The fourth-round matches in the World Cup are complete, and again they were full of surprises and unbelievably nerve-wracking chess. To briefly summarize a long and sometimes agonizing day, the winners were Dmitry Andreikin (a surprise winner over Sergey Karjakin), Peter Svidler (who ground down Le Quang Liem in a 135-move game that went to K+B+N versus K), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave over Boris Gelfand, and in the most spine-tingling match of all, Evgeny Tomashevsky over Alexander Morozevich.
No analysis today, just a few broad comments. First, it’s amazing how different the first two days of each round are from the third day. On the first two days, with one game a day at a “normal” time control, the focus is on beauty and accuracy… in other words, on chess. On the third day, with the rapid games and with both players having their survival at stake, it changes and the focus is on nerves, tension, and who can hold up best under the incredible stress.
In this contest, Tomashevsky held up the best of all. After he lost to Morozevich in game three of the playoff (game five of the match), he had the unbelievably difficult task of winning as Black against one of the twenty strongest players in the world. How can you do such a thing? First, you relax. Tomashevsky said in a short interview afterwards that after his loss he no longer had any thoughts of winning the match, he was simply playing chess for fun.
Chess for fun! Can you believe it? Who’d have thought?
Second, you get a little bit of pressure. Morozevich had just one weakness, a pawn on c3 that had to be defended by his pieces. One weakness is not enough to lose, but it’s enough to make your life miserable.
Third, you just keep on maneuvering and maneuvering. You put off any decisions as long as you can, to let the pressure get to your opponent. Tomashevsky tripled his queen and rooks on the c-file, then untripled them, then tripled them again. Finally, on move 88 (!), Morozevich got tired of defending and played a pawn sacrifice that gave him counterattacking chances. On move 100 (!!) the players traded rooks into a queen endgame. Morozevich should still have been able to hold — in fact, it looked as if he was going to — but then he unaccountably became impatient again. On move 143 (!!!) he tried a crazy king charge whose only point seemed to be that he might checkmate Tomashevsky. But he didn’t need a checkmate! He simply needed to be rock steady and play for perpetual check. Finally it got down to a Q+P versus Q endgame, which is notoriously hard. The computers showed Tomashevsky with mate in 30 or so, but of course for a human being with a 10-second time increment it is not so easy to calculate. But finally on move 169(!!!!) Tomashevsky forced a queen trade and Morozevich resigned.
After that it was hard to imagine that Morozevich could regroup psychologically, and in fact he didn’t. He lost the next game. In the final game, where he had to repeat Tomashevsky’s feat of winning with Black in a must-win game, he couldn’t do it. Amusingly, in the final position Tomashevsky had a mate-in-one but didn’t see it because he was in the process of forcing a draw by repetition. (Reminiscent of that blitz game I played a couple weeks ago against Gjon Feinstein.)
I have to say that the commentators, Susan Polgar and Lawrence Trent, did a great job of conveying the excitement of the playoffs. They were yelling into the microphone as if it were a soccer match. At times Trent openly switched into fan mode, rooting for Tomashevsky: “Play Rc7, Evgeny! Play it!” Of course, they were in a separate room so that the sound of their commentary couldn’t (I hope) be heard by the players.
During the 169-move epic, at least once I heard Trent say that if Tomashevsky won this game, he would the the favorite to win the whole tournament. In the passion of the moment, I can understand why Trent said that. However, the cold reality is that Tomashevsky is the lowest-seeded player remaining, and next round he will go up against Gata Kamsky, who also had an incredibly stirring victory over Mamedyarov in his match. I’m sticking to my prediction from a couple days ago. I think Kamsky will beat Tomashevsky and then lose to Svidler.
Over on the other side of the bracket, we’ll have the “European championship” of Caruana versus Vachier-Lagrave and Kramnik against Korobov. I’m going with Vachier-Lagrave and Kramnik (I don’t think that Kramnik will have quite the same problems with impatience that cost Morozevich so dearly), and then I’m going to predict Vachier-Lagrave to beat Kramnik. All my other predictions have been wrong so far, so I might as well predict something crazy.
There will be one big change in the next round. Trent and Polgar will be replaced as commentators by Nigel Short and ?? (I’m not sure who). Of course in the chess sense Short is an upgrade over Trent, but it’s hard for me to imagine him being any more fun to listen to. I’m missing Trent already.