20TH AMBER BLINDFOLD AND RAPID TOURNAMENT - ROUND 9

Tuesday 22 March Round IX
14.30 Blind Gashimov-Gelfand 1-0
Giri-Grischuk ½-½
Carlsen-Anand 0-1
16.00 Blind Nakamura-Topalov 1-0
Aronian-Kramnik 1-0
Ivanchuk-Karjakin ½-½
17.45 Rapid Gelfand-Gashimov 1-0
Grischuk-Giri 1-0
Anand-Carlsen 0-1
19.15 Rapid Topalov-Nakamura 1-0
Kramnik-Aronian ½-½
Karjakin-Ivanchuk ½-½

Aronian increases lead with win over Kramnik

In the ninth round of the Amber Blindfold and Rapid Tournament Levon Aronian increased his lead over Magnus Carlsen to one point with a 1½-½ win over Vladimir Kramnik. With two rounds to go it is clear that the fight for victory in this 20th farewell edition will be between Aronian and Carlsen.

In the blindfold standings Aronian also improved his position. With two games to go he is one and a half points ahead of runner-up Vishy Anand.

Carlsen continues to dominate the rapid competition. With 7½ out of 9 he is 1½ points ahead of Aronian.

The € 1,000 Game of the Day Prize was awarded to Veselin Topalov for his rapid win over Hikaru Nakamura.

Yesterday the grandmasters enjoyed a rest day. Two early birds, Aronian and Topalov, joined the morning excursion to the Fragonard factory in Eze. Shortly after noon they were joined by the other ten grandmasters and together with guests of the tournament, they enjoyed a relaxed lunch at the Hermitage restaurant.

Today at 2.30 p.m. it was back to business with a number of special pairings.

The blindfold game between Vugar Gashimov and Boris Gelfand featured an English Opening in which Black would have had a perfectly fine position had he played 16…Rf7. Instead he went 16…Bf7, missing an idea that soon would get him into trouble. Gelfand had not seen the manoeuvre 21.Be6 which was favourable for White, as 22…Rb8 23.Bxf5 would have given him wonderful compensation for the exchange. After 24.Qd5 Gashimov assessed the position as ‘as good as won’ and playing accurately the Azeri grandmaster converted his advantage.

In the rapid game Gelfand levelled the score in this mini-match. Against Gashimov’s Bd6-Benoni, White played the ‘most dignified’ continuation on move 11, pushing his pawn to d6. Black had to give an exchange, but he had full compensation for his investment. Around move 30 chances were equal and then Gelfand decided to spice up things with 38.Nxc5 and was rewarded for his courage. Black had various possibilities to make a draw, but lost the thread. His last chance he missed on move 42, when he could have gone 42…Bc7 and after 43.d8Q Bxd8 44.Qxd8 Rb2 Black forces White to repeat moves with 45.Rd2 as the pressure on f2 is too dangerous.

Anish Giri faced the King’s Indian of Alexander Grischuk, the Russian’s pet defence in this Amber tournament, in their blindfold game. The first 19 moves were all known, with 19…a5 Grischuk chose his own course. Instead of the traditional queenside offensive to counter Black’s kingside play, Giri opted for a more positional approach hoping to thwart Black’s ambitions. He believed he had a good position, but after Grischuk had activated his pieces on the kingside it became clear that there was little ground for White’s optimism. The game ended with a repetition of moves, after which Giri concluded: ‘Maybe it was a quite logical game after all.’

The rapid game saw a Grünfeld Defence and ended in a convincing win for Grischuk. In fact Giri twice made the same mistake. First he missed 14.d5, which forced him to retreat his bishop to d7, as he realized that 14…Nxc3 15.dxe6 Nxd1 16.Rxd1 Qe8 17.Ng5 would spell disaster. The second time that he missed White’s threats along the a2-g8 diagonal it proved fatal. When Giri went 17…c5 he was hit by 18.Ne6 and now there was no escape. For some time Grischuk checked if there were some deeply hidden traps, but after he found that for instance 19…c4 20.Bxc4 Ba4 21.Nxa4 b5 22.Bxd6 bxc4 23.Qxb8 leads nowhere, he was reassured and quickly cashed the point.

Magnus Carlsen stormed into the hospitality lounge after he had lost the blindfold game against Vishy Anand. With quick movements he showed on a chess board that he had completely unnecessarily lost the ending, proving his point with variations. Of course he was right, but he had been lost earlier on. In the opening the Norwegian grandmaster went for the Grand Prix Attack against Anand’s Sicilian. According to Anand, White’s 8.d3 was a mistake, allowing him to exchange on c4, c3 and play 10…Bc6. He was happy with the ensuing middlegame, but called his 25…Qe7 a mistake, as it gave away most of his advantage because 26…Bxc4 can be answered by 27.Bxf6. Nevertheless things were going his way and on move 36 he could have won with both 36…e3+ or even 36…Rc1. Now Carlsen was indeed safe and with 43.Ra6 he could have made a draw. Instead he wanted to refine the idea and played 43.Rf6 first, missing Anand’s 43…Ra1+ which led to a winning position for Black.

Carlsen had his revenge with surprising ease in the rapid game. After the opening, a Ruy Lopez with 4.Qe2, he was slightly worse, but then, to quote Carlsen, Anand ‘began to drift’. Black took over after he could play 25…gxh3 and 27.Qg2. In fact the white position disintegrated at surprising speed and after 43 moves the World Champion had had enough.

In the blindfold game between Hikaru Nakamura and Veselin Topalov, the Bulgarian ex-world champion got a huge advantage from the opening. However, when it was time to strike he chose the wrong move order (21…Bxf6 22.Qxh6 Bxg4 would have put White in big trouble), letting his opponent back into the game. Now the players were fighting for every inch on the board and gradually White took over. When his position was about to collapse, Topalov threw the towel.

The rapid game was a highly entertaining skirmish full of attractive tactical shots. Topalov’s 14.Ba4 was a remarkable novelty. According to the Bulgarian grandmaster Black’s reply 14…b5 was a mistake that lost, and probably for practical reasons he had ‘forgotten’ what the correct move was. In any case he got an excellent game and with the aesthetic 24.Rb6 he got a winning advantage that he converted after 42 moves.

Levon Aronian arrived in an aggressive mood for the blindfold game against Vladimir Kramnik. Having seen Carlsen’s loss he wanted to increase his lead, most probably believing that given his opponent’s poor form this was a good moment. Still, he called his pawn sacrifice, 11.e4, ‘maybe too provocative’. During the game Aronian believed it was insufficient and forced himself to play as accurately as possible to prove that he had chances. Despite his doubts he didn’t see a real improvement for Black’s play in the following moves, while at the same time he concluded that after 16.Bh6 White had a big advantage. And after the queen exchange he believed that Black was lost. ‘The game remained interesting, but I played accurately and brought home the bacon,’ To which he added with a deadpan expression: ‘Although I don’t eat bacon.’

In the rapid game Aronian played the Grünfeld, not his everyday defence. In a long post-mortem Kramnik tried to prove why he had been happy with his position and had cherished hopes to win. Aronian was not convinced and felt he had not been in any real danger. The result supported the Armenian’s view as after 42 moves the draw was a fact.

The blindfold game between former compatriots Vasily Ivanchuk and Sergey Karjakin ended in a draw. Ukraine’s Ivanchuk achieved little against the Nimzo-Indian of Karjakin, who these days plays under the Russian flag. Black got a nice pull, but White had enough play to keep the balance and after 33 moves they called it a day.

The rapid game was the longest of the day, lasting 117 moves. Playing with the black pieces Ivanchuk was clearly in an ambitious mood. From a French Defence he got good play, until inaccurate play gave Karjakin the opportunity to take over the initiative. But he didn’t enjoy this luxury for long, as Ivanchuk fought back to get the initiative again and managed to get an endgame with an exchange against a pawn. Now Karjakin had to suffer for a lot of moves, but at the end of the day he saved the draw.