After sitting out the first two rounds, Vladimir Kramnik has played in the last two rounds of the Russian Team Championship. He won both games, against Sanan Sjugirov and Peter Svidler, and is now back in second place on the Live Rating List after being briefly pipped by Fabiano Caruana. Here are Kramnik's wins, with my notes.
Emphasis on mild. The background to the little video is this: Bobby Fischer repeatedly played the Two Knights Variation against the Caro-Kann in the 1959 Candidates Tournament, with a serious lack of success. It got so bad that people who seldom or never played the Caro-Kann did so, as his results and the positions he received with the Two Knights were harmless at best. Fischer lost with it against Tigran Petrosian in round 2, drew with Vassily Smyslov in round 7 and then lost to Paul Keres - not a Caro-Kann practitioner - in round 8 (and then again in round 22).
So by the time of round 13, when Fischer faced Mikhail Tal with white for the first time in the tournament, this happened:
Tal fakes the move 1...c6 before giving the pawn a shove to c5, then offers a priceless smile to Fischer, who remains impassive. Fischer's non-reaction is a pity. Could he not take a joke (very possible), or was his poker face a matter of competitive strategy? As for the joke itself, it almost wasn't one. According to Tibor Karolyi (page 413 of his excellent Mikhail Tal's Best Games 1: The Magic of Youth) Tal seriously considered playing the Caro-Kann in that game. Fortunately for everyone but Fischer, he didn't, enabling us to enjoy his joke, his infectious grin, and the very nice game he went on to win.
(HT: Brian Karen)
Even though no one is actually playing chess in the Top Chess Engines Championship (formerly known as the Thoresen Chess Engines Competition), strictly speaking, it is reasonable on another level to view it as the real world chess championship, as the best engines - currently the latest versions of Komodo and Stockfish - spit out moves at what would be a 3300+ rating clip if they came from the minds of mortal men. As such, the games are of interest, even if they are not always as accessible as battles between humans. (Which are themselves sometimes relatively inaccessible, both because of the strength of the strongest humans, and because their ideas are often the product of a collaboration with chess engines.)
The event, which will last several months, starts with a field of 32 engines who will be whittled down, step by step, to a final between Komodo and Stockfish the two survivors of the three preliminary stages. (More details here.) As I've already suggested twice, Komodo and Stockfish are significant favorites to reach the final for the fifth time in the last six seasons, but perhaps Houdini will break up the party. The current version of Houdini is quite old - it came out in late 2013 - but its programmer, Robert Houdart, has promised that a new version will come out at some point during the competition. As TCEC rules allow switches to upgraded versions after each stage (assuming the engine in question has qualified for the next stage), Houdart still has a fair amount of time to make his improvements before the start of Stage 3.
(HT: Howard Sample, for reminding me that the event had started.)
The Russian Club Championship started on Sunday, May 1 and continues through May 10. Among the heavy hitters who have played so far there's Sergey Karjakin, Alexander Grischuk, Peter Svidler - to include only the players over 2750 - and Vladimir Kramnik is supposed to jump in at some point as well.
On Wednesday, Ding Liren and Wesley So will begin a four-game match in China. (Or maybe there will be four classical games and some additional rapid and/or blitz games. All I know thus far is the very little given in the "Future Events" section of this page. Further details would be appreciated.)
I recently posted a link to part 1 of an interview with Boris Gelfand, and in that work he praised a number of books including the old, excellent The Best Move by Vlastimil Hort and Vlastimil Jansa. It's a book I had as a young expert and maybe went through one time. The book was long lost, but I picked up a used copy several years ago and decided to give it a gander on Gelfand's say-so.
It's an excellent work, based on positions from the two Vlastimils' games, which is itself useful as their games will be unfamiliar to almost everyone. (It probably shouldn't be so, at least in the case of Vlastimil Hort, who was one of the very best players in the world in his heyday, but that's how it is.) On the other hand, they were both great players and analysts, so the puzzles are of high quality. It's definitely worth picking up a copy if you can find one that's reasonably priced, though I'd warn players rated below 2000 that you'll be in for a lot of frustration. (One grows, in part, by persevering through challenges, but the challenges shouldn't be altogether out of one's grasp.)
Here's an early position in the book I was pleased to solve. (Don't worry, there's no progress from easiest to hardest; if this were one of the trivial puzzles the book would be impossible!) It's Black to move, and the assignment is to "[s]uggest the most aggressive continuation for Black."
The solution is here.
This was a very exciting event, and there were many games worth discussing. For now, however, the bare results and some brief impressions. Hikaru Nakamura had a strong second day and won with a score of 11/18, a point ahead of Wesley So and a point and a half ahead of Garry Kasparov. All three finished with plus scores, and since it was a four player tournament it meant that the remaining player served as the piñata. On this occasion it fell to Fabiano Caruana, the new U.S. Champion and world #2 player to fill that role. His play on day two was completely unsuccessful, and he wound up with just 5.5/18.
Nakamura's victory was the product of doggedness on day 1, hanging in there while he wasn't playing well, and on day two he got into a good rhythm and was the dominant player on the day.
So had his moments, especially against Kasparov, but couldn't keep up with Nakamura's pace on the second day. (That said, if he had beaten him in the final round rather than drawing, they would have gone to a playoff.) So's biggest success came against Kasparov. He lost badly to him in round 1, and was close to losing two more game to him on the first day as well. Sadly for Kasparov, a couple of masterpieces in the making were completely ruined by his blundering a knight (on both occasions) and losing. The highlight of their contests came on day 2, however, in the first game of the day, when So won an absolute blowout. The commentators, and then Kasparov himself found the game reminiscent of Paul Morphy's "Opera Game", and Kasparov remarked that he found himself in the role of the "amateur" in that game.
Kasparov came close, and on the first day he could and should have scored far more heavily than he did. He repeatedly achieved the sorts of positions he wanted, and displayed not only good preparation but tremendous and energetic play in the middlegame. Only his rust and several outright blunders left him in third at the end of day 1, though only half a point behind Nakamura and So. On day two he was the one having to scramble to stay alive, and he did a remarkable job of saving some terrible positions against Nakamura in particular. Still, he finished strongly with wins over Nakamura and Caruana in the last two rounds (the latter game was especially nice), and his day 2 score was half a point better than what he achieved on day 1. Surprisingly - and impressively - Kasparov won his mini-matches with Caruana and Nakamura, but suffered badly against So.
Finally, for Caruana just about everything went wrong starting with round 7 on the first day. After that, his main highlight was a nice victory over Kasparov on the black side of a Scotch in the penultimate cycle (in round 15). For him, it will be an event to forget, except for the privilege of being able to say that he played Kasparov in a public event on even terms.
It took him four tries, but Magnus Carlsen has finally won Norway Chess, the super-tournament created by his countrymen to showcase their top player, the world chess champion and world #1. In 2013 and 2014 Sergey Karjakin won the tournament, and last year it was Veselin Topalov who finished first.
This time around Carlsen was in control most of the way, and after defeating Vladimir Kramnik in an impressive game in round 7 (of 9) it looked like smooth sailing. He was playing well and riding a 42-game undefeated streak; what could possibly go wrong? The answer came in the very next round, as Levon Aronian in turn beat him rather badly to catch up with him and share the lead. Had they finished the last round tied there would have been a playoff, but Carlsen rebounded to defeat Pavel Eljanov with white while Aronian was unable to get anywhere with Black against Pentala Harikrishna. Carlsen finished with 6/9; Aronian with 5.5.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Topalov, and Kramnik finished a further half a point behind, while Li Chao and Harikrishna concluded their tournaments with creditable 50% scores. Anish Giri had a poor event by his standards, only scoring 4/9; Eljanov lost his last three games to wind up with just 3 points, and Nils Grandelius brought up the rear with 2.5 points.
Here are Carlsen's last three games, with brief comments.
Wei Yi has won the Chinese Championship for the second straight year, and after torching the field by winning his first four games with the white pieces (in rounds 1, 3, 5, and 7) he was able to coast in with a series of short draws. Even taking most of the second half of the tournament off, he still won by a convincing 1.5 point margin over his closest competitors. In my World Chess column this week, I take a look at his one win from the second half of the event, along with a couple of other interesting moments featuring other players.