“Cause Jacob’s golden ladder
Gets slippery at the top
And many a happy-go-lucky saint
Has made that long, long drop”
– Jesse Winchester, Step by Step
For whatever reason, those lyrics popped into my head for the finish of the Candidates Tournament. (The full song can be heard here, it really doesn’t have anything to do with this, but that snippet seemed vaguely appropriate.)
[Another aside – I originally started writing this last week, but didn’t get around to finishing it. Instead of shelving a half-done entry like I’ve done so many times, I’ll just force this one out the door.]
If you’re reading this, you probably know how the tournament ended – Carlsen and Kramnik both lost in shocking fashion, and due to the precedence of certain mathematical tiebreaks, Carlsen automatically advanced to the title match with Anand.
As I’ve written here before, I was hoping Carlsen or Aronian would win the tournament. And this was easily the most exciting tournament I’ve ever watched (the only other chess event that compares for me was the rapid playoff between Anand and Gelfand). The quality of play in this Candidates was spotty, but the drama was off the charts (and maybe each likely leads to the other?!). But given how Carlsen ended up qualifying, I’m somewhat disappointed by the whole thing.
Anand’s interview (published at Indian Express), one that has been making the rounds now on some major chess sites, puts it well – it’s fair, as the rules were laid out in advance and everybody knew them, but it’s less than ideal. There are definitely some who confuse those two – the fact the tiebreaks were written down, agreed to, and followed makes it fair in a legal sense, but that doesn’t mean the chosen tiebreaks were good. And I imagine that whenever the next similar event takes place, that part will get a little more attention and be modified.
The rest of the interview is also on-point: the questions are very relevant, and the answers are pretty thoughtful and without a lot of fluff. There also isn’t a lot of angst there, which stands in contrast to how Magnus described both Kramnik and Anand in various post-tournament interviews.
Magnus described Kramnik as having been more lucky (I imagine he was talking about the Grischuk game, which indeed was quite lucky, but he seemed to forget both his Radjabov games for example) and as having played worse chess (before their losses in the last round, Kramnik was worse for only one move against Gelfand — Carlsen had lost one, was lost against Radjabov, and clearly worse against Kramnik). Clearly, I don’t really agree with either of those claims – the only one I do agree with is that Kramnik obviously didn’t do enough with some of the advantages he achieved, and that’s something he will kick himself about I imagine.
And about Anand, someone he had singled out for praise in the recent past (going so far as to say that amongst the other top players at their best, Anand was the best of the bunch), he set out some battle lines. I can only hope that Anand continues to right the ship prior to that match, which could then be a pretty amazing clash.
Another interesting tidbit that came up was an issue that I mentioned a few weeks ago in general about these sorts of double round-robins: Magnus will be inclined to “just” draw with Aronian and Kramnik because if they all draw with each other, then he’s relatively more favored versus the rest of the field. While Magnus didn’t say he was only trying to draw with them, he did say he didn’t bother preparing anything special for them and only specifically prepared for the others. On the one hand, it’s another example of just how strong a practical player he is to have drawn with Black, but he also didn’t come close to pressing in either game with White. But of course the entire format promotes that sort of behavior, and this was his preferred format to the match cycle from 2011 where he withdrew suddenly …
Finally, if you’ve made it this far, I’ll briefly point to a Gelfand interview after winning the Candidates in 2011 where he poses a question: “Who plays better, Ivanchuk in good form or Carlsen?” From the interview, his own answer is clear, and it’s an answer that some others including Kasparov ascribe to: Ivanchuk. (I’m less sure myself, but I think it’s an open question, and even more amusing given this Candidates event.)