Alexander Grischuk’s time trouble brinkmanship may cost him his 2015 World Cup chances after he missed a win and lost to Pavel Eljanov with the white pieces. Elsewhere only Caruana, Mamedyarov and Karjakin managed to make their class tell, with a huge swathe of 12 often uneventful draws. The most curious was the last to finish, where top seed Veselin Topalov let an enormous advantage slip against Lu Shanglei.
Magnus Carlsen had joked on Twitter that the Leko-Giri match was going to end in nine draws, and while that might still happen you could hardly be too critical of what they treated us to in the opening game:
Ok, Leko’s 25.g6!? may be the first new move of the game,
and the clash may have ended after he made only four more moves, but the
players spent almost two hours between them trying to work out what on earth was going on in the diagram position.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave compared that encounter to some players who were more renowned for fighting chess:
In fact there was a veritable sea of draws:
One player you couldn’t criticise was Mickey Adams, who drew in 22 moves against Leinier Dominguez. It wasn't only that he'd had to battle all the way to Armageddon the day before, he also stopped by to talk to Emil Sutovsky and give a fascinating account of how computers have changed chess. He noted, for instance, that when he started out, “you could just show up and play”:
Not all draws are created equal, though.
Yesterday’s heroes Areshchenko and Wei Yi exchanged constant blows in a real humdinger of a game, and there was an amazing locked structure in Granda-Wojtaszek:
Here, on move 37 (!), the Polish no. 1 went for the first capture of the day, and it was immediately a sacrifice: 37…Nxb5!? 38.cxb5 Bxb5. It was all to no avail, though - the final position 20 moves later was even more shut:
The most bizarre draw, though, was Veselin Topalov’s failure to beat Lu Shanglei, although Nigel Short accurately described the latter’s Sicilian Dragon:
Things were looking dire as early as move 16.Bf4:
Lu Shanglei found nothing better than to give up the Dragon bishop with 16…Be5 and the white advantage just grew and grew… until it didn’t. When it looked time to cash in Veselin began to drift further on each move until he looked more than a little bemused to find himself an exchange down in an endgame. It's credit to the Bulgarian's immense talent and fighting spirit that he was still the one pressing for a win, but it's a game he'll probably want to forget in a hurry.
Let’s switch to the wins.
Sergey Karjakin continued his
one-man demolition of Chinese chess (see our earlier report on the curious Russia-China match this summer) by outpreparing Yu
Yangyi and converting a good position into a win with enviable ease.
Elsewhere there was more help from opponents. Fabiano Caruana is not a man who needs gifts, but he nevertheless received one from Canada’s Anton Kovalyov:
After 23…bxc5 there’s a long game ahead. After 23…dxc5? there
was also a long game ahead, but it was one in which Caruana could simply
methodically focus all his pieces on the indefensible e5-pawn. He captured it on move 44 with some tactics a goat might see and smoothly went on to win.
India’s Sethuraman didn’t have a great day at the office. First he spent 36 minutes on a move (16...Bb4?!) that allowed a known trick (17.Rxe6+!) and left him one and then two pawns down. He still had practical chances until he got a taste of his own medicine. His dancing knights had bamboozled Harikrishna in time trouble on the way to Round 3, but this time it was Shakhriyar Mamedyarov applying the pressure. The final mistake came on move 40:
40…Kxf5? Mamedyarov blitzed out 41.Re8!, threatening to exchange off all the pieces and win the pawn endgame. 41…Bh6, to stop Rf8, runs into 42.Ne3+! Bxe3 43.Rf8+. Sethuraman had seen enough and resigned.
And that leaves the best, or perhaps worst, to last. Even by Grischuk’s standards the 43 minutes spent on 7.0-0 and 8.Nc3 in a very well-known position were a little unusual. When Sergey Shipov was summarising the games at one point during his commentary he came to this one and simply noted, “We congratulate Grischuk on passing the 15-move mark”.
There is an increment in Baku, though, and as the time control approached Grischuk’s position didn’t look alarming. Then Eljanov gave up a queenside pawn and began to fling his limited forces at the white king. Visually it looked impressive, but the impassive computer notes that after 37…Rg6 Grischuk could calmly have played 38.a7! with a 13.69 advantage. After 38.Kh4 Qb4 he was given a last chance of glory:
Eljanov’s tricky move threatens a discovered check with e3, but if Grischuk had had more time he would surely have spotted he can simply ignore that, since after 39.Qf5! e3 40.Kh5! he’s winning in all lines: e.g. 40…Qd6 41.a7! e2 42.Ra1 and it's game over.
Sadly for Grischuk, though, after his instinctive 39.Kh3? Black didn’t play 39…e3, when the game might soon have been drawn, but the more combative 39…Rg5!, and a few moves later Grischuk found himself trying to set up a fortress with his rook and a-pawn against Black’s queen. The funny thing is – he succeeded!
But around this point he was instead playing too quickly (chess is tough!), and 49.Ke3? may have been the decisive mistake, allowing 49…Kd7! as now 50.h6? gxh6 51.Rxh6 would fail since 51…Qxa7+ is check. If Grischuk had taken more than a minute and a half he could have played 49.h6! immediately, when 49…gxh6 50.Rxh6 Qxa7 would of course lose the queen to 51.Rh7+. Eljanov could still try his luck, but it seems the rook could simply manoeuvre along the 7th rank until the cows come home.
So why did Grischuk move so fast? Presumably he failed to foresee far enough in advance that 54…Kd6 would leave him in zugzwang:
He fell on his sword with 55.Kd4, when it was one of those occasions when you can apply the old wisdom “give a check, it might be mate”. Here 55…Qd5+! was mate (in-11). Grischuk resigned next move.
Funnily enough, that was perhaps only the second worst reversal for a Russian player on Thursday – check out what happened to top seed Olga Girya in a strong women’s event in Poland.
So then, Grischuk is one of only four players who find themselves in the position of needing to win tomorrow to avoid elimination. There’s perhaps no need to be Nostradamus to predict more draws and the prospect of mass tiebreaks on Saturday – though who knows, perhaps the players will surprise us? Long-suffering chess writers could also do with a rest day
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