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    Saturday
    Jun152019

    Norway Chess, Round 9: Carlsen Wins the Tournament, but Loses to Caruana

    Congratulations to the world champion and to his most recent challenger! Magnus Carlsen had a good tournament overall, just about maintaining his classical rating with a +2 score in the classical games, while winning his first six Armageddons. And congratulations to Fabiano Caruana as well. He went +1 in classical chess and overcame a poor start to finish fourth, just half a point behind Yu Yangyi and Levon Aronian. And, of course, his biggest congratulations comes from beating Carlsen in the last round. He even had a chance to defeat Carlsen in the classical game, which would have been an even bigger feather in his cap, but after missing his chance there he showed excellent technique in the Armageddon game, doing a Carlsen to grind out his great opponent in an ending.

    As mentioned, Yu Yangyi tied for second, and he got there by defeating Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in their classical game. Surprisingly, this happened in the Scotch Four Knights, and while Yu didn't get anything with it earlier in the event, this time he was more successful. Mamedyarov didn't play very well, and lost in just 30 moves.

    In the other games, Levon Aronian "drew" the Armageddon game with Black against Viswanathan Anand to win their battle. In fact he could have won very easily, but gave a charity draw to finish the match. The end of the game was nice, with Aronian appearing to fall into a trap; of course, he saw a little further and got the last tactical laugh.

    Wesley So was in trouble with White against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave early on in their Armageddon game, but a careless move or two by MVL allowed So to flip the script. Given a chance to take over, he did it, and tied with Caruana for 4th-5th.

    Finally, Alexander Grischuk drew his Armageddon game with Black against Ding Liren. He was clearly winning early on, and while he let the full point slip away he achieved what he needed with the draw.

    The games (without notes) are here; here are the final standings:

    1. Carlsen 13.5/18
    2-3. Yu, Aronian 10.5
    4-5. Caruana, So 10
    6. Ding 8.5
    7-8. Vachier-Lagrave, Anand 8
    9-10. Mamedyarov, Grischuk 5.5

    Saturday
    Jun152019

    Women's Candidates, Round 12: Goryachkina Wins With Two Rounds to Spare

    It has been clear for a while that Aleksandra Goryachkina was going to win the Women's Candidates tournament, and now it's official. (Or at least unofficially official.) She drew with Tan Zhongyi, while Kateryna Lagno lost to Anna Muzychuk, and that means that she leads the tournament by two and a half points with two rounds to go. There have been a variety of experimental scoring systems, as in the Norway Chess tournament, but here with a maximum of one point available per person per round, the job is done. (Unless Goryachkina somehow gets herself disqualified, I guess.)

    Goryachkina did experience some difficulties in her game. She was under pressure for a long time, but eventually escaped. More than that, by the very end she was winning, but with no motivation to find the win and with a perpetual check in hand that clinched clear first, she went for the draw. As for Lagno, she was in trouble from the start. Anna Muzychuk played well and crushed her, and thereby overtook Lagno to take clear second for herself.

    For almost the entire tournament Mariya Muzychuk's results mirrored her sister's, and it was almost so this time as well. She was winning against Valentina Gunina, but proving it would have required some deep tactics. Missing her chance, she made a further error a couple of moves later, and eventually lost in a long ending. Finally, Nana Dzagnidze at long last put an end to her terrible string of bad results and won a nice game against Alexandra Kosteniuk.

    The games, all with some comments, are here. The pairings for round 13 - on Sunday - are as follows:

    Gunina (5.5) - A. Muzychuk (6.5)
    Kosteniuk (4.5) - M. Muzychuk (5.5)
    Goryachkina (9) - Dzagnidze (5.5)
    Lagno (6) - Tan Zhongyi (5.5)

    Friday
    Jun142019

    Norway Chess, Round 8: Carlsen Clinches First

    Just when it seemed that Magnus Carlsen might be slumping a little in classical chess, he won a nice game against Yu Yangyi to clinch clear first in the 2019 Norway Chess tournament with a round to spare. The win also put him into a tie with Ding Liren for the best score in the classical games - they're both at +2, while Fabiano Caruana (who, like Carlsen, won his classical game in round 8) is at +1.

    Carlsen played a sideline of a gambit line (itself a sideline) against the Slav, and obtained a slight advantage when Yu Yangyi backed down from the most principled continuation. Yu's 16...Nc4 was a serious error, with all three of White's critical options providing an advantage. It's possible that Carlsen's clever 17.Qd3 - apparently overlooked by Yu - may have been worse than the pedestrian options of taking on c6 or on c4. His position was so good that it didn't matter all that much, and Carlsen's opinion about the position after the forcing sequence concluding with 23.c4 is that Black had no chance to survive - even if colors were reversed and he had the black pieces. Carlsen's technique was fully up to the job, as usual, and when Levon Aronian lost his classical game to Caruana Carlsen was guaranteed of clear first with a round to go. Carlsen has 13/16, while Aronian has only 9 points. (Remember that each round is worth a maximum of two points, so if Aronian had won the classical game against Caruana he'd have had 11 points entering the last round, still within range of a possible tie if he won his classical game while Carlsen lost his.)

    The other matches were settled in Armageddon games. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave defeated Ding Liren with White, Viswanathan Anand defeated Alexander Grischuk with Black, and for some reason Wesley So gave Shakhriyar Mamedyarov a charity draw in a position my father could win, if he still remembers how the pieces move.

    The games (without notes) are here, and these are the pairings for the final round, starting in a few hours:

    Caruana (8.5) - Carlsen (13)
    Anand (7.5) - Aronian (9)
    So (8.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (7.5)
    Yu (8.5) - Mamedyarov (5.5)
    Ding (8) - Grischuk (4)

    The Caruana-Carlsen pairing should be interesting. Carlsen's Sveshnikov has been looking vulnerable, and since Caruana has also taken up that opening since their world championship match he must really know its ins and outs extremely well by now. Carlsen has enjoyed a long undefeated streak, too, so this is a splendid chance for Caruana to win a statement game (albeit not the statement he could have made back in November).

    Friday
    Jun142019

    Women's Candidates, Round 11: Goryachkina on the Verge of Winning

    The players in the top four places all drew their games, maintaining their relative standings at the top of the wall chart. Unfortunately for three of the players, that only helps one of them, Aleksandra Goryachkina, who maintains a two and a half point lead with three rounds to go.

    The games featuring the bottom four were both decisive. Valentina Gunina somehow defeated the plummeting Nana Dzagnidze from an ending where she was down a pawn for nothing, while Tan Zhongyi exploiting a huge mistake from Alexandra Kosteniuk to win a (mostly) very nice game. It was almost a brilliancy, but the Chinese player almost let it slip away.

    The games, with my notes to the Tan Zhongyi's win over Kosteniuk, are here. The pairings for the antepenultimate round, which could clinch a world championship match for Goryachkina, are as follows:

    M. Muzychuk (5.5) - Gunina (4.5)
    Dzagnidze (4.5) - Kosteniuk (4.5)
    Tan Zhongyi (5) - Goryachkina (8)
    A. Muzychuk (5.5) - Lagno (6)

    Wednesday
    Jun122019

    Norway Chess, Round 7: More Draws, And Carlsen Keeps Winning in Armageddon

    One tournament doesn't make for much of a dataset, but it has been a pretty lousy event so far for everyone but those whose only wish is that Magnus Carlsen win. Carlsen's play hasn't been sparkling, while the Armageddon format doesn't seem to have instilled much ambition in players to take risks for the extra half a point that comes by winning the classical game. But to repeat myself, it's just one event, and it's not over yet.

    Anyway, on to round 7. The event could have opened up as Magnus Carlsen was in trouble against Wesley So in both the classical and the Armageddon game, but he managed to draw both (with Black) to add another point and a half to his total. (In fact he could have played for the win in the blitz game, but with no rating points on the line the draw was just as good.)

    The other American, Fabiano Caruana, squandered an even bigger advantage in the classical game on the way to a draw. He had Viswanathan Anand dead to rights, but in moderate time trouble not only let Anand slip away but was even in mild danger of losing. To Caruana's credit, however, he rebounded from the disappointment, played excellently in the Armageddon game, and blew Anand off the board.

    Only one pairing finished with a classical winner, and while that's not much it equals the total of the three previous rounds combined, so relatively speaking the one win was like a river of blood coursing through the streets of Stavanger. The win seems to be at least in part a triumph of preparation by Ding Liren in a 3.f3 Anti-Gruenfeld against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Ding made his first 22 moves almost instantly, and when he finally had to invest some thought on moves 23 and 24, he had the time to do so. He found the right moves, obtained a winning position, and converted his advantage. With the win Ding became the informal leader of the classical tournament as the only player with a +2 score. As there is no prize for that, it doesn't really matter, except for the ratings, but it's still an impressive accomplishment.

    Yu Yangyi had been staying fairly close to Carlsen thanks to his own successes in Armageddon battles, but that string of successes was put to an end by Levon Aronian. Their classical game was drawn in 31 moves, and Aronian's able defense against Yu's enduring pressure in the Armageddon game made sure that it also finished in a draw. Aronian had Black, so he gained the extra point, and now he's in clear second, two points behind Carlsen.

    Finally, in a game between two great players having a less than great event, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave failed to dent Alexander Grischuk in their classical game, but won convincingly and in good style in the Armageddon.

    The games (some with comments) are here. Here are the pairings for round 8, tomorrow/today:

    Carlsen (11) - Yu (8.5)
    Aronian (9) - Caruana (6.5)
    Vachier-Lagrave (6) - Ding (7.5)
    Mamedyarov (5) - So (7)
    Grischuk (3.5) - Anand (6)

    Wednesday
    Jun122019

    Women's Candidates, Round 10: Draws at the Top

    Kateryna Lagno had a chance to inject a little drama in the event. In second place, two and a half points behind Aleksandra Goryachkina and facing her with White in the ante-ante-antepenultimate round, a ray of hope remained. The ray expanded as she achieved a large, nearly winning advantage in the early middlegame. The key was to play Ne5, and while she eventually played it, it was too late by then. Goryachkina drew, and barring a collapse for the ages the tournament has been decided.

    There was only one winner on the day, and it came in a game between players in last place. Alexandra Kosteniuk defeated Valentina Gunina in a game that was poorly played by both sides, at least through the first 18 moves. The Muzychuk sisters could have caught up to Lagno had they defeated their opponents, but both games finished in draws.

    The games, with notes to those not involving Muzychuks, are here. Here are the pairings for round 11:

    Gunina (3.5) - Dzagnidze (4.5)
    Tan Zhongyi (4) - Kosteniuk (4.5)
    Goryachkina (8) - A. Muzychuk (5)
    Lagno (5.5) - M. Muzychuk (5)

    Tuesday
    Jun112019

    Norway Chess, Rounds 4-6: Carlsen, Yu Keep Winning Armageddon Games

    The tournament has been rather disappointing, at least for fans of classical chess. Only seven of the 30 games have had a decisive result, and only one of the last 15 wasn't drawn. Of course there have been fighting draws, but increasingly the players are splitting the point fairly quickly and going off to the Armageddon games.

    So far, that has worked very well for Magnus Carlsen and Yu Yangyi. Carlsen won one classical game, back in round 3, and everything else has been wins in Armageddon. (In the literal sense in four of those games; in round 5 he won the Armageddon by drawing with Black against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.) Carlsen has 9.5/12, and leads Yu Yangyi by a point and a half. Yu has actually outscored Carlsen by half a point over the last three rounds. He defeated Alexander Grischuk with Black in round 4 in their classical game, and won the Armageddon games in rounds 5 and 6. Were it not for his classical loss to Wesley So in round 3, he might have been the leader.

    Levon Aronian is another half a point back, and then there's So another point behind to round out the group of players with plus scores. Three rounds remain, with round 7 coming after the rest day on Tuesday. The games from rounds 4-6 (without notes) are here, and here are the round 7 pairings:

    So (6.5) - Carlsen (9.5)
    Yu (8) - Aronian (7.5)
    Ding (5.5) - Mamedyarov (5)
    Caruana (5) - Anand (5.5)
    Vachier-Lagrave (4.5) - Grischuk (3)

    Tuesday
    Jun112019

    Women's Candidates, Rounds 7-9: Goryachkina Running Away with the Tournament

    This has been quite the coming out party for Aleksandra Goryachkina. She wouldn't even be playing if Hou Yifan had accepted her invitation, and now she's crushing the field. With five rounds to go she leads the Women's Candidates tournament by two and a half points. In round 7 she gave up a draw to Mariya Muzychuk, and in rounds 8 and 9 she defeated Alexandra Kosteniuk and Valentina Gunina, respectively. Her score of 7.5/9 gives the 20-year-old a 2804 TPR and puts her at #3 in the women's rating list, behind only the semi-retired Hou and woman's champ Ju Wenjun.

    The only other player with so much as a plus score is Kateryna Lagno. She has only drawn her last three games, however - and that with some good fortune in round 9 against Kosteniuk. She is at +1, half a point ahead of the Muzychuk sisters, who seem to be doing everything in tandem. After four rounds they were both -2, but since then they've had the exact same results every round: draws in round 5, wins in round 6, draws in rounds 7 and (with each other) in round 8, and wins in round 9. Goryachkina still has to play her second game with both Lagno and the sisters M, so it's still too soon to hand her the tournament. But just barely.

    Nana Dzagnidze had been an early leader, but her tournament seems to have come to an end after she blew a won game against Goryachkina and went on to lose. That would have put her back in first place; instead, she found herself at a brick wall. She drew in round 7 but lost in rounds 8 and 9, and from +3 she's now at -1.

    Tuesday is a rest day; here are the games from rounds 7-9 (without notes). And these are the pairings for round 10, on Wednesday:

    Kosteniuk (3.5) - Gunina (3.5)
    Lagno (5) - Goryachkina (7.5)
    A. Muzychuk (4.5) - Tan Zhongyi (3.5)
    M. Muzychuk (4.5) - Dzagnidze (4)

    Monday
    Jun102019

    A Brilliancy from the Poikovsky Tournament

    The 2019 edition of the Karpov tournament in Poikovsky may be flying a bit under the radar due to Norway Chess, but it's a high-level event in its own right. The lowest-rated player was the young Russian star Andrey Esipenko, rated 2611, and the top seed is Vladislav Artemiev. Artemiev (rated 2761) has been a terror in the chess world lately, with one success after another for the 21-year-old.

    This event has not been fantastic for Artemiev so far, however. After five rounds (of nine) he is on 50%, a point behind Dmitry Jakovenko. Regardless of how he finishes, however, he will be remembered in this event for his loss to Krishnan Sasikiran in the third round. Sasikiran won a brilliant game full of sacrifices, and...well, just have a look.

    Friday
    Jun072019

    Norway Chess, Round 3: Carlsen Leads

    It was an excellent round for the champ, as Magnus Carlsen defeated Alexander Grischuk in their classical game with a direct kingside attack to get the full two points for the round, while Shakhriyar Mamedyarov - the previous leader - lost his classical game to Levon Aronian, despite having the white pieces. Still more good news for the champ: Yu Yangyi entered the round tied with Carlsen, but lost his classical game against Wesley So. Fabiano Caruana also suffered a loss, to Ding Liren, so in every match involving players with reasonable scores (excepting Carlsen's), the player with the lower score won. Finally, Viswanathan Anand drew twice with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the battle of players entering the round with half a point out of four. As Anand had Black in both games, he "won" the Armageddon battle and took that match by a 1.5-0.5 score.

    Tomorrow/today (Friday) is a rest day, so there's a chance I'll get caught up on the games. For now, here are the pairings for round 4, on Saturday:

    Carlsen (5) - Mamedyarov (3.5)
    Aronian (4) - Vachier-Lagrave (1)
    Caruana (2.5) - So (4)
    Anand (2) - Ding Liren (4)
    Grischuk (1) - Yu Yangyi (3)