Who will win the 2014 Candidates? (Part 2/2)

3/11/2014 – In this second part, in which top players and coaches were polled by the RCF and 64 Magazine on the Candidates tournament whose play starts on March 13, you can read the opinions by 2010 Russian Champion Ian Nepomniachtchi, Emil Sutovsky, and famed coaches Alexander Nikitin, Garry Kasparov's lifelong trainer, and Igor Zaitsev, who worked with Anatoly Karpov. Fascinating insights.

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Top players and coaches were asked by the Russian press, RCF and 64, their thoughts on the Candidates tournament. Here is what they said.

Ian Nepomniachtchi

Based on last year's experience, we can say that in this kind of tournament it is difficult to identify a clear favorite. Last year Carlsen was considered the favorite at the start, but for a long time Aronian had the lead, but then he collapsed. Even at the end Kramnik could have qualified instead of Carlsen, so it is by no means clear that one of the favorites will win.

Recent tournament have shown Levon to be in decent shape, but it is not clear whether Aronian will be able to cope with the weight of responsibility, because he plays much better when nothing is at stake, no doubt this is true of many players, but it is particularly noticeable in Aronian: the greater tension, or the responsibility weighs one each move, the harder it is for him to play. This was seen in his 2011 match against grischuk in Kazan when he repeatedly failed to capitalize on 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 is difficult to predict the other participants. For example, I have no idea what to expect Topalov, because it depends on so many factors. He has already complained they wouldn't give his coach a visa...

Svidler always plays well in such competitions, but not well enough to take first place. For example, in London, he had a great tournament, and was one of the first, but it was someone else who was actually "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.

Who among the candidates can pose the greatest problems for Magnus Carlsen?

First and foremost, of course, Aronian - even if judged by the results of their personal meetings, it's pretty obvious. Perhaps Kramnik too, although to a lesser extent, because Vladimir Borisovich recently fell under the "corrupting influence" of the new world champion - and is finding it hard to play 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.

How fair is the rule that participants from one country (in this case - the Russians) have to play each other at the start?

I do not think the situation is really unique - in Soviet times there was something similar. Of course, it is not quite normal, since this is half the participants - not even three out of eight. But I do not think that that should make a big difference, after all it is a double round-robin in which each player plays each other twice.

Do you perceive the Candidates Tournament as something different from ordinary supertournaments?

I heard that first place comes with a nice bonus - the right to a match with the world champion! Of course, the Candidates tournament is much more interesting than any super tournament. I cannot promise that I will stay glued to the monitor, but in general, of course, it will be very interesting.

Emil Sutovsky

The Candidates tournament will certainly be one of the highlights of the year. The format of the tournament, which fully reflects the principle of a «winner takes all» competition turns it into a battle of gladiators.

The unconditional tournament favorites are Aronian and Kramnik.

Levon recently demonstrated outstanding play in Wijk - with many fresh ideas and a whole variety of strategic concepts. Can he handle the pressure? It is a serious question, since in Kazan and London the Armenian failed to shine. I think that after a sufficiently long decline Aronian has finally managed to find a second wind, and the newly acquired freshness in the game, multiplied by years of battle experience already at the highest level, have taken him to a new level. From a chess point of view, a matche between Carlsen and Aronian would be the most interesting.

Vladimir Kramnik will come to the tournament fully prepared. We will see some very deep plans in the opening. And by the way, I think that many people do not fully realize just how great Kramnik's contributions to chess have been. Not some openings ideas, but at the level of concepts, and stratagems. In rgeards to his contribution to the understanding of chess, the understanding of different structures, the number of fans, and even building an opening repertoire "according to Kramnik," Volodya is not only far ahead of all modern players, but, in my opinion, ranks among the greatest of all time. However, the only measure of success in the Candidates tournament will be the number of points. Concepts, ideas, and plans are not even used as a tiebreaker. Will Kramnik play at the same high level demonstrated in London? I am not sure why, but Volovya tends to play particularly well in Russian, so if he can arrive in Khanty-Mansiysk in optimum form, everything will be in his hands.

In the tournament, there is also the lesser favorite - Veselin Topalov. The Bulgarian cannot boast consistently high results, but considering his result at the 2013 Grand Prix and in this lineup cannot be discounted. Besides which, Veselin brings a lot of experience in competitions of the highest level. The only thing I do not wish, is for another confrontation between Topalov (Danailov) and Kramnik (Russian players) that leads to a fresh round of controversy. This sort of PR is not needed!

I personally appreciate the good performance of my generation - Peter Svidler. It seems to me that it is his last real chance to win this. The keyword being "real" - I really think that Pete is on brink, all the more so since he lost 20 kilos an achievement that is not much easier than winning the Candidates tournament. Unless we're talking about a chess player with the talent of Svidler.

I wish all participants an excellent tournament and may the best man win!

Alexander Nikitin

I love the competitiveness of such a tournament. Naturally, I will closely follow all the games, but will be paying particualr attention to the creativity of Kramnik and Andreikin. This is Kramnik's last chance, judging by his own words, though he really tries, and his style of play is quite attractive. Andreikin remains a chess puzzle to me. I wish our compatriots success and look forward to great games games.

Igor Zaitsev

Of course, like any fan, I look forward with great interest to the Candidates tournament, and I have my preferences. Mentally, wish the player whose name I would not want to disclose yet, a great success. I think the result of the tournament will be a surprise.

Pictures by Vladimir Barsky, Eteri Kublashvili, and Alexandra Kosteniuk


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