Sunday, 24 March 2013

2013 Candidates, Round 6

And then there were two... Aronian and Carlsen won their sixth round games and have moved a point and a half clear at the FIDE Candidates' Tournament. A neat statistic: the two of them have scored six games between them, while the other six have won just two.

Let's just look at the scores: Aronian, Carlsen 4½; Kramnik, Svidler 3; Grischuk, Radjabov 2½; Gelfand, Ivanchuk 2. At present the story is not really about who is going to win, so much as who isn't. With one front-runner, the chasing pack could always hope that the leader would suddenly blow it and lose games, but  here we have two players way ahead of the field. So Kramnik and co have a real problem because they have two guys way ahead of them. Too early to write off the chances of the six trailing players? I am not sure that it is - in the context of a chess tournament of this calibre, it would be surprising if both of the leaders fell by the wayside. As a number of tweets phrased it after the round (and I hope the two leaders don't object to the equine metaphor) - we now have a 'two horse race'.

A victorious Levon Aronian at his sixth round press conference with Teimour Radjabov


Magnus Carlsen was the first winning stallion to return to the paddock. Peter Svidler had been having a pretty good tournament until round six but he collapsed quickly and disastrously, so that Carlsen wasn't even required to show off his endgame virtuosity.


Magnus Carlsen in a good mood at the round six press conference.

Henrik Carlsen giving an interview to BBC Radio during round six.


The 14th world champion (as Kirsan Ilyumzhinov referred to him in his opening address, thereby consigning Messrs Khalifman, Ponomariov, Kasimzhanov and Topalov to the dustbin of history) is looking more and more as if his prospects of regaining the title have evaporated. He hasn't given up yet: "It's not lost yet, the fight for the first place, I still feel I just have to manage to keep the level. But of course it's a bit more difficult for the older guys." When Ivanchuk had only about four minutes left for 21 moves, Kramnik sacrificed the exchange on f6 for a speculative attack.


As the man (Capablanca?) said, "the good player is lucky". As so often seems to happen in chess, a long and difficult defensive sequence culminated in a player relaxing too soon and making a massive blunder. In this case it was Radjabov who was to suffer. He came out of the opening with a sub-optimal but defensible position, which Aronian continued to probe up to and beyond the first time control. Just when Radjabov appeared to be reaching a comfortable position, he made a massive tactical oversight. In many ways the game resembled a Carlsen win, except that Carlsen grinds tend to be in the endgame and this was still the middlegame. It enabled Aronian to stay abreast of Carlsen in the lead, and emphasised the gap which has opened up between the two leaders and the field.


This game also had its moments of interest. Grischuk was pretty lucky to get away with a very fishy 23 Nd6 move but Gelfand failed to capitalise. Right at the end there was an interesting moment when Grischuk played 53 Kf1, but kept his hand on the piece. Perhaps suddenly noticing the refutation given in the notes, he put it back on its original square and continued to think. Thirty seconds later, played 53 Kg1, which draws. All perfectly legal, of course, though it is perhaps a little unusual for players other than those at club level to make a tentative move in this way. Professional players usually execute their moves in a smooth and confident manner.


I realise that, by the time readers arrive at my blog, they may already have perused very similar material at several other places online, including the official FIDE site, ChessVibes and/or The Week in Chess. For which reason I decided I had better find a fresh angle not covered by other journalists, which also exploits the fact that I am at the ringside every day.

I thought you might like to learn something about the press room, where the general public is not allowed to enter. You may have gained a few clues about the press room from videos of press conferences which are held there, particularly when the conference chairperson Anastasiya Karlovich has to 'shush' the loud talkers amongst the press.

You will note that, more or often than not when Anastasiya has to do this, she does it in Russian. This is because Russian is very much the dominant language in the press room. Linguistically, the room is like Berlin or Vienna immediately after WW2, with the occupying forces divided into a 'Russian sector' and a 'USA/UK sector' (except that the USA is not represented here - just a couple of Brits and some western European Anglophones). I should emphasise that relations between the two sectors are perfectly friendly but the composition of the room has evolved so that the Russian speakers occupy the back rows of desks, while the English speakers are near the front, nearest the press conference desks. Even so, Russian is spoken in much higher decibels than English, so that it is the Russians that you can usually hear talking through press conferences, and not us (usually) softly-spoken Anglophones.

The press facility also reminds me a little of being in a school room, with a rows of desks side by side, facing the front, and a row of press conference desks where the players sit with the chairperson to give their post-game comments. When there are no press conferences in session, it can sometimes be little like a school classroom without a teacher. Generally, we are very well-behaved children but we now have a 'class clown' who likes to entertain us in the middle of the afternoon when the chess games are in the opening phase and perhaps not very exciting. A contributory fun factor is the limitless supply of 'Red Bull' which the organisers provide for us, and I have a suspicion that gentlemen in the 'Russian sector' may be fortifying this with something stronger on occasions. (Incidentally, in case you were wondering, I personally have stuck to tea and water. Sorry if that makes me seem boring.)


Who is our class clown? None other than distinguished grandmaster and writer Gennadi Borisovich Sosonko. The other afternoon Genna, 69, started a bit of fun by trying on Maria Yurenok's hat.

Genna Sosonko as you have never seen him before!

Maria's hat looks rather good on him, doesn't it? Then he sat in one of the press conference chairs and invited the assembled journos to interview him as it were another press conference. We attempted to enter into the spirit of the thing by firing various questions at him about the manifold attractions to be enjoyed in the great city of Amsterdam but I feel it would be inappropriate to give any further details. Genna is a great story-teller and I would heartily recommend his books, such as Russian Silhouettes, to anyone who hasn't read them.

I shouldn't like you to take away the impression that the press room is like this all the time. It was a one-off and most of the time it is a quiet library-like space where people work up their reports, process photos, etc. But it is certainly a friendly place and a great way to meet chess people from the world at large. The arbiters too share our space when they are 'off duty' and David Sedgwick very kindly introduced me to GM Alexander Volzhin who used to be a regular visitor to Hastings in his playing days. Alexander retired from professional chess about ten years ago to start a professional career in banking, but he still follows the game when time permits. Alexander is now based in Moscow but he has retained a flat in Greenwich, London, and spends quite a lot of his time here. I really enjoyed chatting with him.

Russians in the press room at Savoy Place: the taller player at the back is retired GM Alexander Volzhin, standing alongside GM Evgeny Bareev. At the front are the two Russian journalists: left, is Ilya Levitov and, right, Yuri Vasiliev.

1 comment:

  1. Well worth rescuing! Thanks for the insights into the press room :-)