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Linares 06 at the Half

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Been a buried with a few projects before heading off to San Diego for the US Championship tomorrow. Barely had time to watch the games yesterday, let alone post Marin's typically fine commentary this morning at ChessBase. (Apparently there was a glitch in the analysis file he sent for round six, deleting almost all his commentary. It will be replaced today, so check out the round six report again later.) (And to go all parenthetical again, while GM Marin's analyses have been overall very good and widely acclaimed by fans, his notes on Aronian-Topalov were shredded by Kasparov. To be fair, doing same-day annotations is asking for trouble, especially when the games are so complex. He's trying to provide instructive comments for fans, and is succeeding admirably in that. I'm trying to put together an analysis recap with some of Garry's comments.)

At least I missed a round with three draws. Even that couldn't get the draw average for the first half of the event over 50%, which is astounding. It's fair to say that lots of losses mean some inferior play, but it's mostly combativity. They aren't playing razor-sharp stuff – 17 games with 1.d4 nine with 1.e4 (two with 1.Nf3), but they've been playing hard in equal positions and several of these games have ended decisively. Everyone but Leko has a loss and everyone but Bacrot has a win. Would we see a higher objective quality of chess if they replaced, say, Radjabov and Bacrot with Anand and Kramnik? Yes, but we would also see draws back near 70% and many more short draws. It's not only that more draws naturally occur between super-prepared super-players but the conservatism that often takes hold in elite-only events.

Linares has been synonymous with that ultra-elite ethos for over a decade – a double round-robin (since 1998) with only the best plus a Spaniard. But recently it's often been better for bragging rights for the winner than for the fans and the chess. (The various Kasparov explosions notwithstanding.) When everybody thinks they can win any given game and plays accordingly, that gives us some great fighting chess. Speaking of, the story of the event so far is Topalov's collapse. The highest-rated player in the world has shown flashes of good play but has been horribly inconsistent. His loss to Vallejo Pons in round six came in just the sort of full-board attacking play in which he usually excels. Just when I was going to suggest that Vallejo nail his h-pawns to the board, he wins this one spectacularly.

Also in round six, Ivanchuk grabbed a pawn against Svidler's Grunfeld novelty in an offbeat line and held on to it like a pitbull. When Svidler tried to grab one back, on g2, his fragile position crumbled completely. When the Grunfeld goes wrong it doesn't drop out of school and get caught shoplifting. It burns down the school and robs a bank for drug money. The only decisive game of the seventh round was Bacrot's third loss in the last four rounds. It was a fantastically unbalanced game with Aronian, who isn't blowing anyone away but is proving his inventiveness and tenacity.

The other story is the return to form of Peter Leko, who was mediocre or worse in Dortmund, San Luis and Wijk aan Zee. I'd brag about having picked him to win in the message board poll, but I also picked him to win San Luis so I'm not exactly heading to the betting parlor. The Spanish half of the tournament begins on March 3. We can only hope it is as exciting as the Morelia half. Maybe all major tournaments should play a few rounds in Mexico if this is the result.


I don't think the draw percentage being over 50% is a great surprise, and can be attributed to one person: Topalov. While it is turning out that he is having a miserable performance, coming in the other guys knew that finishing +2 just isn't going to cut it against a guy who has been so relentless as of late.

They just knew they would finally have to actually play chess in order to have a chance at first place, and they have.

Kudos also to Levon Aronian, who also seems less inclined to take the easy way out too. With Leko's performance so far, maybe forcing him to change his attitude is what was needed to push him over the top all along.

Good to see Aronian showing the promise that was evident from his win in the knock-out in Argentina.

I've been impressed by Aronian and Leko. Both are playing much more reliable chess than they did at Corus. Svidler's losses are a surprise; the Grunfeld theory is holding up but Svidler's play isn't.

Ivanchuk is disappointing as always. They guy has more talent than any two other players here (Topalov and Radjabov possibly excepted), but he just can't keep his head in the game...

All blog viewers are welcome to come to the message boards and discuss Linares!

Maybe Topalov could try switching seats?

Any studies being done on relative inconsistency of results by GMs in the past two years vs consistency of other people in the past when they were world's top GMs? Or maybe one of the people who have been around for a while longer than me can share their memory--is this kind of up and down movement by Kramnik, Leko and Topalov at least somewhat precedented?

I still hold out some hope for Ivanchuk's performance, not to win the tourney, but to play some good games. After the grotesque loss with White to Topalov, I feared a total meltdown, but Ivanchuk *was* able to bounce back with a fine win vs. Svidler.

Switching seats ? Heck , he is switching countries and continents .

Peach, that was clearly a joke reference to San Luis, where he got to sit in the same spot game after game, and Leko later complained about it.

Aronian has arrived! I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see him at the top of the rating list in a few years, waiting for the "kids" to try and supplant him.

How wonderfully formulated, Mig!

"When the Grunfeld goes wrong it doesn't drop out of school and get caught shoplifting. It burns down the school and robs a bank for drug money."

I think all of us Grünfeldplayers out here understand your point just too well... and I do hope Svidler insists on bringing up "more GI-kids" instead of leaning towards something safer.

KCotreau, unless my reading comprehension is seriously at fault, I think Mig was telling us that the draw average is *under* 50 %, indeed a pleasant surprise (although I have nothing at all against draws that result from interesting games).

Or maybe I misunderstood you.

Topalov needs 5.5/7 in the second leg of the tournament to stay above 2800. Plausible or pipe dream?

5.5/7 also happens to be the minimum score that will give Topalov some chances for split first place (although he will probably need 6/7 or more for that).
I think that his most likely result is around 4/7, maybe 4.5. Although if he continues playing the way he did in Mexico, I wouldn't be surprised if he gets 2.5/7 again.

I am very impressed by Aronian's fine win. I always believed in this player and now this game justifies me. Rxa2 is a brave choice, many of us we would just play Kxf7 and try to hold a miserable endgame, so what teaches us Aronian, is that a good combination of bravity and imagination can make the difference. The game is without doubt a classic.

Aronian deserves to win Linares. No doubt.

What a shame it would be if Topalov dropped back under 2800 so quickly. It would mean Anand is going to be number 1 on the list. I guess maybe a Topalov Kramnik match between the #2 and #7 players with a smaller gap in ratings might not be so offensive to Topalov now,too bad he dropped down a level instead of waiting for Kramnik to come back up though! Chess at the top levels is like trying to live in the death zone at the top of Mt. Everest, you just can't stay there as long as you would like to. I'm sure Topalov just needs a rest and a chance to bring in fresh preparation and he'll be fine. Hopefully he'll come back with a little humility we'll get rid of Kirsan and the new leadership of FIDE under Bessel Kok will be able to get a reunification match while a buzz remains about Topalov's play.

Charles Milton Ling, yes that was a typo. Of course, I meant "under" not over, and I think we are all glad about that. Thanks for correcting me.

Personally, I hate this split tournament style. Having to wait until Friday for more games just stinks.

Another great line from Mig: "Just when I was going to suggest that Vallejo nail his h-pawns to the board,..."

Don't knock it; his risky play is an inspiration to a patzer like me. A couple of days ago I was moved to try h4 -- on the White side of a French -- and I won.

I was mostly thinking of his ugly h4 against Svidler in the second round, but ..h5 against Radjabov didn't work out too well either. Then he played the same thing against Topalov and won, so I give up.

Aronian is a scrapper, no doubt about it. Very original, unbalanced play. If he could stop blitzing his moves out he'd really be dangerous.

Mig, It's you? Anyway you shouldn't allow that certain jockers post comments behind your arms this doesn't seems a smart opinion about Aronian

Looks like the 'Topalov mystique' is going to be less powerful (and less enduring) than the Kasparov mystique. He's tried the same type of aggressive play he went for in San Luis, and these elite players are just beating him like a circus monkey. I think for his own sake, he needs to back off of the tournament play for awhile and set up some matches that he has time to prepare for. He's one of the best players out there, and he had a real good run of luck last year, but I don't see him dominating the rest of the field for years to come like GK did.

so Topy has 1 bad half tournament, and everybody's on his back? Give him a break, only 2 players in history could consistently take it to their opponents time after time after and come out on top, the great, GREAT Mikhail Nekhemevich, and of course Gary Kimovich. Obviously Topalov has quite some way to go to match them, but he'll bounce back, mark my words. He's a champion.

I'm also extremely impressed by Aronian. This guy is seriouly talented. Svidler plays some superlative chess in 1 game, then plays woefully in the next. Somehow I've come to expect this of him. Maybe he needs to improve his fitness level and maintain his energy throughout a tournament, instead of the the first few games? Leko looks to be back to the smooth well oiled machine he normally is, and Chuky rocks as usual, in his own inimitable way.

D, Svidler certainly needs some fitness exercise. :)

Valleho busted the Russian(Petroff) defense in round seven.making an easy draw with White against Ivanchuk!

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.Qe2!

I remember the talented IM Alexander Kovacevic at an "Investbanka" super GM tournament many years ago, refusing to bust Kramnik's Russian in game round one, with 5.Qe2!, and losing eventually in the endgame.

Who made the right choice? Valleho or Kovacevic, who later became one of the youngest SCG GMs? My guess is - Valleho.

Are all playing the Russian defense, in fact, silently offering a draw to White, or not? My guess is - yes.

For anonymious, Maybe Topa is not using his secret weapons in Mexico? Waiting to spread his web at the next WCH?

I will get off Topalov's back after one half of a bad tournament as soon as everybody gets off his front after a couple of good ones.

Botvinnik came out on top time and time again? He never won a match as a champion, only as a challenger. That, and the heavy support of the party mechanism, make me question assessment of Mikhail Botvinnik. Granted, I don't know much about his tournament results, but from what I have read in memoirs, fifties as an era produced a lot of different tournament winners. If he finished in top three or five always, then such is also my impression of Karpov and Smyslov.

Another thread here (at least I think it was here, rather than some other blog) produced some authoritative-looking stats about Botvinnik's reign. They were unimpressive in the extreme; in fact, my recollection is, people equated him with Kramnik as someone whose results as champion fell far short of what he'd achieved on the way to the top. (Of course, unlike Kramnik, Botvinnik did regularly defend his title during that Soviet era when the championship match cycle worked like a well-oiled clock; setting aside the fact that the outcome of one or more of those title defenses was fixed).

Also, although I'm no fan of Karpov's personal qualities -- when it comes to pure chess ability / achievement, let's give him his due (ditto for Fischer).

Karpov did far better than "finished in the top 3 or 5 always".... My recollection is that he won nearly every tournament he played in the '70s through early '80s, until Kasparov got near his peak. Jeff Sonas, who is probably the No. 1 authority on this subject, corroborates my view. He published a lengthy piece awhile back (I think it appeared or at least was linked here, too) that said Karpov's long-run results not only exceeded those of any other player in history except Kasparov (yes, even Fischer!).... Jeff indicated that Karpov's dominance, in his heyday, even equaled that of Kasparov, by some measures.

I agree about Karpov. To be honest, if Fischer hadn't been an American, he'd be a footnote. He was the strongest player in the world off and on for a while, but you could say the same thing about Kramnik (or Keres).

Karpov and Kasparov are probably the most impressive players in the history of the game. Botvinnik was never really that dominant - he lost a lot of those WC matches - and never put together serious tourney superiority. Alekhine might be competition, but that period was broken up by too much political strife for him to put up consistent numbers like the two K's.

yuri it wasnt a couple of good tourneys, it was many more. and he's been in the top 10 consistently. and you must be joking about Botvinnik vs Kramnik. Botvinnik was far, FAR more impressive than Kramnik. Read http://www.chessbase.com/newsdetail.asp?newsid=2409 And Botvinnik won as champion against Bronstein and Smyslov. Think you're generally clueless.

To me the most impressive player in history is Tal. Not the strongest (that's Kasparov) but for sheer talent its Tal. Even Kasparov might have stumbled against the mighty Tal when he when he was ascending the throne.

d, Botvinnik never won as champion against Bronstein and Smyslov. Both those matches ended 12-12, which is hardly a 'win'. Of course, as per FIDE rules at the time, the champ kept his title in case of a tie, so you can only say he had 'successfully defended his title' against them, but he definitely didn't win.

What was remarkable about Fischer wasn't that he was American. It was that alone he beat the system that propped up the Botviniks of the Soviet FIDE system. Bronstein and others have admitted to fixing the results of tournaments so that the favored soviet player would have the best chance to win and Fischer was able to overcome that. It was like starting a tournament at -2 and still being able to win.

I have no criticism for Topalov after 1 bad tournament my criticism is that after San Luis he acted as though he was a more legitimate champion than Kramnik. Kramnik was only the 2nd player ever to go over 2800 and had a long period of dominance including a match win against Kasparov those results deserved the respect of the FIDE champion of the week not his scorn.

Topalov has not done anything that Kramnik didn't do first and he has not even played in a match of the caliber of the one that Kramnik won against Kasparov. So while his strength can't be questioned his statements and motives can, again untill someone can dominate the way Kasparov has these round robin knock-out FIDE pseudo champions should approach their "titles" with humility.

Well, let's see who is clueless:

1. I did not compare Botvinnik to Kramnik.
2. Botvinnik's title defense record, against Bronstein: 1 draw. Bron stumbles at the end of the match, after leading.
3. Botvinnik's title defense record, against Smyslov: 1 draw and 1 loss. He beats him once, in a match, as a challenger.
4. Botvinnik's title defense record, against Tal:
1 loss. He beats Tal who is recovering not from arthritis, but from a deadly kidney disease and surgery (my apologies if I have the details of his condition wrong) only as a challenger.
5. Botvinnik's title defense record, against Petrosian: 1 loss
6. The link you sent shows that during Botvinnik's championship years he has only been #1 for 4 out of 15 years. That is hardly the dominance you portray. The longest year streak of being #1 he has is of 3 years, in mid-40's, and how many tournaments took place during the WWII anyway? He only has 8 #1 years overall, and only 2 more where he was ranked second. He shows great longevity, much more so than any other champ of the period, not superiority. That is not him being the only equal of Kasparov. The article establishes Karpov and Kasparov being the only two players to dominate the sport for an extended period of time.

When you read Taimanov's memoirs, you realize that even a man who has much admiration for Botvinnik and speaks of him with great affection, acknowledges that the party was solidly behind him and put pressure on people like David Bronstein and Keres to lose.

On to other people's comments:

I was not sure of how good Karpov was in tournaments and didn't want to make an error by claiming that he won nearly all of them, which is why I said he finished consistently at the top. Andrey Karpov is my favorite player, style-wise of all time. I will say nothing of what I think of him as a person, but I am reminded of a quote from "American Psycho," "Yes, Luis is a despicable twit".

Yuri, you ARE clueless. From your prev post:
"I will get off Topalov's back after one half of a bad tournament as soon as everybody gets off his front after a couple of good ones."
- Not true.
"Botvinnik came out on top time and time again? He never won a match as a champion, only as a challenger."
- I repeat, he won against Smylov and Bronstein. Won in the sense he emerged victorious from the match.

From your later post: Point 1, granted, my mistake I was looking at somebody else's post.

Points 2-5 irrelevent. You are not talking about the points on which I said you were clueless. I completely agree that Tal is streets above Botvinnik, but I never said otherwise.

Point 6: I never said Botvinnik was dominant per se, I only said he was streets above Kramnik.
Still I find it difficult to see how you equate 8 to 4. very creative interpretation. And who on earth said he was better than Karpov or Kasparov??

Carl, Topalov is a FAR more credible chmapion than Kramnik. Kramnik never dominated as much as Topalov. Granted he beat the strongest player in history, but his behaviour afterwards was far more pathetic than Toaplov's. And Kramnik never did what Topalov did: dominate tournaments. When did Kramnik smash the field and dominate like Topalov?

A few words about the system:

Had the Soviet players been propped up as much as some claim, their results against western block GMs would have consistently been worse than against their own higher-level competition. Is this the case?

In single one-on-one matches which are what after all led Fischer to win the championship, such fixing is impossible.

David Bronstein was essentially a dissident in the Soviet system and I am not aware of him ever admitting to fixing the results. Please link, or admit that you generalized. Bronstein did say that there was pressure on him from his seconds not to play certain lines in the match, that he at times felt afraid to beat Botvinnik, but that's it. And that's far from losing on purpose.

I need to stop posting today.

"It was like starting a tournament at -2"

Who thinks up this junk? The Sovs, Americans, everybody bent over backwards for Fischer. Spassky himself spoke out to make sure Fischer wasn't forfeited from the Iceland match when he decided not to show up for a game. Fischer was probably the strongest player of the late 60's and early 70's. The Americans even made sure he didn't have to play his way into the championship by buying off Pal Benko to give up his spot (and yet somehow people think the Sovs were evil for trying to get the "right" player to advance), so Fischer could ignore everything and everyone except Spassky.

Fischer was a talented guy, no joke, but he managed to look impressive only by playing so briefly and being from New York.

How is my comment about Topalov comparing Botvinnik to Kramnik? What did I say wrong about Topalov? Are people not praising him after a couple of tournament wins last year? You said Botvinnik won against Bronstein and Smyslov. This was after I said that he never won a match as a champion. You did not say he defended the title successfully, and I never said he didn't. That is not what people mean by winning a match. You said that aside from Kasparov only Botvinnik took it to his opponents time and time again and equaled him to Kasparov in terms of that ability. I point out that neither Botvinnik's tournament nor match record is that impressive. Don't think that's valid? Want to judge him on another standard? I can't think of a better indication of his record than his record.

But perhaps it is something else that you think I am clueless about? Such is the problem of name calling. I don't want to get into "well, you first called me clueless after saying such and such", but if you want to get that specific, a lot of GMs finished in top ten time and time again, plus won several tourneys. Every world champ ever has, and right now, several GMs fit that description too.

Botvinnik did not win against Smyslov and Bronstein as a champion. Never won against Bronstein in a match, period. That is what I said and it's an accurate reflection of the facts.

Lastly, on 8 vs 4. The latter, I am talking about Botvinnik's championship years. The former, career overall, including the weakened World War II era. Both facts are stated in my post.

gmc, please

1) read some chess history covering the period Fischer was active. (I'm not going to give a specific book recommendation here, but I'm sure Mig and others reading the thread can help you fill in the gaps in your knowledge)...and

2) play in a tournament once in a while, and/or read an opening book that includes a little bit of historical perspective about how a variation evolved in some line that Fischer played regularly, such as Najdorf Sicilian, or Exchange Ruy.

The first would help you avoid embarrassing mistakes like misconstruing Carl's post about "starting a tournament at -2 and still being able to win," as a reference to the Fischer-Spassky match of 1972.

On second thought, even that might not help you...if you don't know the difference between the word, "tournament" and the word, "match", maybe it's a book on English vocabulary you need, rather than a chess book.

It's obvious that Carl was NOT referring to the Match of the Century (there, one CAN make a case that various people including his opponent did indeed "bend over backwards" to accommodate Bobby).

Rather, Carl was referring to a number of tournaments that happened at least a decade earlier, in the late 1950s and early 1960s -- including at least one Candidates' Tournament, if I'm not mistaken (that was when the direct challenger to the World Champion was determined from a tournament, before they went to a series of Candidates' matches).

In those tournaments, the Soviet entrants arranged draws or even threw games to one another, while all of them fought their hardest against Fischer -- all on orders from the Party.

Fischer said at the time, "The Russians cheat," and he was mocked as paranoid ...but decades later, his accusations were proven definitively true, by material released from Soviet archives.

My second bit of advice -- to play some serious chess and/or read some chess literature of a more technical nature -- might help you learn how Fischer's influence on the game extended far beyond the relatively brief period of his dominance.

Fischer revolutionized a number of openings. In fact, he regularly introduced significant opening novelties/improvements, every bit as frequently as Kasparov did. Fischer's influence on chess theory and knowledge clearly exceeds that of Karpov, who was around far longer, and approaches that of Botvinnik, who was both around far longer and had an army of flunkies doing all the grunt-work for him (which Fischer never had).

Finally, while Fischer was dominant for only a few years, the EXTENT of his dominance was so extreme, that it's foolish to equate him with Kramnik, or Ivanchuk, or Anand or anyone else who could claim to be "first among equals" for a brief time.

Fischer was never simply "first among equals." From about 1967-1972, he was simply in a class by himself. In fact, even Jeff Sonas (in the post linked earlier in this thread) says that Fischer in his best year dominated his contemporaries more thoroughly than either Kasparov or Karpov did in any of their best years. And Fischer's contemporaries weren't slouches (Petrosian, Geller, Spassky, Korchnoi, Tal, Larsen -- all when they were at or near their respective peak strengths).

Don't forget that computers were part of the chess community during kasparov's time, which makes it even harder to be better not to mention dominant.

"It was like starting a tournament at -2 and still being able to win."

The majority of the tournaments that you guys are discussing Fischer in fact did not win. So let's say he started at -1 and ended up not winning them.

My readings of Sonas's material as well as assorted Fischer biographies online also brings me to question the assertion of the period of Bobby's dominance as being between 1967 and 1972--he started playing off the charts roughly around USSR vs the World in 1970, this is also the period of Palma de Majorca 1970 and crushing of Taimanov, Larsen and Petrosian in 1971. 1970 and 1971 are also the two years he is number one on Sonas's charts (not in 1967, 1968 and 1969).

He won the cycle in 1972 which remains his major claim to being impressive in history. Russia did not and could not damage him through collision in this cycle, due to it being match-based. What you also have to realize is that the Soviet Russia of 1950 and 1970 while close is no longer the same, and the eccentric and unpredictable Spasskiy is not the stalwart communist Botvinnik. Witness the circumstances surrounding Karpov's ascendancy in 1975 versus relative lack of similar support for Spasskiy earlier. This cycle Fischer wins.

Bobby Fischer's 3 years of dominance remain a feat to be marvelled at. He will always be acknowledged by me as a brilliant player, who however was hamstrung by lack of mental stability and even consistency in results on board (two sharp descents in 60's can easily be observed on Sonas's chart, they are far more serious than those of other reputed chess geniuses).

The most dominant chess player of all time, bar none, "was" Gary Kasparov. I say that not even being a fan of his. The successes of both Anatoly Karpov and Bobby Fischer-and any other world champion for that matter-as great as they were, aren't even a close second. I will say what Fischer did during his 70-72 run can be considered the greatest chess accomplishment.

The greatest chess accomplishment.

There is no greatness in chess. To be accomplished in chess is not to be great in any sense.

True greatness lies in stalking chess blogs and writing pretentious drivel.

What Greg said

Yuri do you read your own posts?

"When you read Taimanov's memoirs, you realize that even a man who has much admiration for Botvinnik and speaks of him with great affection, acknowledges that the party was solidly behind him and put pressure on people like David Bronstein and Keres to lose."
Posted by: Yuriy Kleyner at February 28, 2006 11:05

"David Bronstein was essentially a dissident in the Soviet system and I am not aware of him ever admitting to fixing the results. Please link, or admit that you generalized. Bronstein did say that there was pressure on him from his seconds not to play certain lines in the match, that he at times felt afraid to beat Botvinnik, but that's it. And that's far from losing on purpose."Posted by: Yuriy Kleyner at February 28, 2006 11:30

I believe it is a documented fact that the soviet govt pressured their players to "cooperate". You yourself stated in the quoted post that the "party" pressured Bronstein to lose. By stating that Fischer(and not just him every non soviet had the same disadvantage)was in effect starting at -2 I was not trying to do anything but point out that what was remarkable about him was that alone he overcame a system that did everything to prevent a non soviet player from becoming champion. Ask Reshevsky (if you could) what it was like at Zurich in 53. The same thing is going on in world class running today. In the marathon there is a pack of Kenyans and everybody else they cooperate to reduce the lead pack till it gives the strongest Kenyan on the day the best chance to win.

Regarding Kramnik-Topalov I think any tournament without Kramnik is automatically going to be better replace him with Topalov every time and I'll be happy. I am no fan of Kramnik but he WON a match against the strongest player in history and that is a more legitimate title than any tournament title thrown together by FIDE could ever be. If you are the strongest it will come out in a match so don't play politics play chess. Again, Topalov only won a tournament and acted as though he had done something better than beating Kasparov! That is funny!

Carl--whether there was pressure on him and whether he actually fixed the results are two different things. Whether he performed worse than he could have due to government's pressure on him is one thing. Whether he fixed the results of games to make foreign GMs look worse is another. Your post especially made it seem like he, along with other GMs, led the effort to do so, is what I mostly had a problem with. Keres, or at least, his wife, on the other hand, has admitted to him intentionally losing for example in tournament to replace Alekhin. It is semantics, but important.

On Fischer. I agree that there was collusion against him and other foreigners. What I wanted to point out is during the year he has won he was not in a -2 tournament situation, when he was in it in cycles before that, he did not win!

Yuri, OK, I think I understand the origin of the misconception..What I said: "only 2 players in history could consistently take it to their opponents time after time after and come out on top, the great, GREAT Mikhail Nekhemevich, and of course Gary Kimovich"
From your post: "You said that aside from Kasparov only Botvinnik took it to his opponents time and time again and equaled him to Kasparov in terms of that ability."

If you were a little more clued in, you would know that Mikhail Nekhemevich is Mikhail Nekhemevich Tal. Cant think of anybody more combative than Tal. If I wanted to refer to Botvinnik, I would have said Mikhail Moisevich, as his full name is Mikahil Moisevich Botvinnik.

Being clueless, of course you wouldnt know that and jump to silly conclusions..

My mistake. I remembered Botvinnik's middle name but not Tal's so I jumbled the two archaic Jewish names up. I have to disagree with your assessment of Tal still, he definitely was somebody who did not consistently come out on top. Combative? Sure, but nobody ever said Topalov wasn't. Take a look at Tal's graph on chessmetrics and compare it to those for Karpov and Smyslov, for example, if you don't believe me.

Now I'm the one embarrassed, for a change. I made two lengthy comments here yesterday, and like Yuriy, I was referring to the wrong player! (It was I who started the whole discussion of Botvinnik ... because, like Yuriy, I jumped to the seemingly obvious, but wrong, conclusion that when d first hailed "Mikhail Nekhemevich" he was referring to BOTVINNIK, rather than TAL.)

Moral: Patronymics without last names aren't even marginally adequate to identify great players of the past. And you don't have to be Western to know that: Yuriy Kleyner made the same mistake I did, and I presume he is Russian himself.

By the way, Tal wasn't Jewish. I don't recall whether Botvinnik was, but it's hard to believe he was, since the Soviets always favored ethnic Russians, and no one was ever more favored than Botvinnik.

I recall hearing the reason the Party told Keres "he wasn't worthy" to be champion -- in effect ordering him to dump a championship to Botvinnik -- was that he was Estonian. And of course, Kasparov changed his name to avoid any possible identification with his Jewish parent; but the Party still favored Karpov, a full-blooded ethnic Russian, even before Kasparov started speaking out of turn. (Korchnoi, who I think is Jewish, also complained many times that the Party's extreme favoritism toward Karpov was based on ethnicity.)

The patronymic middle name is confusing for many people. I know when I first got into chess, I had no clue that there was such a thing, and I would read about Garry Kasparov and Garry Kimovich, and honestly thought for about 6 months that they were two different people. The same holds true for other Soviet players, when writers would use the "last" name and patronymic "middle name" interchangeably. Very confusing. Nobody ever told me about it, and I`d never read about it or encountered it before. And I had nobody to talk to about chess whatsoever, as I live in the middle of nowhere.

It seems that, when speaking to western readers, it is best to not use that device, or at least to make sure that everyone knows all three names for any given player. For example, thought I own and have read (twice) Tal`s autobiography, I completely forgot who "Mikhail Nekhemevich" was.

Well, one of the reasons we might have made that mistake is that people generally referred to Tal as Misha, or Mikhail at the most (the former is an affectionate abbreviation of Mikhail, and inclusion of patronymic Nekhemevich name is more formal). It is interesting to consider which Russian GMs are more often referred to by their full name: Botvinnik is one, Kasparov is the other. Karpov is middle-ish. Tal and Spassky's rarely get mentioned.

Tal was Jewish, very much so, I think he even had or tried to get Israel citizenship in the perestroyka era? What might confuse you is he is from Riga, which is the capital of Latvia. Botvinnik was also Jewish, and his mother's maiden name was Rabinovich. While there is anti-Semitism in Russia and most of the audience hence cheered for Smyslov in the battle between the two, to the party higher-ups the more solid political ideologist was favored. Who else? Spassky is half-Jewish, clashed with the party very much and so was never particularly liked by them.

Well Yurochka, Spasski has told on a number of occasions, the last time in Eidinow's book, that he is as Russian as it gets, with no Jewish connections whatsoever.

And, of course, Spassky last year famously added his name to an anti-Semitic petition in Russia (signed by some 5,000 people) that resulted in the arrest of Moscow's chief rabbi, for the offense of teaching Talmud (shades of the Czars!)

Not that signing an anti-Semitic petition would prove someone isn't Jewish (or part Jewish) ....Steven Spielberg just made a movie whose message is, Arab assassins of (Jewish) Olympic athletes = good; Jewish assassins of Arab assassins = bad.


Spassky's assertions are no reason to assume he is not. (see: Bobby Fischer) Wikipedia and several other online sources list Boris's mother as being Jewish, which is also how my brother, who went to school with Boris's son, Vasya, remembers it.

Personally, want to go on the record as saying I don't care what nationality Spassky or his mother were. It's just interesting trivia.

"Steven Spielberg just made a movie whose message is, Arab assassins of (Jewish) Olympic athletes = good; Jewish assassins of Arab assassins = bad."

Patently false. In fact, no one who has actually seen this film could make such a contemptible and ignorant comment without aiming for a joke.

But just in case, let's carry forth logically Jon's thought-experiment: it seems the film Schindler's List was directed by a self-hating Jew! Okay, whoa, let's stop right there so Jon can get hold of Reuters and break this super-hot story!!! Then perhaps he can part with the $10 to see the film "Munich" and spare us his knee-jerk humor.

Why don't we all settle on this. While no one knows for sure what nationality Spasski is, Petrosian for sure is Armenian :)

Why don't we all settle on this. While no one knows for sure what nationality Spasski is, Petrosian for sure is Armenian :)

Yuri, its a form of respect to use the middle name format, which is why I did it. As for Misha coming out on top, personally I believe he was possessed of a talent that was pure genius. Gary in his "My greatest predecessors vol 2" says that Tal literally saw through combinations, he didnt really need to calculate, hundreds of fantastic combinations were whirling around in his head. And in his heyday, nobody really matched him in his imperious march to the top.

Yes I know of his bad record against Korchnoi and Spassky and a few others, but it doesnt mean they were stronger. After all, Korchnoi played in the qualifying tourneys, zonals etc that Tal played in, but Tal won the tournaments (I'm talking about his path to WC). Legends like Keres, Bronstein, Smyslov and Botvinnik himself were left gasping as Tal became WC. Botvinnik himself questioned whether he should exercise his right to a rematch, such was the level of wizardry exhibited by Tal. Tal himself says his bad record against Korchnoi was psychological, and he invariably tried to do too much, illustrated by the fact that he almost always lost with white to him. If not for his health troubles I think his star would have shone as no other player of his generation. Perhaps he also loved the game too much, and constantly spurned workmanlike victories in the search for brilliancies too many times. But when he was in health and form, nobody but NOBODY could match him. Even in poor form and health, very few could beat him. I think Fischer knew who the best player was. If you own Tal's autobiography, you would know the memorable paragraph where he discusses with Fischer who the best player in the world is..

Anyway what I said was, Topalov is similarly combative, though perhaps possessing less ability. Obviously he's going to have a bad tourney or two, doesnt take away his victory in the World Championship in San Luis, or the other tourneys he's won (sum total being greater than 2 unlike you said).

Hey, d

Far be it from me to deny Tal's genius. If it didn't come through in earlier posts, I have a ton of respect for the man, both as a chess player and as a person. I do not agree however with your assessment of him as being able to consistently take it to the opponent and come out on top. He was always fire on board, but for a variety of reasons, after his sparkling rise to the top in the late fifties/early sixties, he hasn't been on top of the chess world, either as a champion or as a player. He was more than capable of having a bad tournament, like Topalov is having right now, and a bad year, both because of his style and his health.

On Topalov, a couple can refer not just to two, but to a few tournaments. He had success late last year and I am not denying that. But other players have had similar upswings, and Vesselin has benefited from blunders in the past year, so I am taking a wait and see before I put Topalov above the rest of today's crop.

haha..."I do not agree however with your assessment of him as being able to consistently take it to the opponent and come out on top." Nobody could match Tal when he was in form. As I mentioned, the most experienced and solid masters, legends in their own right, fell by the wayside. The reason he couldnt climb to the zenith again was that at some point in the qualification cycle, his health would always break down, whether it required an operation or a few days in bed. He never used that as an excuse, but its a fact. Later, when the topic of discussion was young talents, he would wryly remark that at 24 he was already an ex world champion! Only Gary can beat that. So lets agree to disagree on that.

As for Topalov, when he posts the next brilliant tournament victory, perhaps you'll remember these lines...

D, you yourself said that at times for Tal he lost because of, for example, psychological complexes with Korchnoi and that he searched for brilliancy over workmanlike victories too many times. So, I disagree that the reason for his losses were limited to his health. Yet, of course, that is ultimately why he lost to Botvinnik. I don't think we actually disagree on Tal all that much, we both think he is brilliant and agree on what his shortcomings were.

I will gladly give Topalov his due if he continues to perform as he has over the past year in the years to come. Until then, his horrible result in the first half of this year's Linares is a good time to pause his assessment.


I took a look at one of those fan magazines in the supermarket checkout line, letters gushing over this star or that. Sometimes we're not much different in here.

"Gary... says that Tal literally saw through combinations, he didn't really need to calculate, hundreds of fantastic combinations were whirling around in his head."
--Unable to climb inside someone else's head, we'll never know. But whirling combinations are presumably the norm for Gary (Garry?), and Tal, and Petrosian, and Korchnoi, and Fischer, and Kramnik and Topalov...etc. It's results that count, not our guesses as to what goes on inside their heads. We glorify world champions. We don't glorify the winners of timed chess problem solving competitions. Tal was champ once.

"And in his heyday, nobody really matched him in his imperious march to the top." A little perspective:
--At the 1958 Portoroz Interzonal, the imperious marcher scored 13.5, against Gligoric's 13, Petrosian 12.5, and Benko 12.5 Versus the top ten at Portoroz: Tal scored two wins and a loss, Gligo was -1, Petrosian +1, Benko +2.
--In the 1959 Bled Candidates, Keres beat Tal three games and lost one. Petrosian and Tal drew their four games. Petrosian generally drew against the rest of the field, Keres generally defeated the rest of the field. Tal destroyed the rest of the field.
--Botvinnik-Tal I was won by Tal... 12.5 to 8.5
Tal-Botvinnik II was won by Botvinnik 13 to 8.

"Yes I know of his bad record against Spassky, Korchnoi and a few others, but it doesn't mean they were stronger."
--Maybe we can agree that head-to-head, Korchnoi was stronger than Tal, and Spassky was stronger than Tal. But that Tal at his best was arguably better than Spassky or Korchnoi at defeating, or smashing lesser-rated players.

"Tal himself says his bad record against Korchnoi was psychological..."
--If you're going to write off Tal's "psychological" defeats to Korchnoi then don't you also have to write off Tal's "psychological" victories against opponents intimdated by his "stare" and reputation?

"...he invariably tried to do to much...if not for his health troubles....constantly spurned workmanlike victories...."
--And if I had been born in Moscow instead of Wisconsin, had been trained by Botvinnik instead of a park district employee, had a better brain and a better work ethic, I might be world champ. Sad, but true.

You can't give Tal his "if onlys" and deny everyone else their "if onlys."

"We glorify world champions. We don't glorify the winners of timed chess problem solving competitions. Tal was champion once."

If chess champions are not winners of timed chess problem solving competitions, I am not sure what they are. Tal was champion once? Sure, but so were Karpov, Kasparov, Euwe, Petrosian and virtually everybody else. Are you going to put them all in the same rank? If so, you are in a small minority among chess fans, who overall while appreciating results and giving the champions their due, also appreciate dynamic play at the board, impressive combinations, beautifully won games, sportsmanship and other qualities, which while not always showing up in the winner/loser board matter to the public. It is impossible to get into somebody's head? Perhaps, but like you said we can see the results of what goes on in their head. And if your level of chess understanding is high enough to appreciate what happens or at least to intelligently read commentary of others and see what the consensus is as to whose game play showed greater combinatorial thinking. Of course, I can't with certitude deduce what Tal thought when he moved a certain piece where he did, but I can see what occurred when he made a seemingly illogical sacrifice and read the analysis of others about why it was a good move, hard to calculate. I am probably on the side of the fans who would rather see cold step piece style of Karpov, but Tal's share of fans is based on more than just conjecture of what went on in his head.

Your analysis of Tal's results is rather limited in scope. For example, he is ranked #1 for 5 years by Sonas, a period which shows a rapid ascent, matched by few other GMs. To continue with your analysis with Bled, if you take the matches against Keres out of equation, you will find that Tal finishes 3.5 points above his nearest competitor. The rest of the field, as you call it, at this tournament, consists of Smyslov, Fischer, Gligoric, Olafson and Benko. Of course, the people Tal destroyed did not finish at the top, but that's why they didn't finish at the top. He wasn't playing the Vallejo Ponses of this world, and that's why chessmetrics is more useful tool than just seeing who finished where in the table. You omit that Keres didn't beat Petrosian in the tournament either, whereas versus number four, Smyslov, who is only half a point behind Petrosian, Tal is a point ahead of Keres. To sum up, in this tournament, against the 2700 club: Tal 10-4=6, Keres 8-5=7, Petrosian, 4-2=14 (one win against Keres, draws the rest of their games), Smyslov 5-6=9, Fischer 4-10=6, Gligoric 4-8=8. Hardly the thrasher of weaker competition you make him out to be, Mikhail Tal was capable of beating the strongest players to the last days of his career. Last but not least, I hope you know more about Tal-Botbinnik rematch than just the final score. Enough to say, that Tal played the match out of obligation in a horrible physical state. And no, that's not just another what if. There is a difference between being raised in a different circumstances/training harder and having a major disadvantage which has nothing to do with your skill as a chess player.

I agree that d gushed. But much like he went overboard, so did you. Perhaps you could have been a world champion if you were raised in Moscow and been trained by Botvinnik. But you only would have won it once.


My mistake. Change "once" to "for one year". And yes, he got screwed by the rematch provision.

Tal was obviously a great, great player. But you can't defend such statements as "nobody, but NOBODY could match him" by arguing "if you take Keres out of the equation...."

When speaking of Tal, Kasparov, or anyone else, "gosh, he was soooooo great" is less interesting than going over the great man's record to see just how great he was.

Rapid calculating ability (or fantastic, whirling mental activity, or whatever you want to call it) would be a useful tool in any chess champ's arsenal. But it's not the only thing, and Tal's brief reign is the best proof of that.

I'm not sure I'm disagreeing with anything you said, Yuriy.

Is the result Ivanchuk-Bacrot 0-1 correct? If so, resigning is a terrible blunder for Ivanchuk who appears to have the winning shot Qc7! with the threat of Qe7! in the final position. Or did Ivanchuk lose on time?

Given the number of moves, I'd guess Ivanchuk lost on time.

And what's up with Leko taking a draw in a winning position? i.e. gxf7+ Rxf7 (Kxf7 Bc4!) Bd3 with a winning attack.

Oh well, at least Topalov's back to winning good positions for now.

Just like it is deceptive to use bland terms like "greatest of all time" and "unstoppable" it is also deceptive to cherry pick the stats to make an argument that a player's success was due to his results against the weaker competition. Why choose 10 at interzonal and 3 at candidates? To include Tal's loss to #9 at the former (his only loss) and avoid his outstanding result against #4 and #5 at the latter?

And Tal wasn't screwed by the rematch clause. He was in horrible medical condition and played accordingly. Most commentators who I have read on the situation (and I was not alive at the time so I can't comment myself) state that had Tal asked for a medical extension he could have easily obtained one. Later on, right before Curacao, he has his kidney surgically removed and plays as you would expect a man to play after such a surgery. When evaluating Tal's skill as a chess player by his record, one must consider such events and not just put up Tal 8-Botvinnik 13.

I was not trying to defend d's statement that nobody could match him. In 58-60 he was the best player on the planet according to Sonas's results. His results against Keres in Bled further contribute to my picture of Tal as a person who had trouble against some specific opponents, such as Paul Keres at that tournament (and I don't know their overall head-to-head) or Korchnoi later on.


It comes down to our differing standards for "best" player.

You're looking for the player who wins the most gaems, tournaments, etc. Perhaps in the most spectacular fashion. Your player reliably losing to this or that opponent doesn't stop him from being "the best."

I'm looking for a guy who can at least draw, and preferably has an edge, large, or small, over everyone else on the planet. To me, the world championship should be all about finding that guy. Changing the Candidates Tournament to a series of Candidates Matches was, for me, a huge improvement in finding that guy.

In Bled, Tal was "best" by your standards, and, obviously, by the standards of the event itself. But Keres' domination of Tal in that event, combined with Keres' coming within a whisker of winning or drawing his "mini-match" with every other player, makes him my "best" player.

Who knows what would have happened if the Bled Candidates tournament had been recast into a series of Candidates matches. But my money would have been on Keres.

greg i would bother to reply except that I know from your past posts that you're completely full of it, and there's no point arguing with you. Yuri on the other hand is worth arguing with, so I'll reply to his "gushed" comment. Waxing eloquent over something doenst mean its inaccurate. You can say something in many different ways, and I chose to be somewhat lyrical. On the original point that caused this discussion, I see that Vesselin has discovered a bit of form..

"But my money would have been on Keres."

Really? On the basis of four games in Bled, which, had one game gone Tal's way instead of Keres's would produce an even outcome? Keres's record against Tal is not that of dominance. USSR Championship 1957, Tal wins against Keres. USSR Championship 1959, Tal wins against Keres. Zurich 1959, Tal draws Keres. Keres skips the 1958 tournament, which Tal wins. In all of these Tal finishes first, except for 1959 where he is second, and Keres, is 2nd, 4th and 7th, with his record against the top seeds one of the worst among leaders.

You are gushing over the idea of what a champion is. There isn't always a player who has a small + record or an even record against everybody. An idea of a champion who is consistently better than anybody else, day in and day out is not an accurate reflection of reality, where players have better and worse days, easier and harder opponents, and, most importantly, have several roughly equal-skilled players on top. The moments when chess, or any other competition, had a man who was heads and shoulders above the rest are rare. We are lucky, because for several years, we did have that situation where Fischer dominated for a couple of years, then we had a decade of Karpov and then fifteen years of Kasparov. Regardless of what I think of them, they could be counted on to be number ones in most tournaments played, or if not, second or so. Such is not awlays the case. It's hard to find a player with such a record in the fifties or today, though Topalov has shown inclination that way over the past year. My idea of a best player is not one who wins the most, but one who wins the most against highest-quality competition, with some consideration for triumphs over second-rank competition, if the results against the top men are roughly the same. My second important consideration is that such a player does not always exist. Tal in Bled against top-ranked men, Tal against Botvinnik the first time around, definitely the best man. Tal at Portoroz, not necessarily so. Tal's record over 1957-1960, yes, the best player on the planet. However, as Tal's problems began to accumulate, he didn't have the physical or mental conditioning to dominate for a longer period of time, and Botvinnik beating him does not make him Botvinnik the best player. Same for Petrosian, who simply lost the least, in an era where nobody truly dominated the sport.

This is why the idea of a champion is important. It puts onus and rank on one player, giving him something to accomplish, especially in the format which both me and you see to be fans of, the candidates match tournament. The champion is not by definition always the best player, but that does not necessarily take away the validity of his title, as long as he sets up for it to be defended regularly. To return to Bled for a second, if we take it as a mini-candidates match tournament, it is hard to say who would come out on top. Draw would matter a lot. For example, if Keres draws Petrosian in the semis, he loses. But Tigran himself has a negative record against Smyslov and even #7 seed, Olafsson! This is why determination of the best player is virtually impossible and even a candidates match tournament does not necessarily provide for a basis to judge it.

D, I like your lyricism. By paying tribute to great men of the past in beautiful prose, we stimulate interest in their career, the games and ultimately the sport.

Such a delightfully twee little circle-jerk between d and Yuriy, but it should be pointed out that d routinely abuses posters who take issue with his mashed-paper theories and windbag prose; G Koster becomes the latest target because he presents truth in response to d's chess apocrypha - and this mortal annoyance simply cannot stand on Planet d. So instead of directly engaging Koster (which requires perhaps a dram of courage), it's much safer for d to lash out with trollite gems like "...I know from your past posts that you're completely full of it" while simultaneously logrolling with Yuriy.

But enough about that, it's too easy and obvious. Just a quick quote:

"He is the greatest genius to have descended from the chess heavens"

-Mikhail Tal on Bobby Fischer, 1973

yuri its tempting, but pls dont feed the troll above.. thanks

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on February 27, 2006 8:27 AM.

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