This is it! After months of moving deadlines, spurious bids, and assorted shakedowns, the Kamsky-Topalov candidates final is set to get underway in Sofia, Bulgaria, just hours from now. The first pawn will be pushed tomorrow at 8am EST, 1500 local time. Topalov drew the white wine and so will have the first move in tomorrow's first game. I'll be on ICC Chess.FM live with none other than Peter Svidler for the first game.
New official site here. They play two days on, one day off until the finish. Eight-game match with rapid tiebreaks. Time control is 40/2, 20/1, g/15'+30". The winner will face Anand in a title match that is currently unscheduled. Chessdom has minute-by-minute coverage of today's press conference and opening ceremony. Not much to thrill to, with this a highlight:
[Kamsky] is not happy that there is light into the playing hall. Kamsky and his team want the windows to be covered with dark cloth, while the lamps to be directed only towards the playing tables.
Gripping stuff. And of course there was folk dancing. Always with the folk dancing. (Chessdom also mention that Kabardino Balkaria will be hosting one of the fugitive FIDE Grand Prix tournaments. The capital of this Russian republic in the Caucasus region is Nalchik, which hosted the 2008 women's world championship.)
Topalov is the clear favorite against Kamsky for well-known reasons. The Bulgarian is the world #1 and his 2796 is well up on Kamsky's 2725, which puts the American in the #17 slot on the FIDE list. Topalov has also dominated their personal encounters since Kamsky's return, winning three in 06-07 and drawing two at the MTel Masters last year. Lastly, the importance of opening preparation is often accentuated in match play and Topalov's prep is explosive while Kamsky's has often looked fragile, if recently improved. Topalov comes in on an impressive hot streak, putting up great scores in his last three events -- Bilbao, the Dresden Olympiad, and Nanjing. Kamsky had an even score at the more recent Corus, but had wins over Svidler and Ivanchuk at the Olympiad. But recent results don't say much if we recall Anand's horrible Bilbao result right before his demolition of Kramnik last year.
Those looking for Kamsky's chances point to his experience and his legendary toughness; he has the calm nerves and tremendous instincts that can make the difference in high-tension match situations. The conventional wisdom is that he has to rope-a-dope it Muhammad Ali-style, survive Topalov's shots long enough to get in a counterattack. Kamsky has had good success in match play, though his big wins over guys like Kramnik, Short, and Anand were over a decade ago. Kamsky for his part says he's a more balanced person now, and that this stability gives him confidence. He'll need every bit of it, and a little more, to survive eight rounds with Topalov.
Just to shoot the breeze a bit, it should be noted that Topalov's only other big match outing, his WCh match against Kramnik in 2007, showed him at his best and worst. His play was often fantastic, but he badly misplayed several superior positions and it's just that sort of instability Kamsky will be ready to punish. If his nerves cost Topalov early, the pressure factor could almost level the chances. I'm very curious about Kamsky's black repertoire. He's been playing the Grunfeld a lot lately and Topalov must have one of the best records against that defense of anyone in history. It also contains many of the ultra-sharp lines Topalov and his team excel in blowing away with sharp novelties. Not that I'm in love with the ..a6 Slav either, so Kamsky has some tough choices. Topalov is simply devastating with white against just about anything and has scored +9 =4 with white over his last three events.
Both players are ambidextrous and regularly play both 1.e4 and 1.d4. Kamsky scores better with the king's pawn, Topalov better with the queen's pawn, but such database generalities don't mean much here. Topalov's nearly two months off shouldn't mean any rust. Kamsky has had serious problems with his clock now and then since his return. Prompt play on his part will be a good sign his confidence level is good. All bets are off if the match is tied after the eight classical games and the rapid tiebreak games are required. By that point Kamsky's sang froid must be worth any number of novelties. And if there are any off the board shenanigans don't expect Kamsky to get ruffled. I'll toss in the random stat that back when candidates matches were a regular occurrence, the few to take place on one player's home turf almost always went in favor of the visitor. (6-1 was my quick count.) Just sayin'.
My head says Topalov but my heart has to go with the underdog from Brooklyn. And if there's anything to be said for caissic karma, that will help Kamsky since his World Cup win should have qualified him directly for the Anand match. But that's an old sad song. Btw, Chess.FM will also be covering Linares, which begins on the first Kamsky-Topalov off day on Thursday the 19th. On several days there will be a chess double-header!
Theorist in the comments reminds me of my little piece on first match games from Anand-Kramnik.