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.


  1. I completely agree with you about Topalov. It would be a complete travesty if Topalov were to compete in Mexico when he specifically signed an agreement that excludes him from the event (since he lost to Kramnik)

    Still, nothing would surprise me when it comes to FIDE - they seem to be a law unto themselves.

  2. Well, hang on a moment Ryan. I agree that Topalov shouldn't play, because that was the agreement he signed. But a lot of people who are agitating for him to play are the biggest critics of FIDEand people who banged on about contracts during the Elista crisis - whereas FIDE haven't said a word in favour of his participation.

    So how come your comment comes with a criticism of FIDE?

    One reason I spend so much time on here defending FIDE, when I neither like nor admire them, is because of stuff like that.