Sunday 8 March 2009

Grischuk and Ivanchuk tie for first in Linares

Alexander Grischuk and Vassily Ivanchuk have tied for first place in the 2009 Linares Tournament, with Grischuk gaining the first place trophy on tie break. The tie-breaker between the two players was Number of Wins with Grischuk scoring 3 wins (and a loss), to Ivanchuk's 2 wins. Now coming equal first in a 14 round event scoring only 2 wins might seem a little surprising, but not if you look at the make up of the tournament.
It is not as though the tournament was made up of drawish players, and indeed there were a number of exciting games. However, such tournaments tend to fall victim to the paradox of strength. While it is clearly desirable to have the best chess players playing each other, as this should result in higher quality chess, the fact that the players are so evenly matched in terms of ability means that a draw is the most likely result. Consequently tournaments like Linares often end up with 65% to 75% of the games being drawn. Having a more varied field (ie players with lower rating included) might result in more decisive games, but the chess may turn out to be more one-sided as well.
This effect is also apparent in big swiss tournament as well. The games that the spectators really want to see (between any of the top 4 to 6 seeded players) are often the games with the least amount of fight, as the players themselves are protecting their tournament position. Of course this isn't always the case, but the exceptions usually depend on either a surprise leader, or a particularly aggressive player. But as Linares has shown (both this year and in previous years) even an attacking player such as Kasparov hasn't saved the tournament from this problem.

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