All eyes are on the World Champion! With his new image (and short-sightedness) Carlsen joins the order of the bespectacled World Champions of the 21st century – Kramnik and Anand. It is interesting that before Kramnik we have to go as far as Botvinnik for another World Champion who wore glasses during his reign! Some funny trivia!
But before going to Baden-Baden let me wrap up the Zurich Experiment. The last two rounds of the “neo-classical” saw a strong finish by Nepomniachtchi, who scored two wins, and this enabled him to catch Nakamura, who “only” managed 1.5/2. Third came Anand, who beat his customer Svidler and drew Nakamura in the last round. The game Anand-Svidler looked as if it was played in the mid 90s – we rarely get to see full-blooded Sicilian games nowadays, especially in the Scheveningen structure.
In the blitz Nakamura again emerged victorious (5/7, no losses), but everything was decided in the last round when a Nepomniachtchi win against Oparin would have meant a shared first for him. Alas, he overpressed and lost, which was nicely used by Anand, who came second, half a point behind the American. So the overall winner was Nakamura for a third year in a row, a remarkable achievement! The tournament produced exciting chess and I suppose that was its main aim. The last two years show that Zurich can keep the “neo” but should drop the “classical” from its time-control.
Moving to Germany we can find a World Champion leading the field, but not the one you would expect. (Yes, I know that Hou Yifan is not a de jure World Champion, but she is by far the stronger female player in the world. And I liked how my sentence sounded.) Hou Yifan demolished Caruana (his first ever loss to her after 6 previous wins) in Round 1 in what turned out to be a very strange game by the American. He played the Berlin (for win? for a draw? just to get a game?) and he got a game with a lot of pieces on the board, but then he became impatient and was duly busted by the Chinese. In Round 2 Hou was under pressure against Meier but it was he who succumbed and she was merciless again. And then came Round 3.
A real pity for Hou Yifan, while Carlsen still seems to be finding his way into the tournament – he missed an almost win and a win in Rounds 1 and 2 (against Bluebaum and Aronian respectively).
The loss to Hou Yifan woke Caruana up. He won his next two games and is sharing second together with Aronian (who beat Vachier and drew the rest) and Naiditsch (who beat Bluebaum and Vachier and lost to Caruana). The tournament is a slaughterhouse for now (4 draws and 8 decisive games so far!) and the most peaceful participant is Carlsen with 3 draws out of the total 4! After failing to win Wijk aan Zee at the beginning of the year he is in danger of not winning another tournament. That would not bode well for his self-confidence (especially having in mind the rise of Wesley So), but in a short tournament like this one (only 7 rounds) he doesn’t have much time. Should be exciting to the end!