Amber R8: Kramnik beats Carlsen 1.5-0.5, Ivanchuk increases lead

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Amber R8: Kramnik beats Carlsen 2-0In the 8th round of the Amber tournament in Nice, Vladimir Kramnik defeated Magnus Carlsen 1.5-0.5, which should have been 2-0. Vasily Ivanchuk was held to two draws by Dominguez; the Ukrainian did increase his lead in the combined standings to a full point.

The 19th Amber Blindfold and Rapid Tournament takes place at the Palais de la Mediterranée in Nice, France, from March 12 to 25, 2010. The event is organized by the Association Max Euwe of chess maecenas Joop van Oosterom, which is based in Monaco. The total prize-fund is € 216,000.

The following twelve grandmasters take part: Magnus Carlsen (Norway, 2813), Vladimir Kramnik (Russia, 2790), Levon Aronian (Armenia, 2782), Alexander Grischuk (Russia, 2756), Boris Gelfand (Israel, 2750), Peter Svidler (Russia, 2750), Vasily Ivanchuk (Ukraine, 2748), Vugar Gashimov (Azerbaijan, 2740), Ruslan Ponomariov (Ukraine, 2737), Sergey Karjakin (Russia, 2725), Leinier Dominguez (Cuba, 2713) and Jan Smeets (The Netherlands, 2651).

Games round 8

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Round 8 report

Ivanchuk retains lead, Kramnik defeats Carlsen 1½-½ In round 8 of the Amber Blindfold and Rapid Tournament, Vasily Ivanchuk retained first place in the overall standings. The tournament leader drew both his games with Leinier Dominguez and increased his lead over runner-up Magnus Carlsen to one point. Carlsen had a rough day. He lost the key encounter with Vladimir Kramnik ½-1½, and actually couldn’t complain that he didn’t lose both games. Kramnik moved up to joint third place with Boris Gelfand, only half a point behind Carlsen. Monday is a free day. Play is resumed coming Tuesday, March 23, at 14.30 hrs.

‘A decent game that I can be happy with’, Peter Svidler called the blindfold game he won against Ruslan Ponomariov. Once again the Russian grandmaster played 1.d4 (‘I keep playing this, hoping for openings that never happen’), but didn’t achieve anything tangible from the opening. He only became optimistic after 21.h3, one reason being his bishop on h6, which really was a ‘pest’. Black’s plan with Bb5 and building up pressure on c4 would have been good, had it not been for the little tactic 25.g4, which prevented Black from taking on c4. Svidler criticized 25…Rd8 and offered the following alternative (that he had seen staring at the blank screen in front of him): 25...e6 26.Nd6 Rxc1 27.Bxc1 Rc3 28.Bxd5 Be2 29.Re1 Nxd5 30.Bd2 Rc6 31.Nxb7 Bf3 32.Nc5 Nc7, with drawing chances (after 32...h5 33.Kh2 hxg4 White has 34.Kg3). After the move in the game White has various trumps; the bishop pair, the c-file and a big space advantage. Black blundered with 31…e6, as after White’s reply the black knight cannot withdraw to d7 because of 33.Nc4 and an entire rook drops off. The game was essentially over after 34.Rc7 which led to a quick collapse of the black position. The rapid game was a wondrous affair. In a Grünfeld Defence, with Svidler once again behind the black pieces, Ponomariov got ‘everything I wanted’, as he put it himself. The Ukrainian grandmaster was very pleased with his 12.e5!, but the situation he was talking about was the position after his 18th move. Apparently Svidler agreed, as not seeing a normal way out anymore he decided to sacrifice a piece for two pawns. And after 28.f3 he sacrificed a further piece, again for another two pawns. Of course, White was totally winning, but the game was far from over. Ponomariov didn’t use all his chances and Svidler fought back creatively, the dead certain outcome wasn’t that dead certain anymore. In the end Ponomariov won anyway, but only after Svidler had missed a draw on move 54 with 54…f1Q 55.Bxf1 c4 and there is no win.


Easily the longest game of the first blindfold session was the encounter between Sergey Karjakin and Alexander Grischuk, lasting one hour and forty minutes (for 82 moves) and even delaying the start of the second session. Karjakin played 6.f3 against Grischuk’s Najdorf, but derived little pleasure from his choice when the Russian champion energetically took over the initiative. Karjakin worked hard to neutralize the black initiative and once he managed to make progress on the kingside the advantage switched to White again and Black was as good as lost. But then it was Grischuk’s turn again to show his ambitions and get the better play. White made the decisive mistake on move 65 when he could have made a draw (see this week's endgame study). Now Karjakin had to defend a King and Queen ending against a King and Rook ending, and as we all know this is an ungrateful challenge. The course of the rapid game was determined when Grischuk sacrificed his bishop on h6 as early as move 17. After the game the players analyzed a long time to understand the secrets of the position. Grischuk summed up their findings with his typical irony: ‘We discovered that we both played badly.’ According to him the sacrifice would have been unsound if Black had gone 23…Rad8 instead of 23…Tfd8. And Black would have been better if he had gone 26…Kh8 instead of 26…Kf8. And instead of the repetition of moves at the end his conclusion was that White should have played on with 30.Rxh7 Qxh7 31.Nxg5 Qf5 32.Qe3. To balance all this self-criticism we may add that the computer does not entirely share these findings. So, perhaps they didn’t play that badly after all.


The opening of the blindfold game between Vasily Ivanchuk and Leinier Dominguez was a Sicilian Najdorf, which could hardly be called a surprise after White had played 1.e4. The Cuban grandmaster obviously chose his pet Najdorf and once again went for the ultra-sharp line starting with 7…Nc6, an approach that he himself also called ‘dangerous’, especially after the approach with 14.Bg3 chosen by Ivanchuk. Still, once he managed to exchange queens and push f5, Dominguez got a good game. He even felt that he was better, but in the ensuing phase he failed to prove anything concrete and after 57 moves a draw was agreed on. In the rapid game Ivanchuk came well-prepared for the Sicilian line that Dominguez had already played on various occasions. The Cuban grandmaster sat thinking hard to remember his work on this line and possible ways to get an advantage. After the game he was satisfied with the plan with 18.h4 and 20.Rh3 that he came up with. Still, he couldn’t solve all his problems and already in quite serious time-trouble he fled into a rook endgame in which he had to fight for survival. That task he acquitted himself of well and after 54 moves he saved the draw.


The blindfold game between Jan Smeets and Vugar Gashimov saw a rare line of the Sicilian Rauzer in which the struggle quickly came to a head when Black sacrificed an exchange with 10…Rxc3. With the strong 12…d5, Black more or less forced his opponent to give back the exchange as otherwise the black initiative would take on dangerous proportions. Smeets wasn’t unhappy with the way the game developed, especially after he was allowed to march his a-pawn to a5 (which Black might have stopped by 18…Ba3). He was also happy with the next pawn he offered with 27.c5, as he got a promising pair of passed pawns. White looked to be in clover, but in the next phase he didn’t proceed accurately enough, he felt. For instance, he believed the immediate 35.c6 would have been stronger. When Black’s counterplay got on his nerves, he decided to bury his aspirations and went for the draw. In the rapid game Gashimov surprised Smeets with a dangerous idea in a popular line of the Petroff. With 13.d6 and 14.Nb5 he sacrificed a pawn, but got excellent compensation thanks to the compromised position of the black king. After the game the Dutchman wasn’t sure if the white pawn sacrifice had been entirely correct, but he readily admitted that finding black answers to all the white questions at the board was perhaps more than you could expect from a human in a rapid game. As it went, he was steamrollered by White’s attack on the kingside and the game was over on move 33.


In the blindfold game between Magnus Carlsen and Vladimir Kramnik a fashionable gambit line of the Vienna Game appeared on the board. The Norwegian had aggressive intentions, but according to his opponent his aggression was half-hearted. At a point where he should have gone all out for the attack Carlsen seemed to have second thoughts and tried to regain the pawn with 14.Ba3, a move that Kramnik criticized. When White started working on his kingside attack, Black was prepared (and two full pawns up) and Kramnik had no doubt that he was winning if he didn’t blunder anything. In fact he did make things more difficult for himself than necessary, when he omitted the simple 35…Kf8, which would soon have decided the issue and two moves later Carlsen even got a golden chance to save his skin with 37.hxg7. The engines immediately indicate this possibility as a draw, but Kramnik begged to differ. According to him there may be drawing chances for White, but he believed that Black is winning after the amazing line: 37.hxg7 Qf3+ 38.Kh2 Qxg2+ (38...Qf4+ 39.Kh3) 39.Qxg2 e2 40.Qh3 Kxg7 41.Qg3+ Kf8 42.Qe1 b5 43.Kg3 Re5 and White will have to sweat to make a draw. After Carlsen missed this chance the game was soon over. The rapid game was even more spectacular. Carlsen showed that he was ready for an open fight by playing the King’s Indian, but again his play was too risky and with the ‘piece sacrifice’ 27.Bxe5 Kramnik obtained a winning position. No one doubted that the Russian was cruising to his second victory, except for Carlsen perhaps. With great determination he kept trying to pose problems and much to the amazement of the watching grandmasters he indeed managed to confuse his opponent. Or maybe Kramnik was confusing himself. In any case, watched by fascinated spectators and various colleagues Carlsen saved a draw (after 90 moves!) that might turn out to be important if four days from now when the prizes are distributed.


Levon Aronian got a good game in the blindfold encounter with Boris Gelfand, when a skirmish on the c-file looked to end to his advantage. His initiative evaporated after 20.Nfd4, where it seems he could have cemented it with 20.Nfe5, when after 20…Na4 21.Rd7, Black surprisingly cannot play 21…Bxe5 because of 22.Ne7+. After this missed chance there soon followed a mass liquidation that led to a draw on move 34. In the rapid game Gelfand obtained a fine game, when Aronian freely surrendered the d-file. Black’s position looked cramped, but Aronian gradually solved his problems and was rewarded for his efforts when on move 37 his opponent offered a draw.


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Amber 2010 | Pairings & results

Amber 2010 | Blindfold Standings
Amber 2010 | Blindfold Standings
Amber 2010 | Rapid Standings
Amber 2010 | Blindfold Standings
Amber 2010 | Combined Standings
Amber 2010 | Blindfold Standings


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