The biggest chess tournament since…oh, the last world championship tournament, which was San Luis in 2005. Eight players from the world’s top 15 will battle it out for the right to be World Champion. Kramnik is the defending champion and probably the favourite, but the other formidable potential champions include Anand, Leko, and Aronian. As the tension builds, I present my own guide to the event, with personal notes on each player. I also stick my neck out and try to predict the outcome, which is bound to make me look silly when the real result comes.
Event Name: World Chess Championship 2007
When: September 12 – October 1, 2007
Where: Mexico City, Mexico
Format: Eight player double round-robin (all-play-all, 4 games per round, 14 rounds)
Prize fund: US$1.3 million
Who: Anand, Kramnik, Morozevich, Aronian, Leko, Svidler, Grischuk, and Gelfand.
My Personal Prediction
2nd= Leko, Anand
5th-7th Morozevich, Grischuk, and Svidler
Okay, so I am cheating slightly by declaring Moro, Grischuk and Svidler as joint 5th to 7th. But, honestly, this is my best guess and it is a legitimate result. I predict a score of +4 to win the event (meaning 9/14 should be enough).
Current FIDE Top 20 (with contestants in bold):
- Anand, Viswanathan IND 2792
- Topalov, Veselin BUL 2769
- Kramnik, Vladimir RUS 2769
- Ivanchuk, Vassily UKR 2762
- Morozevich, Alexander RUS 2758
- Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar AZE 2757
- Leko, Peter HUN 2751
- Aronian, Levon ARM 2750
- Radjabov, Teimour AZE 2746
- Jakovenko, Dmitry RUS 2735
- Shirov, Alexei ESP 2735
- Svidler, Peter RUS 2735
- Gelfand, Boris ISR 2733
- Grischuk, Alexander RUS 2726
- Adams, Michael ENG 2724
- Kamsky, Gata USA 2718
- Carlsen, Magnus NOR 2710
- Akopian, Vladimir ARM 2708
- Polgar, Judit HUN 2707
- Ponomariov, Ruslan UKR 2706
Most Notable Absentees
Topalov: For being the second rated in the world and the previous world championship finalist. He should be here, and it is farcical that he isn’t really. Blame FIDE and the bizarre regulations that created this tournament in the first place.
Kasparov (!!): For being the greatest player ever, and still probably strong enough to challenge at the top.
Ivanchuk: For being easily the world’s best player on current form and for being such an entertaining one too.
Carlsen, Radjabov and Mamedyarov: For being the youngest and brightest. But their time will come in the next five to ten years…
www.chessgames.com – for recent games from the main competitors
www.chessbase.com – for news and interviews
http://www.chesscenter.com/twic/twic.html – for games and news
Fide Ratings Top 100 World Ratings
Current Ranking: 2769, 3rd
Peak Rating: 2809, October 2002
Career: The reigning, undisputed world champion. One of the leading players in the world since he burst onto the international scene in the chess Olympiad of 1992. He reached the milestone of a 2800+ rating in April 2001. He was broadly recognised as the legitimate World Champion after defeat of Garry Kasparov in 2000 (there was a rival FIDE championship). He has since successfully defended his title twice: in a drawn match against Peter Leko in 2004 (7-7) and 2006 against Veselin Topalov.
Style: Very much an all-rounder, as you’d expect from a World Champion, but definitely leans towards the strategic. Adopted the Berlin Defence to the Ruy Lopez against Garry Kasparov in 2000, which was impossible for Garry to crack.
Prospects: Probably the tournament favourite. He very rarely loses to anyone, he seems capable of drawing at will, and he manages to rack up regular wins too. He handles pressure incredibly well, having overcome Kasparov, Leko, and Topalov, all in extremely pressurised circumstances. Kasparov was the world’s highest ranked player and a formidable opponent: he won 2 and drew the rest. Against Leko, he was forced to win the last game to achieve a drawn match and to retain his title, which he did. Against Topalov the Toiletgate controversy would have severly hampered a player with average nerves and stamina, but Kramnik came through to win in the end.
Ranking: 2751, 7th
Peak Rating: 2763 in April 2005.
Career: He became the youngest grandmaster in history in 1994 (aged 14 years and 4 months old), but only lies 9th on the current list of youngest-ever grandmasters – http://www.chessbase.com/newsprint.asp?newsid=2858
World Junior Champion in 1996, winner of a category 19 Dortmund tournament in 1997, and winner of Linares in 2003. He challenged Kramnik for the world championship in 2004 and drew 7-7 (Kramnik retained the title). He was leading 7-6 going into the final game.
Style: He was noted for his extremely drawish tendencies prior to 2005, but has recently stated his desire to produce more exciting and dynamic chess.
Prospects: As in soccer, where they say the way to win championships is to start with a good defence, in chess, to win world championships, you need to be able to draw critical games. Leko has always had the ability to draw games against the best in the world. In a tight championship tournament, he may be the player that lasts the distance. However, in a more open tournament, where to win requires taking risks, then he may suffer. He probably works harder at his game than almost any other player, including Kramnik. And the winning of the world championships is an obsession with Leko. I see Leko as the second favourite. He has youth on his side, the ability to work and prepare incredibly well, and has come within a whisker of being world champion himself.
Ranking: 2792, 1st
Peak Rating: 2803, April 2006.
Career: His career has been notable for the length of time spent in the top three, which has been a constant since 1997. He challenged Kasparov for the world title in 1995, but after leading briefly after round 9, faded badly, losing 10.5-7.5 in the end. He has won one of the chess ‘majors’ (Dortmund, Linares, Corus) nine times in total.
Style: Anand is probably the most naturally talented chess player of them all, and certainly one of the most popular. He plays incredibly quickly, sometimes so quickly as to astonish his opponents and leave them in serious time trouble. Arguably, if he could learn to slow down (hardly likely at this stage) he might improve even more. His style is tactical, favouring complications and sharp positions over slow games.
Prospects: Being the current no. 1 rated player, a winner of multiple top tournaments, and a candidate for the world championship so often, Anand is definitely one of the top favorites for the title. He is one of the oldest competitors, but not in a way that makes it a huge handicap. If he can avoid silly defeats and enjoy a run of early wins, then Anand may be hard to beat. But I still rank Kramnik and Leko ahead of him.
Ranking: 2733, 13th
Career: Boris’s career peaked in the 1990s, with multiple challenges for the world championship. Knocked out of the quarter finals by Nigel Short in 1992, he was knocked out of the semi-finals by Karpov in 1996. He has multiple tournament victories from the 1990s, but rather less from the 2000s.
Style: Boris is a very traditional, strategic player. He understands classic chess positions extremely well and can defeat less-prepared players, like Kamsky in 2007 in the qualifying match for this tournament. At this level, he will struggle to generate chances against better prepared players.
Prospects: Boris is the clear outsider for the tournament. He is not only the second-lowest ranked, and the oldest, he has very few top tournament or match successes to his name. He is a formidable player and 13th is not a rating to be sniffed at, but in terms of this tournament, packed as it is with the world’s top players, it looks beyond him. It would be a major shock if he finishes in the top 5.
Ranking: 2735, 12th
Peak Rating: 2765, January 2006
Career: Four times Russian champion (1994, ’95, ’97, and 2003).
Style: Eccentric and experimental, but not as much as Morozevich. Plays a classically good style, but suffers against technically superior players, like Kramnik.
Prospects: Svidler is not a serious chess worker, like Leko or Kramnik. He professes to be rather casual about his preparations, which I’ve no reason to suspect is a put-on. This is his achilles heel. Also, he can be prone to tiredness and physical exhaustion, which can hamper his otherwise good tournaments. Obviously, he is hugely naturally talented, and can beat any of the players in the tournament on his day. But he will be undone by either lack of preparation, tiredness, lack of interest or motivation, or some combination of them. Winning these intense tournaments means more than chess talent: it needs strength of character, nerves, motivation, and the ability to bounce back from setbacks. I think Svidler just lacks that extra percent of motivation to take him over the winning line.
Ranking: 2726, 14th
Peak Rating: 2732, July 2003
Style: Grischuk is a phenomenally good blitz player, being capable of beating almost all comers.
Prospects: Grischuk is an enormously talented player, the youngest in the field, and possibly capable of pulling of a great result. However, he is hampered by a recent switch to poker (probably because the money is far better) which cannot help his concentration on high-level chess preparation.
Ranking: 2758, 5th
Peak Rating: 2762, April 2007
Career: He has a few wins in very strong tournaments behind him, particular in Biel and the Ciudad de Pamplona, but none in the “majors” (Linares, Corus, or Dortmund).
Style: Morozevich is probably the most contrarian, unconventional player in the world. He plays bizarre openings, even unsound ones, but is incredibly well-prepared in them. He has a very creative middle-game, and is noted for his very strong blitz play. He is perhaps the most entertaining player in the world: completely unsound openings leading to wild middle games make him a favourite with chess amateurs and fellow professionals alike.
Prospects: On his day, he can beat anyone, but a tournament such as this one is another matter. Unfortunately, I think Moro is just too unstable to reach the absolute heights of the world championship. He somehow manages to inspire and infuritate in equal measure.
Ranking: 2750, 8th
Peak Rating: 2761, July 2006
Career: Aronian has been on a steadily improving upward curve for most of the last 10 years. As recently as 2001 he had an unspectacular rating of only 2522. His recent rise to the top ten in the world has been noteworthy for winning several top tournaments, including Linares (2006) and Corus (2007, joint first).
Prospects: I get the impression that Aronian is still improving. He dispatched the formidable Magnus Carlsen in the candidates round to reach this tournament, showing very good preparation and good nerves. He has won major tournaments before and shows every sign of being a real contender for this tournament too. I would rank him as 4th favourite, after Anand, Kramnik, and Leko. However, if I was looking for a surprise result, Aronian would be the man.