The World Chess Candidates tournament was awesome. Action-packed, drama-filled, and suspense-ridden right up until the end. I’ve read a lot of reports from the chess side, and naturally about Karjakin’s fabulous win. But I haven’t read anything about the more human moments from the final day, which is a shame because they’re rare gems in the chess world and worth spreading. So here are the top five moments from yesterday that shed a more personal light on the tournament and its participants.
5. What j’adoube?
Aronian and Nakamura, two of the pre-tournament favourites, played out a hard-fought draw to both finish on 50%. Usually both these guys like to put up a bit of a wall in interviews during an event, masked by just a touch of bravado and indifference. But the wall broke down after their final game, and the last-round press conference with the two was refreshingly open and, to be honest, quite emotive. Hikaru was composed and philosophical about his tournament, humble about his second-half recovery, and very gracious towards Aronian. There was no sign of ill-feeling between the two after their earlier round
six controversy, which was exactly what the chess world needed to see. For me, the most touching moment was Aronian’s answer to the stock question of how he was feeling. “Honestly, I’m heartbroken,” he replied, which was a nice invitation to chess fans into the pressure and tension that these sorts of events demand. It was perhaps the single most endearing phrase he could have uttered.
4. He ain’t half bad
Poor Anish. You’d think the youngest competitor in the event would receive heaped praise for also being the only undefeated player, but alas. Instead, the Dutchman received his own hashtag: #girijokes. And some of them were, to put it plainly, awful. I’m sure there were no ill intentions, but the constant barrage of online and even in-person interview jabs at his drawing record would have grated on even the most thick-skinned of competitor. But Giri took it all in his stride. His reply to yet another irritating draw-related question in the final press conference was apt: “The subject is fine, but please, make them funny.” He followed this up with the perfect Twitter comeback: “Missed far too many chances, now time to draw(?!) some conclusions.” What a good sport.
3. A graceful fall from the Top
Beside Giri in the press conference was Veselin Topalov. The former world champion has suffered a tough fall from 2800 this year and finished the candidates dead last. But he was calm and pragmatic as he answered the obvious questions after the game. Topa reflected on Karpov’s declining strength as he aged, and mentioned other greats (“Lubo”), and humbly conceded that he should not have expected anything different to happen to him. After what must have been a rough fortnight for the former champ, it was refreshing to see him relaxed and humorous. I also think he was being even a bit too dismissive of his form slide; his analysis in the post-game interviews was absolutely superb and hinted to me that he’s still much, much stronger than his score in this tournament suggests. I wouldn’t be surprised if the remarkable Topa story has another chapter left in it.
2. At least there’s still cricket
All four press conferences on the final day were well-tempered and relaxed, but perhaps none more so than Svidler and Anand. The two chatted like old pals in a pub, which is how we’ve come to expect these guys to be. But the round before was a different story, with both players extremely fatigued and straining to keep their emotions in check in their respective interviews. Svidler had just had to defend a gruelling seven-hour endgame against Fabi and Anand had signed away all chances of first place with a tough draw against Giri, and the stress and lack of sleep was clearly evident. But yesterday was a different story, and it was nice to see, because it left fans with a cheerful and good-natured final impression of both players, which is fairer. And with India destroying Australia in the quarter final of the cricket world cup, there’s still something for both players to look forward to this week.
1. Cool as a Caruana
While Karjakin deservedly ended up winning the tournament by a full point, the score is a little flattering. Caruana had to take unnecessary risks in the final round due to what most chess fans (Sergey included) believed to be an unfair tie-break system. You’d think this fact, combined with the raw truth that yesterday’s game cost him half a million dollars, would leave Caruana just a tad upset. But he somehow maintained his pleasant, imperturbable demeanour right until the end. Unbelievable! Caruana played incredible chess throughout the tournament and showed remarkable composure despite some painful setbacks (twice missed wins against Topalov, a crucial missed RB v R win against Svidler, and yesterday’s blunder). He was as cool as a cucumber during the games, immediately afterwards, and in all interviews. Humble, pragmatic and collected, Caruana was an outstanding example of professionalism and sportsmanship throughout such a high-stakes event.
Overall, not only did the candidates tournament end up a success for the organisers and us spectators, but the ‘fateful eight’ did a good job of endearing themselves to chess fans. Can’t we do another one next week?