Russian Champion Peter Svidler has reached the World Cup final after beating Ruslan Ponomariov with the black pieces. Although Svidler was scathing about his opening play his handling of the rest of the game was bold and almost flawless.
Svidler’s opponent in the final will be decided in tiebreaks tomorrow, after Vassily Ivanchuk and Alexander Grischuk emerged from a time-trouble scramble with a drawn position.
Peter Svidler had a slow start in Khanty Mansiysk, needing tiebreaks in rounds 2 and 3 against Nguyen and Fabiano Caruana, but since then he’s been on a roll. He won both games against Gata Kamsky, and has now won with the black pieces against both Judit Polgar and Ruslan Ponomariov.
In today’s game Svidler played his beloved Grunfeld, but wasn’t impressed that he reacted to Ponomariov’s 7.Qa4+ with 7…Bd7. He said he had some ideas for 8.Qb3, although he realised “no-one in his right mind would ever play 8.Qb3” and said his approach was “a ridiculous thing to do in a World Cup semifinal”. Ponomariov chose 8.Qa3 and gained an advantage, but Svidler identified the following position as where his opponent first went wrong:
Ponomariov played 13.Rb1, allowing the surprising 13…0-0-0!, which could have been prevented by 13.Rc1. After the move in the game Black was close to solving his problems and had the prospect of pushing his queenside pawns.That became a reality after 14…f5! initiated a totally sound exchange sacrifice. On move 18 Ponomariov offered a draw but Svidler was risking nothing and understandably wanted to play on.
Although computers only gave Black a slight edge for a long time Sergey Shipov and the other Russian commentators were convinced Black’s advantage was close to decisive. Although Svidler felt his technique was poor none of his moves appear to have been objectively bad. Ponomariov accelerated his demise by twice failing to restrict Black’s light-squared bishop. 28.g4 would have been an improvement, while Svidler felt the key blunder was made in the following position:
37.f4? allowed Black’s bishop to switch to e4, when nothing could be done to stop the pawns. Svidler’s convincing win already guarantees him a place in the next Candidates Tournament, and grants him an unheard of luxury for the World Cup – two rest days before the final!
The game between Vassily Ivanchuk and Alexander Grischuk went altogether differently. Although the players weren’t moving at breakneck speed they played a long theoretical line of the Queen’s Gambit, with the novelty apparently only coming on move 21. Grischuk then seemed to get a slight edge, until he replied to Ivanchuk’s 26.h4 with 26…Qg7 (26…Qf5 looks better). Grischuk followed that by sacrificing his queen, a decision he described as “absolute rubbish” in the press conference afterwards. He admitted he’d overlooked Ivanchuk’s follow-up:
Here 30.Bb7!, with the threat of Qf6+ and Qxd8, suddenly meant that instead of an easy draw Black was in real danger. The moment was also captured in a photograph:
Add in the fact that Grischuk only had a minute left to make the time control… and Maria Fominykh had predicted that if Svidler won then Ivanchuk would as well, and things were looking grim for the Russian grandmaster. It’s hard to disagree with Ivanchuk’s comment afterwards that what happened next needs to be analysed, as it’s impossible to say at a glance if he missed a win. Grischuk himself was worried by 32.g4, though it’s not obviously winning. In any case, when the smoke had cleared Black had an impenetrable fortress and a draw was soon agreed.
Vassily Ivanchuk and Alexander Grischuk will now play tiebreaks, with the winner meeting Peter Svidler while the loser plays Ruslan Ponomariov in an equally critical match for a place in the Candidates Tournament (and third place at the World Cup).
Before the semifinals started GM Vlad Tkachiev gave his predictions to Anna Burtasova. He talked about potential tiebreaks in the Grischuk – Ivanchuk match:
If that semifinal match goes to rapid chess then Grischuk will undoubtedly be the favourite due to his stronger nerves – the guy can play 50 moves with 10 seconds for each and he’s not bothered. If a chess player’s got such an option, plus he also plays as well as Grischuk does and he’s not inferior in the opening (and Grischuk’s not inferior to Ivanchuk in the opening), then he automatically becomes the favourite at the reduced time control. There aren’t many like him in the world just now. Grischuk is, you might say, a master of the format.
We’ll find out how accurate that prediction is tomorrow!