Speelman on the Candidates final sprint

3/22/2016 – It has been a fascinating event as one would expect, with chances taken, chances missed, and chances grabbed. After nine rounds of competition, the veteran former World Champion Vishy Anand has elbowed and kicked his way to the top to join Sergey Karjakin in the lead. Anything still goes, and reviewing the results and stats, here is the assessment and prognosis by Jon Speelman.

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Speelman on the Candidates final sprint

By Jon Speelman

All photos by Amruta Mokal

A standard plot in old fashioned crime fiction (most famously in Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians") involves locking the protagonists in a closed system and then bumping them off one by one.

The Candidates tournament has something of this about it, admittedly without the actual killing. Of the eight who were lured to Moscow, just four are now effectively still alive in the battle for first place. They are of course the two leaders Viswanathan Anand and Sergey Karjakin and the two trailing half a point behind: Levon Aronian and Fabiano Caruana.

Anish Giri is only a further half a point behind but he really ought to have beaten Caruana in round nine and gets just a 5.7% chance of victory in the latest simulation by James Jorasch and Chris Capobianco. This looks a bit low to me since successive games of chess in a tournament are certainly not independent, but his next game as black against Karjakin really does look like a last chance saloon.

Anish Giri squandered a golden opportunity in round nine. Will this come to haunt him?

One of the most interesting things about this simulation is a point that they made about the tie-break: By beating Aronian in round nine on Monday, Anand not only moved ahead of him, but also established the better first tie-break which is head-to-head results. This means that Aronian now has to effectively score a full point more than Anand to overtake him (Reading the regulations article 3.7 it seems less obvious what happens if there's a three-way tie between, for example, Anand, Aronian and Karjakin, but I can't see that Aronian would ever be first).

The same article notes that the most critical "power games" in the final rounds will be between these four, and it's worth listing the head to head results thus far and the coming fixtures:

Anand 1.5 Aronian

Karjakin 1-0 Anand (Anand vs Karjakin is in round 11)

Anand 0.5 - 0.5 Caruana (Caruana vs Anand is in round 10 tomorrow)

Caruana 0.5 - 0.5 Karjakin (Karjakin vs Caruana is in round 14!)

Karjakin 0.5 - 0.5 Aronian (Aronian vs Karjakin is in round 13)

Aronian 0.5 - 0.5 Caruana (Caruana vs Aronian is in round 12)

Working abstractly, you can also note that Anand has had an extra white and the other three an extra black thus far, but the most important question from my perspective is the psychological one of momentum.

Anand's fine win against Aronian on Monday certainly gave him wings and set Aronian back. These guys are all very tough but Anand has the experience of world championship matches (both as champion and challenger) and of qualifying from the Candidates last time round and that is certainly likely to stand him in good stead.

Vishy Anand climbed to the top and is also the player with the most wins

Karjakin still seems to be managing to float along as if in a normal tournament. In one of the reports a few days ago he was asked about sleep and said that he's been having at least nine hours. That was the first moment when I really thought he might qualify, but as he himself pointed out: the real tension of the finish has yet to set in, and we'll have to see how he copes then.

Sergey Karjakin has not lacked energy, but he has still slowed down

Caruana has survived some huge scares and is still well in contention. I always thought that one of the very best ways to start a tournament (especially for somebody as miserably prepared theoretically as myself) was to escape from a lost position, thus getting your hand in and putting half a point (or even a whole if it was a spectacular escape) on the score table. You could see the first nine rounds in Moscow as an extended version of this for Caruana (of course with a couple of big misses by him too) and he must be cheerful after that great escape against Giri.

As for Aronian he's now got quite a large hill (if not a mountain) to climb, though he is more than capable of course.

Levon Aronian suffered a setback in round nine, but he is more than capable of bouncing back

I guess I ought to make some sort of prediction. The final rounds of the Candidates, especially the famous last round in London, have shredded the players' nerves. If, and it's a big if, he can keep calm than Karjakin surely is favourite not only statistically but in fact - though whatever his state of mind this should involve not losing to Anand on Thursday.

Otherwise it's most likely between Caruana and Anand and if there's a result in their round ten game on Wednesday then it will probably be in favour of the next challenger.

About the author

Jon was born in 1956 and became a professional player in 1977 after graduating from Worcester College Oxford where he read mathematics. He became an IM in 1977 a GM in 1980 and was a member of the English Olympic team from 1980-2006.

Three times British Champion he played twice in the Candidates reaching the semi-final  (of what was then a knockout series of matches) in 1989 when he lost 4.5 - 3.5 to Jan Timman. He's twice been a second at the world championship for Nigel Short and then Viswanathan Anand against Garry Kasparov in London 1993 and New York 1995.

He's written the Observer (weekly) since 1993 and The Independent since 1998. With its closure (going online but without Jon on board) he's expanding online activity and is also now offering online tuition.

He likes puzzles especially (cryptic) crosswords and killer sudokus.

If you'd like to lambast Jon or otherwise he can be contacted via his email