After an uneventful round full of draws, the Moscow Candidates’ Tournament suddenly came to life with a round full of drama with just about everything we could ever want that, from start to finish, proved to be an eventful round six: An early and über-aggressive 3.h4!? in the opening, an ageing tiger showing that what teeth he had left were still razor sharp, resilient and resourceful defence from the tournament leader, not to mention the pure heat-of-the-moment controversy of a wrongly touched piece at the wrong moment.
First things first, and all the talk of the town is of the incident involving Leveon Aronian and US champion Hikaru Nakamura. After the Armenian ace had squandered an easy win, Nakamura found himself back in the game, but still defending a very difficult rook and pawn ending. It was proving to be a long and tense struggle for both players, but at a critical juncture, Nakamura clearly had his hand on his king for a good couple of seconds, and then suddenly realised any king move lost, so he somewhat belatedly tried to say “J’adoube” - but Aronian (quite rightly) wasn’t having any of it, and the arbiter intervened and forced Nakamura to move his king.
It was not so much unsportsmanlike from Nakamura, but more that he simply cracked under the pressure of it all - though it immediately brought back memories for me of the legendary “J’adoubovich Matulovich” - and unfortunately the more you look at the incident unfold on the organizer’s YouTube account, tragically the worse it gets for Nakamura. But fortune favoured Aronian in what now transpires to have been a drawn ending after all (thanks to Maxime Vachier-Lagrave excellent Game of the Day analysis at Chess.com), as the forced king move allowed him to win and move into a share of the lead.
Tail-ender Veselin Topalov tried his best to ruffle the feathers of Anish Giri with the shocking and uncompromising third move of 3.h4!? - or, “Harry the h-pawn”, as GM Simon Williams graphically likes to call it - to take the normally thoroughly-prepared young Dutchman out of his finely honed opening repertoire. But true to form, Giri quickly found his way into a safe mainline Benko Gambit, and despite being a pawn down for most of the game, he had the better position to restore the balance and then some, though the game ended easily enough in a draw..
Sergey Karjakin so far has been the man to beat in the Candidates’, and with his brace of wins so far, I’ve made comparisons with his play in Moscow with that of the great “Iron” Tigran Petrosian. And playing the US No1, Fabiano Caruana, for the first time Karjakin came under pressure in the tournament - but just like Petrosian, the Russian very resourcefully and very skilfully found an accurate fortress set-up by first sacrificing his queen and then a piece that proved to be nothing short of a defensive masterpiece to secure the draw. And yet again, Karjakin’s performance continues to impress me. This could be his moment to step into the limelight by becoming Magnus Carlsen’s next challenger.
And from one potential new challenger to an old hand at facing Magnus. Veteran Viswanathan Anand sprang back into contention for another shot at the title with a breathtakingly stunning, sacrificial ‘smash and grab’ against Peter Svidler, who paid the penalty for not fully calculating the key moment in the game. In the end, Garry Kasparov summed it all up for us with his poignant tweet of his old foe: “Vishy! The Indian Tiger shows that while veteran players may not have many teeth left, those that remain are very sharp!"
Photo © | Moscow Candidates Tournament
Aronian 1-0 Nakamura
Anand 1-0 Svidler
Caruana draw Karjakin
Topalov draw Giri
Standings: 1-2. Sergey Karjakin (Russia), Levon Aronian (Armenia) 4/6; 3. Viswanathan Anand (India) 3.5; 4-5. Fabiano Caruana (USA), Anish Giri (Netherlands) 3; 6. Peter Svidler (Russia) 2.5; 7-8. Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria), Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 2.
GM Vishy Anand - GM Peter Svidler
FIDE Moscow Candidates, (6)
Ruy Lopez, Anti-Marshall
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.a4 The Anti-Marshall - a wise move from Anand, as Svidler is one of the world's leading authorities on the Marshall Attack after 8.c3 d5. I'm also reminded of the sage advice Garry Kasparov was given for his 1993 World Championship match with Nigel Short. He consulted Efim Geller, the leading Soviet opening theorists of his time, what he should do against the Marshall? Geller said avoid it, play instead the Anti-Marshall with 8. a4. 8...Bb7 9.d3 Re8 10.Nbd2 Bf8 11.c3 Na5 12.Bc2 c5 There's not really much to say here - both sides are quietly going about normal development plans. 13.d4 Another plan is the option of 13.Nf1 going for Nf1-e3-f5 and a slower build-up. Anand decides though to get to the meat of it (I'm sure that's a wrong analogy, what with Anand being a lifelong vegan!) 13...exd4 14.cxd4 d5 15.e5 Ne4 16.axb5 axb5 17.Nxe4 dxe4 18.Rxe4! The exchange sacrifice is no real surprise here, as Anand's pieces are all lined-up for a kingside assault. But what is surprising is how Svidler suddenly panics and makes a fatal error that leads to an unexpected miniature in the Candidates, which is a very rare occurrence. 18...Nb3?? 'Welcome to Blundersville: Population, you!' Svidler had to play 18...Nc4! 19.Rxa8 Bxa8 20.Rg4 (Now, if 20.Ng5 Bxe4 21.Bxe4 g6! The attack looks good, but liquidates quickly down to a repetition/draw after: 22.Qf3 Re7 23.Bd5 Qc7 24.Qh3 h6! 25.Nxf7 Rxf7 26.Bxh6 cxd4 27.Bxf8 Kxf8 28.Qh8+ Ke7 29.Bxf7 Nxe5! 30.Qe8+ Kf6 31.Qh8+ Kg5 32.f4+ Kxf4 33.Qh4+ Kf5 34.Qf2+ Kg5 35.h4+ Kh6 36.Be6 and I can't see how Black will escape from all the checks with his king exposed.) 20...Bxf3! Black has to exchange off any White piece in the attack - and this is a key one, as any Ng5 will be winning for White. 21.Qxf3 cxd4 22.Qd3 g6 23.Rxd4 Qa5! and this will end soon in a draw, as the White mating attack has been successfully muted and Black will soon win the e5-pawn. 19.Rxa8 Bxa8 20.Ng5! (See Diagram) Svidler simply miscalculated just how strong this is, as he's now hit with a crescendo of pieces crashing through to his king. Afterwards, Svidler admitting in the post-game press conference that he had only looked at 20.Bg5 Be7 21.Bxe7 Rxe7 as being a bit better for White. 20...Nxc1 21.Qh5! h6 Hopeless was 21...Qxg5 22.Qxg5 Bxe4 23.Qxc1 Bxc2 24.Qxc2 cxd4 25.f4 Rd8 26.Qd3! and White stops the d-pawn in its tracks, and will follow-up now with g4, h4 and Kg2-f3-e4. 22.Qxf7+ Kh8 23.Rg4 Qa5 Played in a forlorn hope of Anand following up with the table-turning wrong h-pawn move of 24.h3?? Qe1+ 25.Kh2 Ne2 26.Nf3 Bxf3 27.gxf3 Nxd4! 28.Be4 (If 28.Qxe8 Qxf2+ 29.Kh1 Qxf3+ 30.Kg1 Nxc2 is easily winning.) 28...Rd8 29.Qg6 Qxf2+ 30.Kh1 Kg8 and Black has successfully escaped from the mating threats and is an extra piece to the good. 24.h4! 1-0 Wishful thinking on Svidler's part, as Anand has it all under control. Now after 24...Qe1+ 25.Kh2 Ne2 26.Nh3! defends everything and Anand is ready to mate.