Friday 15 June 2007

Elista Episode

The picturesque position (above left) has already been published in several places on the web. It is from the 2nd game of the Grischuk-Rublevsky play-off in Elista (the moves of the game being 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be2 Qc7 7. O-O Nf6 8. Be3 Be7 9. f4 d6 10. a4 O-O 11. Kh1 Re8 12. Bf3 Bf8 13. Qd2 Rb8 14. Rad1 e5 15. Nde2 b5 16. axb5 axb5 17. f5 b4 18. Nd5 Nxd5 19. Qxd5 Ba6 20. Qd2 Nd4 21. Bxd4 exd4 22. Rfe1 Bxe2 23. Qxe2 Be7 24. Rxd4 Bf6 25. Rc4 Qa5 26. c3 bxc3 27. bxc3 d5 28. Rc6 Bxc3 29. Rd1 Bf6 30. Qc2 Qb4 31. e5 Bxe5 32. Bxd5 Qh4 33. g3 Bxg3 34. Bxf7+ Kxf7 35. Qa2+ Kf8 36. Qa3+ Re7 37. Qxg3 Qe4+ 38. Qg2 Rb1 39. Rcc1 Qe1+ 40. Qg1 Qe4+ 41. Qg2 Qxg2+ 42. Kxg2 Rb2+ 43. Kg3 Rb3+ 44. Kf4 Rb4+ 45. Kg3 Re3+ 46. Kf2 Re5 47. Rc8+ Ke7 48. Rc7+ Kf6 49. Rd6+ Kxf5 50. Rf7+ Ke4 51. Rxg7 Rf5+ 52. Ke2 Rb2+ 53. Rd2 Rxd2+ 54. Kxd2 Rf2+ 55. Ke1 Rxh2 56. Kf1 Ke5 1/2-1/2).

It shows the position after 40 Qg1. There turned out to be no way for Black to exploit his initiative.

However, I found another fascinating position when looking at another possible defence, 39 Rcd6. Once again Black plays 39...Qe1+ 40 Qg1 (see diagram, top right) but this time Black has a remarkable winning move. Can you see it?

Wednesday 13 June 2007

Candidates: The Final Reckoning

OK, let's get the prediction stuff out of the way. I was right about Leko, Aronian and Grischuk but wrong about Kamsky. In the end the rating list got it right.

Peter Leko was imperious in Elista. He played just nine of the regulation 12 games in total to score +5, =4, -0 for a rating performance of 2861, although it should be borne in mind that he played the two lowest rated players of the original 16. Along the way he gave the Caro Kann a fearful battering. That said, he also gave Bareev once chance to get on terms with him, but the Russian missed his chance (28...Ne4!!) in game one. Leko has been around so long it is amazing to find that he is still only 27. Since tying with Kramnik in a heart-breaking world championship match, his career has gone slightly backwards, but with the confidence generated in Elista he could well be a contender in Mexico.

Boris Gelfand is a fair bit older than the other qualifiers (he is a few days away from his 39th birthday) but he wears his years well. His run of 14 games in Elista was remarkable for the fact that it contained no wins for White. He beat Kasimdzhanov twice with Black in the rapidplays, and then Kamsky twice with Black at standardplay. Looking at the final line-up in Mexico, I don't imagine that Gelfand will be fancied to win but such is his class and experience that he could spring a surprise or two.

Levon Aronian was one of the starting favourites in Elista but he certainly didn't have it easy. He was involved in what were arguably the two most exciting matches. The battle with Magnus Carlsen was superlative. The match with Shirov only provided one decisive game but four of the other five games were incredibly hard fought, complex and entertaining. Shirov of course must received equal credit for this, but you have to take your hat off to Aronian and his resourcefulness under pressure. Given the closeness of his two matches, one wonders whether he is quite yet ready to take on the really big guns at matchplay. He seems to be aware of this himself. In the latest New in Chess, he was asked whether he had a dream: his answer was "to win a match against the world champion". Notice he didn't say "to become world champion". But of course there are no matches in Mexico and he has already proved himself in similar supertournaments, so he might yet become world champion by the back door.

Alexander Grischuk, we are told, is rather keen on playing poker these days. Perhaps that makes it all the more remarkable that he has won through to this stage. His first game against Rublevsky was a very attractive win and he looked like going 2-0 up in game three, but he then stalled and let things slip. The psychological battle seemed to be going in favour of Rublevsky, but the older Russian then made the mistake of trying to replicate his Scotch Game win of game 4 in the play-offs. Grischuk had evidently done his homework and took a savage revenge. Grischuk is undoubtedly very talented but something about him makes me think he is not fully motivated to win super-tournaments.

Before our thoughts turn to Mexico, there is a ninth player to consider: Topalov. I imagine that there may be attempts to shoe-horn him into the tournament. But I would not be in favour of that. Firstly, it would be extremely unfair on the 12 players who played in Elista and did not qualify. Why should Topalov be allowed to jump over them into the Mexico event simply because he is second on the rating list? His right to automatic qualification was ceded as part of the contractual agreement made regarding the Kramnik match. Both players went into it with their eyes open. Secondly, the Topalov delegation behaved extremely badly at the world championship match in Elista and have done nothing to deserve special treatment. Rather than trying to find a way to include Topalov, FIDE would spend their time rather better investigating his delegation's behaviour during the world championship match and bringing them to book.

Anyway, Topalov might yet get a rematch with Kramnik should the Russian win the Mexico tournament. If Kramnik doesn't win in Mexico, of course, then it is Kramnik who gets the rematch and Topalov must take his chances in the next world championship cycle. But he won't be the first or the last highly-rated player to have to sit on the sidelines for a year or two.

Friday 8 June 2007

Shirov-Aronian, Game 2

This is a position from Shirov-Aronian, Game Two, with Shirov (White) to play. I looked at this briefly with Fritz 10 yesterday and noted that the software program strongly preferred 33 Ne4 to the move played, which was 33 Nc4.

This morning I read Mihail Marin's report on and was a bit surprised to find that he had skipped over this position without a comment.

So, was this a case of culpable negligence by Shirov (and Marin)? At first I thought so, but then looked closer. I also fed the position into a number of other chess engines (including Rybka 2.1, Hiarcs 10, Shredder 10). They all preferred 33 Ne4 to the move played. But then it dawned on me: if, after 33 Ne4, Black plays 33...Bxe4 34 Qxe4 Rd6, how can White ever win? Black is going to put his rook on e6, his king on g7 and then play Be7, Bf8, Be7 ad infinitum. Everything is defended. The white queen can go anywhere she wants but, without an attacking accomplice, cannot force a breakthrough with pawns or the king, and as far as I can see there is no potential zugzwang.

The finely-honed brains of Shirov and Marin would have figured this out pretty quickly, I guess. But it is a good example of software not being able to see the big picture. The human player sees the ideal placement of the black pieces to defend everything plus an adequate 'pass move' sequence to avoid zugzwang. Then a quick scan of the white side reveals no plausible breakthrough possibility.

Thursday 7 June 2007

Candidates Finals

Well, that's quite enough about fools, imbeciles, dunderheads and extortionists (and I should stress that any acronym created from those nouns is entirely coincidental)... let's get back to the chess in Elista.

One third of the way through the Candidates finals, I'm already feeling slightly smug about my predicted qualifiers for Mexico. Yes, well, I went with the rating list for Leko, Aronian and Grischuk and opted for previous matchplay success for Kamsky, so I didn't need to be a genius, I suppose. There is still a long way to go, though only one of the eight finalists (Shirov) recovered from being down in the semi-finals to qualify for this stage.

I've not watched any of the final eliminator matches live so far, so feel less qualified to comment on what has gone before. Watching in real-time gives you a strong feel for the ebb and flow of the game, helped by the chatter of the expert commentators and even by the raucous babble of the audience.

The player I feel most sorry for so far is Shirov, who has made the running in both of the games of his match with Aronian but has only half a point to show for it. Maybe he feels he has to make a big impression early before Aronian adapts himself to his style. We've certainly seen some fire on board (will he ever live down this hubristic book title?) but perhaps he is being too 'interesting. for his own good.

Leko pressed hard with White though I thought his 28 Qh2 idea looked weird. But it was only when I consulted Fritz that I found it should have lost outright after the amazing 28...Ne4! when 29 Rxe4 runs into 29...Rxf2!! and White is being done up like a kipper. You need a silicon brain to work it all out, of course. Today the two guys managed a miserly 15 moves. Bareev surely needed to do more with the white pieces.

Grischuk's first-game win against Rublevsky looked pretty wonderful to me, though Mihail Marin on ChessBase seemed very low-key about the whole thing. Grischuk advanced upon his opponent in bold and brassy fashion, laced his attacking play with a couple of well-timed sacrifices and produced a very attractive finish. What more could you ask? If Kasparov had played this game, a hundred chess hacks would already be falling over each other in pursuit of the most effusive superlatives to describe it. Perhaps Rublevsky missed a couple of better defences at critical junctures, but Grischuk would still have had an extra pawn and a dominating position. I'm glad to see that Max Dlugy describes it simply as "a beautiful game" on Their second game ended in 18 moves. Once again, this is no discredit to Black but Rublevsky as White will only get two more Whites to even the score.

Boris Gelfand has drawn all eight standardplay games he has been involved in since arriving in Elista, but not for the want of trying. Well, in game two, anyway. Game one was a disappointment, with Kamsky failing to make much of an impression with White. The second game seemed worse for Kamsky, with Gelfand building up an impressive position and menacing Kamsky's position with a knight which shuttled between e5 and g5 and back again. The US player grovelled and it looked a bit grim for a while. But then Gelfand allowed Black to break out of the bind. There was a little tactical flurry towards the end but it panned out to a draw. Kamsky is a very effective groveller, something I used to take pride in myself in my younger days. I shall be watching his games very closely from hereon in.

I understand there is also some sort of chess match going on between two bits of software in Elista. Anyone interested? No, me neither. But I did get interested when I read about the Rybka people throwing down the gauntlet to FIDE to get a shot at Fritz or Junior... here is their press release

Rybka $100,000 challenge to FIDE
(Open letter)

Dear Mr. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov & members of FIDE,

first, let me start by commending you for your entry into computer chess with the organization of the ‘Ultimate Computer Chess Challenge 2007’ [1]. Computer chess has seen dramatic improvements in the past few years. Some chess engines have progressed dramatically from the primitive beancounters of yesterday and I believe that our games too now qualify as art. Chess at this level inevitably attracts the attention of chess players all over the world.

Unfortunately, the lack of an open, formal qualification procedure for your event was disappointing, and your choice of the two opponents was downright bizarre. You have snubbed my program, Rybka, which leads every single computer chess rating list by a considerable margin at all time controls from blitz games to long tournament games [2]. In many cases the gap between Rybka and her nearest competitor is well over 100 Elo. None of this is anything particularly new - Rybka was released on December 4, 2005, and since then her smallest lead ever in any major rating list at any time control and on any hardware was 60 Elo. In addition to this, she has competed in all eight major international tournaments held since her first release and taken clear (unshared) first in seven of them. [3] Rybka has also displayed her superiority in competitions against human players. It's no wonder that Rybka is generally considered "the undisputed strongest chess program in the world."

Some of the other aspects of the match also raise questions. Chessbase exclusively markets three of the world's top ten engines, so it's a curious coincidence that two of them will participate. Also curious is the involvement of the ICGA - after all, their own self-titled “World Computer Chess Championship” is being held on overlapping dates. This type of apparent division between insiders and outsiders runs counter to all principles of sport and fairness, and I call on you to uphold democratic FIDE norms in the organization of such events.

In the spirit of open competition, I am formally offering a $100,000 computer chess challenge from Rybka to FIDE, who will be represented by the winner of the Ultimate Computer Chess Challenge 2007. My challenge consists of a 24 game match, at classical time controls, on unlimited hardware and with unlimited opening books, held at 2 games per day over twelve days, with Rybka giving a handicap of one point plus draw odds and thus requiring a score of 13/24 or better to win the match. The prize fund of $100,000 should be a winner-takes-all, loser-pays-all proposition. The remaining details can be worked out in private.

As the Ultimate Computer Chess Challenge 2007 takes place during the Candidates Matches in Elista, it is appropriate that the winner’s match vs Rybka be played in Mexico between September 12 and October 1, 2007, during the FIDE World Chess Championship.

Gens una Sumus,

Vasik Rajlich
author of Rybka
FIDE International Master

So there we are. A piece of chess software that is so strong it has started arguing with its rivals. The sign of a true champion...

Tuesday 5 June 2007

Dumbheads or Dunderheads?

We are back to FIDE vs Short, and a small question of terminology arising in regard to the English GM being called before the FIDE Ethics Commission...

Here's the question: are Azmai and Makro 'dumbheads' or 'dunderheads'?

This is the sort of small point which some future chess historian might well agonise over when researching the life and works of the former world championship challenger, so it is good to be able to provide a definitive answer here and now. Nigel Short has written to me and made it crystal clear: "As a matter of fact I called Azmai and Makro 'dunderheads' and not 'dumbheads'...".

That is good to know. I must admit I thought it improbable at the time that Nigel, a native Briton aged 40+ with an impressive vocabulary, would use the transatlantic/teenage slang term 'dumbhead'. As an acknowledged grandmaster of caissic character assassination, he could be relied on to choose a more stylish word than that. 'Dunderhead' is a lovely old English (or possibly Scots) word which displays the richness and diversity of British verbal abuse in all its glory.

Just in case any non-native speakers wish to know the precise meaning of 'dunderhead', my elderly copy of Chamber's Dictionary defines it simply as 'a stupid person (origin uncertain)'. Nigel Short also points out that it is "not defamatory under English law, as it would be considered, in the worst case, to be mere vulgar abuse." That is also my own understanding, albeit only based on hazy memories of a university law course attended several decades ago.

Sunday 3 June 2007

Candidates Matches: Round 1 Play-Offs

Poor Mickey. He's had a rough time of it recently. He travelled all the way to Sofia and finished a point behind the winner, Topalov, who received a wooden icon for finishing first. Mickey received the wooden spoon - for finishing last. It shouldn't happen to a guy on 'minus one', should it?

Then he travels all the way to Elista. That takes a bit of bottle in itself, bearing in mind the string-bag aircraft they are reputed to use on the Moscow to Kalmykia route. 'Kalmykian Air' is not a 'great way to fly'. I myself passed up a chance to travel to Elista in 1998, and I readily confess to all my loyal bloggees that the rather alarming travel arrangements were a major factor in not answering my country's call.

Adams reached 'dormy one' - one up and one to play - against Shirov. And then suddenly his hitherto steady (if not spectacular) form deserted him. After his traumatic loss in round six came two more losses in the 25-minute games. I thought he might have been able to hold the first rapidplay game but 36...g5 looks very suspect and after that it was hopeless. I didn't think much of the choice of 3 Bc4, followed by 4 d3 and 5 c3, in game two, but at least it lured Shirov forward into compromising his kingside with 9...g5 and 10...g4.

But the on-board fireman played rather well, I thought, and he was ultimately rewarded for his courage in carrying the fight to White when he was already a point ahead. That left Mickey needing two wins just to stay in the tie-breaker. He nursed a little niggle of an advantage through 70-odd moves in the third game but in the end there just wasn't enough there. I should think the England no.1 will be glad to get home after all his East European traumas. Take the phone off the hook, unplug the computer, put your feet up and watch some sport on the TV, Mickey... but please give Estonia v England a miss next week (I'm a bit superstitious and we don't need any more English disasters in Eastern Europe).

Aronian vs Carlsen was a cracker of a match from start to finish (well, very nearly: Magnus didn't do too much in the blitz games). None of the watching audience could believe it when Carlsen levelled the rapidplay series from a dead-drawn position. Although it was a lot to do with the clock situation, it took incredible determination and imagination for the Norwegian lad to nick a point from that game. Although he ultimately lost out in the blitz games, Carlsen's reputation has only been enhanced by his stirring resistance in Elista, paired as he was against one of the most highly fancied candidates. As a 16-year-old, he stands pretty well shoulder to shoulder with the 1959 Bobby Fischer.

In Libya in 2004 Kasimjanov earned himself a reputation as a wily tactician in rapidplay games, but he was well tamed by Gelfand. I thought the Israeli super-GM was today's best player in many ways. He defused Kasim's tricks in game one by playing for the initiative rather than trying to hold onto an extra pawn. A couple of neat tactics were enough to bring him the point. The Uzbeki GM did manage to bamboozle him in the second game but I was impressed by his achievement in defending a horrid endgame. In game three, Kasim managed to build up a tremendous attack against Gelfand's f6 pawn but Gelfand stayed calm and managed to beat it off.

Time to revise those predictions (I got 5 out of the 8 round one punts right). I'm looking forward to Gelfand's match against Kamsky: both of them appear to be in good shape. I'll stick with my original verdict: Kamsky.

Shirov against Aronian should be good, too. Aronian is the rating favourite but Shirov may take heart from his success against Adams. I went for Aronian to win in my original prediction and I shall stay with it, though not unimpressed by Shirov's stickability in Elista. So: Aronian.

I've no strong feelings about Grischuk against Rublevsky. It may come down to who wants it more, but I don't feel I know enough about either of them to make that judgement. I'll have to revise my original prediction because my man Ponomariov has already gone home. For the sake of a name: Grischukto win.

Finally, I still cannot see past the might of Peter Leko in the last of the four round two matches. I won't write off Bareev as I did Gurevich, but I'd say his chances of making Hungarians chess fans unhappy for a second time are fairly slim. So it's Leko.

Saturday 2 June 2007

Candidates Matches (Part 3)

So, the regulation matches are now over, and we have three of the original eight matches to be decided in tie-breaks on Sunday. The time limit now changes (from six games at 40:2h, 20:1h and then 15m+30s increments:rest) to 4 games at 25m + 10s, followed if necessary by 2 games at 5m + 10s, and finally the dreaded armageddon game: 6m for White against 5m for Black, but a draw puts Black into the next round.

The three predictions I got right were all big wins for the winners (Leko, Kamsky and Grischuk), but I got Bareev-Polgar and Rublevsky-Ponomariov wrong. Polgar and Ponomariov were both disappointing in Elista. Pono went out with a whimper not a bang. He switched to the Caro-Kann - a strange choice for a must-win situation - and, having got nowhere fast, agreed a draw in only 18 moves. Judit Polgar at least had a crunching win in round five to look back on but it was too little, too late in terms of the match situation. Her attempt to win with Black in the final game had a bit more punch about it but it never looked like the sort of position in which she excels (she is more of a 'thumper' than a 'grinder'). She made Bareev sweat for a while but the initiative gradually ebbed away from Polgar's position. It may be that those of us looking forward to the day when a woman wins the world championship may need to turn our attention to the future when Chinese youngster Hou Yifan starts to climb the chess Olympus.

English sports fans have had to put up with two disappointments in two days. Yesterday someone called Diego (no, not that one - this guy used his head, not his hand) scored an equalizer in time added on to make it England 1, Brazil 1, in the football international at Wembley. Today, much the same happened in the chess: Alexei Shirov won the final regulation game of the match to take his match with Mickey Adams to a tie-break. Unfortunately Adams returned the compliment to Shirov by making a blunder (17...Kf8?) which gave away a pawn. I'm actually quite glad I didn't watch the games in real-time today until after the time control as it would have been too depressing watching the rest of the game. I was otherwise engaged, watching an old movie called Dunkirk on the TV - quite appropriate, really. I've since had another look at the game and I think Adams could have made sturdier resistance towards the end, based on 36...Be8 (but maybe my judgment has been coloured by patriotic fervour as a result of watching the movie). Generally my feeling is that this has been a very evenly contested match and a 3-3 is probably a fair reflection. My prediction was that Adams would win if it went to a tie-breaker. I'll stick with that though the English GM must be the more disappointed of the two now that it has reached this stage, particularly after today's disaster.

An aside: the Adams debacle and the anecdote about me watching an old movie reminds me of the following... after watching one of Mickey's traumatic losses in Tripoli in 2004 (can't remember which one), I remember sitting down to watch the TV in order to take my depressed mind off his world knock-out near-miss. After flicking channels for a minute or two, I settled down to watch an 1980s Miss Marple TV movie (one of the ones with Joan Hickson in the title role). It was Murder at the Vicarage. As I sat idly watching, it dawned on me that one of the actresses looked rather familiar. Radio Times told me it was Tara MacGowran: the same Tara MacGowran who is... Mickey Adams's girlfriend. Not a lot of people seem to know that Tara used to be an actress, and a very good and successful one at that. I don't think Tara played the murderess in the Miss Marple movie, but this was not the only movie she has made with the word 'murder' in the title. Her final screen appearance was in something called The Vanishing Man. If I were Shirov, I would go careful.

Back to the chess: Aronian-Carlsen also reached 3-3 but it was more entertaining. Twice Carlsen has recovered from a one-point deficit with a resounding victory. All four wins in the match were with White, and the writing looked to be on the wall today when Aronian, with the white pieces, was a pawn up and on the attack. However, Carlsen played a bold, active defence and finally baled out with a neat perpetual check. This has been perhaps the most entertaining and enterprising of the eight matches so far. Whoever loses in the tie-breaks will be missed, but will have a fine long-term future ahead of them.

In contrast, Gelfand and Kasimjanov will be back tomorrow to see if they can do something other than draw chess games. To be perfectly fair to them, some of their games have been thoroughly entertaining too, but today's final regulation game was not one of them - 17 moves of theory. End of term report: must try harder.

Tomorrow's draw (first-named has White in game 1):
Aronian vs Carlsen
Kasimjanov vs Gelfand
Shirov vs Adams

Meanwhile, the five victors - Leko, Kamsky, Grischuk, Rublevsky and Bareev - go and do whatever it is that people do in Kalmykia on a Sunday. Answers on a postcard, please...

Friday 1 June 2007

Candidates Predictions (Part 2)

I made some predictions about how the Candidates matches in Elista would turn out, so let's have at a look at how I'm doing. I made them after round one, and we've now reached round four with just two games to go.

I said Aronian to beat Carlsen - Aronian currently leads 2½-1½ so on paper that one looks on course. However, Carlsen showed what he could do in round three, so there could be mileage left in this match. It has certainly lived up to its billing. I would like to see these guys go head-to-head over 10 or 12 games.

I said Shirov to beat Adams, but Mickey leads 2½-1½ after Shirov blundered horribly in the fourth game (see the diagram: Shirov played 24 Be3?? allowing 24...Kh8! when 25 Bxc5 would have been answered 25...Rfd7 pinning and winning the d5 bishop). Anonymous teased me thus: "I see you didn't factor in Shirov's ability to make ridiculous blunders ;)" Good one! Actually, it is a serious point: Shirov has had a few tournament disasters in recent years, as well as the odd one-off aberration (remember that terrible loss he had to Peter Wells in Gibraltar last year when his knowledge of Tromp theory was found wanting?). Anyway, I don't mind being wrong with this particular prediction. We just don't want any 'Kasimjanov moments' from our boy. Remember how hard he found it to defend Black in Tripoli? And overlooking a FIDE championship winning move? I wonder if Mickey ever wakes up screaming "how did I miss 42...Qe4!!?".

I said Ponomariov to beat Rublevsky, but the portly Russian leads 2½-1½ (thanks to IM Tom Rendle for pointing out my original mistake in putting 3-1). So it looks as if I am going to be way wide of the mark there. Slapped wrist: this was down to a simple failure to do my homework properly. I described Rublevsky as the 'older man', which is true, but I just looked up his age and found he was only 32. Hardly Methuselah, is he? Larry Christiansen made the same mistake on the ICC commentary yesterday when he talked about Rublevsky being 'nearly 40'. I don't think we give Rublevsky enough credit for some of his successes. True, he has had a few failures along the way (e.g. the Turin Olympiad 2006 where his three straight losses cost the Russians dear), but his mega-victory in the 2005 Russian Superfinal (two points clear of Kramnik) and last year's win at Foros Aerosvit in Ukraine mark him out as one of the big guys (not just in terms of avoirdupois). Pono could still come through, of course, but he's going to need to raise his game.

I said Grischuk to beat Malakhov and it's looking good: Grischuk leads 3-1. It was a messy game yesterday, and I get the impression that Malakhov went wrong on move 21 when he should have played Rxc1 rather than Bxc1. I liked the way Grischuk won the first game but I've not been convinced by his play since then. Maybe he's just a top-class hacker. But it makes for great entertainment.

I said Leko to beat Gurevich - and he did. I said it was a 'no-brainer' - and it was. Nice to get something right now and again...

I said Polgar to beat Bareev but the Russian leads 3-1. By rights Judit should already be on the plane home. Her play has been very disappointing. I agonised over my prediction, mainly because Polgar is rated so much higher than Bareev. But, as has been shown a number of times in the past, ratings count for less in a head-to-head contest. I mentioned Bareev 'doing a Khalifman' and there may be something in that. Playing as a semi-professional may have given him a new lease of life. It's not over yet but the prospect of a woman winning the world championship seems more remote than ever. As for Bareev: his future opponents will underestimate him at their peril. He looks in very good shape.

I said Kasimjanov to beat Gelfand, but the jury is still out on that one. Four straight draws. Ejh comments: "Gelfand currently ahead in the 'Chessplayer Most Obviously Looking Like A Single Man' competition...". Cruel but... cruel! Don't forget that Gelfand is married to an ex-girlfriend of Mickey Adams (Zoe). Anyway, I personally think 'Chubby Checkmater' Rublevsky looks more 'single' than Bob Gelfand...

I said Kamsky to beat Bacrot: correct, but I didn't think it would be quite as emphatic as 3½-½. I haven't quite made up my my mind whether Kamsky played really well or Bacrot played really poorly, but I think I veer towards the latter. Although the Frenchman was a huge talent as a junior, it has always slightly mystified me that he came by such a high rating (he's been 2720+) without chalking up any stellar international tournament victories. Checking back, I found he shared first at the 2005 Karpov Poikovsky, but his other super-tournament appearances have been rather modest. His performance in the final game in Elista, with an apparently rock-solid kingside pawn structure melting away to nothing inside seven moves, was very poor. But we have to give great credit to Kamsky who appears to have lost nothing of his matchplay ability after his long lay-off. Let's hope Kasparov was watching closely - still not too late to make a comeback, Garry.

Overall I'm impressed by the Elista event which has the look and feel of an old-time Candidates event. The matches could do with being a bit longer, and it would have been better to have matchplay all the way through to the final match, but we must be grateful for small mercies. I'm not sure we've seen anything yet to cause the Three Vs (Volodya, Vishy and Vesko) to lose any sleep as regards what happens in Mexico. But maybe Peter Leko is on the brink of a career break-through.