Rules Were Made to Be Broken

There’s a friendly (but rated) 6-game match going on between Aronian and Kramnik right now. There are no explicit anti-draw rules in place, but to help give the spectators (and sponsors) their money’s worth, if the game ends in a draw before 3 hours are up, then the two players have to play a rapid game. The results of any such rapid games aren’t used as tiebreakers.

In the first game, Kramnik lost quite easily with the white pieces. In game two, a surprise Berlin (Aronian pretty much never plays 1.e4) petered out relatively quickly – there were some interesting variations, but they’ll be confined to the annotations and not the actual game.

The first draw offer was made by Kramnik after 19…Nh4-f5:

(FEN: r5r1/pp3kpp/2pBbp2/5n2/8/2N2P1P/PPP3P1/R2R2K1 w - - 0 20)

Not much seems to be going on here, but I’m not completely sure that Aronian would’ve accepted a draw here even if there were no anti-draw measures in place. This is because he at least can quickly generate some symbolic pressure against Black’s queenside: 20.Bc5 b6 21.Bf2 Rgd8 22.a4 Ne7 23.a5 c5 24.Nb5. After 24…Nc6, though, Black seems to be holding without much trouble.

(FEN: r2r4/p4kpp/1pn1bp2/PNp5/8/5P1P/1PP2BP1/R2R2K1 w - - 0 25)

White’s trickiest line appears to be 25.Nc7 Rac8 26.Rxd8 Rxd8 27.axb6 axb6 28.Ra6 Rd1+ 29.Kh2 Rd2 30.Rxb6 Bd7! 31.Bxc5 Rxc2 and Black is fine – if the bishop moves, then 32…Ne5 will threaten both …Nxf3+  and …Rxc7, while if 32.b4, 32…Nxb4! nicely equalizes.

Instead of this relatively testing line, Aronian played 25.Rxd8 Rxd8 26.axb6 axb6 27.Ra6, which allows …Rd1+ and Rd2, immediately equalizing. The only difference is that White’s knight is on b5 and not on c7; from c7, White’s Rxc6 would threaten the bishop on e6, so Black has to retreat with the 30…Bd7! move given above.

While the previous draw offer was declined, I’m pretty sure that 25.Rxd8 would’ve been accompanied by a draw offer in a regular game. However, here, the players have the pesky 3-hour minimum if they want to avoid a rapid game.

The ICC times after 27.Ra6 were 53 minutes remaining for Aronian and 47 minutes remaining for Kramnik. While I don’t know if those are exact, commentators like Shipov and Naidistch did note the players were spending a lot of time at this point. For the remaining 10 moves, I’d imagine both could easily have played the exact same moves (hovering up all the minor pieces and queenside pawns) within a minute. Instead, after 37…Ra2 to finish the game, Aronian had about 35 minutes to Kramnik’s 20 minutes.

Total time for game 2? Just over 3 hours!

Sorry, spectators. Maybe next time.

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