Tuesday, 2 April 2013

2013 Candidates, Round 14

One of the greatest chess tournaments ever staged ended on 1 April - and I am missing it already. This is my last blog specifically addressing a round of the tournament but I will be returning to the subject of the FIDE Candidates' Tournament, London 2013, for a further few more observations yet, partly because there is more to be said, but partly because I can't bear to let it recede into history. It was with a heavy heart that I walked out of the venue for the last time, wishing that it had been a four-cycle tournament like the Candidates of old (though, if it had been 28 rounds, I expect that the players would have been going home in ambulances at the end).

Anyway, let's stick to the events of the last round for now. It couldn't have been set up better, with Magnus and Vlad tied on 8½ points, and Vlad needing to better Magnus's score on the final day to qualify for a rematch with Anand, while for Magnus it was enough to equal Vlad's last round performance to qualify.

Vlad had the additional handicap of the black pieces, while Magnus had white. Magnus's opponent was Peter Svidler, whom he had already defeated with Black, but definitely not a soft touch as Peter's form seemed to get better as the tournament reached its conclusion. Vlad, meanwhile, had to play the joker in the tournament's pack - Vassily 'Chucky' Ivanchuk - whose form had swung wildly between technical excellence and clownish clock-handling incompetence. One of the tournament's established clichés had become 'which side of the bed would Vassily get out?'. The Chucky factor made it impossible to guess what would happen next so most pundits were wise not even to try. It was too close to call.

Magnus Carlsen: lost the battle, won the war


The last round conformed to the movie-script-like progression we had come to expect. Normally super-GMs pride themselves on their single-mindedness but it became inevitable that Magnus and Vlad would keep a close eye on each other's games. Vlad did this mainly via the big demo screen at the back of the stage, as per normal (scores of photos of the players show them doing this throughout the event), but Magnus regularly got up from his seat and watched the Ivanchuk-Kramnik game in person (there were reports of eyeball-to-eyeball looks between the two contenders during these moments); probably Magnus wanted to take in Chucky's body language which is sometimes a key to what to expect in his games (though it is doubtful whether it is any more reliable an indicator than trying to guess his moves).

FINAL SCORES: 1-2 Carlsen, Kramnik 8½/14, 3-4 Svidler, Aronian 8, 5-6 Gelfand, Grischuk 6½, 7 Ivanchuk 6, 8 Radjabov 4.

Link to the official last round report and press conference videos


Carlsen v Svidler: the Norwegian looks weary as he starts the game

If Magnus could win his game, of course, he wouldn't have to bother looking over his shoulder. That must have been his main focus in his game with Svidler. But, as in round 12 against Ivanchuk, he overdid it at a crucial stage.

The opening was a restrained Lopez, with Magnus expected to keep it ticking over until the time control, when he would presumably do the the usual Torquemada endgame stuff. But not a bit of it: he went in for a dubious middlegame escapade with his two knights and a bishop in an attempt to beat up Svidler's king. It smacked of naïvety and impatience - quite the opposite of the traits which Carlsen is famous for. Svidler, in good form and feeling secure (having made sure of at least a 50% score the day before), was able to exploit these unaccustomed chinks in his opponent's armour all too easily. His 26...Bf3! must have come as a hammer blow to the Norwegian chances, and then 31...Nf4 more or less put pay to Carlsen's hopes of saving even a half point.

More unusual still was Carlsen's time pressure. This was the tangible effect of his spending time watching the other game, and wanting to see what happened there before committing himself on his own board. What he would have seen there was Ivanchuk gradually getting a good game, but also running down his clock in alarming fashion, as usual. Ironically, though, Carlsen's own time became even more critical and he had only seconds left for his final half dozen moves, at one point knocking pieces over in his panic. Truly, Magnus showed his human side in this game, as well as his naked ambition to reach a world championship match (something he has often played down in interviews).

A relatively relaxed, tension-free Peter Svidler nearly ended the Carlsen dream

This game ended in the fifth hour of play when Carlsen couldn't reasonably play on any longer. But as he left the board for the press conference he would have glanced at the Ivanchuk-Kramnik position and seen that the Ukrainian was close to booking Carlsen's ticket for the Anand match. Magnus must have known then he was going to be a contender - though he had had to rely on the kindness of strangers...

"Am I gonna be a contender?" thinks Magnus as he emerges from losing his game to Peter Svidler (visible left - that's Carlsen's manager Espen Agdestein on the right) when he was still 'relying on the kindness of a stranger' (Ivanchuk) to put him into a world championship match with Anand. The eyes betray a sense of bewilderment, though he was still able to raise a smile at a quip from Peter Svidler a few moments later. This gave way to elation when the news of Kramnik's defeat emerged some minutes later.


Two expressions of Vlad at the 13th round press conference

Bad news for Vlad: Chucky might only have been preparing for the Russian League but he took the last round very seriously - and avoided losing on time.

Vlad was in more or less the same quandary as Magnus when he sat down to play his last game. He decided to change his opening to reflect the circumstances - do or die - and played the Pirc Defence (in this instance 1 d4 d6). Not exactly a Cinderella opening, but definitely something more provocative and risky, which would ensure that Chucky would come out and fight. He had no way of knowing that Magnus was going to blow his last game, otherwise he could have relied on his usual solid black repertoire. As the man himself put it simply: "I had to play for a win because I didn't think Magnus was going to lose." Of course, by the same token, had Magnus seen the usual Kramnik repertoire deployed, he might have been much less inclined to play his risky middlegame knights escapade. So the Pirc was played as much to provoke Magnus as it was Chucky. To that extent it worked pretty well. But, as in the old joke, "the operation was successful but the patient died."

A resigned, reflective Kramnik at the press conference after the final game.


Levon Aronian's tournament was effectively over but he finished with a pleasant mating attack

Teimour Radjabov: good-humoured to the end, but the nightmare is finally over

Levon Aronian and Teimour Radjabov had little to play for in the last round but put on a good show for anyone who was still watching them. Actually, Aronian did have something to play - a share of the third prize with Peter Svidler - but that was not what he had in mind a few rounds earlier. Teimour Radjabov might have hoped to avoid a mind-boggling seventh defeat in total but he did not succeed and found himself cut adrift in last place by two whole points. Both players will have better tournaments and nobody should write off their future world championship chances. They were a credit to the playing hall and the press room.


This game featured my personal moment of the day - Boris Gelfand saying 'hello, John' on his way to the board. At heart I'm just a chess fan and being recognised by one of the greats of the game is as good as it gets for me. Boris and Sacha started the day on the same score but decided not to duke it out too violently for the glory of the fifth prize. Actually, if you look at the game closely, you'll find it was quite well contested but of course everyone's attention (including mine) was elsewhere. I do hope we see these two guys in London again soon. You'll have figured out a long time ago that I'm a huge fan of Boris in particular - he can do no wrong for me, either personally (he's a charming man) and as a representative of the legendary Soviet school of chess (which remains the basis of the modern professional game). But I was also very taken with Sacha and his black humour, delivered in that heavy, mournful accent of his.

We had a last helping of that at the press conference, where he bemoaned the fact that whatever he tried, and whatever mistakes he made, it always seemed to lead to a draw. Is he the Jack Dee of chess? If ever there were a chess radio programme called I'm Sorry, I'll Play That Again, he would have to be the compère.

Boris Gelfand: please, please, please, come back to London soon (says John Saunders, self-appointed president of the Boris Gelfand Fan Club)

Alexander Grischuk: the Jack Dee of chess? I can just imagine him delivering a line like "Samantha tells me she's been learning some chess theory with an elderly grandmaster. She says she's got the hang of how to fianchetto a bishop now and next week he'll be showing her how to fit it into her opening." 

Boris Gelfand: "My play was very erratic. You have to play ambitiously in this tournament." Alexander Grischuk: "I won one game but this on time!"

N.B. Check back at my blog soon! I haven't finished on the subject of London 2013 by any means.

1 comment:

  1. Really enjoyed these Match Reports, I'm already feeling bereft now the tournament is over