Hurricane Irene won't hit New York until Sunday afternoon but I figured I should get this thread up now just in case. I'm on the highest ground in Brooklyn so I'm not terribly worried, though a power outage would be annoying. Two days trapped inside with kids aged one and three is scarier than a hurricane, so I hope it passes quickly.
Round one kicks off on Sunday in the ever-yaktastic Khanty-Mansiysk. Play starts at 5am NY time, which is when the aforementioned one-year-old wakes up anyway, so there's that. 128 players in the field, cut in half every three days. Both finalists and the third place finisher get spots in the next candidates event. Many of the world's top players are there, but I reiterate that I'm a little surprised at how many top-tenners are giving it a miss. Either they believe something we don't know about the road to the world championship or the cycle and title are more thoroughly debased than I thought. To clarify, with the caveat that such clarifications are often rendered meaningless by the ever-shifting sands of Kirsan's FIDE misrule, there are eight candidate spots. Three from this KO event, the loser of the Anand-Gelfand match, three rating spots (avg. of July 11 and Jan 12 lists, though I could see these changing), and, ridiculously, a wildcard.
All this is to say that with Carlsen, Kramnik, Aronian, Nakamura, and Topalov not playing in the KO, only four of them can get in by rating and the wildcard. I'm sure they all have different reasons for not playing, but it seems notable that at least one will be missing. The top seeds in Khanty-Mansiysk are Karjakin, Mamedyarov, Ivanchuk, and Ponomariov. Karjakin was a semifinalist at the last KO in 2009 and Ponomariov was a finalist; both were beaten by Gelfand. Other top contenders are Svidler, Grischuk, Radjabov, Gashimov, and former KO winner Kamsky. There are usually at least two "outsiders" in the quarters in these things. Last time Malakhov and Jakovenko were there, although since both were top 20 it's hard to call them outsiders. ("Very strong Russians who don't get invites" maybe.) Then there are veterans who have dropped down the rating list, like Leko, Morozevich, Adams, Polgar, and Shirov and energetic youngsters like Caruana, So, and Nepomniachtchi.
But the KO system is ruthless and a look at the brackets shows quickly that only a few of your favorites have a real chance at a deep run, which I define as making it to the quarters. As designed, the middle brackets are tough, with, for example, Svidler and Kamsky in the same group fighting for a spot in the quarters. Meanwhile, top seed Karjakin can't hit anyone before the final eight higher rated than Dominguez at #16. Having crowd faves Grischuk, Shirov, and Moro in the same eighth is a little tragic. And Vitiugov is there with them and he's been playing incredibly solidly for months.
So, upset picks for the first round? How high will you go? An upset on the top 20 boards is exceedingly rare since they went to 1 vs 128 pairings. Still, there are a few inconsistent types up there this time. Navara and Wang Hao have shown the capacity for very bad days, but a few hundred points is a lot to make up, especially since it takes two games to do the trick. Anand and Leko have both lost on the very first day only to come back the next and destroy their opponents and win the rapids. (Touzane! Kobese! Both in Moscow, 2001. The post-game picture I took of the delirious Touzane with Tkachiev is a treasure.) And of course the ever-upsettable Ivanchuk is an exception. He's lost his first match several times and also made it to the final.
I tried to get Jan Gustafsson to go out on a limb with some picks but, jetlagged from his return from a brutal Goichberg event in NYC he said he barely knew who was playing. (He missed qualification himself by two places.) We agreed that Giri's absence and Feller's presence say a great deal about the state of the chess world and the federations that seem to do little more than stagger from blunder to blunder. Let's hope the games in Khanty-Mansiysk pass without incident.
At least I'm sure to get the first day in before the hurricane hits. As long as our food supply and Dora episodes hold out we'll be all right.