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    Monday
    Oct152018

    The Big Guns at the European Club Cup: Successes and Failures

    The European Club Cup has been a mixed bag at best for the top players thus far, four rounds into the seven-round tournament. Let's start at the top, with Magnus Carlsen. After taking the first round off, he won in trademark style against Vladimir Potkin, creating enough little problems to give his strong opponent the chance to hang himself, which he duly did. In rounds 3 and 4 he drew. That wasn't a bad result in round 3, as Black against Radoslaw Wojtaszek, but the round 4 draw with White against Alexander Donchenko (2610) was another story. Carlsen played some very weird-looking chess - maybe deliberately, to have some fun - and after achieving nothing with it for a while suddenly got an opportunity after Donchenko's 26...h5(?). Had Carlsen played 28.Re3 or 29.Ree4 he would have had good winning chances; missing (or rejecting) both chances, the game finished in a perpetual.

    The second highest-rated player, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, has only played two games: a win in round 1 against an IM, and draw with Black in round 4 against Zahar Efimenko. If anyone missed any chances in the latter game, it was Efimenko, who appeared too happy to make a draw with his elite opponent.

    The third highest-rated player is on the verge of becoming #2 in the tournament, and #3 in the world rankings. Ding Liren has gone 2.5/3, grinding out a win with Black against an IM in round 2, drawing with Jan Werle in round 2 (Ding went a bit too all-out for the attack - it was better to maintain the center rather than throwing all the eggs into the kingside basket with 14.e5 - but fortunately for him Werle was happy to make a draw and didn't press for more), and then he was just the latest guy to capitalize on Peter Svidler's blunderful form.

    Svidler is having a nightmarish event, losing all three games he has played (and 17.8 rating points) on major errors (as opposed to being outplayed a bit at a time). He was winning a complicated fight against Aleksandar Indjic in round 2 until he played 38.Qxa6, allowing Black to save the game, and then got a second chance to regain a decisive advantage on move 40 with c4. Instead, he had to find the right move to save the game on move 42, but didn't manage. Only 42. g3! would save the game, ensuring that the Black king could not escape from checks by navigating his way through White's kingside pawns. The key variation is 42.g3 Nb2 43.Nb6! Nd3! (everything else loses for Black) 44.Qd6! R7xb6 (the only winning move in the 42.g4 version of the line) 45.Qe7+ and White has a perpetual. With the pawn on g4 instead of g3, Black's king can escape to f4 or h4.

    In round 3 the position was complicated but level against Romain Edouard until Svidler played 32.Qf3?? instead of 32.Kg1, hanging the h-pawn. Perhaps Svidler thought he'd be okay after 32...Qxh2+ 33.Kf1, but the nice 33...f4! spoiled the illusion. Granted, 32.Kg1 Re2 33.h4 seems scary, but Black has no way to break through to White's king.

    Finally, Svidler was suffering almost the entire game against Ding Liren after surrendering the center early on, but thanks to a combination of resilient defense on his part and looseness on Ding's side of the board Svidler had a chance to make a fight of the ending with 38...Kf7. Instead, he played 38...Nxa2??, and after 39.Bd2 found his knight dominated. This couldn't have come as a surprise to Svidler, as it's a basic pattern, so he either banked on 39...a5 or 39...b5 (the move chosen), only to realize that neither move worked. The problem with the former is that while the knight gets a momentary reprieve after 40.Bxa5 Nc1, it's "recaught" after 41.Bb4!, e.g. 41...Kf7 42.Rd1 Nxb3 43.Rd3 Nc1 44.Rf3+ Ke6 45.Bd2 and the knight will be collected in at most three moves. He tried 39...b5 instead, but 40.b4 (preventing ...b4 followed by ...Nc3) caged the knight, and Svidler resigned after 40...Kf7 41.Rd3, not needing to see Ra3xa2.

    Other members of the 2700 club have given up plenty of draws, but I think only three others have lost to non-2700s: Pentala Harikrishna lost to David Howell (who came into the event 2689 and is now over 2700 on the live list, so that's not much of an upset), David Navara lost to Nils Grandelius (2655), and in what I think was the most notable upset so far, Wang Hao (2722) lost to Nemeth (2484).

    All these games can be replayed here (without notes, sorry).

    Saturday
    Oct132018

    Notre Dame 19, Pitt 14

    That was horrible, but despite some painfully poor play against a much weaker opponent, they fought and scrapped and scraped out a narrow victory. Still, winning ugly is still winning, and with one of the teams ahead of them getting crushed today there's a possibility they'll break into the top 4 for next week.

    Record to date: 7-0.

    Next victim: Navy (in two weeks)

    The music of the day might have been a dirge, but with a sigh of relief we present the usual tune:

    Saturday
    Oct132018

    Notre Dame to Pit the Panthers Today

    Now it's time for the post you've all been looking forward to: the week's Notre Dame game announcement. The #5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish take on the Pittsburgh Panthers today at 2:30 p.m. ET, and their demolition of said team can be watched on NBC.

    Go Irish!

    Saturday
    Oct132018

    Carlsen Playing Now

    For those wondering why I didn't blog about round 1 of the European Club Cup, it's because most of the matches were mismatches (as is typical for an Open Swiss) and because Magnus Carlsen didn't play. (Nor did Ding Liren, but the other 2800, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, did - and won.) Carlsen is playing now, in round 2, against former European Individual Champion and former (and current?) Ian Nepomniachtchi trainer Vladimir Potkin. Potkin has played very well, and through 27 and a half 8 moves Carlsen has absolutely nothing with White. Of course, this has been true of many games in Carlsen's career that he went on to win, and sure enough, as I'm writing this, Potkin has made a poor move giving his opponent an edge.

    In other 2800 games, Ding is playing his first game of the event, and has an endgame advantage against IM David Gorodetzky, while Mamedyarov took the round off.

    Thursday
    Oct112018

    Reminder: The European Club Cup Starts Tomorrow (Friday)

    It's not quite as strong as the Olympiad, but it's a monster event all the same. The 2018 European Club Cup has three 2800+ players, 17 players over 2700, 22 players at or over 2689, and so on. World Champion Magnus Carlsen is playing; likewise Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Ding Liren.

    Good times for chess fans.

    Thursday
    Oct112018

    Book Reviews: Two More "100 Studies" Works by Tkachenko

    Some months back I reviewed a couple of neat, short, small books by Ukranian study composer Sergei Tkachenko. In each, Tkachenko presents 100 studies. In one book, it's a pawn that strikes the final blow; in the other, it's a knight delivering the coup de grace. (Or saving the draw, as the case may be.)

    I liked the books on four levels: (1) the concept, (2) the convenience, (3) the level of difficulty, and (4) for the books' size. On (1), each book's thematic unity grabs the reader's attention and helps him learn by sometimes seeing recurring patterns. On (2), the setup with the puzzle on the right side of the page and the solution overleaf makes for a user-friendly experience - there no need to hold one's place going back and forth to the end of the book or trying desperately to avoid peeking at the solution on the opposite page. On (3), the puzzles were generally challenging but always felt manageable. Your mileage may vary, of course, but these studies were selected in such a way that strong club players (approximately 2000, give or take) will always have at least a chance of getting them right. The books may be a little too challenging overall for players rated 1600 and below, but it might be worth the effort anyway, and they're worth going through even just for the beauty of the solutions. And (4), the books will easily fit in one's jacket pocket - they're just a little bigger than a typical index card.

    That's a recap of the previous books. The two books under review here are similar in some respects and different in others. The similarities are in the format and their size. The dimensions are the same, and there are again 100 studies in each book, with solutions given (starting) on the next page.

    The differences, in a nutshell, are threefold: first, each book is dedicated to a particular composer, and all the studies are his. The books begin with a biography of the relevant composer, and then moves on to the studies. (Both biographies are interesting, too - they add to the value of the book and the reader's investment in the works.)

    Second, there is no thematic unity in the Rezvov book: all sorts of material is present, and there's no particular unit that lands the final blow. In the Zinar book all the compositions are pawn endings, so this book does enjoy a closer thematic tie.

    Third, and most important: these studies are difficult; in fact, that's part of the name of the Zinar book: Mikhail Zinar's Difficult Pawn Endings. So even though the book's friendly size and shape invites you to carry the book with you and solve some puzzles during your daily commute (if you're not driving, of course) or while waiting in line, there's almost no chance you'll succeed in solving the puzzles under those circumstances - at least not unless you're a lot stronger than I am, or a very experienced solver. You'll need to give these studies your full and sustained attention.

    I'm happy to recommend the books, but caveat emptor: they're tough! Here are three examples, so you can see for yourself. The first of each pair gives the study, the second the solution. If you find them out of reach, you'll probably feel the same way about the books in their entirety. If not, pick them up. Either way, enjoy the studies and the workout.

    Thursday
    Oct112018

    Chess Olympiad, Round 11 Games

    Not too many though - just three. As the U.S.-China match featured four pretty clean draws there weren't any last really critical games to highlight - at least not in the Open section. The one Open game I show features a horrifying self-mate by Evgeny Bareev, and then I show one game from each of the two critical matches in the women's section.

    Enjoy!

    Thursday
    Oct112018

    Chess.com's Computer Chess Championship: The Sequel

    Since the first one finished just a week or two ago, I think there's only one point to this. (Or two: the second is to draw eyeballs to the Chess.com website.) Leela Chess Zero (Lc0) is improving rapidly, so there's a general curiosity to see how close it has come to perennial king of the hill Stockfish. One difference between this edition and its predecessor: the first one had the engines facing off at a 15'+5" increment; this one is a blitz battle at 5'+2".

    Here's a not very bold prediction: for all the engines except for Lc0, it will be Stockfish first, Komodo and Houdini taking second and third (probably but not necessarily in that order). The only interesting question is if Lc0 has leapfrogged one, two, or three of the aforementioned programs.

    More here.

    Thursday
    Oct112018

    Norway Chess 2019: Armaggedon After Every Draw!

    While looking up links for the Hikaru Nakamura vs. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave match I spotted a couple of interesting stories on the Chess.com website. Here's the first: the 2019 Altibox Norway Chess tournament will try something different. Games will be worth two points each, and if a player wins they get two points and nothing for a loss. But a draw is not worth one point. It's worth half a point, and will be followed up by an Armageddon game with the same colors that gives an additional point to the winner (or to Black in case of a draw).

    The time control for the Armageddon game isn't given (or at least I didn't see it), but the "normal" game will be faster than usual: game in two hours, with no delay, increment, or secondary time control. The Armageddon games apparently won't be FIDE rated, regardless of the time control.

    This strikes me as a solution in need of a problem (check out the link above for discussion and reaction), but hey, it's all about bread and circuses.

    Thursday
    Oct112018

    Nakamura-MVL

    The last quarterfinal of the 2018 Chess.com Speed Chess Championship is now history. Those who want to watch the replay of the match between Hikaru Nakamura and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave can do so here. As for the result, I'll put it in the comments.