20TH AMBER BLINDFOLD AND RAPID TOURNAMENT - ROUND 2

Sunday 13 March Round II
14.30 Blind Topalov-Karjakin ½-½
Kramnik-Anand ½-½
Gelfand-Grischuk 0-1
16.00 Blind Carlsen-Gashimov 1-0
Giri-Ivanchuk ½-½
Nakamura-Aronian 0-1
17.45 Rapid Karjakin-Topalov ½-½
Anand-Kramnik ½-½
Grischuk-Gelfand ½-½
19.15 Rapid Gashimov-Carlsen 0-1
Ivanchuk-Giri ½-½
Aronian-Nakamura ½-½

Aronian, Carlsen and Grischuk share lead after two rounds

In the second round of the Amber Blindfold and Rapid Tournament, Magnus Carlsen joined Levon Aronian and Alexander Grischuk in the shared lead in the overall standings thanks to a 2-0 defeat of Vugar Gashimov. Aronian beat Hikaru Nakamura 1½-½, while Grischuk had the same result in his mini-match against former co-leader Boris Gelfand.

Carlsen’s rapid win with the black pieces won the € 1,000 Game of the Day Prize.

The blindfold game between Veselin Topalov and Sergey Karjakin ‘saw’ a case of chess blindness after only 16 moves. The Bulgarian grandmaster was under the impression that his opponent had withdrawn his knight from c6 to e7, but in actual fact he had played his knight on d5 to that square. As a result White’s 17.Ne5 didn’t make much sense. Karjakin could have won a pawn on d4, but not sure about its consequences (possibly because he believed that Topalov, after all a great tactician, had sacrificed it on purpose) he refrained from this pawn capture, in the correct conviction that he would be better anyway. The players ended up in a rook endgame that still looked better for Black, but as it went Topalov parried all of Karjakin’s threats and after 52 moves the draw was a fact.

In the rapid game Topalov was under pressure again. In the hospitality lounge Levon Aronian teased him after the game saying, ‘Veselin, you had a terrible position!’ ‘No, no, I was fine’, countered the Bulgarian. Then, after a brief pause he added: ‘OK, I was passive.’ And after a further pause with a big smile: ‘I had a good structure’ In any case Karjakin failed to upset him and after 25 moves the Russian decided to force a draw by a repetition of moves.

Vladimir Kramnik started his description of the blindfold game against Vishy Anand with a reference to his ‘childhood years’, when the variation with 4…d5 that had appeared on the board, was considered unsound. With a big smile Vishy Anand chimed in saying that indeed in his ‘teenage years’ this had been the case. But as the game developed Kramnik was less certain of this childhood assessment and believed that Black was only slightly worse. After 17.Rd3 Black gave up a pawn in the hope of creating an impregnable fortress. The question if he had really erected this fortress was the theme of a lively post-mortem after the game had ended in a draw. Various methods were tried for White to break through, but none of them was absolutely convincing. Anand admitted that the defence had been tough and annoying, but agreed with his opponent that White’s advantage had not been enough.

Kramnik was visibly more upset about the draw in the second game. ‘You work hard to get an extra pawn and when you have it you just give it away in one move’, the Russian commented shaking his head. He was quick to add that he had never seen a forced win and suggested some improvements, including 27…f6 instead of 27…Nd3. But as said, all work came to nought when 36…f5 gave away the pawn on e6. 

Boris Gelfand and Alexander Grischuk played a rare line of the King’s Indian in their blindfold game. Quickly playing through the moves on a laptop in the hospitality lounge after the game, the Russian grandmaster commented that things were not ‘as easy as Fritz says’ and praised his opponent’s play: ‘Until move 39 he almost played perfectly.’ However, then happened what Grischuk described as a typical phenomenon  in blindfold chess: the players have invested a lot of time and energy in their moves, pieces have occupied many various squares and before you know it you have forgotten where exactly they all are. In this case this meant that Gelfand believed Black’s black-squared bishop to be on f8 when he placed his knight on f6, a move that made little sense with the bishop on g7. That was a pity for the Israeli grandmaster, but for the audience now the most fascinating part of the game started, with remarkable twists and turns. Miraculously the position remained within the margins of the draw for a long time, until Gelfand played 50.Kf3, where 50.Kh3 was really the only move. Now Black was winning and Grischuk didn’t let go anymore, but for the spectators the game remained exciting till the very end.

In the rapid game Gelfand again got less than he deserved. His 15th move was a novelty compared to 15…Be5, which was played in Kramnik-Anand in Bilbao last year, and led to a very complicated game in which Black got very good play. With 28…b5 he chose for counterplay instead of defending the h6 pawn and got a big advantage. The rook ending was won, but Gelfand went astray with 45…Rb6. Now the game ended in a draw. The correct path to the win would have been 45…e5. 

Magnus Carlsen had the initiative in his blindfold game against Vugar Gashimov and the big question was if it was big enough to hope for the full point. The Norwegian carried the initiative into a rook endgame with four pawns each that he managed to convert into a queen ending with an extra pawn. Now the kibitzers consulting the tablebases could see that the ‘logical’ outcome would be a draw, but with little time on the clock humans cannot keep up with the engines and Gashimov could hardly be blamed for going under. His ‘decisive’ mistake was 74…Ke2 (correct was 74…Kc2), which turned the tables and the verdict of the tablebases.

Carlsen was also happy about his rapid play, which only sounds naturally if you win, but he played well. Gashimov emerged from the opening with an edge, but Black created good counterplay with 25…Rg8. A definite improvement of White’s play would have been Ljubojevic’s suggestion 28…Nb2. As it went Black’s initiative only grew and after 49 moves Carlsen scored his second win of the day.

Anish Giri recovered from the losses in his first two games with a highly comfortable draw against Vasily Ivanchuk, although the young Dutchman was absolutely right when he disagreed with the qualification ‘recovered’. After all he had been winning in both these two games. This time too he got excellent play, about which he said with a modest understatement ‘I was happy that I saw some lines’. Still, Ivanchuk could have forced an easy draw if he had played 26…Rdb8. When he let that chance pass by Giri got the chance to liquidate all the pawns on the queenside and reach a rook endgame where he was a pawn up. But it was not a very big pawn and after Black had restricted White’s manoeuvring space with 52…h4, it became clear that the players would soon split the point.

The rapid game also ended in a draw. At the board Giri had initially had some worries, but at the same time he was puzzled why Ivanchuk had chosen the line they played. It was known to offer White nothing special and as far as he could remember most of their moves had been seen before. As it turned out only Ivanchuk’s 24.h3 was a new move! And nothing to be worried about. In fact, the first question that suggested itself in the ensuing phase was if Black had any chances to play for a win. But that thought was too optimistic.

In the blindfold game between Hikaru Nakamura and Levon Aronian online viewers may have believed that someone had mixed up the names of the white and black player. The American’s pawn sacrifice in the opening looked like a sample from the Armenian’s surprise kit and although Black obtained excellent play it was White who in the end got a totally winning position. Black forgot for a moment that his f7 pawn was hanging and saw his defences crumble within a few moves. But instead of hauling in the point, as Aronian had done in his first two games, Nakamura strayed from the winning path with a bad blunder. Believing Black’s bishop was on c4, he thought he was capturing it when he moved his rook to c4, only to find out from the reply that appeared on his computer screen that the bishop was on b5 and that he had just given away his rook.

The rapid game was a tense and exciting affair. From a King’s Indian Nakamura again got excellent play. Many kibitzers believed that he was even winning, but this was too optimistic according to the American. He had been much better, but nothing more than that. He also looked objectively at his score after four games. True, so far he has only collected one point, but there is nothing wrong with his play.