It seems like 2001 all over again, and not just because today is the 10th anniversary of 9/11. In the 2001/2 FIDE World Championship in Moscow, the semi-finalists were Ruslan Ponomariov, Peter Svidler, Vassily Ivanchuk and Viswanathan Anand. Ponomariov faced Svidler and Ivanchuk faced Anand. Fast forward ten years, and it's practically the same thing. Anand "graduated" to become the current world champion (not in 2001/2 - Ponomariov won that event, beating Ivanchuk in the final - but in 2007), but the other three are at it again. Not only are they all back in the semis, the bracketing is even the same: Ponomariov faces Svidler, and the winner will face Ivanchuk if he wins. Interesting, Anand's "place" is taken by Alexander Grischuk, who was a semi-finalist in the 2000 FIDE world championship. It's nice to see that these "old-timers" can still play!
Ponomariov and Svidler had already qualified in "regular time", defeating Gashimov and Polgar, respectively. Today's pairings saw Grischuk - who was quite fortunate not to lose yesterday - take on David Navara and Ivanchuk face off against Teimour Radjabov.
In the first rapid round, Navara had White but got nothing against Grischuk's Caro-Kann, and should have reconciled himself to a fairly sterile equality after 15.0-0 0-0. Instead, he played 15.Bd3?!, either overlooking or underestimating 15...d4. Three moves later, he was lost, and although the game went to move 43 Navara never came close to saving it. Speaking of extending the game, Radjabov pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed against Ivanchuk. Rightly so, as he was the exchange ahead, but he was never winning. After White's 64th move it was a rook and pawn vs. bishop and pawn ending that was drawn according to the tablebase, and Ivanchuk held the balance all the way to the end on move 120.
In the second rapid round, Black again had the better of things in the Grischuk-Navara game. Navara even managed to reach a queen and knight ending a pawn up, but with all the pawns on one side Grischuk managed to hold. The game was drawn, and Grischuk progressed to the semis. Ivanchuk got "revenge" against Radjabov, as this time it was he who kept up the slow torture. By move 52 he had made decent progress, but against best play the win - if any - would have remained a long ways off. Radjabov, probably in time trouble, committed a huge tactical oversight, and resigned on move 54, having blundered a piece for nothing.
Now that we're down to the final four, it's worth remembering that although the final places matter for money, the main competitive objective is not to win this tournament but to make the top three. The finalists and the winner of the match between the losing semi-finalists all qualify automatically for the next series of Candidates matches (the Candidates' winner will play for the world championship against the winner of next year's title match between champion Viswanathan Anand and his challenger, Boris Gelfand). Winning in the semi-finals punches one's ticket to the Candidates, but a loss isn't the end of the dream.
So we have Ponomariov-Svidler and Ivanchuk-Grischuk, and it's a good time for another round of predictions: who will these matches, the final, and the third-place match?