Candidates Tournament — 3 days away

by admin on March 12, 2013

If you’re interested in world championship chess, the place to be for the rest of the month is London, where the 2013 World Championship Candidates tournament will be held from March 15 to April 1 (with tiebreaks, which I devoutly hope will not be necessary, scheduled for April 2). The winner will get a chance to play against Viswanathan Anand for the world championship later this year.

To the best of my knowledge there are no plans for GM Sergey Shipov to comment on the games online, and therefore I have no plans to translate his commentary, as I did for the last two world championships. So don’t come here expecting to play over the games. Nevertheless, I still look forward to following the action!

In case you didn’t know, here are the details of the tournament. The eight invitees, listed in order of rating, are

  1. Magnus Carlsen
  2. Vladimir Kramnik
  3. Levon Aronian
  4. Teimour Radjabov
  5. Alexander Grischuk
  6. Vassily Ivanchuk
  7. Peter Svidler
  8. Boris Gelfand

The tournament will be a double round robin, with each player playing both as white and black against each other. As Peter Doggett points out in this article, it will be the first time since the famous Curaçao tournament of 1962 that the world championship challenger will be selected by a tournament rather than by matches. (A few readers quibbled with this assertion, but I think it’s basically correct.)

Curaçao was the famous tournament where Bobby Fischer, who finished fourth, alleged that the Russians conspired to draw with each other and save their best efforts for him. His accusations have been debated endlessly over the years, but they did have a practical consequence: ever since then, the challenger was decided by matches, which are intrinsically fairer because they don’t allow the possibility of collusion and because the winner actually has to beat the second-place player.

However, the match format collapsed in the last cycle, when we had a hybrid match-tournament that turned into a near fiasco, as 27 of the 30 games played at a regular time control were drawn. I think the problem was that the matches were too short, only 4 games apiece (except for the final, which was 6 games), which meant that the cost of losing a game was extremely high. Thus the players were forced to play low-risk chess.

So, we have now gone all the way back to the previous system. Could a Fischer-style conspiracy happen again? It seems unlikely. This year only three of the players are Russians. (Some people, including Carlsen’s camp, have pointed out that seven of the players were born in the former U.S.S.R., but that definitely does not mean they will conspire. Besides, if all seven of them played for draws against each other, then Carlsen could win the tournament by just scoring one game over 50 percent!) Also, the days have long since passed when the Communist Party ran everything in Russia and could break the career of any chess player who dared to defy it. So I think we’ll have a clean-ish, honest-ish tournament, as honest as anything else in world chess.

Having dispensed with that issue, who will win? Well, if ever a system was set up for Magnus Carlsen, this is it. The one thing he has proved over the last few months is that he is a beast in tournaments, and he is in fantastic form. It would be a major upset if anybody else won.

I think the only dark cloud on the horizon for Carlsen is that the tournament is “only” a double round robin, rather than a quadruple round robin as in the old days. The longer the tournament, the more the odds would be in Carlsen’s favor. With only 14 games, it is conceivable that someone else could get hot and keep up with him, especially if Carlsen trips up in an early round.

Who might that be? Well, it’s not very creative but I would say the world’s #2-rated player, Vladimir Kramnik, has the best shot. He is, after all, a former world champion, and I read recently that his health is better than it has been in years.

By the luck of the draw, Carlsen faces his two highest-rated opponents, Aronian and Kramnik, in rounds one and two (with Black against Aronian and White against Kramnik). If he goes 2-0 in those games, the tournament is over. If he goes 1-1, then he’s still in good shape. If he gets a negative score, though, it could be a wide-open tournament.

What do you think will happen? Does anyone want to argue for a “dark horse” besides Kramnik?

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ashish March 12, 2013 at 3:51 pm

Magnus by 3. You heard it here first.

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