When offering some thoughts on the Tal Memorial blitz I expressed my admiration for both sides' play in the rook ending of the Carlsen - Kramnik game and a desire to present it for your perusal. Here it is. (I know, I don't want to use that software, but there hasn't been time to learn something new just yet.)
This ought to be fun: Rex Sinquefield is putting on an elite four-player, double round robin this September (the 9th to the 15th) at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis. The participants are the world's #1 and 2 players, Magnus Carlsen and Levon Aronian, respectively, and the U.S.A.'s #s 1 and 2 - Hikaru Nakamura and Gata Kamsky.
The CCSCSL has put on some great events the past few years, and this is the most prestigious yet. It should be terrific as all four players are terrific fighters; let's just hope that their website will finally be worthy of the chess it's supposed to broadcast.
Some thoughts that came to mind, mostly having to do with the blitz tournament:
* Morozevich-Carlsen: Claim a draw! In an otherwise worse position, Magnus Carlsen repeated a position three times but didn't claim the draw. Alexander Morozevich promptly varied and obtained an advantage, and two moves later Carlsen lost on time. Yes, it was blitz, but I watched several players successfully claim a draw in the World Blitz Championship 2-3 days beforehand. It can be done.
* Hikaru Nakamura was the convincing winner of the blitz tournament, scoring an undefeated 7-2, but it didn't help him in round 1 of the main event - he was crushed by Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, and with the white pieces, too.
* Carlsen-Kramnik was interesting - both times! I was extremely impressed by both sides' play in the rook ending in the blitz, and intend a separate post about it soon.
* I don't remember if it was Andras Adorjan of "Black is OK!" fame, Mihail Suba, or someone else who joked that Black has the advantage or at least an advantage because he gets more information. White goes first, sure, but that first move represents a commitment. That's my thought about the way pairings were determined from the blitz. Nakamura won and chose his pairing number, Anand took second and chose his, Kramnik took third and chose his. Great? Not really. Carlsen chose fifth (behind Gelfand on tiebreaks) and picked a number that not only gave him five Whites in the tournament, but gave him White against all Nakamura, Anand and Kramnik. Whoops! Maybe a better way to reward rather than punish the winners is to have them bid secretly on what pairing number they'd like first, then second, third, etc., with the higher-placed finisher getting priority on his bid.
Someone might point out that Carlsen had no choice - he took the only remaining five-white pairing option left to him. That's true. What's really incredible is that Boris Gelfand didn't take that pairing number instead! Gelfand has Black against Nakamura, Anand and Kramnik, and only gets White against Carlsen. (Just speaking of the top five finishers, of course.) And going in the other direction, Nakamura starts and finishes with White, switching colors after every game. That's great in the abstract, but that doesn't count as much as who winds up with White and who with Black in a given round. Nakamura's reward for picking first? Black against Anand, Kramnik, Carlsen and world #4 Caruana. What a success! That isn't his fault; it's the fault of the system.
* Once a victim, always a victim: Sure as night follows day, Karjakin lost to Carlsen "on-demand", and Kramnik likewise lost to Karjakin. Time to consult a psychologist? (I know, in round 2 of the main event Karjakin managed to draw with Carlsen. But he did so with White, while making the game as "flat" as possible. It wasn't quite 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5, but it felt like it.)
* Gelfand did okay, coming in fourth with a 50% score (though as noted above, he picked very, very, very badly when choosing a pairing number), but he could fairly easily have won the tournament. He was winning against Anand in round 1, but let him slip with a draw; likewise with Nakamura in round 2 and Kramnik in round 9. In round 7 it was even worse, as he lost a winning rook ending against Mamedyarov. In none of these cases were the wins based on obscure or deep factors; they were all issues of technique, where Gelfand has traditionally been considered quite strong. Maybe everyone is technically strong now, or perhaps his technique has slipped since his younger days. Whatever the case, he could easily have done better (though the value of that is unclear, as we've already mentioned).
In a way, it seems that Gelfand was unlucky. Indeed, as I think back about Gelfand's play, he's rarely lucky - that is, he rarely enjoys good luck. (By "good luck" I mean that a player is the recipient of an unforced error.) I suspect this is a question of style: players of a classical style tend to have fewer occasions where they can receive lucky breaks, while volatile "firebrands" create the sorts of chaos that make it possible. That doesn't mean a wilder style is better, except possibly when there is a 3-1-0 scoring system.
Over on the Quality Chess blog, Jacob Aagaard has written a post titled "Ten ways to improve in chess". There's nothing earth-shatteringly new there, but that doesn't matter. What does matter is that the advice is very good, and any non-professional who follows it is bound to improve. (Some professionals might improve from it as well, though I'd imagine most of them already follow most or all of those tips.) I like his 11th tip a lot as well, and I'd emphasize the second option there as most of us choose the first option automatically.
In the just-completed World Blitz Championship there was a game between Alexander Grischuk and Ruslan Ponomariov that showed both the best and the worst of blitz chess. Grischuk sprung a near-novelty on Ponomariov in an opening backwater, and it had its effect. Ponomariov spent almost half his time trying to figure out what to do, and came up with an interesting but flawed tactical idea. Grischuk thought for a minute or so and refuted it, and as a result he was up a piece for a pawn and under only the most minimal pressure.
Here's how they reached the crucial position in the diagram:
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Be2 Bc5(?!) 5.Nxe5 Nxe5 6.d4 Bd6 7.dxe5 Bxe5 8.Nb5!+= (the near-novelty) 0-0?! 9.f4 Nxe4 10.Qd5!+/- Bf6 11.Qxe4 Re8 12.Qf3+- a6 13.Nc3 Bxc3 14.bxc3 Qe7
So far, so good for Grischuk. His position is completely winning, and he has only to find an accurate move or two to break the pressure on the e-file and finish his development. It was simple and elegant, and it proved effective: 15.Bd2 d5 16.0-0, and Ponomariov resigned due to 16...Qxe2 17.Rf/ae1.
It was, in addition, an absolute blunder! After the rook goes to e1, Black can play 17...Qb5, saving the queen and protecting the rook, winding up a pawn to the good. It's amazing that players of that caliber could miss such a simple tactic, but what it really shows is that the disease suffered by beginners and club players strikes the elite as well: once you've mentally checked the game as a win - or a loss - all kinds of lapses are possible. You can't afford to relax when you're winning, and if you're losing the game and playing on, you might as well stay alert!
The blog isn't shutting down, but this is a very busy week for me, plus I'm feeling a bit stale with blogging and would also like to enjoy the upcoming Tal Memorial from a purely fan-based perspective. That was the original point behind the foundation of this blog back in 2005, to write about what interested me, as a fan. Even back then I was doing tournament reports - and was just about the only person doing them, certainly with any rigor, at least in English - but that wasn't what drove me as a blogger.
So: if I want to blog on something in the near future, I will; if not, then not. But I'm taking a break from the tournament commentary treadmill, especially now that it's just one big tournament after another. (When I started there was Wijk aan Zee, then Linares, then the Amber rapid & blind, then nothing major until Dortmund in the summer, and that was it for major tournaments!)
As for my back, I feel more or less human again, more or less like my old self. My back is weaker and more vulnerable than it was, but hopefully continued exercise will take care of that and will eventually leave me in better shape than before. I remain deeply grateful to all of you who offered your support in various ways during the first weeks after the injury; it is for people like you, many of whom never comment but are faithful readers all the same, that I am especially happy to write.
As noted already, the tournament is considerably weaker than usual due to all the high-level classical events going on - the Tal Memorial starts Wednesday and siphoned off Anand, Carlsen, Kramnik, Caruana, Karjakin, Nakamura, Gelfand and Morozevich, for instance, though not Mamedyarov and Andreikin. (They didn't play in the earlier super-tournaments, however, so they probably had more energy to burn.) Despite those high-profile absences, the World Blitz Championship was still very strong, as a perusal of the final crosstable will reveal, and the surprising but convincing winner was the very strong young Vietnamese grandmaster Le Quang Liem. His score of 20.5/30 only gave him a half-point margin of victory over the pursuing troika of Alexander Grischuk (silver), Ruslan Ponomariov (bronze) and Ian Nepomniachtchi (heartbreak), but as he led more or less throughout the tournament his victory was well-deserved. Also performing very well were Le's countryman Ngoc Truong Son Nguyen and Rauf Mamedov, both of whom finished with 19.5 points. (Below them the next finishers had 18 points, so they weren't really in the running for the top prizes.)
Congratulations to Le, who is, if I'm not mistaken, the first male from East Asia to win a non-age-based world championship. One would have expected the Chinese (who didn't participate for some reason) to get there first, but they didn't!
The World Blitz Championship is a 30-round event, or if you prefer a 15-round event with two games per round against the same opponent. It is broken up into two days, with the first 16/8 rounds taking place on Sunday and the last 14/7 on Monday. Sunday's action is over, and Le Quang Liem and Ian Nepomniachtchi are tied for first with 12/16, with the former beating the latter 1.5-.5 in the final match of the day. Ruslan Ponomariov is half a point behind, and then there is a group of four players at 10.5: Ivan Cheparinov, Ngoc Truon Son Nguyen, newly crowned World Rapid Champion Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Rauf Mamedov.
Some great players are present, but most of the world's absolute elite is unfortunately missing, probably due to the very crowded calendar of classical events. A pity, but this has been a very entertaining event all the same.
Shakhriyard Mamedyarov trailed Ian Nepomniachtchi by 2.5 points entering the last day; that is, with five rounds to go, and besides that he lost in their individual game, which meant that if the two of them tied for first Nepomniachtchi would win the title of World Rapid Champion on tiebreak. With Nepomniachtchi "on fire" with 9/10 after the first two days, the idea that Mamedyarov could win seemed almost absurd...but win he did.
Whatever Nepomniachtchi had going those first days disappeared on Saturday. He drew his first two games with difficulty, while Mamedyarov won his first two to close to within a point and a half. Mamedyarov won his third game too, and in the meantime Nepomniachtchi lost with the white pieces to Alexander Grischuk. That put Mamedyarov just half a point back and Grischuk a point behind. In the penultimate round Nepomniachtchi drew - again with difficulty - while Mamedyarov won with Black against his countryman Gadir Guseinov and Grischuk beat Francisco Vallejo Pons. Mamedyarov's win was odd, as Guseinov self-destructed in a draw rook ending, succumbing perhaps to the deadly combination of too much ambition and too little time on the clock.
Going into the last round then, Nepomniachtchi and Mamedyarov were tied for first, with Nepo having in effect draw (or tie) odds, with Grischuk half a point back. If they finished in a three-way tie it would have been Grischuk who would triumph on tiebreaks, so amazingly there was still everything to play for. Nepomniachtchi had White against Alexander Riazantsev, but didn't gain an advantage and Black obtained a fairly easy draw. Grischuk couldn't win with Black against Nikita Vitiugov either, but Mamedyarov broke through once again, finishing the day 5/5 by defeating Ernesto Inarkiev.
That was a great result by Mamedyarov, and a startling collapse by Nepomniachtchi, though again in keeping with the recent trend of tournament leaders falling to pieces on the last day: Carlsen, Kramnik, Moiseenko, Kamsky, etc.
1. Mamedyarov 11.5/15
2. Nepomniachtchi 11
3. Grischuk 10.5
4. Le Quang Liem 10
5-14. Various players with 9
The World Blitz Championship starts tomorrow at the same site with (at least approximately if not exactly) the same cast of characters.
Veselin Topalov was the early leader in the Sberbank Rapid tournament, but he was bludgeoned nicely on day 2 by Sergey Karjakin, who wound up winning the tournament with 6.5/9, half a point ahead of Topalov.
Meanwhile, over in Khanty-Mansyisk, the World Rapid Championship is turning into a runaway for Ian Nepomniachtchi, who has given up a single draw each of the first two days. He has 9/10 and leads his closest pursuers (Ivan Cheparinov and Ildar Khairullin) by two points going into the last day and the final five rounds. (The live commentary with GMs Alexander Khalifman and Efstratios Grivas is pretty good and available on-demand, so if you have a little free time for chess spectating you might enjoy that.) After this finishes, the World Blitz Championship will take place at the same site (and with the same players? I'm not sure) on Sunday and Monday.