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    Friday
    Jun212013

    Further Reflections on the Tal Memorial

    Some more thoughts on the super-strong Tal Memorial, whose last three rounds will take place Friday-Sunday:

    * Magnus Carlsen is having a good tournament but not a great one. Nevertheless, he did enjoy a very important victory when he crushed Viswanathan Anand in round 5. He achieved some advantage in the opening with White in a Nimzo-Indian, and that advantage grew quickly and massively after his 19.f3 aned 20.e4. Anand didn't manage to find a good response to the plan, and resigned just nine moves later. Perhaps the culprit was that he missed 25.Bh3; indeed, without that White has no advantage at all. (With it, he's practically winning.)

    That was the highlight of his tournament so far; the lowlight came in round 3 when he lost a peculiar game to Fabiano Caruana. First he blundered a pawn just after the opening, missing a short and simple tactic. Trading judiciously, he reached a rook ending where he was still a pawn down but holding the draw should have been routine. Instead, he botched it, twice rejecting Rb8. The first time, on move 49, it would have resulted in an easy hold; the second time, in a more challenging one. This was Carlsen's second recent loss in the sort of technical position where he excels (the other was to Wang Hao in the Norway super-tournament), leading one wag to suggest that Carlsen was hiding his endgame preparation for Anand.

    * Speaking of the champion, he is tied for last place with his "great predecessor" Vladimir Kramnik and with the often erratic Alexander Morozevich. About Kramnik: he lost his first two games (a continuing hangover from London?) - first to Carlsen in a very good fight, but then to Hikaru Nakamura in most uncharacteristic fashion. Kramnik was essentially up a pawn for nothing, and yet somehow the wheels came off and he lost two pawns and then the game. Since then he has drawn his last four games, and two of them - the ones with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in round 3 and with Caruana in round 6 - were remarkable. In both games he had the black pieces, in both games his opponent played the first new move, and in both games his theoretical preparation extended to the end of the game. The game with Caruana is especially impressive, and I cover it here.

    * Caruana is only at 50%, but that's enough for him to have moved into third place on the live rating list, a hair ahead of Kramnik. Send him back!!

    * Boris Gelfand is also doing well on the rating list and in the tournament. His rating is at an all-time peak, and he is undefeated in the event with wins over Morozevich and Caruana, good enough for clear second place. How much does this guy have to do to get some love from chess fans who aren't middle-aged or from Israel or the former USSR? In the last several years he won the World Cup, the Candidates, basically drew a match for the world championship, tied for first in a FIDE Grand Prix event and in the Alekhine Memorial, and now he's in second place in a colossally strong round-robin. The man is not some sort of journeyman 2700; he is a legitimately great player!

    * Finally, we must mention the tournament leader, Hikaru Nakamura. He won the blitz event convincingly, but a game and a half into the real event it looked like a disaster. He was crushed by Mamedyarov and was apparently on his way to a loss against Kramnik.  A strange sequence by Kramnik later, and everything turned around: he won that game, then beat Sergey Karjakin and Fabiano Caruana in a pair of good games. Following a draw with Dmitry Andreikin (who has acquitted himself very well so far; despite being the lowest-rated player he has drawn all his games) he added Anand's scalp to the collection. This has him at #5 in the live ratings, and - if he can hold it - he will at last pass Bobby Fischer's rating record for an American: Fischer's peak was 2785, while Nakamura is at 2789. (I think most people would allow that there has been at least five rating points' worth of inflation, but it's a significant accomplishment all the same.) Getting to 2800 by tournament's end is unlikely (though not impossible!), but making it to #4 or even #3 on the rating list is very much a possibility.

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    Reader Comments (12)

    I'm 25, don't count a single Israeli amongst my ancestors and not from the former USSR, and for the past couple of years have been a fan! Not only do I enjoy his games (especially his Black Najdorfs -- his Sveshnikov seems to me that he's worked out to a draw and is fine with it; it's not that I'm disputing a professional's choice, it's just not my cup of tea), but also I appreciate that he's always a perfect gentleman who brings the 'royal' back to the 'Royal Game' in times when a lot of chess players seem to have their manners taken out of boxing rings.

    June 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKajetan Wandowicz

    It was already Carlsen's third loss in a technical and worse but tenable rook endgame this year, the unmentioned one being against Ivanchuk at the candidates event (when noone could afford to "hide preparation"). Makes me wonder if these are really "the sort of technical position[s] where he excels" - holding worse positions may require different skill sets and/or a different attitude than playing for a win in equal to slightly better positions?

    In Caruana-Kramnik, for the fun of it I add 26.Kd5?? c6# .

    My own observation for the event so far: Black is more than OK (seven wins vs. five for white). Only a few players perform better with the white pieces (Carlsen 2/3 and 1.5/3, Karjakin 1/2 and 1.5/4, Morozevich 1.5/3 and 0.5/3) - in Moro's case because he was overly ambitious with black twice, against Anand around the time control, against Gelfand already in the opening. On the other hand, there are Nakamura (1.5/3 and 3/3) and Caruana (0.5/3 and 2.5/3).
    Last year it was quite different in general (13 white wins vs. 8 with black) and for two of the mentioned characters: Carlsen won the event due to two wins with black, drawing the other seven games. Caruana scored 3.5/4 with white and 1.5/5 with black - yes, he beat Elo tailenders Tomashevsky and McShane with white, but also Kramnik who, at least in part, showed better form and had a better result than this time. [Caruana's remaining white game was against Nakamura, drawn in 107 moves where many seemed pretty redundant.]

    June 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterThomas

    Gelfand is making statement after statement but still people are not ready to accept that he belongs to the absolute chess elite in the same league as Ivanchuk. I am a big fan of Anand but after his performance , I don't think he has any real chance against Magnus but will be very happy if I am proved wrong. Anand is still able to play on an equal footing with the old guys but somehow not able to adjust his game against the younger lot like Caruana, Nakamura etc. Beating Anand with the black pieces was one of the most difficult things before but now it is a routine. Let us see can Anand come out of this hole again.

    June 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDina

    I thought it was generally accepted that rating inflation has been at about 40 points since the late 1980s, following the free gift of 100 rating points to all female players not named Judit Polgar, and other various adjustments through the years since then.

    [DM: Generally accepted by whom? I've heard other numbers, but not that one. Additionally, I've posted about Ken Regan and his IPRs numerous times, and at least for a while he claimed that there was no detectable inflation whatsoever.]

    June 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Steele

    Thanks for reminding those who needed reminding that Gelfand is indeed a Great Player. His results are easily equal to those he achieved many years ago, when no one doubted that he was at the very top. And, yes, of course I admire him as a perfect gentleman, too.

    June 21, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercmling

    Something strange is going on with Anand. His performance so far is almost unbelievably bad. Maybe he's trying to lull Carlsen into a false sense of security?! I don't believe that, and am only suggesting it (semi-)humorously.

    On a side note, Dennis, may I suggest that you stop saying, "Send him back!" when speaking about Caruana? It somehow carries a negative connotation to me, as though he's being held there. He is, after all, not a minor any more, and can make his own decisions about which country to play for. Obviously you feel it would be great to have him playing for the US, so if you want to keep repeating the entreaty, maybe you can say, "Please come back!"

    [DM: I hear you and understand the connotation, though on the other hand I doubt anyone who reads the tag line understands it in that way. We'll see.]

    June 21, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterfromoort

    I don't think there've been 5 points of inflation. If there were, the Fed would have stopped quantitative easing a long time ago.

    June 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBoris Borisovich

    I have no idea why Gelfand seems to get dismissed by a lot of fans. He's a terrific player, but what stands out to me is his love and respect for the game of chess. He also seems like a real gentleman, and that pulls a lot of weight with me.

    June 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMikeO

    I've seen 40 point estimates several times but I can't remember the sources. Didn't Kasparov himself recently compare Fischer's 2785 and his own 2851 as being roughly comparable? Similar dominance but in different eras.

    Comparing rating inflation to monetary inflation is a joke, especially with this administration. The dollar is down thirty percent from 2006. If the Fed were running the FIDE rating system Magnus's current rating would be 3962. If Bernanke were running the USCF rating system it'd be bonus and feedback forever! Quantitative easing means printing cash like its monopoly money and giving free money to the banks, who in turn don't relend it of course but speculate in the latest asset bubble.

    June 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Steele

    Now Gelfand has won the tournament there can't be any doubt anymore that he belongs to the all greats of chess history.

    June 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMNb

    Congratulations to Boris Gelfand on the occasion of his 45th Birthday (tomorrow) and his great win in the Tal Memorial (today). He's a regular Victor Korchnoi! Makes me happy as an old guy myself. (I'm a couple of months older than GM Gelfand.) Too bad about the other 'old guys' in the tournament, though.

    PS Belated, it's true, but I support your decision to back off on the blogging. It OUGHT to be fun for you, too, and we're more apt to have you around longer if you're enjoying it.

    June 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterIcepick

    Gelfand had a high IPR after 6 rounds; I'll post the final tallies somewhere when my runs on the last rounds finish, probably Tuesday. To answer the note above: my latest data suggests 15 points of inflation since the 1980's, but (a) zero is (just-)within the associated error bars, and (b) it's about what I'd expect to see from shorter time controls and no adjournments.

    June 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKenneth Regan

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