Hikaru Nakamura entered the last game of the first half of the 2016 Candidates Tournament in bottom place and was fined 10% of his eventual winnings for failing to attend the previous day's press conference. There was a glimpse of redemption at the board, though, as he gambled and won against Veselin Topalov. The other games were drawn, with Fabiano Caruana surviving what seemed a knockout blow from Peter Svidler.
Moscow Candidates Round 7 results (click a game to replay it with computer analysis)
Off the board, Round 7 of the 2016 Candidates was dominated by the announcement that Hikaru Nakamura is being docked 10% of his eventual winnings – up to 9,500 euros if he finished first – for his no-show at the press conference after his Round 6 loss to Levon Aronian.
You could argue that forcing losers to attend press conferences is counter-productive (often the defeated player will say almost nothing, like Vishy in Round 4, and the winner also feels compelled to hide his pleasure), but the rules are pretty clear:
3.11.2 If a player fails to appear at the Players' Meeting, the Opening or Closing Ceremony or any approved function of the Championship such as official receptions, press conferences or interviews, or conducts himself in a manner contrary to the spirit of sportsmanship or the FIDE Code of Ethics, then he shall suffer the following penalty: 5% of his prize money shall be forfeited to the Organisers and a further 5% to FIDE for each breach. In cases of serious misconduct the player may be disqualified from the event and the World Chess Championship cycle.
It seems an exception was made to that for players who failed to attend the Opening Ceremony, but the press conferences were obligatory, with tournament organiser Ilya Merenzon commenting in a press release:
I realize that Mr Nakamura was upset by what had happened in his game. Yet it is following these moments of high drama and controversy that chess fans particularly want to hear from the players involved. We had a very large global audience on worldchess.com that was left disappointed by Mr Nakamura’s failure to abide by the Tournament rules.
It remains a mystery why Levon Aronian wasn’t asked about the incident in the press conference he did attend, and why Hikaru Nakamura still wasn’t asked about it a day later, but he did give a response to Indian IM Sagar Shah:
That was apparently before Nakamura knew about the fine, but any annoyance he may feel will be tempered by getting his first win of the event. We said in our last report that both Topalov and Nakamura might feel this was close to a must-win game if they wanted to challenge for first place and the prize of a match against Magnus Carlsen.
That was certainly the way they played, and Jan Gustafsson takes us through a thrilling game, while also recapping the day’s other action:
You can also check out the post-game press conference with Nakamura and Topalov:
That was a direct quote from Anish Giri, who played the kind of game that leaves even his most ardent fans struggling to accentuate the positives. The opening battle was fierce and subtle, as you might expect from perhaps the two best prepared players in chess at this moment in time, but then it all ended on move 12:
12.Bxf6 “Not the kind of move you make very proudly” (Giri) From that moment on it was just a tedious stroll to move 30 (Sofia Rules) and a draw. Giri explained his thought process for not going for the ambitious 12.cxd5!? e5!?, which at least on the surface looks promising for White:
If I was sure that Vishy has just as little clue about the position as I do, I would probably have done it, but there were no guarantees. To fight against Vishy would be ok, but to fight against Vishy and some powerful machine wasn’t part of my plan.
That was Giri’s seventh draw in seven games, but he insisted, “No-one’s intending to play dull games.” The press conference is also curious for Giri evaluating the position at the end as drawn in chess but won in checkers!
Fabiano Caruana is the one other player in the tournament with all draws so far, and when his manager Lawrence Trent popped in to our Hamburg studio yesterday he summed up the team’s mood so far as one of frustration at missed chances (most notably an open goal against Topalov!):
In Round 7, though, the frustration was all on the other side of the board. Yet again, Peter Svidler proved himself to be brilliantly prepared – launching an early h-pawn advance that wreaked havoc in the black ranks. Svidler revealed the anti-positional 12…fxg6 (not 12…hxg6?) was what his opponent should have gone for, while the move in the game allowed him to sacrifice a piece on move 15:
15.Qc1!! fxe4 16.Bxg7 Kxg7 17.Qh6+ Kf6 18.dxe4! White’s attack is close to overwhelming, but Caruana never lost faith and made a series of only moves to force an ending a pawn down.
It was still tough, since White had a bishop vs. a knight and pawns on both flanks, but tenacious defence and Svidler’s time trouble combined to allow Caruana to escape. The last critical moment came after 41…c4?!
After 41…c4 I had one more shot at redemption, so to speak, and I made a ridiculous mistake here, because pushing the pawn to e6 makes Fabiano’s life much, much easier, because it gives him the f6-square for the knight in every single variation. I should just keep the pawn on e5, and after 42.a4 it might still be a draw – we don’t really know – but it would make his life much harder.
Instead in the game there followed 42.Bd5+ Kh8 43.e6? c3 44.Rc7 g5 45.Bxe4 and a draw. Svidler, always his own worst critic, summed up:
Kind of regrettable, because once again I seem to be reasonably well-prepared, but playing actual chess is a problem. It seems to be an insurmountable problem of some sort!
For more memorable quotes check out the post-game press conference:
Two players without such frustration are Sergey Karjakin and Levon Aronian.
Sergey Karjakin’s statement is perhaps a fair assessment of this battle between the leaders, though you might alternatively say that both played brilliantly, in phases.
Aronian won the opening battle after Karjakin admitted his 10.h4?! was a mistake in a King’s Indian Attack, with the subsequent launching of pieces at the black king almost suicidal. Levon easily parried the “attack” and Sergey felt it had simply cost him five tempos. Aronian soon returned the favour:
20…f4?! This looks like the decisive breakthrough, but it only led to mass exchanges and a draw on move 31. Aronian commented:
For some reason I underestimated White’s defensive resources. I thought after 20…f4 White was just going to collapse… I was daydreaming.
Watch the full press conference:
So with the first half of the tournament behind us Karjakin and Aronian lead Anand by half a point, but at this stage you can perhaps only rule out Topalov (barring an incredible re-enactment of his San Luis 2005 heroics!):
In Round 8 we repeat the Round 1 pairings, meaning there are again all-US (Caruana-Nakamura) and all-Russian (Svidler-Karjakin) clashes, while Anand may fancy his chances of beating Topalov for a second time. Don’t miss live commentary with Jan Gustafsson and Anna Rudolf from 13:00 CET on Sunday. You can rewatch the whole of the Round 7 show below:
You can also watch the games in our free mobile apps: