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.

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