Monthly Archives: Feb 2016

The Zurich Experiment

Writing about Zurich and chess I would usually fall into a dithyramb, praising Bronstein, his book and the great history that connects them. This year, however, the word “experiment” in the title was the most neutral I could think of.

The quirks of private sponsors are well known. And they have every right to be as whimsical as they want to – they pay and the players, if they agree to the conditions, play. The introduction of the “new classic” or “neo-classic” time control of 40 minutes plus 10 seconds to finish the game, followed by a second game with the same time control was imagined to bring more excitement without damage to the quality. I’ll come to the question of quality later, for now let me finish explaining the format of the tournament. It’s a double round robin, first the players play each other with 40’+10” and then they play blitz (I couldn’t find information on the time control for the blitz on the official site. And probably no mention of the quality of the games) with colours reversed. A win in the “neo-classical” part is worth 2 points (a draw 1, a loss is a zero) and in the blitz a win is 1 point (a draw is 0.5 and a loss is a zero). The winner of the tournament is the player with the most points combined. Phew, that was tricky!

It is common, though regrettable, for people who have reached the top in one sphere to think they know best in every other sphere – Kasparov and Botvinnik easily come to mind. The Zurich millionaire sponsor, Oleg Skvortsov, also seems to fall into that category, claiming to know how to make chess more interesting and dynamic and everything else. So he uses his resources to test his ideas (lucky him!). He even suggested FIDE to allow him to rate the games of the tournament, but for once we can be thankful for FIDE’s quick reaction (they never replied).

The players are professionals, they make living out of playing chess, so they have to play. Why should they care if they are used as mice in an experiment of an eccentric millionaire when they are being paid somewhere around 50 000 EUR to participate? And they can bring their families and chill in Zurich for 3 days. I’m afraid no new Fischer is going to appear, who will place principle before money.

Yes, I said I’d look at the quality. Can you imagine a player of Aronian’s level to play a game like this if he had enough time?

Cute, isn’t it? Where else can you see Aronian mated in 19 moves if not in Zurich? But wait, I said I was going to write about the quality. Let’s take a look at another example.

Giri making a one-move blunder. Perhaps his mistake was before the tournament, when he didn’t bring his family, like Anand, Kramnik, Nakamura and Aronian did?

Yes, quality. Somewhat short-sighted to expect it when some of the games started to be 5’+10” blitz games very early on, as the players need time to think.

That is chess, it requires thinking. The vast majority of people are attracted to it because of the intellectual stimulation it offers. And intellectual stimulation requires time. You simply cannot make it entertaining for the masses just by reducing the time allowed to think. There is blitz for that (or even rapid), inventing “neo-classicism” is just ego-tripping.

When people are saying the Berlin is boring they are shooting chess in the foot. I am surprised that even high-profile players like Nigel Short cannot see that. If we want to promote the game, we cannot say bad things about it. The Berlin is not boring, you only need a proper expert (Svidler) to explain it thoroughly. There is a lot of psychology behind the player’s choices of openings and moves, keep posting questions to Svidler when he’s online to explain those. We can make it so interesting and fun to watch, we don’t need “neo-classicism” or similar rubbish.

A final note on Anand. They say you sink (or rise) to the level of your surrounding. He sank to the level of a regular 2400-2500 open player when he played an open tournament. He rose to the level of a 2800-rated player when he arrived to a super-tournament in a 5-star hotel in Zurich. Kasparov’s wisdom comes to mind again: “Kasparov told me many years ago not to play tournaments with amateur conditions because then you will play amateur chess.” – Magnus Carlsen.


Wijk aan Zee 2016 Ends

In case you bet on Carlsen winning yet another Wijk aan Zee you would have won. Comfortably I might add.

The game Carlsen-Hou Yifan showed the difference between the World Champion and everybody else. Let’s compare this game with the game Caruana-Hou Yifan: the same opening, the Petroff, the same failure for white to create problems, as a result of Hou Yifan’s good play. And then we see the difference – whereas against Caruana Hou Yifan stood firm until the end (even having a chance to win at one point!) and drew without problems, she blundered horribly against Carlsen and lost. Why would she hold against grandmaster Caruana and lose against grandmaster Carlsen? There must be some special aura in that extra title Carlsen holds. Here’s that blunder:

I wouldn’t expect Hou Yifan to miscalculate a pawn endgame against anybody else in the world, after the time control with enough time on the clock. Some may call it luck, but I’d rather say it’s a combination of factors, all in favour of the World Champion – the aura of the title, the energy he possesses, the determination to play until the end, the willingness to look for chances even in the driest of positions, the pressure he exerts throughout the game. All these things net him so many extra points and this was just the latest example.

Caruana’s wobbliness continued, spoiling a very favourable position against Mamedyarov in Round 11 and blundering in the opening against Tomashevsky and losing in the last round (demolishing van Wely in between those two is hardly worth the mention). In spite of all this he finished shared second, which should both be promising and worrying for the upcoming Candidates – promising since there’s so much potential left, and worrying since missing so many chances will not go unpunished in Moscow.

The Chinese can be happy. I would be if I were a Chinese. Ding Liren finished shared second, Wei Yi’s debut in the elite crowd was a solid 50% (incomparably better than Carlsen’s first Wijk in 2007 with a winless -4) and Hou Yifan should have scored many more, although I suspect she will see this tournament as a good preparation for her match against Muzychuk in March.

Speaking of preparation, Giri had a great one in Wijk. I don’t mean opening preparation, but preparation to defend for a long time and in hopeless positions. He will need that in Moscow. It’s a miracle how he remained undefeated after losing to So in Round 1, he had so many lost positions… but the guy is tough, his looks are very much deceiving!

Don’t be fooled! (source:internet)

From the 3 players who will play the Candidates, Giri and Caruana can take positives, while Karjakin should be worried. He was lukewarm, disinterested and not even worth mentioning. History has shown that the player who gets to challenge the World Champion is the player with best tournament record in the period before the match. It’s impossible to surpass Carlsen when it comes to tournament record, but Caruana, Giri (for his toughness) and Nakamura (winning various tournaments in the last year) are certainly favourites in my eyes.

Back to Wijk, it was good to see “The Professor” win in the last round. He probably ceased to enjoy the tournament long ago and was probably sick and tired of it and wanted to go home as soon as possible. And it is exactly at that moment, when he didn’t really care anymore, that he won a game, against none other than Caruana, who was still hoping to catch Carlsen. In my previous post I wrote that enjoying a tournament is a surefire way to failure. And Tomashevsky’s tournament was definitely a failure, his last round win only serving to sweeten things a little bit. I am sure he won’t be enjoying his tournaments so much in the future. It’s curious that the game was decided very quickly even though it lasted for many moves:

The 2016 edition of Wijk aan Zee showed what we already knew. Carlsen is a class of his own and when he doesn’t do damage to himself nobody can threaten him. He probably came to the same conclusion as he was his usual, calm and patient self. He knew when to risk (van Wely) and when to draw (So, Giri). Balance is the key to success and it appears that he found it again.

As I write this the big news is Anand’s horror story in Gibraltar, losing to players rated around 2500. A little more than a month until the Candidates and things are not looking good for the oldest participant. Will he recover? I’d bet on “no.”