20TH AMBER BLINDFOLD AND RAPID TOURNAMENT - ROUND 7

Saturday 19 March Round VII
14.30 Blind Giri-Topalov 0-1
Carlsen-Kramnik 1-0
Gashimov-Karjakin ½-½
16.00 Blind Aronian-Gelfand 1-0
Ivanchuk-Grischuk ½-½
Nakamura-Anand ½-½
17.45 Rapid Topalov-Giri ½-½
Kramnik-Carlsen 0-1
Karjakin-Gashimov ½-½
19.15 Rapid Gelfand-Aronian ½-½
Grischuk-Ivanchuk 0-1
Anand-Nakamura ½-½

Carlsen defeats Kramnik 2-0 to close in on Aronian

After seven rounds Levon Aronian is still in the sole lead at the Amber Blindfold and Rapid Tournament with a score of 10 points from 14 games. Magnus Carlsen improved his position with a 2-0 win over Vladimir Kramnik and now trails the Armenian grandmaster by half a point. Aronian also stayed in the lead in the blindfold competition. In the rapid competition Carlsen is the clear leader, one point ahead of Aronian.

The € 1,000 Game of the Day Prize was awarded for the third time in a row to Vasily Ivanchuk, this time for his rapid win over Alexander Grischuk.

The first blindfold session became a private show for the privileged when the Internet in the Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel went down while two games were still in progress. A small group gathered in front of a small monitor in a corner of the VIP-room where the moves could be followed on two small diagrams. That group grew considerably during the final moves of the game between Carlsen en Kramnik, which lasted 91 moves and close to two hours. The length of that game slightly upset the schedule for the remaining games of the day, but it also gave the technicians of the hotel time to remedy the problem Fifteen minutes after the first session had finally finished everything was back to normal in the second session.

When Anish Giri and Veselin Topalov walked into the hospitality lounge no one knew how their game had ended, but soon it became clear from their body language and facial expressions that the Bulgarian former world champion had won. It was the first game ever between the two grandmasters and it was a shaky debut for the young Dutchman. In a King’s Indian it was not a series of tactical shots that decided the issue but a number of strategic inaccuracies. Topalov was critical of Giri’s decision to give up the centre with 13.dxc6 and the awkward placing of some of his pieces. He indicated 15.Qa4 as a better option and explained that once Black could open up the position with 28…d5 ‘all White’s pieces’ were misplaced. Giri tried to fight back with 32.g4, breaking open the kingside, but by that time his position was objectively lost and the invasion of the black forced soon forced his surrender.

In the rapid game Giri, as Black, got an excellent position when he forced a queen exchange (White cannot go 15.Qa4 because of 15…a6 16.bxc4 b5). However, Topalov slowly regrouped and when Giri went astray with 30…Bxb4 (he should have played 30…Nb8) his position was suddenly unpleasant. But Topalov returned the favour with 35.e4, which was based on a miscalculation, and the game ended in a draw.

The blindfold game between Magnus Carlsen and Vladimir Kramnik could not be viewed life by the Internet audience (so far on average around 45,000 unique visitors per day!) and that was a great pity as in line with their previous battles there was again a lot of drama. Kramnik played his trusted Petroff, but contrary to what normally happens, he ended up in a clearly worse position. The tables could have been turned after Carlsen’s questionable 44.Re4, which allowed Black to take on e4 and follow up with 45…Nf6. According to Kramnik this would have given him a position that was ‘winning or in any case very close to winning’. The reason he didn’t take on e4, was that he believed his rook was on d7 and that he only realized that it was on e7 when he tried to play his knight to e7 and the computer refused to accept that move. Next in a panicky reaction he tried to play the rook as quickly as possible and put it on b7. In the following manoeuvring phase Carlsen gradually outplayed him and obtained a winning position. In the final position Kramnik believed his rook was on b1 and tried to take the pawn on b7. When he realized that this was impossible he resigned. Coming out of the playing room Carlsen shrugged his shoulders and commented that he also would have found a winning plan if his opponent had remembered the position of his pieces.

In the rapid game Kramnik repeated the opening he had played against Giri, but Carlsen chose a different set-up. The Norwegian grandmaster was pleased with his position, reasoning that he would be fine if he obtained a Benoni-structure and it was for that reason that he didn’t want White to take on d5 with a piece. According to Carlsen, White’s 20.g4 was dubious and smelling his chance he decided ‘to go for it’ with 25…Rf8 and 26…f5. White’s 27.Qb7 was an expensive mistake. Kramnik had missed 28…Rxe3, which essentially decided the game. While his opponent sat thinking about his 31st move he resigned. Black’s has more than one option to continue successfully, 31…Nxg4 and 31…Rxb3 are just two of them.

The shortest game of the day was the blindfold game between Vugar Gashimov and Sergey Karjakin. The reason was a mind slip of the Azeri grandmaster. On move 8 he should have first played 8.a4 and only after 8…b4 push his d-pawn to d4. When he pushed d4 immediately his set-up lacked all punch. Black’s structure was fine and disappointed by this development Gashimov accepted Karjakin’s peace proposal after a mere 17 moves.

The rapid game also ended in a draw. Black got good play with the ‘sacrifice’ 13.Ncxe4, but after 21.Qg4 White forced the split of the point by perpetual check.

Levon Aronian as not really proud of his win against Boris Gelfand in their blindfold game. ‘I don’t even get swindle points’, he concluded after his opponent had lost his queen by putting it on a protected square. In the opening the Armenian grandmaster had certainly tried to exploit his ‘swindling talent’ by ‘putting his pieces on rather random squares’. But by doing so he only helped Black. White’s 18.N5e4 was not the best (he should have exchanged on d7) and Black got the better play with 21…Ra3! (22.Nxf7 Rxc3!). Aronian had to work hard to create counterchances and after 28.b5 it looked as if he might save the draw, but all those considerations lost their urgency when Gelfand believed to capture a knight on c3, which happened to be on e2.

In the rapid game Aronian mixed up moves, without doing any damage. Having played 7…c6 he realized that this is normally done with the black-squared bishop on d6. Gelfand was slightly confused by his opponent’s choice and so was Aronian himself, but he didn’t show it. And in fact everything turned out well for Black and with 13…Nf6 he could equalize comfortably. A number of careful and not too exciting moves later the game was drawn.

In their blindfold game Vasily Ivanchuk and Alexander Grischuk discussed a well-known pawn sacrifice in the Sämisch King’s Indian, as if they were producing a text-book example for this variation. Black always had enough compensation for the pawn and in the end a repetition of moves determined the result of the game.

The rapid game was a masterpiece by the Ukrainian grandmaster that in the words of GM John Nunn contained ‘various nice touches’. One of them was 19…a5 with which Black forced the queenside to be closed as 20.bxc5 would lose a rook after 20…b5. Having accomplished this, Black got a beautiful knight on d6. Grischuk offered an exchange, hoping to improve the qualities of his own knight, but for the moment Ivanchuk ignored it, shifting all his attention to the kingside. Seeing the danger Grischuk strived for a blockade there with 28…g4, but it didn’t help him as now Black decided to penetrate on the queenside with 37…c4. Ivanchuk crowned his efforts with an exchange sacrifice and that was it.

In the blindfold game between Hikaru Nakamura and Vishy Anand the World Champion briefly got excited when he could play 16…c4, until he realized that there was not real damage for White because his h-pawn was on h3. Had it been on h2, Black would have been winning after 18…Nf6, now the position was more or less in balance. White gave two pawns to create an initiative, but Black could thwart that same initiative by giving back the pawns. A repetition of moves ended the game.

The rapid game was a long and gritty struggle. The balance was never really upset and after 65 tense move the fight ended in a draw.