Round 9 of the Candidates Tournament turned out to be a very important one. This was the round when the seemingly inevitable happened: Magnus Carlsen moved into sole possession of first place. However, he did it in a way you might not have expected. He had to defend a tough position against Kramnik, and after groveling for about twenty moves he managed to get to a drawn opposite-color-bishops endgame.
The real action, it turned out, came in the game Gelfand-Aronian, where the Israeli grandmaster dealt the tournament’s co-leader a crushing blow. Aronian gave up a pawn completely unnecessarily. It looked as if he thought he had a tactical trick that would win the exchange, but if so he got out-tricked by Gelfand’s 28. e6! In basketball terms, this move was like when one player thinks that he has a clear shot at the basket and then another player comes out of nowhere and swats the ball into the stands. “Get that weak-ass stuff out of here!”
Gelfand is now on a little bit of a roll, having won two games in a row, but I think he is too far behind to have a real chance of catching up. However, he does have a real chance of playing spoiler, with games against Carlsen in Round 10 and Kramnik in Round 13 (both with Black). I would be stunned if Gelfand could beat Carlsen, but it’s probably our last hope for a tournament with any real suspense in it.
The standings so far:
- Carlsen 6
- Aronian 5½
- Kramnik 5
- Gelfand 4½
- Grischuk 4½
- Svidler 4
- Ivanchuk 3½
- Radjabov 3
By the way, this will probably be my last post on the Candidates Tournament while it’s in progress. I have a busy week coming up, with a visitor from Sweden coming tomorrow and Thursday and a chess tournament in Reno (the Larry Evans Memorial) this weekend. Sorry about that!
Look at the bright side. There are many websites where you can follow the Candidates Tournament, from chessbase.com to chessdom.com to worldchess.com (the official site, which I find to be unfortunately rather annoying with its red and white pieces) to my favorite chesstv.com (the best coverage if you understand Russian). But there is only one blog that will have reports on the Reno tournament … and that’s mine!
P.S. If Magnus Carlsen does win the Candidates Tournament, as I expect, he will do so in a way that highlights the problem with deciding the challenger by a tournament. Namely, he will win without defeating his main rivals, Aronian and Kramnik, with whom he has drawn all four games and not really had winning chances in any of them. The trouble with tournaments is that too often you have a “mutual admiration society” at the top, where the two or three top players draw all their games with each other, and the tournament comes down to which player can beat more of the also-rans. Carlsen is very good at that, but it doesn’t necessarily mean he is the world’s best player. Does it?