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    « A Small Super-Tournament in St. Louis | Main | Aagaard's Training Tips »
    Friday
    Jun142013

    Some Early Reflections on the Tal Memorial

    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.

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    Reader Comments (12)

    "Nakamura's reward for picking first? Black against Anand, Kramnik, Carlsen and world #4 Caruana. What a success!"

    Actually, it is. Statistically, it is easier to draw against the top players with black than it is to win against less-strong players with white. Having black against the very top might be more uncomfortable on those matchups, it is probably beneficial for your final score.

    [At least...that's the way it works for tournaments like Wijk aan zee, where the bottom of the bracket is significant lower than at Tal, where the bottom half of the field is only slightly less formidable than the top half.]

    June 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterUff Da

    As lots of people have pointed out, Gelfand's openings with white lack teeth but he has an impressive black repetoire and is especially dangerous when his opponent takes risks. So there might have been a method to his madness. And he did beat Caruana with black thanks to superior understanding of the Sicilian!

    June 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJaideepblue

    In general, against whom would a top seed rather want to have white?
    - Against other top seeds where a draw seems the most likely result with either color (at least between Carlsen, Anand and Kramnik - Nakamura may be a different story)?
    - Against midfielders where the advantage of the white pieces might make the (extra) difference?
    - Against tailenders whom he might beat with either color? Here I mean - with all due respect - players like Smeets and l'Ami in Wijk aan Zee; Tal Memorial doesn't have such tailenders.

    For Gelfand, himself a midfielder (or, for Tal Memorial, lower half of the field), it may have been a deliberate choice. It would mean that he gives himself overall better chances to draw with black against the stronger players, and beat the weaker ones (his own approximate level) with white. Put differently, he hopes or expects that "his number" will give him a better final score than "Carlsen's number" which could have been his?
    Another story is that he so far "wasted" two whites against Karjakin and Andreikin, getting no trace of an advantage, but beat Caruana with black.

    BTW many people were surprised that Kramnik went for an extra black because "most games with black" is the first tiebreaker. As a matter of fact, in case of a tie for first place (or any other prize) the tiebreak also affects the prize money. For example, if first place is sharedbetween two players, the tiebreak winner gets 30,000 Euros vs. 20,000 Euros for the "loser" [Colin McGourty's translation/explanation of the Russian regulations]
    Last year, players couldn't choose their numbers but the final standings of the blitz determined the pairing number directly with #s 1-5 getting number 1-5 i.e. an extra white. This can come down to financially penalizing those who did well in the blitz? While there was also prize money in the blitz event (first place 5,000 Euros, fifth place 1,000 Euros) the difference for the main event can be the same or more than what players earn from the blitz event.

    June 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterThomas

    You posted "Carlsen chose fifth (behind Carlsen on tiebreaks)" I'm not sure 100% what it should be, but from reading the rest of the post it sounded like you meant to say behind Gelfand on tiebreaks.

    [DM: Yup. I'll fix it in a minute.]

    June 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommentercheVelle

    Tough loss, and a disappointing one, for Carlsen today. Alternatively, a fine win for Caruana. He can play.

    June 15, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterhylen

    LOL. It was suggested on Chessvibes that Carlsen was hiding his endgame preparation in the Caruana game. I wish I'd thought of that.

    [DM: That is a good one. The loss to Wang Hao in the Norway tournament was another surprising example of the same thing.]

    June 15, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterhylen

    Yea, I find it odd how they did the blitz to CHOOSE pairing numbers at Tal. In Norway, Karjakin won the blitz and was able to PICK his number... from then on out the numbers were given in order to the rest of the participants who did not get to choose.

    [DM: I didn't realize that only Karjakin got to pick in Norway. Interesting.]

    June 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel

    Uff Da and Thomas make an interesting point, suggesting that it's in Nakamura's favor to have Black vs. the top guys and White vs. the lower-rateds. I suppose one would have to look at the stats carefully - not just general stats for rating differences, but for the specific players involved as well. Their general point is a good one though.

    June 15, 2013 | Registered CommenterDennis Monokroussos

    The Morozevich-Carlsen blitzgame did not end on move 35. There were actually about 20 more moves played and it all ended with Carlsen about to queen his e-pawn, but Morozevich delivering mate with Nh6 (Qf6 and Nf5 vs black Kg8, h7)
    Strange to see that nobody seems to care about this. I remember the same thing happened last year when some of the blitzgames were left incomplete.
    On the treefold repetition it should be noted that Carlsen had much more time left on move 29 and that he spent a lot of it apparently trying to find a way out. I think he expected a quick handshake without the need to claim the draw and was quite surprised when Morozevich, with only about 20 seconds left, played 34 Re1 and continued to win the probably most spectacular game of the blitztournament.

    June 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHenri Buitenzorg

    As I hinted, I am not so sure about Nakamura, for two reasons: he seems more vulnerable/erratic with either color than most of his peers, and (somewhat related) he is less "color-dependent" and also capable of scoring with the black pieces. Maybe (more than for Kramnik who is at least traditionally a "white monster") it would have made sense for him to pick an extra black - given that this is the first, and financially relevant, tiebreaker?

    One, of course just one, example to support my theory might be Wijk aan Zee 2012. It was just coincidence, but already before the event I had suggested that Aronian's color distribution was nearly perfect despite an extra black: W1 B4 against his other top5 (Carlsen, Radjabov, Topalov, Karjakin, Ivanchuk), W4 B1 against the next 5 (Gashimov, Nakamura, Gelfand, Caruana, Kamsky), W1 B2 against the tailenders Giri, Navara and van Wely. His rival Carlsen had W3 B2, W3 B2 and W1 B2 - Aronian won in the end due to a whopping 5/5 against the mid-group.

    [DM: A sample size of one carries all the evidential weight of the smoker who lived to be 100 or the driver who lived because he didn't wear his seat belt and was thrown clear when the car crashed.]

    June 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterThomas

    Excellent point about the selection of numbers. I think the winner should get to pick, and the rest should be randomly drawn among the two sets, extra Black or extra White. But I have the feeling that Nakamura as Black is a little like Korchnoi as Black, so maybe he doesn't care. Playing better openings as White---as he did nicely against the Gruenfeld---is the key here IMHO.

    June 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKenneth Regan

    In Morozevich - Carlsen game, Carlsen didn't lose on time, Morozevich mated him. If you want to see the end of this game, go to http://chesstv.com/broadcasts/170 and then to 11:51:55.

    [DM: Thanks, Andrey - very helpful, as usual. It has been a while since you've commented here, but I'm glad you're still reading!]

    June 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrey

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