Friday, March 25, 2016

Candidates Round #11

Candidates Round 11
A big round. Nerves definitely played a role in the results of at least three of the games. Nerves will clearly be a major factor in the next three rounds.  
Anand won a "must-win" game against Karjakin. Caruana failed to win a very favourable position against Topalov. Aronian lost to Svidler after blowing a big position and Giri blew a completely won position to draw against Nakamura.
The standings change intriguingly with three rounds left.  Some of the salient points

  1. Anand and Caruana are tied for the lead with +2.
  2. Caruana is ahead on the first tiebreak (head-to-head results) with Anand. Caruana would have been sole leader if he had taken the full point against Topalov.
  3. Karjakin is in third place with +1.  
  4. Giri, Svidler and Aronian are on 50 per cent. A win from Giri today would have put him into joint third. Aronian has fallen back from +2  and his old weakness, twitchy nerves in title cycles is showing up. All three still have mathematical chances.
  5. Topalov and Nakamura are out of it.
  6. Anand has the better tiebreak versus Karjakin.

There are a huge number of possible outcomes with this narrow spread of points. I'm picking out a few possibilities below.

I don't think anybody can win three straight. In fact, I don't think anybody will score better than +1 in the last three rounds. This is based on the way the tournament has gone so far.

But tournament dynamics change as the tension mounts and a +2 score is not outlandishly unlikely.  A win against any of the three current leaders will have extra weight since it will knock out a contender as well as pushing the winner to the front.

Caruana seems best placed. His last three games are white vs Aronian, white versus Svidler and black versus Karjakin in the last round. The two whites give him an edge.

The last round game Karjakin Vs Caruana could be the humdinger that decides the tournament winner. Nerves would obviously count for much more than the colour split. But Caruana has also shown a tendency to take high risks with black and he's survived several dubious positions. Can he throttle back and play safely if that is what the situation demands?

Anand's last three games are as black versus Nakamura, white versus Giri, black versus Svidler. The two blacks could count against him - all his wins have come with white and his losses have come with black.

Anand has to win at least one of those three games to give himself a really good chance of winning the tournament. He has a personally poor score against Nakamura who is otherwise an obvious target. Will Anand come out swinging versus Naka?

Karjakin's last three games are as white versus Topalov, black versus Aronian, white versus Caruana. If he can beat Caruana in the last round, he would also be dominating Caruana on tiebreak. His fighting qualities are legendary and he would be pushing hard in that last game if he's in contention.

Aronian could break to the front again since he plays both Caruana and Karjakin in the last three rounds and therefore, he has the chance to beat both. The Armenian seems to have lost heart with successive losses to Anand and Svidler. But he might pick himself up again.  if he does, he could burst to the front, or play spoiler if he wins against one of the three leaders.

Svdiler could also play spoiler and move to the front, if he beats Anand and Caruana.  Giri also a chance to do this, by beating Anand and someone else. Neither has played with sufficient accuracy to inspire confidence in their ability to score +2  form the last three. But if either does run into seriously good form, he could be a dangerous contender. Either of them would have a good tiebreak assuming that +2 is scored. They would beat at least one of the current frontrunners.

The game Anand - Karjakin gave the lie to two oft-repeated canards about Anand.
Both are absurd but both are also repeated again and again.
One is that Anand lacks the nerves to do well in "must-win" situations. This is despite his having won the last game of a world title match against Topalov and beaten Gelfand in a world title tie-breaker.  You cannot get bigger "must-win" situations than that.

This game was another data-point. Anand needed to win since Karjakin is a key rival; He was coming off a bad loss in the previous round. He controlled his nerves, put the loss behind him and did it.  This pulls him back into joint first and also gives him the edge in possible tie breaks against Karjakin.

The second canard is equally absurd: Anand is a "technically weak" player.  He's won two difficult technical endgames in this tournament alone, against Aronian and Karjakin. It's true that he doesn't like playing technical positions much and especially true that he doesn't like defending pure technical positions. Also, his active style means that he usually doesn't have to rely on pure technique. But nobody - absolutely nobody - gets to be world champion without knowing how to play technical endgames.

A "small" novelty (10 Nxe5) has helped white gain a tiny edge. He controls d-file and his pieces are a little more active.  Opposite bishops can create drawing tendencies but they can also take absolute control of the squares that they respectively control.  Here, white has a serious grip on the dark squares. Having said all that, black is okay. His structure is solid enough and he can now look to free his pieces.

White now starts playing on both wings with a series of pawn pushes.  Black must have taken some sub-optimal decisions in the next stage though he doesn't make any outright errors.

21.-- g5 22.Rd6 Re8 23.Rad1 Be6 24.b3 Kf7 25.R1d4 Bf5 26.a4 Re7 27.g4 Bh7 28.b4 Bg8 29.b5 Rc8 30.Rd7 Rce8 31.b6 a6 32.Rc7 Kf8 33.c4 Be6 34.Rxe4 Kf7

By now, White is clearly on top and Black was also in time pressure. Anand made a pawn break that adds to the pressure.  

35.f4 Rxc7 36.bxc7 Rc8? (Engine analysis and the consensus opinion of the two players suggests 36.-- f5 is a strong defensive try. After white gets in f5 next move, black is lost)
37.f5 Bd7 38.h4 g6 39.Rd4 Rxc7 40.hxg5 fxg5 41.Bxg5 Be8 42.f6 Kf8 The passer on c7 has been traded for a deadly passer on f6. White maintains his grip on the d and e files. Black also has to defend his two back ranks. He can't.  

White has a couple of clear wins here. One is 43. Rd8 Rd7 44. Rb8, which ties black down to defend b7. Another  is 43. Bh6+ Kf7 44. Re4 Rc8 (black can only wait) 45. Bg5 Rc7 46. Kf2 Kf8 47. Bh6+ Kf7 48. Bf4 Rd7 49. g5 . The bishop may settle on d6 squelching any activity.  

White did latch onto the b7 pawn and he activated his king.  But it took longer for him to switch his bishop around than in the above variations. Also he had to watch out for black getting counterplay via Rh3 or Rh1.

Black played 57.-- a5 here. If he does nothing,  variations like 57...Be6 58.Kg3 Bd5 59.a5 Be6 60.Bh4 Bd5 61.Re1 Be6 62.Rb1 Kc7 63.Bg5 Bc4 64.Bf4+ indicate how white will break in anyhow.  Black's pieces are just not active enough to meet threats on both sides of the board.

The game ended 58.Kg3 Rf7 59.Kf4 Rh7 60.Re1 Kc8 61.Kg3 Rf7 62.Re8+ Kd7 63.Ra8 Kc7  The tactical trick 64. Rxa5? Kb7 saves the a-pawn. But the black king has been pulled over to the queenside. There is no way to stop white's king marching in.with 64.Kf4 Rd7 65.Bh4 Kb7 66.Re8 Bf7 67.Re4 Bd5 68.Re3 Bf7 69.Kg5 Ka6 70.Re7 (1-0).

Topalov played a speculative exchange sacrifice against Caruana and got plenty of compensation. But he messed it up and Caruana got on top.  


Here black can take it away with 36...Bxf4 37.exf4 f5 38.a4 Kf8 39.b4 Rhh1 40.a5 Ra1+ 41.Kb3 Ke7 or some such. The pawn storm on the queenside will be blocked and then black's rooks will take over. But the Don was living on 30 seconds increment and he played

36.--  Be7 37.e4 Bc5 (Note the nasty little concealed attack on Rc1) 38.e5 Re1 39.Rc2 g5 40.Bxg5 Rxe5 41.Bf6 Rd5 Caruana gets past the time control and offers a draw!? What is more, Topalov who famously doesn't offer draws on principle takes it !  (½–½)
The position is unclear after 42.Be4 Rdh5 43.b4 Bf8 but black can't be worse. In fact, he's better. Did Caruana miscalculate or lose his nerve?

Giri couldn;t have been nervous in the following position. But he may have been tired and over-confident. Namakura is dead lost and 50. Re5 would have driven that point home  

White played 50. Nxg7?? Qxg7 51. Rg3 Rg5! Obviously Giri missed 52. hxg5 Qxd4 and he's lucky that the forced 52. Rxg5 hxg5 53. Qxd5 is drawn (1/2-1/2) after 53.-- Ne7 54. Qxb5 gxh4 55. Qh5

Aronian had a big plus against Svidler

Black should not survive this. There's strong pressure versus the K-side. The dark squares have holes and g6, f7 are weak. If the monster on e5 is exchanged, there will be intolerable pressure down the f-file. Plus, there's play down the b-file.
But white played really badly and drifted into a losing position. More or less a free point for Svidler who suddenly generated a winning counter-attack.


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