A look at the Candidates Tournament... and the action at home

MARCH 24 ― Last week, I wrote about the controversial decision by event organiser Agon to limit the “live” broadcast of the Candidates Tournament to the official site at www.worldchess.com.

The tournament which is being held in Moscow is an eight player double round robin event (14 rounds) to select the challenger for the World Chess Championship Match against Norway's Magnus Carlsen later this year.

It has now passed the halfway mark and as I write this on the third rest day (scheduled after every three rounds), nine games have been played and so there are just five left.

At the halfway mark, it was Russia's Sergei Kajarkin and Armenia's Levon Aronian in the lead with 4.5/7 (both unbeaten with two wins each) and India's Viswanathan Anand in third place on 4/7 (two wins but one defeat) but things have been heating up.

Just two rounds later, it is Karjakin joined by Anand on top of the leaderboard with 5.5/9 after the latter beat Aronian who has dropped to a share of third place with USA's Fabiano Caruana on 5/9 and the Nederland's super solid Anish Giri in fifth with 4.5/9 after recording his ninth successive draw.

Kajarkin has proven to be enormously resourceful in defence and is now the big favourite although all of the five are in with a chance.

The older generation and of course all of India will be hoping that Anand will once again be able to turn back time and have his fifth title match with Carlsen and for fans of the enormously talented Aronian, question marks have perhaps once again emerged although his self belief is without doubt.

Caruana was one of the big favourites going into the Candidates Tournament and after surviving Giri's surprising aggression in their ninth encounter resulting in the tournament's longest game, it is clear he is well capable of mounting a late challenge.

While www.worldchess.com has been visibly improving their site from day to day, the transmission still leaves a lot to be desired with periodic outages and spotty commentary.

However, the major chess sites that carry “live” broadcasts ― ignoring the threats of legal action by Agon ― have been much more successful.

At the same time, a new controversy has erupted over the way post-game press conferences have been conducted with players not being asked pertinent questions ― the case in point being the incident where USA's Hikaru Nakamura attempted to take back a losing move in his sixth round game against Aronian ― and the content as a whole being deemed completely irrelevant to the general public and so practically worthless for use by mass media.   

The new criticism is that despite the huge innovations (and money) now brought to chess media by Norwegian TV, there is a complete lack of professional journalism present in FIDE (World Chess Federation) and a quick look at the membership of the FIDE Commission of Chess Journalists (see https://www.fide.com/fide/directory/fide-commissions.html?comid=86&task=committee) confirms this.

I do not see a single real journalist but numerous political appointees who are either there to ensure the status quo (censorship) or who have been rewarded for support at the last election.

Here in Malaysia, the last week has been a big one with the Malaysian Championships (formerly the National Closed Chess Championship) held from March16-20 in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, following the National Age-Group Championships 2016 from March 12-14 in Seri Iskandar, Perak.

The merits of having these major events in KL versus them being held elsewhere are clear ― one simply gets more participation in KL but it is always a boost for the local community when held in their states.

I am an advocate of MCF (Malaysian Chess Federation) working with the states to run its events but not directly as was the case with the National Age-Group in Seri Iskandar and if the intention was to maximise the take from entry fees, then the relatively low turnout was the answer.

With the Malaysian Championships held in Kota Kinabalu, an unusually large number of participants were from Sabah but that was to be expected.

It was also good that our real No 1 player Yeoh Li Tian decided it was also worth his while to collect the title even though his place in the Malaysian team to the Baku Olympiad in September is already secure.

But this was not the case with all the other players, and here I also include all our women players.

One must not forget that in a Swiss system tournament, it is a first past the post competition designed to determine a winner so it is never clear if the second placed is the most deserving.

Yeoh has been making a habit of winning local events one round before the end and with his rating so much higher than his closest rival's, he was going for perfect score here but once he drew his eighth round game and won ― regardless of the result of the final round ― all motivation was gone.

However, let's not take away anything from the many who fought hard to finish in a large tie for second ― after all, they are now in with a chance to play off for spots in the Malaysian Masters and a chance to make the national team ― but the discussion was not so much that Yeoh did not try too hard to win his last round game but more about the good fortune of those who through the luck of the draw avoided meeting Yeoh.

What is clear is that several young players ― surprised after their relative success (or failure!) at the National Age-Group Championships held earlier ― and some of the older players were simply not up to it.

It was the same situation in the women's championship with Nur Nabila Azman Hisham who also won one round before the end. While I observed during the Asean Championships in December that she had matured and is likely our current No. 1, her main rivals have not progressed (or have fallen behind).

Unlike the men, where quite a few have improved, our women players have not progressed at all although they have grown in numbers.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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