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Old Guys Up Front

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The two oldest participants at the 2007 World Championship tournament in Mexico are also the two clear leaders. Anand, 37, and Boris Gelfand, 39, are undefeated with +2 scores after six rounds. Today the players at the top half of the crosstable meet. At least I hope so. If these pairings aren't right today it must mean they are skipping around because it's the last day of the first half of the tournament.

Round 7: Kramnik-Gelfand, Anand-Grischuk, Svidler-Aronian, Morozevich-Leko. LIVE

Kramnik is looking as impregnable as ever so far. He beat Gelfand in a remarkable game at Dortmund last June. Anand and Grischuk have played very few classical games against each other lately. Grischuk hasn't faced 1.e4 yet in Mexico. Might we actually see a Sicilian? Nah. Svidler and Aronian have been dueling in the Marshall and Anti-Marshall. Probably better for Aronian to have black since he's been stung by Svidler's Grunfeld several times. Morozevich beat Leko in Linares this year in a wonderful game. Moro plays just about everything and usually isn't the sort to take a rest day after a loss.

(My round 6 podcast at www.chessclub.com, which was down for much of yesterday. Maybe they have some unpaid Mexican webmasters of their own?) Round six showed the tone of this event so far, and of modern chess in general. The favorites, Anand and Kramnik, equalized easily with black against Leko and Aronian, respectively. At that point we saw what we have grown used to seeing: White won't push the big guys without a big plus, the big guys see no reason to play for a win with black when a quick draw is available, everyone talks about Corsica/Sofia rules. Rinse and repeat.

Leko's 13.Be3 is considered old and harmless, but hey, so was Boris Gelfand before this event started and he just kicked Moro's butt for his second win in a row. Leko was following a Julio Becerra game, which delighted Becerra, who was watching live on the ICC and confusing people by saying things like "here I played a a4" when he didn't have an a-pawn, which of course means he played Ba4 ("A" for alfíl). Leko wasn't aware of that game from the 2006 USCL and chose a meek plan that allowed Vishy to swap and draw from a position of strength a few moves later. Anand didn't play the Marshall, perhaps wanting to save his prep for the white side. Aronian wanted to see how Kramnik would react to facing his own favorite weapon, the Catalan, a strategy that can often be annoying. Unsurprisingly, Kramnik is fine on both sides and he also had the better of things by the time they followed Leko and Anand off the stage, also shortly after move 20.

Grischuk-Svidler was the real show and I'm happier than ever that Grischuk, at 23 the youngest player in the field, is in Mexico. He's playing well and he's playing with a lot of fantasy. Here it was almost a nightmare as Svidler played the provocative 16..Qc5, inviting 17.Bd6 with complications. Grischuk sacrificed another pawn to go on the attack, burning every bridge and even strafing a few airstrips with the piece sac 24.Bxc4! The subtle moves 27.Rd1! and especially 29.b3!, without which Black is just better, were inspired. Grischuk's main failing yet again was his horrible time management, and he was critical of himself after the game. He had only a few minutes for the final ten moves before move 40. More time would have helped, because the scrambling Svidler erred with 36..Ke8 in a very difficult position. 36..Rad7 shows that Black can give up just about anything as long as he keeps his d-pawn and a rook behind it. The computers eventually understand the d-pawn is too strong to beat and settle for repetitions, although they pick up a pile of pawns on the way. Grischuk's 37.Nxe6 was only good enough for a draw, as winning the a7 rook and even every other black pawn on the board isn't enough to win thanks to the mighty d-pawn. 30-ply computer analysis shows 37.Qh8+ gave real winning chances, but it would have been risky. 37..Ke7 38.Qg7 Rad7 (38..Rf8 39.Nxe6!) 39.Qxf7+ Kd6 40.Qxe6+ is wild. Computers can see every check perfectly, of course, and they like White even with a supported black pawn on d3. Yikes.

Gelfand turned in the only win of the day with a nice win over Morozevich. 18.Rb1 reveals serious threats against the black king. Kasparov pointed out a nice line to me: 19..a6 20.Na7+ Kb8 21.Bxc5 Kxa6 22.d6!? There's also the simpler 20.Bxc5 axb5 (20..bxc5? 21.Na7+ Kb8 22.d6! again) 21.Be3 with Rfc1 coming. Lines like those might have been what scared Moro into giving up the exchange, which all the GMs saw as more or less forced. Gelfand did a fine job of technique after that, tossing in some bonus tactical flair with 28.Nxg7 to liquidate and keep a winning h-pawn. Gelfand is playing very well so far. Viva los old guys!


Alas, Gelfand's lead is likely to be short-lived. Kramnik's 13.Qc1 is a tough novelty to meet over the board. On the brighter side though, Grischuk should not lose to Anand.

I think this round is very critical for both Gelfand and Kramnik. While Gelfand would be happy with a draw, Kramnik would like a win to catch up with Anand. Considering Grischuk's solid play so far, Anand may not (or should not) risk too much. Other games don't matter much now.

Another thing to note is the tiring schedule. Only 2 rest days in a 14 eound torunamant (and that too in the WC) is crazy. May lead to lots of (justified) draws in the later rounds or even blunders from the older and/or unfit players (gelfand, Anand, Kramnik?). A fit guy like Topalov would have benefited a lot if he was around.


After 16 moves, I can't help but think that Gelfand has overextended his position and his agressiveness is somewhat surprishing against Kramnik. Two wins in a row certainly helps the confidence level, but...

Gelfand is doing fine - Qc1 is interesting but not a deadly blow. I wonder what Kramnik had prepared against Qd4x because Rybka would be quite happy with the pawn.

In fact Gelfand has gained the initiative after 17...Bc3x and 18...g4!

There's something very pleasing about the position in Moro-Leko after move 16. The symmetricality is lovely.

Kramnik still in deep though after g4..where did Gelfand deviate from K's homeprep ?

Gelfand does have the initiative and he had better do something with it because (longterm) he's left quite a few juicy darksquares behind.

I think Kramnik hadn't counted on G's 14...Bb4!?. He went into his first long think after that.

Can anyone provide evaluation for the games Kramnik-Gelfald and Anand-Grischuk ?
I think Kramnik is not good now (move#20) but maybe I am missing something.

Gelfand did play with gusto today, but it takes more than that to defeat Mr. Rock Steady.

I have to give Gelfand credit, though. He played some very risky and exciting lines that very few GMs would touch with a 10-foot pole against Kramnik. When he had to save the draw in time pressure against Mr. Endgame, he managed that too.

Yay... Anand-Grischuk 1-0 !!

Gelfand outdoes himself in Mexico.
very good game again.. surprised in the opening --he oversurprises OTB, then a5!-- active defense when Kramnik was hoping to press for free on Qside .. and h3,f5!-- tactics with 20sec left..

Does he take Viagra or something ? Is he checked for doping ?

Grischuk's defeat made me sad. This young daddy plays a good chess in Mexico, but after he allowed Vishy's knight to sit safely in c4 and then gave up the d6 pawn, Anand's win was inevitable...

Ooowwww! The Grischuk fans reel in pain as Vishy deals him his first wound! It was bad enough that Grischuk had only drawn a couple wins; but now, a loss. Oh no! Hang in there, Sasha!

I feel your pain! We express a similar thought just minutes apart. I think our man Grischuk has a promising second half, if he can win some of his draws, and manage his time better.

I think playing too much poker made Sasha a little bit slow. He takes his time and has no hurry to risk his chips!
So far, Kramnik has demonstrated a solid shape and I'm sure he will start winning more games in the second round, but Vishy has a better chance to win the tournament. He feels the win and goes for it, like no one else does.
I don't like Vishy's chess but I respect him as a true master.
I was there when he crushed Shirov in Tehran (World championship finale), only a few feet away among the crowd and I witnessed how he turned Alexei's fire to ice. It was my saddest chess experience, but it was real...

All of the sudden Grisch fans around! Lovely. Wasn't I the only one picking him before the tournament (well... not really still gave Anand +4 for first)? But yeah the young man shows most exciting chess. Tons of potential. In the last few tournaments Grisch played most dominant chess out there (at least in the opening-earlier middlegame, alas as in Mexico he did not convert in many games). Too bad he does not seem to be in his best form nowadays... oh well... Anand is good. Very good.

I've been a Grischuk fan since he was a teen, battling his nemesis Ponomariov... which of these two so far has had a more successful career? Who still shows more promise? They are both still young... but perhaps Radjubov and Carlson have already surged past them both?

I cheer for Grischuk because he wears jeans and a t-shirt, and gets scruffy and unshaved, in these days when a certain female blogger and former chess star is asking everyone to wear a $500 suit and tie! (Like Aronian wears in every picture I see these days.)

I don't approve that Grischuk or Kramnick smokes, but as a former smoker, I understand it. I remember that feeling of sharpness and certainty that tobacco brought - was it just an illusion? I played in the days when people even smoked at the board! Every tournament had numerous full and smelly ashtrays! Oh those long lost days.

I had picked Kramnick to win Mexico, but as Jeff Sonas will doubtless remind us, it is statistically very unlikely that anyone can catch Vishy now. Think of it as going into a 7 round tournament with a point or two in hand, against your rivals. With wins so precious at this level, it's finally Anand's World Championship to grasp and hold on to.


The difference between Anand in this tournament (& Linares 2007) and the previous Anand prior to 2006 has been his willingness to just play chess. He wants to get into unclear positions and battle. This is reminiscent of Kasparov and the briefly incandescent Topalov.

Actually Kramnik is feeling the pressure a little bit. He has played some exciting chess too (compared to his rather modest past). His 13th move against Moro was brave as was his willingness to get into a sharp position with Gelfie. However, that is not his true style and he is clearly not comfortable in mixing it up. Obviously he is still very much in the mix with his white against Anand - but I think in the next couple of rounds if he doesnt catch up, we will see him take more chances - we may even see a Sicilian.

Did anyone ask Grischuk in the postgame interview if he sees any reason to be Vishy's fan now?

What should we note at Mexico halftime?

There has been only one decisive game between the top 5 (Anand over Grischuk). Every other game between Anand, Gelfand, Kramnick, Grischuk and Leko has been drawn, except that one. All the winning and losing has involved one of the bottom three players, except that one game.

Even if Grischuk has won his round 3 and 6 near-wins, he'd still be 1/2 point behind Anand.

There were 9 wins in the first half out of 28 games (32%) - should we expect about the same number in the second half?

Very tough tournament, yet can we count any spectacular blunders? Everyone seems to be playing decent chess, and more subtle factors are proving the difference.


The last person I expected cool and gutsy chess from was Gelfand. Perhaps the old guys are not that old after all. Makes me feel good, being in the same age bracket.

Such a difference in Anand between Corus 2007 and now... A total resurrection in a few short months. Back then he looked aged and was written off as too old, tired and unambitious…

Let's see if Kramnik can deliver – this is his time to strike. When under pressure, he can actually make bold moves. The rest of the time he's lazy. Right now it is probably like his 10-th game in Elista. Of course, he's the only player for whom the outcome of this competition means little, as it only guarantees him a match on his turf. But it will dent his reputation quite a bit and put a question mark on the validity of the "match tradition" if he fails to win this thing. I still have him booked to win it though, although that if I had to put the money right now, I'd probably pray a bit…


Bill Maher gives a sneak peek at Mig and Kasparov's latest collaborative effort.

(All I can say is, let's hope Mig is well-compensated.)


Yes Mucho Gusto from Gelfand.

Instead of the immediate 19...c5 exchanging on h3 first would have been stronger.

A gusto variation:

19... gxh3 20. gxh3 c5 21. f3 cxd4 22. Qxd4 e5!? 23. Bxe5 Nxe4! 24. fxe4 Rg5 25. Bf3 Rxe5 and strong pressure for black.

Kramnik has only 3 whites left. Anand, Aronian and Leko. His game v Anand looking more like a must win game now. Even with a win he doesnt completely catch up as Vishy has more decisive games. Next rounds will be very interesting - i predict Kramnik to beat Anand....


We have audited the FIDE's World Championship balance sheets going back to July, 1948, as well as all the prededing World Championships organized by different parties going back to 1886. We have determined that the vast majority of champions or just plain players at the top were Jews, from Steinitz to Kasparov. So it is no surprise to us that Gelfand is leading. Indeed, had he not been banned in Libya, he might have won that tournament, too. And considering the number of unthinking insects who decided to play there with no regard to their fellow players -- from Topalov to Charbonneau -- it is probable Gelfand would have won easily.

Our responsibility is to express an opinion based on our audits. We have been tracking Gelfand's career from the very beginning and have found that the only reason he is not more known today is that, like most true geniuses, and similar to Ivanchuk, he draws little attention to himself and focuses only on the work at hand.


Posted by: tjallen at September 21, 2007 00:40
The last person I expected cool and gutsy chess from was Gelfand. Perhaps the old guys are not that old after all.>

Well, let's not get overboard.
Much of Gelfand tough play is 'reactive', that is everyone thinks to beat at least him and presses. Left alone the guy would be toothless.

Kramnik has too this kind of problem. Now that he is "respected" he can't cash his +2 on the risks for win taken by others.

"Kramnik has too this kind of problem."

As long as Kramnik can play a head-to-head match for the world championship, what does he care if another player wins this or any other tournament by beating tournament bottom-enders more frequently than he does?

Kramnik's not the one with the problem.

I can't recall any Daily Dirt conspiracy theorists predicting a rigged victory for Anand or Gelfand. Either the conspirators have conspire better or the theorists have to come up with better theories.

Hey Ovidu, watch your accuracy, that was Dimi's quote about Gelfand, not mine. I always expect cool and gutsy chess from Gelfand - just kidding!

Gelfand must be pinching himself to see the title just within reach. Do you suppose he looks in the mirror and tries on the title, "World Chess Champion Boris Gelfand" whispered quietly to himself? Does that suit fit?



You seem to imply that 3 of the players are responsible for most of the decisive results, because they are slightly weaker than the top 5. The top 5 have played 10 games among themselves with 1 decisive game, and the bottom 3 have played 15 games with the top 5 with 6 losses and 1 win.

Though I'm too lazy to do the math, I believe that if you let 8 players of equal strength play each other, with a 32% chance of a decision independently for each game, and compare the bottom 3 with the top 5 you're not unlikely to get a result like we have seen so far. (You know how when you flip a fair coin several times, you're often surprised by the long strings of heads or tails.) Note that you have chosen the 3 players AFTER seeing the results, so that they would obviously have more losses to the top 5, rather than determining beforehand who would be weaker. Indeed, the 2 lowest ELO rated players are in the top 5. In fact, the 3 lowest ELO players have 3 wins and 3 losses against the top 5 ELO players, and the top 5 ELO players have 3 decisive games vs. each other -- i.e. the two types of games have exactly the same draw percentage of 66.7%, and no bias for a win or loss.

As I said, one would have to make a calculation to see how unusual the results so far would be between 8 equal players, and hence whether we can draw any conclusions about the strengths of these players. Who is up for it? I bet Artin is a mathematician.

In both of the reports on the Biel tournament that I read, the authors (Robert Fontaine, Yannick Pelletier) tipped Grischuk as someone to watch in Mexico. It's frustrating, though, that he hasn't been able to take full advantage of the opportunities he's managed to create.

Does anyone know what the problem is with Aronian? Chessbase mentions "a severe infection" for which he has to take antibiotics. This may have something to do with his disappointing form.

Greg Koster, it's obviously a cunning ploy to distract attention from the conspiracy by making it look as though it's having no effect whatsoever. Devious chaps, these conspirators.

Greg Koster's remark that the winner is merely "beating the tournament bottom-enders more frequently than [Kramnik]" is what you get when you assume that there are some especially weak players in this tournament who will largely decide the outcome by losing to the winner. I believe (as I said above) that the results so far don't quite justify this assumption.

Kramnik himself said after Round 6 that although he prefers matches (because he only has to score +1), he has no complaints because this tournament has players of equal strength (so the result is not skewed by weak players). I think people who win tournaments deserve more respect than saying it's only because they're good at beating bad players. It could also be that they are more versatile against different styles of play. In a match you can prepare a few openings to frustrate the opponent's white games, while pressing with your own white; you can't do this with 7 opponents. Of course you have to be very good to carry out such a plan in a match, as you have to be to win tournaments, I'm saying they are two different skills and there is nothing inherently more respectable about either of them.


There are no "weak" or "bad" players here, or at Corus, Linares,or Dortmund; the winners deserve all the credit.

It might have been somewhat "easier" in earlier eras, but dominating tournaments AND matches as Karpov and Kasparov did is obviously more impressive than dominating just one format, as Kramnik seeks to do.

It's a matter of taste whether it's preferable to fashion your entire game around the match format and succeed in matches (Kramnik since 2000); or to try to excel at both, but come up short in the match format (Kasparov 2000, Topalov 2006).

"It's a matter of taste whether it's preferable to fashion your entire game around the match format and succeed in matches (Kramnik since 2000); or to try to excel at both, but come up short in the match format (Kasparov 2000, Topalov 2006)."

Both sides of this proposition are flawed. Kramnik didn't fashion his game around the match format. After all, the 2000 match basically fell into his lap; he could never have anticipated that. Of course, he deserves all the credit for capitalizing on the opportunity once it came his way, but you can't say he had it planned all along. He prevailed, not because his style was designed for matches, but because he's an outstanding overall player, and outstanding players are likely to do well regardless of the format. In his two matches since then, he has an even score in all of the classical games, which is hardly a dominating performance, though it was good enough to win. During that time, he has also won many tournaments, as well. He's a good all-around player, and that's what good all-around players do.

Kasparov, of course, also excelled at both formats, which is a natural consequence of being the world's best player. He had a long period of winning consistently in matches and tournaments, and then he finally lost a match, as most champions have eventually done. But it's absurd to suggest that Kramnik's style was categorically better suited to the match format, in light of Kasparov's long-standing success in that format against many highly qualified opponents.

The Topalov story is a bit different, as he has never had the long period of sustained excellence that both Kasparov and Kramnik enjoyed. You could say that Kramnik is better at matches than Topalov, but it's more likely that Kramnik is simply the better chess player.

I'm pretty sure, Kramnik expected to play Kasparov at some point. His level of play was very high in the late nineties, and he was able to win great games with black against anybody. Still he'd begun playing the petroff by the time he played Shirov, getting used to patient defence, which would be necessary in a match against Kasparov. What he didn't expect was to lose the Shirov match.

"Kramnik didn't fashion his game around the match format."
--Read his interviews. Look at his openings.

"...he never could have anticipated that."
--Kramnik was anticipating a WCC match from age 12, if not earlier.

"He prevailed not because his style was designed for matches, but because he's an outstanding player..."
--He prevailed for both reasons. Kramnik prevailed because of his outstanding talent AND his concentration of that talent over a relatively small opening repertoire. For all the good it did them in their Kramnik matches, GK and VT could have spent thousands of hours watching soap operas instead of working on the Najdorf.

"But it's absurd to suggest that Kramnik's style was categorically better suited to the match format, in light of Kasparov's long-standing sucess in that format against highly qualified opponents."
--As long as
a) you're the best player in history, and
b) you don't run into someone roughly as good as you with a super-prepared "hold-with-black" repertoire (Kramnik),
you can diffuse your energy over both "hold-with-black" AND "win-with-black" openings and prevail.

With black against 1.e4, 2007, in all formats, per Chessgames.com:

10 Ruy Lopez
8 Petrov
1 Bishop's Opening

9 Sicilian Najdorf
2 Sicilian other
1 Ruy Lopez

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on September 20, 2007 2:25 PM.

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