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T. Petrosian 80

Round 12 report
The temperature is white hot.  With one round to go, the 6 players are within a half point and with the Grand Prix points and prize money dangling for the taking, it should be a spectaular final round 13.  First, a look at the round 12 games.

The fastest game of the day was also the most unoriginal.  Cheparinov took a page out of Kasimdzhanov’s book in his game against Karjakin, and I mean literally.  The Bulgarian as white repeated the game played between Kasimdzhanov and Karjakin way back in round one, all the way to the perpetual check draw agreed on move 32.  Considering Cheparinov’s free-fall after an impressive start, maybe a half point doesn’t seem so bad, and for Karjakin, an effortless deja vu half point with black.  Not much more to say about this game.

In the clash between Ivanchuk and Jakovenko, the combatants went for the Spanish Opening exchange variation, with white preferring to try his luck in closed game with a modest advantage.  The strategy white employed in this game was to prevent any black counterplay in an effort to frustrate his opponent and wait for the right time to strike.  However, with the position so closed on all sides, and without much in the way of weaknesses, both sides began an endless series of subtle maneuvers, probing for weak points in the enemy armor.  White did succeed in driving the black knight to h5, which was cause for some consternation for black, but not enough for anything significant.  A few moves later, acknowledging that there was not much to be unearthed in this position, the players repeated moves and called it a day, as Ivanchuk kept his position as co-leader with only one round to go.
In the most anticipated game of the penultimate round, with the leader against the crowd favorite, spectators were wondering if Leko would be successful in avenging his final round loss in Nalchik, or would Aronian’s lightning strike twice and inflict another painful defeat on the Hungarian #1.  As it turned out, neither was to happen.  Leko played a new move 18. Qc3, jettisoning a pawn for at least sufficient compensation.  Moreover, it was much easier to play the white position than it was for black.  However in the press conference, Leko acknowledged that Aronian defended precisely, staving off white’s different attacking ideas.  After the queen exchange, the players went into a rook endgame where black kept his extra pawn, and it was white who forced the draw to avoid any unnecessary risks.  A draw keeps Leko as co-leader with Ivanchuk, a half point from a bevy of contenders just half a point behind.

In the surprise result of the 12th round, Kasimdzhanov and Gelfand went for a position they both know well and white emerged from the opening phase with a good game and greater prospects for improvement than his opponent.  Maybe instead of 19. e5, white could have tried 19. Bxf6 after which if 19...gxf, white would have forced a loosened black kingside, or if 19...Bxf6, white would respond with the active and attacking 20. e5!.  Anyway as the game progressed black was able to make use of favorable exchanges to equalize and go to an endgame where a draw was likely.  White must have been devastated to find out that a relatively straightforward bishop and rooks endgame was slipping out of control, and after misplayed the position in the run-up to time control, white was able to force an exchanging sequence after which black was simply winning and white resigned.

The game between Alekseev and Bacrot saw white make the new move 15. Be3 but it probably only allowed black to play the principled response 15...d5 at a point where the e5 pawn is safe.  As such, this sequence vanquished the center and white’s initiative along with it.  It was black if anyone, who was trying to get something more from the position with a slightly more promising initiative.  White had to play the position accurately to hold the draw which he in fact did.  Quietly, Alekseev at least maintained his chances for a strong final position in the standings.

Kasmky added another game to his long heritage of fighting hard in seemingly even positions, finding something where many would be content to split the point.  Another Closed Spanish was seen in this game where both flanks had their moment in the spotlight as the center was locked up.  It was difficult for either side to make improvements in the position as each maneuvered back and forth probing each other’s defenses.  The waiting game proved too much for Eljanov, who at some point couldn’t resist and unfortunately for him, broke the seemingly endless monotony with 53...f5, which led to a flurry of exchanges.  One casualty of the exchanges on f5 was the important white squared bishop, as black lost the chief defender of his b5 pawn; this was the beginning of the end and after a few more errors black resigned.

In the game between Inarkiev and Akopian, the Russian faced the Armenian’s Petroff defense and got very little from the opening.  Black looked to shake things up early with the premature 15...a5?!, without having first castled and assuring king safety.  A few inaccuracies later, black’s position deteriorated and it looked grim for Akopian, with white a pawn up without any serious compensation.  At this point, white played tentatively and black incrementally improved his bad position with active play and was thus able to win back the pawn and with it, secure the draw.

The participants are locked in a fierce battle with only one day remaining.  Nearly all the boards will have an impact on the standings at the top, as so many players have a chance for 1st place even with only one game to go.  All eyes will be on Gelfand-Leko as the former tries to continue his late run to the top, while Leko tries to hang on for a second superb Grand Prix result in a row.  Akopian will face off against Ivanchuk as the latter will try to keep his hold on the top spot.  Meanwhile no less than 4 players are lurking a half point behind.  Aronian will try to catch the leaders and make it 3 for 3 in Grand Prix events with a win against Inarkiev if the current leaders draw or lose.  Gelfand, Alekseev, and Kasimdzhanov have similar aspirations, and will be gunning for victories in their games as well.  All eyes are on Jermuk, Armenia where at 13:30 local time (GMT+4), the chess world can follow the 13th and final round games live.

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