Two super-tournaments at once! Of the top 18 players on the Live Ratings list, all but five are busy in either London or Sao Paulo/Bilbao (the first cycle is in Sao Paulo, and then they'll shift over to Bilbao for part two).
We're up to round 4 in London, and it was a good day for two of the three G-stars, as Gelfand and Grischuk won their games. (Giri only drew.) In Grischuk's case, it was the result of a classy win over Mamedyarov. Playing a slow system in the Ruy with d3 (it has become all the rage these days, avoiding forcing lines and making Black play chess rather than demonstrate preparation), Grischuk built up a nice space advantage and then sacrificed a piece for three very good pawns. Soon Mamedyarov gave the piece back for those same three pawns - or rather, for three different pawns. White's passed c-pawn was the most important pawn on the board, and to eliminate it Mamedyarov wound wind up two pawns down in a lost rook ending, and so he resigned.
Gelfand's battle with Wang Hao took a different course. With White in a Catalan, Gelfand came out of the middlegame with an extra pawn and good winning chances. In his view (see the interview at the official site, linked above), the chances of a win or a draw were about 50-50, but Wang Hao defended resourcefully and finally reached a drawn ending. In the end, there was one last problem to solve, and 55...Kf8 would have solved it! Instead, apparently forgetting about White's pawn on f4, Black played 55...Kh7?? and resigned after 56.Kf7, as mate cannot be stopped (56...Kh6 doesn't help as 57...Kg5 is not a legal reply to 57.Rh1#).
So with his second win, Gelfand reclaims the sole lead he enjoyed after round 1. There's still a long way to go, and only after tomorrow's round will the players pass the halfway point. Here are the pairings, with the players' scores in parenthesis:
Round 5 Pairings:
- Topalov (2) - Leko (2.5)
- Dominguez (2) - Nakamura (2)
- Wang Hao (1.5) - Kasimdzhanov (1.5)
- Mamedyarov (2) - Gelfand (3)
- Ivanchuk (1.5) - Grischuk (2.5)
- Adams (2) - Giri (1.5)
Now to Sao Paulo, for round 1 of the first leg of this double-round robin tournament. Two of the three games were decisive: one very speedily, the other an entirely long, drawn-out affair. Aronian sprung some nice preparation on Karjakin he had been holding on to for a long time. After White's 18th move in a comparatively lively Queen's Indian (at times analogous to a "speedy snail"), Aronian was up the exchange for a pawn, but Karjakin had counterchances on the long a8-h1 diagonal. It seems that there were little improvements available for both sides along the way, but the key moment came after Aronian played 23.f3. Here Karjakin had an attractive equalizer - one he saw, too, but apparently in a slightly different position. The key move was 23...Nd3!!, when after 24.Rxd3 Qxc4 Black is down a rook for a pawn, but White's king is in a world of trouble. The greedy 25.Re3 loses after 25...Ba6! 26.Ne2 Qc2!, when White cannot save the knight with 27.Kf2 because of 27...Bc5. Instead, 25.Rd8 improves, but this is only enough for equality after 25...Ba6 26.h4, leaving Black nothing more than a perpetual check.
Instead, Karjakin's 23...Nd7 took the heat off, and after 24.Ne4 Qa4? the game was lost; the passive 24...Qc8 would have allowed Black to keep resisting. I'm not sure what Karjakin missed, but after 24...Qa4? 25.Rxd7 Bxe4 26.Rd8 White's king was safe while Black's was not, and the game was over a few moves later.
Viswanathan Anand played his first official game since retaining his world championship title against Gelfand several months ago, and he kicked off the tournament inauspiciously, drawing with White against Vallejo Pons. In fact, he even managed to come out of the opening with an inferior position, but by the end of the game, many moves later, he obtained a purely symbolic edge when the draw was agreed.
Finally, Caruana-Carlsen was an epic struggle that went more than 90 moves and saw both players take turns pressing for a win. Carlsen tried the Winawer French, and his reward was a lousy-looking position as soon as move 14. It didn't just look bad; it was bad, but when Caruana failed to take advantage (e.g. with 16.Bxg6 hxg6 17.Rh3 +/-) Carlsen gradually took over the game.
Surviving the opening took a lot of time, though, and as the first time control loomed Carlsen started to squander his advantage. Most commentators, and the players as well, criticized first 31...Nxe3, and then the plan with 34...h5 and 35...g4. That series of moves took Caruana from a sure loss in the long run to a highly defensible fortress in an opposite-colored bishop ending. Carlsen is nothing if not persistent, however, and he spent the next several hours trying to breach the fortress. Looking for a way in required a lot of thought, though, and when he decided on move 76 to avoid a perpetual by tucking his king away on h2, he was short of time and almost down to the 10-second per move increment.
It was at this point that Caruana decided to go for it with 77.cxb4 Rxb4 78.Rxe6 Be4 79.Rxe4!? The sac may not have been 100% sound, but it was incredibly dangerous for Black, and with almost no time to solve the problems Carlsen was in serious trouble, practically speaking. The computer expresses some skepticism about Caruana's sacrifice (80...Rb2!!, for instance, may be winning), but it took just two moves for everything to go upside down. Carlsen's 80...Kg2 was very natural, but it threw away the (hard to find) win, and then after 81.Ke3 Black had to play either 81...Rb1! or the flashy 81...Rb3+(!!) to hold the balance. Instead, he chose the wrong time for ...Rb2, and after 82.d5! he was lost. His 86...h4 was a terrific try, but Caruana responded perfectly and won the game.
A brief comment: Few things in sports/competition bother me as much as seeing a player defeat himself. It drives me bonkers when I do that - and as a result I think I do it relatively rarely. But this is not really such a case, to my mind. Of course the loss could have been avoided - Carlsen could have offered a draw (well, could have acceded to a repetition; draw offers are forbidden in the tournament) at practically any time from move 30 on, and it would have been accepted before his vocal cords stopped vibrating. But he was always better, and was always justified in continuing. Playing 76...Kh2 entailed risk, yes, but it was a reasonable risk, and self-respect as a professional also entailed continuing the fight. He lost this game, but this fighting attitude has and will garner far more wins in the long run. So rather than apportioning blame to Carlsen or offering some idiotic comment to the effect that he was unlucky, I would rather give full credit to Caruana (send him back, especially as he practically never lives in Italy anyway!). He didn't get discouraged after blowing a serious advantage, but fought on forever, and after five or six hours of play had the gumption to fight not just for the draw but for the win! Well done.
Round 2 Pairings: Vallejo - Carlsen, Karjakin - Caruana, Anand - Aronian.