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    Saturday
    Oct132012

    Carlsen Wins Final Masters In Blitz Playoff Over Caruana

    The Final Masters came to a conclusion today, and Magnus Carlsen won - deservedly - against Fabiano Caruana in a blitz playoff. Both players finished with +3 scores, each losing only one game in the event - to each other. Caruana went +3 in the first cycle and even in the second, while it was the reverse for Carlsen. So why do I say Carlsen was the deserved winner, when both players had such similar results?

    The answer came in today's round, before the blitz games. Both Carlsen and Caruana had Black, against Levon Aronian and Francisco Vallejo, respectively. Carlsen drew with Aronian, but he had to sweat a while, as Aronian enjoyed a definite and nagging edge for a long time in a very old-fashioned Queen's Indian. Nevertheless, once he equalized, even though he had no legitimate chances to win at all, he played on a bit longer when Aronian offered a possible repetition. He took chances early in the game, in the hopes of reaching a position where he could fight for a win, and then even later fought when there was practically nothing left to fight for.

    Contrast that with Caruana's game. Caruana is a big specialist in the Neo-Archangelsk variation of the Ruy, but chose instead to play the Zaitsev. Trying to avoid some preparation? Maybe, but he wasn't worried about that earlier in the event, even though he's aware that every professional on the planet knows he plays the line. Anyway, Vallejo shamelessly played the Ng5-f3 repetition, daring Caruana to choose a different system. Not particularly admirable on Vallejo's part, but when you're -4 and just turned what could have been 2.5 points (on classical scoring) the past three rounds into a single half a point, wanting to put an end to the event is pretty natural. But why is Caruana giving him a break? Vallejo isn't a bad player, but he's not doing well and he's the lowest-rated player by a considerable margin. If you're not going to play for a win against the bottom marker by rating and score, who are you going to play for a win against?

    Viswanathan Anand and Sergey Karjakin played a lively draw in a sharp line of the Slav, and so the final standings (not counting the tiebreak) looked like this:

    1-2. Carlsen, Caruana 17 (on 3-1-0 scoring; their "real" score was 7-3)
    3. Aronian 11 (5-5, with one win and one loss)
    4. Karjakin 10 (4.5-5.5, with one win and two losses)
    5. Anand 9 (4.5-5.5, with one loss)
    6. Vallejo 6 (3-7, with four losses)

    On to the blitz (4' + 3") playoff. Carlsen had Black in game one and played the Berlin Defense. Carlsen managed to artificially isolate White's e-pawn and win it, and he subsequently converted his material advantage in a rook ending. The second game was a bit of a farce. It's very difficult to win on-demand with Black - especially against Carlsen - so Caruana probably felt the need to play a riskier and somewhat unfamiliar opening. Carlsen played somewhat untheoretically as well, but clearly had a better feel for the opening:

    1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.g3 b6 4.Bg2 Bb7 5.Qe2 d6 6.d4 cxd4 7.Nxd4 Nf6 8.0-0 Nbd7 9.Rd1

    Here White is threatening a standard trick that more often arises from the g3 line against the Taimanov/Paulsen. Caruana either didn't know it, didn't suspect it, or just grossly underestimated it. (Ironically, he made a similar mistake against me in a blitz game a couple of years ago, and was extremely fortunate to draw - I had a winning position and he had no material, but I ran out of time.) Black needed to play something like 9...Qc7/Qc8/Qb8; instead:

    9...a6? 10.e5

    and now another big error:

    10...Bxg2? 11.exf6

    Black is completely lost. If 11...Bb7, 12.Nxe6 finishes the game, but after

    11...Bh3 12.Qh5

    was curtains. (If 13...Bf5 14.Nxf5 exf5 15.Qe2+/15.Re1+ followed by 16.fxg7 and 17.f4 wins a piece.) Caruana kicked on for five more moves (12...Qxf6 13.Qxh3 Be7 14.Nc3 Qg6 15.Nc6 Ne5 16.Nxe7 Kxe7 17.Bf4) and called it a day.

     

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    Reader Comments (10)

    Concerning Caruana's last-round draw against Vallejo: It has been reported (or rumored) that Vallejo said he will quit competitive chess. Perhaps that might have influenced Caruana's decision not to go for the jugular?

    [DM: Maybe if Vallejo were some sort of retiring legend like Viktor Korchnoi, he might consider going easy on him. But Vallejo? No way.]

    October 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercmling

    Vallejo is supposed to have retired from competitive chess, so this brief affair was his last tournament game.

    [DM: Clearly he retired from competitive chess after round 9. Ng5-f3-g5-f3 doesn't count.]

    October 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJaideepblue

    Considering Vallejo's announcement to quit competitive chess (made before his game with Caruana), perhaps Fabiano didn't want to push for a win in Paco's last game as a professional.

    October 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNate

    I can't fault Vallejo Pons for taking the repetition - the previous rounds were the stuff of nightmares. But Caruana deserved to lose the tournament over that. Today was the round to get one's inner Kasparov/sociopath on and go for the (figurative) kill. I'm glad Aronian didn't have to lose for Caruana to get punished, though.

    [DM: I'm with you. That ability to rise to the occasion is part of what made the great champions the champions they were, and the corresponding inability is why other legendary players like Bronstein and Keres tragic figures.]

    October 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterIcepick

    Fabiano Caruana is still quite young. He has time to mature (in a Kasparov/sociopath mold, in the funny words of Icepick). Please note that he has the most essential attribute of the future chess great/world champion: the first two letters of his last name (as pronounced). We have had Ka and Ka, now we have Ca. Fabiano is another Ca. Only Mr. An does not fit the pattern.

    [DM: That's true about Anand, but you underestimate the power of the letter "V": Vassily Smyslov, Viktor Korchnoi, Vladimir Kramnik, plus (in terms of pronunciation) Wilhelm Steinitz.]

    October 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSimple Pole etc.

    Hey, if Kasparov can go out with a loss, while still rated Number 1, so can Vallejo Pons. This has nothing to do with personal feelings about any of the players concerned. This is a competitive sport, so compete! It's not like this is Ali-Holmes (or worse, Ali-Berbick) and the result will leave Francisco with brain damage....

    [DM: Yes - though I think they're both blameworthy. At least Vallejo was lower-rated, having a lousy tournament and had suffered some pain the past three rounds. What in the world is Caruana's story?]

    October 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterIcepick

    Bronstein wasn't a "tragic figure," he was one of the great legends of chess, and one of the most beloved and memorable players of all time. He drew a match for the World Championship, holding his own against the mighty Botvinnik--there's nothing "tragic" about that. Nor do I agree with your assessment that a lack of winning spirit makes a chessplayer "tragic." Not everyone is a Kasparov or Fischer, but that doesn't mean they're "tragedies." You arrogant putz, come off your high horse. "Almost beat Caruana" indeed! What a maroon.

    [DM: Your vocabulary is pretty good - you know insult words like "putz" and "maroon" - but unfortunately you don't seem to understand the word "tragic", at least in this context. First of all, it isn't an antonym for "great", so to say that he "wasn't a 'tragic figure,' he was one of the great legends of chess" is a world-class non-sequitur. Likewise with "beloved" and "memorable". So whether or not I'm correct in calling him a "tragic figure", your contrasts fail to show that he isn't a tragic figure.

    So why do I call them tragic figures? Because they're not as strong or as strong-willed as Kasparov or Fischer? No. It's because Bronstein and Keres (you didn't mention him in your gracious note - are you agreeing with me about him?) were players who certainly seem to have had the talent to become world champion, but while coming agonizingly close failed to do so. Further, both players were largely defined as chess players (rightly or wrongly) by those failures. Bronstein himself protested in an interview "I'm not just 12-12 and Zurich 1953", and if one reads his autobiographical works, even those written half a century later, the pain of the near-miss clearly remained. (Nor am I alone in this judgment, but that could just mean that there are other maroons and putzes out there. It's a big world.)

    How reporting this makes me "arrogant" is beyond me, but maybe you're offended that I reported that I almost beat Caruana in a blitz game. Well, how is it arrogant if it's true? It would be arrogant if I claimed to be some big deal that I'm not, but I make no pretense to being a stronger player than Caruana. That would be absurd and false. But I've beaten plenty of players who are stronger than I am (you probably have too), especially in blitz, and for that matter have lost to players who are weaker. Upsets happen: it's why we play chess rather than getting an initial set of ratings and then determine the results by consulting them. And the relevance is that he missed almost exactly the same trick in the game with me that he missed in the second blitz game with Carlsen.]

    [DM, Part 2: One more thing (for now). I wrote that "the corresponding inability (to rise to the occasion in crucial competitive situations) is why other LEGENDARY (emphasis added) players like Bronstein and Keres (were) tragic figures", to which you replied that Bronstein wasn't a tragic figure, but "one of the great legends of chess". Alas, if only I had realized that he was a legend! :)

    Look, Keres was my absolute favorite player when I was a kid (he died around the time I learned about him), and I've never lost my admiration for him. Every time I think about his loss to Benko in the last cycle from Curacao it makes me slightly ill. I'm also a big fan of Bronstein's, and Zurich 1953 and 200 Open Games were among my favorite books when I was young. To note that they had failings as competitors doesn't diminish the areas where their achievements were fantastic.]

    October 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNed Quincy

    The rumor about Vallejo's retirement seems to come from a tweet by lladini (Spanish chess journalist David Llada):
    "Paco Vallejo has announced today he will retire from competitive chess. He was very upset after his painful loss against Karjakin :-( "

    It seems to be a bit of an exaggeration, the original Spanish version by Vallejo himself was quoted by "joker" on Chessvibes:
    "Pero he decidido que me retiro del ajedrez de competición por un tiempo indefinido" - 'tiempo indefinido' rather sounds like "for some time", not "forever" - joker later added that Vallejo then talked about six months and still honoring pre-existing commitments (my addition: he probably has a player's contract for the German Bundesliga).

    A decision or statement made in the heat and anger of the moment, reminiscent of Ivanchuk's "retirement" a while ago - but it is clear that Vallejo wasn't in the mood to play chess the very next day. Along with cmling and Nate, I think it affected Caruana's decision to spare Vallejo. After all, it was pretty "unlike Caruana": earlier this year he went for full fights with black in similar last-round tournament situations (losing against Aronian at Tal Memorial and beating tailender Bartel in Dortmund). In both cases, the opening choice (Grunfeld) was more ambitious than Carlsen's Queen's Indian against Aronian.

    So I also think that Dennis glorifies Carlsen's fighting spirit in the last round:
    "He took chances early in the game, in the hopes of reaching a position where he could fight for a win" - another take is: he chose an unambitious setup to end up slightly worse!?
    "he played on a bit longer when Aronian offered a possible repetition" - declining the repetition led straight to a drawn rook endgame, so it was just a more spectator-friendly way to reach the draw (which was relatively obvious at that stage of the game).

    [DM: Maybe, but I think comparing opening choices is not a good way to assess Carlsen's ambitiousness. He excels in technical play and often avoids forcing lines, so to say that someone played the Gruenfeld and to compare that with the QID doesn't strike me as apt.]

    October 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThomas

    Finally, Anand showed some fight against karjkin - his insipid and theoretical play is a one way track to losing a top 10 spot and his crown.

    October 14, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdev anand

    Hi,
    well, thank you very much - I´ve learned a nice new word here, and I like it a lot. "Arrogant" I know, "maroon" sounds somewhat familiar to me, but " arrogant putz" seems to be a very beautiful combination that has a strong effect. Thanks for that!

    (What was the word again - putz? Wow, I love it!)

    [DM: Incidentally, "maroon" as an insult, as opposed to something that happens to unfortunate travelers at sea, is best known (or maybe only known) from Bugs Bunny cartoons. Maybe my critic is a child?]

    To my mind, it sounds like a noble gesture of Caruana to let Vallejo Pons get out of the game with an easy draw, only on the assumption that it might be his last game. Possibly he really felt this way and wanted to grant Vallejo a gentle exit. But then again, hey hey, this is sports, and after all Caruana was about to win the tournament. For me it´s hard to imagine that he let himself influence by his opponent´s intention to quit. Let him quit then, but win the game.
    I guess Caruana, who I admire a lot, just did not feel at ease in that line, and wanted to secure a draw and good chances to tie for first place. Maybe it´s as simple as that.

    October 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTiger-Oli

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