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    Entries in Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (2)

    Tuesday
    Aug272013

    2013 World Cup: Round 6, Day 2: Two More Draws

    The pain, the pain! At least that's how Vladimir Kramnik must feel, and it's a pain surely shared by his fans (if only to a lesser extent). The game between Evgeny Tomashevsky and Dmitry Andreikin was richer than yesterday's 16-move draw, but it was still relatively short and uneventful. In the other game, though, Kramnik ground away in a pawn-up ending with rooks and knights and all the pawns on the kingside.

    Objectively it should have been a draw, but Maxime Vachier-Lagrave failed to handle the tension and blundered with 58...Rf1+?? What he should have played was 58...Nd6. Black's position would remain tenable, though Kramnik could keep trying indefinitely. Instead, after 58...Rf1+?? 59.Ke3 it was no longer possible to play 59...Nd6 (or 59...Nxg5, for that matter) on account of 60.Ng6+ Kf7 61.Rf8+, skewering the king and rook. At death's door, Vachier-Lagrave found the only way to continue: 59...g6! 60.fxg6 Kg7! 61.gxf7 Kxf7. With a rook, knight and pawn against Vachier-Lagrave's bare rook White's position was winning, but one bit of work remained. White's pieces were poorly coordinated, and his knight and pawn were a little vulnerable. If Kramnik could re-establish the harmony of his forces his opponent could resign, and then Kramnik would be in the final and qualify for the Candidates' tournament via the World Cup, leaving the second automatic rating qualification spot for the Candidates' to Sergey Karjakin.

    I was watching the live coverage at this moment, and several thoughts ran through my mind. First, I remembered Kramnik's complaint during this tournament that he would have various lapses in concentration, when he would prematurely relax, and wondered if this too might be such a moment. Indeed, Kramnik has had such problems throughout his career, going back as far as the mid-1990s (several examples are mentioned in his best games book, co-written with Damsky). As a fan I hoped he would bear down and solve the final puzzle of the game, and was both spooked by and a made slightly hopeful by game 4 of his match with Kasparov. The same material balance existed there, and there too Kramnik's knight and pawn were rather awkwardly placed. In that game he failed to find the win - the spooky part - but I hoped that the process of having analyzed that game and a realization of the potential trickiness of the ending would place him in good stead for this game.

    Nope. The key variation Kramnik needed to work through started with 62.Nd7 (natural enough, but the critical moment comes later) 62...Rf5 63.Rf8+ Kg6 64.Rg8+! Kf7 and now 65.Ke4!! This clever in-between move is most likely what he missed, with the further crucial point that 65...Ra5 66.Ne5+! saves the pawn, as 66...Kxg5 67.Rf5+! wins the rook: 67...Kh4/Kh6 is met by 68.Nf3+/Ng4+ and 69.Rxa5.

    With more time on the clock or more energy, Kramnik (or any other strong grandmaster, and probably some "weak" ones too) would almost definitely be able to find that variation and work it out to the finish. There are some subtle moves, but in general the line is forcing enough that one won't get lost in a maze of variations. Whether from fatigue or a lack of time Kramnik didn't manage to find this one chance, and Vachier-Lagrave managed to achieve a fortress. White's forces were completely tied down, and the only way to attempt progress was to surrender the pawn and hope to win with rook and knight vs. rook. That ending is a fairly easy draw as long as the defender's king doesn't start out in a (very) bad position, and Vachier-Lagrave saved it without too much trouble. (The game is here, with the my comments above reproduced therein.)

    Both matches are therefore going to tiebreaks, and we'll see if the "tie-break beggars" as Anish Giri labeled both Andreikin and Vachier-Lagrave (for their willingness to throw away the white pieces and then hold on with Black to try their chances at the faster time controls) manage to achieve success.

    Sunday
    Aug252013

    2013 World Cup: Round 5, Day 3: Andreikin, Vachier-Lagrave Advance on Tiebreaks

    The tiebreaks at the World Cup are getting shorter. There were Armageddon games in the first two rounds, while rounds 3 and 4 made it through the 5" minute games. (And with an 80-90 minute "ten minute" game in round 4 it took longer than a normal series making it to the Armageddon game.) Today, the tiebreaks finished as quickly as possible; to wit, after the initial pair of 25-minute games.

    Dmitry Andreikin was the first one through, and a very convincing winner over Peter Svidler. In the first game Andreikin played one of his typical low-theory lines, in this case a Tromp-turned-Torre Attack, and it was a twofold success. Andreikin did obtain a small advantage, and Svidler was forced to solve problems over the board rather than relying on prep or anything like it. Svidler did manage to equalize at one point and perhaps got a bit too bold. 20...f5 seems to me a very risky move to make in a rapid game, as it offers White various opportunities to open the game up when Black will be short of time. A safer way was 20...Ne7, aiming to trade all the rooks on the c-file and go for the quick handshake. That inaccuracy was compounded by 23...Nxa2 - 23...Rxc1 and only then taking on a2 seems more accurate, as Svidler's version allowed 24.Rxc8 Rxc8 and now, as advertised, 25.e4. After 28.Re6 Black was still objectively okay but as a practical matter it was starting to look dangerous. 28...Kg8 was an error, and after 29.Qg3! Black has some annoying threats to deal with like 30.Nh5 and 30.Rxh6. Svidler's reply, 29...Nd5 was natural and logical...and an absolute blunder. After the sneaky shot 30.Qb3! there was nothing for Black to do but resign, as the knight is lost - at least it is unless Black wants to lose the queen, e.g. 30...Nxf4 31.Re7+.

    The rematch didn't go any better for Svidler, except insofar as he received a charity draw offer in the end. For a few moments Svidler looked as if he might get to enjoy a relatively safe extra pawn in another Advance Caro-Kann with 3...c5, but the critical moment came on move 18. Had Svidler played 18.a3 he would have enjoyed some advantage. He chose 18.Nf3 instead, and while this is a move White wants to play it's too soon. After 18...axb4 19.cxb4 Ra3! followed soon by ...Qa6, ...Rd3 and ...Qa3 Black managed to infiltrate and regain the material (with positional interest) without allowing White any real attacking chances on the kingside. Had Andreikin needed to win he probably would have played differently on move 34; instead, it was enough to force a draw with 34...Rg4 35.Rf2 Qe1+ 36.Rf1 Qe2 37.Rf2 Qe1+. The draw was agreed and the match was over, earning Andreikin the chance to play his friend and teammate Evgeny Tomashevsky for a shot at the finals and an automatic berth into the next Candidates' event.

    In the other quarter-final Vachier-Lagrave was a nominal underdog against Fabiano Caruana, but the former's play in both the classical and rapid disciplines in the event rendered the rating difference immaterial. In the first game Caruana had White and was the one pressing, at least in theory, but Vachier-Lagrave defended so accurately that Caruana never came close to a genuine edge. In game 2, however, the Frenchman called the tune from early on. Caruana played the Dutch, which isn't normally part of his opening repertoire, and while both players occasionally seemed a little unsure of themselves Vachier-Lagrave's play came across as more purposeful and coherent. There was never any question about who stood better, only whether White's advantage would grow into something major. Practically speaking, the decisive error may have come at move 33 when Black played 33...Bf6. The upshot was that after 34.b3 Black's knight could no longer safely retreat to d6, and after 34...Na5 the misplaced knight and Black's weak dark squares were a serious problem. The last chance, objectively speaking, came on move 48. Caruana, who was very short of time and way behind on the clock, needed to take the knight. Vachier-Lagrave would soon regain the piece and maintain an advantage, but it was a small chance for Caruana. He declined the sac with 48...Qg7, and the rest was a rout. In the final position the d-pawn can't be captured without allowing the h-pawn to queen, and if 66...Kf8 67.Kd4 Kg7 68.Kc5 Kh6 69.Kxb5 Kxh5 70.Kb6 followed by 71.Kc7 leads to the knight's elimination and the d-pawn's promotion. That means that Vachier-Lagrave will face Vladimir Kramnik in the other semi-final.

    Who will win these matches? At this point it's crazy to pick against any of these guys. Kramnik is surely the strongest player of the four, but he's also the oldest and possibly the most tired. He has less motivation, as he has already qualified for the Candidates', and if it comes down to tiebreaks one might wonder if he's (that much) better than Vachier-Lagrave in rapid and blitz. In the other semi Andreikin has been an absolute assassin in the rapid tiebreaks, going 3.5/4 against Sergey Karjakin and Svidler combined - and it could have been 4-0. On the other hand, his play in the classical games hasn't been as out of this world, while Tomashevsky has been playing like a super-hero, rising to the occasion every time. I am going to go with Kramnik and Tomashevsky, with a codicil: if they don't win in the classical stage I think they will lose in the tiebreaks.