But it’s not so great for chess. Rapids are often fun, the lack of time and impact on the rating list allow the players to take creative liberties they might otherwise shy away from. But mostly it’s a simple equation of less time to think resulting in inferior moves. Rapid is probably at its best in casual events like the Botvinnik Memorial show that just completed in Moscow. Its worst aspects come out when pressure is added, such as at the World Cup in Moscow. The idea, often touted by Kirsan and others despite decades of evidence to the contrary, that rapid chess is the sponsor-friendly savior of the chess world needed to be buried long ago. FIDE has been trotting out these giant KO circuses since 1997 and their host sites have become increasingly distanced from the real world of commercial sponsorship. Instead of learning, FIDE seems to be saying that if we just cannibalize the sport more, that if we just remove more of what makes chess special, it will become a big deal like tennis or poker.
This, of course, is moronic in both directions. One, chess isn’t going to be a big mass-market hit no matter how stupid they try to make it. Two, dumbing down an intellectual pastime to make it more “exciting” is a catastrophe. You push away the people you should be attracting, those who are interested in associating their city, company, or brand with the world’s premier mind sport. And you will still never attract a significant number of the mainstream sports fans who have no interest in mind sports. No matter how much Kirsan and his pals try to destroy it, the image of chess is too strong for that. So we may as well make the best of it and go with our strengths. Plus, the huge scholastic push going on worldwide will continue to raise all boats, if slowly.
So, there was some rapid chess in Moscow with the four top-rated players in the world. World champ Anand, whose legendary rapid prowess has taken some blows lately, took clear first place with 4.5/6, though few of the games were gems fit for a crown. To be fair, according to the event description the players were interrupted during the games to talk to the audience about the position. This would be bad enough in classical, but in rapid it’s akin to stopping the 200m race after 100m to ask questions of the runners and then starting them off again. “So Mr. Bolt, how do you think the race is shaping up so far?” “Well, pant pant, I got out of the blocks well, pant pant, and was really ready to turn on the jets when, pant pant, I had to stop and talk to you.” Of course that’s not realistic. Usain Bolt wouldn’t be breathing hard after just 100m. But you get my drift, and it was pretty clear the players at the Botvinnik Memorial were in the same boat.
They did play with the great deal of verve and imagination, it’s just that such creativity should be tested in the fires of accuracy to make for great chess, and accuracy requires concentration. Aronian’s win over Carlsen today involved two speculative exchange sacs and wonderfully sustained pressure on the white position. Great stuff, maybe even brilliant. But had Carlsen played 28.f4, with e5 and f5 to follow, Aronian’s plan might have looked quite a bit less brilliant. That was just the start of Mr. Carlsen’s Very Bad Day, the first of three losses to go with one on the first day to put the world #1 into a winless last place with 1.5/6. Ouch. The frustrated Carlsen went from bad to worse when he tried to shake Kramnik with 1.Nf3 b5!?. He only succeeded in frustrating his own development and Big Vlad rolled through the black position like a Soviet tank through Czechoslovakia in 1968. I enjoyed the calm rook lift 13.Re3 against Black’s unprotected kingside, even though the computer ruins things by pointing out 13.Qa4 won material. 13..Bxc3 14.Bxd7! Nc5 15.Bxc8 Nxa4 16.Bxb7 Rb8 17.bxc3 Rxb7 18.Be7 picks off the exchange. Ta-dah! Not a line that would pass a Turing test, to be sure.
Aronian has had a surprising amount of success bamboozling Anand in tactical assaults in the past, but it didn’t work today. Vishy handled everything the Armenian could throw at his king and after a few mutual inaccuracies, collected his second full point from him. Aronian had a last chance to keep things going when Anand blundered with 33.Kf1 instead of the 33.g4. Black had the cool 33..Qxh5 and either a very unbalanced 2R vs Q comes up or the wild fight continues. Carlsen tried desperately to get a win for pride against Anand’s Berlin in the final round but only managed to collect his third bagel for the day. In contrast, Aronian did manage to get a little back in the last round against Kramnik. Aronian was at his active best, temporarily giving up a central pawn for development and pulling a pretty king walk across the board in the four-rook endgame. Nice. The win also allowed Aronian to pull even with Kramnik in the standing, leaving both on an even 3/6 score.
Speaking of rapid brilliancies, I missed Bacrot’s cavalcade of sacs against Filippov in the tiebreaks yesterday. White’s position was already pretty dubious, but Bacrot toss at least three pieces during fireworks that lasted 15 moves, starting with 22..Rxe2. Great fun, unless you’re Filippov.