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    Tuesday
    Sep132016

    Baku Olympiad, USA Wins; China Wins Women's Section

    Our neighbors to the north weren't as friendly as they could have been, to put it mildly, but it was a happy ending for the U.S.A. all the same. By defeating the Canadians 2.5-1.5, they finished with 20 match points and took first on tiebreaks over Ukraine. Ukraine did their part, hammering Slovenia 3.5-.5, but as the U.S. had a superior Sonneborn-Berger tiebreak (and, for that matter, more board points, and a win in their head-to-head matchup with Ukraine) they finished the deserved winners of the 42nd Chess Olympiad. Russia took third, defeating Italy 3-1.

    About the U.S. vs. Canada match: Fabiano Caruana obliterated Evgeny Bareev with White on board 1, and on board 2 Hikaru Nakamura drew comfortably with Black against Anton Kovalyov. But that's where the fun and games ended. On board 3 Wesley So started off quite well against Alexandre Lesiege, but then it got messy. So's interesting exchange sac was dubious, and the evaluation went up and down. Sometimes So was a little better, more often it was equal, and at one terrifying moment (for U.S. fans) Lesiege was probably winning. Only Lesiege's blunder on move 34 allowed So to win the game, and simultaneously give the Americans victory in the match and the Olympiad. The win was needed because on board 4 Canada's Eric Hansen beat Sam Shankland. It was one of those games where Black was always one move short of full equality, and he never got it. Shankland's 9...d5 turned out to more or less commit him to a pawn sac, and he wasn't able to sustain his compensation in the long run. A nice game by Hansen, who probably wouldn't have been allowed onto U.S. soil ever again (except for Gitmo) had it not been for So's narrow victory. (Kidding!)

    Honorable mentions: Norway tied for 4th-10th, coming 5th on tiebreak. With a mid-2600 player on board and a 2500 on board 3, that's an exceptional performance, especially since Magnus Carlsen had a good but not spectacular tournament. (By his standards.) Turkey came in 6th, and while they had three (mid-) 2600s they didn't even have the luxury of a super-GM on board 1. Greece finished in the next score group down, but can boast that other than the United States they were the only team to go undefeated in the event.

    In the women's section China beat Russia 2.5-1.5 and won their section; Poland (3.5-.5 winners over Hungary) took second and Ukraine (3-1 winners over Bulgaria) took third. China scored 20 match points; Poland and Ukraine 17 each. The U.S. could have finished with 17 match points as well, had Anna Zatonskih managed to draw her rook endgame against Tania Sachdev. She defended excellently for a long time, but finally faltered when the draw was in reach. They thus drew with India, and finished in a six way tie with 16 match points, coming in sixth on tiebreaks. Had Zatonskih drawn, however, the U.S. still would have finished fourth, out of the medals, as Poland's and Ukraine's tiebreak scores were much better than the Americans'.

    Board Prizes! These were awarded by tournament performance rating (TPR), which indicates what a person's rating would be if based solely on how he or she did in the particular event. (Now if we can just persuade Ken Regan to determine who had the best IPR in the event...)

    Board 1: 

    1. Baadur Jobava GEO (2926 TPR!)
    2. Leinier Dominguez CUB (2839)
    3. Fabiano Caruana USA (2838) 

    Board 2: 

    1. Vladimir Kramnik RUS (2901)
    2. Anton Kovalyov CAN (2852)
    3. Jorge Cori PER (2810) 

    Board 3: 

    1. Wesley So USA (2896)
    2. Zoltan Almasi HUN (2845)
    3. Eugenio Torre(!!) PHI (2836) 

    Board 4: 

    1. Laurent Fressinet FRA (2809)
    2. Ian Nepomniachtchi RUS (2804)
    3. Aleksandr Indjic SER (2786) 

    Board 5: 

    1. Andrei Volokitin UKR (2996!!)
    2. Sami Khader JOR (2932 - a seemingly spectacular result, especially so from an IM rated just 2373, but it resulted from his going 8-0 against opposition rated between 1713 (not counting one unrated opponent) and 2267. This is more a glitch in the way the rating system handles perfect scores than an indication of Khader playing world championship caliber chess. Of course, this is not a criticism of Khader, who couldn't have done more than he did!)
    3. Aleksej Aleksandrov BLR (2760) 

    In the women's section two players achieved TPRs over 2600: Anna Muzychuk of Ukraine, with a 2629 TPR on board 1, and Valentina Gunina of Russia on board 2, with a 2643 TPR.

    Finally, some more games, here.

    Monday
    Sep122016

    Baku Olympiad, Round 10: U.S. Continues to Lead Ukraine on Tiebreaks Heading into the Final Round (Updated)

    Only one round is left in the Olympiad, and the United States continues to cling to a lead on tiebreaks over the Ukranian team, and they are guaranteed the top two spots. Russian is two points back (on the 2-1-0 scoring used there) and even if both the U.S. and Ukraine lose and Russia wins the Russians will still come in third on tiebreaks. (That makes six straight Olympiads they have failed to win, despite - I think - being the highest-rated team every time.)

    The U.S. defeated Georgia in round 10, 2.5-1.5, but suffered their second loss of the event when Hikaru Nakamura lost with White - pretty badly, too - to Mikheil Mchedlishvili. Fortunately for the Americans, Wesley So beat Levan Pantsulaia and Sam Shankland beat Tornike Sanikidze, so when Fabiano Caruana held off the man of the Olympiad - Baadur Jobava - match victory was secured.

    As for Ukraine, they defeated the Czechs 3-1. Pavel Eljanov defeated David Navara with Black on board 1 while Andrei Volokitin won with White on board 4 against Vlastimil Babula. The Russians could have remained within a point of the leaders, but they drew their match with India. Pentala Harikrishna defeated Sergey Karjakin on board 1, while Vladimir Kramnik equaled the score by beating Baskaran Adhiban on board 2.

    In the last round, the top pairings look like this:

    U.S.A. (18) - Canada (15)
    Ukraine (18) - Slovenia (15)
    Russia (16) - Italy (15) (If only they had Caruana!)
    India (15) - Norway (15) (Likewise, if only India had Anand!)
    Peru (15) - England (15)

    In the women's section, China leads by two points over Russia...and they play in the last round. If Russia wins the match by more than a point, they win the tournament. If they win by a point, then I'm not sure, but if they don't win, China takes the gold. China has 18 points, Russia 16, and six teams have 15 points, including the United States. If Poland wins their match, no other 15-point team can overtake them, and Ukraine is next in line. Thus if China, Poland, and Ukraine all win their matches, they are likely to take gold, silver, and bronze, respectively.

    Before getting to the pairings, it's worth mentioning the horror that was the United States's round 10 match with Mongolia. Katerina Nemcova won on board 3, and the U.S. drew on boards 2 and 4. All that was left was for Irina Krush to hold a minimally worse rook ending on board 1 with plenty of time on her clock. Had she drawn the U.S. would have won the match and entered the last round with 16 points, with the opportunity for a silver medal (but not gold) in their hands. It certainly wouldn't have been guaranteed - they'd have been underdogs against Poland - but they would have had a chance. Unfortunately, Krush made a couple of decisions that were hard to understand, and her opponent took full advantage.

    The key final round pairings for the women are as follows, with team points given first and board points given next:

    China (18, 28.5) - Russia (16, 27.5)
    Hungary (15, 25.5) - Poland (15, 29.5)
    Ukraine (15, 27.5) - Bulgaria (15, 26)
    U.S.A. (15, 25) - India (15, 26)

    A selection of games (all but one unannotated) for your replaying pleasure, here.

    UPDATE: The foregoing analysis of the tiebreak situation mistakenly assumed that board points was the first tiebreaker after match points, which is incorrect; it was Sonneborn-Berger. That said, the board points correlates pretty well with S-B, so the conclusions drawn from using the former still turned out to be correct.

    Monday
    Sep122016

    Baku Olympiad, Round 9: U.S., Ukraine Lead; China Leads Women's Section

    Two rounds remain in the 2016 Chess Olympiad, and with almost all the favorites having played each other there's finally at least a hint of how the final standings will look. Three leaders entered the round, Ukraine, India, and the United States. The first two faced each other, while the U.S. went down a score group to play the surprising Norwegians. The first match was decided on board 4, where Ukraine's Anton Korobov defeated S.P. Sethuraman thanks to effective use of his bishop pair, while in the second match the Americans won 3-1 with Black wins on boards 2 and 4. The only team in the scoregroup just behind the U.S. and Ukraine (who have already faced each other) is Russia, 3-1 winners over Azerbaijan. (They won the traditional way, unlike the Americans, winning both games with White.)

    Here are the key round 10 pairings:

    Georgia (14) - U.S.A. (16) (On 2-1-0 scoring; on normal scoring it's 7 points vs. 8.)
    Czech Republic (14) - Ukraine (16)
    India (14) - Russia (15)

    No other team has 14 points, but 14 teams have 13!

    In the women's section China and the U.S. were tied for first and played in round 9, and the Chinese team won 2.5-1.5 - three draws and a white win for Jun Wenjun on board 2 over Nazi Paikidze. China has 16 points, a point ahead of Poland (3.5-.5 winners over Israel) and two points ahead of (in tiebreak order) Ukraine, Russia, India, and the U.S. Here are the pairings for round 10:

    Poland (15) - China (16)
    India (14) - Ukraine (14)
    Russia (14) - Georgia (13)
    Mongolia (13) - U.S.A. (14)

    A selection of games from the top matches is here.

    Saturday
    Sep102016

    Baku Olympiad, Round 8: USA-Russia x 2: 2-2 in the Open Section, US Wins in the Women's

    This is definitely a new era in U.S. chess, when it's possible for an American fan to feel slightly disappointed that they split the match on the open side while winning in the women's event. But only a little disappointed, especially since the U.S. team was a clear underdog and a bit lucky to win the women's match.

    In the open section there were some big ups and downs. On boards 1 and 2 the Russians were in excellent shape early on: Sergey Karjakin was clearly pressing against Fabiano Caruana, while Vladimir Kramnik had equalized without any problems against Hikaru Nakamura and was maybe even a tiny bit better. Any anxiety U.S. fans might have had about those games dissipated fairly quickly. Nakamura immediately hunkered down and drew easily, while Caruana got out of trouble before the time control and drew almost immediately afterwards.

    That left two games: Ian Nepomniachtchi vs. Wesley So and Ray Robson vs. Alexander Grischuk. "Nepo" came into the round 7-0, but confidence and the white pieces notwithstanding So was a stronger player than any of his first seven opponents. So outplayed him nicely and was winning well before the handshakes made it official. As for Robson, he went for the insipid 5.Re1 Anti-Berlin, and obtained a position that couldn't possibly be lost. Unfortunately, as we all know, there is almost no such thing. For some reason Robson burned tons of time in a relatively simple middlegame, and once he got in time trouble he committed one of the most typical errors - repeatedly - in shoving up his pawns all over the board. All that did was wreck his position, creating both weak pawns and weak squares. Maybe he hadn't had time to realize that a draw would have been a great result, and thought he needed to press and maintain some tension. Or maybe it was just a lack of international experience showing. He's a great player but very young, and hasn't yet had the chance to play in super-GM events yet. Whatever the story, the U.S. is still in great shape. They drew the match, remained ahead of the Russians, and lost only their first game of the entire tournament.

    Note, however, that being ahead of the Russians doesn't mean they're in clear first. They do lead on tiebreaks at the moment, ahead of India (victors over England, 2.5-1.5 thanks to Sethuraman's victory over Short) and Ukraine (which beat Georgia 3-1, despite Jobava's miniature over Ponomariov). Ukraine and India play in round 9 tomorrow, while the U.S. will face Norway(!), which has cobbled together a great Olympiad despite their low-rated team (excepting Magnus Carlsen, obviously).

    In the women's section China and the U.S. are tied for first, with China leading on tiebreaks going into their clash tomorrow. China easily dispensed with the overachieving Azerbaijan team, 3.5-.5, while the Americans squeaked past the Russians. Katerina Nemcova crushed Olga Girya on board 4 to give the U.S. an early lead, but Valentina Gunina equaled the scores by defeating Nazi Paikidze on board 2. Anna Zatonskih had some troubles with Natalia Pogonina before holding a draw, so that left only the board 1 clash between Alexandra Kosteniuk and Irina Krush. Krush's 10th move was a mistake, and she was seriously worse for a long time because of it. She held on though, and by the time control the position was equal. At this point Kosteniuk had to decide what to do. She had a couple of opportunities to close things down and get out with a straightforward draw, or she could push for more. Perhaps if she hadn't been so much better for so long earlier in the game she would have taken the objective view and assured herself and her team of a drawn match, but she went for it. The result was an ending where only Krush had winning chances, and Kosteniuk kept making her situation worse. I'm not completely sure that Krush was winning on the penultimate move, but when Kosteniuk blundered a piece to a nice but simple two-move tactic the game was immediately over.

    Tournament site here; my game selection here.

    Saturday
    Sep102016

    Baku Olympiad, Round 7: USA Beats India, Takes the Solo Lead

    Coming into round 6 of the Olympiad India was in sole first with a 6-0 score, an achievement made all the more remarkable giving that they are playing without Viswanathan Anand. Perhaps they hadn't missed him up until then, but in round 7 against the U.S. team things were a bit more difficult for them than they had been: the U.S. won decisively, 3.5-.5. Pentala Harikrishna drew with White against Fabiano Caruana, and the rest of the team was shut out. It was a great result for the Americans and a harsh one for India, but at the end of the day the U.S. is in first, but only half a point in front of India and five other teams, and there are still four rounds to go.

    The U.S. will next play the Russian squad, which also won in a rout, defeating the Czechs by the same score, 3.5-.5. On board 4 Vlastimil Babula drew with White against Alexander Grischuk, and that was the sum total of their scoring. The board 1 game between Sergey Karjakin and David Navara was especially brutal - just a very bad day for Navara.

    The board 2 pairing for round 8 is Georgia vs. Ukraine. The Georgians defeated Romania 2.5-1.5, while Ukraine bounced back from their round 6 loss against the U.S. to eke out a 2.5-1.5 win over Canada.

    On board 3 there's England against India, and England gets loads of credit for beating the Chinese team 3-1. Mickey Adams somehow managed to outplay Wang Yue on board 1 on the white side of a Petroff, while on board 4 Nigel Short fought off a furious attack by Li Chao in a spectacular game.

    Finally, on board 4 the Azerbaijanis, who are half a point out of the second-place tie after crushing Croatia 3.5-.5, will be taking on the last of the second-place teams: Latvia. The Latvians have been a surprise so far, especially since Alexei Shirov has not been in particularly good form thus far. In round 7 he did enough, drawing Anish Giri with the white pieces, while his teammates on board 2 and board 4 defeated higher-rated Dutch players with Black to win the match 3-1.

    On the women's side, everything is up in the air as five teams are tied for first with 6-1 scores: Russia, China, Azerbaijan, the United States and the Netherlands. The leading pairings for round 8 are Russia-USA, Poland (half a point back) - Netherlands, and China-Azerbaijan.

    Some games that caught my eye are here.

    Saturday
    Sep102016

    This Week's World Chess Column: Nepomniachtchi at the Olympics

    In my World Chess column this week I take a look at Ian Nepomniachtchi's performance at the Olympiad through round 6, and an impressive performance it is. Nominally the fourth board player for the Russian team, "Nepo" has played every round so far, all but once on board 3, and has won every game - he's 7-0. As the column was finished yesterday, I only cover the first six games, which are all annotated therein. Have a look!

    Friday
    Sep092016

    Baku Olympiad, Round 6: India Beats the Netherlands, U.S. Beats Ukraine (Updated With a Games Link)

    More tomorrow, I hope; for now I'll just note the two major results in the title. Baskaran Adhiban beat Erwin L'Ami in the only decisive game in the top match to give India a 2.5-1.5 win over the Netherlands, putting them in clear first with a 6-0 match score. Meanwhile, the Ukranians had worked wonders in the previous two rounds, defeating top-seeded Russia and third-seeded China, but against the second-seeded U.S. team they finally failed to hold on to their perfect match score. Fabiano Caruana ground down Pavel Eljanov on board 1 to lead the Americans to a 2.5-1.5 victory; their overall score of 5.5-.5 puts them in clear second. In round 7, they'll play India.

    UPDATE: There's not much use in offering further information about the round, but I will offer a link to three games that caught my eye. For your enjoyment and analytical practice, have a look.

    Thursday
    Sep082016

    TCEC Season 9, Stage 3: Stockfish Wins, Houdini Second; Will Meet in Final

    Komodo won the last two seasons (7 and 8) of the Top Chess Engine Championship (TCEC), but for this season's super-final it's on the outside looking in. Stockfish finished with 39/56 in stage 3, going undefeated, winning every mini-match against the other seven engines, and coming in first by a healthy three and a half points. It went 5-3 against a development version of Houdini, 4.5-3.5 against Komodo 10.1, 5.5-2.5 against Fire 5 and 6-2 against the four remaining engines: Andscacs 0.872b, Jonny 8, Gull 3, and the ancient Rybka 4.1.

    Houdini lost to no other engine and also went +1 against Komodo, finishing with 35.5, a point ahead of Komodo, which also lost a game - surprisingly - to Andscacs, an engine which it otherwise thrashed. Fire came in a distant fourth with 28.5 points, and after that it was another 5 points down to the next engine.

    Stockfish will thus take on Houdini in the super-final, but first - in what looks like a gigantic favor to Robert Houdart, Houdini's programmer - there will be a break for all 32 engines participating in season 9 to play a double round-robin rapid tournament, something which was only decided about a week ago. Only 992 games, and then we'll see if Houdart's for-purchase program will surpass the free, open-source Stockfish.

    Thursday
    Sep082016

    Caruana Interview

    A nice interview of the world's #2 (at least for the next few hours; he might be anywhere from #2 to #4 by the end of the next round) player, Fabiano Caruana, here.

    Tuesday
    Sep062016

    Baku Olympiad, Round 5: Ukraine Beats China; Leads with India and the Netherlands Going into the Rest Day

    There's a long way to go yet in the 42nd Chess Olympiad, but so far Ukraine has marked itself as the team to beat after defeating top-seeded Russia and third-seeded China. (Next up: they'll play the second-seeded U.S.A. team on Thursday, after the rest day tomorrow.) Against China there was only one decisive game, and that was Yuriy Kryvoruchko's win with White against Yu Yangyi.

    The Ukranians are joined in first by the Netherlands, who defeated Belarus 2.5-1.5, and by India, who were slight underdogs against the Azerbaijani A-team but won 3-1 nevertheless. In both matches the winners went undefeated and achieved their wins with the black pieces.

    The teams that are half a point (technically a point behind, since they're using 2-1-0 scoring) behind include the U.S., 3-1 winners over Austria; the Czechs, who defeated Slovenia 2.5-1.5; and Georgia, which was a slight underdog against Spain but crushed them 3.5-.5.

    In the women's section Russia and Ukraine are both 5-0 after wins against wins against Kazakhstan (3.5-.5) and Serbia (3-1), respectively. Romania, China, and Azerbaijan each have 4.5-.5 scores (or again, 9 out of 10 on 2-1-0 scoring), while 11 teams have 4-1 scores, including the United States, who will play Turkey in round 6.

    Here are a bunch of games from the round, some relevant to the battle for first, and others just for the own sakes. Enjoy.