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Ponomariov: "Carlsen has stopped making progress"

12/7/2016 – Post mortem: before the World Championship match between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin we asked experts for predictions and prognoses. Now we asked again and gathered views from von David Navara, Markus Ragger, Mikhail Golubev, Daniel King, Dorian Rogozenco, and lots of others. Some of them think that Carlsen deservedly won the match while praising Karjakin's defensive skills and his preparation. Ruslan Ponomariov, however, criticises the performance of the World Champion. He claims that Carlsen has stopped making progress as a chess player.
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Ruslan Ponomariov:

Carlsen has stopped making progress as a chess player. I expected some innovations, some new interesting ideas, but that did not happen. Probably he needs a rival who can kick his ass. Right now he seems to feel that he is in a comfortable position and that he can beat his opponents if he plays as he currently does. And if this works, why should he try to improve and make extra efforts?

Karjakin fought well. Probably he wants to ask his team some questions about preparation. But with the experience he gained in the match he will definitely play much better in the next.

The only problem is that it’s really hard to qualify for the another match in the current system of the World Championship. Whereas the World Champion does not need to do anything and can just wait.

Ruslan Ponomariov war vom Spiel des Weltmeisters nicht sonderlich beeindruckt

David Navara:

Before the match I predicted that Magnus would win two or three games and lose one. Such a result is also in line with the Elo-difference between Karjakin and Carlsen. But Karjakin prepared well, did better than I had expected and drew the match in the classical games. Magnus was not in his best shape but played stronger in the tie-break. I believe that his reign is beneficial for chess as he can attract sponsors around the world and help to popularize chess. He has also been the strongest player in the world for years. But Sergey deserves credit for showing that it is possible to play a match against Magnus on equal terms.

I am happy that the match was played in a correct atmosphere, without any conflicts between the players.

Some games were fairly interesting, whereas others were rather uneventful. I believe this can be attributed to the style of both players and to the importance of the match. The participants are playing for the result rather than for the audience. No one likes to lose. If you are looking for entertaining chess, you should better follow strong open tournaments such as the Qatar Open, the Tradewise Gibraltar Open, the Isle of Man tournament and the Aeroflot Open.

The classical part of the match was fairly balanced. But on the last day, in the tie-break, Magnus played clearly better and retained the title. Congratulations!

David Navara saw the Carlsen and Karjakin playing for the result instead of playing for the audience 

Daniel King:

For me World Championship matches are still the pinnacle of competitive chess. I enjoy the psychological drama of a one-on-one struggle; I relish the way the match slowly unfolds - but then can turn in an instant on one bad move. This contest lived up to all my expectations.

We almost had a Russian World Champion. After winning game 8, and then coming so close in game 9, Sergei Karjakin will feel as though he let the crown slip from his grip. But how much had Karjakin's success (up to this point) been down to his own endeavour and how much the result of Carlsen's uneven play? More the latter. Carlsen had winning positions in games 3 and 4 but failed to capitalise. He could forgive himself for missing the tricky, study-like finish at the end of a long session in game 3, but he would have beaten himself up for blowing game 4 which was, to my mind, simple endgame technique. In game 5 Carlsen controlled play, but unexpectedly gave Karjakin a chance to attack - but draw anyway. Then in the fatal game 8 Carlsen played with only a forward gear - one could sense his growing frustration - and Karjakin bagged an unexpected gift.

In all these games Carlsen was the actor; Karjakin the reactor. Largely the same continued in the remaining  games. Once he drew game 11 with Black, Carlsen's decision to head straight for the tie-break with a quick draw in the 12th was with hindsight a masterstroke. The Norwegian effectively gave himself an extra day to prepare for the rapid-play games - which he dominated. On the other hand, when the time came for Karjakin to stamp his authority on the match - in game 9 and in the tie-break - he could not deliver.

There were the usual howls of protests from disgruntled spectators - too many draws, too many boring games, too much opening preparation. It's the same in practically every single World Championship match I have witnessed. We have to view these one-on-one matches as a whole. There are usually patches of (subjectively) less interesting play interspersed with (subjectively) more dramatic play. Think of an opera - admittedly, I don't think very often of opera, but I believe the comparison is apt - the narrative needs to develop before your emotions soar with an aria. The match was tense, close and finished with a dramatic coup. What more could one ask from a sporting contest?

Mikhail Golubev:

In my view, the rapid tie-breaks were more interesting than the whole 12 main games combined. We have to accept that classical chess at the very top is normally boring, especially the match format. After all, only mistakes make nice combinations possible. Including the incredible Qh6+!!. Magnus Carlsen won the match with great difficulties but deservedly. Currently, he is still number one but his rivals are closer than before – which is reflected in the rating list.

Markus Ragger

It was a very exciting match with a lot of interesting moments. The quality of the games was high, particularly if you consider the enormous pressure of such a match. But I was surprised by the match strategy of both players. With a lot of draws Karjakin increased the pressure on Carlsen and eventually the World Champion took too many risks in game 8. With moves such 19. Nb5, 24. bc4, 32. Kh2, 33. Rd8 and, of course, 35.c5 Carlsen took very risky, double-edged and extremely daring decisions.

After that Carlsen appeared to be quite insecure. In game 9 Karjakin had a big chance to become World Champion (39.Qb3!). In game 10 Karjakin seemed to be very insecure and spent a lot of time for his moves 15 to 17. To catch up he played moves 20 and 21 very quickly and missed the chance to draw immediately. On move 56 Karjakin, lulled by Carlsen's subtle maneuvering, made the decisive mistake. This drama cost both players a lot of energy and led to two quick draws in the last games. In the rapid tie-break Carlsen played better chess and was psychologically superior. Throughout the tie-break he had an advantage on the clock and the better positions on the board. The move 50. Qh6 was a picturesque conclusion of a great match.

Karsten Müller

At the start of the match I saw Magnus as 60-40 favorite because of his endgame strength and his match experience. However, after missing wins in games 3 and 4 he lost his stride while Sergey got a boost by defending so well. After Sergey won game 8 I thought he was a 55-45 favorite because Magnus seemed to be so vulnerable and even left the press conference. But he recovered and after winning game 10 I thought he is favorite again - his strength in rapid games is well-known and showed in the tie-break. All things considered Magnus deservedly won because he had more chances. However, Sergey hold his ground - and much better than I had expected.

Dorian Rogozenco

It happened what was supposed to happen (which today is not always the case). I think Karjakin played too passive. In the tie-break games this strategy turned out to be a mistake. Karjakin's play in the tie-break is a little mystery for me: he had neither energy nor self-confidence. That is hard to understand because without self-confidence you have no chance at all. But the match also revealed some weaknesses of the World Champion, particularly in regard to preparation: we saw hardly any new and interesting opening ideas. And we saw that Carlsen can lose his nerve when the opponent defends stubbornly.

Martin Breutigam

I find it surprising that Karjakin after months of preparation could not surprise Carlsen in the opening. It is even more surprising that the match was tied after 12 games. But in the end the stronger and more creative player won. Carlsen's wins in the match and in the tie-break were impressive but I found Karjakin's constantly fair and calm attitude at least as impressive (particularly after his defeats or the missed chance in game 9).

The interest in the match all over the world showed that chess can fascinate millions of people. And one should definitely keep the 130-years old tradition of playing matches. However, to encourage offensive play and to reduce the chances for long series of draws it might be a good to change the format of the World Championship matches a little. I like the idea to play the tie-break at the beginning to let everyone know who has to play for a win in the games with classical time-control and who only needs a draw. But one should also increase the number of games again and play at least 14 games to give the players the chance to risk something without the fear to fall behind early in the match.

Arno Nickel

This World Championship quite obviously had more tension and less creative achievements - a tension which the spectators who followed the games live will have felt directly. But amazingly, the official transmission which went well without too many blunders and blah, also gave an idea of the tension, first of all thanks to an eminently eloquent commentator who for me will remain the real match-winner: Judit Polgar, particularly in interaction with Peter Doggers and Ian Nepomniachtchi. The background reports of Norwegian journalist Kaja Marie Snare are also among the refreshing highlights as they convey something of the bubbly local chess scene with its many facets.

Whereas Magnus Carlsen almost throughout the match was not in top shape, one had an opportunity to get a deep impression how strong Sergey Karjakin is in matches. But he disappointingly showed this strength only with brilliant defense and not in straightforward attacks right from the opening - which is absolutely incomprehensible in view of the strong support he received from his team. One sometimes thought that Carlsen 1 played against Carlsen 2.

In view of today's depth of theoretical knowledge I am very skeptical whether we will ever again see classical World Championship matches between players with a diametrically opposed approach to chess as we had them back in the 20th century. This would require the rebirth of a Mikhail Tal. My recommended remedy against boring draws: Chess960. Take two after a sequence of four draws.

Elisabeth Pähtz

An unexpectedly long match with a result that surprised me. All in all Carlsen was the better player, however, he missed too many good chances (games three and four) to make something tangible out of that. I was particularly impressed by Karjakin's defensive skills. But in the tie-break he seemed to have an off-day. Or Carlsen is simply too strong in this discipline.

Chess aspects apart, Karjakin showed good manners in New York – which Carlsen sometimes fails to show.

Yannick Pelletier

Magnus Carlsen retained his title. Some thoughts about the match:

Sergey Karjakin seemed to be very well-prepared, but not in the way I had expected. In fact, he was generally unimpressive in the opening, mostly because Carlsen's preparation in that field was superior. The Norwegian is the best player in the World, after all, and has a very strong team of analysts.

But Karjakin was mentally ready for the fight, ready to suffer for hours in difficult endgames. This ability to never give up and to always search for chances to save the game must have been trained intensively, probably with a mental coach. This extreme resilience helped him save games 3 and 4 and disturbed Carlsen, who became nervous and started underestimating his opponent. Was Karjakin, however, mentally ready to beat his opponent? Did he forget to switch into "favorite mode" after taking the lead in game 8? By hindsight one always knows better. This great theory would have been ridiculous, had Karjakin seen Nxf2 in the 10th game and if he had kept his lead until the end.

Carlsen may not have been in great shape, but Karjakin undoubtedly provoked that. What counts in the end is the result. The quick draw with White in the last classical game, however boring it might have been, proved to be a great decision by the Norwegian. He dominated the tie-break and thus deserves to keep his crown.

Herbert Bastian

Carlsen did not use his chances in games 3 and 4. This upset him and he pushed too hard in game 8 when he wanted to win at all costs. That this might happen became already apparent in game five, in which Karjakin could have reached a clearly better position. In game 9 Carlsen again tried too hard but Karjakin failed to find the decisive Qb3 (instead of Bxf7+). From game 10 onwards and in the tie-break it showed that Karjakin is not yet ready for the title. He plays very well and disciplined but too tame and in crucial moments he lacks the killer instinct Carlsen has in excess. Carlsen displayed much more creativity and won deservedly. The match received an extreme amount of attention in the media and was beneficial for chess as sport. A view into the future: there are a number of candidates who might challenge Carlsen in 2018: Caruana,  Vachier-Lagrave, So, Giri, Karjakin, Kramnik, Aronian, Nakamura, ... . Let's look forward to it!

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MichelDeNostredameDeEchecs MichelDeNostredameDeEchecs 12/7/2016 01:11
I'm amazed by superficiality of Mr. Ponomariov comment. It seems to be one of those cases where the conclusions are drawn merely based on the final score without taking into account the evolution of the games move by move. Would Mr. Ponomariov be so convinced of what he said if Carlsen would have won game 4 where he had a winning position in a technical finish endgame?
A person making such a strong statement as "Carlsen has stopped making progress as a chess player" should be clearly and unequivocally point out the reasons for such an interpretation. Mr. Ponomariov seems to think it doesn't need to, even though nobody has said anything remotely similar in the chess world.
If Karjakin is going to qualify to another WCH match - and I really hope so because he deserves to have a second chance -, it's more likely to me he will lose to a larger margin, if he plays the same way he played in this match. I haven't seen enough energy on the board from him. Playing solidly is going to win a match only if your opponent gives it to you. And apparently Carlsen almost did just that.
I don't think there is any doubt on who is the stronger player when it comes to quicker time controls though. Perhaps Mr. Ponomariov would disagree on that one too...
reddawg07 reddawg07 12/7/2016 01:39
The only thing we can definitely say about the match is that in the classical match Karjakin is Carlsen's equal.
And if Carlsen continues to play this way it won't be long before Caruana and the other young players would catch
him sooner than expected.
digupagal digupagal 12/7/2016 01:51
Carlsen is relaxed, this is the time for all other players to throw him out
A7fecd1676b88 A7fecd1676b88 12/7/2016 02:53
Ponomariov is correct, BUT it required Karjakin's strong play to reveal it. A lesser player would have been crushed by Magnus's attempt to win by, it would seem, superior technical skill only. So give Karjakin the credit he is due.
The point is had any other player been playing Magnus, Magnus would have won convincingly.

NJD NJD 12/7/2016 03:23
I agree with Navara. If you wanna see neat games, watch one of the high level opens. There are a lot more games every day, people of different skill levels and people having good and bad days. Much better chance to see that sort of stuff.
In a match like this, its very hard and unlikely for any player to win a game and mostly seems to happen if one player is having an "off day" and Carlsen don't have many "off days". Look what happened in that endless Kasparov match.
MichelDeNostredameDeEchecs MichelDeNostredameDeEchecs 12/7/2016 03:27
@reddawg07
"[...]in the classical match Karjakin is Carlsen's equal" you wrote.
That's exactly the point I was making earlier by saying the result alone drives people conclusions. What we can say it's that Karjakin played a strong game, at least as strong as Carlsen in the Classical time control. But that's about it. It surely doesn't mean Karjakin is on the same foot as Carlsen.
As it has been discussed, 12 games is too much of a shorter match to become decisive in certain cases, and with the opposition Carlsen had - i.e.no risk play,sensible moves, solid opening choices etc., it is more likely to be balanced in the short term.
What I'm saying is that if you play a match on 12 games facing for example Nakamura, you likely don't need 15, 18 or 24 games. Karjakin is a stubborn and patience defender, not an uncompromising attacker.

Lastly taking into consideration what Carlsen already achieved, it's always easy to squeeze out some criticism when the man doesn't play at its best. We always expect him to win cleanly and play mesmerizing games and when something goes wrong, we take the plunge and start shouting, as much as Ponomariov did, lacking any respect.

An opponent superior to Carlsen still has to show himself. That's the only fact in this matter.
Zmeu Zmeu 12/7/2016 03:29
@Michel,
Of course Ponomariov's comment is over-the-top - he intended it to be provocative. Perhaps there is some truth to it though. Carlsen's peak rating (2882) was in May 2014, and he looked on his way to be the first ever to break 2900. Now the odds of that happening have lessened.

My own impressions on possible contenders:
- Caruana has been the leading "number 2" and has played on equal footing with Carlsen for a number of years now;
- MVL and So have been on a clear upward trajectory;
- Giri is young, strong, and even more arrogant than Carlsen, thus a difficult opponent for the champ in a match.

Since I'm in a troll mood, I'll also posit the psychological choice facing Carlsen atm:
- get off the high horse, get down to work, and reassert dominance over the chess dominion;
- or, realize classical chess requires way too much work, start a campaign pushing for faster time controls/ rapid chess, limit training to death-match battles on chess.com, and enjoy the "finer" things in life.
PEB216 PEB216 12/7/2016 03:43
Ruslan Ponomariov made the following observation: "Carlsen has stopped making progress as a chess player. I expected some innovations, some new interesting ideas, but that did not happen. Probably he needs a rival who can kick his ass." I'm sure that Carlsen doesn't need "a rival who can kick has ass," but he does need a competitor that he truly fears. I believe it was Karpov who made a similar remark about himself (of course, prior to Kasparove!). In my opinion, Magnus Carlsen was overconfident. He kept outplaying Karjakin, but he failed to put him away. Out of irritation, Magnus took unnecessary risks and lost a game that could have easily cost him the match. Amazingly, Karjakin overlooked a draw in the next to last game (as I recall, Judith Polgar saw this draw while doing a commentary on the game). Carlsen said that he saw the draw but hoped Sergey would miss it. I'm sure that that missed opportunity will haunt Sergey for the rest of his life.

It was in the tie-break that we saw Carlsen go through an amazing transformation. He had missed a win in the second game of the tie-break. What impact would this have on Carlsen? That was the question all of the commentators were asking. When Magnus sat down to play that third game, it was obvious that he had undergone a transformation. You could see it in his body language. Not only was Magnus incredibly angry with himself, but he was now determined to crush his opponent. I'm sure that Sergey was also aware of this sudden change in Magnus. I've never seen a player come to the board with such determination. It was at this point that Sergey crumbled. I would say to Grandmaster Ponomariov that this is Magnus's greatest strength: Magnus is a fighter!
Chvsanchez Chvsanchez 12/7/2016 06:04
"David Navara: Before the match I predicted that Magnus would win two or three games and lose one."
Well, Navara got right!
turok turok 12/8/2016 12:32
OK first of all all champions sooner or later lose skills. The other thing is it is easy for all these naysayers like Ponomariov to make comments about Carlsens play but how come Ponomariov is not playing vs him or being a champion himself??? A few things people need to realize and understand about competition at the highest level regardless of sport:

You hardly will ever get NEW IDEAS in the world of computer chess especially at these championship games. It is like in most sports championships you see both teams not taking as many mistakes when titles are on the line. In NBA basketball even a run and gun team will be more conservative. Well this is the same thing here. Why should Carlsen try and impress us the viewers with NEW ideas when it is his job to do his best to win even if it is half point. He as the champion has everything to lose and the challenger has nothing to lose.

Strength of play: They all lose it. But I believe it is three-fold here: For one all players have their peaks. He has been at such a high level sooner or later he will come down. 2nd I think he plays WAY to much. He should have one focus and that is practice practice practice. The last thing is by playing so much and at times you lose the luster for the game since it is easy. The others gain most of the time from you but what do you gain? That is the point here.

I also believe this shows how inflated the ratings are nowadays.

I liked the classical and the more games I loved. It involved stamina. and no offense but with the use of computers no need for 2nds anymore.
BeachBum2 BeachBum2 12/8/2016 01:11
Technically - yep, stopped making progress (in classical) since around Feb 2013:
https://ratings.fide.com/id.phtml?event=1503014

But 2850+ is incredibly high rating to "stop making progress" at :) and nobody else goes beyond 2800 consistently now.
calvinamari calvinamari 12/8/2016 03:08
Was Magnus in top form during the match? No. Should he have reacted more strategically to Karjakin's somewhat rope-a-dope strategy, which, in light of Lasker v. Schlechter and Kasparov v. Kramnik, should have been more predictable? Yes. But it does seem that suboptimal performance stemmed from just that -- general fighting form and impatient psychology rather than any failure to progress in purely chessic terms.

It is an interesting issue, however, to ponder. For Magnus to progress in chessic terms would be to do things no one has ever done. Of course, he has already been in that position to achieve what he has -- the highest ever rating (whereas to advance beyond where Ponomariov is only requires following a path well charted, just in very recent times, by at least 40 others).
kf2wins kf2wins 12/8/2016 03:27
magnus got super lucky in game 11 and karjakin should have got the draw and the match would have been his. sadley short time controls make the game messy, so magnus got his way in the end., but if it were a classical time finish, im sure we would have another exciting story.
koko48 koko48 12/8/2016 05:20
"magnus got super lucky in game 11 and karjakin should have got the draw and the match would have been his"

I think you are referring to game 10, where Karjakin missed the perpetual check with ...Nxf2+

I don't think that's luck, I see karma and irony in that....Karjakin was playing for draws throughout the match, and then missed the relatively simple draw when it was offered to him

In chess they say "Play for draw = play for loss"....Carlsen was the deserving winner because he was playing for the wins...Karjakin was playing too tentatively and not taking the bull by the horns, which you should do to become World Champion imo

It will be a sad day when someone can gain the WC title by playing for nullification and waiting for the opponent to over press....And unfortunately that is more and more possible in today's classical game

Another reason why the match should be lengthened, players can afford to risk more when they have more time to recover from mistakes. I agree with the 'more games, less rest days' proposals
Davor Suker Davor Suker 12/8/2016 12:00
Ponomariov has stopped making progress a long time ago.
JoeCJK JoeCJK 12/8/2016 02:12
Of course GM Ponomariov's comments are meant to be provocative. Karjakin used to be on his team. No point trying too hard to make sense of whether Carlsen is still making progress or not.
petteriv petteriv 12/8/2016 03:43
Very fine match!
Karjakin's preparation to defend seek Lasker-type minimal moments to seduce a coup was fantastic psychological decision, but very boring. Karjakin topped his strategy in classical part which was then exploited in rapid games.
Magnus, as King wrote - the actor, he tried to bring the life on board. The only time when Karjakin was "active", he almost lost straight away, in game number 1. I mean how would have match looked like if Magnus would have played like he did in game 12, like Karjakin...
I think this match was a nice continuum for WC matches: with all drama included and in the end deserving champion.

My suggestion for WC match could be to make the classical part 14 matches long. 12 normal games and add into mix 2 games of rapid play in order to "disturb the force". The rapid games would, both once with white, played among the first 9 games of the match. It could be randomly picked which match games are going to be rapid games and in the opening ceremony with color drawing, the colors for the first rapid game would also drawn.
moonsorrow55 moonsorrow55 12/9/2016 05:40
I'll take his word for it, since Ponomariov has plenty of experience on the matter of a talented young player that stopped making progress.
yesenadam yesenadam 12/9/2016 07:12
"even more arrogant than Carlsen" hehe gee, I'm not sure where Kasparov is supposed to fit on your scale. I've never found Carlsen arrogant in the slightest. Maybe people think because he's candid enough to say things (facts) like "I'm the best player in the world" when asked, that he's arrogant? I guess Vishy is a very hard act to follow, being always such a gentleman. Anyone would look poorly compared to him. (Well, even Anand had that snappy moment at that WC press conference vs Carlsen after losing.) These people put their heart and soul into winning games; to abuse them for being upset when losing hugely significant games or matches just shows lack of empathy, I think. Gee, if someone's traumatised by losing a game, I don't want any part in sadistically forcing them to answer silly questions or re-live the game minutes after spending hours losing it.
Anyway, yeah, it's hard to improve much past #1.
Judd Judd 12/9/2016 08:40
If you want exciting chess in the World Chess Championship match, then make every game a “draw-odds” game. And in the case of a draw after the specified number of games, have a final "draw-odds" game. You’ll see excitement then, in each and every game! As for the number of games, let the top 10 or 20(?) grandmasters decide by pooling their suggested numbers and then taking the average, and adding a possible one more for a playoff. Then you'll have chess games with the classic time limits, with a virtual specific time frame for the organizers, and with plenty of excitement for the viewers--nerve-wracking, and exciting, as it may be for the players. (Maybe this idea could be used in other [top] tournaments.) Think about it.
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