Nalchik R5: Solid preparation and human drama

0 | Chess Event Coverage
Chess is a difficult game. Not only because you have to make good moves, but also because you have to stay alert for many hours. However hard you've worked before, one tiny lapse of concentration can destroy hours of labour. This sadly happened to Gata Kamsky in the fifth round of the Nalchik Grand Prix against Vladimir Akopian. Of course, all over the internet people immediately reacted as if they didn't understand what had happened.

By Arne Moll

It's very common these days: as soon as the blunder's been made, people act as if it's the weirdest thing in the world. Using lots of question marks and exclamation marks, they are quick to point out the correct path and show their incredulity. Of course, it's especially easy to notice blunders when you've got an engine running in the background, but even without it, many chess fans on such moments seem to forget that grandmasters are still human, and that chess is still a human game.

The first to experience this was Vassily Ivanchuk. One of the pre-tournament favourites and definitely a favourite of the ChessVibes team, he just isn't making the right moves in this tournament. I'm afraid there's not much to say about the game. Playing a not too enterprising QGD with White, the Ukrainian badly blundered at move 22 against Rustam Kasimdzhanov, who finished him off within a few moves. Well, let's look at things from the bright side: at least the former FIDE World Champion is getting properly into the tournament now, moving to zones in the ranking where he belongs.

As we've already noted in a recent issue of ChessVibes Openings, the German GM Jan Gustafsson plays an important role in modern day opening theory. In Nalchik, he's Peter Leko's second. No wonder, then, that Leko came excellently prepared against Alexander Grischuk in Gusti's pet line, the always exciting Anti-Moscow Slav (once again showing, by the way, how untrue the stereotype is that Leko is a boring player!). To an outsider like me, all these games look pretty exciting - until you realize the guys have been following theory for 20 moves or so already. Not in this game, however, in which the Leko/Gusti team had apparently prepared a novelty at move 16 already. The move 16...c5 looked logical enough (even to me), and it led to a sharp position that seems not to have been out of balance, allowing Grischuk to hold on to his leading position in the tournament. I guess with hindsight it's easy to dismiss such games as uninteresting, but that is a gross underestimation of the amount of work that has gone into it. In my opinion, deep opening preparation is always interesting, even if the result is sometimes 'only' a solid draw.

Gusti's influence could also be felt in the game Alekseev-Aronian. In yet another Marshall Attack (also a speciality of Gusti's), the players followed for some time the game Volokitin-Gustafsson from last year's Bundesliga until Aronian deviated with the new move 16...Qf5!? instead of the usual Qh5. The idea of advancing the h-pawn to weaken g3 worked out excellently, and Aronian obtained an easy draw in the Marshall, as we're used to by now.

Sergey Karjakin is working together with Kasparov's ex-second Yuri Dokhoian and also came well prepared for his game against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. In sharp Taimanov Sicilian, his move 8.Qg3!? was already new (previously, 8.Bf4 had been tried), and led to an optically very pleasant position. It's not clear where Karjakin could have played better, because although his position looked extremely attractive despite having sacrificed his central e-pawn, Black defended excellently and comfortably cruised towards a draw. Sergey Shipov suggested 16.Ne4 (instead of 16.h4) as a natural way to gain advantage, and I think 15.Bf3 deserves attention as well. We'll probably see this line again some time soon!

Speaking of Kasparov, the opening in the game between Etienne Bacrot and Pavel Eljanov (a Zaitsev Ruy Lopez) reminded one of the great fights between Kasparov and Karpov. Bacrot chose the now-topical 12.d5 and for a long time, the players the game Carlsen-Navara from last year's FIDE Grand Prix in Baku. In this line, White wants to prove his bind on the white squares against Black's pair of bishops. Bacrot sacrificed his e-pawn to gain total control over the white squares and the diagonal a2-g8 in particular, but somehow there wasn't a forced win as Black got his game together just in time. Crazy sacs on f7 or h7 didn't work out for White, and in the end Bacrot had to settle for a move repetition.

Peter Svidler faced an extremely sharp and no doubt home-prepared line against Boris Gelfand but achieved a shaky draw in the end. What started as a quiet Moscow Slav soon turned into a tactical position where Gelfand unleashed the spectacular 18...Bh3!? setting lots of practical problems for White. Svidler handled it in a principled, but very risky way, exposing his king and ruining his pawn structure. It seems Gelfand missed a couple of excellent chances in the double rook ending, but in the position was drawn anyway.

Akopian and Kamsky at the press conference

Akopian and Kamsky at the press conference

Gata Kamsky, on the other hand, couldn't save his ending against Vladimir Akopian. Lovers of the French opening (a Tarrasch variation, to be precise) immediately recognized this as a classic and principled endgame in which Black trades some passivity and a minority on the queen's side for an extra centre pawn and a rocky solid king's side. Akopian handled the position with extreme skill, slowly gaining space and creating weaknesses in Black's position. I especially liked his move 31.g4! restraining the black king's side expansion. Black got stuck with a passive king and an roaming knight, and around move 50, Akopian could have gained a decisive advantage on several occasions.

However, he, too, wasn't the sharpest chess player in the world anymore after such a tough game, and Kamsky managed to stay alive and even missed a study-like draw where a single Knight draws against Rook + Bishop. The game went on mercilessly and Akopian got a position where KBR+P vs. KR had to be won by sacrificing the last pawn. As a result, Akopian reached a theoretically won KRB vs. KR endgame, but according to the tablebase he misplayed it at several points. Of course, such an endgame is always difficult, especially after all previous emotions, and at move 93 he allowed a simple stalemate which Kamsky then... missed as well, losing in a few more moves after all.

Of course, the moment will be recorded in the cabinet of chess curiosities, but please let's not be so surprised that this sort of thing happens in top tournaments as well. Anyone who's ever had to defend (or win) this particular ending (at whatever level) knows how extremely exhausting a job this is, especially when the pressure has been so high in the previous hours. So, let's applaud both Akopian and Kamksy for a marvellous and instructive game, reminding us once again that we're all human and that that is precisely why we love the game of chess so much!




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