Candidates Matches 2007: Gelfand – Kasimdzhanov, Gelfand wins a hard-fought match in rapidplay tiebreak.

This match was played between May 27 and June 3, alongside seven other first round Candidates Matches in Elista, Russia.

Gelfand would be expected to progress to the next round, even though Kasimdzhanov is an ex-FIDE World Champion. As skillful a player Kasimdzhanov is, he’s not completely broken through to the top-echelons of the super grandmasters. Gelfand is a very technical player who is capable of grafting his wins, Kasimdzhanov’s play is more classical and creative. The difference in styles could be quite interesting, but I fear Gelfand will impose his technical prowess on the match.

Gelfand has the upper hand at least twice in Game 1 but fritters away both chances. Both players take a time out with a quick draw in Game 2. Game 3 sees a swashbuckling opening from both sides, with Kasimdzhanov taking the upper hand forcing Gelfand to squeeze a way into another draw.

A rough and tumble in Game 4 shows Kasimzhanov posing problems for Gelfand. In the tension, both players make mistakes as the advantage swings back and fore. Gelfand finally settles it into a draw after Kasimdzhanov misses a winning idea.

In Game 5 Gelfand comes from behind in the opening to a strong advantage in the endgame, but opts to take a draw instead of going for a win. After a short draw in game 6, the match heads into rapid-play tie breakers.

The first game of the tiebreaker saw Gelfand repeat the opening from the previous game and infiltrate White’s position for the first decisive game. Kasimzhanov battles right through a long endgame to gain the point back, but Gelfand manages to hold. In the third game, a blunder from Kasimdzhanov loses a piece, and its Gelfand who goes through to the next round of matches.

Kasimdzhanov fought well and with great creativity. The match could have gone either way, Kasimdzhanov had excellent positions in a number of games. Although all six match games were draws, four of them were tense and hard-fought right to the end. An excellent match, which is a credit to both players.

Gelfand – Kasimdzhanov, Game 1

Kasimdzhanov opts for the Semi-Slav and Gelfand gets a small advantage thanks to his better centre. The battle rages on the queenside, Gelfand steadily countering Kasimdzhanov’s temporary activity and preventing a …c5 break. Gelfand annexes both semi-open files and keeps control of the c5-square, preventing Black from equalising. Kasimdzhanov is in trouble until Gelfand decides to reduce the tension by exchanging the queens, but Gelfand manages to reassert his authority on the game, only to stumble in the endgame and forces the draw.

Kasimdzhanov – Gelfand, Game 2

A not-unexpected Queen’s Indian sees Gelfand equalising reasonably early. Gelfand gets his hanging pawns moving early on, which forces a rapid exchange-off, resulting in a balanced position. Game agreed drawn on move 23.

Gelfand – Kasimdzhanov, Game 3

Gelfand comes out fighting with an aggressive variation against Kasimdzhanov’s Semi-Slav. Kasimdzhanov reacts aggressively in reply, and after a flurry of tactics the game is a rook and bishop endgame with shattered pawn structures all over the board. Kasimdzhanov has a strong advantage, but Gelfand holds the endgame and its another draw.

Kasimdzhanov – Gelfand, Game 4

Kasimdzhanov emerges with compensation for his sacrificed pawn in the Queen’s Gambit Accepted. He forces a permanent weakness in Gelfand’s kingside pawn structure, and piles up pressure against the now-backward e-pawn. The pawn falls leaving Kasimdzhanov with a better position, but he compromises by exchanging into an isolated passed d-pawn, leaving Gelfand with a decent position. Gelfand incautiously exchanges queens and the advantage slides back to Kasimdzhanov. Kasimdzhanov increases his advantage, but misses a key idea which allows Gelfand to re-balance the position.

Gelfand – Kasimdzhanov, Game 5

Another Semi-Slav, this time Gelfand allows a Meran. Kasimdzhanov pincers Gelfand’s centre. Gelfand counters with a risky central expansion, and Kasimdzhanov emerges with a small advantage. Gelfand fights back and gains entry onto Black’s seventh rank. He plays the endgame well, and is still on top when a draw is agreed.

Kasimdzhanov – Gelfand, Game 6

Kasimdzhanov tries a relatively new move in a Queen’s Indian on move 15, but a quick series of exchanges drains the energy in the position, and the players agree to a short draw.

Rapidplay tiebreakers

Gelfand, as Black in the first tiebreaker, diverges from the Queen’s Indian of the previous game and initiates a stonewall-type formation, recently tried by Magnus Carlsen. Gelfand grabs the initiative thanks to White’s awkward queen placement. Gelfand opens the centre and he has the initiative with active pieces. Gelfand breaks through the seventh rank, and the first decisive game of the match goes Gelfand’s way.

In tiebreaker Game 2, another Semi-Slav, Gelfand smashes Black’s kingside pawn structure, and emerging from the middlegame Kasimdzhanov returns the favour leaving a balanced endgame. But Kasimdzhanov grabs the initiative, with a rook on the seventh rank, keeps the pressure on Gelfand, but misses a critical move. Gelfand gives him a second chance which prolongs the endgame to well over 80 moves. The players agree to a draw on move 94.

In the third game, Kasimzhanov switches to e4 and the game heads into a Petroff. Gelfand achieves equality with a fairly solid position. Kasimdzhanov triples up on the e-file with an advantage, which leads to a protected passed d-pawn. Kasimdzhanov concentrates on building on his advantage, and Gelfand trying to get his knight back into play. Kasimdzhanov gets a little too ambitious in playing on both sides of the board, and Gelfand takes an immediate advantage by annexing a pawn. Kasimdzhanov sparks a combination which backfires on him, losing a piece, and with it the match.

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