Round 9 Thoughts

by admin on March 26, 2013

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:

  1. Carlsen 6
  2. Aronian 5½
  3. Kramnik 5
  4. Gelfand 4½
  5. Grischuk 4½
  6. Svidler 4
  7. Ivanchuk 3½
  8. 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?

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

JG March 26, 2013 at 7:45 am

I agree with your assessment of the “mutual admiration society” to a certain extent and the problem with not beating your main rivals. I’m not convinced a match always solves this problem. Matches also make for much less interesting real-time spectators.

I also thin that matches put a lot more emphasis on openings and playing safe than tournaments do. When Carlsen plays Gelfand with black, he presumably isn’t trying to completely neutralize the position, he’s making practical choices to keep some winning chances, but in a match he might be fine with just equalizing and playing less provocatively because he’ll have white the next day.

It might be true that Magnus’s style might not do well in a match, but that’s why it’s good that he’ll have to win a match against Anand to fully get the title. I like the idea of a match, but I also would like to see a champion who’s a little more dominant. After Topalov won the world championship tournament, for a long time he felt dominant. Lately Magnus has been looking pretty dominant. He’s been having a very unimpressive tournament in London and he’s still in first place. Imagine what it would look like if he was playing “good” (for him) chess.

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Ashish March 26, 2013 at 8:46 am

I agree that matches increase the importance of openings. Maybe it made sense in pre-computer days, but this is a different era. As computers change what “opening theory” means, we also need to adapt. And isn’t that what we want – to reduce the emphasis on opening theory?

You can also “win” matches without beating your opponents in classical chess. We saw it with Grischuk in the last cycle, and as far back as Smyslov-Hubner in ’83. There never will be a “perfect” system to please everyone, but we can agree on a “best fit” for our circumstances. This tournament comes close. (The only improvement I can see would be to include Anand and Caruana – and have it be for the title.)

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Jason March 27, 2013 at 4:51 am

I think the tournament format is better. Far more exciting than the mini-match format, which had all the blitz specialists holding until the tiebreaker.

And far from a “mutual appreciation society” at the top, this tournament has seen Carlsen defend a very tough position against Kramnik just this last round! That was a tough one!

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ChessAdmin March 27, 2013 at 3:44 pm

The world’s best player will be officially determined by the World Championship match, not the Candidates tournament. The combination shows that whoever wins the world title has to excel at both tournaments and match play (or if it’s the reigning champion, be optimal at match play to retain the title).

Incidentally, match play is not always exciting or testing either, especially when both players are being conservative about their prospects (e.g. the last World Championship or one of the interminable K-K matches).

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admin March 27, 2013 at 8:37 pm

It seems we have a pretty strong vote of approval for the Candidates Tournament! I agree that this system, with the match for the championship, does force the champion to demonstrate his skill both in a tournament and a match. I think history has proven that there is no perfect system. I think there is something to be said for consistency, even if it’s imperfect. So if this becomes the new permanent system, so be it!

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Todd Rumph March 28, 2013 at 4:17 am

I’ve really enjoyed the Candidates Tournament as well — almost all of the games have demonstrated fighting spirit. I only wish the field were a bit bigger, maybe 10 or 12 participants in a double round-robin.

The 8-player format has made the tournament outcome too sensitive to the erratic performances of two players: Radjabov & Ivanchuk. Teimour Radjabov was given a wildcard entry to the tournament (perhaps due to the Azerbaijani sponsors?). His high rating justifies his inclusion, but he hasn’t played much in the last year and is pretty badly out of form. Since his losses have been evenly spread across the field, his impact on the tournament standings is minimal. Vassily Ivanchuk is a much worse case. His amazingly bad time management has really skewed the tournament tables — Aronian has been gifted 2 out of 2 by Ivanchuk (two time losses in two risky, not-so-world-class efforts — a caveman Torre and a Budapest). I’d be pretty pissed off at Vassily if I were anyone in the field but Aronian…

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