Mesmerizing Mindgames – The story uptil Round 3

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Chess, just like boxing, is a very grueling round based sport. The mindset of a chess player is no different than that of a boxer. The ultimate goal being the decimation of their opponents at the earliest in both forms of sport over the board or inside the ring! A boxer prepares powerful punches for his opponent, whereas, a chess player prepares brain-cooked bombs and board-mines (landmines) to outsmart his opponent. The players employ tactics, improvise and try their best to deceive not only their opponents but also the public at large.

Mesmerizing Mindgames – The story uptil Round 3 @FIDEchess #Chess Click To Tweet

Being the favorite brings pressure, but being an underdog one has nothing to lose and everything to gain! This seems to be the thought process of all the players after 3 rounds of the FIDE Candidates Chess Tournament 2016.

Chess Board
Chess Board
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The 2016 World Championship Candidates tournament finally took off in the Central Telegraph building in Moscow on 11th March 2016. And what a fighting round it was! Although there was only one decisive game, all the players tried really hard. Like in 2014, Vishy Anand is the only player to lead the event with 1.0/1 after he beat Veselin Topalov after the 1st Round. In 2014, Anand beat Levon in the very 1st round too and went on to win that edition without losing any game in the entire tournament. The whole of India, will be considering this as an ‘auspicious beginning’ for their hero.

Round 1, Friday 11 March 2016
Karjakin Sergey½-½Svidler Peter
Nakamura Hikaru½-½Caruana Fabiano
Giri Anish½-½Aronian Levon
Anand Viswanathan1-0Topalov Veselin

 

Karjakin Sergey VS Svidler Peter (½-½) – The two World Cup 2015 gladiators faced off against each other in the first round of the Candidates. Karjakin’s main weapon as White is, of course, 1.e4, but from time to time he likes to start with 1.Nf3. The players soon reached the main line of the Slav Defence and as Svidler put it in the press conference, “Sergey chose the only line which I hadn’t studied in the morning! But it was important to show that I knew the position and hence made the move 9…Bd7 quickly.” As it turned out Svidler’s modest setup became quite potent when all his pieces started to co-ordinate perfectly. Karjakin had to forget about an opening advantage and instead had to focus on making accurate defensive moves to hold the balance. Being an excellent defender, Sergey did that to perfection. Soon most of the pieces were exchanged and the game petered (no pun intended) out to a draw.

Nakamura Hikaru VS Caruana Fabiano (½-½) – “It is just like any other super tournament, with the addition that there are many photographers and reporters!” That was Hikaru Nakamura’s answer when he was asked whether he felt any nerves about playing his first Candidates. He faced his country mate Fabiano Caruana in the first round and the two provided quite an interesting opening for the fans to view and analyze: the English Opening transposed into a weird Benoni where Caruana’s knight on e7 didn’t look particularly impressive. Hikaru maintained the pressure for quite some time, until he made an inaccuracy and the game ended in a draw in 31 moves.

Giri Anish VS Aronian Levon (½-½) – The thing which stood out in this round was surely Anish Giri’s persistence. The Dutch Grandmaster is famous for being super solid, sometimes not taking enough risks. But today Anish was not ready to split the point. He fought on and on right until the bitter end. The computer keeps showing 0.00 after a certain point, but that doesn’t make much sense because both the players agreed that White was better and Black’s defensive task was not so easy. The game lasted nearly 65 moves with Aronian taking refuge in a theoretically drawn pawn endgame. It was the last game to finish.

Anand Vishwanathan VS Topalov Veselin (1-0) – Anand was White. He began with 1.e4, and his opponent replied 1…e5. His was the only decisive game of the round, and the tournament was in Russia. All of these things happened today and also in Candidates 2014! Talk about déjà vu! Whether Anand will win this year’s Candidates or not is still a question that is a long way off, but he surely made a good start. Playing the Anti Berlin with 4.d3, Anand improvised on the existing games with a novelty on move 12. Topalov faced hardly any difficulties to equalize. As Anand said in the press conference, “I had to take the bait on b7, otherwise all my pieces would just end up looking silly.” The pawn surely was not for free as Topalov got loads of activity in return. In fact on the 20th move he even had a combination starting with 20…Bxf2+! which would have given the Bulgarian a clear advantage. Veselin didn’t go for that line and instead chose a variation that turned the evaluation 180 degrees. Anand held the advantage, and although his technique was not the best, he managed to win the game and take home the full point.

 

Round 2, Saturday 12 March 2016
Svidler Peter½-½Topalov Veselin
Aronian Levon½-½Anand Viswanathan
Caruana Fabiano½-½Giri Anish
Karjakin Sergey1-0Nakamura Hikaru

 

Svidler Peter VS Topalov Veselin (½-½) – What is more boring than the Berlin endgame? The Nxe5 symmetrical pawn structure line in the Berlin! Svidler tried a line in which Alexander Areshchenko had beaten Etienne Bacrot from the white side. But Topalov was pretty well prepared and after a few accurate moves, the players shook hands and a draw was agreed. After Topalov’s loss yesterday it is surprising that Peter didn’t press harder with the white pieces. But it is a long tournament and one can understand that the players are just getting into the groove.

Aronian Levon VS Anand Vishwanathan (½-½) – Aronian faced grave pressure in the first round against Anish Giri when the latter employed the 5.Bf4 variation in the Queen’s Gambit Declined. The Armenian thought that it was a good idea to try this same line with the white pieces. However, Anand was quite clever in the opening and instead of committing his dark-squared bishop, he started with 4…Nbd7. Both the players were armed to the teeth with home preparation. Also they were very well aware of the recent game between Boris Gelfand and Boris Grachev from the Aeroflot Open 2016. Anand found the important manoeuvre Ba6-b5-a4 at the key moment and Aronian couldn’t really press with the white pieces. In the final position Vishy was a pawn up, but thanks to the opposite colored bishop endgame there was nothing much to play for.

Caruana Fabiano VS Giri Anish (½-½) – Two of the youngest participants of the Candidates locked horns against each other in the fashionable line of the Anti-Berlin Defence. Fashionable, because Vishy Anand had played the same line against Veselin Topalov in the first round and had emerged victorious. Both the players had at least some experience in this opening. Fabiano had played a game against Topalov at the Sinquefield Cup 2015 with the black pieces, while Anish’s good friend Dutch GM Benjamin Bok already had three games in that line. Caruana’s direct Qd1 without inserting a4 move was a novelty. Anish’s reaction was quite provocative. He allowed the white pawn to come to e6. It seemed as if Caruana had some pressure on the position, but his time was just too low for him to take any sort of calculated risks. In the end he settled for the most natural moves and the game ended in a draw.

Karjakin Sergey VS Nakamura Hikaru (0-1) – It would not be inappropriate to say that Sergey Karjakin simply outplayed Hikaru Nakamura today. The Russian, who had the white pieces, slowly increased his pressure. As Vladimir Kramnik, who was in the commentary box during round two, rightly pointed out: “Black must do something pretty soon or else he would simply have to suffer for the rest of the game.” And Nakamura is definitely not a player who likes to suffer. He sacrificed his knight on g3 and calculated that he would win back the piece along with interest. Turns out that Karjakin had seen one move further and Nakamura ended up with a knight less! In the end there was nothing to be done. With a complete piece down, Hikaru had to resign.

 

Round 3, Sunday 13 March 2016
Nakamura Hikaru½-½Svidler Peter
Giri Anish½-½Karjakin Sergey
Anand Viswanathan½-½Caruana Fabiano
Topalov Veselin0-1Aronian Levon

 

Nakamura Hikaru VS Svidler Peter (½-½) – Peter Svidler was on fire in this game. He had prepared his opening in such great depth that it was simply mind blowing! Nakamura started with 1.d4, maybe expecting that Peter would reply with the Grunfeld. However, Svidler stuck to the same line he played against Karjakin in the first round. While Karjakin had opted for the relatively safe 9.Nxd4, Nakamura chose the much more critical 9.cxd4 line. Until move 20 it seemed that both the players were relatively well prepared. But Peter went a step further and showed that he had seen the position in much greater depth. When he made his 25th move he already had one hour forty five minutes on his clock – five minutes more than when he started the game! Nakamura was in great difficulties. With immense resourcefulness he steered the game towards a rook + knight endgame in which he was a pawn down. It is sufficient to say that Svidler ran out of energy towards the end and Hikaru was able to hold the game. A great battle indeed and at some levels both players could claim a moral victory out of it.

Giri Anish VS Karjakin Sergey (½-½) – “Sergey played the (Queen’s Indian) structure so well in Round 2 with white against Nakamura that I thought he won’t repeat the same with the black pieces today.” That is what Anish Giri said in the press conference after his game against Sergey Karjakin. But the Russian Grandmaster has no such prejudices. He learnt from his opponent’s (Nakamura’s) mistakes and applied it in his own game today. Not going for c7-c5 and keeping the pawn on c6 was one such improvement. It seemed as if Black was comfortable, but suddenly Karjakin pushed his pawn to h5. As Alexandra Kosteniuk pointed out, “In Round 2, the move h2-h4 proved highly successful against Nakamura, and maybe Sergey wanted to try something similar again!” However, the move 18…h5 was a bad one and Anish took advantage of it with the move 19.Bh3. The Dutch GM could have very well got a huge advantage with the move 20.f3 instead of 20.Nf4, which he played in the game (further analysis show that 20.f3 might also be not sufficient for a huge edge). After the inaccuracy the game was still interesting, but the danger had passed for Sergey. He sacrificed a pawn for compensation. Giri retaliated with a piece sacrifice. But that was clearly not enough and he had to repeat the moves and split the point.

Anand Vishwananthan VS Caruana Fabiano (½-½) – After the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 ask what the black pawn on a7 feels. No one cares about it anymore! Caruana too played 3…Nf6 and Anand took the game into the Anti-Berlin territory with 4.d3. Fabiano must have definitely studied the game Anand against Topalov from round one. Hence, Anand deviated on move seven with 7.h3 instead of 7.Nbd2. That put Fabiano into some thought. He came up with this interesting plan of …exd4 followed by …c5! In the ensuing middlegame Black was saddled with a small weakness on d6 that was compensated by active pieces. Anand held an advantage and with Caruana approaching time pressure, things looked good for Vishy. But the American kept his calm and combined with some indecisiveness from Vishy the game was abruptly drawn due to many exchanges.

Topalov Veselin VS Aronian Levon (0-1) – It was one of those games that Topalov would want to forget. First he was out-prepared as Aronian essayed a new idea in the English Four Knights from the black side. Veselin was ambitious and didn’t want to settle for an equal position. He tried to be adventurous and it ended up badly. After just thirteen moves he was worse. A blunder on the seventeenth move cost the Bulgarian another pawn. And although Aronian was far from his best in converting the plus position, the situation was so much in his favor that these small inaccuracies didn’t matter. A relatively easy win for Levon who now joins the leaders Anand and Karjakin.

 

Leader Board after Round 3

#NamePts
1Karjakin, Sergey2
Anand, Viswanathan2
Aronian, Levon2
4Giri, Anish1.5
Caruana, Fabiano1.5
Svidler, Peter1.5
7Nakamura, Hikaru1
8Topalov, Veselin0.5

 

With 11 more rounds to go, the current standings are no indicator of any player having an upper hand. There is a lot of, deliberate weak moves on board and off board psychology at play to mislead the opponents. Things are just heating up, interesting times ahead!!

Watch out for more after Round 6!

Read Part I of this series here: Black and White – An insight about FIDE Candidates Tournament 2016

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