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    Wednesday
    Mar252015

    Hawaii

    [From DM: The following fine post was written by Daniel Parmet, whose chess accomplishments include a very decent 2368 correspondence rating with the ICCF. I am much obliged for his gracious willingness to help pitch in while I recuperate.]

    Greetings readers, I will be making a few guest blog posts for Dennis while he recovers.

    Most people think of Hawaii as a dream vacation. Hawaii is the number one honeymoon vacation spot in the world. The Hawaii International Festival finished up 2 days ago. The open tournament was won by GM Hovhannes Gabuzyan who started with 5/5(!) drawing his last round game to win 5.5/6. There were 113 players from numerous countries and 7 GMs in the Open section.

    The accompanying blitz event was won by GMs won by Ramirez and Shankland. According to the organizers, the event was “held at the Hilton Waikiki Beach on the island of Oahu, the main purpose of the festival is to raise interest and funds for Hawaii's emerging Scholastic Chess Programs, and specifically to eventually build the Hawaii Chess Center and Scholastic Academy.”

    This event seemed to be a real festival – full of numerous fun side events. In addition to the Open 6 round Swiss that had a reserve and novice section, there were simuls by GMs Sam Shankland & Alejandro Ramirez, a 10 board blind simul by Timur Gareev, blitz side events, tandem games with Women’s World Champion and the crown jewel was the Hawaii Grandmaster Challenge.

    This last event was a double round robin of blitz and rapid including GMs Sam Shankland, Hou Yifan, Timur Gareev and local IM Shinya Kojima who earned his spot by winning a fundraising raffle. The only games from the festival I was able to locate came from the rapid section. Shankland started off hot with a win in round 1 over Gareev, a win in round 2 over Hou Yifan. In round 3, the local hero held Goliath to a draw. The game I would encourage readers to review (with my notes) is the round 4 rematch between Gareev and Shankland. [DM: All three games can be replayed here.] The topsy-turvy game started with 1. d4 Nf6 2. g4. Certainly Gareev’s unusual opening choice was partly influenced by the time control and from the round 1 loss to Shankland. From the perspective of this amateur, it is good to see top GMs proving that the opening only matters so much. I know many of my peers love to spend majority of their precious time learning only openings to the detriment of more important pieces for their game. The real reason I annotated the game is not a soapbox! There are some fun positions that occur later that are almost study like positions.

    Finally, a question to the readership of this blog, where is the most awesome location you’ve ever played a chess festival or tournament? Hawaii seems like an amazing opportunity! However, I have to state that I once asked GM Larry Christiansen this question and his answer surprised me. I was prepared for a Greek Island or somewhere in Europe. However, he said he once played a FIDE rated tournament in the middle of a vineyard of Napa Valley. The natural follow up question was if participants were provided any the vineyard’s wine. You’ll be happy to know the answer was yes!

    Full standings for the 6 round Swiss can be viewed here. Hope you enjoyed my guest blog post.

    Monday
    Mar232015

    Women's World Championship, Round 3, Day 1

    I'm going to try doing a quick post of today's action, and will turn things over tomorrow to a guest blogger. Your expressions of support have been greatly appreciated, not least the invitation to take things easy and not to rush to post. In part as a self-diagnostic, and in part because not blogging is making me a bit stir-crazy, I'll try this one now, and then resume my rest from the computer. Without any further ado...

    We're down to the Sweet 16 (an allusion to both a '50s rite of passage for teen girls and to where we are in the annual college basketball tournaments here in the U.S.), and so far the dominant player is the top seed, Indian GM Humpy Koneru. She won her first two matches with 2-0 scores, and got off on the right foot in this one with a convincing win over Alisa Galliamova. Perhaps there was one moment when Galliamova might have been able to cause some trouble early on, with 20...hxg2 first and only then ...Rc8. White (Humpy) would have enjoyed compensation for the slight material sacrifice, but Black would have been better off than in the game. In fact, material was only one part of the story. The second part became clear at move 26. By this point Koneru had played 21.gxh3 and 24.Kh1, and then 26.Rg1 was the punchline. Eventually that rook made its way to g7, and White's "blind pigs" (an old expression referring to a pair of rooks on the enemy second rank) decided the game.

    While Humpy's win was not much of a surprise, the victory of the other Indian entrant was. After defeating my pre-tournament pick (Irina Krush) in tiebreaks, she was up against one of the four remaining Russians in the field, former women's world champion Alexandra Kosteniuk. Kosteniuk was White in a Winawer and enjoyed a significant edge early on. To consolidate that edge and guarantee a "two result" game (i.e. either White wins or Black holds a draw) she needed to round up Black's passed a-pawn, which could have been done with 25.Rc3 a2 26.Rb3 followed by 27.Rb2 and snapping it off. Instead, she attempted to improve other aspects of her position, but thanks to some nifty tactics and the a-pawn's survival she was soon left with a lost position. Harika's technique was up to the task, and the Russian lost.

    Speaking of which...that was true of all four Russian women: they all lost. The aforementioned Galliamova was married to Vasil Ivanchuk once upon a time, but she is Russian and not Ukranian, and in addition to her loss and Kosteniuk's Natalia Pogonina and Valentina Gunina will also face must-win games tomorrow to avoid elimination.

    Pogonina's loss, with the black pieces against Marie Sebag, was exceptionally long and must have been correspondingly painful. The opening was a 4.d3 Berlin, and one interesting moment suitable for analysis came on move 14. White thought for about 16 minutes before choosing the positional 14.Bd3, clearing c2 for the knight. I suspect that she probably spent only 2-3 minutes on that move, at most, and spent most of the time puzzling through the complications beginning with 14.f4 exf4 15.Rxf4 g5. Here both 16.Qf3 and 16.Qd3 lead to all sorts of fun tactical possibilities, but they're probably more fun when one isn't playing in an elimination tournament with lots of money at stake.

    Moreover, Sebag's pragmatic approach may have been objectively best as well. It certainly worked out in the game, as she was soon clearly better and then even winning. Sebag's 25.d5 followed by the little tactical trick culminating in 28.Bxb5 picked off a clear pawn (28...Bxb5 29.Nd5 wins the bishop on c7, as 29...Qd7?? loses the queen to 30.Nf6+). Sebag was well on her way to victory, but a position arose where the advantage was no longer a comfortable one. From a computer's standpoint, the advantage grew, but so did the complexity of the win. It was not a "matter of technique"; instead, she had to find a precise move, the right idea, and couldn't just coast to victory. That precise move was 35.Rxd6!, and it was missed.

    By the time the players made the time control (after their 40th moves) Pogonina had reclaimed material equality and the position was approximately equal. (It could have been completely equal had she spotted the neat 39...Rxg3! 40.fxg3 Nf5+ 41.Kh2 Ne3 followed by taking the rook on d5 and using the counterattacking chances provided by the opposite-colored bishops. It's understandable that Pogonina missed or rejected this, as she was almost surely in time trouble.) So Pogonina had escaped, but with 44...fxe6 rather than 44...Nxe6 she had to start suffering all over again. In due course a rook ending was reached, with Sebag once again a pawn ahead, and Pogonina dutifully defended into the third and final time control (starting on move 61).

    That ending was objectively drawn, and on move 75 Sebag sacrificed her extra pawn in the hopes of making progress. By now the players were in time trouble again and living off of the increments, a state of affairs which was worse for Pogonina as the defender than for her opponent. Pogonina's 79...Ra1+ was dubious, though not fatal (she should have pushed her passer straight away), but on move 81 her decision to follow the hoary adage that passed pawns must be pushed cost her the game for the final time. She needed to find the subtle 85...Ra5!!, pinning the b-pawn; only thus could she have survived. She might have found this with more time, but to mind the real damage was done, practically speaking, two moves earlier. After 81...h4? the win was straightforward, though Pogonina could have put up much greater resistance with 86...Qxc6+! followed by 87...Ra6+ and 88...Rg6. Peter Svidler once famously failed to defeat Boris Gelfand in a queen vs. rook ending, so it was certainly worth a shot - especially considering how easy the win was after the move she played in the game. (White, for her part, probably should have chosen a different 86th move, at least unless she felt confident in her ability to win the Q vs. R. ending.)

    The fourth Russian failure came at the hands of Pia Cramling, one of the oldest players in the field. (Born in 1963, she is probably the oldest.) Cramling was a trailblazer in women's chess, one of the few women of her day who would, and could, regularly and successfully compete against men in open events. Before the game I heard or saw Gunina say that Cramling had "good fundamentals" and would always get the advantage, but that she (Gunina) would always trick her and win on time. That led me (together with a little bit of reverse ageism) to root for Cramling, and she didn't disappoint. She was winning practically straight out of the opening, and while Gunina played on forever and tried every trick, there was no escape. Cramling was a very deserved winner.

    It was possible to win even if one's opponent wasn't from Russia (though that seemed to help). Former women's world champion Antoaneta Stefanova had a winning advantage against Mariya Muzychuk, but that advantage needed consolidating due to her potentially overextended kingside pawns and the porousness of the squares behind them. (Black's rook on the second rank was likewise a factor.) Stefanova didn't manage, and soon Muzychuk had a significant edge. Stefanova defended stoutly and was seemingly on her way to a draw - until another error soon after the time control gave her a lost position. Like Pogonina, Stefanova had a third chance to save the game, and - like Pogonina - was unable to make good. Muzychuk's 58...g5 was a bit of a bait, and Stefanova bit. Had she ignored it with something like 59.Kd4! she probably would have saved the game, the point being that 59...gxf4 60.gxf4 Bxf4?? 61.Rxe7+ would win for White while even more sensible 60th moves for Black wouldn't be terribly worrisome. Black has to keep White's king out of c5, needs to keep the e7 pawn protected (and it can't be protected by ...Kf7 as a subsequent bishop move would allow d6+) and has to worry about keeping the f5 pawn protected as well - it can be targeted in various ways (especially but not only if Black plays ...Bxf4 at some point). All this to say that ...gxf4 wasn't really a threat. Unfortunately for Stefanova, she played 59.fxg5?, inviting the Black king across the board, and after that White had no chance to defend.

    The sixth and final winner of the day was the last Chinese player remaining in the competition, Zhao Xue. (There were nine Chinese players at the start of the tournament, with only Russia, with 10 players, having more representation in the field.) She defeated Bela Khotenashvili straightforwardly and smoothly, keeping alive her country's hopes for an all-Chinese world championship match later this year. (Outgoing champion and women's #1 Hou Yifan earned her spot in that match by winning the last Women's Grand Prix series.)

    Finally, the two draws. The first featured Georgian IM Meri Arabidze, who is the dark horse or Cinderella of the remaining participants, with a rating of just 2374. (Pogonina is the second-lowest rated player remaining in the field, and while she's only rated 2456 she was 2508 less than a year ago.) Arabidze had a big advantage against Viktorija Cmilyte for almost the entire game, and there were stretches when that advantage was decisive. Unfortunately for Arabidze, she allowed Cmilyte to exchange her way out of danger, not appreciating that the nature of her advantage was such that - barring subsequent material gains - it needed to be exploited in a middlegame setting.

    The second draw also featured a Georgian player - Lela Javakhishvili - and for that matter also featured a Muzychuk - Anna, who is Mariya's older sister. This was a strange game, agreed drawn in just 23 moves, and in a position where Black (Javakhishvili) appears to have a significant advantage. Earlier, it looked like Muzychuk was on the way to a serious advantage, especially had she played e5 a move sooner than she did.

    Anyway, that wraps up this rather long post. I hope you enjoyed it, and hope you'll be just as happy with the pinch-hitter(s) in the days to come.

    Sunday
    Mar222015

    A Good Excuse for the Silence

    It was my intent to offer more coverage of the Women's World Championship, but unfortunately some "genius" (me) went and gave himself a concussion last week. I am recovering, but it's still an ongoing process and not yet a completed episode in my life.

    It's especially at times like these that it would be nice to have some co-bloggers, but even so I hope to post a little bit tomorrow (Monday). Thanks for your patience and support.

    Wednesday
    Mar182015

    Women's World Championship, Round 1, Day 2

    Our summary of day 2 of the Women's World Championship in Sochi, Russia, will have three parts. First, we'll summarize the results of the top 16 players; second, we'll review the U.S. results; finally, we'll list the matches that will move on to tiebreaks tomorrow.

    At the top of the pile, the first six seeds advanced to the second round, and only one of the players, Anna Muzychuk, surrendered a draw. It was not a happy day for the 7th seed, however, as GM Zhao Xue (2527) lost to Marisa Zuriel (2219), and from a winning position at that. Winning, but complicated. Both sides made serious errors, but Zuriel played better overall and deserved the victory, which leveled the match.

    The eighth seed went in the opposite direction. Mariya Muzychuk lost the first game of her match against Yuanling Yuan, but won with absurd ease today. Yuan played the Dutch and Muzychuk went for a sideline with an early h4. It's playable but not a refutation of the Dutch, but apparently Yuan lacked experience of this line and was lost as early as move 10 (maybe even sooner).

    Seeds 9-12 all advanced, but unlucky #13 was bounced. GM Elina Danielian was unable to take revenge for yesterday's loss, and so Yaniet Marrero Lopez advances to round 2. Seeds 14 and 15 both advanced, and 16th seed Alisa Galliamova was able to do what Danielian couldn't: she won her rematch (against Carolina Lujan) and goes to tiebreaks.

    The first thing that can be said about the U.S. recap of round 1 is that there promises to be a U.S. recap of round 2 as well, but it will be brief. Irina Krush won the match by drawing her black game with Sophie Milliet. She did so pretty comfortably, allowing a Bxh7+ sac that was only enough for a draw (at best). In the end Krush could have played for a win, but taking a perpetual was the simplest and most effective way to guarantee promotion to the second round. The other U.S. women lost their matches 2-0: Tatev Abrahamyan to Harika Dronavalli and Camilla Baginskaite to Valentina Gunina.

    Finally, here are the matches that will go to tiebreaks tomorrow:

    • Galliamova - Lujan
    • T. Kosintseva - Gomes
    • M. Muzychuk - Yuan
    • Socko - Daulyte
    • Paehtz - Arabidze
    • Shen Yang - Kashlinskaya
    • Zhao Xue - Zuriel (be sure to catch your "Zs" watching this match)
    • Melia - Sukandar
    • Huang Qian - Kovanova
    • Goryachkina - Mkrtchian

    Wednesday
    Mar182015

    Reykjavik Open Finishes, l'Ami Still Wins

    Losing with White in the last round really isn't the way to end a tournament, but except for the rating points it didn't really matter for Erwin l'Ami, who had already clinched first place in the Reykjavik Open by the end of the preceding round. It did matter to his opponent, however, as the win gave Pavel Eljanov a share of second place with Fabien Libiszewski, who also won with Black (against Gawain Jones). L'Ami finished with 8.5/10, Eljanov and Libiszewski with 8, and 11 others were another half a point behind.

    Tuesday
    Mar172015

    Carlsen Knows The Classics

    And a lot more besides. Many players - amateurs mostly, but the occasional (weak) professional - only study chess in a very narrow way, trying to memorize the opening theory they need, practicing tactics and more or less leaving it at that. As you can see here (HT: Ian Lamb), this is not the case for Magnus Carlsen, and there should be little doubt that his vast knowledge of the game plays a factor in making him the great player that he is.

    Tuesday
    Mar172015

    L'Ami Clinches The Reykjavik Open With A Round To Spare

    Dutch grandmaster Erwin l'Ami is probably having the result of his life at the Reykjavik Open, and leads with a spectacular score of 8.5/9. As the closest competitors - including 2700+ players like Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Pavel Eljanov - have only 7 points, l'Ami has already guaranteed himself clear first with a round to spare. L'Ami has gained 30 rating points so far, and if he draws or wins against Eljanov in the last round he will add to that very impressive total, though he still won't equal his career best rating of 2648 (he's 2605 coming into the tournament).

    Tuesday
    Mar172015

    Women's World Championship, Round 1, Day 1

    The first round of a knockout tournament is usually about culling the herd. In a 64-player Swiss system tournament the first round pairings have #1 play #33, #2 play #34, #3 play #35 and so on. That's already pretty effective, but in a knockout #1 plays #64, #2 plays #63 and so on. As one nears the middle the gap between the favorite and the underdog is minimal, but especially in the battle between the upper and low quartiles the expectation is that the underdog will fare as well as an old and injured wildebeest will against a hungry lion in its prime.

    So how did the lions and wildebeests do in the first game of round 1 of the women's world championship? (Pro tip: the women in your life might like being referred to as lionesses, but refer to them as wildebeests at your own risk. My advice is not to.) The underdogs did reasonably well. The favorites swept the top seven boards, but the underdogs won on boards 8 (Yuan Yuanling saved a long-lost position and even won against Maria Muzychuk) and 16 (Carolina Lujan won convincingly against Alisa Galliamova) while making draws on boards 9, 13 and 14.

    Among U.S. players, Irina Krush is the favorite against Sophie Milliet, and she won the opening game of their mini-match, though it proved more difficult than it needed to be. Camilla Baginskaite is a significant underdog against Valentina Gunina, and her loss with White doesn't bode well for her chances of staying for the next round. Finally, Tatev Abrahamyan struggled for most of the game against her higher-rated opponent, Harika Dronavalli, but was within range of a draw in a difficult rook ending. Had she played 54.Re1, she could have drawn, but to do so she would have needed to spot a key idea a couple of moves later. After 54.Re1 Rxe1 (other moves allow White an easy draw) 55.Kxe1 Kb3 56.Kd2 Kxa4 the natural moves 57.Kxd3 and 57.g3 both lose, in both cases to 57...Kb3. It turns out, however, that 57.Kc3! and 57.g4! both draw. The first move draws because after 57...d2 58.Kxd2 Kb3 59.Kc1 the king gets to the corner (or traps the Black king in front of the pawn), while in the latter case White plays f4 on the next move and his g-pawn will queen in time to make a draw. Presumably missing both of these defensive ideas, Abrahamyan played 54.Rc1? instead and lost a few moves later.

    The tournament format is to have six knockout rounds, with the first five rounds consisting of two classical games (one with each color) followed by increasingly rapid tiebreaks, if necessary. The finale will be a best-of-four classical match, likewise followed by tiebreaks as needed.

    Sunday
    Mar152015

    Reykjavik Open

    Round seven of 10 is underway, and the leader in the clubhouse is Erwin l'Ami, who just defeated Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in a speedy upset. Alexander Fier could catch him with a win in his ongoing game with Pavel Eljanov, but for now that looks unlikely as the position is equal. You can catch the live commentary here, and the event website is here.

    Sunday
    Mar152015

    Another Bundesliga Weekend

    All the chess you can eat, here or here.