2016 World Chess Candidates Tournament: The Tiger Strikes – Round 7-9



Vishwanathan Anand, who is lovingly called “The Tiger” across the chess world, hunted down Levon Aronian in Round 9 of the Candidates 2016 tournament. Post match, Garry Karparov couldn’t control himself and showered reluctant words of praise by saying “The Tiger maybe old, but if someone puts his head in his mouth, the tiger’s teeth are still sharp”

Please read the first three parts of the series here: Black and White – An insight about FIDE Candidates Tournament 2016, Mesmirizing Mindgames – The story uptil Round 3, and 2016 World Chess Candidates Tournament: The Rollercoaster Begins – Round 4-6!

Seeing Vishy play in his vintage merciless style, Magnus Carlsen (Current World Champion) would be very uncomfortable at the prospect of facing him for the next World Championship in November 2016!

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It was the last round of the first half of the tournament, and the pairings were surprisingly very evenly matched based on the standings – the two leaders Levon Aronian and Sergey Karjakin faced off against each other and so did the two tail-enders Hikaru Nakamura and Veselin Topalov. We had one decisive game and three draws. On show today was really high class opening preparation by the players.

Round 7, Saturday 19 March 2016
Svidler Peter½-½Caruana Fabiano
Karjakin Sergey½-½Aronian Levon
Nakamura Hikaru1-0Topalov Veselin
Giri Anish½-½Anand Viswanathan


Giri Anish VS Anand Vishwanathan (½-½) – It would be difficult to tell you which opening was played by Anand – was it the Queen’s Gambit Declined, the Nimzo Indian or the Ragozin? I would say it was a potpourri of all of them. The name of the opening doesn’t really matter, what matters is the fact that Anand was extremely well prepared and this dissuaded Anish Giri from taking the most principled approach in the position. Anand’s move 11…Re8!? is a very interesting idea. The plan is to meet 12.cxd5 with e5!? Whether the pawn sacrifice is enough or not is unclear, Anish thought it was a safe idea not to mess with Anand’s preparation. As he said in the press conference, “I don’t mind to fight this position with Vishy, which in itself is a big challenge. But to fight Vishy + a strong machine is not part of my plan!” Once he didn’t choose 12.cxd5 and instead went for 12.Bxf6, it was very apparent that the game would end in a draw. Quite a successful result for Anand, who consolidated his win against Svidler in the sixth round with this solid draw. On the other hand Anish is still looking for his first win in the tournament.

Nakamura Hikaru VS Topalov Veselin (1-0) – Interviewer to Hikaru, “How did you come back after your loss to Levon?” “The most important thing for me was that there was no game yesterday. It was a rest day. I took a break from chess and followed news, sports and all the other things that are important in life as well.” And it was good news for Nakamura that he was facing the out-of-sorts yet highly ambitious Topalov. Veselin has been having a pretty bad event, but that hasn’t stopped him from taking risks and playing in an aggressive style. When you aren’t calculating well this strategy can be quite risky. This was the case in the game when in a complex position he made quite a few errors and lost. Full credit to the Bulgarian grandmaster for making it an exciting game. Veselin mixed up things really well with the move 21…Bxc5 22.dxc5 d4!? Nakamura had underestimated this idea. And while the computer shows an edge for White, over the board it was extremely difficult for the American grandmaster to find the right path. However, Topalov didn’t continue in the most incisive manner, which made the game end in Nakamura’s favour.

Karjakin Sergey VS Aronian Levon (½-½) – The game between the two leaders lived up to the expectations. Sergey’s games are interesting to follow because in almost all his games he is going for lines which are complex and have a lot of play for both sides. Today his choice was the King’s Indian Attack. Levon had come well prepared to the game and showed a new idea beginning with pushing his a-pawn down the board. This move doesn’t really change the character of the position, as in the King’s Indian Attack Black often goes for queenside expansion. But this move order is pretty unique and that made Sergey take up a lot of his time. Levon obtained a very nice position out of the opening and the game was a draw full of fight.

Sivdler Peter VS Caruana Fabiano (½-½) – Peter Svidler’s bad fortune in the tournament continues. His preparation at the event is simply phenomenal. Apart from his game against Vishy Anand he got an advantage out of the opening in almost all the games he has played so far. However, today’s game against Caruana was somehow the biggest miss, as Peter following his excellent preparation got a technically winning position literally out of the opening. But, the attack was converted into a better endgame which Svidler was unable to win.

Round 8, Sunday 20 March 2016
Svidler Peter½-½Karjakin Sergey
Caruana Fabiano1-0Nakamura Hikaru
Aronian Levon½-½Giri Anish
Topalov Veselin½-½Anand Viswanathan

Caruana Fabiano VS Nakamura Hikaru (1-0) – Fabiano has been having quite a topsy-turvy event – piece up against Topalov, pretty bad position against Svidler, Benoni experiment against Aronian and so on. Finally in the eighth round he played a clean game to beat Hikaru Nakamura. The game looked sharper than a Sicilian, but guess what – it was an Anti-Berlin! And by the looks of it, it seems as if Black is the first one who has reached the enemy king’s gates. But Fabiano knew that it was extremely important not to touch any of his kingside pawns. He hadn’t seen exactly this same position in his home preparation but had gone through similar ideas which helped him during the game. Caruana just moved his rook from h1 to g1, and it won’t be an exaggerating to say that this turned out to be the winning move. Black took the pawn on a2 but the white king sat snugly on a1 behind the black pawn . In the end White’s attack broke through and Hikaru could do nothing better than to resign the game.

Aronian Levon VS Giri Anish (½-½) – Nothing terribly exciting happened in this game. The players decided to repeat the first fourteen moves from their game in Zurich 2016. Aronian came up with a new idea. He hadn’t done any deep homework but had just found a move that keeps the position alive and went for it. Aronian played 14.f3!? In the previous encounter Aronian had gone for 14.f4 and this was met with b6! and Bb7. Hence, the Armenian’s top priority today was to prevent the freeing move b6 but it didn’t really help as Anish got that move in anyway after a while.

Svidler Peter VS Karjakin Sergey (½-½) – It won’t be wrong to say that both the players went back home with some sadness as well as some joy. But Karjakin was the one who lost out on a big opportunity because he was completely dominating out of the opening. One look during the middle game, at the g2 bishop should be enough to convince you that this position is winning for Black. Sergey took the pawn on h3 which in itself wasn’t the error. He missed that White could play Qe5 when things were spiraling out of control and the g2 bishop had been liberated. Peter not only got a decent position but slowly began to outplay Karjakin. Towards the end he had a completely decisive advantage but he wasn’t able to convert his chance.

Topalov Veselin VS Anand Vishwanathan (½-½) – “I did not expect you to play this same opening again!” These were the words of Veselin Topalov in the press conference after the game. So what exactly is this opening that Anand has employed against Anish Giri and Veselin Topalov in back to back rounds and made two easy draws? First of all Black begins in a well-known Queen’s Gambit Declined style by putting his pawns on e6 and d5 and knight on f6. He then deploys his other knight on d7 before committing the dark squared bishop. The bishop then moves to b4 changing the entire essence of the opening from the Queen’s Gambit Declined to a Nimzo Indian or a Ragozin. Without getting into too many technicalities, the conclusion is: this system has no real name as it has not been played at the highest level by top players. Anand is the first one who has put in a lot of effort to develop these ideas from scratch. And that is the reason why his opponents are unable to find a suitable antidote against it. The five-time World Champion has worked on it for months and his in-depth preparation cannot be refuted by Topalov in just one day. Hence, Vishy was confident enough to play it for the third time in this tournament. 20.Nf4 was a weird decision by Veselin. He not only spoilt his pawn structure but also gave his opponent a working queenside majority. Anand held the edge for quite some time but was unable to break through.

Round 9, Monday 21 March 2016
Topalov Veselin½-½Svidler Peter
Anand Viswanathan1-0Aronian Levon
Giri Anish½-½Caruana Fabiano
Nakamura Hikaru½-½Karjakin Sergey

Topalov Veselin VS SvidlerPeter (½-½) – The game between Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria and Peter Svidler of Russia was entertaining because both players are uncompromising. It started out as a Ruy Lopez, with Topalov employing an anti-Marshall system. The tension built until Topalov broke in the center, but Svidler struck right back. Wild complications ensued, with both players being aggressive. In the end, neither could gain an edge and the game was drawn.

Anand Vishwanathan VS Aronian Levon (1-0) – The game between Viswanathan Anand of India and Levon Aronian of Armenia was very important for the overall standings. Anand, who was White, employed the quiet Italian game. He got a slight edge in the opening and then, in his trademark style, he gradually began to improve his pieces while constricting Aronian’s space. Though Aronian wriggled and was able to exchange pieces to alleviate his cramped position, he never was able to fully recover as Anand had locked down the light squares on the queenside. Anand finally engineered a breakthrough on the opposite wing. He was able to create a passed pawn and, in the end, Aronian had to give up his one remaining rook to stop it from promoting, after which he resigned. With the victory, Anand is now tied with Sergey Karjakin for the lead, while Aronian has dropped a half point behind the leaders.

Giri Anish VS Caruana Fabiano (½-½) – The longest game of the day was also the longest of the tournament, but it would not have been if Anish Giri had found one of several ways early on to win his game against Fabiano Caruana of the United States. In a sharp and heavily analyzed opening, Caruana misplayed it badly and was busted out of the opening. Giri had one or two paths to victory, but he seemed to be scared by ghosts and kept missing his chances. Finally he squandered his last best chance and although he still had an extra pawn, it was increasingly difficult for him to make progress, particularly as Caruana kept finding the best moves. After seven hours, and nearly 100 moves, with neither player having much time on their clocks, Giri repeated the position three times and Caruana claimed a draw. So Giri squandered yet another golden opportunity and has now drawn all his games, while Caruana is still at +1 and only a half point behind the leaders.

Nakamura Hikaru VS Karjakin Sergey (½-½) – In the game between Hikaru Nakamura of the United States and Sergey Karjakin of Russia, Karjakin once again employed the Queen’s Indian Defense, showing that it is his primary weapon against 1. d4 for this tournament. Unlike a couple of the previous games in which he played the Queen’s Indian, he had little trouble equalizing against Nakamura. Though the game had its interesting moments, neither player ever had a clear edge and the game was drawn shortly after the first time control was reached. The draw puts Karjakin temporarily into the sole lead.

Leader Board after Round 9

1Karjakin, Sergey5.5
Anand, Viswanathan5.5
3Caruana, Fabiano5
Aronian, Levon5
5Giri, Anish4.5
6Svidler, Peter4
7Nakamura, Hikaru3.5
8Topalov, Veselin3

Sergey Karjakin and Vishy Anand are leading the pack after Round 9, but a better Tie-breaker score (Sergey beat Vishy in an earlier round) for Sergey places him a notch ahead of Vishy. However, Vishy will be playing another game with Sergey in Round 11 with white pieces which can become the decider for this tournament.

Fabiano Caruana, inspite of winning a game against an out of form Hikaru Nakamura has not looked very threatening in this tournament. Fabiano drew a lost game with Anish Giri in Round 9, but that does not seem enough to keep up the leaders in the tournament.

Levon Aronian suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Vishy Anand and got a good lesson in precise end game play. Such losses have a deep psychological impact on players mid-tournament. It will be nothing short of a miracle if Levon can pull himself together and go on to win the tournament from here.

Anish Giri has been jokingly renamed as “Drawnish” Giri as he has been successfully drawing the games where he should have won. Anish is clearly out of form and has slim chances of winning the tournament.

Hikaru Nakamura is having the worst tournament of his life and we no longer see him winning the tournament from here and he joins Peter Svidler and Veselin Topolov on our list of players who are no more in the running to be the winners in Candidates 2016.

We have reached the closing stages of Candidates 2012, with only 5 rounds to go the world will witness a Strategic Streetfight in the upcoming games!

Watch out for more after Round 12

Please read previous articles in this series here:

  1. Black and White – An insight about FIDE Candidates Tournament 2016

  2. Mesmerizing Mindgames – The story uptil Round 3

  3. 2016 World Chess Candidates Tournament: The Rollercoaster Begins – Round 4-6!


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