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Will this year’s Linares be any different?

February 16, 2008

Ok, ok, Morelia-Linares, as it has been for the past couple of years. Three decisive games (with 3 Sicilians and one win each for white and black) in the first round certainly provokes hope that it will be. Linares, even more than the other super-tournaments, is a draw-haven. With a double round-robin format among 8 of the elite players resulting in only 4 games a day (I actually prefer their old format where they had 7 players in a double round-robin, with one player sitting out each day), it is very rare to get more than 1 decisive game a day.* In the past few editions, the one day of 3 decisive games was negated by the couple of days with all draws.** Let’s hope this one’s different.

It was interesting to see Anand bring out the Najdorf against Shirov. He seems to mostly prefer the Petroff and the Ruy nowadays, but seems to bring out the Najdorf against specific players – Carlsen and Judit Polgar come to mind. I think this is because all four of them are similar kinds of players (except maybe Polgar who isn’t as positionally savvy as the other three, I think), and he feels confident he can out-think them in any kind of position. I am especially keen on observing his upcoming two games with Carlsen – if I am not mistaken, he has beaten Carlsen in their last 3 meetings – twice in the same tournament last year and then last month at Wijk Aan Zee. Carlsen will of course be riding high after his tournament victory there.

Obviously, I am rooting for Anand to come good – this being his last tournament with classical time-controls before his match with Kramnik in October (I believe he is playing in the Monaco Amber Rapid-Blindfold tournament and probably a couple of other rapid tournaments before then), it is his chance to re-emphasize his World Champion status. Obviously, Kramnik is an extremely strong match player and has played many more matches of late. He will of course have to get past Kramnik’s Petroff (or worse, Berlin), and though he came close to it at Wijk last month, I think he will have to switch to 1.d4 to make inroads. With black, he’s recently moved from the QID to the Semi-Slav, which I think brings him a lot more winning opportunities. Let’s wait and see.

* Having said that, I prefer Linares to Dortmund. Though Dortmund might have more decisive games because they usually have one or two players not at the very top, the constant shuffling of formats (double round-robin, round-robin within groups followed by knockouts, and the current format with single round-robin) has left me disinterested. Moreover, the current format results in the tournament finishing before I’ve really had a chance to get into it as a fan.

* Linares was, of course, a very exciting event back in the day when first Karpov, then Kasparov, were dominating chess. Karpov’s famous +9, 11/13 performance in 1994 is the stuff of legend, while Kasparov’s domination there, year after year, is also simply mind-boggling.

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