Candidates 2016 – Rounds 1-3

As it happened, the start of the Candidates coincided with my trip to France, where I played for my French club Grasse Echecs. We played in Cannes, a place I haven’t visited since 2003, when I played in the winter open. But the wild times I had in Cannes were in 2000 and 1996, during the summer opens. This time I had some time after the Sunday game to take a walk down la Croisette and it did bring back the great memories of those years!

My team won both matches, I won both my games. Here’s the mating finish of the second game against the Vietnamese WIM:

Before going on to the Candidates, I wanted to show the impressive defensive plan Hou Yifan demonstrated in the 8th game of the match against Muzychuk:

OK, so back to the Candidates now. Three decisive games in the first 3 rounds and 2 of them see Topalov on the losing side. He started with two blacks and lost one and then he proceeded to lose his first white.

The tone was set in the first round when in an excellent position with great winning chances Topalov went astray in an uncommon fashion:

A huge blow for Topalov and a huge boost for Anand. I am glad that Anand got to a good start, this should give him confidence and stability. He is leading the tournament after 3 rounds and hasn’t been in trouble yet.

Topalov went on to draw efortlessly in his second black against Svidler, practically burying a line in the Berlin with 5 Re1, but things went wrong for him again in his first white of the tournament. It’s quite obvious he messed things up in the opening.

As I predicted in the Preview, Topalov’s repeat of Khanty 2014 when he finished last was a probable eventuality. The core problem, as in Khanty, is again his bad form – it’s impossible for an on-form Topalov to miss those opportunities in the game with Anand. And when in good form you don’t tend to forget your preparation.

A black win is a rare pleasure in such events so this win is a great result for Aronian. It’s still early to say, but the dark horse (as I named him in the Preview) is slowly getting ahead.

The third leader is Karjakin. He wasn’t prepared against Svidler’s Slav, took advantage of Nakamura’s blunder and saved an unpleasant position against Giri. He can be happy.

Caruana and Giri are making draws, without clear-cut chances for more so far while I cannot really say if Nakamura is in bad form or not. His blunder against Karjakin is quite uncharacteristic and against Svidler in Round 3 he spoilt a promising position, but then showed his usual grit and saved a difficult endgame.

While the tournament just started and three rounds are the early stages, it seems that Topalov is on course for a repeat of Khanty, while all the others are still in the running. Nakamura is the biggest unknown of them, but having in mind his fighting spirit, he should be able to bounce back.

Tomorrow is a free day, but the 9th game of the Women World Championship match is on, one that perhaps will end the match as Hou Yifan only needs a draw to win the title. As things have gone so far, that is very probable.

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