Reports May 25, 2015 | 8:51 AMby Colin McGourty

Khanty GP, Round 9: A tale of two stalemates

Despite two wins in Khanty-Mansiysk on Sunday – for Tomashesky over Svidler and Giri over Jobava – the real excitement was focused on two extraordinary games that ended in stalemate. Boris Gelfand pulled off an escape of epic proportions against Dmitry Jakovenko, while Caruana-Karjakin was mired in controversy when the game continued after both players had signed off on an incorrect draw by repetition.

Baadur Jobava and Chief Arbiter Boris Postovsky were in a great mood before the round began... if only they knew! | photo: Kirill Merkurev, official website

Round 9 of the Khanty-Mansiysk FIDE Grand Prix left the standings at the top of the tournament unchanged. 

Hikaru Nakamura remains in the joint lead after a 31-move draw against Alexander Grischuk’s Grünfeld Defence in a game that never swung in either side’s favour. Joint leader Leinier Dominguez also drew with White against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in only 28 moves, though after that game the players’ catchword in the press conference was “unclear”.

Karjakin 1/2-1/2 Caruana: The draw that wasn't, then was

A hard-fought handshake before a hard-fought game | photo: Kirill Merkurev, official website

The other leader, Fabiano Caruana, also expected a “pretty quick” draw when he played 30…h5:


Instead Sergey Karjakin decided to play on with 31.a5!? which Caruana called “a bit unnecessary”, suggesting something neutral like 31.h3. Karjakin then began to play with fire, and was only too happy when he thought he could claim a 3-fold draw by repetition on move 49. His assumption was that the position was repeated after White’s 37th, 39th and now 49th move:


It was a false claim, since in fact the Black king was on c6, not e6, before those first two moves, but nevertheless the claim was accepted by the Deputy Arbiter from Hong Kong, Kwai Keong Chan. 

Deputy Arbiter Kwai Keong Chan was suddenly thrust into the limelight | photo: Kirill Merkurev, official website 

The confusion was caused by the ambiguous recording of 36…Kc6 on Karjakin’s scoresheet.

Karjakin's scoresheet preserved as evidence of the 49-move draw... we've highlighted the move that caused the controversy | photo: Russian Chess Federation

Caruana initially explained in the press conference:

I was sure it wasn’t a repetition, but then I suddenly got confused when we started to check the position on the board and I became convinced that it was a repetition. Then we signed for a draw and I was pretty upset that I had signed and then for some reason the arbiter told us to change the decision and play on, which was a little strange, but I was happy to play on.

At the end of the press conference Karjakin asked to be allowed to speak more about the issue and made it clear he was unhappy with the “unprofessional” way the decision to stop the game was overturned when Caruana appealed:

By that point Fabiano had signed the scoresheet and after that I think the arbiter didn’t have the right to continue the game.

Caruana objected to the version of events:

Actually I accepted the arbiter’s initial decision for it to be a draw, but then he asked me if I wanted to play and I said yes.

You can watch the players below:

Chess-News asked the Chief Arbiter Boris Postovsky, who hadn’t initially been involved in checking the repetition, for a comment. He explained events from the point at which he was present with the players:

I asked Caruana, “do you agree?” It seems they both agreed, after which they both signed Sergey’s scoresheet. But suddenly Chan, sweating, rushed up and said: “I made a mistake – there’s no repetition”. It turned out that first Karjakin and then he had incorrectly understood the notation for Black’s 36th move: 36…Kc6. The letters “c” and “e” are very similar, and if the king had been on e6 then there really would have been a 3-fold repetition.

So that was the misunderstanding that arose. I asked Caruana if he agreed to nevertheless draw the game, but Fabiano was silent. Then I recalled what I’d been taught sixty years ago when I was just starting out as an arbiter – if you make a mistake you can correct it. And I said: “Continue playing”. That was my decision as Chief Arbiter. Neither player objected and play went on.

The Laws of Chess are, as usual, ambiguous on the topic, with point 8.7 relevant:

At the conclusion of the game both players shall sign both scoresheets, indicating the result of the game. Even if incorrect, this result shall stand, unless the arbiter decides otherwise.

It's clear the arbiter can alter the result on a scoresheet, but not whether he can allow the game to continue after it "concluded".

That wasn’t the end of the drama. When Caruana managed to play 51…a5 he was suddenly playing for a win, and by move 65 the computer tablebases were counting down to mate for Black. Fabiano had no time left for the complicated calculation, though, and the point at which the win slipped away was move 74:


Here 74…Kf3 (and also 74…Qd3, 74…Qd2+ and 74…Qc5+) are winning for Black, but after 74…Qe5 the game is drawn, as Sergey ultimately managed to prove. The final position was the most important stalemate in endgame theory:


That stalemate is a draw has long troubled English Grandmaster Nigel Short:

Let's briefly return to more standard chess action! 

Anish Giri is remembering what it feels like to win again with two wins in three rounds | photo: Kirill Merkurev, official website

The first game of the day to finish wasn’t one of Baadur Jobava’s better days, since it featured terrible decisions taken at breakneck speed. The French Defence with an early f6 that he played wasn’t in itself the problem, since as Anish Giri commented:

All of his variations are not as bad as they look, and the computer usually doesn’t understand them.

The first critical moment, though, was on move 19:


Jobava played the “very, very risky move” (Giri) 19…Rf5? after only 6 seconds, and was then surprised by 20.f4! – “If I saw this f4 move I would play Bf5 without thinking”. It seems that wasn’t the only refutation of Black’s idea, but in any case the game still went on until 20…Bb5 21.Qxf5 d3+ 22.Rf2 Rf8 23.Bxd3 Rxf5 24.Bxf5 was followed by 24…Qe3?? 


That move, played after 1 minute and 25 seconds, ended all resistance, since 25.Be6+ picked up the vital d5-pawn and caused Jobava to resign immediately. Jobava didn’t think Giri’s word “blunder” was a fair description of his 24th move:

It’s not a blunder… I don’t know what it is!

At least after that strange game the players seemed to get on well in the post-game press conference, with no repeat of their Tashkent meltdown.

The other win was a third consecutive loss for Peter Svidler. His opponent, Evgeny Tomashevsky, played the more aggressive 13…Bc6 rather than the 13…Bc8 he’d lost with against Anish Giri in Round 7, but Svidler had no explanation for why he spent 25 minutes – and more in the coming moves – thinking about something he’d looked at in detail over the rest day. 

Never go down into the basement on your own in a horror movie, never smile before a game of chess? | photo: Kirill Merkurev, official website

Black was soon doing well, but it was only on move 23 that things started to crumble for Svidler.


He played 23.Bxc4?! and admitted he’d simply missed when going for this position that Black could play 23…Qa7+! immediately. 23.d4 would have retained a healthy position. Instead Tomashevsky could even afford to miss a clear win in the run-up to the time control and still have enough of an edge that Svidler concluded “there’s no need to prolong this suffering” on move 42.

The final game was the highlight of the round, and the best rebuttal of Nigel Short’s dislike of the stalemate rule. 

Jakovenko 1/2 - 12 Gelfand: Miracles do happen

This might have been a non-event, since Boris Gelfand’s Najdorf Sicilian was about to end in a logical draw by repetition in the following position:


Gelfand and his second Alexander Huzman had analysed the position and concluded he had to take a draw with 24…Qd7, but instead, after 30 minutes’ thought, Boris tried 24…Nd7?, only to conclude that after 25.Re4! “basically I have to resign”.

He was asked why he went for it:

Lapse of reason! Ok, I missed 25.Re4 and started wondering why not 24…Nd7 and I thought 25.Qxa6 Nxe1 26. Bxe1 and a more or less balanced position, so I decided to play… It’s one of the dangers in modern chess. The first move after home analysis very often you make a mistake. That’s why I calmed down and took my time to think of a move, but still…

We have to be grateful for the decision, and also the choice not to resign on the spot. 

Boris Gelfand is still unbeaten in Khanty-Mansiysk! | photo: Kirill Merkurev, official website

Instead it wasn’t easy for Dmitry Jakovenko to find a knockout blow, and when he was already in time trouble Gelfand began to play on the fact that the black king had no squares it could move to, with the bold 45…Nd3?!! and later 48…g4!


It was only now that Jakovenko realised the full stalemate threat he was facing, but he was already very short of time. White should play 49.Ke3 or 49.Kg3, but Jakovenko was worried about a queen check on f3 and took the fateful decision to capture on g4. After 49.hxg4 Qg2+ 50.Ke3 Nd5+! (Jakovenko had thought Black would try to keep the knight) 51.Kd4 Qf2+ it was over:


The king can’t escape from checks (in fact 52.Kc4 Nb6+ even loses) and there’s no point putting off the capture any longer, so… 52.Kxd5 Qd4+! 53.Kxd4 1/2-1/2


A beautiful final position to end this report!

Watch the post-game press conference:

That meant that Dmitry Jakovenko had missed a big chance to make himself a real contender for Candidates Tournament qualification. Evgeny Tomashevsky’s win could still be significant (he’s third highest below Caruana and Nakamura in the overall Grand Prix standings), though he needs to win at least one and probably both of his final games to have a decent chance of upsetting his higher-rated rivals.

Gelfand – Tomashevsky will therefore be one game to watch in Round 10, while Caruana – Nakamura will be intriguing. Will both players be happy with a draw or will one of them go for a knockout blow to confirm qualification? Don't miss the action live here on chess24

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