Sunday, March 13, 2016

Candidates 2016 Round II



The second round of the Candidates also saw one decisive game. Karjakin beat Nakamura. Aornian-Anand, Svidler-Topalov and Caruana-Giri were drawn. Therefore, Anand and Karjakin share the lead although that is not terribly important at this stage.

Two rounds have provided a preliminary look at the repertoires and playing styles of the eight contenders. That gives us an idea of how each of them has planned their campaigns The rounds where the Russians and the Americans play each other are being scheduled early to prevent any possible collusion in tight last round situations.(Not that it's likely).

 Karjakin has had two whites in a row. He has played rock-solid chess, taking no chances.  He got nothing against Svidler and drew. He got something against Nakamura who self-destructed in a bad position. Extrapolating, Karjakin is in decent form and he will play solid rational chess. A look at the his black repertoire will give us some indication of how hard he's likely to push. Will he look to win with both colours or will it be a win with white/ draw with black strategy?  I suspect the latter.
 
Nakamura's loss must be worrying for all his fans. It is not the zero as such; anybody could lose a game or two in an event this tough. Carlsen lost two games on his way to winning the one and only Candidates he has ever played.  

What is scary is that Nakamura fell prey to the "horizon effect" as it used to be known. In the old days, computers were set to calculate to a certain ply (half-moves in chess parlance). A smart human player would set traps that triggered beyond the horizon of machine vision.

Nakamura calculated that mistaken combination Nxg3 to the point where he recovers the piece by picking up the loose Ktd3. He did not look that one vital move further and see the simple Rc7.  He had no problems with the clock and what is more, he spent over 8 minutes on Nxg3 and still missed Rc7.

Since Naka is acknowledged as one of the fastest and sharpest tactical calculators of all-time, the mistake has to have its origins in some sort of psychological block. Maybe he was too confident; maybe he just wanted to lash out because he had been defending for a while and he thought Karjakin had made an error. But it's not the sort of mistake you want to see from a tournament favourite.

 Fabiano Caruana played actively in both his games, going for unbalanced positions with both colours. He was in time pressure both times however, and lucky to some extent against Nakamura. at least. Against Anish Giri, Caruana probably held an edge but it never got seriously dangerous. Looks like Caruana will remain true to style and play to win in every game.  However, he does not seem to be in great form because, when he is in good form, he doesn't get into time trouble.

Anand played actively with black against Aronian. it was a very booked-up position with both players knowing it till at least move 20. But it was also quite an unbalanced position and it looked as though black was prepared to take some risks in order to play to win. So it seems as though the former world champion has some ambition left. He has started well and if he does open up a lead, he could challenge for first place.

Among the others, Giri is playing to his normal rhythm: solid with both colours, and prepared to try and push for a win only if he can do it without taking risks.  Aronian hasn't done badly but he's also not been able to break into one of his creative streaks. Oddly, he defended through his first game to hold a tough draw against a specific Bf4 Queen's Gambit Declined. In the very next game, he tried the same system with white against Anand, who played with considerably more panache to hold an easy draw.  

Topalov hasn't got into his stride yet and with the Bulgarian one never knows what could happen. He is perhaps the least patient among great players; he plays a lot of decisive games and there is often a streak of madness to his preparation.

Svidler is playing unnaturally solid chess for him, adopting the Slav versions of the Queen's Gambit Accepted with black and playing a boring line against the Spanish Berlin. This throttling back is probably a bad idea since Svidler's real strength lies in his ability to calculate tactics on an open board.

All this is musing based on very little data so far, So take it with a pinch of salt.


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