Thursday, March 6, 2014

Candidates 2014!

The reign of Viswananthan Anand was in full flow. Everything was going just right for the Madras Tiger. But then in 2013 came a Norwegian wonderkid! Said Garry Kasparov: Magnus Carlsen is the force of Nature whose time has come! And boy! did he deliver! He simply smashed Vishy Anand with a score of 6.5-3.5 to become the undisputed World Chess Champion!

Carlsen after winning the world title!

Carlsen then set about on a task which very few world champions had done in the past.
To popularize the game of chess!

He first kicked off a football match between Real Madrid and Real Valladolid on his birthday in November 2013.

He then met the owner of the world's most popular social networking website,Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg and taught him to play chess!

Bill Gates was next on his agenda as he played with the CEO of Microsoft and beat him using something like 20 seconds!!

Such wonderful is his team's marketing acumen that they even created a mobile application for apple users where you have to beat the 14 yr old Magnus if you want to meet him in person! 

Just in case you are wondering whether he did play any serious chess or not? Yes he did! And he won the super strong Zurich chess challenge 2014 and currently boasts of an astronomical rating of 2881 as on 1st March 2014.

Everything was going on like a fairytale. But as they say Life is full of ups and downs! There has to be someone who can take Carlsen down a little! To show him that life is not a bed full of roses!
There are people like Hikaru Nakamura who openly says that he is the biggest threat to Magnus! Yet whenever he plays him, he is crushed badly! 
We need someone who has walked on fire, passed the most brutal test and proved himself that he is capable of beating the best! And what better way than to select the Challenger to Magnus Carlsen through a super strong Candidates tournament!


The Candidates tournament is a 8 player double round robin event (14 rounds in all). It is held in the Russian city of Khanty Mansiysk. The winner of this tournament will challenge Magnus Carlsen in the world Championship that is to take place in November 2014 (Yes the world Championship is now going to become an annual affair!)
So who are the gladiators taking part in this highly esteemed event?

Let's begin with the person who has been the World Chess Champion for 5 times!
(in the brackets is the reason why a specific player is playing in this candiates tournament)

VISWANATHAN ANAND 2770 ( loser of the 2013 WCH match)

His confidence has taken a beating after losing to Magnus Carlsen. But he is a true champion and wouldn't it be a total dream story if he could win the Candidates, Challenge Magnus and then beat him! That would truly immortalize him! But lets be a little practical. Anand's best days are behind him. The only thing that gives him an edge is his extensive preparations for the match against Carlsen. If he can make use of this preparation, then he might have a good chance! But his opponents now know how to steer away from well known theoretical paths.
Dont miss out: Vishy catching his opponents in some deeply prepared line and then in the press conference revealing that he had prepared it for his match against Carlsen!

VLADIMIR KRAMNIK 2787 (winner of world cup 2013)

He has been at the top for almost 2 decades now. He beat Garry Kasparov when Garry was at the height of his powers. Naturally there is nothing that intimidates this Russian and he is looking for an opportunity to prove that the Norwegian wonderkid is as human as any other chess player! Its true that Kramnik has always scored well against Carlsen and more importantly he is able to put the current World Champion under pressure. So if he wins the Candidates it will be a mouth watering world championship. But I ask you the question: Does Kramnik need this victory so badly? I guess not! He isn't the hungriest man in the tournament!
Dont miss out: Based on his opening choices in the previous tournaments, I think we will definitely be treated to some off beat opening lines like 1.b3 or 1.g3 by this Russian Legend!

DMITRY ANDREIKIN 2709 (runner up at world cup 2013)

When I played my only World Junior tournament in the year 2010, it was won by a man(boy) who looked like a machine. He would come everyday to the board with no expressions on his face. Open the game with some unambitious opening setup like c4 nf3 e3 etc and then positionally crush his opponent. He was so good that in no game was he under any threat in the 13 round event. 4 years hence it comes as no surprise to me that Andreikin is playing at such a high level. However his route to the top has been quite interesting. Against better players most of the times, Andreikin plays a waiting game. He holds his fort and lets the opponent make a mistake. The overambition of players like Kramnik has resulted in Andreikin having a plus score against him. But I think these waiting tactics wont work here. Andreikin has nothing to lose and I am sure he will come out all guns blazing!
Dont miss out: I expect a complete change in style in Andreikin's play. He will I guess play as agressively as he can! Some interesting attacks are on the agenda!

VESELIN TOPALOV 2785 (winner of FIDE grand prix 2012-13)

When I went to Bulgaria in the summer of 2013, the cab drivers would ask me as to why had I come to their motherland. And I would reply that I had come to play chess. "Topalov" is what they would exclaim! And they would even mention his world championship matches with Anand and Kramnik. Topalov in Bulgaria is like Sachin in India! And not without reason! The Bulgarian has shown his class ever since winning the strong 2005 San Luis tournament. So he is not new to this double round robin format! We haven't seen much of Topalov recently, which means he is preparing hard for this tournament!
Dont miss out:
Does this picture ring some bells in your head? On the left is Ivan Cheparinov, Topalov's faithful second for a long time now, who won the world's strongest open, Gibraltar Open 2014 ahead of a star studded field of Ivanchuk, Adams etc. When the second is himself performing so well, you definitely expect the Protagonist, Veselin Topalov to show some phenomenal preparation!!

SHAKHRIYAR MAMEDYAROV 2757 (runner up of FIDE grand prix 2012-13)

What is the impression you get when you see the above picture? I guess you see a man, who is extremely sly, not intimidated by anyone and at the same time battle hardened! Yes, I think this describes Mamedyarov perfectly! I have always loved Mamedyarov for his quality of sharpening the play by making unconventional moves! In a normal position he will make a rook lift right in the center of the board witha move like Rd4! which can be taken by 2 or 3 minor pieces! Thats the way he plays chess!
I would be definitely kidding if I said Mamedyarov is one of the favourites. He neither has the experience of playing such an intense tournament nor has he proved that he has the necessary skills to constantly beat guys like Kramnik, Aronian and Anand. But what he definitely has is the capacity to beat any of his opponents on his day!
Dont miss out: Highly entertaining games which will feature new opening ideas and also some very uncommon sacrificial attacks!

LEVON ARONIAN 2830 (Based on elo rating)

Easy going, calm and extremely affable best describes this Armenian prodigy! Levon Aronian is to chess what Roger Federer is to tennis. So smooth is his style of play that sometimes it feels as if he writing a poetry while making his moves. But the class is combined with purposefulness and thats why today Levon boasts of a phenomenal 2830 rating. He is definitely the favourite to win this tournament. But as he has shown in the past, there is something that Levon lacks and that his control on his nerves! In crucial situations he chokes and commits hara kiri which is not expected from a player of his stature. Even in the Candidates 2013 he was leading the tournament, only to really lose his breathe towards the end and make a mess of it. The battle between Levon Aronian and Magnus Carlsen in Nov 2014 will be a new high for the sport of chess. Thats the only reason why I am supporting Levon to win this tournament!!
Dont miss out: Even Levon knows that based on his form, this is the best chance for him to have a shot at the title. It will be a highly motivated Aronian that we will be seeing here. Completely focused and prepared not to botch this opoortunity!

SERGEY KARJAKIN 2766 (based on ELO rating) 

This lad has a penchant for doing things quickly! Age is not a barrier for him. Dont believe me. Here are some facts.
1. In 2002, Ruslan Ponomariov won the FIDE world Chess Championship. Guess who was his official second for the tournament? The 12 year old Sergey Karjakin!!
2. Karjakin became the youngest Grandmaster in the world at the tender age of 12 years and 7 months. Many prodigies have come and gone but this record still remains unbroken!
3. At the age of 19, he married Kateryna Dolzhikova! Not only did he get married soon, he quickly divorced her, within 2.5 years. This last  one is not related to chess but you can see the common link in all of them. Karjakin simply doesn't like to wait!
It must be irritating for him that being such a huge talent and surely predicted by many as the future world champion, having not lived upto his potential. I have always thought of Karjakin as right there at the top but just not quite there! This is his unique opportunity to get a shot at the world title!
Dont miss out: People compared Karjakin and Carlsen with each other. But the latter has surpassed him big time. Karjakin would want to make his followers believe that he does have what it takes to be the world champion! A very determined Karjakin will be on show in Khanty Mansisyk.

PETER SVIDLER 2725 (organizing committee's wild Card)

What is the first thing that strikes you when you see the Peter Svidler of 2011 on the left and the one of 2013 on the right. Of course you see the fit and well toned Svidler on the right who has lost more than 20 pounds it seems! As all the people who have tried losing weight know very well, its a very difficult task and you need to be extremely dedicated, determined and consistent if you want to get away with the flab! 
These qualities that Peter has imbibed in him following the diet regime can also be seen on the chess board. Svidler knows that age is not on his side (he is 37 years old). However he is the current Russian champion and has been at the absolute top for quite some time now. Not to forget how he dismantled Magnus Carlsen in the high intensity last round of Candidates 2013.
Dont miss out: The organizers have given Svidler the wild card this time. With the competition getting younger and fierce every year, this might well be his last chance. He wouldn't want his weight losing feat to go in vain!! :)

This ends the introduction of all the participants of the Candidates tournament. The question remains who will win the tournament?
Only 1 of them will shake Magnus's hand in November 2014!

Based on my analysis I have put the players in 3 categories:

FAVOURITES:                        SOME CHANCE:                NO CHANCE:
1.Levon Aronian                         4. Vishy Anand                       7.Mamedyarov
2.Vladimir Kramnik                     5.Sergey Karjakin                  8. Dmitry Andreikin
3.Veselin Topalov                       6.Peter Svidler

My money is on Levon Aronian to win the tournament! What do you think?

More info about the tournament:

The average rating of this tournament is 2766 which is pretty high!

The time control for the event is 2 hours for the first 40 moves, 1 hour for the next 20 moves and then an additional 15 minutes upto the end of the game with 30 sec increment from move 61.
With perennial time trouble addicts like Ivanchuk and Grischuk not present in this candidates, I dont think anyone is going to lose on time!

The minimum stipulated prize fund for the event was 4,20,000 euros but the organizers have done a great job of raising the total prize fund to 6,00,000 euros.
The first place is 1,35000 euros which is approximately 1.1 crore rupees and the last place (8th) is 25000 euros which is around 20 lakh indian rupees.

1 March: Arrivals 
12 March: Opening Ceremony & Players Meeting 
13-15 March: Rounds 1-3 
16 March: Free day 
17-19 March: Rounds 4-6 
20 March: Free day 
21-23 March: Rounds 7-9 
24 March: Free day 
25-27 March: Rounds 10-12 
28 March: Free day 
29-30 March: Rounds 13-14 
31 March: Tiebreaks / Closing ceremony 
1 April: Departures 

Thus after every 3 rounds there is a rest day. That is a pretty hectic schedule for the players and I am sure by the end of the tournament, young guns like Karjakin and Andreikin will surely have an edge over others!

You can find the pairing of the event over here.

I think this Candidates tournament will be one of the most memorable tournaments in the history of Chess. There will be lots of exciting games and moments to watch out for. And I sincerely hope that this tournament will find a worthy challenger to the great Magnus!

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  1. Now that what we call writing a blog !! Excellent work Sagar..Simply Awesome..

  2. You are Popularizing Chess in India incredibly Sagar ! Excellent Work !

  3. Hi sagar..
    great article, not just this but all. For me some players are really missing from the list based on their caliber or perfomance. Yes it is not you or me decide the rules ;) it is my request to you to write an article to talk about players whom you think should be in this.. I hope you also feel like me, sorry if not..

  4. The stage is set for an intense tournament and you have helped create that intensity for the readers!!!

  5. Was an Amazing read!! thx for the timely updates.

  6. Thank you for sharing valuable information. Nice post. I enjoyed reading this post. The whole blog is very nice found some good stuff and good information here Thanks..Also visit my page chess tips win at chess, win chess, chess, winning chess, chess beginners, chess tips, chess training, chess strategy

  7. boy does the players travel much! as a big Magnus-fan, do you know if he will attend even if he of course wont play to challenge himself? He has just been to Brazil, hasnt he?