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Round eight - bloody games before the rest day!
By WGM Alina l'Ami

33Day by day, the Paris tournament proves to be a lot more than a small part of the World championship cycle.
Both players having a theoretical chance to qualify for the Candidates’ tournament in case of a clear tournament win, namely Fabiano Caruana and Alexander Grischuk, won today. However, they remain half a point and one and half points respectively behind the new sole leader, Hikaru Nakamura!

It turns out that the tournament is important in itself. The frequency with which the leader changes from one round to another proves that the players who do not aspire for qualification, are playing with full ambition and strength too. And for the second time from the start, we had four decisive games!

Fabiano Caruana - Boris Gelfand

Ever since his World Championship match with Anand, Gelfand has defended the 3.Bb5-Sicilian with 3...e6 on numerous occasions. Even in this tournament he made a draw with Bacrot in round 4.


Caruana opened yet a new chapter in this variation by employing the slightly rare move on top level chess: 5.d4. As a result of this small surprise, he had a clear time-advantage after the opening and with a series of strong moves started a strong queenside initiative. Gelfand decided to give a pawn in order to somewhat relieve the pressure, but to no avail. Caruana was precise untill the very end and showed a convincing comeback after yesterday's accident against Nakamura.

Round8 103
Press conference with Fabiano Caruana, Boris Gelfand, Sergey Tiviakov and Alina l'Ami

Alexander Grischuk - Anish Giri

It was an unfortunate day for the young Dutchman - Grischuk’s choice of opening, the 4.e3 line of the English Opening, proved quite inspired against Giri, who found himself on his own after just a few moves. He landed into an unpleasant ending, which soon deteriorated into a technically lost one.


Perhaps the endgame that appeared on the board as early as move 9 was not that bad, but given his broken pawn-structure the position was strategically dangerous and needed very precise treatment. In the press conference, Grischuk considered:

Girschuk - Giri

16...c6 to be obligatory in order to get counterplay. He thought 17.h3 Be6 18.bxc6 (18.Nd2!?) 18...bxc6 was 'completely unclear'. The game continuation saw White consolidating his advantage with 16...exd4 17.Bxd4 Bxd4 18.Rxd4 Bxf3 19.gxf3 b6 20.f4. Grischuk did not let go of this chance and produced a model endgame that is surely worth replaying!

As for the Ukrainian players - it was a dark day

Ruslan Ponomariov - Etienne Bacrot

Ponomariov managed to break his series of draws, but not in the way he would have wanted to.


Once again Bacrot came to the game very well prepared. The players followed the main line of the Fianchetto variation of the Benoni for a very long time, but the Frenchman seemed to be more at home while Ponomariov was burning a lot of time. Black has been doing well in this line as of late and the present game did not change the verdict of the line. After underestimating 24...Nd3 White was already slightly worse, since Ponomariov didn't find any effective antidote to Black's growing initiative. Bacrot systematically increased his advantage and confidently upgraded his score in this event to +1.

Vassily Ivanchuk - Hikaru Nakamura

Hikaru didn't seem to feel at home in the Spanish variation with 5.d3 that appeared on the board. He showed his dissatisfaction with the move 17...Bd7 and the plan connected to it, of bringing the knight to c6. Ivanchuk indeed managed to get a stable advantage, which he increased into the middlegame. Nakamura said in the press conference he indeed felt that White was better the entire game but perhaps not more than that. The game saw a dramatic turn of events, after:

Chuky - Naka

46...Kh7!? Ivanchuk took the bait with 47.Qxf7 but in the press conference confessed he has missed 47...Nf6 48.Nb6 Qa3! and after the further 49.Bc1 Rxf7 50.Bxa3 Ng4! Black was out of the woods. Fortune really went Nakamura's way when a few moves later, in a position that looked very drawish, Ivanchuk forgot about his clock and lost on time!

With this unexpected win, Nakamura not only takes over the tournament lead, but also moves a bit closer to the 2800 barrier...

Wang Hao - Leinier Dominguez

Having successfully defended Black’s point of view in the previous round, Wang Hao was curious to test the Catalan Opening from the opposite side. His game with Dominguez ended in a correct draw, without any special incidents, but during the conference Wang Hao once again revealed some fascinating lines which remained off-stage.

What started out as a quiet Catalan eventually became a pretty sharp battle. With creative play, Wang Hao managed to get some initiative going and we enter the game on move 23:

Wang - Dominguez

Instead of 23.Ne2 White had the interesting posibility of playing 23.Na4!? Nc7 (23...Rxd4 24.Rxd4 Qxd4 25.Qxb7 is horrendous for Black) 24.Qc4 Nb5 and this would be fine for Black were it not for 25.Nb6! when Black is unable to double rooks on the d-file, his queen is offside on a7 and White can slowly improve his position with Rd3, Rad1, h4 etc.


Eventually Dominguez managed to take over and the main question remaining is the assesment of the final position in which the moves were repeated. Both players felt it was risky to play on, they looked at:

Wang - Dominguez1

37...Qd7 38.Rb7 Qe8 39.Qb6 Bf6 40.Qxa6 Ra8 41.Ra7 Rxa7 42.Qxa7 and things are indeed messy. But Black might be able to improve with 40...Qa4! attacking both the d1-rook and the pawn on a5.

Laurent Fressinet - Evgeny Tomashevsky

After Ponomariov’s defeat, Tomashevsky remains the only player with a 'perfect' score: eight consecutive draws! He cannot be blamed for lack of combativity, though. Today he had to endure Fressinet’s pressure for more than 90 moves...

Round8 104

Both Fressinet and Tomashevsky must have thought that with the rest day approaching, it would be better to play a long game. It would take 7 hours before the game saw it's finish. Fressinet, just like Ivanchuk, approached the Spanish opening of his opponent with d3 and, also just like Ivanchuk, soon got a nice advantage. With the strong move 24.Ra2! Fressinet made sure that his rooks would be ready to operate on the a-file as soon as that file was to be opened. In the press conference, Laurent said he made a mistake on move 26 and should have gone:

Fressinet - Toma

26.Rha1. This indeed looks very strong as Black is unable to oppose on the a-file; some sample lines show the dangers Black is facing: 26...Nd7 27.Be6! fxe6 28.Ra7 Rhd8 29.R1a6! Qb8 30.Nxe6+; or: 26...Rc7 27.c3! (going after the d-pawn) 27...Nd7 28.Ra6! Qc5 and the beautiful 29.Bxf7!! Kxf7 30.b4 Qxc3 31.Qa2+! d5 (31...Kg7 32.Ne6+ Kh6 and here White can chose between taking the rook on c7 or trapping the queen with 33.Ra3 Qxb4 34.Rb1!) 32.Ra3 Qxb4 33.exd5! which is quite a picture! Miraculously, Black is without a defence.
The players also looked at 26...g5 but agreed it looks a bit too much after 27.hxg5 Bxg5 28.Ra7.


But also after this missed chance Fressinet kept pressing and got a big advantage in the endgame. Tomashevsky felt White is technically winning with:

Fressinet - Toma1

46.Kd3! In the game he managed to exchange rooks after 46.Ra6 d3+! 47.Kxd3 Bf2 48.Ne5 Rb6! when White must take on b6 because g3 is hanging. It took another 50 moves for Tomashesvky to bring home half a point but in the end he managed to do so!

The general tiredness is revealed in different forms every day. Most of the players seem inclined to have a good rest during the free day scheduled tomorrow, resisting to the temptation of visiting the cultural beauties and mysteries offered by Paris.
And with three rounds to go, Mamedyarov cannot be sure of his qualification for the Candidates yet. Caruana (or, possibly, Grischuk) can still overtake him in the general Grand Prix classification...

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