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    Friday
    Oct042013

    The Grand Prix Ends With Pusillanimousness In Paris

    Congratulations to Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who is the recipient of the second qualifying spot for the next Candidates' tournament from the 2012-2013 Grand Prix. Fabiano Caruana would have taken that spot if he managed to finish ahead of Boris Gelfand, with whom he was tied for first going into the last round of the final Grand Prix event of the cycle, which concluded today in Paris.

    The task would not be easy, as Gelfand was due for the white pieces in his last-round game, against Ruslan Ponomariov, while Caruana had black against Leinier Dominguez. Caruana played a Taimanov Sicilian, and faced a new move early on, 13.Rd2. Caruana thought for about 40 minutes, and then played 13...Rc8, which is a typical move in that line of the Taimanov. The following moves quickly ensued: 14.Bxb5!? axb5 15.Nxb5 Qc6 16.Na7 Qc7 17.Nb5 Qc8 18.Na7 Qc7 19.Nb5 Qc6 and draw.

    WHAT???

    If the tournament in Paris were an end in itself, that would be a sensible decision, but it wasn't, on both counts. Winning meant qualifying for the Candidates tournament, the gateway to the world championship! If he lost the game, so what?? He'd lose something like six rating points, which he could easily regain in his next tournament. He would some prize money too, and that's not nothing. But he's a very successful tournament pro, and unless he's investing with a Bernie Madoff-type his financial future is bright. The loss is something, but not much in the big picture. And if he wins, he not only wins a bigger prize in the tournament (and maybe from taking second in the overall Grand Prix?), he's also guaranteed a further payday by making it into the Candidates, with a shot at serious money and a match for the world championship.

    Now, if refusing the repetition entailed a losing position, I'd be with him. Risk is one thing, pointless risk another. But starting with the position after the move, 13.Rd2, Caruana had several reasonable ways to avoid the repetition, none of which entailed a position that would be more than slightly worse and a few that offered approximately equal chances. Rather than take the slightest risk, however, he bailed out and took the draw. I'm dumbfounded.

    He could still take clear first in the tournament if Gelfand lost and Nakamura and Etienne Bacrot didn't win. As it turned out, nobody won in the last round, which meant that Gelfand tied with him for first place in the event (his third super-tournament win over the year - two ties and one clear first), and they were half a point ahead of Nakamura and Bacrot.

    Six of the eight spots have been settled for the next Candidates event: Vladimir Kramnik and Dmitry Andreikin qualified through the World Cup, Levon Aronian and Sergey Karjakin qualified by rating, and Veselin Topalov and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov qualified through the Grand Prix. The seventh qualifier will be the loser of the upcoming world championship match between Viswanathan Anand, the champ, and his challenger Magnus Carlsen. The eighth spot is a wildcard, to be determined by the organizer. The only official requirement is that the player have a rating of at least 2725.

    Who will get it? The obvious candidates (small "c") are Nakamura (rated #4 in the world), Caruana (#5, one tenth of a point below Nakamura), Alexander Grischuk (rated #6 but less likely to be chosen, I think, unless the Candidates are held in Russia) and Boris Gelfand (#7 in the world; if he gets in it will be because he will have had the best year of anyone not already qualified for the Candidates or better). If Caruana had gone out on his sword today, then he would have been a reasonable pick for that wildcard. If I were an organizer, what I saw would tell me that he doesn't really want it that badly, and so I would give the spot to someone (like Nakamura) who will give it his all, someone who will risk losing when the situation demands it.

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    Reader Comments (12)

    To my mind, the obvious candidates would be Caruana and Gelfand, definitely with a nod to the latter. He's had a brilliant year (has won three super-tournaments, one more than a certain Norwegian) and clearly, as he has proved, is World Championship material.

    I don't really see any reason for choosing either Nakamura or Grischuk, apart from their ratings, but if they wanted to choose three purely on rating, then there should be three normal rating spots and not two.

    The legitimacy of the very idea of having a wild card qualification to the Candidates is another matter.

    [DM: Why Caruana over Nakamura? If you say "because of the Grand Prix", couldn't I apply your argument about there not being three slots for ratings? I agree with you - or at least with what I take you to be saying - about the dubiousness of having a wildcard pick in the first place.]

    October 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKajetan Wandowicz

    According to a tweet by Danailov from a few weeks ago (https://twitter.com/SilvioDanailov/status/378158093965598720), the Bulgarian short list for the wildcard in case they get to host the candidates includes Nakamura, Caruana, Mamedyarov [not relevant anymore], Radjabov & Dominguez (Topalov already qualified, and there’s no other Bulgarian with the required 2725 rating). If the Russians get to host it, then most likely they would choose Grischuk, but in any case almost certainly a Russian. So apparently no real chance for Gelfand, I’m afraid (not Russian enough for the Russians, too Russian for the Bulgarians, one might say).

    Btw, by finishing 3rd in the GP series Caruana becomes first reserve for the Candidates (that’s how Grischuk qualified for Kazan in 2011, after Carlsen withdrew), and I wouldn’t completely dismiss his chances to get there by that route as well. The most likely scenario here seems to be as a replacement for Anand in case the latter loses the match to Carlsen – I’m not saying it’s very likely, but still, considering Anand’s age and circumstances, we don't really know what he’s going to do in such a case. In his recent interview to Chess TV, at least, he was very noncommittal in his answer to a question about how he sees his career after losing the title (not necessarily in the upcoming match, of course).

    October 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEyal

    After the game, Caruana said something like "I couldn't forgive myself for taking too much risk and losing, if Gelfand then also loses" (candidates event, anyone?). At face value, this suggests that he made a calculation or assessment error, thinking that he would be clearly worse (not lost but clearly worse) after the alternatives 15./17./19. - Qd8 or 16./18.-e5!? . On the other hand, press conference statements directly after the game may have to be taken with a grain of salt, Dennis could be completely right via two different roads:
    - Being risk-averse, Caruana (consciously of subconsciously) "talked himself" into rejecting the alternatives during the game.
    - What else should he have said? Certainly not "Shared first in this event and third in the GP series isn't that bad, now someone has to buy a spot for me in the candidates event".

    BTW this is the second time within a year that Caruana took a quick move repetition in such a tournament situation, first was Bilbao 2012 (Vallejo-Caruana 1/2, Ruy Lopez Zaitsev variation).

    As Eyal already hinted, Bulgaria (good ol' Sofia) wants to organize the candidates event, the other potential bidder is good ol' Khanty-Mansiysk (Siberia, Russia). My print source - in addition to some Internet sources - is the 10/2013 issue of the German magazine "Schach", also mentioning that Danailov threatens to sue FIDE if Khanty gets the event without a proper bidding procedure.

    Small but possibly relevant detail: Minimum rating 2725 for the wildcard refers to the July 2013 list (not the current live rating list). For the most likely "candidate candidates" it doesn't make a difference unless it is used as an argument in favor of Caruana (then 2796, relatively well ahead of Grischuk 2780, Nakamura 2775, Gelfand 2773). But if for example France wants to buy a spot for Vachier-Lagrave (then 2719, now 2742), they can't. The only one who was eligible then but wouldn't be eligible now seems to be Andreikin (not the most obvious name but qualified in the meantime).

    October 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterThomas

    Caruana seems to be making a habit of not trying hard when first place is on the line - his final game at the Grand Slam Final last year was equally spineless (though the guy from New in Chess who wrote the letter to Chess Life didn't agree).

    October 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterClifford

    "If I were an organizer, what I saw would tell me that he doesn't really want it that badly, and so I would give the spot to someone (like Nakamura) who will give it his all, someone who will risk losing when the situation demands it."

    Me too but my reading of organisers in all walks of sport is that they tend to favour the safe alternatives rather than the more exciting options (who often come with some problems). Not that there's anyone remotely like Fischer around at the top now...

    October 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMarc

    "The obvious candidates (small 'c'") are Nakamura..., Caruana..., Alexander Grischuk...and Boris Gelfand."

    Doesn't it work like this? If the tournament is in Russia, then it's Grischuk. If it's in US, it's Nakamura. If it's in Azerbaijan, it's Radjabov. If it's in France, it's Bacrot. Etc.

    [DM: My statement didn't entail that the wildcard would be one of those four, but that given the rating gap between them and the next batch of eligible players is fairly substantial choosing one of them is the logical choice.]

    October 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterUff Da

    In a strictly merit-based system, Dennis, I like your list. But a rating gap is one thing; a slot reserved for the hometown favorite is another. I'm just wondering what criteria are/will be used in practice.

    [DM: You are right that in practice a host country's organizers may choose one of their own. The most outrageous top-level example, to my mind, came in 2002 when the Dortmund Candidates included Christopher Lutz, whose peak rating was 2655. (I suspect, but don't know for sure, that that's the reason for the 2725+ requirement in the current cycle.) In general I don't like "wildcards" at all for events that require everyone else to qualify. People put in too much blood, sweat and tears for all their hard work and achievement to be supplanted by some organizer's whim.]

    October 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterUff Da

    @ DM:
    Agree with your last comment.
    If necessary, players should be prepared to play for a lower prize fund for the chance to have a crack at the title. The fairness aspect would outweigh any possible lower prize fund.

    A 2725 rating is still a ridiculously low requirement. It should be 2760 at least.

    As for Caruana, I have to say I have lost a certain amount of respect for him.

    October 6, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterobserver

    This is tough on Caruana I feel, he would want to win the tournament even in a tie to boost his claim ahead of Nakamura as the best player with American connections for the Wild card place. By losing and coming behind Nakamura he would have done his situation a lot of damage.

    Also Caruana has the best record vs Carlsen is significantly younger than the other possibilities and he is therefore the only one i could imagine having any chance in a future match with World Champion Carlsen, rather like Kramnik was the only guy one could seriously think of beating Kasparov.

    I really like Gelfand and his chess this year but the Candidates is about selecting some one to play a match for the World Championship probably vs Carlsen and Caruana is the just Wildcard.

    October 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTrue Chess Fan

    Interesting observation: by losing to Bacrot in the last round Grischuk would have achieved higher place in the final GP standings and received more money. And he knew about it! But still didn't lose to Bacrot, so kudos to him.

    October 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrey

    "Pusillanimity" is such a nice word. You really should have used it.

    [DM: Both versions are acceptable, as far as I can tell, and to me the longer version seems more euphonious with "in Paris". You're welcome to disagree, but life's too short to debate such things in the comments.]

    October 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercmling

    Why Caruana over Nakamura? If you say "because of the Grand Prix", couldn't I apply your argument about there not being three slots for ratings?

    Not only because of the Grand Prix; because of tournament results in general. Caruana has been vastly superior to Nakamura in that respect over the past two years. Nakamura has not won a tournament (barring national championships) since his 2011 Wijk aan Zee triumph (where, one may argue, 'the surprise factor' was still significant) and has had several weak showings. Caruana wins tournaments and plays at a consistently high level, bagging a lot of high-place finishes.

    I think it's Shipov who assessed Nakamura as having shown everything he's capable of already, isn't it? He will remain a top player, dangerous to anybody thanks to his unpredictable style, but will not reach the level of chess understanding of Carlsen, Kramnik, Aronian, Caruana, Grischuk, Gelfand, Anand and Ivanchuk. And Svidler, but he, by his own admission, is just too lazy. Karjakin may get there very soon as well, and there's a new generation with huge potential in the making, soon to replace the old guard.

    [DM: Perhaps you are better qualified than I am, but I'm not able to make pronouncements about the "level of chess understanding" of players in the upper 2700s. Carlsen is clearly in his own league at the moment, and Kramnik and Aronian have been pretty consistently numbers 2 and 3 (or vice-versa) for some time now, but as for the rest I see no real reason to rate any one too far from the other. Caruana will likely leave Nakamura a bit behind in the coming years just based on his younger age, but at the moment the difference between them is a coin flip.]

    I hugely admire Ivanchuk but I am quite happy he didn't qualify: he's a very exciting addition to any tournament but just distorts the overall standings by losing half of his games on time. This should not happen in a Candidates, which should be won by the best player, not one who has received the most gifts.

    October 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKajetan Wandowicz

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