Nalchik R4: Exciting draws

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Chess fans generally want as many decisive games as possible, but a fighting draw with strong play from both sides can be very attractive as well. There were as many as six draws in the fourth round of the Nalchik Grand Prix, but one should not complain – all of them were hard-fought and some even highly interesting. Update: video added!

By Michael Schwerteck

It’s not easy at all to provide competent analysis of such complicated games with very little time available, but I will do my best to highlight the critical points and show a few interesting lines. Readers are encouraged to analyse the games even further.



My colleague Merijn van Delft recently argued that the player’s fighting spirit is more relevant than their opening choices and that even the Petroff (hard to believe, but true) can lead to attractive battles. This was also shown in Nalchik. There were two encounters with the 4.g3 Ba6 5.Qa4 line in the Queen’s Indian, which often leads to a slow manoeuvring game. Here, however, White found more creative continuations and the games were very lively indeed.

This was especially the case in Gelfand-Bacrot. White came up with the interesting 14.g4!? (perhaps prepared at home) and sacrificed a piece to tie the opponent down. A very nice idea, although express analysis seems to suggest that it is only good enough for a draw. Gelfand eventually got three pawns for a knight, but it wasn’t sufficient to win the game.

Press room

The press room with Aronian and Grischuk giving their press conference

Mamedyarov-Akopian was amusingly similar – exactly the same opening variation and once again a somewhat unconventional pawn advance 16.g4!? was played. Interesting again, but not really sufficient for an advantage either. Akopian managed to simplify the position and after 39 moves the game was drawn.

The Ukrainian duel Eljanov-Ivanchuk was also quite original. In the middlegame Ivanchuk gave up his queen for rook and bishop and a very complex position arose. When the dust had finally cleared, it became apparent that Black had built a fortress. White has a material advantage in the final position and the engines even think he’s winning, but there simply is no way to make progress.

Leko-Karjakin was another complex tactical fight. The Hungarian has hired Jan Gustafsson (a 1.d4 player) as a second, therefore it’s not a huge surprise that he plays closed openings with White. This time he decided to tackle Karjakin’s a6-Slav with an improvement over a game that Ivanchuk lost against Bacrot. Further analysis is required to determine what is really going on, but anyway Karjakin’s cold-blooded defence deserves praise. He managed to extinguish White’s activity and even won a pawn, but with very little material left the draw was inevitable.

The only winner of the day was Gata Kamsky who ground down Peter Svidler in 74 moves. Black was probably okay after the opening, a closed Ruy Lopez, but then underestimated White’s passed pawn(s). Svidler decided he should sacrifice the exchange and grovel, but eventually he couldn’t hold the endgame. Well, as he said himself, he can’t always be lucky. I would like to draw your attention to 38...Nxf2!?, which might have been worth trying.

Kasimdzhanov-Alekseev was a more or less balanced game, until Black miscalculated something and had to defend an inferior endgame. White was a pawn up, but due to his split structure and the reduced number of pawns Black retained decent drawing chances and indeed the point was split after 79 moves, when only the two bare kings were left.

Playing the tournament leader Alexander Grischuk with White, Levon Aronian opted for a very solid approach, trying to obtain a small advantage without any risk of losing. There have been quite a few games in this harmless-looking line where Black got into serious trouble, but against Grischuk’s competent defence, it proved simply too tame. Soon the position was completely level and the draw was the logical outcome.

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