Magnus Carlsen is the sole leader after nine rounds at the FIDE World Chess Candidates’ Tournament. On Monday the Norwegian drew with Vladimir Kramnik (Russia) while co-leader Levon Aronian (Armenia) lost to Boris Gelfand (Israel).
Peter Svidler and Alexander Grischuk (both Russia) drew an amazingly complicated game and after 6.5 hours of play Vassily Ivanchuk (Ukraine) scored his first win, against Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan).
With the second half of the FIDE World Chess Candidates’ Tournament well under way, the interest in the tournament is growing, both online and at the IET in London. Every day both the number of spectators in the playing hall and journalists in the press room is growing, and many local grandmasters can be seen at the venue. Gawain Jones, Daniel King and Luke McShane have been frequent visitors and on Monday GMs John Nunn, Matthew Sadler, Jon Speelman and Simon Williams came along. They all witnessed another great round in which the big game was world number 2 Vladimir Kramnik against world number 1 Magnus Carlsen.
Kramnik got a nice advantage in a Catalan: “Actually it was my preparation for Kazan; I was about to play it against Radjabov in 2011 but finally for some reason I decided to play something else. Since that time I was keeping it and nobody played it. This 11.Qc2 and 12.Rd1 is kind of a new set-up; it’s quite dangerous I believe.” Carlsen: “I didn't know the details too much of this line. I more or less had to figure it out over the board. It’s not so easy to play and the way I played, he got a stable advantage so I probably did something wrong. I was just trying to find a good plan which I probably didn’t succeed in doing,” said Carlsen.
After 13.Nc3 White was “just better” and after 20.Qe3 it was “getting really critical for Black” (Kramnik) but then, starting with 22…Re8, Carlsen found a key defensive idea (and perhaps even the only move): 25…Nd5!. Almost by force an ending with rooks and opposite-coloured bishops came on the board where Kramnik’s extra pawn wasn’t worth much. “It just seems to work by millimetre,” the Russian said two times at the press conference.
“Of course Magnus is a very strong player, a very strong defender. I don't say that I missed any win today but I was better in the opening, had a very nice position and then… it seemed very close. It’s a bit disappointing of course,” said Kramnik. Carlsen about defending this game: “I thought it was dangerous but the good thing for me is that most of the time I had to make only moves. Then in a way it’s easier.”
Peter Svidler and Alexander Grischuk played the most spectacular game of the tournament so far. The latter went for the ever-interesting King’s Indian Defence, and like in his game against Radjabov, Svidler played the Sämisch variation. Then, on move 12, Grischuk came up with an absolutely stunning novelty that involved a long-term piece sacrifice.
At first Svidler was “very worried”. “In a practical game (…) every move will be a torture.” English grandmaster Matthew Sadler, who lives in The Netherlands but spent his weekend with family, joined the commentary for a while and said: “I was counting the pieces and I must have counted them at least ten times!”
Svidler went for a long think, played an interesting sequence of moves and then felt he was winning. “Of course I missed 19…h3. After that I realized the game continues.” Eventually White got three minor pieces for his queen, and Svidler still felt that “White should be better somehow”, but “it became a bit too messy for my liking”. In time trouble he might have missed some ways to make Grischuk’s life harder. Just after the time control Black had created so much counter play that Svidler had seen enough and accepted his opponent’s draw offer.
The game between Boris Gelfand and Levon Aronian became quite very important for the tournament standings. In a Queen’s Gambit Declined that turned into some sort of Stonewall position, around move 25 Aronian missed a tactic and lost an important pawn. Computers don’t like his 26…Bf7, a move Gelfand didn’t expect: “Here I think Levon is in trouble.”
However, according to the Israeli Black wasn’t lost yet. “After 32…Rd3 I don’t know if my advantage is so big, but 32…h5 is a blunder.” Aronian, who had to skip the press conference because of a drug test (which Carlsen, Kramnik and Svidler also had to perform), said he had missed 28.e6 and then “completely forgot about this 33.f5 stuff”. However, just before the time control Gelfand missed a quick win, and a double rook ending came on the board. “Fortunately I have this plan of a king’s attack,” said Gelfand, who won the ending without too much trouble. It wasn’t an easy game for him, though. “I think for me it was more difficult because I played with my very close friend and he is leading the tournament. But we're professionals and we have to play our utmost in each game.”
After six and a half hours of play, Vassily Ivanchuk scored his first win of the tournament. He got a pleasant advantage out of the opening against Teimour Radjabov, who played what could be dubbed the “Accelerated Lasker Variation” of the Queen’s Gambit Declined. For a moment commentator Nigel Short thought that Radjabov had perhaps accidentally played Lasker’s Nf6-e4 one move too early, but in fact the Azerbaijani spent five minutes on it. Radjabov: “It was a long torture somehow. I got this unpleasant position, I mixed something in the opening and I got this slightly worse position where you always have to stand. I didn't have so many counter play ideas.”
Both players were not sure if the ending was really lost for Black. “Maybe I didn't have to change the knights as then the position became really easy to play for White. There’s maybe no direct win,” said Radjabov. Instead of his preparation, as suggested by Kramnik in an interview, Radjabov blamed his inactivity for his disappointing play thus far: “I should have played in one of the recent tournaments, but my family situation did not allow this. You can see that the players who played in Zurich didn't start very well, but now they are all in good form.”
After nine rounds, Carlsen is in clear first place with 6 points. Aronian is now second with 5.5, followed by Kramnik with 5 points. Gelfand moved to shared 4th place with Grischuk: both are on 4.5. Svidler is 6th with 4 points, Ivanchuk 7th with 3.5 and Radjabov last with 3. Tuesday, March 26th is the third rest day of the tournament. Play resumes on Wednesday, March 27th at 14:00 GMT with the tenth round: Carlsen-Gelfand, Aronian-Ivanchuk, Radjabov-Svidler and Grischuk-Kramnik.
The FIDE Candidates' Tournament is taking place March 14th-April 1st, 2013 at IET London, Savoy Place. It is sponsored by the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) and organized by AGON and the World Chess Federation (FIDE). Games and information can be found at http://london2013.fide.com.