Amber R9: Carlsen closes in

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Amber R8: Kramnik beats Carlsen 2-0In round 9 of the Amber tournament, Vasily Ivanchuk defended first place in the overall standings with two draws against Vugar Gashimov. With two rounds to go the Ukrainian grandmaster has a half-point lead over Magnus Carlsen, who defeated Leinier Dominguez of Cuba 1½-½.

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 9



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Round 9 report



Carlsen closes in on tournament leader Ivanchuk In round 9 of the Amber Blindfold and Rapid Tournament, Vasily Ivanchuk defended first place in the overall standings with two draws against Vugar Gashimov. With two rounds and four games to go the Ukrainian grandmaster has a half-point lead over Magnus Carlsen, who defeated Leinier Dominguez of Cuba 1½-½. Vladimir Kramnik also improved his position, moving into third place, half a point behind Carlsen and one full point behind Ivanchuk. Kramnik shares third place with Alexander Grischuk, who defeated Jan Smeets 2-0. In round 10 Ivanchuk plays Kramnik, while Carlsen faces Ponomariov. Grischuk meets Aronian.

Following a day of relaxation the players returned to work today for round 9. Unfortunately the second free day was not a perfect day to enjoy the attractions of the Palais de la Méditerranée (the outdoor swimming pool, for example) or of Nice in general (the beach, for example) as the sun was barely seen and the sky was mainly cloudy with occasional showers pouring down. The ‘official program’ offered two ‘excursions’, the traditional laser game and a guided tour through Baroque Nice. Only few players joined the guided walk, but as always the enthusiasm for the laser game was heart-warming. All participants showed great fighting spirit, but in all honesty the true stars of the event were Peter Svidler’s wife Olga and John Nunn’s son Michael. But all that was well forgotten when this afternoon at 14.30 hrs the clocks were started again (while outside the sun had returned with a vengeance attracting a considerable crowd to the beach!).

view over nice

The blindfold game between Vugar Gashimov and Vasily Ivanchuk was a brief fierce cash that ended in perpetual check after 30 moves. White grew optimistic when he obtained a beautiful space advantage and could freely push his pawns to g5 and f5. And after the inspired 22.Nc5 Gasimov felt he was winning. He still felt this way after the game, even if in the final position he had not seen a way to proceed. But he believed a remark from a colleague in the hospitality lounge who opined that he could have played for a win with 28.Kg2 Rc6 29.Qd5+ Kc8 30.Rxc4 and Black is indeed in trouble. However, when Gashimov had a brief look at the position with a computer, he immediately found the considerably stronger 28…Qd4 and concluded with some relief that he had not missed a golden chance to inflict Ivanchuk’s first defeat and that it was a draw after all. The rapid game was a balanced positional act in which pieces were exchanged in rapid succession. On move 38, when both players had only one knight and five pawns left, the game ended in a draw by repetition of moves.

gashimov-ivanchuk

Vladimir Kramnik steered clear of all Grünfeld main line theory against Peter Svidler (‘Apparently he is impressed by my Grünfeld skills’) and opted for a sound but harmless approach. Black had many ways to equalize, but as Svidler put it, he still managed to create some problems for himself. Problems which he next managed to solve. One of the improvements he indicated was 21…f6 to put his bishop on f7. And a possible improvement for White that he suggested was 24. Qd4 Kg8 25.e5. Kramnik had been under the impression that on move 29 he could play 29.Rd6 as on 29…Bxb3 30.Qxb3 Qxe5 he briefly believed that he could go 31.Qe3, but when the moment arrived he spotted that this would hit on the embarrassing 31…Qa1+ and he loses his queen. A few moves later there was little to fight for anymore and the players agreed on a draw. The rapid game was a painful loss for Svidler. In a fashionable variation that Kramnik called ‘slightly difficult for Black but playable’, he committed a big strategic mistake when he pushed his pawn to f6 on move 20 and robbed himself of all play. The rest of the game Kramnik described as easy, he only needed to remain concentrated and choose the right moment to break through on the queenside. Once he broke through White lost material and soon had to resign.

svidler-kramnik

The blindfold game between Boris Gelfand and Sergey Karjakin only took half an hour and 18 moves, but it did contain a small story. They repeated a game played by their seconds, Maxim Rodshtein and Alexander Motylev at the recent Aeroflot Open in Moscow. In that game White was a bit better after 12…0-0 13.Nb5. Karjakin improved with 12…a6, which allowed White pushing e4 and e5, but after 15…Nc5 Gelfand failed to find a way to keep his initiative alive. As he had various weak pawns in his position he was not too eager to make an all-out winning attempt and went for the repetition of moves that was on offer. The rapid game saw a long discussion in the Petroff with Karjakin introducing a novelty, 18.Bd3 in combination with g4. The true merits of the new move may only become clear in future games. White seemed to get good chances, but didn’t find the right follow-up. In the hospitality lounge Ljubomir Ljubojevic and Fabiano Caruana believed that White could have improved his play with 25.Qf5 Rd8 followed by gain of space with h4 and a4, and afterwards Gelfand agreed with this assessment. As it went, he played the right countermoves and drew comfortably.

karjakin-gelfand

Ruslan Ponomariov was a bit surprised that Levon Aronian chose the Grünfeld Defence for their blindfold game, as it is an opening he doesn’t normally play. His surprise only increased when it became clear that the Armenian grandmaster hadn’t prepared anything particular and committed a couple of inaccuracies, such as 11…e6, where 11…Nc6 is a better option. The rest of the game Ponomariov summed up with the words ‘I just took his pawns and pieces and didn’t know why he didn’t resign’. Ponomariov could even blunder a pawn and still be winning (he should have played 30.Bxf4 Qxf4 31.d8Q Qxc1+ 32.Kg2 and the queen on d8 is untouchable because of mate). Aronian finally resigned when he was three moves away from mate. Aronian hit back in the rapid game. ‘The variation isn’t that good’, he commented after he had won, ‘Of course we both made inaccuracies, but it was difficult for him.’ White could have finished the game quicker with the nice 46.g7 Qf7 47.g8N!, but as it went, Ponomariov had to resign soon enough.

aronian-ponomariov

With his win over Jan Smeets, the leader in the blindfold standings, Alexander Grischuk, raised his total score in the blindfold to a most impressive 7 out of 9. Nevertheless the Russian champion was mainly modest after this further win. ‘I played the opening so badly, that I both needed to get lucky and needed the help of my opponent’. One of the moves he criticized was 11.d4, which he called ‘an amazingly bad move’. The chances in the game fluctuated with White getting the better game, spoiling his advantage and being clearly worse and then being on top again. After 44.Qg4 it was clear the black position was going to collapse soon and so it did. The rapid game was a much smoother performance of the Russian champion. In a Sicilian Hedgehog he carefully manoeuvred behind the lines, preparing the central break that almost inevitably came. And once he pushed 30…d5, Smeets immediately erred. He should have tried 31.f4, as after 31.exd5, Grischuk could strike hard with 31…Nxf3+ 32.gxf3 Bxg3 and White was fighting a lost battle.

grischuk-smeets

The blindfold game between Leinier Dominguez and Magnus Carlsen started with a peculiar ‘intermezzo’, when after the third move of his opponent the Norwegian had to heed nature’s call and left the playing room in the company of the assistant arbiter. Carlsen returned quickly, but the excursion nevertheless cost him some three minutes. The game developed along the lines of an everyday Catalan with Dominguez getting slightly optimistic after 19.Qf3 and 20.Rac1. Carlsen was in time with his counterplay (21.b4 and 22…Qa4) and from that moment onwards Black exerted some pressure, but couldn’t really achieve something with the strong white knight on c4. ‘A pretty normal game’, Dominguez concluded after it had been drawn after 50 moves. At the start of the rapid game it seemed as if Dominguez wanted to offer some compensation for the time Carlsen wasted in the blindfold game when the Cuban thought for one minute before he replied to White’s 1.e4 with his pet 1…e4. Most probably he had expected Carlsen to play something else. Once Dominguez played his favourite Najdorf, Carlsen opted for 6.Be2 and got a good game. Still, he wasn’t completely happy with his play and felt that he could have won quicker once he had gotten his knight to f5. What he did like were the three connected passers he got on the queenside and his move 27.Qh3 that threw Black on the ropes, particularly so as Black immediately blundered with 27…f4, where he would have put up more resistance with 27…g6. The rest wasn’t too difficult anymore and Carlsen won without much difficulty. As said, he still had his doubts about his play, but he also concluded that with four games to go he had already won more games (ten) than in the previous years.

carlsen-dominguez

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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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