Monday 28 May 2007

Candidates Matches

The FIDE World Championship Candidates Matches are now underway in Elista, Kalmykia and will be going for the next three weeks or so. I've put up links to the official site and games at the BCM website.

It's good that we once again have some sort of world championship cycle in place. It does seem slightly 'cart before horse': a series of preliminary matches leading up to a final tournament (rather than the other way around). But we are at least promised a matchplay format in the long run. If Kramnik is dethroned, he gets a shot at the tournament winner in 2008 while, if he wins, he has to play Topalov again.

Back to the Candidates matches: I thought I'd try my hand at a bit of punditry and predict the outcome of the matches. Of course, I'm cheating because I've already seen the first game of the round one matches.

Round 1
Aronian to beat Carlsen: it is a great pity that these two were paired at this stage as I think Carlsen could have got through to the Mexican final if he could have avoided Aronian. But the Armenian is gaining strength all the time and arguably close to the big KATs (Kramnik, Anand, Topalov). But I wouldn't rule out Carlsen altogether: I think he is the greatest prodigy since Fischer.

Shirov to beat Adams - but if it comes down to rapidplay, then Adams to win the 'penalty shoot-out': I'm completely biased and want Mickey to win, but I'm also a natural pessimist. I think both of them are not quite as sharp as they were. Mickey excelled at the old two-game, fast time limit FIDE knock-out format but I'm not sure the standardplay format will suit him as well. The other thing that worries me about Mickey is that he doesn't take a second with him to big events. Shirov has GMs Nisipeanu and Ganguly. I cannot see how a player can succeed at this level without some kind of team around him but Mickey tends to 'travel light'. I hope Mickey proves me wrong. Not that I've anything against Alexei: I had dinner with him once and thought he was very pleasant and easy to talk to. Should be a good match.

Ponomariov to beat Rublevsky: the young Ukrainian has proved his matchplay credentials by winning a FIDE knock-out championship, whereas Rublevsky is inconsistent. However, the standardplay time control may swing the match back in favour of the older man.

Grischuk to beat Malakhov: most of us have hardly heard of Malakhov, apart from that game in the Euro Champs a few years ago where he let Azmai take a move back. He seems a self-effacing fellow. It is well known that Grischuk has been playing a lot of poker and that may take the edge off his advantage.

Leko to beat Gurevich: this one is a no-brainer. Any other result would be a sensation of the highest order.

Polgar to beat Bareev: I paced up and down my office for a while before typing my conclusion. Really, it's too close to call. Polgar is higher rated but Bareev is a resourceful and resilient player who can raise his game. He has been doing a lot of chess teaching recently. That may detract from his chances but then maybe he could do what the semi-retired Khalifman did in the 1999 FIDE knock-out.

Kasimjanov to beat Gelfand: also close to call. Kasimjanov won the last FIDE knock-out but owed much to resourceful tactical play in time trouble. The standardplay format may favour Gelfand, who has had a few very good results recently and has lost nothing of his appetite for the game. But I'm basing my prediction as much as anything on age: 27 to beat 38. Maybe.

Kamsky to beat Bacrot: Bacrot seems to keep a low profile despite his great strength. Apparently he is another poker man and the distraction cannot be good for his game. Kamsky, on the other hand, has made a come-back to chess, and his former record as a formidable match player, as well as some recent top-level practice, must give him the edge.

Now my predictions for the second round of matches, assuming my first round predictions go as above...

Aronian to beat Shirov (or Adams): the fast improving Armenian will be too tough, I think. I'd love to see an Aronian vs Adams match, though.

Ponomariov to beat Grischuk: very close run thing, but my feeling is that Pono is getting back into chess, while Grischuk may be 'over-pokered'.

Leko to beat Polgar: the unofficial championship of Hungary would be a great match, but I think Leko would prevail.

Kamsky to beat Kasimjanov: once again based on standardplay match experience. But I've a sneaking feeling I may be underestimating that long lay-off from chess which may yet undermine Kamsky's chances at this (or the earlier) hurdle.

That would leave us with a line-up in Mexico of...


From that line-up I would pick Anand as winner, with a mouth-watering prospect of an Anand vs Kramnik match to follow in 2008. And the winner of that match would be...

... enough already. Let's get back to enjoying the matches in Elista.

Wednesday 9 May 2007

FIDE vs Short (Part 2)

Following my original post about a prospective charge being made against Nigel Short by the FIDE Ethics Commission, there has been a strong reaction from the English Chess Federation. Here is the complete text of their response, signed by ECF chief executive Martin Regan and international director Peter Sowray and sent on 8 May.

It is unusual to see the ECF making such a robust and open criticism of the World Chess Federation, and it will be interesting to see how FIDE responds. So far FIDE has published nothing on the FIDE website, either about the original charge or the ECF response. In fact, but for Malcolm Pein's report in the Telegraph (based on his own conversation with Nigel Short), the world's chess media have been remarkably silent about what could prove to be a very significant issue.

In particular, ChessBase's website has been like the dog that didn't bark in the night (as in the Sherlock Holmes story). Usually they enjoy a bit of juicy scandal and they are often quick to leap to the defence of their good friend Nigel Short. Why nothing on this latest story? Perhaps they have other fish to fry: they may be looking ahead to next year and the 2008 Dresden Olympiad. As a major live chess broadcaster, they may be slightly reluctant to risk spoiling their relationship with FIDE at a time when big contracts may be up for grabs.

Saturday 5 May 2007

Life Begins at 100 (Part 2)

You remember our story about Alec Holden, the chessplaying centenarian? If not, check it out further down the page. Today Guardian journalist Stephen Moss and I had the chance to meet Alec and talk to him about chess. It turns out he used to be a very respectable club player and he proudly showed us a book which he was given as his prize for winning the Surbiton Chess Club Championship back in 1954/55 (when he was a youngster of 48).

By a complete coincidence, Stephen (a.k.a. 'The Rookie' in his recent Guardian chess column) is a current member of Surbiton CC and an accomplished player himself. Stephen and Alec were both keen to play a game against each other, so we set up a board and got down to some chess.

Here are the first few moves of the game:

Alec Holden - Stephen Moss, 05 May 2007

1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 d6 4 0-0 Nf6 5 d4 exd4 6 Qxd4 Bd7 7 Bxc6 bxc6 8 Re1 Be7 9 e5 dxe5 10 Qxe5 Be6 11 Nc3 0-0 12 h3 Re8 13 Rd1 Bd6 14 Qd4 h6 15 Bf4 (White offered a draw) 15...Nd5 ...

... and at this point we get to watch what happens next courtesy of a video link...

[Watch the video at]

Alec is shown playing 16 Nxd5 at which point Stephen blunders with 16...Bxf4?? which loses a knight for nothing. He soon realises what he has done and regrets not accepting a draw. The cruel and unhelpful comments you can hear coming from behind the camera directed at Stephen are supplied by me. And, even more cruelly, I'm going to make you wait till the June 2007 BCM comes out before revealing what happened after the video ends.

Back to Alec: he's a really lovely man with a ready sense of humour. Although the game was intended to be light-hearted, both players were soon completely absorbed in the action and it lasted around an hour. It was impressive to see how Alec maintained a steady concentration throughout whilst regaling us with anecdotes and observations. His old-world charm reminded me strongly of some of the old gents I used to play skittles with at the local club in High Wycombe when I was a lad in the 1960s.

I just hope I'm in as good shape as Alec if I'm lucky enough to live to 100. He's a wonderful advert for the health-giving properties of chessplaying. "A chess game a day keeps dementia at bay".

Friday 4 May 2007

FIDE vs Short

After finishing the latest issue of the mag, Mrs BCM Editor and I headed north to Durham for a few days of rest and recuperation. I didn't take a laptop with me, so it was a welcome break from the goings-on of the chess world. The hotel had free broadband access, but I avoided checking the chess news, confining myself to deleting the tidal wave of spam emails that had built up over three days. How people can go away for a fortnight's internet-free holiday these days I cannot imagine: on return it must take hours blitzing all the junk emails.

On my return, the main chess news seemed to be Nigel Short being brought before the FIDE Ethics Committee accused of defaming FIDE Deputy President Georgios Makropoulos and Fide VP Zurab Azmaiparashvili. Malcolm Pein's Telegraph column of 30 April has all the relevant details.

Now, it is true to say that Nigel and I are not on each other's Christmas card list (click here if you want to find out some of the reasons why we don't get on). However, my sympathies are entirely with Nigel when it comes to a face-off with the likes of Asbo-parashvili and Makro. Malcolm Pein makes reference to 'the antics of this pair over the years'. These are well enough known about in the chess world and I don't propose to go through them all. You can find out for yourself by googling 'Azmaiparashvili Strumica' or 'Azmaiparashvili Calvia'. Makro, on the other hand, is believed to be the man behind FIDE's incredible shrinking time limits (readers of this blog will already know what I think about this).

As for Azmai and Makro working in tandem, one only has to recall the 2003 Corus Wijk aan Zee tournament when they turned up, looking like a pair of gangsters, to lean on Ruslan Ponomariov and make him sign a world championship match contract while he was in the middle of an important tournament and despite the Ukrainian's pleas to delay the decision until after the event. The picture published in the March 2003 BCM showed the grim-faced, black-dressed pair having a word in the ear of the Corus arbiter and looking like something from The Sopranos.

Personally I cannot see how Nigel can lose, whatever the outcome of any hearing. If the charge fails to stick, then his version of events in San Luis is duly ratified, leaving the 'Blues Brothers' looking very silly indeed. If the charge is upheld, there is first the matter of what sanctions FIDE think they can legimately impose - loss of rating? disaffiliation of the Commonwealth Chess Association (of which Short is president)? I cannot see either of these things happening. Telling him he's been a naughty boy and not to do it again? Maybe, but it will hardly be worth the effort, with the chess media using the story as an opportunity to rake over all the old anecdotes about Azmai and Makro. I am amazed that they should think they have sufficient credibility and standing in the chess world to undertake such a risky course of action. If Fritz could analyse chess politics, it would surely adjudge the situation about +4.00 in favour of the English grandmaster.

I suspect Nigel is enjoying every minute. Considering he is currently "resting between engagements" as regards his career as a chess journalist, it could prove very useful. Oscar Wilde's famous quotation - "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about" - seems to encapsulate it quite well. With a bit of luck, a slanging match may even catch the eye of a newspaper editor somewhere who might be sufficiently impressed to offer him a job as a chess columnist. We are told he intends to use the 'simple defence of truth'. That sounds perfectly sensible, though I should point out that this wording is worryingly similar to the 'simple sword of truth' which UK cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken famously tried to deploy in a libel case against The Guardian. But I feel sure that Short will not suffer the same fate as Aitken (imprisonment for perjury).

My advice to Azmai and Makro is to calm down and quietly drop the case. After all, it is no big deal. They have simply joined a long list of chess people, both living and dead, whom Nigel has slagged off in print. Petrosian, Miles, Kavalek ... I'm sure there are plenty of others. Quite a distinguished group, actually. Speaking as an immeasurably less exalted chess player, I'm proud to be a member myself. Being inducted into Nigel Short's Hall of Notoriety may be the second highest chess honour to which I can realistically aspire (after editor of BCM, of course). There are 1,000 grandmasters but perhaps only 30-50 members of this exclusive club, entry to which is by Nigel's appointment only. Recognition and publicity - what more could a chess journalist ask?