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    Wednesday
    Sep022015

    John Burke: America's Newest Super-Prodigy(?)

    ChessBase's English language website has a review of the new rating list, and one of the most noteworthy items is that there is an untitled 13-year-old American named John M. Burke whose FIDE rating is a staggering 2601. He is now the youngest player ever to reach that number, younger than Magnus Carlsen, younger than Wei Yi, younger than everyone. For the moment he is untitled, but that obviously won't be the case for very long, unless it's discovered that he has swallowed a set of Intel chips or something like that. During the Sinquefield Cup Garry Kasparov mentioned some of America's top juniors, for whom he took at least a little credit: GMs Kayden Troff, Jeffrey Xiong, Sam Sevian and the almost-GM Akshat Chandra. But where did Burke come from? Just two-three months ago he was "only" 2258, so part of this is due to a generous k-factor. Even so, these gains are enormous. It will be interesting to see if he starts playing in international events and having success there.

    Wednesday
    Sep022015

    Aronian Wins Sinquefield Cup, Nakamura Beats Grischuk To Tie For Second

    The 2015 Sinquefield Cup has concluded, and with a comfortable last-round draw Levon Aronian has taken clear first. None of his main rivals managed to win their games, so Aronian's draw with Topalov left him a point ahead of his closest competitors. He had Black in a Ragozin System, and despite that was never worse and could have pushed for more if he had needed to. Spotting a moment where he could force a draw (or more precisely, could force Topalov to force a draw) he took it, guaranteeing himself victory in the tournament.

    Entering the round Magnus Carlsen, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Anish Giri and Alexander Grischuk were all a point behind Aronian and theoretically still in the race for first. As noted above (at least by implication), none of them managed to win. Carlsen had Black against Viswanathan Anand, and went for a Berlin ending. He drew easily, but a win was never going to happen. Vachier-Lagrave and Giri played each other and although Vachier-Lagrave managed to obtain a little pull through much of the game, Giri kept things under control and drew a double rook ending without too much exertion.

    The big game of the day was the battle between Grischuk and Hikaru Nakamura. With a win, Nakamura would join the tie for second (and take second in the overall Grand Tour standings and regain second place on the live rating list), and he pushed long and hard, taking plenty of risks along the way. He was better at first, enjoying a normal opening advantage with White. A pair of dubious, related decisions on move 26 and move 27 left him worse, but thanks to Grischuk's mistaken decision to give up his dark squared bishop for White's knight on f2 Nakamura was again in control by the end of the first time control. From there Nakamura played very well and energetically, but with victory in sight made a couple of slips that endangered the win. Fortunately for him he kept pushing and finally managed to break down the Russian's resistance.

    The final game was of no relevance to the race for first, but it was an interesting game in its own right. Fabiano Caruana came close to a win against Wesley So, but the wrong capture on d6 on move 21 allowed So to survive, albeit only after a lot of hard work.

    (The games, with my comments, are here.)

    Here are the final standings, given in tiebreak order. The tiebreakers are in fact very important, because points for the Grand Chess Tour standings are allocated based on those tiebreaks. Carlsen wound up getting second place on tiebreaks with 10 GCT points, putting him in the mix for overall Tour victory, while Giri only received six points for fifth, with the same score. So although Giri went a combined +3 in Norway and St. Louis while Carlsen is still -1 overall, Carlsen has 14 total points while Giri has 13. Brilliant.

    1. Aronian 6
    2. Carlsen 5
    3. Nakamura 5
    4. Vachier-Lagrave 5
    5. Giri 5
    6. Grischuk 4.5
    7. Topalov 4.5
    8. Caruana 3.5
    9. Anand 3.5
    10. So 3

    And these are the overall Grand Chess Tour Standings, with the points they earned from Norway and St. Louis, respectively:

    1. Topalov 17 (13, 4)
    2. Nakamura 16 (8, 8)
    3. Aronian 15 (2, 13)
    4. Carlsen 14 (4, 10)
    5. Giri 13 (7, 6)
    6. Anand 12 (10, 2)
    7. Vachier-Lagrave 12 (5, 7)
    8. Caruana 9 (6, 3)
    9. Grischuk 8 (3, 5)
    10. Hammer 1 (1, N/A)
    11. So 1 (N/A, 1)

    The last stop for this year's Grand Chess Tour is the London Chess Classic, which begins December 3, while the next major event is the World Cup in Baku. That starts September 10, and practically every player over 2700 (and more besides) except for Carlsen and Anand will be there. The top two finishers qualify for next year's Candidates' event (Carlsen and Anand were the world championship finalists last year and thus needn't play; Carlsen because he's the world champion and Anand because he's automatically seeded into the Candidates').

    Unfortunately, even though the World Cup is a colossally important event that eight of the Sinquefield Cup participants are playing in and that could be a career-changer for six of them (Nakamura and Caruana have already qualified for the Candidates' through the Grand Prix, but are still required to play in the World Cup to secure their eligibility), the players are forced to stay in St. Louis through at least tomorrow. Why, when they could be headed to Baku to acclimate, get over jet lag before the tournament starts and to engage in further opening preparation?

    The answer: it's for the sake of the so-called Ultimate Moves "competition" and a screening of what will likely be Hollywood's latest "chess players are crazy" offering, a.k.a. "Pawn Sacrifice". The former will consist of rapid and blitz tandem and consultation games that are basically an opportunity for Rex Sinquefield and his son Randy to participate with and against the world's best players; the latter is a movie about Bobby Fischer with Tobey Maguire in the lead role.

    The juxtaposition of the two events is fascinating, because Fischer, for better and worse, would quite possibly have balked at the idea of playing in the Ultimate Moves event, refusing to play the clown in exchange for a sponsor's money - especially if it got in the way of performing his best in a real event. But what do you think? Is the Ultimate Moves competition nothing more than a harmless indulgence for a rich and very generous sponsor? Or perhaps it's a demonstration of the power of money, one that takes no account of the players' dignity and schedules? Maybe to some degree it's both, or something in between, or...?

    Wednesday
    Sep022015

    Comments Problem **Update: Fixed**

    I hadn't received any comments on the site for a few days, and while that happens every now and then of its own accord it looks like there's an underlying technical issue with the site. I've sent in a ticket to the site's host, and will let everyone know when the problem is resolved. Thank you for your patience!

    UPDATE: The problem has been taken care of, for now. Comment away, readers!

    Tuesday
    Sep012015

    Sinquefield Cup 2015, Round 8: Aronian Leads By A Point Entering the Last Round

    For the first time in the tournament, all five games were drawn, leaving Levon Aronian a full point ahead with a round to go. Had he won against Viswanathan Anand he would have guaranteed himself of clear first, and Anand's opening surely gave him hopes of a full point. Garry Kasparov was watching on site, and remarked that Anand's opening choice (on the black side of an English, the reversed Rossolimo) was something he had dismissed many years earlier. In fact, Anand himself admitted after the game that he needed some convincing before he would take the variation seriously! But after some hard work he rehabilitated it to his satisfaction, and at best Aronian might have had some chances for an edge. In the game he was unable to keep an advantage for very long, and Anand achieved a comfortable draw.

    Four players came into the round a point behind Aronian, so this was their chance to make up some ground before the final round. Two of them, Alexander Grischuk and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, played each other, but unfortunately there weren't any fireworks. The game transposed to the same line of the Symmetrical English MVL tried against Magnus Carlsen in round 3. Vachier-Lagrave lost that game, but improved this time and was never in any serious danger. The players called it a day after just 30 moves, one less than was required in Aronian-Anand.

    Another player with a chance to gain ground was Anish Giri, who had the white pieces against Fabiano Caruana. Caruana played a Gruenfeld and chose the unusual move 9...e5. He equalized quickly and even won a pawn thanks to some poor play by Giri prior to the time control. Caruana may have had some opportunities to improve, but when they reached a rook and two pawns vs. rook and one pawn ending the draw was inevitable. Caruana played until move 69 before accepting the inevitable.

    The big game of the day was Magnus Carlsen vs. Hikaru Nakamura, and after a terrible opening choice by the American and some further inaccuracies after that Carlsen obtained a completely winning advantage. With an 11-0 score against Nakamura in decisive games at a classical time control the point seemed to be in the bag, and with a win Carlsen would close to within half a point of Aronian. Somehow, it wasn't to be. Nakamura defended resourcefully, and when Carlsen played 39.Be3?? ("A moment of insanity" - Carlsen) Black was able to escape to an ending with rook and two pawns vs. two bishops and two pawns, with all the pawns on the same side. Carlsen tried until move 95, but there was no breaching Black's fortress. A second consecutive huge disappointment for Carlsen, and for Nakamura this may just be the confidence-builder he needs to finally get a win against Carlsen in the near future.

    Finally, Wesley So and Veselin Topalov went 50 moves, but the only especially noteworthy feature of the game is that So finished with more time than he started with.

    The games, with my comments, are here. The final round pairings are as follows:

    • Topalov (4) - Aronian (5.5)
    • Anand (3) - Carlsen (4.5)
    • Vachier-Lagrave (4.5) - Giri (4.5)
    • Nakamura (4) - Grischuk (4.5)
    • Caruana (3) - So (2.5)

    The bottom line is clear: if Aronian scores, he wins the tournament; if he loses and Carlsen, Vachier-Lagrave, Giri (inclusive) or Grischuk win, there will be a playoff.

    Monday
    Aug312015

    Sinquefield Cup 2015, Round 7: Aronian Leads By a Point

    The antepenultimate round of the 2015 Sinquefield Cup was an eventful one, though the first two games to finish weren't particularly auspicious. Topalov - Giri and Caruana - Vachier-Lagrave were short draws, but the remaining three games were more interesting. Anand - So looked very promising for the young American. Unfortunately for him, but perhaps fortunately for chess aesthetics, he underestimated a brilliant idea of Anand's. After 27.Nc4!? So should have played 27...a4 instead of 27...Bxc5. The latter move was almost irresistible, and that was what Anand was counting on. After 28.Nxe6 Bb4 29.Nxg7!! White gave up material but created a kind of fortress, and the players called it a day just before the time control.

    The two remaining games were decisive. Hikaru Nakamura was on a high note, having won brilliantly the day before and enjoying the white pieces against Levon Aronian. Strangely, though, he seemed completely unprepared for Aronian's opening, one which is a regular part of the Armenian's repertoire. Black wound up better, and although he squandered his edge Nakamura's errors in time trouble gave it all back with interest. White's 39th and 40th moves were serious errors, and Aronian had no trouble capitalizing in the second time control.

    Aronian started the round tied for first with Magnus Carlsen, so if Carlsen could parlay the white pieces into a win over Alexander Grischuk they would remain tied with two rounds to go. This did not happen. Grischuk, like Aronian, won with Black (a common occurrence in the tournament) to catch up to Carlsen (and Giri and Vachier-Lagrave) at +1, a point behind Aronian. About the Carlsen-Grischuk game: the game was generally even until around move 32, when an inaccuracy followed by an error cost Carlsen a pawn in what was close to a dead-drawn ending. Grischuk's technique in the second time control was terrific at first, but as the players approached six hours of play and started to live off the increment things got sloppy. First Carlsen managed to fight his way back to a drawn ending, and then he almost immediately messed it up and lost. By the time they were finished they had been playing for six hours and 25 minutes, so it's not that surprising that they started to err. (My analyses of the round's games are here.)

    Aronian is in great shape with two rounds to go, but with four players just a point behind it's by no means over. Here are the pairings for round 8:

    • Grischuk (4) - Vachier-Lagrave (4)
    • Giri (4) - Caruana (2.5)
    • So (2) - Topalov (3.5)
    • Aronian (5) - Anand (2.5)
    • Carlsen (4) - Nakamura (3.5)

    The last two pairings are especially interesting. For a long time Aronian had great results against Anand, and with White and in much better form in the tournament he has grounds for optimism. On the other hand, Anand has had some good results against Aronian lately, and when they get into theoretical disputes it's often Anand who comes out on top. Aronian shouldn't get too confident, as even a wounded Anand can do some serious damage. Meanwhile, Carlsen is playing his favorite opponent. Can Nakamura hold, or better yet, win his first-ever game against Carlsen at a classical time control? Stay tuned...

    Sunday
    Aug302015

    Sinquefield Cup 2015, Round 6: Nakamura Wins a Brilliancy

    This has been a great tournament! Lots of decisive games, no clear winner in sight, and so far at least three games that will be remembered after the tournament is over. The first two games I have in mind are Levon Aronian's wins in rounds 1 and 4, and the third was played by Hikaru Nakamura in this round, round 6, against Wesley So. Nakamura hasn't played the King's Indian as much as he used to, but in those good old days he won some spectacular games. This was another masterpiece, and the only thing to regret was a missed opportunity to rank this game among the immortals with a fantastic rook and queen sacrifice.

    With the win, Nakamura vaulted into second place on the live rating list and within half a point of first place. The top spot was shared by Aronian and Magnus Carlsen going into the round, and they left it the same way after drawing each other. Aronian had White in an English, and once Carlsen equalized the game finished in a speedy flurry of exchanges.

    While Nakamura is half a point back of the leaders, he isn't alone. Anish Giri is there as well after a fairly uneventful draw with Viswanathan Anand, and so is Maxime Vachier-Lagrave after defeating Veselin Topalov. Topalov has lost back-to-back games after leading the first four rounds; and in this round he lost, uncharacteristically, due in part to inadequate preparation. He played the Berlin against MVL but was apparently surprised by 12.Nd4. That move had been played pretty regularly, but the recent action has centered on 12.b3 and 12.Bf4. Topalov unknowingly followed a game between Saric and Sulava that turned out well for White, and although he eventually varied he, like Sulava, was soon in serious trouble. By move 21 White had a bind and a superior pawn structure, and he managed to turn this into a full point without all that much trouble.

    For an example of oustanding preparation, there was Alexander Grischuk's win over Fabiano Caruana. Grischuk prepared a very deep line, one which the computers claim is better for Caruana, but Grischuk apparently worked things out well enough to know better. Caruana sacrificed a piece for a scary-looking armada of black pawns encroaching deep into enemy territory, but Grischuk understood that they could only go so far before being blockaded and that White's pieces could work around them and attack the Black king. That's just what happened, and although Caruana lost on time making the last move of the time control his position was completely lost and his king was in grave danger.

    The leaderboard is all bunched up with three rounds to go. Two players (Aronian and Carlsen) are tied for first with 4 points apiece, Giri, Nakamura and Vachier-Lagrave have 3.5 points each and both Topalov and Grischuk are but another half a point behind. Seven of the ten players still have a reasonable shot at first place!

    The round 6 games can be replayed here, with my comments, and round 7 is underway now with the following pairings:

     

    • Nakamura (3.5) - Aronian (4)
    • Carlsen (4) - Grischuk (3)
    • Topalov (3) - Giri (3.5)
    • Caruana (2) - Vachier-Lagrave (3.5)
    • Anand (2) - So (1.5)

     

    Friday
    Aug282015

    Sinquefield Cup 2015, Round 5: Carlsen & Aronian Lead Going Into the Rest Day

    Round 5 of the Sinquefield Cup saw loads of action. Only one of the games was a "correct" draw, and even it was a good fight with some interesting moments.

    Entering the round Levon Aronian and Veselin Topalov were tied for first; exiting the round it's Aronian and Magnus Carlsen who share the lead. (Just like the good old days!) Topalov had the white pieces against Fabiano Caruana, and obtained a very pleasant advantage in a 4.d3 Berlin. After the game Topalov said that he lacked the energy to play, and should have bailed out with a draw (24.Rc1 Na2 25.Ra1 Nb4 26.Rc1 etc.) while he had the chance. Instead, he went down, bit by bit, and after 35.Ng2? f4 the game was Caruana's to win, and he did.

    Aronian also had White, against Alexander Grischuk, and also got into trouble. Playing an English that turned into a Panov-Botvinnik Attack against the Caro-Kann, Aronian played the very unusual 7.Bg5, and his idea a couple of moves later to double Black's pawns with 9.Qe2+ Be6 10.Bxf6 didn't turn out very well. Later he was clearly worse, but it's a rare game when Grischuk doesn't get into time trouble. A series of inaccuracies from moves 24-26 (he was already below six minutes by that point) squandered his advantage, and the players shook hands on move 31.

    This gave Carlsen the chance to catch up, and he did with a nice but imperfect win over Wesley So. Carlsen played a known pawn sac in the Byrne Attack of the Najdorf, obtaining the bishop pair and a strong grip on d5 in return. Carlsen worked his positional magic, but made some serious errors along the way. The first was the worst, when 33.Nc4? (??) could have been met by the sham exchange sac 33...Rxc4!, after which White's advantage is gone in its entirety. So missed that, and then Carlsen blundered again with 40.Nd4; 40.Nxc5 won on the spot. Instead, Carlsen had to fight hard to prove the win, but he rose to the challenge and finally collected the point. Carlsen still isn't playing great, but a combination of good-enough play and some luck (vs. Caruana in round 2, So missing a fairly simple tactic here) has him tied for first with 3.5/5.

    The game between Hikaru Nakamura and Anish Giri was very exciting, possibly made even more exciting when Nakamura forgot his preparation and got into some trouble. He was resourceful after that, and his counterattacking play came close to delivering the full point in his favor. Giri found the defensive moves he needed, however, and the game finished in a well-earned draw.

    Finally, Viswanathan Anand managed to win a pawn in a complicated game against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, but in the end there weren't any real chances to exploit it in the resulting rook ending and the game ended peacefully.

    The players are now enjoying a well-deserved rest day, and will resume play on Saturday. You can tide yourselves over with my annotations to yesterday's games, and on Saturday we'll see the following games - including the battle of the leaders:

    • Grischuk (2) - Caruana (2)
    • Vachier-Lagrave (2.5) - Topalov (3)
    • Giri (3) - Anand (1.5)
    • So (1.5) - Nakamura (2.5)
    • Aronian (3.5) - Carlsen (3.5)

    Thursday
    Aug272015

    Sinquefield Cup 2015, Round 4: Aronian Co-Leads With Topalov After A Beautiful Win Against So

    It was a long day, so this will be a short report. There were four draws, all of which, interestingly enough, concluded in opposite-colored bishop endings. Along the way the games were of varying interest, with the battle between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Hikaru Nakamura the most colorful of the lot.

    The game of the day was between Wesley So and Levon Aronian. This may have been the case even if Aronian had won by prosaic means, by default, but in fact the game was something special. So played provocatively on the white side of a 4.f3 Nimzo-Indian that came to resemble a Modern Benoni, and when he dared to play 13.g4 he reaped the whirlwind after Aronian's 15...Ne5!! Black had fantastic compensation for the piece, and while there was nothing concrete his initiative was practically impossible to quell. With the win, Aronian moved to +2, and is tied for first with Veselin Topalov, half a point ahead of Magnus Carlsen and Anish Giri.

    The games, with my notes, are here, and these are the pairings for round 5:

    • Aronian (3) - Grischuk (1.5)
    • Carlsen (2.5) - So (1.5)
    • Nakamura (2) - Giri (2.5)
    • Anand (1) - Vachier-Lagrave (2)
    • Topalov (3) - Caruana (1)
    Tuesday
    Aug252015

    Sinquefield Cup 2015, Round 3: Topalov Still Leads; Three Others Half a Point Behind

    Today's round was a little calmer than its predecessors, but there were still two decisive games in round 3 of the 2015 Sinquefield Cup. Magnus Carlsen won in convincing fashion against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, while Wesley So defeated Alexander Grischuk after the latter's errors in time pressure.

    The other games were drawn after varying degrees of eventfulness. Viswanathan Anand had White against Veselin Topalov, but after an 0-2 start he seemed satisfied with a draw early on, choosing a rather quiet line. Topalov was the one who pressed a little, but even he didn't seem as ambitious as he could have been, and settled for an easy draw with Black. His score of 2.5-.5 keeps him in clear first, half a point ahead of Carlsen, Levon Aronian and Anish Giri. The latter two played each other, with Aronian having good chances for a win though never anything concrete. Finally, Fabiano Caruana, like Anand, managed to get a draw after starting with a pair of losses. He had Black against Hikaru Nakamura and held the advantage after a very nice opening with the black pieces. Near the end of the first time control that turned around a bit, but Caruana held the draw without much danger in the second time control.

    There are more details to be found in my notes to the games. As for tomorrow's pairings, they are as follows:

    • Grischuk (1) - Topalov (2.5)
    • Caruana (.5) - Anand (.5)
    • Vachier-Lagrave (1.5) - Nakamura (1.5)
    • Giri (2) - Carlsen (2)
    • So (1.5) - Aronian (2)

    Monday
    Aug242015

    Sinquefield Cup 2015, Round 2: Topalov Leads After Another Exciting Round

    There were "only" three wins today at the Sinquefield Cup, but they were exciting and eventful games all featuring the world champions. Veselin Topalov outplayed Hikaru Nakamura, and is now the only player with a perfect score. Their game was a 4.d3 Berlin, and while it went into an ending rather quickly it was of a very different character than the ending of the main line Berlin. Nakamura's 15...f5 was a mistake, at least from a practical point of view. He won a pawn but gave Topalov two terrific bishops, and the former FIDE champion eventually regained his material, with interest. Theirs was the last game to finish, but Topalov was in control almost from start to finish.

    Another game where the winner enjoyed control through most of the game was Alexander Grischuk vs. Viswanathan Anand. Grischuk essayed the London System, an opening he generally uses in blitz rather than classical games, but based on a blitz game the same players had last year Grischuk thought it would be worth a try in a slower game as well. He was right. Anand hadn't looked at the opening in a serious way, and Grischuk soon enjoyed a serious and long-lasting advantage. Both players had improvements here and there, but in general White was always for choice and Anand didn't even make it to the time control before having to surrender. Anand is now 0-2, and for Grischuk this was his first-ever win against Anand in a classical game.

    A game where the winner was only in control after the final move was the tragedy or farce between Fabiano Caruana and Magnus Carlsen. Their game was a complicated Ruy Lopez that was unclear for the first half of the game, but as Caruana entered serious time trouble (he had something like 70 seconds to make his last 13 moves) Carlsen played worse and had to go from time trouble to almost equally catastrophic time trouble as well. In the scramble that followed Caruana was always better, and the question - barring a loss on time or a catastrophic blunder - was whether the advantage would be serious by the time the players reached the time control. Unfortunately for Caruana, his last move, on the last move of the time control with both players down to a couple of seconds or so, was a gross blunder. The move was played practically as a reflex action, and it lost the game on the spot. A tragedy for Caruana, but the clock is part of the game.

    The other two games were drawn. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave didn't achieve anything against Levon Aronian, while Anish Giri may have had some chances against Wesley So but didn't manage to take advantage of them.

    The games, with my comments, are here, and these are the pairings for round 3:

    • So (.5) - Grischuk (1)
    • Aronian (1.5) - Giri (1.5)
    • Carlsen (1) - Vachier-Lagrave (1.5)
    • Nakamura (1) - Caruana (0)
    • Anand (0) - Topalov (2)