Tension doing what it does to the human brain, the chess in these events is rarely what you come for. Yesterday's spectacular Svidler combo against Kamsky is now the only KO game I can remember, give or take. But they do delivery drama in spades. The ups and downs of the tiebreaks bring thrills and spills and it's the rare game that is won start to finish. Only three of eight fourth round matches were decided without the extra day of play.
The quarterfinals: Polgar-Svidler, Ponomariov-Gashimov, Ivanchuk-Radjabov, Navara-Grischuk. Pono knocked Gashimov out in the quarters in 2009 in tiebreaks.
Radjabov seems to have found his stroke in Khanty-Mansiysk and has yet to go to tiebreaks. He took out the solid Jakovenko to move into the quarters. Radjabov works hard and has one of the most dynamic repertoires around with the black pieces. He's turned over plenty of mossy stones in recent years, bringing the King's Indian and ..f5 Ruy Lopez to prominence. But with white he has had floundered, resulting in the highest draw rate among the elite. He wins just 28% of his white games, compared to the top-20 average of around 40%. There's no way to explain it, but he may have struck gold by employing his dynamic gifts in the amorphous English and Reti systems instead of boring himself with small theoretical advantages. His wins over Negi and Jakovenko in K-M were classic triumphs of maneuvering and confusion. It reminds me of how Nakamura went to Canada and added a dose of Duncan Suttles to his bag of tricks. Avoiding theory and relying on creativity, energy, and strength can be impressive, though it can also be construed (and misconstrued) as a cop-out for not working hard. This clearly isn't Radjabov's issue since he puts in a lot of time on his black openings.
Svidler also went through without tiebreaks in the match of the round. He beat 2007 World Cup winner Kamsky in a Ruy Lopez in their first game. In the second the newly-crowned Russian champion uncorked one of the best combinations you'll see, the gorgeous 26..Re2!! deflection rook sac. As I'm sure everyone figured out eventually, 27.Qxe2 loses to the Marshallesque 27..Qg3! The deflection was necessary because otherwise the knight could come back to c6 to block the bishop. An extraordinary and lovely combination. Very sad to see Kamsky out already. The vagaries of the KO guarantee this will happen regardless of who is on form, one of its serious drawbacks. The only other match to avoid tiebreaks was our Ukrainian Cinderella Zherebukh finally turning back into a pumpkin against Navara in two lopsided games.
Polgar might have gone through the tiebreaks faster had she not decided an in impromptu opening experiment against Dominguez. But just reaching tiebreaks at all was an achievement for Polgar, requiring as it did a win with black on demand after the Cuban won the first game nicely. B+R vs R is tough even at the GM level and even with time on the clock. It took her a while, but she eventually brought home the tying win. To further add to the melodrama, the position actually repeated three times; Dominguez could have claimed a draw before playing 107.Rh2. But of course recognizing that and having the sang froid to claim while on nothing but increment for so long is impossible to imagine. White won the first four tiebreak games, and I'm pretty sure Polgar won't be playing the Scandinavian again any time soon. Instead of her usual Sicilian, which brought her victory in the classical, she decided to surprise Dominguez with 1..d5 twice, and lost both times from unattractive positions. Then she went back to the Sicilian in the blitz and won.
Ponomariov also needed to win with black to stay alive, against Dominguez's countryman Bruzon. After drawing the two classical games, they swapped wins twice. Ponomariov's must-win with black was a tribute to his nerves and his technique. Nielsen's valiant run ended against Gashimov after four tiebreak games. European champ Potkin also fell to Elo's blade at last, losing to his countryman Grischuk's King's Indian. Those positions are often ugly for black for a while, and Grischuk doesn't have a lot of experience with the KID, but he turned the tables impressively in the second tiebreak game to take the match. Ivanchuk outplayed Bu in both tiebreak games, winning both in under 30 moves.
On now to the Matches that Matter. Three of the four semifinalists get invites to the candidates matches. No rest for the weary. Ponomariov has played 20 games in Khanty-Mansiysk. His opponent Gashimov, twelve. Radjabov has played the minimum of eight while Ivanchuk has needed tiebreaks in his last two matches. Polgar is the lowest rated player left, at 2701 on the latest list. Underrated a bit, I'd say! Navara is a few points above her. The other six are Usual Suspects, regular visitors to the top ten all. Enjoy the show.