Candidates 2014 – Round 13: Anand! (& Karposh Open Starts)

This is just a short post, summing up the decisive round at the Candidates, as my own tournament, the Karposh Open in my home city of Skopje also started today. I will do a more detailed round up of this and the final, 14th round of the Candidates when the open finishes (and tomorrow is a double-round day!)

So Anand finally got under pressure, but even though he wasn’t always precise, he managed to draw and coupled with Aronian’s loss to Andreikin, won the tournament with a round to spare. The man who was thinking whether to play at all and who was written off by all the experts, managed to pull one of the most incredible upsets in modern sport! I will write about my opinion why this happened, for now I’ll just say that he thoroughly deserved it!

The Karposh Open started today, with over 50 GMs participating among the total of more than 260 players, a monster tournament! I won my game today against a WIM from South Africa (a revenge for my loss to a South African in Reykjavik). Tomorrow’s morning round starts at 9.30am (after the tournament I will look up and have a chat with the sadistic bastard who came up with this idea) and to add insult to injury, this night the clock is moved one hour forward – meaning one hour less sleep…

So time to rest (but still no pairings for tomorrow, so I guess I’ll just browse the web and read the reactions to Anand’s victory).

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Candidates 2014 – Round 12

Another rather calm round. The only decisive game decided nothing in the upper echelons of the standings.

Anand has returned to his old love 1 e4 on a constant basis, it seems, and Andreikin’s choice to repeat Carlsen’s Caro Kann from the game 2 of the Chennai match didn’t seem very wise. When Anand deviated from that game on move 15 they followed theory for a bit more but it seems that white’s position is easier to play (or perhaps Anand was better prepared). Andreikin got into trouble very quickly and soon was lost. He showed his usual resilience but it was really up to Anand to win it. Surprisingly, he didn’t, as he missed several wins along the way. The last one was after the time control when he took the repetition instead of playing on. People were all going crazy as to why he didn’t go on, but Anand said he was too tired by then and didn’t see a clear win. And it is easy to yell 41 Rc4 (especially when you see it suggested by your engine), but in a situation when tournament victory is so close, when your nearest rivals have already drawn and when you don’t see a clear win, it’s perfectly understandable to take the safe way. Anand doesn’t seem to mind to crawl to the finish line as the other players also seem to be crawling behind him.

What many expected to be the tournament’s decisive game, turned out to be a game of two tired players who would rather go home than play the remaining games. I was somewhat surprised by Kramnik’s choice in the Queen’s Gambit, allowing the Exchange Variation with a knight already on f6, something which on elite level is not considered the most exact. Aronian went along the normal lines and even here Kramnik showed how the position should be treated from black’s perspective. After the “strategically very risky decision ” (Aronian) of 27 e4, it was Kramnik who could have tried to play for a win, but he chose to repeat the moves instead, another confirmation that he’s despondent and disappointed.

Svidler 2.0 ran out of steam. Or you could say Santa Claus is on fire, giving away presents in most generous manner. Today the “good kid” was Topalov, in a way getting back what he gave away in their first game. I was surprised Svidler went for a line in the Sicilian which is considered to be good for white and from then onwards he just “started missing stuff” (Svidler) leading to a “result [which] is perfectly deserved” (Svidler). A very one-sided game, something that is only possible when the players are tired and have lost their ambitions and motivation.

Mamedyarov-Karjakin was a wild Nimzo Indian with 4 f3 and it was black who turned out to be better prepared. It was messy and stressful, especially for Karjakin who had 1 minute for 8 moves and 13 seconds for 6 moves, but still managed to make the time control. He then played on in a drawn double-rook endgame. It’s absurd that Karjakin, with his wimpish strategy, is now considered the biggest threat to Anand, but it has been a rather unusual tournament, at a very slow pace and tension that cracked the pre-tournament favourites. So the people who haven’t forced matters are the ones up in front – Anand and Karjakin (I don’t count Aronian and Mamedyarov as they lose the tie-break to Anand). I sincerely doubt that Karjakin will even try to beat Anand, but we may still be in for some excitement before the end.

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Candidates 2014 – Round 11

A rather calm round today with all the games ending in a draw. The players must be tired by now and none of them seems very confident of catching Anand.

The principled game was Kramnik-Anand. Kramnik went for the Catalan and the rare 11 Na3. Anand reacted well and sacrificed a pawn for excellent compensation, Kramnik even said he started to be careful not to end up worse. The game finished in an uneventful draw and Kramnik admitted that yesterday’s game against Svidler was the nail in his coffin – he couldn’t sleep until 6am and lost all hope of winning the tournament. He called that game “the ultimate game” and it must have been very painful for him – after the tournament he will probably go through some soul-searching and decide on the future of his career, possibly even outside chess. The rest of the tournament does have another principled encounter in store for him, the game against Topalov, but whether that will be enough to motivate him, we are yet to see. The draw brought Anand even closer to his goal. In the remaining 3 rounds he has 2 whites, so everything is in his own hands. I was predicting that he will also start to feel the pressure as the tournament draws to a close, but the way the others are playing, it’s getting doubtful whether they will be interested in playing at all.

The gift-collector Karjakin was very close to receiving yet another present, this time from Topalov. He admitted that he played for a draw the whole game (I’d say the whole tournament) and didn’t find that he could actually win in one moment (45…a3 46 Kc2 Be3). It was Topalov who unnecessarily risked a bit too much and got in danger of losing. It would have been absurd if Karjakin had won this game, it would have got him to second place and within striking distance of Anand – this would have justified his cynical strategy of playing for a draw and taking whatever was given to him. Even Petrosian in Curacao was more aggressive than that! But he’s still in contention, having his white game against Anand in the penultimate round.

Andreikin-Mamedyarov was the second Catalan of the day and it was another quiet game. White did have some chances to try for an advantage (Andreikin mentioned 19 Nc7) but all those improvements are engine-generated and even if they had been played, they would have required further ultra-precise play, something only computers are capable of (and perhaps Carlsen). As it was, for the humans in Siberia, the position always offered too little.

Svidler ruined Aronian’s tournament in London by beating him in Round 11 there. This time he went for the much calmer Reti (just compare to the Saemisch Nimzo from London). Aronian had some problems in this in London against Kramnik and he wasn’t very convincing this time either. But again as with the game Andreikin-Mamedyarov, the position was too solid and the margin of error too big for the tired humans. The computers suggest a few improvements, but again, these have to be followed up with computer-like precision and this is too much to expect from the players, especially at this stage.

As the tournament nears its end it’s noticeable that the players choose safe openings and play very carefully. As they are tired and more prone to blunders (Kramnik the worst offender) they prefer to just sit and wait for the opponent’s mistakes. Even the energetic and dynamic Svidler chose the Reti today! The most “experienced” in this strategy is Karjakin, who employed it from the very start (that’s why I think he may have the best chances)! If we are to judge from last year’s London drama, then the “sit-and-wait” players (have they all become such after today’s round?) have good chances as things will start happening, but I think this time it’s different. Last year there were 3 players who fought for first place and they were very close throughout the tournament, increasing the pressure with evey round, while here it was only Anand who has been leading from the start. I think they are already tired of seeing him in first and trying to catch him. That only adds to the psychological pressure of trying to win games and maintaining decent level (even Kramnik didn’t cope). I don’t think much will happen in the last 3 rounds, but I really hope I’m wrong…

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Candidates 2014 – Round 10

Another exciting round at the Candidates, with the unusual score of black winning the round 2.5-1.5.

The first game to finish was Anand-Mamedyarov. Anand made another small step toward final victory and it was obvious in the press conference he was happy with the draw. He actually got into some deep preparation by Mamedyarov in the Najdorf which objectively should have led to a draw with repetition, as Mamedyarov pointed out in the press conference. Kudos to Mamedyarov for continuing the game when he could have repeated, but Anand played well and reached a good position which was “dynamically balanced” as he said after the game. Mamedyarov was playing a-tempo until Anand’s 19 Bf1, which is rare, but it was praised by both players. As it was, Mamedyarov tried to play for a win, but Anand was solid and he didn’t want to risk it one more time and continue in the final position.

Karjakin didn’t try to push his luck after two consecutive wins and introduced a minor improvement (10 g4) in the Sicilian against Andreikin. It got him into an endgame which was balanced throughout as Andreikin was careful not to fall into any sort of bind. So Karjakin continues with the same strategy and hopes for more gifts from his opponents while Andreikin is just “enjoying the event”, like he said in the press conference.

Kramnik committed yet another one-move blunder. It seems he didn’t manage to recover from his loss against Karjakin, even though he had a free day to recuperate. He was actually playing quite well and got an advantage against Svidler’s Dutch (employing a rather rare setup with 3 e3). But he repeated the same mistake as in the game with Mamedyarov, he started to look for a forced win before the position was ripe for it. Like I said it then, this impatience is a sign of nerves, inability to endure the stress and keep the tension as long as it’s necessary. So this time it was the Santa Claus who received a gift! This result took Svidler to 50% and Kramnik to -1. Kramnik looked utterly depressed in the press conference and tomorrow’s white game against Anand is somewhat resemblant to the game 10 of their match in Bonn in 2008 when Anand only needed a draw to win the match when Kramnik was in a must-win situation. Just to refresh your memory, Kramnik won that game (even though he lost the match in game 11 when Anand got the draw he needed).

Aronian tried to bore Topalov to death with his choice of opening variation in the Chebanenko Slav. He seemed to make some progress when Topalov invited him to push d5, but then it quickly turned against him when he didn’t play 21 Be5, as he said in the press conference. Then it was Topalov who started to push for more, only to ruin it all with his 30…g5, a move that drew a desperate sigh from him in the press conference. Then it was Aronian again who started to probe in the endgame, but Topalov managed to pull himself together and started to play solid moves, as he said in the press conference, and this sufficed for a draw in the end. Another up-and-down game for both players, with Topalov the unhappier of the two as he still sits in last place. He was really disappointed with his play in the tournament, lamenting his missed chances in good positions in his black games against Svidler, Andreikin and Anand (with a score of 0/3). At least he has one more game with Kramnik to look forward to, they seem to motivate him. But he will be black this time and black is not his favourite colour in this tournament.

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Candidates 2014 – Rounds 7-9

A lot of things happened in the last 3 rounds of the Candidates. First, in Round 7, Anand’s closest rivals won and Aronian drew level with him and Kramnik came within half a point. Round 8 was the calm before the storm, in the bottom half only Karjakin scored his first win. Round 9 was the big one – Anand won while both Aronian and Kramnik lost, giving him a whole point lead over Aronian in second (but having beaten him 1.5-0.5 in their mini-match, that’s practically a 1.5 point lead, just like with Kramnik in third).

Before the tournament I remember seeing the odds for winning the tournament and the least probable winner was Andreikin, while the second least probable winner was Anand. The odds were somewhere in the region of 50, in other words, a total outsider (for comparison’s sake, the odds for Aronian were 2.7 while for Kramnik around 3). But as things are now, we’re maybe witnessing one of the largest upsets in the whole history of sport! So far Anand has shown perfect balance between enegy-saving mode and nailing it when possible. Yes, he could have tried to play on in the final position against Andreikin, but he thought it more important to save his energy. If he wins, all his decisions will be more than justified and his tournament strategy will be glorified. In my opinion the secret to his success so far has been the lack of pressure, the “just play” attitude he’s taken – after losing to Carlsen he ceased to be the favourite, something that hasn’t happened to him for decades. It must feel good to be able to play chess without pressure, without a goal of winning at all costs and Anand is proving it. All this helps him play very good chess and coupled with his excellent preparation took him where he is now. But even in his case the pressure will creep in as the tournament draws to a close, so I’m still curious to see how he responds to that in the remaining rounds.

Aronian failed to control his nerves for yet another time. He beat Karjakin in Round 7 in a wonderful game, showing excellent technique (which for some reason was missing in the previous game against Andreikin, which was much more easily won for a player like Aronian), but then it seems he pumped himself up way too much for the derby with Anand. First he allowed himself to be scared by Anand’s preparation (perhaps bearing in mind Anand’s brilliancy against him from Wijk in 2013), this led to a “heretical” (Kramnik) opening innovation on move 3 (at least on elite level). I’m still not sure of Anand’s decision to sacrifice the pawn and this led to a position where Aronian was pawn up but Anand had free development. And just when I thought that this was a position when Aronian might try to fend off Anand’s initiative and try to play for more, he started repeating moves – another show of fear, which was confirmed in the press conference by his statements (“the stress of the start [opening]”). Showing and playing with fear never goes unpunished and Aronian was punished the very next day when he managed to catch Mamedyarov in his preparation (although he admitted he forgot it, but again I’m not sure he can be trusted on this), only to be faced with excellent reaction and lose an unclear game. Unless he manages to pull himself together and finally play his “chess with confidence” until the end, barring a spectacular meltdown from Anand, Aronian seems to have lost his chances to challenge Carlsen.

Kramnik is another player who seems to have pumped himself up a bit too much. He has played uncharacteristically uneven chess for his standards. A typical example was his game with Mamedyarov – he achieved a dream position after the opening, he started to press in his trademark style and then something unexpected happened. He was looking for a forced win (when there wasn’t any – another sign of nervousness, looking for a win too early because you cannot stand the pressure of grinding it out and playing a long game) and miscalculated. Then it became murky and after further mistakes (and good play by Mamedyarov) he was lost. He was extremely lucky that Mamedyarov blundered and he even won the game. This was followed by another strange game with Andreikin when in a calm Chebanenko Slav he started sacrificing pawns left and right in yet another attempt to be over-aggressive. The culmination was in Round 9 when he blundered on move 7 (!) against Karjakin and lost. The biggest successes in life happen when you’re being yourself and you do things your way. Kramnik hasn’t been himself in this tournament, trying to be over-aggressive isn’t his style. And time is running out for him to reset himself and show his best, vintage Kramnik style.

Karjakin’s play has reeked of fear. After pompous statements that his mission is “to return the chess crown to Russia”, having personal manager and private sponsorhip that covers all his expenses and working on constant basis with Motylev (current European Champion) and Dokhoian (Kasparov’s second since the beginning of the 90s), I wonder whether all off that has been a bit too much for him. He proudly tweeted before the tournament that he prepared really well and was feeling in excellent shape, but then he says he was “surprised by 2…d6” (in his game with Mamedyarov from Round 5, after 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3) and “because Mamedyarov has 3 seconds here and must have been very well prepared, I decided to deviate [by playing 3 Bb5+]”.  Excuse me?? If you cannot trust your own preparation and you deviate at every hint of preparation on part of your opponent, then I’m sorry, but you have no future in elite chess. This was further confirmed by his appaling play with white against Aronian in Round 7, playing a meek opening and being outplayed by the Armenian. And then he got his lucky break, not because he deserved it, but because he was playing the tournament’s Santa Clause, Peter Svidler. Svidler 2.0 went for the kill and sacrificed a pawn for attack, but Karjakin defended well and it should have been a draw, but then Svidler started missing things and Karjakin was winning. Then Karjakin started missing things and it was draw again. Then Santa Claus stepped in and Karjakin won. On the next day he got another present, this time by Kramnik, who blundered on move 7 (in yet another “cowardly” opening, The London System – I wonder what these guys prepare for months on only to play the London System!). So Karjakin won two in a row and is back to 50%. This should give him a boost for the remaining games, unless he sees the presents as justification of his cowardly strategy!

Mamedyarov is definitely in good form in this tournament, it’s just that his style and character are not best suited for this type of tournaments. He plays well, but the pressure is too big that he also blunders. After Kramnik let him off the hook in Round 7 he played better than the Russian and got a winning position, only to blunder and lose – and he blundered in a position that required precise calculation, something he excels in. This just shows that when the stakes and the pressure are high, even your best qualities can desert you. He continued his enterprising play against Topalov in Round 8, but the Bulgarian decided to return the sacrificed piece and steered the game to a draw. His best effort so far came in Round 9 when he was faced with some sharp preparation by Aronian to which he responded in a great fashion and went on to win a complicated game. He will probably continue in the same way and finish somewhere in the middle, with some quality chess along the way!

Svidler tried to reinvent himself for this tournament, by playing aggressive and courageous chess. This worked well for him in the first half of the tournament, but quite openly against him when he started to tire. His game with Mamedyarov from Round 6 was the first warning sign when he started to blunder heavily (just to mention 24…h6??), but he continued in the same vein and was rewarded with a draw when Anand missed his best chance on move 20. The end of his ambitions was his game with Karjakin from Round 8 when again he sacrificed for initiative, but after nothing came out of it he failed to draw a drawable endgame. What I said above about being yourself applies to Svidler as well: it was a welcome change to see him play open and brave chess, but perhaps he should have kept some of his old self, the one who played in “energy-saving” (his words) mode and knew how and when to play for a draw. That mixture would have really given him better chances in a tournament like this one.

Andreikin beat Topalov in Round 7 when the latter went berserk. His King march e1-d1-c1-b1-a2 in the middlegame was a rare sight and he won a nice game. Apart from that he was his usual, safe and solid self. No reason why not to continue in the same fashion and wait for another chance like the one in the game with Topalov.

Surprisingly, Topalov is in last place.The principled game against Kramnik seems to have had a negative effect, as strange as it may sound. He probably thought he got positive wind from that and went all out against the solid Andreikin in the next round, only to be calmly dispatched. Then he was bit more careful and returned Mamedyarov’s sacrificed piece in Round 8 and steered it to a draw. In Round 9 he went for a Najdorf against Anand but his play was not up to his usual standards (and he missed things, as he said in the press conference) and didn’t really stand a chance. He usually loses to Anand in the Najdorf. It’s strange that his level went down after that win against Kramnik, but I read somewhere that it might affect him negatively. In his case, I think he overestimated that win and concluded that he was in good form and started to play carelessly, expecting to win his games just because he beat Kramnik in a nice game. Unfortunately, one good game is no guarantee for other good games – hard work is required in every game! He will undoubtedly try to improve his tournament position and he has another game with Kramnik coming soon, so maybe that will serve as motivation, now that he cannot win the tournament anymore.

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Coming Up Next: 4NCL Weekend

Here’s a quick update on my immediate schedule: tomorrow morning I’m off to Good Ol’ Blighty to play for my English team Cheddleton.

The games will be on Saturday and Sunday, so coupled with tomorrow day’s travel, I won’t be able to dedicate the necessary attention to the games at the Candidates, so most probably I’ll do a wrap-up of the 3 rounds on the free day on Monday.

My Saturday game will be live here: http://www.4ncl.co.uk/live/main.htm

Hope I continue with the good results after Reykjavik!

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Candidates 2014 – Round 6

An incredible round today. Two decisive games and if yesterday there was nobody on 50%, now 50% of the players are on 50%.

The game of the day was of course Topalov-Kramnik. I have an impression that Kramnik has problems playing Topalov because of the open animosity the latter (and his manager) show toward him (although he denied this in his separate press conference). The game reminded me very much of their last encounter in Wijk aan Zee in 2008 where Topalov implemented Cheparinov’s aggressive and risky sacrificial idea of 12 Nf7 in the Anti-Moscow gambit, winning a good game. The position was objectively good for black, but Kramnik didn’t manage to cope with the problems and lost. Today Topalov didn’t sacrifice anything, but again he implemented a rare idea and again Kramnik didn’t manage to get a grip on the position (he said he missed something in his preparation of this side line). When asked to make a prediction for the tournament Grischuk noted that Kramnik is pretty weak with the black pieces, of course that was tongue-in-cheek, but today we saw what he meant – a deeply analysed side line that poses practical problems is Kramnik’s Achilles’ heel in the opening, especially with black and Topalov took advantage of it. And yet it was surprising to see Kramnik go down so easily, practically without a fight (the same happened in Wijk in 2008). In his press conference Kramnik said that he didn’t really have a chance in this game, as Topalov played the best moves all the time and he didn’t feel he played badly, so he had nothing to reproach himself about. But I think it seems that it all added up – yesterday’s missed chance, the animosity that prevents him from fully concentrating, the practical problems in the position, set out very early on in the game (8 Be5). Topalov clearly enjoyed the moment of his triumph, not-so-subtly rubbing it in in the press conference when he said that 8 Be5 was dubious (insinuating that he beat Kramnik with a dubious idea) and saying that the position was “probably too deep for him (Kramnik).” A perfect comeback for Topalov after yesterday’s confusion and a serious setback for Kramnik who is now back to 50% and a full point behind the leader Anand.

Mamedyarov is another player who came to 50%, bringing his opponent Svidler along. Svidler said that he planned to play the Dutch in this tournament and he decided to do that today. He got a great position after the opening as the game quickly started on an independent path (10 Ba3 was a new move). In Svidler’s own words, the game was decided when he went “braindead” at move 22 and lost the game in 3 moves: first missing 22…Qd7 which would have given him a better game, then blundering 23…Qc8?, when both 23…Qd7 or 23…c6 would have been satisfactory, and then the inexplicable 24…h6?? (which he said he wanted to “unsee”), when the position is difficult, but still he could have put up a stiffer resistance with 24…Ra2. It’s difficult to explain what happened to Svidler, but he seems to be the main man of action in this tournament, taking and giving points practically all by himself.

Anand decided to enter the Berlin endgame against Karjakin for the first time since the game 4 of the match with Carlsen. He tried to improve on the rapid game Karjakin-Grischuk, but Karjakin was careful and never in any real danger. Karjakin continues to do the same, to make dull draws, while Anand seems happy to sit on his lead and preserve his energy. He more or less explained it when he said that you have to wait for your chances and then take them. So far he’s taken his chances and now he’s waiting for new ones.

Aronian played a line which I was one of the first players to play, only with black. I won a nice game against Pantsulaia at the European Team Championship in Crete in 2007 in this sacrificial line in the Reti and I analysed the line both in my preparation for the game and afterwards. My conclusions were that the line was satisfactory for black. It leads, however, to an unconventional position (at the press conference he said he was analysing this a year ago with Arshak Petrosian) where black needs to solve some problems (he said he kept losing to Petrosian in the analysis, but I doubt it). With good preparation that is not so difficult, something I demonstrated against Pantsulaia, but I don’t think Andreikin expected it so it was tricky for him. He did obtain a good position, but the character of the position seems to have been more to the liking of Aronian – it’s easier to play white and there are always some tricks as black’s position is somewhat loose. After the complications (when he could have won in more than one way) he emerged a clear pawn up, but then I was very surprised he exchanged the Fischer Bishop for the Knight and went for a Rook endgame (he said he was frustrated by that point). Admittedly, by then he had allowed the black Rook to an active position behind the pawn and it looked difficult to make progress, but still we know what they say about Rook endgames! As it happened, Andreikin defended well and fully deserved the half point. A disappointment for Aronian, undoubtedly, who was winning in the middlegame (and most probably in the endgame too, for example he could have taken on e4 with the Bishop, something Aronian confirmed in the press conference, and put the Rook on a7, eyeing f7 and then pushed the a-pawn), but this is his first missed chance in the tournament, while he did have some close shaves (against Kramnik and Topalov). He’s still in second place, so nothing is lost for him, while this difficult draw should be motivating for Andreikin who is still in last place.

Tomorrow’s a rest day and the timing is always right for a rest day in a tough tournament like this one.

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Candidates 2014 – Round 5

We had another treat today at the Candidates.  The game of the day was Kramnik-Aronian, but what I found most surprising was the only decisive game of the day.

It’s funny how quickly my prediction from yesterday came true when I said that usually a series of draws ends in a loss and that is exactly what happened to Topalov today. He managed to get his preparation in and he got a great position, but all of a sudden he started to play very badly. It has happened way to many times to me too, and I always found it difficult to explain why. Svidler was his usual dramatic self when he proclaimed he was very lucky, but his luck was more than deserved – he played very well! This game puts him firmly among the favourites of the tournament, not only because of the points he has, but more importantly because of the play he’s showing. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence that Topalov lost an endgame, even though a favourable one – he generally prefers positions with queens on board. A disappointing turn of events for Topalov, whose tomorrow’s game is against Kramnik, but maybe this is a reward for Svidler, who showed courage yesterday and is now back on track only half a point behind the leader Anand. There’s another twist of Fate for you!
Anand didn’t have problems in the opening against Andreikin and even outplayed him on the black side in the fashionable 4 d3 line against the Berlin move order. Again his extensive preparation of these lines for the Carlsen match showed in his superior understanding and smooth play. What was perplexing though, as Sutovsky pointed out on Facebook, is why he didn’t continue the game in the final position. Yes, it should be a draw, but why not try to squeeze something out of it? I can also understand Anand, who probably thought more about preserving his energy in a long event, but still you need every chance in this kind of a tournament. Usually when you don’t take a chance like this, it comes back to you when somebody else takes it against you and you’re forced to suffer in an unpleasant position. It is bound to happen to Anand, sooner or later, as he cannot expect to go through the whole event without a difficult position. And then we will see if he still has what it made him one of the toughest defenders in the history of modern chess.
Karjakin continued to make uneventful draws. He tried, unsuccessfully, to emulate Carlsen and get a position with the most minimal of edges, but that seems to work only for Carlsen. As it was, he did get the most minimal of edges against Mamedyarov’s Sicilian (he even played Carlsen’s favourite 3 Bb5+), only to agree to a draw some 10 moves later. I don’t know if the loss to Kramnik in round 2 disturbed something in his psyche, but I suppose both players were happy with the draw today.
Kramnik introduced another one of his new concepts, this time in the Queen’s Indian structures when white plays 4 e3, even though the game started as a Queen’s Gambit. Those structures were considered harmless for black, but Aronian allowed white to play 12 Ne5 (he could have prevented it with 11…Bd6 – in this case check out the game Fressinet-Ivanchuk, from the Paris GP last year – Fressinet is well known to have worked with Kramnik before) and then develop dangerous initiative on the kingside. He was winning at some point, but it was never “elementary” (as Kramnik said in the press conference) and Aronian was resilient as always. Kramnik wasn’t too disappointed after the game as he said that it’s the quality of the game that matters to him most and this game was certainly of a very high quality (from human perspective!) as it can be expected of these two players. Tomorrow’s games could be defining for them: Aronian is white against tail ender Andreikin and will surely try to capitalise on that, while Kramnik has black against his old nemesis Topalov, who will need no further motivation, especially after today’s bad loss. I just wonder whether there will be a handshake…
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Candidates 2014 – Round 4

It’s been pretty hectic since I returned from Iceland, I cannot seem to find the time to enjoy the games properly as they deserve.

Today’s games were again very interesting. The least interesting, however, from a point of view of independent play, was the duel of the former World Champions. In a Vienna, it was all preparation, from beginning to end. The only difference was that Kramnik refreshed his memory before the game so he was more confident, while Anand had to dig into his memory a bit more in order to remember how the line went. But it was an important theoretical game, one of the many the pair has had in the past. Their press conference was much more interesting, especially when they got to the philosophical themes. I particularly liked Kramnik’s comment of not needing to understand chess too much! Understanding it a little bit better than the opponent is all you need, according to the Russian and he knows what he’s talking about. I can actually relate to that, because once you get in too deep (in any area, for that matter, not only chess) you start to become too philosophical, you start to think about the meaning of it all and that takes away the competitiveness, the sharpness and the aggression, all of which are needed for a successful outcome of the game.

Karjakin probably surprised Topalov with 1 c4, but that was all he achieved. Topalov has a lot of experience in the Reversed Dragon in the English so he didn’t have too many problems throughout the game. A solid draw, but that means different things for the players. Karjakin so far continues in line with my prediction that he will be solid and not push too hard, while Topalov might get nervous if he doesn’t win a game soon. He still hasn’t had a chance to win a game and usually a long drawing series ends with a loss. Tomorrow he’s black against the disappointed Svidler, so anything is possible…

Aronian beat Svidler and they changed places in the standings. Svidler was principled and went for the Grunfeld (compare this decision with the one from London when he surprised Aronian with a rare line in the QGA and drew without problems), but I warned about this in my Preview – the Grunfeld is a risky opening, no matter how well prepared you are. Here again we saw a very deep preparation from both players (just remember that “These People Cannot Be Trusted” when Aronian says he didn’t know the line) – it was preparation at least until move 27 (and almost certainly much deeper), the first critical moment when Svidler had a big thing whether to draw (by taking on d4 – I’m sure he knew this was a draw even before the game) or continue the game, which he did. This decision speaks volumes of Svidler’s psychological disposition: he showed great courage and self-confidence by continuing the game in a position which is easier to play for white against one of the favourites of the tournament, against whom a draw with black is a great result. Eventually he regretted this decision and Aronian won a good game, but this courage shows that Svidler has matured. But on the other hand, he repeated the same scenario from London when he was completely winning against Gelfand in round 5 (a win would have brought him to +2, just like the win against Kramnik would have two days ago) and after the disappointment with the draw in that game he lost to Carlsen the next day – this time he lost to Aronian (is Svidler losing to the eventual winners?). Svidler showed character, but Fate has her own ways and maybe this showing of characted was in fact a good omen for Aronian, who won a point from a brave Svidler while he may have only achieved a draw had Svidler been the old one. Such twists of Fate usually favour the chosen ones. Whether Aronian is the chosen one in this tournament we will see, but this game, for me at least, makes Aronian the main favourite to win the tournament (even though he’s still half a point behind Anand at this point). Until the next twist of Fate, of course.

Mamedyarov and Andreikin also switched places in the standings after the former’s victory. It was a topsy-turvy game, showing that both players aren’t in very good form. I found it interesting watching Mamedyarov in the press conference when he showed a line where he thought he couldn’t take the pawn on f6 with his queen from f3 because he thought he was losing the queen after Bg7, only to realise that he could go back to f3! The horror on his face made it obvious that in that moment he realised that this was not the usual way he calculates variations and that if it continues like this it will soon get much worse. Andreikin was more collected, but he too was disappointed as he was also trying to win. Neither of the players was happy with the quality of their moves, the only difference being that Mamedyarov got the point. I am curious to see how they try to get over these lapses in their thinking (a situation way too familiar from personal experience! I’ve always found it almost impossible to improve the quality of my brain work during a tournament).

Tomorrow’s big game is Kramnik-Aronian. Let’s see what they come up with this time!

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Candidates 2014 – Rounds 2&3

Since I flew over Round 2 (I was in a plane somewhere between London and Skopje while they played) and slept through Round 3 (after barely sleeping for two nights in a row, I had a really refreshing 17-hour sleep) I didn’t have much time to analyse the games deeply, but I did get certain impressions that I will write about here.

Anand is leading after 3 rounds, with two very nice wins. Honestly, I am not surprised by this, because, like I said in my Round 1 analysis, his preparation and training for the Carlsen match, which didn’t work against Carlsen, is working against the other players. In Round 2 against Topalov he got his preparation in and I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole game was preparation for him. In Round 3 he didn’t have any problems in the opening and took advantage of Mamedyarov’s over-ambitious play with precise play on his part.

Kramnik’s saved draw with Svidler is no less important for him than the win against Karjakin. He introduced a conceptual novelty (and a new direction in the whole line – something I said I was looking forward to in my Preview) against Karjakin’s QGA already on move 9 and went on to win a good game. In the press conference he even said he tried to play unpleasant moves, which shows that he tries to learn from Carlsen! He was lost against Svidler in Round 3, but he kept on fighting and took his chance when it was presented to him. Making difficult draws is usually a good sign for a successful tournament!

Svidler was undoubtedly surprised by Andreikin’s choice of the Labourdonnais Sicilian in Round 2 and didn’t achieve much in the opening, but his subsequent play was very powerful. He simply made moves of higher quality than his opponent and won the game because of that. This is a very encouraging sign for him, but he must be disappointed by his draw against Kramnik as he outplayed him and was winning. Luckily, he has a day off to recover from that disappointment.

Aronian recovered quickly after his loss in Round 2, but this was thanks to a horrible blunder on Mamedyarov’s part. He played a wild game against Topalov in Round 3, but some of his decisions weren’t up to his usual standards (19…Re8?!). However, when it came to calculation and saving his skin, he was his usual self and defended accurately. He still needs to produce a game of quality on par with his level.

Topalov is the king of draws so far. In Round 2 against Anand he didn’t really have a chance for anything more because of Anand’s superb preparation, while in Round 3 he got a nice attacking position against Aronian, but couldn’t break through because of the latter’s precise defence. He may be in good shape (I attribute his shaky play in Round 1 to the initial nervousness), but he also needs to win a game or two soon if he wants to fight for victory in the tournament.

Karjakin lost the only game he actually played, against Kramnik, even though in his own words he “played well.” In Round 3 both he and Andreikin wanted to make a draw after their losses in the previous rounds. It is yet to be seen in what form he is in.

The same more or less applies to Andreikin. He was outplayed by Svidler in Round 2, after surprising him in the opening and achieving a comfortable position. I’d say that game showed a difference in class. So, pragmatic as he is, he made a draw in the next round and has a day off to think things through.

Mamedyarov is in grave danger of being labeled the outsider in this tournament, repeating the role of his compatriot Radjabov from last year. Even he seems confused by his atrocious play (repeating Radjabov’s explanation in the press conference that possibly it’s his lack of practice the reason for his blunders). Practically a one-move blunder against Aronian in Round 2 and a typically open-tournament style of play against Anand show that he really must pull himself together. The free day comes just in time for him.

After 3 rounds 3 players have shown that they are in good form, Anand, Kramnik and Svidler, Topalov and Aronian still seem to need time to get into the tournament while the others will have to show their character and will to overcome the first setbacks.

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