The sixth round of the FIDE Candidates Tournament, 2016, took place on Thursday 17th March. It would be the final round before the second rest day.
I think it’s fair to say that Viswanathan Anand has been lacking some confidence as of late. A couple of World Championship defeats, and a very lack-lustre performance at the Gibraltar Masters a couple of months ago, he had clearly lost some sparkle. If his win over Peter Svidler in round 6 does not get him nicely on the road to recovery, then I don’t know what will.
Their Ruy Lopez, Anti-Marshall, followed Shirov-Onischuk, Mallorca 2004, which was a quick win for Black. Then Anand went his own way with 16. axb5. White is already slightly better, but after Svidler’s response of 16…axb5 has to play accurately to maintain the edge. Any hesitation or messing about, and this position can turn very quickly. This is the excitement of this opening and a big reason why preparation goes very deep. Those who play the black side, may have some work to do following this game. It continued: 17.Nxe4 dxe4 18.Rxe4! (D)
This move by Anand was a complete game-changer, and whether he found it over the board or had home-cooked it, it had Svidler with all kinds of problems to solve. Obviously, taking with 18…Bxe4 would be met by 19. Bxe4 and if 19…Ra7 (due to the knight on a5 being en-prise) then White is absolutely full steam ahead with 20. Bxh7+! with Ng5 and Qh5 to follow.
With taking the rook being not an option (putting it mildly) attention had to turn to how to defend against White’s initiative. The problem is that this initiative comes from several sources, the central pawns are strong and threateningly poised, the Re4 threatens to swing over to the Kingside, h7 is a very inviting target for the light-squared bishop and the dark-squared bishop threatens to activate itself with tempo on the Black Queen. And this is before even getting to Ng5 and Qh5 ideas. Black was certainly (to coin a phrase) bricking it.
And, Svidler folded quite frankly, choosing 19…Nb3, which was not really up there with the respectable options. The choice seems to have been between 18…Nc4 and 18…g6, but neither see Black out of the woods any time soon with good play from White:
1). 18…Nc4 19.Rxa8 Qxa8 20.Rh4 g6 21.Ng5 Be7 22.b3 Nb2 23.Bxb2 Bxg5 24.Rg4 and White is just leaps and bounds ahead in activity and presence on the board. And Black has little to throw back at him, therefore he can consolidate, re-group, before pushing on.
2). 18…g6 19.Bg5 Be7 20.Bxe7 Qxe7 21.Re1 and here Black must choose between 21…Nc4 and 21…cxd4, both of which see the advantage to White, but Black is keeping him honest.
From my analysis (which I stress has been brief so far) it would appear that 18…g6 was the best way to go in order to test White the most. However, it is extremely easy to say this after the event and when having the comfort of a chess engine. Svidler had but himself and his brain in order to try to repel White’s aggression. Trying to dot the i’s and cross the t’s under immense pressure and with a ticking clock, is no easy task. It is the beauty of human chess. It is why we watch; ultimately it is the part of the game no computer will ever be able to get near.
This will be of no comfort to Peter Svidler, however, who would see his position crumble move by move hereafter. One of the nicest people I have met on the circuit, he will no doubt be extremely disappointed. After 18…Nb3, Anand was clinical: first, exchange the liability and keep Black’s knight on b3, 19.Rxa8! Bxa8 (if Qxa8, then Rh4) 20.Ng5! Chess is all about nuances, and this is one right here, White has oodles of time in order to prepare a mating attack, in part due to the black knight on b3. Black is always going to have to deal with this, or just simply lose a piece.
20…Nxc1 Svidler had no choice but to play this, but it changes little of the events – 22.Qh5! Chess is all about the King, and Black’s is toast. 22…h6 23.Rg4 not only saving the rook, but unmasking the line of the light-squared bishop towards h7. The threat is simply Qf5 and Black is getting mated. 23…Qa5 Making his opponent play the moves and the only respectable way to do so. 24.h4 and here, with nothing left but to get mated, Svidler resigned. A very nice game from Viswanathan Anand, which will hopefully put a spring back in his step and signal a return to form.
Contrasting the quick, straight-forward, win of above, the other decisive game of the round saw over 80-moves and a dramatic end. Levon Aronian, playing white, took on Hikaru Nakamura. The game saw a Queen’s Indian, with Aronian deviating from known ground with his 13.Nc3 – Nf5 had been the usual choice at this point, (including that of Nakamura, who had had the position as White against Pentala Harikrishna in 2015. Their game had been a long draw). Aronian seemed well prepared, but Nakamura managed to equalise well and took things in his stride.
From the diagram position, with White having just played Nf5, Nakamura continued calmly with 18…Bxg2 and Aronian, (perhaps trying a little too hard to dictate the pace), erred with 19.Nxe7+? (Kxg2 maintained the equilibrium). After 19…Qxe7, Black was better. Even with a knight on the rim, Nakamura was the more active, and this was balanced by Aronian’s bishop on h6 anyway, which was not the most constrictive of pieces. And the black d-pawn was ready to leap forward, for a very bold presence.
It was not long before the Queens came off, and White was able to achieve the best of things, hampering the activity of Black’s rooks, with a collaboration of his rooks and bishop along the 7th rank. The time that Black had to put in to playing around this was really unavoidable, but his rooks ended up situated on the e-file, where they were quite ineffective. This was a big factor in Aronian being able to negotiate the exchange of his bishop for Nakamura’s knight, and a pair if rooks, in favourable circumstances.
This left a single rook endgame, as shown in the diagram above. Aronian has just played 48.Rd7, with a slight initiative. There followed 48…Kf8 and here the Armenian got a little over-excited with 49. f5. It was a little too much too soon, and after 49…gxf5 50.Kf4 b5 things were pretty equal and if anything, White had to be a bit careful. As events panned out, however, White was left a pawn up with a Kingside pawn majority. Able to play on in safety, Aronian his pressed his initiative, then came the unexpected.
In the diagram position, Nakamura is under serious pressure, and is running out of moves before his King has to move backwards and give the White King control of the f6-square. From there, the point is clearly White’s. Inexplicably, Nakamura touched his King at this point – I say inexplicably, because the King is the last piece Black wants to move, it just loses, so this is clearly just a simple lapse in concentration, or to put it technically, a brain fart. From here, things got really freaky, as the American seems to have tried to dodge it, by suggesting he was adjusting the piece. As is known, this is permitted, but one must indicate it clearly with ‘j’adoube’ before touching the piece.
Aronian was clearly not having any, and in the video, below, is rather irritated and talks to the arbiter. Quite rightly, Nakamura is made to move the piece and this led to him losing rather quickly. This looks rather bad for Nakamura, who clearly does touch the King, and then after a few seconds suggests, (as reality dawns no doubt), to Aronian that he was adjusting it. An event that will not do his reputation any favours.
The other games were drawn, Topalov-Giri seeing mammoth exchanges early on, and this didn’t really leave a lot of potential in the position I thought. I think the players played on because they probably deemed it pretty safe and risk free to do so – and you never know, the other guy could make a mistake. And an out of form Topalov did go wrong, which led to Giri winning a pawn. However, he could not find a way to covert and the point was split.
Caruana-Karjakin saw a Queen’s Indian, and a rather interesting one at that. The game deviated from Palecek-Mrva (Slovakia 2002, 1-0) with Caruana’s 12. dxc5 and a few moves later, ended up with the position shown in the diagram, above, with White having just played 18.axb4. From here, 18…Rc8 seems to be ok for Black, one possible continuation being 19.b5 Rxc3 20.bxa6 and …Qc8 or …Ne4 maintaining the equilibrium. However, Karjakin chose his own way, 18…Bxb4. This seems dubious, but Karjakin has a daring (some would say reckless) exchange sacrifice planned.
There followed: 19.Nc6 Bxc3 20.Nxd8 Bxe2 21.Qb3 Bxa1 22.Rxa1 Raxd8. And the Russian had rook and extra piece for his Queen, and a fair position. The question was all about activity. Unfortunately for Karjakin, he was unable to achieve enough for his Queen to have any promising chances; however, he was able to throw enough spanners in the works to halt those of his opponent. Perhaps Caruana could have made more from the game, but this will take some analysing.
And so, we have two leaders at this stage, as Aronian joins Karjakin at the top of the table, both on 4/6. In contrast, Nakamura join Topalov at the bottom, their 2/6 not quite what would have been expected at the beginning of the tournament I think.
Standings after 6 rounds:
Karjakin, Aronian – 4
Anand – 3½
Caruana, Giri – 3
Svidler – 2½
Topalov, Nakamura – 2
Round 7, 19 March, 15:00 local time
GM Svidler Peter – GM Fabiano Caruana
GM Sergey Karjakin – GM Levon Aronian
GM Hikaru Nakamura – GM Veselin Topalov
GM Anish Giri – GM Viswanathan Anand