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.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Loek van Willy Holds His Trophy

A bit of light relief from all this heavyweight coverage of the FIDE Candidates' Tournament... on my Facebook feed this morning, I read an amusing article called '28 Newspaper and Magazine Layout Disasters'. Some of them will make you laugh out loud, while others will make you cringe with embarrassment.

But I can also empathise with the editors who perpetrated these atrocities. Let's be honest, it's almost impossible to do an editorial job for any length of time without making a mistake of this sort. In my early days as editor at British Chess Magazine, I managed to let this photo of Loek van Wely and his Dutch colleagues get by me without spotting the joke. The Dutch team were celebrating the Netherlands having won the European Team Championship in Spain in 2001.

Loek van Wely holding a trophy - or should that be Loek van Willy?

BCM, January 2002, page 53, editor (I regret to say) John Saunders...

Thursday, 28 March 2013

2013 Candidates, Round 11


At the start of play, my overriding thought was - can there really still be four rounds to play? The tournament is terribly long and starting to take its toll, even of those of us who only have to sit in the press room all day, munching biscuits and drinking tea (and, in my case, having the luxury of sleeping in my own bed at night). If it's tough for us, imagine how hard it must be for the players, thousands of miles from home and loved ones, and having the world's strongest chess opponents to face, day after day.

Today started with a slight accident when Ivanchuk stumbled over the edge of the stage at the back. He laughed it off at first but then asked for some help with the injury (though hopefully it's not too serious). I understand that Radjabov is suffering from a cold - bad news for him, but perhaps good news for his opponent Kramnik who will be desperate to add to his tally of wins and beat a non-Russian at last.


First place Carlsen 7/10 - after the round, 7½/11 and still first

Second place Aronian 6½/10 - after the round 6½/11 and now down to third
Third place Kramnik 6/10 - after the round 7/11 and now up to second place.


We still have the 'big three' but the order has now changed to Carlsen, Kramnik, Aronian. It was a great round for the Russians, with Kramnik beating the tiring Radjabov, Svidler knocking Aronian off his perch, and Grischuk doing well to hold the leader Carlsen to a draw.


Grischuk starts the game against Carlsen

A short and inconclusive game between the leader Carlsen and Grischuk but not without interest. Grischuk launched an early and highly unusual h4 against Carlsen's Grunfeld. Black built a reasonably good position, designed to withstand any h-file unpleasantness, but he allowed his d-pawn to become weak with a possibly injudicious e5 move. Carlsen defended actively and effectively but it led to reduced material on the board and, in his judgement, not enough scope to justify playing on for one of his endgame grinds.

This might have endangered his status as leader but, as we shall see, Peter Svidler did him a favour later (though not Teimour Radjabov).


As you might expect from the two most amiable of grandmasters, a friendly word and a smile is exchanged between Peter Svidler and Levon Aronian at the start of the game, before they get down to serious business.

Peter Svidler was his usual bright and breezy self at the beginning of the round, exchanging pleasantries with Aronian (as you can see above), but of course once play began a hard fight commenced.

Svidler went in for the Sämisch variation of the Nimzo-Indian, something he had not tried in a mjor game before, and Aronian had nothing special prepared. In some ways it was a very smooth performance by Svidler. Though he didn't claim to be better out of the opening, the position around move 21 became critical. Aronian chose to avoid a queen exchange, advance on the kingside with g7-g5 and then on the queenside with b7-b5. It was probably the third of these three decisions which was his undoing, when Svidler advanced c5-c6 and then won a pawn on the opposite flank.

Aronian has the reputation for digging himself out of holes with creative ideas but Svidler's technique was too good for him here and he wrapped the game up in some style.

Aronian has now slipped to a full point behind Carlsen in the lead and half a point behind Kramnik. His 12th round clash with Kramnik (in which he has White) now becomes absolutely critical and he will probably need to win it in order to stand a chance of winning the tournament.


Teimour Radjabov precision-placing his pieces as usual and Kramnik is about to perform his own pre-game ritual of cleaning his glasses.

After his seven straight draws in the first cycle, Vladimir Kramnik is now forging ahead with 3½/4 in the second cycle (which might have been 4/4 but for some super-human defending from Magnus Carlsen). Radjabov (whom word has it was suffering from a cold) looked totally out of sorts, spending ages figuring out what was happening in the opening, and later complaining that he was struggling to perform calculations properly. A man with all these problems is unlikely to last long against Kramnik on a roll. The Russian has now come from mid-table mediocrity to become Magnus Carlsen's most realistic challenger for first place. Tomorrow, however, will be a big test for him as he has Black against Aronian, who has by no means abandoned his quest for first place and could stop the Russian steam-roller.

Radjabov's main difficulty in this game was the time he took over his opening, born of his current poor form and indecisiveness. The second difficulty was the relentless subtlety with which Kramnik kept setting him problems to solve. None of them insurmountable in themselves, but the nagging series of questions asked eventually took its toll, more than anything in the time that he needed to use in working them out.

It was a familiar story - just as he seemed to be emerging from difficulties, Radjabov fell into a deadly trap, based on the parlous position of his king and a vulnerable back rank. Kramnik struck hard and after that it was easy.


Ivanchuk and Gelfand at the press conference with Anastasiya Karlovich

Quickie draw for the elder statesman today. Not really much to talk about. Ivanchuk confirmed that his trip back stage had not done him any damage. He was in light-hearted mood, having pretty much given up on the tournament, which he was now treating as practice for the Russian League coming up. Boris Gelfand was in more serious mood, giving us some helpful background on the line played, which was played in a Kramnik game last year. I asked the players what they thought about the tie-break arrangements; he would have preferred a play-off to decide the finish (and so would I - but the rules from the FIDE website are "If the top two or more players score the same points, the tie will be decided by the following criteria, in order of priority: a) The results of the games between the players involved in the tie. If they are still tied: b) The total number of wins in the tournament of every player involved in the tie. If they are still tied: c) Sonneborn - Berger System.")

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

2013 Candidates, Round 10

And then there were three. It's now pretty obvious that only Carlsen, Aronian and Kramnik have any tangible interest in what happens in the remaining rounds of this amazing Candidates' Tournament. The major blood-letting in round ten - another tremendous round of chess, producing three decisive results out of four - was partly the product of this decreasing motivation on the part of the five also-rans and partly down to sheer tiredness.

It may well be that the winner turns out to be the player who is most physically fit. With only one game left between the leading triumvirate - Aronian has white against Kramnik in round 12 - the winner is likely to be the player who can best exploit the waning motivation of the bottom five. Maybe not an ideal scenario from the purist's point of view (certainly if the result is decided by a tie-split) but we could be in for a fantastic sporting spectacle.


Lumping Boris Gelfand in with the so-called 'also-rans' is perhaps a tad unfair. He is starting to look rather tired, but he is still trying his utmost and gave a pretty good account of himself against Carlsen. It may be because of Gelfand's fighting chess that, for the first time, Carlsen was moved to make a couple of comments about the games of his rivals at the end, since Gelfand played way better than Grischuk or Ivanchuk (against Kramnik and Aronian respectively).

This was Carlsen at his best. A playable position from the opening, followed by slowly escalating pressure until his opponent cracked. The measurement of the quality of this game was the fact that it was hard to figure out where Gelfand went wrong. He was asked this at the press conference and wasn't sure himself.

Magnus Carlsen and Boris Gelfand seem a bit camera shy today...

... maybe because there is a huge scrum of paparazzi today
The arbiter starts the clock.

Boris Gelfand rubs his eyes but what is Magnus looking at on the big screen? ... (see the next photo)


As I mentioned above, Carlsen made an unusual, and quite outspoken, comment on the games of his rivals. “I’m happy to still be leading so I think I’ll just try do more of the same. I wasn't thrilled that the other two guys won their game but there’s nothing you can do about that. And… I wasn't sure that the Budapest Gambit was what I wanted to see but I think I can only change what I do myself! I just try to play and that’s what I’ll do for the rest of the tournament.”

In a roundabout way, I suppose he was saying that he had to work for his win, whereas his rivals were just lucky. I think this is as close as the calm and level-headed Carlsen may ever get to full-blown Fischeresque paranoia, so not much for the inevitable conspiracy theorists to get excited about. But I guess he was miffed that Aronian and Kramnik gained their points the (relatively) easy way, thanks to some crass play from their opponents, whereas he had to fight tooth and nail for his victory.


Ivanchuk's choice of the Budapest Gambit sent shock waves through the chess world. It's regarded as a Cinderella opening which really doesn't belong amongst the Catalans and the Slavs. A bit like wearing a loud yellow shirt for a formal public appearance... oh... sorry, Levon... completely tactless of me. Actually, that's rather a nice yellow shirt. Looks good on you...

... maybe Levon Aronian's shirt? ...
At least Levon didn't wear a tracksuit top under his suit. Vassily did. I can forgive the Budapest Gambit but a Real Madrid tracksuit top. Horrible.

... or Vassily Ivanchuk's fashion faux pas? (Suit over Real Madrid trackie top - what was he thinking?)...

No, everybody is probably looking at Ivanchuk's choice of the Budapest Gambit - very unusual at this level

A win for Aronian, and certainly an interesting game, but yet again sadly ruined by Ivanchuk's ridiculous clock handling. At the press conference, Ivanchuk was obsessing with various possible moves he could have played around 29 and I confess this made me really quite angry. But, coward that I am, I bottled out of asking the obvious question, which would have been "even if you had played 12 of the most wonderful moves in chess history, wouldn't you simply have lost on time anyway?". His aberrant clock handling was the elephant in the room and nobody dared to broach the subject. What is the Ukrainian for "pull yourself together, man!"?

I was wondering... when Botvinnik had a problem with people blowing cigarette smoke in his face, he is alleged to have held a match with Ragozin in which his opponent was required to subject him to trial by tobacco that so Botvinnik could get used to it. Maybe Chucky should have held a pre-Candidates training match in which he hired someone to stand behind him with a megaphone and every couple of minutes, when Chucky had been thinking too long, shout "make a move NOW!" through it.

You may feel I'm being a bit cruel - several of the other players look completely zonked at the moment, and there isn't much in it for anyone other than than the three 2800+ guys - but I still feel it is rather unprofessional for Ivanchuk to carry on like this. It could well decide the outcome of the tournament.

Aronian played sensibly and practically. His 27 Bf5 was exactly what the doctor ordered, with Chucky only having about 20 seconds for 12 moves. But, with a time handicap of that magnitude, I guess players well below 2800 could have done just as well.


Teimour Radjabov ready for action against Peter Svidler
Could that pawn be going to d6 for a change? No, it went to d5 as usual.

An easily forgettable game, which was over well within two hours. Peter Svidler stayed faithful to his old faithful Grünfeld Defence, while Teimour Radjabov, with 0/2 from his last two whites, wasn't unhappy with a draw. It could have kicked off had Peter decided to make it interesting but he didn't have an edge so saw no reason to. The press conference was a bit more entertaining than the game, with the two trying to 'out-self-deprecate' each other. I have given a flavour of this in the notes.


Russians Grischuk and Kramnik get to work on a Ruy Lopez

Vlad plays the Berlin - in the city where it helped him become world champion
Vlad beats another Russian to get back into contention but, unfortunately for him, he has now run out of Russians to beat. Of course, the Berlin Defence has been a valuable weapon for him over the years, especially in London in 2000, but he told us this was the first time he had used it to win (rather than draw) a classical game.

Vlad was the first to admit that he should never have won. Grischuk made a schoolboy error, swapping off a pair of minor pieces to go into a king and pawn endgame. Kramnik himself was highly critical, saying that in Grischuk's place he wouldn't even have calculated it, let alone make the exchange, it was so dangerous (I wish I had counted how many times Kramnik used the word 'dangerous' during the press conference, but it was a lot). I totally agree with Kramnik: I was personally astonished at Grischuk, for the same reason. Usually these guys amaze me with what they see and what they are able to do with a chess position, but sometimes the opposite is true - how on earth could Grischuk make such a committal move under time pressure, especially when it seems he had seen most of what turned out to be a much better variation? Makes no sense.

No doubt online conspiracy theorists will be calling this a Russian fix, but we can discount that possibility. It was a full-blooded, honest game ended by an honest mistake (albeit a huge one). It was actually a good result from the sporting point of view (so that we still have three, and not two, players interested in the outcome of the tournament). All I have to say is that maybe Grischuk should desist from the cocaine, girls and cards he indulges on the rest days (any Grischuk lawyers reading this - I'm kidding. but your man did say that is how he spent his last rest day).

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

2013 Candidates, Round 9


Round nine, and once again Peter Svidler honoured me with a pre-game chat, again mainly about cricket. I imagine that some members of the audience might have wondered what was happening when, a few moments before play was due to start and in full view of the audience, the Russian grandmaster suddenly took out an envelope from his inside jacket pocket and briefly showed it to me. Thanks to Anastasiya Karlovich and her camera, I give you Exhibit A and Exhibit B...

Chess grandmaster from St Petersburg shows me an envelope...

Having seen it, I appear to be saying "You lucky ******!" (I wasn't)

Now, just for a moment, let's imagine the above scene took place some 25 or more years ago - a Russian is seen to brandish a bulging envelope in front of a British subject in London during the Cold War. How would that have looked? A bit suspicious? Had things got out of hand, Peter might have been deported as a possible agent or 'undesirable alien', and I might have been prosecuted for trying to sell secrets to the USSR. When the jury heard my version of what was actually happening - "if it please m'lud, he was showing me some tickets he had been given for the Lord's Test Match in July" - it would have been a toss up between me getting a life sentence for treason, or being detained at Her Majesty's Pleasure as a criminal lunatic for being mad enough to invent a cock and bull story about a Russian who was interested in cricket.

But please believe me, readers, that is the plain and simple truth of what was happening in the photos. Being serious for a moment - thank heavens the world has moved on, and that Russians and Brits can now meet and chat and show each other envelopes, etc, without people jumping to conclusions and imagining John LeCarré scenarios. Not everything is right about the 21st century but this is one thing that has clearly changed for the better.


But (as Harry Golombek was wont to write), turning reluctantly to the chess... round nine was a cracker. Top billing went to the match between world champion Vladimir Kramnik and joint leader Magnus Carlsen and, unlike the eagerly-awaited Carlsen-Aronian clash of round eight, this one lived up to expectations.

Kramnik starts with his favourite Catalan against Magnus Carlsen

The opening was (as many people probably expected) a Catalan, and Vlad Kramnik soon took control with a newish move, 11 Qc2, which he had prepared for a game against Radjabov in Kazan in 2011 but decided against using on that occasion. Carlsen was on his own from an early stage and had to figure it out over the board.

As it transpired Carlsen didn't play the opening too well and was soon confronted with a tough defensive task as Kramnik strengthened his position. It was just the sort of position that Kramnik is renowned for winning but MC didn't get where he is today (top of the rating list) without knowing how to defend bad positions. Like Capablanca, Fischer and Karpov before, he homes in unerringly on good moves when under pressure. When he played 22...Re8 he told us he had already envisaged the brilliant 25...Nd5 which held his position together, or, rather, tipped it inexorably in the direction of a drawn endgame. Grandmaster John Nunn, not known for hyperbole or effusive praise, labelled this "a genius move" in the press room. It was certainly a turning point. Kramnik badly needed a full point from this game to make up the leeway between him and Carlsen (not to mention Aronian) but the pressure was now on him. He fought hard but Carlsen held the endgame without much trouble.

Magnus Carlsen looks up at the big display board showing all the games after two or three moves and is puzzled to see more or less the same opening feature on each board (or so it seems).

Kramnik played a pretty good game overall but he couldn't (and didn't) deny that he had been held at bay by an ingenious and resourceful opponent. He didn't hide his disappointment. Kramnik remains a point adrift of Carlsen with five rounds left. Of course, he still has a chance of clawing back lost ground, but not a very strong one. For Carlsen's part, he will be glad to have escaped defeat by one of his leading rivals and maintain a handy point gap between the two of them.

Vlad Kramnik looks happy: in fact he had just recognised some friends in the audience and, moments after this shot was taken, went over to shake hands with them.


Boris Gelfand and Levon Aronian get down to work.

No doubt Aronian glanced across at the Kramnik-Carlsen game on the other side of the partition during the round and, had he allowed his mind to wander to the scoreboard at the end of the round, he might have envisaged a Carlsen loss and himself leading the field at close of play. But it proved to be a round of two halves: whereas at 'half time', Kramnik appeared to be leading Carlsen, by the 'final whistle' Carlsen had fixed his problems and it was Aronian who had succumbed to his first defeat.

The opening was a Queen's Gambit Declined, with Gelfand emerging with the tiniest of edges based on his extra space. Things started to liven up when Aronian exchanged pawns on c4 and dared to take Gelfand's d4 pawn in exchange for his e6 pawn.Though he gained control of the d-file, Gelfand suddenly had a powerful passed e5 pawn.

It might not have been too bad had not Aronian played 26...Bf7 - this looked very suspect - and Gelfand grabbed the f5 pawn and thrust his e-pawn to e6. This turned out to be the move which Aronian had missed and he now found himself in all kinds of trouble. Computers showed that Gelfand might have wrapped the game up before the first time control but queens came off and some more technical work was required up to move 60.

Ultimately Gelfand was not to be denied and he was clearly elated at the subsequent press conference, having won his second game in a row and become the most successful player of the second phase of the tournament so far. “I think for me it was more difficult because I played with my very close friend and he is leading the tournament. But we're professionals and we have to play our utmost in each game.”


Experienced chess watchers noticed former British Women's Champion Dr Jana Bellin at the venue today and that meant only one thing - drug testing. No disrespect to the FIDE 'Drugs Tsarina' herself (who was just doing her job), but it is of course a patent absurdity having chessplayers subject to testing for drugs which help people run, jump, throw things and wrestle each other physically but do bugger all that is of use to a mind-sportsperson. However, for various reasons (some of which are actually quite sensible), FIDE is affiliated to the IOC and in order to comply with their rules it is obligatory for people to turn up at official World Chess Federation competitions to take the p*** out of chessplayers occasionally  (as if they don't do enough of that, albeit metaphorically, in the general media anyway, you might well be thinking - and I would agree with you).

We were later informed that Carlsen, Aronian, Kramnik and Svidler had to undergo this pointless indignity, prompting me to wonder (in my irreverent way) why the fluid of the other four wasn't deemed worthy of testing. (One recalls that Ivanchuk, in the past, has been difficult to deal with when it comes to the abstraction of the aforementioned substance.) But let us pass onto more tasteful topics of conversation...


Peter Svidler and Alexander Grischuk practise some synchronised form-filling-in...

Peter Svidler, with his test match tickets in his pocket, appeared rested and ready for action in this round but he was soon hit by a howitzer from fellow Russian Grischuk. Incidentally, I've said it before but it's worth repeating - all notions and allegations of collusion between players of the same country lie dead and buried with Bobby Fischer. OK, it might have been true in his day, fifty years ago, but it isn't true in the here and now. These guys, regardless of country and friendship, are all playing as individuals in every game with, for the most part, commendable fighting spirit.

Sacha Grischuk's bombshell consisted of a knight sacrifice on c4 in a Sämisch King's Indian. Peter, like Magnus on another board, had to spend a long time figuring out how to counter a particularly dangerous opening innovation. But, as he said afterwards, he rather welcomed this injection of interest into the game. His reactions seemed pretty sound on the whole. It was a sharp sacrifice but he found an impressive counter, sacrificing his queen for three minor pieces. The computers thought it was equal but human experts rather he was better. An exposed king made progress difficult, however, and Grischuk's remaining queen and rook made enough of a nuisance of themselves to maintain the balance for a draw. A very interesting game, with lots of tricky tactics to enjoy.


Man at the bottom: for the second day running, Vassily Ivanchuk's body language was that of a man who wanted a break from looking at chess pieces. But finally it all came good for him.
The 'boys in the basement' (if I can refer to them in that way) were involved in the longest game of the day. It was, however, rather one-sided and must have been a soul-destroying experience for Teimour Radjabov who, with Black, was at a disadvantage to varying degrees for the entire game and could only sit and suffer as his position deteriorated. And having lost, he found himself condemned to last place. Chess is a cruel game.

Ivanchuk looked distracted at the start, as in the previous round but he shrugged it off well enough as he got his teeth into an orthodox Queen's Gambit Declined. The game didn't feature any fireworks but it was a fine example of the sort of relentless technical play which is Ivanchuk's forté. For much of the time it seemed that he didn't quite have enough to expect to win but he finally outmanoeuvred his opponent in the endgame.


The laconic Alexander Grischuk, on being asked at a press conference how he had spent the rest day before round seven: "As usual: cocaine, girls, cards."


At the end of the round, Magnus Carlsen found himself in sole first place for the first time. 1 Carlsen 6/9, 2 Aronian 5½, 3 Kramnik 5, 4-5 Gelfand, Grischuk 4½, 6 Svidler 4, 7 Ivanchuk 3½, 8 Radjabov 3.

Tuesday is a rest day. In the final five rounds, Carlsen and Aronian have three whites each, while Kramnik has two. The one remaining fixture between the top three is in round 12 when Aronian has white against Kramnik. Carlsen's run-in consists of white v Gelfand, black v Grischuk, white v Ivanchuk, black v Radjabov and finally white v Svidler. Carlsen must remain the favourite, but it's not all over yet.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Change of Procedure at the 'Chess Crucible'?

Looking round at the IET Lecture Theatre today, it struck me that the FIDE World Candidates' Tournament resembled the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield where they hold the World Snooker Championship every year. The partition between the two sides of the playing area adds to this effect, as do the dark suits of the arbiters as they start the clocks and generally move amongst the boards.

A snooker referee 'j'adoubing' a ball...

Assistant arbiter Adam Raoof in particular looks the part, in his smart suit. I suggested to him that in future rounds he puts on a pair of white gloves. In addition, I recommended a change of procedure to him: rather than having the players j'adoube their own pieces, they should summon a white-gloved arbiter to the board and point to the ill-positioned piece. The arbiter would then pick up the offending piece, place a small marker on the square where it belonged, polish the piece carefully with their gloves, and then replace it precisely and ostentatiously on the square.

I do hope Adam rises to the challenge...

The 'Chess Crucible' - chief arbiter Stuebenvoll would look better wearing white gloves, wouldn't he?

2013 Candidates, Round 8

Yesterday I allowed myself to write off the chances of everyone bar Carlsen and Aronian in my round seven report, but I'm now beginning to wonder whether I might have been slightly rash. Carlsen and Aronian drew a rather bloodless game, but there were three decisive results elsewhere, most noticeably Kramnik winning against fellow countryman Svidler.

As a result Kramnik is now within one point of the two leaders and, with the white pieces against Carlsen in round nine, has at least some chances of levelling for the lead by the end of tomorrow. Kramnik can threaten them if he can improve his win percentage from its current rate of one win in eight games. Hmm... I still don't think my round seven prediction was too rash...

Scores after round eight: 1-2 Aronian, Carlsen 5½/8, 3 Kramnik 4½, 4 Grischuk 4, 5-6 Gelfand, Svidler 3½, 7 Radjabov 3, 8 Ivanchuk 2½.


The much-heralded big clash between the leaders was a damp squib. Perhaps not surprisingly, as a decisive result would have been a disaster for the loser, but it is a pity that they opted for an overly familiar super-GM opening, the Catalan, which almost amounts to a draw offer from the opening. It reached move 41 but the press room were shaking their collective heads and writing it off as a draw well before that.

Momentary stare from Magnus Carlsen at Levon Aronian as deputy arbiter David Sedgwick starts the clock (taking care to do so from the opposite side of the board from yesterday, thereby avoiding a repetition of round seven's accidental trick photo in which it looked as if David was shaking hands with Levon Aronian)

Another angle of the Carlsen-Aronian clash, showing Levon's rather elegant left-handed style of moving the pieces.


It was a chastened Teimour Radjabov who entered the press conference after a white-pieces defeat against Boris Gelfand but he took his punishment like a man and didn't make excuses. Boris Gelfand was very pleased with what he described as his second opening preparation success of the tournament (the first was against Grischuk), starting with his innovation 13...e5 which imprisoned the g2 bishop and set up a position where he could torture White on the queenside. Boris felt way more comfortable having achieved his opening objective and played quicker and more confidently than in other rounds. The juxtaposition of the weak e4 and c3 pawns made life very difficult for Teimour and he succumbed without really knowing where he had come unstuck. A dispiriting experience for him but a heartening one for the former world championship challenger.

Teimour Radjabov and Boris Gelfand usually have matching drink flasks but today Teimour fools Boris by not bringing his with him. A theoretical novelty?


The pundits have been saying for days that Kramnik urgently needed to win a game and he finally did, in the first game of the second cycle. His victim was fellow countryman Peter Svidler who, after an above-par start to the tournament, has gone into something of a decline. Peter seemed very upbeat before play started and even engaged me in some small talk (about the cricket test match between England and New Zealand) in the centre of the playing hall a minute or so before play was due to begin. He is one of the few top players I've witnessed who likes to relax with a quick chat in the moments leading up to the start of play, most preferring to focus on the job in hand and 'get into the zone'. (Incidentally, I fear that Peter will be more upset than after his game when he sees what a mess England is making of this cricket match this evening.)

Robert Fontaine: "How do you think the big game will go?" Peter Svidler: "I'm expecting Arsenal to beat Reading... oh, you mean, Magnus and Levon? Sorry..."

Kramnik: "Thank heavens, I've brought my lucky pen. For a terrible moment I thought I had forgotten it..."

Kramnik and Svidler get down to business.


Another time trouble catastrophe for Ivanchuk: in fact, all three of his defeats in this tournament have ended with the arbiter stepping in to indicate a time loss. With four seconds left for four moves he accidentally knocked over a pawn in playing 37...axb4 and he paused to set the man up properly before playing his move, but thereby left himself too short of time for his remaining moves. Gentlemanly behaviour, certainly, but his clock-handling is becoming an embarrassment.

However, fair play to Grischuk who played well enough to win for the first time in London. At the press conference (which he attended without his opponent), it gave him the opportunity to air his now familiar self-deprecating humour: "Very few people know but the last time I won a game in a [classical] world championship [qualifier] was about six years or 25 games ago...".

Grischuk attended the press conference alone to share some of usual deadpan humour. It was more than usually appropriate as, to be honest, it wasn't a great game. Grischuk was probably winning by the end as Ivanchuk's time pressure caused him to ruin his game a few moves before the time control. A few minutes later Ivanchuk attended a very brief press conference (perhaps bowing to a contractual obligation to do so?) but he had little to tell us. Both players showed signs of being tired, which they must surely be after eight rounds of unrelenting chess.

Just to make it interesting, Chucky's decided to play blindfold this afternoon against Grischuk.