“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.
Those of you following the Candidates will know that Round 12 was a day of high drama as the leaders swapped places. Carlsen lost his first game of the tournament, and that too, to a tail-ender in Ivanchuk. Meanwhile, Aronian continued his slide, falling to Kramnik as white.
That combination (and Kramnik’s current 4.5/5 run), means that Vlad takes a half-point lead with two games to play. Tomorrow, it’s Kramnik – Gelfand and Radjabov – Carlsen; on Monday, it’s Ivanchuk – Kramnik and Carlsen – Svidler. It’ll be very interesting to see how Magnus responds and whether Kramnik continues his run.
I have a lot of thoughts on how things stand right now … so as the king said, I’ll begin at the beginning, but then I’ll go on till I pass the end of this event.
First, I should say that I was hoping to see Anand go up against some of the young blood in Carlsen or Aronian. While I think Kramnik’s chess level might never have been higher (his middlegame play has definitely improved since his 2008 loss to Anand, and his opening preparation is as deep but broader than in his 2000 win against Kasparov), I’ve already seen an Anand – Kramnik match. But chess-wise, it’s hard to argue with Kramnik.
In an earlier post (Who Are You Rooting For?), I mentioned the Carlsen-Radjabov game from round 7, in which Radjabov missed a clear win with a bishop redirection from d6 to a5.
There are lots of examples of improving such a poorly placed piece, but there were a couple that sprang to mind right away. I’m not saying I’d have seen …Bc7-a5 in advance, but I’d hope that having these in my head would have helped.
2r2nk1/pp2r1pn/1q2bp2/3p3P/3P4/2NB1PQ1/PP2NK2/1R5R w - - 0 22)
I didn’t remember who played this game, but I remember that this position was the first quiz problem from Dvoretsky and Yusupov’s “Positional Play” book. (Turns out it was Knaak – Geller, from Moscow in 1982.)
Stories have a way of writing themselves. As an example, I give you two games from the 7th round, Gelfand-Kramnik and Carlsen-Radjabov.
I’ll start with the Gelfand-Kramnik game. Here’s the position after Kramnik’s 18…Nf6-e8.
rq2n1k1/1b3ppp/pp1bp3/8/3PN3/3B1NP1/PP2QP1P/2R3K1 w - - 0 19)
ChessVibes’s writeup has the following: “For a moment Kramnik was in big trouble, but he escaped with a draw when his opponent Boris Gelfand of Israel refrained from playing actively on move 19.”
That’s true – White can win with the very nice 19.Neg5! g6 20.Nxf7! Kxf7 21.Ng5+ Kf6 22.Qxe6+ Kxg5 23.Qh3!! (the only move to win). Of course, White’s work is not yet done, for example 23…Kf6 24.Qxh7 Bb4 (covering e1, freeing the Qb8 to come into the game), he should find 25.Rc2!, winning.
The Candidates Tournament in London has just completed the first set of rounds. It’s been a very interesting event so far, although with a lot more bizarre time management than I remember from previous events similar to this one (e.g., San Luis 2005 and Mexico City 2007, although both were officially title events).
The games themselves have – almost without fail – been interesting. The one completely uninteresting game that comes to mind was the Round 7 game between Ivanchuk and Svidler. That’s not to say every game has been interesting throughout, just that there were interesting moments in those other games.
At the halfway point, Carlsen and Aronian are ahead of the pack on +3 (5/7). Nobody else even has a plus score, while the elder statesmen among the group (Ivanchuk and Gelfand) are on -2 (2.5/7).
I think it’s pretty clear that Carlsen or Aronian will win this event. A Topalov-like run (6.5/7 in one half, 3.5/7 with all draws in the other) is still theoretically possible for Kramnik, but it’s just a a theoretical possibility. And given that unlike the 2005 and 2007 double-RRs, a good portion of this field appears to be in poor form (relative to even their normal results/rating), I expect Carlsen and Aronian to win some games in the 2nd half as well.
I wouldn’t quite count missing something like in this poor form:
Only 1 day and change before the Candidates begins!
There’s been some talk about whether having no clearly overmatched players helps or hurts Magnus (or the others). While guys like Gelfand and Svidler are clearly much lower rated, it’s a very different thing to play them versus playing a mere mortal of a 2600 GM.
My own suspicion was that it would bring the field slightly closer together, as the conventional wisdom is that Magnus beats those guys on-demand. He’d play some offbeat opening line, get a random position, and slowly go to work. Looking at the numbers though, that’s partly true, but that’s not really what sets him apart. However, two other things first …
First, Giri’s comment about Magnus having 80% chances to win this. It’s true he’s been pretty dominant in his recent events, but from Tata Steel 2011 through Tata Steel 2013, he didn’t win 80% of those events (and most of those weren’t as strong as the Candidates will be). As far as I can tell, he’s played at:
- Tata 2011 (3rd behind Naka and Anand);
- Bazna 2011 (tied for first with Karjakin);
- Biel 2011 (clear first);
- Bilbao 2011 (clear first);
- Tal Memorial 2011 (tied for first with Aronian);
- London 2011 (3rd behind Kramnik and Nakamura);
- Tata 2012 (2nd behind Aronian);
- Tal Memorial 2012 (clear first);
- Biel 2012 (2nd behind Wang Hao);
- Bilbao 2012 (tied for first with Caruana);
- London 2012 (clear first); and,
- Tata 2012 (clear first)
Obviously it’s an impressive run (and better than anybody else’s run at the same time), but that’s 12 tournaments with 5 clear 1sts, 3 shared 1sts, and 4 others. So even counting ties, that’s “only” 2/3 of his events.
The tournament I think everybody’s been looking forward to this year will start pretty soon. Information can be found all over the place, although as I’m partial to Wikipedia, I’ll link to their entry.
ChessBase has published some nice profiles of some players already: (1) Peter Svidler, (2) Vassily Ivanchuk, and (3) Alexander Grischuk. I’m not sure how they’ll get to everybody before the tournament actually starts on Friday, March 15th, but maybe they’ll start double-posting entries this coming week.
These profiles are nice both because they show the full head-to-head history, but also because they remove those pesky rapid and blitz games that pop up in the simplest of database searches. That’s especially unimportant here I think, given that any rapid tiebreak is only if there’s a tie for first and a bunch of other mathematical tiebreaks come out even.