Again. The newly 41-year-old Ukrainian wizard started out this year's Amber tournament with a 2-0 win over Carlsen. Then he kept up a solid pace -- he's still undefeated -- only to watch Carlsen's string of seven wins in a row pass him by. But Carlsen's excellent imitation of an unstoppable killing machine was dispelled at last and he lost today's mini-match with Gashimov, allowing Ivanchuk to again take over the overall lead by a half-point. Ivanchuk won this event the first time it was played, way back in 1992, if you stretch the facts a bit. That event was a double round-robin of rapid only; they didn't add the blindfold set until the following year, when, inky bait, Ljubo Ljubojevic won. It's still a nice testament both to Ivanchuk's longevity and his brilliance. Gelfand is a year older and isn't doing too badly either, tied for 3-4th with Karjakin a point behind Carlsen.
Aronian is the two-time defending champ at Amber but at this point he could play the blindfold with sight of the board and still not contend. Today in the 7th round he got greedy and was blown away by Kramnik in instructive fashion. Big Vlad hasn't been up to his usual fantastic standard in the blindfold either, losing more games so far, three, than in his last three appearances combined. Carlsen has shown remarkable skill and tenacity in the endgame several times, overpowering opponents from equal positions. In the sixth he won a wildly complicated tactical battle against Gelfand in the rapid out of a King's Indian. (Even Kramnik gave the KID a try against Gelfand a few days earlier. Probably won't repeat that experiment any time soon.) Gelfand missed an lovely perpetual check draw with 37.Ra8+ Nc8 38.Rxc8+! Bxc3 39.Qg6+ Rf7 40.Qg8+ Ke7 41.d6+! Kxd6 and both taking the rook and Qd8+ draw as long as White is precise.
The KID wasn't Kramnik's only opening surprise with black. After he dropped his usual Petroff for the Pirc to beat Smeets at Corus, the former world champ made some jokes about it, which I heard as light-hearted sarcasm but that others thought was a little tasteless. But he's played or offered the Pirc several more times at Amber and even allowed Smeets another crack at it in the blindfold. Bad idea. Perhaps Smeets picked up the book on the Pirc Kramnik said he picked up in Wijk aan Zee before their last game. He played the aggressive Austrian attack this time, although for a while it looked like he was again outplayed in the opening. Kramnik got his knights tangled up when he missed a clever shot that exposes the lack of coordination of the white pieces. A sighted LarryC also missed it, but the computer finds the geometry easily, of course. 14..Bxc3! 15.Bxc2 Qa6! and suddenly White is in trouble. 16.Rd1 Qe2 is obnoxious, so White might have to find 16.Kg1!? and Black is doing well. After that chance passed Kramnik was down a piece and Smeets played exceptionally well fending off Kramnik's creative kitchen sink attack for his first Amber win. No comment from Kramnik about whether or not he wished he'd played the Petroff.
The official site is doing its usual excellent job of putting up daily reports and there are amazing videos courtesy of Peter Doggers of ChessVibes.com, Macauley Peterson and ICC Chess.FM. I haven't had time to catch them all, but the post-mortems alone are great.