Linares went on hiatus. Mainz disappeared, MTel seems to be gone, and Amber is definitely over. Someone recently tried to convince me this was all a coincidence, that despite the appearance of a trend, there was a distinct reason for each case. Plus, there are events like London and Bazna taking up some of the slack. I’m not entirely convinced, but it’s also true that Dortmund is still rolling and Bilbao is beefing up to a six-player event after last year’s recession-sized quad. (Though to do it they split the event with Sao Paulo and put the players on a cruise ship.) My anxiety about the dropoff off top events is also somewhat ameliorated by the fact that Hikaru Nakamura seems to be playing in just about every top event this year, including Bazna, Dortmund, and Bilbao.
My other gripe is more of a pet peeve I’ve whined about here several times, the increasing prevalence of the six-player double round-robin, the format used in all three of the aforementioned events. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it, and it has its virtues as a rigorous elite test, but it would be nice to see some balance with bigger fields that provide more dynamism and more room for fresh blood. That’s what makes Wijk aan Zee such a thrill ride. But more players, more money…
Meanwhile, there are always fun sprints like Leon, where world champion Vishy Anand just crushed Alexei Shirov 4.5-1.5 in a rapid chess match. Anand won twice with black in the Caro-Kann, which I think runs his personal record against Shirov in that defense to +6; that is, six wins, no losses, and five draws. That, as the kids say, is sick. Even sicker was that in game three, Shirov resigned after move 17. With white. Against the Caro-Kann. That’s enough to make you want to call in… sick. It was the second recent dominant rapid showing by Anand, who dusted off his occasional second Kasimjanov in Tashkent in March. I don’t know if Anand is planning on playing any classical chess before Bilbao, which isn’t until the end of September.
The Bazna Kings Tournament begins on June 11th. The official site isn’t easy to find and doesn’t have much in the way of information. The winner gets a spot in the Grand Slam final in Bilbao, unless it’s Carlsen or Nakamura, who are already qualified. I assume that would create another wildcard. Bazna should be a great one, with a fighting cast of stars plus the local Nisipeanu, who dangerous enough to keep the top-tenners honest. He’s usually in the cellar but he did beat Radjabov last year. The field this time is Carlsen, Ivanchuk, Nakamura, Ponomariov, Karjakin, Nisipeanu. It could be really great if Radjabov doesn’t draw all his whites in 20 moves. I think they had a 30-move minimum last year, which is better than nothing. Games start at 1530 local, 8:30am NY time.