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    Friday
    Jan182019

    2019 Wijk aan Zee, Round 6: Four Leaders, Including the Surging Carlsen

    It's always fascinating to see confidence monsters ("con mons"?) in action. They can struggle for a long time, with no end in sight, but once something goes their way it's like a switch is flipped and they go back to full blast. This is how it was for Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov, and it has been true of Magnus Carlsen as well. After 21 draws in a row, the string was finally broken with a win over the tournament's (by far) bottom seed. Should that suddenly herald the return of good form? Not normally, but when we're talking about a confidence monster, it might. Carlsen won again today, this time against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, in a complicated ending, and with that he is in a four-way tie for first in the 2019 Tata Steel Chess Tournament, which I hereby pronounce is over: Carlsen will win it, probably running away from the field. (But we'll see.)

    Also joining the tie for first: Anish Giri, who crushed Jan-Krzysztof Duda with the black pieces. In fact Giri is 3-0 with Black, and has more than made up for his first-round loss.

    The other two leaders are Ian Nepomniachtchi and Ding Liren. Nepo drew quickly with Black (22 moves) against Viswanathan Anand, while Ding Liren tried for a long time (75) moves to defeat Teimour Radjabov with the white pieces before admitting the draw.

    The round's other winner was Jorden Van Foreest, who was lost against Vladimir Fedoseev before the latter made a string of errors to turn his winning position into a lost one. A late mistake gave Fedoseev a chance to put up serious resistance and maybe even hold, but a blunder in return erased that opportunity and gave the Dutch players a sweep on the day.

    Vidit-Shankland was an 18-move draw, and like the two draws already mentioned was very clean. Rapport-Kramnik was anything but clean, with both sides having winning advantages at different times. The game dragged on for 94 moves, but the last 30 were utterly pointless as Kramnik "tried" to win rook vs. knight. He wouldn't manage to defeat me in such an ending - it's a trivial task for the weaker side to hold - so his playing it out against Rapport was slightly insulting, or at least absurd. Maybe Kramnik had a fight with his wife and didn't want to resume the argument, or maybe he was thinking about variations for the press conference where his opponent survived by a "miracle". Whatever the case, playing out the ending for 30 moves was somewhere between pointless and dumb, especially since Rapport had tons of time on the clock.

    The games, with my comments to the decisive battles, are here. The round 7 pairings are as follows:

    • Fedoseev (2) - Carlsen (4)
    • Shankland (2.5) - Van Foreest (2)
    • Radjabov (3) - Vidit (3.5)
    • Giri (4) - Ding (4)
    • Nepomniachtchi (4) - Duda (2.5)
    • Kramnik (2) - Anand (3.5)
    • Mamedyarov (2.5) - Rapport (2.5)

    Wednesday
    Jan162019

    2019 Wijk aan Zee, Round 5: Ding, Nepo Lead; Carlsen Wins

    Finally! After a crazy 21-game drawing streak, Magnus Carlsen once again did what world champions do: he won a game. More precisely, he won a classical game, and with it pulled to within half a point of the leader - now leaders - in the 2019 edition of the Tata Steel Chess Tournament.

    His victim was Jorden Van Foreest, who deserves points for boldness, though not for prudence, for repeating the 6.Nd5 Anti-Sveshnikov line Fabiano Caruana tested against Carlsen in their match without success. Van Foreest can use a computer, just like Carlsen, but the many hours Carlsen and his team spent on the line before and during the match cannot be duplicated with a couple of hours at the computer. White's position was fine as far as the engine was concerned, coming out of the opening, but Carlsen outplayed him pretty easily to win in crushing style in just 33 moves.

    The day's other winner also won with Black (who leads in the event 9-2 in decisive games!), and also did the job in 33 moves. The winner was Ding Liren, who caught up to Ian Nepomniachtchi in first place with a +2 score, and his victim was Sam Shankland. Shankland had looked very good in his previous games, and with a little more accuracy might entered the round tied for first with his own +2 score. This game was a disaster for him, and vaulted Ding into a tie for first and the #3 spot on the live rating list.

    Two other games could have finished with a winner. Santosh Vidit was winning (with Black, naturally) against Vladimir Fedoseev after grinding away in the ending for hours, but didn't manage to put him away in the day's longest battle. Teimour Radjabov was winning against Jan-Krzysztof Duda and was still better at the end of the game when he acceeded to a repetition. 22.Re3 was a mistake; either 22.Qh2 or 22.g4 (followed by Qh2) kept a winning advantage.

    The remaining games were had fewer dramatic moments. Vladimir Kramnik and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov drew a well-played Open Ruy, Richard Rapport managed to minimize the ill-effects of his damaged pawn structure to draw against Nepomniachtchi, and Viswanathan Anand neutralized Anish Giri's theoretical opening edge with a new idea in the Italian Game. (In fact, he was a little better in the end, but Anand has tended over the years to be too quick to draw in better positions with Black against players when a draw was his principal ambition entering the game. A bit like Carlsen in the last classical game with Caruana, except that Carlsen's advantage was much bigger and Anand's tendency appears to be far more ingrained.) (The games are here, but without notes due in part to zeitnot in my world.)

    Tomorrow - Thursday - is the first rest day; on Friday round 6 will have the following pairings.

    • Carlsen (3) - Mamedyarov (2.5)
    • Rapport (2) - Kramnik (1.5)
    • Anand (3) - Nepomniachtchi (3.5)
    • Duda (2.5) - Giri (3)
    • Ding (3.5) - Radjabov (2.5)
    • Vidit (3) - Shankland (2)
    • Van Foreest (1) - Fedoseev (2)

    Taking a quick peek at the Challengers' event (the winner of which will receive automatic promotion to next year's top group), the top two seeds - Anton Korobov and Vladislav Kovalev - lead with 3.5/5, half a point ahead of the quintet Andrey Esipenko, Maksim Chigaev, Erwin L'Ami, Evgeny Bareev, and Parham Maghsoodloo.

    Wednesday
    Jan162019

    Gukesh Dommaraju The Second-Youngest GM Ever

    He came awfully close to beating Sergey Karjakin's record, missing by just 17 days. Huge congratulations to the latest Indian super-prodigy, Gukesh Dommaraju, who achieved the grandmaster title at the ripe young age of 12 years, 7 months, and 17 days. Less than five and a half years ago he got his first rating - 1291 - and now, here he is.

    More on his achievement, and a positively terrifying list at the end showing just how many near-fetuses have become GMs to boot, here.

    Tuesday
    Jan152019

    2019 Wijk aan Zee, Round 4: Nepomniachtchi Remains in Clear First; Carlsen Draws Again

    Looks like I was wrong about Magnus Carlsen and Vladimir Kramnik. After Kramnik's first three games I assumed he'd be ripe for the picking by Carlsen, but where Kramnik's suicide streak only extended to three games (and two in which he was successful), the champ's 20-game series of draws was an unstoppable force. Kramnik put on his Sunday best, played strong and sensible chess, and drew like the three-time world champion and frequent 2800 player that he is.

    Theirs was an interesting draw, but the other four drawn games were utterly forgettable. I'd tell you more about them, but they've already slipped my memory, so I'll only note that one of the draws was the shared property of Ian Nepomniachtchi, who continues to enjoy the sole lead in the event with a +2 score of 3 out 4.

    On to the two decisive games. As usual, the Dutch players were involved. On the sunny side, Anish Giri moved to +1 by defeating Richard Rapport with the black pieces. The game was balanced until Rapport found an exchanging combination that backfired. Rapport presumably missed Giri's 22nd or 24th move, and the result was a lost middlegame that Giri cashed in without much trouble. Things were less sunny for Jorden Van Foreest. He found himself a pawn down in an opposite-colored bishops ending. It was probably drawn, as I think I've demonstrated in the analysis, but (possibly due to time trouble) he didn't manage to save hte game against Santosh Vidit.

    All the games can be replayed here, with comments to the two decisive games and Carlsen-Kramnik. (Tournament site here.) Here are the pairings for round 5: 

    • Van Foreest (1) - Carlsen (2)
    • Fedoseev (1.5) - Vidit (2.5)
    • Shankland (2) - Ding (2.5)
    • Radjabov (2) - Duda (2)
    • Giri (2.5) - Anand (2.5)
    • Nepomniachtchi (3) - Rapport (1.5)
    • Kramnik (1) - Mamedyarov (2) 

    Carlsen has to win this time, right?

    Monday
    Jan142019

    2019 Wijk aan Zee, Round 3: Nepomniachtchi the Clear Leader

    The implosion of Vladimir Kramnik continues apace, and today's grateful recipient was Ian Nepomniachtchi. The 5.Re1 Anti-Berlin rarely leads to interesting positions, but it did this time. Kramnik got a bit carried away looking for queenside counterplay, got into terrible time trouble, and four consecutive mistakes on moves 32-35 turned a worse position into a complete disaster. Nepo now leads with 2.5/3, half a point ahead of Viswanathan Anand and Ding Liren.

    Anand was the other co-leader entering the round, and was satisfied with a comfortable draw with Black against Sam Shankland. Ding Liren started the round half a point out of first, and thanks to his win over Jorden Van Foreest remains on Nepo's heels. In fact Ding was winning in the middlegame, but misplayed a promising attacking position (29...f4! kept a decisive advantage) and had to win the game all over again in an ending. Or perhaps we could say that Van Foreest had to lose it again, because it came down to one big mistake. The idea of playing b3-b4 was correct, but 39.b4 was a de facto blunder; it needed to be preceded by a2-a4. The point is that after 39.b4 Black played 39...a4, and that pawn's survival resulted in a winning ending for Ding, which he converted without any mistakes.

    The round's other winner was Jan-Krzysztof Duda, who bounced back from yesterday's loss to defeat Vladimir Fedoseev with the black pieces. (So far the score in decisive games is 6-1 in Black's favor.) Fedoseev seems to have underestimated Black's attacking potential when he played 24.e3 and 25.Nxh4, perhaps assuming that 26.Qc4 and the resulting queen trade his king couldn't be in that much danger. It turned out he was wrong, and Duda won in good style to get back to 50%.

    In other games, Magnus Carlsen managed to reach a rook and four pawn vs. rook and three pawn ending against Santosh Gujrathi Vidit. This ending began at move 37, and continued until move 131. Vidit knew what he was doing, and Carlsen never came close to getting anything. Anish Giri and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov played a lively Gruenfeld, with Mamedyarov coming up with an interesting novelty on move 15. (Black had almost always played 15...b4, with a long theoretical line to follow.) Black had been doing fine there, drawing every game but one - which he won. Time will tell if Mamedyarov's idea is another arrow in the arsenal, but in the game he didn't have any real problems. Other than move 26 he belted out his moves instantly, and the game was dead drawn when they called it quits on move 31. Finally, Teimour Radjabov and Richard Rapport went a move further, calling it a day after 32 moves of a Taimanov Sicilian.

    The tournament website is here, and the games, with very light notes, are here. Finally, here are the round 4 pairings:

    • Carlsen (1.5) - Kramnik (.5)
    • Mamedyarov (1.5) - Nepomniachtchi (2.5)
    • Rapport (1.5) - Giri (1.5)
    • Anand (2) - Radjabov (1.5)
    • Duda (1.5) - Shankland (1.5)
    • Ding (2) - Fedoseev (1)
    • Vidit (1.5) - Van Foreest (1)

    Looks like Carlsen's amazing 20-game winless streak in classical chess will finally come to an end. If by a "miracle" Kramnik wins, though, Carlsen will fall to #2 on the rating list. But it ain't gonna happen.

    Sunday
    Jan132019

    2019 Wijk aan Zee, Round 2: The Dutch Giveth, the Dutch Taketh Away

    In round 1, the two Dutch participants in this year's Tata Steel Chess Tournament, Anish Giri and Jorden Van Foreest, lost with the white pieces. No problem: they promptly won with the black pieces in round 2. Giri took advantage of Vladimir Kramnik's crazy all-in approach. Kramnik barely got away with it in round 1, surviving, as he likes to say, by a "miracle" against Teimour Radjabov, but Giri was unforgiving today. As for Van Foreest, his game with Duda was balanced for quite a while, with Duda's kingside play sufficing for equality against VF's positional pluses. Duda was slightly outplayed as the game went on, but the real damage didn't happen until the last few moves of the time control. Duda made several serious errors in a row - and this continued after the time control as well, though it was already too late by then.

    Other games were mirrors of what happened in round 1. For instance, Sam Shankland again managed to outplay his opponent - Richard Rapport in this case - and once again faltered near the finish line. After playing a great grinding game and finally getting a winning position against Rapport, he gave it away with one sloppy move, 74...h5. Alas!

    Magnus Carlsen's second round game also bore some resemblance to what he did in round 1. It was again a short draw if one just counts the moves, but as in round 1 it was a wild game, full of content. Another repeated idea is that he once again sacrificed an exchange; in fact, in this game (against Ian Nepomniachtchi) he upped the ante and made it a full rook sacrifice. It wasn't enough for an advantage, but it made for an exciting game in any case.

    The remaining games weren't so interesting. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Teimour Radjabov played a quick, short (32 moves) draw, as they often do, and no one was remotely close to being in danger. This makes 22 drawn games in a row between them going back to 2012, many of them in under 20 moves. Draw your own conclusions (pun intended). Viswanathan Anand and Vladimir Fedoseev's game had a little more life, but not much: Fedoseev's Petroff did what the Petroff was designed to do and they called it a day after 34 moves. Finally, Ding Liren obtained an advantage against Santosh Viidt Gujrathi, but couldn't maintain it, and they split the point after move 33. (Games here, but this time without annotations.)

    The tournament leaders are thus the same as the leaders after yesterday's games: Anand and Nepomniachtchi. The caboose is brought up by today's victims, Kramnik and Duda, and everyone else has one point. Here are the pairings for tomorrow's (Monday's) round 3:

    • Vidit (1) - Carlsen (1)
    • Van Foreest (1) - Ding (1)
    • Fedoseev (1) - Duda (.5)
    • Shankland (1) - Anand (1.5)
    • Radjabov (1) - Rapport (1)
    • Giri (1) - Mamedyarov (1)
    • Nepomniachtchi (1.5) - Kramnik (.5)

    A question in parting: why is Carlsen given as board 1 every round, just as at the last two World Rapid & Blitz Championships? He isn't pairing number 1 (as I understand it, he would have had the white pieces in round 1 if he were) and the board numbers aren't determined by rating. Is this another Norwegian TV thing? Can they really not set up their cameras on a different board? Not even Garry Kasparov ever received such treatment. Hopefully players, sponsors, and the media won't have to start referring to him with honorifics and be forced to retreat from his presence by walking backwards and always facing him.

    Saturday
    Jan122019

    2019 Wijk aan Zee, Round 1: Two Wins, Two Missed Wins

    The first round of the 2019 Tata Steel tournament ("Wijk aan Zee") was a good one: there was plenty of fight, and the oddest statistic is that the two shortest games in the round were the wins. Viswanathan Anand crushed bottom seed Jorden Van Foreest, and while that might be expected on account of the players' ratings Ian Nepomniachtchi's win over Anish Giri was an upset - all the more so since Nepo, like Anand, had Black.

    Two other games should have finished with a winner: Teimour Radjabov was crushing Vladimir Kramnik, but a big error on the last move of the time control let the former champion escape. Reigning U.S. champion Sam Shankland did great to outplay second seed Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, but his reluctance to play Kd5 at some point allowed Mamedyarov to escape.

    The marquee matchup between Ding Liren and Magnus Carlsen did not disappoint: after four and a half moves the players were out of book, and a very imbalanced game resulted. Ding had an advantage at one point, but it was very difficult to prove and the lively draw that resulted was a logical result.

    Vladimir Fedoseev had some advantage against Richard Rapport, but his clever 28.Bf5 let Rapport escape. Finally, Santosh Vidit had to suffer in a long game against Jan-Krzysztof Duda, but he defended well to draw.

    The games, with my comments, are here. These are the round 2 pairings:

    • Carlsen (.5) - Nepomniachtchi (1)
    • Kramnik (.5) - Giri (0)
    • Mamedyarov (.5) - Radjabov (.5)
    • Rapport (.5) - Shankland (.5)
    • Anand (1) - Fedoseev (.5)
    • Duda (.5) - Van Foreest (0)
    • Ding Liren (.5) - Vidit (.5)

    Friday
    Jan112019

    The 2019 Tata Steel Tournament ("Wijk aan Zee") Starts Saturday

    That's tomorrow for those of you in the U.S. of A., though not for long, and it's already today for most of the world. More precisely, the games (or at least the broadcast) of the 2019 Tata Steel Chess Tournament begin at 1:30 p.m. local time in the Netherlands, or 7:30 a.m. ET in the U.S.

    It's very strong, as always, with three 2800s and three world champions in action. (Those categories only overlap with one person.) Only two of the 14 players are rated below 2700, and one of them was over 2700 for most of 2018 and is at 2695 right now. Here are the pairings, which start off with a bang as #3 takes on #1 right from the get-go: 

    • Ding Liren (2813) - Magnus Carlsen (2835)
    • Santosh Vidit Gujrathi (2695) - Jan-Krzysztof Duda (2738)
    • Jorden Van Foreest (2612) - Viswanathan Anand (2773)
    • Vladimir Fedoseev (2724) - Richard Rapport (2731)
    • Sam Shankland (2725) - Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (2817)
    • Teimour Radjabov (2757) - Vladimir Kramnik (2777)
    • Anish Giri (2783) - Ian Nepomniachtchi (2763) 

    There is also a Challengers group, also with 14 players, whose ratings range from a high of 2699 down to 2470. The top seeds are Anton Korobov (2699), Vladislav Kovalev (2687), World Junior champion Parham Maghsoodloo (2679), former super-elite player and Candidate Evgeny Bareev (2650), and a bit further down the title young super-talents Andrey Esipenko (2584), Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa (2539), and Vincent Keymer (2500) are also in the mix.

    Predictions? I'll make one: the overall percentage of draws will not be particularly high. A second prediction is that everyone will forget about the low percentage of draws the next time a draw-heavy event occurs, and will call for various changes (shorter time controls, Chess960, dueling with pistols at 10 paces at dawn, etc.) to "fix" the game. (Meanwhile, in TCEC land, engines which produce far stronger chess than the best humans still produce a pretty fair number of decisive games against each other, so things still aren't as bad as the doomsayers think.)

    As for predicting a winner, I'll pass, but I'm rooting for Sam Shankland to win and for Carlsen to lose eight or more rating points during the event. That would put him behind Fabiano Caruana, but I wouldn't mind if Mamedyarov or Ding leapfrogged them both to take first place on the list. It would be good to see someone ahead of Carlsen, both for the sake of variety and to hopefully motivate Carlsen to do what's necessary to become the player he was 4-5 years ago.

    Friday
    Jan112019

    FIDE Alters the Qualification Scheme for the 2020 Candidates; Adds a Swiss Event **UPDATED**

    Seven-eighths of the qualification procedure remains in place for the next Candidates event, which will take place in 2020. Fabiano Caruana is still qualified as the loser of the last World Championship match, and as far as we know there will be two World Cup qualifiers, two Grand Prix qualifiers, a wildcard selected by the organizer(s) of the Candidates event, and one qualifier by rating.

    That's one, as in only one. Previously two players qualified that way, but now one of those spots will go to the winner of a 11-round Swiss system event to be held later this year, open to the top 100 players by rating. In the event of a tie for first there will not be a playoff; instead, tiebreaks will be used starting with TPR. (In general, this is one of the fairer tiebreak methods - but in a field that's likely to be as balanced by rating as this one, the difference is going to be pretty random. If player A's TPR is just a couple of rating points different, that's much more noise than signal. I think head-to-head should come first, but why not have a playoff?)

    Looking at some of the regulations listed here, a big question comes to mind. There are to be 100 players, but the prizes for the event only run through 30th place. The tournament lasts for 15 days, which is a pretty long time. At the start of the article just linked to the event is described as an "all-expenses paid" event, but when they list some of the regulations it says this: "All accommodation costs and a travel allowance will be paid by the players."

    That doesn't sound like "all-expenses paid" to me, and so if I'm ranked 50th or below I've got to wonder if it's worth my while.

    [DM: **UPDATE** Oliver notes in the comments that there was an error in the Chess24 piece I cited, due to haste. Rather than "All accommodation costs and a travel allowance will be paid by the players" (emphasis added), it should have been "...will be paid for the players" (again, emphasis added). That makes a huge difference! It may not cover all expenses (seconds, opportunity costs), but it's still a significant help to the players.]

    My odds of winning are very low - maybe 1/100 if I'm 50th, far less the closer I am to number 100. Meanwhile, I'm paying for the trip, at least 15 days' accommodations (more, because of the need to acclimatize), and the cost of one or more seconds. There's also opportunity costs: I might have to miss out on an event where I'm likely to win money to participate in this tournament. It's all well and good for the starry-eyed dreamers with money to burn, or for those near the super-elite level who want to get in some games with players they'd never normally get to play. But I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of mid-to-upper 2600s decide that it's a bad deal and skip it altogether.

    Anyway, it will be entertaining for us, even if it doesn't make much sense as a way to find the best Candidates. Keep the bread and circuses coming, FIDE!

    Friday
    Jan112019

    Pro Chess League: The 2019 Season Begins

    A summary of week one, here. Featured players including America's Big Three (Caruana, So, and Nakamura), Ding Liren, and MVL. Carlsen didn't play, at least this time - I'm guessing it's because he's playing in Wijk aan Zee. So is Ding, you say; and rightly, but none of the other players mentioned above are participating. (More on that shortly, in a coming post.)

    Anyhow, do check out the link above, which gives a full report and a link to download the games in PGN format.