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    Monday
    Jul282014

    Informant 120: Back on the Upswing

    I've been reviewing new issues of the Informant for some years now, and it has been something of a roller coaster. For a while it looked like it was dying, then they started experimenting in what was usually a positive direction, but then in the last issue it looked like much of the progress had been lost. I was very unhappy with Informant 119, but I'm glad to report that the newest issue, the 120th in the series, is very good and a huge step up from its immediate predecessor.

    The first thing I was happy to see, ironically, was the (approximate) absence of my least favorite columns. For many issues it seemed there was a bit of nationalistic/regional pandering. I didn't like this at all, even when countries I'm fond of (such the U.S. and Greece) were featured. A significant idea or a beautiful game isn't any better by virtue of having been played within a couple of hundred miles of me or by someone of my ethnicity. (There's still a tiny bit of it, but it's greatly reduced. Please, Informant editors, eliminate it for good!)

    The current issue has contributions that make sense. There are opening articles, including a monster piece by Vassilios Kotronias on the 2.c3 Sicilian (this was part two) and shorter but still substantial works on the Slav and the Scotch.

    Mihail Marin's generally excellent column remains, and I found the current installment (a pro- and contra- on Botvinnik's steamroller plan in the Nimzo-Indian) especially interesting.

    Garry Kasparov's contribution may have ceased a couple of issues ago, but no matter: some other outstanding players have taken up the slack and then some. Alexander Morozevich offered a column demonstrating some fantastically imaginative opening play, taking a close look at the incredible line 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 d4 3.b4 g5!? Also representing high-level chess, erstwhile 2700s Peter Heine Nielsen and Ivan Sokolov write about the 2014 Candidates and attacking play, respectively.

    While he may not be as strong as the writers mentioned in the previous paragraph, Karsten Mueller's reputation as an expert on the endgame is extremely high, and it's a real coup for the Informant people to get him on board.

    There are other columnists too (have a look here), and as usual there are about 200 games with languageless annotations along with sections for solving combinations, endgame positions and studies. I'm happy once again to be able to recommend the Informant to players 1800 and up.

    Monday
    Jul282014

    Another Improved Lisitsin Gambit

    In a recent post we examined the Loek van Wely's 14-move win on the white side of an Improved Lisitsin Gambit against Erwin L'Ami; today we'll have a quick look at another game in this line. Jonathan Hawkins came into round 9 of the British Championship in clear first with 7/8, and essayed the gambit against Nicholas Pert, who was a point behind. The line Hawkins chose was one I mentioned in the earlier post as being particularly unsuccessful for White, and nothing in this game suggested anything different. White was never better and was usually worse, and at one point had a serious disadvantage. Hawkins was either surprised or prepared badly; whatever the story the game is of little theoretical interest; it merely confirms that Black is doing (very) well in the 4.Nc3 line. The game, with my comments, is here. (HT: Ian Lamb)

    As for the standings: Hawkins continues to lead with 7.5 points, half a point ahead of Mark Hebden (against whom he'll have the black pieces in round 10, the penultimate round) and David Howell (who will have Black against the aforementioned Pert - the only 6.5 pointer in the field - next round).

    Monday
    Jul282014

    Tarjan At The U.S. Open

    After 30 years' inaction, GM James Tarjan is in action! Tarjan gave up the game in the early 1980s (in fact, I played him when I was a kid in one of his last tournaments, back in 1982) but now at long last he has taken up the game again, at least to the extent that he is playing in the U.S. Open in Orlando, Florida. (HT: Alex) Here's hoping he enjoys his return to the game.

    Sunday
    Jul272014

    Three Queen Sacs

    And all on the same square, too. Some time ago I came across a puzzle in Chess Today, and while the first move was pretty obvious I managed to get myself sidetracked while working out the details. It was psychologically amusing, and it brought to mind a failure to accurate calculate a vaguely similar queen sac in a game ten years earlier. Both games can be found here, along with a third, even earlier game with yet another sacrifice; all three queen sacs are on the same square and share a family resemblance.

    Sunday
    Jul272014

    A Miniature From The Dutch Championship

    The Dutch Championship finished a week or two ago (won by Loek van Wely in a playoff over Sergei Tiviakov), but I didn't notice the remarkable game between van Wely and Erwin L'Ami until some time later. How often does a 2650 player lose in just 15 moves? Have a look here at the short, gory details.

    Friday
    Jul252014

    The Daily Roundup: Biel & Gelfand-Svidler Finish, And More

    Biel ended as one would have expected for most of the event; Maxime Vachier-Lagrave recovered from yesterday's "hiccup" against Anish Giri and took clear first after drawing - hanging on, really - against Radoslaw Wojtaszek. "MVL" had the white pieces and played a very safe opening line, but after the odd 25.f4 he was worse and had to pull it together to avoid a complete collapse in the event. He did, and his score of 6/10 kept him half a point ahead of Wojtaszek.

    Hou Yifan could have tied for first with a win against Pentala Harikrishna, but although she equalized with Black she went a bit crazy and lost. She had already been taking some risks for several moves by her 27th move, but 27...Rf5? was just too much. 27...Bg5 had to be played, when Black is still okay; instead, she sacrificed the exchange for scant compensation, and was slowly but surely ground down. She finished tied with Harikrishna and Anish Giri for 3rd-5th with 50%.

    In dead last was Alexander Motylev, who had some advantage against Giri but preferred the safety of a draw by repetition to the possibility of a 5th loss in the tournament.

    The Gelfand-Svidler rapid match also finished today (or yesterday, depending on where you are), and Peter Svidler was the winner. He won game 7 while game 8 was drawn, and he thus won the match with a 5-3 score.

    That does it for elite events until the Olympiad, but two other events may be of interest to some readers. The British Championship has passed the halfway point, and Jonathan Hawkins is leading with a perfect 6/6, leaving him a point and a half clear of his closest competitors. There's also the Politiken Cup, a strong annual open tournament held in Helsingor, Denmark; this too is led thus far by a player with a perfect score. Bu Xiangzhi has 5/5; nine players are half a point back in this 10-round tournament.

    Thursday
    Jul242014

    The Daily Roundup: Vachier-Lagrave and Svidler Lead Their Events Going Into The Final Day

    Biel: On Tuesday all three games were drawn, but on Wednesday White went 3-0. This was highly significant to the race for first, because Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who had been a convincing leader throughout, was finally defeated while his closest rivals both won their games. Vachier-Lagrave lost to the hitherto winless Anish Giri, who played very well if not perfectly to keep some drama in the tournament. Radoslaw Wojtaszek won a nice game against Pentala Harikrishna, while Hou Yifan capitalized on a serious error by Alexander Motylev, and in the process brought her rating to a very impressive 2665. (Just 11 points south of Judit Polgar!) Both Wojtaszek and Hou are within half a point of Vachier-Lagrave, but as both have Black in the last round (in Wojtaszek's case, Black against Vachier-Lagrave himself) the Frenchman is still a big favorite to finish in clear first.

    Gelfand-Svidler Rapid Match: Boris Gelfand won quickly in game 5, with the black pieces, no less, but then promptly lost the rematch to end the day as he started it: a point behind his opponent. The last two games will be played today.

    N.B.: ChessBase has nice reports on both Biel and the rapid match that are worth checking out, with plenty of videos.

    Monday
    Jul212014

    Hou Yifan Video Series

    Hou Yifan fans may wish to check out her video series on her career over on Chess24. (It's available a la carte for non-members for five euros.) While presenting in English is clearly a struggle for her, her meaning is usually pretty clear and her understated style is pleasant. Not a "must see", perhaps, but I find it interesting to watch a world champion talk about his or her successes.

    Monday
    Jul212014

    Olympiad Issues Resolved?

    Perhaps so, or at least close enough to have the Olympiad take place with all the tardy teams participating. See this article, especially the update, for more information.

    Monday
    Jul212014

    The Daily Roundup: Vachier-Lagrave Extends His Lead In Biel; Svidler Leads Rapid Match vs. Gelfand

    Biel: Caruana won Dortmund convincingly; likewise So in Bergamo. Now it looks like Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is going to be a third straight impressive winner of an elite round-robin event. His win today over Alexander Motylev extended his lead to a point and a half over the field - pretty impressive after just seven rounds (of 10). He has 5 points; Pentala Harikrishna, Radoslaw Wojtaszek and Hou Yifan have 3.5.

    Vachier-Lagrave's triumph today wasn't one of preparation. He was surprised by Motylev's 17.c3, which was a new move in a reasonably well-known position. (It wasn't a huge novelty, as it's a natural move and the computer's first choice, but given how much there is to know even a somewhat "obvious" novelty can still be effective.) Vachier-Lagrave's reaction wasn't best, according to the computer, which advocates the greedy 17...Nxb3 18.axb3 Qxb3. Easy for a computer, but not for a human, who doesn't know if the pawn is nutritious or poisonous. Motylev obtained the advantage, but in a very risky situation after he sacrificed a piece. The advantage would have been significant after 23.exf7+ Kxf7 24.Rhf1 Qe3+ 25.Kb1 Qe6 26.Qb4!, though even after that he maintained a plus through 27 moves. 28.Qe4 would have kept up the pressure, but after that small slip, and a bigger slip next move, he was suddenly worse. Then came time trouble, and on his last move he even managed to blunder a rook to a trivial two-mover. A pity for Motylev, but a good practical achievement by the young Frenchman.

    Anish Giri failed to make up ground with the second-placers or to keep pace with the leader, and drew disappointingly with White against Harikrishna. Hou Yifan had an excellent chance to take over solo second, but spoiled a winning position against Wojtaszek. Her 29.Qxc2 was very natural, eliminating a dangerous passed pawn and consolidating her material advantage, but after a long series of exchanges her winning chances were minimal. Instead 29.Bxd5 Qxd5 30.Re8 (threatening 31.Qa3/b4!) would have won. After 30...g5 (30...g6 31.Qa3! mates) 31.R8e5! (not 31.Qa3 this time, because after 31...Rxe8 32.Rxe8+ Kg7 33.Qf8 isn't mate; here Black is even winning) 31...Qf3 (not 31...Bxe5?? 32.Ne7+) 32.Rc5 and now White will be two pawns up, not just one, and will win.

    Gelfand-Svidler: Peter Svidler won an interesting third game, converting an ending with a doubled extra pawn with Black to score the first full point in this eight-game rapid match. Game 4 was an "easy" draw, so at the halfway point and leading into the rest day Svidler leads Boris Gelfand 2.5-1.5.

    I should mention that the British Championship is underway across the pond. After 3 rounds of 11 there are three leaders: Jonathan Hawkins, Chris Ward and Justin Tan of...Australia. Unfortunately, the three biggest dogs are all absent - Michael Adams, Nigel Short and Luke McShane aren't there, and Gawain Jones and Matthew Sadler aren't playing either. That's not the fault of the players who are there, but it does take away from the event's attractiveness.