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Candidates Countdown: GM Rogers on London Print E-mail
By GM Ian Rogers   
March 15, 2013
GM Magnus Carlsen, Photo Cathy Rogers
A day before the start of the most important tournament of 2013, the Candidates Tournament, the main lecture theatre of London's Institute of Engineering and Technology was a frenzy of activity.

The IET, sitting next to the Thames, honors many of the great engineering minds of the past, with busts of Lord Kelvin (of absolute zero fame) and Michael Faraday, who built the first electric motor. FIDE President Kirsan Iljumzhinov also pointed out that IET was only 100 meters from the venue where the Immortal Game between Anderssen and Kieseritsky was played.
In the early afternoon of Thursday the IET's lecture theatre “looked like a bomb site” said one observer, but soon the outlines of a playing hall began to take shape.

A team of carpenters busied themselves assembling tables for the players, while other workmen raised posters of the big event and checked that the screen above the players would give a clear view of the game positions to the audience in the theatre.

prep1.jpg Chief arbiter Werner Stubenvoll dropped in to check the unusual lighting system and was suitably impressed while video chief Macauley Peterson made sure that his cameras were well placed to pick up all the action, both in the main hall and in the commentary room.

The entrance and commentary room saw a display of the so-called World Championship design chess set; a stylish design, though with the king looking a fraction too similar to the standard queen for this critic's eye.

Photo Cathy Rogers

As the construction of the stage was going on, some IET staff ventured into the theatre and tried to work out what was going on.

“It seems like the London division of a chess tournament,” said one, seeing the World Chess London Candidates Tournament sign.

“I suppose so,” said another. “I hear they are only going to be here for a couple of days.” (I felt obliged to let them know that they were to lose their lecture hall for almost three weeks.)

As dusk fell in freezing London the players, their representatives and the arbiters started arriving for a 5.00pm technical meeting with the organizers in the Kelvin Room, a lounge filled with comfortable chairs and bar service.

The meeting was largely uncontroversial. When it was mentioned that Grischuk, the lone smoker, would need to leave the playing area and go outside the building in order to smoke, Aronian spoke for all when he said that they had known Sasha for years and they trusted him completely.

The specially designed chess sets were however a source of some unease amongst the players, who had been given sets to use in their hotel rooms. Apart from the squares being slightly too small for the (rather attractive) pieces, Grischuk, in particular found the white logo situated around the e0 square seriously distracting.

AGON chief Andrew Paulson, whose company had commissioned the sets and were hoping that they would become as ubiquitous as Staunton pattern sets, said that he was “happy to hear [the players'] opinions” but his body language indicated that he thought it was not necessary to make any changes.
Soon discussion turned to the trivial: did the snacks need to be on stage with the players – Kramnik thought not – and could Gelfand secure an espresso instead of a regular coffee – yes by asking the arbiter.

The technical meeting lasted for little more than half an hour after which the official opening ceremony began. More than 100 people attended – players, seconds, journalists, English chess' leading figures, FIDE officials and Azeri officials – SOCAR, the Azeri oil company is the major sponsor of the tournament.

 SOCAR's massive sponsorship of the prize fund is the price tag for Teimour Radjabov to gain entry to the Candidates tournament, though the Azeri star, currently ranked number four in the world, is far from an undeserving wild card.) Even the  British armed forces chess club made an appearance, supporting Carlsen since he was the only player from a NATO country. By halfway through the evening the men with multiple stripes on their uniforms were hanging out so much with the world number one that at times they looked like his security detail.

Since the pairings had already been made a week earlier – making sure that there would be no all-Russian match-ups in the final rounds of the tournament – there was little left to do except listen to speeches from Paulson and FIDE President Kirsan Iljumzhinov and drink champagne (or, for most of the players, something non-alcoholic) and mingle. The crowd were serenaded by an unorthodox jazz trio – with saxophone, double bass and keyboard – and plentiful hors d'oeuvres were provided to accompany the drink.

The players all looked in great shape: Carlsen with his designer stubble, Svidler looking trim taut and terrific having lost 20 kilos in preparation for the Candidates tournament. Recently married Radjabov arrived with his wife. Gelfand looked just as relaxed as he did during his 2012 world title challenged and came with his trusty second Alexander Huzman.

Gradually most players drifted away, to prepare for the next day's encounter but jazz fan Levon Aronian, stayed on with his girlfriend Arianne Caoili until he remembered that he had the biggest job of all on Friday – a game against Magnus Carlsen.

The Norwegian would,
of course, be the hot favorite to win in London, although Ladbrokes bookmakers' odds of 1/2 (with Aronian next favorite at 4/1, eight times longer odds) seem ridiculous.

The Players

Name                   Country    Rating Age
1.Magnus Carlsen        Norway      2872  22
2.Vladimir Kramnik      Russia      2810  37
3.Levon Aronian         Armenia     2809  30
4.Teimour Radjabov      Azerbaijan  2793  26
5.Alexander Grischuk    Russia      2764  29
6.Vassily Ivanchuk      Ukraine     2757  43
7.Peter Svidler         Russia      2747  36
8.Boris Gelfand         Israel      2740  44

All games begin at 10am AEST   

Round 1     Friday    15/03/2013
Round 2    Saturday    16/03/2013
Round 3    Sunday    17/03/2013
Round 4    Tuesday    19/03/2013
Round 5    Wednesday    20/03/2013
Round 6    Thursday    21/03/2013
Round 7    Saturday    23/03/2013
Round 8    Sunday    24/03/2013
Round 9    Monday    25/03/2013
Round 10    Wednesday    27/03/2013
Round 11    Thursday    28/03/2013
Round 12    Friday    29/03/2013
Round 13    Sunday    31/03/2013
Round 14    Monday    01/04/2013

April second will be used for tie-break matches if necessary, though given the three tie-breaking methods being used before a playoff would be invoked, Svidler said that any such match would occur only after a “freak of nature”.

Where to Watch the Games

There are at least two official tournament web sites - http://london2013.fide.com/and http://new.livestream.com/WorldChess

The curious, but hopefully unofficial given their spelling of Shedule, site http://candidates2013.com/   has also sprung up.

The official site(s) will feature video of the games as well as commentary by the English duo of Laurence Trent and Malcolm Pein. Trent will be joined by Nigel Short in later rounds.

Playchess  and Internet Chess Club  have their usual varied teams of audio commentators, with Yasser Seirawan and Daniel King featuring in the line-up of both broadcasters.

After the games, various chess bloggers will have an opinion – and often some fine analysis - but for accuracy and sober assessments, The Week in Chess  and Chess Vibes  are the first port of call.

Also look for further reportage by GM Ian Rogers on the Candidates in CLO and in Chess Life Magazine.