20TH AMBER BLINDFOLD AND RAPID TOURNAMENT - ROUND 1

Saturday 12 March Round I
14.30 Blind Nakamura-Carlsen ½-½
Aronian-Giri 1-0
Ivanchuk-Gashimov 0-1
16.00 Blind Karjakin-Gelfand 0-1
Grischuk-Kramnik 1-0
Anand-Topalov 1-0
17.45 Rapid Carlsen-Nakamura 1-0
Giri-Aronian 0-1
Gashimov-Ivanchuk 1-0
19.15 Rapid Gelfand-Karjakin 1-0
Kramnik-Grischuk 0-1
Topalov-Anand ½-½

Four shut-outs in spectacular opening round

Perfectscores for Aronian, Gashimov, Gelfand and Grischuk

For the twentieth edition the Amber Blindfold and Rapid Tournament has returned to Monaco and what better place was there to celebrate this home-coming last night than the Café Paris in the heart of the Principality. From the terrace on the first floor where the opening dinner took place the guests had a splendid view of the most photographed spot in Monaco, the Casino Square.

The evening started with an introduction of the players and the drawing of lots in which bathing towels and sun glasses played a pivotal role. A special moment was the speech of Melody Van Oosterom who thanked her parents for the tournament that carried her name for twenty years. However, her role during this farewell event is not limited to being the daughter after who the tournament was named. For two weeks there will be an exhibition of her paintings and drawings at the Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel.

The dinner was further enlivened by two high-class acts. Ukrainian sand artist Ksenia Simonova delighted her audience with a marvellous ‘tale’ based on various chess themes. Next, after the main course and before the dessert the guests were entertained by electrifying performances of The Electric String Quartet, a string quartet (right) consisting of four (right) ravishing ladies, playing electric (right) string instruments with virtuoso panache.

Today at 14.30 the first round started of a blindfold and rapid spectacle that will keep usentertained for the coming fortnight (the 11th and last round is on March 24). As always the players started with two blindfold sessions (in each of which six GMs played) followed by two rapid sessions and immediately there were some intriguing pairings.

Hikaru Nakamura called the draw in his blindfold game against Magnus Carlsen

‘a good start’. Perhaps the American debutant had been a bit nervous for his first blindfold test, for his evaluation was uncharacteristically modest. He rightly criticized his opponent’s set-up with 12…Qa5 and 16…Qh5, which had given White a truly promising position, but too easily forgave himself for the chance he missed next. White’s 25.Ng5 looked nice, but it was at this point, as both players suspected, that Nakamura missed a good chance, because 25.Nc3 would have given him a great position. As Nakamura put it: ‘We didn’t see a forced or clear win but I amsure the computer will.’ The game also saw a comical case of mutual chess blindness. For some reason both players believed that Black’s bishop was on f6 This explains why on move 44 White put his rook en prise and why Black didn’t take it! Now they ended up in an endgame with opposite-coloured bishops that brought the expected draw.

The first impulse of Carlsen after therapid game was to seek an engine and check if he had chosen the right path at the most crucial junctures. In the opening he had sacrificed his bishop for three pawn. The position after 21 moves he judged as very pleasant for White and in the following phase the vulnerable position of the black king proved too much of a handicap. The hunt for the black monarch ended after 40 moves when Nakamura threw the towel.

The blindfold game between Levon Aronian and Anish Giri was the most exciting clash of the first session. Aronian won, but avoiding any empty boasting he commented that is had been ‘the traditional swindling’. The Armenian grandmaster emerged from the opening with a pleasant advantage that he blew with the over-impetuous 25. c5, a move he immediately regretted when he saw Black’s answer 25…Bh4. Suddenly it was Black who was calling the shots, but the sudden turn-around also affected Giri. Firs the missed the ‘easier’ 27…Nxg2 28.Kxg2 Re8 which would have left White speechless and even on move 40 he still could have won with 40…Re1+. However, after the mistaken 40…Qxd8 White was left with a position in which little could go wrongfor him and a lot for Black. Aronian could have decided the issue immediately with 45.d8Q, but even if he took a bit longer the result was never in doubt anymore.

If the first game had been a typical caseof swindling, the rapid game was vintage Aronian in swindling overdrive. With abroad grin he admitted after the game that indeed he had gone too far, calling his highly dubious 16…c6, ‘too wise’. Typical for his sense of humour was his choice of the opening. As Giri is living in the Netherlands these days, Aronian chose the Dutch Defence, and as Giri was born in St. Petersburg, Aronian had selected the Leningrad Variation. But as said, after his ‘too wise’ move heended up in a totally lost position. But instead of confidently converting his advantage Giri lost his calm. Viktor Kortchnoi (born in Leningrad!), who attends the first week of the Amber tournament as a guest of honour, chided the young Dutchman for his move 24.Nb6, calling it ‘the worst move he had ever seen’. Probably his memory failed him at that point, but it is true that it would have been a steep task for Aronian to confuse his opponent if Giri had kept the knight on d7. With the knight sidetracked and Black’s pieces closing in on the white king, the Armenian’s task was a more grateful one and exploiting the chances he got he also won his second game.

The first game of this 20th Amber tournament to finish was the blindfold game between Vasily Ivanchuk and Vugar Gashimov. When the opening moves appeared on the videoscreens a kibitzing Vladimir Kramnik predicted that this game would not win the Game of the Day Prize, a special prize of € 1,000 that will be awarded everyday by a jury consisting of grandmasters Ljubomir Ljubojevic and John Nunn and, during the first week, special guest Viktor Kortchnoi. According to Kramnik the Petroff only becomes interesting if White tries to mate Black. As soon as White castles queenside, you can be sure of a boring game. Gashimov was not unhappy with the opening (he remembered that the correct answer to 11.Bg5 is 11…Qe7) and assessed the position after 18…Ke7 as ‘unclear’. But everything changed after Ivanchuk’s unfortunate queen sortie to a7 on move 19, where he simply should have exchanged on f3. Soon Gashimov had a choice between trying to win the queen or going for a favourable ending. He chose the latter and didn’t have to work long. Ivanchuk’s 28.Re4 was a terrible blunder (the only move was 28.c4) that allowed a mate in one!

Gashimov also claimed the rapid game, inflicting a 2-0 defeat on last year’s winner (who started with a 2-0 win over Carlsen in that previous event). Ivanchuk surprised him with a Sicilian Najdorf, probably counting on the Azeri’s pet attack with 6.Bg5, but precisely for that reason Gashimov went for 6.Be2. Till move 15 Gashimov was familiar with the theory and that was exactly enough to know that Ivanchuk’s 15…Qh5 was not a good move. In the ensuing complications both players burned a lot of time and when the critical moment came they had only seconds left. After White’s 29.d4 Black was forgiven that he didn’t discover the computer line that shows that he can make a draw if he accepts the piece offer. On the other hand, when he didn’t accept the offer he was fighting a hopeless battle and soon had toresign.

The blindfold game between Sergey Karjakin and Boris Gelfand saw a continuation of the Petroff discussions at the recent Tal Memorial in Moscow, where Karjakin won a spectacular game against Kramnik. Today Karjakin played an alternative, 13.f3, that he had mentioned in his annotations of this game, but much to his surprise Gelfand didn’t continue with the move that Karjakin had assumed was best, 13…h6, but improved with the much stronger 13…f6. In the next phase Karjakin failed to find a concrete plan to obtain the initiative and had to suffer. But he only ended up in real trouble when he made a serious mistake with 33.f5, where he should have gone 33.Qe2 Bg6 34.Kc2. The final mistake was 34.Be4, which allowed Black to weave a mating net.

The rapid game was a balanced act till Gelfand offered a draw. And actually it remained a balanced act after Karjakin chose to continue with a sideways glance at his opponent’s clock. But the game ended abruptly when the young Russian blundered a rook. In the process of playing 39…Qxf2 he resigned in view of 40.Qxc4 with check.

Alexander Grischuk walked into the hospitality lounge a happy man after his win over Vladimir Kramnik. ‘I think I have some chances fort he brilliancy game’, he opined and his satisfaction was understandable. A new plan (11.Be2, in most games that reached this position 11.Bf5 was played) gave him a fine position (the point of his plan becomes clear after 11…Bxc3 12.bxc3 Ne4 13.Bxc4 Nxg5 14.Nxg5 and Black’s king is in trouble) and with careful manoeuvring he managed to keep his formidable opponent under pressure. Kramnik got into serious trouble after the mistake 41…Rd2, although White could also have cherished good winning hopes after the better 41…Rc2 (with the point 42.Bb5 Rc1+ 43.Rxc1 Qxb5). Black’s mistake gave White time for 42.h4, creating an essential escape square for the king, and determined not to let go of his prey Grischuk converted his advantage into a valuable win.

At the end of the round Grischuk’s hunch was confirmed when he indeed was awarded the € 1,000 Game of the Day Prize. By that time he was not that convinced anymore. In a nice show of modesty he gratefully accepted the prize, but also pointed out that to his mind the rapid win of Carlsen over Nakamura had been a more appropriate candidate!

Grischuk was less proud of his win in the rapid game. That is, the actual content of the game, as obviously he too realized full well that defeating Kramnik 2-0 is not an everyday occurrence. But the former world champion went badly astray with 18.Nc6 which rather simply blundered a pawn. Grischuk was slightly critical of the way he converted his material plus, but once Kramnik had failed to make use of his inaccuracy the road to 2-0 contained no further obstacles.

Immediately in the first round Vishy Anand and Veselin Topalov met, the protagonists in the most recent World Championship match last year in Sofia. In the blindfold game they went for a Berlin Defence and initially little was happening. Or in Anand’s words ‘boring opening, boring middle game’. But although there was not too much going on not all roads were leading to a draw and after the game the World Champion condemned Black’s decision to exchange his final pair of rooks. Now White was in a very comfortable position: he could try for more without the slightest risk. Anand was critical of his decision to take on c6 right away on move 47, instead of first improving his position by moving one of his knights to d4 (‘In the old Soviet school they would have chopped your hand off for such a sin’), but despite this rash decision he managed to win an important point.

The rapid game ended in a draw. ‘It was one of those games’, Anand explained, ‘where you make a couple of solid moves and that’s enough.’ Among the solid moves he counted 21…Bf5 (‘the bishop belongs on d7’) and 25…b5 (‘I was proud of that move, as if he could play c4 he could have tortured me for a while’). After the pieces had started to disappear from the board the game ended in a draw. Referring to the match in Sofia, Anand grinned ‘Actually he offered a draw’ and added with an even broader grin: ‘The news is made off the board!’