Linares R12: All games drawn, Leko remains in the lead

3/8/2006 – Four draws in round twelve, one unfought, left Hungarian GM Peter Leko in the lead, but with the toughest battles ahead: on Friday with black against FIDE world champion Veselin Topalov, and on Saturday in the last round with white against his nearest rival Levon Aronian. Full report with instructive commentary by GM Mihail Marin

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Round twelve report

Round 12: Wednesday, March 8th

Peter Leko 
½-½
Etienne Bacrot
Peter Svidler 
½-½
Levon Aronian
Francisco Vallejo 
½-½
Teimour Radjabov
Veselin Topalov 
½-½
Vassily Ivanchuk
GamesReport

In three of the games, White avoided the main theoretical dispute by giving play a closed character. We could watch two "Anti-Marshalls" and one "Anti-Sveshnikov". However, only in Svidler-Aronian a draw was agreed before the real fight got started. Topalov-Ivanchuk was a tensioned but balanced game. White's extra-pawn in the final position had a purely symbolic value. Vallejo-Radjabov was by far more exciting. White outplayed his opponent with subtle play in an apparently dull position, but let his decisive advantage slip away in a knight ending. The Petroff once again proved to be hard to break in Leko-Bacrot, in spite of White's more active position.

Standings

Svidler,P (2765) - Aronian,L (2752) [C88]
XXIII SuperGM Morelia/Linares MEX/ESP (12), 08.03.2006
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.a4 b4. 8...Bb7 Leko-Ivanchuk, Morelia 4 2006] 9.d3 d6 10.a5 [A logical move. Once the e5-pawn has been defended, Black threatens to place his queen's knight on a5, putting certain pressure against the white queen side. For instance, 10.Nbd2 Na5 11.Ba2 Be6 12.Bxe6 fxe6 13.c3 bxc3 14.bxc3 Rb8 with good play for Black, Adams-Leko, Linares 2005. 10...Be6 11.Nbd2 Qc8 12.Nc4 h6.

13.h3. Svidler had reached this position before, but with opposite colours. 13.c3 Rb8 (13...bxc3 14.bxc3 Rb8 has been recommended, although this gives White the additional possibility 15.Ba3) 14.d4 Bg4 15.Ba4 Qb7 16.d5 Na7 17.Ne3 with advantage of space for White, Leko-Svidler, San Luis 2005. We can suppose that Svidler deviated from this variation because he had found an improvement for Black. Or maybe he was just tird after the complicated game from yesterday and did not feel like opening the position at such an early stage?! 13...Rb8 14.Be3 Rd8 15.Qe2 Bf8 16.Nfd2 Qb7. An interesting novelty. In the ame Adams-Anand, San Luis 2005 Black initiated the generally desirable transfer of the queen's knight to g6 with 16...Ne7!? but after 17.d4! White obtained some pressure in the centre. Aronian decided to keep his knight on c6 untill the danger of d3-d4 dissapears. 17.Qf3 Kh7 18.Nf1 Ne7. Now that the e4-pawn is insufficiently defended, Black finally transfers the knight to the king side. 19.Ng3 Ng6 20.Nh5.

With all the pieces on board, there is a lot of play left, of course, but the opponents seem to have decided to preserve their forces for the decisive rounds. 1/2-1/2. [Click to replay]

Leko,P (2740) - Bacrot,E (2717) [C42]
XXIII SuperGM Morelia/Linares MEX/ESP (12), 08.03.2006
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.d4 d5 6.Bd3 Nc6 7.0-0 Be7 8.c4 Nb4 9.Be2 0-0 10.a3 Nc6 11.cxd5 Qxd5 12.Nc3 Nxc3 13.bxc3 Bf5 14.Re1 Rfe8 15.Bf4 Rac8.

16.Bd3. Leko chooses a quiet continuation. In San Luis he tried the sharp 16.h3 Be4 17.Nd2 but eventually lost, Leko-Anand, San Luis 2005. 16...Qd7 17.Rb1 Bxd3 18.Qxd3 b6 19.d5 Bf6 20.c4 h6 21.h3.

All these moves have already been played several times at top level. White's position is more active, but the central tandem of pawns is not easy to advance. 21...Ne7. The following game is a good illustration of Black's micro-problems in this structure: 21...Re7 22.Rbd1 Rd8 23.Rxe7 Nxe7 24.Ne5 Bxe5 25.Bxe5 Re8 26.Bg3 Nf5?! 27.Bxc7! Qxc7 28.Qxf5 Qxc4 29.d6 with advantage for White, Leko-Anand, Linares 2003. 22.Ne5 Bxe5 23.Bxe5 Nf5 24.Bb2 f6 25.Bc3!? Not really a loss of time. Once the long diagonal has been safely defended, the bishop needs to be transferred to another location. 25...Nd6 26.Bd2 Rxe1+ 27.Rxe1 Re8 28.Rc1 Qf5 29.Qxf5 Nxf5 30.Bf4 Re7.

31.g4 [Leko might have hoped that he would manage to force the enemy knight occupy a passive position. Since the course of the game will prove the failure of his plan, the prophilactic move 31.Kf1 , preparing c5, deserves being mentioned.] 31...Nd4 32.Kf1 Kf7 33.Be3 Nb3 34.Rc3 Na5 35.c5 Rd7 36.Bf4.

Apparently, White has obtained a clear advantage. He has certain queen side pressure , while the knight is quite passive. For instance, 36...Rxd5 would be met by 37.Bxc7, when the hanging position of the knight prevents the capture of the c5-pawn. 36...b5! By taking the c4-square under control, Black solves all his problems. 37.Rd3. In case of 37.c6 Rxd5 38.Bxc7 Nc4 White's c-pawn would be quite weak, in view of the threat ...Rc5. 37...Nc6 38.Bxc7 Leko probably feared that his far advanced pawns would become weak and decided to call it day already. 38...Rxc7 39.dxc6 Rxc6 40.Rd7+ Kg6 41.Rxa7 1/2-1/2. [Click to replay]

Topalov,V (2801) - Ivanchuk,V (2729) [C88]
XXIII SuperGM Morelia/Linares MEX/ESP (12), 08.03.2006
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.h3 Bb7 9.d3 d6 10.a4.

10...Nb8. This knight retreat, which gives the position certain resemblance with the Breyer Variation, seems to have never been played before. Topalov's previous game in this line went 10...h6 11.Bd2 b4 12.c3 a5 13.d4 bxc3 14.Bxc3!? (An interesting concept. For the sake of rapid piece development, White gives up his central chain of pawns.) 14...exd4 15.Nxd4 Nxd4 16.Qxd4 with a promissing position for White, Topalov-Grischuk, Wijk aan Zee 2005; The main variation is considered to be 10...Na5 11.Ba2 c5 but we shall see that Ivanchuk has entirely different plans regarding the d5-square. 11.axb5 axb5 12.Rxa8 Bxa8 13.Na3 c6. Not only defending the b5-pawn, but also covering the d5-square. The passivity of the light-squared bishp is of temporary nature. 14.c4!? To a certain extent, this is similar to 14.Bxc3 from the previous note: White "sacrifices" the integrity of his pawn structure for the sake of piece activity. 14...bxc4 15.Nxc4 Nbd7 16.Bd2 Re8 17.Qc2 Bf8 18.Ba2 Qb8 19.Bc3 h6 20.Ne3 Bb7 21.b4 d5. After a laborious manoeuvring phase, we finally have some tension in the centre. 22.Ng4 Bd6 23.Qb2 Nxg4 24.hxg4 c5

The situation becomes tenser and tenser. With his next move, Topalov puts pressure against a far from obvious black weakness, the f7-pawn. 25.g5 hxg5 26.Nxg5 Qd8 27.bxc5 Nxc5 28.Bd2 f6 29.Be3 fxg5 The simplest way to equality, implying a pawn sacrifice. 30.Bxc5 Bxc5 31.Qxb7 Rf8 32.Qxd5+ Qxd5 33.Bxd5+ Kh7 34.Re2 g4 35.g3 Kh6 36.Kg2 Kg5 37.Rc2

White can hardly do anyhing more than move his rook along the second rank. 1/2-1/2. [Click to replay]

Vallejo Pons,F (2650) - Radjabov,T (2700) [B30]
XXIII SuperGM Morelia/Linares MEX/ESP (12), 08.03.2006
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 e5 4.Bc4 Be7 5.d3. This quiet system of developing is not without poison. What better proof of that could we have than the fact that Kasparov ended his carrier as an active player by losing to Topalov in this same variation (actually, the place was same, too: Linares 2005). We shall see that in spite of a long manoeuvring phase, this game will get quite lively at a certain point. 5...Nf6 6.Nd5. The immediate occupation of this central square is by far not the only possible continuation. 6.Nd2 followed by Nf1-e3 is more flexible but rather time consuming,; while the early attacking operation 6.Ng5 0-0 7.f4 can lead to very animated play. 6...d6 7.Nxf6+. Generally speaking, this looks like a small concession. The immediate 7.c3 is more common. However, in such a closed position, such nuances are of less significance; in case of 7...Nxd5 8.Bxd5 followed by an eventual ...Be6 play could more or less transpose to the game. 7...Bxf6 8.c3 0-0 9.0-0 Rb8

Black can be more or less satisfied with the result of the opening. The white knight is quite far from the d5-square, while the bishop alone cannot take advantage of this relative weakness. 10.a4 b6 11.Re1 Be6 12.Bxe6. This exchange consolidates Black's structure in the centre and opens the f-file for counterplay. On the other hand, White did not dispose over favourable methods of maintaining the tension. For instance 12.Nd2 would allow the activation of the dark-squared bishop with 12...Bg5; while a neutral move like 12.Be3 can be met by 12...d5. 12...fxe6 13.b4 The e6-pawn cannot be considered a weakness at this stage of the game, but its temporary lack of defence allows White carry out this thematic pawn break without prior preparation. 13...Qd7 14.Bd2 Kh8 15.h3 Rf7

Black declares his intentions of starting a king side attack. 16.a5. The structural modifications induced by this move will lead to a double edged situation. The plan of blocking Black's queen side pawns on dark squares with 16.b5 Ne7 17.c4 is no without risks, because it gives Black free hands on the opposite wing. After 17...Ng6 18.a5 Rbf8 19.axb6 axb6 20.Ra6 Bd8 Black's conterplay looks very dangerous. The threat ...Rxf3 followed by ...Nh4 is not easy to parry, while White's queen side attack is in an incipient phase still. 16...b5 17.a6!? It is hard to give a definitive evaluation to this daring advance of the a-pawn. According to the circumstances, either of the a7- and a6-pawns can become weak. Given the closed character of the position, the weakness of the white pawn seems more realistic for the time being, but we shall soon see that there are several other factors that influence the evaluation of the position. 17...cxb4 18.cxb4 Bd8! Black immediately takes advantage of one of the side effects of White's 17th move: the b6-square became available to the traditionally passive bishop.

19.Qe2 Bb6 20.Rab1 Rbf8 21.Be3 Qd8?! This is the start of a risky plan. Radjabov intends to transfer the queen to b6 in order to attack the a6-pawn, but in doing so he neglects the defence of the e6-pawn. Black had a harmonious development of pieces, with just one exception: his knight is both retsricted in his actions and vulnerable. From this point of view, a logical continuation would have been 21...Bxe3 22.fxe3 (White has to maintain the d4-square well defended. In case of 22.Qxe3? Black could reply with 22...Rxf3 23.gxf3 Nd4 with a strong attack.) 22...Ne7! 23.d4 (If White refrains from advancing his d-pawn, Black could play ...d5 himself, after defending the e5-pawn with the planned ...Ng6) 23...exd4 (Black has to give up the centre because the immediate 23...Ng6 would be strongly met by 24.Ng5 Rf6 25.d5 followed by the occupation of the e6-square.) 24.exd4 Ng6 . Black has achieved a perfect regroupment. The queen defends the weak b5- and e6-pawns, while the other pieces put serious pressure on White's king side. We can also notice that the exchange on d4 has made the f4-square available for the knight. 22.Rec1 Bxe3 23.fxe3 Qb6

This is the position Black had been aiming for, but he might have underestimated White's 25th move. 24.Ng5 Rf6. In case of the apparently more active 24...Rf2 White could take advantage of the weakness of the eighth rank with 25.Rf1! neutralising Black's initiative and leaving him with similar problems as in the game. 25.Rf1! Such simple moves are easy to overlook: the rook had just moved leftwards couple of moves ago. Suddenly, it appers that Black has problems defending the e6-pawn; Nxe6 is a threat. 25...Qd8. Black has to admit the failure of his plan. The time spent on moving around with his queen allows White take over the initiative. 26.Qg4. Vallejo chooses to play simple chess. 26.d4 exd4 27.Qxb5 would have been amore interesting but not necessarily better possibility. Black's queen side would have been very vulnerable, but the position would have remained complicated. 26...Rxf1+ 27.Rxf1 Rxf1+ 28.Kxf1 Qf6+ 29.Ke2. In order to defend his e6-pawn, Black had to allow the centralisation of the white king. Soon, he will be forced to make further concessions. 29...Nd8 30.Qh5! Qg6. Black has to allow his king side pawns to get doubled. Their weakness will be even more significant than that of the e-pawns. 31.Qxg6 hxg6

This must have been the type of position Vallejo was dreaming of when he pushed his pawn to a6. In knight endings the advantage of space can be a determining factor, especially in those cases when one of the knights is passive. Although this is not very obvious yet, White's king has better possibilities of further centralisation than Black's. 32.d4! A simple move with devastating effect. White threatens to advance his d-pawn even further, in order to leave the black knight in a desperately passive position. 32...exd4. There is some sort of paradox here: in spite of having his king far away from the centre, it is Black who has to open the position, in order to prevent White from completely blocking it with d5! Here is what could have happened if Black had ignored the tension in the centre: 32...Kg8 33.d5! Kf8 (33...exd5 would be very bad at this stage, because after 34.exd5 the white knight would obtain the e4-square, making the b5- and a7-pawns easy targets.) 34.Kf3 Ke7 35.Kg4 Kd7 36.h4 After having strengthened his kind side position to the maximum, White already threatens to transpose to a winning pawn ending by a double capture on e6. Therefore, Black has to release the tension with 36...exd5 37.exd5 but this would lead to an equally hopeless position. Besides the aforementioned threat Ne4-c3, White can open the king side as well, by advancing his h-pawn. Obviously, Black's king would be unable to defend both wings at the same time.; The immediate activation of the knight with 32...Nc6 would have also failed to solve Black's problems. After 33.Nxe6 Nxb4 34.Nc7 Kg8 35.Nxb5 Nxa6 36.Nxd6 Nb8 37.Kd3 White has every chance to win. We can appreciate now Vallejo's power of anticipation when he advanced his a-pawn to a6. Black's weaknesses (a7, b5, d6) are placed at the distance of one knight's step, making their capture easy and pleasant. 33.exd4 d5

In spite of the modification of the central structure, the threat remains just as dangerous as one move ago. After 33...Kg8 34.d5! Kf8 White can take advantage of the availability of the d4-square with the unexpected knight retreat 35.Nf3! threatening Nd4. Black would be forced to lose a decisive tempo with 35...e5 when after 36.Nd2 followed by Nb1-c3, White would be just in time to start the harvest.] 34.Kd3? [Only time trouble can explain such a way of throwing away the considerable advantage accumulated by subtle play. Everything ws prepared for the king's marching in via e5: 34.Ke3! Kg8 (Vallejo must have thought that 34...Nc6 wold offer Black counterplay. However, with such a difference between the kings' activity, White should win after, for instance, 35.Nxe6 Nxb4 36.Nc7) 35.Kf4 Kf8 36.exd5 (If White does not feel like helping Black to get rid of his weak e6-pawn so easily, he can also try 36.Ke5 dxe4 37.Nxe4 Ke7 but now he would have to exchange the remaining central pawns anyway with 38.d5 in order to open the king's access to the queen side. White's advantage of space would be decisive.) 36...exd5 37.Ke5 Nc6+ 38.Kd6! The d5-pawn will be there all the time. For the moment, it is important to save the own a6-pawn. 38...Nxb4 39.Ne6+ Kf7 40.Nc7 followed by Kc5 with an obviously winning position.

34...Kg8 35.h4. Even now, after having lost a tempo, White would maintain some chances with 35.Ke3 35...Kf8 36.exd5 exd5 37.Kc3 Ke7 38.Nf3 Kf6

Black has finally activated his king and has nothing to fear already. 39.Ne5. This move leads to unnecessary complications. 39.g4 would have more or less blocked the position, with an obvious draw. 39...g5 40.h5 Kf5 41.Kd3 Kf4 42.Ng6+ Kg3 43.Ne7 Kxg2 44.Nxd5 Kf3 45.Ne7 g4

From the spectator's point of view, it is a bit frustrating that a draw was agreed in such an interesting moment. Even Fritz 9 seems to be asking himself in disbelief: "Isn't Black just winning a knight in a couple of moves?" The following variation proves that, objectively speaking, the players' decision was entirely correct. 45...g4 46.Nf5 g3 47.d5 g2 48.Nh4+ Kf2 49.Nxg2 Kxg2 50.Ke4 (The hurried 50.d6? would lose the pawn after 50...Nf7 51.d7 Ne5+) 50...Kg3 51.Kf5 (White activates his king by restricting the enemy king in his actions) 51...Kh4 52.Kg6 Kg4 53.Kxg7 Kxh5 54.Kf6 Same method again. In order to save his kingdom, Black has to give his trappedknight away. 54...Kg4 55.Ke7 Kf5 56.Kxd8 Ke5 57.Kc7 Kxd5 58.Kb7 Kd6 59.Kxa7 Finally, the a6-pawn seems to have free way. 59...Kc7 Not any more! The maximum what White can achieve is stalemate himself. 1/2-1/2. [Click to replay]

Commentary by GM Mihail Marin
Pictures by Jesús J. Boyero

Mihail Marin, 41, Romanian Grandmaster, three times national champion (1988, 1994, 1999), nine times member of the Olympic team, participant in two Interzonals (Szirak 1987 and Manila 1990). In 2005 Marin was the second of Judit Polgar at the FIDE world championship in San Luis. Highest rating: 2604. Author of the ChessBase opening CDs English 1.c4 e5 and The Catalan Opening and the books: Secrets of Chess Defence, Secrets of Attacking Chess and Learn from the Legends. Graduate from the Polytechnic Institute Bucharest (Specialty Electrotechnic) in 1989.


Schedule and results

Round 8: Friday, March 3rd

Peter Leko 
½-½
Francisco Vallejo
Veselin Topalov 
1-0
Peter Svidler
Vassily Ivanchuk 
0-1
Etienne Bacrot
Teimour Radjabov 
½-½
Levon Aronian

Round 9: Saturday, March 4th

Teimour Radjabov 
½-½
Peter Leko
Levon Aronian 
½-½
Vassily Ivanchuk
Etienne Bacrot 
0-1
Veselin Topalov
Peter Svidler 
½-½
Francisco Vallejo

Round 10: Sunday, March 5th

Peter Leko 
½-½
Peter Svidler
Francisco Vallejo 
0-1
Etienne Bacrot
Veselin Topalov 
1-0
Levon Aronian
Vassily Ivanchuk 
0-1
Teimour Radjabov
Free day: Monday, March 6th

Round 11: Tuesday, March 7th

Vassily Ivanchuk 
½-½
Peter Leko
Teimour Radjabov 
½-½
Veselin Topalov
Levon Aronian 
1-0
Francisco Vallejo
Etienne Bacrot 
½-½
Peter Svidler

Round 12: Wednesday, March 8th

Peter Leko 
  Etienne Bacrot
Peter Svidler 
  Levon Aronian
Francisco Vallejo 
  Teimour Radjabov
Veselin Topalov 
  Vassily Ivanchuk
GamesReport
Free day: Thursday, March 9th

Round 13: Friday, March 10th

Veselin Topalov 
  Peter Leko
Vassily Ivanchuk 
  Francisco Vallejo
Teimour Radjabov 
  Peter Svidler
Levon Aronian 
  Etienne Bacrot
GamesReport

Round 14: Saturday, March 11th

Peter Leko 
  Levon Aronian
Etienne Bacrot 
  Teimour Radjabov
Peter Svidler 
  Vassily Ivanchuk
Francisco Vallejo 
  Veselin Topalov
GamesReport
End of Tournament

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Topics: Linares 2006
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