Tag Archives: Kramnik

Pew! Pew! Pew!

After Kasparov’s retirement, there doesn’t seem to have been much sniping among more than just a couple top players. The one that sticks out was the Kramnik – Topalov match of 2006, but outside of those two, there haven’t been many shots fired I think. If the past month or two are any indication, that’s about to change!

Back in February, Nakamura went on the record in New In Chess that he felt that he is “the biggest threat to Carlsen.” That was the soundbite quote, but there was a bit of nuance in that he really was referring to long-term threat.

He further tempered that in a subsequent interview that can be read here (with help from Google Translate for most of us I imagine) where he says:

Aronian’s probably a bigger threat than me right now, but outside of him I am right behind. I have a chance. If I do not have confidence that I can beat him, what’s the point of playing then?”

This all happened after Magnus’s Bay Area visit and I also don’t get NIC, so it’s not like I could ask about this, but the 2nd interview above has a shot of Carlsen and Nielsen walking to the Zurich tournament hall with this reaction – who knows if they’re joking about the magazine, but it’s quite the coincidental shot if not!

Carlsen Reaction

Then this happened at Zurich.

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Shock and Awe

The Candidates tourney really snuck up on me this year – for the first time since starting this blog, I didn’t manage to get off a set of proper predictions for such a major event!

Through three rounds, I’m quite happy with the standings even though they’re not at all what I would have expected:

(1) Anand: 2.5

(2-3) Kramnik, Svidler 2

(4-5) Topalov, Aronian 1.5

(6-7) Andreikin, Karjakin 1

(8) Mamedyarov 0.5

I wrote earlier that I didn’t have high hopes for Anand in this event. Even after a very nice win in Game 1 against Aronian, I was hesitant to say that the tournament would go well. And while I’m still not entirely convinced that he’s back to 2008 form, the subsequent two games against Topalov and Mamedyarov suggest that he’s at least in good form. I guess you could say I’m cautiously optimistic …

These two wins don’t seem to me to be due to opening preparation – rather, he’s taken what his opponents are giving him and playing simple, strong moves. His pieces are flowing across the board.

For example, in his game with Aronian, they reached the following endgame position:

Anand - Aronian Candidates 2014

(FEN: 4r1k1/1bp2pp1/p4n1p/1p2r3/8/1BP1B2P/PP3PP1/R2R2K1 w - - 0 23)

With straightforward but forceful moves, the pressure was ratcheted up after 23.c4! c6 24.Rac1 R5e7 25.a4!. After some exchanges and a few improving moves, the following position was seen:

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Musings on a Chess Style: A Winner Just Wins

“His deep, infiltrating style, subtle positional feeling, and extraordinary persistence, practicality, and flexibility rapidly raised him to the very summit of chess … [He] was not a researcher in the openings and he did not work so much on chess, but he was very skillful at selecting and absorbing new ideas, and then making brilliant use of them in practice …”

There was an interesting discussion in the comments of my last post, brought about by the question (from a certain Unshod fellow): “What do you think of the increasingly repeated claim that Carlsen wins by being more consistent, and a tougher fighter, but brings no new chess ‘ideas’?” There was a short discussion there, but basically, I wanted to take that discussion out of the comments because it deserves its own post I think.

First things first, my general response to the question …

As I said in those comments, I think it’s too much to say he has brought no new chess ideas forward, but I do think his style has taken a clear turn over the past few years towards the “more consistent, tougher fighter” approach. (As a very rough measure, you can see how his average game length has simply gotten longer over the past couple years, moving up from about 40 moves to 49 per game.)

Now for the actual details …

His goal is simply to win games. How can you win games at that level? Every game starts with the opening phase, so in a way, you can think of a continuum with two extremes. On the one hand, you can do only the minimum amount of opening work (this extreme can’t be to absolutely ignore the opening, as then you’ll simply never get close to the top to begin with), try to get a normal position, and make more good moves than your opponent. If you blunder (or even slightly err) less often, you might be able to accumulate enough advantages to win. At the other end of the spectrum, you work through a repertoire as deeply as you can, to essentially claim an advantage as often as possible. Despite starting the middlegame ahead, you still need to play good moves, but you might be able to get by with a few more small mistakes and still have enough to win.

His chessic contribution seems to be that he’s been the first top player in the last few years to fully make this move to the former – it’s a more practical style, eschewing the deep opening study and innovations that characterized every top player from Kasparov on. However, he was not the first to start moving in this direction.

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Picking up the Pieces

“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.

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Oh, the humanity!


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. 

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Who Are You Rooting For?

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.

Gelfand - Kramnik Candidates 1

(FEN: 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.

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Big Fish, Little Fish

Big Fish Little Fish

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.

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