Four fighting draws in 5th round Candidates tournament
The standings didn't change after Wednesday's fifth round of the FIDE World Chess Candidates’ Tournament in London as all games ended in draws. Facing his own favourite Grünfeld, Peter Svidler (Russia) got a winning position against Boris Gelfand (Israel) but after wild complications the game ended in a draw. Magnus Carlsen (Norway) also played the Grünfeld and for the first time he was under pressure, against Vassily Ivanchuk (Ukraine), but eventually he held a knight ending a pawn down. Vladimir Kramnik (Russia) got his chances in a Réti against Levon Aronian (Armenia), who held an opposite-coloured bishop ending two pawns down. The last game to finish was Alexander Grischuk (Russia) versus Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan). In a 5.Bf4 Queen's Gambit Declined White also got very close to a win but with a bishop sacrifice the Azerbaijani held his own.
The fifth round of the Candidates tournament had a comical start. In two games the Grünfeld Defence came on the board: Peter Svidler versus Boris Gelfand and Vassily Ivanchuk versus Magnus Carlsen. And quite remarkably, after the move 3…d5, which defines this opening, both Svidler and Ivanchuk started to think! It seemed that the Ukrainian was waiting for Svidler to move, while Svidler needed to think of a good way to play against his own favourite defence…
Well, in fact the grandmaster from St. Petersburg had found an interesting idea (7.f4) together with his seconds Nikita Vitiugov and Maxim Matlakov shortly before the game. “It looks incredibly ugly and that was one of the main reasons for playing it because I thought Boris might decide he has to play for an advantage now,” said Svidler. Gelfand didn't react well, on the contrary. Afterwards the Israeli said that he hadn’t played the opening so badly in his entire career. “This move 8…Bg4 is a disaster and 10…c6 may be even worse.”
However, after reaching an overwhelming position ("In a tournament like this I'm very unlikely to get such a position again"), Svidler wanted to force matters and “started sacrificing pawns left and right”, as Grischuk put it. Gelfand reacted very well and even got the upper hand, but after some more complications he decided to offer a draw just before the time control. He explained it as follows: “Draw offers are a psychological game. If White would decline then the pressure would be on his side and maybe he would take too much risk. People underestimate this; they are crazy about the number of moves and statistics but here it’s real psychology!”
Also in that other Grünfeld game it was White who got a clear advantage. Ivanchuk played strongly and created problems for his opponent, which meant that for the first time in this tournament, top seed Magnus Carlsen was under serious pressure. “It was a very difficult game. I tried to be creative in the opening. He responded well and I was worse, so I decided to sacrifice a pawn in order to get into an endgame which I thought I could hold,” said Carlsen.
For a moment the Norwegian even played for a win; at move 31 Ivanchuk, who was again short of time, offered a draw. Carlsen declined: “At some point I even got optimistic which was completely unfounded and I had to fight to save the game. I just underestimated his possibilities. It was an unprofessional and bad decision to play on.”
Also in the game between the world’s number two and three, Vladimir Kramnik and Levon Aronian, White got excellent winning chances. Aronian’s problems started after his risky pawn push 13…b5. “This was probably asking for too much.”
Kramnik then found the strong idea of pushing his f-pawn and sacrificing his a-pawn along the way. He managed to break open the centre, but then missed a strong continuation which was pointed out by computer engines. Nonetheless, after the time control the Russian reached a very promising ending. “I don’t know what the computer says but I have a feeling I missed a win,” said Kramnik, and Aronian agreed with him. During their press conference the two top grandmaster showed numerous amazing variations to the (online) spectators, and after about half an hour they still didn’t find a win for White, despite being two pawns up in an opposite-coloured bishop ending.
Most of this press conference was in fact watched by Alexander Grischuk and Teimour Radjabov in the press room as well. Their game finished shortly after that of Kramnik and Aronian. It was the same story here: Grischuk got close to a win, but failed to convert the full point. In the 5.Bf4 variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declined, the Muscovite was very much in control: “I think I got a completely winning position but I should not have let Black sacrifice on c5. I underestimated that."
With his 34th move Radjabov managed to change the nature of the position completely and at the same time he got his opponent rather confused. “I thought I was checkmating but 36…h5 was cold a shower," said Grischuk. Eventually a complicated ending was reached where Radjabov had three passed pawns against a knight for Grischuk, but there the Russian decided to force the draw by liquidating to an equal rook ending.
And so after five rounds the standings are the same with half a point more for each player. Aronian and Carlsen are tied for first place with 3.5 points while Svidler is the only player with 3. Kramnik and Radjabov have 2.5 points, Grischuk has 2 points and Gelfand and Ivanchuk are in last place, with 1.5 points. Thursday, March 21st at 14:00 GMT the sixth round will be played: Svidler-Carlsen, Kramnik-Ivanchuk, Grischuk-Gelfand and Radjabov-Aronian.
Statistics: From the start of the tournament till round 5 over 200,000 unique visitors from 185 countries came to the official site.