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    Monday
    Apr272015

    Garry Kasparov Wins the Battle of the Legends 8.5-1.5

    As already noted in the previous post, Garry Kasparov went through Nigel Short like a hot knife through butter in their Sunday games, blanking Short 5-0 and winning the overall contest by a massive 8.5-1.5 score.

    Game 6, the first played on Sunday, was a rapid game, and it was competitive. Short enjoyed an advantage most of the way, but his 33rd move was a mistake. Kasparov's minor pieces soon dominated, and White's extra exchange played no role; in fact, Kasparov's 38th move, declining the opportunity to regain the exchange, was the right thing to do. Excepting a one-move hiccup on on move 42, Kasparov took over and won the ending convincingly.

    In the blitz games, things just got worse and worse for the Englishman. In the first, Short played a provocative opening, and when Kasparov - as White - was able to embed pawns on c5 and d6 Black was condemned to a miserable existence for the rest of the game. He defended resiliently for a while, but when he chose 37...gxf5, giving White's knight the spectacular e4 square thanks to 38.exf5 in reply, it was all downhill and Kasparov won easily. That gave the ex-champ a 5.5-1.5 lead and thus clinched overall victory with three games to go.

    Game 8 was very exciting. Kasparov played a Classical Sicilian, a line he seldom played (if ever) during his official career. His 13th move was especially interesting, inviting the obvious 14.e5 in reply. That's what Short played, and soon they banged out a series of moves finishing up with Kasparov's 21...Rd8. Black was better, but it wouldn't have been decisive just yet had Short played 22.b3. He instead pushed the b-pawn two squares, after which he was simply lost. 22.b4 gave White's king luft, but that's the only good thing it accomplished for White. The pawn was lost, White's king was exposed, and Kasparov finished the game with flair.

    Game 9 was a sort of combination of a Reversed Philidor and King's Indian Attack against Short's French. Kasparov built for the kingside attack while Short tried to break through and break in on the queenside. Perhaps Black would have been fine had he tripled his heavy pieces on the b-file and entered (with 23...Qb7, aiming to move the rook to b3 or b2), but he didn't and he wasn't. Just a couple of moves later Kasparov was winning, and he finished the game off with an impressive display of power chess.

    Finally, game 10 was yet another disaster for Short, his seventh loss in a row in the match. He was worse with White after 13.f4, and after 16...d5! it was clear that Kasparov was in his charge. The losing move came on move 21, when Short played 21.Nc2 rather than do something to pre-empt Black's idea of ...Ng4, ...Qh5 and mate. Kasparov conducted the final attack in great style (23...Bd7 was especially nice) and mated Short's king in the middle of the board.

    In all, it was a fantastic performance by Kasparov, who could quite possibly have won the match with a 10-0 score. Unfortunately for Short, he slept very poorly during the match, having just traveled from Thailand, and that only impeded his performance, especially on the second day. Even so, Kasparov gave a remarkable display of power chess, and showed flashes of his former brilliance - especially once he decided after game 6 to just go for attacking chess, as in his youth. I watched the match in person, and was extremely impressed by what I saw - and more than I would have been listening to the commentators or seeing computer evaluations. It seems that the computer approved strongly of his play in those last four games, but there's still nothing like seeing and experiencing the game in the raw. It was only blitz, but it was inspiring.

    Monday
    Apr272015

    Shamkir, Round 9: Carlsen Wins His Game And The Tournament

    Sunday was a great day for the two highest-rated players of all time. Garry Kasparov crushed Nigel Short 5-0 on the second day of their match in St. Louis, while Magnus Carlsen defeated Rauf Mamedov to guarantee himself of clear first in the Gashimov Memorial, no matter what Viswanathan Anand did. As it turned out, Anand drew, so Carlsen finished in clear first a full point ahead of Anand, with the outstanding score of 7/9. Anand finished with 6 points, and both players were undefeated. Both players gained 13 rating points (rounding up, as FIDE will), and hold the top two spots on the rating list.

    All the other games were drawn, though Anish Giri had outplayed Vladimir Kramnik from an even endgame before messing it up on move 77. Here, then, are final standings:

    • 1. Magnus Carlsen 7
    • 2. Viswanathan Anand 6
    • 3-4. Wesley So, Fabiano Caruana 5
    • 5-6. Vladimir Kramnik, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov 4
    • 7-10. Michael Adams, Anish Giri, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Rauf Mamedov 3.5

    Sunday
    Apr262015

    Shamkir, Round 8: Anand Cuts Carlsen's Lead to Half A Point With A Round To Go

    Coming into today's round with a one point lead and just two rounds to go, and with the black pieces, Magnus Carlsen's job was a rather Hippocratic one: first, do no harm. He kept things under control against Wesley So and achieved a draw without too much trouble. It was a good result against a player who had until the previous round looked like his main challenger for first place.

    Instead, that honor goes to his two-time world championship match opponent, Viswanathan Anand, who defeated Shakhriyar Mamedyarov on the white side of a Spanish Four Knights. First Anand made progress in the center, and then sacrificed the exchange for a pawn and loads of kingside play. He enjoyed a serious advantage, but didn't manage to make the most of it. Several moves before time trouble Mamedyarov managed to equalize, though proving and maintaining it wasn't going to be easy. Short of time, he bashed out his last two moves, and they were both mistakes. He was losing at this point, but even so his next two moves were also errors, and it was time to resign after White's 43rd move.

    In other games: Vladimir Kramnik finally stopped the bleeding and even managed to win his game, against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and got back to -1 in the tournament. Michael Adams also improved his hitherto unfortunate tournament with a win, in his case over Anish Giri. Finally, Rauf Mamedov continued his very solid tournament with a draw against Fabiano Caruana.

    One round remains; here are the pairings:

    • Mamedyarov (3.5) - Adams (3)
    • Caruana (4.5) - Anand (5.5)
    • Carlsen (6) - Mamedov (3.5)
    • Vachier-Lagrave (3) - So (4.5)
    • Giri (3) - Kramnik (3.5)

    Saturday
    Apr252015

    Kasparov Leads the Battle of the Legends 3.5-1.5

    The two-day rapid & blitz exhibition match between Garry Kasparov and his erstwhile challenger Nigel Short began today/yesterday/Saturday in St. Louis, and at the halfway point Kasparov leads the "Battle of the Legends" 3.5-1.5.

    In game 1, the rapid game, Kasparov had White and enjoyed a winning advantage much of the way in a Bogo-Indian. Short hung in there, and as time dwindled away Kasparov had to reconcile himself to a draw. This was followed by four blitz games, which were dominated by Kasparov.

    In the first, Kasparov found a nice pawn sac on the black side of an English, took over the initiative and finished with a strong attack. A note about the game score: I haven't checked TWIC, but on Chess24's website their record of the game finished prematurely. Here's how it ended: 33.gxf4 Qh5 34.Rxe3 dxe4 35.Qh2 Rg8+ 36.Kh1 e2 and only here did Short resign.

    The second blitz game was won by Short, but in peculiar fashion. Kasparov was better all the way on the white side of a Nimzowitsch Defense, but simply forgot about the clock and lost on time. Oops.

    Kasparov immediately struck back in the third blitz game, winning convincingly if not quite perfectly against Short's Nimzo-Larsen (1.b3). White quickly obtained a structural advantage, but this was always outweighed by Black's activity and kingside attacking chances.

    Finally, Kasparov broke through with White on his third try. It wasn't a particularly clean game, and from a theoretical standpoint Short was doing fine with the semi-offbeat Chigorin. Nevertheless, the ex-champ outplayed him - several times - and finally brought home the full point.

    Kasparov's two point lead could easily have been more, and while it's a significant edge he also led his last exhibition match with Short, several years ago, by two points with just three games remaining. He promptly lost the next two games before pulling out the finale, so Short's fans shouldn't give up hope.

    Saturday
    Apr252015

    Shamkir, Round 7: Carlsen Leads Anand By A Point With Two Rounds To Go

    Magnus Carlsen barely won in Wijk aan Zee and in the Grenke Chess Classic earlier this year, but right now it appears that he has everything under control in Shamkir. After 7 rounds he has an undefeated +4 score, up from yesterday's +3 after a convincing win over the collapsing Vladimir Kramnik. Carlsen's 13.Qc2 was an interesting novelty in a 4.d3 Anti-Berlin, and Kramnik was up to the challenge. He reacted well and saw the right move and the right idea on move 19, but then got attracted to another idea. Unfortunately for him, what he saw rested on several miscalculations, and the result was a much worse, possibly losing position. Carlsen finished him off powerfully, and for possibly the first time in his career (at least in classical chess) Kramnik has lost three games in a row.

    If Wesley So could have defeated Fabiano Caruana he'd have remained just half a point behind and in good shape going into his game with Carlsen today/tomorrow (Saturday). It didn't happen: Caruana continued his newfound resurgence and won his second straight game, and they are now both on +1.

    In clear second now is Viswanathan Anand, whose good win over Michael Adams brought him to +2. Anand is continuing to play well, and can make as good a case as anyone to be the #2 player in the world.

    The other two games were drawn. To no one's surprise, the Azerbaijan Derby between Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Rauf Mamedov was drawn, but despite the game's speed and its concluding in a perpetual check, it was a real game - one Mamedyarov could and probably should have won. Finally, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Anish Giri drew their game as well.

    It's late and I'm having difficulty posting the games, so I'll try to do that in the morning/tomorrow. Meanwhile, here are the pairings for round 8:

    • Adams (2) - Giri (3)
    • Kramnik (2.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (3)
    • So (4) - Carlsen (5.5)
    • Mamedov (3) - Caruana (4)
    • Anand (4.5) - Mamedyarov (3.5)

    Thursday
    Apr232015

    Shamkir, Round 6: Caruana Beats Kramnik; Carlsen Still Leads After All Other Games Drawn

    In round 6 of the Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir, it looked like the players decided to make a two-day weekend of it by following up yesterday's rest day with easy draws today. Four games were drawn, in general fairly bloodlessly, but the fifth game had a good fight and concluded with a winner. Vladimir Kramnik started the tournament well and Fabiano Caruana started badly, but their fortunes are crisscrossing. Kramnik lost in round 5 and lost again today, while Caruana got back to 50% (and 2800) with the win.

    Like the tournament, the game started well for Kramnik, who enjoyed a "permanent" space advantage on the queenside, and with a stable center felt that with a well-timed break in the center or kingside Black's position would collapse. He may have been too optimistic in his assessment, but even if he was correct the break he chose, 29.e4? (28 moves too late!), was ill-timed. Kramnik missed at least a couple of Caruana's ideas, and probably misevaluated his position both before and after the pawn break. Caruana played in his best 2014 style, saw through all of Kramnik's tricks and traps, and went on to win most convincingly. (I've lightly annotated this game; it, along with the others [without notes], can be replayed here.)

    Meanwhile, the three players with a plus score continued their stately march to the medals platform: Magnus Carlsen is still on +3, Wesley So still +2, and Viswanathan Anand remains at +1. Three rounds remain, and the pairings for round 7, tomorrow, are:

    • Anand (3.5) - Adams (2)
    • Mamedyarov (3) - Mamedov (2.5)
    • Caruana (3) - So (4)
    • Carlsen (4.5) - Kramnik (2.5)
    • Vachier-Lagrave (2.5) - Giri (2.5)

    Several pairings look especially interesting. Anand and Adams have had some great tussles over the years, and while Anand has won most of the games and the most important ones, Adams has given him more trouble than usual the last couple of years. The second game is interesting, not least because if it were Mamedyarov - Radjabov it would be drawn as sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Does Mamedov have enough cachet to get the same deal? Caruana - So is also interesting: can So resume the winning ways that carried him to the lead after round 4, or will the resurgent Caruana ride the white pieces back into contention for first place? As for Carlsen - Kramnik, this is a great opportunity for Carlsen to really stick the knife in. Carlsen is anything but a Kramnik fan, and seems to especially enjoy the latter's misery. The chance to give Kramnik his third straight zero, and of course to step that much closer to tournament victory, will surely give him a little extra motivation tomorrow.

    Tuesday
    Apr212015

    Shamkir, Round 5: Carlsen, Anand and Mamedyarov Win; Carlsen Leads

    There was plenty of action and blood on the board in round 5 of the Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir today. Three of the five games had a winner, and it could have been four. Moreover, all the decisive games involved the leaders, and not always to their advantage.

    In fact, the player who was leading the tournament, Wesley So, received his comeuppance today at the hands of Viswanathan Anand. It was their first game against each other, and Anand made sure to seize the psychological advantage for their future battles. In a 6.d3 Ruy Lopez, So repeated the rare move 9...Nb8 he had used against Fabiano Caruana earlier in the year. There he drew, but Anand was ready with a very nasty attacking idea that became clear when he played 14.f4. Objectively, this doesn't offer White an advantage, but practically it posed Black serious problems. As far as I can tell, Black is okay if he plays 16...Nh6, but So played 16...Bg5, admitting in the press conference that he had missed Anand's 17.h3 in reply. After that, So defended well (ignoring an exchange of minor errors on Black's 21st and White's 22nd moves) and might have been able to hold the position that arose almost by force after White's 29th move.

    Unfortunately for him, he failed to find the key to the position. His 29...d5? 30.h5 d4? was probably intended to create the possibility of a check for his queen on e3, so that if White's queen strayed a little Black could get some counterplay and perhaps a perpetual. Instead, he should have played ...a5, ...c5 and generally ...a4, trying to keep lines closed for both the queen ending and a possible pawn ending as well. Even if that does lose down the road - and I'm not sure it does - it would have been much harder to break Black's position in that case. After So's errors, Anand was able to break open the center almost immediately and win easily.

    That allowed Magnus Carlsen to leapfrog So and take clear first, after his great win over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. The players left theory pretty early in a Reti/Polish Defense (1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 b5), and Carlsen did his thing and outplayed his opponent a bit at a time, one stage at a time. The first stage concluded with 22...Qf6?! 23.Bh5, after which White had a clear and enduring advantage, but nothing close to a win. MVL managed to keep the damage from getting worse through the end of the first time control, and it was only a couple of inaccuracies on moves 42 and 43 that allowed Carlsen to obtain a winning advantage. This took some great play by Carlsen, and he was up to the challenge. The final mating net he constructed with 50.Rxh7, 52.h5, 53.Rh7 and finally 54.Bd5 was especially nice, and Vachier-Lagrave resigned rather than see 54...a1Q 55.Rf7+ Kg5 56.Rf5# on the board.

    The third decisive result of the day was Shakhriyar Mamedyarov's win over Vladimir Kramnik, which was apparently his first win (at least in classical chess) over the former champ in his career. Mamedyarov had an enduring initiative in a Semi-Tarrasch, but no advantage for a long time - both players were producing very high-level, error-free chess until move 31. Kramnik needed to play 31...Qxd6 32.Na4 Ra5, when he would maintain equal chances. Instead, 31...axb6 32.Qb3 led to a position where Black could only eliminate White's dangerous d-pawn by entering an ending with a porous kingside with weak pawns on h6 and f6. Later on Kramnik could have put up more resistance, but practically speaking the task was probably almost impossible.

    There was almost a fourth win, as Fabiano Caruana came out of the opening with a huge, probably winning advantage against Anish Giri. This is not last year's Caruana, however, and he let Giri slip. It's likely or at least reasonable to think that he had looked forward to the position that arose after his 29th move, which does indeed look overwhelming. It's hard to believe, but there just isn't anything there for White, and after some exchanges the players split the point.

    The final game was a dull draw between Rauf Mamedov and Michael Adams. Black was able to liquidate the center in a Yates Variation Ruy, and shortly thereafter almost all the pieces were liquidated as well.

    The games, with my notes are here, and with more comments than usual it will hopefully tide you over for tomorrow's rest day. Here are the pairings for round 6, on Thursday:

    • Adams (1.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (2)
    • Giri (2) - Carlsen (4)
    • Kramnik (2.5) - Caruana (2)
    • So (3.5) - Mamedyarov (2.5)
    • Mamedov (2) - Anand (3)

    Monday
    Apr202015

    Shamkir, Round 4: So in Solo First

    Who is this guy? Except for his hiccup earlier this month, Wesley So has been on an absolute tear going back to last year. With his third win in Shamkir, an impressive victory over Rauf Mamedov, So has taken over clear first in the tournament with 3.5/4, has scored 5.5 points from his last six games dating back to the end of the U.S. Championship, and has managed to recoup all of the points he had lost in the aforementioned tournament. If he keeps this up, he will be 2800 soon - possibly even before the end of the tournament.

    But let's not get too far ahead of events in the real world. While he is in great form and defeated Mamedov in impressive style today, he still has to play Magnus Carlsen, Viswanathan Anand and Fabiano Caruana (among others) before he gets out of this tournament alive with his laurels. For now, though, he is half a point clear of Carlsen, who had pressure against Michael Adams but not enough to win. That game was drawn, as were all the other games not involving So. Vladimir Kramnik had white against Viswanathan Anand and thought he was pressing, but apparently unbeknownst to him he was following a correspondence game all the way to the point where the game was a dead draw.

    Further back in the pack, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave drew with Caruana; the main excitement there was seeing someone resurrect Nadanian's interesting anti-Gruenfeld line with 5.Na4. Caruana wound up with an edge after the opening, but very quickly it became apparent that the only task was to reach move 40 or to engineer a repetition to satisfy the arbiters and the Sofia Rules. Finally, Anish Giri enjoyed a more serious edge at several moments in his game with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, but that too petered out to a draw at the end of the first time control.

    The games, with my notes to two of them, are here. The players have one more round before the rest day, and here are the pairings:

    • Mamedov (1.5) - Adams (1)
    • Anand (2) - So (3.5)
    • Mamedyarov (1.5) - Kramnik (2.5)
    • Caruana (1.5) - Giri (1.5)
    • Carlsen (3) - Vachier-Lagrave (2)

    Sunday
    Apr192015

    World Team Championships Underway

    I probably won't cover these on here unless something amazing happens, but they're at least worth noting. The World Team Championship website is here, and the Women's World Team Championship website is here. The two events are running concurrently and will continue through the 29th of this month, but they are taking place in two very different locations - Armenia and China, respectively.

    Sunday
    Apr192015

    Shamkir, Round 3: Carlsen & So Win, Lead

    Remember those days last year when Fabiano Caruana was thought to be a contender on a par for co-world #1 status along with Magnus Carlsen? Those days are long gone, and are getting buried ever-deeper by the sands of time. Today a fresh dune covered the memories of last year's Sinquefield Cup as Carlsen beat Caruana for the second time this year, again with Black, and stretched his rating lead over his rival to more than 73 points. It was one of those strange wins, of the sort that led Viktor Korchnoi to claim back in 2011 that Carlsen's results were due to the latter's "hypnotic abilities". Caruana's on-again, off-again mini-edge had disappeared and the game was headed for a routine draw, but then American chess's prodigal son made a series of inaccuracies and soon lost. It was a remarkable collapse by the world's (now former) #2 player, and in the press conference he expressed understandable disgust with his play in the endgame.

    Wesley So, like Magnus Carlsen, did a fine job of burying the past and its memories behind him. Since his poor stretch in the middle of the U.S. Championship, culminating in his forfeit loss, So has scored 4.5 points in his last five games, with only Vladimir Kramnik getting a draw (with white). Today So won against Michael Adams, who was holding his own in a complicated battle until he played 26...Qa5?, missing 27.Bh4. That got him into a bit of trouble, but he was coming out of the mess until his 32nd and especially 33rd move. His 36th move was a final major error, and So finished effectively.

    The remaining three games were drawn, two of them especially forgettably. The game between Viswanathan Anand and Anish Giri was another matter, and Anand had excellent winning chances after his exchange sac on moves 17-18. (Move 17 committed him to it, but it was only "official" on move 18.) Giri defended well, but with best play Anand probably would have won. That makes two missed opportunities for the ex-champ, who trails the leaders by a point.

    The tournament site is here, the games (with my notes) are here, and the round 4 pairings are as follows:

     

    • Adams (.5) - Carlsen (2.5)
    • Vachier-Lagrave (1.5) - Caruana (1)
    • Giri (1) - Mamedyarov (1)
    • Kramnik (2) - Anand (1.5)
    • So (2.5) - Mamedov (1.5)