Thursday, April 4, 2013

Magnus Carlsen Wins 2013 Candidates Tournament

Magnus Carlsen after winning the 2013 Candidates Tournament
The 2013 Candidates Tournament is over. MagnusCarlsen won and is now the official challenger of Viswanathan Anand. I have been following international chess for almost 20 years now, and I can unequivocally say that this was one of the best tournaments I've ever seen. Many great games, unexpected results, and lots of drama till the very end. What more could chess fans have asked for?

Thanks to the internet and live streams it's also become much easier to share in the excitement of top level chess tournaments. I remember when I first got into chess and my parents bought me a one year subscription of a chess magazine, it just wasn't the same. Without the real-time experience, all the drama is lost. In fact I find watching chess tournaments online even more exciting than the seemingly more fast-paced Starcraft 2 events such as MLG.

I'm not surprised that Carlsen won the whole thing, but I certainly didn't expect it to come about the way it did. I thought I would see a neck-and-neck race between Carlsen and Kramnik all the way. Instead, the first half of the tournament saw Carlsen and Aronian pulling ahead of the field while Kramnik failed to convert his many promising positions into a single win.
And just when I thought Kramnik was out of the running for sure, he pulled a pretty impressive comeback while Aronian completely collapsed at the beginning of the second half of the tournament.

Many in the chess community seem relieved that there will not be a rematch of Anand - Kramnik 2008. I am not so sure. Leaving aside the fact that rematches are kind of fascinating in themselves, I do think that a second encounter between the two would have produced much more interesting chess simply because Kramnik was clearly out of form in 2008.  Foto by Fred Lucas.
Magnus Carlsen: I'm not surprised that he won the candidates tournament. I am surprised however that he managed to squeeze so many points out of drawn positions, especially in the first half of the tournament. It's really instructive to see how he so "effortlessly" keeps accumulating tiny advantages until he's got enough to convert the position into a win. I often have "dead drawn" positions just like he has, but of course I lack his superb positional skills. My play is just too inaccurate to capitalize on tiny positional imbalances the way Carlsen does.
Some commentators - rightfully in my opinion - pointed out Carlsen's comparatively weak opening repertoire. While his skill to win drawn positions is remarkable, it is equally remarkable to see that a player of his calibre more often than not fails to get any advantage out of the opening, especially when playing white. I know it is his strategy to deviate from well-known theoretical lines early in order to render his opponents' preparation useless and force them to start using up time early. On the other hand though this approach does allow his opponents to equalize without much effort.
Against a well-prepared Anand, Carlsen will most certainly have to show better opening preparation. At this tournament, Carlsen got most of his wins from the lower half of the field. In the match with Anand, there is no lower half.

Magnus Carlsen and Boris Gelfand at the 2012 Wijk "Super Tournament". Maybe Carlsen has really bad body odor. Or maybe Gelfand simply had a cold. Foto by Fred Lucas
Vladimir Kramnik: one of my personal favorites and the tragic hero of the tournament. He's been criticized for having lost his interest in chess after getting married and having two kids a few years ago. In fact similar things are being said about Anand. Kramnik however showed fantastic chess in London, and this tournament has been called "maybe his best performance ever" by Garry Kasparov. I think Kramnik is still a very serious contender for the world championship title, and might very well win the next candidates tournament, especially if Carlsen beats Anand later this year.

They also used a new chess set at the Candidates Tournament. I agree with the criticism voiced by some of the players that the pieces are a little too big for the board.

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