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    Sunday
    Sep212014

    Bilbao 2014: Wrapping Up

    In the last post I mentioned the so-called 10,000 hour rule, and a couple of weeks ago it was the Dunning-Kruger effect that made an appearance. Today's topic from the broader world of ideas is the peak-end rule, according to which an event is not emotionally evaluated in retrospect as the sum or average of its emotional moments, but rather by the feelings at the event's peak (whether positive or negative) and at its end. Applied to chess, a mediocre tournament might be remembered well if we win a beautiful game along the way and finish with a win. Conversely, a tournament that went well but finished with a painful and unnecessary loss might always be remembered afterwards with bitterness - even though the same results played in a different order might have led us to remember it fondly.

    Why do I bring this up? If you followed the finale of the Grand Slam Masters, you can probably guess. Viswanathan Anand led from start to finish, was +3 after four rounds and looked to be in great shape heading into his match with Magnus Carlsen - especially as the latter's form has been relatively spotty of late. Anand drew in round five and clinched overall tournament victory, but in the last round lost to Levon Aronian. Anand still won the tournament and gained points, and his form this year gives him grounds for confidence against Carlsen. But this last round loss can't feel good, especially as his final official game before the world championship match. He lost to someone he used to struggle mightily against but against whom he had recently turned the tables, and lost some ground on the rating list too. Hopefully this doesn't harm his confidence too much going into the match, but we shall see!

    In the other game, Francisco Vallejo Pons obtained his first win over the event, defeating Ruslan Ponomariov to catch up to him. Final scores: Anand 11, Aronian 10, Ponomariov & Vallejo 5. (This is on Bilbao's 3-1-0 scoring; in "real" scoring it's Anand & Aronian with 4/6, Ponomariov & Vallejo with 2.)

    In the concurrent and co-located European Club Cup, the SOCAR team "from" Azerbaijan won the event with a perfect 7-0 team score. In the last round, their win occurred only thanks to that famous Azeri Veselin Topalov, who gradually defeated Peter Svidler in an opposite-colored bishop ending. Topalov himself (who is of course Bulgarian, not Azeri) had a great tournament and finished with an individual rating of 2799.5, which will be rounded up to 2800 at the end of the month. It's not his first time there, but it's impressive to see him reclaim that rating after a couple of years of indifferent results. Aside from the Candidates' tournament, Topalov has been playing very well lately. Maybe catching Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana is asking too much of him, but he is at #3 in the world now and showing glimpses of his former glory.

    Speaking of Caruana, he finished strongly and concluded the event with another 7.5 points (which will be rounded up to +8) and will have an amazing, official rating of 2844 in a couple of weeks. Other big ratings winners are Anish Giri, who gained more than 10 points and hopped up to #7 in the world, and Hou Yifan, whose performance in the women's section has brought her up to 2673, just two points behind the newly retired Judit Polgar. Not too shabby! A good result in next month's women's world championship knockout tournament could very easily install her at #1 on the women's list, and a great result could have her tickling the 2700 barrier. As with Anand, we will see....

    Thursday
    Sep182014

    10,000 Hours Is Not Enough (For Most Of Us)

    While it was Malcolm Gladwell who laughed all the way to the bank writing about it in Outliers, it was Anders Ericsson and his collaborators who did the actual work a couple of decades ago. The topic was mastery, and Ericsson et al's conclusion was that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice was what was needed to do the job. Deliberate practice is not just spending time at the activity, but engaging in challenging work designed to foster one or more of the activity's key skills.

    Most fans and advocates of the "10,000 hour rule" didn't go so far as to say that the only thing that mattered was deliberate practice, but one would be forgiven for thinking otherwise based on the popularizers' works. Either way, it was considered to be a huge part of the puzzle--the key element, really. "Talent is overrated", announced one book's title, and one might even wonder if such a thing exists at all.

    In a way it's a flattering notion, because it suggests that you and I could have been as good at chess as Bobby Fischer, Garry Kasparov and Magnus Carlsen. It was just bad luck that we didn't start training when they did, and didn't have coaches helping us get in that deliberate practice before life forced us to choose other paths. On the other hand, it can be intimidating too, because even if we didn't have their headstart we still have no one left to blame for ourselves. If we just put in the time, then by golly we can become leading grandmasters as well. (And even if not quite at the top, we can be at least "entry level" GMs, right?)

    The 10,000 hour rule is encouraging, because it gives us hope. We don't have to fear that we've either got the talent or we don't. But then it can be discouraging too. If we put in our hours as diligently as we can, using the best training material and coaches and all the rest, and still don't succeed, then what? We're confused and frustrated, and are left wondering if we're negative outliers, among those relative few whose cognitive abilities are just too limited for deliberate practice to make much of a difference.

    Well, good news: common sense has returned to the discussion. A metastudy by Brooke Macnamara of Case Western University (done when she was a grad student at Princeton) suggests that deliberate practice only accounts for a small fraction of individual differences in ability - between 1% in some fields and at most 26% in others. This is not to say that deliberate practice is without value - in most case, it's indispensable. But its role is quite limited, and it's not the great equalizer available to all, alas.

    So by all means, engage in deliberate practice. That's a big part of making the most of your talent and opportunities, and you will never achieve your best without it. But if doing so doesn't turn you into the next Fabiano Caruana, that's okay. Do your best, give yourself a break, and appreciate all the more the wonderful chess he is able to produce.

    (For a popular treatment of Macnamara's study and its implications, have a look here. For the study itself, here's the link.)

    Thursday
    Sep182014

    Slate on Caruana and the Sinquefield Cup

    This clearly isn't written for chess players, but I do think that articles written by "civilians" (i.e. non-chess players) have been getting a bit better lately. Read at your own risk.

    (HT: Robert Davis, who noted that the link to the article from Slate's home page asks "Can Chess Be Saved" and rejoins, "From what?")

    Thursday
    Sep182014

    Bilbao 2014: The Antepenultimate Round

    Both the Grand Slam Final and the European Club Cup have two more rounds to go despite the latter event having gone one round more than the former, so the headline seemed the best way to capture that. Let's hit the highlights:

    In the Grand Slam Final, Viswanathan Anand continued his domination of the tournament with a second win over Francisco Vallejo Pons, and he now leads with 3.5/4 (or 10/12 in Bilbaoese). Levon Aronian and Ruslan Ponomariov drew their game, leaving Anand close to clinching first with two rounds to go. As long as Anand doesn't lose to Aronian, the tournament is his. (Aronian has 6 points, Ponomariov 4, Vallejo 1.) With the win Anand has moved to third place on the Live Rating List, and is making the coming match with Magnus Carlsen look more interesting by the day.

    In the European Club Cup, the top two teams squared off and #1 beat #2. Two individual results of particular note are Fabiano Caruana's win against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in a delicate B vs. N ending (2842.4!), and Veselin Topalov's win over Hikaru Nakamura. Topalov is playing very well these days, and is closing back in on 2800. It's not impossible that these events will end with five players rated over 2800, and for Grischuk it would be a first.

    Wednesday
    Sep172014

    Happy Birthday, TWIC!

    Today (for me; yesterday for all of you across the pond) is the 20th anniversary of the first issue of The Week in Chess, arguably the most important website in chess history. Read more about it from the man himself, Mark Crowther, here, and by all means give him a gift if you can afford it. Practically every serious chess player around the world has benefited from his work either directly or indirectly (to give just one obvious example, those games in the Mega databases didn't get there by magic), and that includes all the regular readers of this blog.

    Wednesday
    Sep172014

    Catching Up on Bilbao

    The Grand Slam Final is at the halfway point and four rounds out of seven are finished at the European Club Cup, so let's take stock of what has happened since my brief round 1 report on Monday.

    Let's start with the first event. Viswanathan Anand followed his opening round win with a victory with Black over Francisco Vallejo Pons, while Levon Aronian beat Ruslan Ponomariov. Anand's imitation of Fabiano Caruana only lasted for two rounds, but his third round draw with Aronian sufficed to maintain his lead at the end of the first cycle. Ponomariov beat Vallejo in the other game, so after three rounds, the scores look like this:

     

    • 1. Anand 2.5/3 (or rather, 7/9 on Bilbao's 3-1-0 scoring system)
    • 2. Aronian 2 (5)
    • 3. Ponomariov 1 (3)
    • 4. Vallejo .5 (1)

     

    Anand's continued good form bodes well for the coming world championship!

    Meanwhile, there have been some hot players in the European Club Cup. Veselin Topalov has won two games against 2700s - Alexander Morozevich and David Navara - but was upset by Simen Agdestein, who showed that his fine performance in Norway a few months ago was not a fluke. Alexander Grischuk has done even better, going 3.5/4 to jump back into third place on the Live Rating List. He has "only" defeated one 2700 - Leinier Dominguez, but his brilliant win over the 2678-rated Maxim Rodshtein was something special. Fabiano Caruana hasn't beaten any superstars in his three games, but with 2.5/3 he has gained a point or two and avoided a post-St. Louis letdown.

    Other top-10 players: Hikaru Nakamura has 1.5/2, Sergey Karjakin has three draws in three games, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave has a win and two draws, and Anish Giri has performed to rating with 3.5/4 against mixed opposition. Since he's only a tenth of a point out of the top 10 we'll include Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who has a win over Ian Nepomniachtchi and a couple of draws.

    A couple of strong players who are suffering: Peter Leko - but most of the damage was done in round 1, when he lost to IM Manuel Bosboom, and Alexei Shirov. Shirov started the event with a win over a 2382 player, but then lost in round 2 against a 2349(!) named Einar Jensson and then lost again in round 3, with White, to Alon Greenfeld (2551). When it rains, it pours.

    Monday
    Sep152014

    Bilbao, Day 1: Anand Leads The Masters, Few Upsets in the European Club Cup

    Viswanathan got off to a good start in the Grand Slam Final in Bilbao, defeating Ruslan Ponomariov in round one to take the early lead as the other game (Francisco Vallejo Pons vs. Levon Aronian) was drawn. They use a 3-1-0 scoring system, so he's off to a pleasant-looking lead already.

    Over in the European Club Cup most of the early matches were lopsided and many of the absolute top players took the opener off. Some very strong GMs were held to a draw, but I only noticed two elite players suffering defeat. One was Peter Leko, who was crushed by the (stylistically) wild Dutch IM Manuel Bosboom, and the other - sadly - was Gata Kamsky missing a simple tactic and losing to an FM. I don't know what has happened to Kamsky, who last July was 2763 and has lost more than 80 points since then, but I hope he's able to get back into good form.

    Both tournaments' websites can be accessed through this page.

    Saturday
    Sep132014

    Notre Dame 30, Purdue 14

    Purdue had a brief flurry of success early in the game before Notre Dame, playing decent but not their best football, dominated them the rest of the way. ND should move up a couple of spots in the rankings tomorrow, so that will leave them with eight more teams to leapfrog on their way to #1.

    Record so far: 3-0.

    Next victim: Syracuse (in two weeks).

    Tune time!

    Saturday
    Sep132014

    Notre Dame To Bust The Boilermakers Tonight

    The 11th-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish will be Indy tonight to take on and dismantle the Purdue Boilermakers at 7:30 p.m. ET, with the proceedings televised on NBC. The winner (i.e. Notre Dame) wins the Shillelagh Trophy and - assuming it's Notre Dame - will likely move further up the rankings towards its rightful spot at #1.

    Saturday
    Sep132014

    Simultaneous Super-Events Starting Sunday in Bilbao

    This is a bit unusual but very welcome. In Bilbao, starting tomorrow, two major events will run concurrently - indeed, simultaneously - through Saturday, September 20: the Grand Slam Masters Final and the European Club Cup.

    The first is a four player double-round robin with Levon Aronian, Viswanathan Anand, Ruslan Ponomariov and Francisco Vallejo Pons. While Anand is bound to be hiding most of his preparation it's still very important for him to show or at least reach good form in this event, to get ready for his coming world championship match with Magnus Carlsen and to keep his confidence up. (And maybe to give Carlsen some reason for concern, giving the latter's decent but not perfect form this past summer.) For Aronian too the tournament has some importance, as 2014 from the Candidates' tournament on has been very disappointing, and he has managed to drop more than 40 points from his peak earlier this year.

    The second event is one of those delightful team tournaments where many if not most teammates have nothing more in common than who wrote their checks, but with so many of the world's top players involved, who cares? In fact, between the two events nine of the world's top ten is playing - only Magnus Carlsen is absent - and a large number of players from the top 50 will be involved. It's a chess feast!