Fabiano Caruana and Gata Kamsky continued the winning streak to remain joint leaders after the 7th round of Thessaloniki Grand Prix.
Kamsky outplayed Rustam Kasimdzhanov with black pieces, while Caruana took advantage of Alexander Morozevich’s blunder to keep up the pace. In one of the longer games of the day Hikaru Nakamura defeated Veselin Topalov.
Tournament sponsor Ivan Savvidis visited the playing hall and watched the games before heading to the football match of his club PAOK.
Ivanchuk – Grischuk
Just as the Tournament Director Τheodoros Tsorbatzoglou was presenting FIDE Press Officer Anastasya Karlovich with a birthday cake, the game finished in a draw and the players entered the press room.
Knowing that Grischuk is very well prepared for the openings with kingside fianchetto, Gruenfeld and King’s Indian, Ivanchuk decided to go with a more reserved English opening.
Black made an early excursion with the Queen, allowing white to repeat the moves and make a much needed break from the losing streak.
Ivanchuk took the microphone and a river of words followed. He discussed the game emotionally and showed many interesting lines from an apparently quiet opening.
Ivanchuk also shared an interesting story about his opponent. Vassily said that the Russian is a difficult opponent because he is rarely accepting draws, even if he doesn’t have better position or better time on the clock. Ivanchuk believes that this attitude brought Grischuk good results recently – “Maybe he is using some poker tricks that I am not familiar with :)”
Svidler – Ponomariov
Svidler remained consistent and opened with 1.d4 while Ponomariov replied with the Queen’s Gambit Accepted. The Russian said he expected something else in the opening.
11.a3 took black by surprise and he spent almost one hour for the next move. Svidler believed that after 11.Be3 black is just comfortable and he wanted to give him a choice to possibly make a mistake.
11…Bd6 was a decent choice, but after spending so much time Ponomariov “wanted to play a simpler game”. Svidler thought he could exercise some pressure after 15.b5, but black’s 15…f5 is a very precise answer.
Svidler mentioned that 18.b6!? would have been an interesting try, but “…as the tournament goes for me, it was best to keep things under control.” The game soon fizzled out to a draw.
On the question about the time control in the tournament, Ponomariov said: “I think the discussions about which time control is better are pointless, it is like people have nothing better to do. I would prefer to have one, any time control, to be used throughout the whole WCC cycle, but without changing.”
Kasimdzhanov – Kamsky
Gata Kamsky spent 7-8 minutes for the first move before opting for the Dutch defence. He took up this opening because he “wanted to play something interesting”.
After 12…Nc5 “I thought I was slightly worse but at least I am not losing so it is okay”. 13…Nfe4 had white contemplating about the future course of the game. Kamsky believes that white had to exchange all Knights and play with the heavy pieces.
17.a4 assured black that white was playing for a draw. 19.g4 was a concession because black succeeded in pushing f5-f4. Kamsky expected 19.Nc3 here.
After 21…f4 black is slightly better but he has to be careful. Kamsky was critical of 27.exf4 and pointed 27.Qxd6 as a better try, then 27…Rd7 28.Qe5 Bxf3 29.Qxg7+ Kxg7 30.Bxf3 Nxb3 and Knight has d2 or c5. After 27…exf4 white is probably lost. Kasimdzhanov resigned four moves later.
Kamsky concluded the press conference with – “I think I got lucky in this tournament so far, I never got that many points. Maybe because of the country and friendly people.”
Morozevich – Caruana
This was another English opening and white angled to set the reversed Hedgehog structure. Already after 8.b3 Caruana was unhappy with this opening and that is why he decided to exchange the light-squared Bishops.
Morozevich might have felt black’s discomfort as he immediately replied with aggressive-looking 11.h4. But Caruana kept his cool and calmly exchanged another pair of pieces to reduce the attacking potential.
White gave up on the aggression as he castled kingside and the play became slower and more positional.
Black setup was very resilient and Morozevich decided to sacrifice an exchange in order to create some imbalance. Caruana however found a fantastic resource in 43…Rh7, which is at the same time defending and counter-attacking.
White probably had good possibilities to make a repetition or perpetual, but the position was extremely complicated and after the excellent 46…Qb8 Morozevich immediately blundered.
The Russian kept playing for awhile, but black easily converted the large material advantage.
Nakamura – Topalov
The game started with Naidorf Sicilian, which Hikaru Nakamura himself played earlier against Morozevich. But instead of the English Attack, this time white opted for the good old positional 6.Be2.
White obtained the Bishops’ pair and Topalov tried to restrict the light-squared piece with g6-h5 formation. This turned to be a bit too slow because white quickly summoned the pawns on e5 and c5.
Black gave up the e5-pawn to set the blockade on d6. The heavy pieces went off and there was an interesting endgame where white had a Bishop and an extra pawn.
Black had a good blockading Knight on d6, but the problem was that all of his kinsgide pawns were on the light squares.
Nakamura proceeded to exploit the weaknesses, but at one point he missed a quick win with 44.Bxg4. “I am going crazy, this is simply winning” – he shook his head in disbelief.
He spent 30 minutes before going in for 50.f5 because he calculated 50…Kg6 and was concerned that black would hold a draw.
Topalov quickly replied 50…Nd6 and then white was certain that he was winning. Nakamura pointed that 56…Nb5 was the only move to continue the fighting.
On question about Thessaloniki, Nakamura said that he likes the city and that he enjoys the weather “which is better than in previous tournaments he played in.”
“It’s great to see that many people are coming to the playing hall to follow the games” – he added.
Bacrot – Dominguez
Leinier Dominguez repeated the Bogo Indian, which he successfully used against Kasimdzhanov in the 5th round, but Etienne Bacrot was prepared and answered with the principled 8.cxd5 heading for the Carlsbad pawn structure.
One of the advantages was that the Rook was on b1 (Kasimdzhanov had the Rook on d1), allowing white to organise a quick advance on the queenside.
Dominguez said that he wanted to repeat the solid line and be safe, but then he committed some mistakes and had to suffer for a long time.
Bacrot refused the repetition on two occasions, then conveniently exchanged the pieces and passed the time control with a better pawn structure.
The backward c6-pawn was a constant source or worry for black. White’s advantage was moderate but lasting.
Bacrot kept on pressing for another 40 moves, but Dominguez finally escaped with a draw in the Knights endgame.
GM Papaioannou and FM Logothetis believed that white’s best try was to play with three pawns versus lone Knight, as in 71.f5 Kg5 72.Kxg3 Kf6 73.Nxd5 Nxd5 74.e4 etc. It is still unclear however whether this would be sufficient for a win.