The Candidates Tournament got underway earlier today in Moscow’s digital hub, the DI Telegraph space in the historic Central Telegraph building - but thanks to a combination of censorship, diktat and legal threats from Agon, who have the rights to run world championship events on behalf of governing body Fide, it turned into a bit of an embarrassment for a supposedly renowned digital hub, as the organisers ploy to monopolise the coverage and the moves inevitably led to disappointment for many chess fans, as the didn’t have enough servers to cope with the demand.
Many chess fans found themselves being “locked out” of viewing one of the biggest events of the year, as eight of the world’s top players begin the battle to decide who will win through to face reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen in a New York showdown for the title later this year. We can only hope the organisers resolve their technical problems soon and/or perhaps be less stringent on the censorship being imposed to allow chess fans everywhere to follow the Candidates at their own favoured sites.
The first Candidates Tournament took place in Budapest in 1950, and it was devised by Fide as a sort of “gladiatorial contest” to officially determine who would win through to have the right to challenge for the title, as in the past the world champion held the right to accept challenges from whomever and whenever he liked. The eight-players in Moscow have all won through for the right to become the official world title challenger, and they are: Viswanathan Anad (Anand), the defeated title challenger in Sochi 2014; Sergey Karjakin (Russia) and Peters Svidler (Russia), winner and runner-up in the World Cup; Fabiano Caruana (USA) and Hikaru Nakamura (USA), winner and runner-up in the Grand Prix; Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria) and Anish Giri (Netherlands), by rating; Levon Aronian, the sponsor’s wildcard.
The first round saw the all-Russian and all-USA clash - Svidler vs Karjakin and Nakamura vs Caruana - and this was done by design and not a quirk of the pairings. In the past, one of Bobby Fischer’s many candidates’ complaints was the Soviets conspiring against him by agreeing results in their favour later in the tournament. Now it is a matter of course for the candidates’ opening round pairings seeing those from the same nation facing each other.
The veteran of the candidates’ is unquestionably former five-time world champion Vishwanathan Anand, whom Carlsen beat in Chennai in 2013 to gain the title. In the last candidates’, Anand was quickly written off by pundits and fans as unlikely to win through (some even going as far as speculating he might retire from chess after he lost his title to Carlsen), but he surprised everyone by doing just that to set up a rematch with Carlsen, which he again lost. And in the opening round of that Sochi Candidates’ Tournament in 2014, Anand was in big trouble against Levon Aronian but somehow went on to win and qualify - could history be repeating itself yet again, with Anand winning the only game after being in trouble playing Veselin Topalov?
A third Carlsen vs Anand world title showdown now is a distinct possibility, and simply can’t be dismissed as Anand takes the early lead in what will undoubtedly become a very tight race right to the end. And if Anand remarkably does win through, it will be full circle for the Indian superstar, as his first title match was back in 1995, also in New York, when he played and lost to Garry Kasparov.
Hikaru Nakamura draw Fabiano Caruana
Anish Giri draw Levon Aronian
Viswanathan Anand 1-0 Veselin Topalov
Sergey Karjakin draw Peter Svidler
GM Viswanathan Anand - GM Veselin Topalov
2016 Candidates Tournament, (1)
Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 With the rise of the computer and ever more sophisticated playing engines, the ever-tactical Sicilian Defence has been replaced by the über-solid Berlin Defence at elite level. Certainly Topalov was a big Sicilian Najdorf fan, but somewhat surprisingly not here, and not now, with all players having their own team of seconds computers crunching key variations to heaven knows how many decimal places. 4.d3 Bc5 5.0-0 d6 6.c3 0-0 7.Nbd2 Ne7 8.d4 exd4 9.cxd4 Bb6 10.Re1 Bg4 White has the center and space advantage for sure; but Black has good counterplay with his better development. 11.h3 Bh5 12.a4 a6 13.Bf1 Re8 14.a5 Ba7 15.Qb3 Nc6! An excellent move, quickly exploiting the fact that Anand can't defend d4. 16.d5 Nd4 17.Nxd4 Bxd4 18.Qxb7 Nd7 Not just re-routing the knight to the better and more active square of c5, but also in certain lines opening up the possibility of playing ...Qf6 to hit b2 and more crucially f2. 19.Nc4 Nc5 20.Qc6 Forced, as 20.Qb4 gets hit hard after 20...Rb8! 21.Qa3 Rb3 22.Qa2 Bxf2+! 23.Kxf2 Qh4+ winning easily. 20...Nb3? You can't afford major oversights in such positions - and Topalov does here, and it comes back to haunt him later. The key is the shortage of squares the White queen has - and that should have alerted Topalov to the "quiet" killer-move of 20...f6! and now White's only possible continuation (to prevent ...Re7 and ...Be8 winning the queen) is 21.Be3 Bxe3 22.Rxe3 Re7 23.b4 Be8 24.Qxa8 Qxa8 25.bxc5 dxc5 Black has the advantage, but perhaps not enough with accurate play from White to win this. There was also the "messy" option of 20...Bxf2+ 21.Kxf2 Qh4+ 22.g3 Nxe4+ 23.Rxe4 Qxe4 24.g4 Qe1+ 25.Kg2 Bg6 26.Nd2 and a tough position to asses, as Black's a-pawn looks likely to be a long-term problem for him; if it falls for inadequate compensation, Black will be doomed for sure. 21.Rb1 Nxc1? Again a mistake. The knight is far better staying on the board than exchanging it off here, as from b3 it is difficult for White to shift the knight to assemble his pieces. Certainly exchanging off the knight made Anand a happy camper in this position. 22.Rbxc1 Rb8 Topalov gives up the doomed a-pawn now, rather than being forced to later, with the hope that he can muster some activity in return for his pieces - but White's a-pawn is now a looming threat. 23.Qxa6 Qh4 24.Rc2 Rxe4 25.Ne3! The tables are now beginning to turn, and this is much better than 25.Rxe4 as Black gets compensation with his active pieces, after 25...Qxe4 26.Na3 Qxd5. 25...Qd8 26.Qc4 Bg6 27.Bd3 Rf4 28.Bxg6 hxg6 29.g3 Re4 30.a6 The a-pawn is now a big long-term threat for Topalov. 30...Qe8 31.Rce2 Bb6 32.Qd3 Ra8 33.Kg2 Qa4 34.b3 Rd4 35.bxa4? Here, Anand had more than 4 minutes left on his clock, but missed the clinical outright win with 35.Qc2! the point being that after 35...Qxa6 there now comes the killer tactical blow of 36.Nf5! Rd3 (Taking loses more or less on the spot: 36...gxf5 37.Re8+ Rxe8 38.Rxe8+ Kh7 39.Qxf5+ g6 40.Qxf7+ Kh6 41.Rh8+ Kg5 42.f4+ Rxf4 43.gxf4#) 37.Ne7+ Kf8 (Both 37...Kh8 and 37...Kh7 loses to 38.Re4!) 38.Qc6! with multiple mating threats on e8, forcing Black to lose material. 35...Rxd3 36.Nc4 Rxa6 37.a5 Bd4 [Black will just lose a piece after 37...Bxa5 38.Ra1 Rxd5 39.Rea2 winning. 38.Re8+ Kh7 39.R1e7 Rc3 (See Diagram) 40.Nd2? With a couple of minutes left on his clock to make the time control at 40, Anand squanders another golden opportunity with 40.Re4! Bf6 (stopping Rh4 mating) 41.Rf8! and Black is in deep trouble here, as White's pieces are actively placed and working as a unit. 40...Rc2? [A mutual error. With about a minute left on his clock, Topalov fails to find the best continuation that would most likely have seen the game being a draw like the other three games, after 40...f5! denying the knight the e4 square. Now, if 41.Nf3 (If 41.h4 Rc2 and f2 is a big threat.) 41...Bf6 42.Rd7 g5 43.Re6 Kg8 Black has successfully plugged all the mating threats and now ready to pick-off the pawns on a5 and d5. 41.Ne4! Now the mating threats are back in play - and having made the time control, Anand has the luxury of added time to spot them. 41...f6 42.h4 Rxa5 43.Rf7! g5 44.h5 Rxf2+ 45.Nxf2 Ra2 46.Rff8 Rxf2+ 47.Kh3 g4+ 48.Kxg4 f5+ 49.Rxf5 1-0 Black’s is hopelessly lost.