A Day in the Life

by GM Yasser Seirawan

Days like today stopped being special for me about the time I turned 21 years old. In those times, birthdays were important and now they feel like just any other day. On my mind as I woke up was not the e-mail well wishes sure to be tumbling into my virtual mailbox, rather they were about the happenings in Moscow and round eleven of the Candidates Tournament. Three out of the four games would have a huge impact on the tournament lead, none bigger that Veselin Topalov v Fabiano Caruana match-up. After rushing to brush my teeth, shave, shower, shampoo and shine, it was a quick dress followed by a scramble to my computer. Time to hone in on the action.

First stop was the ICC avoiding the traffic jams sure to be occurring on the other sites. No computer engines for me – my aim was to scroll quickly through the games and to the current positions. First up, Fabi’s game. At move ten, Fabi essayed 10…Ra7, one of the least obvious chess moves I’ve seen in a long, long career. I froze. What was that? I realized I needed coffee badly. Fabi had put his rook en prise, daring his opponent to capture it at the cost of the b2-pawn. Suddenly it was all so clear; allowing Black to capture the b2-pawn with his queen gave the second player a plethora of checkmating attacks. However, the confounding rook move meant that White’s b5-knight could be captured next. Instantly, the game turned horribly complicated and the drip-feed coffee maker was merely hissing along with nary a drop. Topalov allowed the capture of his knight, a recapture, and now all the pieces seemed to be en prise. I paused to consider the situation and looked meaningfully towards my coffee machine. I clicked one move further ahead. Fabi played a wickedly sly queen move hitting a rook on the h1-square. A queen trade yes but only on his terms. It was cut and thrust daggers and swords galore. Championship chess at its very best.

As pieces were captured, I began to wonder which player was better prepared. At the elite level, Topalov and Fabi are right up there as possibly two of the very best theoreticians in the world. By move seventeen, things had settled down.. almost. Fabi had snared an exchange for a pawn and knight but his king had been compromised and Topalov’s pieces were brimming with ferocity. Just the type of position in which the Bulgarian excels.

I worked my way through the other three games and found fighting chess everywhere. What a round it was! By this time, my housemate GM Eric Hansen exclaimed, “wild games,” while struggling with the challenge of looping his necktie. We hoofed the fifty meters to the Chess Club where GM Maurice Ashley and GM Alejandro Ramirez huddled together focused on Fabi’s game. We were in universal agreement, Topalov had missed a golden opportunity to play 18.c5! in order to open the position for his pieces. Topalov had slipped with queen-side castles in order to tuck his king away. Fabi took advantage and his forlorn light-squared bishop was liberated. The position had turned the tables and it was now an equal match.

At move 21, Topalov eschewed the draw to be had with: 21.Nd6! Bxd6 22.Bxg7+ Kxg7 23.Qg5+ Kf8 24.Qxd8+ Kg7 25.Qg5, with a perpetual check. Despite being the tail-ender, Topalov wanted to play one good game. Unfortunately, with each move, the position became more favorable for Fabi. With the thrust of his h-pawn: 29…h5!, the advantage had fully swung to Black’s favor. All four of us were breathless. Could Fabi win and take sole possession of first place?

“Crap!” Mauice was the first to report, “Fabi is down to four minutes for the time control (at move forty). He just can’t do that!” We all watched as Fabi’s clock ticked down. The calls from the producer to begin rehersal were now incessant. “But Fabi’s only got one minute left,” complained Alejandro as we were herded away to the Club’s boardroom to film Beyond the Board. None of us wanted to move from the computer screens but duty was truly calling us away.

Off we went to record Beyond the Board where we were asked to share funny moments in our chess careers. The hardest part of the challenge was to get the stories packed together within an eight minute time frame. With four grandmasters, all having hilarious stories, we’d need eight hours... each. Afterward, we rushed back to the computer monitors. Fabi had taken control and was now winning! It was so exciting.

Ever the fighter, Topalov, seized his opportunity with 39.Rc2!, when White’s potential went to extremes in a single ply. The game would have to be won all over again. Eventually, a savvy draw offer in a position ruled by tactics was accepted and the peace treaty was signed.

The fastest two hours in chess were underway next with Today In Chess. Fabi’s manager IM Lawrence Trent called in to the show to tell us that he had bitten his nails down to the point where serious bodily injury came next. The rest of the competition would be about whom could best hold their nerves. Saint Louis’ own Rex Sinquefield joined our discussion and let slip that if NYC didn’t come through for a Carlsen versus Caruana World Championship match that Saint Louis stood at the ready. Rex pointed out that 130 years ago, Saint Louis along with NYC and New Orleans, hosted the first World Championship match and how it would be fitting if the competition returned to its roots. Then, it was Garry Kasparov’s turn to share his views on the competition. Insightful as ever, Garry shared the types of intense pressures that all the competitors were feeling.

Then the show was over. There were thrills and spills in each and every game during round 11. Nakaura survived with a miracle escape. Tenacious defense won the day for Svidler while Viswanathan created an endgame masterpiece to once again share first place. The five-time world champion is on a wild roller-coaster ride. Will it see him to a smooth finish or buck him off? Oh my... what an event! I can’t wait until tomorrow to continue the action.