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    Entries in Candidates 2014 (29)

    Sunday
    Mar302014

    Candidates 2014, Round 14 (The Finale): Anand Still The Winner; Karjakin Second

    The most important business of the 2014 Candidates' tournament was settled yesterday when Viswanathan Anand clinched first and a world championship rematch with Magnus Carlsen, but cash and honor remained at stake for the other seven players. In the end, only one game was decisive, and it saw Sergey Karjakin grind out the full point against Levon Aronian to take clear second and a sizable payday of 88 thousand euros.

    Anand had White against Peter Svidler, and kept the game under control, drawing in 34 moves without a scintilla of risk. Anand thus finished the tournament with an undefeated +3 score, while Svidler remained on -1.

    Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Vladimir Kramnik also drew their game quickly. Perhaps Mamedyarov came into the game with some ambitions, but Kramnik equalized effectively and expeditiously, and the game ended on move 30 rather than move 20 only because the rules required it. They both finished on 50%.

    Veselin Topalov enjoyed a nominal edge against Dmitry Andreikin, winning a pawn on move 30. Given the damage to his kingside structure, however, Andreikin was still basically fine. Topalov continued through move 69, and then gave in to the inevitable. He thus finished in clear last place, while Andreikin remained at 50%.

    That just left the Aronian-Karjakin battle. The two players' fortunes had gone in opposite directions since their previous meeting in round 7. Then, after winning their head-to-head game, Aronian was +2 and tied for first, while Karjakin was -2 and alone in last place. By the time of today's game, they were both at 50%, and if anything Karjakin could have had an even bigger score. Their game was a see-saw battle early on, but from around move 32 it was clearly Karjakin who would do the pressing. Aronian held tight for a very long time, but finally cracked with 72.Kg2(?). After 72...Qb2 White had nothing better than 73.Rh1, sacrificing a piece, but there wasn't enough compensation and Karjakin reeled in the point after 94 moves. It's a pity for Karjakin that he got started so late in the tournament, but clear second and a fantastic +3 in the second cycle should give him plenty of encouragement for the next time around.

    Final Standings (given in tiebreak order)

    • 1. Anand 8.5
    • 2. Karjakin 7.5
    • 3. Kramnik 7
    • 4. Mamedyarov 7
    • 5. Andreikin 7
    • 6. Aronian 6.5
    • 7. Svidler 6.5
    • 8. Topalov 6

     

    Saturday
    Mar292014

    Candidates 2014, Round 13: Anand Wins The Tournament

    Sergey Karjakin made Viswanathan Anand work very hard for the draw, but the former champion rose to the occasion, split the point and thereby won the tournament. One important moment came on move 48, when Karjakin played g4; this was in his opinion his only real mistake in the game. He thought he was winning the pawn ending that would arise after 53.Nxg5 Rxd2+ 54.Kxd2 Kxg5 55.Ke3 - e.g. 55...h3 56.Kf2 Kh4 57.Kg1 Kg5 58.Kh1 Kh4 59.Kh2 with a winning zugzwang - but then realized that both 55...Kf6 and 55...Kh6 draw. If White plays 56.f4 (against either move) then 56...h3 is fine.

    Realizing that the pawn ending wasn't a win, Karjakin played 53.Kd3 and tried to find other plans, but nothing came close. The 50-move rule was coming in sight near the end and Anand could surely have held in that way without any trouble, but to his credit he was both alert and appropriately greedy when he played 88...h3+! Three moves later it was Karjakin who would have something to worry about, but when he offered the draw it was too much for Anand to turn down. (Magnus Carlsen surely would have played on, but Vishy's fans will have to be satisfied with 88...h3+ and tournament victory.)

    The other games were eventful in their own way as well. The stealthy Dmitry Andreikin put an end to Levon Aronian's ambitions in this cycle, beating him on the white side of a Trompowsky. Andreikin's concept with 14.Qxe5+, entailing the sacrifices that followed on moves 16, 19 and 20, was remarkable. Soon Aronian was lost, and while there may have been some inaccuracies here and there White's win was logical and well-deserved.

    Both Aronian and Andreikin have reached 50%, coming from opposite directions, while Karjakin stayed there. And they're not alone: Shakhriyar Mamedyarov remained on 50%, holding a slightly inferior position against Peter Svidler (a 6.Be3 Ng4 Najdorf), and Vladimir Kramnik returned there after winning the grudge rematch against Veselin Topalov. That game was extremely complicated and (not surprisingly) rather mistake-filled. The last pair of errors came in tandem on move 50. Kramnik had several ways to win, including 50.Ne4+ (50...Bxe4 51.Rd8+ Ke7 52.Rxd2 Bc2 and now one way is 53.Kf2 b2 [53...Kf7 54.Rd7+ Kg6 55.Rd6+ Kh7 56.Rb6+-] 54.h7 and White wins whether the pawns are promoted or exchanged), but instead uncorked 50.N7f5+(??). Topalov thought for a while and played 50...Bxf5(??); instead 50...Kc7! 51.h7 b2 52.Rc8+ Kxc8 53.h8Q+ Kb7 and it's simply a draw; White cannot prevent Black from safely promoting without surrendering his own queen.

    The difference with Topalov's version can be seen in the final position. After Black moves the king somewhere, White plays 56.Ne3. The knight covers d1 and the queen covers b1, something that was impossible when Black's bishop was alive and kicking on d3.

    The tournament could just as well end here, but unlike matches play will continue even after a winner has been decided. So here are the pairings for the last round, to be played tomorrow (player scores in parentheses): 

    • Aronian (6.5) - Karjakin (6.5)
    • Anand (8) - Svidler (6)
    • Mamedyarov (6.5) - Kramnik (6.5)
    • Topalov (5.5) - Andreikin (6.5)

    I have a feeling that everyone except Topalov will be amenable to a quick draw, but we'll see. Speaking of Topalov, it would be bizarre if he overpressed and lost, as that would leave Andreikin of all people in clear second (assuming the other games are drawn). It could happen!

    Meanwhile, congratulations to Anand, whose stable chess in the tournament was clearly better than everyone else's. A couple of interesting tidbits: first, Anand has done at least one thing he's going to need when facing Carlsen the grinder, and that's get in better shape. Anand has lost a good deal of weight lately, and he acknowledged in the press conference today that he was at least in part inspired by Svidler's example last year. Second, it was a nice surprise to hear (again at today's presser) that when he was unsure about playing in this tournament it was Kramnik whose strong encouragement when most of the way towards getting him to participate. In fact it was a feel-good story all the way around: it was at last year's London tournament that it happened. Kramnik had eliminated Anand, but was then eliminated in the next round by Hikaru Nakamura in a "ridiculous" ending (Anand's word). So even though Kramnik had eliminated him, he felt bad for Kramnik and wanted to encourage him, so he invited him for dinner the next day. As it turned out, it was Kramnik who encouraged him - and now it's time for a world championship rematch.

    Does Anand have a shot this time around? I wouldn't rule it out if he's physically and psychologically prepared!

    Friday
    Mar282014

    Carlsen On The Candidates' Tournament, Part 2

    Magnus Carlsen summarizes his thoughts on the last six rounds of the Candidates' tournament and looks ahead to the last two rounds - have a look here (HT: Ian Lamb).

    Thursday
    Mar272014

    Candidates 2014, Round 12: Anand Draws Closer

    There are two rounds to go in the Candidates' tournament, and while Viswanathan Anand hasn't won it yet it's pretty close. None of his closest rivals won today, so he continues to lead Levon Aronian by a point (with a better tiebreak, so Aronian needs to outscore Anand by a point and a half) and both Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Sergey Karjakin by a point and a half. Karjakin still has to play Anand, and if he wins he'll have the better tiebreak in case he can make up that extra half a point.

    Tomorrow is a rest day, and we'll see what Saturday's pairings look like below. Now for a brief recap of today's round. There was one and only one decisive game, and it saw Veselin Topalov play a very good game against Peter Svidler, defeating him on the white side of a Taimanov Sicilian. Unfortunately for Topalov, all that did was bring him up from sole last place into a four way tie for that dubious distinction at -1.

    The two other players (besides Svidler) who came into the round on 50% left it that way, though they went at each other hammer and tongs. Mamedyarov played very aggressively against Karjakin, sacrificing several pawns for a kingside attack. Karjakin took them, but also took an awful lot of time, and by the time he survived the harrowing time pressure his reduced material edge wasn't enough to win.

    Levon Aronian and Vladimir Kramnik faced off in an Orthodox Queen's Gambit Declined where nothing much seemed to happen - at least not until Aronian's risky (and dubious) 27.e4. Kramnik went for a repetition, but had he spotted 28... (or 30...) Nb5! 31.exd5 Na5! there might have been a four-way tie on 50%.

    Finally, Anand had White against Dmitry Andreikin, and was winning in excellent style. He had some clearer wins, but even in the final position (or actually just before it) he was winning with 41.Rc4! It was a crazy position and it's near the end of a long tournament though, so his decision to bail out with a draw is hard to criticize, as he's still almost impossible to catch.

    That said, a potentially huge test faces him on Saturday - probably the last chance for the field to make a race of it.

    • Andreikin - Aronian (an absolute must win for Aronian)
    • Karjakin - Anand (likewise for Karjakin; if Anand draws the tournament is in principle over)
    • Svidler - Mamedyarov
    • Kramnik - Topalov (the hate match, part two)
    Wednesday
    Mar262014

    Candidates 2014, Round 11: Four Draws

    The peleton is not gaining on the leader, and with just three rounds to go Viswanathan Anand is looking pretty secure in his quest for a new match with Magnus Carlsen. Vladimir Kramnik had White against Anand today, but didn't achieve anything in a Catalan and the game was drawn after just 31 moves. (It could have been drawn even sooner - at move 23, easily - but from what I can tell based on the games there's a 30-move-rule in effect that can only be superseded by a repetition.)

    There wasn't much danger for either player in the game between Peter Svidler and Levon Aronian either, and while Dmitry Andreikin had a little pull early on against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov it never amounted to anything too worrisome.

    The game between Veselin Topalov and Sergey Karjakin was the only one with a bit of drama. Topalov enjoyed the more bishop-friendly structure, but rather than slowly milking it he went crazy before the first time control with a queenside breakthrough. Karjakin reacted extremely well, collecting the pawns and then sacrificing the exchange. After the time control it was Karjakin who had the winning chances, but it's not clear that the position was winning. That would depend on whether there was any kind of successful breakthrough operation with ...e4 followed by a king raid. In the game, Karjakin apparently didn't trust it, so Topalov held without any trouble.

    Anand thus continues to lead the Candidates over Aronian by a point (with the better tiebreaks, so Aronian must outscore him by a point and a half to win - assuming no one else in the picture) and three players by a point and a half with three rounds to go. Here, with player scores in parentheses, are the pairings for tomorrow's round 12:

    • Anand (7) - Andreikin (5)
    • Mamedyarov (5.5) - Karjakin (5.5)
    • Topalov (4.5) - Svidler (5.5)
    • Aronian (6) - Kramnik (5)
    Tuesday
    Mar252014

    Candidates 2014, Round 10: Anand Still Leads By (More Than) A Point

    Not too much happened in round 10 of the Candidates', and that's just what Viswanathan Anand wants. With a point lead that is maybe better described as a point and a quarter lead (Levon Aronian must outscore Anand on account of their head-to-head score) with just four rounds to go, the field is running out of time.

    Shakhriyar Mamedyarov has been the hottest player in the tournament, post-round 3, and he played quite well with Black against Anand today. He achieved a good, active position and even refused a draw by repetition. But despite all of that the ex-champ kept control, and by move 30 Mamedyarov had enough and offered a draw, which Anand was satisfied to accept.

    Levon Aronian had White against Veselin Topalov, who with one exception hasn't been playing well in the tournament, post-opening. Nevertheless, he couldn't get anywhere, and was if anything slightly worse at certain points. It wasn't anything serious though, and the game finished in a draw.

    Sergei Karjakin also failed to draw any closer to Anand, and with White only managed a draw against Dmitry Andreikin.

    The only real excitement in the round was seen in Vladimir Kramnik's game with Peter Svidler. Kramnik was lost in their game in the first cycle before finding a near-miraculous save. This time around, he was playing very well, milking an edge against Svidler's surprising Dutch, only to commit a simple blunder that cost him the exchange and a pawn, and of course the game. Just a couple of rounds ago Kramnik was in contention for first, and now he's just half a point out of last place.

    Here are the round 11 pairings, with player scores in parentheses:

    • Andreikin (4.5) - Mamedyarov (5)
    • Topalov (4) - Karjakin (5)
    • Svidler (5) - Aronian (5.5)
    • Kramnik (4.5) - Anand (6.5)
    Sunday
    Mar232014

    Candidates 2014, Round 9: Anand Wins; Aronian, Kramnik Lose

    It's too soon to say that the Candidates' tournament is finished and Viswanathan Anand is the winner, but round 9 was a huge step in that direction. Anand defeated Veselin Topalov, outplaying him on the white side of a Najdorf Sicilian. Meanwhile, Levon Aronian was outplayed by the resilient Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (if only he had finished off Vladimir Kramnik he'd be right there in the hunt!) while Kramnik blundered against Sergey Karjakin on move 7(!!) and lost as well. (The game between Dmitry Andreikin and Peter Svidler was a short draw.)

    So what this means is that with five rounds to go Anand leads Aronian by a point and Kramnik by a point and a half. But that's not quite right, at least with respect to Aronian. He has a point more than his rival, but in fact his lead is greater than a point and less than a point and a half. Because Anand won their head-to-head matchup, he wins the tournament if they finish with the same score and have more points than everyone else. Thus (ignoring the rest of the field for the moment) Aronian must outscore Anand by a point and a half over the last five rounds to win. Not impossible, but a difficult task - especially with Anand having three white games in the remaining five.

    I'm sorry to report that due to other responsibilities I won't have time to analyze any games until next weekend, but you can at least replay today's games here. Tomorrow is a rest day, and here are the pairings for round 10, on Tuesday (as usual, player scores are in parentheses):

    • Karjakin (4.5) - Andreikin (4)
    • Kramnik (4.5) - Svidler (4)
    • Aronian (5) - Topalov (3.5)
    • Anand (6) - Mamedyarov (4.5)

    Saturday
    Mar222014

    Candidates 2014, Round 8: Draws At The Top

    Three games were drawn today in round 8 of the Candidates' tournament, and drawn quickly. The game between the leaders was interesting early on, as Levon Aronian uncorked 1.c4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.Qb3!? against Viswanathan Anand, who replied with an interesting pawn sac: 3...d4 4.e3 c5 5.Qb5+ Nc6. White surrendered a lot of space and time for the material, and Anand drew by repetition after only 19 moves from a position of strength. Maybe he could have played for more, but an easy draw against his leading rival, with the black pieces, wasn't such a terrible result - especially since it means he keeps the lead on tiebreak.

    Vladimir Kramnik could have joined Anand and Aronian on +2 with a win against Dmitry Andreikin, but he wasn't able to maintain his opening edge and even had to scramble a little to get the draw.

    The third draw was Veselin Topalov - Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, and was probably a missed chance for White. He had an edge in a 6.h3 Najdorf-turned-Dragon, and to avoid getting squeezed Mamedyarov played the interesting but possibly not fully sound 18...Nc4. It was a good practical choice, though, and Topalov returned the piece with 20.Bd4 (rather than 20.Qb4!), after which it was a routine draw.

    Finally, Peter Svidler's hopes for first in the tournament probably came to an end when he lost to Sergey Karjakin. Svidler had White and played very aggressively, with the King's Indian Attack, but Karjakin defended well and eventually reached a superior ending with rooks and opposite-colored bishops. With best play Svidler probably should have drawn, but it was difficult, and with the nice sequence 64...Rxd4! 65.Kxd4 b6! Karjakin proved a win.

    The tournament standings are curious now: Anand and Aronian are on +2, Kramnik is +1, and everyone else is -1.

    The games (with my comments) are here, and tomorrow's pairings (with player scores in parentheses) follow:

    • Karjakin (3.5) - Kramnik (4.5)
    • Andreikin (3.5) - Svidler (3.5)
    • Anand (5) - Topalov (3.5)
    • Mamedyarov (3.5) - Aronian (5)

    Friday
    Mar212014

    Candidates 2014, Round 7: Anand and Aronian Lead At The Halfway Point After A Crazy Round

    The first cycle of the 2014 Candidates' tournament finished with a crazy and chaotic round that saw three decisive games, and it could easily have been four. In the end Viswanathan Anand and Levon Aronian were tied for first at +2*, half a point ahead of Vladimir Kramnik.

    Anand has led the entire tournament, by himself for most of it, and he probably would have kept that lead if he had played 20...Rxf2 against Peter Svidler. White's compensation looks pretty slim, so it looks like Anand has sunk into an overly safety-first mentality. If he fails to win the tournament, it will be unforced errors like this that will be to blame. After foregoing this great opportunity, Svidler was able to neutralize his minimal disadvantage and save the game.

    Meanwhile, Aronian took the opportunity to catch up to Anand at the halfway point, thanks to his convincing win over Sergei Karjakin, now the tournament tailender. Interestingly, both Aronian and Anand were Black in a 4.d3 Berlin, and in both games Black came out of the opening smelling like a rose. Karjakin played b4 on move 10, and then went for d4 some moves later. As a result, the c4 square was weakened, and Aronian managed to conquer that square and infiltrate the queenside in general. White's position got worse and worse, and a desperate counterattack ultimately led to an ending where Aronian was down the exchange but had too many pawns for White to cope with.

    (One nice quote about that game, from chess24's round report. It comes from Rustam Kasimdzhanov, a chess24 contributor, Karjakin's second and a great player in his own right - the winner of the FIDE knockout world championship in 2004. He writes this about Aronian's 47...Qc4, which was the only winning move: "Qc4!! I mean wow!! It's at times like this you recognise the greatest. I'd never pull it off, not after 5 hours of play. It was SUCH a difficult move. It just does not occur, not to mortals.")

    Kramnik bounced back from his painful loss against Topalov with a win over Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, but he was very lucky. He was doing well with White after a well-played opening, but not as well as he thought. As a result he overpressed, and was soon forced to head for an ending where he hoped his queenside passers would compensate for Black's extra piece. For a long time Mamedyarov played very well, but at just the moment when he could obtain a straightforwardly winning position he blundered - twice! Worst of all, he did so with loads of time on the clock. He missed a tactic, and while that can happen to anyone he would surely have spotted it if he had spent a bit more time. Instead, he went from winning to equal to dead lost, and the game ended just a few moves later. A real tragedy for Mamedyarov, who had worked his way back from -2 after the first three games and would have finished the first cycle at +1, half a point behind the leaders. Instead, he's now -1 and it's Kramnik who is nipping at the leaders' heels.

    Another player who came into the round with an equal score also fell back to -1: Veselin Topalov. His opening preparation against Dmitry Andreikin was very good, but as in the game with Svidler two rounds earlier he fell apart almost immediately after his preparation ended. Topalov was crushed, and I'm guessing that he forgot to make sarcastic comments about his opponent at today's press conference.

    There is no break between the two cycles, and round 8 starts tomorrow (or today, if you're across the pond) at the usual time, with the following pairings (player scores are in parentheses):

     

    • Kramnik (4) - Andreikin (3)
    • Svidler (3.5) - Karjakin (2.5)
    • Topalov (3) - Mamedyarov (3)
    • Aronian (4.5) - Anand (4.5)

     

    Aronian - Anand is clearly the game of the day, but it's also an important opportunity for Kramnik, playing the white pieces against one of the relative outsiders. Svidler too needs to regain the winning habit before the leaders break away for good, and White against the tailender is a good place to start.

    Meanwhile, here are the round 7 games, with my notes.

    * Remember last year: there are no real ties for first. In case of a tie, tournament victory is determined by tiebreaks rather than a playoff. As Anand defeated Aronian in round 1, he would qualify for the match with Magnus Carlsen if they alone finish tied for first and Aronian doesn't beat Anand in the second cycle.

    Thursday
    Mar202014

    Carlsen On The Candidates' Tournament

    World champion Magnus Carlsen offers his thoughts on the tournament through yesterday's round 6, here. (HT: Ian Lamb)