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.
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.
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.
The final Melody Amber tournament finished a few days ago, and Aronian ended up in clear first. Not a huge surprise, I guess, as Aronian is both extremely strong and extremely tricky, which makes him all the more difficult to bring down in rapid chess.
One interesting result was that only 3 players finished above 50% in the combined standings! They would happen to be the only 2800+ players at the moment, in opposite order of rating: Aronian, Carlsen, and then Anand in 3rd. That seems really surprising to me in a 12-player double-round robin.
One amazing opening idea was seen in the rapid game between GMs Topalov and Nakamura:
(FEN: r1b1kb1r/1p1nqppp/p3p3/1B1pP3/3B1P2/1RN5/P1PQ2PP/4K2R w Kkq – 0 14)
Topalov played 14.Ba4, as an improvement on a 2008 game between his regular second, GM Ivan Cheparinov, and his occasional second, GM Francisco Vallejo. In that game, Cheparinov gave up the bishop directly with 14.0-0, but in the line with 14…axb5 15.Nxb5 Qd8 16.Qc3 Qa5 17.Nc7+ Kd8 18.Nxa8 Qxa8 19.f5, Black has the amazing resource 19…b6!, preparing to put a bishop on c5 and defend.
The World Blitz Championship finished up a couple days ago and GM Levon Aronian took clear first with 24.5/38 (it was a 20-player, double round-robin). Radjabov finished half a point back, followed by Carlsen a further half-point back.
I didn’t look at all the games, but there was one that caught my eye between Aronian and Caruana in round 17.
(FEN: 8/6pk/4R3/5KPP/8/8/8/7r w - - 0 1)
Black has just played 56…Rh1 and Aronian, noticing there’s no actual way to force a win here, played the tricky 57.Re8. I have no idea how much time Caruana had here (I’m sure that even with 30 seconds, he’d have seen the trap), but he blundered with 57…Rxh5?, which falls for the trap that White set.
The Tal Memorial started today in Moscow, and it’s a great lineup. In fact, I can’t remember a top round-robin with as exciting a field in the past few years. As much as I’d like to see Anand play well, he hasn’t been a very compelling tournament player recently, so I’ll happily take Aronian, Kramnik, and Grischuk representing the 2770+ crowd here.
The rest of the field with Mamedyarov (2763), Karjakin (2760), Eljanov (2742), Gelfand (2741), Nakamura (2741), Shirov (2735), and Wang Hao (2727) is filled with a nice blend of young fighters and grizzled veterans.