BOTW: No Match for World Champion

The 2018 Candidates tournament finished in Berlin this week, with Fabiano Caruana winning his last two games to top the field with +5 = 8 -1 and earn a match with World Champion Magnus Carlsen in November in London. 

This year's Candidates may well have been the most exciting ever: with very combative play from most of the players (especially Kramnik), few short draws, 20 of the 56 games being decisive, and four players in the running for 1st place going into the last round.

While all eyes ended up on Caruana, it's also worth looking at those who did not earn a World Championship match this week. At the top (bottom) of that list is Lev Aronian, who finished last with +1 = 7 - 6, and lost 30 FIDE rating points to drop from 5th to 13th in the world. While this may not be the end of Aronian's title hopes, it is another missed opporunity for the 35-year old, and another Candidate's failure on his resume: 

  • 2007 - Mexico: 6/14, 2nd last place in Championship tournament.
  • 2011 - Kazan: lost to Grischuk in the 1/4 finals (rapid TB games)
  • 2013 - London: 8/14, =3rd-4th.
  • 2014 - Khanty-Mansiysk:  6.5 /14, 2nd last place
  • 2015 - Baku: eliminated in round 2 of World Cup qualifier by Alex Areschenko, but...
  • 2016 - Moscow: ...gets into Candidates as sponsor's wildcard; finishes =4th-7th of 8.
  • 2018 - Berlin: 4.5/14, last place. 

Our Best of the Web this week focuses on two great players who, despite their best efforts, never got to play a match against the world's best player.... 

 Paul Morphy (1837-1884)

Admittedly, there was no official World Championship in Morphy's day, but everyone knew who the best players were and where to find them. So, after winning the US Championship in 1857, and unable to practice law in Louisanna until he was over 23, Morphy sailed to Europe to challenge the world's best.

The one player Morphy didn't get to play was the one he crossed the Atlantic for: Howard Staunton. Staunton had been considered Europe's best player since winning a match in 1843 against France's leading player (Saint-Amant) and winning several matches after that. But Staunton avoided playing Morphy, and blamed their failure to meet on Morphy. 

So Morphy played other European masters and defeated everyone who dared play him: Löwenthal (+9 =2 -3), Harrwitz (+5 =1 -2), de Riviere (+9 =0 -3). Most importantly, he beat Adolf Anderssen (+7 =2 -2), who had been recognzed as Europe's top player since winning the first international tournament in London in 1851, beating Staunton +4 =0 -1 in the semi-final along the way. 

The Staunton-Morphy affair has long been a sour-tasting "what if" for chess fans, but from a modern perspective it is hard to understand the fuss. In 1858 Staunton was famous as a chess writer and for the piece design that still bears his name, but his major playing success was 15 years in the past, he was crushed by Anderssen in 1851, he hadn't played a serious match in 5 years, and his only recent tournament (Birmingham 1858) was a flop (eliminated 2-0 in the 2nd round by the runner-up). With such a record, it is strange to modern eyes that anyone would think the 48-year-old Staunton would be a worthy adversay for Morphy, and not vice-versa, as Staunton had tried to make it seem.

Morphy's trip to Europe, the matches, and the Staunton affair are chronicled -- not wholly without admiraing bias -- in "The Exploits and Triumphs, in Europe, of Paul Morphy, the Chess Champion" by Morphy's secretary and travelling companion, Frederick Milnes Edge.

The book is in the public domain, and can be downloaded and listened to thanks to LibreVox, a site which collects and encourages the recording of public domain audio books. 

Like all LibreVox recordings, the mp3s are free, but they vary in quality: the readers are not professional, but are devoted fans. In this case, you can expect a few appalling mispronunciations of French towns and names, but the story comes through unscathed, and you can enjoy it while driving to a tournament this summer. Time: 5 hrs 38 min.

Suggestion: unless you are an extreme chess junkie, follow the author's invitation to "skip" chapters 4 and 5 on "Chess in England": long-time club players may recognize a theme in the moveable feast that is the history of London chess clubs, but the rest of the story is more enjoyable.

 Paul Keres (1916-75)

For the 100th anniversary of Paul Keres's birth, published an 8-part biography and games collection of the great Estonian. The last part appeared in January 2018, and the whole series is now available online (link below). The series is by Joosep Grents, a History BA from Charles University. It has plenty of high-quality photos, clickable games, and lots of chess history.

Paul Keres was a three-time Soviet Champion, one of the very best players in the world from the late 1930s through late 1960s, but never got a match for the World Championship.

Keres won the 1938 AVRO tournament (=1st with Reuben Fine, but ahead on TB), and was in negotiaitons for a match with World Champion Alexander Alekhine when WW2 started. Alekhine died in 1946 while still Champion, and Keres finished 3rd at the 1948 World Championship tournament in the Hague and Moscow, which Botvinnik won to take over the vacant title.

Keres finished 2nd at the next four Candidates Tournaments: Zeurich '53; Amsterdam 1956; Bled 1959; and Curacao 1962. The winners of each of the last three went on to defeat the World Champion, Mikhail Botvinnik. At the 1959 Candidates Tournament, Keres scored 18½/28 but still finished 1½ points behind Tal, despite beating Tal +3 =0-1 in their four games. Tal, of course, went on to beat Botvinnik in 1960, becoming the youngest World Champion. 

Keres died at the age of 59 while on his way home after winning a tournament in Vancouver, now the "Keres Memorial".

The Best link to the 8-part series is to the last article in the series, as it has links to all seven earlier parts:

PS: Keres was also an exceptional annotator. If you can find it, check out "Power Chess: Great Grandmaster Battles from Russia", a collection of 21 games (+1 study) he annotated for Chess Life between 1968-75, or the recently translated and published "World Chess Championship 1948" which Kasparov praised highly, (review here).


 2018 Grenke Chess Classic
March 31-April 9, 2018 

The Grenke Chess Classic hosts two major events starting this weekend: an Open Swiss with over 1560 players (and counting), and a 10-player RR featuring Carlsen, Caruana, Aronian, Anand and MVL. While the RR can't hope to be as thrilling as the 2018 Candidates, it has the first (and only?) match up between World Champion Magnus Carlsen and Challenger Fabiano Caruana before their World Championship match in London in November. It also gives perennial also-ran Lev Aronian a chance to rebound...