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San Sebastián 09 r7: Ponomariov Edges Closer

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Any thought that the second half of the San Sebastian "City of Culture" main event was going to be little more than a victory lap has been dispelled by former FIDE champion Ruslan Ponomariov. Super-mariov beat Vachier-Lagrave today to move to +3 just a half-point behind Nakamura. The American was pressed for an incremental eternity by Granda, who applied the famous Peruvian Slow-Roasted Chicken Attack by going all the way down to bare kings. The draw dropped Nakamura's performance rating to a mere 2900. Karpov suffered yet another loss, his fifth, this time watching his Caro-Kann turn into a Caro-Kouldn't against Vallejo. San Segundo took a pass against Svidler's Grunfeld.

Movsesian-Kasimjanov looked like a great match-up on paper, with two of the sharpest players around going at it. But lately, perhaps on a pilgrimage to worship at the shrine of St. Arturo of Llusupovia, the Uzbekistani picked up the Petroff. He played it four times in the Nalchik Grand Prix and now twice in San Sebastian. And thus another Ruy Lopez and Sicilan player joins the ranks of the undead. Maybe Kramnik bit Kasim on the neck while he was seconding for Anand in Bonn last year. Even Movsesian's attempt to liven things up with the nutty old Morozevich fave 5.Bd3 led to a draw in 24.

So with just two rounds to play Nakamura is finally feeling a little heat. He may have reason to second-guess his quick draw against Ponomariov yesterday if the Ukrainian's surge continues. In the last two rounds Nakamura faces the two other sharpest players in the field, Movsesian and Kasimjanov -- his Petroff notwithstanding since he has white against Nakamura in the final round. Ponomariov has an even tougher road to climb with the solid Svidler and Vallejo in his path. Svidler is still in with a chance a half-point back of Ponomariov, but would likely need some help to come from behind to win.

Granda showed again he's no pushover by doing some pushing of his own against the leader. Nakamura showed he was happy to play for a win with black to seal the tournament by playing the Dutch against Granda's 1.d4. (He also played it a couple of times last year, including a win against Karpov.) Things got wild quickly when White played the sideline 5.b4 and Nakamura responded with an even rarer "anyway" move 5..Nc6. They were already off the map by move 7, which would be quite unusual if Granda weren't playing. The Peruvian part-time farmer has long been well-known for his self-taught and idiosyncratic play in every phase. But though he's hardly as consistent as he used to be, don't doubt his creativity or skills. Out of the insane opening he swapped down into a superior rook endgame. Eleven captures in a row (!) has a way of doing that. It became a R+5 vs R+4 with an extra rook pawn for White. This is usually not a big deal for the defender, but here Black had the extra weakness of doubled e-pawns. That gave Granda more than enough reason to play on, especially since he could do so at no risk to himself. The lack of a second or third time control is another factor, since it makes endgames into a pure torture test of nerves, thinking exactly 25 seconds per move for what seems like forever.

So it's no surprise the endgame doesn't seem to have been played perfectly by either player, though it will take more time than I have right now to find a big mistake or chance for a win if any exist. That doesn't seem to be the case after a quick run-through, however. According to a report from the scene, Nakamura let his frustration with Granda show on his face a few times as the position simplified into a relatively obvious draw. Such displays were once an established part of young Nakamura's repertoire and I'm sure I'm not the only fan who hopes they go the way of his Qh5 now that he's a two-time US champion and the top-rated American. Admittedly, Kasparov was also known for occasionally pulling derisive faces at the board (apart from his generally open-book emotions), but it was one of the few ways in which the 13th world champion should not be imitated at the board! Plus, the more the top guys know something bugs you the more likely they are to push your buttons. Anyway, since we're not going to the videotape, as they say, and the game ended in a tidy draw, it's hardly worth a paragraph. But hey, the way Naka has been rocking the boards we have to have something to complain about, right?

More on the other games later, a bit pressed for time these days.

Update: Okay, had a little time to poke around on the games. Van Wely has played the 5.b4 in Granda-Nakamura quite a few times, it seems, but few have played Nakamura's provocative 5..Nc6. Fun stuff. Who says chess openings are played out. You don't need shuffle chess, just shuffle in some players willing to be creative and think on their feet. I wonder how White solves his problems after 9..a6!? and ..d5 is going to come harder than in the game. As for the endgame, I don't have my books handy and computers are typically horrible in these positions. The inability of the stronger side to make progress and the inevitable repetition are such a long way away, what they call the horizon effect. If the comp can wander around with an extra passer on the 7th for 30 moves without repeating, it's still +2.48 or whatever. But that doesn't mean it will ever win. Just keep playing out the computer's main line and it will often eventually flatline at 0.00 without making progress.

But it seems there are definitely a few tricks in the position. At the risk of blowing your mind, and/or making an idiot of myself, I think 40.h4 was a blunder that cost White a forced win! The short version is that with the pawn back on h2 instead of h4, the white king can go to c6 and then Rc8 with ..Rxa7 Rc7+ and the pawn endgame is winning (or the king to d8 and the rook to c8 with the same plan of ..Rxe7 Rc7+). Even with the white king seeming far away on c7, the pawn on h2 is too far away from the black king and the white king scoops up the black d-pawn, winning. Fantastic! The black rook can't check on c1 because Kd5 then wins the e4 pawn when the rook has to get back to the a-file. And the black king can never come up to shield off or cover the e-pawn because eventually the black rook runs out of checks and the white rook will step out of in front of the a-pawn with check. I love rook endgames, really I do. I get the feeling that if I leave the beast running overnight it will announce mate in 40 or something after 40.Kf4 (40..Rxf2+ 41.Ke5!). Let us know if you find a confirmation or refutation. But with the pawn on h4 the drawing routine is fairly straightforward from what I can tell, since the rook swap is now just a draw. So I have a little more sympathy with Nakamura's frustration at that point. And Granda was clearly just hoping for a blunder by the time the a-pawn came off. Or maybe he was just enjoying having an extra pawn and a better position even if was a purely symbolic one.

Vachier-Lagrave defended this same line of the Grunfeld just a few weeks ago against Aronian in the Armenia-France rapid match. Ponomariov improved with 16.dxc5 and played a bizarrely simple game of winning the c-pawn. Precision was required, but Black looked helpless. Vachier-Lagrave must have missed the strength of 21.Qc5! hitting the knight and the a-pawn. 31..Rb4 is weak, but the d-pawn is already too strong to stop. A very smooth win from Ponomariov to move into striking distance. What to say about poor Karpov? His Caro-Kann has gone from brick to straw, from filet mignon to happy meal. And yet here he was, fighting off Vallejo on pure instinct until once again falling apart in complications and losing. The pressure on Black's center after 16.Rh3! is just too much to bear without computer-perfect play. Karpov's open king made the heavy-piece endgame impossible, though he once again fought on bravely in a hopeless cause. Vallejo, born in 1982 and during Karpov's reign as world champion, brought home his extra pawns without much trouble.

Round 8: Nakamura-Movsesian, Svidler-Ponomariov, Vachier-Lagrave-Granda, Karpov-Kasimjanov, Vallejo-San Segundo. Svidler can swap places with Ponomariov in the standings with a win.


Nice writeup as usual (especially if pressed for time!). Thanks.

The key matchup I saw a couple rounds ago is Svidler-Ponomariov. If they fight to a draw, they may allow Nakamura to clinch a tie for 1st if he wins.

I'll 2nd the nice write-up. Mig is on-the-money. Glad to see Star Wars playing well and feel bad for Tolya. Seems like he's struggling quite a bit with this time control.

Lines like, "Peruvian Slow-Roasted Chicken Attack," and "Caro-Kann turn into a Caro-Kouldn't" are the reason I keep coming back here!

I love how you say it is hardly worth a paragraph after having given it a paragraph! lmao. This is the kind of blogging you usually have to pay to read.

And the special paragraph-that-shouldn't-be contains (mild) criticism of Kasparov and Nakamura - wow! Wonder if GregK notices that!

Maybe Nakamura can do the Kasparov wristwatch act, take the wristwatch off at the beginning of the game, and put it back on when the opponent is toast, signaling, I expect your resignation soon.

Are my eyes deceiving me or is Adina Hamduchi flashing the cameraman???

nice try, but "caro-kan't" is way funnier.

Deceptive eyes. I, too, was forced into a second glance, but found the N on b2 to be the culprit.

Long update posted. Looks like Granda missed a win early in the rook endgame with 40.Kf4, leaving the pawn on h2 (further from the black king). Cool if true, but I admit I don't have much time to spend on it so I'm ready willing and able to be proven completely wrong.

"caro-kan't" is also an ancient cliche. Trust me, I've used it many times myself.

Thanks for the kind words above. I have to find that old 'donate' button; I know it's around here somewhere...

About the Granda-Nakamura game, not only b4 is common stuff (played by Van Wely, Dautov and a few others), but Nc6 is also a quite known recipe. I faced it on the board already against a fellow french IM, and my opponent told me later that it has been recommended by Kindermann in his book on the Leningrad Dutch.

However, it's true that in most of the games including this sequence (b4, Nc6), both colors castle first - but, it does not change anything in my view. May be that's why you didn't find during your chessbase research.

Ps : this is my first comment on this great blog (which I enjoy reading for a while now). Go on with the good stuff, Mig!

5.... Nc6 6.b5 Na5 7. Nbd2, Duchene-Muller, France 1999.

I may add that on 5..., Nc6, white has three options:
- He can play 6.b5 as in the game. However, after putting the knight on a5, black usually plays d5 and it's hard to make any progress for white. One game from Fressinet with white comes to mind where he even went worse.
- He can play 6.a3. Black can continue with d6 and e5.
- Or he can play 6.c3!? as Van Wely played once. It threatens d5 on next move and might be an interesting choice in this position.

"What to say about poor Karpov? His Caro-Kann has gone from brick to straw, from filet mignon to happy meal. And yet here he was, fighting off Vallejo on pure instinct until once again falling apart in complications and losing."

Great stuff Mig.......

Mig, That was some very instructive analysis of the end game. Thanks for that.

I would like to put up that position before 40.Kf4 at our chess blog buffalochessblogspot (will refer to your analysis) when I do post it.

Caro-Kannot seems even better.

Since Marcus Kann was Austrian, the correct form has to be "Caro-Kann nicht".

What kind of a wimpy-looking draw did the "fighter" Nakamura pull today?!

Does anyone have more info on the game today? Anything happened to Nakamura? It's not good sign if he goes that much into "peace and love". Pressure, fear of losing, tiredness? The most strange thing is that it's the opposite he would do: if he had something, it was his uncompromising style with his (over)confidence which worked wonders for him so far. Playing against one's strenghts has never worked. Or maybe he's just setting it in place to make it even more amazing tomorrow.

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on July 14, 2009 8:41 PM.

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