The Candidates tournament in London which will decide the identity of world champion Viswanathan Anand’s challenger took a breather,but not before gaining gradual momentum in the three rounds before Monday’s rest day.
The first day saw all four sets of participants sign truce,but rounds two and three proved more decisive,with a total of five results from eight games across two days. World No. 3 Levon Aronian moved into sole lead at the end of the first bunch of matches with two wins from three games but favourite Magnus Carlsen was not far behind,sitting in joint second place. Six-time Russian champion Peter Svidler,a bit of an outsider before the tournament started,joined Carlsen in second place while former champion Vladimir Kramnik’s three draws took him joint-fourth.
Considered one of Carlsen’s major challengers,Aronian started off with a quick draw against the Norwegian World No 1 in the first round,but turned on the style subsequently. Last year’s contender Israeli Boris Gelfand was the first to suffer when his ill-advised attempt at exchanging rooks in the middle game saw Aronian immediately capitalise. Aronian displayed his positional awareness with a bishop check that left the black king rooted,a major handicap in the looming end game. WIth his excellent knight holding down both of Gelfand’s bishops,Aronian’s king was left to swagger up the board to help his pawn promote. In his next game,Aronian punished an impertinent Vassily Ivanchuk,who smarting from his second round loss against Teimour Radjabov,over-compensated by being ultra-aggressive. Aronian weathered Ivanchuk’s king-side threats before launching a stunning counter-offensive that tore open white’s queen-side. With his queen and minor pieces bearing down on the exposed king,Aronian pushed Ivanchuk into deeper and deeper thought,until the Ukranian lost on time. The successive wins pushed Aronian into sole lead.
Carlsen,though,wouldn’t be too worried. Games against Kramnik and Aronian peacefully negotiated,the Norwegian made his first encounter with a back-marker count. In typical fashion,Carlsen ground out a result from a drawn position when under time pressure during the second period (beyond the first set of 40 moves),Gelfand miscalculated. In trading queens,he was unable to stop black’s connected a-b pawns from queening without giving up a minor piece.
The tournament is only three rounds old,but World No 4 Teimour Radjabov has already had an up and down ride,registering all three results so far,the win against Ivanchuk offset by the loss to Svidler. Russians Kramnik and Grischuk have been solid,registering three draws on the trot,but are already in danger of being left behind as Aronian sets the early pace.
Standings after round three:
1. Levon Aronian (Arm) 2.5 pts; 2-3. Peter Svidler (Rus),Magnus Carlsen (Nor) 2; 4-6. Teimour Radjabov (Aze),Vladimir Kramnik (Rus),Alexander Grischuk (Rus) 1.5; 7-8. Boris Gelfand (Isr),Vassily Ivanchuk (Ukr) 0.5.
Pairings for round four:
Magnus Carlsen vs Alexander Grischuk; Teimour Radjabov vs Vladimir Kramnik; Levon Aronian vs Peter Svidler; Boris Gelfand vs Vassily Ivanchuk.