Elista Finals round three: GM Mihail Marin comments

by ChessBase
6/9/2007 – It was an exciting day, with hard-fought games, with Leko and Gelfand taking full points, and Aronian coming very close to doing the same. So plenty of material for our GM commentator to analyse. Mihail Marin does it in his usual intructive style, giving chess amateurs and tournament players alike an insight into grandmaster thought and plans. Another analytical essay you will not want to miss.

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The Finals of the Candidates Matches for the 2007 World Chess Championship Tournament are being held in Elista, Russia, from June 6th to June 14, 2007. Eight candidates advanced from the first stage and are now playing six-game matches to fill four places in the 2007 World Championship in Mexico City. The prize fund is US $40,000 per match, most of the money ($320,000) coming from a personal fund of FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, FIDE ($160,000) and the general sponsor, Rosenergomash.

The following express commentary was provided by Romanian GM Mihail Marin, who is the author of a number of very popular ChessBase training CDs and articles for ChessBase Magazine. GM Marin will study the games of the Candidates Finals in greater detail and provide the full results of his analysis in the next issue of ChessBase Magazine.

Candidates Finals: Round three commentary

By GM Mihail Marin

Aronian,L (2759) - Shirov,A (2699) [D20]
WCh Candidates Finals Elista RUS (3), 08.06.2007 [Mihail Marin]

1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4. Frankly speaking, the Queen's Gambit Accepted does not really suit Shirov's enterprising style of play, but match strategy has its own rules: play solidly with Black and try to win with White. 3.e4. Or maybe Shirov relies on the fact that Aronian plays this uncompromising move, leading to positions that can easily explode tactically... 3...e5 4.Nf3 exd4 5.Bxc4 Nc6 6.0-0 Be6.

7.Bb5. Despite the favourable result of the first game of the match, Aronian deviates from 7.Bxe6. 7...Bc5 8.b4 Bb6 9.a4 a6 10.Bxc6+ bxc6 11.a5 Ba7 12.Bb2 Nf6 13.Nxd4 Bxd4 14.Bxd4 Nxe4 15.Bxg7 Rg8 16.Be5 Bh3 17.Bg3 Nxg3 18.hxg3 Qxd1 19.Rxd1 Be6

After a short phase of intense piece contact, the position has calmed down and we can draw the first conclusions. Black's structure is in ruins, but his rooks can be activated very easily. In fact, the b- and g-files were opened precisely as a consequence of allowing the creation of "pawn islands". In order to obtain an advantage, White needs to install his knight on c5, defended by the c5-pawn. However, this seems to be difficult to achieve in view of the threats ...Rg4 and ...Rb8. 20.Nc3 Rg4 21.Rab1 Rb8 22.f4! As mentioned above, the b4-pawn is essential. White can do without one of his double g-pawns, because Black cannot create a passed pawn on this wing anyway. 22...Bf5 23.Rb2 Rxg3 24.Na4 Kf8 25.Nc5 Ra8. We can see that Black's extra-pawn is not too significant. It is true that the double pawns control important squares along the d-file, but at the same time they prevent the communication between the king's rook and the queenside (for instance, it would be better to defend the a6-pawn with ...Rg6 and maintain the other rook active). We can conclude that as long as he can maintain the stability of his knight on c5 (meaning not to lose the b4-pawn) White can count on a stable advantage. 26.Kf2 Rc3 27.Rbd2 Rc4 28.Rd4 Rxd4 29.Rxd4 Ke7 30.Rd1 Be6 31.Re1 Kf6 32.Re5. SInce the black rook is tied down to the defence of the a6-pawn, White has the upper hand in the centre. 32...h6 33.g3 Bc4. Understandably, Shirov becomes worried by White's slow but constant progress in the centre and on the kingside and decides to free his rook from its humiliating duties. However, this will allow a radical activation of the white pieces. 34.Nd7+ Kg7 35.Re7

An instructive position. White plays for domination despite the reduced amount of material left on board. His pieces are not easy to be driven away from the seventh rank. 35...Rd8. Creating a relative pin. If Nc5 now (attacking the c7-pawn), then ...Rd2+ followed by ...Rb2. 36.Ke3 h5 37.f5. The position was not ripe for 37.Nc5 yet. After 37...Rd1 Black would have sufficient counterplay against the b4- and g3-pawns. 37...Rg8. Shirov understands that his opponent is not going to clear the d-file so easily tries to find new horisons for his rook. The main threat is ...Kh6 followed by ...Rg4. 38.Re4 Bb5 39.Rh4 Rd8 40.Nc5 Kh6 41.Kf4. 41.g4 was inoffensive because of 41...Kg5, but once White has taken the g5-square under control, the threat becomes serious. 41...Be2 42.Rh2 Bb5 43.Ke5

Although Black has displayed certain inventivity in the search for counterplay, White's achievement in the previous phase of the game is more important: his king is superbly centralized, putting the f7-square (and, in certain cases, the enemy king) in great danger. 43...Kg5?! This seemingly active move is the main cause of the rapid deterioration of Black's position in the next phase of the game. Black should have kept the f6-square well-defended with 43...Kg7 and even if this would have lost a pawn to 44.Rxh5 , his counterplay after 44...Rd5+ 45.Ke4 Rd1 looks sufficient for saving the game. White has problems defending his b- and g-pawn and also to activate his king. 44.Ne4+ Kg4 45.Kf6 Kf3 46.Rh4 Bd3 47.Nc5 Kxg3 48.Rxh5 Bc4 49.Rh1. The exchange of one pair of pawns has not brought Black the desired relief. Once the g3-pawn has dissappeared from board, the black king has absolutely nothing to do on the empty white kingside and will face serious problems returning into play. 49...Rb8 50.Rd1 Rxb4!? It is hard to give a definitive evaluation to this move, which eliminates such an important pawn. Objectively speaking, it could have just... shortened Black's suffering, but from practical point of view it appears to be correct decision. The fact is that the character of the position will change abruptly and White will have to take concrete decisions, something not easy after 50 moves and a rather long technical phase, where the calculation of just 1-2 moves ahead was sufficient... White's main threat was Rd4 anyway, when the bishop would have had to abandon one of the a6- and f7-pawns. After 50...Ra8 51.Ke7 followed by Kd7, he would have been hopelessly passive. 51.Rd4. Setting up a deadly pin and cutting the enemy king along a rank, which is highly unpleasant. 51...Kf3 52.Nxa6?! This careless move allows Black to prolong the fight. The prophylactical 52.Rh4 , threatening Nxa6 would have won after a couple of accurate moves: 52...Kg3 (Trying to dismantle White's mechanism. There is not much to be said about 52...Ke3 53.Nxa6! Ra4 54.Nc5 Rb4 55.a6 when the a6-pawn will cost Black dearly.) 53.Re4 Kf3 54.Ke7! Suddenly, Black is in zugzwang. If the king moves, the white rook would cease to be attacked, which would allow Nxa6. This leaves us with 54...Ra4 but then 55.Rh4! Kg3 56.Rd4 forces 56...Rb4 and now 57.Nxa6 wins as shown above. 52...c5!! At the cost of one pawn, Black wins essential time. However, his position was so bad that he hardly can count on a draw yet. 53.Nxc5 Ke3 54.Rh4 Kd2 55.Na6 Ra4 56.Nxc7 Kd3 57.a6 Ra5

58.Rf4! By over-defending the f5-pawn, White prepares the transfer of the king to the queenside. After the careless 58.Ke7? Black draws with 58...Bxa6 59.Nxa6 Rxf5! 58...Kc3 59.Ke7 Rc5 60.Kd6 Ra5

61.f6? As this frequently happens, the first move after reaching the time control is bad. Aronian obviously considered the capture on a6 impossible and did not wish to spend time on prophylactic moves. The correct continuation would have been 61.Kc6! Not only preventing ...Bxa6, but also preparing to sustain the advance of the a-pawn. 61...Ra1 (After 61...Bxa6 62.Kb6 Re5 63.Nxa6 Kd3 64.Nc5+ Ke3 65.Rf1 Black cannot increase the pressure against White's last pawn. After the return of the enemy king to the kingside, Black would be completely hopeless.) 62.Kb6 Rb1+ (The attempt to catch the pawn from g2 with 62...Bf1 allows the elegant 63.Rxf1! Rxf1 64.a7 with an easy win.) 63.Kc5 and Black will have to sacrifice one of his pieces for the dangerous pawn. 61...Bxa6! 62.Nxa6 Rxa6+ 63.Ke7. Aronian probably considered this ending to be winning and in fact he will miss just one tempo to prove it...

63...Ra7+ 64.Kf8 Kd3 65.Rh4 Ke3 66.Rh7 Kf4 67.Rxf7 White has managed to win the pawn, but his pieces lack harmony. 67...Ra6 68.Kg7 and in view of the variation 68.Kg7 Kg5 69.Rf8 Rb6 70.f7 (What else?!) 70...Rg6+!= with perpetual, Aronian offered a draw. 1/2-1/2. [Click to replay]

Leko,P (2738) - Bareev,E (2643) [B17]
WCh Candidates Finals Elista RUS (3), 08.06.2007 [Mihail Marin]

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.Ng5 Ngf6 6.Bd3 e6 7.N1f3 Bd6 8.Qe2 h6 9.Ne4 Nxe4 10.Qxe4 Qc7 11.0-0 b6 12.Qg4 Kf8. Bareev's decision to repeat the variation that led him to defeat in the first game is questionable. It is not only about the objective merits of the variation (Black was quite OK after the opening), but has more to do with psychologycal aspects: why play under the influence of recent bad memories?...

13.Qh4. Deviating from 13.Re1 , which led to a balanced position in the first game. 13...Bb7 14.Re1 Kg8. This time Bareev is not willing to weaken the long diagonal too soon. But how is he going to connect rooks? 15.Qh3 Re8 16.c4 Nf6 17.Bd2 c5. Practically forced because of the threat Bc3, when Black would have been completely paralized. 18.d5

18...e5? Equivalent to strategic surrendering. Black should have accepted the pawn sacrifice with 18...exd5 . It is true that White would have ample compensation in view of the uncomfortable position of the black king, but this is an element Black had accepted when he played 12...Kf8, or maybe even 4...Nd7. 19.Bc3. Now, besides the above-mentioned problem, Black has to endure the psoitional pressure in the centre. 19...g6. Finally giving in. 20.Qh4 Kg7 21.Nd2 Qd8 22.Bc2 Bc8 23.Ba4

23...g5. Black is forced to weaken his king's position furthermore. In case of 23...Re7 24.f4!; or 23...Bd7 24.f4! Bxa4 25.fxe5 Be7 26.d6 White would obtain a very powerful attack. 24.Qg3 Nh5? But after this careless move Black's position becomes hopeless. 24...Re7? would hardly have been better because of 25.Rxe5!? and Black's pieces have no safe place to hide.; The only chance for survival was 24...Bd7 , although White would have considerable advantage. 25.Qf3. This is the point. In order to save his attacked pieces, Black has to continue advancing his g-pawn, creating decisive weaknesses. 25...g4 26.Qd1 Re7

27.h3. Another promissing start of the attack was 27.Ne4 , when Black's fortress on dark squares looks rather shaky. 27...Nf6 28.hxg4 Bxg4 29.f3 Bc8 30.Re3 Nh5 31.Qe1 f6 32.Qh4 Nf4 33.Ne4 Rf7 34.g3 Ng6 35.Qh5 Bb8

White has gradually increased hiskingside pressure. Now, it is time for concrete threats. 36.Bc2 f5 37.f4! Elegant and decisive. 37...Re8. 37...fxe4 38.Bxe4 Rf6 39.fxe5 is also hopeless for Black. 38.Nf2 Rf6 39.Rae1 e4

40.Bxe4! Or anything else. 40...fxe4 41.Nxe4 1-0. [Click to replay]

Grischuk,A (2717) - Rublevsky,S (2680) [B85]
WCh Candidates Finals Elista RUS (3), 08.06.2007 [Mihail Marin]

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be2 Qc7. Quite a surprize! Rublevsky almost never develops his queen to c7 in the Sicilian, but the first game of the match might have convinced him to abandon his former views. 7.0-0 Nf6 8.Be3 Be7 9.f4 d6 10.a4 0-0 11.Kh1 Re8

By transposition, we reached a topical position of the Scheweningen, which passed the heavy test of the second match Karpov-Kasparov quite successfully. In fact, after losing his title, Karpov practically gave up playing 1.e4, which speaks a lot about his conclusions on this variation... 12.Bf3 Bd7 13.Nb3. During the match, Karpov usually allowed the exchange on d4. He retreated with the knight only in the last game, where he desperately needed to win - and lost! 13...b6 14.g4 Bc8 15.g5 Nd7 16.Bg2 Bb7. The main alternative is 16...Rb8 followed by ...Na5.] 17.Rf3 Nb4 18.Rh3 g6 19.Qd2 Bf8 20.Qf2 Bg7 21.Rf1

21...Re7 This move (in a slightly different position) was designed by Kasparov in the aforementioned game. Black plans to double rooks on the e-file in order to discourage the thematical advance of the f-pawn. 22.Bd4 e5 23.fxe5 dxe5. The generally desirable capture with the knight isimpossible because the b6-pawn is hanging. 24.Be3 Rd8 25.a5! White keeps his opponent under pressure on both wings. 25...bxa5 26.Nc5 Nf8 27.Nxb7 Qxb7 28.Bb6 Rb8 29.Bxa5 Nc6 30.b4 Ne6 31.Qh4 After a short queenside diversion, White switches back to his main plan: the direct attack against the king. 31...Nxa5 32.bxa5 Nf4. The standard way to parry the attack along the h-file 32...h5 does not work here because after 33.gxh6 White would jump with his knight to d5, with decisive threats. 33.Qxh7+ Kf8 34.Nd5 Re6 35.Rhf3 Rd8

Things have gone wrong for Black, but he has hopes to survive because of White's numerous pawn weaknesses. If White's attack fails, the endgame should be OK for Black. 36.Rxf4?! A tempting but unnecessary sacirfice. 36.Nxf4 exf4 37.Rxf4 followed by the brutal advance of the h-pawn would have taken White's attack to alarming proportions. 36...exf4 37.Nxf4 Qc6 38.e5. Even here, 38.h4 looks promissing. 38...Qc4 39.Qh3 Kg8 40.Nxe6 fxe6

Despite his considerable material advantage, White can hardly be happy aout the recent evolution of the position. His attack has vanished and he is left with just weaknessses. Rublevsky had little trouble achieving a draw. 41.Qb3 Qxb3 42.cxb3 Bxe5 43.Bb7 Rd2 44.Bxa6 Rxh2+ 45.Kg1 Rh5 46.b4 Rxg5+ 47.Kh1 Rg4 48.b5 Ra4 49.Bc8 1/2-1/2. [Click to replay]

Kamsky,G (2705) - Gelfand,B (2733) [D02]
WCh Candidates Finals Elista RUS (3), 08.06.2007 [Mihail Marin]

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.Bf4. Kamsky has nice memories about this modest system of development. During his dramatic match against Smirin from the last World Cup, he repeatedly failed to obtain a viable position with White against the Najdorf. Switching to the Queen's Pawn opening proved to be a very inspired decision: Kamsky scored the decisive win and qualified further. 3...c5 4.e3 Nc6

5.Bb5?! This pseudo-active move is the main cause for White's further problems. 5...cxd4 6.exd4 Qa5+! Forcing the next move, which places the knight on a very unfavourable square. 7.Nc3 Bg4 8.0-0 e6 9.h3 Bxf3 10.Qxf3 Rc8 11.Rfd1 Be7 12.Bf1 0-0

White's knight is supposed to reach e5, but it is at least 4 tempi away from that square. besides, it prevents the harmonious display of the queenside pawns and is vulnerable in view of Black's planned queenside attack. 13.Ne2 Not really solving the problem, but making the light-squared bishop look ridiculous. 13...b5 14.c3 b4 Black has a pleasant form of the minority's attack. 15.Qd3 Qb6 16.cxb4 Nxb4 17.Qb3 Ne4 18.a3 Nc6 19.Qxb6 axb6 20.b4. White has managed to avoid immediate material losses, but his queenside structure is anything but healthy. The c4-square and the d4-pawn are weak, while his minor pieces do not have active possibilities. 20...g5 21.Be3 Nd6 22.Nc1 f5 23.Nb3 Nc4 24.b5 Nd8 25.a4 Nb7 26.Bc1 f4 27.Be2 Bb4. Black's pieces feel at home deep into White's territory. 28.Ra2 Nbd6 29.Bd3 Ra8 30.Kf1?

A blunder in a difficult position. 30...Nxb5! 31.Rc2 Nbd6 32.Bd2 Rxa4 33.Bxb4 Rxb4 34.Nc1 Nf5 35.Bxf5 Rxf5 36.Nd3 Rb3 37.Ra2 Rf7 38.Ke2 Nd6 39.Rda1 Nb5 40.Kd2 Nxd4. The rest is just agony.

41.Rc1 Rb5 42.Rc8+ Rf8 43.Rc7 Ra5 44.Rb2 Rf7 45.Rc8+ Kg7 46.Ne5 Rb7 47.h4 gxh4 48.Rb4 Ra2+ 49.Kd3 Nf5 50.Rxf4 Rba7 51.Rc3 R7a3 52.Rxa3 Rxa3+ 53.Ke2 b5 54.Rg4+ Kf6 55.Nd3 Ra8 56.Kd2 e5 57.Rb4 e4 58.Nc5 Rg8 0-1. [Click to replay]


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