The first round of the 2014 Candidates to feature only draws was just what the doctor ordered for Viswanathan Anand. His easy hold with the black pieces against Vladimir Kramnik kept him a point clear of the field with only three games remaining. Elsewhere only Sergey Karjakin came truly close to landing a knockout blow. GM Jan Gustafsson takes an exclusive look at that game for chess24.
Vishy Anand has been here before – seven years ago in Mexico! The World Championship tournament held back then had exactly the same format, and after ten rounds the tournament table looked exactly the same as it did before today’s games – at least if you shuffle and change all the names but Anand's!
Back then Anand won a wild game against Alexander Morozevich in Round 11 to all but clinch the title (the other three games were drawn). This time round he was happy to settle for an angst-free draw against his old friend and great rival Vladimir Kramnik.
In terms of the tournament situation this was a must-win game for Kramnik, but after two defeats, and particularly the gut-wrenching blunder against Peter Svidler, he admitted to being pessimistic and having all but given up hope of overall victory.
I honestly think yesterday was the decisive game, while today I had few realistic chances to catch everyone even if I won.
He sprung a small surprise on Anand with 11.Na3, and explained his choice of opening as follows:
I didn’t prepare much after yesterday’s game, obviously. I just decided to play something more solid and something that I know well – the Catalan. Since Vishy plays many different lines it was difficult to prepare something sharp even if I had a lot of courage to do that. So finally I decided over the board to switch to this small idea I analysed some time ago. But first of all I didn’t remember my analysis and secondly… I wasn’t impressed by my position at all. I analysed it a few years ago when engines were quite happy being a pawn up but now engines are very different. I could see a lot of compensation for Black which at the time they probably didn’t see.
IM David Martinez takes a look at what followed:
To give you an idea of the great results Kramnik has scored with White in this opening I can tell you that according to my database he's reached this position in 16 games and posted 9 wins and 7 draws!
7. ♘e5 The main move is 7. Qc2, while with 7. Ne5 White attempts to put pressure on the queenside. Theory has establised that the correct response is the following pawn sacrifice.
8. ♘xc6 seems to be the most natural move, retaining the bishop, but it's known that after 8... bxc6 9. ♗xc6 ♖b8 10. ♘c3 ♗b7 the play on the b-file is dangerous for White and it's not so easy to win the c4-pawn.
8... bxc6 9. ♘xc6 ♕e8 10. ♘xe7+ ♕xe7 11. ♘a3⁉ This is the surprise Kramnik had prepared. Normally White tries to capture on c4 with the queen, via Qa4 or Qc2. Kramnik instead tries to capture with the knight, which is of course very logical. Anand responds very dynamically.
12. ♘xc4 wins the pawn, but after 12... ♖d8 White has two ways to defend d4, but neither of them satisfactory. 13. e3 (13. ♗e3 ♘g4 and if White wants to keep the pawn he's forced to take with the f-pawn on e3, which isn't appealing.) 13... ♗a6 This pins the knight, with the idea of rapidlly upping the pressure with Rac8. The dynamics of the position hugely favour Black.
15. bxc3 ♕a5 16. ♕c1 ♗a6 17. c4 ♖ac8 The c4-pawn is going to fall sooner or later and now Kramnik has to decide how to give it up. After thinking for 26 minutes he comes to the conclusion he has no chance of fighting for an edge, so he makes an implicit draw offer.
18. ♗xa7 Provoking liquidation to a drawn position. Let's take a look at the more critical option:
18. ♖d1 A logical and multi-purpose move that improves the position of the rook. It can threaten to invade on the seventh rank or support the bishop coming to d4, if necessary. As we'll see, it can also go on the attack. 18... ♘d5 (18... ♗xc4 is premature, as after 19. ♘xc4 ♕a6 20. ♖d6! ♕xc4 21. ♕xc4 ♖xc4 22. ♗xa7 the a-pawn will give Black a lot of trouble, in contrast to the game.) 19. ♗d4 f6! (19... ♗xc4 already seems possible, but it meets with an unpleasant surprise! 20. ♘xc4 ♕a6 21. ♗xg7! ♔xg7 22. ♖d4 and White has protected the knight, has an extra pawn and has shattered the defences around the black king. The full point would be his.) 20. e4 Other moves allow an immediate capture on c4 or doubling on the c-file. 20... ♘b6 21. c5 If White manages to play something like Bf2, Qe3 and Rac1 he'll be able to consolidate his extra pawn, but Black's next move eliminates that possiblity. 21... ♖fd8! and the c-pawn is doomed to fall sooner or later.
The players also discussed their sleeping habits after the game, with Kramnik noting he broke all records yesterday after losing to Svidler, getting to sleep after 6am. Vishy noted he sometimes managed 9 hours here, to which Kramnik replied:
I see very well now why we have a 2-point difference between us in the tournament! I have bad nights or awful nights, and I think during the whole tournament I haven’t slept eight hours once. I think if I slept nine every day I’d have 100%
The other games were slow to get going and never quite burst into life.
This was a crucial battle between two players who can still consider themselves contenders for a match against Carlsen. Levon Aronian is, of course, the player closest to Anand, even if losing their mini-match makes the Armenian’s task a whole lot harder. Peter Svidler, meanwhile, needs to score half a point more than Vishy in the coming rounds and then – a mere trifle! – defeat the ex-World Champion with the black pieces in the final round. That sounds unlikely, but he did beat a certain Magnus Carlsen with Black a year ago in London. When that scenario – suggested by Emil Sutovsky – was mentioned to Anand after his game he replied:
That sounds like the script for a very bad nightmare. I’d prefer to fantasise rather than have nightmares!
Against Aronian things went Peter’s way, with his opponent lamenting:
I was planning to play something else, but during the game I went for this and was regretting it a lot. It’s the second time I’ve had an unpleasant position in this line. Maybe there’s something wrong with me… or the line.
Svidler felt he had real chances, but as IM David Martinez notes, for some reason he never went for the obvious try for more:
6. ♗xf3 cxd5 7. 0-0 ♘f6 8. ♘c3 ♘c6 9. d4 ♗e7 10. e3 0-0 It's clear that Svidler has decided to build up his play slowly and calmly - Carlsen would be proud! Although the position seems equal that can be misleading. White has the small advantage that he has a clear plan - the one we see in the game - while Black just has to wait... A good choice for Svidler against Aronian!
11. ♗d2 ♕d7 12. ♖c1 ♖fc8 13. ♗g2 You could omit this move, but the bishop is already protected here from the distant threat of a black knight coming to e5 or d4 after a central break by either Black or White.
16... ♗a5 , with the idea of exchanging the bishop for the knight, seems the most appropriate response.
17. b3 Svidler: "My first thought when Levon played Ne7 was that this was a very nice restructuring, but then I found b3 and was optimistic."
18... b6 , preventing the knight coming to c5, seems to be the most solid move here, but Aronian doesn't want to weaken his queenside just yet.
19. ♘c5 This is why we recommended exchanging this knight earlier...
23... ♘d7 was the precise move to discourage e4, although even then the move would be interesting. 24. e4 ♘xc5 25. dxc5 ♘xe4 26. ♗xe4 dxe4 27. ♕e5 White has no easy way to advance his powerful queenside.
24. ♕b1? Both players have ignored the possible e4 in the last few moves and this was Svidler's last chance to play it!
24. e4! ♘xe4 25. ♘xe4 dxe4 26. ♖xc7 ♖xc7 27. ♗xe4 ♘d7 28. d5 White applies pressure to the black queenside with the idea of responding to 28... ♘f6 with 29. d6 ♗xd6 30. ♗xb7 which would have given Svidler the opportunity to keep pressing for a few more hours.
24... ♘d7! The e4-break is no longer possible and the game ends in a draw after exchanges.
25. ♘d3 ♖xc1 26. ♖xc1 ♖xc1 27. ♕xc1 ♘b6 28. ♕d1 ♕c8 29. ♗f1 ♗f8 30. ♘e5 ♘bc4 31. ♘xc4 ♘xc4 32. ♕c2 ♘b6 33. ♕xc8 A very slow game in which Svidler missed his chance to break with e4 and gain an advantage.
These two, and especially Mamedyarov, have had eventful tournaments - featuring dire starts, spectacular comebacks and missed chances, but the impression now is that both are content with life – mid-table respectability, rating points gained and no real need to push for more. After their Round 11 draw was introduced in the press centre as a game in which both sides tried to win Dmitry turned to his opponent and laughed as he asked, “did you try, Shakhriyar?”
The pattern of almost all Andreikin’s games at the event was repeated. He claimed to be surprised in the opening, spent a lot of time on his moves and then took good decisions that gave him a perfectly playable position. He might even have had chances for more, but it was certainly the day's least memorable draw.
The last game to finish, however, was the best game of the day by some margin. Not for the first time in Khanty-Mansiysk Topalov unleashed a novelty but was ultimately the player hanging on in the latter stages. chess24’s Jan Gustafsson annotates their encounter:
1. ♘f3 Topalov is very flexible in the opening. 1. Nf3 can be interpreted as an attempt to avoid the main lines of the Nimzo and Queen's Indian, which Karjakin employs frequently. For some more insight on the move-order trickery employed by the top guys to get opponents out of their comfort zone, check out How to build your 1.d4 repertoire by yours truly.
1... ♘f6 2. c4 b6 Karjakin sticks to his guns. This move is quite clever in its own right - he invites Topalov to transpose back into the Queen's Indian but doesn't commit to e6 just yet, keeping the option to go for a double fianchetto.
3... c5 Only now, after White has committed to g3...
5... e6 is possible too, of course, but recently White has had more luck building pressure in the resulting Hedgehog than in the hybrid system we see in the game.
6. d4 cxd4 7. ♕xd4 This might look odd at first sight, but it's the main line. The queen is looking for a comfortable home on h4 and isn't scared of being chased away by Nc6. Black would actually rather have the knight on d7 to reinforce his colleague on f6 and leave the b7-bishop with an open view along the diagonal.
7... ♗g7 8. ♘c3 d6! Another important nuance. Black delays castling, which would be met by Qh4, preparing a future kingside attack. As long as the black king stays in the centre Qh4 carries less bite and can be answered by h6, leaving the white lady a little short of squares. That explains the next couple of moves in which both sides try to make useful moves - White waits for Black to castle before playing Qh4 and Black delays as long as he can.
13. ♕h4 ♖c7 Another typical move, waiting to see what White does next and preparing Qa8 or even Qb8 in future. All this is still well-established theory and has actually been played before between the same opponents! Topalov now decides to deviate.
14. g4 Quite typical of Topalov's style - he never shies away from pushing his pawns up the board.
14... ♖c8⁉ A very odd move at first glance. The rook goes back to base just one move after playing Rc7. Black is basically saying, "I know I don't have any useful moves but you're not threatening anything either, so I'll just wait and see". Or the shorter version: "This is Houdini's first line".
14... h6 has been the main line here.
15. g5 A novelty, but typical Topalov - see the comment to his last move.
15... ♘h5 16. ♘e4 Relocating to g3 to exchange off the h5-knight. White isn't really going for a kingside attack here but relying on the g5-pawn having a cramping effect. Then again, opening the h-file after hxg3, somehow getting a rook to h1 and going for Qh7 mate is certainly an idea. ..
16... ♖c7 Here we go again.
19. ♘e1 Switching to positional play. White would like to bring this knight to d5 (e1-g2-f4-d5). More direct attempts such as
24... f6 25. gxf6 ♗xf6 26. a4 Topalov was aiming for this position, evaluating it as slightly better for White due to the weakness of the b6-pawn. Karjakin defends well, and Topalov "totally misplayed the position". In any case, it shouldn't be much for White.
26... h5 27. b4 ♔f7 28. ♔g2 ♔e6 29. ♔f3 ♖f8 30. ♔e2 ♔f5 31. f3 g5! Not only fixing the f3-pawn but hinting that Black could also become active by creating his own passed pawn after h4. Karjakin has equalised.
32. ♖h1 ♔g6 33. ♖c2 e5⁉ A fairly non-standard idea. We're taught not to fix our pawns on the colour of our own bishop. However, Black has the concrete plan of going Bd8 (covering b6) followed by Rbf7, attacking the f3-pawn. b5 can always be met by a5 if necessary, and it's hard to see how White can make progress. However, unhappy about allowing Black's plan, Topalov whips up some immediate action.
34... a5 was possible, but Karjakin seizes the chance to occupy the about-to-be-opened a-file. Once again, Topalov doesn't want to wait and see, but his next move is pushing not only his pawns but also his luck.
35. a5? A neutral move such as
35... bxa5 36. b6 This was the idea - White has created a strong passed b-pawn. However, the pawn is both blocked and quickly attacked, while the newly-generated Black a-pawn will turn out to be surprisingly useful.
38... ♗xb6! Bravely stepping into the coming pin.
39... a4⁈ 40. ♖xb6 ♖xb6 41. ♖xb6 ♖xb6 42. ♗xb6 a3 43. ♗a5 a2 44. ♗c3 and despite being a piece up it's White who has to be careful. He does seem to hold, though, after 44... ♔f5 45. ♔f2 and neither side can make real progress. The white king has to watch the h-pawn and the bishop has to keep an eye on the a-pawn, but Black lacks firepower or a way for his own monarch to make inroads. 45... h4 (45... ♔e6 )
Karjakin admitted he was only looking to make a draw when taking on b6, but realised around here that he was actually better. White has a hard time dealing with the passed pawn on the a-file and the potential passer on the h-file and seems to be objectively lost.
42. ♖b8 a4 43. ♔d1⁈ The best chance from a human perspective, although objectively it might be a mistake. The king will go to control the a-pawns and the rook will fight against the h-pawn. Topalov's original idea was
44... ♔f5 45. ♖f8+ was feared by Topalov, but f4 again seems to be the saving idea: 45... ♔e6 46. gxh4 (46. g4 ♗g1! seems winning for Black. The key idea is always to distract the white rook with the threat of h3-h2-h1, then play e4 and infiltrate with the king via e5.) 46... gxh4 47. f4 and White might survive.
45. g4 The critical position, and the one where it seems Karjakin missed a clear win. The win is, however, very study-like and almost impossible to find over the board:
46. ♖h8! After this it looks as though Topalov is just in time to hold and e4-breakthroughs no longer win.
49... ♗e3 hinting at e4-Kf6-Ke5, might still have been worth trying.
51. ♔b3 ♗c1 52. ♔a2 ♗b2 53. ♔b3 a5 54. ♔a2 a4 55. ♔b1 ♗d4 56. ♔a2 ♗b2 57. ♔b1 ♗d4 A lucky escape for Topalov and a missed (albeit very complicated) chance for Karjakin to move to +1 and emerge as the unlikely main threat to Vishy Anand winning the tournament.
So the standings we gave at the start of this report remain unchanged except for the addition of half a point all round. Thoughts are inevitably drifting to a rematch between Anand and Carlsen this November, and such a rapid reencounter has echoes of chess history - Mikhail Botvinnik famously played, and won, rematches a year later against Vasily Smyslov and Mikhail Tal:
It would also be an extraordinary storyline – if not quite
Hollywood, then Bollywood!
It's hard not to think some people on the Twittersphere are counting their chickens before they hatch, though...
Tomorrow’s Round 12 is the last day of play before the final
Will Anand push for a win against Andreikin that would all but seal his triumph? Will Kramnik's woes with the black pieces continue against Aronian? Find out by tuning into our live Round 12 broadcast here on chess24!
You can replay today’s commentary from GM Jan Gustafsson and IM Lawrence Trent below (minus the first 20 minutes which suffered some technical issues - probably related to Jan's T-shirt!).
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