Friday, March 18, 2016

Candidates Round #4

Karjakin took the lead in Round four with a win over Viswanathan Anand that demonstrated exactly why the Ukrainian-turned-Russian could be a very dangerous match opponent for Carlsen. It was also a game that demonstrated why Anand is unlikely to  be a serious threat to the world champion even if the Indian GM does win through to another title match.

Karjakin is a "stealth" operator. He remains, by a considerable margin, the youngest-ever GM, attaining the title more or less as he entered puberty. He is almost the same age as Carlsen and he's been part of the elite for about as long. Yet, his name is rarely mentioned as a potential champion and he doesn't inspire the sort of fan-following that Carlsen, Nakamura, Aronian and Anand do.

Karjakin does everything well to the point where it is hard to pinpoint his style. It would be accurate to say he appears to have no strong preferences. He's a sharp tactical player at need, capable of both attack and defence. He has excellent technique as he showed here. He has good judgement. He's a very stubborn and inventive defensive player  and his preparation is excellent.

Above all, he's a fighter.  He nearly won the last Candidates despite having a minus score in the first half. he won the World Cup to qualify for this Candidates with an incredible surge from behind versus Svidler.

Anand, on the other hand, entered an active position against Karjakin with a passive attitude. Or rather, his mood seemed to change as the game transited out of the opening.

Karjakin had tried a new, somewhat odd idea with 9 h4 which provoked Anand into playing 10-f5 and then into opting for hanging pawns with 12.-- ed5. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this plan for black.

But this position demands that black continues to be active, if not outright aggressive. In the old days, Anand would have kept the tension and played on in a middlegame where black seeks active counterplay. He might well have won the ensuing dogfight.

At 46, he seems to lack the energy and enthusiasm to do this and in that case, he should not be playing such unbalanced systems. He's lost quite a few games to the young guns due to this sort of classic psychological error, edging into passive positions because he wants to simplify.  


This position is about equal but it is certainly not balanced. Black's got weakness on c5,d5,f5. However, the hanging pawns on c5,d5 controls loads of central space. The "formula" in such situations is to keep pieces on because the guy with less space finds it difficult to find good squares for his pieces.

Black could for example, make something out of his control  of the b-file with 18.--Qb6.  There are potential targets on b3 and down the h1-a8 diagonal. If black ever gets d4 in, after creating a battery with Ba8, Qb7, white will be very unhappy.

Instead 18.-- Ba6 ?! is a strategic error. It indicates that black wants to exchange pieces and draw. But the exchanges will actually put him on the back foot as we see.
 
 
Pieces have come off en masse. This is one of those situations where human judgement is better than the machines. The engines assess white as a little better but any human GM will say white is close to winning.

Black has three weaknesses - a7, d5, f5. His pieces are tied to defence.  White has lovely squares for his Kt at d4, f4, e5; white has potential routes for king entry via d3-d4, or via f3-f4,hg5. white also has a break with h5 when he wants it.  The hallmark of a great technician was the way in which Karjakin put all these plusses together. He transferred his R to a6 where it controls the 6th rank and hits a7, with ancillary threats of Rd6. He kept finding tricky little Kt forks to prevent black breaking out with d4.

At the end-position, the threat  of forking with Rxe7, Nxd5 forces 43.-- Re6  44. Nxd5 with a dead-lost pawn ending or 43.--Rb8 44. Nxd5 Ke6 45. Rxe7+ Kxd5 46. Rxh7 with a dead-lost rook ending.

Anand's lack of energy or ambition continued into his next game in Rd 5 when he took a perpetual check against Nakamura in a position where he could well have played on, rather than opting to "check out". In extenuation, Anand has a pretty bad record against Nakamura. But he was wasting a white and the American GM is unlikely to give him an equally easy draw with black in their return game.

Reverting to Rd 4 Nakamura - Giri was an entertaining but brief battle where Naka gave perpetual check when Giri refused to fall for a little trap.



The tactics are entertaining with 21. Bxf6+ Kxf6 22. f4 Nc4 23. Bxc4 bxc4 24. f5 and here the instinctive 24.-- Kg7 25. fg6 fg6 26. Rf7+ Kxh6  27. Raf1 is apparently seriously dangerous. White intends Nd1 (controlling Be3) and then Qd2/ Qc1.

However, Giri played 24.--c5!  and it all fizzled out  25.fxg6+ Kxg6 26.Nxf7 Rf8 27.Nd5 Qxb2 28.Ne7+ Kg7 29.Nf5+ Kg6 30.Ne7+ Kg7 31.Nf5+ Kg6 32.Ne7+ (½–½)


So now we come to Caruana. He's played entertaining, enterprising chess but he's been unable to put away good positions. A little luck, a little more precision and he could have been +3 after Rd 6. Instead he stays at =.

Caruana was completely winning versus Topalov after the blunder Qe7

Despite time trouble he  found the killer 38.Nxd6! Nxh3+ ?!

Topalov must have missed something like 38. -- Rf6 39. Ne4. The Kt sacrifice on h3 is despairing but it worked!  Caruana 39.Qxh3 Rf6 40.Nc8 Qd8 and here after getting past the control, he failed to play the obvious 41. Rxf6 Qxf6 42. Rb2 e4 43. Re2 e3 44. f3.

After 41.R1b5 Rxf2 42.Rxg6 Rxf1+ 43.Kh2 Qxc8 white can still win with 44. Qh6 but the game went 44.Qxc8?!  Rxc8 45.Rc6 Re8 46.Rcxc5 e4 47.d6 Rd8 48.Rc6 Rd1 49.c5 e3 50.Rb2 Rd2 51.Rb1 e2 52.Re1 Rf8 1/2-1/2


Svidler had a superior endgame versus Aronian but he couldn't convert due to sharp defence. Once again, Svidler demonstrated he has come very well-prepared because he held whatever trumps there were, after the opening.  

Ends


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