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27 May

Onwards and Upwards

With relatively comfortable draws in the final round of the FIDE Grand Prix in Khanty-Mansisyk in Siberia, Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura successfully captured the two qualifying spots in the series and will now go forward to represent the USA in the eight-player 2016 Candidates Tournament that will decide the next title challenger for World Champion Magnus Carlsen.

FM8

There’s no tie-break system in operation for the individual GP tournaments, so the first-time qualifying pair finished in a three-way tie for first place with Dmitry Jakovenko of Russia on 6.5/11, with each taking 140 GP points - and the final GP in Khanty proved to be a microcosm for the whole series, with the final standings being 1. Caruana 370, 2. Nakamura 347, and 3. Jakovenko 310.

Miami-born and Brooklyn-raised Caruana, 22, who has dual nationality, recently switched federations after playing for a decade for Italy back to the country of his childhood. The world No.2 has been seen by the pundits as the anointed favourite to become Carlsen’s next challenger, after his brilliant 9/10 victory at the Sinquefield Cup in St Louis late last summer. Though his form has dipped after that high, it looks now to be back on track.

For Nakamura, 27, making it to the Candidates is not only a career high but also a dream come true.  The last six months or so has seen Nakamura rising up the rankings with a series of brilliant tournament performances to world No.4 (just behind former champion Viswanathan Anand); and in the process, having those who mocked his claims to be Carlsen’s real rival left eating their words. His euphoric tweet on qualifying summed up all of his frustrations: ‘Onwards and upwards!!’ Last August/September feels like a lifetime ago. Redemption.’

Final Standings: 1-3. Fabiano Caruana (Italy/USA), Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Dmitry Jakovenko (Russia), 6.5/11; 4-5. Leinier Dominguez (Cuba), Boris Gelfand (Israel), 6; 6-9. Alexander Grischuk (Russia), Sergey Karjakin (Russia), Anish Giri (Netherlands), 5.5; 10. Evgeny Tomashevsky (Russia), 5; 11. Baadur Jobava (Georgia), 4; 12. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), 3.5.

With all the other games in Khanty being draws, it was left to Russia’s Peter Svidler to turn in the only win of the final round as he expertly dispatched the unpredictable Georgian Baadur Jobava.

Peter Svidler - Baadur Jobava
Khanty-Mansisyk FIDE Grand Prix, (11)
French Defence, Fort Knox
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bd7 5.Nf3 Bc6 The Fort Knox variation - an extremely solid sideline that was under-appreciated, until the last two decades or so, when the English IM Andrew Martin championed its cause for Black, rather than facing the theory-onslaught of the Winawer and Tarrasch - and with a reputation of being solid and hard to crack, he dubbed it the "Fort Knox" (after the legendary gold repository in Kentucky), and the name stuck. 6.Bd3 Nd7 7.Qe2 Be7 8.Neg5 This is an aggressive approach to the Fort Knox; the idea being to prevent Black quickly developing his final piece with 8...Nf6 as after 9 Nxf7!? Kxf7 10 Ng5+ Ke8 11 Nxe6 Qc8 12 Nxg7+ White has three pawns and a raging attack for the piece. 8...Bxg5 9.Nxg5 h6 Black has to be careful here, as 9...Bxg2? 10.Rg1 Bc6 11.Nxh7 and White has a good attack brewing. 10.Nf3 Qf6 11.Ne5! Nxe5 12.Qxe5 It's a matter of choice: 12.dxe5 Qh4 13.0-0 keeps the queens on to attack with the bishop-pair. However, Svidler decides he has the safer, long-term prospects of exploiting his bishop-pair advantage by heading for an ending. 12...0-0-0 13.Be3 Qe7?! A concession of sorts - Black really had to exchange queens and go for the ending. But Jobava has the reputation of being a more 'creative' player, and tries for complications by keeping the queens on for the middlegame. 14.0-0-0 Nf6 15.f3 g5 16.c4 b6 17.Bd2! Looking to reposition the bishop on a more active square (such as c3) and also giving his queen a good central retreat square on e2. 17...Nh5?! This also looks wrong - Black was starting to get worried about ideas of Bc3 and d5. The trouble is, Black was running out of good outposts for his pieces 18.d5! f6 19.Qe2 Ba4 20.b3 Bd7 21.g4 Ng7 Worse was 21...Nf4 22.Bxf4 gxf4 23.dxe6 Bxe6 24.Rhe1 Qa3+ 25.Qb2 Qxb2+ 26.Kxb2 and White has a winning endgame, with the Black pawn on f4 set to fall quickly. 22.Kb1 h5 23.h3 Qf7 24.Bc3 Kb8 Black wants to safely exchange pawns on d5, and follow through by taking with the queen - which right now would fail to Ba6+. The other alternative was no better: 24...e5 25.h4! hxg4 (25...gxh4 26.Rxh4 hxg4 27.Rxh8 Rxh8 28.fxg4 Rh3 29.Rf1) 26.hxg5! Nh5 27.Qc2 Nf4 28.Rxh8 Rxh8 29.fxg4 Nxd3 30.Qxd3 Bxg4 31.Rg1 Qd7 32.Qg3 Bf5+ 33.Kb2 and White stands much better. 25.Be4 Bc8 26.Rhe1 hxg4 27.hxg4 Bb7 28.dxe6 Bxe4+ 29.Qxe4 Rxd1+ 30.Rxd1 Nxe6 31.Qf5! (See Diagram) The weakness on f6 forces Black into a passive - and totally lost - endgame. 31...Rh6 32.Rd2 Qg6 33.Qxg6 Rxg6 34.Rd5 Rh6 35.Rf5 Rh1+ 36.Kb2 Rh2+ 37.Kb1 Rh1+ 38.Kb2 Svidler isn't playing for a draw - its a good ploy when nearing the time control to repeat moves a couple of times. 38...Rh2+ 39.Ka3 a5 40.Rxf6 Re2 41.Rf5 Rf2 42.Re5 Nf4 43.Rxg5 Rxf3 44.Kb2 Nd3+ 45.Kc2 Nb4+ 46.Bxb4 Svidler quickly - and rightly - judges that the rook ending is an easy, technical win, so heads for this. 46...axb4 47.Rf5 Rg3 48.g5 The g-pawn won't be queening - but it acts as a superb decoy to force Black's king and rook out of position to win on the queenside. 48...Kc8 49.Kd2 Kd7 50.Ke2 Ke6 If 50...Rg2+ 51.Kf3 and the g-pawn does run 51...Rxa2 52.g6 Ra8 53.Rf7+ Kd6 54.g7 51.Rb5 Rg2+ 52.Kf3 Rxa2 53.Rxb4 Ra1 54.Rb5 Kf7 55.Ke4 Rd1 It's always a good rule of thumb to put your rook behind a passed pawn, but here there's a little trick to easily win: 55...Rg1 56.Kd5! Rxg5+ 57.Kc6 Rg1 (57...Rxb5 58.cxb5 (Not 58.Kxb5? Ke7 and it is a draw.) 58...Ke6 59.Kxc7 winning. 56.b4 Re1+ 57.Kd5 Re6 58.Kd4 Re1 59.c5! Rd1+ If 59...bxc5+ 60.Rxc5 Re7 61.Kd5 and the c-pawn will fall. 60.Ke4 Re1+ 61.Kd5 Re6 62.Kd4 Rg6 63.cxb6 cxb6 64.Re5 Rc6 65.Kd5 Rc1 Black can't 'hold' the position with 65...Rg6, as now 66.b5 is zugzwang. 66.Kd6 1-0 Black resigns, as after 66...Kg6 67.Rb5! and White will have the text-book winning Lucena position.

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