For many players this round, this was the test. Most players in the trailing pack knew that a win was of critical importance. Was it, however, worth risking a loss? Well, that's the whole point, isn't it? Some players would rather play "va banque" in search of the full point and risk finishing nowhere. Others want a lively chance at making something happen, but aren't willing to throw complete caution to the winds. In other words, the players' particular psychology and philosophy on chess was really coming to the forefront this round. And of course there is the whole issue of playing White vs. playing Black.
Perhaps this was really the 2nd last train for Clarksville - Round 9 will bring these issues even more to the foreground. But some will have fallen too far behind in Round 8, based on their choices then. Let's take a look at the top standings coming into the final two rounds.
Once again, two players share the lead: GM and top seed Xiangzhi Bu of China, and GM Kamil Miton of Poland. Both have 6.5 points out of 8.
Next in line, six players (all GM's) with 6/8: David Howell (England), Sandipan Chanda (India), Vadim Milov (Switzerland), Suat Atalik (Turkey), Sergey Tiviakov (Netherlands), and Valery Aveskulov (Ukraine). And finally, a huge logjam of 24 players have 5.5/8, with English GM Nigel Short at the head of the pack.
Top seed Bu played a wonderful game today to move into the joint lead. Yesterday he defended the Black side of this variation, and today he took the White pieces in it:
Bu - Atalik: Slav Defence
1.Nf3 d5 2.d4 Nf6 3.c4 c6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5 6.Ne5 e6
In Round 7, Bu played the main alternative, 6...Nbd7, against GM Sipke Ernst of the Netherlands and won a nice game.
Again, this line. No one has ventured the crazy piece sac after 7...Bb4 8.e4 Bxe4!?, where current theory has advanced to well past move 20 in some positions and the verdict is still out. 7...c5 was played in Bluvshtein - Miton, from Round 7, and drawn after some dynamic play in 31 moves.
8.e4 cxd4 9.exf5 Bb4
I have been out of competitive chess circles for a few years, and do not know if this is hot new theory or a new idea fresh from the Chinese GM's, but it is certainly a move to get one's attention! White is up a piece, and cannot save his N/c3, so giving Black a choice of minors to capture is not as foolhardy as it looks. More importantly, the B/e3 is poisoned! 10...dxe3? 11.Qxd8+ Kxd8 12.Nxf7+ and 13.Nxh8 just wins material for White. Black's continuation is pretty well forced.
It should be pointed out that 10.Bxc4 (as in Bluvshtein - Miton) and 10.fxe6 are the only two moves that I have seen here in the past.
10...dxc3 11.Qxd8+ Kxd8 12.0–0–0+
Now 12.Nxf7+?? simply loses to 12...Ke7, as 13...cxb2+ is threatened as well as White's knight.
12...Ke7 13.bxc3 Ba3+
Allowing 14.Bc5+ after 13...Bxc3 looks very foolhardy. After 14...Ke8 15.Nxc4 (planning 16.Nd6+), Black's position looks awful.
14.Kc2 Nbd7 15.Nxd7 Nxd7 16.fxe6 fxe6 17.Bxc4 Rhc8 18.Kb3 Ne5 19.Be2 Bc5 20.Bg5+! Kf8 21.f4 Nf7 22.Rd7
With straightforward play, White has achieved a significant plus, and Black has not made any clear errors (IMHO) since faced with 10.Be3! Black will have to look for improvements somewhere, as it soon becomes clear just how bad Black's game is here.
22...Nxg5 23.fxg5 Be7 24.Rf1+! Ke8 25.Rxb7 a6
Forced, to stop 26.Bb5+. White simply has too much initiative here for Black to put up much resistance.
26.Bf3 Rcb8 27.Bc6+ Kd8 28.Rd1+ Kc8 29.Kc4! Rxb7 30.Bxb7+ Kxb7 31.Rd7+ Kb6 32.Rxe7
Much as in Atalik's win yesterday, one side has better rook, King and extra material. In fact, here Black cannot really prevent the loss of a 2nd pawn. The endgame is quite hopeless for Black.
32...Rf8 33.g6 hxg6 34.Rxe6+ Ka5 35.Rxg6 Rc8+ 36.Kb3 Rb8+ 37.Kc2 Rb7 38.h4 Rf7 39.Rg4 1–0.
There is little point in continuing, and Atalik decides to preserve energy for the final two games.
Compare the above technical gem above to the following chaos. The Indian GM throws the kitchen sink at Milov, the "va banque" approach mentioned in the intro, and the game still ends in a draw!
Milov - Chanda: Queen's Gambit, Irregular
1.c4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Bg5 h6!? 5.Bxf6 Qxf6
This is already slightly unusual, as with the more traditional ...Be7, Black's bishop is typically on f6, but not his Queen. The text has more akin with the Moscow variation of the Semi-Slav (1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6. 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.Bg5 h6!? 6.Bxf6 Qxf6).
6.e3 Nd7 7.Nbd2!? g5!?
White chooses to deploy his Queen's knight on a different square than the usual c3, and Black indicates that he plans to play for the full point in this game!
8.cxd5 exd5 9.Bd3 g4 10.Ng1 h5
I was pretty skeptical of Black's play in the commentary room for most of the session, but it certainly sets White with some unique problems - what the heck is going on? is at the top of the list! It seemed to me that spending multiple tempi on these pawn advances without a King as a clear target at the end of the day was a bit dubious. Let's travel a little further down this wild (and very unpaved) road...
11.Ne2 h4 12.Qc2 c5 13.Nf4 Qg5 14.dxc5 Nxc5 15.Bb5+ Bd7 16.Bxd7+ Nxd7 17.Rd1 Bg7 18.Qa4 d4 19.0–0 b5!? 20.Qa3 Qc5 21.Qd3 Ne5 22.Qe4 Rd8 23.Nb3 Qc6!
Black's position looks exceedingly loose, and he is being reduced to finding only moves, but White still has no knockout punch in sight.
24.Qf5 d3 25.Nd4 Qb7
This might be the zenith of White's chances. 26.Nh5! looks strong, but allows some dangerous and scary complications: 26.Nh5 Rxh5!? 27.Qxh5 h3 28.gxh3! Rxd4! 29.exd4 Nf3+ 30.Kh1 Nxd4 31.f3! seems to hold, as 31...Nxf3 32.Qxg4! leaves Black with no killing discovered check. Still, this is a line a computer could handle far better than a human, and I have sympathy for Milov choosing to rule out a Black ...h3 advance once and for all. Another possibility for White is 26.Nxd3!, and after 26...h3 27.gxh3 gxh3 28.f3!, White appears to be staving off the attack. Both of these lines require iron nerves from White, but after Milov's choice instead, Black appears to be quite OK.
26...gxh3 27.Nxh3 Qd7 28.Qe4 Rh5! 29.Rxd3 f5 30.Nxf5 Qxf5 31.Rxd8+ Kxd8 32.Rd1+ Ke8
Black's King is exposed, but he now has an extra piece. Milov was unable to find a way to bring his N/h3 into the attack, and decided to force matters with a perpetual.
33.Qa8+ Kf7 34.Qd5+ Kf8 35.Qa8+ Kf7 36.Qd5+ Kf8 37.Qa8+ ½–½.
An absolutely crazy game, and certainly not your typical example of what comes to mind when one things of "grandmaster draw"!