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    Saturday
    Sep232017

    Isle of Man Starts Today With Carlsen, Kramnik, Caruana, Anand, Nakamura, ...

    It's an open event, but the Chess.com Isle of Man International is extremely strong - have a look here at the top 20 playing in the Masters event. The action starts at 1:30 p.m. local time (= 8:30 a.m. ET, or 90 minutes after the start time for the World Cup). It's a smooth transition from one super-event to the next.

    In fact, this tournament, like the World Cup, is a big deal for the 2018 Candidates, as Vladimir Kramnik and Fabiano Caruana - who are playing - are competing with Wesley So - who is not - for two ratings slots in the latter event. So there's plenty at stake here in addition to the prize fund, bragging rights in a tournament with Magnus Carlsen, and all the other usual competitive aims the players may have.

    Saturday
    Sep232017

    New Engines: Houdini 6, Komodo 11.2.2

    An FYI for chess engine fans: Houdini 6 is hot off the presses as of a few days ago. As for Komodo 11.2.2, that's not hot off the presses, but if you're like me you may have assumed that 11.2 is the latest version. That's what the front page suggests, but if you've bought a subscription that included the original 11.2, log into your account and download the mini-upgrade 11.2.2. This is included even if your subscription has lapsed - if you were entitled to 11.2, you can get this for free as well.

    Saturday
    Sep232017

    Ivanchuk Interview

    Worth your time, if you're a fan of Vasil Ivanchuk.

    Friday
    Sep222017

    World Cup, Round 6 (Semi-Finals), Day 3 Tiebreaks: Ding Liren, Aronian Win, Advance to the Finals, and Qualify for the Candidates

    At last, the World Cup has lived up to expectations: there was an Armageddon game! But before we get to the match between Levon Aronian and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, let's discuss Ding Liren's triumph.

    So Long, Farewell:

    (The lengths I will go to for a "good" pun.)

    In game 1 of the Ding Liren vs. Wesley So match, So had good winning chances with White before letting his opponent escape with a draw, and in game 2 it was the reverse. This pattern didn't continue in game 3, at least as far as colors were concerned. Ding was Black and still had So on the ropes, but let him escape - more than once. He was so disgusted by this that he had a difficult time readjusting for game 4, especially when he was surprised in the opening, and offered a draw on move 9. So accepted, and they were on to the 10' + 10" games.

    It's harder to say if So had an advantage with White in game 5 after the opening. Maybe he had a tiny edge, maybe not, but Ding Liren's very energetic play starting with 20...Nxf2 put So on the defensive. Maybe he could have held with more time on his clock; in the game, Ding won convincingly, culminating in a queen vs. rook ending that he converted with ease. In the rematch, So was unable to create any problems for his opponent, who drew comfortably from a position of strength.

    Aronian vs. Vachier-Lagrave:

    Their classical games were on the tame side, but the rapid and blitz tiebreak was anything but. Vachier-Lagrave struck first, winning a good game with White in a Closed Ruy Lopez with 6.d3. (In fact, all the games where MVL had White went that way.) Aronian needed to win to stay alive, and win he did - quickly. In a 3.f3 Anti-Gruenfeld turned some sort of Modern Benoni, Aronian went for the jugular. His 15.Bc4 was a fascinating novelty, and while Vachier-Lagrave played six good moves in a row, the 7th move, 21...g5, was an error. That put him at death's door, and a further mistake on move 24 ended it.

    From 25'+10" to 10'+10". Aronian started with White this time, and went for the Russian System against the Gruenfeld. His choice in this game was rather iffy, and reminiscent of his anti-Gruenfeld line in game 1: many moves of well-known theory resulting in a position that doesn't require anything special from his opponent to keep the draw. He was always comfortable and doing whatever pressing there was to be done, but MVL held the draw without slipping into danger. The next game looked similar for a while: Aronian equalized comfortably, and it looked like an easy draw was on the way. It was - until White played 27.Qxb5? That gave Black very good winning chances, but errors on moves 29 and 33 let Vachier-Lagrave escape.

    On to the 5'+3" games. Aronian gave up trying to tackle the Gruenfeld and played the Barry Attack (via the London System) instead. This is a regular part of his blitz repertoire, but it's not clear that Vachier-Lagrave was well-prepared for it. Aronian got a very good position in the early middlegame, and was winning an excellently played blitz game until his 41st move. After a further error, he was even losing, but MVL returned the favor with big mistakes on moves 46 and 48, allowing Aronian to escape with a draw. Aronian again had some chances in the second blitz game, though they weren't as pronounced as in game 7. Once again, a draw resulted.

    And so at long last, the tournament had its first Armageddon game. Vachier-Lagrave won the coin toss and elected to take Black. Aronian got White and five minutes; MVL Black and four minutes, with no increment for either side until move 61. (Three seconds per move after that.) Most importantly, Black received draw odds, which means that unless Aronian won the game, Vachier-Lagrave would win the match.

    Aronian repeated the Barry Attack, and this time MVL was well-prepared, not only equalizing but getting the upper hand. White faced the further difficulty that the best way to neutralize Black's pressure would make the game more drawish. Fortunately for Aronian, Vachier-Lagrave played ambitiously rather than just sitting, and that gave White some chances. Practically speaking, Black lost the game on move 40, though he did get one last chance for a quasi-miraculous draw on move 54. Missing that, the game finished, oddly enough, in a queen vs. rook ending. A player can go years without reaching that ending or even seeing it in another game, but here both matches were decided in that same way.

    The most important part of the World Cup has finished, as the two Candidates spots have been determined. That said, the extra $40,000 going to the winner ($120k vs. $80k) is, to borrow an old Bullwinkle joke, antihistamine money: nothing to sneeze at! The finalists have tomorrow (Friday) off, and then start their best-of-four game match on Saturday.

    Today's tiebreak games are here, with my comments.

    Wednesday
    Sep202017

    World Cup, Round 6 (Semi-finals), Day 2: Again Draws; This Time Ding Liren Misses a Big Chance

    Today's games were an echo of yesterday's. Once again Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Levon Aronian made a short, effortless draw that suggests that even if collusion wasn't involved, both players were very willing from the start of the match to postpone the real battle to the tiebreaks. And once again Ding Liren and Wesley So played a fighting game in which White was pressing and had an opportunity to win or at least enjoy a very serious advantage, but failed to convert the chance. (I've annotated the games here.)

    Tomorrow's action will thus decide the fate of both matches, and with it the identity of two of the Candidates. The money going to the winner, as opposed to the runner-up, will be a nice chunk of change, but the biggest prize is getting to the finals, and thus the Candidates. The most important action of the entire tournament takes place tomorrow, so be sure to tune in!

    Tuesday
    Sep192017

    World Cup, Round 6 (Semi-Finals), Day 1: Two Draws; So Misses a Big Chance

    The game between Levon Aronian and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was a waste of the white pieces from a purely chess perspective, but maybe Aronian wasn't feeling well and needed another rest day. He went straight for Vachier-Lagrave's main opening weapon against 1.d4, the Gruenfeld, and went into the well-traveled paths of the 7.Nf3, 8.Rb1 line. For quite some time now theory has claimed that Black is completely fine, and Aronian's mini-novelty on move 24 didn't do much (if anything) to undermine that assessment or put it to the test. Sometimes a novelty leads to equality if the other player finds all the right moves, but finding those moves may not be easy at all. This does not seem to be true in this instance. Black had many completely satisfactory ways to continue, and if anything he could have been more ambitious than he was. The players agreed to a draw eight moves later.

    The game between Wesley So and Ding Liren was a very different story, even if it had the same ending. So was White in an Italian Game, and Ding Liren played an interesting idea that goes back to Akiba Rubinstein (not in that exact position): ...Qd8-b8, to put the queen on a7. It wasn't bad, but So found an excellent way of replying with 17.Qb3 followed by 18.Qb5, offering a trade of queens (Black's queen had subsequently reached a6). Black should have declined the offer, leaving it up to White, because after 18...Qxb5 19.axb5 and the essentially forced 19...b6 White now enjoyed pressure on the a-file, the looming possibility of a b4 pawn break, and beautiful outpost square on d5. So maneuvered a knight to d5, got the maximum out of the queenside, and then gained space on the kingside. Black was in trouble, and if that wasn't enough So was handed a great winning chance not on move 40, but on move 41 - right after the time control. Unfortunately, he quickly rejected the winning 41.Rxb3 for 41.Kc3 after less than three minutes, after which Black's concrete counterplay allowed him to draw. After 42...Rh2 So finally took some time to think, but now it was too late, and the game speedily finished in a perpetual.

    The final match is a best-of-four, but the semis are still best-of-two. Will MVL and Ding Liren punish their opponents, or will we see tiebreaks? Meanwhile, here are today's games, with my comments.

    Sunday
    Sep172017

    World Cup, Round 5, Day 3: Vachier-Lagrave Defeats Svidler in Tiebreaks

    Four is the number of the remaining players, but not the number of consecutive Candidates events for Peter Svidler. Instead, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is in the final four, one match away from his first Candidates tournament. (Not that it will be easy, as his next opponent is Levon Aronian.) He defeated Svidler after a pair of tiebreak games, both of which continued the theoretical duels of their classical games.

    In the first, Vachier-Lagrave was White in a Giuoco, with Svidler repeating the 10...a5 idea that he and Grischuk have now played a combined five times against MVL in the past week. White enjoyed a very mild plus through most of the game, but the eventual draw was no surprise.

    In game 2, Svidler again played the English, and MVL repeated the Symmetrical line with 5...Nb4 and 6...Nd3+. Svidler again played the curious 9.h4, and after the same six consecutive moves with the same knight, Black varied from their classical game. In that game, Black chose 10...Nbc6, while time MVL played 10...e6, as played in the only other game to have reached that position. Svidler already started to think here, which wasn't a particularly good sign for his fans. (But maybe I should say something like "fans of his play". Fans of his commentary may be thrilled; one may hope that he'll appear before the microphone somewhere for the semi-finals or at least the finals.) After 11.Bf4 a6 12.Nxd4 cxd4 13.Ne2 Nc6 Black had no problems to speak of. My suspicion is that if 9.h4 survives, it is 10.d3 that will go the way of the dodo. Black was soon better, and after 23.Qxd6+? Svidler was just about lost. Short on time as well, he was unable to put up much resistance, and Vachier-Lagrave won quickly and smoothly. (The games, with my notes, are here.)

    Tomorrow is a day off for everyone, and on Tuesday we get Aronian vs. MVL in one semi-final, and Wesley So against Ding Liren in the other.

    Saturday
    Sep162017

    World Cup, Round 5, Day 2: Aronian, So, and Ding Liren Advance; Vachier-Lagrave - Svidler Goes to Tiebreaks

    If there was a surprise in today's round, it was that everything one would expect came to pass. Levon Aronian had to work to neutralize Vassily Ivanchuk's attempts to get revenge with White, and he succeeded in that task. Ivanchuk played a long time, but never came close to winning the game. Favorites Wesley So and Ding Liren drew easily with Black on Friday, and used the white pieces today to defeat Vladimir Fedoseev and Richard Rapport, respectively. Finally, the most evenly matched pairing, between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Peter Svidler, finished in a second straight draw, so they'll go to tiebreaks tomorrow.

    A complication with the tidy narrative: while the MVL-Svidler game was short, there was an exchange of errors on Black's 19th and White's 20th moves. White had a crude but powerful tactical idea at his disposal, and had he found it the match most likely would have come to an end, and the show would go dark tomorrow. Instead, the action continues.

    The players finally get their first official, universal rest day on Monday, which means that Aronian, So, and Ding Liren will have two days off to get ready for the semi-final. Aronian won't know the identity of his opponent until the MVL-Svidler tiebreak concludes, while So and Ding Liren will prepare for each other - and no doubt already are.

    Games here.

    Saturday
    Sep162017

    Notre Dame 49, Boston College 20

    That's more like it!

    Season record: 2-1.

    Next victim: Michigan State, which "coincidentally" had a bye this week so they could be healthy and well-rested. Three other teams later in the year have arranged their schedules to produce similar "coincidences". Funny how that works.

    Saturday
    Sep162017

    ND to Poach the Eagles, Starting Now

    Notre Dame's task this week is to whip Boston College in a road game that starts approximately...now. The game is on ESPN, for those who are interested. For those who aren't interested - if any such persons exist - it's still on ESPN.

    Reading material on the subject, here.