Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Candidates Round #8

The second half started with the same pattern of just one decision. However this particular decision meant an important change in the leaderboard.  Caruana beat Nakamura and, by winning the "American derby", Fab moved into joint third place, sharing that spot with Anand.  It was a crazy game decided by one fantastic insight from Caruana.

Svdiler-Karjakin was another strangely crazy game. First Karjakin must have been winning and then Svdiler developed a big initiative after Karjakin blundered. Finally it was drawn. In the meantime Aronian grafted a professional draw with Giri, Anand could not do much more than generate a little light pressure against Topalov.

An interesting opposite castled position. GM Alexander Kotov wrote a magnificent essay on these positions in the classic Art of the Middlegame where he collaborated with the immortal Paul Keres.

If the centre stays shut, both sides need to go berserk with pawn storms. If either chap can open the centre, the pawn storm strategy will get dangerous because the central action will create a sharp counter-attack. The centre  isn't completely shut here and white could find a d4 break while black might also find e4 in some lines.

Caruana, like most players of his generation believes far more in concrete analysis than in general principles. He had apparently looked at this, and similar positions in some depth. His insight was that white's king would stay safe a little longer because his pawn cover remained untouched.

In fact, Caruana realised that white's king would stay safe so long as there were pawns in front of it - even if some of those pawns were black in colour. Black can't get past his own pawns even though his attack seems to start quicker. White's attack looks slow but it cant be stopped.

The game continued  17.g5 b3 18.Rhg1 bxa2+ 19.Ka1 Bxf5 20.exf5 a3 21.b3 Na6 22.c3 Bf8 23.Nd2 fxg5 24.Rxg5 Nc5 25.Rg3 e4 [ If 25...Qxd3 26.Qxd3 Nxd3 27.Ne4 Nf4 (27...Red8 28.Bg5) 28.Nf6+]  26.Bxc5 Bxc5 [26...exd3 27.Qg4] 27.Nxe4 Bd6 28.Rh3 Be5 29.d4 Bf6 30.Rg1 Rb8 31.Kxa2 Bh4 32.Rg4 Qd5 33.c4 (1–0).  Black's ruined


For once Svidler got a terrible opening. It's hard to see how white can survive this. His Bg2 is dead and the f4-e3 pawn wedge cuts the position in half making it difficult to transfer pieces. The only communication route for white between kingside and queenside is via d1, e1.  Black should be winning without much trouble.

But Karjakin's superb technical skills failed him. He played in a word, horribly and by the time they reached the following position, white's winning. He is a pawn ahead and he has a fierce attack into the bargain.  

One fairly simple idea is 48. Re5 Rxa2? 49. Re7 g6 50. Rxf4 Rxe2? 51. Ne8! threatening Rg7, Rh4#. If black defends by 48. Re5 Rc7 49.a3 Rxa3? 50.Rxf4 wins (49. Rxf4 Ng6 is good for black).  But ever since the World Cup, we've gotten used to multiple errors when this pair play each other. (At the WC they played an epic 10-game match which Karjakin eventually won 6-4 with no draws). So Svidler made his statutory errors and, unlike the World Cup, it ended in a draw after 48. Rxf4 Rxa2 49. Rfh4? g6 50. Re5 1/2-1/2- It's very likely that white was winning via 49. Nf5 (threat Ne7#) Ng6 50. Rg4 R8a6 51. Rhg5! Kf7 52. c5 (threat Nd6) Ne5 53. Rg2!  in the game itself black goes in with 50--- Rxe2

Black has a pleasant position with several small trumps. White's pawn structure is lamed (self--inflicted wounds by Topalov). Black could pull out a passed pawn on the queenside. White cannot pull out a passer on the kingside due to the doubling.
Black's Kt gives him a grip on the light squares where it can't be opposed. With so many pawns on board, the Kt is also a better piece than the Bishop which is a little restricted and lacks targets. In addition, Q+Kt could cooperate easier in an attack. Say if black manages to penetrate down the e-file or via h3/ f5 and he also manages to park his Kt on f5, he could have chances of delivering checkmate. White doesn't have similar chances since a battery of Ba3, Qb4 for example, is hard to envisage. 

But none of this is enough to create winning chances. White played with sufficient skill to ensure that it never became enough. The final pawn ending is also drawn. White moves his king to the centre and just waits. Black can break with c5 but that's it. He can't improve.


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