Features Mar 6, 2014 | 12:38 PMby Colin McGourty

Carlsen, Grischuk and co. on the Candidates

The 2014 Candidates Tournament starts in a week’s time and has a distinctly Russian flavour – 4 of the 8 players are Russian and the venue is deep in Siberia – so it’s fitting that the Russian Chess Federation website has gathered together the views of some top players not involved in the event.

The players in Khanty-Mansiysk will be fighting for the right to play a match against World Champion Magnus Carlsen, who won the 2013 Candidates Tournament in London | photo: london2013.fide.com

Although there are few surprises among the overall predictions there are hidden gems among the analysis. For instance, Alexander Grischuk explains why the winner of the event will a be a different person to the player who started the event, and Ian Nepomniachtchi claims that Vladimir Kramnik struggles against Magnus Carlsen because he’s come under the “corrupting influence” of the World Champion!  

Here are some of the highlights from the article on the RCF website:


Magnus Carlsen

Of course I can’t wait for the Candidates Tournament. I think it’s going to be an enthralling spectacle and it’ll be comfortable for me simply to watch it as a chess fan. The “theoretical” favourites are Aronian and Kramnik.

Fabiano Caruana

I think the main favourites are Levon Aronian and Vladimir Kramnik. Aronian is in peak form, as he showed by his performance in Wijk aan Zee, and is one of those top players whose preparation is very well thought-out. His only problem is of a purely psychological nature; it stood in the way of his winning last year’s Candidates Tournament.

Vladimir Kramnik is one of the best prepared and most cold-blooded players in the world, with enormous experience. The only question mark is over his motivation, but only people on his team can give an accurate answer to that question. He’s no longer so young and, perhaps, this will be his last attempt to qualify for a match for the World Championship title. It’s interesting that before the tournament he barely played, and that extra time for preparation can be either an advantage or an obstacle, as we saw with Radjabov’s performance in 2013.

Sergey Karjakin has real chances. Over the course of many years he’s been a top-class player and now, as far as I can tell, Sergey is doing an awful lot of work.

It was recently revealed that chess24 contributor and long-term Anand second Rustam Kasimdzhanov will be helping Sergey in Khanty-Mansiysk: "I saw no reason to hide it anymore since everybody knew anyway :)" | photo: Sergey's official website

I’m sure the tournament will be won by one of those three players. I don’t want to play down the strength of the other players but I think these three have the best chances. However, anything’s possible, and more likely than not we won’t know the name of the winner until the final round.

I’ll follow the tournament closely both as a professional and as a person who loves chess: not only for the sake of opening revelations, but also for pleasure, as I’m sure the grandmasters will demonstrate thrilling, amazing chess!

Dmitry Jakovenko

I’ll start with the foreign players. The favourite among them is, of course, Levon Aronian, who apart from his general high level of play has also done well in recent tournaments. Veselin Topalov is a very strong tournament player but it seems to me that it’ll be hard for him to score an overall “plus” against the trio of Kramnik, Anand and Aronian, and without that he won’t occupy first place. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Viswanathan Anand have fewer chances.

I won’t single out one of the Russian players: I know them not only from their games but also from talking to them personally, and it would be incorrect of me to use that information publicly. I think their overall chances of victory are a little lower than those of the “rest of the world”, but of course I’ll root for our players.

Alexander Grischuk

I won’t be original: the main favourites are Aronian and Kramnik. Other perfectly possible winners are Svidler, Karjakin and Mamedyarov, but a victory for Anand, Topalov or Andreikin would really amaze me.

What are their strong and weak points?

It’s unlikely you can expect any revelations from me here: after all, I play with them all regularly. The only thing I can mention is the poor opening preparation of Kramnik, particularly when he has the black pieces.

Is the rule fair according to which players from the same country have to meet at the start of the Candidates Tournament?

Grischuk was unlucky to lose out on the Russian nomination for the event to his good friend Peter Svidler | photo: Alina l'Ami

Let’s be honest: this rule was thought up not for Russia but for some other countries. In our case it really doesn’t have any impact, although I’ve often come across idiots on the internet who are convinced that Svidler and me “threw” our games against Kramnik in London.

Of course the rule is stupid in general, as you can “throw” games to a foreigner just as successfully as you can to a compatriot.

Last year the absence of a play-off between the two winners provoked no small amount of complaints, but this time round nothing has changed. Is that logical?

It’s logical from the point of view that FIDE couldn’t care less about such “trifles”, while in general a play-off should of course be played. In my view it’s not even a topic for discussion.

Which of the players has the greatest chance of “upsetting” Carlsen in a match?

I think whoever wins will have realistic chances in a World Championship match. The thing is that the winner of such a tournament will already be a different person than he was before the start of the event. So even if you take, for instance, Anand, then with that “other” Anand it definitely won’t be easy for Carlsen.

Ian Nepomniachtchi

After the experience of last year I can say that it’s difficult to select a clear favourite for such tournaments. Yes, a year ago Carlsen was considered the favourite, but in the first half that wasn’t so obvious: for a long time Aronian was ahead of him, but then he somewhat collapsed. And at the very end it was also a rollercoaster. Kramnik could have qualified for the match instead of Carlsen. Therefore it’s by no means a fact that one of the generally recognised favourites will win.

Nepomniachtchi (right) has worked together with Carlsen in recent years | photo: Fred Lucas, 2011 Tata Steel tournament

Recent tournaments have shown that Levon is in decent form. However, it’s not that clear that Aronian will manage to handle the weight of responsibility, because when there’s no pressure on him he plays much better. No doubt the same happens with many players, but it’s particularly noticeable with Aronian: the higher the tension, the more rests on each move, the harder it is for him to play. That was already shown in his 2011 match against Grischuk, when Levon again and again failed to convert promising positions.

Of course you can’t ignore Kramnik, as after all he’s going to be playing at home. Yes, Vladimir Borisovich doesn’t have nerves of steel either, but London 2013 showed that for a single tournament he can gather himself together brilliantly, perhaps at the cost of sacrificing other events which take place before and after. I think Kramnik is highly motivated, and his skill in separating the wheat from the chaff and being able to come into the main event of the year in optimum form is one of his strengths.

It’s hard to say what we can expect from the other players. For me, for example, it’s unfathomable how Topalov will play because it depends on so many factors. He’s already managed to complain that they wouldn’t give his coach a visa…

Svidler always plays well in such events, but not well enough to take first place. For instance, he had an excellent tournament in London and was one of the first, but someone else turned out to be “more first”. It’s not enough to play well – you also need to post a good result. Strange as it sounds, the outcome doesn’t always depend on the quality of play, particularly when there’s a great deal at stake.

Which of the candidates can pose the most problems to Magnus Carlsen?

Above all, of course, Aronian – that’s quite obvious even just from the results of their personal encounters. No doubt Kramnik can as well, although to a slightly lesser degree because of late Vladimir Borisovich has come under the “corrupting influence” of the new World Champion and it’s hard for him to play against him! Without particularly getting into details you can say that the peculiarities of Levon’s style allow him easily to avoid getting distracted by, let’s say, pseudo-chess factors and instead simply to play and find the best moves. That’s very valuable in games against Carlsen.

Biggest challenger? Carlsen and Aronian compared using our head-to-head tool

How fair is the rule according to which players from one country (in this case Russia) should play each other at the start?

I don’t think it’s such a unique situation – in Soviet times there was something similar. Of course it’s not entirely normal; after all, half of the players isn’t even the same as three out of eight, but I don’t think that situation should have any great impact. It’s a double round-robin tournament and each player plays everyone else twice.

Do you perceive the Candidates Tournament as something that stands out from normal supertournaments?

I heard that first place gives you a decent bonus – the right to a match against the World Champion! Of course the Candidates Tournament is much more interesting than any supertournament. I can’t promise I won’t be able to drag myself away from the monitor, but of course overall it’ll be very interesting for me to watch.


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