Leko is almost qualified, with another convincing display in the Caro Kann against Bareev. His Queen was encamped on the kingside for the early part of the game and Black had to loosen his pawn structure to get rid of it. 34 f4! was a great move, offering the knight for an overwhelming attack, which was declined. This was followed by a real sacrifice of 40 Bxe4, demolishing the pawns around black’s king and forcing the loss of the rook on f6 and Bareev’s resignation. This was a very powerful display from Leko and re-establishes his world championship credentials after his close loss to Kramnik a couple of years ago.
In Aronian-Shirov, black had an extra pawn for most of the game, but his own pawn structure was so weak that he could never make use of it. The need to defend the pawn on a6 kept his rook locked on a8 for much of the game too. White eventually won back the pawn and even won an extra one to boot. In a tense endgame, the draw eventually became inevitable. (This makes it sound simpler than it was! It was quite a complex, tricky game).
Kamsky, as early as move three, with Bf4, was deviating from mainline theory. This underlines his main weakness: the lack of a very strong opening repetoire. He was in relative trouble from early on, with Gelfand waging a battle over the d4 square which tied white down. On move 23, Black obtained a huge knight on c4, which dominated the board. White was struggling to get activity. A little trick enable black to win a pawn on b5, followed by another lost pawn soon afterwards. Kamsky could have resigned in the position after 40 Nxd4, but as is his wont, he chose to fight on in a hopeless position. I am disappointed with Kamsky’s display in this game, it looked very poor to me. All credit to Gelfand.
Grischuk pressed early on and at one point I thought he might break through decisively on the kingside against Rublevsky. He even ended the game with two connected passed pawns on the queenside, normally a great advantage. But black had enough activity with his rook and opposite coloured bishop to force a draw.
Standings at half way
Match 1: Aronian Levon (ARM) 2 vs Shirov Alexei (ESP) 1
Match 2: Leko Peter (HUN) 2.5 vs Bareev Evgeny (RUS) 0.5
Match 3: Grischuk Alexander (RUS) 2 vs Rublevsky Sergei (RUS) 1
Match 4: Kamsky Gata (USA) 1 vs Gelfand Boris (ISR) 2
The players have a rest day tomorrow (Saturday) and resume on Sunday through Tuesday. Right now, it looks to me like Aronian, Leko, Grischuk, and Gelfand to qualify, but it is only half-way!