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Onischuk On Biel Tiebreak Print E-mail
By GM Alexander Onischuk   
August 14, 2007
Photo courtesy Biel International Chess Festival
I just got back from the Biel International Chess Festival (July 21-August 2), where I tied for first place with Magnus Carlsen, but lost the title on tiebreak. Even though the tiebreak was obviously the least successful part of the event for me, it was also very dramatic and I'm going to focus on that in this article. My favorite game from the main event was my win against Boris Avrukh in the eighth round.

In the final round, I was tied for the lead with Radjabov. Carlsen beat Radjabov and I drew against Motylev. We both finished our games after 3-3.5 hours of play. Other games were still in progress and the winner of the Polgar-Pelletier game could catch us. This game ended in a draw, so I had to face Magnus in a rapid/blitz playoff match.

Of course I did not prepare any openings for the tiebreak. First of all, I didn't know who I would play or if I would play in the tiebreak till almost the last moment. If three players were tied for first, only the top two on tiebreak would advance to the playoff, and my tiebreaks were the worst. Ed. Note- CLO doubts the relevance of tiebreaks in round robins, especially when it threatens to keep our guy out of the big game. Secondly, Carlsen's opening repertoire is very wide and honestly, I think it much more important to get a bit rest before such a match than to be well prepared in the openings.

I was trying to think about what strategy I should follow playing against Carlsen. He was the only one I lost to in the round robin part of the event. Should I try to get technical or maybe more tactical positions? During the past couple of years Magnus made a huge progress and he became a world-class player with almost no weaknesses, so I decided I will simply play my usual chess.

The tiebreak would determine the champion but the prize money was still shared.

The tiebreak rules were that we'd start with two 15 minutes games with no increment. If this was tied, we'd advance to a blitz playoff (5 minutes+ 2 seconds), and if this still did not produce a winner, the match would go into a single Armageddon game.

The tiebreak started after the last game of the main tournament had finished, which was around 9.30 PM. We both had a long and difficult tournament behind us and of course we were very tired. I hoped that we'll decide the winner already after two games, but as it usually happens it took us five games to determine the winner. Carlsen had better tiebreaks than me, so he got to choose to play with Black in the first game.

In the first game I did not get any advantage from the opening, but I got a comfortable position that was easier for me to play.

Onischuk-Carlsen Tiebreak: Game 1


Position after 21.Rxc1

21...Red8! 22.Rxc1 Rd8 23.Qc5 Qxc5 24.Nxc5 Bc4 25.Nfd3 Nfd5 26.Nb7!?

Position after 26.Nb7

Another strong alternative was 26.Bxd5 Rxd5 27.Na4!
According to computer the best way for Black was 26...Rc8 27.Nd6 Nc3!? but I believe I get almost a winning position after 28.Bf3 Nxa2 29.Ra1 b3 30.Nxc8 Nxc8 31.Nb2; the best chance for black was 26...Rd7 27.Bxd5 Rxd5 28.Nxb4 Rd2 29.e4 Bxa2 30.Nxa2 Rxa2 31.Nd6 with a slightly better endgame for White.
27.Rxc4 Nxc4 28.Bxd5 Nb6 29.Bf3 Na4 30.Nxb4
The position looks completely lost for black, but in a time pressure it is not that easy to realize the advantage. I played quite well at the beginning and the I made a mistake. 30...Nc3 31.e3 a5 32.Na6 Ra8 33.Nc7 Ra7 34.a3 a4 35.Kf1 Nb1 36.Nb5 Ra6
37.Bd5 Rb6 38.N7d6
37...Rc6 38.Na5?

Position after 38.Na5

It is strange, but this logical move (I wanted to bring my knight back) probably misses a win. Ironically almost any other move was better than the move I made.
It turns out that I cannot save the a3 pawn now.
39.Bd3 Nxa3 40.Nxa3 Rxa5
White still has some advantage, but there was not enough time to win. Carlsen achieves the draw easily.
41.Bb5 Ra8 42.Ke2 Kf8 43.Kd3 Rc8 44.Nc2 Ra8 45.Na3 Rc8 46.Nc2 Ra8 47.Bc4 Rb8 48.Kc3 Rb1 49.h4 Rh1 50.Bb5 Rh2 51.f3 Rh3 52.Bxa4 Rxg3 53.Nd4 Rh3 54.Kd3 Rxh4 55.f4 Rh1 56.Ke4 h5 57.Kf3 g6 58.Bb3 Rf1+ 59.Kg2 Rb1 60.Bd5 Kg7 61.e4 Rd1 62.Nf3 f5 63.Ng5 Rd2+ 64.Kg3 fxe4 65.Bxe4 Kf6 66.Nf3 Re2 67.Bd3 Ra2 68.Be4 Ra3 69.Bd5 Rxf3+

Game 2


In the second game we both played very creatively in the opening. I was actually glad that I survived my opening experiment. Then he did not play very strong and I got a good chance to win the match. 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 d5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.Qxc3 dxc4 7.Qxc4 b6 8.Bf4 Nd5 9.Bg3 Ba6 10.Qa4+ Qd7 11.Qc2 Qb5?!
A very unusual move
12.Nf3 Nc6 13.Rc1
The computer says that after 13.b4 Black should sacrifice a knight on b4, which, of course, does not give him enough compensation.

Position after 13...Nde7

13...Nde7 14.b4 Qh5 15.Qa4 Bb5 16.Qb3 Qd5 17.Qxd5 exd5 18.e3 Bxf1 19.Kxf1 Rc8 20.Ke2 f6 21.b5 Na5 22.Rxc7 Rxc7 23.Bxc7 Kd7 24.Bg3
White won a pawn, but his position is not better because I control the c file and his pawns on the queen side are weak.
24...Rc8 25.Kd3 Nc4 26.Ra1 Nf5 27.Nh4 Nfd6 28.Bxd6 Nxd6 29.a4 Ne4 30.Ra2 Rc3+ 31.Ke2 Rc4 32.Kd3 Rc3+ 33.Ke2

Position after 33.Ke2

At this moment I had about 5 minutes vs. his 4 minutes. I knew that my position objectively should not be better, but since I'm the one who creates threats it is easier to play it with Black.
34.Kf3 Nc3 35.Ra1?
35.Rc2 would hold an equal position
35...Rb2 36.Nf5 Ne4 37.Ng3 Rxf2+ 38.Kg4 Rxg2 39.a5 Rxh2?!
In this position I almost played 39...h5+! but then I saw 40.Kh3 Rb2 41.axb6 (41.Nxe4 dxe4 42.axb6 axb6 43.Ra7+ Ke6 44.Rxg7 Rxb5 with a difficult endgame) 41...axb6 (Unfortunately I missed 41...Ng5+ here ) 42.Ra7+ and White should make draw.
40.Nxe4 dxe4 41.axb6 axb6 42.Kf5!

Position after 42. Kf5

After this great move it seems that white should hold.
42...Rg2 43.Kxe4 Rg5 44.Ra7+ Kc8 45.d5 h5 46.Ra8+ Kc7 47.Rh8 Kd6 48.Rd8+ Kc5 49.Rc8+ Kxb5 50.d6 Re5+ 51.Kd4 Re6 52.Kd5 Re5+ 53.Kd4 Re6 54.Kd5 Re5+ ½–½


Game 3


If in 15 minutes games I had more chances, then in blitz Magnus had advantage.
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.bxa6 g6 6.Nc3 Bxa6 7.Nf3 d6 8.g3 Bg7 9.Bg2 Nbd7 10.Qc2?

A typical blitz mistake. I remembered that in this move order white should make some other move but castle. I quickly played Qc2 and then realized that a correct move was Rb1.
10...Nb6 11.Nd2 Bb7 12.e4 Ba6 13.Bf1 Qc8
Now Black has better play
14.Bb5+ Bxb5 15.Nxb5 0-0 16.0-0 Qh3 17.f3 Nh5 18.Rf2 f5!?

Position after 18...f5

Black has to many threats. It is tough to play it with White. 18...Qd7 was another good move, with the idea to play 19.a4 Nxa4!
19.Nc4 Nxc4 20.Qxc4 fxe4 21.Qxe4 Nf6 22.Qe6+
I managed to trade queens, now white should hold
22...Qxe6 23.dxe6 Nd5 24.a4 Rfb8 25.Ra3 Nb6 26.b3 c4 27.bxc4 Nxc4 28.Raa2 Nb6 29.Rfc2 Rxa4 30.Bg5 Rxa2 31.Rxa2 Nd5 32.Na7!? h6
32...Bd4+ 33.Kf1!=
33.Rd2 hxg5 34.Rxd5 Rb1+ 35.Kg2 Rb2+ 36.Kh3 Bf6 37.Nc6 Re2 38.Nd8 Kg7 39.Ra5 Bd4 40.Nf7 Rxe6 41.Nxg5 Re5 42.Rxe5 Bxe5 43.Kg4 Bb2 44.f4 Kf6 45.Ne4+ Kf7 46.h4 d5 47.Nf2 Bd4 48.Nd3 Kf6 49.Kf3 e5 50.fxe5+ Bxe5 51.g4 Bd6 52.h5 ½–½

Game 4


1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Bc5
My favorite opening, but I do not play it so often against strong opponents now.
6.c3 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.d3 0-0 9.Nbd2 Be6 10.Re1 Bb6 11.Nf1 Ng4 12.Re2 d5 13.exd5 Bxd5 14.Bxd5 Qxd5 15.h3 e4

Position after 15...e4

We made all these moves very quickly. White seems to be in trouble, but Magnus finds the best move
16.Ne1! exd3? 17.Qxd3?
We both blundered that he could take the piece 17.hxg4 I still can fight, however 17...Rad8 18.Rd2 Ne5 with some compensation
17...Qxd3 18.Nxd3 Rad8 19.hxg4 Rxd3 20.Be3 Re8 21.Rae1 h6?!
21...Bxe3= was more exact
22.Bxb6 Rxe2 23.Rxe2 cxb6 24.Re8+ Kh7 25.Ra8 a5 26.Ra6 Ne5 27.Rxb6 Nc4 28.Rxb5 Rd1 29.f3 Ne3 30.Kf2 Nxf1 31.Rxa5 Rb1 32.Rd5!

Position after 32.Rd5

I missed this move when I went for this line
I have to give up the piece, otherwise it is going to be only worse
33.Kxf1 Rxa2 34.c4 Rc2 35.c5 f6?!
35...Kg6 was more precise, when it should be a draw.
The best chance for White. While Black's king is too far from the queen side, he takes his chance to advance the c-pawn
36...Rxg2 37.Kd1 Ra2! 38.c6 Ra8 39.c7 Rc8 40.Rd7 Kg6 41.Ke2 f5 42.Ke3 42.gxf5+ would give White more chances 42...Kxf5 43.Rxg7 Ke6 44.Rh7
(44.Rg6+ Kd5 45.Rxh6 Rxc7) 44...Kd6 45.f4! (45.Rxh6+ Kxc7 46.f4 Kd7 47.Kf3 Ke7=) 45...Rxc7 46.Rxh6+ Kd5 47.Kf3 and Black has to find the only move here 47...Rg7! with a draw.
42...fxg4 43.fxg4 Kf6 44.Ke4 g6 45.Kd5 Kg5 46.Kd6 Kxg4 47.Rd8 Rxc7 48.Kxc7 h5 49.Rd4+
49.Kd6 h4 50.Ke5 h3
49...Kg3 50.Kd6 h4 51.Ke5 h3 52.Rd3+ Kg4 53.Rd2 Kg3 54.Kf6 h2 ½–½


Carlsen did not get to choose his side for the Armageddon game(Black with four minutes and draw odds, or White with five minutes.) This was considered too big an edge, so instead the arbiter put two pawns in his hands, put them behind his back, and asked Carlsen to choose. Carlsen drew Black, which he later said was good luck for him. I also would have preferred to play with Black, because one minute is not a big difference and the ability to win with two results is important. I think most players would pick Black. But anything can happen, especially when we were so tired. It was almost 11 PM at the start of this game.


This was the final game. I had five minutes and my opponent had four minutes for the game. He played it very well. Unfortunately I did not get any real chances in this game. One of the causes was a bad opening choice.
1...Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.c4 c5

Position after 3...c5


Even now while annotating this game I do not understand why I did not play 4. d5 I wanted to avoid Volga (Benko) gambit, but after 4.d5 b5, is possible but it's not a Benko because I can add de6. Benoni would have been a good opening to play in this must-win situation. Not. Such decisions can be only explained by fatigue. When I'm tired, I can still calculate variations well, but I find it harder to do things like compare or remember lines and make reasoned opening choices.
4...cxd4 5.Nxd4 Bb4 6.g3 0-0 7.Bg2 d5 8.cxd5 Nxd5 9.Bd2?!
9.Qb3 is the move I played in this position a few times. Again, I go for another line
9...Bxc3 10.bxc3 e5 11.Nb3 Nc6 12.0-0 Nb6 13.Be3 Qc7 14.Qc2 Be6
Black got a very solid position
15.Rfd1 Nc4 16.Bc5 Rfd8 17.Qe4 Rac8 18.f4?!
Position after 18.f4

A crazy move. I would not even consider in a normal game, but my only chance for the title was to win
18...f5! 19.Qf3 b6 20.Bf2 e4 21.Qh5 Qf7 22.Qh4 Rxd1+ 23.Rxd1 Nb2 24.Rd6 Nc4 25.Rd1 Nb2 26.Rc1 Na4 27.Nd4 Nxd4 28.Bxd4 Bxa2 29.g4 Be6 30.Rd1 Nb2 31.Ra1 Nc4 32.gxf5 Bxf5 33.Qg5 h6 34.Qg3 Kh7 35.e3 Rc7 36.Kf2 Qg6 37.Qh4 Nb2 38.Bf1 Nd3+ 39.Bxd3 exd3 40.Rg1

Position after 40.Rg1

40...Qxg1+! 41.Kxg1 d2 42.Qh5 Bc2 0-1

Of course I wanted to be the tournament champion, but even after I lost I wasn't disappointed at all. I still had a great tournament and gained 12 ELO points. Even the tiebreak was ok; it's not like he crushed me every game. I even had an edge in the rapids. It was my third successful tourney in a row (Foros, U.S. Championship). I have great confidence now and know that I can play with the world's best players.

Top Three finishers in Biel, Magnus Carlsen, Alexander Onischuk and Yannick Pelletier.

Biel International Chess Festival
Final Standings
1. Magnus Carlsen (Norway, 2710) 5.5 (3-2) in tiebreak
2. Alexander Onischuk (USA, 2650) 5.5
3-6. Yannick Pelletier (Switzerland, 2583), Judit Polgar (Hungary, 2707), Alexander Grischuk (Russia, 2726) and Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan, 2746)- 5 7-10. Bu Xianghzi (China, 2685), Loek van Wely (Netherlands, 2679) and Alexander Motylev (Russia, 2648) and Boris Avrukh (Israel, 2645) - 3.5