Sunday, 22 September 2013

How Good is Your Chessfriend?

Have you come across the phrase 'chess friend'? Sometimes squidged together as one word to become 'chessfriend'? It is usually seen in the opening line of an email from a desperate chess club official or organiser who is trying to screw some money out of you or get you interested in playing in his grotty little tournament in some sullen hall somewhere (why is it that chess tournament venues so often remind me of Wilfred Owen's poem Strange Meeting?). Or some equally desperate magazine editor hoping you'll buy his wares. Yes, I admit, I've used the term myself.

The question is: does the coined word 'chessfriend' ring true? Can chessplayers ever really be friends with each other? OK - I realise I am laying it on a bit thick with the cynicism here - yes, of course they can. I have many chess friends... I think. But do you ever really forgive your best chess mates for those heart-breaking defeats they inflicted on you decades ago? Or, indeed, are the words of congratulation you offer them when they achieve some huge chess success and you finish on 3/9 really sincere? Be honest: somewhere deep down, underneath the grafted-on civility and rictus smile of the sporting loser, are you absolutely sure there are no vestiges of the appalling brat who used to hurl pieces and/or abuse across the room when he lost? Of course, the vast majority of us grow out of such behaviour when we start playing in public but I am so glad they didn't have camcorders and YouTube when I was a kid.

THE CHESSFRIEND'S REVENGE


However, adulthood brings subtler, wittier ways to get your own back on your 'chessfriends'. Here's how revenge was exacted on me. I was at the prize-giving for the 1982 Berks and Bucks Congress (for those unfamiliar with English geography, that's the counties of Berkshire and Buckinghamshire - we provincials always abbreviate the name of our native county). I was feeling pretty pleased with myself (the adjective 'smug' would not be inappropriate), having finished a close third behind a couple of IMs in the main event. I was getting ready to step up to receive my cheque (a princely £50) from the guest of honour - who, coincidentally, was one of the two IMs who finished ahead of me, namely William Hartston.

Naturally I wanted this massive sporting achievement to be recorded for posterity and had brought my camera. When my time came to go up onto the stage to receive the cheque and acknowledge the rapturous applause of the audience, I handed the camera to my best chessfriend to take my picture. Poor chap, he had finished nowhere in the tournament, but he seemed more than happy to help out with the photography and doubtless added some kind words of congratulation on my success, being the good and true chessfriend that he is. By the same token, I've no doubt I passed on my sincerest, heartfelt commiserations to him, wishing him 'better luck next time, old man'.

TAKING THE MICKEY


A week or so later I collected the photos from Boots. At first sight they seemed perfectly fine. It was only later when I showed them to the same chessfriend - and he collapsed laughing - that I realise I'd had the Mickey Adams well and truly taken out of me. Ten out of ten to him for his ingenuity and ability to frame a photo. In the immortal words of Michael Bates as Ranji Ram in the old British sitcom It Ain't Half Hot, Mum, "it is serving me right for being clever dickie."

Here's the photo (only native speakers of British English, and possibly Aussies and Kiwis, are likely to get the joke)...

John Saunders (left) receiving a prize from William Hartston at the 1982 Berks and Bucks Chess Congress. But the photograph doesn't really need a second caption, does it?

Monday, 26 August 2013

BritBase is Back!

Yes, BritBase is back. The national chess game database which I started in 1997, that is (just in case you had never heard of it).

www.britbase.co.uk is the address.

BritBase Home Page - Still crazily keying games after all these years...

Actually, it's never been away - it just sat there, gathering dust for a year or two, as I busied myself editing chess magazines. But now I'm retired (apart from some freelance writing, tournament report-writing, translating, etc), I'm hoping to have a bit more time to devote to what was one of my first chess projects as an amateur chess worker before I went professional.

In the meantime chess and the dissemination of chess info has continued to develop at an amazing rate online, and I am no longer sure that there is much need for BritBase to keep up with contemporary British tournaments anyway. The game scores from current tournaments find their way to consumers, usually in a prompt and orderly fashion, via a multiplicity of web sources. So I'm really focusing my attention on past tournaments which have been yet to find their way from obscure bulletins and other sources onto digital media. That said, I'm happy to take delivery of files of tournament games played in the here and now, particularly if the sender feels that it is a good way to 'get them out there'.

If you have files you want to share, or want to get in touch to discuss any aspect of this, you can comment here on my blog. (Or send an email to 'john' at the URL address you see further up the page.)

To keep track of BritBase progress (or lack of it), click on the What's New page here.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

What Did We Miss? (Solution)


Saunders - Staples
London League 1979


White to play

Here's the answer to my poser from yesterday. You'll recall that the game went 22 Ng3 Bg6, and I asked you what both players had missed.

A couple of people on Twitter suggested 22...Nxh3+ after the move played (22 Ng3) and it's a very logical try. However, this is an example of pattern recognition leading us astray. I can't recall what I was thinking about when I played 22 Ng3 but I expect I also looked at 22...Nxh3+ and decided my move was worth the risk as there is no immediate mate on the horizon. After 23 gxh3 Qxh3 24 Nxh5 Qxh5 25 Bd1! it is not at all obvious how Black prosecutes his attack.

But instead of 22...Nxh3+, Black has the surprising 22...Bf3!! which turns out to be unanswerable. White cannot take with the queen because of 23...Nxh3+ discovering an attack on the queen, while capturing with the pawn loses to 23...Qxh3 and once again White has to surrender his queen to stop mate.

Those are the main tactics but what can White do if he can't capture? The g2 pawn will fall next move and with it all remaining hope of defending the kingside. White's position collapses like a house of cards.

In retrospect I can only wish that my opponent had played it so that I could have resigned immediately and accompanied him across the road to the Old King Lud pub across the road from the (then) London League venue at St Brides' Institute in order to enjoy extra drinking time for our post-mortem session (I'm sure we ended up there anyway but pubs closed at ludicrously early hours in those days).

Bf3, to win the g2 pawn, is quite an unusual motif, and what made it harder to see was the distraction of a more familiar idea which needed analysing. I'll have some more examples from my old scorebooks very soon.

Friday, 24 May 2013

What Did We Miss?

Saunders - Staples
London League 1979


White to play

I was browsing some of my old games recently and came upon this one. I was White, with a positionally poor game. I decided I needed to do something about my vulnerable kingside and played 22 Ng3, to which my opponent replied 22...Bg6 to preserve his useful bishop.

Before long I got into time trouble, blundered my d-pawn and eventually lost. But what had both players missed in this sequence? Answer tomorrow.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Nice Finish from Gawain Jones in the Bundesliga

The German Chess Bundesliga (not to be confused with the football league of the same name) provides a feast of chess entertainment, thanks to the rather splendid software interface they use to broadcast the games (which is now used for other major events, notable the FIDE Candidates' Tournament and the Tradewise Gibraltar Masters). And, of course, it is notable for the excellence of the players who take part in it. Former world champion Anatoly Karpov was there today, drawing comfortably with recent championship candidate Peter Svidler.

Here's the link to today's live action: http://bundesliga.liveschach.net/

Most of England's active GMs play in this event and a game played in today's 15th round by GM Gawain Jones featured a very nice finish. I was a bit sorry to see that German GM Sebastian Siebrecht was the victim as he is a very nice guy whom I always look forward to meeting on the chess circuit but we all have to take our turn at being on the wrong side of a brilliancy.


Gawain Jones (left) and Sebastian Siebrecht




Wednesday, 3 April 2013

2013 Candidates: Some Stats...

One thing not featured on my blog yet is a full crosstable of results. Here is the table from the official site (which I thought was excellent, by the way)...

Carlsen qualified on number of wins - 5 to Kramnik's 4

Crosstables often tell a misleading story, of course. When we look back at the above crosstable in the future and see half a point separating the first four players, we may forget that there was a 1½ points gap between the first two names and the next two before the final round, and that Peter Svidler was never really in the running for first but had a late rally.

Now let's have a look at crosstables of the two separate cycles of the event...



Two very different tables! The main difference between them is that the players would have been very much more tired when they played the second cycle. Or you would have thought so - and yet it was the relative youngsters Aronian and Carlsen who did best in the first cycle, with the older players doing very much better in the second cycle. Perhaps the tension and pressure was more important than physical fitness, and the old guys proved to be made of sterner stuff?

Kramnik's resurgence in the second half was the most noticeable, of course, but Svidler and Gelfand did pretty well too. I suppose you could argue that Carlsen wouldn't have gone out on a limb in his final game had the tournament situation not demanded it, so he might have finished joint second with Svidler and Gelfand in the second half; but Kramnik would have been unlikely to have lost against Ivanchuk, so he would have made either 5½ or 6 - a remarkable score against such a field.

SOME STATS...


The first cycle featured 8 decisive games out of 28, with Carlsen and Aronian winning 3 each, and Radjabov and Svidler winning 1 each. The second cycle, with the tension growing, was much more bloodthirsty, with 17 decisive games in total, and all of the players bar the fading Radjabov getting at least one win on the scoreboard.

That makes 25 decisive games out of a total of 56 played in London = 44%. A very high proportion for a super-GM event: let's compare it with Linares 2009, which was also an eight-player double-cycle a.p.a. and featured five of the same players as played at London 2013 - it saw just 15 decisive games.

R.I.P. Match-Based Candidates Format: Dead and Buried...


Of course, the principal prize in London - a prestigious (and hopefully highly lucrative) match for the world title - provided the extra motivation. But such motivation has not always lead to more decisive games in Candidates' competitions. We only have to cast our minds back two years to the Candidates' matches played in Kazan in 2011, which produced a miserly three decisive classical games out of 30 played! That was probably the death knell for a match-based Candidates qualifier, certainly for the foreseeable future, and the 25 decisive games played in the tournament-based London Candidates will have driven the last nail into the coffin.

... But Bring Back the Interzonal!


So I guess that is it for the foreseeable future - a Candidates' tournament followed by a match for the world title. I'm happy with that. Gradually, inexorably, the tried and trusted ways of organising a world championship have come back into fashion, and the madhouse of Ilyumzhinov knock-out tournaments consigned to the dustbin of history where it belongs.

You have to go back to Curaçao 1962 to find a precedent for a proper Candidates' tournament like the one we have just witnessed in London. Candidates' matches, as played from 1965 onwards, weren't a bad innovation in the days when FIDE was capable of running them properly, getting sponsorship and setting a respectable duration for them, but they eventually fell into disrepute and became unworkable.

With that in mind, perhaps it is time to think about euthanasia for the FIDE Grand Prix and World Cup system. These events have also proved to be unworkable (as well as eminently forgettable), with the federation's resources and limited competence being stretched to the limit trying to organise a motley collection of events all over the world (though by default they usually end up in Kirsan's backyard - Khanty-Mansiysk, Elista, etc).

We still have Zonal qualifiers, as of old - so why not have one big interzonal of 24 players, as in the good old days. I suppose the objection to that will be that FIDE can't use it as a cash cow, with weak players from obscure corners of the globe having their chance to get smashed by super-GMs in round one of another Siberian extravaganza. Well, I guess a couple of them could be squeezed in alongside the genuine contenders in a 24-player event.

It would have the advantage that just one big tournament would need to be funded and organised - but it would have much greater prestige and prominence than the existing system. It could be a cracker of a sporting event, just like London 2013, and provide a chance for a player to make a name for himself, like the guy who won the last of the 24-player interzonals in 1970: Bobby Fischer. Preceding him, Larsen, Smyslov, Spassky, Tal, Kotov... (Bronstein, Tal and Fischer won two of these mega-events). Surely an aspirant super-GM would give his eye teeth just to get on an honours board with those guys. Do it, FIDE!


Tuesday, 2 April 2013

2013 Candidates, Round 14

One of the greatest chess tournaments ever staged ended on 1 April - and I am missing it already. This is my last blog specifically addressing a round of the tournament but I will be returning to the subject of the FIDE Candidates' Tournament, London 2013, for a further few more observations yet, partly because there is more to be said, but partly because I can't bear to let it recede into history. It was with a heavy heart that I walked out of the venue for the last time, wishing that it had been a four-cycle tournament like the Candidates of old (though, if it had been 28 rounds, I expect that the players would have been going home in ambulances at the end).

Anyway, let's stick to the events of the last round for now. It couldn't have been set up better, with Magnus and Vlad tied on 8½ points, and Vlad needing to better Magnus's score on the final day to qualify for a rematch with Anand, while for Magnus it was enough to equal Vlad's last round performance to qualify.

Vlad had the additional handicap of the black pieces, while Magnus had white. Magnus's opponent was Peter Svidler, whom he had already defeated with Black, but definitely not a soft touch as Peter's form seemed to get better as the tournament reached its conclusion. Vlad, meanwhile, had to play the joker in the tournament's pack - Vassily 'Chucky' Ivanchuk - whose form had swung wildly between technical excellence and clownish clock-handling incompetence. One of the tournament's established clichés had become 'which side of the bed would Vassily get out?'. The Chucky factor made it impossible to guess what would happen next so most pundits were wise not even to try. It was too close to call.

Magnus Carlsen: lost the battle, won the war


THE LAST ROUND


The last round conformed to the movie-script-like progression we had come to expect. Normally super-GMs pride themselves on their single-mindedness but it became inevitable that Magnus and Vlad would keep a close eye on each other's games. Vlad did this mainly via the big demo screen at the back of the stage, as per normal (scores of photos of the players show them doing this throughout the event), but Magnus regularly got up from his seat and watched the Ivanchuk-Kramnik game in person (there were reports of eyeball-to-eyeball looks between the two contenders during these moments); probably Magnus wanted to take in Chucky's body language which is sometimes a key to what to expect in his games (though it is doubtful whether it is any more reliable an indicator than trying to guess his moves).

FINAL SCORES: 1-2 Carlsen, Kramnik 8½/14, 3-4 Svidler, Aronian 8, 5-6 Gelfand, Grischuk 6½, 7 Ivanchuk 6, 8 Radjabov 4.


Link to the official last round report and press conference videos

CARLSEN - SVIDLER


Carlsen v Svidler: the Norwegian looks weary as he starts the game


If Magnus could win his game, of course, he wouldn't have to bother looking over his shoulder. That must have been his main focus in his game with Svidler. But, as in round 12 against Ivanchuk, he overdid it at a crucial stage.

The opening was a restrained Lopez, with Magnus expected to keep it ticking over until the time control, when he would presumably do the the usual Torquemada endgame stuff. But not a bit of it: he went in for a dubious middlegame escapade with his two knights and a bishop in an attempt to beat up Svidler's king. It smacked of naïvety and impatience - quite the opposite of the traits which Carlsen is famous for. Svidler, in good form and feeling secure (having made sure of at least a 50% score the day before), was able to exploit these unaccustomed chinks in his opponent's armour all too easily. His 26...Bf3! must have come as a hammer blow to the Norwegian chances, and then 31...Nf4 more or less put pay to Carlsen's hopes of saving even a half point.

More unusual still was Carlsen's time pressure. This was the tangible effect of his spending time watching the other game, and wanting to see what happened there before committing himself on his own board. What he would have seen there was Ivanchuk gradually getting a good game, but also running down his clock in alarming fashion, as usual. Ironically, though, Carlsen's own time became even more critical and he had only seconds left for his final half dozen moves, at one point knocking pieces over in his panic. Truly, Magnus showed his human side in this game, as well as his naked ambition to reach a world championship match (something he has often played down in interviews).

A relatively relaxed, tension-free Peter Svidler nearly ended the Carlsen dream


This game ended in the fifth hour of play when Carlsen couldn't reasonably play on any longer. But as he left the board for the press conference he would have glanced at the Ivanchuk-Kramnik position and seen that the Ukrainian was close to booking Carlsen's ticket for the Anand match. Magnus must have known then he was going to be a contender - though he had had to rely on the kindness of strangers...

"Am I gonna be a contender?" thinks Magnus as he emerges from losing his game to Peter Svidler (visible left - that's Carlsen's manager Espen Agdestein on the right) when he was still 'relying on the kindness of a stranger' (Ivanchuk) to put him into a world championship match with Anand. The eyes betray a sense of bewilderment, though he was still able to raise a smile at a quip from Peter Svidler a few moments later. This gave way to elation when the news of Kramnik's defeat emerged some minutes later.







IVANCHUK - KRAMNIK



Two expressions of Vlad at the 13th round press conference


Bad news for Vlad: Chucky might only have been preparing for the Russian League but he took the last round very seriously - and avoided losing on time.

Vlad was in more or less the same quandary as Magnus when he sat down to play his last game. He decided to change his opening to reflect the circumstances - do or die - and played the Pirc Defence (in this instance 1 d4 d6). Not exactly a Cinderella opening, but definitely something more provocative and risky, which would ensure that Chucky would come out and fight. He had no way of knowing that Magnus was going to blow his last game, otherwise he could have relied on his usual solid black repertoire. As the man himself put it simply: "I had to play for a win because I didn't think Magnus was going to lose." Of course, by the same token, had Magnus seen the usual Kramnik repertoire deployed, he might have been much less inclined to play his risky middlegame knights escapade. So the Pirc was played as much to provoke Magnus as it was Chucky. To that extent it worked pretty well. But, as in the old joke, "the operation was successful but the patient died."



A resigned, reflective Kramnik at the press conference after the final game.

ARONIAN - RADJABOV


Levon Aronian's tournament was effectively over but he finished with a pleasant mating attack

Teimour Radjabov: good-humoured to the end, but the nightmare is finally over

Levon Aronian and Teimour Radjabov had little to play for in the last round but put on a good show for anyone who was still watching them. Actually, Aronian did have something to play - a share of the third prize with Peter Svidler - but that was not what he had in mind a few rounds earlier. Teimour Radjabov might have hoped to avoid a mind-boggling seventh defeat in total but he did not succeed and found himself cut adrift in last place by two whole points. Both players will have better tournaments and nobody should write off their future world championship chances. They were a credit to the playing hall and the press room.



GELFAND - GRISCHUK


This game featured my personal moment of the day - Boris Gelfand saying 'hello, John' on his way to the board. At heart I'm just a chess fan and being recognised by one of the greats of the game is as good as it gets for me. Boris and Sacha started the day on the same score but decided not to duke it out too violently for the glory of the fifth prize. Actually, if you look at the game closely, you'll find it was quite well contested but of course everyone's attention (including mine) was elsewhere. I do hope we see these two guys in London again soon. You'll have figured out a long time ago that I'm a huge fan of Boris in particular - he can do no wrong for me, either personally (he's a charming man) and as a representative of the legendary Soviet school of chess (which remains the basis of the modern professional game). But I was also very taken with Sacha and his black humour, delivered in that heavy, mournful accent of his.

We had a last helping of that at the press conference, where he bemoaned the fact that whatever he tried, and whatever mistakes he made, it always seemed to lead to a draw. Is he the Jack Dee of chess? If ever there were a chess radio programme called I'm Sorry, I'll Play That Again, he would have to be the compère.

Boris Gelfand: please, please, please, come back to London soon (says John Saunders, self-appointed president of the Boris Gelfand Fan Club)

Alexander Grischuk: the Jack Dee of chess? I can just imagine him delivering a line like "Samantha tells me she's been learning some chess theory with an elderly grandmaster. She says she's got the hang of how to fianchetto a bishop now and next week he'll be showing her how to fit it into her opening." 

Boris Gelfand: "My play was very erratic. You have to play ambitiously in this tournament." Alexander Grischuk: "I won one game but this on time!"



N.B. Check back at my blog soon! I haven't finished on the subject of London 2013 by any means.








Monday, 1 April 2013

2013 Candidates, Round 13

London 2013 will go down in chess history. That much we know already. It has been the most astonishing tournament. OK, round one was a quiet start, but since then it has pulsated with action all the way.

Just one round to go now and the scores are Carlsen, Kramnik 8½/13, Aronian, Svidler 7, Gelfand, Grischuk 6, Ivanchuk 5, Radjabov 4. Only the top two can now win the tournament, but in the event of a tie,  we already know that Carlsen is better on tie-break and qualifies for a title match with Vishy Anand.

EVERYONE'S A WINNER


This has been the tournament which just goes on giving. It can only have only winner in terms of who goes through to the world championship final match - we won't know who that is until the end of the last round - but in truth it has produced a long list of winners...

WINNER NO.1 - classical chess - in the past and at the beginning of the tournament some gloom and doom merchants have been predicting the death of the longplay form of the game. Seems laughable now, doesn't it?

WINNER NO.2 - the format -  Bobby Fischer didn't think much of an all-play-all format for the Candidates' competition, and there was a switch to match play for many decades, but the a.p.a. format worked a treat here. Maybe we could quibble about the merits of a play-off for first in the event of a tie (and Vlad Kramnik will count himself very unlucky if his world championship challenge founders on something trivial like number of wins), but that is the only drawback. And I think we should laugh off any daft ideas of collusion for or against any players. OK, Chucky plays like a genius one day and a buffoon the next, but he's not doing it on purpose to mess up any specific player's chances. His brain is too randomly wired for any Machiavellian mullarkey of that ilk.

WINNER NO.3 - the audience. I haven't come across any chess fan or journalist who hasn't been thrilled by this tournament.

WINNER NO.4 - the organisers and officials. There were murmurings at the start but everything seems to have come good.

WINNER NO.5 - good ol' London town. Tournament chess had its birth in the English capital and it is still an ideal venue for elite chess. Last year the 2012 Olympics were a triumph and this year, despite the absence of home players, this tournament has already gone down in history as one of the all-time greats. Something for the nation to be proud of, although most of them will be unaware of it, of course (their loss).

WINNER NO.6 - the players, collectively. Though some have scored more points than others, they've all contributed immensely to the success of the event with some fighting chess and entertaining comments at press conferences. You'd be hard put to find such a sporting, good-humoured, courteous field of sports people.

OK, that's effusion overdrive for now, but I felt the need to capture the elation of the moment. Everybody I've communicated with this evening at the venue has been knocked out by the excitement of yet another great round of chess. Round 12 was amazing, but Round 13 delivered some more amazing twists.

Below, photos of the two guys left standing in the race for the world title spot. At the beginning of the day, Vlad was the strong favourite according to most pundits, but by the end of a long, gruelling day's chess, he had been replaced as favourite (albeit not quite so strong) by Magnus.

After polishing his glasses (as always), Vladimir Kramnik sits calmly at the board at the beginning of his 13th round game with Gelfand. You can bet he is a bag of nerves inside, though.

KRAMNIK - GELFAND

Kramnik was half a point clear of Carlsen at the start of the penultimate round, with the white pieces against Boris Gelfand. But the Israeli is not so easily beaten. Indeed, if Vlad fails to secure first, he may look back and compare his results against Boris (two draws) with those of Magnus (two wins) and see them as the difference between qualifying and being left out in the cold.

Vlad Kramnik came up with a novel, though slightly ungainly, innovation for this vital game, and it elicited smiles from the other players at the start. But Boris Gelfand was impressed and complimented the former world champion on having produced more new opening ideas than the rest of the players put together. (High praise indeed from someone so dedicated to opening preparation.)

Kramnik will probably look back at this as one that got away. No cast-iron wins were missed but he had several better continuations found by computers. Gelfand's defensive play was characteristically tough and resourceful. Though downed twice by Carlsen, he comes away from the tournament with his reputation intact and popularity undimmed. A great role model for aspirant chessplayers.




RADJABOV - CARLSEN


Sitting down to try and win games with Black could be seen as unrealistic at this level of play but there seems little doubt that this is what Carlsen does. He doesn't do it in any overtly aggressive way, of course, but tries to overcome the opposition by stealth. No description of this game can get to heart of the 'long-drawn-outness' of its seven-hour length.

One of the best ways to enjoy a Carlsen game is to imagine you are his opponent. Then it becomes like a sort of delicious, creeping horror, like an Edgar Allan Poe story. For hours you think you have all the doors and windows closed, and struggle to see by what route the 'red death' will enter the city - and then suddenly it is all around you. I think it was around six hours in when the press room's collective opinion switched from 'even Magnus can't win this' to 'Radjabov is a dead man walking'.

All in all there seven hours of attritional chess, followed by a 15-second standing ovation from a deeply-impressed audience. To give you an idea (if you were unfortunate enough not to have followed it in real time), Kramnik and Gelfand also fought a long and arduous game but the decisive phase of Radjabov-Carlsen had barely started when the Kramnik-Gelfand post-game press conference finished. Kramnik pooped back into the room, scanned the game quickly and went off, probably in the perfectly reasonable hope that Carlsen would achieve no more than a draw and thus still be trailing him in round 14.

It's time everybody stopped being surprised by Carlsen's relentless, never-say-draw modus operandi since he pulls off these miracles time and time again. Of course, he needs help from his opponent but even the hardiest super-GM can't seem to shake off the sense of creeping death which comes over the game from about the fifth hour onwards.



Magnus Carlsen opts for his favourite sulky teenager look at the start of his game with Radjabov.

At the end of the game Carlsen's arrival in the press room was a huge contrast to that of Good Friday when Ivanchuk crucified him. He entered the room, rushed up to his manager Espen Agdestein and high-fived him in elation. Cool and calm is the mask he likes to show us most of the time but Carlsen is clearly passionate in his quest for the world title (though he has many times feigned otherwise). Truly, we have seen the resurrection. But Easter Monday is yet to come, of course.

He may be in last place but nobody can beat Teimour Radjabov for the neatness of his pieces on their squares. Teimour fought a long battle with Magnus Carlsen and seemed to be within reach of a draw for much of its course.





GRISCHUK - ARONIAN


After his tragic loss to Kramnik in round 12, Levon Aronian's interest in the tournament was resided more in the value of third prize rather than any forlorn hope of a melt-down by the top two. He had a closely-fought game with Grischuk, where the Russian stood better for some time, but it ended naturally in a draw.

Levon Aronian had to hope that the two players ahead of him both had a major melt-down. It didn't happen so he must slug it out with Peter Svidler for third prize.

Alexander Grischuk looks relaxed (but then he always does). He and Levon Aronian drew.




SVIDLER - IVANCHUK

Nothing much was riding on this game but it was hard fought and entertained the crowd. Once again, much interest centred on which Chucky turned up. Would it be Chucky The Carlsen Killer? No, it wouldn't... it turned out to be Chucky The Unready (to make all his moves within the allotted time). Peter Svidler, on his own at the press conference, commented on Ivanchuk's eccentric behaviour in turning away from the board when he was already in desperate time shortage and then spending precious seconds figuring out and recording the move Peter had played during his day dream.

Five losses, all on time, but credit to Svidler, he gave him a very hard time and it was the logical result of a well-played game. There was

Peter Svidler and Vassily Ivanchuk have both done Vlad Kramnik a big favour (by beating Levon Aronian and Magnus Carlsen respectively). They  faced each other. in round 13 and Chucky had another off-day, losing his fifth(!) game on time.







Saturday, 30 March 2013

2013 Candidates, Round 12

Good Friday - if you're a Russian, maybe, but not if you are Magnus Carlsen. The Norwegian runaway train ploughed into a stray Chucky wagon and was derailed and overtaken by the Kramnik Express.

Magnus Carlsen: the leader no more.

It was a round of the most extraordinary ups and downs. For the first hour or so, it looked like we could be back to the caginess of round one, and four draws were on the cards, but gradually, inexorably, the positions loosened up, the players grew tired. Over-ambition and outright blunders made a mockery of the predictions and expectations of the pundits.

Let's consider the games in the order in which they finished.

GELFAND - SVIDLER

Cricket comes first, chess second, in Peter's priorities

Boris Gelfand at the press conference, twirling a grape stem between his fingers


This game was the shortest and least entertaining of the four but it is being judged by an extremely high standard of entertainment. It was actually very good value for money, went all the way to the first time control and reflected credit on both players, both of whom showed they still had some fight left in them despite the reduced motivation that might have been expected given their middling tournament positions.

The game exited theory on move 9 and Boris Gelfand was able to demonstrate a slight edge for much of the game, as Peter Svidler himself admitted. Eventually he managed to neutralise Boris's play and a draw was the natural result.

Peter was typically humorous about the share of the talking he did at the press conference but we can reassure him that Boris didn't mind - he wore a wry grin during the confession - and that Peter's voice is always a popular one with the listening audience. There was a question about the cricket match tickets he showed me before play a few days ago and Peter made no bones about admitting that his cricket-spectating would take a higher priority to his chess-playing during the coming summer (let's hope for all our sakes that the sun shines a bit more than it did in 2012).




ARONIAN - KRAMNIK


Kramnik at the start of a gruelling but ultimately successful game


Levon Aronian looks more sombre than usual at the start of round 12

The last of the six 2800 versus 2800 games in the tournament but the first and only one to end in a decisive result. It was an extraordinary game in many ways, though it took a while to catch fire. It might have ended in no time at all had Levon Aronian accepted what amounted to a draw offer on move 15 - a line where a repetition was perhaps the strongest line objectively, but the tournament situation rather demanded that he 'go for it'. It was an extremely brave decision as it meant accepting the worst of the game, but for a while he seemed he might be rewarded for his courage and nearly gained sufficient compensation for a sacrificed piece.

However, Kramnik consolidated his extra piece and it looked as if he ought to win the endgame. But he played an inaccuracy on move 30 and soon realised to his horror that Aronian's king and pawns were holding him at bay. At the time control, the watching pundits were writing the game off as a draw as Aronian closed in on the drawing plan. Then calamity - on move 50 he played g6 rather than h6. Suddenly every laptop in the building was screaming 0-1 in Kramnik's favour. Aronian's move allowed Kramnik's one fateful file nearer his queenside pawns. Observers thought that Aronian only registered his coming defeat, and the end of his interest in first place, when his opponent played his final move, 62...Bc6.

A tragedy for the Armenian, who played so bravely and has been such an amazing competitor in this tournament. Mathematically he's still not quite  out of the running but it is hard to see him making up the 1½ points leeway with only two games left.

Vlad Kramnik was greatly relieved and acknowledged his good fortune. He's also lucky in having a rest day before the final two rounds. He, like all the players, winners or losers, looked absolutely zonked after the game. No prizes for guessing what he would be doing on the Saturday: "first, to rest, because I'm just finished!" (VK)




RADJABOV - GRISCHUK


Teimour Radjabov tried hard to win but met stiff resistance from Alexander Grischuk

Alexander Grischuk kept Radjabov at bay for the best part of seven hours


This was a very long and complex struggle, with a number of items of interest, but we won't dwell on it as neither player was playing for particularly high stakes at this stage of the event.


CARLSEN - IVANCHUK


Magnus Carlsen at the start of his press conference after losing to Vassily Ivanchuk

The above photo shows just how distraught Magnus Carlsen was when he sat down at the press conference after his shattering defeat by Vassily Ivanchuk in round 12. Incidentally, Magnus has a curious habit after games of always putting on his outdoor coat before walking the very short distance from the back of the stage via an internal corridor to the press room which is only a few metres away, and then taking the coat off again before passing it (and his bag) to his manager for looking after when he sits down to talk to the press. Today he didn't so much pass the coat as throw it, and he abandoned his bag on the floor in obvious high dudgeon. 

Magnus wore the angry scowl on his face that you see in the photo above in the moments before he was invited to comment. His first sentence was brimful of annoyance and self-loathing: "I think I played absolutely disgracefully from move 1." I confess I braced myself for a possible outburst and some Kasparov-style fury (not unknown at chess press conferences: back in the bad old days I have witnessed journalists being chewed up and their bones spat out by the man-eating monster from Baku) but the sight of a chessboard had a instantly calming effect on Carlsen's ruffled feathers. His self-control returned in the time it took press conference chairperson Anastasiya Karlovich to invite him to focus on a position in the game. It was remarkable to see how quickly the storm passed and we were back to the usual, even-tempered, rational Magnus. From thence the press conference was absolutely as normal, with Magnus and Chucky dispassionately discussing various lines of play. Thankfully no journalists were harmed in the making of this report. But Magnus didn't hang around for long and soon left Chucky to his moment of victory.

Magnus's self-description was a bit hard on himself but not too wide of the mark. His choice of opening was fishy and he had to fight to extricate himself from a few difficulties. But by move 23, by both players' admissions, the position was about equal. Perhaps Carlsen's usual relentless quest for victory let him down here and he tried too hard. By the time control he was a bit worse.

Nevertheless, Carlsen fought back into the game and might well have saved the game had he found 71 c6! But thereafter it was pretty straightforward for a player of Ivanchuk's calibre.

A rejuvenated Ivanchuk at the press conference




SUMMARY


An amazing day's chess! The scores after 12 rounds, with two to go after Saturday's rest day: Kramnik 8, Carlsen 7½, Aronian 6½, Svidler 6, Gelfand, Grischuk 5½, Ivanchuk 5, Radjabov 4.

Kramnik, 8, still has to play Gelfand (with White) and Ivanchuk (with Black)
Carlsen, 7½, has to play Radjabov (with Black) and Svidler (with White)
Aronian, 6½, has to play Grischuk (Black) and Radjabov (White)

If Carlsen scores half a point more than Kramnik in the two remaining rounds it is quite likely that his tie-break score will be the better one (definitely, if Kramnik doesn't lose a game). So it is by no means over yet. Kramnik is the favourite but not by much. Even Aronian is not out of the hunt, but he needs the two leaders both to suffer a total (and improbable) melt-down.


Friday, 29 March 2013

Loek van Willy Holds His Trophy

A bit of light relief from all this heavyweight coverage of the FIDE Candidates' Tournament... on my Facebook feed this morning, I read an amusing article called '28 Newspaper and Magazine Layout Disasters'. Some of them will make you laugh out loud, while others will make you cringe with embarrassment.

But I can also empathise with the editors who perpetrated these atrocities. Let's be honest, it's almost impossible to do an editorial job for any length of time without making a mistake of this sort. In my early days as editor at British Chess Magazine, I managed to let this photo of Loek van Wely and his Dutch colleagues get by me without spotting the joke. The Dutch team were celebrating the Netherlands having won the European Team Championship in Spain in 2001.


Loek van Wely holding a trophy - or should that be Loek van Willy?

BCM, January 2002, page 53, editor (I regret to say) John Saunders...

Thursday, 28 March 2013

2013 Candidates, Round 11

HARD RAIN'S A-GONNA FALL... ROUND 11


At the start of play, my overriding thought was - can there really still be four rounds to play? The tournament is terribly long and starting to take its toll, even of those of us who only have to sit in the press room all day, munching biscuits and drinking tea (and, in my case, having the luxury of sleeping in my own bed at night). If it's tough for us, imagine how hard it must be for the players, thousands of miles from home and loved ones, and having the world's strongest chess opponents to face, day after day.

Today started with a slight accident when Ivanchuk stumbled over the edge of the stage at the back. He laughed it off at first but then asked for some help with the injury (though hopefully it's not too serious). I understand that Radjabov is suffering from a cold - bad news for him, but perhaps good news for his opponent Kramnik who will be desperate to add to his tally of wins and beat a non-Russian at last.

LEADER BOARD AT THE START OF THE ROUND


First place Carlsen 7/10 - after the round, 7½/11 and still first

Second place Aronian 6½/10 - after the round 6½/11 and now down to third
Third place Kramnik 6/10 - after the round 7/11 and now up to second place.

ROUND 11 SUMMARY


We still have the 'big three' but the order has now changed to Carlsen, Kramnik, Aronian. It was a great round for the Russians, with Kramnik beating the tiring Radjabov, Svidler knocking Aronian off his perch, and Grischuk doing well to hold the leader Carlsen to a draw.

GRISCHUK - CARLSEN


Grischuk starts the game against Carlsen

A short and inconclusive game between the leader Carlsen and Grischuk but not without interest. Grischuk launched an early and highly unusual h4 against Carlsen's Grunfeld. Black built a reasonably good position, designed to withstand any h-file unpleasantness, but he allowed his d-pawn to become weak with a possibly injudicious e5 move. Carlsen defended actively and effectively but it led to reduced material on the board and, in his judgement, not enough scope to justify playing on for one of his endgame grinds.

This might have endangered his status as leader but, as we shall see, Peter Svidler did him a favour later (though not Teimour Radjabov).


SVIDLER - ARONIAN


As you might expect from the two most amiable of grandmasters, a friendly word and a smile is exchanged between Peter Svidler and Levon Aronian at the start of the game, before they get down to serious business.

Peter Svidler was his usual bright and breezy self at the beginning of the round, exchanging pleasantries with Aronian (as you can see above), but of course once play began a hard fight commenced.

Svidler went in for the Sämisch variation of the Nimzo-Indian, something he had not tried in a mjor game before, and Aronian had nothing special prepared. In some ways it was a very smooth performance by Svidler. Though he didn't claim to be better out of the opening, the position around move 21 became critical. Aronian chose to avoid a queen exchange, advance on the kingside with g7-g5 and then on the queenside with b7-b5. It was probably the third of these three decisions which was his undoing, when Svidler advanced c5-c6 and then won a pawn on the opposite flank.

Aronian has the reputation for digging himself out of holes with creative ideas but Svidler's technique was too good for him here and he wrapped the game up in some style.

Aronian has now slipped to a full point behind Carlsen in the lead and half a point behind Kramnik. His 12th round clash with Kramnik (in which he has White) now becomes absolutely critical and he will probably need to win it in order to stand a chance of winning the tournament.



KRAMNIK - RADJABOV


Teimour Radjabov precision-placing his pieces as usual and Kramnik is about to perform his own pre-game ritual of cleaning his glasses.

After his seven straight draws in the first cycle, Vladimir Kramnik is now forging ahead with 3½/4 in the second cycle (which might have been 4/4 but for some super-human defending from Magnus Carlsen). Radjabov (whom word has it was suffering from a cold) looked totally out of sorts, spending ages figuring out what was happening in the opening, and later complaining that he was struggling to perform calculations properly. A man with all these problems is unlikely to last long against Kramnik on a roll. The Russian has now come from mid-table mediocrity to become Magnus Carlsen's most realistic challenger for first place. Tomorrow, however, will be a big test for him as he has Black against Aronian, who has by no means abandoned his quest for first place and could stop the Russian steam-roller.

Radjabov's main difficulty in this game was the time he took over his opening, born of his current poor form and indecisiveness. The second difficulty was the relentless subtlety with which Kramnik kept setting him problems to solve. None of them insurmountable in themselves, but the nagging series of questions asked eventually took its toll, more than anything in the time that he needed to use in working them out.

It was a familiar story - just as he seemed to be emerging from difficulties, Radjabov fell into a deadly trap, based on the parlous position of his king and a vulnerable back rank. Kramnik struck hard and after that it was easy.



IVANCHUK - GELFAND


Ivanchuk and Gelfand at the press conference with Anastasiya Karlovich

Quickie draw for the elder statesman today. Not really much to talk about. Ivanchuk confirmed that his trip back stage had not done him any damage. He was in light-hearted mood, having pretty much given up on the tournament, which he was now treating as practice for the Russian League coming up. Boris Gelfand was in more serious mood, giving us some helpful background on the line played, which was played in a Kramnik game last year. I asked the players what they thought about the tie-break arrangements; he would have preferred a play-off to decide the finish (and so would I - but the rules from the FIDE website are "If the top two or more players score the same points, the tie will be decided by the following criteria, in order of priority: a) The results of the games between the players involved in the tie. If they are still tied: b) The total number of wins in the tournament of every player involved in the tie. If they are still tied: c) Sonneborn - Berger System.")