Reports | April 20, 2009 22:35

Nalchik R5: Solid preparation and human drama

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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Arne Moll's picture
Author: Arne Moll


Gregory Odle's picture

Excellent article indeed! Those of us who have played in tournaments of any length know chess fatigue! I remember a saying that goes something like "It is the player who makes the last mistake, not the most mistakes, that finally looses." of course, his/her opponent needs to be awake enough to capitalize on said mistake! Indeed, your point is well taken, this is the game we all love to play, and being human we are prone to error...Thank you, Gregory Odle

Castro's picture

Lol Great introdution, Arne! Even easier is your role, explaining all the "injustices", "misanderstandings", and ridiculous uses of question marks to everyone. :-) "I'm on the side of the Great", you seam to say. Great job!
This ironic protest said, I must say I respect and apreciate your general work, even on this article.

Castro's picture

I also post here my answer to Thomas, regarding this theme, on the R4 article
(He himself prefered the word "absurd")

I also read Shipov’s comments.
Not knowing exactly your notion of “absurd”, I must in any case stress something about my inicial comments:
I came to the live transmision very near the end. In fact I didn’t think of the 80. …Rh5! defense,

(NOTE: Arne, this critical moment deserved atention on the game too)

but I saw the bad doble blunder 93.Be7?? Rb8+??, and then the (wrong) score 1/2-1/2. It felt like “WHAT??”
In any case, it was a bad BAD finish! By the reasons I told, and also by your complementing informations. In normal circunstances of a classic-time top chess game, all those blunders are not posible.
I think that last 3rd period shouldn’t be allowed to be so… fast. Or at least these games shouldn’t be taken for ELO purposes.
Now, I don’t think the players are to blame! Of course they are human, and those are human-like blunders (even top-GMs). I just think it is a big big shame.

Castro's picture

So you see, Arne, not all of the "question mark-users" are that misanderstanding, nor that implicit auto-flattering. And surely I would never the one trying to compare chess skills to those of the Nalchik GMs! ;-)

BertVerheul's picture

OH MY GOD. You saw those blunders??????

Cant believe my eyses they missed that moves.


CAL|Daniel's picture

one mustn't forget kamsky has had quite a marathon in terms of the length of his games! he must have been quite fatigued at this point.

Arne Moll's picture

Don't worry, Castro, my introduction wasn't inspired by your comment - which was rather mild compared to some of the ravings that could be seen on ICC and Playchess.

Castro's picture

:-) That I believe!
And you're right: Whenever GMs blunder, there are lots of people (usualy with engines) ready to "act as if it’s the weirdest thing in the world".
I also did that this time but without engine running and because it realy looked "the weirdest thing in the world" those obvious blunders together, before I remember that 3rd blitz time period, and before the 1/2-1/2 score was corrected.

Thomas's picture

Castro, it is hard to explain what _exactly_ I meant with "absurd" ... . In any case (this is not necessarily or specifically against you): I wonder how many of the Internet commentatos could demonstrate perfect play under the circumstances (after six hours of play, with limited time on the clock and of course no help from tablebases) in this ending, or even in slightly easier (?) ones such as queen against rook or bishop+knight against bare king .... .
Akopian's comment in the press conference is spot on: "There were many mistakes, computers would laugh at us but we are humans and we were tired." When he sacrificed his last pawn, I wonder whether he considered the ending objectively won or merely offering practical winning chances. Tablebases say the former, but obviously he didn't have one implanted in his brain :) because he went wrong on the very next move. Maybe he played on partly out of inertia and/or frustration [he was pressing throughout the game, and maybe he thought or even knew that he had missed an earlier win].
As I wrote before, I am not sure if 93.Be7 really deserves "??" under the circumstances - it may simply be a way to put an end to the game one way or another ... . Clearly white didn't see how to win this, but he may well have been "too proud" to offer a draw.
Another question (an academic one because Kamsky had an easier or certainly faster alternative): Could Kamsky also hold the endgame simply by keeping his rook on the seventh rank (as he had done since move 81)? After, say, 93.-Ra7 white can only try to make progress backtracking again with Be7-d8-c7 and Kd7!? [94. Bc5 Rc7+! =]. After all, the final position is won because white can give rook checks both (either/or) on the eight rank and on the a-file. If I am right, Kamsky's fatal mistake was automatically giving a few checks in time-trouble - "as one tends to do", but there are other examples (with more material on the board) where this is simply wrong ... .

Castro's picture

It looks like you were quoting Kamsky, rather than Akopian.
This endgame is indeed more difficult than Q vs. R, and much more than N+B+K vs K.
I played both sides maybe 10 times total, winning almost all "my wins", and I think loosing all "my draws" :-( The defense is far more difficult and extenuating. With more or less indecisions and repetitions, one almost always win.
All the conditions you said are important --- 6 hours of play, frustration for lost oportunities, limited time on the clocks... --- but I repeat it seems to me that the latter is the main "criminal", and the hardest to accept. After all these should be classic --- not rapid --- games. Too many obvious blunders in short time.

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