The Geneva Chess Masters Festival 2013 took place on 26th – 30th June at the Pitoeff Theater in the Swiss second largest city.
Eight strong GMs battled in a very interesting format: they were divided into two groups of four each, and played under the single-round robin format. Two players advanced to the semifinals from each group. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov defeated Etienne Bacrot while Vladimir Kramnik took down Hikaru Nakamura to meet each other in the final.
After his brilliant win against Nakamura, and Mamedyarov’s rather shakier victory against Bacrot, we thought Kramnik must be the favourite to win in the final match. But alas, it was not to be, and nothing worked for him. In the first game, Mamedyarov as White played the conservative 4. g3 variation of the Four Knights, and Kramnik had no trouble equalizing. But on move 18, when he seemed to have good prospects of taking over the initiative in a complex position, he offered an impulsive and unnecessary pawn sacrifice. Perhaps he had only really considered the possibility that White would accept it at once, but Mamedyarov found a clever way to postpone capturing until he had shut Kramnik’s strong black-squared bishop out of the game. After this, Black’s position rapidly deteriorated, and a few moves later Mamedyarov went into a forced sequence which ended up with him winning material. Kramnik resisted for a long time, but it never really looked like it was in doubt.
The second game was also disappointing for Kramnik’s many fans. As White, he played the same variation of the English that Yannick Pelletier had played against him a few rounds earlier, offering an early pawn sacrifice; Kramnik had declined this offer as Black, but now Mamedyarov accepted it. We had been joined in the commentary box by GM Alexandra Kosteniuk, and we asked her if she knew how White was supposed to continue. None of us was familiar with the theory, but we presumed that Kramnik should have something prepared. We still don’t know if we were wrong, or if Mamedyarov managed to get his preparation in first. Black played a couple of forcing moves, and, as early as move 14, White couldn’t find anything better than exchanging queens to reach a position where he had next to no compensation for the pawn. He played on for a long time, but again without any real prospect of scoring the win he needed to equalize the match.
Mamedyarov’s style may not be as aesthetically pleasing as Kramnik’s, but he showed once again that he is a brilliant pragmatic player with strong nerves and a tough fighting attitude. He won all his matches, and thoroughly deserved his first place.
Manny Rayner from the tournament website.