New World Chess Championship Cycle

If politics is the art of the possible, chess politics is the art of the impossible.

FIDE had a previous World Champion (Topalov) play and lose against the current champion (Kramnik) and somehow managed to exclude Topalov from the current cycle to find a new champion (starting with the recent candidates and to culminate in September with a World Championship tournament (WChT), also including Kramnik). Never before has a champion (Kramnik) had to face his peers in a tournament to decide his legitimate title. But a confusing situation has now got even more bizaare.

FIDE have now decided to re-insert Topalov back into the world championship cycle by allowing him a special eight-game challenge, in 2008, against the winner of a World Cup tournament to be held in Nov-Dec this year in Russia. The winner of this match gets to play the winner of another match – this time between Kramnik (if he fails to win the WChT in Sept) and the winner of that WChT.

However, if Kramnik does win the tournament in September, then Topalov gets a direct match against him in 2008. And then the winner of that match plays the winner of the World Cup 2007 tournament in another decider for the title.

This raises a couple of issues which pertain to fairness, legitimacy, and equal opportunity. Firstly, Kramnik won a title unifying match against Topalov in 2006. He now is expected to play a huge tournament against 7 highly motivated opponents to defend that title (a precedent for a chess world champion), only 18 months after his defence. Even if he manages to win out (and he might be favourite, but has to face mighty challengers), he then has to face Topalov again in 2008, and then if he wins there he has to face another strong opponent in 2009. Okay, it could be argued that this is all part of proving he is the champion, but no previous champion has had to face such consecutive challenges (three matches and one tournament) over a period of three years, to defend his title.

More importantly, Topalov gets a huge – and unfair – lift back to another chess decider. If Kramnik wins the WChT, Topalov gets a title decider in 2008, with no extra work. And if he wins that match, there is no mention of a return match for Kramnik. That’s hardly fair, both to Kramnik and to the other 7 challengers in the WChT.

If Kramnik loses the WChT, Topalov gets to play one eight game match (in Bulgaria!!) to go into a decider against the winner of a Kramnik-AN Other match! He gets to a match against Kramnik in altogether different and easier standards (because Kramnik plays a very tough opponent, such as Leko or Anand or Morozevich…while he gets maybe some top-thirty GM because these sorts of 128 person tournaments are lotteries). Is this right?

Another scenario is that, say, Leko, after winning two candidates matches already, then wins the WChT and then plays Kramnik in 2008, before meeting Topalov in 2009. Whew! After four matches and one tournament over four years, he would finally be over that cycle of world championships. He then defends it again in 2010 against someone else. Topalov, meanwhile, has lost a title decider to Kramnik and then might get a one-match head-to-head against Kramnik in 2008 as a reward.

I believe that Topalov is getting a very easy way back to being world champion, while Kramnik is facing into a huge challenge to his title over the next two years. This is unfair, unequal, and wrong. It is brutal chess politics at its worst. What is sad is that Kramnik may feel obliged to challenge FIDE over this decision. If he does, the whole rotten edifice may come crumbling down again and the legitimacy (or not) of the chess world champion will be at risk again.


Chess Candidates

The candidates tournament is over and the preparations for the big world championship tournament in September are beginning. Here’s the Fide rankings, with the participants in bold. 

1 Anand, Viswanathan g IND 2786 27 1969
2 Topalov, Veselin g BUL 2772 27 1975
3 Kramnik, Vladimir g RUS 2772 13 1975
4 Morozevich, Alexander g RUS 2762 21 1977
5 Aronian, Levon g ARM 2759 27 1982
6 Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar g AZE 2757 3 1985
7 Radjabov, Teimour g AZE 2747 13 1987
8 Leko, Peter g HUN 2738 14 1979
9 Svidler, Peter g RUS 2736 27 1976
10 Adams, Michael g ENG 2734 10 1971
11 Gelfand, Boris g ISR 2733 0 1968
12 Ivanchuk, Vassily g UKR 2729 24 1969
13 Polgar, Judit g HUN 2727 0 1976
14 Navara, David g CZE 2720 19 1985
15 Ponomariov, Ruslan g UKR 2717 13 1983 1
16 Grischuk, Alexander g RUS 2717 0 1983

The absense of Topalov, the no. 2 rated player in the world and the previous Fide world champion certainly creates a dilemma. Why he is missing is buried in the politics and agreements of the chess world and I don’t know the ins and outs. I could find out, but life is too short! But it certainly reduces the tournament slightly. It would be better to have a fair contest between all potential champions.

Secondly, the tournament format means the abandonment of the previous matches for the world title. These matches created many, many classics that still endure – Capablanca vs. Lasker, Capablanca vs. Alekhine, Botvinnik vs. Bronstein, Fischer vs. Spassky, and all the Korchnoi, Karpov, & Kasparov matches. We’ve always had tournaments too, like Linares and Wijk an Zee. And Fide have fiddled before with the format of world championships, much to its loss of credibility I believe. Who remembers that Kasimzhanov and Ponomariov were former champions, or who really believes that Karpov was a world champion several years after losing match after match against Kasparov?

I would much prefer a return to the traditional format of a candidates tournament, followed by a cycle of matches to decide the champ for a three year period. And those matches have to be 12 games minimum.

Thirdly, we can note that the top-30 rankings are crowded with names of the future, such as Mamedyarov, Radjabov, Carlsen, Navara, and Karjakin.  The next cycle, or the next few after that, will presumably throw up all or most of these players, plus some we’ve barely heard of before. It is an interesting prospect.

Grischuk-Rublevsky 2.5-05


And it is all over. Grischuk wins again against the Scotch, even though Rublevsky deviates early with Nb3. In the final position, above, black has Nxc3+, with mate or loss of the queen pending. Ouch.

Grischuk-Rublevsky Playoff

Grischuk won the first game, as black, against Rublevsky’s Scotch game. I can’t help thinking that Rublevsky should have played something different, instead of testing Grischuk’s preparation again and again. He was bound to come up with something critical.

The second game was a draw. It featured a very unusual position after Grischuk’s 40 Qg2-g1. This is the kind of thing that confuses the heck out of amateurs such as me. It looks wrong, all wrong. But of course, it is all perfectly logical. If on the previous move Rublevsky took the black queen, then after Rxe1+, Rxe1 again, then Rxe1+ forces white’s queen to interpose at g1. Hence, all the pieces come off and it should be a draw.

 qg1grischuk.jpgPosition after Qg2-g1

Candidates, Round 6 over

Two draws, so Gelfand and Leko are joined by Aronian. It never looked likely for Shirov today, and Aronian even looked slightly better in the final position. Grischuk and Rublevsky head for the rapid showdown after a short draw via perpetual check.

The playoff starts tomorrow at 10am Irish time. The format is for 4 games of rapid chess (25 mins each, plus a 10 sec increment per move), followed by blitz chess if they are tied 2-2. Grischuk obviously fancies his chances with this format, but anything can happen in shorter games.

All over for Kamsky

In the candidates matches, Gelfand, as black, again comprehensively outplayed Kamsky. Kamsky looked ill at sorts, completely out of form. Whether it is tiredness or natural lack of form, who knows. But he played terribly badly. Leko secured the draw against Bareev that puts him through too. Grischuk-Rublevsky goes to the last game all tied at 2.5 each after todays drawn game. Aronian carries a huge advantage into his final game against Shirov, with Shirov needing to win as white to bring it to a tie-break. Their game today was a theoretical duel in the Gruenfeld. It puzzles me why Shirov decided to go for this kind of drawish game when he needed to win, although maybe he reckoned that as black it was safer to draw and then try to win tomorrow with white.

Scores: Leko 3.5 vs Bareev 1.5; Gelfand 3.5 vs Kamsky 1.5; Aronian 3.0 vs. Shirov 2.0; Rublevsky 2.5 vs Grischuk 2.5.

Tuesday’s Sixth and Final Games: Shirov v. Aronian; and Rublevsky v. Grischuk. Starts 12 noon Irish/UK time.  

Chess, Round 2, Game 4 results

Aronian and Shirov played another fascinating game yesterday. This is turning out to be the most exciting encounter since….Aronian-Carlsen! Leko is almost through after a draw against Bareev, while Kamsky-Gelfand was another draw. The surprise of the round was a win for Rublevsky over Grischuk. This levels the match and looks like producing an exciting finish. 

Aronian, Levon g  ARM 2759  1   =   =   =   2.5  2824
Shirov, Alexei g  ESP 2699  0   =   =   =   1.5  2634

Leko, Peter    g  HUN 2738  1   =   1   =   3.0  2836
Bareev, Evgeny g  RUS 2643  0   =   0   =   1.0  2545

Grischuk, A    g  RUS 2717  1   =   =   0   2.0  2680
Rublevsky, S   g  RUS 2680  0   =   =   1   2.0  2717

Gelfand, Boris g  ISR 2733  =   =   1   =   2.5  2800
Kamsky, Gata   g  USA 2705  =   =   0   =   1.5  2646

Up today: Round 5, with Leko looking to finish his match, Kamsky pushing all out with White for a win, Grischuk looking to bounce back, and Shirov hoping to level against Aronian. Almost anything is possible and I’m looking forward to the games:

World Candidates, Round 2, Game 3

Leko is almost qualified, with another convincing display in the Caro Kann against Bareev. His Queen was encamped on the kingside for the early part of the game and Black had to loosen his pawn structure to get rid of it. 34 f4! was a great move, offering the knight for an overwhelming attack, which was declined. This was followed by a real sacrifice of 40 Bxe4, demolishing the pawns around black’s king and forcing the loss of the rook on f6 and Bareev’s resignation. This was a very powerful display from Leko and re-establishes his world championship credentials after his close loss to Kramnik a couple of years ago.  

In Aronian-Shirov, black had an extra pawn for most of the game, but his own pawn structure was so weak that he could never make use of it. The need to defend the pawn on a6 kept his rook locked on a8 for much of the game too. White eventually won back the pawn and even won an extra one to boot. In a tense endgame, the draw eventually became inevitable. (This makes it sound simpler than it was! It was quite a complex, tricky game).

Kamsky, as early as move three, with Bf4, was deviating from mainline theory. This underlines his main weakness: the lack of a very strong opening repetoire. He was in relative trouble from early on, with Gelfand waging a battle over the d4 square which tied white down. On move 23, Black obtained a huge knight on c4, which dominated the board. White was struggling to get activity. A little trick enable black to win a pawn on b5, followed by another lost pawn soon afterwards. Kamsky could have resigned in the position after 40 Nxd4, but as is his wont, he chose to fight on in a hopeless position. I am disappointed with Kamsky’s display in this game, it looked very poor to me. All credit to Gelfand.

 Grischuk pressed early on and at one point I thought he might break through decisively on the kingside against Rublevsky. He even ended the game with two connected passed pawns on the queenside, normally a great advantage. But black had enough activity with his rook and opposite coloured bishop to force a draw.  

Standings at half way

Match 1: Aronian Levon (ARM) 2 vs Shirov Alexei (ESP) 1

Match 2: Leko Peter (HUN) 2.5 vs Bareev Evgeny (RUS) 0.5 

Match 3: Grischuk Alexander (RUS) 2 vs Rublevsky Sergei (RUS) 1 

Match 4: Kamsky Gata (USA) 1 vs Gelfand Boris (ISR) 2 

The players have a rest day tomorrow (Saturday) and resume on Sunday through Tuesday. Right now, it looks to me like Aronian, Leko, Grischuk, and Gelfand to qualify, but it is only half-way!