(Also) a comparison Ashdod-London
In my tournament preview (available only in German) I wrote that Ivanchuk previously had rapid chess successes mainly in Latvia – but he certainly didn’t regret his trip to Ashdod, Israel. To briefly summarize his tournament: Group phase convincing, semifinal against Nepomniachtchi somewhat lucky (but this may have been the early final, and what happened was nothing compared with the other semifinal Bacrot-Gelfand), final against Bacrot very convincing. Title photo from Yochanan Afek via Facebook.
I will also mention the other participants, and document some important (or not as important for the continuation of the tournament) moments with diagrams. As Emil Sutovsky commented on the other tournament in London, I will compare both events – even if it might not make sense to compare different time controls. Chaos in rapid and possibly blitz/Armaggedon games can still happen in London, this would be round 10 of 9 (tiebreaks). In Ashdod the winner played ten games – (at least) eleven were scheduled, but the final had an early finish.
Both preliminary groups were tensely contested and still had four clear winners in the end: as two players each qualified for the knockout place, second place was also winning. Both groups had – first comparison with the London Classic – “a Topalov” finishing in dead last place with 1/5 [the German version of this article was written and published after five rounds in London]. Different from London, eight of the twelve participants won two games, but four of these eight lost too often.
I begin, a bit unconventional, with Group B: Ivanchuk was cruising – two wins with black and three not overly dramatic or interesting draws with white – this was sufficient. As he played the (for me) wrong openings, I can hardly comment on his wins: Dutch and French are languages which I know fluently, but openings that I don’t understand. Still a few remarks: He chose the Dutch against Bacrot. White sacrificed a pawn – known to theory, and 2014 two high-level games (Gelfand-Svidler, rapid in Jerusalem and Mamedyarov-Grischuk, FIDE Grand Prix in Baku) were interesting draws. White certainly had compensation, but (as in Nakamura-Anand in London) having compensation is one thing, keeping the compensation might be another story. Eventually the rook endgame was decided by one tempo and by the fact that Ivanchuk’s play was tablebase-perfect. I remember that another grandmaster had failed in a very similar position: Saric – van Wely 1/2, Tata Steel 2015.
Sutovsky-Ivanchuk 0-1 (all other photos from the tournament homepage) was a French – databases (sorted by Elo) have Ivanchuk on top twice after 7.-Qa4: sorted by white Elo or sorted by black Elo. 8.h4!? ist relatively rare and à la Sutovsky (or Morozevich or Grischuk or, indeed, Leko). I don’t understand the following complications – Sutovsky lost because he went too far and/or because Ivanchuk is simply the better player.
Bacrot also qualified for the semifinal, in part with this win against Pavel Eljanov:
Bacrot has black and a dubious position, his piece sacrifice was incorrect. Here 27.Qxe3 or 27.Bxe3 was more than OK for white (yes, I asked engines) but Eljanov played 27.Be1?! Rfd8! 28.Qxe3 (too late) Qf6+ 29.Bf2?? Rxd3! 30.Qe2 Bxf2 31.Qxf2 Bxg2+! 32.Kg1 Rxc1+ 33.Rxc1 Qg5 0-1. 29.Kg1 was required – we will never find out if both would have played the only move sequence 31.-Bf4 32.Qe2 Bxc1 33.Rxc1 Bf3! 34.Rxc8 Bxe2 35.Rxd8+ Qxd8 36.Bxe2 and how they would have continued in the resulting endgame with three white minor pieces against a black queen.
Also in the next round Eljanov didn’t use his chances, this was the position after Smirin’s (too) aggressive 24.h5:
Computer give black a big advantage (only) after 24.-Nde5, I won’t go into detail on this. After 24.-Bxf3 25.hxg6+ Kg8 26.gxf3 etc. white had the safer, or less shaky king position and won eventually. Smirin had lost against Rapport and beat compatriot Sutovsky, thus Bacrot-Smirin in round 5 was (in order to qualify) must-win for white, draw is enough for black. White won a pawn, unclear if this was enough to win. But then Smirin was looking for clarity with 43.-f5 and succeeded – white won another pawn and the game. It was close for Bacrot, and Smirin may have left the tournament with mixed feelings – he was close to a relatively major surprise.
Regarding the two players hardly mentioned before: Rapport played unusual openings, that’s how we know him. Bird-variation (1.e4 e5 2.Sf3 Sc6 3.Lb5 Sd4!?) against the local players, King’s Gambit against Bacrot, against Eljanov the seemingly calm 1.c4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.d3 g6 4.g4 (but now!). Only Ivanchuk in round 5 could easily neutralize all Hungarian efforts to complicate the position, after all he only needed a draw. Rapport finished with 2.5/5. Sutovsky was this group’s Topalov. After day 1 and round 3 he wrote “Scoring 1 out of 3 in the first day of ACP Masters might be not too bad for an organizer, but hardly an achievement for a player…Managed to save a day from the total disaster, using the pattern from the famous Botvinnik-Fischer endgame against Richard Rapport. Here it was not supposed to suffice, but somehow it worked. Tomorrow is a new day, and all six players in our group have chances to qualify!”. I cannot comment on Botvinnik-Fischer – Sutovsky (*1977) is about ten years younger than myself, but he is a grandmaster and might be a product of the Soviet chess school (before emigrating to Israel in 1991). In the end 1/5 was “hardly an achievement for a player” – but he had a dual function and was, together with Smirin, in any case underdog. And he is an “extreme” player – doing either well or (at least result-wise) badly. Final standings in group B: Ivanchuk 3,5/5, Bacrot 3, Rapport, Eljanov, Smirin 2.5, Sutovsky 1.
Group A: Nepomniachtchi did about the same as Ivanchuk – two rather convincing wins against Sevian and Georgiev, controlled draws in the other games. Gelfand also had two wins and three draws – his win against Guseinov was complicated, and another result was possible:
Gelfand just played 12.-Bg4 (objectively ?), and the game continued 13.Qd2? Nd4 14.Nxf8 f3!? 15.Df2?! (15.Se6!?) 15.-Qxf8 etc., still complicated and black won later. 13.dxc6 was possible – after 13.-Bxd1 14.cxb7 etc. white gets too many pieces for his queen, and 13.-b5 14.Qd2 bxc4 15.Nxf8 Qxf8 16.dxc4 also favors white. Yochanan Afek commented on the entire game for Chessbase: “12.-Bg4 Objectively a mistake, but in rapid expecting perfection is unrealistic. 13.Qd2 (13.dxc6 was the best continuation, leaving the queen hanging, but good luck working out all the lines. … the sort of computer line that just has one muttering “are you serious??“.)” Maybe Guseinov simply trusted his famous opponent, I do not consider the variations to be very inhuman. Also later I slightly disagree with Afek: “Gelfand used to be the epitome of the classical positional player, but one of the changes he has made over the years is to incorporate some seriously aggressive play in some of his decisions.” His book ‘My most memorable games’ includes similar games of the ‘young’ Boris Gelfand – generally he precisely calculates such variations, in rapid chess there is not enough time and one has to rely on intuition. But Afek’s remark was about (later) 21.-Re5, which seems to be simply the best move.
Jakovenko was (for me, even though Guseinov has the higher rapid Elo) third favorite in this group, but in any case his game against Sam Sevian didn’t go according to plans:
I have only passive knowledge of the Berlin dialect, and I don’t understand the opening. It is rare that white gets a mating attack in the Berlin Ruy Lopez, here Sevian managed with some help from Jakovenko – the last moves were (in an already bad position) 39.-Re8? 40.Nd6 (with tempo) 40.-Rf8 41.Nc8+ 1-0.
Sevian also beat Georgiev – nominally a surprise, but Sevian is a rising star and Georgiev is past his prime. Then Sevian-Gelfand could be considered a final for the qualifying spot – white had to win and lost without much of a chance, or slowly and surely. Final standings: Gelfand and Nepomniachtchi 3.5/5, Jakovenko and Guseinov 2.5, Sevian 2, Georgiev 1. This group’s Topalov comes from Bulgaria. Gelfand had the better tiebreak, with implications for the subsequent KO phase.
In the semifinals the group winners played against the second-place finishers of the other group, thus Ivanchuk-Nepomniachtchi and Gelfand-Bacrot. I start with the two tournament favorites:
In the first game Nepomniachtchi sacrificed a knight – maybe incorrect, possibly desperation, but in the end good enough for perpetual check. The photo shows the start of the dramatic game 2. Ivanchuk with black played the Petroff, but away from mainlines (3.d4 is relatively rare, 6.c3 was already almost a novelty) the tension piled up – position after 28 moves:
White to play, what to do? Very good was 29.Rd1 Qe6 30.Rd7 Bg7 (forced) 31.Rxc7 with an extra piece for white, as 31.-fxe5 32.Ng5 etc. is even worse – what did Nepomniachtchi miss? He played 29.Ng4 Bg7 30.Re7 Nxb5 (there is no Qh7 mate) and now 31.Nxf6+?? Bxf6 32.Qxh7 (CHECK!) 32.-Kf8 (I don’t care) 33.Rd7 Nd6 – missed by Nepo when he played 31.Nxf6+ ? Now Ivanchuk had an extra piece, the game – while continuing for a few more moves – was decided. On move 31 engines recommend the unusual perpetual check 31.Nh6+ Kh8 (31.-Bxh6? 32.Qxh7+ Kf8 33.Rd7, and with the black bishop on h6 white has the deadly 34.Qh8+) 32.Nf7+ Kg8 33.Nh6+ usw. – funny bot not good is also 31.Qxh7+!? Kxh7 32.Nxf6+ and 33.Nxd5, the black passed pawns on the queenside run faster, or have an edge over the white ones on the kingside.
Bacrot-Gelfand was even more dramatic, particularly in extra time (Blitz) and penalty shootout (Armaggedon). But they also started with rapid chess. In game 1, Bacrot destroyed Gelfand’s Najdorf Sicilian – this can happen in a Najdorf, also when one plays it regularly for years and knows it pretty well. Gelfand had to win with white, he won a pawn and converted the material advantage. This is the short version, at one moment in this game and also later in the match it seemed that Gelfand is, after all, mainly a positional player. One follows a plan and misses occasionally tactical possibilities, for yourself or for the opponent. Here his entire advantage was gone or would have been gone if Bacrot had found 32.Qc5? Ne7! . The white queen and rook have to defend each other, and the white Nc4 is unprotected – hence black wins at least an exchange. It is irrelevant if white would have kept enough drawing compensation, he had to win.
Now blitz, final position of the first blitz game:
Bacrot-Gelfand 1-0 as black lost on time! Again Gelfand had to win with white and managed – decisive that Bacrot allowed Rc7 … twice. The first time it cost a pawn, but not necessarily the game. Then 28.-Rc3? was wrong, because white could have more or less trapped the black queen with 29.Re2. The tactical defense RxQf2 Nxf2+ followed by NxQd1 won’t work forever, and the other trick -Nc3 was no longer available, due to the stupid rook on c3. But Gelfand played 29.Qe2 to force a queen exchange. The second time 35.Rc7 threatened mate, with no black defense. Only funny that Gelfand missed 36.Ng4 mate, because 36.Rd7 also won easily. Now Armaggedon. Bacrot with the white pieces had to win, but never had an advantage and then stood worse, much worse, totally lost. And then he won, this is the final position:
Bacrot-Gelfand 1-0 – Are you kidding??? Black lost on time!!???! Sutovsky commented both semifinals with “Well, that is a rapid and blitz chess – the way we like it and/or hate it.”
On the day of the semifinals there was more chess action in Ashdod – the already eliminated players stayed: Jakovenko, Guseinov, Eljanov, Sutovsky and Rapport gave simuls, also Sevian – but this was a clock simul against probably stronger opposition, 6 talented young Israeli players. Georgiev gave a lecture. I give the photo to Eljanov, as he may have had the most “bad luck” in the group phase:
The Final Ivanchuk-Bacrot (apparently no photo available) was, in Russian, “odnovorotnim” (one-sided) – I got this lesson in Russian two years ago, after the first world championship match Anand-Carlsen, from a certain Emil Sutovsky. It was too challenging for Google, but I know people able to translate such things. Bacrots had used up his luck, or Ivanchuk was simply better. The first game was an anti-Berlin with 4.d3, but nonetheless a queen exchange after 12 moves – white (Ivanchuk) won the endgame. The second game was also anti, now anti-Grunfeld – Bacrot didn’t survive the complications that he had started. End of story? Not yet, four games were scheduled in the final. In a must-win situation Bacrot chose the Pirc – Ivanchuk played quietly, a draw was enough. Bacrot had to win, this was probably the reason why he got a lost position. Ivanchuk was satisified with perpetual check. Ivanchuk-Bacrot 3.5-0.5 – as they already met in the group phase.
A quick look on this list, even if rapid Elos have limited meaning. Ivanchuk is now world number two – “that’s where he belongs”? Not necessarily. He was there (with classical time control) last time in October 2007, one year later he was again world number 3 one (1) point behind Morozevich. Those days are probably gone, now he is “only a legend” and no longer absolute world top. Nepomniachtchi lost 9.4 points and one spot, Gelfand gained 16 points and improved (as things are close in this part of the list) from #43 to #32. As to “limited meaning”: Sjugirov is, after 9.5/11 at the Ugra Governor Cup against not-too-prominent opposition, now number 14 ahead of e.g. Grischuk, Giri and Aronian. Rapid chess still has relatively few Elo-rated events, and (nominally) top players hardly face each other.
Comparison Ashdod-London: Both events featured Ruy Lopez Berlin and Sicilian Najdorf. Ashdod has a much lower drawing percentage [again, this article was originally written after round 5 in London], maybe the quality of games is somewhat lower (could be time control and/or the players), these things are somewhat anti-correlated. In terms of PR London exaggerates a bit (in my opinion), the ACP kept a (too) low profile. The website went online only a few days before the event, the live transmission was a bit erratic (and at the tournament site lacked clock times, important for rapid/blitz).