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    Friday
    Oct312014

    Tashkent, Round 9: Andreikin Leads After Defeating Jobava

    After losing in the first round of the Tashkent Grand Prix, Baadur Jobava battled his way into a tie for first after round 8. Very impressive! Unfortunately, he promptly lost to one of the co-leaders, Dmitry Andreikin, and now once again has his work cut out for him with just two rounds to go. Jobava has made a habit of playing 1.d4 2.Nc3 3.Bf4 lately, but Andreikin - another player who likes to avoid the main lines of theory - found an interesting approach against this and was already at least equal when he played 9...h5. Jobava sacrificed a pawn for the initiative, but nothing materialized for the material and he was soon lost; Andreikin won rather easily.

    Hikaru Nakamura didn't manage to keep pace with Andreikin, but drew a quick game with the black pieces against Sergey Karjakin. It looked like Karjakin had an edge, but apparently he couldn't find anything he could do with it, so they repeated the position and called it a day after just 26 moves.

    The day's only other decisive game was Dmitry Jakovenko vs. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. It seemed headed for a draw, but instead of rounding up Black's passed a-pawn while it was still easy to do so, Jakovenko went on what soon turned out to be a self-destructive mission for counterplay against Black's c-pawn. He won it, but in the end the strength of Black's a-pawn was about to leave White a full piece down, so he resigned. Now Mamedyarov is tied for second with Nakamura, only half a point behind Andreikin.

    (Games here, with notes to both of the decisive battles.)

    Round 10 Pairings:

    • Gelfand (2.5) - Andreikin (6)
    • Giri (4) - Jobava (5)
    • Mamedyarov (5.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (5)
    • Nakamura (5.5) - Jakovenko (4)
    • Caruana (4.5) - Karjakin (4.5)
    • Kasimdzhanov (3) - Radjabov (4.5)

    Thursday
    Oct302014

    Tashkent Grand Prix: Jobava Catches The Leaders, Gelfand Plummets

    The last couple of rounds of the Tashkent Grand Prix didn't do much to shake up the crosstable, as all but three games were drawn. Moreover, two of the losses were suffered by poor Boris Gelfand, who is now ensconced in the tournament cellar. The man has a great love for the game and is a tremendously hard worker, but playing in back-to-back tournaments against the world's best is perhaps asking too much. Likewise with Fabiano Caruana. They shared first in the previous tournament, but now both are performing well below their usual form.

    Fortunately for Caruana and unfortunately for Gelfand, the latter's form is even worse than Caruana's, and the world's #2 player got his first and so far only victory of the tournament thanks to a near-blunder. Had Gelfand played 24...Rxc3 the game would almost surely have finished in a draw shortly after the move 30 threshold. Instead, Gelfand's 24...Rxa5 missed the simple shot 25.Rxa5 Qxa5 26.Rxf7!, after which White's win was a matter of course.

    Gelfand also lost in round 8, this time with White to Baadur Jobava. As usual (as always?) Jobava played an offbeat, provocative opening - in this case the English Defense - and after seven moves Gelfand had pawns on c4, d4, e4 and f4. Safe pawns! His decision to continue super-aggressively with 8.Qg4 probably wasn't the best decision given his form, and as the play got sharper things started going awry. After 21 moves White's center was still intact, but in the brief remainder the pawns started to get picked off and Black's pieces dominated. With the win, Jobava is now tied for first with Hikaru Nakamura and Dmitry Andreikin. Nakamura is one of the higher seeds in the tournament, but Jobava was the second-lowest rated player in the event and Andreikin was the third!

    The other decisive game took place in round 7, and saw Anish Giri lose his first game of the event, to Sergey Karjakin, after playing a very dubious opening system with 8...h5. I don't analyze that game, but do cover the two Gelfand losses and provide the rest of the games from these two rounds here. Today (Thursday) is a rest day, and the tournament will finish up on Friday through Sunday. Here are tomorrow's round 9 pairings:

    • Kasimdzhanov (2.5) - Gelfand (2)
    • Radjabov (4) - Caruana (4)
    • Karjakin (4) - Nakamura (5)
    • Jakovenko (4) - Mamedyarov (4.5)
    • Vachier-Lagrave (4.5) - Giri (3.5)
    • Jobava (5) - Andreikin (5) (A battle of the leaders.)

    Thursday
    Oct302014

    An Impressive Stockfish Game

    The Stockfish chess engine won the last season of the TCEC, but hasn't been dominant thus far in season 7. This, however, is a very impressive game, with a long-term rook sacrifice and some other spectacular moves like 37.Kh2 and 41.Rf2. Although the win was Stockfish's, I think the triumph is more generally one for computer chess. I ran the game to see if Komodo and Houdini would find and favorably evaluate the rook sac, and they did, and then I went for a real test: Fritz 11 running on one core. Even it was fine with giving up the rook, and while it wasn't as excited about the sac as the stronger engines were - running on more cores - it certainly evaluated White's compensation as at least sufficient.

    HT: Jeffrey Hall

    Wednesday
    Oct292014

    Karpov On A Rampage At Cap d'Agde!

    Anatoly Karpov probably hasn't done any serious and sustained work on chess in over a decade, but give him a decent position out of the opening and he can still compete with just about anyone. There was a two-on-two rapid & blitz match this weekend in Cap d'Agde featuring Karpov and Valentina Gunina on the Russian side taking on the French team of Romain Edouard and Marie Sebag. The first two days were rapid chess and the third was blitz, and in each portion of the match a player would face the opponents from the other country with both colors.

    The Russians won handily, 11.5-4.5, and Karpov was particularly successful scoring 7-1 overall, 3.5-.5 at both time controls. Of course he was a favorite against Sebag, but he went 3.5-.5 against both Sebag and Edouard, despite the latter's enjoying a higher rating in classical chess. Karpov basically played without openings (his recent advocacy of 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd6 is painful for me to watch having grown up seeing him at the cutting edge of opening theory*), but once that phase of the game passed he was one dangerous hombre.

    There's a nice report on the event here (HT: Allen Becker), with games and videos.

    * Yes, I know that was thanks to Semyon Furman and then Igor Zaitsev, but it's painful nonetheless.

    Monday
    Oct272014

    Tashkent Grand Prix, Round 6: Andreikin, Nakamura Lead

    It was another day of aggressive chess in Tashkent, and those who started the game with an advantage didn't necessarily finish it that way.

    Maxime Vachier-Lagrave came up with an interesting but possibly dubious novelty in the Gruenfeld, and Boris Gelfand seemed to have a significant advantage. It soon slipped away though, and later it was "MVL" who stood better and could have obtained a rook ending with a solid extra pawn. He missed his chance too, and the game wound up drawn. Another drawn game with shifting fortunes was the battle of the Americans (thinking hopefully here): Fabiano Caruana had an extra pawn, and while Hikaru Nakamura had some compensation Caruana probably could have extinguished it with a sufficient stretch of precise play. By the end, however, Nakamura was even pressing a little, though it wasn't enough.

    Shakhriyar Mamedyarov played an offbeat Vienna against Rustam Kasimdzhanov and was worse, but as the game grew more complicated and time grew short it was hard for Kasimdzhanov to keep Mamedyarov's initiative under control. A couple of serious errors later, Kasimdzhanov lost.

    The other decisive game was won by Dmitry Andreikin, against Sergey Karjakin. Andreikin went for a sharp line of the Torre Attack, and while his opponent's initial reaction was good the decision to play 15...Ke7 and 16...g5 was not. Between the light-squared weaknesses and the exposed king plenty could go wrong, and after 28.c5! Black soon collapsed.

    Jobava-Jakovenko and Giri-Rajdabov were more stable draws, and you can replay all the games, with my comments, here.

    Round 7 Pairings:

    • Caruana (2.5) - Gelfand (2)
    • Kasimdzhanov (1.5) - Nakamura (4)
    • Radjabov (3) - Mamedyarov (3.5) (count on a draw)
    • Karjakin (2.5) - Giri (3)
    • Jakovenko (3) - Andreikin (4)
    • Vachier-Lagrave (3.5) - Jobava (3.5)

    Monday
    Oct272014

    Magnus Carlsen on the Beeb: The Transcript

    Last week I mentioned that Magnus Carlsen would be interviewed by Dominic Lawson on BBC Radio 4, and now the event has occurred. You can listen to it here, or read the transcript on Chess24. I'm not sure where their game is, but I suspect some enterprising reader will provide the link soon.

    Sunday
    Oct262014

    Catching Up On The Tashkent Grand Prix: Nakamura Leads After Round 5

    As the say, past performance is no guarantee of future results. Boris Gelfand and Fabiano Caruana shared first in the Grand Prix tournament in Baku a couple of weeks ago, but just shy of the halfway point of the Tashkent Grand Prix they are at the bottom of the pack. Gelfand is tied for last place with Rustam Kasimdzhanov, while Caruana is only half a point ahead of him. On the other hand, Hikaru Nakamura tied for third in Baku, and this time he's doing even better - he is in clear first with 3.5 points out of 5.

    Let's recap a round at a time, starting with round 3.

    Teimour Radjabov - Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: A deeply theoretical Byrne Attack Najdorf with a novelty by Black on move 26. White obtained some edge in the endgame, but MVL had surely worked in advance that it was a draw. That was made official on move 41.

    Sergey Karjakin - Dmitry Jakovenko: A sort of reversed Gruenfeld gave Karjakin a slight pull that Jakovenko never managed to extinguish. He tried to sac a pawn in the hopes of drawing a Marshall Gambit-style ending with the bishop pair vs. bishop and knight (plus a pair of rooks), but to no avail. Karjakin won quickly and convincingly.

    Shakhriyar Mamedyarov - Boris Gelfand: A somewhat strange game. When Mamedyarov avoided a normal Gruenfeld with 3.Nf3 Bg7 4.e3 Gelfand steered the game towards a kind of Modern Benoni, which isn't a typical opening for the classically-oriented grandmaster. Mamedyarov took control and seemed on the way to victory until he traded queens. (31.Qb6 would have kept Black in serious trouble.) Afterwards Mamedyarov kept practical chances, though a draw would have been the correct result. The decisive moment came when Gelfand played 47...Rxg2?, losing; 47...Kd6! would have held the balance. Mamedyarov played the remainder perfectly and won by a single tempo.

    Hikaru Nakamura - Anish Giri: A 4.Qc2 Nimzo-Indian that saw Black suffer from the get-go. Nakamura was better throughout and made Giri suffer all the way until he stalemated him on move 79. Very impressive defense by Giri!

    Fabiano Caruana - Dmitry Andreikin: A Berlin ending. Caruana tried to improve on his game with Nakamura from the Sinquefield Cup with the near-novelty 15.Nge4. I don't know if he missed anything or forgot part of his preparation, but Andreikin managed to equalize and even press a little (very little) by the end. No revenge for Caruana for the defeat he suffered at his opponent's hands near the end of the Baku event.

    Rustam Kasimdzhanov - Baadur Jobava: Most people play the Rubinstein French to draw or at least to head for a positional struggle where they can hope to outplay their opponents in 50 moves; most people, but not Jobava. The Georgian GM loves to go his own way in the opening, and so he did here with the very unusual 8...g6. This served as a provocation to Kasimdzhanov, the nominal home player, and he went for blood with 9.c4 and 10.d5. He enjoyed some compensation for the sacrificed pawn, but nothing too special. By his 24th move it has mostly dried up, but he was probably counting on 24.Bxa7 to recover his material. He might have missed that after 24...b6 25.Bxd5 Black had the zwischenzug 25...Nd4!, but it's even more likely that after 26.Qa4 Rxd5 27.Qa6 it was 27...Qd7! that eluded his vision. This threatened both 28...Nf3+ and 28...Ra8 (27...Ra8 would have been met by 28.Bxb6), and forced White to give up the exchange without any compensation, and soon Black won.

    Round 4 was calmer. Gelfand - Jakovenko and Andreikin - Kasimdzhanov were both short QGD draws. Giri - Caruana was also a short draw, in an unusual Catalan, but White had a little something and put Caruana under more pressure than Jakovenko and Kasimdzhanov experienced in their games. Continuing with the theme of short draws in the Queen's Gambit complex, Mamedyarov and Nakamura split the point in an Exchange QG with 5.Bf4. Mamedyarov went for 9.h5, which hasn't been achieving much lately on account of Karpov's 9...Nh6; my impression is that 9.g5 is, and is considered, the more dangerous move these days. Whatever the truth is in the opinion of super-GMs these days, Mamedyarov got nothing from the opening. A good fight ensued, with a peaceful conclusion.

    The other games were also drawn. Jobava pressed a little against Radjabov in a 4.Bg5 Gruenfeld, but never came too close to winning. Vachier-Lagrave was the only near-winner in the round. He won a pawn against Karjakin and had him under heavy pressure, but couldn't couldn't strike a decisive blow in an ending with queens and opposite-colored bishops.

    That brought the players to their first rest day, and today they showed themselves ready to rejoin the fight. The shortest game was a decisive one, seeing Karjakin fall quickly against Jobava. Karjakin's 16.Bd2 invited his opponent to sac a bishop on h3 and Jobava obliged - correctly. White had no advantage whatsoever, but plenty of chances to go wrong. His first misstep was 20.c5, and other inaccuracies ensued from both players - though in every case the variance was from equality to a significant but non-decisive Black advantage. The end came only with 30.Ne2?? (30.Nh3 was forced), possibly in time trouble. That allowed 30...Rxe2, and Karjakin resigned a move later. The rook couldn't be taken because of 31...Qg1#, but not taking it wasn't much help either.

    The second winner was Jakovenko, who was able to torture Vachier-Lagrave on the white side of a Gruenfeld sideline. MVL sacced first one pawn and then another for play, but in the end he was just down a couple of pawns for nothing. In the end Jakovenko returned the material with interest, but in so doing ensured himself of an easy victory, as the Black rook couldn't deal with the two connected passed pawns supported by White's king and knight.

    The big winner was Nakamura, who ground poor Gelfand down in a 97 move game. Gelfand never quite managed to neutralize White's tiny initiative, which by move 46 became an extra pawn in an ending with rook, knight and four kingside pawns vs. rook, knight and three kingside pawns. In such an ending the trade of knights would generally result in a manageable draw while a rook trade would result in a likely win for Nakamura. So each player avoided his unfavorable exchange whlie Nakamura tacked here and there, and he finally broke on move 87. 87....Kg8 88.Rxf6 Ra4 would have saved the game (or at least kept it going indefinitely), but 87...Ng5 88.Rxf6+ Kg8 89.e5 was winning.

    This post is in danger of taking as long to read as Nakamura-Gelfand took to play, so I'll be very brief about the drawn games: Kasimdzhanov - Giri (first Giri and then Kasimdzhanov had some chances), Caruana - Mamedyarov (Caruana quickly worse with White but Mamedyarov let him off the hook relatively easily) and Radjabov - Andreikin (an easy hold for Black in a Berlin ending). All the games (a few with pretty trivial notes) can be replayed here.

    Round 6 Pairings:

    • Gelfand (1.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (3)
    • Jobava (3) - Jakovenko (2.5)
    • Andreikin (3) - Karjakin (2.5)
    • Giri (2.5) - Radjabov (2.5)
    • Mamedyarov (2.5) - Kasimdzhanov (1.5)
    • Nakamura (3.5) - Caruana (2)

    Sunday
    Oct262014

    The 2014 World Championship Match Site

    ...is here.

    Sunday
    Oct262014

    How Likely Is It That A Piece Will Survive A Chess Game?

    For the answer based on an unspecified two million game database, have a look here.

    Frankly, there's very little that's surprising there, and of course the results aren't normative: one isn't obliged to make sure that his d-pawn and knights leave the board first and his h-pawn is the last thing to go. The only thing that did surprise me a little was that the h-pawn's survival rate was as high as it is: I assumed it would be high, but thought that h4-h5 attacking ideas against fianchettos (as in the Yugoslav Attack vs. the Dragon) would lower its average lifespan by a larger degree.

    One slightly interesting finding was came when I played around with the numbers. If my math was correct, on average White finishes .103 pawns ahead, assuming the traditional material scale according to which a pawn = 1, bishops and knights = 3, rooks = 5 and queens = 9. If you turn a typical engine on at the beginning of the game it will award White an advantage great than .1 pawns, so either the engines get it wrong, players with White consistently underperform, or part of White's advantage is not based on the quantity of material but on what can be done with that material. (Of course, this must be part of the story, as at the beginning of the game the computer prefers White, even though the material is completely even.)

    I'm sure clever readers can find more interesting applications of the data than I did, so have at it.

    HT: James Turnbull & Phil Salathé

    Sunday
    Oct262014

    Another Look Back at the Second Kasparov-Deep Blue Match

    If you were a chess player at the time of the Kasparov-Deep Blue matches in 1996 and 1997 there's little you'll learn from this video by Nate Silver and his FiveThirtyEight crew on the second match. It does a very good job of summarizing the match in a way that's useful for "civilians", so I recommend it for the curious non-chess players in your life.

    HT: Allen Becker