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Impressions – day I

September 2, 2010

In the first round, I faced the World Champion with black. From an Italian game, black got all his pieces to good squares, and I think the position was pretty balanced. When I played a5, I knew it was a big decision, one that would have a big impact on the game, but during the game I thought I was a genius since I stop white from expanding on the queenside. With hindsight, I think a5 is completely idiotic, and as the game progressed, it became my doom as white played b4! From a seemingly harmless position, I got completely outplayed by Anand. We enter the game at move 44:

Anand-Hammer

In this position, Anand decided to swap off a knight for a bishop with 44.Nc5+! Bxc5 45.Kxc5, when 45…Nd7+ is forced, since otherwise Kb6 would be finito. 46.Kb5 Kd6 47.Bb4+ Ke6 On 47…Kc7, 48.Be7 followed by Kc4-d5 would be problematic to say the least. 48.a6! bxa6+ So far Anand has displayed excellent technique, and with 49.Kc6!! he would win the black knight by force, because of the zugzwang arising after 49…a5 50.Ba3! Nb8+ 51.Kb7 Nd7 52.Kc7 a4 53.Kc6! Nb8+ 54.Kb7! Nd7 55.Kc7! However, he played 49.Kxa6, which also looks really good, since after 49…Kf7 50.Kb7, white gets the opposition after 50…Nf8 51.Bxf8 Kxf8 52.Kc6! since I can’t go Kf8-g6 in one move. However, the opposition is not enough for white to win, as after 52…Ke7 53.Kc7 Ke6 54.Kd8 Kd6 55.Ke8 Kc5 56.Kf7 Kd4 57.Kxf6 Kxe4 58.Kxg5 Kf3!, the game will end in a draw. Unfortunately, I didn’t see this plan to go after the e4-pawn, and thinking Nf8 was hopeless, I panicked with 46…f5 and quickly lost.

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Next up was the world ranking #1 player, Norway’s very own Magnus Carlsen. Having back to back blacks against the two strongest players in the world is an extremely tough task, but I wasn’t in Kristiansund for a nice walk in the city’s park. I wanted to get some active play and lots of squares for my pieces, but cxd4 was way too optimistic, and after the very strong e5! I was left without any counterplay. Having a completely lost position while simultaneously being 10 minutes down on the clock after 20 moves is not very encouraging. I tried to get my act together, but I needed some help from Magnus to drum up some counterplay. Luckily he thought he could cruise to victory, so he wasn’t paying enough attention to what could happen on the second rank. With my rooks lined up I had good chances, but I got stressed by the fact that my clock was approaching zero a bit too fast to my taste. Consequently, the following bizarre incident of mutual chess blindness happened:

Carlsen-Hammer

I have just played 38…Rg2-h2, threatening Rh1+. At first I thought this guaranteed a draw, but then I realized that Magnus can move a piece to d2, thereby stopping Rh1 mate. The key to the position is that black threatens both Rh1+ AND Rc1+. 39.Bd2 takes care of both threats, but after 39…Kf7, the bishop is under attack and black is very close to a draw. If he could only get one of the rooks exchanged…. hence: 39.Rd2?? stopping 39…Rh1 mate. The move I made is widely known around the world today: 39…Rhxd2?? For more on this insanity, check out my interview with Europe Echecs. Click on the video named “Day 1”

But the show goes on, and I think I defended pretty well despite playing with only increments on my clock. Just as I was about to be rewarded for my persistence, I made the final blunder of the game, namely 70…Bd5. After 70…Rf5, I have excellent chances to make a draw.

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Having two straight losses is (luckily) not something I’m very used to. With white against Polgar, I wanted to go for the kill. And when I saw this idea of Nf3-e5xf7, I thought it was worth a try! But Judit defended very well, and very quickly, which left me insecure about the evaluation of the position. Sitting with the computer afterwards, I can say for sure that I played very well, and I had a very good position when the game became very tense:

Hammer-Polgar

Polgar went 26…Nh4 here, threatening mate on g2. Her idea is to make white play 27.Rg3, something I complied with, because I thought 27…Ne4 was nothing to be afraid of. My initial idea had been to play 28.Rxe4 Qxe4 29.Rg4 Qb1+ 30.Kh2 Nf5 31.Qe2 with some dangerous threats, but I noticed that black has the stunning 29…Qxg2+!! 30.Rxg2 Nf3+ winning. Fortunately, I had a good alternative in 28.Rxg6 Nxd2 29.Rg4!, however, Judit is up to the task, as after Nhf3+! 30.gxf3 Nxf3+ 31.Kf1 Nh2+ it seems like black is just fine, however, I missed a great zwischenzug in the variation after 32.Kg2! Nxg4 33.Re7!! and white is clearly on top, as now after 33…Ba8 34.hxg4 Rxc4?, white has 35.Re8 winning the bishop and with it the game. After the move I played, 32.Ke2, black is perfectly fine, but the position is treacherous, and accurate play is needed. Accuracy and time trouble is not traditionally linked to each other, and this game was no exception. I got a very promising position, but missed my chance when I played 40.Kc6? instead of 40.Rc1! Luckily this blunder didn’t cost me the game, as Judit decided we had enough fun for today, and took a repetition instead of trying her luck with a passed h-pawn. I think 44…Bxg4 would have been very dangerous for white.

All in all, I felt like I had good chances in every single game, so as I went to sleep, I was looking forward to making more of the chances I got on the next day.

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