Candidates Round 5: Nothing Happened? Au Contraire!

by admin on March 20, 2013

When the histories are written about this year’s Candidates Tournament, they will probably say very little about Round 5, which took place today. After all, all four games were drawn. But as opposed to round one, when all four games were also drawn, this round was extremely exciting.

In one game, Ivanchuk (currently tied for last place at 1-3) had serious pressure, including a pawn advantage, against Magnus Carlsen. Unfortunately the extra pawn was doubled, and Carlsen did a good job of activating his pieces, and so he gradually reeled Ivanchuk back in. The knight-and-pawn endgame, with passed pawns on opposite wings, was very exciting and could have gone all three possible ways, but it eventually settled down into a draw.

In Svidler-Gelfand (which was also a Grunfeld Defense, by the way) Svidler got a terrific attack and commented after the game, “I will not have another position so good in the rest of the tournament.” But it looked as if he got carried away with his own brilliance. He sacrificed a pawn completely unnecessarily — GM Sergey Shipov, commenting on the game, called it an “incomprehensible move.” In the press conference afterwards, Svidler said that it was a “logical move that just didn’t work.” It led to an unbelievably complicated position, but one in which Gelfand seemed to get the better of it in every possible variation. They eventually agreed to a draw in mutual time trouble, and the general consensus seemed to be that Gelfand let Svidler off the hook.

In Kramnik-Aronian, Kramnik seemed to be in a good position to score his first win of the tournament, but Aronian defended really ingeniously. He had a passed b-pawn that seemed to be on life support for a while, but it kept on advancing and finally got all the way to b1 and forced Kramnik to give up a piece! However, Kramnik had his own pawns that Black had to sacrifice a piece to stop. When the dust had cleared, the two were in a book-drawn position: opposite colored bishops, and Kramnik with two connected passed pawns. Ordinarily those words are terrifying to hear — “connected passed pawns” — but opposite-colored bishop endgames are an exception. There the stronger player can win only if the pawns are widely separated.

Finally, Grischuk-Radjabov was by far the slowest-developing game. They got into a locked pawn formation that promised either a protracted siege or a quick draw invitation. However, things got spicy when Radjabov sacrificed a piece to get three (!) connected passed pawns. According to the computer it was never anything but a draw, but that was not obvious to the spectators. Eventually Grischuk found a way to sac his knight and eliminate the pawn menace, and after that the opponents agreed to a draw immediately.

So this was a round in which both leaders, Carlsen and Aronian, “dodged a bullet.” This was especially true for Aronian, who escaped alive as Black against the #2-rated player in the tournament. For Kramnik it was a big opportunity missed; when is he going to win a game? For Svidler, too, the Gelfand game was one he might regret after the tournament is over. He played too much with his heart and not with his head. He missed his chance to catch up to the leaders and, at least temporarily, make it a three-man instead of a two-man race.

Round 6 features Svidler-Carlsen, Kramnik-Ivanchuk, Grischuk-Gelfand, and Radjabov-Aronian. Their past records against one another (excluding draws) are:

Svidler 1, Carlsen 0. “Svidler is the only elite chess player whom Carlsen has not yet managed to deal with,” says the Russian Chess Federation website. Until tomorrow?

Kramnik 8, Ivanchuk 4. Obviously these guys have played many times. The big issue for Ivanchuk in this tournament seems to be the clock; he has been in time trouble every game. Will he fly too close to the flame?

Grischuk 5, Gelfand 5. They’ve had a lot of decisive encounters, including Gelfand’s victory in the last candidates’ match-tournament, which propelled Gelfand into the world championship match against Anand. Now is it Grischuk’s turn?

Radjabov 3, Aronian 3. As the Russian Chess Federation website points out, Aronian scored the first three wins in their personal duel, and Radjabov has caught up.

I did pretty well in my predictions for round three, so let me see if I can do it again. I’m calling a win for Kramnik and Carlsen, with draws in the other two games. Carlsen moves into first place and says to the other players, “Catch me if you can.”

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