Amber: Gashimov beats Carlsen, Ivanchuk leads

by ChessBase
3/20/2010 – Vasily ‘Mr Amber’ Ivanchuk once again back in the sole lead. The Ukrainian beat Alexander Grischuk 1.5:0.5, while his main rival, Magnus Carlsen, lost 0.5:1.5 to Azeri GM Vugar Gashimov. Sergey Karjakin scored 2-0 against his compatriot Ruslan Ponomariov, while Vladimir Kramnik and Levon Aronian shared the points with a win each. Round seven report.

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The 19th Amber Blindfold and Rapid tournament, organized by the Association Max Euwe in Monaco, is taking place from March 13 (first round) to March 25 (last round) at the Palais de la Mediterranée, splendidly located on the famous Promenade des Anglais in Nice. The total prize fund is € 216,000.

Every day four sessions will be played, two blindfold sessions and two rapid sessions. The first session starts at 14.30 hrs. The fourth session finishes around 20.00 hrs. Note: the final round on March 25 starts at 12.30 hrs. March 17 and 22 are rest days. The rate of play is 25 minutes per game per player. With every move made in the blindfold games 20 seconds is added to the clock, with every move made in the rapid games 10 seconds is added.

Vasily ‘Mr Amber’ Ivanchuk once again back in the sole lead

Blindfold Chess Round seven   Rapid Chess Round seven
Kramnik-Aronian 1-0   Aronian-Kramnik 1-0
Gelfand-Smeets ½-½   Smeets-Gelfand 0-1
Gashimov-Carlsen 1-0   Carlsen-Gashimov ½-½
Grischuk-Ivanchuk ½-½   Ivanchuk-Grischuk 1-0
Dominguez-Svidler ½-½   Svidler-Dominguez 1-0
Ponomariov-Karjakin 0-1   Karjakin-Ponomariov 1-0

In Round seven Vasily Ivanchuk once again moved into the sole lead. The Ukrainian grandmaster had luck on his side in his mini-match against Russian champion Alexander Grischuk. Thanks to this 1½-½ win Ivanchuk replaced Magnus Carlsen as leader in the overall standings. The Norwegian top-seed had an off-day. He was obviously disappointed by his ½-1½ loss against Vugar Gashimov, but he was even more worried by the play he had shown. Sergey Karjakin moved up to shared third place thanks to a 2-0 win over his former compatriot Ruslan Ponomariov.

Gashimov-Carlsen: Vugar Gashimov was confronted by a Berlin Wall in his blindfold game against Magnus Carlsen. In the endgame that duly appeared on the board within a few moves, White is supposed to be only slightly better, but Gashimov’s life was made easy by Carlsen’s 14…b6, and he kept a cool head when Carlsen came up with his last trick, 29…c6, to convert his advantage with a steady hand.

In the rapid game Carlsen seemed to get good chances to level the score in this mini-match, when Gashimov played too riskily in the opening. But as always it’s not over till it’s over and with tenacious play White managed to save the draw; on 58 there were only two kings left on the board.

Kramnik-Aronian: Vladimir Kramnik won a nice game against Levon Aronian in their blindfold encounter. In a Tarrasch Defence Black got into problems when he pushed 20…d4. Better would have been 20…Qc5+ 21.Kh2 and only now 21…d4. After 21.f5 White’s attack became very dangerous. If for instance Black had played 21…Bd5 instead of 21…Bc4, White pushes 22.f6 and he is in time to mate the black king.

Kramnik,V (2790) - Aronian,L (2782) [E10]
19th Amber Blindfold Nice FRA (7), 20.03.2010
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 c5 4.e3 a6 5.Nc3 d5 6.cxd5 exd5 7.g3 Bg4 8.Bg2 cxd4 9.exd4 Bb4 10.0-0 0-0 11.h3 Be6 12.Ne5 Bxc3 13.bxc3 Qc8 14.g4 Qxc3 15.Rb1 Nc6 16.Rb3 Qa5 17.Rxb7 Nxe5 18.dxe5 Ne4 19.f4 Nc3 20.Qd2 d4 21.f5 Bc4 22.Re1

The game suddenly ended when Black blundered with 22…Qxa2?, which allows the crushing 23.Rb2 Qa1 24.f6 1-0.

Aronian levelled the score in the rapid game, but this was a far from flawless performance from both players. As Aronian summed it up when he entered the hospitality lounge after the game: ‘First I was winning, then I was losing and then I was winning again.’ No one argued with that, not even the various engines present.

The first time the tables were turned when Aronian blundered with 26.Rxe3 and found himself in a lost position after Black’s answer, while he could have gotten a great position with 26.Qg2 Re7 27.Rxe7 Kxe7 28.Qg7+. Kramnik returned the favour with 32…Kf8, which gave away most of his advantage, whereas 32…Kf6 33.Re4 Rg8 would still have had him winning comfortably. After this missed opportunity the game seemed to be steering for a draw, but another mistake by Kramnik cost him the game. With 49…Kh7 he would have kept the draw. After 49…c3 he must have been shocked by White’s unnerving reply and one move later he had to resign.

Analysing after the game, with Fabiano Caruana and Ljubo Ljubojevic looking on

Sergey Karjakin: 2-0 against his compatriot Ruslan Ponomariov

Ponomariov-Karjakin: The longest game of the blindfold sessions between Ruslan Ponomariov and Sergey Karjakin lasted 71 moves and 90 minutes and ended in a victory for the latter. The rapid game was a walkover for Karjakin, as Ponomariov put up feeble resistance.

Standings after the seventh round (official)

1.  Carlsen    5    
Grischuk 5
3. Ivanchuk 4½
Karjakin 4½
5. Gelfand 4
6. Gashimov 3½
Kramnik 3½
8. Ponomariov 3
Svidler 3
10. Aronian 2½
Smeets 2½
12. Dominguez 1
1.  Ivanchuk   5½
2. Carlsen 4½
Gelfand 4½
Kramnik 4½
Svidler 4½
6. Karjakin 4
7. Aronian 3½
Gashimov 3½
9. Grischuk 2½
Ponomariov 2½
11. Dominguez 1½
12. Smeets 1
1.  Ivanchuk   10    
2. Carlsen 9½
3. Gelfand 8½
Karjakin 8½
5. Kramnik 8
6. Grischuk 7½
Svidler 7½
8. Gashimov 7
9. Aronian 6
10. Ponomariov 5½
11. Smeets 3½
12. Dominguez 2½

Cross table

Player portraits

Levon Aronian – Armenia, Elo rating: 2782, World ranking: 5, born October 6, 1982, Amber highlights: shared 2nd in the rapid in 2006, winner in 2008 and 2009

As the glorious winner of the past two Amber tournaments, Levon Aronian is obviously the man to beat in this year’s 19th edition. Last year the Armenian number one edged out Anand and Kramnik by half a point to take overall first. In 2008 Aronian truly was on a rampage in Nice, when playing inspired chess he claimed first place 2½(!) points ahead of Kramnik, Topalov, Leko and Carlsen.

Aronian had his international break-through in 2005 when he celebrated one success after the other and shot up to the fifth place in the world rankings. His successes in that revelatory year included a shared first place in Gibraltar, first place in Nagorno-Karabakh, and, to cap it all, first place in the World Cup tournament in Khanty-Mansiysk. Of course, these results didn’t come completely unexpected. After all he was already World Junior Champion U-12 as long ago as 1994 and overall World Junior Champion in 2002.

Aronian continued to be successful in 2006. He claimed first prize in the Morelia-Linares tournament and later that year he also tied for first in the Tal Memorial. In 2007 Aronian shared first place in the Corus tournament and when he arrived in Elista for the Candidates’ matches he was seen as one of the outspoken favourites. Rightly so, as he knocked out Carlsen and Shirov to qualify for the World Championship Tournament in Mexico, where he had to settle for shared sixth place.

In 2008 he won Corus again, this time together with Carlsen, and he also won the Karen Asrian Memorial in Yerevan and the Grand Prix tournament in Sochi. But easily the most important success for him was the victory of the Armenian team at the Dresden Olympiad, unequivocal proof that their win in Torino in 2006 had been no accident. His biggest successes in 2009 were his continued domination in the FIDE Grand Prix, in which he took first place with one tournament to go, and his first place in the Grand Slam Final in Bilbao.

Aronian’s debut in the 2006 Amber tournament will not easily be forgotten. The off-beat and sometimes outright weird openings that he confronted his opponents with caused both amazement and hilarity. His games in the following two years were slightly less eccentric, but last year he again won several games with what John Nunn dubbed ‘slow-motion swindling.’

Vugar Gashimov – Azerbaijan, Elo rating: 2740, World ranking: 12, born July 24, 1986, Amber highlights: This is his Amber debut.

Although he already entered the top-twenty in the summer of 2008 and shot up to 6th place in the world rankings last November, it is safe to say that the public at large knows little or nothing about Vugar Gashimov. Suddenly the 23-year-old grandmaster from Azerbaijan seemed to appear from nowhere and launched himself to the top. Of course, part of his anonymity can be explained by the speed with which he progressed, but there is more. For a long, difficult period he hardly appeared in any tournaments, because the doctors had forbidden him to play a lot of chess.

Gashimov was born in Baku in 1986 and at an early age his prodigious talent for chess was discovered. Playing sparkling, carefree chess he excelled in junior tournaments, mostly beating his closest rivals Radjabov and Guseinov. When he was 12 he took first place in the U-16 section of the Kasparov Cup in Moscow and earned encouraging praise from the Master Himself. And then fate struck. He was treated for epileptic spasms and twice he underwent brain surgery, but nothing helped. Only years later his life took another dramatic turn, this time for the better, when he was operated upon a third time in Bonn, Germany, and a benign tumour was successfully removed from his brain.

In the meantime Gashimov had developed into a more strategic player, playing solid positional chess (although one of his favourite openings is the razor-sharp Benoni). But he is a very strong positional player, as his opponents had to experience. Now things went rapidly. In the spring of 2007 he was still ranked 61st with a rating of 2644, one year on he had already made the jump to number 20 with a rating of 2717. Before the chess world knew it he had joined the elite, peaking on the January list of this year with a formidable 2759 rating.

Gashimov’s international breakthrough cam in 2008 when he won the inaugural Grand Prix tournament in Baku together with Wang Yue and Magnus Carlsen. He continued to play well in the Grand Prix and in the overall GP standings he occupies the fifth position.

Gashimov is also a great team player as his outstanding results in team competitions show. At the Dresden Olympiad he won a silver medal on second board with a score of 6,5 out of 9. Exactly the same score he made at the 2009 European Team Championships in Novi Sad and this time his win in the final round brought Azerbaijan the gold medals.

All photos by Nadja Wittmann


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