If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, you just might get another shot at being the world champion.
Playing smooth, controlled chess as his top rivals self-destructed around him, Indian GM Viswanathan Anand has won the right to a rematch with Norwegian world champion Magnus Carlsen later this year. Considered an afterthought by many when the tournament started, Anand dominated the FIDE Candidates Tournament in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia that ended Sunday with an undefeated score of 8½-5½, a full point ahead of surprise runner-up Sergey Karjakin of Russia.
The popular Indian grandmaster lost to Carlsen in a one-sided match in November, relinquishing the undisputed crown that he had worn since 2006. But in Khanty-Mansiysk against a world-class field, Anand cleaned up the small tactical oversights and concentration lapses that marred his play against Carlsen and proved a deserving winner.
As Anand was cruising, many of the pre-tournament favorites faltered badly. Armenian GM Levon Aronian, the second highest rated player in the world behind Carlsen, was a big disappointment, losing four games in all (including a last-round defeat at the hands of Karjakin) to finish in a tie for sixth. Former Russian world champion Vladimir Kramnik, another popular pick to win, could manage only an even 7-7 result, with three losses on his score sheet.
Kramnik was within striking distance of Anand when disaster struck in Round 9 against fellow Russian Peter Svidler. In an unusual Dutch line (3. e3!?), White gets the better of the opening after 9…Bc5?! 10. Bd2! Nc6 (Qxb2 11. Nd4 is good for White) 11. Bc3, getting his bishop to a dream diagonal with a gain of tempo.
With Black’s pieces disorganized and his a- and e-pawns weak, Kramnik steadily increases his advantage through 30. Qc2 Bd6 31. Nc6 Nb6, when White would have retained a clear advantage with 32. Nd4 Qd7 33. Rc6 Rc8 34. Rc1, with strong command of the board. But shockingly, the former world champ overlooks a one-move tactic exploiting the fact that White’s king is doing crucial duty guarding the rook on f1.
Thus: 32. Rd4?? Bxh2+! (seen instantly by every kibitzer worldwide with a chess software program) 33. Kxh2 Qxf1 34. Qc3?! (compounding his woes; 34. Re6 was tougher) Rf6 35. Ne5 Qxf2, when Black has won an exchange and a pawn. White cannot generate counterplay and in the final position, Kramnik resigned as Black’s pieces were about to invade. A single oversight pretty much ended Kramnik’s chances in the event.
One of the beauties of chess is that even a relatively modest player can grasp the themes and motifs behind a winning combinational idea. A Class C player understands the concept of pins, forks, double attacks, skewers and the rest about as well as the top grandmasters. Genius comes in knowing when and how to employ those tools while the clock is ticking.
The bishop sacrifice on h7 to expose the enemy king is one of the oldest tactical weapons in chess, but U.S. GM Gata Kamsky employed it in a strikingly original form in his brilliant win over California GM Sam Shankland on his way to winning the Eastern Class Championships in Sturbridge, Mass., last month. The Queen’s Pawn Game is barely out of the opening when an innocent-looking move by Black meets with a startling refutation.
After 8. Bd3 Qe7 9. Ne5 Nd7?, Shankland no doubt expected something along the lines of 10. f4 with a Stonewall-type setup. That Kamsky heard the tactical dog whistle suggesting White had something more shows why he’s one of the best players on the planet.
Unbelievably, White’s win is almost “forced” here after 10. Nxd7!! (giving up the prize knight is the first shock) Bxd7 (Qxd7 doesn’t affect what’s to come) 11. Bxd6! Qxd6 12. dxc5 Qxc5 (see diagram; Black could settle for the loss of a pawn here with 12…Qe7 13. b4 a5 14. Qb1, but can hardly be blamed for not seeing what’s in store) 13. Bxh7+! Kxh7 14. Qh5+ Kg8 15. Ne4! — the point of White’s 10th move. The knight gets to g5 with a gain of tempo, as the Black d-pawn is pinned from the side by the White queen.
The computer at first says Black can still hold after 15…Qc4 16. Ng5 (threatening mate on the move) Rfd8 (Qd3 17. e4! Rfd8 18. Qxf7+ is also winning) 17. Qxf7+ Kh8 18. Qh5+ Kg8, but Kamsky need only get one more piece to the kingside to have a crushing attack, something Black cannot prevent in the long run.
White wins back his piece on 20. Qf7+ Kh8 21. e4! (exploiting another nasty pin, while threatening 22. Qh5+ Kg8 23. Rxd5 Ne7 24. Qf7+ Kh8 25. Rxd7 Qxf7 26. Nxf7+ Kg8 27. Nxd8 and wins) Ne7 22. Qxe7 Bb5, and Black’s scary-looking queen-bishop battery proves harmless.
Black’s 25. Rd1 Qxb2 allows a satisfying king hunt for the finale: 26. Qh5+ Kg8 27. Qh7+ Kf8 28. Qh8+ Ke7 29. Qxg7+ Kd6 30. Rxd5+ Kc6 31. Qf6+, and Black gave up confronting the hopeless 31…Kc7 32. Ne6+ Kb6 (Kc6 33. Nc5+ Kc7 34. Qe7+ Rd7 35. Rxd7+ Bxd7 36. Ne6+ Kb6 37. Qc5+ Ka6 38. Nc7 mate) 33. Nxd8+ Bc6 34. 0-0, with an overwhelming edge.