Candidates semi-finals start with two draws

| 0 | Chess Event Coverage
Candidates semi-finals: start with two drawsAfter two free days the FIDE Candidates matches resumed on Thursday in Kazan, Russia. Both Grischuk-Kramnik and Kamsky-Gelfand ended in draws. These semi-finals are also played over four classical games and, if needed, a tie-break on Monday.

General info

The Candidates matches take place May 3-27 in Kazan, Tatarstan, Russia. Levon Aronian (Armenia), Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan) and Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria) were knocked out in the quarter-finals by Alexander Grischuk (Russia), Boris Gelfand (Israel), Vladimir Kramnik (Russia) and Gata Kamsky (USA) respectively. The semi-final matches consist of four games; there are six games in the final. The winner qualifies for a World Title match against Vishy Anand next year. More info here; tie-break rules here.

Semi-finals, day 1

This first day of the semi-finals will be remembered for one thing: the draw in just 16 moves between Alexander Grischuk and Vladimir Kramnik. The two compatriots played the very topical Queen's Gambit Declined with 5.Bf4 in which especially Kramnik was extremely well prepared. In a position where he still has a tiny edge, Grischuk offered a draw and Kramnik accepted.


Position after 16.dxe6

Before we even published the full report, this post already had over 70 comments, mostly because of this game. Generally, the players were criticised for lack of fighting spirit. Bob took off, and set the tone:

I don’t get it. What sort of a game is Gris vs Kram? To my (admittedly amateur) eyes it looks like they couldn’t be bothered.

Septimus reacted even sharper:

16 move draws in a candidates semi-final is a bad joke! If I were FIDE, I would reduce their ratings to ELO 125. What a disappointment for the spectators. This whole tourney turned out to be a joke. Matches should at least be 6 games long.

The famous online chess annotator GM Sergey Shipov didn't like it either:

Overall, unfortunately, there was no great fight in the first game of the match. Grischuk played well from a chess point of view, but was unable to demonstrate fighting spirit. In a very promising position, when he had the chance to develop an initiative, he was tempted by the possibility of getting away from the tension and having a rest. I’m not frightened of becoming a false prophet when I say that’s not how you become a champion…

Perhaps the most critical was Chessbase, who posted the following intro to their 'express report' yesterday and kept it for their full report today:

FIDE Candidates Semis G1: Gelfand and Kamsky draw You might be wondering why no mention is made of Grischuk-Kramnik in the title. The reason is that it was hardly a game. The first semifinal encounter of the Candidates and they draw in sixteen moves? That is both embarrassing to the players and disrespectful to the fans. (...)

However, we have the feeling that there's something wrong here. It's true that nobody likes to see games that peter out into a drawish position at such an early stage, and then finish with a handshake. However, to what extent can the players be blamed for this?

Thanks to strong computer engines the advance of opening theory has reached a level at which top level players find it increasingly hard to get a tangible edge with the white pieces.

Update: We may add that it's not just the engines. The opening theory also develops at amazing speed because every week thousands of games are written down, entered (automatically with live boards or by hand) and uploaded to the internet, which eventually find its way to the famous databases. One could say that because of all this, Chessbase (and ChessVibes!) is also part of the problem - we're not trying to judge here, but just want to point out how complicated the issue is.

And if you realize that your advantage with White is very minimal at move 16, and your opponent's name is Vladimir Kramnik, and this guy is still bashing out his moves without thinking, it's perhaps not a good idea to waste your energy in trying to beat the computer, so to speak.

At Chess in Translation you can read the very interesting press conference with Grischuk and Kramnik after the game. Grischuk was asked why he didn't play on in the final position:

Grischuk: I considered it, but firstly, I didn’t see any particularly good moves, and secondly, I trusted him. (everyone laughs)

Kramnik: In general I’m the sort of person who inspires trust.

Grischuk and Kramnik at the press conference

Grischuk and Kramnik at the press conference

But there's something else. The thing is, the players have all the right in the world to try everything possible to reach the World Championship title match. Because that's what this event is about. Not about pleasing the audience.

Private tournaments, like in Wijk aan Zee or in Monaco, might have their anti-drawing rules or rules that state that players cannot see the pieces, to increase the spectacle and please the sponsors more. But in Candidates matches, chess should be played according to the official rules, and nothing else. And when these rules allow short draws, so be it. Don't like it? Change the rules. Don't bash the players. They want to become the best in their sport, and their sport is defined by the rules.

Not that the players like it this way. The already mentioned press conference is well worth reading as it becomes clear that not just the chess fans, but also the top players would like to see it differently. Some quotes:

Kramnik: In general, it’s becoming harder and harder for White to get a fight. It’s not simply difficult to get an edge, but to get any kind of fight, for it not to be an empty draw or a totally even position. It’s becoming harder and harder just to get some minimal amount of pressure. And you can already forget about getting some sort of great advantage. So the tendency is clear. Everyone can see that only on a very limited number of occasions did White get any sort of hint of an edge or fight.

White trying to get a tangible advantage

White trying to get a tangible advantage

It’s actually a problem of modern chess, that computer programs are getting stronger and stronger and are neutralising lots of opening that were considered rich and varied, and had been played for years. And that’s quite sad, from the point of view of the game. I can’t say I like it, but we’re professionals and we have to deal with it. You have to learn to live with it somehow. It’s a sport. You have to try and win. Before it was easier, it has to be said, particularly if you wanted, first and foremost, to play chess, and not to compete in analysis.

I can’t say I like it, but there’s no escape. If you want to achieve good results, to get to the World Championship and so on, then there’s no choice, you’ve got to do that dull work. What option is there? I’d be absolutely in favour of getting rid of all computer programs today. I’d jump at the chance, but unfortunately that’s not very realistic. (smiles)

Grischuk: Yes, play’s changed significantly. I remember playing on the fourth board in team tournaments and coming up against less well-known players. You’d play someone who’s 2400 or 2500, an international master, and you’d play the Catalan with g3 and he’d be like “what’s that, g3?”. But at the moment my wife’s playing in the European Championship, and I’m following that. The women there are playing everything according to Topalov and Anand, the latest moves, everything’s prepared. They’re all playing chess.

The players continue with some suggestions to change the game. Kramnik says that in fact this was a conversation topic during one of the dinners with his seconds, and one of the (many) ideas they came up with is banning castling before move ten. Guess we should say: to be continued!

We'd almost forgotten that there was also another game, and this one also ended in a draw. Gata Kamsky tried a different system against the Sicilian Najdorf - the opening that was played by his previous opponent Veselin Topalov, and the opening that has become the main weapon of Boris Gelfand again.

Gelfand plays 1...c5 and the Najdorf against Kamsky

Gelfand plays 1...c5 and the Najdorf against Kamsky

In the positional 6.Be3 e5 7.Nf3 system, Kamsky couldn't get a clear advantage against a well prepared Gelfand, confirming the statements of Kramnik above. The players in fact followed the game Oleksienko-Brodsky, Poltava 2008 for twenty moves and then Gelfand showed that in the ending Black doesn't have much to worry about.

Games semi-finals, day 1

Game viewer by ChessTempo

Images FIDE | Russian Chess Federation


Peter Doggers

Peter Doggers joined a chess club a month before turning 15 and still plays for it. He used to be an active tournament player and holds two IM norms.

Peter has a Master of Arts degree in Dutch Language & Literature. He briefly worked at New in Chess, then as a Dutch teacher and then in a project for improving safety and security in Amsterdam schools.

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