“A fun game, more fun for some!” That was Peter Svidler’s summary of his self-inflicted loss to Sergey Karjakin in Round 8 of the Candidates Tournament. Karjakin had been the only player yet to win, but now joins a logjam of five players on 3.5/8. Anand and Aronian still lead, after playing one of the strangest 19-move draws you’ll ever witness.
The recent trend in top level chess has been to surprise your opponent early on at all costs, but when an absolutely critical encounter between the world no. 2 and the ex-World Champion leaves theory on move three you have to sit up and take notice. Surprise soon turned to amazement when Aronian moved his queen five times in the first eight moves, before amazement gave way to something approaching consternation when he took a draw a pawn up in a solid position shortly afterwards (clearly failing the WWMD – What Would Magnus Do? – test).
Aronian had an explanation for his 3.Qb3 and failure to play on, but we should probably bear in mind Anand’s caveat: “Of course just after the game Levon said he was worse, but you never know whether to believe him!”
Aronian: I just convinced myself that this is a good move. I saw it while I was having a nap and said it’s such a good move it has to be played. Of course the computer thinks White is busted and gives a good evaluation for Black, but somehow I overestimated my own vision. And only during the game did I realise what a difficult task it is for White to get out and get a playable position. So the reason I didn’t continue to play is that the stress of the start was too much for me.
IM David Martinez takes a look at the encounter:
1. c4 c6 2. ♘f3 d5 3. ♕b3⁈ Aronian said he came up with this move while having a nap. When Kramnik was asked if he similarly came up with some ideas while sleeping he responded: "Qb3 also occurred to me but it's such nonsense that I wouldn't even play it in rapid!"
3... d4! A novelty. Anand replied quickly, and precisely!
6. ♕xc5 e5 7. ♕b5 a6 8. ♕b3 White has moved his queen 5 times (!) in order to capture the pawn. In return Black has seized the initiative and the centre, but he needs to decide on his setup. The next move is a serious inaccuracy.
8... ♗c5⁈ After Aronian implements his plan this bishop remains poorly-placed here - the square was ideal for a knight.
8... ♘f6 was the normal move and would have given Anand an edge. He realised that himself: "I played Bc5 and then immediately kicked myself for not playing Nf6. " Let's look at some lines: 9. exd4 (9. d3 is refuted in a very concrete manner: 9... ♗b4+ 10. ♗d2 ♗xd2+ 11. ♘bxd2 dxe3 12. fxe3 ♘g4 and White has problems.) 9... e4 10. d5 exf3 11. dxc6 ♗c5 , followed by 0-0 and a very dangerous initiative. Black always has a check on e7 in reserve.
European Chess Union President and Topalov’s manager Silvio Danailov was on his favourite hobby horse after the draw by repetition, although there can’t be many others who think draws have been a problem at this year’s Candidates Tournament:
That added an extra layer of intrigue to Topalov’s game
Up to a point you certainly couldn’t criticise the players for a lack of aggression. Mamedyarov played a Najdorf that morphed into a Dragon (in fact known as the Dragadorf!), and the culminating moment was reached on move 18:
Mamedyarov, still visibly despondent about blundering away a winning position against Kramnik, gave an unusually downbeat assessment of this fine sacrifice:
I think yesterday’s game also influenced my play today. I understood perfectly that my opponent no doubt wanted to win more than me today… I think Nc4 was a correct move at the moment I played it. Either you have to defend for a long time or you play Nc4.
In any case, although Topalov accepted the sacrifice with 19.bxc4, after 19…bxc4 20.Bd4 c3 21.Qxc3 and mass exchanges he’d given back all the material with a drawish position. The players waited until crossing the 30-move minimum for the tournament before agreeing a draw. Top Swiss player GM Yannick Pelletier couldn’t resist hitting back at Danailov, leading to an entertaining exchange:
This game was an echo of Kramnik’s extraordinary encounter with Mamedyarov in Round 7. The Russian no. 1 gained an edge with the white pieces, sacrificed a pawn in a bid for more and then began to lose control… but this time he “pulled the emergency brake” (to use a Carlsen phrase) just about in time:
5. g3 b5 6. b3 ♗f5 7. ♗g2 ♘e4 Andreikin's choice is once again very solid, but also unconventional. He's looking to swap off two minor pieces but in exchange he gives Kramnik a lot of freedom to try and exploit his space advantage.
10... g6 Alternatives to complicate the position might have been taking on c4 and Nb6.
11. cxd5 cxd5 12. ♕d2 ♗g7 13. ♖ac1 0-0 14. ♗h3⁉ ♗xf3 15. exf3 ♖e8 16. ♖c6 e6 17. ♖fc1 This move implies a pawn sacrifice, which Kramnik felt was the most principled approach to the position. Admittedly others joked that he'd simply blundered a pawn!
17. ♗b2 was the most solid move, overprotecting d4 and preparing to double on the c-file. 17... ♖c8 18. ♖fc1 ♖xc6 19. ♖xc6 ♘b8 20. ♖c1 ♗f8 and this is the kind of position Kramnik was talking about where he needs some help from his opponent!
The press conference was perhaps more interesting than the game. Kramnik was asked if he was taking too many risks pushing for wins, and his response managed to include a jibe directed at World Champion Magnus Carlsen:
Only 1st place has any meaning here so you need to win a lot of games. The level of the opponents is so high that playing classical, calm chess you’re not going to win. At some point you need to advance. I could have chosen not to sacrifice the pawn, but then it would just have been a dull draw. Maybe only Carlsen can go to and fro and do nothing and his opponent blunders in a dull position, but they don’t blunder against me!
Kramnik did quickly add an “only joking”, but you wonder if someone had pointed out Magnus Carlsen’s recent interview with Norwegian public broadcaster NRK. There, if we believe what we read (and Google Translate), Carlsen let rip against his great predecessor, and explains that unlike his 13-year-old self his 23-year-old self no longer “buys” what Kramnik says…
Kramnik thinks he knows everything.
It’s very impressive how Kramnik reels out variations and so on, and it’s not so easy to discern if you don’t understand the game well yourself, but if you look a little deeper it’s often nonsense. He always plays very principled chess, but the biggest difference between him and me is that he makes a lot more mistakes. Often he seems to think he’s in the right, but I’m actually right.
He’s very confident. He’s not afraid of anyone. He doesn’t think I’m better than him. He doesn’t think Aronian’s better than him and he doesn’t think Anand is better than him. He actually loses games to Nakamura, but he certainly doesn’t believe Nakamura is better than him.
Heady stuff! Returning, for a moment, to Kramnik’s comment on how Carlsen manoeuvres “to and fro” it’s perhaps worth mentioning our “On Carlsen” series of videos, where GMs Artur Jussupow and Jan Gustafsson set out to establish what makes Carlsen so good. Jussupow, who reached world no. 3, highlights the ability to “do nothing” (this is from the video “Improving the position of the pieces”):
This is what I couldn't do in my chess career - I couldn't reshuffle the pieces without worsening my position. Magnus Carlsen, meanwhile, can regroup the pieces and still hold on to a microscopic initiative...
I remember that in the 80s my friend Lev Psakhis played this type of position fantastically for both White and Black. I couldn't understand what he was aiming for. It looked as though he was just reshuffling his pieces without any clear purpose, but his opponent had to worry about the ideas and why Lev had put his rook on this or that square. It's the same here. Carlsen's opponent has to wonder what's going on, and that takes time and energy. Closer to the time control something then tends to happen when his opponent is already tired and unable to put up as much resistance. It's a special technique.
Where were we…? Ah yes – still back in the press conference with Vladimir Kramnik and Dmitry Andreikin! There was a somewhat over-qualified journalist in attendance in the press centre – former FIDE World Champion and Karjakin second Rustam Kasimdzhanov – who wanted to ask a question. Kramnik joked “about the opening, no doubt!?” but it turned out the issue was the fact that, as we explained in our pre-tournament “All you need to know” article, the tiebreak rules have remained unchanged this year, so that a play-off is again extremely unlikely if the players tie on equal points.
Kasimdzhanov: How did the organisers manage to do it again, and why don’t the players do something about it?
Kramnik: I think they just did a copy/paste with slight changes of dates, and so on. On the second question… I can ask the same question! There was a lot of criticism, but not a single person said anything, so I didn’t either. The passivity of the chess world has always upset me a little. Often I’d protest about a lot of things but I was the only one, and I used up a lot of nerves and energy. So for once I wanted someone else to take the initiative. I decided to experiment this time and just wait and see. Nothing happened.
Dmitry didn’t do a lot for the reputation of chess professionals for active engagement when asked why he personally did nothing: “I didn’t think about it!”
The last game to finish was another miserable day in Khanty for Peter Svidler, but a first sign of life for his young compatriot Sergey Karjakin. It all began with a pawn sac by Svidler on move 14 that both players agreed gave White dynamic compensation, but things gradually slipped until after 28…Bf3 Peter said he was considering resigning, and “given the way it panned out that wouldn’t have been such a bad idea!”
Things really went wrong on the last move before the time control, where our analysis begins. Peter introduced it well:
Now we come to one final moment of idiocy on move 40… Basically make any move – Rh2, Rh1 – it doesn’t matter all that much, just don’t play what I did. I knew I shouldn’t be playing it. It was some kind of a death wish.
39... ♖b8 Both players are a move away from the time control and 15 to 20 minutes from agreeing a draw, but, unfortunately for him, Svidler instead converts the ending into an interesting one.
40. ♗g5⁇ The two question marks are not an objective assessment, as the ending should still be drawn after a long defence, but there was no need to allow the next move:
40... f4+! Suddenly Karjakin has been given a file and a plan. This enormous slip-up ends up costing a point.
43. ♗c1 Svidler decides to give up the pawn immediately.
44. ♖h4 , followed by Re4 and f4, is a better option.
44... ♔f7 45. ♗f4⁈ ♖f5 46. ♗b8? Svidler admitted afterwards: "I was so disgusted with Bg5 that for a while I was just making moves". This is an example, as after this move the Black advantage soon becomes obvious.
49... ♔e6 wins a tempo or, in case of 50. ♖xf5 (50. ♗f8 b6 51. ♗xg7 g5 52. ♖xf5 ♔xf5 and the d3-pawn will fall and later the advance of the queenside will be combined with pressure on f3.) 50... gxf5 51. ♗xc5 ♖xd3 results in a position similar to the one in the game but with a better structure.
50. ♔xf4 ♔f6 51. ♗xc5 g5+ 52. ♔g3 ♖xd3 53. ♔g2 ♗e8⁈ Allowing the white king to improve its position. Svidler: "And now the game starts again. For a while I thought it doesn't start as it just finishes. I thought I was making a draw, but Sergey had other ideas..."
57. ♖e2 should draw. Although there would still be some fight this would be more or less easy for Svidler. 57... ♖xe2+ 58. ♔xe2 g4 59. fxg4 ♗xg4+ 60. ♔d2 White's plan is now to liquidate the queenside while controlling the g-pawn to achieve a draw. 60... ♗f5 61. ♗e7 ♗b1 62. a3 ♔f4 63. b4 g5 64. b5 axb5 65. cxb5 g4 66. a4 ♗a2 67. a5 ♗c4 68. a6 bxa6 69. b6 (69. bxa6 ♗xa6 and endgame theory says this is a draw... Although if you don't know that theory another outcome is quite possible.) 69... ♗d5 70. ♔d3 ♔e5 71. ♗h4 The d4-pawn will fall and the a-pawn's queening square is the wrong colour for the black bishop. Draw.
57... ♔f4 58. ♗xd4 ♖e7 The task has become very difficult for Peter, who's going to lose his f-pawn while Karjakin is going to have two g-pawns and keep rooks on the board. As Svidler is still clearly reeling from his earlier mistake the outcome is clear... but Karjakin does everything with great technique.
Karjakin is now level with Svidler and three other players
on -1, while only Anand, Aronian and Kramnik have a positive score:
In Sunday’s Round 8 Karjakin faces Kramnik with White - a chance to continue his comeback and put a huge dent in his Russian rival’s chances of a match against Carlsen!
Make sure to tune in to our live broadcast here on chess24 with GM Jan Gustafsson!
We respect your privacy and data protection guidelines. Some components of our site require cookies or local storage that handles personal information.