Tashkent – an opinion

It is not very well hidden that I am a Boris Gelfand supporter and have been so for a very long time. For example, I was in Moscow in 2012 to see him become World Champion, which sadly did not happen. But boy oh boy, it was close!

I am not fully into the point system for the Grand Prix, but it seems possible that after winning in Baku and ending in last place in Tashkent, Boris will have to qualify for the Candidates through the World Cup (as he did in 2009) if he is to get another shot at the title in this cycle.

Last night I was checking Twitter, seeing comments from Nakamura, Giri, Caruana and others. No one seemed to be happy with the Tashkent event, though not openly pointing out that this is an appalling way to decide who should be able to fight for the World Championship.

In Baku, where all the players were fresh, we saw exciting chess (at times, as it is with our game). Andreikin, a brilliant rapid player and generally a talented player, finished 11th. Three weeks later he won in Tashkent.

Yes, you can have the opinion that Andreikin is great and what did not work for him in Baku, worked for him in Tashkent. You can also question me on my support of Boris and how great I see him (this is an argument we can take another time). But let us look at the performance of Caruana. Fabiano has been the big star of 2014 and might very well win the Chess Oscar (unless Anand wins in Sochi). In Tashkent he was close to unrecognisable.

I am personally rather disappointed. I thought the previous Grand Prix series was fascinating, but this one is essentially in tatters. It is shorter (four tournaments instead of six, with each player playing three instead of four) and one of the four has turned into a Mickey Mouse event – or a combination of Chess and Iron Man if you like.

At least people are finally right that Gelfand is old. If this is the future of chess, players of 40+ will struggle. But chess too will struggle.

Recently Mig stated on Twitter that top 10 has gotten younger. We did a bit of study here some time ago and maybe with 1-2 years over a 40 year period (if I remember correctly), but also with Gelfand, Anand, Kramnik and Topalov, players deemed old by any standard, still very strong forces in top tournaments, and with the sad loss of Kasparov not playing. Do anyone really believe Kasparov would not be in top 10 if he was still active? Add him in and the average age is close to the oldest ever.

Basically, my points are:

a) Tashkent was a disgrace
b) Do not believe about the myths about age. You lose some things and gain others. Eventually you will fall apart, but much later than people would like you to think…

18 thoughts on “Tashkent – an opinion”

  1. Fair call on most of this- the winners, apart from the top 3, are those (Grischuk in particular)who didn’t have to play in Tashkent. I don’t know the exact dates when the players were informed of the schedule, but I suspect many had already made commitments before the World Cup dates were publicised. With hindsight they may not have done that.

    But as I typed this I can see some benefit for those who make it through.

    2 successive Grand prix are similar in length to a World Cup which has about 16 games classical with a potential 7 extra days play with play-offs all within a 23 day period, equally arduous. The standard of opposition is lower in the earlier rounds of a World Cup, but all opponents are dangerous and the pressure is greater – one mistake and you could be going home. It also seems harder to prepare as players sometimes don’t know who they will be playing the next day, and it gets too difficult to prepare beyond about round 3.

    I think that something like World Cup (or 2 x Grand prix) are good preparation events (physically as well as mentally) for a candidates tournament and ultimately a world championship, where I imagine the peripheral nonsense (press conferences, political and sponsor obligations), and its draining effect, are magnified. Even if the process was unpleasant, the experience for those who qualify will be invaluable. Caruana will be in the next cycle (either by GP or rating) and though he may not like it now, he will know a lot more about his physical and mental conditioning than he did before.

    We may see higher quality chess with nicely separated, scheduled events, but I think that there needs to be a physical element to it as well. I’m not a particular fan of Carlsen or his style of play, but I admire the fact that he makes use of his physical superiority, and that his performance doesn’t tail off in the 5th or 6th hour of a game. Fischer did the same. Whoever qualifies will need to be able to last the pace.

    Either way, I think we agree the players need to know well in advance what the events should be and be able to sort their schedules accordingly. i.e. If the World Cup is to be persisted with, the dates for the next schedule need to be published now, and stuck to (which I fear is too much to ask of the current administation). If two grand prix happen to be scheduled close together, the players can factor it in to their preparation and schedules.

  2. Also last minute change from Tehran to Tbilisi was rather unfortunate for Boris.

    If it was Tbilisi from beginning then he can choose his three Grand Prix tournament in more suitable way. While it was Tehran he likely feels that he don’t have choice but play in Tashkent.

    Now, tomorrow Boris will start third tournament in row…

    — s.

  3. @slavo – never even thought about the Tehran change…

    Do players get a choice on which GP events they play? Or is there organisers’ perogative about making sensitive choices (I guess Aronian in Baku would be another example, were that to occur)?

  4. These are long tournaments with relatively few rest days and the decision to hold two of them back to back is very strange.

    FIDE would argue that the players had the choice of which events they could play but Gelfand definitely didn’t. I note that the UK Foreign Office advise against all but essential travel to Iran and I suspect the US and western European countries advise the same so why would Nakamura, Caruana, Giri, Vachier Legrave choose to play in Tehran. This has also resulted in the Tiblisi (formerly Tehran) event being materially weaker than the other three given the absences of those players mentioned above.

    If I was conspiracy theory minded I would say that this was a deliberate ploy to disadvantage those competitors from the anti-FIDE federations……

    The most amazing thing is how muted the post-event protests that Jacob referred to were from the players! I guess you don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

    It will be interesting to see how Gelfand gets on in the Petrosian Memorial. I suspect he will try to use his formidable opening prep to half-out as soon as and as often as possible.

  5. Maybe the fact that the two events were back to back explains not only some of the, dare I say, dull games (excluding the final round Jobava v Mamedyarov of course) but also the friction at the Press conference between Jobava and Giri unless the pair have history, I half expected to watch my first chessboxing match 🙂

  6. @Trefor
    I am not aware of any history between the two, but I have once offered Jobava that we could continue the discussion outside, should he wish. All in jest, as he understood after a few seconds. Truly one of my favourite moments of all time.

  7. @Matt
    We have seen in the past how brutally FIDE will deal with dissidents. The Kasparov – Ponomariov/Kasimdzhanov match was famously cancelled by Putin. But others have also been dealt with quite unfairly. I think no one wants to risk a career breaking move.

    There has been some talk about Filatov being moved into position as a successor. This would indeed be good news. Although a part of the Russian establishment, he is competent and cooperative in my observation; although he did not smile when I shook his hand… (I thanked him for sponsoring the 2012 match, something I am still very grateful for. I find it harder to believe that Ilyumshinov ever sponsored anything from his own pockets.)

  8. Two Grand Prixs spaced 5 days apart was a braindead decision on someone’s part.

    And that’s as far as I can get before the urge to use more colorful language takes over my typing fingers.

  9. About chess and age.
    I feel that over 25/30 memory starts downfall, but a I dont know scientific evidence.
    Maybe Jacob working with different players have an opinion about this.
    Thank you

  10. I agree with point 1). As well as being too soon to the previous event and hence unfair on the players, the whole thing was about as obscure as it could have been. Virtually no spectators, and not even a live broadcast.

  11. @Ramiro
    If it’s about new material aka material in a new area of knowledge this is well established. If working in a known field there is a lot of evidence against this.

    – Korchnoi learns a new opening system. A 20yo CM learns the same opening system. Who will learn faster and deeper?
    – A 70yo 2400 player will learn a new opening system. A 20yo 2400 player learns the same system. Who will learn faster and deeper?

    According to my knowledge the level of expertise and age play their part. And you will find very soon additional factors like health and life conditions. But the main factor should be the level of expertise, even if there are k.o.-criteria at certain levels of other factors.

  12. @Ramiro
    I think it is quite easy to imagine a graph with acquired knowledge on one axis and speed of learning/thinking (calculation!?) on the other axis and find the perfect age for a chess player. Where this goes is at best a wild estimate. The idea that it has gone down is dubious, I find, but I am often laughed out of the room, without argument or evidence, of course. I am not saying this argument does not exist, I have just not seen it.

    On top of this it is of course individual. When is a player best? We used to think 35. But for Korchnoi it was later, for Fischer it was 29, for Kasparov it was probably 1996 (33). In the two latter cases, it is clear that they both lost interest. And I think this is a serious point. People lose ambition with age. But if they don’t, why should they not prosper? Gelfand, Korchnoi, Anand and others. Not a clear cut question, but an interesting on I am sure we shall return to.

  13. I agree that age is not such a decisive factor as some would have you believe, certainly not in the 40s anyway. I personally think if some of the names Aagaard metioned were motivated and determined they could be competitive up to around age 60-65. I think Kasparov is the kind of person that if motivated to play chess could be a top 10 player at this age and perhaps even beyond? He is of course one of a kind though.

  14. On your iron man remark: If chess considers itself to be a sport then playing two tournaments back to back should not be an issue for a chess professional with sufficient awareness of physical preparation. To use your comparison: If Gelfand would be capable of running a half marathon only (I am sure he is not) he would have performed much better than he did.
    Nethertheless I agree many aspects of Tashkent can be criticized. But the GP format with every tournament played counting fully for the final standing is an improvement. And Nakamura did adapt to it very well and might qualify in the end.

    1. We can always change what chess is. But call it something else then. To have some pseudo-considerations about “chess as a sport” thrown in solves nothing, I think. These tournaments are meant to be 11 round tournaments. Not 22 round tournaments. And Jobava will not play any 22 round events at all, as well as a few others. So what we are having is that those who have just run a marathon, will have to compete with others who have also run a marathon and some who has not, in another marathon on the next day. Never mind who you rout for; it is not equal conditions as a start.

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