KC-Review: Experts on the Candidates Tournament 2013

Лондон 2013

The London Candidates Tournament was one of the most eagerly anticipated events in modern chess history, and it didn’t disappoint. After Magnus Carlsen emerged victorious by the finest of margins Crestbook asked some leading chess experts for their views.

Гарри Каспаров

Garry Kasparov

The tournament showed that rumours of the death of classical chess were somewhat exaggerated. It was a vivid spectacle, there was a high number of decisive games, and so on.

Yes, it ended up being a wonderful tournament, but I’m not sure it was the best ever. There were good tournaments in the past as well, for example Las Palmas 1997. But if you’re comparing tournaments of a similar status then in general there haven’t been so many. I’d compare London 2013 to the 1959 Candidates Tournament. True, that didn’t have such a strong and well-balanced line-up. This time in London only Radjabov turned out to be superfluous, while there were more outsiders back then.

The regulations were ridiculous. Who established such rules? You can’t pick a candidate based on tiebreakers! And why did the main one turn out to be the number of wins and not the Sonneborn-Berger score? It’s absolutely essential for such qualifying tournaments to have a play-off match with a normal time control between the top two, even if it’s not a tie but one of them finishes ahead of the other by no more than a point. Only if that match ends in a draw should the tiebreakers be taken into account.

The tournament showed Carlsen’s weaknesses in terms of the opening and his ability to play deciding games. For example, the final round was the game of Magnus’ life, and he lost it. He got lucky that his rival also succumbed.

Who did Carlsen beat in this tournament? The bottom half of the table. Against his strongest rivals he didn’t play convincingly.

His style also isn’t fully-developed. For instance, in the final game against Svidler he had to choose 30.Bh8! instead of 30.Bh4. That’s a different kind of chess, however, and Magnus doesn’t yet play that way.

Anand is an experienced fighter and is capable of playing a strong match. Nevertheless, if Carlsen does some work and eliminates his flaws he’ll undoubtedly win, because at the moment he plays chess better than Anand. Incidentally, Kramnik also plays better than Anand.

It’s hard to call me a big Kramnik fan, but he really did play brilliantly. That was one of the best tournaments of his career.

Ivanchuk showed himself to be a real fighter, and that’s no surprise. He’s a chess player from the top shelf. You can’t say that about Gelfand and Topalov, for example. Aronian is close, but he hasn’t got there yet.

Ivanchuk is continuing the line of outstanding chess players of the past who’ve failed to become champions – Keres and Korchnoi. Moreover, in some components he’s even surpassed them. For instance, Ivanchuk finished tournaments ahead of myself and Karpov, while his predecessors barely had any such successes when they finished ahead of the cream of their time.

In the tournament’s last game Ivanchuk was fighting for his honour and his whole career. Kramnik failed to understand that.

As for Vassily’s five losses on time, that’s a question for FIDE. You can’t change the control like that in official events. The switch from the time control with an increment for each move to the classical control was fatal for Ivanchuk. It was also a big problem for Grischuk. Otherwise they’d have posted better results.

Grischuk was well-prepared. Both against Kramnik in the Berlin endgame and against Carlsen in the second half he had a serious edge. Grischuk might have beaten Svidler 2-0, going by the positions. His knight sacrifice on c4 in the King’s Indian Defence was something I analysed back in the 90s. Black is even better there. I then showed the sacrifice to Nakamura, but he never got the chance to play it.

Aronian turned out not to be robust, and was unprepared for the atmosphere of fighting for the title. It seems Levon cracked as early as the seventh round when he failed to win a promising position against Grischuk while Carlsen miraculously survived against Radjabov. It was downhill from there.

Svidler was good.

Overall, the tournament showed who’s who.


Саша Костенюк

Alexandra Kosteniuk

I followed the Candidates Tournament in London with great interest, as I’m sure every representative of the chess world did. The tournament brought together a very imposing line-up and there was a substantial prize at stake – qualification for a match against the current World Champion. As you’d expect from such a high-level tournament there were interesting novelties, fascinating games, galling slips, drama and a race with an unexpected conclusion. The tournament was a great success and the winner, Magnus Carlsen, will soon play a match against Viswanathan Anand.

If I’m asked to say a few words about the format for deciding the World Championship title, the time control and the tiebreak rules in London… I think the most important factor in a World Championship system is consistency. It hardly makes sense to change the whole system every few years.

I’m also against the World Champion getting so many privileges and simply being able to wait a few years for a challenger to be determined for him. Yes, the World Champion should automatically qualify for the final part of the cycle, but he shouldn’t just calmly wait on his throne for the next challenger.

Perhaps some will say that deciding the World Champion in a single tournament is inappropriate, as the likelihood of a high element of chance is unacceptable for a World Championship system. But that’s the appeal of sport – that many people play but only one becomes the champion, the one who in the most crucial moment manages to mobilise all his energy and play at his limit, seizing his chance. It shouldn’t be the case that the World Champion can simply choose not to play tournaments but only title matches and remain champion by virtue of winning a single match every two years.

I’d like to add that it seems quite strange to me for such an important event to use a time control that’s barely used any more in tournaments.

And about the tiebreaks – when the tournament began everyone knew the tiebreak rules, but nevertheless it always leaves a sense of bitterness when they have to be used. However much people criticised rapid chess matches they strike me as much fairer than using a tiebreak of the most wins or the percentage of points scored by your rivals.

In conclusion I’m eagerly awaiting the Anand-Carlsen match. I hope the match will bring the chess world as many positive emotions as the tournament in London.


Александр Никитин

Alexander Sergeyevich Nikitin

So the tournament is over – long live the tournament! Vishy Anand finally knows who’s going to try and wrest the chess crown from him in November. All that’s left for the lucky winner is to celebrate the goal achieved and prepare for a new ascent. The overwhelming majority of the remaining participants will have breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that the next day they wouldn’t need to sit in front of a computer honing opening variations which might occur (but most likely wouldn’t occur) in the following round before rushing to the game after a brief lunch and no rest. Only one grandmaster will now be upset both with fate and himself.

That’s Vladimir Borisovich Kramnik. He played better than everyone else in this event and won my deep respect. The way he approached the games displayed deep thought, he wasn’t afraid to get into a fight and he didn’t shy away from it. His opening preparation was almost ideal. With White he regularly got an opening initiative while with Black he easily resolved his opening problems.

So why didn’t he win the event?

Well, first of all, Kramnik will soon be forty, and for modern computer chess that’s almost retirement age. Grandmasters have become like ballet dancers. That’s why, in my view, in the fourth hour of play the pressure he was applying dropped off and he stopped trusting his evaluations. If the Russian was even ten years younger he’d have crushed all his rivals.

Secondly, you can’t consider him to have lost. He matched the Norwegian ex-prodigy Magnus Carlsen, but the latter had one more loss than Vladimir Borisovich and was therefore adjudged the winner – such were the strange criteria in place for deciding the reigning World Champion’s opponent for the crucial match.

Of course Armageddon would also have been no way to decide the winner of such an event, but a fairer conclusion would have been to play a match consisting of four rapid games the next day. If the score ended 2:2 they could play with the same rapid time control until the first win.

Incidentally, if you go by the Sonneborn-Berger score which the unfortunate regulations specified as the third criteria for determining the winner, then Carlsen would have clearly lost out to Kramnik. In that regard it would be interesting to learn whose secretary drafted the tournament regulations? A qualified chess player wouldn’t have pushed the Sonneborn-Berger score, which has proven itself on many occasions, into last place.

As Garry Kasparov’s former coach I’ve long had a bone to pick with Kramnik for his not agreeing to a rematch. However, it’s not a big bone, as Kasparov himself was to blame for not specifying that clause in the agreement he drafted before the match in 2000. I thought that mistake was unjust and expected fate to restore justice.

Fate made itself known at the most inappropriate of moments, when Vladimir Borisovich, after a year spent completely overhauling his game, was approaching his maximum power. In terms of play he undoubtedly deserved to win the London Candidates Tournament. I think that given his huge chess authority nowadays he could have persuaded them to introduce logical corrections to the tournament regulations, and then everything would have fallen into place. But he didn’t want to do that, or perhaps he forgot to pay attention… And on this occasion he was the one harmed by a mistake in the unfortunate regulations.

And one final point – also regarding Vladimir Borisovich. When playing against a super-grandmaster in the last and deciding round how could you choose the Pirc Defence, an opening that’s inadequate in a struggle between players at such a high level? From the very beginning that meant getting down on your knees and then unsuccessfully trying to compete with a powerful opponent who was free of the necessity of catching up with or overtaking anyone! I understand Kramnik spends the majority of his time in France, where his family lives, and therefore doesn’t know how difficult it is for us Russians to get up off our knees and how imperceptible the process is if you don’t watch our state television.

Many will sing the praises of Magnus, but I’d like to celebrate Peter Svidler’s success and try to understand the reasons for Aronian’s failure. Levon finished the first half level with Magnus and far ahead of Kramnik, but it seemed as though the second half was played by some other chess player from the ranks of the 2600s. I was rooting for Levon – he was once in my “Spartak” school. I was worried and phoned my friend Genna Sosonko in London: “What’s happened to Levon?” He simply told me that a lot of Armenian journalists and TV personalities had arrived. There was no need for any more explanations. I’m familiar with all that from working with Kasparov in 1984-85 during the first two matches against Karpov. Aronian was crushed by a sense of responsibility for his country. It’s impossible to play at full strength in such a state. In the second half it was as if he’d been knocked out of the tournament.

Another two attendees of the Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian Spartak School – Alexander Grischuk and Boris Gelfand – played decently. Along with Vassily Ivanchuk they brought something to the event by adding to the turmoil in the second half of the tournament.

Young Teimour Radjabov looked a little out of place. He tried to fight in every game, but he was also under pressure due to the expectations of Azerbaijan fans of all different ranks and the fact that the Azerbaijan company “Socar” had invested heavily in financing the event, and was also hoping for something in return…


Влад Ткачев

Vladislav Tkachiev

I don’t know the details of how it happened but it’s unfair to determine the challenger based on the second tiebreaker. By itself that’s annoying.

The situation in which Kramnik knew that it was impossible for him to share first place with Carlsen influenced his play in the final round. Otherwise he’d have conducted his game against Ivanchuk differently.

I liked the tournament in terms of quality – in terms of who occupied the places below the winner and how. Kramnik grew even further in my eyes. He’s become a monumental figure who’s now a true chess thinker. In my opinion Kramnik is the Rubinstein of the 21st century. A lot of Vladimir’s decisions stunned me as a professional.

For example, the moves 12…Qb8 in his game with Black against Gelfand, 11.Qc2 in his game with White against Carlsen and 5.e3 in the game with White against Gelfand catch you off-guard.

I understand the joy of amateurs and Carlsen fans. Their idol won, and bravo to him, bravo! But for me as a professional… the following analogy fits. I’m a film critic and I’m not interested in the box office, the public’s enthusiasm and so on. What interests me in a new film is the presence of new ideas and progress – the development of the art of cinema. And from that point of view nothing less than an abyss lies between the winners in London.

In term of results Carlsen is dominating our era just as Morphy did during his tour of Europe, Alekhine in the early 1930s, Fischer after 1970 or Kasparov in his best periods. In terms of results – but no more. In terms of new ideas, progress and the development of the art of chess he isn’t ahead of his time by 20 years (as the predecessors mentioned were), or even a year.

You could name Lasker as a forerunner of Carlsen. What comes to mind when we recall the second World Champion? Glittering streams of blood, the broken bones of his rivals, but what new ideas did he introduce into chess?

I was brought up on Razuvaev and Murakhveri’s book on Rubinstein – and therefore I’m delighted by Kramnik. He demonstrated totally new ideas and new perspectives on theory. London was Kramnik’s best tournament for the last at least 15 years. I can only compare it to Novgorod… which it seems was in 1997.

If Kramnik really has played his last cycle now then I’m glad for the way he went about it. But if this isn’t his last cycle then that would also be good, because Vladimir is capable of giving chess more than he already has.

By the way, the metamorphosis that took place with Kramnik was possible to expect. Carlsen has had a positive influence on him. Carlsen’s impressive results forced Kramnik to become more combative.

I’m glad for Svidler’s success, but he wasn’t perceived as a heavyweight contender. The three favourites fought for victory, which gave Peter the chance to work from the shadows.

The time control in this tournament became a punishment. When I heard the tournament regulations I immediately realised that the control eliminated four people from the race before it began. It condemned Grischuk, Radjabov, Ivanchuk and Gelfand. And the results showed I was right.

I don’t see any reason why other tournaments are played with one time control but this one with another.

As for predictions…

I couldn’t see any way in which Carlsen could fail to take first place in London (true, the tournament demonstrated such a way), and now I can’t see any way in which Anand can compete with Carlsen.

In the final game Svidler demonstrated how you can fight against Carlsen. For that you need to avoid baseline rallies. Against Magnus you need to come to the net! That’s precisely why Carlsen has had problems against Morozevich, Nepomniachtchi and other active players.

That’s where Koschei’s mortal egg is buried. Yes, Carlsen is the Koschei of our time.


Emil Sutovsky

So the most amazing and enthralling tournament in modern chess history is over – an event that will long be remembered and to which more than one book will be dedicated (it’s funny that I already received such an offer before the tournament was over!). There were the most beautiful games, an utterly intense battle and a Hollywood storyline in the struggle for victory.

The suspense reached breaking point and led to an amazing conclusion – in the final round both leaders suffered deserved losses. As a result the tournament was won by Magnus Carlsen, who finished ahead of Vladimir Kramnik on the number of wins (losses). Both were equally deserving of victory, but fortune favoured the Norwegian.

To be honest the play of the leader of the world rating list in the second half of the tournament made quite a pale impression. After a brilliant start (4.5/6) he had great difficulty scoring 50% in the remaining rounds, only conducting the game against Gelfand at a high level. Fans are used to idolising their hero, but I have to conclude that with the play Magnus demonstrated in the second half of the tournament you can’t talk about a guaranteed victory over Anand. However, it’s possible the psychological pressure played a trick on the Norwegian and he was unable to display his best qualities. That in itself is an eloquent tribute to his strength – winning such a tournament without demonstrating your best play is something of which only great players are capable.

I feel very sorry for Vladimir Kramnik. After playing the whole tournament brilliantly and demonstrating a huge number of fresh ideas and new conceptions Vladimir slipped up at the very end, when he decided to forge his own luck and took enormous strategic risks in his game against Ivanchuk. Incidentally, I consider his decision to play something sharp in the final round correct, but alas he was unable to keep things under control. Of course sharing first place is no consolation but rather an irony of fate for such a great chess player. Kramnik has done a lot of work in recent years, transforming his game, and in my view it seems the most complete from a chess point of view.

I hope Volodya doesn’t lose the drive he has now, as such a failure could unsettle anyone.

Third and fourth places were shared by Peter Svidler and Levon Aronian. Although they ended up only half a step behind the winners we shouldn’t have any illusions – Peter let any real chances of victory slip when he lost to Carlsen back at the end of the first half, while Aronian suffered a blow when he lost to Gelfand in the ninth round, although he only finally dropped out of contention after his tough loss to Kramnik three rounds before the end of the tournament.

Nevertheless, I’d like to note Svidler’s brilliant preparation – in opening terms he surpassed everyone other than Kramnik, and losing 22 kg of ballast had a great effect on his physical form – it was precisely at the end that Peter looked fresher than the rest. Levon can hardly be satisfied with his performance. He let a lot of flaws enter his game, but if the Armenian player usually compensates for that with his phenomenal ability to create goalmouth incidents, in London his imagination clearly wasn’t overflowing. His solid +2 result, due to whitewashes against the outsiders Ivanchuk and Radjabov, isn’t what the brilliant Armenian had reason to expect.

The other participants had varying success.

Gelfand started off extremely badly, but he composed himself and played almost the whole tournament at a very high level. He could have hoped for a better final result. Grischuk perhaps played fewer memorable games than anyone, but his battle with Svidler was almost the most interesting game of the tournament. Ivanchuk set a record for losing on time (five times in one tournament!), and played badly overall, but for some reason he found a special motivation for his contests against Carlsen and Kramnik. Ultimately the Lviv grandmaster beat both winners 1.5-0.5, but he played terribly against the rest and would have finished last if not for Radjabov.

What happened to Teimour in this tournament is a mystery.

I don’t want to rub salt into his wounds and try and analyse the reasons for such a collapse. Undoubtedly no-one expected such a performance from the brilliant Azerbaijan grandmaster, but as Radjabov himself noted – it’s better to concentrate all that adversity in one tournament. There was more than enough to last a year, so if Teimour can draw some conclusions…

A wonderful tournament is over, and one that’s shown once more how interesting classical chess can be at the very highest level. There are new events ahead, but although one tournament follows another like the pages of a calendar, true fans will long remember with a sigh: the Candidates Tournament, London, 2013.


Ян Непомнящий

Ian Nepomniachtchi

First of all I have to say that I’ve never seen such an interesting tournament before!

Interesting in all regards. There was a fantastic line-up, the classic (not “Fischer”) seven-hour time control, and tournament suspense which didn’t leave the spectators indifferent for a moment.

I was almost sure (for various reasons) that the tournament’s rating favourite wouldn’t win, so I wasn’t too surprised when in the 12th round Magnus – just as Levon before him – began to malfunction. In a certain sense Carlsen got lucky: that collapse, which in such a tense tournament is something almost no-one is capable of avoiding, happened precisely before a rest day. That’s perhaps why the Norwegian managed to get in the mood for his game against the outsider and beat Radjabov in what had seemed to be a drawn ending.

Vladimir Kramnik played a fantastic tournament. If I’m honest it took me some time to grasp that at the start of the second half the Russian scored 4.5 out of 5! Perhaps he didn’t always act with mathematical precision, but none of the other candidates displayed such a determination to win. Alas, in the final round Vladimir’s thoughts were on two games at once, and he didn’t manage to maintain a cool head. After sowing the wind he couldn’t cope with the time trouble whirlwind. I watched the last game of the London tournament and felt very sorry for Kramnik, above all on a human level. Despite showing perhaps the most interesting and powerful play he ended up – due to an inconceivable sequence of events – millimetres behind the winner.

And this definitely wasn’t one of those cases when Vladimir’s lower number of wins could be looked upon as some kind of objective tiebreaker. True, it’s pointless to complain: the starting conditions were equal for all, but a play-off match between Carlsen and Kramnik (just not in rapid but classical chess) would have been a logical and satisfactory end to the qualifying cycle.

For the Carlsen – Anand match I’d bet on youth, although a lot will depend on whether Magnus manages to prepare well and cope with his nerves.


Даниил Дубов

Daniil Dubov

In my view the tournament in London was the most memorable chess event for many years. It’s a long time since we’ve seen such a furious fight! I have to admit that the system proved a success, although I’m personally in favour of Candidates Matches with 6 to 8 games. However, this system conquered the audience – for the first time in my life I saw interest in chess not only from chess players – and for the sake of that it’s perfectly reasonable to adopt such measures.

The way the tournament developed held everyone in suspense until the final handshake of the Ivanchuk-Kramnik game. It was probably the most unpredictable end to the tournament possible – on all the forums I know not a single person guessed the results of the Kramnik and Carlsen games!

Thank you to everyone involved in the chess celebration we witnessed! From a creative point of view the tournament was also outstanding and all the players without exception contributed something to the treasure trove of chess. Bravo!

Many considered (and consider) that winning a Candidates Tournament will be a much tougher step for the winner (read Magnus) than a match against Anand. Allow me to disagree: I rate Anand’s chances in the upcoming match as 45-50%, if it takes place before mid-2014.


Сергей Шипов

Sergey Shipov

The stark contrast between Kazan 2011 and London 2013 speaks for itself. The match system simply can’t compete with the round-robin format. Night and day!

And however you alter the matches nothing will help. If you increase the number of games the length of the qualification will become inhumane, the participants will die and spectators will scatter. Divide it up into a few matches with significant breaks between them? That will be impossible to organise. Expensive and difficult to fit into the calendar.

But here we managed to get all the benefits in one package – it was fast, intense, spectacular and highly objective.

Moreover, a double… or quadruple-round robin tournament with a small field of the very best is the optimum way of determining not only the challenger but the champion himself.

What I mean is that the London tournament was wonderful but was missing a single detail – the participation of Anand, the champion, who has excessive privileges. Of course it was also lacking the small matter of a normal, satisfactory way of determining the winner if first place was shared. If it was difficult to hold a play-off match with a serious time control then those sharing first place were at least obliged to play a four-game rapid match, just as happened between Topalov and Kramnik in Elista 2006 and Anand and Gelfand in Moscow 2012. Why such a standard sporting way of determining the winner was abandoned in London is a mystery.

Instead of that we saw a hierarchy of tiebreakers put together by some unknown amateur (in my opinion if you were going to have them at all then the Sonneborn-Berger score should have been first, wins second and personal encounters third) determine the future course of chess history.

I wasn’t rooting for Kramnik at all in this tournament, and if you’d given me the choice before the start of who to pick for a World Championship match against Anand – Kramnik or Carlsen – then I’d have chosen the latter. But now, after what we’ve seen, I can say that in my eyes Vladimir was the real winner of the tournament. He was a revelation! Well, but fortune favoured the one who’s been dominating the chess world for the last few years… i.e. the strongest. I congratulate Magnus and his father, who I’ve had a heart-to-heart with on more than one occasion.

As for the time control… Here a distinction needs to be made. I’m in favour of classical chess, but only in the wider sense of that word i.e. the seven-hour time control which gives players the time to create fully-fledged games with quality play in all three stages. What we had in London was totally unacceptable nowadays, when the Fischer increment has become the norm. Two harsh time controls in one evening spoiled many of the games at the tournament. Ivanchuk had as many as five crippled games! Grischuk truly suffered, and even the quick-fire Carlsen totally ceased to think about chess issues in his last-round game against Svidler as the 40th move approached – he simply flung pieces around the board in order to make his moves in time.

It was a mess! Time should be allocated more competently. For example, there’s a convenient time control that’s been tried and tested in tournaments: 100 minutes for 40 moves, 50 minutes for the next 20, 15 minutes to the end of the game and a 30 second increment after each move, starting from the first. You end up with exactly the same time for the game as in London, but time trouble is much less severe. With 25-30 seconds for each move all the players, including Ivanchuk, could have played adequate chess.

Taken as a whole, however, the tournament made a big impression. I’ve seen nothing better in my lifetime!

I’m a little sceptical about the upcoming Anand-Carlsen match, as it’s unlikely to provide us with a lot of pleasure. Magnus will beat the champion! Perhaps he’ll even sweep him away, particularly if he prepares even a little in the opening. The forces aren’t well-matched.

However, I’d gladly be mistaken.


Translated from Russian by Colin McGourty (mishanp).


KC-Review: Experts on the Candidates Tournament 2013 (in Russian)

Crestbook at the London Candidates Tournament: Notes of an Eyewitness (in Russian)

Sergey Shipov about the Candidates Tournament (part 1) (part 2) (in Russian)