Once and Future Kings: Top Ten Storylines from the 2013 Candidates Tournament
The just concluded Candidates Tournament in London was certainly an event that will take an honoured place among the greatest chess contests of all time, such as Hastings 1895, New York 1924, Moscow 1925, AVRO 1938, Hague/Moscow 1948, Zurich 1953, San Luis 2005 and so forth.
This is a quick attempt to try and summarize and relive some of the main highlights of this amazing tournament by listing the top ten "Characters", as it were, that made it so memorable.
#10 - The Peanut Gallery (Trent, Short, Speelman, et. al)
IM Lawrence Trent has done live commentary for major chess events in London for some time, but it's unlikely anything could have prepared him for the task before him in this tournament - 7+ hours each day of juggling four massively complex games on live TV without becoming completely knackered was arguably the most impressive performance in London. Also notable were Short's disturbingly random digressions into pop-music and stalemates, Speelman's ever wry offstage commentary (especially in complex endgames), and the occasionally colourful kibitz from various wandering grandmasters in the audience (easily identifiable by their Russian accents).
#9 - Anastasia the Queen
Perhaps an unsung heroine of this event would be the translator for the post-game interviews, Anastasia Karlovich. In general, these interviews were rather pointless as the players were rarely able to slow down their chess thoughts sufficiently to coherently explain what was going on to the outside world, but with Anastasia calmly and patiently translating the constant influx of Russian questions and answers into English, we could, ah, never mind, she's very pretty and that's my main point here.
#8 - Grischuk the Philosopher
Grischuk is ever the enigma in high level chess - he is consistently among the top ten, yet rarely wins major tournaments outright. Furthermore, he is often rather laconic in interviews, perhaps due to some discomfort he might have expressing himself in English. The time, however, a certain rather fatalistically Russian aspect of his persona came out in his interviews and commentary that was by turns funny and poignant. In particular, his comment to Lawrence Trent's question about how the tournament seemed to him was almost too profound for the occasion:
"...yesterday I was quite shocked that tomorrow is the last round, and I got a thought that someday the same will happen with my life - I will think, oh, it's already finished, how could it happen so quickly?"
#7 - Radjabov the Hexed
Someone who must have felt like this tournament lasted far too long was poor Radjabov, who, perhaps due to extra pressure upon him from his Azerbaijani sponsors, seemed to be in psychological free-fall ever since round 8 or so. However, either in spite or because of this, his two games against Carlsen were both pivotal moments in an event replete with twists and turns - the first because he seemed to be winning easily yet could only draw, and the second because he seemed to be drawing easily but instead lost. The fact that Carlsen scored +1.5 against him (instead of what could so easily have been .5) is perhaps the major reason Magnus plays Anand later this year for the WC.
#6 - Gelfand the Kingmaker
Striking as Radjabov's contributions to Carlsen were, it could nevertheless be argued that the former WC challenger, Boris Gelfand, found a way to almost singlehandedly determine the new one by going -2 against Carlsen and +1 against everyone else. Conspiracy theories, anyone? :)
#5 - Aronian the Knight Errant
After all the turbulence of the last few rounds, it's easily to forget that Aronian was practically leading the tournament for quite some time early on and, had he not found a way to lose a completely drawn position against Kramnik, would have still finished first with Carlsen (though the tiebreaks would likely have favoured Magnus in this case as well). Ah well. I don't suppose it's much consolation for Levon, but I rather suspect the next championship will be between him and Carlsen - unless another, cleverer, Ivanov comes along, of course.
#4 - Svidler the Wizard
A revelation (for me, at any rate) was the consistently strong play by Peter Svidler who not only came within an ace of tying for first but also produced two of the best games of the entire tournament: his wild draw against Grischuk and his final round win over Carlsen:
#3 - Chucky the Jester
Ivanchuk is Caissa's capricious spirit personified - losing not one, not two, but FIVE games on time, and yet also managing to defeat both first place finishers in absolutely crucial situations. Long may he continue to befuddle us all and remind us that chess is not merely a matter of technique but also of creativity and inspiration.
#2 - Kramnik the (Once) King
I admit I was rooting for Kramnik in this tournament - he was playing great chess from the start, but couldn't manage to win several games in which he had clearly outplayed his opponents. Then came his fantastic comeback to catch Magnus and even lead the tournament after twelve rounds. Also, I suppose the fact he's older and might retire soon also made me sympathetic to his cause, for Magnus's ride to power is almost inevitable and Vlad has but a little while longer to fight for glory. That said, to lose his chance in such a bizarre way in the last round symbolically completes his main arc in modern chess history, from his strange qualification for his match with Kasparov (Shirov was, as we may recall, the rightful challenger), to his miraculous save versus Leko and infamous encounter with Topalov, and finally now his quixotic yielding of the mantle to the heir apparent Carlsen.
#1 - Carlsen the (Future) King
Magnus's right to play Anand for the title was never in doubt at any time in this tournament - the only question was if the whims of random fate would carry another past him for now, and for a while it seemed to be that way, first with Aronian, then Kramnik. It is therefore fitting that, just when his chances seemed darkest, Caissa decided to finally smile a bit on the one player who seemed never to require her favour - the steady and predictable Norwegian, who very likely might not lose as many games in the next year or two as he has over the last four days. Thus the "equalizing injustice" of chess has never been more convincingly demonstrated than in this tournament, and in the end we have what I suspect we all, regardless of our own personal favourites, know to be the ideal result - the world's highest rated player (by a mile) challenging the current World Champion. May that match be even half as entertaining as this was!