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Topalov Primus Inter Pares

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That's Latin for "where's Garry?" Veselin Topalov is back on top of the FIDE rating list. Vishy Anand has been #1 since April of last year, but his terrible showing at the Bilbao Grand Slam Final put the top spot up for grabs. A remarkable stat: five different players held the unofficial #1 position between the July and October lists. It was like the crazy scramble for the diamond at the start of the second Indiana Jones movie. Anand was the incumbent. Morozevich held the torch for all of one day during the Tal Memorial before losing to Ivanchuk. Then it was Carlsen's turn with a fast start (and equally quick fall by Anand) in Bilbao. Again it was Ivanchuk to play the spoiler, and this time he also took the #1 spot for himself. At least until losing the key game of the tournament to Topalov a few days later. That put the Bulgarian into first place in the tournament and the rating list and, at last, he would hang on to both.

Only 19 points separate the top six players on the list, from Topalov's 2791 then Morozevich 2787, Ivanchuk 2786, Carlsen 2786, Anand 2783, then Kramnik at 2772. Aronian, Radjabov, Leko, and the resurgent Jakovenko round out the top ten. Wang Yue is knocking on the door of becoming the first Chinese player in the top ten. Perhaps most indicative of the overall level of strength in the top 20, Svidler, Shirov, and Gelfand are 17, 18, and 20 on the October 2008 list while Ponomariov and Grischuk have dropped out of the top 20. Gata Kamsky is at #17 and is joined in the 2700 club by Hikaru Nakamura, who cracked that ceiling for the first time. Born in 1992, Brooklyn boy Fabiano Caruana -- now representing Italy -- is the youngest player on the top 100 list. There are three other players born in the 90's: Carlsen, Karjakin (#15), and Vachier-Lagrave of France (#24!), all born in 1990. Karpov is the oldest player in the list (1951), although he barely plays anymore.

Loek van Wely's staggering fall over the past year culminated in his disappearance from the top 100 this month. Incredible. It must the the first time since the inception of the rating list that there hasn't been a native-born Dutchman on the list. (Tiviakov and Sokolov are still there representing the NED.) van Wely shed 63 points this year, but there's no doubt he'll be back after he gets some rest.

But of course all eyes are on the crowd in the top ten. The chess world hasn't seen such parity since the Botvinnik era. Until Fischer's run to glory began in 1970 there were several decades in which any of a dozen players could win any given event and there were another half-dozen who could threaten on a good day. Murderer's Row: Botvinnik, Keres, Bronstein, Smyslov, Korchnoi, Tal, Geller, Larsen, Petrosian, Stein, Spassky, Fischer. Honorable mentions to Taimanov, Gligoric, Averbach, and then take your pick from another dozen strong second-tier players.

After Fischer disappeared, Karpov and Kasparov spoiled us into believing the world champion was always the dominant player. Now, and I consider this a blessing if the cycle stays solidly in place, when you win will become more important than how often you win. Turning in your best chess in the clutch, in the heat of the fight for the world championship, is what produces all the drama. You won a lot of tournaments and got the #1 rating but choked in the qualifier? Too bad. You don't have what it takes. Of course underdogs and upsets can also lead to blowouts, but that's okay. The rating list grew in importance during the decades of chaos after Kasparov and Short split the chess world in 1993. This has come at the expense of the importance of the world championship cycle and title.

For a year now, since the Mexico City world championship tournament, all but a die-hard minority have acknowledged the unified world championship title held by Anand. This month's Anand-Kramnik match will clear out even the match-only dead-enders. (Plus, Fischer's dead, so about the only desperate alternative claim still out there might be for Kasparov still having the highest rating! Won't he have to come back for a challenge match when Carlsen finally cracks 2851 in 2010?) Combined with the parity on the rating list, this is the moment the world championship should regain much of its lost luster. Yay. Now let's see if they can keep it going for an entire cycle. I've already heard doom and gloom around Global Chess and the Grand Prix. But if Anand-Kramnik goes over big, real corporate sponsorship for the cycle might be back on the menu.

[Thanks for your patience with all the changes. Still many tweaks to come, but the basic functions are in place and all data intact. You may have to refresh the page to see your newly posted comment, depending on your browser and settings. Working to fix that.]


Ooohh, pretty.

Hope this fixes the vanishing post bug forever.

Are you saying that Topalov is Short Round?

Very nice new look, Mig. Congratulations!

Rybka is over 3200 on the PC lists, btw. Not sure when that occurred, but *hot damn*.

"Now, and I consider this a blessing if the cycle stays solidly in place, when you win will become more important than how often you win."

On the other hand, maybe we could persuade Major League Baseball to adopt the current chess model:
--Keep the World Series "match championship" for the minority of die-hard dead-enders who unreasonably revere and enjoy that quaint spectacle.
--But start rating a victory in a spring training game the same as a World Series game victory. Start rating games played against minor league and college teams. And obsess about the rating points leaders; calling the leader the "World's Number One," if only for a day or two.

Like the new look, Mig.

Nice article, Mig. Just one comment on Carlsen's rating. It's 2786 now, not 2775.

Have a couple of suggestions here (not necessarily any good):

1. Please restore the source thread to each 'recent comments' entry in the left sidebar. Some threads are intrinsically interesting, others dead. Also, commenters like to know if they've been replied to.

2. The text section is a bit wide. According to web design studies I've read, 10-12 words makes optimally comfortable reading for the reader. (Apparently this has something to do with not having to slightly turn the head from left to right every line.) Yours is about 15-20.


I agree with HCL (3:57pm) format suggestions.
Also, the new Preview button is nice.
How about allowing bold html-ish tags?

Mig wrote:
"The rating list grew in importance during the decades of chaos after Kasparov and Short split the chess world in 1993.

This has come at the expense of the importance of the world championship cycle and title."

A decline in the prestige of the WChamp title has a lot more to do with the mistreatment of the WChamp mechanisms than it does with these quarterly moments when yet another rating list update occurs.

[A] The improper use of a tournament to take away the title of the sitting WChamp (who only came in second in a field of 7 other challengers).

[B] Anand-Kramnik 2008 will be only 8 games long?? The chess draw rate is waaaay too high for such a short match to receive all the prestige the title has normally enjoyed.

There should be an additional rule for WChamp chess matches, especially these short matchitas:

RULE: *** "No player can win the match unless he has either won or drawn the latest game of the match." ***

This way, in an 8 game match, a player could lose the first 7 games and yet could still win the match.
Quick time playoff games would only begin when the match was tied after at least 8 real games had been played.

Yah, I mentioned the comment sidebar stupidity in another thread. Should only be one per thread, and with the title of the post. Annoying default. I have to hand-code all the changes because of the new template system instead of porting over my old code. Trying not to let any legacy crud into the new templates.

I'm going to make the main text area variable width again, too. I haven't had time to fiddle with look and feel much yet. But there's no reason to have a fixed-width page with so much text and so few graphics. That will allow people to adjust the text size to their liking without having to scroll horizontally, which is obnoxious. I already took off the container tags that forced the width to 940px.

Depending on what I'm going to add feature-wise, I may widen the sidebar a bit, which would narrow the text width correspondingly. I'm probably going to put reader polls and 'most popular' and 'most commented' post links on the left, so I'll need some more room. Plus a few banners like I had before. Thanks for the feedback and help.

I think it is 12 games not 8

Confused: is it really just 8 games!? TWIC says 12. If it's truly 8, I am much less excited. Part of the fun of a WC match is the long grind and feat of staying steady for a long stretch.

Of course it is 12 games.


Basically same schedule as Topa-Kramnik.

whew, ok. Chessbase also reported it as 8 in the Anand interview they put up there this week.

Yes, the original Spiegel text is right though, but somehow Friedel translated "zwölf" to "eight". :o) He must have been thinking about Topalov-Kamsky.

Very nice changes, and obviously a much lighter technical solution with very good response times.

One suggestion: put a link to the comments at the bottom of the posting. It is a bit tiresome to have to scroll up to the link, click, then scroll down to read the comments.

Who does Peter Svidler think he is? Morozevich?

Sorry, off-topic, but everyone likes the Svid--it's nice to see him running amok in Russian Superfinal.

I was just coming here to post about Svidler! He always seems far too good-natured to really repeatedly go for wins. It's nice to see him racking up the 1-1-1's.

I guess this means he's not seconding Kramnik? Does anyone know for sure who K's seconds are?

Congratulations Mig, the new format is much better, even if i agree with the suggestions of cutting the number of words per line. The rating list is what it is, just a way to try to capture the relative strenghts at a moment. To be able to take conclusions from is to take account of the special events who may influence the way players perform, like a world championship match. We should wait till the situation clarifies a little bit before saying Kramnik and Anand are busted. I think that right now the match is more important than the rating list to know who the best player in the world is. I agree with Mig in that maybe there is a chance to make the WC really important, over the rating list, and that it would be a blessing to have it working properly. The "who plays better in a certain moment" is also very important. It was the way every player was in Linares in its good days which made it so special: it was the WC of tournament play, no good player would skip it and a win there was more important than on any other tournament.

Good to see Svidler scoring, i always found him a very good player, very much old russian style, knowing his openings extremely well (a delight of a Grunfeld).

GeneM if they make the last game count that way, it's pointless to play the 11 first ones.

It's hardly a 'die hard minority' who think Kramnik is World Champion. Of the regular chess players, (not ones with links to Kasparov or FIDE) quite a high percentage believe Kramnik is champion.

The World Championship should not be reduced to a lottery tournament.

"It's hardly a 'die hard minority' who think Kramnik is World Champion. Of the regular chess players, (not ones with links to Kasparov or FIDE) quite a high percentage believe Kramnik is champion."

As far as I know, almost every professional chess player in the planet has links with FIDE ... otherwise the player wouldn't be rated. :)

On the other hand I think neither Kramnik or Anand has never been universally acknowledged as a "World Champion"; historically Kramnik never gained the right to dispute a WC match in first place and Anand never faced the stronger player in a WC match. Consequently is nice to see that actually, this will be the first time that any of them will be recognized as a WC for everyone. So, hopefully, this will be a very exciting match ... a shame that it will last only 12 games.

GeneM wrote:
PROPOSED RULE: *** "No player can win the match unless he has either won or drawn the latest game of the match." ***

Then, Alejandro wrote:
"GeneM, if they make the last game count that way, it's pointless to play the 11 first ones."

I see no justification for your claim it is 'pointless'.
I suggest only that no player can be declared the match winner while he has lost the latest game of the match.

So if Kramnik leads 6.5 - 4.5 after 11 games (of the minimum 12 planned), Anand would **still have a chance** to force a tie by winning the next two games.
In stark contrast, Kramnik would need only draw one of those two to take the match title: thus far from 'pointless'.

Once the match is tied with at least 12 games played, tie-breaker blitz or whatever can begin.

Gene M.,

Whether or not your rule change has a "point," it would be a scheduling nightmare. An eight-game match could last eight games or fifteen. A twelve-game match could last twelve games or twenty-three.

Perhaps you could spell out what you believe the point of such a rule: why on earth should someone still have a chance to win the match if the score is, say, 6.5 - 3.5 against them?

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on October 4, 2008 3:12 AM.

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