Wednesday’s two Round-8 matches have ripped the tournament wide open. Until Tuesday, Topalov looked like sweeping the stakes but on Wednesday, Anand defeated Norwegian Jon Ludvig Hammer and added 1 point to fall right behind Veselin Topalov with a half-point difference. After all his preceding victories in the tournament, the Bulgarian lost to Netherlands’ Anish Giri in a long round-8 game. In the ninth and last round tomorrow, Anand will play Topalov. Nothing less than a victory will do for Anand to win the tournament. In case of any other result, Topalov will be crowned as the champion. Theoretically, it is tough for the Indian maestro since he will play with black pieces.
For one reason or another, everyone has played the English against the tournament’s lowest ranked player Jon Ludvig Hammer of Norway. Anand also began likewise against Hammer, but he managed to obtain a good position with blacks. It was a direct approach by Hammer, when he played a quick 8 f5. He was relieved that Anand paused and thought about his next move. But after some complications in the middle-game, Anand created a favorable position for himself. Riding on a couple of blunders from the Norwegian, Anand seized the opportunity and pushed forward. After 24 moves, Hammer felt safe. At that point, Anand had two options. He could swap f5 and take b7 or reverse the order. After some thinking, the Indian decided in favor of reversing the order and it worked. Hammer spent 25 minutes before taking the rook on c1. It was definitely a big mistake from Hammer since Anand ended up with an extra pawn on the board, a better bishop and a better rook. Hammer couldn’t deal with these changes and lost the game in 35 moves.
Magnus Carlsen scored his second win of the tournament although that would not add anything in material terms since the world champion has had a bad tournament with three losses in the earlier 7 rounds. Against Levon Aronian in the eighth round, Carlsen began with the modern 6.d3 Spanish and applied further pressure with 14.a4 and 15.d4. However, Aronian countered well and broke in the center with 19…d5. But Carlsen produced a neat trick with 22.Nxd5 to take a pawn and activate the black pieces. Having been caught unawares, Aronian made errors and Carlsen finished with another win.
The match between Anish Giri and Veselin Topalov was the most crucial game of the day because the victory for the Bulgarian would also have given him the championship. Playing with whites, the Dutchman began with a Catalan opening and wrested a small advantage. After several moves the two players ended up with a situation, in which a rook and knight played against a rook and a bishop. Here, the whites were the better pieces as they yielded a better game for Giri. In a 34.g4 move, Giri succeeded in preventing blacks’ ideal pawn setup and after applying pressure, the Dutchman won a great technical endgame. After round 8, Topalov is still in first place, but his lead over Anand is just ½ point and 1 point on Nakamura.
The game between Alexander Grischuk and Fabiano Caruana remained level until the end because Grischuk missed a chance to dictate terms to the Italian. Grischuk began solidly with catalan but couldn’t control his minor pieces. This allowed Caruana to blow up the center with 29…e5 and a lot of pieces were exchanged. The endgame featured a rook and knight with four pawns on the same side. With the game going nowhere, both players agreed for a draw.
Hikaru Nakamura and Vachier-Lagrave also ended up in a drawn game. Nakamura began with the Najdorf Sicilian and MVL dealt with it adequately since he had already faced such opening earlier. With Nakamura not getting any advantage, MVL pressurize the American. Nakamura tried a variation and regained a slight edge but the Frenchman defended well and the match ended in an amicably agreed draw.
Now everything hinges in the match between Veselin Topalov and Vishwanathan Anand. Just a draw would be enough for the Bulgarian, who will play with white pieces but if Anand must win the tournament, he will have to beat Topalov decisively.