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    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.

    Saturday
    Jul142018

    U.S. Junior Championships Underway

    For those who are interested, here's the website.

    Saturday
    Jul142018

    Rapid Events Galore: Jerusalem, Leon, Shenzhen, and Ningbo

    Rapid events are becoming increasingly popular, at least in top-level chess, but it hasn't really trickled down to the club level yet. (Or has it? If your non-professional level club experience has seen a steady rise in rapid events over the past decade or two please mention this in the comments.) The elites have seen an ever-increasing number of rapid events since the 1987 Kasparov-Short match got the ball rolling.

    The last week has seen four high-level rapid events: the Gideon Japhet Cup in Jerusalem (Israel), the Leon Chess Masters in Leon (Spain), a rapid & blitz match between Ruslan Ponomariov and Hou Yifan in Shenzhen (China), and the Yinzhou Cup in Ningbo (China). Let's say a bit about each.

    1. Gideon Japhet Cup. This was a very strong event that finished with a curious crosstable. Ian Nepomniachtchi took first with a 6-4 score in the double round-robin, Anna Muzychuk finished last with 4 points out of ten, and the other four players tied for 2nd-5th with 50% scores. The four players were Peter Svidler, Vassily Ivanchuk, Boris Gelfand, and Georg Meier. There's a Chess24 report, including a longer interview with Svidler and a shorter one with Ivanchuk, here. Despite the strong clustering around 50%, the drawing percentage wasn't exceptionally high - there were 13 decisive games out of 30.

    2. Leon Chess Masters. As usual, it was a four-player knockout event, with one four-game semi-final played on Friday, the second on Saturday, and the final on Sunday. The Friday match was between two players riding waves of success: Grand Chess Tour leader Wesley So and the newly-minted second-youngest grandmaster ever, Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu. The first three games were crazy, with results that weren't "normal" given earlier evaluation moments in the game. So was winning game 1 (more than once) but lost;So was lost in game 2 (more than once, starting with the position after his 7th[!!] move) but won; and Praggnanandhaa probably should have won game 3 as well, but So escaped. Finally, So won game four in normal fashion to advance to the final. (A nice report can be found here.)

    On day 2 the other favorite also had trouble against a lower-rated opponent before advancing. Francisco Vallejo Pons lost the first game to Jaime Santos (without preliminary adventures), and achieved nothing with the white pieces in game 2. Game 3 was a calm draw, and in the last regular game something insane happened. Vallejo played a nice game and was pressing all the way, but Santos's excellent defense kept him alive. Hoping for more than rook and bishop vs. rook, Vallejo made a pretty "combination" that lost by force. All Santos had to do was played the only legal move, and on the next move make the one move from two legal options that didn't lose on the spot - and in fact won on the spot! Instead...he resigned. On to tiebreaks, and Vallejo won the second game after drawing the first to advance. (Report here.)

    The final was more of the same. As in his first match, So lost in game 1 but came back to win in game 2; and as in Vallejo's previous match the players needed tiebreaks. So was in trouble in both games, but somehow won the first and reached a winning position in the second before offering Vallejo a charity draw to conclude the match. (More here.)

    3. Shenzhen. Hou Yifan has played a few matches of this sort against higher-rated male opposition, typically losing but often outperforming her opponents by rating. In the rapid portion she kept it close, only losing to former FIDE world champion Ruslan Ponomariov by a 4.5-3.5 margin (losing game 1 and drawing the next 7!), but Ponomariov broke away in the blitz, 6.5-3.5. The blitz started well for Hou, as she won the first game and drew the next two, but the next six games were all decisive, and five of them were won by Ponomariov. Here are two of the shorter blitz games, sans annotations.

    4. Yinzhou Cup. One more rapid event, featuring a small but elite field comprising Yu Yangyi, Wei Yi, Bu Xiangzhi, and Li Chao. Yu won with an impressive score of 4.5/6, a point ahead of Wei Yi whom he beat 2-0. Bu and Li were last with two points apiece. (A more helpful page for non-Chinese speakers is here.)

    Friday
    Jul132018

    Praggnanandhaa Interview

    Here's an interview of the world's youngest (and second-youngest-ever) GM, Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu, by Jaideep Unudurti, who has often commented to this blog and whose interview work (mainly with Viswanathan Anand) has been featured here before. (Please keep us posted on other Praggnanandhaa stories!)

    (HT to the interviewer himself, in his comment to my post on P.R.'s earning the title.)

    Friday
    Jul132018

    Book Review: Chess Lessons, by Mark Dvoretsky

    Mark Dvoretsky, Chess Lessons: Solving Problems & Avoiding Mistakes. (Russell Enterprises, 2018) 274 pp., $24.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.

    If you’ve been reading my blog since its inception in 2005, you know that I’m a big fan of Mark Dvoretsky’s work. Dvoretsky, who passed away in 2016, was a strong player in his day. (He was only an IM, but his FIDE rating was over 2500, and this at a time when that put him in the world’s top 50. He was in the USSR then, when it was very difficult for all but the very best Soviet players to participate in norm tournaments.) But he was even more successful as a trainer, a vocation he took up around the age of 30. His students/trainees won numerous junior world championships, frequently reached the Candidates stage, and achieved everything but the absolute world championship.

    Dvoretsky’s work was not confined to face-to-face work with top-level students, however. He also published many books and articles with very high-level training material. His work wasn’t intended for anyone below around 2000, and that’s being pretty liberal. Most of his work is designed for masters, and a sizable chunk of his material is challenging even for grandmasters. It’s not all like that, but even his comparatively easy material isn’t designed to be read on the subway or in bed before falling asleep.

    So what about this new book, which was written before his passing but had to be translated into English? Is it accessible to elites only, or can strong club players (with a strong work ethic and a high tolerance for pain and frustration) benefit from it as well? Dvoretsky suggests in the Introduction that the book is a sort of addendum to his Analytical Manual. That was one of the most challenging books I ever worked with – maybe the most challenging – so if his assessment of Chess Lessons is correct it’s not a book for the casual player – even if that player is rated around 2000.

    But let me suggest that it’s not that bad. There’s a good deal of “talk” in the book, both to explain what’s happening in the position and to offer general advice. There are lots of challenging questions from Dvoretsky, but not all of them require a trained professional to find their solution. More importantly, not all of them are capable of being understood only by trained professionals. A comparatively lower-rated player can learn from the book, even without managing to solve any of the tasks posed. (It isn’t a puzzle book, but Dvoretsky will put a question mark at a diagram in the course of a game or game fragment to indicate a challenge, along with “W” or “B” to indicate whose move it is and 1-5 asterisks to indicate the position’s difficulty.)

    Still, the book is designed for players who are professional or aspiring to it. To go through the book as intended will require a good deal of time and effort, and as noted above, a high tolerance for pain and frustration. As someone who has worked a little with Dvoretsky, mostly with his books but also in person, I can assure you that you will grow from his books if you use them in the right way. Whether you have the time, ability, and inclination to do so is a question you’ll have to answer for yourself.

    Thus far I’ve said almost nothing about the book’s contents. With some books that would be inexcusable, but with Dvoretsky’s works it’s pretty normal. A lot of his books are collections of complicated positions where one must work through concrete details and figure out the truth; they’re very rarely about general chess understanding or solving positions based on stock tactics. He trusts that his readers have already learned these lessons and are trying to achieve the highest levels. The are hundreds if not thousands of tactical primers and dozens of books on typical positional themes, standard pawn structures, and so on. To go from a competent master to a world-class player involves skills that go beyond what we can all learn by rote learning, and his exercises are pitched accordingly. (There’s nothing wrong with rote learning; without that foundation a player is unlikely to become a competent club player, let alone a professional. It’s not sufficient for those who want to become IMs and GMs, but it is necessary.)

    Lest you think that I’m kidding about the very concrete nature of what Dvoretsky is (or rather, was) up to in his books, here are the seven parts of his book:

    Part 1: Lessons from a Certain Game

    Part 2: Positional Games

    Part 3: Discussions in the Opening

    Part 4: The King in Peril

    Part 5: Under Fire

    Part 6: Games with Questions

    Part 7: Playing-out

    Helpful, right? (Not really.) It doesn’t get any better when you dig into each part. For instance, the sections of Part 3 are titled “Fascinating Classics”, “Two Failures of Eugenio Torre”, “A Stumbling Block”, and “Unobvious Candidate Moves”. The first section begins with the famous Rotlewi-Rubinstein game and examines other games with a similar structure. Torre’s failures are both on the Black side of the Classical Slav. The “stumbling block” focuses on Nadanian’s treatment of the Basman-Sale Variation of the Sicilian, and the last section looks at a mind-bending and wild Slav sideline. But don’t be misled: in none of these cases is Dvoretsky offering anything like opening advice. It’s all about problem-solving, which is the primary focus of all his chess works. It could be an ending, a middlegame, or an opening – whatever. We as chess players have to solve problems. We can’t move pieces, can’t consult books, can’t consult engines (unless we’re correspondence players or cheaters). We memorize and study, but ultimately, we have to figure some things out for ourselves, and training ourselves in that ability is what we have to do to get really, seriously, meaningfully good at the game. Dvoretsky isn’t trying to teach us any of the variations covered in part 3. He has simply found a fresh batch of games with deep problems to solve. In some cases there are positional ideas or opening variations we can reuse, and in other cases – most, I’d say – the analysis will have no direct application. But building up skill by deep analysis of challenging positions? That’s the ultimate reusable benefit.

    In conclusion: if you’re at least 2000 (maybe 2200, and certainly above) and ambitious, the book is worth your while. If you’re below 2000, the exercises will be far too challenging; and if you don’t have the time, energy, or inclination to really work at the book it’s not worth your while either. Of course, one can buy the book and replay the games and analysis just for pleasure, and to learn a bit here and there en passant. There are better books for that purpose, however, and if you go through the book in this way you’ll lose its main benefit – you’ll already know the solutions. So I recommend the book to higher-rated players with ambition, and as something ambitious lower-rated players can work towards.

    (Amazon link here; publisher's excerpt here.)

    Friday
    Jul062018

    FIDE Presidential Race Update: Ilyumzhinov Out, Dvorkovich In **UPDATED** Ilyumzhinov Extra-Out

    The Russian Chess Federation has voted on their candidate, and it's not the outgoing/already gone FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Instead, it's Russian economist, political office-holder, and billionaire Arkady Dvorkovich who will throw his hat into the ring against Giorgios Makropoulos and Nigel Short.

    I'm not aware of anything weird or scandalous in his background, and his chess connections are legitimate (his father was an arbiter, and he has been involved with the Russian Chess Federation for years). So unless there's a good general reason to distrust any Russian who would be in charge of FIDE, I'd imagine that he would be a big improvement over Ilyumzhinov and most likely over Makropoulos as well. (Short is to me a wildcard: I could imagine his presidency being anywhere from brilliant to a disaster.)

    But I will defer to those who know these people and their work better than I do. European readers especially, do you have any strong opinions based on your knowledge of these men?

    **UPDATE** The Russian vote didn't officially eliminate Ilyumzhinov from being able to run, though it had that effect from a practical perspective. However, it is official that Ilyumzhinov isn't running, and he is throwing his support to Dvorkovich. (Pretty much a given, considering his feelings towards Makro and Short, so I wouldn't hold it against Dvorkovich.)

    HT: Chess Today.

    Thursday
    Jul052018

    Stockfish Wins TCEC Season 12 Superfinal over Komodo, 60-40

    It started off competitively, but it didn't end that way. Stockfish 180614 (i.e. the June 14, 2018 development version) drubbed Komodo 12.1.1 by a 60-40 score, 29-9 in decisive games to take the TCEC season 12 title. (All the games from this season, and previous seasons as well, can be found and downloaded from here.)

    Stockfish is still the engine to beat - at least among those running on the sorts of hardware we "regular" people have access to. Congrats to the Stockfish developers, and thanks to them for keeping it free!