Candidates 2014 – First Impressions (Round 1)

I barely slept in the last 24h and had a very early start this morning at 4am when I was picked up at my Icelandair Marina Hotel in Reykjavik for a transfer to the Keflavik airport. I then boarded a WOW Airlines flight to London which took 3 hours.

So when I arrived in London, the games of the first round of the Candidates had already finished. Honestly speaking, thinking of chess when seriously lacking sleep sends the brain in a completely different dimension. Let’s see what my brain came up with when I looked at the games and the statements of the players.

Andreikin-Kramnik was the first game to finish. The moves of this game weren’t particularly interesting, as they were following the Mamedyarov-Kramnik game from the last Tal Memorial for a long time and the line is practically a forced draw. Andreikin deviated just to draw in 32 moves instead of Mamedyarov’s 26. What I found interesting were the statements of the players after the game: Andreikin said that he expected “almost anything” against his 1 d4 (really? Kramnik is known for his consistency, especially with black, and even though he could have prepared “almost anything” during the 3 months or preparation, the Nimzo is one of the things that he’s been playing since the 90s). Then he said that he had a “special philosophy when preparing for Kramnik” but he didn’t want to go into details, to which Kramnik responded that he already knew what this “special philosophy” meant, but he also didn’t want to elaborate. But for the careful observer this is pretty obvious – Andreikin goes for drawing lines against Kramnik, and if the latter forgets his theory (like in the drawing line in the Berlin from the Russian Championship last year) then he gets an advantage. The same was applicable today, but I don’t think he expected he would get something – he said he had a “safe line” prepared for the Nimzo and that’s what happened. As it transpired, neither of them minded starting the event with a quiet draw, something Kramnik confirmed in the press conference.

Karjakin-Svidler showed that both players suffered from the usual nerves in Round 1. Svidler went for the Taimanov Sicilian, unusual for him, as he primarily opts for the Kan or the Najdorf. He did play the Taimanov against Caruana last year at the European Club Cup, but to say that it was the “very likely” choice (like Karjakin said) it’s just a plain lie. This just goes against the following statement of Karjakin when he said that he couldn’t remember his analysis after 9…Ng4 – if it was that likely, how come he couldn’t remember the first move after the branch he chose (9 f4)? So we are led to believe that Karjakin expected the Taimanov, so he was prepared, went for the English Attack, 6 Be2 a6 7 Qd2 Nf6, then chose 8 f4 (instead of 8 0-0-0) and after 8…b5 9 e5 Ng4, he couldn’t remember his analysis??? Oh please… Svidler’s statement that he “forgot to repeat” the lines after 9 f4 also shouldn’t be taken seriously as Svidler is famous for this kind of misleading comments. The game itself was interesting, but I have the impression both players were just looking for the first opportunity to start repeating moves – the tension was starting to tell.

To sum up statements of the Russian players, I’ll quote one political slogan that can be seen on the streets of Skopje: “These people cannot be trusted!”

Mamedyarov-Topalov was another case of nerves, but it’s interesting to observe how these fighting players, who don’t (or can’t) go for drawing lines resolved this issue. Mamedyarov went for the innocuous 4 Nbd2 in the Slav, something he played in one game at the European Team Championship last year (against Erdos) and in 4 rapid and blitz games at the Sportaccord rapid/blitz event, also last year. Topalov introduced a novelty as early as move 6 and equalised comfortably. And here the nerves started to show, these fighting players with dynamic styles started to allow innacuracies which are not typical of them. Topalov’s 19…a5 was a miscalculation (in his own words) and then Mamedyarov started missing his opponent’s moves. Eventually it all ended in a perpetual check, but the notable difference between the other two drawn games is that when uncompromising players (or, perhaps, characters) play, they almost never draw timidly or search for the first opportunity to repeat moves and their nervousness is shown not in the premature end of the game, but in the oversights that happen in their calculations.

The only player who seemed not to suffer from nerves was Anand. In spite of Aronian’s novelty in the Anti-Marshall on move 11, he continued to play sound chess and it was the latter that showed signs of nerves. This doesn’t bode well for the Armenian, as many (myself included) have pointed out that it is his nerves that prevent him from winning tournaments of this type, where the stakes are high. He even said it in the press conference, that his calculations “weren’t serious.” He even got into time-trouble, something that doesn’t happen with him. Maybe it’s understandable that Anand was so carefree, the burden of the world title is off his shoulders so he can just play chess and enjoy it. And he played a great technical game, probably the training he did for the Carlsen match finally starts to show (he did say that he trained with the idea of matching Carlsen in his endgame and technical skills). This win undoubtedly gives him confidence while it dents Aronian’s. It will be interesting to see how both adapt in their new situations.

Tomorrow is Round 2 and I will be up in the air flying from London to Skopje when they start at 10am EST. Another sleepless night awaits me…

Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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