Gelfand and Grischuk reach Candidates final
Boris Gelfand and Alexander Grischuk have qualified for the FIDE Candidates final in Kazan, Russia. In a thrilling tie-break on Monday they defeated their opponents, Gata Kamsky and Vladimir Kramnik respectively, in the blitz session. Full report with light annotations to all tie-break games.
The Candidates matches take place May 3-27 in Kazan, Tatarstan, Russia. Levon Aronian (Armenia), Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan) and Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria) were knocked out in the quarter-finals. In the semis, Alexander Grischuk (Russia) won against Vladimir Kramnik (Russia) and Boris Gelfand beat Gata Kamsky (USA). The quarter-finals and semi-finals consisted of four classical games and tie-breaks; there are six classical games in the final. The winner qualifies for a World Title match against Vishy Anand next year. More info here; tie-break rules here.
Whether you like the system or not, today's tie-breaks with Boris Gelfand, Gata Kamsky, Alexander Grischuk and Vladimir Kramnik were as thrilling as those of the quarter-finals played exactly a week ago. The author of this report spent his day glued to his computer screen, with two separate browser windows from the live page of the official site, one browser window for the streaming video and the Chess.FM commentary coming from the speakers. This kind of chess entertainment came pretty close to what could be working on TV, one would want to believe!
Gelfand and Kamsky in what was not a top-level, but certainly a spectacular semi-final tie-break
Let's first repeat the rules for the the tie-breaks once more. They consist of four rapid games (25 minutes + 10 seconds increment) and if necessary up to five mini-matches of two blitz games (5 minutes plus 3 seconds increment). If necessary, everything would be decided by one sudden death game with 5 minutes for White and 4 for Black (3-second increment after move 60) with draw odds for Black.
Ironically, both winners were under heavy pressure in their very first White game. Kamsky played a strong game in an Anti-Grünfeld and was in total control at move 30, with a passed pawn that had reached a4. But somehow it was difficult to make progress, and the American decided to make some pawn moves on the kingside. Gelfand then used a nice tactic, sacrificing a rook to force a perpetual. In his first game, Kramnik held an ending with a pawn down to a draw.
Boris Gelfand under pressure in rapid game 1 against Gata Kamsky
On this second tie-break day, the two boards started simultaneously for every 'round'. (Last week Grischuk had complained to the arbiters because during his 4th rapid game against Aronian, Kramnik and Radjabov had already reached the blitz and were banging on the clock.)
To the surprise and disappointment of the thousands of chess fans who were following the games online, Grischuk and Kramnik didn't really play this second game. The two just repeated 14 moves of theory from the Queen's Gambit Declined, and then shook hands. In the 4th rapid game it was even worse: after just 8 (exactly the same) moves, they already called it a day.
Two quick draws in the rapid games Grischuk-Kramnik
Not trying to win with the white pieces is of course a remarkable strategy by Grischuk. However, it's not a complete enigma any more to anyone who has followed the matches in Kazan closely. This affair makes clear once more that Kramnik's repertoire these days is a impenetrable wall. The Grischuk team simply hasn't been able to find anything special against his Queen's Gambit Declined or Nimzo-Indian, and apparently not in the Catalan either (an opening of which Kramnik is arguably the biggest expert in the world). Grischuk must have decided that avoiding the main lines is too risky in rapid games, and playing on in equal positions would be a waste of energy.
Besides, psychologically it was logical too. Grischuk is a former World Blitz Champion and by 'sacrificing' his two white games, he basically made clear that he felt confident to face Kramnik in the blitz games. In a way you could say that Grischuk didn't make the same mistake as Garry Kasparov did in 2000. The Boss kept on trying to win against a certain opening, but Grischuk decided not to. Back then it was the Berlin Wall, today it was the QGD.
But despite all this, it was a still remarkable strategy of course. A strategy that worked out well in the end. Grischuk did play very strongly in the blitz and outplayed Kramnik twice. He won a pawn in the first and converted it to a full point. Then, in the second, he successfully played for a draw from the start, even missing a few easy wins along the way. The winner is always right!?
Grischuk again showed nerves of steel and eliminated Kramnik
In their second game, Gelfand and Kamsky both missed a not too difficult tactic which could have decided the game immediately in favour of Gelfand. Not long after that, this game ended in a draw.
Then, in his second White game, things went wrong for Gelfand. There was another tactic he missed, and this time Kamsky grabbed his chance. The American won his opponent's queen, and not long thereafter the game, getting very close to reaching the final.
Gelfand was in a must-win situation in the last rapid game, and chose the 2...Nc6 and 4...Qb6 Sicilian (about which Greek GM Efstratios Grivas wrote a book a few years ago). The Israeli managed to create complications, and duly outplayed Kamsky in the middlegame to level the score.
Kamsky realizes that he'll have to start over again in the blitz
This was just too much for Kamsky, who cracked under the pressure in the blitz. In the first game. he switched to his beloved London System (1.d4 and 2.Bf4) but this backfired completely. After 14 moves Black was already better and in a worse ending, Kamsky could not put up the stubborn defence he's famous for. 0-1. In the second game he tried to create complications with a Dutch Defence, but again was outplayed by Gelfand, who won again.
Kamsky resigns, Gelfand in the final
At the press conference the two Ks were absent, but of course the two 'G stars' gave their comments. Grischuk said in English:
It was a very tough match, very difficult. I had five games with Black and just one with White, which was pretty tough. In some games I was lucky, in some games I played well. In the blitz I played really well. I'm very happy.
Gelfand's comment in English:
The match was full of mistakes from both sides. Luck was on my side. I'm very glad it happened like this. Basically the quality was pretty low. Normally the quality of tie-breaks is higher, I don't know what happened today.
The final between Gelfand and Grischuk starts in three days, on Thursday, May 19th. Six games will be played, with a rest day on Sunday, 22. If the score is 3-3, a tie-break will be played on Thursday, May 26th.
Games semi-finals, tie-breaks
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