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    Saturday
    Dec162017

    Chess.com's 2017 Speed Chess Championship: The Finalists are Set

    The second semi-final of Chess.com's Speed Chess Championship is over, and we now know who will face Magnus Carlsen in the final, set for January 3 at 1 p.m. ET. It was a close match, and for those who didn't see it live but want to watch the replay (go to twitch.tv/chess and look up the Nakamura-Karjakin match) without any spoilers I'll put the recap in the comments section.

    Friday
    Dec152017

    Book Review: Sosonko's *The Rise and Fall of David Bronstein*

    Genna Sosonko, The Rise and Fall of David Bronstein. (Elk & Ruby Publishing, 2017.) 271 pp.

    Memento mori, the medievals said - remember you must die. Going back further, Socrates said that life is a preparation for death. This may seem a glum take on life, but we will all be dead a lot longer than we'll be alive. If the end of this life is the end of us, the value of this life diminishes somewhat, but even then it matters: what of our progeny, our friends, and those we influence directly or indirectly? Even if our story comes to an end (which I don't believe), we are not islands unto ourselves. We must live, and as some do a much better job of living than others, we must learn how to live well.

    Perhaps the best way to learn this art is by example: see those who flourish and love, and are loved and capable of receiving that love. See what they do and what they believe, or what beliefs underlie their practice, and emulate them in a way that is relevant to your personality and station in life. Talk to them and learn from them, and if it's possible, learn from their mentors.

    There is another way. It's not as good, but it too has value: learn from those who don't know how to live. What made them the bad examples they are? What is the source of their troubles? Was it something they did, or their environment, or some combination of it? As I sometimes tell my chess students, life's too short to learn only from your own mistakes; learn from others' mistakes as well - or only from their mistakes, if possible! It's a sort of Screwtape Letters approach to life, or if you like something more recent and comical, there's something to be said for Opposite-George Costanza:

    As C.S. Lewis points out when discussing his The Screwtape Letters, and is at least alluded to in the Seinfeld clip, it's not always exactly clear how to implement the "opposite" of bad advice and instincts, but for the most part we have a pretty good idea of how it will work. If we see someone living a life of bitterness and regret, of narcissism and constant complaint, it's pretty obvious that this is not a desirable life. The person living it is miserable, and makes others miserable until they peel away. We may not know how best to fight those tendencies in ourselves, but seeing them displayed in others helps us to see that we've got a challenge on our hands, and that fixing or at least mitigating those problems is critically important.

    What, you may wonder, does this have to do with a chess book? Well, not too much with a normal chess book - though such a book might be the antidote to the "how-not-to" that is sometimes on display at the local club. But this isn't a conventional chess book. No games are given, and there are no positions except those semi-visible in the photos. No moves are given either, except for a few that are alluded to - there are no diagrams. The book is instead a sort of biography of the late great chess grandmaster David Bronstein (1924-2006). Or rather, a memoir of their interactions, interspersed with Genna Sosonko's reflections on Bronstein and his life.

    Sosonko is himself a grandmaster (b. 1943), and like Bronstein lived in the Soviet Union, though unlike Bronstein he defected in 1972 to the Netherlands, where he lives to this day. Sosonko knew many, maybe all, of the post-war greats of Soviet chess, many of whom he befriended and some of whom - like Mikhail Tal - he even worked with, pre-defection. He has authored several very appealing books commemorating those players, though there's a touch of ghoulishness to it, as many of these pen portraits were first published in New in Chess Magazine shortly after the player's death.

    (This was once spoofed in the satirical chess magazine Kingpin, and on p. 266 of the book reviewed here there's a very funny passage near the end: "And of course, Davy [Bronstein] complained to everybody about this Sosonko dude, who was just waiting pen in hand for him to kick the bucket so that he could publish his memoirs about the near world champion. The interesting thing, though, is that all of Davy's complaints, although frequently unfair and exaggerated, and sometimes even absurd, had a grain of truth in them" (p. 266, emphasis in the original).)

    Back to the book. As noted, it's not a traditional, conventional biography. Different events and eras of Bronstein's life are described, but the focus of the book is on the big, gaping wound in Bronstein's soul arising from his drawn world championship match with Mikhail Botvinnik in 1951. Leading by a game with two games to go, Bronstein failed to hold a drawn (but not trivially drawn) ending in game 23 in Botvinnik's last white game, and after a draw in game 24 Botvinnik kept his title, while Bronstein never again got that close to the champion's crown.

    Reading this book - and for that matter, other books by Bronstein - one learns that Bronstein had an unending stream of reasons and excuses for failing to win the match (and for not holding the draw in game 23), many of them wildly implausible and sometimes contradictory. And although this was the most significant event of his life, Bronstein's ability to grasp the truth about himself was often tenuous. This is part of the human condition, and some of us have a harder time with this than others (and at different times and in different situations); for Bronstein, this seems to have an especially acute shortcoming.

    At any rate, this wound, or whatever it was in his soul that made this one failure so searing, was something that poisoned him. Even though he lived for another 55 years, the ghost of game 23, his antipathy towards Botvinnik, and perhaps the shame he felt or projected onto others for not winning the title haunted him to his death. Sosonko makes this point constantly throughout the book, and it's likely that he did so in part because Bronstein himself went on and on about it to him for decades.

    It is evident that Sosonko also feels admiration for Bronstein and tried to be a friend to him. He attempted at times to help Bronstein see that some of what he claimed was nonsense, but it simply didn't work, and he stopped trying. To the extent that Sosonko's representation of Bronstein and his neuroses was accurate, it must have been exasperating and exhausting to be his friend.

    Since much of the book shares with us, the lucky readers, the sense of that exasperation as Sosonko recounts over and over and over and over and over again Bronstein's complaints (about game 23, the match in general, about Botvinnik, about young players, about Mikhail Tal's being celebrated even though Bronstein was playing the same kind of chess before Tal did, about ratings, about the competitive element in chess outweighing the artistic, about not getting a pension from FIDE, about this and that and the other thing, etc., and always returning to the same topics), we might wonder what exactly is the point of the book. To make us suffer as Sosonko did, at least to a very small degree? To undermine the light-hearted persona Bronstein presents in some of his works (at least those not ghostwritten by his mentor and patron, Boris Vainshtein)? As a debriefing session or therapy for Sosonko?

    It's not clear. Because Sosonko is such a good writer, the book isn't as painful as it could have been coming from someone else's pen (or keyboard). But it's still a fair question to ask why we should read it, because for all the fine writing, and for the attempts to understand Bronstein and emphasize that he was a brilliant chess player with a sharp, creative mind, it's still the sad story of a person whose life was lost in bitterness and regret. So if you do choose to pick up this book, dear reader, look at the life of David Bronstein with compassion and with an eye to avoiding his mistakes - including the meta-mistake of not trying to overcome his mistakes. Very few of us will have to live under a regime like that of the Soviet Union, thank God, and few of us will experience the competitive pain of coming so close to become the world's #1 in anything and coming up just short. But we all have our wounds and our shortcomings. By reflecting on a life of great talent that was not well lived, we can learn lessons that help us to avoid the pitfalls that unfortunately ensnared Bronstein.

    Friday
    Dec152017

    2017 Speed Chess Championship: Karjakin vs. Nakamura

    The second semi-final of Chess.com's 2017 Speed Chess Championship starts tomorrow (Saturday) and features a battle of the #2 and #3 seeds, Sergey Karjakin and Hikaru Nakamura, respectively. The format is the same as always: 90 minutes of 5'+2" chess followed by 60 minutes of 3'+2" and 30 minutes of 1'+1". After each segment finishes there's a Chess960 game at that time control, and all the games count equally - it's the standard 1-.5-0 scoring system.

    The action begins at noon ET (= 6 p.m. CET), and the winner will face Magnus Carlsen, who defeated Wesley So in the other semi-final in November. More info here.

    Friday
    Dec152017

    Book Review: Fishbein's *The Scotch Gambit*

    Alex Fishbein, The Scotch Gambit: An Energetic and Aggressive System for White. (Russell Enterprises, 2017.) 125 pp., $17.95.

    Not interested in keeping up with the latest developments in the Berlin, the Marshall, and 50 other Ruy Lopez systems? The Italian Game isn't a good way to avoid theory anymore, and there's loads of theory on the Scotch as well. If you're a 1.e4 player who wants something that's sound, doesn't have a huge amount of theory, and still offers some chances for an advantage, GM Alex Fishbein suggests that the Scotch Gambit may be just what you need. And frankly, it's not a terrible suggestion.

    The Scotch Gambit - which like the Holy Roman Empire - isn't really a Scotch or a gambit - arises after the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4. (On nomenclature, why isn't 4.c3 called the Scotch Gambit instead?) After the usual move, 4...Nf6, the game has transposed into a Two Knights (3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d4 exd4), and White will soon regain the pawn after 5.e5 d5 6.Bb5 Ne4 7.Nxd4. Alternatively, Black can play 4...Bc5, but after 5.c3 it's a Giuoco Piano unless Black greedily and wrongly 5...dxc3, which is met by 6.Bxf7+. White can also play 5.0-0 and after 5...Nf6 6.e5 d5 7.exf6 dxc4 it's the Max Lange Attack, which also typically arises through a Giuoco move order.

    So why not play the Italian Game? Fishbein doesn't say, and the only reason I can think of offhand is that after 3.Bc4 Bc5 (3...Nf6 poses no problems in getting to the book's material after 4.d4 exd4 5.e5) 4.0-0 (4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.e5 is another line covered in the book) Nf6 5.d4 and now 5...exd4 heads for the Max Lange Attack, but 5...Bxd4 is an important option ruled out by the book's move order. Another possible advantage is a psychological one. More players prefer 3...Bc5 over 3...Nf6 against the Italian Game, but 4...Nf6 is much more popular than 4...Bc5 against the Scotch Gambit. If you think your best practical chances with Fishbein's repertoire come against the Two Knights lines, then his move order is preferable.

    Is there a drawback to the book's move order? The only one that comes to mind is 4...Bb4+, and it's a relatively unknown line. Fishbein covers it briefly, and his suggested reply looks reasonable. So the decision comes down to whether one prefers the Two Knights lines or the Giuoco lines, and whether one is more afraid of 4...Bb4+ against the SG move order or 5...Bxd4 in the Giuoco/pre-Max Lange move order.

    Turning to the book's contents, most of the first three chapters focus on the Two Knights positions arising after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4 Nf6 5.e5 d5 6.Bb5 Ne4 7.Nxd4. Chapter 1 looks at the solid 7...Bd7, chapter 3 at the more vibrant 7...Bc5, and chapter 2 covers a miscellany of Black options on the way to the starting position of chapter 1 (4...d6, 4...Bb4+ [mentioned above], 6...Nd7, and a couple of oddities post-7...Bd7).

    Chapter 4 looks at 5...Ng4 and 5...Ne4, both very decent alternatives to the main option of 5...d5. That is relevant to the overall repertoire, of course, but chapter 5, presenting 5.0-0 Nxe4, is not. Quoting Fishbein himself: "5.e5 is not the only move for White. 5.0-0 is also possible. Theory has long held that this variation is toothless, and after I looked at it, it appeared to me to be even less promising for White than commonly thought." Then, after continuing with the moves 6.Re1 d5 7.Bxd5 Qxd5 8.Nc3, he says this: "Black now has three main moves, 8...Qa5, 8...Qh5, and 8...Qd7. Unfortunately for White, all of these moves are sufficient for equality, and the last two are very easy to learn for Black. In these lines, White has very little to play for and in fact must play carefully to maintain equality. Therefore, I cannot recommend 5.0-0 as a weapon for White, unless you are facing an opponent who is either not well prepared or needs to play only for a win.... I never advocate playing for a draw with White, even against a stronger player. In fact, I consider that a sin against chess."

    Quite the ringing endorsement! So why cover it? I don't know. It's true that Black can play 5...Bc5, when 6.e5 d5 7.exf6 dxc4 etc. is the Max Lange Attack, which thinks is worth allowing from White's point of view, but one needn't use this move order to get there: 4.Bc4 Bc5 5.0-0 Nf6 6.e5 d5 7.exf6 dxc4 does the trick. So this chapter could have been eliminated without any real sacrifice, though it's perhaps handy for any 1...e5 players to know what to do against it. Handy, but off-topic, and the critical comments could have been buried in a paragraph or two in the Max Lange chapter.

    Speaking of which, that's Chapter 6, where he helpfully emphasize that the problem for the MLA isn't the long main line starting with 8.Re1+, but rather 8.fxg7 Rg8 9.Bg5 Be7 10.Bxe7. This naturally leads to Chapter 7, what he calls the von der Lasa variation, where after 4...Bc5 5.0-0 Black prefers 5...d6 to 5...Nf6 (which invites the MLA). The VDL proper (Fishbein's coinage) only arises after 6.c3 Bg4 7.Qb3 Bxf3 8.Bxf7+ Kf8 9.gxf3.

    Chapter 8 considers Black's alternatives after 5...d6 before getting the full VDL. The main alternative is 6...dxc3, with the bad 6...Nf6 also examined and 6...d3 mentioned en passant.

    In Chapter 9 Fishbein turns from the very old to the very new, exploring Georgian GM Baadur Jobava's Giuoco line (through the SG move order) 5.c3 Nf6 6.e5 d5 7.Be2.

    Finally, Chapter 10 looks at Black's main alternatives on move 2: the Petroff (covered in four games) and the Philidor (one illustrative game). Against the first he recommends the now standard line 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.Nc3 Nxc3 6.dxc3 Be7 7.Be3; against the latter it's 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Be7 6.g3.

    The book is anything but encyclopedic, and it doesn't purport to be. There are 61 illustrative games in this slim work, with short theoretical sections prefacing the games in most of the chapters. The style of the book is a trainer preparing an opening for his students, and as such it's big on general ideas, typical plans, and the occasional move-order finesse. Neither the theory nor the analysis is overwhelming. The book is aimed at the club level, but even pretty serious amateurs (e.g. 2000+) could benefit from it.

    Something I like about the book is that it doesn't overpromise. The Scotch Gambit is a minor opening, and it's a minor opening for a reason. Black has more than one way and more than one system to achieve equality. Fishbein does not pretend that White gets an advantage everywhere with best play, and that's good. Of course he's enthusiastic about it, and most importantly, he has (or at least had) skin in the game: he himself plays the SG, both against amateurs and fellow GMs. This enthusiasm often leads him to offer "Yes, but" evaluations; the computer says it's equal, but.... I'm not opposed to such evaluations in principle; I offer them myself. But some suspicion is in order that the "but" may not be as worrisome as he implies: Black's score against the SG is most satisfactory. I offer this as a mild caveat emptor, and note that since he plays the SG himself, the "Yes, but" gains in credibility.

    Something I didn't like so much was the organization of the material when I started digging into Chapter 1. Often the move order varied from the canonical version Fishbein recommended, and it would take a bit of care to figure out how to get back to the official repertoire. Sometimes along the way back to the repertoire some further analysis would take place. It might prove interesting and illuminating of the broad themes, but potentially confusing in terms of lining all the ducks up in a row. It would have been helpful and convenient to have put a tighter structure on the material, e.g. by changing the move order of the games (while noting the correct move order in the notes) to fit the repertoire.

    Overall, it's a useful book for those looking for a 1.e4 e5 repertoire for White with a manageable amount of theory. I don't think it's as promising as the main lines of the Ruy and the Italian, but for those looking for something that's more wash-and-wear, or as an occasional surprise weapon, you could do worse than to check out this book.

    For more info and an excerpt, here's the publisher's book page.

    Thursday
    Dec142017

    Mr. Eight-Time: Peter Svidler Wins Yet Another Russian Championship

    While Peter Svidler didn't win any major events this year until the Russian Championship, he has performed consistently, gaining points in every or almost every event he played in this year. At the moment his rating is 2767.7, just a point and change below his all-time peak rating of 2769, achieved in 2013. He's back up to #10 in the world, and showing (as did players like Viswanathan Anand, Vladimir Kramnik, Boris Gelfand, Vassily Ivanchuk and others) that passing the age of 40 (Svidler is 41) is far from a death sentence for one's career.

    Now about the Russian Championship. Entering the last round he was in a four-way tie for first, with three other players half a point behind. A playoff looked likely, and there was one--but it only involved two players. Svidler had White against Vladimir Malakhov - one of the players in the tie - and won cleanly and convincingly in a Spanish Four Knights (via a Berlin move order). The other two players in the tie had the black pieces: Vladimir Fedoseev (against Evgeny Romanov) and Nikita Vitiugov (vs. Sergey Volkov). Fedoseev, who led or co-led throughout the tournament (except in the final standings) was unable to beat the lowest-rated player in the field (though in this field, that's still an extremely strong player), but Vitiugov managed to beat Volkov. (Crushed him, but while he was already better with Black after just 13 moves, he was certainly helped along by the blunderful 14.0-0-0??)

    This entailed a two-game playoff between Mssrs. Svidler and Vitiugov. Svidler gradually outplayed his opponent with Black in the first game, and in game two Vitiugov took such extreme risks with Black that he was lost after his 7th(!!) move and resigned on move 18.

    So that makes eight Russian championship titles in all: 1994, 1995, 1997, 2003, 2008, 2011, 2013, and 2017. Granted, Vladimir Kramnik, Alexander Grischuk, Sergey Karjakin, and Ian Nepomniachtchi weren't playing, but he has won the title ahead of them as well.

    (Speaking of which: Nepo has won the title once, in 2010, and lost in a playoff to Svidler in 2013. Karjakin has never won the title, but he has twice been eliminated in playoffs - in 2010 to Nepomniachtchi and in 2012 in a large playoff that knocked Svidler out as well. Grischuk has won one title, in 2009, and surprisingly Kramnik has never won it - he's 0 for 3.)

    Congrats to Peter Svidler!

    Thursday
    Dec142017

    Russian Championship: Four Tied for First Entering the Last Round

    Vladimir Fedoseev is not going to look back on this tournament fondly if he doesn't somehow end up winning. Despite his 4-0 start, and having a clear lead with two rounds to go, he has lost three games from rounds 6-10, and is now in a four-way tie for first entering the last round. He had White against Peter Svidler in round 10 and a position that was impossible to lose if he would have settled for a draw.

    Unfortunately for him, but happily for Svidler fans and lovers of last-round drama, he tried to mix things up with 37.f5. There was no good reason for this: the position didn't justify the winning attempt and he would have entered the last round in great shape: half a point clear of his closest pursuers and facing the bottom seed and tailender in the last round (albeit with Black). Instead, his reward was a position where Svidler had some chances, initially small though they were, and when Fedoseev finally cracked with 63.Ra5+ Black went on to win.

    Svidler thus caught up with Fedoseev at 6/10, and so did Nikita Vitiugov (with a draw against Daniil Dubov) and Vladimir Malakhov (who beat Sergey Volkov). In the last round Svidler will have White against Malakhov, Vitiugov has Black against Volkov, and as already mentioned Fedoseev has Black against Romanov. And if all this isn't enough, three players are half a point behind: Evgeny Tomashevsky (White vs. Sanan Sjugirov), Alexander Riazantsev (White against Maxim Matlakov), and Dubov (also White, against Ernesto Inarkiev). All six last-round games feature at least one player who might end up the Russian champion!

    Thursday
    Dec142017

    A Skeptical (But Still Hopeful) Evaluation of Alpha Zero's Achievement

    With a hat tip to reader David McCarthy, here's an article by AI researcher and chess IM Jose Camacho Collados listing some of the reasons why Alpha Zero's accomplishment, impressive as it seems to be (and is), may nonetheless be overstated.

    Wednesday
    Dec132017

    Catching Up on Other Events: British K.O., Russian Championship, Mind Games

    The London Chess Classic is over, but it wasn't - and isn't - the only show in town. Literally: there was also the concurrent British K.O. Championship. (Rules here, results and games here.) That came down to a match between Luke McShane and David Howell (as reported earlier) that combined both classical (40/90', the rest/30', with 30" increment per move) and rapid games (15' + 10"). The four classical games were a success story for the Black pieces. Howell drew the first game with White, which turned out to be the high point for the white pieces; Black won the next three games, which meant Howell lead 2.5-1.5. Or rather, 5-3, as the classical games were weighted double compared to the rapid.

    When it came time for the rapid games between these two time trouble addicts, McShane struck back, winning games 5 and 7 with White. After the eight scheduled games the score was knotted at 6-6. A two-game playoff (10' + 2") was required, and McShane won both games to take the title.

    The other really big shew is the Russian Championship, which is still going. When we left off, Vladimir Fedoseev was in clear first with 4.5/5, having been held to his first draw of the event. Since then he experienced some bumps, losing to Vladimir Malakhov with white in round 6 and Nikita Vitiugov with black in round 7. After a draw in round 8 he was tied for first with Daniil Dubov and Vitiugov, but after defeating Sergey Volkov in round 9 he's back in clear first with six points. Vitiugov drew with Ernesto Inarkiev, and is alone in second with 5.5; Dubov lost with white to Malakhov and is tied for third with Malakhov, Evgeny Tomashevsky and Peter Svidler, both of whom drew in round 9. (Tomashevsky in 101 moves, trying to convert R+B vs. R against Alexander Riazantsev; Svidler in 19 moves against Maxim Matlakov.) Two rounds remain.

    Now something new: one of the now-regular events every December is the (IMSA Elite) Mind Games event in China, a very strong rapid & blitz tournament with both men's and women's sections. The top players include Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Ding Liren, Alexander Grischuk, Pentala Harikrishna, Yu Yangyi, Wang Hao, and Vassily Ivanchuk among other 2700+ players. (TWIC page here.)

    Monday
    Dec112017

    2017 London Chess Classic, The Finale: Caruana Wins After a Playoff with Nepomniachtchi; Carlsen Wins Grand Chess Tour

    The draw ratio was heavy early on, but the tournament finished with a good number of decisive games. In the last round, three of the five games finished with a winner, and two of them were of great consequence.

    Entering the round, Ian Nepomniachtchi led the tournament by half a point over Fabiano Caruana, while Magnus Carlsen retained a very slight lead over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the overall Grand Chess Tour standings. Vachier-Lagrave entered the round half a point ahead of Carlsen, and in the basic case needed to extend that lead by at least another half a point to leapfrog Carlsen to achieve Tour victory.

    Unfortunately for the part of the plan that was in his hands, he had Black against Nepomniachtchi, and the two called it a day after just 19 moves. Thus both left their fates in their rivals' hands: Nepo needed Caruana to not win against Michael Adams, and MVL needed Levon Aronian to beat Carlsen. For quite a while it looked like they would both get their wish. Despite having the white pieces, Caruana was slightly worse or at best equal against Adams for a long time, and even implicitly offered a draw by repetition. Adams hadn't had a good tournament, and wasn't really better at that point, but he decided to play on anyway. It proved to be a bad idea: shortly before the time control Adams made a few inaccuracies, and in the second time control lost a difficult pawn-down ending with queens and rooks, then just rooks. By catching up to Nepo, Caruana forced a playoff - more on that below.

    As for Carlsen, he was in trouble against Aronian, but he found a very nice, long blockading idea that got him out of most of his trouble. Unfortunately for Aronian, he continued with excessive ambition, first giving away his advantage in pursuit of an interesting piece sac, and then going from drawn (by taking twice on d6 starting at move 39) to lost.

    Those were the most important games of the round, and there was a third victory as well. Wesley So defeated Viswanathan Anand with the black pieces, though it wasn't so much a win with Black as it was the opportune exploitation of a big tactical error or two. With Adams, Aronian, and Anand all losing today, it looks like triple-A was the tow-ee today rather than tower. And a strange feature of the tournament is that Black outscored White - as recently happened in St. Louis - provided the playoff isn't taken into account.

    First though, the round's other game was a draw between Sergey Karjakin and Hikaru Nakamura. Neither had a great tournament, but what really matters for Karjakin is his form next March in the Candidates tournament.

    On to the playoff: Caruana and Nepomniachtchi began with a pair of very well-played draws at g/10 (plus a five second Bronstein delay). With loads of time to rest and prepare it was thought that Nepo would have a significant advantage over Caruana, who needed six hours to overcome Adams, but Caruana played very well. It was then on to a pair of five-minute games (with three seconds' Bronstein delay), and here, surprisingly, Nepomniachtchi faltered. In the first game, with White, he blundered a piece in the opening in a position that was already poor. Resignation wasn't out of the question, but with lots of money at stake and its being a blitz game, Nepo kept going, and somehow managed to hold. It was a virtuoso performance of sorts. In the next game, however, Caruana outplayed his opponent and won a long game. It wasn't perfect, but Caruana was clearly the deserved winner.

    Thus Caruana achieved his first-ever victory in a Grand Chess Tour event, while Carlsen gained his second all-around tour victory, the first coming in 2015. (He didn't play in all the events in 2016 due to his world championship match with Karjakin.)

    The games are here (with my comments to the three wins in the round proper and brief comments to the last two playoff games), and these are the final standings:

     

    • 1-2. Caruana, Nepomniachtchi 6 (of 9; Caruana first after the playoff)
    • 3-5. Vachier-Lagrave, So, Carlsen 5
    • 6. Nakamura 4.5 (nine draws!)
    • 7. Aronian 4
    • 8. Karjakin 3.5
    • 9-10. Anand, Adams 3

     

    Sunday
    Dec102017

    2017 London Chess Classic, Round 8: Nepo Beats Carlsen, Takes the Clear Lead with a Round to Go

    Magnus Carlsen had enjoyed excellent fortune in the last two rounds, getting a lot of luck (while also defending resiliently) to turn two lost positions into a draw and a win. But this time his luck run out, and even went in reverse. This time he had a large, possibly winning advantage against Ian Nepomniachtchi, and this happened at (at least) two points in the game. One thing Nepo did well was to move fast, and Carlsen got into mild time trouble. That doesn't fully explain the series of errors he committed, however, culminating in a blunder on move 36 that left him a piece down for nothing. There was no Santa Claus in store for him this time, and he resigned after move 40.

    The other four games were drawn, so Nepomniachtchi now leads the tournament, half a point ahead of Fabiano Caruana. In the overall Grand Chess Tour standings, it seems that Carlsen's slim lead over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave would hold up if all tomorrow's games were drawn, but any further positive progress by MVL or further regress by Carlsen would give the Frenchman tour victory.

    Here are today's games (I've annotated Carlsen-Nepomniachtchi), and here are the pairings for the final round today/tomorrow (Monday):

    • Nepomniachtchi (5.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (4.5)
    • Anand (3) - So (4)
    • Karjakin (3) - Nakamura (4)
    • Caruana (5) - Adams (3)
    • Aronian (4) - Carlsen (4)