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    Wednesday
    Dec172014

    World Mind Games Finish: Nepomniachtchi, Hou Yifan "Basque" in Glory (Updated)

    (Thank you, thank you; I'll be here all week.) The SportAccord World Mind Games concluded today, and the final stage of the chess competition was won by Ian Nepomniachtchi on the men's side and Hou Yifan on the women's. This last stage was the "Basque" tournament, a five double-round Swiss with each double round with each participant playing a pair of games simultaneously against the same opponent, one with each color.

    Both Nepomniachtchi and Hou went undefeated and won their respective sections by a point and a half. "Nepo" scored 7.5/10 while Teimour Radjabov, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov all wound up with 6. Radjabov won the silver and Vachier-Lagrave added a bronze to his silver medals in rapid & blitz. Alexander Grischuk won both the rapid & blitz events, but only scored 5.5 points here to finish tied for 5th-7th (out of 16), 6th on tiebreak.

    In the women's section Hou's score was a dominant 8.5/10, and this time there was no race with Valentina Gunina, who came in 9th with 50%. Alexandra Kosteniuk came in second with 7 points, and Zhao Xue took third on tiebreak with 6 points to beat out Antoaneta Stefanova for the bronze.

    The event produced many interesting games for chess fans, and since there aren't any more major events until the Tata Steel tournament (Wijk aan Zee) January 9, you've got a little extra time to catch up on all of them in between Christmas and Hanukah celebrations!

    UPDATE:

    (1) I see Chess24 used the same lame joke for their title as well. It's hard to resist!

    (2) Also from the Chess24 piece: fans of quick play will only have to suffer for 48 hours, as the European Rapid & Blitz championship starts on Friday.

    (3) Actually, there's no need to suffer at all if you want to see top-level play, as the final stage of season 7 of the TCEC is underway, with the latest versions of Komodo and Stockfish duking it out once again for silicon supremacy. Komodo dominated the earlier stages while Stockfish looked shaky, but after seven games Stockfish leads 4-3. "Only" 57 games to go.

     

    Tuesday
    Dec162014

    Silman on Chess Engines

    A chess engine is not the non-master's friend, says IM Jeremy Silman. (HT: Ross Hytnen) He moderates that conclusion slightly by the end of the article, but his general point that most players would be far better served trying to understand things themselves, in human categories, and would benefit from human teaching seems right to me - at least or especially for those who are interested in improving.

    I'm inclined to agree with the drawbacks he notes of using an engine - especially (but not only!) for non-masters, but suspect he's neglecting some positive ways of using engines. What are your thoughts, readers, especially on this last point?

    Monday
    Dec152014

    Grischuk Wins World Mind Games Rapid & Blitz; Gunina & Hou Yifan Split the Women's Titles

    The SportAccord World Mind Games is 2/3 of the way in, and so far it has been a success for two men and two women. Alexander Grischuk won both the rapid and the blitz competitions, with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave coming in second in both events. On the ladies' side Valentina Gunina won the rapid event while Hou Yifan came in second, and they switched positions in the blitz. Next up for the last two days, the "Basque" competition, wherein the competitors play two simultaneous games with their partners, one with each color.

    Sunday
    Dec142014

    London Chess Classic, Round 5: Anand Beats Adams and Wins on Tiebreaks

    The Berlin theme tournament London Chess Classic is over, and Viswanathan Anand was the tiebreak winner over Vladimir Kramnik and Anish Giri thanks to the fact that his one win came with the black pieces, while their single wins each came with the white pieces.

    Anand's single win came in the last round, in a Berlin (what else?) against Michael Adams. Interestingly, Adams would have won the tournament had he won the game, and this even though he'd have an even score (on the traditional system) and would have lost almost half his games. (Seems absurd to me, and it's even more absurd that he would have been the tiebreak winner by virtue of winning more games than his rivals. Isn't it crazy to reward wins not just once but twice?) Adams had the advantage at multiple moments in the game, but in time trouble basically fell apart starting around move 28.

    Had there been a win in either of the other games, other than by Fabiano Caruana, that person would have passed Anand in the scoretable. Hikaru Nakamura tried hard with Black against Caruana in a Berlin (and this after he more than once semi-jokingly accused Vladimir Kramnik of ruining chess with the Berlin!), but was unable to achieve anything and was at times even a little worse. They drew, and so did Giri and Kramnik. Their game was an Open Catalan (an opening that might be even less of a fan favorite than the Berlin), and while Kramnik eventually obtained a nominal edge it was an easy hold for Giri.

    It was a nice tournament for the three winners, and a very good year for all of them too. Anand won three tournaments this year, came in a close second in the world rapid championship, and performed creditably in his title match with Magnus Carlsen. Giri played very well in 2014 and is finishing the year at #7 in the world. Kramnik's year was more up and down, but he finished the year on a high note, gaining more than 20 points in his last few tournaments.

    The final standings: 1-3. Anand, Giri, Kramnik 7; 4. Nakamura 6; Adams, Caruana 4. The last round games are here, with comments on the Adams-Anand game.

    ...

    The Mind Games tournaments are still going on in Beijing, but once they finish in a couple of days I think the Big Guys are done until Wijk aan Zee (with Carlsen, Caruana, Aronian, etc. - including Hou Yifan, who can surpass Judit Polgar's current rating if she gains at least three rating points), which starts January 9 - a good break for player and fan alike.

    Saturday
    Dec132014

    London Chess Classic, Round 4: Nakamura Beats Adams; Kramnik & Giri Still Lead

    Another long day here, so I'm afraid that only a brief summary of the round 4 action from the London Chess Classic is forthcoming. (Sorry.) Vladimir Kramnik and Anish Giri, the leaders coming into the round (and exiting it as well) both enjoyed a small pull at varying times in their games, but neither could make anything of it. Kramnik enjoyed some extra space and a solid - or rather, solid-looking - center on the white side of a Gruenfeld against Fabiano Caruana, but a very nicely timed tactical sequence by the world's #2 allowed him to liquidate into a drawn ending. (The star move: 20...Nxd4!)

    Viswanathan Anand had a pull against Giri, but when he couldn't figure out how to make anything of it he had to switch over to defense. Ultimately he succeeded, and that game was drawn as well.

    With a win over Hikaru Nakamura Mickey Adams could have leapfrogged them into first place, but he was ground down very nicely by Nakamura. Nakamura is now within a point of the leaders, who play each other in the final round, with Giri having White. If they draw and Nakamura manages to beat Caruana, he'll end up in clear first. In fact the situation is a little complicated given the tournament's 3-1-0 scoring, and in fact every player except for Caruana(!) could still wind up at least tied for first! Here are the last round pairings, and the scores: 

    • Adams (4) - Anand (4)
    • Caruana (3) - Nakamura (5)
    • Giri (6) - Kramnik (6) 

    If either Giri or Kramnik wins, that player will take clear first. If they draw and Nakamura wins, then Nakamura takes clear first. If they draw and Caruana scores, then Adams or Anand could tie for first with a win. In case of a tie, who wins on tiebreaks?

    The first tiebreaker is number of games won. If Adams is in a tie for first, he wins, as he'll have two wins compared to Giri's and Kramnik's one. If Anand wins and ties for first, then he takes first by the second tiebreaker, which is wins with Black. (Giri & Kramnik both got their one win with White.) If Giri & Kramnik are the only ones in the first place tie, then they have to play an Armageddon game, as they are tied on all three tiebreakers (the third was head-to-head; they drew). In that game White will have six minutes plus an increment of two seconds per move while Black gets 5' + 2" and draw odds.

    Friday
    Dec122014

    London Chess Classic, Round 3: Three Draws, But A Near-Miss For Adams

    There weren't any decisive games in today's action at the London Chess Classic, but there was some excitement in the games between Hikaru Nakamura and Viswanathan Anand on the one hand, and between Michael Adams and Vladimir Kramnik on the other. (The third game, between Fabiano Caruana and Anish Giri, also had some brief excitement as the players broke new ground in the Berlin endgame, but it fizzled out by move 23 and the remainder was just for the sake of appeasing the organizers.)

    Nakamura essayed the Evans Gambit against Anand, and while that may sound exciting to players who haven't looked at many games played with that gambit since Chigorin and Steinitz were duking it out for the world championship, they tend to be pretty dull. (Not always, but usually.) Anand came out of the opening in good shape, but small inaccuracies in the early middlegame gave Nakamura an initiative. Once in a bit of trouble, however, Anand defended like a lion, and he held his own through the complications. Eventually the players repeated, and while the engines on the Chess24 live feed makes it look as if Anand had an advantage he didn't. White remains quite active (look at the board!) and there are a lot of tricks, too. The position is equal even if Black continues, and there are probably many more ways for Black to go wrong than for White in a game between humans.

    Finally, there's the Adams-Kramnik game. Like Caruana-Giri it went into the Berlin "endgame", and Kramnik found a significant new idea for Black in the trendy 9.h3 line. He equalized easily and could have forced a draw, but decided to press instead. The idea of running the a-pawn was a good one, but it would have been better without his rook on a3. A very long think on his 34th move led him into all kinds of trouble, and with his 40th move Adams could have put the game away. He saw the move and assessed it correctly, but to his misfortune decided that another move would give him an even better version of the same thing. As he surely realized very quickly, his assessment was completely mistaken, and Kramnik escaped with a draw without any further adventures. Ironically, both players made bad decisions based on overthinking a particular move: long think, wrong think.

    Had Adams won, he would have taken over the lead. As things stand, Kramnik and Giri continue to lead with 5 points apiece on the tournament's 3-1-0 scoring system. Adams has 4 points, Anand 3, and Nakamura and Caruana have 2. Tomorrow's round starts two hours earlier, and has these pairings:

    • Anand - Giri
    • Kramnik - Caruana
    • Nakamura - Adams

    The games are here, with some annotations to Adams-Kramnik.

    Friday
    Dec122014

    Young Grandmasters Try To Make Chess Cool?!

    That's the title (but without the punctuation at the end) of a New York Times article that begins with this implausible sentence: "Fabiano Caruana is a chess champion all but made for the age of social media." The article offers a nice profile of Caruana, with some coverage of Magnus Carlsen thrown in, but there's little in the piece to suggest that Caruana is likely to be a social media star beyond the confines of the chess community. (Of course, I'd be very happy to be wrong about this!) Have a look and see for yourselves.

    (HT: Bob Banta)

    Thursday
    Dec112014

    World Mind Sports Games Underway

    Some of the world's very best players are in London, and many of the rest of the absolute elite are playing now in Beijing, in the SportAccord World Mind Games. It started on Thursday and will continue through next Wednesday, with the players first playing rapid chess, then blitz, and then "Basque" (two games simultaneously with the same opponent, one with each color). Stars there include Alexander Grischuk, Levon Aronian, Vassily Ivanchuk, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Peter Leko, Boris Gelfand, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Leinier Dominguez, Teimour Radjabov...and on it goes. And that list doesn't even include the leader after day 1, which is Chinese star Wang Hao, who has 3.5/4. Grischuk has 3, and then in the group with 2.5 there's Aronian, Wang Yue, and Mamedyarov.

    Thursday
    Dec112014

    London Chess Classic, Round 2: Kramnik and Giri Win, Lead

    The London Chess Classic's main event started yesterday, and now it's almost half over. Still, it's offering good value, and today two of the three games had a winner.

    Vladimir Kramnik had a new and tricky idea ready in the Petrosian System against Hikaru Nakamura's King's Indian, and when Nakamura went awry in the complicated middlegame on moves 18 and 19 - and maybe move 17 as well - it was all one-way traffic. Nakamura held out until after the time control (if he had had more time he might have resigned a little earlier), and then called it quits.

    After that, Anish Giri finished upending the previous leader, Michael Adams, to join Kramnik in first. Giri came out of the opening with a nice positional edge, but for a long time Adams hung tough and the outcome was uncertain. The uncertainty vanished after the tactical error 38...Ra1, which allowed 39.Ne8+. That wins the g-pawn by force sooner or later, and two extra pawns in that ending was one too many.

    The third game was the first to finish. Fabiano Caruana was well prepared in the Queen's Gambit Declined for Viswanathan Anand's 5.Bf4 line, and in particular Caruana's 14...Nd7! was a surprising turn Anand had overlooked. Black will be doing great if he gets in ...e5, so Anand saw nothing better than repeating moves and calling it a day. Not an ideal result for him, certainly, but it left him the rest of the day to celebrate his 45th birthday.

    Kramnik and Giri lead with 4 points apiece (remember, it's 3-1-0 scoring), Adams is in third with 3, Anand has 2 and both Nakamura and Caruana have 1. The round 3 pairings are:

     

    • Nakamura - Anand
    • Adams - Kramnik
    • Caruana - Giri

     

    It has been a long day, so rather than work up my own notes to the main game of the day, I'll turn it over to Chess24's Jan Gustafsson:

    Wednesday
    Dec102014

    London Chess Classic, Round 1: Adams Leads After An Up-And-Down Win Over Caruana

    Day 1 of the main event of the London Chess Classic got underway, and there was a bit of everything. Hikaru Nakamura and Anish Giri fulfilled their professional obligations by ensuring that the tournament had at least one Berlin. Nakamura went for the 5.Re1 line, which is one of the two main anti-endgame variations, and while he got a little pressure it wasn't nearly enough to obtain serious winning chances.

    About the contest between Vladimir Kramnik and Viswanathan Anand, there are (at least) three possible reactions. If you've never before seen a game in the Botvinnik System, you're in for a thrill. If you have seen the Botvinnik System but don't really know much before the basic tabiya around move 16 or so, you too will find the game entertaining. If you are well-acquainted with the theory of the variation - and there is a LOT of theory to know - you'll find it a bit ridiculous. For once, Kramnik brought nothing new to the table, and Anand only needed to show that he was up-to-date in his knowledge. The first new move of the game was 39.Kf3, and by that point the game was already a dead draw for players of their caliber.

    Finally, Michael Adams and Fabiano Caruana played a rather screwy game in which both players repeatedly enjoyed and gave away winning advantages. First Adams misplayed the opening, an Anti-Marshall with 8.d3, and Caruana was soon winning. He in turn messed up, and then Adams was winning. Fate smiled on Caruana for a while, as he escaped, got an advantage and made the time control too. And yet despite all of this, he suffered a double whammy. He missed a neat trick, but after his position was losing in any case he sidestepped it. Unfortunately for him, Adams hadn't found the trick, and if Caruana had put him to the test and he didn't spot it, the Italian player would have been alright. In the end, Adams showed good technique and won the game.

    He leads with 3 points (they are using the 3-1-0 scoring system), Caruana has 0 and everyone else has 1. Here are the pairings for Thursday's round 2 action:

     

    • Anand - Caruana
    • Giri - Adams
    • Kramnik - Nakamura

     

    The round 1 games, with my comments, are here.