Reports Mar 30, 2014 | 9:52 PMby Colin McGourty

Candidates, Rd 14: Sergey snatches second

Sergey Karjakin capped a fine second half to his tournament by outlasting Levon Aronian in the longest game of the Candidates. His win meant he was the only player other than Viswanathan Anand to finish on a plus score, though he was still a full point behind the winner, who took an easy draw against Peter Svidler. Veselin Topalov fought on for 69 moves against Dmitry Andreikin, but couldn’t avoid a draw and last place.

The withering gaze of a resurgent champion | photo: official website

It’s fair to say expectations were low at the start of Sunday’s final round of the Candidates Tournament in Khanty-Mansiysk. The players, media and no doubt chess fans were feeling the strain of a long and punishing event, and of course Vishy Anand had tied up qualification for a rematch against Magnus Carlsen with a round to spare.

With little else to play for (the difference in potential prize money was more or less small change for these guys!) we could expect four quick draws, right? Well, it did look that way when the first players began sheepishly appearing in the press centre…

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov 1/2 – 1/2 Vladimir Kramnik

What was he thinking about? | photo: official website

Mamedyarov admitted he wasn’t planning to go out all guns blazing in this game:

I decided not to risk today. I was very tired. Somehow in each game with White I was down material – a pawn or a piece – so today I decided to play a solid, normal game.

Kramnik had no objections, but there were still some curious moments. Our expert, IM David Martinez, valiantly tried to annotate this game, but he was a little perplexed by Mamedyarov’s response to Kramnik’s 10…Qd7:

After this move Mamedyarov thought for some 18 minutes (see the game with move times here), which is surprising, to put it mildly. Why? Because this guy Kramnik is well-known for not varying his openings too much, and regularly plays the Nimzo-Indian and also meets the Capablanca (4.Qc2) with this variation with 0-0 and d5. In fact, he's played it 11 times and in two of those, in 2013, he reached the same position against - wait for it - Mamedyarov. Perhaps he was thinking "third time lucky" or "he won't dare to play it again against me" so after betting a good dinner with his seconds he decided not to check it again. So in those 18 minutes he may have been thinking of an appropriate place to go for dinner, as well as choosing the most solid variation to at least not lose the game. Or maybe you have a better theory? Please add it in the comments under the article!

As you may have guessed by now, there were no fireworks after that and a little precision saw Kramnik hold a comfortable 30-move draw. The press conference was much more interesting, though, as it was time for the players to sum up their performances. Kramnik’s verdict was damning:

I played unevenly, blundered a lot and clearly lacked energy for the whole tournament.

He talked a lot more about how after a tiring 2013 he’d failed to recover in time for the tournament, but also discussed how important luck and things going your way is in such events, citing how Grischuk’s blunder against him in London 2013 had started his rise there.

Kramnik and Mamedyarov in their final press conference at the 2014 Candidates | photo: official website

The most interesting part of the press conference wasn’t, however, broadcast live. Luckily Evgeny Surov (who hands down won the prize for worst pre-tournament prediction!) recorded what we missed for Chess-News, and we’ve translated it below. Mamedyarov’s comments sparked Kramnik to explain the psychology of champions, continuing his “discussion” with the current World Champion Magnus Carlsen:

Mamedyarov: I can’t say I was lucky or unlucky. I’m simply the kind of guy who looks at everything a little differently. When I win a game or tournament I never say I was lucky today – I say I won a game. So if I lose I have to think the same: I played well – I won, I played badly – I lost. That approach probably helped me as after every loss I again began to play for a win and forgot about my blunders. So I’m nevertheless happy with my play, particularly after the third round, because I played riskily and the kind of chess I love. But until Round 3, of course, it was simply awful!

Kramnik: I’d just like to add. It seems to me that Shakhriyar is wrong: he doesn’t have a champion’s approach. I recall a few World Champions and the majority of them have a completely different approach. When they get lucky – it’s normal, when they, let’s say, lose a won position – it’s unlucky, and when they win a lost position – it’s absolutely normal. I noticed that many champions have precisely that approach, including, it seems to me, the current one. Therefore this is something Shakhriyar still needs to work on…

Mamedyarov: Well, I’m not yet a World Champion, after all.

Kramnik: Perhaps that’s why!

Kramnik was also asked if he’d brought his failure on himself by advising Anand to play and then also winning the World Cup so that Karjakin could have his ratings spot in the tournament:

Kramnik: We really did speak in London and Vishy was having some doubts at the time. I advised him to play because I thought he had a chance, and I told him that. The thing is we’re from the same generation, we have a good relationship and I don’t have any feeling of rivalry, although he did beat me in a World Championship match. I really am very happy for him here. And in any case, I have to say that I simply didn’t play well enough for first place. If not him then someone else would have won. I have to admit that I could have won this tournament only by accident. Therefore I don’t think I’ve got only myself to blame that I gave him that advice – I’m glad for him. As for my place in the tournament – I have to say I should play better myself and put right my mistakes. Therefore everything was fair.

I’m also glad that Vishy managed to overcome the crisis he’s suffered in recent years when he wasn’t winning tournaments and everyone was writing him off. I also think he has every chance of winning the World Championship match. I suffered a similar crisis, so I understand perfectly well what was going on with him.

Viswanathan Anand 1/2 – 1/2 Peter Svidler

Anand got a helping hand from FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov... | photo: official website

You could probably safely have bet your house on the outcome of this game. Anand, of course, had nothing left to achieve in the event, while Svidler also felt he’d done his bit:

Considering the position I got the last time I played the Sicilian I opted for something slightly safer. I’ve provided some excitement and something to talk about in this tournament, so I thought today I’d try not to get a lost position by move 15…

In the event Svidler played a line of the Marshall championed by no less an authority than chess24’s Jan Gustafsson. Anand’s “little idea” with 24.a3 changed little, and the harmonious final position in this case isn’t really the calm after the storm:

One watching grandmaster felt Anand was in such perfect control in the tournament he would even synchronise his draw with the press-conference schedule (though surely the players' usual plan is to try and skip them!?):

Anand was later dragged back to give a second press conference with FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, but in his first he explained that he’d woken up at 6am after his shortest sleep of the whole event - his only problem was letting “euphoria” affect his play. Peter Svidler wasn’t quite so satisfied:

The most prevalent feeling right now is of a huge wasted opportunity because I think at least in the first half I played very interesting chess and I had chances in almost every game. I think a lot of what went wrong in this tournament involved unforced errors on my behalf… With Maxim [Matlakov] here with me and Nikita [Vitiugov] from home we did a lot of decent work and a lot of the stuff we looked at actually did happen… The general feeling I have right now is that I played reasonably well in the first half and even in parts of the second, but I kept on making strange mistakes in positions I shouldn’t have. Because of that a tournament which could have been very interesting for me finished as a minor disaster.

When the players were asked about their favourite games of the event Anand revealed he would have chosen the game against Andreikin… if he’d played on with 41.Rc4! in the final position. Contrary to the impression he gave in the press conference immediately after that game he said he had seen and calculated it, but simply failed to spot the final move in one line.

Svidler also pointed to a game he failed to win:

In my case I think the most interesting game and the one that comes to mind first is not the game I won but the one I drew against Kramnik. I think it was a very interesting and well-played game. It also, I think, had huge relevance to my tournament. I won three games here, but they were, I think, less exciting than this one. The games in which I missed something in this tournament were more interesting than the games in which I didn’t.

So it was two down, two to go, but then suddenly things slowed down. The players didn’t want to go gentle into that good night…

Veselin Topalov 1/2 – 1/2 Dmitry Andreikin

Veselin Topalov dropped five places to World no. 9 during the tournament | photo: official website

Or rather… Dmitry Andreikin would happily have taken a draw against Veselin Topalov. He played the Berlin and even when his opponent chose the Anti-Berlin with 4.d3 he managed to find concrete counterplay that seemed to leave him completely equal. As he said afterwards, “I thought it would equalise quite rapidly…”. Instead after 30.Nxh6+ he began to realise he was in for the long haul.

He did, however, take some inspiration from another player: “Anand likes to make such draws a pawn down!” It’s surely another sign of Vishy’s revival that we’re no longer hearing such things only about Carlsen! Topalov pressed until move 69, but could make no headway against the level-headed Russian.

Not for the first time in Khanty-Mansiysk Andreikin was also the most succinct player in the post-game press conference, answering the question of the day about his tournament (he finished 5th on 50%):

I evaluate my play as very bad, but my result as positive.

Veselin Topalov couldn’t, of course, be overjoyed to have finished in clear last:

It couldn’t have been worse, but apart from Anand I don’t think anyone can be happy with his play. All the rest of us are more or less losers, and none of us came even close to Anand in the whole tournament… Overall I was well-prepared but I played very badly. There were games where I blundered on almost every move, but overall it seems I lacked a little energy. The ability to make draws isn’t enough in this tournament. If I wanted to make 50% then I would have managed, but the idea of this tournament is totally different.

Levon Aronian 0 – 1 Sergey Karjakin

Karjakin and Aronian had wildly topsy-turvy tournaments | photo: official website

When Aronian beat Karjakin in Round 7 it took him into joint first while Sergey dropped to clear last on -2. At that point it seemed Aronian had the momentum to win the tournament, while the young Russian could simply be written off. Instead, he became the man of the second half, coming closer than anyone else to troubling Vishy Anand, while Aronian disappointed yet again in a major World Championship event.

Their last-round game was a microcosm of their tournaments as a whole. Aronian sprung a first-move surprise with 1.e4 and won a pawn when Karjakin played what he described (accurately) as the “terrible move” 18…h6. Sergey was happy simply “not to lose immediately”, but when Aronian “started falling into time trouble and blundering everything” (his words) it was suddenly White who was in danger.

28…Rxf3! turned the tables. Although Aronian put up heroic resistance – the game went on to move 94 – he was ultimately unable to hold his position together. The result saw Sergey Karjakin finish as the only other player on a positive score, in clear second place. One of his seconds, and a long-time Anand second, Rustam Kasimdzhanov, was happy!

Aronian, meanwhile, finished in 6th place on -1 – not exactly what Armenian fans were hoping for. The player himself tried to look on the bright side:

I didn’t play well. I can’t really explain why I was making some decisions during the games. At least when you fall, you fall really hard. It even feels better. At least I hope I gave away all of my losses and now I won’t be losing any more this year.

So the final standings are a walk down memory lane for Viswanathan Anand, who won a comparable tournament the last time he needed to - back in Mexico 2007:

1Anand Viswanathan2770IND0357,25
2Karjakin Sergey2766RUS0351,75
3Kramnik Vladimir2787RUS7349,25
4Mamedyarov Shakhriyar2757AZE72348,00
5Andreikin Dmitry2709RUS7248,50
6Aronian Levon2830ARM345,00
7Svidler Peter2758RUS½346,00
8Topalov Veselin2785BUL60242,25

It’s curious to note that all the players won at least two games - and none more than three - but all of them but Anand also lost at least two games. Only Vishy remained undefeated, and a more than deserved victor. Or as the best female player of all time put it:

Below we bring you the marathon chess24 commentary session on Round 14 with GMs Stuart Conquest and Jan Gustafsson and IM Lawrence Trent:

You can of course still replay all the games with computer analysis. Stay tuned for more post-Candidates reaction and of course for upcoming events here on chess24!

More on the Candidates 2014:

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