Day-After Thoughts

by admin on April 1, 2013

Ordinarily, if you asked me which I would enjoy more, playing in a chess tournament or staying at home and watching a chess tournament on the Internet, I would say, “Playing in a chess tournament.” It’s a complete no-brainer. I’d rather be a participant than a spectator any day.

But this time I actually think I did the wrong thing. By going to the Reno tournament this weekend, and driving back home today (the last day of the Candidates Tournament), I missed perhaps the most exciting and pressure-packed finish of any grandmaster tournament in history. I already mentioned how Vladimir Kramnik stunningly and unexpectedly took the lead two rounds before the end. Then Magnus Carlsen pulled out a typical Carlsen win in round 13, grinding out an 80-plus move victory over last-place Teimour Radjabov to move into a tie for first with Kramnik. It’s worth noting that Carlsen had better tiebreaks than Kramnik (number of games won).

Absolutely no one could have predicted what would happen next. Remember, up to this point Kramnik had not lost a single game, and Carlsen had only lost one, his upset at the hands of Ivanchuk in round 12. So who would have thought that, with the tournament on the line, both of them would lose? But that’s what happened, as Ivanchuk beat Kramnik and Peter Svidler defeated Carlsen. Ivanchuk completed the greatest tournament ever for a second-to-last place finisher. Although he finished in seventh place with 6 points of 14, those included upsets over both of the tournament winners! And Svidler, who was completely dominated by Carlsen in their first game, managed to win as Black, riddling Carlsen’s kingside position with holes.

Both Kramnik and Carlsen were clearly influenced by the tournament standings, playing riskier moves because of the need to keep the possibility of winning alive. According to Daniel King’s commentary on ChessBase, Carlsen seemed to be clearly fatigued in the last-round game, starting to drink his Coke after one hour instead of after four hours as planned. Definitely his two losses as White against Ivanchuk and Svidler made him look human again, after appearing invincible in his last few tournaments.

The upshot of the double upset is that nothing changed: Carlsen and Kramnik remained tied for first, and Carlsen won on tiebreaks, thanks to winning more games (+5 -2 = 7, compared to Kramnik’s +4 -1 =9). He will challenge Anand for the world championship later this year, probably in November. The runners-up suddenly got a lot closer at the end: Svidler and Levon Aronian made up a full point on the leaders and tied for third place at 8-6, just half a point behind Carlsen and Kramnik.

I think all of the players will be shaking their heads after this one. Kramnik, of course, had millions of chances to win the tournament. Carlsen, even though he won, can’t be too happy about the way he won; it was not a world-champion quality performance. He actually lost rating points in spite of winning the tournament. (That goes to show how stratospheric his rating has become; it’s reminiscent of Fischer losing rating points after beating Spassky 12½-8½ in their championship match.) Aronian could have won the tournament, too. Svidler was never really in contention, but he too must be wondering if he could have garnered a few more points in the early rounds to keep the leaders from getting so far ahead of him. Ivanchuk must be thinking about his four time forfeits, and Radjabov, in last place with a disastrous 4-10 score, must have taken a severe blow to his confidence.

All in all, it was an AMAZING last three rounds, as good or better than anything in the NCAA basketball tournament (ordinarily my favorite sporting event of the year). And I couldn’t watch any of it live. I had to settle for reading about it between rounds and after I got back home.

At least I’m glad to know that I’m not the only player who sometimes gets tired. If even the great Magnus Carlsen can have an off day, then so can I!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Praveen Narayanan April 2, 2013 at 10:29 am

As regards the last few rounds, I found a few of them quite instructive.

1. Kramnik – Swidler – textbook Kramnik endgame; passed pawns and all that, a total joy.
2. Aronian – Kramnik – amazing endgame by both players. Aronian’s conception that the game was drawn after trading majors, and Kramnik’s evading of traps in the end (I think he avoided the awful Kd4 which might then have allowed Kd6 by black)
3. Patzjabov [sic] – Carlsen
4. Kramnik – Gelfand – fireworks towards the end. Too bad Kramnik didn’t make it – he was so close!

I thought the #3 above one was the perhaps instructive of them all. We all knew that Radja was slightly outplayed and was struggling. There was this curious game of cat and mouse rook moves in which Radja eventually got tired (or not?) and traded rooks, after which the next phase of grinding began. In the ensuing rookless endgame, it seemed as though black was about to play a5-a4 to kick the knight from b3 (which was denying the white king the c5 square), whereupon black might have had to do something else – it is our task to figure out what it was – with the passive knight on d2 (‘passive’ does not mean losing though). And it seemed as though black was just trying to provoke the bad move a4??. Imagine my surprise when I came back to see that 64. a4 was indeed played. I am sure that Radja saw that it was a move that flew in the face of all things good and acceptable – it fixed the pawn for the vulture like black bishop, etc. Maybe he saw other issues if he had not played that. It was also very interesting to see how Carlsen manoeuvred around the weak c4 pawn trying to irritate it. On another note, this was an illustration of a typical formation where LSB aims at weak light square pawns on c4 and a4, pawn islands and weak squares.

Moreover, it goes to show why we should all concentrate on improving our handling of the latter phase of the game. It is easy for inconsequential patzers to criticize games played at the very highest levels, but I am sure that there is at least an ounce of instruction buried in all those endgames that is begging to be absorbed, if one were only to sit down with them in the wee hours.


Jason Repa April 13, 2013 at 1:43 am

I didn’t find the last round results (losses) of Kramnik and Carlsen to be as surprising as Radjabov’s curiously poor endgame play to allow Carlsen to eek out a win in the previous round.

Pressure has a way of making one play well below their normal level, especially for Carlsen who has a whopping lead in the rating list yet has never hitherto been in contention for the so-called ‘world championship title’.

But what an excellent candidates tournament. A spectacular assortment of decisive results by the elite field at a time when many critics are complaining about GM draws and death by computer preparation. It has got me excited about chess again.


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