This is how it must have been to watch the USSR back in their heyday! On the eve of the competition SOCAR’s owner Mair Mamedov had complained that the 7-round format was close to a lottery, but in the end his team left nothing to chance. Seven matches, seven wins, with the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th seeds all beaten, some (we’re looking at you, SHSM Nashe Nasledie and Malakhite) by a crushing margin.
It was a rare case of every team member being on form, with Topalov (2nd board), Giri (4th), Radjabov (5th) and Korobov (7th) the best players on their boards, and all the others except Safarli in the top 3 (actually, as fabelhaft points out in the comments, Safarli's performance would make him no. 1 on board 8 as well, although he only played 3 games).
If we were to single out one player it would be Veselin Topalov, with the Bulgarian former World Champion continuing his fine form from the latter stages of the Sinquefield Cup to post the best result in Bilbao (a 2922 performance). He defeated Morozevich, Navara, Nakamura and Svidler – the last win a late twist of the knife to give his team victory in the final match despite SOCAR needing only to avoid a catastrophic defeat to take the title. The 39-year-old could even afford to lose to Simen Agdestein in the process, and was rewarded with a rating that will be rounded up to 2800 on the 1st October rating list.
A shout-out also goes to Anish Giri, with the Dutch-Russian-Nepalese wunderkind shooting up to world no. 7 on the back of his 2840 rating performance.
His personal coach, Vladimir Tukmakov, also happened to be the
coach of SOCAR, and deserves plaudits himself. He was clearly doing something
right when he tinkered with the board order – for instance, playing Mamedyarov
on first board above the higher rated Topalov and Giri.
Arguably the all-Georgian team pulled off an even more impressive win in the women’s event. They also won all their matches, but had mathematically sewn up victory in the 8-team tournament with a round to spare. They did it by the skin of their teeth, with narrow 2.5:1.5 victories against all but the rank outsiders, but then it was never going to be easy – they were only the third highest rated team in the tournament.Their star players were Nana Dzagnidze, who scored 4/5 for a 2737 performance, and Bela Khotenashvili, who was the top performer on board 2 – don’t trust the official statistics that at the time of writing only show her with 2250 and 4th best performance on board 3. Her performance was actually 2566, after vital draws against Anna Muzychuk, Elisabeth Paehtz, Anna Zatonskih, Alexandra Kosteniuk and a win against Natalia Pogonina.
The final round of the Bilbao Masters meant none of the other players did enough to earn themselves a place on either the winners’ or losers’ lists. Levon Aronian defeated a top rival and finished as the only unbeaten player, but the top seed was never in the running for first place. Ruslan Ponomariov and Paco Vallejo were always going to be underdogs against Anand and Aronian, and ultimately traded blows to perform at roughly their ratings. They couldn’t be separated by tiebreaks, and as if to emphasize the point event they even ended on exactly the same live rating – 2711.0!
The Dutch media company, who have also produced videos for Tata Steel, added a sprinkle of stardust to the coverage from Bilbao with beautifully edited recaps of the days’ events. Take, for instance, Day 7:
And the closing ceremony:
Spanish photographer David Llada did the same for the still image, confirming once more his membership of an elite group of chess photographers (including the likes of Ray Morris-Hill and Fred Lucas) whose work is more art than documentation. A few examples:
Llada also clearly won off the pitch, getting to spend some quality time with one of the most interesting personalities in chess:
As befits a massive team event there were winners (and losers) everywhere you looked. The Czech/Polish team Novy Bor couldn’t quite pull off their incredible victory of the year before, but the 5th seeds still sneaked home in 2nd place after overwhelming SHSM Nashe Nasledie in the final round. Dutch IM Manuel Bosboom followed up beating Peter Leko in Round 1 by smashing the GM norm requirements with 5.5/7 and a 2709 performance. Alexander Grischuk won the game of the event and finished with a 2887 performance...
mention deserves to go to the two players of the moment in world chess:
Fabiano Caruana just kept on going like a Duracell bunny, defeating SOCAR’s no. 1 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov on the way to a board 1 best performance of 2896 that pushed him to within 20 points of the no. 1 spot. He’ll now have the Carlsenesque problem of defending a 2845 rating when the Baku FIDE Grand Prix starts on 1 October.
His female equivalent, Hou Yifan, also claimed the board 1 prize, picking up the scalps of Valentina Gunina, Anna Ushenina and Alisa Galliamova. Her new rating of 2673 is only two points shy of Judit Polgar’s mark, though the real excitement now is no longer seeing if she can snatch the women’s no. 1 spot, but whether she can make the final transition to the men’s elite. You wouldn’t bet against it! (or would you, Jan and Lawrence? )
True, they did stage a recovery – winning their last five matches to snatch second place – but if you’re top seeds, outrate your rivals by at least 70 points and then lose your first two matches something has clearly gone wrong. Kateryna Lagno settled into her role as Russian no. 1 immediately at the Olympiad, but in Spain she proved an unexpected weak link – losing crucial games in both the opening defeats.
On the one hand, there was a lot to praise! The Bilbao Masters and European Club Cup websites were bright and packed with information and multimedia content - in three languages. Sadly that barely mattered, since they committed the cardinal sin of collapsing under the weight of visitors, becoming totally unusable for long periods of time, and not only during the traditionally fraught first round.
Even when the websites were otherwise functioning normally, there were constant issues with the PGN files that were needed to convey the moves to the world. Matches were mixed up and, on a technical level, the location of the files kept changing at the very last moment, meaning life was never dull for other websites trying to broadcast the event
The one thing that couldn't be disputed was that the team behind the event did everything they could to get things working, and they seemed to be get there by the end!
While we perhaps never got to the bottom of what their name means… Obiettivo Risarcimento were the stand-out team before the event – a relatively new outfit featuring the awesome top trio of Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. They lived up to their second seed status by giving SOCAR their closest match of the event, but a calamitous 4.5:1.5 loss to Malakhite in the final round consigned them to a distant 10th place. 7 of their 8 players performed below their rating (for SOCAR it was the exact opposite), and it was another tournament to forget for Nakamura, whose major contribution was losing a critical game to Topalov. He was simply glad to see the back of it all:
A number of players struggled in Bilbao. You could mention Sergey Karjakin (4 draws, 1 loss), while Alexei Shirov and Arkadij Naiditsch suffered some spectacular defeats – although both out-and-out attackers balanced three losses with as many or more wins.
Shirov ended with an important final round victory over Etienne Bacrot:
Gata Kamsky’s 50% score cost him rating points but wasn’t an outright disaster. The reason he makes this list is the last year as a whole, that’s seen the American/Russian star sink from a high of 2763 in July 2013 to only 2681 today. He also missed out on playing for the winning team – SOCAR coach Vladimir Tukmakov admitted they’d replaced Kamsky due to that run of poor form.
Anyone who’s ever been involved in organising a chess tournament knows the temptation to massage the numbers to impress sponsors and the media. Who wants to quote figures in the tens or even hundreds of thousands when you can mention millions? Well – the Bilbao organisers decided not to hold back:
Out of the world’s 200 million potential fans that follow the chess events on-line, 44 million people from all over the world (mainly from Europe, India and China), followed Bilbao Chess 2014 during the 7 days the competition lasted for. Most people followed the event on the tournament’s official sites, as well as the world’s main chess portals. Masses of people went into the Euskalduna Congress Centre every day to watch the games on site. The tourists that visited Bilbao during the eight days of the event brought the city an economic profit of millions of euros.
It’s not clear where 200 million comes from and it may be hard to judge the profit for the city, but we can say with some certainty that the week’s chess did not attract 44 million unique internet visitors (e.g. the ATP Tour website boasts 4 million unique visitors a month). Perhaps they were referring to visits or clicks…
At least we can all agree, however, that it was a great week of chess!