It would be a serious dereliction of my bloggily duties if I did not comment on the big Candidates Tournament, recently concluded in London.
My comment is this: Wowee wow wow! What a great tournament!
This was the tournament meant to determine the next challenger for the current World Chess Champion, Viswanathan Anand of India. The participants were eight giants of the chess world, who qualified for the tournament in various ways. Going in, virtually everyone would have picked Magnus Carlsen, of Norway, as the clear favorite. Levon Aronian and Vladimir Kramnik were also plausible winners, but anyone else was a very dark horse indeed.
And that’s exactly how things played out. At the halfway point, Carlsen and Aronian were well ahead of the pack at plus three. They were completely dominant, with Kramnik, at the point, only managing a series of draws. Kramnik was a bit unlucky, since he had both Carlsen and Aronian on the ropes in their first individual games before letting them escape with draws. But no one really took him seriously when he said, at a press conference, that he had not yet given up on the tournament.
Then Kramnik got hot! He won four of his next five games, including a win against Aronian in their second game of the tournament. Carlsen, for his part, stumbled badly when he lost to cellar dweller Ivanchuk. After round twelve, with just two rounds to go, Kramnik took the lead. Suddenly he was the favorite to win the tournament, which would have been interesting, since Kramnik was the World Champion before Anand beat him to win the title. Rematch, anyone?
Round 13 seemed to be heading towards Kramnik’s coronation. Carlsen was getting nowhere as black against another cellar dweller Radjabov, while Kramnik was spanking Gelfand pretty severely. But then Gelfand found a miracle draw, and Carlsen managed to reach an endgame in which he had a slight advantage. That’s all Carlsen, needed, and after going all boa constrictor for 89 moves, he forced Radjabov to resign.
This set up what was probably the most suspenseful last round of a chess tournament in recent memory. Because of how the tie breaks worked, Kramnik needed to do strictly better than Carlsen. Either a Kramnik win against a Carlsen draw, or a Kramnik draw against a Carlsen loss, would have given Kramnik the title. Since Carlsen was playing white, it was mostly taken for granted that he would be able to make a draw at will. So Kramnik had to go gunning for a win, as black, against Ivanchuk.
What happened? Kramnik and Carlsen both lost.
Interestingly, Vassily Ivanchuk, who finished next to last and mostly was not taking the tournament very seriously, nonetheless notched up wins over both Kramnik and Carlsen.
So Carlsen wins. That is appropriate, since he has clearly been the strongest player in the world over the last two years. The fact is, I think most chess fans really wanted to see a Carlsen vs. Anand match. This is a match, incidentally, in which Carlsen will probably be considered the favorite. The event might take place as soon as November. Stay tuned!
I don’t have the patience right now to annotate one of the games, so here’s an amusing problem I came across recently. It’s white to play and mate in two. Keep in mind that the convention is that black is always moving down the board. So, that black pawn on a2 currently has no moves. If the black king moves, then the pawn will be able to promote. This was composed by the great American chess composer William Shinkman in 1894. It’s not too difficult, so have a go!
I’m sure someone will manage to leave the solution in the comments.