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    Sunday
    Dec102017

    2017 London Chess Classic, Round 8: Nepo Beats Carlsen, Takes the Clear Lead with a Round to Go

    Magnus Carlsen had enjoyed excellent fortune in the last two rounds, getting a lot of luck (while also defending resiliently) to turn two lost positions into a draw and a win. But this time his luck run out, and even went in reverse. This time he had a large, possibly winning advantage against Ian Nepomniachtchi, and this happened at (at least) two points in the game. One thing Nepo did well was to move fast, and Carlsen got into mild time trouble. That doesn't fully explain the series of errors he committed, however, culminating in a blunder on move 36 that left him a piece down for nothing. There was no Santa Claus in store for him this time, and he resigned after move 40.

    The other four games were drawn, so Nepomniachtchi now leads the tournament, half a point ahead of Fabiano Caruana. In the overall Grand Chess Tour standings, it seems that Carlsen's slim lead over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave would hold up if all tomorrow's games were drawn, but any further positive progress by MVL or further regress by Carlsen would give the Frenchman tour victory.

    Here are today's games (I've annotated Carlsen-Nepomniachtchi), and here are the pairings for the final round today/tomorrow (Monday):

    • Nepomniachtchi (5.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (4.5)
    • Anand (3) - So (4)
    • Karjakin (3) - Nakamura (4)
    • Caruana (5) - Adams (3)
    • Aronian (4) - Carlsen (4)

    Sunday
    Dec102017

    2017 London Chess Classic, Round 7: Lots of Blood

    In round 7 three of the five games saw a winner, doubling the total of wins through the entire tournament.

    One of the players whose game finished in a draw was Fabiano Caruana's. He started the round in clear first with a +2 score and the white pieces against Wesley So. So was better prepared in a 5.d3 Bc5 Ruy and equalized easily, drawing in just 30 moves. (If anything, So was a little better near the end.)

    Caruana maintained the lead, but thanks to Ian Nepomniachtchi's win over Viswanathan Anand it's a shared lead. Nepo played an experimental opening hoping for a chance to fight, and he got it. His play wasn't perfect, but he handled the unusual situation much better than Anand did, and won an impressive game.

    While Caruana and Nepomniachtchi are the front-runners in this tournament, Magnus Carlsen and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave are the leaders in the overall Grand Chess Tour standings. Both drew their first six games, and both won in round 7. For Carlsen this required some luck early on, as Michael Adams was winning in the opening (with Black against the Bird) and was better in the ending as well. But while Carlsen's initial salvation in the game was a matter of luck, he simply outplayed Adams in the ending. First he stabilized the situation, then he equalized, and then he managed to obtain some counterplay that wound up winning the game.

    As for MVL, he won a nice game with Black in the Najdorf against Sergey Karjakin. He had suffered some defeats in the Delayed Poisoned Pawn in the last year or two, but this time he was well-prepared, neutralized White's attacking ideas, and eventually exploited the weaknesses left behind in the wake of White's aggression. He, like Carlsen, is half a point behind the leaders.

    Finally, good preparation helped Levon Aronian gain the upper hand against Hikaru Nakamura, but he was unable to convert it into a win. (Or even to cause Nakamura as many problems as Aronian felt his early advantage merited.)

    The games, with my comments, are here; the pairings for the penultimate round follow:

    • Carlsen (4) - Nepomniachtchi (4.5)
    • Adams (2.5) - Aronian (3.5)
    • Nakamura (3.5) - Caruana (4.5)
    • So (3.5) - Karjakin (2.5)
    • Vachier-Lagrave (4.5) - Anand (2.5)

    Friday
    Dec082017

    2017 London Chess Classic, Round 6: Five Interesting Games, and a Tale of Two Endings

    Round 6 of the London Chess Classic maintained its usual allotment of draws - there were four more today out of the five games - but all five were interesting in their own way.

    The outwardly least interesting game was arguably the most important one going into the round: Maxime Vachier-Lagrave vs. Fabiano Caruana. For Vachier-Lagrave, a win was important if he hoped to overtake Magnus Carlsen in the overall Grand Chess Tour standings, and a win would also have put him into a first-place tie with Caruana in the tournament itself. Unfortunately for MVL, Caruana's preparation was superlative: everything through move 22 was prepared by Caruana, and White's 23rd move was a less-dangerous version of the idea he was ready for. Caruana held with ease, and even entertained some slight hopes of obtaining an advantage. Those hopes weren't realized, as Vachier-Lagrave correctly played it safe and steered the game to a draw.

    The shortest game by number of moves was Viswanathan Anand's game with Sergey Karjakin. Like Caruana, Karjakin was well-prepared. His 12...Qa6! is an important new idea in the Flohr-Mikenas system of the English that may mark the end of the line for White's approach. That said, Karjakin was imprecise on moves 15 and/or 16, and Anand missed a chance to play on, as he confessed during the post-game interview.

    Wesley So and Levon Aronian drew their game as well, but unlike the two games mentioned above this one was wild. Aronian took a serious risk with his plan of 14...Ng4 followed by 15...Bxf2+, and neither side proved fully able to handle the complications. First So could have been clearly better, and later Aronian was as well - and maybe even winning. Missing his chance, So finished the game very accurately and drew by repetition.

    The two remaining games were marathons. Michael Adams' game with Ian Nepomniachtchi seemed headed for a routine endgame draw, but then he decided to repeat his policy from round 3 against Vachier-Lagrave. In both games he sacrificed a pawn to reach an objectively drawn ending with a rook and three pawns against his opponent's rook and four pawns, with all the pawns on the kingside. Against MVL he succeeded in holding the ending; against Nepo, he didn't. (The pawn structure was different in the two games, but both were objectively drawn.) Nepomniachtchi blamed Adams' plan of putting the rook on the h-file, and while he could have gotten away with it, there's no doubt that it made it very easy for Adams to lose. While I agree with Nepomniachtchi's diagnosis, I'd offer another one: Adams' failure to play g4.

    Finally, Hikaru Nakamura and Magnus Carlsen had a war, and it followed the sad Murphy's Law script that has characterized so many of Nakamura's heartbreaks against the Norwegian. Nakamura played a fascinating opening, outplayed Carlsen, and achieved a winning ending. And yet, somehow, Carlsen held the game. He shouldn't have, and Nakamura had loads of time to work everything out, but somehow...he just couldn't manage it. Two highligh two general suggestions about the ending: allowing Black's pawn to c2 was dubious, and the move that gave away the win for good was 59.Rxf5. The game was full of content, but I'll leave it to all of you (and other sites) to analyze it.

    I have analyzed the other four games, however, and all five can be replayed here. Meanwhile, here are the pairings for round 7; I would be very surprised if Carlsen doesn't parlay his good fortune today and the white pieces tomorrow into a win over Adams, who is both the lowest-rated player in the event and probably the most discouraged, along with Nakamura, after his unnecessary loss to Nepo.

    • Nepomniachtchi (3.5) - Anand (2.5)
    • Karjakin (2.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (3)
    • Caruana (4) - So (3)
    • Aronian (3) - Nakamura (3)
    • Carlsen (3) - Adams (2.5)

    Friday
    Dec082017

    TCEC Season 10: Rapid Competition

    The TCEC's main event is over, but now they're having a rapid competition as well. The first preliminary stage is underway, and the live action is available at the usual site.

    Thursday
    Dec072017

    Updates: British K.O. Championship, Russian Championship

    In the British Knockout Championship, Luke McShane took game 3 with Black to equal the scores: he and David Howell have 1.5 points apiece heading into the final classical game. (That will be followed by four rapid games, with the classical games counting double.)

    Meanwhile, in the Russian Championship Vladimir Fedoseev was finally stopped. Ernesto Inarkiev held him to a draw, but Fedoseev is still in clear first with 4.5/5. With a win Daniil Dubov could have caught him, but he lost to Evgeny Tomashevsky and is now a full point behind the leader. Nikita Vitiugov, who drew; and Peter Svidler, who won, are a further half a point back with three points each.

    Thursday
    Dec072017

    TCEC 10 is Over: Houdini Wins

    The final score was Houdini 53, Komodo 47. Congratulations to Robert Houdart, who programmed Houdini; may he enjoy his success for the next two minutes until everyone tries and some non-Google entity succeeds in creating an AlphaZero-like program. Then all the current leaders (Houdini, Komodo, Stockfish) will go in the scrap heap of history along with ChessMaster, MChess, Fritz, Junior, Shredder, and Rybka.

    Wednesday
    Dec062017

    2017 London Chess Classic, Round 5: More Draws, and Caruana Wins Again

    Fabiano Caruana enjoyed some good fortune on the way to defeating Viswanathan Anand and taking a full point lead over the rest of the field, but he cashed in on his opportunity while Magnus Carlsen failed to take home the full point against Wesley So. It's conceivable that the round could have finished with Carlsen and Anand tied for first on +1 ahead of a big group on 50%; instead, Caruana is +2, Anand and Sergey Karjakin are -1, and the other seven players are on 50%.

    As usual, three games finished in approximately 30 moves - today it was Levon Aronian and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Karjakin, and Michael Adams and Hikaru Nakamura who had the short games. This doesn't necessarily indicate a lack of effort, but the games of the round were clearly the two mentioned in the first paragraph.

    The games, with some comments to Caruana-Anand and Carlsen-So, are here.

    Thursday is a rest day; on Friday, action will resume. Here are the pairings for round 6:

    • Adams (2.5) - Nepomniachtchi (2.5)
    • Nakamura (2.5) - Carlsen (2.5)
    • So (2.5) - Aronian (2.5)
    • Vachier-Lagrave (2.5) - Caruana (3.5)
    • Anand (2) - Karjakin (2)

    Wednesday
    Dec062017

    Updates on the Russian Championship and TCEC

    The British Knockout Championship enjoyed a rest day today, so that while the London Chess Classic takes tomorrow (Thursday) off they'll be there to provide entertainment for the participants in the also-concurrent FIDE Open. So on to the other non-LCC events:

    In the Russian Championship, Daniil Dubov was finally held to a draw, by Alexander Riazantsev, but for now there's no stopping Vladimir Fedoseev. With his win over Maxim Matlakov he moves to 4-0 (and continues to rocket up the rating list). Dubov is half a point behind, Nikita Vitiugov is a further point behind, and then there's a tie at 50% including top seed Peter Svidler.

    As for TCEC, it's match-point for Houdini, which leads the best of 100 match with Komodo 50-45 (14-9, with 72 draws). It seems anti-climactic, with AlphaZero having sucked all the oxygen out of the computer chess room today, but congratulations are still in order for Robert Houdart, who gave his brainchild a mighty boost after 2-3 years off.

    Wednesday
    Dec062017

    Chinese Team Championship Finishes

    Lots of strong players were involved in this Bundesliga-like competition, which finished yesterday. With stars like Ding Liren, Alexander Grischuk, Wei Yi and other 2700+ players in action, it's worth checking out the games.

    Wednesday
    Dec062017

    Maybe AlphaZero Isn't *Quite* As Strong As It Seems?

    It's still a great achievement, especially for four hours' work on the engine's part, but a commenter to the Chess24 story thinks that AlphaZero's +28=72-0 crush of Stockfish 8 isn't nearly as bad as it seems on the surface. Here's what "maelic" writes:

    It is a nice step different direction, perhaps the start if the revolution but Alpha Zero is not yet better than Stockfish and if you keep up with me I will explain why. Most of the people are very excited now and wishing for sensation so they don't really read the paper or think about what it says which leads to uninformed opinions.

    The testing conditions were terrible. 1min/move is not really suitable time for any engine testing but you could tolerate that. What is intolerable though is the hashtable size - with 64 cores Stockfish was given, you would expect around 32GB or more otherwise it fills up very quickly leading to markant reduce in strenght - 1GB was given and that far from ideal value! Also SF was now given any endgame tablebases which is current norm for any computer chess engine.

    The computational power behind each entity was very different - while SF was given 64 CPU threads (really a lot I've got to say), Alpha Zero was given 4 TPUs. TPU is a specialized chip for machine learning and neural network calculations. It's estimated power compared to classical CPU is as follows - 1TPU ~ 30xE5-2699v3 (18 cores machine) -> Aplha Zero had at it's back power of ~2000 Haswell cores. That is nowhere near fair match. And yet, eventhough the result was dominant, it was not where it would be if SF faced itself 2000cores vs 64 cores, It that case the win percentage would be much more heavily in favor of the more powerful hardware.

    From those observations we can make an conclusion - Alpha Zero is not so close in strenght to SF as Google would like us to believe. Incorrect match settings suggest either lack of knowledge about classical brute-force calculating engines and how they are properly used, or intention to create conditions where SF would be defeted.

    With all that said, It is still an amazing achievement and definitively fresh air in computer chess, most welcome these days. But for the new computer chess champion we will have to wait a little bit longer.

    Computer specialists, what say you?