Round 8: Carlsen & Aronian still tied for first place at FIDE Candidates, Kramnik now a point behind
Magnus Carlsen of Norway and Levon Aronian of Armenia are still tied for first place after eight rounds at the FIDE World Chess Candidates' Tournament in London. The leaders of the tournament faced each other over the board on Sunday and drew a Catalan game in just an hour and a half. Vladimir Kramnik of Russia, who beat his compatriot Peter Svidler in a Grünfeld, is now one point behind the two. Like Kramnik, Boris Gelfand of Israel won his first game of the tournament. He defeated Teimour Radjabov of Azerbaijan by adopting the strong positional concept 13...e5! in an English game. For the third time already in this tournament, Ukrainian Vassily Ivanchuk lost on time, in this round against Alexander Grischuk of Russia.
On Sunday the second half of the FIDE World Chess Candidates’ Tournament started with a big game: Magnus Carlsen versus Levon Aronian, the two leaders of the tournament. In the first round they drew against each other, and if either player would have won this one, he would have been “huge favourite”, as Carlsen put it the day before. One reason is that if two players tie for first place after the last round, the first tie-break rule is the individual result.
Somewhat expectedly, neither player wanted to take too much risk and as a result the game quickly petered out to a draw. “I thought that Magnus was not going to take much risk and play solid,” said Aronian. Carlsen: “I was just trying to play more or less solidly, trying to put some pressure without taking too much risk. It felt like the natural thing to do in such a situation. He played precisely in the opening.”
Thanks to good preparation Aronian quickly equalized in a Catalan. However, in a very equal ending Carlsen declined a draw offer, somewhere around move 33: “I thought there was no harm in playing a few more moves. But at that point both of us knew what was going to happen anyway!”
As the players explained, such quick draws are part of the game: “As in the whole tournament, you don’t really want to lose any game, but this one particularly. In this tournament situation it would mean a lot. You have to try and take your chances when you can,” said Aronian. “In general with Black in such tournaments that’s the way you play. You try and play solid and if there are chances, you take them, otherwise… You know, the players here are so strong that it’s not easy to win any game,” said Carlsen.
In this round Boris Gelfand won his first game of the tournament. He defeated Teimour Radjabov without much effort, thanks to a powerful new idea in the English opening on move 13. “It's a big positional concept. It cuts both the bishop on g2 and the knight on b3,” explained Gelfand afterwards.
Radjabov never really got into the game. “Somehow I didn’t find a way to execute the g4-g5 plan. I was surprised that I had to play for equality. I was only right about my estimation, not about my moves.” Gelfand, who didn’t need much time on the clock: “I know that I am better and I know what I have to do, that’s why I played very quickly. The problem is on white’s shoulders.”
Not long afterwards Vladimir Kramnik also won his first game. After seven draws, the Russian grandmaster beat his compatriot Peter Svidler in a variation of the Grünfeld in which Kramnik also beat Garry Kasparov, 13 years ago, in their World Championship match, also in London.
“Now it became clear why Kasparov dropped the Grünfeld after game 2 in our match. Finally I showed the refutation of this opening!” joked Kramnik, which put a little smile even on Svidler’s face. On a more serious note, the former World Champion said he analysed his idea 14.Kc2 already during that match. Until recently he didn’t think it was worth trying, but he discovered that “Black in fact has to be very accurate”.
Svidler’s 14…Ne5 (instead of the more standard 14…Na5 which Kramnik had surely looked at thoroughly) was a good practical decision. But spending half an hour on it wasn’t. “If you're going to play 14…Ne5 you have to do it immediately,” said Svider.
As it went, Kramnik got a slight advantage but Black was solid and without time trouble Svidler might have defended better. From move 30 onwards he started to play inaccurately, and with a few strong moves Kramnik could score the full point.
“In fact I thought that my victory was yesterday because after this absolutely awful, unexplainable blunder which I made, I was forgiven and I somehow considered it as a good sign. I still cannot explain how I managed to make such a blunder but I think it was a turning point, at least I hope so, that I start to get luck on my side and start to go on with full force, let’s see,” said Kramnik.
The game between Alexander Grischuk and Vassily Ivanchuk finished dramatically. It was a Sicilian Dragon and the position was always more or less equal, but, staying true to their “style”, both players got into time trouble. Ivanchuk didn't make the time control yet again.
At the press conference Grischuk revealed that the last time he won a classical game in a World Championship or Candidates event was “6 years and about 25-26 games ago” – his win against Gelfand in Mexico 2007. Grischuk: “It was like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude, but for me it was six years of suffering!”
Asked about the time control in London (40 moves in 2 hours, then 20 moves in 1 hour and then 15 minutes plus 30 seconds increment from move 61), Grischuk said: “Where you have a move limit, it’s correct that you don’t have increment. It’s your own responsibility that you think about the time. But at the end of the game it’s correct to have increment because otherwise it can go on and on. The problem is that we are all spoilt by the fact that most tournaments are held with increment. It’s difficult to switch. But I think this is the right time control.”
Ivanchuk’s response to the same question was: “It’s a matter of taste. I cannot say there is a time control that everybody likes.” The Ukrainian was quite upset about what was already his third loss on time, and preferred to answer questions from the press separately from his opponent. Ivanchuk’s very correct play at the board should be mentioned, though: in the heat of the moment, with just four seconds left on the clock for three moves, he accidentally knocked over one of his opponent’s pawns. Where many players would (incorrectly) press the clock first and then quickly put back the pawn, the Ukrainian (correctly) did this in his own time. But then “there was no way for him to make the time control,” as one of the arbiters said…
After eight rounds, Carlsen and Aronian are still tied for first place with 5.5 points. Vladimir Kramnik is one point behind with 4.5 while Grischuk is in 4th place with 4 points. Gelfand and Svidler are shared 5th with 3.5 points, Radjabov is in 7th place with 3 points and Ivanchuk is last with 2.5 points. Monday, March 25th at 14:00 GMT the ninth round will be played: Kramnik-Carlsen, Svidler-Grischuk, Ivanchuk-Radjabov and Gelfand-Aronian.
Report by Peter Doggers
Pictures by Anastasiya Karlovich