After eight of thirteen rounds of Corus 2009, Slovakia's Sergei Movsesian is the clear leader. That's not a sentence even he might have dreamed of reading before the event, I imagine, but here we are. The field is remarkably balanced this year, especially if you discount Morozevich, who is in the cellar by a full point after losing to fellow sufferer Wang Yue in round eight. Movsesian's +2 is enough for first place right now, with four players a half-point behind. The leader's remaining opponents include two of them, Radjabov and Karjakin; the others are van Wely, Kamsky, and Wang Yue. What could be a key battle against the only other clear leader we've had so far, Karjakin, is tomorrow. The young Ukrainian was toppled by his veteran countryman Ivanchuk, who awoke from his nightmare to play one of the best games of the event yesterday.
Ten years ago, and I bring this up here because it became a chat topic on the ICC during the round, Garry Kasparov introduced a new term into the vernacular of the game: "chess tourist." It was in an article on the Las Vegas FIDE KO championship written for the website that was still called Club Kasparov, later to become KasparovChess. The quarterfinals were about to begin and Kasparov, who spent most of these pieces analyzing games, added a preview. I'll include the whole section for context. (I'll spare you the blue/green/gray page color scheme they used. I think we got more mail about that than anything. Not everyone loved the red we used when I was running it, mind.)
So, what do we have now? 3 tourists - Akopian, Movsesian and Nisipeanu. Due to the fact of the match between first two one tourist will travel to the semifinal. Great trip to Las Vegas and good reason to visit Disneyland!
Unpredictable and spontaneous Judith, who is always dangerous for her opponents and sometimes for herself.
Two very strong players Adams and Khalifman both capable of upsetting any favorite.
And on top the main favorites of the event Kramnik and Shirov. The possibility of new match between them looks now quite feasible though on the way to the final no victories are easy in KO championship.
I give the whole thing because one of the misconceptions that came out what turned into a mini-scandal was that Kasparov had called the eventual winner, Alexander Khalifman, a tourist. I have misquoted it a few times myself. To refresh the memory, this event of underdogs ended up with Akopian, Movsesian, Nisipeanu, and Adams in the semis. At the time, and now as well, it was little more than a humorous way to describe three outsiders in an event at a big tourist destination. Certainly nobody expected Movsesian to write an epic open letter in response, longer than the entire Kasparov column, attacking the #1, railing against the oppressive forces that be, Elo elitism in general, and finishing with a defense of his nationality. This last was based on the English translation of Garry's piece referring to Movsesian as "the ex-Armenian" player, which was only meant to state the obvious fact he didn't play for Armenia anymore.
And so "chess tourist" was born with a bang. Had there been no response (Akopian had a few words as well, a bit later if I recall) I doubt it would have caught on to the point it did, with players playfully using the term to refer to their own chances and habits to this day. The three original tourists would spend the next decade floating up and down the top 100 list. Akopian always in the 10-30 group until a recent slide, Nisipeanu everywhere from 99 to 15 and back, and Movsesian from 26 to 98 in 2006 before his steady climb to his current #10 position -- and the lead at Corus! It will be interesting to hear what he attributes his recent bloom to, if anything in particular at all. It will also be interesting to see where he is a year from now.
As much as I found this rise notable, my GM colleague on ICC Chess.FM during round 8, Ronen Har-Zvi, sounded downright shocked. He compared it to Topalov's sudden leap in 2005. Movsesian's career high rating was 2666 in 2000 before starting his current climb in 2007 to his current 2751. Topalov's peak was 2750 in 1997 before he shot up to 2813 in 2006. Of course such jumps are normal from younger players, while both Movsesian and Topalov did it at 30. Topalov's jump is more unusual and impressive since we can provide many examples of players adding 80 points over a few years. They just don't usually make it to the top 10 (let alone #1) and so don't make the news. I pointed out Krasenkow the other day and there are others. Ivan Sokolov went from 71 to 16 and back to 71 in the last decade. Getting to the top ten isn't easy, but it's much, much easier than staying in the top ten, no matter what Movsesian said about elitism and cushy life for top players in 1999.
Ivanchuk may have come back to life in round eight, but Morozevich buried himself deeper. His Grunfeld was ground down by Wang Yue in just the sort of position the Chinese loves to ground and pound on. 7..c5 seems to be a dubious novelty and Black never really got unwound until he was down a pawn. Ronen pointed out how similar the endgame was to the famous Kasparov-Karpov game 27 from their first WCh match. (Which allows me to plug that the latest Kasparov "Modern Chess" book, which includes that match, is our call of the day prize during our Chess.FM shows during Corus. Members can Skype to 'iccchessfm' and leave a voicemail.)
Aronian looked like he was returning to form and outplayed van Wely steadily. The caveman attack on the h-file somehow worked out. He spent 67 minutes on 15.h5. van Wely quickly decided to decline White's planned exchange sac. All Aronian had to do was finish the Dutchman off, but van Wely found an unsound and brilliant desperation defense of walking his king away from White's passed h-pawn and into the center. Aronian usually doesn't miss a trick in such positions but here he faltered as wins fluttered by like leaves. The dastardly 36.c6 is good (controlling d7), as is evacuating the rook from d3 early, ignoring the e7 pawn. The amazing 36..Ke4! made a win very hard to find. At first we thought the endgame was still a simple win (and perhaps Aronian did too), but the black rook works magic with two checks to get behind the e-pawn. 43.Kf2 was still a shot to play for a win but perhaps Aronian was just disgusted with himself by that point.
Carlsen tried a very entertaining gambit against Kamsky and we were all set for a classic contest of unstoppable force versus immovable object. But Kamsky defused things calmly and Carlsen, clearly frustrated, took his eighth draw in a row in 16 moves. (An hour later his Facebook status was changed to "this is getting ridiculous.") Movsesian picked an excellent time to offer a draw to Smeets, just when the position was turning against him. From what Smeets told Macauley Peterson on the air after the game, it was only when he looked at it later that he realized he probably should have played on. Radjabov, for the third time, decided to take a quick draw with white, offering after 14 moves against Dominguez. Stellwagen played a repetition against Adams just when we thought the position was getting interesting.
Round 9: Karjakin-Movsesian, van Wely-Ivanchuk, Kamsky-Aronian, Adams-Carlsen, Dominguez-Stellwagen, Morozevich-Radjabov, Smeets-Wang Yue.