Carlsen takes over the lead in Nice

| 0 | Chess Event Coverage
Carlsen takes over the lead in NiceAfter six rounds Magnus Carlsen is in sole lead at the Amber tournament. The Norwegian scored yet another 2-0 victory, today against Boris Gelfand, while Vasily Ivanchuk drew twice with compatriot Ruslan Ponomariov. Jan Smeets scored his first victory and played 1-1 against Vladimir Kramnik.

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 6

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Round 6 report

Fourth 2-0 knock-out brings Magnus Carlsen back on top again In Round 6 of the Amber Blindfold and Rapid Tournament, Magnus Carlsen regained the lead in the overall standings. In a gripping clash, the Norwegian defeated Boris Gelfand 2-0 and overtook former leader Vasily Ivanchuk from Ukraine, who had to settle for two draws against his compatriot Ruslan Ponomariov. The gap between the front-runners is widening. Third place is shared by Boris Gelfand, Alexander Grischuk en Vladimir Kramnik, two full points behind Carlsen and one and a half points behind Ivanchuk. After 12 games Carlsen has not yet drawn a single game, winning 9 and losing 3.

Ruslan Ponomariov explained that his blindfold game against Vasily Ivanchuk reminded him of their final match in the 2002 FIDE World Championship in Moscow, where stubborn defence in suspect positions contributed to his ultimate success. Once again a Ruy Lopez with an early g6 appeared on the board, one of the most popular openings in this Amber, and this time it was Ivanchuk who improved on Dominguez’s play against Ponomariov with 5.d4. Ivanchuk’s idea (combined with 7.a4) worked out fine and if you’re wondering why Black didn’t take the exchange on offer on move 10, the following line may give you an idea: 10…Bxd4 11.Qxd4 Qf6 12.e5 Qb6 13.Qf4. The critical moment came on move 15, where Ponomariov felt he should have played 15…Bxb3 16.Qxb3 Kh7 followed by Kh7. After 15…Qb8 his position was just unpleasant and Ivanchuk could start to realize all his plans at his leisure. But Ponomariov didn’t just wait to be finished off, and tried to create some counterplay by playing his bishop to f4 and bringing his queen to the kingside via d8. And it worked. Afterwards various improvements were suggested for White, such as 47.h4, which would have allowed him to put his king on h2, but as it went the game ended in a repetition of moves on move 68. In the rapid game Ponomariov wanted to discuss a line in the Catalan, but was bit clumsy when that opportunity really appeared. Instead of playing the critical move, 13.Ne4, he mixed up moves and went 13.Bf4. And soon found himself two pawns down and wondering what his compensation consisted of. Luckily for him he found 16.Ng5, an aggressive assault that allowed him to bail out with a draw by repetition. Ponomariov wasn’t too happy with his missed chance to play the opening he had aimed for (‘I would have liked to see what Ivanchuk had prepared’) and only found some consolation in the thought that ‘maybe Carlsen will not complain about my result’.


The blindfold game between Peter Svidler and Alexander Grischuk was a wonderful achievement by the Russian champion (the current champion Grischuk we mean, not five-times former champion Svidler). At least, that’s what we thought when we saw Black’s queen sacrifice and the way he next obtained more than enough compensation. But Grischuk, although he had a contented smile on his face, wasn’t too impressed: ‘It looks impressive, but in fact it is quite easy. If you look at the way my pieces coordinate and the threats I have it is not that difficult.’ Of course not, particularly not in blindfold. According to Grischuk, White’s 14.Qh5 was a ‘stupid move’ based on a miscalculation and after this Black would also have been better without the queen sacrifice. The key move of the combination was 20…Bd3, a quiet move that highlights White’s problems with his queen. In fact, Grischuk had hoped that Svidler would resign at that point, not because it would have made the picture prettier, but for the simple reason that it would have prevented him from making any possible moves. Obviously, Grischuk was referring to his recurring time-trouble problems, but this time such worries were unwarranted as he converted his advantage without any glitches. ‘Not a very exciting game, but a correct one’, Svidler commented after the rapid game had ended in a draw. In a Grünfeld Defence Grischuk tried a new move (in this position), 9.Qa4. Black’s 14…Qa5 was a precise move, as he has to stop his opponent from steamrolling him on the kingside and White cannot really avoid the exchange. Perhaps in the following phase 15.g4 would have been more critical, as now Black was doing fine after 16…f5. And once some pieces were exchanged the draw was not far off.


Sergey Karjakin and Leineir Dominguez discussed the merits of a Be3-Najdorf with Black playing an early h5 in their blindfold game. This discussion will no doubt continue in future games, but once the principled fight between Black’s queenside ambitions and White’s kingside ambitions came to a head, the pawn on h5 was more of a liability than an asset. The game turned sour for Black when he played 29…Nxc6? Which soon had him in insurmountable problems. Instead, he might have fought on with 29…Nxg4 30.Qxg4 f5 31.Re2 fxg4 32.Rxg2. The rapid game saw an Exchange Slav in which Karjakin tried to stir up complications. His attempts bore fruit when Dominguez erred with19.h3, allowing the strong 19…Bb5. The Cuban took the wisest decision and sacrificed the exchange, leaving Black with a slightly better position, but no tangible advantage. But the game was far from over and in mutual time-trouble Karjakin kept looking for his chances. In the end he was successful when Dominguez let himself be tricked and dropped a piece.


Levon Aronian arrived for his blindfold game against Vugar Gashimov in an impeccable white suit, white shoes, and black shirt to match the white jacket and black shirt of his opponent. After the game he admitted jokingly that this had been part of his strategy: ‘That’s why I only put it on briefly before the game. I didn’t want him to see my novelty.’ As expected Gashimov defended himself with his pet Benoni, but apparently he wasn’t very familiar with the old sideline that Aronian played. ‘And it’s a big disadvantage in rapid and blindfold if you’re not familiar with a line and your opponent is’, the Armenian explained. According to him his opponent’s 12…fxg4 was imprecise and that 12…Nf6 was theory. But his real error was 14…Bg7, where he should have played 14…Be7. ‘Later in the game I was mainly trying not to do what I was doing in previous rounds’, Aronian continued. He did so convincingly and after 38 moves Gashimov threw the towel. In the rapid game Aronian defended with the Berlin Defence, which these days is more often called the Berlin Wall. The opening served him well, as Aronian, who lives in Berlin, was better throughout the game. In the end it was not enough when Gashimov forced a draw by a repetition of moves.


A beaming Jan Smeets walked into the hospitality lounge after had won the blindfold game against Vladimir Kramnik. Not only had he beaten the former world champion in an excellent game, he had also won his first game in his Amber debut. As in their game in Wijk aan Zee, Kramnik relied on the Pirc Defence. That game he won, but this time things went different. Smeets had chosen a sharp line, and although he admitted that he didn’t remember all the ins and outs he felt at ease. Kramnik tried to invade the white position with an avalanche of pieces, but he couldn’t avoid that his knights became unstuck. As a result White won a piece against a couple of pawns, but this compensation was not enough for Black. Smeets’ main concern was that he would end up in this traditional time-trouble and blunder something. The time-trouble he couldn’t avoid entirely, but for the rest he kept a clear head, picked up a pawn here and there and forced Kramnik’s surrender on move 41. Kramnik hit back in the rapid game, but only after a gritty fight from both sides. The opening put Black under pressure, although Smeets didn’t worry too much. Looking for a speedy kill Kramnik sacrificed a piece with 32.Bxh6, but it was questionable if he objectively made much progress with this investment. He did when Smeets steered for an endgame with 34…Qe8, wrongly assessing the following developments. The Dutch grandmaster had assumed that his a-pawn would be a strong trump, but whereas his a-pawn didn’t move that fast, his opponent’s pawns became truly menacing.


Magnus Carlsen was pleased with the way he had played the blindfold game against Boris Gelfand. He obtained nothing from the opening, but that had not worried him. Instead he had enjoyed he had worked to create something from nothing. The ‘something’ was in the air when he finally could play 37.Ne5 and when that same knight struck on g6 one move later it was clear that White was on to something. The game was essentially decided when Carlsen played 41.g4, after which he assessed the position as ‘very bad to lost for Black’. Ten moves later he concluded the game with mate and notched up his first point after his winning streak was interrupted in yesterday’s rapid game. ‘Six more to go’, he grinned. The rapid game also ended in a win for Carlsen, but what a fight it was. In a King’s Indian he ended up with a worse position and could only breathe again when Gelfand made a mistake with 24.Nxc5, giving Black a nice outpost for his knight on d6. The remainder of the game was a demonstration of Carlsen’s magnificent fighting spirit. Many a player would have been tempted to go for a draw when it was there for the taking, but he rather played for a win skirting the precipice. Gelfand certainly missed various ways to draw, but Carlsen’s courage prevailed when under great pressure he managed to deal the decisive blow.


Report & photos © official website, more here


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


Peter Doggers

Peter Doggers joined a chess club a month before turning 15 and still plays for it. He used to be an active tournament player and holds two IM norms.

Peter has a Master of Arts degree in Dutch Language & Literature. He briefly worked at New in Chess, then as a Dutch teacher and then in a project for improving safety and security in Amsterdam schools.

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