In what was perhaps a let-down in the top-of-the-table clash, Viswanathan Anand held Levon Aronian to a very short draw, ensuring the pair went into round nine in joint lead at the Candidates tournament. If it was Veselin Topalov’s turn to more or less move out of contention with a loss on Friday, it was Peter Svidler who suffered a debilitating blow to his chances on Saturday after falling to Sergey Karjakin. Vladimir Kramnik, half a point behind the leaders at the start of round eight, drew his game against Dmitry Andrekin to stay within touching distance of the leaders.
The draw on the leaderboard between Aronian and Anand would have left the Indian the happier of the two. Anand had beaten Aronian with white pieces in the first part of the tournament, giving him the advantage on head-to-head terms, which will decide the tie-break if both players finish on the same score after 14 rounds. Effectively, Anand can now count himself to be half a point ahead of Aronian.
Aronian perhaps knew how crucial the encounter was, starting as he did with c4, avoiding both the King’s pawn and Queen’s pawn openings so as to steer clear of Anand’s preparation. But the bigger surprise was Aronian’s third move, which brought his queen out to general excitement. However, Anand played the position that arose fairly comfortably, even allowing Aronian to grab a pawn early.
As with these situations, the side that has gambited a pawn moved ahead in developement and Aronian’s pieces were neither able to develop fast nor co-ordinate themselves well. However, there were no obvious weaknesses in the position for either player to exploit. The strange game ended in the same way it started, with an unusual repetition from the 14th move for the draw.
Kramnik was extremely lucky to come away with a win, no less, from a position which looked completely lost against Mamedyarov on Friday and was taking no chances in round eight. A loss at this stage would put the Russian too far behind Anand and Aronian and Kramnik took the safe option, seeing out Andreikin’s Slav Defence without much trouble. Kramnik sacrificed one of his weak pawns later on in the game, but could not get enough to win the game as the players signed a draw after 32 moves.
Topalov was held to an exciting draw by Mamedyarov, who sacrificed a piece for initiative in the Sicilian Defence with black. Topalov was having none of it though and returned the favour. After the exchange of queens the Bulgarian had a bit of pressure but the game ended in a short but interesting draw.
Svidler was on an even score before the start of the round, but his third loss of the tournament, to Sergey Karjakin on Saturday, left him a continued…