14th World Champion Alexander Khalifman present
Position of the day
Black to move and win.
Black to move and win.


Everything is going according to plan. Almost everything.


Yes, I am an irresponsible person. Did I promise to review the opening rounds? Yes I did. Did anyone make me say that? No. Than the question is: why have I been dragging the same endgame on the board for 3 days instead of analyzing the games in detail? Really, just like that, and only breaking for food and sleep. And it would be good if I had come to some interesting conclusions, but no - the further I look, the more questions there are. But anyway: the word must be kept. So, with an incredible effort and willpower, I am removing the position from the board and from my brain. I am stopping to write the review.

The Favorites.

Topalov - so far he has been in keeping with expectations. Before the start I had a feeling Veselin would be busy thinking about other things (looking for a bank that would guarantee prize fund for a rematch; thinking about the set up of the certain public places of the De Morian Hall, about the presence of cables in the walls and ceilings of the various rooms,. etc), but it looks like Silvio has taken upon himself the unbearable weight of all these. And Veselin does what he does best - plays chess. He he doesn't even bother thinking about how long he will be disqualified for by the upcoming FIDE Presidential Council. So far things are going well for him. Just how big are his chances to win the tournament will be seen in the near future. So far 3 games out of 4 he played were with white. And in the only game with black he came very close to a loss, and from the two victories, one was a sort of an expected win (white against Van Wely) and the other was the result of quality opening preparation.

Anand - is unbelievably calm. He, on the other hand, had 3 blacks in 4 rounds to open the tournament. He didn't play the "locals" yet and his +1 score is a good platform for the future stable movement up in the standings. However, the "bomb" didn't work in the Marshall attack against Aronian, but that is a minor thing. After all, it seems that to beat Levon in his openings, one needs much more powerful bombs. I will talk about his important victory over Motylev later when I write about Alexander.

Kramnik - it seems like everything is ok. No problems with black, though it is a pity that now he has gotten Petroffied [ok, in the original Russian, the Petroff - 1,e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6- is known as the Russian, so in the original it was about Kramnik getting "Russified" -RB] and doesn't make any attempts to start a fight with black at all. If one has such an approach to playing with black, one has to win a lot with white in order to fight for the first place in a tournament with a field like this, and not be bogged down in the usual category of a "small plus score". From that point of view, the victory with white over Shirov is exactly what is needed. If Vladimir beat Navarra in a technically won position yesterday, I would consider him the main favorite, without any reservations. But now, he is just one of several.

Aronian - he is on his level, too. His positional victory against Ponomariov was magnificent (although, to be honest, it is probably not acceptable on this level to play the opening the way it was played by Ruslan) and he held 3 games with black without spending much effort. He even took care of Anand's novelty quite easily. One feels that he can accelerate at any moment. For example, in round 5 with white against Carlsen, without going to R+P vs. R endgame this time.

So, in the "elite" division, there are no surprises - neither positive nor negative ones. Everyone is close to their optimal shape so far and all will fight for the top place.

The Golden Mean

Radjabov - for now, he is the main surprise of the tournament. What is it - luck or a long awaited qualitative leap to the next level by the ex-wunderkind from Baku? I am not ready to answer that. We'll see. But after Teimur's win over Tivyakov yesterday, I lean toward the latter. And in his only drawn game so far, if only he played ... Ok, stop, stop, not that again!!! Don't think about it! Anyway, Radjabov's 3.5 points are closer to 4 than to 3. Both his voctories in Kings Indian should not be dismissed as mere opening novelty. The improvement [that Radjabov found in the opening -RB] is apparently substantial, but in both games he had to play with energy and strength. Still, I think Teimur is not going to get the first place yet. He needs to get accustomed to his new status. But it will be close.

Svilder - I can only apologize to the fellow Peterburgian for including him in this group. Under different circumstances I wouldn't think twice about putting him in as one of the favorites. But now it is clear Peter is tired of chess and doesn't have enough energy. He understands that himself, and he himself said it in an interview after the semifinal. His two draws with black, when he voluntarily refused converting considerable advantage in his native Grunfeld jungle, are the best indication of this. And would the "real" Svidler "carry" the position that he got out of the opening against Tivyakov for over 50 moves, going through draw on the way? I think that the highest skill will allow Peter to finish the tournament with a small plus score and maybe share a place with Vladimir, if the latter doesn't improve. I doubt he can do better. But this is temporary.

Ponomariov - during the last year Ruslan taught everybody that however he starts a tournament is the way that the tournament will be. If he kills everyone from the start, then he will end up on the very top, if he makes some blunders, the tournament will be a total failure for him. Here he hasn't done either. So he will probably remain in the middle of the crosstable.

Karyakin - I noticed an interesting thing about this tournament. If someone says, for example, "the wunderkind came up with an interesting novelty", everyone starts looking at Carlsen's game. Karyakin is not categorized like that, for whatever reason. However Magnus and Sergey are [pretty much] of the same age, and have pretty much the same rating! I think, other than the publicity surrounding the young Norwegian, the reason is Karyakin's "mature" play. Sergey matured very early and to outplay him simply by taking advantage of his inexperience is likely to be an impossible task. Yes, he is the only one who drew all his games, but he should not be considered an adherent to the dry approach to the game because of that. He just has the classical education and respect for the big names. But when he grows up and stops showing [too much] respect, it will be a different story.

Navara - many experts thought the young Czech would be an underdog. The thinking was - "Who did he play? he just beat up on amateurs in swiss tournaments. But here serious players gathered and they will teach him a lesson". Esteemed experts, you are wrong. David and I played for the same club in European Cup in the fall and I can say that he is an outstanding and very deep chess player, and he is exactly as strong as his rating indicates. And if he didn't play in the elite tournaments yet, it is because he didn't have a chance to play in them. Experience is a matter of time. His +1 can appear to be a result of circumstances - Carlsen missed a 1 move win, Svidler offered a draw in a better position, Kramnik didn't convert a big advantage). But random things add up to a tendency. David has great chances to become an elite player. And even though he is missing some things that are required for fighting for victory in such a tournaments, he is one of the clear candidates for, how should I say, participating in it indirectly, I will not be surprised if he beats Topalov with black, for example. And the next day he will lose to Van Wely with white - just to keep things balanced in the universe.

Shirov - just a nightmare! I don't even want to write anything. I know Alexei will probably read it and may take offense at something. Do I need that? However, I am sure that he will not be at the very bottom for long. Another thing is that one cannot get really high, either. Now he needs a game with white against Van Wely like one needs fresh air. I really want to see the "real" Shirov in action. Well, kinda like "Fire on Board" and all that. You know.

So, in this group everything is ok too and all is within the limits of statistical norm - one ran away, another fell behind. Everyone else is where hey should be.

Those who have it tough.

The many years of chess practice have proven beyond any doubt that even in the strongest tournament someone will have to finish in the last place. It is not right to call strong grandmasters underdogs or losers, that is why I tried to word it in a politically correct way.

Motylev - originally I wanted to place this grandmaster into the second group. So what if his rating is the lowest. These are just numbers, and I know for sure how good a chess player Motylev is! His opening knowledge is enormous, talent is huge, they simply must have miscalculated something for him. Well, he does get into time trouble. And yeah, he doesn't have enough go-getting prowess for this level, but how can one go and get wins from him?! After he drew Topalov easily with black, my confidence that Motylev belongs to the "midfield" grew stronger. But... Then he did the DEED. And he had to get demoted. Yes, the deed [in case you didn't get it it is the Motylev-Anand game where Motylev sacked 3 pawns, came close to winning, but lost - RB] was gutsy, daring, audacious, but... wrong. Russia is partying! 3 pawns down the tiger's mouth! And a zero in the crosstable. Beautiful, vivid, but... one shouldn't play like that against Anand! If you won 5 training games in this line under various time controls against Rybka, Fritz and Shredder, for example, then - yeah, go ahead! But otherwise- not! One cannot explain what it is to play in that style against Anand, - one can only feel it. When the man comes up with computer-like only moves quickly in a crazy position, the only emotion that is left is helplessness. But Alexander has done it. It's a pity he lost. But it is natural.

Carlsen - experts that thought the kid has a chance to get a plus score in this tournament are not experts, but fans, in my opinion. There is no reason at all for that. That is, there are some reasons, talent is a talent anywhere, whether it is Africa or Norway. But there is no SCHOOL. That's right. And Tal's memorial showed that, and so will Wijk. Here you have 13 chess players with school and one without. It is hard for him, the 14th. I watch the games of Magnus and Simen Agdestein [not sure if I transcribed that correctly - RB] his older comrade and trainer appears before my eyes. That is a telling example. There is talent and there is work ethic, but what is there to learn is somehow not clear. And the present trainer of the kid Peter Heine Nielsen [spelling? - RB] is just like that. Workmanlike, purposeful, but got no school. Well, there is no such thing in Scandinavia or Denmark. One should really come to Russia for that, but it is not cool, and besides, they say there are bears walking on the streets there [this is often cited misconception about Russia that many non-Russians supposedly believe - RB]. I don't want to be known as a grouch and a reactionary, but I am not convinced about the future eliteness of the young Norwegian.

Tiviakov - the man is very realistic about his chances and the world around him. He is a solid grandmaster and, that is pretty much it. He doesn't have an opening for black for such a tournament, so he has to count on the stubbornness on defense, but it doesn't always work. He has no opening for white, either, but can make a lot of draws. He will not finish last.

Van Wely - Once upon a time in Holland there lived a young chess player called Loek. And he had a habit: every January he would come to a village next to the sea and there he would practice self-torture before big crowds of people for a couple of weeks. He would complicate the position against the tactical players, and he would agree to slightly inferior positions against positional players. The results were what one would expect. Sometimes draws would happen, but if Loek happened to win a game in a tournament, his delight could only be matched by his own astonishment. Nevertheless, he kept a cheerful disposition. Years passed. KingLoek grew stronger, worked on the opening and began showing good results in Wijk-an-Zee. But there was always something that wasn't right, something was missing. This year, Loek is reliving his reckless fighting youth.

I think I am done with the portraits, and I'll finish up. If you hoped for something else, thank me for not analyzing the damn endgame from the Rajabov-Karyakin game.


To my surprise, all the experts evaluated this endgame as "dead draw", "fortress", "no practical chances", etc. This put me in the state of shock. Have I really suddenly stopped understanding chess at all??? Not yet, it appears. 36. Qe8 Bf8 39 f4!!! offered huge chances to win. The pawn then marches to f6. Details will be provided in a separate volume. Ok, now it is really the end.

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