What was looking like a four-man race has transformed significantly after today's sixth round at the Candidates' tournament. It seemed like a prime opportunity for the chase pack to catch the leader, Viswanathan Anand, after he failed to achieve anything with White in a Berlin ending against Sergey Karjakin, but as it turned out all three of his closest pursuers stumbled.
The most interesting game from a psychological perspective was the renewed hatefest between Veselin Topalov and Vladimir Kramnik, going back to the "Toiletgate" controversy from their world championship match back in 2006. Whether this affected either man's play for better or worse I don't know, but Kramnik played pretty badly in this game. His plan with ...f7-f5-f4 wasn't very good and was criticized by Topalov, the commentators and the computers, and 13...a5 seems to have been inaccurate as well. White won a pawn with the tactical sequence starting with 19.Nxd5, and Kramnik didn't manage to put up much resistance after that. As a result Topalov jumped and Kramnik fell to 50% overall in the tournament.
The same happened with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Peter Svidler. Svidler surprised Mamedyarov with the Dutch, and came out of the opening smelling like a rose. If he had played 22...Qd7 he would have been comfortably better, but instead made three errors in a row, culminating in the odd sac/blunder 24...h6, after which he was lost. Svidler's resignation might raise some eyebrows for those looking at the computer's evaluation, but White's winning method is pretty simple; it just takes a lot of moves to finish the job.
Finally, Levon Aronian was winning against Dmitry Andreikin, but let his opponent slip out with a draw. 28.Bxe4! was an outright winner, while 31.Bxe4 Rxd2 32.Ra7 was probably a technical win. By move 38 it wasn't quite as clear, but what does seem clear is that 38.Bxe6 was an error. White can't simultaneously anchor his kingside while keeping the a-pawn protected, and Black's counterplay is in time in case White's king heads for the queenside.
Today's games (with my comments) are here. Tomorrow is a rest day, and on Friday the first cycle concludes with the following pairings (player scores in parentheses):
- Karjakin (2.5) - Aronian (3.5)
- Svidler (3) - Anand (4)
- Kramnik (3) - Mamedyarov (3)
- Andreikin (2) - Topalov (3)