This match was played between May 27 and June 3, alongside seven other first round Candidates Matches in Elista, Russia.
Ponomariov came into the spotlight after winning the FIDE Knockout championship in 2002, and along with Radjabov and Karjakin is one of the young rising stars of the game. Rublevsky is the experienced big-hitter in the Russian squad in team events, he has a narrow opening repertoire but he knows his lines exceptionally well.
Ponomariov has the edge in the first two games but cannot capitalise. Rublevsky gets the upper hand in game three, but Ponomariov fights back into a better position until Ponomariov blunders handing Rublevsky a dangerous initiative in a queen ending. Rublevsky manages to convert it into the first decisive game of the match.
The two games that follow are full of action, Ponomariov desperate to reclaim a point to even things out, but Rublevsky does enough to hold on for a draw. The last game shows Rublevsky forcing a repetition of position out of the opening to secure his place in the next round.
Another big name falls.
Ponomariov – Rublevsky, Game 1
In a solid Slav, both players follow the Aronian-Kramink game from Corus earlier this year, until Rublevsky deviates on move 13. Ponomariov has an advantage coming out of the opening, but this advantage is gradually whittled away. Draw agreed before the first time control.
Rublevsky – Ponomariov, Game 2
Game 2 sees an aggressive Sicilian Najdorf, Rublevsky emerges with an advantage, but Ponomariov slowly unravels his position to balance the position, and starts to gain the upper hand thanks to the pressure on Rublevsky’s castled king. Ponomariov penetrates White’s position with his queen, with threats of mate and material loss. Ponomariov fails to capitalise on his advantage, and sacrifices a piece to force a perpetual check.
Ponomariov – Rublevsky, Game 3
Ponomariov switches to e4 for game 3 and Rublevsky takes it into a Sicilian Taimanov. Ponomariov has some pressure against the Black king. Rublevsky builds up counterplay on the queenside and takes over the initiative. Ponomariov gives up his ambitions on the kingside to halt Rublevsky’s queenside initiative, and the game heads into an endgame where Rublevsky has a protected passed d-pawn. The exchange of dark-squared bishops leaves Rublevsky vulnerable as Ponomariov creates an outside passed pawn. Ponomariov overplays his position on the queenside and blunders by having his queen to far away from his defenceless king, leaving Rublevsky’s queen to cause havoc. And havoc it is. In the resulting play Rublevsky clears the White pawns out of the centre, and the activity of the Black queen slows down White’s outside passed pawns while allowing Black’s d-pawn to push forward. The ending simplifies down to just Black’s two kingside pawns in the queen ending, and Rublevsky converts.
Rublevsky – Ponomariov, Game 4
Rublevsky uses the Sozin against Ponomariov’s Sicilian Najdorf turns into a balanced middlegame. Ponomariov gains a slight upper hand, but the endgame offers no decisive advantage. Rublevsky temporary sacrifices his b-pawn to trap a Black knight, and Ponomariov returns the favour dragging Rublevsky’s outside passed pawn across towards the centre by returning the sacrificed material. Rublevsky can make no headway in the endgame, so its another draw.
Ponomariov – Rublevsky, Game 5
Ponomariov repeats the Slav from game one, but its Rublevsky who gets his new move in first. Ponomariov holds the advantage out of the opening, and forces a weakening of Black’s queenside pawn structure. But a central manoeuvre by Rublevsky creates counterplay by creating a central passed pawn. Ponomariov rushes his queenside pawns which only hands the initiative to Rublevsky. Once the queenside pawns disappear and Rublevsky’s passed pawn ready to be picked off a draw is agreed.
Rublevsky – Ponomariov, Game 6
In a Larsen Caro-Kann, Rublevsky offers the exchange of queens which Ponomariov avoids, but Rublevsky follows up with a manoeuvre that forces a repetition of position. And with that Rublevsky qualifies for the next round of Candidates Matches.