20TH AMBER BLINDFOLD AND RAPID TOURNAMENT - ROUND 6

Friday 18 March Round VI
14.30 Blind Gelfand-Nakamura ½-½
Grischuk-Aronian ½-½
Anand-Ivanchuk ½-½
16.00 Blind Topalov-Gashimov ½-½
Kramnik-Giri ½-½
Karjakin-Carlsen ½-½
17.45 Rapid Nakamura-Gelfand 0-1
Aronian-Grischuk 0-1
Ivanchuk-Anand 1-0
19.15 Rapid Gashimov-Topalov 1-0
Giri-Kramnik 0-1
Carlsen-Karjakin 1-0

Aronian and Anand suffer first defeats

In the sixth round of the Amber Blindfold and Rapid Tournament, Levon Aronian maintained the sole lead, but his first loss allowed his closest rivals to come closer. Thanks to a 1½-½ win over Sergey Karjakin, Magnus Carlsen moved up to second place, one point behind Aronian.

As all blindfold games were drawn, Aronian stayed in the lead in the blindfold competition. In the rapid competition Carlsen overtook the Armenian grandmaster.

The € 1,000 Game of the Day Prize was awarded to Vasily Ivanchuk for his rapid win over Vishy Anand.

Boris Gelfand had to exercise some patience at the start of his blindfold game against Hikaru Nakamura. The American was under the impression that he only had to play in the second session and had to rush from his hotel room to the playing room after a call from the arbiter. Gelfand had agreed to wait for his opponent before the clocks were started. From a King’s Indian a complicated and interesting game arose. Nakamura didn’t hide his intentions to go for a sharp struggle when he played 13…Qa6. In the ensuing complications, White had many possibilities but everywhere Black managed to maintain the balance, as was also confirmed in the lively post-mortem. Gelfand gave a pawn for long-term compensation and Nakamura was in his guard. His solution to give his queen for a rook and a knight was a good one. Thanks to his strong pieces and the possibilities of various fortresses in the ending Black kept the balance and comfortably made a draw.

In the rapid game Gelfand was happy to play against the 4.e3 Nimzo-Indian, as he had lost two games playing it himself as White in this tournament, against Anand and Kramnik. He soon was happy with his position as his hanging pawns were ‘solid’. White’s mistake came as early as move 18, when Nakamura should have played either 18.Rb1 or 18.Be1. When Gelfand intruded with his knight to d3, White was in trouble as he lost a pawn (the point was: 22.Rb1 Qxd4 23.Rxb2 Qxd2 24.Rxd2 Re1 mate). In the absence of any compensation he also soon lost the game.

Alexander Grischuk and Levon Aronian had a sharp fight in their blindfold game. The tournament leader was unhappy about his move 17…Nf6, where he believed 17…Nb6 would have been better (as 18.Qxe7 is not good in possible 18…Nxd5 19.Qe4 Re8). In his calculations Aronian had missed 19.Ne5. He was happy that he had 20…Qe6 (‘not to lose on the spot’), but still his position would have been quite unpleasant if Grischuk had played 27.a5. Now the point was split after 31 moves.

Grischuk’s comment after he had inflicted Aronian’s first defeat in the rapid game was: ‘Finally something to be proud of since the first game, even if the game was decided by a blunder.’ The Russian grandmaster played a Benoni that was inspired by a game he played as White against Italy’s Daniele Vocaturo at the Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk. After a tough fight Grischuk won that game, but that had nothing to do with the opening. Aronian said he vaguely remembered that game, but still he failed to find the right plan. The decisive mistake was 27.Bf1, where White should have played 27.Ra1. After Grischuk’s captures on c3 and a3 White was lost. Grischuk was happy for himself and his colleagues: ‘This was the last chance to bring back some tension in the tournament.’

Vishy Anand and Vasily Ivanchuk exchanged ideas in a complex Ruy Lopez in their blindfold game. The World Champion managed to keep the initiative and Ivanchuk, who celebrated his 42nd birthday today, had good reason to fear that his party was going to be spoiled. Anand would have been a healthy pawn up had be played 37.Rxb5 instead of 37.e5. However, after the pawn push Black could equalize the game, and was even a bit better, but at the end of the day, after 49 moves to be more precise, the game was drawn.

Ivanchuk collected his present in the rapid game. Playing a seemingly innocuous opening he avoided any theoretical discussions, but no one doubted his ambitions. Black was doing fine, but perhaps the freeing 24…e5 came too early, as after 25.a6, White suddenly took over the initiative. Anand’s decision to give a piece to stop White’s b-pawn looked unfortunate, as the hoped for counterplay didn’t materialize and his position disintegrated quickly.

Veselin Topalov and Vugar Gashimov quickly left the trodden paths in their blindfold game, when the Azeri grandmaster chose an improvised set-up. White got an edge, but Black countered with active play. His 33rd move, 33…Rc8, was good enough to force a draw and this result came about six moves later.

In the rapid game Gashimov repeated an English set-up that he also played against Gelfand last year. Soon he was in the driver’s seat when Topalov missed and allowed 9.Nxd5 followed by 12.Qb3. The Azeri grandmaster was also pleased with his 14.Qa6 which stopped Black from creating counterplay with …a5. Black’s 21…Nxa2 was a clear case of desperation, but otherwise White plays Nc4 and Black will simply lose. Gashimov missed an easy win with 25.Kf1. He had originally intended 26.g4, but when he was about to make his 26th move he suddenly saw 26…Rc8! and White cannot play 27.Qd7 because of 27…Nxe2+ and he is mated. Fortunately for him this oversight didn’t really spoil anything and soon Gashimov could go for an easily won endgame that he had calculated till the winning end.

The longest game of the blindfold sessions was the one between Vladimir Kramnik and Anish Giri. In the opening Giri felt attracted to a move he had never seen before, 9…Ba6. His interest was understandable, as in actual fact the move had already been played more than a hundred times! As he had expected, Black got pleasant play. Kramnik opened up the position with 19.d5, as otherwise Black would get control of the d5-square. The game took a different turn after Kramnik’s knight sortie to b5. The resulting position the Russian grandmaster assessed as highly favourable for White, whereas Giri believed chances were at least equal. The players traded pieces and entered the endgame, and here Kramnik lost control. He lost his a-pawn and let his rook be trapped. With 51.f5 White could have secured the draw, but when he didn’t Black had a last chance to play for a win by pushing his own pawn to the very same square, f5. When that didn’t happen either the game nevertheless ended in a draw.

The rapid game was a disappointing experience for Giri. The Nimzo-Indian variation that appeared on the board he had been studying deeply not so long ago, but he failed to remember the exact details. Kramnik got the better chances, but nevertheless Giri managed to equalize and had he played 30.Kf1 he would have made an easy draw. Now he had to suffer and although he retained chances to make a draw, the black position was much easier to play and after 67 moves the young Dutchman had to resign.

Sergey Karjakin surprised Magnus Carlsen in their blindfold game with the variantion he chose against his French Defence (9.dxc5). After 14.Kxf2 White had an edge and his advantage seemed to grow in the following phase. Karjakin thought for about 5 minutes about his 29th move, considering the spectacular 29.Nf7 which looks excellent after 29…Nxf7 30.Nxd5 exd5 31.e6 if not for 31…Kb5 and Black may even be losing. The critical moment came after Black’s 38th move when after the game the players looked at 39.Nd6 to play the knight to e8. White’s chances were certainly to be preferred, but a forced win was not found. As it went the game ended in a draw after 43 moves.

Carlsen ‘finally played a normal game again’ in the rapid encounter. He wasn’t impressed by Karjakin’s set-up against his d3-Ruy Lopez and was particularly proud of his strong bishop on b3. And obviously his a-pawn was an asset, too. When the Norwegian grandmaster pushed it to a6, he suddenly believed in a flash that he had missed 31…Rxa6 32.Rxa6 Nc5, but then he saw much to his relief 33.Bxf7+ Kh8 34.Rae6 and everything is fine. A similar motif appeared one move later, when Black again could not take on a6, because of 32…Rxa6 33.Rxa6 Nc5 34.Bxf7+ Kh8 35.Rh4. Two moves later White’s g-pawn decided the issue.