Saturday, 30 March 2013

2013 Candidates, Round 12

Good Friday - if you're a Russian, maybe, but not if you are Magnus Carlsen. The Norwegian runaway train ploughed into a stray Chucky wagon and was derailed and overtaken by the Kramnik Express.

Magnus Carlsen: the leader no more.

It was a round of the most extraordinary ups and downs. For the first hour or so, it looked like we could be back to the caginess of round one, and four draws were on the cards, but gradually, inexorably, the positions loosened up, the players grew tired. Over-ambition and outright blunders made a mockery of the predictions and expectations of the pundits.

Let's consider the games in the order in which they finished.


Cricket comes first, chess second, in Peter's priorities

Boris Gelfand at the press conference, twirling a grape stem between his fingers

This game was the shortest and least entertaining of the four but it is being judged by an extremely high standard of entertainment. It was actually very good value for money, went all the way to the first time control and reflected credit on both players, both of whom showed they still had some fight left in them despite the reduced motivation that might have been expected given their middling tournament positions.

The game exited theory on move 9 and Boris Gelfand was able to demonstrate a slight edge for much of the game, as Peter Svidler himself admitted. Eventually he managed to neutralise Boris's play and a draw was the natural result.

Peter was typically humorous about the share of the talking he did at the press conference but we can reassure him that Boris didn't mind - he wore a wry grin during the confession - and that Peter's voice is always a popular one with the listening audience. There was a question about the cricket match tickets he showed me before play a few days ago and Peter made no bones about admitting that his cricket-spectating would take a higher priority to his chess-playing during the coming summer (let's hope for all our sakes that the sun shines a bit more than it did in 2012).


Kramnik at the start of a gruelling but ultimately successful game

Levon Aronian looks more sombre than usual at the start of round 12

The last of the six 2800 versus 2800 games in the tournament but the first and only one to end in a decisive result. It was an extraordinary game in many ways, though it took a while to catch fire. It might have ended in no time at all had Levon Aronian accepted what amounted to a draw offer on move 15 - a line where a repetition was perhaps the strongest line objectively, but the tournament situation rather demanded that he 'go for it'. It was an extremely brave decision as it meant accepting the worst of the game, but for a while he seemed he might be rewarded for his courage and nearly gained sufficient compensation for a sacrificed piece.

However, Kramnik consolidated his extra piece and it looked as if he ought to win the endgame. But he played an inaccuracy on move 30 and soon realised to his horror that Aronian's king and pawns were holding him at bay. At the time control, the watching pundits were writing the game off as a draw as Aronian closed in on the drawing plan. Then calamity - on move 50 he played g6 rather than h6. Suddenly every laptop in the building was screaming 0-1 in Kramnik's favour. Aronian's move allowed Kramnik's one fateful file nearer his queenside pawns. Observers thought that Aronian only registered his coming defeat, and the end of his interest in first place, when his opponent played his final move, 62...Bc6.

A tragedy for the Armenian, who played so bravely and has been such an amazing competitor in this tournament. Mathematically he's still not quite  out of the running but it is hard to see him making up the 1½ points leeway with only two games left.

Vlad Kramnik was greatly relieved and acknowledged his good fortune. He's also lucky in having a rest day before the final two rounds. He, like all the players, winners or losers, looked absolutely zonked after the game. No prizes for guessing what he would be doing on the Saturday: "first, to rest, because I'm just finished!" (VK)


Teimour Radjabov tried hard to win but met stiff resistance from Alexander Grischuk

Alexander Grischuk kept Radjabov at bay for the best part of seven hours

This was a very long and complex struggle, with a number of items of interest, but we won't dwell on it as neither player was playing for particularly high stakes at this stage of the event.


Magnus Carlsen at the start of his press conference after losing to Vassily Ivanchuk

The above photo shows just how distraught Magnus Carlsen was when he sat down at the press conference after his shattering defeat by Vassily Ivanchuk in round 12. Incidentally, Magnus has a curious habit after games of always putting on his outdoor coat before walking the very short distance from the back of the stage via an internal corridor to the press room which is only a few metres away, and then taking the coat off again before passing it (and his bag) to his manager for looking after when he sits down to talk to the press. Today he didn't so much pass the coat as throw it, and he abandoned his bag on the floor in obvious high dudgeon. 

Magnus wore the angry scowl on his face that you see in the photo above in the moments before he was invited to comment. His first sentence was brimful of annoyance and self-loathing: "I think I played absolutely disgracefully from move 1." I confess I braced myself for a possible outburst and some Kasparov-style fury (not unknown at chess press conferences: back in the bad old days I have witnessed journalists being chewed up and their bones spat out by the man-eating monster from Baku) but the sight of a chessboard had a instantly calming effect on Carlsen's ruffled feathers. His self-control returned in the time it took press conference chairperson Anastasiya Karlovich to invite him to focus on a position in the game. It was remarkable to see how quickly the storm passed and we were back to the usual, even-tempered, rational Magnus. From thence the press conference was absolutely as normal, with Magnus and Chucky dispassionately discussing various lines of play. Thankfully no journalists were harmed in the making of this report. But Magnus didn't hang around for long and soon left Chucky to his moment of victory.

Magnus's self-description was a bit hard on himself but not too wide of the mark. His choice of opening was fishy and he had to fight to extricate himself from a few difficulties. But by move 23, by both players' admissions, the position was about equal. Perhaps Carlsen's usual relentless quest for victory let him down here and he tried too hard. By the time control he was a bit worse.

Nevertheless, Carlsen fought back into the game and might well have saved the game had he found 71 c6! But thereafter it was pretty straightforward for a player of Ivanchuk's calibre.

A rejuvenated Ivanchuk at the press conference


An amazing day's chess! The scores after 12 rounds, with two to go after Saturday's rest day: Kramnik 8, Carlsen 7½, Aronian 6½, Svidler 6, Gelfand, Grischuk 5½, Ivanchuk 5, Radjabov 4.

Kramnik, 8, still has to play Gelfand (with White) and Ivanchuk (with Black)
Carlsen, 7½, has to play Radjabov (with Black) and Svidler (with White)
Aronian, 6½, has to play Grischuk (Black) and Radjabov (White)

If Carlsen scores half a point more than Kramnik in the two remaining rounds it is quite likely that his tie-break score will be the better one (definitely, if Kramnik doesn't lose a game). So it is by no means over yet. Kramnik is the favourite but not by much. Even Aronian is not out of the hunt, but he needs the two leaders both to suffer a total (and improbable) melt-down.


  1. It was such an astonishing day of play, in an alternate world it would have merited a round-up on Sky Sports News

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