+ followed by e4. In both cases Black is somewhat better but perhaps not more than that. After the game continuation, Grischuk had little trouble stirring the game towards a peaceful end. Black even obtained a symbolic advantage in view of the better structure, but… all rook endings are drawn!
Etienne Bacrot – Evgeny Tomashevsky
Entering the Marshall Attack without speciffic preparation is equivalent to suicide. But, as suggested by Bacrot during the press conference, White cannot hope for much without a good deal of analytical work in the Anti-Marshall systems either. In the game, White’s position looked more pleasant, but Black proved he knew what he was doing and managed to work out his way until a drawn rook (yes, again!) ending.
Once again, Tomashevsky was very well prepared in the Spanish. In a position that Etienne had played himself with Black on two occassions, Tomashevsky introduced the interesting novelty:
12…d5. Taken by surprise, it was difficult for Bacrot to pose Tomashevsky any problems. In the press conference, both players expressed not only how difficult it is nowadays to get an advantage out of the opening with White, but even a fighting position!
Laurent Fressinet – Boris Gelfand
Trying to “surprise Boris and get a game”, Fressinet chose 4.c4 in the Sicilian with 3.Bb5+. The players showed some fascinating variation after the game:
If 13…Nd7 Fressinet had calculated 14.b3 Nc5 15.Qc2 Nxe4 16.Nd5! but the line continues with 16…Rfe8 17.Rxe6 e6! (not 17…Bxa1 18.Nxe7 or even 18.Rxe7!?) 18.Nb4! and now it is important to choose the right square with the queen. Fressinet showed the following amusing variation: 18…Qc5 19.Nd3 Qc6 and now both rooks are hanging but the ‘fianchetto knight’ 20.Nb2! saves the day.
But, as Gelfand correctly pointed out, 18…Qb6! is the right move, and Black seems to come out on top. In the game there followed 13..Rac8 14.b3 Nxe4 15.Nd5 Rfe8 16.Rxe4 e6 17.Rb1 exd5 18.cxd5 Qd7 and Black has comfortably equalized, although not more than that. The game ended with a perpetual check on move 34.
While the games were still in progress, a parallel event was taking place in the French Chess Federation’s headquarters: a simultaneous exhibition, given by the strongest woman French player: Marie Sebag. There is no surprise she didn’t lose a single game but still two draws slipped out of Marie’s pockets.
As for the tournament, it is worth mentioning that it keeps gathering a rather big audience, despite being played far from the centre. And after a day marked by caution among the players with White, we can only wish that tomorrow the „White attacks” syndrom will be restored! And Black’s…