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    Thursday
    Feb042016

    Nakamura Wins Gibraltar, Defeating Vachier-Lagrave in a Playoff (Plus a Zurich Preview)

    My fantasy of a 13-way tie for first in Gibraltar didn't come to pass, as Hikaru Nakamura and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave won their games against David Anton and Sebastien Maze, respectively, to finish tied for first with 8/10. The result was a playoff, and after four consecutive draws (of which Nakamura had winning positions in two of them, albeit very briefly in the second) it came down to an Armageddon game. Nakamura won the coin toss and took black, and when he neutralized Vachier-Lagrave's pressure (that was convincingly achieved with 35...Kg7) the latter was forced into some serious risks. Nakamura was up to the challenge, and soon he was up the exchange while MVL was forced to trade queens or lose a knight. He chose a third option - resigning - and Nakamura won the event for the second straight year and the third time overall. (He first won in 2008.)

    Tied for third through eighth places with 7.5 points were, in tiebreak order, Etienne Bacrot, S. P. Sethuraman, Pentala Harikrishna, Gawain Jones, Li Chao, and Emil Sutovsky. The women's prize went to Anna Muzychuk with 7 points, which was a fine score for just about anyone. (By comparison, Viswanathan Anand and Nigel Short wound up with 6.5 points, and Anand had to win his last two games to achieve that. Admittedly, his tournament was a disaster, but there were 2700+ players who, like Muzychuk, scored 7/10 and had perfectly respectable performances.)

    Congratulations to the winners and condolences to the losers. I was going to engage in some speculation about what Anand's performance here might mean for the Candidates' tournament next month (the short answer: I'm inclined to think it doesn't mean much), but since he'll be in action about a week from now in Zurich we should look towards that event, which will feature three other candidates as well - Hikaru Nakamura, Levon Aronian, and Anish Giri. They will be joined by Vladimir Kramnik and Alexei Shirov in a "slow rapid" (G/40' + 10") and blitz competition from February 13-15.

    The Zurich organizer, Oleg Skortsov, is hoping that this time control (or something close to it) will become the new classical time control. Speaking for myself, I would like to see more tournaments with rapid time limits, but I don't want to see slower time controls go extinct, either. It isn't a pleasure playing back-to-back six hours games in Swiss system events, but the value of depth shouldn't be scorned. It too has a place in our chess world. But what say you? Please answer both as a chess fan (what do you like watching when you're watching top grandmasters in action?) and as a chess player.

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    Reader Comments (14)

    Rapid is by far my preferred option. Six hours is generally too long to hold my interest, as either a spectator or a player, as well as just being an inconveniently large commitment of time.

    I respect that others don't agree (sometimes quite aggressively!), but that's how I like to enjoy my chess.

    February 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKen

    As chess fan I would say watching faster games is certainly exciting, but watching longer games is usually much more interesting. I prefer watching longer games where the commentators have time to really dig into a position.

    As a player my preferences are similar. Longer games are much more rewarding and much more painful. Rapid games rarely feature similarly intense struggles. Also, I think that the problem of double (or triple) rounds is not really connected to this issue. Playing back to back six hour games is not much fun, so I don't do it. Cramming too many rapid games into a day would be just as exhausting.

    [DM: The latter is my fear as well, that tournaments would still go just as long, but instead of two games a day it might be four or five instead. Ugh.]

    February 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPhille

    40+10 is rapid chess! 90+30 is short enough! 40 + 10 can't be classical by definition- there's nothing "classical" about it.

    [DM: Perhaps - but 90 30 isn't particularly "classical" either. For decades the professional time control was the stately 40/150 followed by a recurring 16/60. (It's almost impossible to believe, but somehow people still managed to get in time trouble then, too.)]

    February 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterIsh

    I like all the various rapid time controls, especially when they include some sort of increment, so as to avoid the most ludicrous of time scrambles. In general, for me the rapids are more fun to spectate, and I also enjoy playing them more, I think. I am with you, though - traditional chess is generally much deeper and more accurate, and unsurprisingly usually provides the games that will be enjoyed and remembered the longest.

    February 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMikeO

    I actually prefer the slower time-controls. Admittedly it can be quite boring when nobody's making any moves on any boards, but it gives the commentating GMs a chance to describe plans/strategies and discuss offbeat and quite humorous tidbits and stories as well.

    I prefer playing 5/0 or 2/1 time controls when I play online but that's usually because of the amount of time I can spare for a game at any given time. OTB, I again prefer slower time-controls. I just finished playing a 25/5 tournament (6 games to play) when I ruined a well thought-out attack with a blunder (I had seen the blunder in my calculations but then forgot at the moment) after getting to my last 2 minutes.

    February 5, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterragstorooks

    I mean, you can certainly watch beautful games even in rapid. But nevertheless: Real depth only shows up regulary in longer games.

    February 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGerhard

    I would generally prefer the slower time controls (both as a chess fan and player). There are times when I would like people to move faster :) while watching online.

    However, what probably matters more is what the majority of fans like - and here I think a move toward faster time control makes sense. Nevertheless, I would prefer many tournaments to retain the slower time controls in the interest of the mental progress aspect of the game - to build on what has been played before i.e. quality of the moves.

    February 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSridhar

    As a chess fan, I enjoy all the time controls, especially with good commentary for longer time controls. But it's hard to say that long thinks are much fun for spectators, so it would be nice to prevent them. It might be interesting to explore time controls in which players start with relatively little time on the clock, but have a generous increment. E.g. start with 1 minute, and have a 90 second increment. Or alternatively, start with 15 minutes with a generous increment, but have a cutoff for the increment, so players never have more than 15 minutes per move. One could also imagine the increment being reduced (even to zero) after a certain number of moves if one wants to prevent games which are really long in duration. As a spectator, it's nice to know that if you have to stay up late to watch a game, it will be over by a certain predetermined time. I also really enjoy tournaments where "more whites" is decided by blitz beforehand, and tournaments like Zurich (?) which combine the controls. Much more exciting than some boring lot drawing ceremony.

    February 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDavid McCarthy

    I like fast time controls, I don't enjoy blunders due to time trouble, I much prefer players getting a chance to get very deep into the game and calculate as many variations as possible. I enjoyed that when I played, and I assume other players enjoy that as well.

    February 5, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterestirodri

    I prefer to watch rapid and blitz (World Rapid/Blitz Championships), simply because there is more action per unit of time and this is quite important for people who have jobs. Most people like classical because of "less blunders", but even in top level classical chess we see queens and rooks blundered, not to mention every other endgame is misplayed. If someone wants blunderless chess, he can watch computer world championships.

    [DM: Of course there are blunders and smaller errors in classical chess too, but there's plenty of space between "blunderless" chess on the one hand and slapstick comedy on the other, da?]

    At the same time, I want most tournaments to be with longer time controls just like it is now. Here is why: I believe (and many players, including Carlsen have said something to that effect) that the time spent thinking during long games is very important for developing understanding of positions/structures, especially early in the players' careers. Imagine that all classical tournaments disappear, then in 20-30 years we will have much weaker top players than we have now simply because they will have no chance to think deeply about positions during their games, starting from a very early age. So, to have strong blitz/rapid tournaments that are a pleasure to watch, we have to have classical tournaments!

    February 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAndrey

    As a player and spectator, I also like all time controls. Watching live or revisiting games after the round, let alone (much) later, classical games generally offer higher quality, rapid/blitz may be more spectacular including blunders. Revisiting classical games later, the annoying(?) element of long breaks is gone - but with times provided per move, you still see when players took their time because the next decision may have been big or crucial.

    I want to add the perspective of a chess writer: If you want to or have to write a report the same day/evening, it can be "inconvenient" if one game continues forever ... . Recently in Wijk aan Zee, Carlsen's winner's press conference was considerably delayed: everyone knew he would win the event, but it was only official when Caruana resigned after six hours of play. Well, it's part of the job or, in my case, hobby.

    As to double rounds in classical events: Organizers thereby do a (perceived) favor to themselves (less money involved to rent a venue, less time-demanding for tournament volunteers) and to amateur participants (less holidays required to join the event). In Europe, this is most common for relatively small events (bigger ones, e.g. Reykjavik Open, may have one double round early in the tournament). As amateur participant, you can pick events that fit your wishes and schedule constraints - the latter may include family, other hobbies and a regular job. Maybe in the USA there is less choice, because (virtually) all open events include double rounds.

    [DM: All weekend Swisses are two-a-day here, and with the exception of the U.S. Open all major Swisses are weekend-based.

    Several rounds per day in rapid or blitz have pros and cons: You can forget about/recover from a loss quickly, but maybe you don't. And if you get tired during the day, you will be tired for the rest of the day - your opponents may also be tired, same conditions for everyone.

    February 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterThomas

    Regarding the 40 minutes time control - in an interview (https://chess24.com/en/read/news/skvortsov-on-the-need-to-speed-up-chess), Skvortsov said that he considers an hour for each player as the ideal "new classical" time control; however, at the moment it's not recognized by FIDE at all, whereas 40 minutes still falls under the category of rapid (so this way the games played in Zurich would be rated in *some* category).

    February 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEyal

    I am more likely to sit thru a whole broadcast with faster time control as I no longer have the luxury of time. The case can be made for faster time control with increment in the age of Fritz when the opening phase is all preparation. Should we suffer thru watching a GM staring in space trying to remember some computer lines? So let's just move to the middle game.

    [DM: The "age of Fritz"? That was several ages ago now. I don't think remembering prep accounts for much of the spectator's wait time - and when it is a part of it it can be useful and interesting to join in and work things out on one's own, with or without a computer. Today's professional novelty is often tomorrow's club weapon. Finally, while I agree that long pauses in the action - whenever they come - can be hard on spectator and commentator alike, it's usually a problem only when it's a very small event (or near the end of a knockout tournament). Even in the usual round-robin tournaments there will be five games going at a time, and generally not too much dead air to fill prior to the end of the first time control. After that control, your fears are pretty well-founded, and commentators often seem either desperate for the game to finish or manage to survey the entire realm of pop culture while the dregs are drained.]

    At the amateur level I personally think G60, G75, G90 SD 30 is more than enough. I just tend to bide my time waiting to see how a lower rated opponent handles time pressure. More often than not more time only delays the inevitable.

    February 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPolo

    As a spectator, I would prefer longer time controls, because the pleasure of watching the very best in the world play is less sweet if they are so rushed for time that even they make elementary errors. Watching blitz chess is watching blitz chess; the quality of the games improves with the best players but still is not (usually) that high.

    As a player, I prefer shorter controls simply because it is difficult for me to find time for tournaments and a hour/game time control permits a tournament to take place in one day, which means that the rest of my life can have the other day of a weekend. In a perfect world, 40/2 SD/1 is great; but we don't live in that world.

    February 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGMC

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