In today’s second round of the Candidates Tournament, Levon Aronian and Teimour Radjabov scored the first two wins (against Gelfand and Ivanchuk, respectively) to move into first place.
Magnus Carlsen continued his drawing ways, splitting the point against Vladimir Kramnik. Although he is 1-1, keep in mind that he has now played his two highest-rated opponents and now will get a chance to score some wins against the lower-rated players in the field. But also keep in mind that in a tournament this strong, there are no easy wins! Carlsen definitely will not win this tournament just by showing up; he needs to play some good moves, too.
Like yesterday, I watched some of this round on Chess TV. I really enjoyed the commentary of GM Sergey Shipov, GM Gennady Sosonko and Mark Glukhovsky. Perhaps the most interesting point came right at the end of Radjabov-Ivanchuk.
Radjabov had already been in a completely winning position for several moves, but had given Ivanchuk a little bit more counterplay than necessary. However, Ivanchuk was in ultra-serious time trouble. Radjabov said that he had to play six moves in three seconds, but since it’s move 32, maybe he meant eight moves in three seconds. Anyway, it was really bad.
Radjabov said that he was basically playing this part of the game as if it were speed chess, and so he played 33. Rxb6??, expecting to simplify into a won endgame. But it turns out that this allows Black an amazing saving combination (which Ivanchuk didn’t find, but of course the computers do). Can you spot the idea?
The saving resource is 33. … g4!! and the main line goes 34. f4 h3+ 35. Kh2 Rd8! 36. Nxc5 Rd2+. Black is letting everything go, just to get at White’s king. 37. Kg1 h2+! 38. Kh1 and at this point it may seem as if Black’s desperate counterattack has run up against a brick wall.
But lo! The computer now sacrifices “Black’s pride and joy,” as Shipov put it, by playing 38. … Rd1+!! 39. Kxh2 Rh7+ 40. Kg2 Rd2+ 41. Kg1 (forced, as 41. Kf1 would lose to 41. … Rh1 mate) 41. … Rd1+ 42. Kf2 Rh2+ 43. Ke3 and just when it seems as if White’s king is getting away, Black plays 43. … Re1+ and it’s a draw by perpetual check!
Needless to say, it would be impossible for a human to find such a combination in three seconds. In fact, it would be impressive to come up with this defense even in ten minutes. As Shipov said, “If Ivanchuk had played this way he would have had to be disqualified” (for consulting a computer).
Instead, after Radjabov’s 33. Rxb6 Ivanchuk played the natural and only human move, 33. … Bxb6 34. Qxb6 hg, and here his flag fell.
It would be a mistake, of course, to put too much emphasis on this end-of-game drama. Really Radjabov outplayed Ivanchuk and deserved to win, and Ivanchuk can only blame himself for getting in such bad time trouble.
The other decisive game, Aronian-Gelfand, basically boiled down to one blunder.
Aronian was a pawn up, but with such a crippled pawn structure that the extra pawn is nearly meaningless. However, Gelfand picked the wrong moment to try to trade rooks with 25. … Rc8?? Can you see the tactic that Gelfand missed?
Hint: Think about in-between moves.
Aronian seized on his opportunity with 26. Bh6+! Now 26. … Kxh6 would run into a fork with 27. Rxc8 Bxc8 28. Nxf7+. Instead Gelfand retreated with 26. … Kg8, but this basically loses a pawn after 27. Rxc8 Bxc8 28. Nc6. The point is that if 28. … Bb6 29. Ne7+ is another nasty fork. Another example of my new favorite motto: “Knights in time trouble are worth double!” (Gelfand had about six minutes left for twelve moves. Aronian had plenty of time.)
The TV broadcast also included the press conference with Grischuk and Svidler, which was pretty funny. I especially liked the part where Grischuk said that he had foiled Svidler’s strategy for the tournament. You might remember that I pointed out in yesterday’s entry that Svidler has basically owned Grischuk, with seven wins against one loss. So Grischuk said Svidler’s strategy was to beat him (Grischuk) twice, draw everyone else, and hope that nobody else gets a +2 score!
Looking forward to tomorrow, the pairings are Gelfand-Carlsen, Ivanchuk-Aronian, Svidler-Radjabov, and Kramnik-Grischuk. The past records of these players against each other (counting only wins) are:
Carlsen 2, Gelfand 1. Both of Carlsen’s wins came within the last year, so he has momentum. Gelfand has the considerable psychological problem of trying to recover from a disappointing loss. I would really expect a maximum effort from Carlsen in this game, which we haven’t seen so far.
Ivanchuk 12, Aronian 9. This is highly misleading, because at one point the score stood at Ivanchuk 7, Aronian 1. Ivanchuk is also going to be trying to come back from a defeat, and it says here that he won’t be able to do it. My prediction is that Aronian moves into sole possession of first with a win tomorrow.
Radjabov 2, Svidler 1. Definitely a winnable game for Radjabov. We’ll see if his win today was due to his good form or Ivanchuk’s bad form.
Kramnik 1, Grischuk 0. Most of their games have ended in draws, and I’d expect the same tomorrow. This will be a reprise of their match in the previous candidates’ cycle, in which they played four straight draws and Grischuk won in the rapid tiebreaks.
My prediction: Carlsen and Aronian win, and the other games are drawn.