Friday morning I had White against Bulgarian GM Ivan Cheparinov. I again used the repertoire in my How to Beat the Sicilian. We actually followed a line from the first game in the entire book! He deviated at move nine but I followed the same plan. I reached a position with more space and a strategic advantage but had to be careful not to let him activate his bishop pair. Ivan tried to force matters but that just made matters worse and his final error was exchanging a pair of rooks into a lost endgame. A smooth positional victory, unusual for me!
In the afternoon the knockout started. The top 14 were put in FIDE rating order and were joined by Anand and Mamedyarov. As fifth seed in the open I became seventh. It’s normal in knockouts for the strongest to play the weakest, hence 1-16, 2-15 etc. Therefore I played tenth which turned out to be Pavel Tregubov, the strong Russian GM I played in round eight.
The rapid games were very rapid, 10 minutes + 3 seconds a move and I have to confess rather low quality. We were both nervous and it only got worse as the match progressed! In the first I felt I actually played quite well for the most part but couldn’t find a mate and went into an endgame two pawns up. Normally, of course, this shouldn’t be a problem but Tregubov is a very strong technical player and tricked me into a drawn position. I kept on pressing and trying until, very carelessly, I spent a second too long and lost on time!
Losing rook and two pawns against rook of course hurt a lot. However Tal Baron, the new Israeli GM who I played earlier in the tournament gave me some good advice he had received from Gelfand. I can’t remember the exact wording but the gist was to now consider that I had lost the match and just try to enjoy the second game and don’t do anything rash. I managed to level the match with a victory in the second with the black pieces despite having a decidedly dubious position.
And so onto the blitz! This was three minutes for the game with a two second increment every move. This time colours were reversed and so I started with black. I actually reached a very promising position and must have been clearly better but the drama wasn’t over yet. We reached a complex position with my rook and knight versus rook and bishop. I sacrificed my knight thinking my connected pawns would promote but I had missed something and they were blocked. He simply had an extra piece and converted.
Back to being forced to win. With White I got less than nothing out of the opening. Matters got worse and he grabbed both the initiative and two pawns! At this point I thought I must be out but suddenly Pavel dropped one of his extra pawns and collapsed. Despite my two pawn deficit at the start of the endgame, I reached a rook, knight and two pawns versus rook and knight position. I then carelessly exchanged knight and we got to the following odd position. I have a feeling this probably a draw but maybe an endgame expert (or someone with the relevant table base) can let me know. After moving my king all round the board to gain two seconds a time, I eventually found an idea.
That levelled the match again and we were onto sudden death – Armageddon! I won the toss and chose White. This meant I had five minutes against his four but I had to win the game; a draw would see him through. For this one I chose my beloved Grand Prix Attack and won fairly convincingly – albeit I overlooked the chance to win a clear piece with a two move combination at one point.
In the end I decided not to play the blitz tournament on the Saturday morning and instead rested and did some preparation for my ¼ final match up with Mamedyarov. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. In the first game he played a rare move in a Fianchetto Kings Indian that I hadn’t seen before and I didn’t react well and was soon lost. In the second he surprised me with a Rubenstein French. I managed something and won a pawn but he held a two rook and opposite coloured bishop endgame.
Both he and Anand won their semi-finals and so they will play their final in Ajaccio on Monday. However Anand survived a big scare against his compatriot Krishan Sasikiran. After drawing with white in the first, Anand had a terrible position in the second rapid and it looked to me as though Sasi could have pinned the World Champion when he would have been powerless. Pin and win! After missing this chance he still had good chances but Vishy defended well. In the blitz Vishy was too strong and easily overpowered Sasikiran.
Tomorrow I begin my journey home, although due to an administrative cock-up (which I take the blame for) I’m spending tomorrow in Nice. At least google informs me it’ll be sunny!