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    Monday
    Jul232018

    Dortmund Finishes; Biel Begins

    Today marked an intensification of chess activity - along with the decisive round of Dortmund, today featured the inaugural round of the Biel Chess Festival! This year's incarnation of Biel features a small but incredibly potent lineup - any tournament featuring Magnus the Great is worth following, and he is followed by fellow 2800 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (I'm incredibly happy I was able to spell his name without double checking), fellow super GMs Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Peter Svidler, Czech standout and 2700 David Navara (and, I must say, an incredibly good human being - Google what happened between him and Moiseenko in 2011 if you want to have your faith in humanity restored), and promising Swiss GM Georgiadis (who will most certainly be taking some learning bumps from this Murderer's Row). We'll discuss this 1st round shortly - but first, the last round of Dortmund!

     

    Ian Nepomniachtchi came into the last round leading by half a point and was facing the ultra solid Meier - though Nepo had the White pieces, defeating such a solid player wasn't a given at all. Should he keep the guaranteed draw in hand and rely on the other games ending peacefully? Should he go all out for a win and risk being overtaken? However, similar to how Alexander the Great solved the Gordian Knot with the sword, Nepo solved his dilemma by cutting Meier in half! The game featured a Rubinstein French, where Nepo brought out the aggressive 7. Ne5 (a line first championed by Kasparov, which put Black's whole line under pressure when first formulated). Meier responded with the slightly offbeat 7...Bd6 (7...Be7 and 7...c5 are more normal). I'm not sure if Meier had some specific prep in mind or if Nepo dodged it via some move order, but Nepo gained a very fluid and dangerous attacking structure. Nepo managed to shatter Black's kingside structure in exchange for losing castling rights - White's king was in no danger on f1, whereas Black's king was feeling quite a bit of heat in his well ventilated hut. 19...Kg7? was a large inaccuracy, placing the Black monarch on a soon to open g file. 21...Bd7 was far too routine (21...Rh8 was better, but Black's position was critical anyways), and 22. Qh5! was lovely attacking technique (preventing Black from bypassing the can opener g5 with ...h5). After this, the game was essentially over, and Nepo finished off Meier with pure style. A lovely game, and a delightfully worthy way to finish off a very successful tournament.

     

    The other games all ended in peace through various methods - Nisipeanu-Wojtaszek featured two players who've had tournaments that they'll do their best to forget. Although Nisipeanu achieved a little bit from an odd Ragozin/Nimzo hybrid (two bishops against two knights), Wojtaszek's knights had good activity on the queenside, and the players found their way to peace before the time control. Kovalev-Kramnik featured an opening that wouldn't look out of place from the 1850s - perhaps this is a wonky Scotch Gambit? Regardless of nomenclature, Kramnik did a good job of consolidating, and his extra pawn was balanced out by White's activity and Black's unsafe king. However, once again, Kramnik found a way to put himself in extreme danger, as 30...Nb5? was met with the excellent 31. Bf6!, giving Kovalev an extra exchange. However, in a rook and pawn vs. knight and pawn ending, Kovalev didn't manage to find a way through, and Kramnik managed to desperately hang on for the draw. I dearly hope that Kramnik rediscovers the form and stability that made him the best player in the world - these constant explosions have become all too common for him. Finally, the game Giri-Duda featured both players trying their best to keep winning chances alive in case Nepomniachtchi stumbled. Duda brought out the Pirc as a way of unbalancing the game. Like most situations where you're playing an unfamiliar opening for the artificial purpose of trying to win, it backfired, and Giri developed very dangerous attacking possibilities against the weak kingside dark squares. However, Giri never went for the throat - there were several moments where White seemingly could have rushed his kingside pawns forward and crushed the weakened Black kingside. Even after Giri traded queens he still retained an advantage - however, both sides chose a very strange sequence with very odd material combinations on offer (rook vs. two minors, rook for bishop, piece sacrifice for two pawns...all within a few moves!). They finally settled on Black having a rook for a bishop and three pawns - however, Black's huge activity slightly more than balanced this out. Black could have pressed for something - however, after seeing Nepomniachtchi crush Meier, Duda chose to liquidate his rook for White's bishop and a pawn, and he easily held a pawn down ending where virtually all the pieces were frozen up by passed pawns on either side. With these results, Nepomniachtchi won Dortmund 2018 by a full point - though this could have easily been a different tournament had Duda converted his winning edge in the penultimate round, Nepo went +3 and undefeated, and this is an absolutely superb result worth celebrating.

     

    Now, on to Biel! Any game with Carlsen is going to be the game of focus, and today he took the White pieces against Navara. A Ragozin came about, and Carlsen typically chose to keep things in quiet and non theoretical channels. Carlsen got tangled up a bit, however - his plan of Nb5-d4 was a bit artificial, and 15. Nc2?! forced an early queen sac(!) for rook and bishop. Navara was most certainly slightly better, but...it's simply incredibly to watch Carlsen play against "ordinary" GMs. And here, he's even playing another member of the world elite. Carlsen did nothing flashy - he simply outplayed Navara step by step, move by move. Navara managed to reach a queen vs. rook and knight ending that most strong players would consider a dead drawn fortress...and yet, Carlsen just kept the game alive at every moment, waited for Navara's small missteps, and exploited every one of them. Carlsen never provoked a crisis, and Navara never even really made any major blunders - all Carlsen did was show a world class player, over and over, that his moves were 2nd or 3rd best. An absolute classic technical performance from the best chess player of all time (yeah, I said it - come at me, bruh).

     

    MVL-Svidler featured a sort of Spanish structure that you might get from an anti-Marshall line. Svidler selected a sort of Chigorin-ish structure, and MVL gained the edge of the two bishops (his light squared bishop especially being quite strong). The game continued along fairly balanced lines until 27...Nxb5, which seems to unnecessarily grant White a very strong protected passer. White transformed this advantage into a weakened Black kingside and chances for an attack - however, at the critical moment MVL chose to force a repetition! Though it's not clear that White had anything forced, it certainly looked worth getting past the time control and seeing what things look like.

     

    And finally, the game Mamedyarov-Georgiadis featured what will be the first of many learning experiences for the Swiss GM. Mamedyarov deployed an anti-QGD/Slav structure that has been growing in popularity for the past 6-7 years. Giorgiadis quickly went wrong, and Mamedyarov poked and prodded at Black's pawn mass with his bishop pair. Mamedyarov won a pawn, shifted to a kingside attack, Georgiadis gave up the ghost at move 28. As long as he learns from his encounters with the world elite, he can count any result in this tournament as a success. Tomorrow features the heavyweight matchups of MVL-Carlsen and Navara-Mamedyarov, while Georgiadis has a 2nd Black in a row against Svidler. Thanks so much for staying with us for Dortmund, and we'll see you tomorrow for Biel!


    http://view.chessbase.com/cbreader/2018/7/22/Game1032128703.html

    Sunday
    Jul222018

    Dortmund 2018, Round 6

    Good rainy Saturday to everyone (at least in South Bend, Indiana)! Today featured the penultimate round of Dortmund, and some critical matchups came to very consequential conclusions.

     

    The most important of the round was Duda-Nepomniachtchi - Nepo, going into the round, held a half point lead over the field, and Duda with the White pieces was sure to push hard for a win. And push he did! Nepo deployed a 2...d6 Sicilian, and Duda responded with the 3. Bb5+ Rossolimo. The game reached a slightly odd version of a Qxd4 Sicilian, but reached an opening structure that wouldn't look out of place from a Be2 Najdorf. Duda gained an early bind on Nepo's queenside with a4-5 - although this wasn't instantly fatal, this proved incredibly useful in the course of the game. Duda greatly benefitted from his early trade of his light squared bishop for a knight - both of Duda's knights were aimed at the weak d5 square, and he patiently maneuvered for a bind. Nepo seemed to start drifting with moves like 16...Bf8 and 17...Rc6 - neither of these moves accomplished anything positive and allowed Duda time to strengthen his bind on Black's position. 19. c4 was a big achievement from Duda - this established a complete bind over any potential counterplay, as ...b6 had also been stymied (the value of a4-5!). Black's only remaining attempt at counterplay should have been prepared with 20...g6, when White's edge is still bearable. Nepo, however, stayed passive, and Duda only strengthened his grip. A notable concept from Duda was 28. Ra2!? - this "mysterious" rook move presaged doubling on the a file, which prevented Black's only remaining break of ...b6. Duda switched his attention to a kingside march, and achieved a typical Sicilian pawn wedge. After perfectly preparing everything, Duda was all set for g5, when holding for Black would have been virtually impossible. And yet...the pawn remained on g4 the rest of the game! It's remarkable that Duda never played this - it's the most natural move in the world, and it would have completely broken Black's kingside defenses. Duda grew distracted by queenside maneuvering and winning material, but Black gained annoying counterplay against White's extended structure. After the surprising 52...Bxc4!, Black shattered White's stability, and Duda had no choice but to allow the draw. Duda had Nepo dead to rights - it wasn't even a matter of Nepo defending well, since Duda had a clear breakthrough for an almost certain win.

     

    The game of Meier-Nisipeanu featured a man with a perfect record of tranquility against a man who has had a regrettable tournament. Meier brought out his traditional Catalan, but quickly deviated with the slightly non-standard 6. Nc3. How chess thought changes - I can remember when I was a teenager 20 years ago (oh gosh...it really was that long ago...) the received wisdom was this was a clear error, and simply a bad Queen's Gambit where the bishop on g2 is biting on granite. Chess thought has become refined and more concrete - anything works as long as the moves show it does! Nisipeanu could have stayed in more normal Open Catalan lines, but we were treated to the interesting maneuver of 7...Qd6 and 8...Qa6!? - this obviously misplaces the queen, but puts real pressure on White to either recover the pawn or immediately develop compensation for the investment. As an aside, even this curiosity isn't outside of theory - my database shows a game between Efimenko-Kravtsiv in 2015. Still an improvement over the thousands of games that usually inform a usual Catalan duel! Meier eventually made it a permanent sacrifice with excellent positional compensation with superior coordination and Black's misplaced queen. Meier chose to steer the game into a queenless middlegame where White's compensation persisted, and Nisipeanu made a poor choice in 19...Bd7 (a natural attempt to develop, but better was 19...Rxa4 followed by sacrificing the exchange with good compensation). Meier found his way to a complex position where he had bishop and knight for rook and wounded pawn, but Nisipeanu still had chances to hold - 23...Rd1+ was a mistake, trading off his most active piece. Better was 23...b5, poking away one of White's active knights and keeping his active rook stationed on the open file. Things eventually settled into a pure bishop and knight vs. rook duel - even in these well worked out times, the theory of this ending isn't incredibly clear. The rook is certainly the defending side, but there are classic games with the rook defending successfully - the main classic that comes to mind is a Capablanca-Lasker game with pawns all on the kingside where Lasker successfully defended with the rook. Here, however, the presence of queenside pawns favours the bishop and knight - with two pieces against one, Meier is able to stretch Nisipeanu's defenses a bit more. White began to expand a bit, and Nisipeanu missed a couple of chances to defend better - 42...b6 was probably a bit more accurate, getting his pawn off a light square and taking away a square from the White knight. 46...Re1 would also have been more accurate, forcing White to degrade his activity to allow the king movement. In general, endgames like these aren't lost with big blunders, but with slow drifts, and this game confirmed that generality - Nisipeanu resigned at move 49 in a position where he could have played on, but White had complete control and weak pawns on b6 and f6 to focus down.

     

    The game Wojtaszek-Kovalev was another Catalan with an early Nc3 (gosh, I hope this catches on - the Catalan needs some renewed vigor) with a bit more a quiet bent than the Meier-Nisipeanu game - Kovalev took on an isolated pawn with the usual activity attendant with the weakness. Kovalev nabbed the bishop pair and got queens off the board, the resultant endgame shouldn't have been any problems for Black - his unopposed dark squared bishop prevents any queenside invasions, and he can cover all the penetration points on the c file with his bishop pair (a common theme!). 23...Be6?! was an odd move, however, allowing White to break up the bishop pair, ventilated Black's pawns a bit, and allowed ownership of the c file for White. Though Black was still solid, White developed a bit of an initiative, and it seems that Wojtaszek missed an opportunity for more (38. Nb4 was inaccurate, while 38. Kg2 prepares pressure on the freshly isolated h pawn). Wojtaszek, perhaps under time pressure, essentially gave up winning chances with 40. Nd3, trading down into a rook and opposite bishops ending with no winning chances for either side. The players found their way to peace seven moves later

     

    And finally, Kramnik-Giri featured another frustrating performance from my favourite world champion. The line between genius and flippancy can often be quite thin, and Kramnik has been notable in the past few years for giving some quite strange openings a try. When they work, they look like inspired methods of avoiding prep - when they don't work... Well, today's opening didn't work - this was an odd Zukertort where Kramnik's very early b3 allowed a queenside invasion that extracted a concession of both of White's bishops. The position found its way to a hanging pawns structure where the lack of White bishops denied Kramnik any dynamic play. Giri played against the pawn duo in classic fashion - he forced the advance of the d pawn and blocked the pawns while preparing direct pressure against the blockaded structure (Nimzowitsch nods from eternity!). Giri, however, lost a bit of control over the position - Kramnik decided to sacrifice his doomed c pawn for good activity, and this seemed to balance the position. However...one of the hallmarks of Kramnik's recent decline has been irrational optimism in drawn or even slightly worse positions. For instance, after 29. Rf3 Nh4 30. Re3 Nf5, I'm reasonably certain this was Giri showing he was perfectly happy with a draw - and this is fully justified, as the position is quite equal! Kramnik kept going, however, and he sacrificed his a pawn! Even this was still balanced, however, with White's activity providing good threats. 35. Ng4?! represented the first step into the abyss, and 36. Rec1? simply left Black a full pawn up with two passers ready to march. 37...Nh4? provided more drama, when White can possible defend after 39. Kg1, when White's rook on the 7th gives Kramnik drawing chances. However...Kramnik removed his rook from the 7th! There was no further intrigue to the game, as Giri consolidated and marched his passers to the end zone. Another sad end for Kramnik, who has been losing his sense of danger and objectivity at very inopportune moments.

     

    After these dramatic results, we go into the last round with Nepomniachtchi leading the field by half a point with 4/6. He's followed by a logjam of four players - Giri, Duda, Kovalev, and Meier all stand at 3.5/6. The final game features Nepomniachtchi-Meier, where Nepo's best course of action is unclear - Meier is an incredibly solid player, but with White Nepo will certainly have the urge to cinch tournament victory with a win. Giri and Duda face off, and both will be looking to add a victory to match Nepo in the case of him drawing Meier. Kovalev looks to keep up with the pack with White against Kramnik, and Nisipeanu and Wojtaszek play in a game that's unlikely to feature much combat. We'll see you for the finale!

     

    Saturday
    Jul212018

    Dortmund, Round 5

    Good day once again! Round 5 of Dortmund featured some hard fights, but only one decisive results - this one result, however, was extremely consequential for the rest of the tournament.

     To start with, however, the game Giri-Wojtaszek saw if either player could edge closer towards the leader. Giri opened with a classical Reti, and Wojtaszek opted for an open version with 4...dxc4 (4...Be7 could potentially lead to a Catalan or a closed Reti). The game moved along typically quiet Reti lines, with Giri enjoying the at least symbolic advantage of the bishop pair. Though Giri might have missed a couple of chances to increase the pressure a bit more than he did, Wotjaszek was always quite solid, and they found their way to a completely drawn rook ending.

    The game Duda-Meier was an opportunity for the young super GM to bounce back after a tough loss to Kramnik. However, Meier with Black was sure to offer all possible impediments to a decisive result. Another Reti came out, but this time a sort anti QGD that has seen some outings lately (the most prominent acolyte of this has been Karjakin, who has scored some nice wins over...Anand and Kramnik!). Meier clarified the central tension with a quick ...dxc4, and Duda displayed his aggressive intentions with 9. g4!? - this sort of early flank thrust is emblematic of modern chess, and is thematic for these sorts of structures. Meier responded in a surprisingly (at least for him!) confrontational manner, and it was Duda who found his way to trading down to an endgame where his advanced g pawn was only a wistful reminder of more promising times. The players found their way to a repetition before the time control, marking a slight disappointment for Duda and a perfect record of peace for Meier.

    The game Kovalev-Nisipeanu marked another opportunity for one of the four leaders to assert themselves, and perhaps the most promising opportunity - Nisipeanu has had an apocalyptically bad tournament until today, and had the Black pieces to boot! However, Nisipeanu did a fine job of stabilizing today - he deployed the French, and Kovalev deployed the Tarrasch, which the world elite seem to have decided isn't as critical as 3. Nc3 (but perhaps that's just fashion!). A queenless middlegame came about where White had a slight edge in mobilization, and Nisipeanu sacrificed a pawn for the two bishops and a reduction in White's pressure. Several further reductive transformations occured, with the position eventually simplifying to rook and bishops of same colour and 3 vs. 2 on the queenside. This is a dead draw as a pure rook ending, and the addition of bishops does nothing to change this evaluation - though Kovalev maneuvered for awhile, Nisipeanu was never under any stress, and the game was drawn on move 62.

    The decisive game of the round was Nepomniachtchi-Kramnik, which featured a very surprising opening choice from Big Vlad - the Arkhangelsk! Caruana has done some good work with this opening in the past, and Svidler has made some real theoretical contributions to this line, but my database shows no previous games of Kramnik's with this line. This is certainly a completely different tenor from the Berlin, and it makes me wonder - did Kramnik view this as a must win game? Kramnik's last two games weren't at all unfavourable - White against Giri and Black against Kovalev (the 2nd lowest rated participant), and being tied for 1st with two more rounds to go isn't an unfavourable tournament situation at all. It's not as if he decided to play the Latvian Gambit, but the Arkhangelsk certainly carries much more risk than his usual repetoire. All of that throat clearing aside, Kramnik very quickly veered off the beaten track with 8...b4, and the game after 13...0-0 reached a strange and imbalanced standoff - White's pawn centre will either collapse, or it will cramp Black into oblivion. 16. Nbd2 was perhaps a misstep allowing Black to misplace White's pieces, but Kramnik responded with a misstep in kind with 17...Qf4 - Kramnik either missed or underestimated 20. c5, which severely cramps Black's position. Kramnik was forced to put on his defensive hat afterwards, but simply allowed most of his queenside to drop up. For most of the game, Black's dark squared bishop was a complete spectator to the destruction of Black's army, and Kramnik resigned just after the time control.

    An incredible loss! This is somewhat reminiscent of some of his decisions from the Candidates tournament - underestimating his tournament standing, playing all out for a win in inappropriate situations, very optimistic opening choices, and an absolute near collapse when under pressure.

    With this decisive victory, Nepomniachtchi moves into the lead with 3.5/5, half a point ahead of Kovalev and Duda. Saturday's round will feature the very important matchup of Duda-Nepomniachtchi - a Nepo win and Kovalev draw (who plays Black against Wojtaszek) would guarantee Nepo a share of 1st. I don't believe Nepo will go all out and "burn his bridges" - he has a very practical style of play, and I would expect him to look to keep the proverbial bird well in hand. On the other hand, this is Duda's big chance to make up for his loss to Kramnik - this is the young super GMs first big shot in a prominent world tournament, and it's moments like this from which legends are forged. Kramnik looks to recover some ground with White against Giri, and I fully expect the Meier-Nisipeanu game to be refulgent with love and peace. See you then!

     

    Friday
    Jul202018

    Other Events: U.S. Junior, Vitiugov vs. Hou Yifan

    Good Dortmund off day to you, comrades! Though the main focus of the chess world is on holiday today, I wanted to take the opportunity to take a glance at some other doings in the world of chess - other fascinating events are taking place!

     In the United States, the US Junior Championships are taking place - this symposium of disgustingly young mega talents finished its 7th round today with another bloodbath of a round. Because these are strong players with an abundance of youth, the games have featured exciting and decisive chess - of course, once they become burdened with age, they'll start playing the English and worrying about pawn structures...~gulp~ As befits his top rating, Awonder Liang sits atop the field with 5/7, half a point ahead of Chandra and Patel. Annie Wang, the sensation of the US Women's Championship, has turned in a regrettable result - shared last with 1.5/7.

     

    In more neutral news, the Swiss Championship is taking place with a reasonably strong field - it features young talents such as Noel Studer, established GMs like Yannick Pelletier, and old stalwarts like Joel Gallagher. So far, the field is running in order of rating, with #1 seed Gogner running the field with 6.5/8, a point and a half free of 2nd place Georgiadis.

     

    One of the more interesting events was a rapid and blitz match between Hou Yifan and Nikita Vitiugov that ran July 15th-16th. Hou Yifan, of course, is the strongest player in the world by a long shot. Her opponent, Nikita Vitiugov, is a young and extremely dangerous Russian player who is starting his march into the world top 20. Hou Yifan had a stretch of appearances in some of the usual elite tournaments, and I really hope that continues (WARNING: SOAPBOX SPEECH) - most of what gets said about women in chess is utter nonsense. Repeated claims that women simply aren't physiologically or psychologically cut out for strong chess just seem like sexist tropes that could be cut/pasted into previous arguments from 100 years ago. Just as the Vera Menchik Club grew to accumulate many a member, I hope the Hou Yifan Club gains a thriving newsletter subscription list. The players had four rapid games of 15 minutes with 10 second increment, with ten blitz games of 3 minutes with 2 second increments. The rapid match featured a very professional performance from Vitiugov, with a very beautiful win on the Black side of a Breyer Spanish along with three draws. The blitz match showed Vitiugov letting his hair down and asserting himself, winning the match 6.5-3.5. I've chosen to highlight his excellent rapid win with some light comments, along with highlighting two of their more interesting blitz games.

     

    I hope you enjoy this, and we'll see you for Round 5 of Dortmund!

     

    http://view.chessbase.com/cbreader/2018/7/19/Game783073390.html

    Thursday
    Jul192018

    Dortmund, Round 4: Four Tied For First

    Greetings again, comrades! This Round 4 featured some very critical matchups for the future of this tournament, and we got a clearer picture of the fate of some of its participants. 

     

    Unfortunately, Nisipeanu's fate looks to be a very disappointing placing - after an excellent draw with Black against Kramnik to start the tournament, today made his third defeat in a row. Today he went against Giri with the White pieces, and a classically inclined Be2 Najdorf appeared. Nisipeanu chose a slightly offbeat Bg5 set up, and two pairs of minor pieces were quickly Hoovered from the board. Nisipeanu chose the tempting but slightly inaccurate 14. Bg4?! - though this deprived Black of the right to castle, this was outweighed by the misplaced bishop being slightly trapped on h3. Nisipeanu got queens off the board, but this did not solve his misplaced minor pieces. Giri opened up lines on the queenside and developed some pressure, and Nisipeanu allowed a very unfavourable structure change with 30. Rd5? - Giri's knight jumped into the fray, and White's position collapsed in due order. We've all had nightmare tournaments, and I hope Nisipeanu is able to find some stability and find his bearings.

     

    The game Meier-Kovalev featured Meier's typical Catalan, and Black experienced no difficulties at all - after 17...c5, pieces were very quickly traded off into a bishop ending. Even with Black's pawns being on dark squares, there were no hopes of White rustling up winning chances, and the players found a repetition by the time control.

     

    Wojtaszek-Nepomniachtchi was a fascinating game featuring a sort of Baltic Queen's Gambit - the game briefly followed a Gelfand-Nepo game from two weeks ago. The opening ended with a position that would make Tarrasch's head explode with rage and scornful correspondence - Wojtaszek established a pawn centre of c4-d4-e4-f4 with no Black pawns in the centre at all, yet Black had a perfectly acceptable position! It's not clear if Wojtaszek missed any real chances to make something of his space edge, but it's clear that he drifted - Nepo established an effective blockade and stopped White's only central break and achieved his own kingside break with ...g5. The final position of the game featured dangerous kingside play for Nepo, and he very easily could have played on and pressed with zero risk - it's slightly curious that he didn't at least play on a bit.

     

    But the real centerpiece of this round was Kramnik-Duda - going in to this round, Duda led the field by half a point, and Kramnik was a full point behind. Kramnik chose the English Four Knights to test the young super GM, and play avoided the super sharp and well analyzed lines for a more technical position. Kramnik, after 12. Bg5, seemed to be fairly comfortable - two bishop, central pressure, open queenside lines for play. However, Kramnik made a slightly surprising decision to trade off his bishop pair to win a fairly lacklustre pawn - Duda was able to reach a heavy piece late middlegame with good counterplay, with a very strong rook on c2. However, the key moment of the game came with 22...Rc8? - this deprived Black of said counterplay and allowed Kramnik to maintain his queen and rook deep in Black's position. Duda felt that trading queens was mandatory, and this resulted in a rook ending where White's rook on the 7th dominated proceedings. Kramnik made no missteps and finished off the game with crisp technique, which is completely in character - of world champions, I would say Kramnik most likely has the very best endgame technique (outside maaaaaaaaybe Smyslov, though my admiration of Kramnik colors my judgment).

     

    With Kramnik's very consequential win, we go into the second rest day with a four way tie for 1st between Duda, Kramnik, Nepomniachtchi, and Kovalev. Round 5 features a consequential game between Nepo and Kramnik, while Kovalev seems to have a favourable pairing of White against the struggling Nisipeanu. Duda will take the White pieces and attempt the break the drawing machine Meier, while Giri and Wojtaszek will lock horns and fight to move up into the struggle for 1st. We'll see you then!

    Wednesday
    Jul182018

    Dortmund 2018, Round 3

    **DM: More fine work by John Cole ensues.**

     

    After a rejuvenating rest day (and almost two rest days for some, given the course of a game from Round 2...), Round 3 of Dortmund kicked into gear with some real hand to hand combat.

     

    The first game to finish was Nepomniachtchi-Nisipeanu, and it unfortunately looks like Nisipeanu isn't finding his best form in this tournament. After suddenly dropping a clear pawn against Duda in Round 2, Nisipeanu was virtually swept from the board by Nepomniachtchi in a very smooth looking effort. Nepo decided to forestall Nisipeanu's drawing weapon from Round 1 with 6. Qc2, and the game quickly moved along established theoretical channels (as an aside, it makes me somewhat sad that the Carlsbad QGD, one of the classic openings of my youth [and of chess history!], never seems to make it to the board in top level chess - though it's certainly understandable why, as Black often gets milked like the proverbial moo cow). After obtaining a very solid position in the face of a queenside demonstration, Nisipeanu missed some opportunities to reroute his queenside knight. Without this rerouting, White quickly gained free tempi with his queenside pawn storm, and achieved a strangling pawn structure and a very weak a pawn to grind against. Although it's quite understandable that defending a cheerless position is very difficult, Nisipeanu missed some chances to offer more stout resistance, and Nepo very quickly ground Black's cramped position into the dust with play that should absolutely find its way into a Dvoretsky manual (wonderful usage of the principle of two weaknesses!).

     

    The next to finish was the resumption of the struggle for Polish supremacy between Duda and Wojtaszek - it looks like my initial prediction is doing quite well (I deserve somewhere between .0000001% and zero percent credit for this). Duda trotted out the Trompovsky, which somewhat paradoxically is a well established method of avoiding established methods. Play diverged into a quasi-Benoni structure, with the usual Tromp imbalance of pawn structure vs. two bishops. Neither side seemed to grapple with the problems of the opening in the most optimal manner, which is completely understandable in relatively uncharted waters. Wojtaszek, especially, seemed to have missed some concrete chances for more dynamic play and a possible edge with more assertive queenside play (12...b5 strikes me as one of his largest missed opportunities, in lieu of the slower 12...Rb8). Wojtaszek started his irreparable decline with the anti-positional 16...b4?!, turning his dynamic pawn duo into a light squared sieve (better was 16...Ra8!, when White's bishop is really wishing for another life). It wasn't too late for Wojtaszek to simply hold serve, but he was relying on a long tactical sequence that Duda simply calculated and assessed more effectively - either 22...Qb5 or 22...Nxe3 seem to hold the balance, while the game's 22...Qc5? simply drops the piece back with a pawn edge for White. Wojtaszek had some opportunities for more stiff resistance, but errors almost always come in multitudes - after inflicting tripled pawns on Black's position, it was simply a matter of Duda finding the most controlled method of converting his material edge.

     

    Giri-Kovalev immediately found its way into non traditional channels - the Nimzowitsch Sicilian seems like a typo, but has occasionally found its way into top level chess (unfortunately for the Black side, however, the last outing that springs to mind was a 2016 game of Carlsen-Grandelius where Magnus the Great very efficiently demonstrated his superiority). The older I've gotten, the more I appreciate offbeat openings - formerly an "openings snob" in my youth, I've grown to enjoy deviations away from 30 move computer printouts. And as if to immediately demonstrate the practical equity of avoiding top level prep, Kovalev took on a very normal IQP structure (one that wouldn't look out of place from a Tarrasch French) and very quickly equalized! Without any heavy pieces or knights on the board, Kovalev's isolated pawn only represented a symbolic weakness. After some very cagey shuffling, however, Giri overlooked a clever tactical liquidation - 35. Qd1? allowed 35...d4! (surprising, but this is always a theme with the isolani!), with deadly threats of mate on normal looking responses forcing Giri to be the one to accede to pawn weaknesses. After a very accurate sequence from Kovalev, however, he missed his big chance - 44...Bxa4 looks critical, when Black certainly has robust chances for a win with two passers. Giri managed to gain counterplay against Black's king, and things stabilized into a tense standoff. However, Giri allowed more chances for Kovalev with 55. Bc2?! - 55...Qf4! staked out a dangerous grip on the kingside, as 56. Qxf4?? leads to a winning bishop ending for Black. Black's queen hovered over the kingside as the Damoclesian cliche while Giri struggled to find counterplay against the Black king. Giri finally allowed the decisive blow of 66...g4, prying apart White's kingside. With the threat of ...h4 introduced and the Black king finding shelter behind the freshly fianchettoed bishop, White was helpless.

     

    Finally, Kramnik-Meier was a French (Kramnik with 1. e4 - sorcery!) where Kramnik very purposefully steered the game into the most technical channels possible - Meier brought out the Rubinstein 3...dxe4 French (Meier brought out 3...Nf6 against Kramnik in 2016, and the resulting Steinitz French saw Big Vlad dish out a positively beautiful trouncing - I'm sure this was an intentional change of pace), and Kramnik's choice of 11. d5 brought a balanced pawn structure. Kramnik managed to coordinate his pieces nicely and started a general squeeze on the kingside, but this never brought forth any meaningful opportunities for an assault. Meier perhaps allowed a bit of a chance, and it's very surprising Kramnik didn't go down this path - 42. Qxa7 was the only real chance to continue the technical struggle with hopes for a win. Perhaps this is still within drawing territory, but Kramnik's choice of 42. Qb1+ Kg8 43. Re4 was essentially an admission of a draw, which officially came six moves later.

     

    A blood drenched round! Duda has established a half point lead over the field, directly followed by Kovalev and Nepomniachtchi. Tomorrow looms large for the talented super GM - Black against Big Vlad, and Kramnik will be sure to press hard to overtake the leader. See you then!


     

    Monday
    Jul162018

    Dortmund 2018, Round 2

    Greetings again, Caissaic comrades! We're back again with Round 2 coverage of Dortmund, with this round featuring a bit more blood than yesterday.

     The game Meier-Giri, however, certainly did not provide any hemoglobin for viewing pleasure. Meier is known for having a very technical style that often verges towards peaceful, and Giri is almost notorious for his ability to force draws and avoid danger. (As an aside, as to the latter, this strikes me as particularly unfair - Giri has a tremendous sense of humour about these aspersions, so he doesn't actively attempt to disperse these barbs, but his rating and results deserve far more than chuckles. He's one of the best players in the world, and 99.9% of players can't even imagine playing up to his level.) Meier (via his usual 1. Nf3 move order) deployed the Catalan, which in my eyes is in need of a major rejuvenation - Black has discovered quite a few equalizing methods against this once feared squeezing weapon, and it's been quite awhile since I've seen Black in any form of trouble in a top level game. The game quickly zoomed towards opposite coloured bishops and an efficient liquidation towards peace.

    Nisipeanu-Duda (the Battle of the Hyphenation) finished quickly as well, but with a decisive result. Nisipeanu chose a 3. Bb5+ Sicilian, and the game found its way to one of the biggest traditional main lines of the Rossolimo. Duda was the first to play an offbeat move, with 10...Ng8 being a very strange choice (10...Ne4 is by far the usual choice, with hundreds of master games). I'm not sure if this discombobulated Nisipeanu, but the game took a strategically interesting path - Duda very confidently castled queenside, and the game was set for a fascinating battle with central pressure, dueling outposts, and opposite side pawn storms. Suddenly, however, Nisipeanu dropped a pawn! I'm not sure if this was a sacrifice, or a failure to recognize that 19. b4 g4 20. b5 is an in between move that maintains the balance. Whatever it was, Duda snatched off the pawn and very confidently converted his material edge with zero counterplay.

    The most incredible game of the day has to be Wojtaszek-Kramnik. Kramnik took a break from his usual QGD/Semi-Tarrasch adventures to give the Nimzo a try, and Wojtaszek tried a slightly offbeat Bg5/e3 mixture that has recently seen a couple of outings in top flight chess - it is most notorious for featuring in last year's game Bai Jinshi-Ding Liren, which in my eyes was the most beautiful game of 2017 (which I have listed in the game link in the notes, if you haven't partaken of the aesthetic experience). This game took a much more tranquil course, with Kramnik turning the tables on his usual Semi-Tarrasch adventures and taking on an isolated but passed d pawn for himself. The game was following a logical course, with Black perhaps having a slightly better side of a draw...and Kramnik suddenly sacrificed his queen! Kramnik had a high profile explosion of overly optimistic decisions in the recent Candidates tournament (which produced some slightly harsh but hilarious memes), and this decision certainly continues the trend. Neither player handled the resulting imbalance in the most efficient way, and the evaluation pingponged between equal and better for White. Wojtaszek seems to have missed a clear chance for an edge with 41. Qf6 (the move after the time control - a somewhat cursed move number!), and immediately afterwards the players found their way to a repetition.

    Finally, the game Kovalev-Nepomniachtchi was another Rossolimo, with White transitioning from a Lopez style structure to a bit of a Meran/c3 Sicilian structure. White never really gained anything from the opening, with his pawns on a5 and e5 allowing outpost squares more than really cramping Black. 26. Nxe6 essentially turned out to be a fancy transmutation of material, with White gaining a knight, rook, and pawn for a queen. I'm surprised Nepo allowed so much liquidation - he very quickly traded into an ending where White has bishop, rook, and two pawns for the queen. There were a couple of moments where Nepo appears to have been in real danger, and Kovalev was always playing "for two results only". Kovalev missed some opportunities to test Nepo more thoroughly, but with a completely open board and the queen's propensity for sudden checking mechanisms (see yesterday's Nepo-Giri game!) making technical progress would have been quite difficult. Peace was agreed to on move 90.

    Games here.

    Sunday
    Jul152018

    Dortmund 2018, Round 1

    [Note from DM: You're in for a treat! I'm going to be busy with this and that for a couple of weeks, so you, dear readers, are in for an upgrade. Enjoy!]

    Greetings, fellow chess enthusiasts! My name is John Cole, and for the next couple of weeks I'll be helping out Dennis by temporarily taking the reins of his esteemed blog. As a brief introduction: Dennis and I are both Indiana residents and both slightly antiquated, quasi-retired FIDE Masters. We share an admiration for Kramnik and share a dislike of existentialism, and we've both grown slightly stodgier in our playing style after the fiery tactical skirmishes of our youth.

    Today marked the kickoff of the beloved Dortmund tournament, a chess symposium that has regularly come together since 1973. The most prominent regular competitor, of course, is Vladimir Kramnik, who is justly celebrated for having won the event a record 10(!) times. His next closest rivals to success this year are Anish Giri, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Jan Krzysztof-Duda, and Radoslav Wojtaszek. In my eyes, Krzysztof-Duda is a very notable participant to watch – he has recently overtaken Wojtaszek as not only the Polish champion but the #1 rated Polish player. He's a very young and brilliant player, but possesses a very mature style – gone are the “old days” of the cliché of the young firebrand tactician who can be worn down by a wily positional veteran. Krzysztof-Duda has a completely universal style, and could absolutely prevent Kramnik from adding to his abundance of accolades. Grizzled tournament veterans Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu, Vladislav Kovalev, and Georg Meier round out a small but potent field.

    Today's round featured very cautious and cagey play in all four games. The least interesting of the quad was Kramnik-Nisipeanu – Kramnik went into a QGD Exchange, and Nisipeanu made a interesting psychological decision by using a top level drawing line that Kramnik himself has used somewhat frequently. Kramnik was the victim of a very high profile drubbing in this line on the Black side at the hands of Carlsen in the 2016 edition of Norway Chess, but in today's game Black was nowhere close to defeat. Nisipeanu varied from Kramnik's play against Carlsen with 12...f5 instead of the previous 12...Nb6. The pawn structure for both sides eventually got mangled into various tangles with no remaining breaks and nothing to do but sign the peace treaties.

    Nepomniachtchi-Giri featured the Petroff, a solid Black choice that will only continue to gain in popularity with Caruana's steady advocacy. White's response seemed somewhat milquetoast after 9. Nc3 – White took on doubled c pawns, was deprived of his light squared bishop, and didn't achieve c4 to liquidate his pawn weaknesses. However, Giri allowed genuinely dangerous attacking chances with 18...b4?! (better is 18...Rcd8 with a typically solid Petroff position) – Nepo could have instantly retorted with 19. Bxh6! gxh6 20. Qxh6 with a dangerous attack, as 20...Qd6 is met with the nasty 21. Re6! with an inferno on the kingside. However, Nepo let this pass, and the game drifted into a fairly equal queen endgame. However, a moment of drama was reserved for Giri's choice of 46...Qxa4?? (initiative almost always matters more in queen endings than material - 46...Qc2+ keeps the draw secure), when 47. d6 Qc2+ put White on the verge of pushing through. However, 48. Kf3? returned the game to a draw - 48. Ke3! allows White's king to eventually escape the checks.

    Wojtaszek-Meier featured an English Defense, a very rare guest at the top of world chess. Wojtaszek chose 4. e4, which looks quite natural but is currently theoretically quite sound for Black (4. a3 is considered to be more challenging, with d5 to follow). Meier's choice of 6...e5 looked like it might inject the game with fervor, but the game quickly went into a Maroczy structure with some minor pieces traded off (which typically is favourable for the defending side). Even with Wojtaszek's choice of queenside castling, Black's restraint structure of d6 and f6 prevented any pawn breaks and kept the game well within equality.

    Finally, Duda-Kovalev featured a strange Rubinstein from White - Duda's early choice of Nf3 eliminates a lot of favourable delayed Saemisch plans that White might otherwise utilize. Black gained a fairly comfortable position with hopes of a light squared bind, but 17...Nd6 seemed unnecessarily flamboyant. White had at least a symbolic advantage against the doubled pawns, but the structural weaknesses on the light squares made progress very problematic. White eventually left Black with five(!) pawn islands, but couldn't find a way to break through. More detailed game analysis with the included link, and we'll see you for Round 2!

    Game link here.

    Saturday
    Jul142018

    Book Notice: Sosonko's *Evil-Doer: Half a Century with Viktor Korchnoi*

    Genna Sosonko, Evil-Doer: Half a Century with Viktor Korchnoi. (Elk and Ruby 2018) 314 pp.

    Dutch grandmaster Genna Sosonko lived the first part of his life in what was the Soviet Union, and over the past two decades or so has written remembrances of many of the greats and near-greats from the USSR. Many were published as articles for New in Chess Magazine and subsequently compiled into books; those typically featured only a chapter or two on any given player. Lately he has published entire books on single players. We recently reviewed his book on David Bronstein, and now he has written on Viktor Korchnoi.

    In general, I've been a fan of Sosonko's reminiscences. The Bronstein book was an exception, as its subject came across so poorly that the book seemed mostly an opportunity for Sosonko to unload his own frustrations with Bronstein. Maybe Bronstein deserved it in some sense, but it didn't do the chess community any favors to see a beloved figure portrayed as a tiny-souled man.

    Korchnoi fares much better under Sosonko's pen. It would be hard for him not to, as with Korchnoi what we saw was what we got. The immediate impression anyone would have of him was as a fighter in love with the game of chess, and that's what we see in the book. Sosonko has plenty to say about Korchnoi's chess career, at least up to his last world championship match with Anatoly Karpov in 1981, but this is not a typical chess biography. (For those unfamiliar with Sosonko's biographical books, he doesn't present any games or even positions. The best sources for Korchnoi's chess are his own books, along with Garry Kasparov's "My Great Predecessor" volume on Korchnoi and Karpov.) What we see are Korchnoi's battles: as a youngster, against the Soviet state from within and without, against Boris Spassky, Karpov, old age and so on.

    If Korchnoi were needlessly antagonistic this might make for an unpleasant read, but he had real foes to battle, and he was courageous. Interesting too: for all his focus on and love for chess, he wasn't a caricature or a nerd; he was a human being. Flawed, but alive.

    Who is the book for? Any chess player whose interest in chess literature extends beyond the purely pragmatic (but not little kids, not yet). It's a history lesson, it's a biography, and simply an interesting story that can be appreciated by readers of almost all ages and backgrounds. Highly recommended.

    A P.S. about the title: Sosonko isn't called Korchnoi an "evil-doer"; that epithet was applied to Korchnoi by the Soviet state after his defection.

    Saturday
    Jul142018

    Dortmund Underway

    Vladimir Kramnik's favorite event starts today: the Sparkassen Chess-Meeting in Dortmund, Germany. He has won the tournament 10 times, but not since 2011. Can he win it this year?

    Here are the pairings for round 1, which is underway:

    • Wojtaszek (2733) - Meier (2628)
    • Duda (2737) - Kovalev (2655)
    • Kramnik (2792) - Nisipeanu (2672)
    • Nepomniachtchi (2757) - Giri (2782)

    Radoslaw Wojtaszek is the defending champion. While Kramnik is the rating favorite (by a small margin), I expect Ian Nepomniachtchi to win the event. Normally I'd say Giri, but at the moment he might be in a spot of trouble against against Nepo; further, his results against Kramnik are typically pretty poor, and he's going to have Black against him in round 6. Also, Nepo has White against Kramnik in round 5, so the tournament sets up very well for him. But we'll see, and it's a bit ungenerous to go against the defending champion - maybe Wojtaszek will make it back-to-back titles.