Astonishingly, Anand is now not only the only player to remain undefeated in Khanty-Mansiysk, but the only player not to have lost at least two games. The quality of play in general has raised some eyebrows, with Russian/Polish GM Michal Krasenkow expressing a view on his blog shared by many of his colleagues:
The tournament has already crossed the midway point and we can draw the first conclusions. Alas, this event is currently a very pale imitation of last year’s stunning spectacle – above all, from the point of view of the quality of play. We’ve seen a huge number of crude and totally inexplicable mistakes, and a far from grandmaster-level conversion of advantages. Even the leaders – the outstanding players Levon Aronian and Vishy Anand: the first of them will no doubt have nightmares about his ending against Dmitry Andreikin, which a grandmaster of Levon’s ability should win in a blindfold simul; it’s unlikely the latter will be able to explain why he didn’t take the f2-pawn in the game against Peter Svidler – an obvious, automatic move that would essentially have ended the struggle. You get the strong impression that whoever wins the Candidates Tournament Magnus Carlsen will be able to sleep soundly.
Today's game from Vishy may alter that final judgement, but the day as a whole was certainly in keeping with the tradition of the tournament.
Kramnik, in particular, will want to forget it as soon as he can.
This was in fact the last game to finish, but it was the first game to be over as a contest. Kramnik had ridiculed Levon Aronian’s 3.Qb3?! the day before, but Ukrainian grandmaster Pavel Eljanov noted that Kramnik fell victim to a similarly toothless variation today:
Karjakin explained that he wanted to go for an “unknown” position that would surprise his opponent after 3.Bf4, and Kramnik’s problems with Black (Grischuk/Sutovsky’s words are becoming more and more prophetic!) again resurfaced, this time in horrific fashion.
In a position where nothing is happening after a normal move like 7…Qb6 he self-destructed with the awful 7…dxc4??:
Karjakin simply took the pawn on b7. Kramnik said he’d calculated a long line but overlooked something trivial. Although the conversion was a little bumpy, the end result was seldom in doubt.
After his victory Karjakin has joined Kramnik on 50% and suddenly has real momentum – despite losing to Aronian he defended very resourcefully, then played what he described in today's press conference as “one of the best games of my life” against Svidler. Now he’s beaten Kramnik. Is he a dark horse to win the whole event!?
“People have been asking me to play boring games…” was Svidler’s comment after this encounter and he can’t have been too disappointed to take a breather after his trials and tribulations the day before. Andreikin’s 8.g4?! was a surprise:
It led to an amusing post-game exchange:
Andreikin: During my preparation I was a bit confused and while coming to the playing hall I decided to play 8.g4 just to scare my opponent.
Svidler: I only decided to play the Najdorf at the board so I’m very envious that people can guess my moves! Anything Dmitry would play would be news to me. I had no idea even what his first move would be.
After Svidler replied 8…d5! queens were exchanged on move 11 and a draw agreed as soon as the 30 moves required by the tournament regulations were fulfilled.
Peter Svidler commented on this absorbing game while it was still in progress:
If it wasn’t home preparation I’m very impressed. Shakhriyar sacrificed the exchange and got a promising position with compensation.
It seems the way the game started was anything but home preparation, with Mamedyarov claiming he “forgot absolutely everything”. We looked on course for a repeat of their Round 2 encounter when Mamedyarov was lost almost before it began, but Aronian said he’d only analysed the line a long time ago, and Mamedyarov gradually seized the initiative. As he explained:
Aronian was playing very fast and I understood it was very bad for me. I had nothing to lose, so I just played chess. It wasn’t easy to play at the board, but when I found this Rb1-b4 I realised it maybe wasn’t so bad. Of course the machine will prefer Black… but I’m a human and I understood the position was completely unclear.
IM David Martínez takes a look at a spectacular game:
1. d4 ♘f6 2. c4 e6 3. ♘c3 ♗b4 4. f3 0-0 5. e4 A line with a very dubious reputation, and this game isn't going to change that. Mamedyarov was probably well aware of that, but with nothing to play for in the tournament he seems to have decided to take risks and seek complications. He certainly managed!
10... ♕e8+ In my opinion this is the most precise move.
10... ♖e8+ is the machine's first choice, but after 11. ♔f2 ♕xf6 (11... ♘xf6 12. ♗d3 c5 13. ♘e2 with all to play for) 12. ♗d3 c5 White has the elegant 13. f4! based on the fact that Black can't play 13... cxd4 due to 14. ♗xh7+ and if 14... ♔xh7 then 15. ♕h5+ and the rook is lost. f4 therefore makes it possible to develop the knight to f3, with a final destination on e5 and a good attacking configuration. I've no doubt this line featured in Mamedyarov's analysis.
18... ♘d5 was the most natural move, transposing to the game but without allowing the possibility of 19. Re5.
19. ♔f2⁈ Returning the gift.
19. ♖e5 would have solved White's problems on the e-file so that development could be completed without giving up the exchange. Let's take a look at some possible lines: 19... ♖xe5 (19... ♖ad8 20. f4 , followed by Nf3 and Ne5.) 20. dxe5 ♕xg7 (20... ♕e7 21. ♘e2 ♕xe5 22. 0-0 ♖e8 23. ♘g3 and White is under no threat on the e-file.) 21. f4 Nf3 and Nd4 will follow, controlling the position and keeping an extra pawn.
20. ♗f4 , aiming at the important e5-square, was a good alternative to the exchange sacrifice, which can also be played later on.
25... ♗d3! 26. ♘f4 ♕g5! Not fearing any discovered attacks, as the queen can go to e7 if necessary. From that square the queen can fight on multiple fronts and any result is possible. The key point is that 27. ♘xd3 loses to 27... ♖xe3 28. ♕xe3 ♖a2+
26. d5 was very interesting, followed by Nf4 and Bd4, dominating the position.
34. ♕e5 is the solution offered by the machine. Instead shocked chess fans saw the advantage plummet from +39 (!) to a slight advantage. (An English IM who shall remain nameless even described Mamedyarov as "the Bunglemaster" at this point on a live broadcast for a new chess website...) However, this wasn't a human move as it requires some precision to win, while, as we'll see, the opposite-coloured bishop ending was completely winning in the eyes of the grandmasters. Mamedyarov therefore chose the simplest approach.
Anand has received some mild criticism for seeming to have switched on cruise control after reaching +2, when in some games he could have pushed for more. The way his rivals have been falling by the wayside, however, you begin to get the impression he knew exactly what he was doing! In Round 9 he seized his chance to stake a real claim for tournament victory.
Topalov pleased his manager by going for the Najdorf Sicilian…
...but after that things didn’t go so well for Bulgaria!
1. e4 c5 2. ♘f3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. ♘xd4 ♘f6 5. ♘c3 a6 6. h3 The elite and my grandmother Petra have in common that for years they avoid something or do it rarely, but then suddenly it catches on and becomes routine. I don't fully understand it, but I think these people know a lot and there's a point behind it...
In this tournament 6. h3 has become the main weapon against the Najdorf. That's for starters. Moreover, it strikes me as interesting that in many lines people are looking to play g4, striving for a good balance between aggression and positional control.
6... e6 7. g4 ♘fd7 The very latest fashion in this line. The idea is to wait and see what White does by playing a move that can't be bad. White can play 8. g5 b5 or 8. Bg2, as in the game. He can also forget about that idea and play for typical plans involving the c-file.
10... ♘ce5 , in order to follow up with b5, was the principal alternative to the move in the game, and I see two interesting ways for White to continue: 11. g5 (11. ♕e2 , looking to change the focus of the game and meet 11... b5 with 12. a4 b4 13. ♘a2 , playing across the whole board. The outcome would be totally unclear.) 11... b5 12. f4 ♘c4 13. ♗c1 and, despite the pile-up of pieces on the first rank, I think White controls the position.
11... ♘c4 would force 12. ♗c1 but I don't see any way for Black to avoid b3, pushing back the knight and returning to positions like the ones in the game. The natural attempt to avoid that would be 12... ♕a5 but it's met by (12... ♕b6 13. ♘xc6 ) 13. ♘xc6 bxc6 14. ♕d4 ♘e5 15. f4 putting an end to the knight's starry-eyed dreams of deciding the game.
12. f4 can't be recommended for the moment as in the lines given above with the bishop coming back to c1 it's better to have the pawn on f2, where it protects the potentially weak e3-square.
12... ♗xc6 13. b3 I don't think making this move entered into Vishy's original plans, but Topalov's flexible approach has made this both possible and necessary. It's possible because Black isn't threatening anything and there's a tempo to do it. It's necessary because of the following line:
13. f4 is once again met by 13... ♘c4 14. ♗c1 ♕b6 , which is the advantage of not having played b5. The queen hits b2 and unleashes mayhem in a line like 15. ♕e2 d5 16. exd5 exd5 17. ♗xd5 ♘xb2 with all the pieces of both sides hanging. That usually isn't good for the king that's going to remain in the centre - in this case White's.
13... f5 We have lift-off! Veselin sets fire to the board... and Vishy accepts the challenge.
15... ♘xe3 16. ♕xe3 A very difficult position either to play or evaluate. Black has the bishop pair and comfortable counterplay on the c-file, where in future it will be possible to attack the white king. On the other hand, his king is also suffering and the centre is very tense, with the e6-pawn also often hanging. Topalov decides to clarify the position immediately, which a few moves later leaves him with a worse structure.
21... 0-0 22. ♖he1 , followed by Nd3, is what the Bulgarian wanted to avoid by exchanging on f2, but here he has the break (22. ♘d3 ♗d4 , with the idea of Qa3, continues to be a nuisance for White.) 22... e5! and I think he must have missed 23. ♗xd5+ (23. ♖xe5? ♗xf2 24. ♕xf2 ♕xe5 wins) 23... ♗xd5 24. ♖xd5 exf4 25. ♕c3 ♗b4 (25... ♗e3 26. ♘g4 ♖ac8 27. ♕d3 ♕b4 is also interesting) 26. ♖xe7 ♗xc3 27. ♖d3 ♖ac8 with a hard-to-evaluate ending.
22. ♕xf2 0-0 23. ♕d4 White's bishop is better and the e6-pawn is doomed. Vishy can be very happy with his position and the game now enters a technical stage. As Carlsen noted, Vishy already managed the extremely difficult task of beating Aronian on pure technique in this tournament. Today he does the same against Topalov. Until recently such feats - and even "drier" ones - were only within the grasp of Magnus. Has Vishy really learned something from their match?
26... ♖xe5 27. fxe5 ♖xf1+ 28. ♗xf1 ♕e7 29. a4⁈ Anand wants to restrict the black bishop by putting pawns on its colour while not creating any weaknesses that can be attacked. He knows what he's doing! It's often a very tricky concept, but in this case it was even better to play
29. ♗h3 , avoiding the manoeuvre which comes next, because if 29... ♗e8 then 30. ♕b6 hits e6 and the pawn has to be defended again. If that's done by the black king coming to f7 then the bishop can't get to g6.
30... ♗g6 31. ♗h3 h6⁈ Topalov, true to his style, decides not to remain passive, but this creates weaknesses on the kingside which will be the key to his defeat. Maintaining the position with Be4, Kf7 and perhaps g6 might have made a fortress that White would find difficult to break down.
A crucial victory for Anand in which he didn't allow Topalov the slightest counterplay after the opening.
Our Spanish editor IM David Martínez, who wrote the above notes, also supervised the filming of Anand's chess24 video series on his own games: Tips from a World Champion The queen ending in today's game reminded him, in particular, of Anand's video on queen and pawn endings, in which he showed a brilliant victory over Viktor Korchnoi (one piece of advice for free: "There is no hurry in a queen endgame"). Vishy told David afterwards, "I didn't remember I played this endgame so well!"
Even before today’s game one elite grandmaster, Russia’s Alexander Grischuk, gave the following response when Russian website Sport Weekend asked him if Anand’s rejuvenation surprised him:
On the one hand you can be surprised, given that of late Vishy really has been playing poorly. On the other hand, though, I have to say that of all the players I’ve played against Anand has personally struck me as the strongest, of course after Kasparov. And I was amazed above all by the fact that in the last few years the play of that great chess player had slightly faded. That’s what you should be surprised about! And the play that 44-year-old Anand is now demonstrating in the Candidates Tournament is his normal level, which he’s showing despite all talk of age. If you can – win, finish ahead of the former World Champion, as after all he’s competing as an equal in the qualifier! But, as we see, that’s not so easy to do, although of course final conclusions should be drawn after the tournament.
So after Round 9 Anand is well and truly in the driving seat on 6/9. Aronian is the only other player on a plus score, a point behind, but will fall short if he matches Anand’s score after 14 rounds as the first tiebreak is their head-to-head results - Anand won their mini-match 1.5:0.5. Kramnik is now joined on 50% by Mamedyarov and Karjakin.
The players have another rest day to recover and regroup, and then on Tuesday we have another potentially critical round. Perhaps the four players with the greatest chances have the white pieces, with everyone but Anand no doubt beginning to feel these are must-win games!
You can replay all of today’s commentary with GM Jan Gustafsson and IM Lawrence Trent (he parachuted in to Gibraltar midway through the broadcast!) below:
And of course make sure to tune in to our live broadcast here on chess24 with IM Lawrence Trent and GM Jan Gustafsson!
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