This year’s Candidates tournament

by on March 28, 2016 at 12:05 am in Current Affairs, Games, Uncategorized | Permalink

The final and deciding chess games are today, 8 a.m. EST, with Caruana and Karjakin in the lead and fortuitously playing each other in the final round.  The winner has the right to play Magnus Carlsen for the world championship in New York this November, or Karjakin wins on tiebreak if there is a draw (unless on another board Anand wins, then a draw elevates Caruana; don’t tell Ken Arrow!).  We have been learning a few things:

1. The English and Giuoco Piano are not bad openings if you are playing for a win; only first prize in this tournament counts for much, due to the embedded challenge option.

2. Risk-aversion does indeed vary with the prize environment — the Berlin defense has not been popular and every game has been hard fought.  That said, Anish Giri probably holds a lot of T-Bills in his portfolio.

3. Vishny Anand at age 46 (!) was in strong contention until the final round, which is remarkable for a contest so heavily biased toward youth.

4. I don’t think a disproportionate number of Americans are rooting for Fabiano Caruana, an American-born but Italian-raised dual citizen who was induced by financial support to play under the American flag.  The brilliant but emotionally immature Hikaru Nakamura, from White Plains N.Y., did poorly.  Nonetheless America has two of the top eight spots.

5. Today we’ll get to see whether individuals really do make better decisions when the stakes are high.  At least they have not been playing the King’s Indian.

6. Given how complicated are the rules for tie break, and the lack of clarity for handling a three-way tie, there is a chance the eventual winner will not be considered a fully meritocratic victor.  (Plus neither Caruana nor Karjakin could handle a rook and bishop vs. rook endgame correctly in the penultimate round.)  Send a DVD of Apocalypse Now, and ask for a sudden death playoff in lieu of tie-breaking rules.  Someone needs to go down in dramatic fashion, rather than having it look like the three stooges stumbling exhausted toward the finish line.

You can follow along at, with computer commentary, for background context.

1 James P March 28, 2016 at 12:11 am

I’d dispute the “italian-raised” comment. He grew up in the US until age 12. It’s half and half.

You’re not supposed to be able to “handle” the KR vs KBR endgame. It’s a known draw.

2 Adrian Ratnapala March 28, 2016 at 1:01 am

I assume TC means each side made blunders. I.e. one side makes an error which would let the other win, but the opponent doesn’t take advantage of it.

3 Boris_Badenoff March 28, 2016 at 1:49 am

It’s a notoriously difficult ending even if you are familiar with the known drawing methods because the opponent rarely cooperates, but just as tough to win – both cases require a precision unlikely for humans to maintain. Most often the superior side runs afoul of the 50-move rule and a draw results without necessarily stellar defense. Unless the defending King is restricted when the ending results, winning it is problematic.

4 Ray Lopez March 28, 2016 at 10:01 am

Well said, Boris. I once drew a Q vs N ending, I had the Queen, vs my PC set to Expert level. It was embarrassing (50 move rule).

“At least they have not been playing the King’s Indian.” – respectable opening, Naka plays it, as did Kasparov. That said, today’s fashion in the Italian game and the lack of 3…a6 in the Ruy Lopez is a throwback to chess played 100 years ago. Actually Lasker believed 3…a6?! was unsound!!

5 Yancey Ward March 28, 2016 at 11:58 am

I don’t know why Karjakin was included in that comment (maybe Cowen had another game in mind), but Caruana had chances to win the ending against Svidler and blew it.

6 leppa March 28, 2016 at 12:45 am

Guess Vishy may become the king-maker if he wins in the final round. My understanding is that if then Karjakin and Caruana draw, Caruana goes ahaed on theTie-breaker.

7 Stephan March 28, 2016 at 1:05 am

if Karjakin-Caruana is a draw, Karjakin wins since he has more wins (tiebreak rule #2, (they’re equal wrt rule #1)), unless Anand wins against Svidler. In that case using tiebreak rule #1 for the 3 way tie

–Caruana is + 1 against Anand and +1, -1 against Karjakin

–Karjakin is + 1, -1 against Anand and +1, -1 against Caruana

–Anand is -1 against Caruana and + 1 -1 against Karjakin

so Caruana would win with a draw in the eventuality of an Anand win.

8 Boris_Badenoff March 28, 2016 at 1:51 am

While I hate rapid/blitz playoffs, any actual competing is better than using tiebreak points to decide the challenger.

9 Ray Lopez March 28, 2016 at 10:03 am

Armageddon, you like? Black to draw seems to me much easier than White to win.

10 Yancey Ward March 28, 2016 at 12:14 pm

You don’t have to use Armageddon. A straight up tie breaker through to blitz with each player getting equal opportunities with both sides works, though it can take all day for a winner to be determined.

I my only objection to the tie break points like that used here is that the other players had the opportunity to affect the outcome in the last round, should they have chosen to do so.

11 Ray Lopez March 28, 2016 at 10:16 am

Off topic: I really like Wang Hao. I’ve never met him personally, but he’s apparently (if I understand correctly) qualified to become an American (he lived part time in California) but he’d have to renounce his Chinese citizenship (China does not allow dual citizens, unlike Italy). But what I like about him is he is a complete cynic in chess. When asked by Chessbase how he trains, he basically said (it could be all show of course) that he hardly trains at all anymore, doesn’t really study chess, that Chinese players don’t cooperate with one another, that he prefers video games to chess, and comes across as a complete jaded, burnt out, smart ass. Yet, instead of giving up chess, I noticed when he briefly dropped out of the top 2700 Elo players, he came back with a vengeance and now, amazingly, is in the top 22 and close to Ding Liren at #8 in the world. Hao may be near is top career Elo? I hear Liren speaks no English, unlike the charismatic Hao, so Wang Hao would make a better ambassador to chess for China (even and especially with the above caveats). I’d like to see Wang Hao break into the top ten. A Wesley So- Wang Hao match to settle the South China Sea / West Philippine sea dispute would be awesome, lol.

12 Ray Lopez March 29, 2016 at 4:32 am

Read the recent Wang Hao article (part 1 of 2) on Chessbase, and he comes across as either ironic, funny, or perhaps a bit unhinged like Bobby Fischer. He wants to make a lot of money from chess then retire (Fischer said the same thing). Time will tell…

13 GMC March 28, 2016 at 10:25 am

I on the other hand would very much like to have seen King’s Indians.

14 Mike Corbin March 28, 2016 at 11:25 am

From his chess posts I’d guess Tyler is about 1800.

We all know top chess follows opening trends. There are plenty of previous tournaments to examine where winning is important and the aforementioned openings are not used.

Most would guess that Sicilians lead to the most decisive games and guess what is being played between Karjakin and Caruana.

15 wiki March 28, 2016 at 11:37 am

Tyler used to be master strength and won the New Jersey State Open Championship as a teenager, in between years when Pal Benko won it.

16 Ray Lopez March 28, 2016 at 12:57 pm

Yes, but Tyler may be rusty. Also there’s rating *deflation* over the years. A master back then (2200 Elo USCF) may be ‘high expert’ today, in Fide (2100). Nothing to sneeze at, but not a Fide Master of today. Also by TC’s own admission he got lucky…of course he’s always modest.

17 Yancey Ward March 28, 2016 at 12:06 pm

And it is over. Caruana got into time trouble, made critical errors, and has resigned after the time control.

18 GMC March 28, 2016 at 12:13 pm

Karjakin put a nice exclamation point on the tournament by winning, although a draw would have been enough.

Tyler isn’t actually correct that there have not been many Berlins; White has just been avoiding the Berlin endgame in favor of playing d2-d3. I believe there were seven or eight Berlins; just very few Berlin endings.

19 Peter Dorman March 28, 2016 at 12:31 pm

The candidates demonstrated approximate parity at the level below Carlsen. If Hikaru hadn’t committed a couple of gross blunders he might well have been among the horde competing for the top spot at the end too. Only Topalov looked outclassed.

Parity promoted competitive, ambitious chess, mostly seen in middle and endgames rather than openings. A number of the games were quite beautiful, in fact.

20 Ray Lopez March 28, 2016 at 1:00 pm

True, and Carlsen should eat up Karjakin, in the same way Alekhine toyed with (and destroyed) Bogoljubov. Carlsen needs a Capablanca (or vice versa, there needs to be a modern Alekhine to challenge the modern Capablanca, Carlsen).

21 HKC March 28, 2016 at 2:58 pm

It’s been an interesting career arc for Sergey Karjakin (well, as much as a 26 year old can be said to have had a career arc): youngest GM ever, rocketed up the rankings, peaked at around #5 and plateaued in the high 2700’s. Got married, fell out of the top 15, got divorced, got remarried, work his way back up, and basically hasn’t strayed out of 10-12 range in the rankings.

Carlsen vs Karjakan is 3-1-15 in classical time controls, and Karjakan’s lone win was almost 10 years ago. I’m expecting a lot of English in New York.

22 Anon March 28, 2016 at 3:51 pm

Any comments on Giri ? Were most of his 100% draws because of conservative play (TC’s T-Bill reference, I guess) or did the others find it difficult to defeat him ? As the youngest would he have potential to defeat Carlsen one day?

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