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.


  1. 5/8? Editorial licence, surely! Didn't you say re: Shirov-Adams: "if it goes to penalties, Adams to win"?

  2. Curses! My cunning attempt at self-delusion foiled. 4½/8?