Thursday, March 24, 2016

Candidates Round #10

The big game of this round was of course, Caruana's demolition of Anand.  It was a very impressive demonstration of excellent preparation, courage and excellent calculation. In fact, the "Don" played like the vintage Anand.

In the other games, Karjakin played out a flat technical draw against Giri (who remains unbeaten with =10).  For a while  Aronian had a large edge against Topalov but he could make nothing of it and they ultimately ended up with a ridiculously blocked position and a draw. Svidler had an edge with white versus Nakamura and for a brief while, he had an extra pawn. But he allowed a spectacular perpetual check.

That set of results puts Caruana into the joint lead with Karjakin, with both placed on +2 with four games to play. Anand and Aronian share 3rd-4th on +1. Anand has a poor tiebreak even if he ties either or both of Karjakin and Carlsen because his head-to-head score is minus against them. The other strike against Anand is that he has two blacks in his last three games.

There were three English Openings today while Karjakin opened with his usual Reti. This sort of amorphous system 1.c4 with its multiple transpositional possibilities fits well with post-modern chess. It leads to interesting and often under-explored positions and play can go in many directions. The play can range all the way from violently tactical and very strategically unbalanced to very quiet.

Anand tried a system that he's played a couple of times before and one that his second, Gajewski has also played. In hindsight, this is asking for trouble given that Caruana's current second is  Rustam Kasimdzhanov who worked with Anand through two world championship cycles. (Peter Heine Nielsen was also a long-time Anand second before he switched allegiance to Magnus Carlsen.) 

Make what you will of those relationships and the way they have changed. It is more or less impossible to shoot for top rankings without a backup team, There are also not that many players who are strong enough and creative enough to provide a serious edge for somebody with title aspirations. So, finding somebody from within that small pool who has worked with a former world champion in his heyday is certainly useful. Especially useful if that former champ is still a formidable practitioner...

Kasimdzhanov apparently found the novelty 12. Qc2 and from that stage in the game, Anand was behind in time as well as being under some pressure on the board.

White doesn't intend to recover the pawn just yet. He's going to build a big centre and try and push black off the board. At some stage, the bishop pair will start to count as well.  

Anand found a reasonable and pragmatic move in 12.-- h6 but he started taking more time at this stage  Play went 12.Qc2 h6 13.Bf4 Ne4 14.Rad1 Bf5 15.Ne5! Nd6 There's a lot to calculate since  15.-- Nxg3 16. e4 Nxf1 17. exf5 Nxh2 is a mess. White can smash the pawn structure with 18. Nxc6 bc6 before capturing h2. This is very unclear. The computer says it is equal. Most humans would prefer to play white (bishop pair and smashed black pawns). Nobody would like to play this position unprepared against a well-prepared opponent.

16.e4 Bh7 17.Qe2 Ne7

This position is going to be analysed a lot in amateur forums. Grandmasters will probably look to improve on 17. -- Ne7 or even earlier.  There are distinct reasons why white might seek a knockout punch here. He has much better placed pieces, more space and open lines against  black's king. There's an old saying "Three pieces make mate" and white tries to prove it with 18.Bxh6!  gxh6 19.Qh5  

White has a big attack with Ng4/ Nf7 and Rf1-f4, etc. Black returned the piece with 19.-- Nef5  (the right idea, returning the piece, in order to  play Qg5. But it may be better to go Nd5 since the d-5 pawn is less destructive than the f6 pawn. ) 20.exf5 Qg5 21.Qxg5+ hxg5 22.f6! This is horrible for black - he has weaknesses in multiple areas (along h1-a8, c4, g5), he lacks piece coordination and he is squeezed for space.

Now white's just winning and Caruana played flawlessly. If black tries 25.-- Rab8 26. Bc6 Red8 27. Bxb5 Rxb5 28. Nc6 Ra8 29. Rxc4 is also very convincing. As Fischer once said in a similar position, the pawns are like ripe apples.

The game concluded  25.-- Rad8 26.Bc6 Nxd4 27.Bxe8 Rxe8 28.Kf2 Nc2 29.Red1! (uses the back rank threat to rescue the piece and avoid the fork of Nf3+)  Be4 30.Nxc4 Re6 31.Rd8+ Kh7 32.Kg1! Rxf6 33.Rf1!  White forces the exchange of rooks and that ends any chance of counterplay. After 33. -- Rxf1+ 34. Kxf1 Nb4 (hoping for Bd3+) 35. Ne5! There's a threat of Rd4. So Anand resigned (1-0)

Svidler has an extra pawn in the given position

He can keep it with something like 25. Bc3. The queen on the long white diagonal stops perpetuals and white maybe able to make something of the extra material.  Instead he played 25.Qxb6 Rh4! 26.gxh4 Qg4+ 27.Kh1 Qf3+ 28.Kg1 Qg4+ 29.Kh1 Qf3+ 30.Kg1 Qg4+ (½–½).

Aronian had what looked like a near-winning advantage against Topalov

All white's pieces are markedly more active. He has a grip on the e-file and a grip on the centre with that c4,d4 formation, He also has targets on a5,b7 But Aronian couldn't break through and Topalov gradually eased the pressure.  The final position is absurd. Black could sacrifice a piece on h4 just for the heck of it,

Karjakin -Giri had some points of nuanced interest for the theorists since it involved a topical variation of the Slav Meran. I'll give it a miss because it never looked like going anywhere except a draw.


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