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    Entries in Vladimir Kramnik (82)

    Saturday
    Apr092016

    Another Karjakin Interview

    Here. The headline is "I am not afraid of Magnus!", but that doesn't even rise to the level of "dog bites man". Even if the mere thought of Magnus Carlsen caused him to break into a cold sweat, he's not going to say that he's intimidated in any way. Moreover, while the headline makes it sound as if Karjakin was making a bold proclamation, laying down the psychological gauntlet, the fact is that he said it only after about 27 questions about Carlsen culminating in an assertion from someone else (Daniil Dubov) that he - Karjakin - wasn't afraid of Carlsen. Karjakin simply agreed, without an exclamation point.

    Instead, the really juicy bit, though it's only a possibility and not a settled fact, is that Vladimir Kramnik might end on Karjakin's team. If it happens, that would be a huge boon for Karjakin. Kramnik is on the short list of the world's best-prepared players, and his experience would be invaluable to Karjakin as well. The battles between Kramnik and Carlsen over the years have been good ones, so while a match between the two would have been best a proxy war of sorts wouldn't be a bad substitute. It hasn't happened yet, though, and I suspect that even if it does we won't hear about it until after match, and even then maybe not unless Karjakin wins it.

    Tuesday
    Mar152016

    Kramnik and Gelfand on the Candidates: Age or Youth?

    Both Vladimir Kramnik and Boris Gelfand remain near the top of the heap of world chess, despite their both being north of 40 years of age, but the interviews compiled here they take opposing sides when it comes to the role of age in the ongoing Candidates' tournament. Which player took which side? I'll let you guess before looking it up, although since one of the two often refers to himself as a "pensioner" you can probably figure it out in advance. As for which of the two is correct, we'll have to wait and see.

    Saturday
    Feb132016

    Zurich Blitz: Blitz Recap and Day 1 Pairings, Plus Gelfand-Morozevich

    The main event in Zurich starts today, Saturday, but before that the organizers had the players compete in a blitz tournament. This was entertaining for the spectators (both those on scene, including Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi[!], and the rest of us watching on the internet), of course, and it had the additional purpose of determining the pairings. Placement determined one's pairing number, and so the top three players will all have an extra game with the white pieces in the main event.

    Hikaru Nakamura won his first three games in this six-player round-robin before Alexei Shirov (barely) pulled out a draw in round 4 and Viswanathan Anand beat him in the final round. Those three finished with plus scores, and thus get the extra white game in the rapid round robin to follow. Nakamura (obviously) finished with 3.5/5, while both Anand and Shirov wound up with 3 (Anand took second on tiebreak). Vladimir Kramnik was next with 2.5, Levon Aronian scored only two points (but defeated Anand in their game), while Anish Giri brought up the rear with a winless 1/5.

    Because it's a rapid event (G/40' + 10"/move), there will be two games per day. (At least for the first two days; on day 3 there will be a rapid game followed by another blitz round-robin. Strange, but entertaining.) Here are the pairings for rounds 1 and 2; round 1 starts at 3 p.m. local time in Zurich (= 9 a.m. ET).

    Round 1:

    • Shirov - Kramnik
    • Nakamura - Giri
    • Anand - Aronian

    Round 2:

    • Kramnik - Aronian
    • Giri - Anand
    • Shirov - Nakamura

    There's an added bonus: Boris Gelfand and Alexander Morozevich will concurrently play a two-game match with the same time control.

    Hopefully the quality of the games will be high; whether it is or not, however, they're sure to be entertaining.

    Wednesday
    Feb102016

    A Kramnik Interview (With Some Slightly Weird Politics) (Updated)

    This new interview with Vladimir Kramnik (or rather, the interview-in-translation) is here, and covers the upcoming Candidates' tournament, the trend of top players in open events, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the upcoming Zurich tournament and the future of faster "classical" time controls, some of his career highlights, the "Toiletgate" match with Veselin Topalov, Magnus Carlsen's proposal for a knockout world championship, and computer cheating in chess. Some of those topics are well-worn, but there's enough new material to justify having a look.

    While Kramnik's interviews over the years have generally been light on politics (at least those I've seen), he offers a couple of opinions about what U.S. politicians are up to that seem a bit unlikely to this American. (I say this as someone with definite political leanings but without any particular faith in politicians per se. Lord Acton's maxim is no respecter of parties.) The first is a claim that U.S. sanctions against Ilyumzhinov (the FIDE president) are the result of a few members of the U.S. House of Representatives working in cahoots under the influence of Garry Kasparov, who is himself acting out of spite due in part to his losing to Ilyumzhinov in the last FIDE presidential election. (Kasparov's forceful response is included at this point in the interview.)

    The second remark from Kramnik having to do with U.S. politics and law enforcement is if anything even stranger. He suggests that "the FBI has taken a serious interest" in Topalov's manager Silvio Danailov,"investigating his activity connected to his work for the Bulgarian and European Chess Federations." What?! That sounds as idiotic to Americans' ears as an accusation that the FSB (the KGB's successor in Russia) is taking a close look at the leaders of the USCF. They have no interest and no jurisdiction in the matter. It might be possible that some individual who works at the FBI is consulting with the appropriate investigative agency, or perhaps the FBI was asked for help in some matter of research, but to think that the FBI is conducting its own investigation seems highly improbable at best.*

    * The FBI didn't pay me to write the foregoing.**

    ** Not much, anyway.***

    *** Note to self: delete all the asterisks, lest Kramnik read this post someday and think I'm serious.

    UPDATE: Ah, there is a reason to think the FBI might be interested in Danailov after all - they have a bank account in the U.S. and there are allegations of money laundering. (Apparently the U.S. is a leader in that seedy realm, if not the leader.) More info here - thanks to an anonymous correspondent. So Kramnik could be correct here, though I'm as yet unaware of evidence that the G-men are in fact on the case.

    Saturday
    Dec192015

    Qatar Masters Open Starts Tomorrow (Sunday)

    The second edition of the Qatar Masters, the strongest open tournament of the year (and probably ever) starts tomorrow - Sunday - and features a fantastically strong lineup. There are 18 players rated over 2700, including Magnus Carlsen, Vladimir Kramnik, Anish Giri, Wesley So, Sergey Karjakin and, skipping down several spots, the Chinese super-prodigy Wei Yi. The action begins at 3 p.m. local time (=7 a.m. ET).

    Seeing as it's the holiday season, however, I'm going to take a little vacation from blogging until the new year, and will enjoy the tournament purely as a fan, just like the rest of you. It's not impossible that I'll jump on here between now and 2016 (as a heads-up for my next column, for instance), but that aside, this might be it until next year. So Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and best wishes for a blessed 2016!

    Sunday
    Oct252015

    "Siberia" Wins The European Club Cup

    Siberia and SOCAR (nominally from Azerbaijan) were the pre-tournament favorites, and they came into round 5 with 4-0 records. Better still from a competitive standpoint (though not ideal in the bigger and more important picture), the two teams were led by Vladimir Kramnik and Veselin Topalov, respectively, which if nothing else guaranteed a hard fight at the top. In the end Kramnik won a great game and Siberia won the match, and that ultimately made the difference. Both teams went on to win in round 6 (with Kramnik defeating Vasil Ivanchuk to defeat his fourth consecutive 2700+ player in the tournament!) and both drew in the final round, round 7.

    Thus Siberia won the 2015 European Club Cup with 13 match points (two points per win, one per draw), SOCAR took second with 11 points, and another (nominally) Russian team, Mednyi Vsadnik (led by Peter Svidler) took the bronze. They too finished with 11 points, as did the "Italian" team Obiettivo Risarcimento Padova (led by Peter Leko, they very nearly beat Siberia in the last round, and Leko managed to hold Kramnik to his only draw of the event).

    I've uploaded Kramnik's four wins, with comments (based on his post-game remarks) to the Topalov game, here.

    Thursday
    Oct152015

    World Blitz Championship Concludes: Grischuk Takes His Third Blitz Title

    It was a day full of surprises, with great runs and remarkable collapses at the World Blitz Championship. Those who prospered on day 1 didn't necessarily enjoy continued success today while some who didn't race off to a great start played brilliantly on day 2.

    As you may recall, with one round to go in the first day's action, Magnus Carlsen and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave tore out of the gate with identical scores of 9/10. They were slowed a little at the end, with Carlsen losing a tough game to Karjakin and MVL giving up a draw, but it was reasonable to expect their run of good form would continue the next day. For Carlsen, this definitely was not the case, and he opened with a winless 1.5/5, and was fortunate to save a couple of those draws. He played a bit better after that, but never managed to fully get back on top of things. After a little run leading up to the penultimate round, he lost to Vassily Ivanchuk and finished well out of the running.

    For Vachier-Lagrave, however, the day started quite well, and after 17 of the 21 rounds he was a point and a half clear of the field. And then: collapse. He lost two straight games - with White to Yuri Vovk and with Black to Vassily Ivanchuk - and found himself tied for first entering the last two rounds. After a draw with Ian Nepomniachtchi in the penultimate round his fate was no longer in his own hands. Still, he bounced back with a win, and tied for 2nd-3rd, taking the silver on tiebreak.

    Two of the mighty comeback stories belong to players already mentioned, Nepomniachtchi and Ivanchuk. "Nepo" had a catastrophically bad first day, starting with 4.5/10. But then he turned things around. He won the finale of day 1 and scored 7.5/8 to start the second. He only manged to draw with MVL in the penultimate round, however, and was mathematically eliminated from the race for first. Still, a last round victory over Vovk left him tied for 4th-5th with Ivanchuk, a point out of first.

    Ivanchuk, as we've already seen, played a huge role as a spoiler in the tournament. He had a decent but not great first day, scoring 6.5/11 before going crazy with an undefeated 8-2 score on day two. Had he won his last round against Vladimir Kramnik, he would have taken the bronze; as it was, he took the saddest spot - 4th - on tiebreaks. (Not so sad in terms of the prize fund, though!) He definitely put plenty of pressure on Kramnik, who was also trying very hard to win, but the game ended peacefully.

    It was Kramnik who finished with the bronze, but had he managed to defeat Chuky in that last round he would have taken first on tiebreaks. Kramnik started the event slowly with 2.5/5, but went undefeated the rest of the way. He was already in good shape at the end of day 1 with 8/11, even if that put him a point and a half behind the streaking Vachier-Lagrave. He came very close to beating Carlsen in the first game of day 2, but only drew, and for a while he seemed to be in a drawing rut, getting through round 16 with only one win (on day 2) under his belt. Finally, things picked up in round 17. He beat Sergey Karjakin, who up until then had been very much in the race for first place, beat Levon Aronian in round 18, drew with Alexander Grischuk in round 19 and beat Vovk in round 20 to enter the last round tied for first with Grischuk. Had he won he would have had a better tiebreak score (opponents' average rating, which implies a higher TPR) than Grischuk, but his draw left him tied for second with MVL, and MVL had the highest tiebreak score of the event thanks to his great start.

    So it was Grischuk who was the big winner, acquiring his third world blitz championship title. (He previously won in 2006 and 2012.) His day 1 score wasn't especially good - 7.5 points - and he started day 2 with a loss to Teimour Radjabov. And then he woke up, going 8/9 the rest of the way. He beat Pavel Eljanov, Dmitry Bocharov, Magnus Carlsen (with the black pieces), drew with MVL, beat Hrant Melkumyan and Sergey Karjakin, drew with Kramnik and then finished with wins over Evgeny Tomashevsky and Boris Gelfand (who made a great run on the second day) - in both cases with Black! He was a deserved winner.

    Saturday
    Sep192015

    World Cup 2015: Round 3, Day 3. Kramnik Out, Nakamura Survives

    As noted in yesterday's post on the World Cup, today's tiebreaks featured a lot of top players, and only one of the matches had a clear favorite going in. Sure enough, the matches were all quite difficult and one even reached the Armageddon stage.

    Let's start with a recap of the G/25' + 10" action. Veselin Topalov was the one clear favorite alluded to above, and in his first game with Lu Shanglei he won easily when his opponent blundered an exchange in a position that was already pretty lousy. But then it got more interesting. For the vast majority of the game Topalov was in no danger. He'd have a winning position, then he'd let his opponent slip out and be okay, then he'd be winning again, then even, then winning - this happened quite a lot. As the game gradually worked its way into an ending, however, Topalov slipped up in a serious way and allowed Lu to achieve rook and knight vs. bishop and knight, with no pawns. It was still a theoretical draw, but Topalov was rattled and was getting into real danger of losing the game. Just in time, though, he came up with a nasty trick. He spent a precious minute on move 87 to come up with 87...Bf2, setting a little trap that Lu fell right into. After 88.Rh2 Kf3 89.Kxd3 it looked for a moment like White was winning, but 89...Bg3! was the point. White could only try rook vs. bishop for a few moves, but with Topalov's king near the correct corner (e.g. one opposite the color of his bishop) there was no danger, and the match was soon over.

    Peter Svidler overcame Teimour Radjabov in a "pick 'em" contest between two essentially equally strong players. Radjabov appeared to have a serious advantage in his white game, but when Svidler reached the exchange-down ending with all the pawns on the a- through e-files it was a clear draw. Radjabov continued the game for a long time, but without any real chances to win. The second game was a bit funny, in that Svidler had White against the Gruenfeld, and he played a line Radjabov himself had used with the white pieces. Apparently Svidler dealt with the role reversal better than his opponent, and soon Radjabov had no compensation for the sacrificed pawn. In general Svidler won a clean and smooth game, but there was one serious hiccup. His 26.Ne6 is objectively a '??' move, as it took him from a winning or near-winning game to a lost one. Radjabov had to find one key tactic, however, and he didn't. He took with the bishop and lost without a fight, but 26...fxe6 27.dxe6 Rxc4! would have resulted in an easy win, as Black's bishops would have overmatched the rook.

    Wesley So also made it through to the 4th round in the G/25s against Le Quang Liem, though not by traditional means. In the first game, he got nothing with White in a Berlin ending and was the weaker half of the draw. In the second game he was a little worse, as Le seemed to have nagging pressure in a position where White couldn't possibly lose. No way at all...or so it seemed. In fact, it was a sort of trap, and Le fell headlong into it with the natural 30.Kf4?. So's 30...h5 won a pawn, or at least that's all it would have done if White had understood what was happening. Instead, he played 31.Rc2??, and after 31...h4 he could have resigned. The threat is 32...g5#, and if 32.g5 Rf5# is another mate. White sacrificed his knight to avoid the mate, but the resulting endgame was hopeless and he resigned a few moves later.

    The last match to be decided in the 25-minute games was between Vladimir Kramnik and Dmitry Andreikin. With the one exception of the 2013 World Cup final, Andreikin has been besting Kramnik on a regular basis, and he did so once again in today's games. As usual in rapid games, there were adventures. The first game was relatively equal through Kramnik's 30.Nd4, and then Andreikin uncorked the horrific 30...Rd6, walking into the obvious one-move fork 31.Nc8. Andreikin could have resigned there, but probably from a combination of disgust and both sides being fairly low on time he played on. Nevertheless, down the exchange and, after several more moves, down a pawn on top of that, he battled on, and somehow Kramnik couldn't figure out how to win. Kramnik has had many high-profile failures with his technique over the years, going back to at least his Candidates' match with Boris Gelfand back in 1994, but this might be the biggest failure of his career in terms of the size of his advantage and the degree to which the win should have been completely routine. Full credit to Andreikin though; he hung in there and kept causing problems. After Kramnik's 52.Rxe4+? (instead of first playing 52.c6 to pull Black's rook off the second rank), the game could no longer be won.

    It often happens that after such a failure, it's too hard to recover, and indeed Kramnik did not manage to do so. Kramnik's pawn sac in the opening of the second game was either a sort of "what the heck?" move that showed that the wheels had come off, or else he didn't manage to remember his prep. Whatever the case, he was soon down a pawn with a lousy position, and with fine endgame technique Andreikin managed to win an opposite-colored bishop ending to advance to the fourth round.

    Now to the longer matches. With White Evgeny Tomashevsky started the playoff with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (MVL) with excellent winning chances in the first 25-minute game, but he twice let his opponent off the hook. (46.Bf2 was a good opportunity to keep playing for the win.) MVL had a token advantage in the second game, but there was never any serious chance to convert with the opposite-colored bishops. MVL broke through in the first 10' + 10" game, winning with White. They played the same opening as in the G/25, and if anything Tomashevsky enjoyed an even better position in the middlegame the second time around. The key moment came on move 30, when 30...Qd7 would have given him a good game. Instead, 30...Rf8? left White with the advantage, and he was soon able to convert it into a full point. The second game was balanced for a long time, but Tomashevsky's need to mix things up eventually led him to overpress, and MVL won the second 10-minute game as well, winning the match by an overall score of 4-2.

    The match between Michael Adams and Leinier Dominguez went even deeper, to the 5' + 3" games. Neither player missed any big opportunities in the 25-minute games, but Adams apparently missed a fairly simple tactic in the first 10' + 10" game that would have netted an exchange and most likely the game: 23.Bxf5 Bxf5 24.Nd7. He missed an even bigger chance several moves later, though it was also more subtle: 28.Bxf5 Bxf5 29.Qxf5. That part is obvious, but so is Black's most natural rejoinder, 29...Qxg3. The subtle part is to realize that 30.Qf6 simply ends the game: 30...Bxe5 31.dxe5 Q-anywhere safe and then 32.Bh6 followed by 33.Qg7#. (I'm sure that if Adams had a second, he went out of his way to make sure that Adams never found out about this until after the match.) The second 10-minute game was another fairly innocuous draw, and then it was on to the 5-minute games.

    In the first one, something incredible happened. Adams was gradually outplayed, despite having the white pieces, and eventually lost the exchange (or blundered it, if one goes back a couple of moves before the fork that won it) for no compensation whatsoever. But somehow he managed to create a fortress, or at least a reasonable enough facsimile thereof, and Dominguez couldn't find a way through. Eventually Dominguez opened the queenside, but somehow that only helped Adams to obtain dangerous counterplay. The game was already unclear by the time Dominguez blundered with 84...Qb4??, and that allowed Adams to regain his exchange - with two extra pawns. (Blundering an exchange...where have we heard that before? It seems to be the theme of the day.) Adams won in the sequel as well, and qualified for the next round with a 5-3 victory.

    Finally, there was the most exciting match of the day, contested by the runners-up in last year's world blitz championship, Hikaru Nakamura and Ian Nepomniachtchi. (In fact Nakamura is still #1 in the world in rapid, slightly ahead of Magnus Carlsen, while "Nepo" is #10; in blitz Nakamura is #2 and Nepomniachtchi is #4.) In the first rapid game, Nakamura had some chances with White, but Nepo defended well and managed to hold. The same was true, with colors and players reversed, in the second game. Nepomniachtchi did have one interesting possibility there, but it probably wouldn't have won: 38.e5+ Kxc6 39.b5+ Kb7 40.bxa6+ Ka7 41.Kd4 Bxa6 42.Bh5 Bc8 43.Bxf7 Kb7, and now White doesn't have anything that's obviously better than 44.f5 exf5 45.e6 Kc7 46.e7 Bd7 47.e8Q Bxe8 48.Bxe8. If White's remaining pawn were on any other file, he might be winning, but here he's left with a wrong-colored bishop and rook-pawn combination. Black puts his king on h8, waves his pawns goodbye and draws in his sleep.

    After this, all the games were decisive. Nakamura won the first G/10 after Nepomniachtchi fell for an elementary trap in time trouble; the problem, of course, is that in time trouble even elementary traps can be deadly. That was an see-saw struggle, and so was the second game. It looked like Nakamura was going to win the match, as he had taken the upper hand in a very complicated game, but then he made a huge error that at first seemed to be very strong. His 40th move, 40...e4, wins against every White move but one, and that's what Nepo played: 41.Rd2! Black is completely busted after this, and soon the match score was leveled.

    The first five-minute game saw further adventures. Nakamura again eventually managed to get the advantage with Black when White blundered - you guessed it - the exchange - but it wasn't such a big advantage this time around. In fact, winning the exchange did Nakamura a disservice. Rather than playing it safe and going for a draw a few moves later when it was objectively clear that Nepomniachtchi wasn't in any danger, Nakamura overpressed and was soon losing the game.

    A lesser player may have folded after that, but if Nakamura is anything he's mentally tough, especially as a blitz player. Nakamura won the next game, and while it wasn't a perfect game it was probably the cleanest victory of the entire match. As a result the players moved on to the Armageddon game, with Nakamura taking Black, four minutes and draw odds against Nepomniachtchi's five minutes. Nepo had his chances early, but Nakamura's kingside buildup proved more effective, and even before White fell into a mate at the end Black was clearly winning and in no danger whatsoever of losing the game.

    Tomorrow, round 4 begins, with the following pairings (given in bracket order):

    • Veselin Topalov - Peter Svidler
    • Wei Yi - Ding Liren
    • Wesley So - Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
    • Radoslaw Wojtaszek - Anish Giri
    • Fabiano Caruana - Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
    • Sergey Karjakin - Dmitry Andreikin
    • Pavel Eljanov - Dmitry Jakovenko
    • Michael Adams - Hikaru Nakamura

    All three United States players are still in it, and if they keep winning they won't face off in the quarter-finals either - good news for us. There are four Russians still in it, and the home country (Azerbaijan) still has one representative in the fight. Surprisingly, only two Chinese players are left, and they're facing each other next: China's current #1 against the player of their future - which might turn out to be now. The tournament has been very hard on the veterans so far, but three of them are still in it. Unfortunately for them, two of them are facing off against each other and the third is facing Nakamura, but who knows what will happen? Adams is a tough and tricky guy, but I think that unless Adams wins in classical chess Nakamura will manage to catch him with tactics in the quicker games. Another problem for the older players is that there are no days off (except by winning in the classical games or by taking de facto days off with quick draws in the classical games) until after the quarter-finals. Then, at long last, the final four will get to enjoy ONE day off.

    Monday
    Jul132015

    Kramnik, Still a Bohemian

    Here's a new interview with Vladimir Kramnik, with a couple of new tidbits and a couple of comments about Magnus Carlsen. (Regarding one of them, Carlsen has a staff of ten people? I could see that if one includes the people managing the business side of things, like his father and Espen Agdestein, but ten chess players? There's Jon Ludwig Hammer, Peter Heine Nielsen, Laurent Fressinet and...?)

    Friday
    Jul032015

    Dortmund 2015, Rounds 4 & 5: Nisipeanu Has a Different Co-Leader Every Day

    Let's get caught up on Dortmund, which is now 5/7 over after round 4 on Wednesday, a rest on Thursday and round 5 today. Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu continues to lead, as he has the entire event, but now he has company. After three rounds he was alone in first with 2.5/3, but was caught in round 4 by Vladimir Kramnik and in round 5 by Fabiano Caruana. Let's review the action.

    In round 4 Nisipeanu had Black against Ian Nepomniachtchi, and after a slight advantage see-sawed between the two players Nepomniachtchi was the last player to get an edge, but it was unusable. An extra pawn in a rook + three vs. rook + two ending with all the pawns on the same side is almost always drawn, and this wasn't a difficult hold for Nisipeanu.

    Meanwhile, Kramnik managed to keep just enough tension in the position to outwit Georg Meier, who yet again lost half a point or more from a good position. Meier played the Anti-Berlin line 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.Re1, which looks unpretentious but isn't as insipid as it seems. Kramnik did manage to equalize, but in his desire to push for a win he had to take some fairly serious risks. Meier enjoyed a clear advantage leading up to the time control, and had he played 35.R5e4 or 35.gxf4 Rxf4 and then 36.R5e4 things might have turned out differently. When the time control came the position was about equal, but the danger was mostly on Meier's side. The game was lost in one move: 50.Ke2; after 50.a4 it would remain equal, and there were other moves that would have kept the game going. Such collapses are very possible in complicated positions, even after the time control; in fact, Kramnik lost in similar fashion in round 5. More on that later; for now, Nisipeanu and Kramnik were the co-leaders with 3/4.

    Fabiano Caruana also gained ground on Nisipeanu, winning his second straight game to get to half a point out of first. His victim was Arkadij Naiditsch, who was only a little worse until he played 25...Bxc5; it would have been better to play 26...Rc8 straight away rather than doing so after swapping the bishops. The difference was that Caruana anchored the rook on c5 with 27.b4, and when Black traded rooks White had a passed pawn. Not all was lost until Naiditsch played 35...a5, however; 35...e5 or 35...Kf6 followed by 36...e5 would have kept the game going. In the game Naiditsch quickly lost a piece, and that was that.

    Finally, Hou Yifan and Wesley So had an interesting battle in a Classical Caro-Kann. Hou was starting to outplay So, but 31.Ka2 allowed a nice tactical sequence that led to a draw.

    On to round five, when the marquee matchup with Kramnik - Caruana. The opening was a Fianchetto Gruenfeld with ...c6 and ...d5 which quickly left theory. (That's probably a good thing, as the variation tends to be pretty dull.) Kramnik's whole plan with 12.Re1, 13.Bxe4, 14.Nxe4 and especially 15.Qc2? was a bit of a disaster, and from there on out Kramnik was pretty much reduced to swindle mode. Remarkably, his resilient play succeeded and when Caruana played 23...e6 Kramnik had made it back to objective equality. Not practical equality, as the burden on him to find the right moves was more difficult, but objective equality was a real achievement. He kept up his end of things for a good while, but eventually things went astray. First, it's pretty difficult to make a move like 28.Kd4!, but the idea is that if 28...Qg2 White now has time to take on h6 and give perpetual before Black mates White's wandering king. Even so he was still alright until move 31, when 31.Nd2 fatally weakened his king. He needed to play either the greedy 31.Rxc5 or 31.Qe5 followed by 32.Rb8, simplifying the position for the sake of the king. After his error Caruana regained the initiative, and the rest was one-sided.

    Kramnik had won three in a row, but that streak came to an end with Caruana's third straight win. As a result of the latter's win he leapfrogged the former and found himself tied for first. His co-leader, Nisipeanu, had White against Meier, but got little from the opening and the game was clearly, almost self-evidently headed for a draw as soon as move 18. They continued until move 42, surprisingly (even if they're using the Sofia rules players in such contexts normally construct some sort of repetition to get the thing finished), but there could never have been any doubt, especially after the rooks came off at move 30.

    In the other games, So beat Nepomniachtchi on the white side of a King's Indian-turned-Modern Benoni. So's kingside play was gaining ground, and the end was expedited by Nepo's inaccurate exchange sac before the time control. Finally, Hou Yifan drew in a good fight with Black against Naiditsch. She equalized and then some early on, and it seemed that she would have enjoyed some advantage with the obvious 17...Nd3 (instead of 17...Na6). Her not playing that was rather mysterious, but even so she was doing fine for a very long time. Finally, somewhere in the second time control, she got into a little trouble in a major piece ending. Had Naiditsch played 54.e4 he would have enjoyed decent winning chances. Fortunately for Hou he didn't, and she wrapped up the draw confidently after that.

    Here are the pairings for the penultimate round, tomorrow:

    • Caruana (3.5) - Hou Yifan (2)
    • Nepomniachtchi (1.5) - Naiditsch (2.5)
    • Meier (1.5) - So (2.5)
    • Kramnik (3) - Nisipeanu (3.5)