As the FIDE World Cup enters its final week, the four remaining players are now tantalizingly close to the two coveted Candidates spots. When you consider that a place in the final also comes with at least an extra $30,000 in prize money, you can see just how much is riding on each of these semifinal games. A loss with White is catastrophic. In fact, from the 124 individual matches thus far, not a single player who lost with White in the first game has gone on to advance to the next round. By that measure, the prospects for Peter Svidler are now extremely bright, as he grabbed two sacrificed pawns from Anish Giri, then easily defended against a desperate attack to score the full point. The other semifinal game, came down to more heroic defence from Sergey Karjakin, who held off Pavel Eljanov's passed A-pawn and managed to liquidate all the remaining pawns to a draw.
Saturday was a very welcome rest day for Svidler, who had taken four tiebreak games to dispatch Wei Yi the day before, and needed to recharge his batteries.
It's very evident from the way we're all playing. We're trying very hard, but the fluency, the assuredness in our calculations is somewhat lacking I think. So, the rest day yesterday was very useful in that respect.
It was a chance to catch up on sleep, see a bit of Baku, and of course focus on what each of the players hopes will be their penultimate opponent.As the countdown to Sunday's round wound down Peter briefly shared that he also took the opportunity the day before to check in via Skype with the newest member of the Svidler family: a neighborhood cat called Lucy who has taken up residence at their country house.
She was a stray, first given shelter by the Svidlers' neighbours, but Lucy apparently decided to move one house further after the unwelcome arrival of their daughter's German Shepherd made the neighbours' abode somewhat less appealing. Either that or she simply realized that a black and white cat truly belongs in a chess family!
"I am NOT a cat person. I am very much a dog person, but now I can understand cat people," Svidler explained later in the day, after his win.
This little bundle of awesomeness evidently helped him get into the right frame of mind, and subsequently into a position he has not found himself since the first round against Turkish GM Emre Can: Plus one with a White game to come.
But it was far from an easy ride, as Anish had not one, but two rest days which he put them to good use.
He completely out prepared me today — out guessed me, out prepared me, got a very nice position and like a 50 minute advantage on the clock.
Svidler hadn't even expected 1.e4, and so it was particularly worrisome that Giri seemed to have guessed not only what opening, but which variation of the Spanish he would play — a line Svidler referred to as "a strange Zaitsev" demarcated by 11...exd4 12.cxd4 Nd7. Indeed, Anish moved almost instantly through move 20.Rf1, while Svidler was down to 45 minutes after just 22 moves.
Select the first game from the list below to see just how little time Giri used on each opening move:
With White's kingside attack looming, Svidler was quite concerned that his queenside counterplay would be too slow, and he might actually get checkmated before he could generate meaningful counterplay. Therefore he was critical of Giri's decision to allow 26...a5-a4 rather than play 26.a4 himself.
After the game Giri told Svidler he was worried about a potential bxa3 (e.p.) and decided to instead go for black's king by angling for f4 and e5, but that he ultimately could not make it work.
Svidler could take some consolation at least that his side of the board was a bit easier to play practically.
I have a feeling my position must be at least very very suspect, and maybe bad, but from a practical standpoint I'm making the only moves. My pieces get threatened, I defend them. My king gets checked, I move it away. For him at every single stage up to a point he had to choose between three or four different plans, which is much harder.
By the time Giri exchanged bishop for knight on a4 and offered a draw, Svidler realized that he was looking at a sharp position with chances to play for a win with black, and after settling for draws (some rather questionable) earlier in the event, this was a chance he should not pass up.
I felt that this is obviously the best position that I've seen in this game yet, and if I don't see mate I should continue.
Once Giri played 31.Rh1, GM Evgenij Miroschnichenko on the live webcast remarked that he was going "all-in", the now all-too-common refrain from Texas Hold'em poker.
Giri played 32.g5 after just a minute of thought, presumably aiming to open the b1-h7 diagonal for his queen, after swapping knights and playing e5. But Svidler confidently took the pawn.
Even if White's queen landed on h7, the black king would able to run to the queen side if need be. Instead Giri retreated his knight to e3, but was already in deep trouble after 33...Rxa2.
Rxa2 sort of illustrates just how bad White's position is, because I'm just taking pawns and he has to play quiet moves like Bd2.
The last critical moment came after 36...g6, when Svidler recounts briefly being in a "state of blind panic" when first looking at the bolt from the blue: 37.Bxg5 leaving the queen en prise!
But fortunately he found a brilliant resource that would have been a spectacular conclusion to the game, if only this position appeared. 37...Rxe2 38.Bxf6 (threatening mate on h8) forcing 38...Rxf2+ 39.Kg1 (Kxf2 fails to Ng4+ forking the bishop) and 39...Rh2!! the only move to avoid mate but one which brings White's attack to a swift end.
Giri continued instead 37.Nh6+ and soon had to extend his hand.
I took a long breath of relief. After Nh6, I'm two pawns up and my position is better basically...there is really nothing he can do.
Replay all of Svidler's illuminating discussion of the game in the video from ChessCast:
Svidler stayed on a bit to take a look at the interesting endgame between Eljanov and Karjakin.
With only a draw tomorrow, Svidler can secure a spot in his third consecutive Candidates tournament.
After the exchange on d3 and swapping rooks on c8, Eljanov got his rook to e7 and had a chance for a serious advantage with 24.Qd2 keeping the queens on the board. Instead he went for a microscopic endgame edge, and Karjakin dug in his heels for a long defence.
Through a series of nice maneuvers, Eljanov managed to win Black's B-pawn and create a passed A-pawn. As his clock ticked down, however, he allowed Karjakin to exchange off all but one kingside pawns until he could sacrifice his knight for Eljanov's remaining pawn by force, with a well-deserved half point, and a chance to fight another day.
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