Candidates: Grischuk & Kramnik through, Aronian & Radjabov out

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Candidates: Grischuk & Kramnik through, Radjabov and Aronian outFavorite Levon Aronian was eliminated on Monday by Alexander Grischuk in the Candidates matches in Kazan, Russia. The Armenian levelled the score after losing the first rapid tie-break game, but after a draw he lost the decisive 4th game. Vladimir Kramnik was on the verge of elimination but eventually knocked out Teimour Radjabov in the second blitz mini-match.

General info

The Candidates matches take place May 3-27 in Kazan, Tatarstan, Russia. Levon Aronian (Armenia), Boris Gelfand (Israel), Alexander Grischuk (Russia), Gata Kamsky (USA), Vladimir Kramnik (Russia), Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan) and Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria) play a knockout with matches of four games in both the quarter and semi finals, and six games in the final. The winner qualifies for a World Title match against Vishy Anand next year. More info here; tie-break rules here.

Day 5

Two dramatic tie-break matches after just four classical games on Monday proved that the formula FIDE has chosen to decide the opponent for Vishy Anand bears strong resemblance with a lottery. To start with, we have never liked the idea that rapid and blitz games can decide who is going to be World Champion in classical chess (which in fact happened in Kramnik-Topalov in 2006). With just four classical games, and players who are playing at roughly the same (top) level, chances are far too high that the score will be 2-2 in the end. Now it also makes much more sense why Magnus Carlsen avoided this circus: just one slip of the finger can shatter your dreams instantly.

On Monday two tie-breaks were played in the matches Aronian-Grischuk and Kramnik-Radjabov. The tie-breaks consisted of four rapid games (25 minutes + 10 seconds increment) and if necessary up to five mini-matches of two blitz games (5 minutes plus 3 seconds increment). If necessary, everything would be decided by one sudden death game with 5 minutes for White and 4 for Black (3-second increment after move 60) with draw odds for Black.

The first rapid game went horribly for top seed Levon Aronian. Against his English Opening, Alexander Grischuk chose the c5-d6-e5-with-fianchetto set-up which former Mikhail Botvinnik liked to play. A few indecisive moves by Aronian led to a nice advantage for Black, and Grischuk finished it off in good style. In the next game it was surprising how easily Aronian got a big advantage with Black in a Queen's Gambit Declined. He won a pawn and in the mean time Grischuk was way behind on the clock. Where he had failed twice in the classical games, this time Aronian finally managed to convert the full point in a rook ending, but not without some tense moments.

Levon Aronian levelled the score in rapid game 2

Levon Aronian levelled the score in rapid game 2



The third game showed that Aronian was not in top shape this Monday. He got a clear advantage with the white pieces and could have won a pawn on move 23. Instead, the Armenian preferred to build up the pressure and probably rightly so. At move 31, Aronian missed a win he might have seen on better days.

Aronian misses 31.Qc3! - a computeresque tactic that decides the game

Aronian misses 31.Qc3! - a computeresque tactic that decides the game



Instead, he lost his advantage and a few moves later blundered a pawn. The resulting rook ending was a similar draw as their third classical game.

Alexander Grischuk escapes in game 3

Alexander Grischuk escapes in game 3



Then, perhaps inspired by the Kramnik-Radjabov match, Grischuk switched to the 5.Bf4 system against Aronian's Queen's Gambit and this turned out to be a good choice. Missing a chance to close the queenside with ...b5, Aronian allowed the strong move b4-b5 for White after which he was under big pressure. A positional queen sacrifice was not enough to save him, and... the favorite was out.

Levon Aronian realizes he is lost in game 4

Levon Aronian realizes he is lost in game 4



Especially the fact that Aronian missed clear wins in the first classical game and the third rapid game must have been a big disappointment for him. On the other hand, these things can happen against someone of Grischuk's strength. The Russian might not have had as many tournament victories, but he's just as strong as the other candidates. Often he's simply not as focused on chess as his colleagues, as he's also an avid poker player, and a few years ago he even stated that he clearly prefers rapid and blitz over classical chess.

However, in recent years he returned to the arena with new energy, and examples like his victory in Linares in February 2009, his Russian title in December 2009 and his third place in the FIDE Grand Prix clearly show Grischuk's strength.

Alexander Grischuk through to the semis

Alexander Grischuk through to the semis



Grischuk's opponent in the semis will be his compatriot Vladimir Kramnik, who was almost knocked out by Teimour Radjabov in the tie-break. Their four rapid games were similar to their four classical games: safe, solid, slightly boring and all drawn. However, in the first blitz game, everything changed.

In a Ruy Lopez (Berlin with 4.d3) there was a lot of manoeuvring, and also in this game it was about equal all the time. But then, out of the blue Kramnik blundered, missing a deadly stroke by Radjabov. The game was over immediately, and Kramnik had to win the next blitz game to stay in the match.

In this crucial game, Kramnik managed to win a pawn at move 25, and an ending was reached with one rook each and opposite-coloured bishops. The rooks should decrease the drawing factor of the bishops, but with the queenside blocked and protected, Radjabov had decent drawing changes - even more when Kramnik gave back his extra pawn at some point.

The Russian was about to get eliminated when suddenly the digital chess clock stopped working - in the heat of the battle, with both players blitzing out their moves and trying to gain some time thanks to the 3-second increment, it had reset itself to zero. Kramnik had 19 seconds on the clock, Radjabov 12, and when Kramnik made his 60th move, he first got three seconds extra for about a third of a second, then the clock must have lost power for like a tenth of a second and then it switched to the menu that you get when you switch it on: one display empty, the other showing '00'.

Kramnik plays 60.Rc7+...

Kramnik plays 60.Rc7+...



Kramnik plays ...and after Radjabov's 60...Kf6 the clock seems to switch off and on in a split second

...and after Radjabov's 60...Kf6 they notice there's something wrong with the clock - it seems to have switched off and on in a split second



The players both point to the clock and look at the arbiters...

The players both point to the clock and look at the arbiters...



...Kramnik, full of adrenalin, wonders what the blitz regulations say...

...Kramnik, full of adrenalin, wonders what the blitz regulations say...



The arbiters investigate the clock

The arbiters investigate the clock



(At the press conference, Radjabov would later say: "It was clear what had happened. The clock switched off. That happens with these clocks. They get overloaded, they break. It’s not common, but sometimes you hit them and it happens. It doesn’t matter which clock. If you hit it as hard as we hit it…" after which Kramnik smiled.)

After about thirteen minutes, when the arbiters had adjusted a new clock to 21 seconds for Kramnik and 12 for Radjabov, the players continued and Kramnik immediately switched his bishop to the a2-g8 diagonal, from where he could work with mating threats. This was also the result of Radjabov's earlier decision to put his king on f6, which "wasn't very practical", as he later stated. Radjabov then missed a chance to switch his rook to a more active position, suddenly lost two pawns and had to resign. Kramnik was still alive! All this happened during the 4th rapid game between Grischuk and Aronian.

Sometimes similar things happen at Wimbledon, where one player is serving many aces, and is about to win a match, when a rain shower forces a break. When the players return onto the court, sometimes the next day, roles can be reversed, no aces are hit anymore, the other player takes over and wins. In this light, some chess fans suggested that the pause had meant a big advantage for Kramnik: he was given extra time to find the winning plan.

However, at the press conference this theory was countered. Kramnik: "Any professional will tell you that objectively it’s in favour of the weaker side. Though that’s not how it worked out. It’s absolutely obvious that it wasn’t in my favour. I was very unhappy about it, and there were witnesses. I thought that deprived me of any chances whatsoever."

In the next game the ex-World Champion kept on pressing with the white pieces in a position that was only slightly better all the time. At some point he wanted to stop his efforts, but Radjabov declined his draw offer! Finally, at move 57, Radjabov went wrong himself in a rook ending. The next game Kramnik easily equalized with the black pieces and held the draw without too much trouble.

About his opponent in this first mini-match, Kramnik said: "I want to congratulate him on his good play, and good preparation. That was one of the toughest matches of my life so far. I can see Teimour’s made really serious progress, that he’s prepared excellently, and improved. He’s perhaps one of the very toughest opponents here."

The tournament has already lost formidable players like Veselin Topalov and Levon Aronian, but their opponents deserved to win and there are four wonderful players left. There are still two full rest days to enjoy for Grischuk and Kramnik. Next Thursday is game 1 of their match and that of Gelfand and Kamsky.

Tiebreak games round 1



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Images FIDE | Russian Chess Federation



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