On a day of high emotion Alexander Grischuk beat Vassily Ivanchuk to qualify both for the World Cup final and the next Candidates Tournament. Grischuk will now play his friend Peter Svidler, while Ivanchuk takes on Ruslan Ponomariov in a repeat of their World Championship match from a decade ago.
The first rapid game of the tiebreaks seemed to support Vlad Tkachiev’s opinion that Grischuk was the favourite at quick time controls. As Grischuk said afterwards: “I conducted the first game very well. Initially I got an edge after the opening and then forced a transition into an unpleasant ending for Black, which Vassily didn’t manage to hold”. This was the position after 25…Rxd4 when the tactical stage was over:
The external impression was that the game was heading towards a draw, and Sergey Shipov on the Russian commentary mentioned “Doctor Tarrasch’s” notorious opinion on rook endings – but after 42…g4 (which incidentally was suggested before it was played by Shipov’s co-commentator IM Valery Yoshan) it soon became apparent that White would pick up the last black pawn and win. Ivanchuk had seen enough and resigned.
Grischuk now only needed to draw with Black to claim a place in the final, but in Shipov’s opinion he made a strategic mistake for a rapid game by choosing a structure he wasn’t totally at home in – the Hedgehog. Shipov, the world’s leading expert on the system, was almost less concerned with the loss that followed for his fellow countryman than with the horrible violence inflicted on his beloved animal. The critical moment of the game came after Ivanchuk’s kingside advance, 16.g4:
Shipov was advocating 16…d5 as the standard Hedgehog response, and was shocked when Grischuk played 16…e5. Grischuk felt the same immediately after the tiebreaks, noting that, “after 16…e5 I was already lost, and Vassily didn’t give me a single chance”. Indeed, the second rapid game seemed to indicate that there was no problem with Ivanchuk’s nerves…
The first 10-minute game was the most dramatic of the day, and perhaps of the whole event. Ivanchuk played the French Defence and Grischuk again played aggressively with the white pieces, pushing his h-pawn to h6 by move 14. The play that followed was highly complex and both sides committed inaccuracies. For instance, in the position after 21…d4:
Either the move Shipov said he’d play immediately, 22.Nb3 (which seems to give White a solid edge), or 22.Ng5 (which might be stronger but is more chaotic) look better than Grischuk’s 22.Bd3. In any case, Grischuk had clearly had a close to winning advantage but lost control of the position. After wild swings in the evaluation Black was better after 32…Rg7. Here Grischuk took a long think and then, with a level of calm that perhaps only he’s capable of, he made his move with 3 seconds remaining:
Here’s a diagram of the position after 33.Rh2:
In actual fact it wasn’t a great move, and 33…f4 is very strong (of course you have to see that 34.Bxg6 isn’t possible because of mate on the back rank), or 33…Qe1+ followed by 34…Kg8 gets Black out of the pin. In his commentary Sergey Shipov was talking about another bitter defeat for Grischuk and mentioned that perhaps he was hoping for the improbable 33…Qxc7? 34.Bf6!. Instead, something altogether more incredible happened – first Ivanchuk hesitated with his hand over the board with 10 seconds to go, and then with 8 left he made his move:
33…Rxc7 was simply a losing blunder, as the Russian commentators immediately spotted. Given Ivanchuk followed up with 34…Rc1+ instantly after 34.Qxg6 it seems he might simply have missed 35.Bxc1 – without that move it’s actually Black who mates. As it was the game was over, and Ivanchuk’s despair was plain for all to see:
He got up from the board and covered his face with his hands:
The cameramen followed him relentlessly as he reflected on what he’d done:
Afterwards Grischuk described his approach in the game (perhaps harshly) as “typical Judit”, saying he’d come up with “an absolutely incorrect combination, but all the pieces on the board began to hang and three moves later my opponent resigned”.
There was one more chance for Ivanchuk to recover with the white pieces, but his hopes were essentially ended in the following position:
He played 17.e5?, which perhaps aimed to cramp Black’s position even more. The problem was that after 17…Nd5 18.Nxd5 cxd5 19.Qe2 d4! Black has space, and an open file, and diagonals for his bishops, and squares and targets for his knight – in short, everything he could possibly want. In the ensuing struggle Ivanchuk tried to pose problems but eventually saw nothing better than taking a draw by repetition in a lost position.
In the press conference afterwards Grischuk wryly deflected a question about whether he was “a very lucky man” by noting that it’s his wife who’s really lucky as she always wins a particular card game against him, despite there being few things in life that annoy him so much! Then he gave a straight answer – that he’d been lucky against Navara, but that today it had been a “great struggle”. He also described playing rapid chess as “a holiday” for him, and called today “the culmination of my chess career”.
Grischuk and Ivanchuk now have a day’s rest before the final matches at the 2011 World Cup begin. Both consist of 4 games, and will see Grischuk play his friend and second from Kazan, Peter Svidler, while Ivanchuk takes on his nemesis from the 2001-2 World Championship, Ruslan Ponomariov. We should be guaranteed some exciting chess.