Carlsen is the Candidate

The tie-break rule favoured Magnus Carlsen: he had won five games, against Vladimir Kramnik’s four, after the completion of the gruelling 14-round affair in the Candidates tournament, in London. P.K. Ajith Kumar takes stock.

Viswanathan Anand called it the best Candidates tournament in the history of chess. And the World champion from Chennai was absolutely right. The London tournament, from which the World No. 1 Magnus Carlsen of Norway earned the right to challenge Anand for the World title later this year, produced sparkling chess, plenty of excitement, great drama and a thrilling climax.

The Candidates tournament is the event to determine the player to face the World champion, who is seeded directly to the title clash. Yes, the World chess champion has enjoyed such a luxury since 1886 (though there have been a few other methods to decide the World champion).

In London, the world’s best chess talents, minus Anand of course, assembled for this year’s Candidates tournament, which was a double round-robin. That meant a gruelling 14-round affair.

At the end of it, Carlsen emerged the winner, quite expectedly. But the manner in which he did wasn’t entirely expected. In fact, Carlsen, 22, needed a bit of luck on the final day.

The Norwegian and Vladimir Kramnik, the former World champion from Russia, had gone into the final round on 8.5 points each. Carlsen’s opponent was Peter Svidler of Russia, while Kramnik, 15 years his senior, met Ukraine’s maverick genius, Vassily Ivanchuk.

Both Carlsen and Kramnik were expected to win, but neither did. Carlsen failed to handle the pressure of time and the huge expectations of his countrymen and fans across the chess world and lost his game. He was talking to reporters when news came that Kramnik also lost. The tie-break rule favoured Carlsen: he had won five games, against Kramnik’s four.

Carlsen, who is statistically the world’s strongest player of all time, posted wins against Boris Gelfand of Israel (twice), Russians Alexander Grischuk and Svidler as well as Teimour Radjabov of Azerbaijan. He lost three games, inside the last three rounds, to Ivanchuk and Svidler.

Kramnik’s victories were against Svidler, Grischuk, Radjabov and Aronian. He had begun his campaign rather sedately though, drawing his first seven games. He had just one loss in the entire tournament, to Ivanchuk in the final round. It was the way he came back in the second-half of the tournament that ensured Carlsen would not be a runaway champion of the 510,000 Euro event.

When Carlsen and Kramnik faced off, there was no decisive result on either occasion. The top-seed had joined the lead in the fourth round, catching up with Levon Aronian of Armenia, who was the first to get off the blocks, recording successive wins in rounds two and three.

At the end of the ninth round, Carlsen was the sole leader with six points, with Aronian half-a-point behind. He continued to lead till he fell to Ivanchuk in the 12th round, after which Kramnik nosed ahead to set up that intriguing finish.

Carlsen admitted he was not happy with the way he finished the tournament. “At the end everyone got tired and the quality dropped; anything could have happened then,” he said. “Overall I think I did pretty well. And I think I deserved to win.”

Few people would disagree with that statement.