From the Arctic Circle
The World Cup was held in a small hotel near Tromso airport: given the eye watering prices in Norway it was suggested to me by a FIDE official that the room rates would have been excessive in the better hotels in the centre where the Olympiad will be sited, although this seemed to be contradicted by the amounts journalists were paying to stay there. The local organisers and staff were helpful, but the big problem was the food which was not good at all in the hotel, and with only a few shopping centre eating spots as other options nearby, the culinary situation was undesirable. I was one of the players who suffered with an unpleasant stomach bug which meant I was often forced to skip meals before the games. Of course playing whilst sick is an inevitable occurrence for any professional player but it was annoying at such a big event.
The chess organisation could have been better, the only announcement of note at the player’s meeting was that each individual tiebreak match would begin their second game 10 minutes after the finish of the first as at the previous Cup. This was then abruptly reversed in an announcement just before the clocks were started for the first tiebreak. The airport style security checks before entering the playing hall were also unwelcome, especially in combination with the absurd zero tolerance. The checks were in any case of dubious efficiency as journalists were often not checked and could mix freely with the players inside. If FIDE want to genuinely combat computer cheating, the key first move is to introduce some serious penalties rather than the pathetic ‘punishments’ that have been handed down to those that have been caught so far. A minimum ban of 5 years with the possibility of fines in addition to the loss of prize money and the stripping of all FIDE titles would be a good start.
I wasn’t thrilled to be paired with an underrated Chinese player Wan Yunguo in the first round, and disappointingly missed a chance to press in the first game. After playing well for a while I made an odd oversight:
The second game was also drawn and we headed to tiebreaks. I was initially doing well, then in trouble in the first game before it finished in a draw, but I won the second straight out of the opening, my preparation being one positive in the event.
In round 2 I had a pleasant edge in the first game against Yuriy Kryvoruchko but missed endgame chances although given the short time control it was an easy error to make.
In the second game I had good prep again and we agreed an early draw. I was also pressing in the third game but my opponent resisted typically robustly and I couldn’t convert. Several commentaries suggested I was outplayed in the next game (Chess Today was an honourable exception). I can only imagine they didn’t actually look at the game as in fact I just self destructed in a comfortable position due to a very bad error which is still rather painful.
There has been a lot of talk about how much luck is required in this event,it seems to be popular to consider the KO format particularly random, but I’ve never really found this to be the case in any of the matches I played. You decide your own destiny by how you react in the critical moments for better or worse. It is true that some matches are extremely close and the loser can reasonably feel unfortunate but this applies to very few games.
It was rather depressing for me to have to head back so early, but I have been impressed by the inspired pairing of Susan Polgar and Lawrence Trent in the commentary room whilst watching at home. However there frequently seems to be a problem with the clock times which don’t display accurately.