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    Entries in Candidates 2014 (29)

    Wednesday
    Mar192014

    Candidates 2014, Round 6: Anand Still Leads; Kramnik and Svidler Lose

    What was looking like a four-man race has transformed significantly after today's sixth round at the Candidates' tournament. It seemed like a prime opportunity for the chase pack to catch the leader, Viswanathan Anand, after he failed to achieve anything with White in a Berlin ending against Sergey Karjakin, but as it turned out all three of his closest pursuers stumbled.

    The most interesting game from a psychological perspective was the renewed hatefest between Veselin Topalov and Vladimir Kramnik, going back to the "Toiletgate" controversy from their world championship match back in 2006. Whether this affected either man's play for better or worse I don't know, but Kramnik played pretty badly in this game. His plan with ...f7-f5-f4 wasn't very good and was criticized by Topalov, the commentators and the computers, and 13...a5 seems to have been inaccurate as well. White won a pawn with the tactical sequence starting with 19.Nxd5, and Kramnik didn't manage to put up much resistance after that. As a result Topalov jumped and Kramnik fell to 50% overall in the tournament.

    The same happened with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Peter Svidler. Svidler surprised Mamedyarov with the Dutch, and came out of the opening smelling like a rose. If he had played 22...Qd7 he would have been comfortably better, but instead made three errors in a row, culminating in the odd sac/blunder 24...h6, after which he was lost. Svidler's resignation might raise some eyebrows for those looking at the computer's evaluation, but White's winning method is pretty simple; it just takes a lot of moves to finish the job.

    Finally, Levon Aronian was winning against Dmitry Andreikin, but let his opponent slip out with a draw. 28.Bxe4! was an outright winner, while 31.Bxe4 Rxd2 32.Ra7 was probably a technical win. By move 38 it wasn't quite as clear, but what does seem clear is that 38.Bxe6 was an error. White can't simultaneously anchor his kingside while keeping the a-pawn protected, and Black's counterplay is in time in case White's king heads for the queenside.

    Today's games (with my comments) are here. Tomorrow is a rest day, and on Friday the first cycle concludes with the following pairings (player scores in parentheses):

    • Karjakin (2.5) - Aronian (3.5)
    • Svidler (3) - Anand (4)
    • Kramnik (3) - Mamedyarov (3)
    • Andreikin (2) - Topalov (3)

    Tuesday
    Mar182014

    Candidates 2014, Round 5: Svidler Wins, Joins The Tie For Second Behind Anand

    Round 5 of the Candidates' was very exciting, even if there was only one decisive game.

    Viswanathan Anand came into the round in first place, and though playing Black would presumably have his chances against tailender Dmitry Andreikin. Indeed, Anand did manage to achieve an advantage, but Andreikin defended well and held the draw.

    The marquee game saw Vladimir Kramnik take on Levon Aronian, and Kramnik played very energetically and obtained what he thought was a winning position. He was certainly pushing, but Aronian defended terrifically up until 33...Bxd5, which was a serious error that went unpunished. (Both 33...exf1Q/R+ and 33...hxg5 sufficed to hold.) Had Kramnik played 35.Rg1 he would have had a winning position, but after missing it the result was a rook ending where Kramnik's extra pawn wasn't enough to win.

    Peter Svidler joined Kramnik and Aronian in second, half a point behind Anand, by winning against Veselin Topalov. Svidler showed his naivety (his word) by following an earlier game he played against Antoaneta Stefanova and walked into some strong preparation and a difficult position. It wasn't as bad as Svidler made it sound in his characteristically self-deprecating manner, but Topalov did have an advantage. Shades of the old Topalov, but once the preparation ended the flashes were gone. Svidler played very well and Topalov didn't, and he (Svidler) won pretty convincingly.

    Finally, Sergey Karjakin and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov played a pretty calm draw in a Moscow Variation Sicilian, of all things. Karjakin is a player who characteristically heads for main lines, the sharper the better, so it was odd to see him play the quiet 3.Bb5+. Against a weaker player he might have been able to achieve something with the position after 15.Qxd4, but Mamedyarov did a fine job of neutralizing White's efforts and the game soon leveled out into a drawn rook ending. Black made it look easy, but there were some problems to solve.

    The games are here, with only the lightest comments (zeitnot here, but maybe fuller comments will come later), and here are tomorrow's pairings (as usual, player scores are given in parentheses):

    • Aronian (3) - Andreikin (1.5)
    • Anand (3.5) - Karjakin (2)
    • Mamedyarov (2) - Svidler (3)
    • Topalov (2) - Kramnik (3)

    Monday
    Mar172014

    Candidates 2014, Round 4: Anand Leads Kramnik and Aronian By Half a Point

    Had Viswanathan Anand defeated Vladimir Kramnik in today's action he would have been at least a pretty decent favorite to win the Candidates' tournament, even at this early stage. That was never in much danger of happening, however. Kramnik had Black, yes, but he was prepared to the gills in a Vienna Variation Queen's Gambit and drew in 30 moves without ever leaving his prep. So Anand remained half a point in front of Kramnik.

    Anand could have been caught by Peter Svidler, had he managed to win with Black against Levon Aronian. After some long preparation in a Gruenfeld (nowadays that goes without saying) a position arose where Svidler was up a piece for a pawn, but Aronian had a mighty center and enduring play against Svidler's king. Svidler had the chance to steer the game to an easy draw, but with some justification and ambition he went for more. On this occasion, that hope went unrewarded. Aronian negotiated the complications better than his opponent, and when Black returned the piece the result was a terribly passive ending where Aronian would surely break through sooner or later. He did, and leapfrogged Svidler in the standings. Aronian is tied with Kramnik for second place, and they play in round 5.

    Veselin Topalov drew his fourth straight game, this time in an English against Sergey Karjakin. Neither player was ever close to getting an advantage, and the play remained pretty calm throughout.

    Finally, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov escaped the cellar by defeating Dmitry Andreikin and putting him there instead. Mamedyarov generally had the better of the play in an offbeat Chebanenko Slav, but only managed to win when Andreikin blundered with the unnatural 37...Kf7.

    The games, with my light comments, are here, and here are tomorrow's pairings, with player scores in parentheses:

     

    • Andreikin (1) - Anand (3)
    • Karjakin (1.5) - Mamedyarov (1.5)
    • Svidler (2) - Topalov (2)
    • Kramnik (2.5) - Aronian (2.5)

     

    Sunday
    Mar162014

    Candidates 2014: Extreme Commentary

    If you've been watching top level chess on the internet for any time now, you'll know that when it comes to post-game press conferences, Peter Svidler is quite the talker. He is wonderfully articulate even in English, though it is not his native tongue, and just as a matter of personality he loves to talk. Whenever I've seen him at such a conference, he has dominated the proceedings.

    Likewise Vladimir Kramnik. While he is not as eloquent in English as Svidler, his grasp of the language is certainly very good, and he too tends to dominate press conferences. His style is a little different - a bit more variation heavy and shorter on psychological narration, but his conferences are enjoyable and impressive as well.

    So what would happen when these two shared the spotlight in a post-game presser? Further, how would they cope with the regular interruptions necessitated by the need to have their comments translated into Russian?

    The fascinating result can be seen below, starting at the 5:31:10 mark. I can't recall ever seeing anything like it before, but it was pretty amazing, almost savage. Enjoy!

    Sunday
    Mar162014

    Candidates' Seconds

    I noted one or two seconds earlier, Thomas offered some more in a comment to an earlier post, while Danny Olim has sent some more by email. Here's what we have so far:

    • Anand: Sandipan
    • Kramnik: Efimenko, Matlakov (maybe)
    • Svidler: Vitiugov
    • Aronian: An Armenian GM (not Sargissian) - he named the player, but I don't recall who it was
    • Topalov: Romain Edouard
    • Karjakin: Motylev, Dokhoian, and Kasimdzhanov
    • Andreikin: ?
    • Mamedyarov: Rauf Mamedov

    Sunday
    Mar162014

    Candidates' Analysis Is Available

    The technical difficulties have been straightened out, and so my analyses for rounds 1-3 of the Candidates' tournament are available. The links are in the posts for each round.

    Saturday
    Mar152014

    Candidates 2014, Round 3: Anand Regains Clear First

    Is he back? Viswanathan Anand has 2.5 out of 3 in the Candidates' tournament, good enough to lead the pack going into the first rest day. His opponent, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, lost pretty badly yesterday (blundering his queen practically in the opening) and didn't look like himself today either. Mamedyarov had White, but didn't manage to gain any advantage or even come close in a 4.Qc2 Slav. The players followed a 2012 game between Ivanchuk and Vallejo through 14.e4, when instead of Vallejo's 14...Qe7 Anand played a new move, 14...e5. (Interestingly for you computer fans, Komodo TCEC doesn't put 14...e5 in its top five [not that it hates the move], but Houdini 4 recommends it immediately. The third member of the current triumvirate, Stockfish DD 64, also settles on 14...e5 as its top choice after a bit of waffling around.)

    After 15.Be3 exd4 16.Bxd4 Black played Kh8, allowing ...f6 and ...Bf7 in some circumstances. White chose the prophylactic 17.e5 against this - 17...f6 can be met by 18.e6 - but this was a mistake. After the preliminary 17...Re8, forcing 18.f4, 18...f6 was now a very effective move. White cannot push through this time, as 19.e6? Nb6 wins the pawn. (White can flail with 20.Bxb6 Qxb6+ 21.Kh1, but 21...Qe3 will win the pawn, at least if White doesn't want to lose the exchange instead.) White was forced to swap on f6, and Black enjoyed a nice advantage.

    Anand's 21st move may not have been the best move (the computer prefers 21...c5!), but it was tricky. White's best move, 22.Qd3, looks less natural than 22.Re3, and Mamedyarov chose the latter. Black quickly whipped up a dangerous attack, and the game was soon over. 26.Rf1 was another mistake in a bad position (my guess is that White missed the nice shot 27...c5, or at least hoped Anand would miss it), and Mamedyarov resigned after making the move 31.Kh1 before Anand chose either 31...Nf2+ or 31...Ne3.

    Peter Svidler and Vladimir Kramnik entered the round tied for first, and so if either beat the other in their head-to-head game they would have kept pace with Anand. Svidler built up an advantage and had the initiative throughout, but he failed to strike a winning blow. After the time control on move 40 Kramnik defended perfectly, capped off by the fantastic 45...f5! 46.gxf5 Rf6! A narrow escape for Kramnik, and a game that overall shows both players to be in excellent form.

    Veselin Topalov and Levon Aronian also played an exciting game that finished in a draw. As in round 1, Aronian threatened the Marshall Gambit, but instead of repeating Anand's 8.h3 Topalov chose the classical Anti-Marshall with 8.a4. Topalov probably never had an advantage, but he certainly posed some serious problems with his kingside buildup and the complications unleashed with 23.Bd6. From there on, with the possible exception of 28.Qxh7 (28.Qxa5 was a playable alternative), both sides seem to have played all the best moves through the perpetual check on move 35. Both Topalov and Aronian are on 50%, but they seem to be playing well too and are still very much in contention.

    The last two players, by contrast, already look like outsiders. Dmitry Andreikin and Sergey Karjakin started and finished the day on -1 after a short, correct and not especially interesting draw in a 4.d3 Berlin.

    Round 4 will take place on Monday, with the following pairings (player scores are given in parentheses): 

    • Mameydarov (.5) - Andreikin (1)
    • Karjakin (1) - Topalov (1.5)
    • Aronian (1.5) - Svidler (2)
    • Anand (2.5) - Kramnik (2)

     UPDATE: Games here, with the brief comments given above.

    Friday
    Mar142014

    Candidates 2014, Round 2: Kramnik, Svidler And Aronian All Win

    Today's round at the Candidates was very exciting, with three wins from the four games. Vladimir Kramnik's win was especially good. The ex-champ found a remarkable new idea in a very well-known position, and his sustained initiative eventually proved too much for Sergei Karjakin. The game was such an achievement that Karjakin himself said this after the game: "This is one of those rare cases when I'm not ashamed of my play, because White [Kramnik] was playing very enterprising and interesting [chess]".

    With the win Kramnik caught his great successor, Viswanathan Anand, who drew efficiently against Veselin Topalov with the black pieces. Anand was able to do what he couldn't do against Carlsen; namely, hold a slightly worse ending. (Of course, he's not alone in that respect.) So for both he and Kramnik are looking very good both in terms of prep and form.

    Peter Svidler is a third co-leader thanks to his victory over Dmitry Andreikin. Andreikin played the Kalashnikov and achieved a good position from the opening, but went wrong with 16...b5. (The consensus view is that 16...Bxd5 17.exd5 Ne7 was better.) After that relatively small inaccuracy Svidler played extremely well, with 17.Qg3!, 20.f4!, 24.Nf5! as the star moves.

    Finally, Levon Aronian bounced back from yesterday's loss with a win over Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. The latter blundered with 13...Ne7 (13...Qg5 would be have been fine), missing the nice but not overly difficult tactical trick 14.Nde4! White won the queen for inadequate compensation, and he gradually reeled in the full point.

    UPDATE: The games, with my brief comments, are here.

    Here are tomorrow's pairings (players' scores are in parentheses): 

    • Andreikin (.5) - Karjakin (.5)
    • Svidler (1.5) - Kramnik (1.5)
    • Topalov (1) - Aronian (1)
    • Mamedyarov (.5) - Anand (1.5)
    Thursday
    Mar132014

    Candidates 2014, Round 1: Anand Beats Aronian, Other Games Drawn

    It's only one round into the 2014 Candidates, but maybe the recently deposed world champion is back! Viswanathan Anand smoothly dispatched top seed and frequent bete noire Levon Aronian on the white side of an Anti-Marshall, bringing hope to his fans and fear to Aronian's. It was Aronian who produced the first new move in a position both players had tested before (though not against each other), but Anand seemed better prepared or at least more skilled in handling the resulting position. After 19.Ne5! White achieved an extremely pleasant ending with two great bishops against a mediocre bishop and knight, and Anand didn't have too much trouble winning the game. It's too early to draw any sweeping conclusions, but given that Anand is one of those players who is much stronger when confident the rest of the field may have something to worry about.

    The other three games were drawn, and in two of the games Black had no trouble at all in the opening. Dmitry Andreikin may not have taken Vladimir Kramnik out of preparation in the entire game, and while the same can't be said for the Shakhriyar Mamedyarov - Veselin Topalov clash Black was at least equal for a long time. Maybe Mamedyarov managed to achieve a small plus around move 27, but a tactical flurry soon resulted in a draw. In the third game Sergey Karjakin did achieve an opening plus against Peter Svidler in a Taimanov Sicilian, but his inaccurate 22.Ng3?! allowed Svidler to more or less force an immediate draw with 22...Bc4.

    UPDATE: Games here, with my comments.

    Here are the pairings for round 2: 

    • Kramnik - Karjakin
    • Svidler - Andreikin
    • Topalov - Anand
    • Aronian - Mamedyarov
    Wednesday
    Mar122014

    The Candidates Starts Tomorrow!

    With the 2014 Candidates' tournament starting in just a few hours in balmy Khanty-Mansyisk, Russia, it's time to spring into action on the blog!

    Here are the first round pairings:

    • Dmitry Andreikin - Vladimir Kramnik
    • Sergey Karjakin - Peter Svidler
    • Shakhriyar Mamedyarov - Veselin Topalov
    • Viswanathan Anand - Levon Aronian

    (Full pairings here.)

    Two matchups strike me as especially interesting, namely Andreikin-Kramnik and Anand-Aronian. This is in part because Aronian and Kramnik are the favorites by rating and general acclaim, but not just for that reason. For Kramnik, Andreikin has proved an especially difficult opponent. He defeated him 2.5-1.5 in the finale of last year's World Cup, but he went 0-3 in their remaining games, including their most recent game from the Russian Championship. Andreikin is the lowest-rated player in the event, but that doesn't mean he can't do any damage.

    Anand-Aronian is even more intriguing. In general, Aronian has done very well against Anand, but Anand has won some nice games as well. Last year's brilliancy in Wijk aan Zee was most impressive, and in the 2007 World Championship in Mexico City Aronian lost an early game to Anand that took some of the wind out of his sails while helping propel Anand towards eventual victory. Anand's results have not been very good (by his standards) for a long time, but if he can get his confidence up with an early win over a major rival he could become a serious contender.

    What time will it start? According to TWIC the rounds start at 3 p.m. local time, 9 a.m. UK time and 4 a.m. ET. That makes sense, but for some reason the event's website is telling me the broadcast will begin in 11 and a half hours, which would be 9 a.m. ET. As someone who lives in that time zone I'd find that delightful if true, but it's ever-so-slightly unlikely that the players would commence play at 8 p.m. their time.

    Finally, let's take another shot at predictions. I'm going with Aronian, with the one concern being his seeming tendency to underperform in late rounds and very high-pressure situations. If he can maintain even a stable level in those clutch situations I think he'll be the winner. If not, then I think Kramnik will have the best chance to win and face Carlsen.

    In the second tier, I think Topalov and Anand can have chances, but only if they get off to good starts. If their starts are mediocre or poor, then I don't believe they'll contend. Svidler generally performs very well in major events, and with a bit of luck he might make a run here as well. The Karjakin who won the Norway super-tournament last year could have a shot as well, but the Karjakin of the second half of 2013 probably wouldn't.

    As for Mamedyarov and Andreikin, I don't see either contending. Like Ivanchuk last year, however, they may turn out to be spoilers. We'll find out soon! Meanwhile, readers, predict away.