Morelia: the Great Mexican Chili Challenge

3/1/2007 – The first half of the Morelia-Linares Super-GM tournament ended with Anand and Carlsen in the joint lead. After the closing ceremony and some last-minute shopping, the participants all embarked on the trip back to Europe. But at the Mexico City Airport there was a red-hot incident that almost disrupted the course of the event. Big pictorial report.

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Halftime in Morelia/Linares

The first half of the Super-GM tournament in Morelia/Linares has ended, and the final table shows Indian GM Vishy Anand and Norwegian wonderboy Magnus Carlsen in the lead.

If we look at the statistics of the games we see that the drawing quotient was 64%, which is not unusual in tournaments of this calibre.

Peter Svidler is the only player to draw all his games (but see below). Anand and Carlsen had the least number of draws: just three apiece. Both players lost one game and won three. The performances of the two leaders are: Carlsen 2855, Anand 2842 (Carlsen had to face stiffer opposition because it included the higher-rated Anand). Morozevich has the lowest performance rating, 2587, but not for lack of ability and fighting spirit. He was probably the unluckiest player in the field. Veselin Topalov played well below par, with a performance of 2691, 92 points less than one would have expected.

Let us compare the cross table of this year's event with that of the previous edition, which had Radjabov, Vallejo and Bacrot instead of Anand, Carlsen, and Morozevich:

Morelia/Linares 2006 at halftime

Peter Leko was leading at this stage of the event last year, with two points more than he scored this year. Topalov was even worse in 2006, with 2.5 out of 7. But he managed to score 5½ out of 7 in the second half and almost caught Aronian, who won the tournament with 8.5/14 points. Peter Leko collapsed with just 2½ out of 7 in the second half to end fourth. It is impossible to predict what will happen this time: will Topalov come back with a dramatic winning spree in the second half? Will any player break down as Leko did in the previous year? Will Magnus Carlsen be able to keep up his incredible performance? Whatever happens it is sure to be quite exciting.

The second half of the tournament starts on Friday, the 2nd of March, in the Hotel Anibal in Linares, Spain, and ends on Saturday, March 10th. You will find the full schedule at the bottom of this page.


Departure from Morelia 2007

Picture report by Frederic Friedel


The final round of the first half of the Morelia/Linares Super-GM


We haven't had a really good scandal for a number of weeks now. In case you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms here's a question: what on earth was Veselin Topalov wearing during his games?


We take a closer look: some sort of radio device use to receive chess moves?!

We confronted Veselin and got a less ominous explanation. Think geek! He is wearing a binary watch which requires you to press a button and translate the two rows of LEDs that light up into the current time. Some people have too much free processing power in their heads.


In the press room journalists and organisers wait for results during the final exciting moments


The games are transmitted live and projected on the wall at the back of the room


In the press room: GM Alexander Motylev, Peter Svidler's second


GM Vladimir Potkin, the second of Levon Aronian


IM Guil Russek, the author of a number of very nice chess books

My favourite Russek book is Ajedrez Artístico, a collection of extraordinary chess studies, beautifully annotated. The price is around US $8.50 and it is definitely to be recommended for anyone who can understand a smattering of Spanish. Guil has a wry sense of humour and has taught me more about Mexico than practically anybody else.


Henrik Carlsen, Magnus's father and second

Henrik Carlsen is not as strong as his son – at least five hundred points weaker on the Elo scale. But he is an excellent coach and companion. In Linares he will be replaced by the usual second, GM Peter Heine Nielsen. Magnus, we are told, works harder when Henrik is around – with Peter Heine the two are up to more mischief.


Yes, still there – same ladies, different outfits: Pilar Molina and Aruna Anand


On the last day they are joined by Veronica Saggiante, wife of the sponsor and
organiser of this year's World Championship in Mexico City, Jorge Saggiante


Vishy Anand (right) analyses the game he won against Peter Leko, watched by
Peter's second and father-in-law GM Arshak Petrosian


Jorge Saggiante and Vishy Anand – they'll be seeing a lot of each other later this year


Anand getting mobbed when leaving the theatre


The brief closing ceremony – more a cocktail party – in a town hall in Morelia


The players lined up for a group photograph: Carlsen, Anand, Aronian, Svidler,
Topalov, Ivanchuk, Leko. Tail-ender Morozevich did not attend the ceremony.


Some fine guitar music to entertain the guests


Magnus and his father Henrik Carlsen

Initially Magnus looked quite awestricken by the attention paid to him by the media. That is hardly surprising, given that the 16-year-old had to suffer daily attacks by hordes of photographers equipped with flash guns and video cameras. At the start of a game a dozen flashes would go off whenever he touched a chess piece.

In the last couple of days Magnus began to relax and turn into a regular, very affable young man. He has a taste for good logical puzzles, of which his father has a great store. Here's one we hadn't heard before: FIDE stages a knockout tournament with n players (say 131). To make up for the uneven number, a complicated system of seedings is used, of which we do not know the details. The matches are one game each. How many games are played in total? Hint: you can calculate the answer in a few seconds, for any value of n. Incidentally Henrik solved the guillotine problem in just around five minutes. Young Magnus pondered over it for considerably longer.

The tournament in Morelia was a great success for all the participants. As mentioned before, we were all treated like kings, stayed in fine hotels, getting everything we wanted, quickly and always with an enchantingly friendly smile. In the end we have only one serious complaint: nobody told us that our meal vouchers – breakfast, lunch and dinner were all paid for by the organisers – were also valid for one of the finest restaurant in Morelia, La Conspiration, just minutes away from the players' hotel. Anand, Aruna and I discovered this after a week in Morelia, and after that of course went there every evening. On the very last day, Sunday, La Conspiration was closed, and I have seldom seen Vishy so devastated. If I am not mistaken a tear rolled down his cheek while we walked over to Los Juaninos, the players' hotel, which has a first-class restaurant in its own right.


On Sunday I undertook a final very important visit: to the food market of Morelia


This is a place where you don't just buy food, you actually eat it. The smells that
fill the air cannot be described in words – you have to experience it for yourself.


Chicharrones and carnitas, offered all over the market for next to nothing

Chicharrones was introduced to me by IM Guil Russek (see above), a nice Jewish boy who bought copious amounts of it and shared it with our group. Chicharrón is pork rind that has been seasoned and deep fried. You can add salsa verde (green chili sauce), or squeeze lime on them. Don't get started on it, you cannot stop until you are thoroughly stuffed.

The reason my Mexican friends – Manuel, Jorge, Lorraina, Guil and Ricardo – took me to the market was so I could buy an adequate supply of fresh chilis to take home to Hamburg. In the above picture they are pretending to eat habanero chiles, the deadliest of them all. Habaneros weigh in at 100,000 and 300,000 Scoville units, enough to kill a horse at twenty paces (but see below).

I discovered recently why chilis are hot, from an evolutionary point of view. Normally plants produce fruit so that they are plucked and eaten, and the seeds may be transported by animals to distant locations. But what is the point of producing a fruit that nobody in their right minds would touch (but see below)? Well, it turns out that chili plants have specialised in being transported by some birds (like parrots) which have no taste buds sensitive to capsaicin, the chemical compound that makes chilis hot.

Above are the treasures I brought back with me to Hamburg. On the left are the round chili manzana, on the top my favourite jalapeños, on the bottom the hotter green seranos, on the right the sweet pablanos and, in the middle, the deadly (but see below) orange-red habaneros. They will keep for over a month in my refrigerator, an important factor when you live in a country where Mexican chilis are not available, even in gourmet stores.

The Great Mexican Chili Challenge

On Moday, Febuary 26th, we were all transported to the International Airport at Mexico City for our trip back to Europe. On our arrival we were told that the Aero Mexico flight to Madrid was overbooked and that some of us would have to remain behind. This news was taken with equanimity by some (like Vishy Anand, who knew that the compensation was a night in a fine hotel, a free extra return ticket to anywhere in the world, and $200 pocket money) or with sheer panic (like Peter and Sofi Leko, until they learned about the compensation package). In the end it turned out that it was all a false scare – everybody got onto the flight and there were in fact half a dozen places free on the plane.

While passing through the baggage check my bag with the chilis sounded off an alarm. Apparently capsaicin – at least a lot of it – can set off the explosive substance detectors. In the end the guards who opened and carefully checked the bag decided that this was just a European nutcase hooked on Mexican food.

But the others saw what I was transporting, and Lev Aronian asked me to show him some of the chilis. I pulled out a bag of dried pequin chilis and handed him a few, with appropriate warnings (they are 30,000-40,000 on the Scoville scale). Levon ate them like popcorn. Peter Svidler joined the fun and, after tasting a few, made snide remarks about how mild they were. Insulted and bent on revenge, I pulled out one of the habaneros!

Levon tried a bit off the tip and pronounced this fruit completely harmless. I tore off a bit and was also disappointed. But as I got lower down it suddenly appeared – that terrifying burning sensation that causes your brain to produce endorphins, natural opioids which ultimately leads to hot foods addiction. Of course the bottom half with the seeds is the deadly part. Levon took half of this and chomped away at it. He looked somewhat dazed and said: "Okay, this is seriously hot." But he survived very nicely.

Then Peter Svidler insisted on taking up the challenge. He consumed the second half, seeds and all, with a contented smile on his face. And I bowed to the two great grandmasters of hot food, realising that, although a king in my native Germany (where "hot food" means you can actually taste the meal) I was nothing but a "chili wuss", as Lev put it, compared to these two. I mean I can understand an Armenian like Aronian being up to it – they are probably fed with blow torches as children. But that an aristocratic St. Petersburg boy can take undiluted habaneros, is utterly beyond my comprehension.

For those of you who have held out this far here is the solution to Henrik Carlsen's puzzle: if n players are participating in a single-round knockout tournament, then in order for one to win n-1 players must lose a game each. So for 131 players the number of games is 130. Q.E.D.


Schedule

Round 8: Friday, March 2nd

Peter Leko 
-
 Vassily Ivanchuk
Vishy Anand 
-
 Veselin Topalov
Levon Aronian 
-
 Peter Svidler
Alex. Morozevich 
-
 Magnus Carlsen
GamesReport

Round 9: Saturday, March 3rd

Alex. Morozevich 
-
 Peter Leko
Magnus Carlsen 
-
 Levon Aronian
Peter Svidler 
-
 Vishy Anand
Veselin Topalov 
-
 Vassily Ivanchuk
GamesReport

Round 10: Sunday, March 4th

Peter Leko 
-
 Veselin Topalov
Vassily Ivanchuk 
-
 Peter Svidler
Vishy Anand 
-
 Magnus Carlsen
Levon Aronian 
-
 Alex. Morozevich
GamesReport
Free day: Monday, March 5th

Round 11: Tuesday, March 6st

Levon Aronian 
-
 Peter Leko
Alex. Morozevich 
-
 Vishy Anand
Magnus Carlsen 
-
 Vassily Ivanchuk
Peter Svidler 
-
 Veselin Topalov
GamesReport

Round 12: Wednesday, March 7th

Peter Leko 
-
 Peter Svidler
Veselin Topalov 
-
 Magnus Carlsen
Vassily Ivanchuk 
-
 Alex. Morozevich
Vishy Anand 
-
 Levon Aronian
GamesReport
Free day: Thursday, March 8th

Round 13: Friday, March 9th

Vishy Anand 
-
 Peter Leko
Levon Aronian 
-
 Vassily Ivanchuk
Alex. Morozevich 
-
 Veselin Topalov
Magnus Carlsen 
-
 Peter Svidler
GamesReport

Round 14: Saturday, March 10th

Peter Leko  
-
 Magnus Carlsen
Peter Svidler 
-
 Alex. Morozevich
Veselin Topalov 
-
 Levon Aronian
Vassily Ivanchuk 
-
 Vishy Anand
Games Report
Closing Ceremony

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