Garry Kasparov isn't here to defend his FIDE rapid world champion's title, but this must be considered one of the all-time great rapid chess events. The title isn't exactly a historic one, Kasparov's in 2001 was the first. Still, it's an official FIDE title and the traditional rapid tournament of Cap D'Agde is a logical host. This year's winner will be one of these four semifinalists: Kramnik, Anand, Grischuk, and Svidler.
Cap D'Agde Prelim Group A
Two eight-player round robins qualified four players each for the knock-out stage of mini-matches. Kramnik cruised through Group A with his trademark brand of steamroller chess. He sees everything, defends everything, and cleans up full points at will. He continued to look unstoppable in the first KO round when he took Polgar apart to raise his career score against her in decisive games to a ridiculous 22 wins vs 0 losses.
Ponomariov again showed his tenacity and coolness under pressure by beating Gelfand in a 70-move marathon to move on. That dropped Gelfand into a playoff with Topalov to go to the KO phase, a two-game match won by the Bulgarian.
The battle to be the French number one has heated up as Bacrot has started to live up to his "youngest ever GM" title of half a decade ago and is just a few points behind Joel Lautier. Bacrot was the surprise of the first half, qualifying undefeated with wins over Adams and Bareev.
Cap D'Agde Prelim Group B
Svidler continues his devastating play and was the only player in either group to reach five points, although he wasn't the only player with three wins. Polgar and Leko both hit that mark, but Leko balanced out with three losses while Polgar made it through despite a late loss to Leko. As we see below, Anand needed a last-second (literally) win over Karpov with black to make it out of the first stage.
Grischuk continues to impress. The youngest member of the top 10 didn't lose a game in the preliminaries and disposed of Bacrot in the quarter-finals in a blitz tiebreaker. Svidler took out Topalov in the quarters to join Kramnik and Anand in the final four.
Anand missed a mating finish after outplaying Ponomariov in their first quarter-final game and the Ukrainian escaped with his usual staunch defense.
Even that couldn't save Pono in the second game, when Anand won with black despite (because of?!) having the "X-Wing" pawn-bishop structure we see in the diagram. (As bizarre as that looks we did find one other game with an identical structure.)
The semi-finals on Wednesday will see Kramnik-Grischuk and Anand-Svidler. Is the super-heavyweight Kramnik-Anand final inevitable or will the display of Russian power continue? We'll be back when it's over with photos and analysis of the KO stage.
Topalov finds a nice finish here against Adams in the prelims. He gives up his curiously placed knight for a winning pair of passed pawns. A mere rook is no match for them.
45.Qe5+! Qxe5 46.fxe5 Rgxe8 47.Rxe8+ Rxe8 48.d7. 1-0
Kramnik played creatively against Topalov in a Najdorf, pushing the pawns in front of his king without much preparation.
21.g4 (diagram) is worth a look because Topalov could snap up the g-pawn with 21...Nxg4 when the knight is immune (22.Qxg4 Rg6 wins the queen for rook and knight). It's unlikely that Kramnik was planning to give up his queen, so perhaps he just wanted the open g-file after 22.Kh1. If 22...Nxe3 the white knight can take up a typically dominating position on d5 after 23.Nxe3.
Topalov declined but the g-pawn push was effective anyway,
especially after the h-pawn joined it on the front line. 21...Qb7 22.Ng3
Rc8 23.h4 g6 24.g5 Ne8 25.h5.
The local hero Bacrot was the surprise of the preliminary round. He qualified for the knock-out ahead of big names like Adams and Bareev.
With the black bishop on c4 it was going to take awhile
before White could do anything with his extra pawn. Bareev picked the
wrong direction with 55...Bf1 (diagram) and Bacrot capitalized
with 56.c6! Kd6 57.Bxd5 1-0
Leko is one of the few top players who regularly allows the Marshall Gambit. (Polgar is another.) There are a lot of draws with the occasional White win, but few players enjoy giving up the initiative as early as move eight.
Anand made the most of the chance and reached this position
with his pieces swarming around the white king. Leko can play to f2 or
h1. Stepping up into a pin doesn't look very pretty, but 37.Kh1?
was the loser. Anand finished prettily with 37...Ng3+! 38.hxg3 Qh3+
39.Kg1 Qxg3+ 40.Kh1 Rh4+ 41.Nxh4 Qxe3. White has no chance to set
up a defense with his king so open and Leko resigned a few moves later.
In the next round Vishy was on the wrong end of another theoretical conversation. He and Polgar continued their debate in the Najdorf line they dueled in during their rapid match in Mainz earlier this year.
Polgar left her pawns alone this time, preferring to rapidly play her bishop out to b7 and put a rook on c8. This paid off almost immediately when Anand played his rook to d2 to protect the c2 pawn.
But the rook found itself under attack after Polgar found 21...Bxa2+! This would win the exchange after 22.Kxa2 b3 23.cxb3 Qa5+ 24.Kb1 Qxd2. So Anand bailed out but was down two pawns with little hope after 22.Kc1 Bb3 23.Kd1 (Bd3) 23...Bxc2+.
Karpov had a dismal time of things and finished in last place for the second consecutive event. (Essent) The 12th world champion was the only player not to win a single game.
Here Svidler, who continued his fantastic run of form, sprang a nasty with 23.f5! Karpov had nothing better than to take the knight and lose the trapped queen after 23...dxe3 24.Bf1 Bxf5 25.Bxh3 Bxh3.
Anand squeaked into the KO section by bamboozling his old rival Karpov in the final round. It took 98 moves to do it, the longest game of the event so far. It looked like Karpov had a chance at his first win in the endgame, but it quickly became clear that Anand's passed pawns gave him the better chances.
Now Karpov (white) has to be precise to hold the draw. He played 58.Rb1?? and ended up in a lost queen vs rook and pawn endgame after 58...c6!, gaining time to advance the king and promote a pawn. 59.Ke6 Kb5 60.Kd6 Kb4 61.Kxc6 a3 and a pawn queens.
Karpov could have held the draw by following the oldest maxim of rook and pawn endgames: put your rook BEHIND the pawns, not in front. 58.Rf8!= Kb5 (58...Kb7 59.Rf2) 59.Ra8 saves a critical tempo and draws.
The game still had some interest as neither player found the computer-best moves in the queen vs rook + pawn endgame. This isn't easy with plenty of time on the clock and with only increment seconds perfection was not in the house.
On move 64 the magic endgame tablebases announced mate in 30 for Anand. But 30 moves later they said mate in 31! Anand edged closer to winning the pawn and testing his knowledge of queen vs rook, but Karpov's 98th move allowed the Indian to force an immediate win and join the qualifiers.