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Linares 04 Stock Exchange

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After more than two grueling weeks, the Linares supertournament is over. At least it was grueling for me. Live radio commentary and analysis during the rounds and then a report at night after analyzing the games. The real problem was that in the middle of the tournament I moved to a new apartment. It was only across the river from the East Village in Manhattan to Brooklyn, but packing, moving and unpacking during the middle of event coverage wasn't the best timing.

Now it's over and from looking at the crosstable it was one of the most boring supertournaments on record. 79% of the games were drawn, likely a modern record at this level. I remember the 98 Groningen Festival, a respectable category 16, had only seven decisive games out of 30, or 81% drawn. But the crosstable doesn't tell the whole story and it wasn't that boring for the most part.

The worst part for chess fans is that the worst culprit of the short draws, Vladimir Kramnik, also won the tournament. This tournament success at the expense of the game and the fans and the sponsors can only encourage other players to imitate this style, what Kasparov deprecatingly calls "stock market chess" because of the way Kramnik plays the percentages. If you offer a draw the moment you have a roughly equal position against a strong opponent, even if it's at move 18, you save your energy for when you get an good edge out of the opening and/or are playing someone weaker.

Kramnik played four non-game draws to start Linares. In the fifth round he was pressed by Kasparov with black and had to work for 44 moves for the draw. The he caught Topalov out in the opening and won a nice game for his first win. Another short draw followed, then a real game draw with Shirov and an attempt to beat the lowest seed, Radjabov that finished drawn. In the 11th round he was close to a loss against Leko only to find an excellent tactical shot to turn the tables in time trouble and notch his second win. He concluded with two more non-game draws.

Kramnik averaged 26 moves per game in Linares, and that must be close to a record too. Leko averaged 31, Kasparov 39. With opening theory running into the middle teens on the average this made for seven games in which Kramnik played maybe five original moves. This philosophy can be summed up as "if the game is probably going to be drawn anyway, why not get it over with early and save your energy for a better chance?" The answer, one that doesn't seem to occur to most of these guys, is "because you are ripping off the fans and sponsors and destroying the game and its future as a serious sport." They whine about lack of events and sponsors; do they think people will pay to watch 26 moves? To not know if they'll get to see a real game or not each day?

It's not fair to single Kramnik out; he's only the top exponent and happened to win this recent event, which on the whole just happened to epitomize this philosophy. The table shows Kasparov as the drawing master of the event with one win and 11 draws. But if you watched the tournament or look at the games you see Kasparov drove the event round after round with aggressive play and long, hard-fought games. He missed three clear wins (documented in Black Belt #64) and got into time trouble in just about every game. He had two short draws, one on his account against Leko and one with black against Kramnik in round 12 when Vlady was trying to force a draw from the start.

Kramnik again lived up to the "Mister Plus Two" sobriquet I gave him years ago. He won the tournament, but hearts, minds, and sponsorship aren't going to follow. 26 moves per game!!


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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on March 7, 2004 8:42 AM.

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