World Cup: Exhaustion Sets In

by admin on October 4, 2015

I’ve even gotten tired writing about the World Cup, imagine how tired the people are playing it. The final four-game match between Peter Svidler and Sergey Karjakin has been disappointing in a way I never expected. First, take a look at the results:

  1. Svidler 1, Karjakin 0
  2. Svidler 1, Karjakin 0
  3. Karjakin 1, Svidler 0
  4. Karjakin 1, Svidler 0

If you had shown me these results before the match started, I would say, “Wow! What an exciting match! Four consecutive decisive games! An incredible comeback by Karjakin!”

But when you actually look at the games, it’s a different story. Rounds one and four were decent games in which at least one player played well. But rounds two and three were horrific debacles, in which the players who were ahead blundered repeatedly and awfully. The deciding blunder in each game was of the simple, instructional variety that you would give to a 1600 player. Svidler’s blunder in game three was a two-mover; Karjakin’s blunder in game two was more like a one-mover. Karjakin missed the fact that his bishop was overloaded. Svidler missed an X-ray attack.

All right, I get it. Chess is tricky. But these are grandmasters, the best players in the world. You just don’t see them do things like this, especially in the biggest games of one of the premiere events of the year.

So I think you have to look for reasons, and the reason is not hard to find. They’ve been playing without a break for almost a month. Counting playoffs, Svidler has played 24 games and Karjakin has played 30. Compare this with normal grandmaster tournaments that typically last 9 or 11 games. Not only that, the knockout format creates incredible pressure and tension every round. In a typical tournament there is one climax; in this one there are seven of them. It’s fun for the spectators, but undoubtedly exhausting for the players.

So you’re watching something like the end of a marathon for which the runners have not really trained adequately. It’s not even a competition any more, it’s just stumbling to the finish line. GM Alejandro Ramirez wrote on after the third game,

The players are clearly beyond exhaustion, outside forces are influencing the quality of the game to a greater extent than acceptable. I cannot imagine Svidler and Karjakin, such prominent and powerful players over the board, playing at this level with so many blunders in only three games in any other tournament.

I’ve been a big proponent of the World Cup format, because it gives less-famous players a chance to shine. The whole world knows much more about Pavel Eljanov now than a month ago. But seven rounds are just too long, I think. The World Cup also has this oddity where just getting into the finals is the most important thing (because it qualifies you for the World Championship Candidates tournament). The actual championship match is a bit of an anticlimax.

So here’s my radical solution: play only six rounds and have two winners. We could call the two sections World Cup A and World Cup B. They would be held simultaneously, so we would still have the fun free-for-all of 128 players in the beginning. And instead of watching Svidler and Karjakin embarrass themselves, we would be calling both of them champions, as they deserve to be.


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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul B. October 4, 2015 at 1:54 pm

I wonder if time pressure was a factor in the blunders. Regardless, I respect these finalists; they battled to the bloody finish. I’m reminded of an Ironman in which two women raced each other to the point of collapse near the finish line; neither had the energy to stand up and they both crawled across the finish line on their hands and knees. The race organizers tut-tutted that such behavior was unseemly.


Michael Aigner October 5, 2015 at 6:19 am

I beg to differ. The two finalists had a rest day before round 6 (semifinals) and another rest day before the final. In addition, Svidler earned a valuable second day off prior to the final by knocking out Giri so easily. While Karjakin had the more difficult route to the finish, he also is the younger of the finalists, by 14 years (25 to 39).

Time pressure and stress of the situation are more likely factors. That said, Svidler just hung his rook in a blitz game with 40 seconds (plus 3 second increment) on his clock, and his opponent in the single digits. Chess is a young man’s game (or perhaps more precisely, it is child’s play).


Kassy October 5, 2015 at 7:25 am

Svidler had 12 minutes on his clock when he missed the x-ray in game 3. That is not enough time pressure for that degree of blunder normally.


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