So, with a sigh of relief, to round seven. When quizzed about the four draws of the first round and the absence of ‘fighting chess’, you may remember that Vlad Kramnik commented “they call it fighting chess - it just means the standard isn't very high!” Round seven was different; nobody could criticise the fighting quality of the games but the games ended in draws anyway. But just because they ended in draws it doesn’t also follow that the moves were of a high standard. Actually, there were a few very poor quality move played in round seven, but they are probably best explained by the tension in the tournament. I’ve heard it said by someone very experienced who is very close to the action in the tournament room and has also attended a number of other high-profile events, that the tension is of a height rarely seen at such events. Of course, so much is at stake: a place in a world championship match. And even for those players who are lagging behind, it is important for them to regain some prestige, not to mention rating points.
CARLSEN - RADJABOV
|Carlsen at the start of his testing game against Radjabov|
Round seven was the second major scare for Magnus Carlsen, and perhaps more so than his game with Ivanchuk. In the opening, for reasons not entirely clear to the players or the press, Black’s position seemed to work out pretty well for him. Around move 18 Carlsen later admitted to what he called a ‘black-out’, allowing Radjabov to force an pawn advance to f3 and gaining control of the g2 square.
Suddenly the watching audience’s computers were whirring and finding a myriad of powerful lines for Radjabov. By now Carlsen had woken up to the danger and was reliant on an exchange sacrifice to get him out of trouble. But it looked (and still looks) like desperate stuff. I was watching the game in the press room with GM Ray Keene. He may not have played competitively for a couple of decades but his attacking instincts are still very sharp. Around move 23, where Radjabov played 23...Qe6. Ray preferred 23...Qd7, to keep some additional pressure on the d-file.
Later, at the press conference, I was brave enough to put this possible improvement to the players. The plan that Ray and I and the computer had hit on involved playing the bishop round to 26...Ba5 to molest the rook on d2 but Carlsen waved this away, saying it was no big deal as he could play 26 Bxc5, etc. But I’m not so sure White is really alright here - have a look at the annotation below - but I suppose it was asking too much of the players to find such a long and tortuous line without the benefit of an engine. It is typical of Carlsen's rational, confident philosophy that he doesn't spend too much time worrying about things in the past or future which he can't change. As a Zen Buddhist might put it, he 'lives in the moment': he makes his move and doesn't agonise about it after the event.
A couple of moves later, Radjabov, with the exchange in his pocket, went all in with f3-f2+ and it looked pretty good. However, it wasn’t a knock-out punch and suddenly it was hard to find a convincing entry into Carlsen’s position. I can’t help feeling Radjabov was very unlucky in this game. The Nordic gods smiled on Carlsen.
IVANCHUK - SVIDLER
|Ivanchuk is thinking about a Scotch - Svidler is thinking about football and cricket...|
This was perhaps the least interesting of the days four draws, unless you have a penchant for a main line of the Scotch game. Peter Svidler’s castling queenside was of some note, but it later transpired that Peter had more important things on his mind - the Premier League football match Arsenal-Reading on Sunday afternoon. At the press conference I asked Peter about the cricket test match but he told me his comments would be “unprintable”. (Just before play started in round eight, and I was taking photos in the playing hall, Peter gave me his private views on the cricket, where England are currently staring down the gun barrel of defeat against New Zealand, but leaving Peter and I with some hope that the England batsmen may yet chase down a record-breaking fourth innings deficit.)
GELFAND - KRAMNIK
|The Kramnik dark-squared bishop arrives on Gelfand's b4.|
This game started with a steady IGP line of the Nimzo-Indian. Kramnik admitted that he had been ‘terribly provocative’ around move 17 and also described his 18th move Nf6-e8 as “terribly risky”. But it was worse than. Kramnik was told by the press that his move was actually a blunder as it allowed not one, but two, winning replies, with either white knight able to go to g5. Kramnik was visibly stunned to see that, after 19 Neg5 h6, White had 20 Bg6, but it was interesting to see that, having been shown this move, he was able to find a host of winning lines almost instantly. But there was a second shock for him when Evgeny Bareev showed him 19 Nfg5 which wins in a different way after 19...h6 20 Qh5, etc.
Instead Boris retreated his e4 knight to d2 and the moment had passed. The game duly petered out to a draw. But the mutual oversight was perhaps indicative both of Kramnik’s desperation to break his run of draws by playing provocatively, and the tiredness of the two players.
ARONIAN - GRISCHUK
|Take 1: Levon Aronian shakes hands with... arbiter David Sedgwick?! No, actually he's shaking hands with Alexander Grischuk at the beginning of their game. Just a weird photographic accident: no photoshopping involved.|
|Take 2, and now you can see it was Aronian-Grischuk|
The joint leader started with a pretty solid line against the Queen’s Indian, only trying to raise the tension a little in the middlegame with 15 Qc3 and then a little more so by sacrificing a pawn with 20 c5. I thought it looked quite imbalanced for a while but I was sitting next to Ray Keene and around move 23 he was analysing it out to a draw if Black played 23...a6. Aronian later dissented from this view, feeling that he might have had a little edge in the endgame but it still looks pretty level to most human eyes. Eventually Aronian regained his sacrificed pawn and the pieces were hovered off, leaving a level endgame.