Candidates 2014: Battle of minds

by Govindaseshan Srikanth
3/17/2014 – A top-level chess game is like a beautiful sculpture, chiseled from rock and polished to perfection. But: the unique thing about this creation is that there were two sculptors working on the same product! The two have two different processes of chiseling and two different conceptual ways of thinking. It makes the final product more complicated and conflicting – as the Rd.3 game Svidler-Kramnik shows.

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The FIDE Candidates Tournament is taking place in Khanty-Mansiysk (Russia). The first round will start on Thursday, March 13 at 3 p.m. local time, the final round is on Sunday, March 30, 2014. The event is a double round robin (14 rounds). The time control is 120 minutes for the first 40 moves, 60 minutes for the next 20 and 15 minutes for the rest of the game plus an additional 30 seconds per move starting from move 61.

The tournament will determine the challenger who will face the reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen in a title match later this year. The prize fund is 600,000 Euros (= US $832,000), the first place 135,000 and last (8th) place 25,000 Euros.

Battle of minds

By Govindaseshan Srikanth

Chess is all about weaknesses: one keeps manoeuvring the pieces to probe the opponent and force him to create a weakness and circle around it to translate into tangible benefits.

Did I say "create weakness"? Yes, when a sculptor chisels a rock until a certain figure emerges, he may not be sure of arriving at his intended final product, despite possessing a clear conception of what he planned to create. In the process, he may work on the wrong side or make an unintended stroke at a wrong place due to circumstances. He then will then start over again.

So it is in chess – but the difference here is that there are two sculptors working on the same product! The two have two different processes of chiseling and two different conceptual ways of thinking. More importantly, their current circumstances may be divergently different. Notwithstanding the level, there can never be two players who have identical thinking, identical circumstances, identical experience… This makes the process of creation and the product that is created all the more complicated and conflicting.

In this context I wish to delve upon the following game played in round three.

[Event "Candidates 2014"] [Site "Khanty-Mansiysk, RUS"] [Date "2014.03.15"] [Round "3.3"] [White "Peter Svidler"] [Black "Vladimir Kramnik"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A35"] [Annotator "Srikanth, G"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r1q2rk1/pp2ppbp/3p1np1/8/2P5/1PNQ2P1/P2BPPKP/2R2R2 b - - 0 14"] [PlyCount "74"] [EventDate "2014.??.??"] [WhiteClock "0:18:15"] [BlackClock "0:23:05"] 14... Qc6+ {The significant starting point of this game. The move played by Kramnik is new according to my database. I am not getting into the choice of opening lines and certain play during the past 14 moves, which would best be explained by the players themselves on the factors that contributed to their considerations. The time constraints of tournament report filing does not permit indulgence into a comparative study of what was played, which is covered by "investigation" which is done after everything cools down. What is being done here is mere postmortem and try to find certain clues of what 'is' and what 'might have been'!} 15. f3 e6 $6 {It is easy to criticise this move at the hindsight, as the entire play for most part of the game would revolve under the 'weakness' that it created on d6. But, precisesly this would have been the crux of Kramnik's preparation when he decided on 14...Qc6. And this is what I meant by, in my mention in the preamble to this round, to the analogy of co-sculpting and co-creation. Kramnik would have prepared for this long and excruciating defence of the d6 weakness and factors like the opponent's proclivity for a certain type of play and dislike for another type would have been the other supporting considerations.} 16. Rfd1 Rad8 17. Bf4 Rd7 18. Qe3 b6 19. Rd3 Rc8 $6 20. Qd2 Ne8 $2 {Though this move could have cost the game, it cannot be condemned solely. Barring blatant blunders, a chess game is not lost on single account - only a combination of moves lead to disintegration of a position. More than 20...Ne8, 19...Rc8 was the culprit, for the simple fact that Black relinquished the option of fighting the right way, which allowed White to vacate the vital e3 square for his bishop!} 21. e4 a6 22. e5 h6 23. h4 Rcd8 24. Rd1 b5 25. c5 Qxc5 26. Ne4 Qb6 27. Nxd6 $2 {How would you explain such a move? When the opportunity is not grabbed at the right moment, the position would start drifting towards parity and such moves and again such choices do not occur singly; White's next move also contributes significantly! It is common knowledge that the tension should be sustained to the optimum level and any premature urge for its resolution is undesirable. Grandmasters of the class of Kramnik and Svidler who belong to the elite supreme group possess supreme knowledge, and yet such instances of inaccuracies creep into their play, which is quite natural, as a game of chess is played between two minds which are subjected to circumstancial pressures!} ( 27. Be3 {is suggested here which further consolidates the advantage by gaining Black's rook on d7 in exchange for the white knight.}) 27... Bf8 28. h5 $6 Nxd6 29. exd6 g5 30. Be5 Rc8 {The important point is that it is difficult to remain idle for the mind and just keep defending relentlessly! The less pieces there are, the easier it is to defend the weakness, hence Kramnik shifts his attention to the open file.} ({There is another way to continue the fight which deserves attention:} 30... Bg7 {[%cal Yf8g7]}) 31. Rc1 Rxc1 32. Qxc1 Qb7 33. g4 b4 34. Qc4 Bg7 {Right move at the wrong time!} 35. Bg3 Qb5 36. Be1 $2 { This throws away all the advantages by conceding a vital tempo and the e5 square, which Black's queen uses for infiltration into White's camp.} Qe5 37. Bg3 Qe2+ 38. Bf2 Bf8 39. Qxa6 e5 $2 {The return of compliments!} (39... Qe5 $11 {[%csl Rd6]}) 40. Qc4 Qxa2 41. Qc6 $2 (41. Qxb4) 41... e4 42. fxe4 Qe2 43. Rf3 Rxd6 44. Qe8 f6 45. e5 f5 46. gxf5 Rf6 $1 {After the exchange of pleasantries, Kramnik finds the right steps despite skating on the thin ice for draw. This interesting seesaw battle of minds has come to a conclusion, at last! This rook places itself in the mouth of a pawn, and creates a fortress forestalling further invasion, whilst the Black queen creates just enough play revolving around the White king to force Svidler to repeat.} 47. Kg3 Qe4 48. Bc5 Qe1+ 49. Bf2 Qe4 50. Bc5 Qe1+ 51. Bf2 1/2-1/2


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Govindaseshan Srikanth is a native of Chennai, with Tamil as his mother tongue and English as his favourite language of expression. He was a contemporary of Vishy Anand during their teens and early 20s days at the Tal Chess Club at the Soviet Cultural Centre, Chennai – a landmark formative period for Vishy, as any chess enthusiast would know.
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