The FIDE Candidates Tournament 2016, resumed after the second rest day, on Friday 19th March, with the seventh of fourteen rounds.
Of course, Hikaru Nakamura had had a tough day at the office in the previous round, and so needed to regain some confidence. And this is what he seemed to come to the board wanting to do in this game. Playing the white side of a Slav Defence, he would make Veselin Topalov’s tournament all the less pleasant.
13.b4 was a new move from Nakamura, and this resulted in him obtaining a space advantage on the Queenside, which he wasted no time in pressing. It was standard stuff, really, pawns fixed, the open a-file, b-pawn creeping up the board. However, Black enjoyed the greater freedom on the Kingside, and so Topalov would not have been unhappy with his stance at this stage.
Unfortunately, when the Bulgarian tried to use the Kingside, it landed him in hot water, his 17…Ng5 was easily met by 18.h4 and here the withdrawal 18…Ne6 is probably the least bad option, but it is a horrid move to play, so Topalov bit the bullet and played 18…Nf3 instead. After 19.Bxf3 exf3, he was left with an advanced pawn on f3 which was going to be extremely hard to defend. There followed 20.bxc6 bxc6 21.Nc3 with a slight edge to White. (D)
Here, Topalov has options, …Rb8 to try to compete along the b-file, …Qd7 to connect rooks and eye the h3-square, making castling a little difficult for White, or even …Ne4, the knight being pretty safe there, as exchanging would give Black’s f3-pawn some backup. However, here Topalov chose a completely different way, 21…Bxc5. Many spectators were thinking that Topalov had gone bonkers, or just given in to frustration, but the sacrifice is not as crazy as it looks. It is probably inadequate, but the idea is to release the d-pawn and gain some activity for his pieces. The bishop on e7 was a bit of a liability anyway.
There followed 22.dxc5 d4 23.exd4 Qxd4 24.0-0 and here, Topalov’s 24…Qg4 (24…Rfd8! developing …) was probably a little too much too soon. It helped White with development, really, 25.Re1 Rfd8 26.Rb2 Rd4 27.Re7 Rad8 and Black actually was not doing so bad on the face of things. There came 28.Qb3 Rf8 and evaluations are dead level. 29.Qd1 Rfd8 30.Qb3 Rf8 and Nakamura declined repetition with 31.Nd1. (D)
Here, Topalov had to play accurately to prove the draw, as an example, 31…Qf5 is a constructive option, to see how White would choose to play. …Nd5 would be a possibility next, when White would not have the e5-square as a retreat option for the e7-rook. So, possibly, 32.Re3 Qd7 and White has nothing. As it was, however, Topalov got a little ahead of himself, and played 31…Nd5, which allowed 32.Re5.
Ne3 and Rg5 are now among the threats. All the time the f3-pawn quivers in its boots and Black is no longer holding his own – White is way better. 32…Kh7 33.Kh2 Nf6 and here Nakamura erred with 34.Be3, a case of right square, wrong piece, Ne3 was more to the point. As it was, White’s move allowed Black’s 34…Rb8! and Topalov was fighting hard. 35.Qxb8 was the only respectable way to go, 35…Rxd1 and Black has un-ignorable threats.
36.Rb1 and now one can say that White is winning, Black having no spanners left to throw in to the works. A valiant effort by Topalov, but his situation worsened from here, and a few moves later his point was gone. Nakamura, then, bounces back from his touch-move incident defeat in the previous round, (which will no doubt have helped his confidence as Topalov threw what he could at him in this game); however, the American’s reputation may take a little longer to recover.
Svidler-Caruana saw a Symmetrical English, which deviated from Wang-Nepomniatchi (Beijing 2013, draw) with Svidler’s 9.Nge4. He played aggressively, throwing his h-pawn forward and opening up the h-file. Then, in order to penetrate to h6 with his Queen, he sacrificed his knight. Caruana took it all on the chin, cool as a cucumber, but was under pressure. White undoubtedly held the best of things, but the positon was such that one slip from either player could spell trouble.
The diagram, above, shows the situation after White’s 22.0-0-0, he is a piece down, but the compensation is undeniable – the activity, and initiative, is his. As illustrated, Black has to be extremely wary of the f6 and d7 squares, and his bishop ob b7 is hardly safe and secure. All credit to Caruana, he dealt with the situation extremely well, but was obligated to give back his piece and this left Svidler simply with the initiative, which carried in to the endgame.
Caruana put up a resilient defence, and hung on, at times by the skin of his teeth. The position came to a single rook ending, in which both players had a passed pawn on each side of the board. Svidlers bishop was probably a little better than Caruana’s knight, but the American did just enough for the Russian to feel that the point would be split. A nice game from both players, and to be honest, it put the other draws of the round to shame.
Of Giri-Anand, there is very little to say, to be honest – very little that is printable anyway. The players were clearly not up for it and took a self-awarded bye. Their Nimzo was drawn a lot sooner than they actually ended up shaking hands on move 31. The same can be said for Karjakin-Aronian, really, who debated the Reti for 31 rather uneventful moves.
This left Karjakin and Aronian still in the lead, then, with the only change happening at the bottom of the scoreboard, where Nakamura left Topalov on his own. The first half of the tournament over, we wait to see what the second half will bring.
Standings after 7 Rounds:
Karjakin, Aronian – 4½
Anand – 4
Caruana, Giri – 3½
Svidler, Nakamura – 3
Topalov – 2
Round 8, 20 March, 15:00 local time
GM Peter Svidler – GM Sergey Karjakin
GM Fabiano Caruana – GM Hikaru Nakamura
GM Levon Aronian – GM Anish Giri
GM Veselin Topalov – GM Viswanathan Anand