Who are the favourites for the Candidates in Elista?

by ChessBase
5/27/2007 – There are 16 participants in the first round of play at the Candidates Matches. They range from 16-year-old Magnus Carlsen to 48-year-old Mikhail Gurevich. Who has the best chances, who are the hot favourites? We asked Yasser Seirawan, who will be doing live commentary on the Playchess server. Read his take on the participants, visit his lectures and if necessary make him eat his words.

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The Candidates Matches for the 2007 World Chess Championship Tournament will be held in Elista, Russia, from May 26 to June 14, 2007. A total of 16 candidates play two rounds of six-game matches to fill four places in the 2007 World Championship in Mexico City. The prize fund is US $40,000 per match, most of the money ($320,000) coming from a personal fund of FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, FIDE ($160,000) and the general sponsor, Rosenergomash.

For the start of the Candidates Matches we asked our Playchess commentator and experienced grandmaster Yasser Seirawan to give his assessment of the sixteen participants in round one. Before we embark on Yasser's predictive journey let take a look at the pairings

1 Levon Aronian (ARM)
Magnus Carlsen (NOR)
8 Alexei Shirov
Michael Adams
3 Ruslan Ponomariov (UKR)
Sergei Rublevsky (RUS)
6 Alexander Grischuk (RUS)
Vladimir Malakhov (RUS)
2 Peter Leko (HUN)
Mikhail Gurevich (TUR)
7 Judith Polgar (HUN)
Evgeny Bareev (RUS)
4 Boris Gelfand (ISR)
Rustam Kasimjanov (UZB)
5 Etienne Bacrot (FRA)
Gata Kamsky (USA

The winner of 1-16 (Aronian-Carlsen) faces the winner of 8-9 (Adams-Shirov); the winner of 2-15 (Leko-Gurevich) meets winner of 7-10 (Polgar-Bareev); the winner of 3-14 (Ponomariov-Rublevsky) plays the winner of 6-11 (Grischuk-Malakhov); and the winner of 4-13 (Gelfand-Kasimjanov) faces the winner of 5-12 (Bacrot-Kamsky).

Seirawan says...

Levon Aronian, ARM, 24, 2759 vs Magnus Carlsen, NOR, 16, 2676

The most eagerly watched match will be the clash between Levon Aronian and Magnus Carlsen. Young Magnus has captured the hearts of Scandinavian fans and has been in excellent form of late. In particular, he impressed with his play in Morella/Linares. It was his ‘coming out party’ as Magnus well and truly joined the ranks of the 2700 club. While Magnus has improved at a rapid rate Levon is no slouch either. He decisively defeated Vladimir Kramnik in a recent rapid chess match that featured some incredibly high quality chess at such a time control. Of all the players in Elista, Levon will be the most annoyed that the matches didn’t take place in October 2006 as originally scheduled by the FIDE, as he is facing a much improved opponent. I make Levon to be the favorite but the match will likely hinge on a tactical slugfest where the players will trade a victory or even two. Expect a high number of decisive games for this one.

Alexei Shirov, 34, ESP, 2699 vs Michael Adams, 36, ENG, 2734

Michael Adams and Alexey Shirov is really a match of fire versus ice. While this one is a toss-up Mikey’s solid style makes him the favorite in match play. Alexey will have to come to the encounter well prepared, as the choice of openings will play a decisive role in the outcome. The player who is able to impose his style best wins.

Peter Leko, 27, HUN, 2749 vs Mikhail Gurevich, 48, TUR, 2635

Peter Leko has been in the world’s top five players for many years, while Mikhail Gurevich has shown flashes of being one of the world’s very best players. Peter’s consistently high quality play makes him a clear favorite.

Judit Polgar, 30, HUN, 2727 vs Evgeny Bareev, 40, RUS, 2643

In recent interviews Evgeny Bareev has referred to his work as a chess trainer at his school. A bad sign for a professional player. When one tries to explain what you are doing and how to do it you find you’ve lost your own touch. While I make Judith Polgar to be a slight favorite Bareev’s toughness is legendary and well deserved. Again, opening play will be a decisive factor in the match and Evgeny will have to work hard to keep Judith of balance.

Ruslan Ponomariov, 23, RUS, 2717 vs Sergei Rublevsky, 32, RUS, 2680

After winning the FIDE World Championship in 2000, Ruslan Ponomariov had a bad patch where he fell out of the world’s top ten. Now he is playing better but has not, in my view, fully recovered from events that swirled around his aborted match with Garry Kasparov. If he plays with the same consistency that made him World Champion, Ruslan is a clear favorite. Sergei Rublevsky played the role of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde for the Russian Team in the 2006 Turin, Olympiad. Capable of outstanding chess Sergei could pull of an upset if he can capture the form that made him Champion of Russia.

Alexander Grischuk, 23, 2717 vs Vladimir Malakhov, 26, RUS, 2679

Along with Viswanathan Anand, Alexander Grischuk is one of the most talented players that I’ve ever watched. A few years ago I would have reckoned that he would easily defeat Alexander Malakhov. Now I’m not so sure. Grischuk was recently quoted in New In Chess magazine as calling the FIDE format for the World Championship, ‘hilarious and ridiculous.’ A sentiment I strongly share. As a result Grischuk has turned to Poker where he has been quite successful. If Grischuk’s heart is no longer in the chess world, Malakhov could easily make an upset. Caissa is a jealous mistress and doesn’t like competitors. A toss-up.

Boris Gelfand, 38, ISR, 2733 vs Rustam Kasimdzhanov, 27, 2677

Boris Gelfand has been in the top ten for decades. He has been incredibly unlucky in the various FIDE World Championship cycles, but he is always a serious threat for the highest honors. While I make Boris to be a small favorite his opponent Ruslan Kasimjanov has been there and done that, winning the FIDE World Championship in 2004. The confidence of knowing exactly what it takes to win cannot be underestimated. Expect a very tough match.

Etienne Bacrot, 24, FRA, 2709 vs Gata Kamsky, 32, USA, 2705

Like Grischuk, Etienne Bacrot has also been lured into the Poker world. I haven’t heard much or even seen many of his games of late. Funnily, while Etienne may be making his exit from chess, Gata Kamsky is making his return. Two years ago, Etienne would be a strong favorite. Now my nod is in Gata’s favor. Again a tough match where form will play the decisive factor. I wouldn’t expect scintillating opening novelties by either player, just good, hard grinding games. Gata recently played in the Sofia, M-Tel tournament where he “touched the pieces” against very good competition. While his final result wasn’t great, Gata will take comfort that he fought well in some truly miserable positions. Gata should go to Elista in high spirits.

Live coverage by Yasser Seirawan on Playchess

Playchess commentator GM Yasser Seirawan

The games of the Candidates Matches, which start at 15:00h local time (13:00h CEST), will be broadcast live on the official site and on Playchess.com server. On the latter there will be daily live audio commentary by GM Yasser Seirawan, with a minimum of three one hour lectures per round, beginning approximately thirty minutes after play has started. For a charge of ten Ducats (about one Euro) a visitor gets a twelve hour pass to listen to the live lectures. Furthermore, GM Seirawan will be awarding daily prizes of Gambit books to the person or persons who have been of the greatest assistance. "We are interested in verbal commentary about a given position (not computer generated analysis), as well as witty insights," he says. "Each and every one is welcome to join in the fun!”

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