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    Tuesday
    May072013

    Karjakin Wins Norway Blitz; The Real Event Starts Tomorrow (Updated)

    Normally I'd have waited until a bit later in the day to report on this, but as there is so much misinformation running around, thanks primarily to arbiters' incompetence (but I repeat myself), that I thought I'd write sooner rather than later. (Or at least that was the plan. Unfortunately, for only the second time since I've used this host, the server ate about 80% of my post without saving a copy. Ugh! The one bright side is that I became aware of and corrected an earlier error, and now have the main tournament's first round's pairings to report.)

    A few days ago I offered high praise for the organization of the Norway Chess tournament's website. The website still deserves it, but today's coverage was pretty bad; certainly in comparison with what we've come to expect from super-events in Russia.

    For starters, a little joke. On a flight a year or two ago, the flight attendant decided to liven up the usual pre-flight spiel with some humor, adding that the cabin lights would be dimmed "to enhance the beauty of the person sitting next to you." It seems the Norway organizers have taken that to heart in their use of cameras. There's one for every table, which is great, but they have the sort of resolution you'd expect from a cheap digital or web camera circa the mid-to-late 1990s. The angle and distance are poor too, so while you can kind of make out the position if you try hard and follow the game from the start, and can kind of make out the players' emotions, neither is easy or a pleasure. Maybe high-def cameras are expensive, but I think the typical iPhone camera could do a better job.

    And then there are the arbiters. Where do they find these people, anyway? Errare humanum est and all that, and they may be the nicest people in the world. But seriously, can't they figure out how to operate a DGT board after all these years? They goofed up Svidler-Wang Hao in round 1, entering it as a draw when Black won, and they made a bookend goof in the last round, labeling Wang Hao-Karjakin a draw too. As a result, sites everywhere (including TWIC) left claiming the tournament ended in a five-way tie for first between Magnus Carlsen, Viswanathan Anand, Sergey Karjakin, Peter Svidler and Hikaru Nakamura. (That's at least better than the live commentary, when despite looking at and discussing the standings for the last several minutes of the broadcast, Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam repeatedly failed to notice that Nakamura's last-round win put him into the alleged tie.)

    Only after everyone stopped watching and started posting erroneous reports did they correct their goofs. The first-round loss dropped Svidler out of the tie for first, and more importantly, Karjakin's last-round win meant there wasn't a tie to begin with: Karjakin took first all to himself!

    Now a few words about the tournament.

    First, Teimour Radjabov was the early hero, winning his first four games, including one over Carlsen. It looked like he had bounced back from his back-to-back disasters in London and Zug. A draw in round 5 kept him in good shape, but just when it looked like he'd be the hero of the event he lost three in a row before drawing in the last round. Plus-one was still a good result, but a disappointment after the early start and not enough to reach a position in the coveted top five. (Or is it "coveted"? More on that later.)

    Having just the opposite sort of tournament was Jon Ludwig Hammer. Coming into the event he looks like the special du jour for whoever gets to play him, and it seemed that this would be true of the blitz event as well. After five rounds, going into the break, he had just half a point, and he was lucky to have that. (Topalov had a colossal advantage and missed several chances to mate him in round 2.) In a private conversation with live commentator (and his former trainer) Simen Agdestein over the break, he opined that he really hadn't played so badly in the first half, and in the second half he proved it. He won his next two and drew the last two to finish with a very respectable 3.5 points. (Especially considering that Veselin Topalov only scored one total point, with his second draw coming in the last round. Even Levon Aronian finished behind Hammer, scoring just half a point through four rounds and two and a half points in total.)

    Of course most eyes were on the other Norwegian participant, Magnus Carlsen. Several of his games were especially worthy of note. First was the marquee matchup and world championship preview; to wit, his round 1 game with Viswanathan Anand. Anand had White in a Closed Ruy, and alas, there were no fireworks. Carlsen held, the game remained controlled, and it ended in a draw. Carlsen lost in round 2 to Radjabov, but soon, as always, he made a good run. He was certainly helped along by a massive gift from Nakamura in round 7. Carlsen had a large advantage that dwindled slightly but still remained serious prior to his blunder 29.Rd5?(?), after which Nakamura enjoyed the better chances. Soon they reached a position that was absolutely unloseable for Nakamura and almost surely for Carlsen as well. Unfortunately for Nakamura, in his desire to make "something" happen he chose a plan with ...g4-g3 followed by ...Kg4 and ...Kf3. The problem is that the plan simply couldn't work, and only managed to get Nakamura in trouble. As a practical matter, he should have tried to work out the details first, and if he lacked the time he could have made a long series of pointless moves to build up time using the increments. As it was, the plan was only dangerous for Nakamura, and when he failed to admit his mistake and retreat his king on move 53, the result was a routine rook ending win for the Norwegian.

    What he received in round 7, however, he returned in round 8. Sergey Karjakin has been one of his regular "customers" for some time now, but today he held on as Carlsen started to build an advantage, kept in the game, and when Carlsen got a little careless with 39...Nxe3(?!) he pounced with 40.Bh5. Carlsen needed to play 40...Qe4!, when chances remain even, but surprised by Karjakin's move he played the "automatic" 40...Rf8?? and lost a piece and the game to 41.Re7 Qf5 42.Qxe3.

    Carlsen bounced back in the finale though, with a small measure of revenge for the last round of the Candidates'. Carlsen beat Svidler, keeping up the pressure until the Russian finally cracked from move 39 on.

    Karjakin was the hero of the day, however, vanquishing his tormentor and taking clear first with a four-game winning streak to end the tournament. Here are the final standings, and since the point of the exercise was to determine pairing numbers ties aren't listed:

    1. Karjakin 6.5/9
    2. Carlsen 6
    3. Anand 6
    4. Nakamura 6
    5. Svidler 5.5
    6. Radjabov 5
    7. Hammer 3.5
    8. Wang 3
    9. Aronian 2.5
    10. Topalov 1

    Those who finished in the top five are thus guaranteed an extra White in the tournament. But is this in fact an advantage? Of course it is, all things being equal - White outscores Black in tournament chess by a roughly 55-45 margin. The problem is that not all things are equal - there are the accursed tiebreaks once again. It isn't the first tiebreaker, which is the highly unlovely Sonneborn Berger, and it isn't the second one; that's most losses wins. But the third tiebreak is most games with Black.

    [UPDATE: This is incorrect; there will be a blitz playoff in case of a tie. The page with the regulations is rather odd though - have a look (it's linked in the previous paragraph). It says that tiebreaks don't matter, and then it lists tiebreaks for no apparent reason. At any rate, the argument below still has value, I think, as there are other tournaments where the number of games (and wins) with Black is used as a tiebreaker.]

    Now, consider Armageddon games. Only very, very rarely does anyone choose the white pieces for such contests. It's almost universally accepted that Black is better off there, possibly much better off. If that's so, is it really better to have five Whites? Think about it this way: after eight rounds, let's say that all the key rivals have had four white games and four black games. The S-B tiebreaker is so random that we can disregard it, and in many cases the "most wins" criterion will be a push. So now you're choosing in round 9: White or Black? If you're Black, you essentially have draw odds (or more precisely, tie odds.) White wins more often than Black does, but the odds of White winning are greatly inferior to the odds of Black winning OR drawing. So wouldn't you choose Black in such a situation?

    Once again, this strikes me as an argument for blitz playoffs. Or at the very least, considering that pairing numbers were determined here by skill rather than by a random process, let those players who did well here keep their advantage: an extra white game with no repercussion in the tiebreaks.

    Enough ranting! On to the pairings for the classical tournament, which ought to be a great one.

    Round 1 Pairings:

    • Carlsen - Topalov
    • Anand - Aronian
    • Nakamura - Wang Hao
    • Svidler - Hammer
    • Karjakin - Radjabov

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    Reader Comments (9)

    The main tournament is not decided by tiebreaks, at least not first place. The regulations say "In case of shared first place, there will be a blitz match to decide the winner."
    See http://www.chessvibes.com/reports/norways-first-super-tournament-takes-off-karjakin-wins-the-blitz

    [DM: Never mind the article - I linked to the regulations page in the post...and read too quickly, and goofed. But it's very strange - have a look at that page: http://norwaychess.com/en/supertournament/regulations-of-the-international-chess-tournament-supreme-masters/. It gives the description of the blitz playoff and all that, and then with no further context it gives a list of tiebreaks. (That was what I had looked at.) What does it refer to?]

    May 8, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterpol

    From the tournament regulations:
    "In case of shared first place, there will be a blitz match to decide the winner.
    If two players share first place, there will be a 2 game match with the same time control as in the blitz tournament: 4 min + 2 sec increment for each move. If this match ends in a tie, there will be an Armageddon game where white has 5 min+2 sec increments and black has 4 min+2 sec increment with draw odds.If more than two players share first place, there will be a double round robin with the same tiebreak rules as the opening blitz tournament."

    [DM: You are correct - but see my reply to "pol".]

    May 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPhille

    Why is Karjakin Carlsen's customer ? Is their one-against-one record really that uneven ?

    [DM: Yes. Going back to 2009 and including all time controls, Carlsen has won 11 times, lost twice (three times after yesterday) and drawn nine games.]

    May 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSuresh

    It's a bit confusing that the tournament regulations even mention tiebreaks - after stating that they don't matter:

    "Money prizes will be shared among the players with the same sum of points. This does not apply for the first prize. In case of shared first place, there will be a blitz match to decide the winner."

    BTW Radjabov's "early hero" start followed by some sort of collapse seems partly due to the pairing schedule: True, he did beat Carlsen, but his three other wins were against the eventual tailenders (Aronian was out of blitz form or didn't care about the result too much, Topalov just isn't as good in blitz). So he simply faced relatively stronger opposition after round 4 !?

    May 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterThomas

    Dennis, when Topalov was in Ireland in March at the Bunratty tournament, we tried hard to persuade him to play in our fun blitz event after the main tournament. Sadly, he refused to play. I now believe there were two reasons for this:
    1. There were no prizes and it was "just for fun", and as a professional player, he is only interested in serious events.
    2. He is not a good blitz player relative to his standard chess ability, and so he could well have lost a game or two to the likes of Nigel Short, Micky Adams or Mark Hebden (amongst other GMs who did play there). Losing would destroy his aura of invincibility and omniscience that one expects from world champions.

    Even so, his score must be a disappointment. I guess if you don't practice, then you lose.

    May 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan O'Connor

    Anand seemed to be in good nick I thought. Check out his demolitions of Aronian, Svidler and Radjabov.

    May 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJaideepblue

    For the first place there is a blitz tiebreak in case of a tie and prize money will be shared for other places. In this situation players would prefer white to black in the last round assuming that they had 4 whites and four blacks so far.

    [DM: Yes - see my reply to "pol".]

    May 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDina

    Your analysis about the benefit (or lack thereof) of an extra white when one of the tiebreaks was really interesting. However, I don't believe what you said is completely correct. If the first tiebreak (rather than the third) were number of blacks, then I would largely believe your argument, because then the situation is something similar to the case of armageddon games. Although, it's not exactly the same, since in the last round, you probably won't be facing your tiebreak opponent, but rather someone else. Does that make a difference? I don't know, but maybe.

    But since it's the third tiebreak, I think the situation is different, and the reason is that the first two tiebreaks are likely to decide a winner before we even see the third tiebreak; in particular, SB scores are unlikely to be equal. To see that this can matter, imagine that the first tiebreak was something that caused ties to be very unlikely (such as being determined by a random integer from 1 to a million), and that the second tiebreak was number of blacks. In that case, it's hard to believe that anyone would want an extra black: that tiebreak is so unlikely to be relevant that it makes sense to take your chances with an extra white and have a somewhat decent chance of avoiding the tiebreaks altogether.

    I suspect that SB is sufficiently unlikely to end up tied that the same argument ought to hold here as well: having an extra white is better. What do you think?

    (Okay, all this is hypothetical because they have blitz tiebreaks, but I still think this is a cool question to think about.)

    [DM: Nice argument! The random integer example makes very clear that just because an intervening tiebreaker is random doesn't mean it's irrelevant. So one question is how likely the S-B tiebreaker is to wind up in a tie, and another is whether there's a correlation between one's color distribution and one's S-B scores. So while my argument should still work when games with Black is the first tiebreaker (or probably even second, after most wins), a lot more rigor would be needed to try to salvage it, if possible, when S-B precedes it.]

    I wonder if Topalov's blitz skills are really as bad (relatively) as is generally supposed. At any rate, in this event he further handicapped himself by severely hiding his prep. Looking through his blitz games and it's one Old Indian structure after another - surely not the stuff he intends to play for real in the main event.

    Perhaps another way to view Topa's shortcomings in blitz is the consider that they result from his method of preparation. That is, he spends ALL his time on opening prep, computer mouse in hand, and not much time on actual training. He probably just doesn't play any blitz! I'm sure that if Topalov made a special effort he could bring up his blitz ability to parity with his peers.

    Anyone care to disagree?

    [DM: Sure, me, based on his results and his own admission about, e.g., the Anand match. He never won Melody Amber, even in his peak years, either in the combined standings or in the rapid. (He did have some success in the blindfold portion, twice tying for first and once winning it outright.) As for blitz, I don't recall his having any special success in blitz world championships, and in the last one, for example, he finished tied for 12-13th out of 16, seven points behind Alexander Grischuk. It's not that he never plays, and obviously his peers spend plenty of time with a mouse doing opening prep as well. He's just not as good at that form of chess, or at least doesn't seem to be.]

    May 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Steele

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