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    Wednesday
    Oct042017

    Informant 133: Back on Track

    I've been a big fan of the Chess Informant for years, especially in the hybrid form it has adopted in the past decade. But the last issue was pretty disappointing. Happily, the editors have reverted to the more positive trend, and I can enthusiastically recomment the current issue to serious club players (say, around 1800-1900) and up.

    The current issue covers the goings-on in the chess world from June through August of 2017, and as usual can be divided into broad parts: a traditional, proseless, component; and a newer, magazine-style component.

    The traditional component takes up most of the volume - all but 90 or so pages out of 332. At its heart is a collection of 200 games, (languagelessly) annotated (mostly) by the Informant staff of IMs and GMs. There are sections on combinations and endings (9 positions each), presentations of the best game and the best novelty from the preceding volume (the best novelty includes an ECO-style article updating the theory within that particular branch of the opening), a listing of the results from the FIDE events in the period covered by the volume, and a feature I always like: the mini-Informant devoted to a particular player.

    The honoree this time around is Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, and there are 30 of his best games from previous Informants (played from 2003 to 2016) reprised here, along with 11 of his best novelties, 33(!) of his best combinations/most excellent moves, and 12 of his best endings.

    Turning to the prose component, there are nine articles. It begins with a pair of articles on the big events in St. Louis, both (I think) by GM Aleksandar Colovic. (All of the columns are by GMs, so the title will be omitted in the remainder of the review.) The first covers the highlights of the Sinquefield Cup, and the second on the Rapid & Blitz event. Appropriately, Colovic doesn't go overboard in examining Garry Kasparov's games, but treats him as just another participant in terms of the game selection.

    One of my disappointments about the preceding issue was the absence of articles by traditional super-GMs; that has been fixed. Michael Adams is back, and to his credit he looks at some of his recent failures - some misplayed endings from a tournament in Shenzhen.

    The talented and rising Indian star Baskaran Adhiban looks at a pair of his recent games which were "inspired" in various ways by previous world champions Vasily Smyslov and Bobby Fischer.

    Another returnee is Emanuel Berg's "Mirroring" column, in which he starts from a particular opening position and first shows a nice game won by White, and then a nice game won by Black. The line in this variation comes from Chigorin's system in the Ruy Lopez.

    Spyridon Kapnisis has a look at the "flamboyant" 4.g4 in the Advance Caro-Kann (not "Advanced", contrary to what's written in the Informant, though to play either side of it well it certainly helps to be an advanced player). It's a very risky approach that doesn't score very well against 4...Be4 or especially 4...Bd7 (though it does fare well against 4...Bg6, which experienced Caro-Kann players avoid), but Kapnisis makes the case that White can fight for an advantage in every line, and maybe even achieve one against 4...Bd7.

    Two endgame columns ensue. The first is by Aleksandr Lenderman, who takes a deep look at the ending of a game he played with Simon Williams in London last year. (An exception to the usual Informant policy of sticking to the "official" time frame, but a worthy one.)

    The second endgame column (and the third overall, counting Adams' article) is from the well-known specialist Karsten Mueller, who turns his attention to the important topic of simplification.

    Finally, Jakov Geller covers the g3 Taimanov/Paulsen lines starting 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 Qc7 6.g3 a6 7.Bg2 Nf6 8.0-0 Nxd4 9.Qxd4 Bc5 in depth. The first chapter is on 10.Qd3, and chapter two starts with 10.Bf4 d6 and then further divides into 11.Qd3 and 11.Qd2.

    And that's it. For serious players over at least 1800, as mentioned above, it's a worthwhile purchase, and you can find ordering info here.

    Tuesday
    Oct032017

    Steinitz Quiz Positions: Solution Time

    About a week ago I posted a short review of Wilhelm Steinitz's The Modern Chess Instructor, and offered four quiz positions for the reader, to see how your analytical abilities compared with those of the first world champion. Here are some solutions to those positions; the new material is prefaced, subtly enough, by "NEW".

    Sunday
    Oct012017

    Aronian's Wedding

    As many of you know, Levon Aronian married his long-time girlfriend and fianceé Arianne Caoili on Saturday (September 30). Here's an article with some pictures, courtesy of Chess Today.

    Sunday
    Oct012017

    Isle of Man, Final Round: Carlsen Draws Quickly to Clinch Clear First; Nakamura, Anand Tie for Second

    As at least one chess blogger suggested yesterday, a draw between Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura was very likely, and it would quite possibly be a short draw. Sure enough, it took just 18 moves and less than half an hour for them to repeat moves and call it a tournament. Carlsen thus clinched clear first with 7.5/9, while Nakamura guaranteed himself at worst part of a four-way tie for second.

    Viswanathan Anand joined the tie by beating Hou Yifan with surprising ease. It's not so surprising that Anand would beat Hou, especially with the white pieces, but it is surprising given the insipid line he chose against her Petroff. He was able to build from a tiny initiative, and after a brief flurry of complications won a pawn, which he converted in a queen and rook ending.

    The other players who could have caught Nakamura drew their games. This was not so surprising in the all-2700 clash between Richard Rapport and S.G. Vidit, but it was much more surprising that Pavel Eljanov couldn't defeat the hitherto little-known and much lower-rated Indian GM S.D. Swapnil. He was close for a while, but couldn't put him away. So all four players finished with 6.5 points, and were caught by five others, including Vladimir Kramnik, Fabiano Caruana, Mickey Adams, Emil Sutovsky, and Alexei Shirov.

    It was a good comeback for Kramnik, who repaired some of the damage done earlier in the tournament, but still lost 8.4 rating points overall. On the other hand, it was a great event for his surprise conquerer, James Tarjan, who demonstrated his fine eye for cheapos once again in defeating Alexandra Kosteniuk today. He finished with 5.5 points, gained 30 rating points, and had an excellent TPR of 2671 - which was 11 points higher than Kramnik's.

    The top TPR of the tournament belonged to Carlsen, of course, who achieved an outstanding 2903 TPR. (Caruana and Nakamura were tied for second, with 2831 TPRs, and Anand was next at 2806. Then Swapnil and Aleks Lenderman finished with 2768 TPRs - big congrats to both of them.) Carlsen added 11.4 points to his rating, and what was recently a tenuous gap between him and his closest pursuers has expanded again, and he is 36.4 points ahead of world #2 Levon Aronian.

    The full results are here, and a final selection of games from this tournament is here.

    Saturday
    Sep302017

    Notre Dame 52, Miami (of Ohio) 17

    It's a pity games can't be shortened when they're blowouts - it would reduce serious injuries, for one thing. Notre Dame lead 45-14 at the half, so the second half was extended garbage time.

    ND was #22, and should be moving up in the polls this week. They may yet qualify for football's equivalent of the Candidates tournament...

    Record to date: 4-1.

    Next victim: North Carolina.

    Tune time:

    Saturday
    Sep302017

    Isle of Man, Round 8: Carlsen Crushes Caruana, Leads Nakamura by Half a Point Entering the Last Round

    And since they haven't played so far, that means that they're paired for the last round. If Hikaru Nakamura can defeat Magnus Carlsen, he takes clear first; if not, Carlsen takes clear first. Nakamura's career record against Carlsen is extremely bad, as just about everyone knows, but it hasn't been that bad the last couple of years. However, he'll have the black pieces tomorrow, and I suspect he'll be satisfied with a draw, even a quick draw, unless he gets a really promising position out of the opening. The young Nakamura would try to win at all costs, but these days he's less willing to burn his bridges against anyone and everyone. With a draw, the worst he would do is share 2nd-5th places, in which case he makes a little less than £12,000, and a maximum of £25,000. If he wins, he makes £50,000, but if he loses, it'll be in the low four figures - not exactly cab fare, but it will feel like it. It's possible that Carlsen will feel ambitious, but I doubt it: better to pocket the money and clinch the victory - his first victory in a classical tournament this year.

    Enough speculation; time for a recap. Fabiano Caruana had White against Carlsen today, and surprised the champ with 15.g4. After a long thought Carlsen played 15...Qe7, which was apparently a surprise for Caruana. White was better for a while, but starting with 22.Bc2 he lost the thread, and Carlsen was all over him. Caruana was already lost when he played 35.Qe3??, which lost on the spot to 35...Bf4. A very convincing victory by Carlsen, and a game Caruana would like to forget.

    Nakamura had an easier time of it with White against Emil Sutovsky. Sutovsky played the Queen's Gambit Accepted, which isn't his normal repertoire choice (that would be the Gruenfeld). Nakamura was surprised by 8...c5, but not impressed by it. Once Nakamura spotted 16.d5 he understood that Black was busted, and he went on to win comfortably.

    The remaining game featuring players who could have kept pace with Nakamura was S.G. Vidit-Pavel Eljanov, which finished in a short, probably correct draw. Maybe White could have kept a pull with 29.Qc6, but after 29.Qxf7+ Kxf7 30.Rd5 Rc8 they called it a day.

    Vidit and Eljanov has 6/8; here's how the other six-pointers got there. Viswanathan Anand defeated Laurent Fressinet with Black in a Giuoco, Richard Rapport beat Ivan Sokolov when the latter blundered in an equal position, S.D. Swapnil defeated Nigel Short in one long game while Hou Yifan beat Sebastian Bogner in another. Hou is now one win away from surpassing her previous career best rating of 2687. Unfortunately for her, this will be difficult, as she'll have Black against Anand in the last round.

    Leading last round pairings:

    Carlsen (7) - Caruana (6.5)
    Anand (6) - Hou (6)
    Eljanov (6) - Swapnil (6)
    Rapport (6) - Vidit (6)

    Lower boards of interest: Vladimir Kramnik overcame S.P. Sethuraman with great difficulty, but overcome he did to reach 5.5 points. He'll have Black against Gawain Jones in the final round. Varuzhan Akobian and Aleks Lenderman had a spectacular draw that Akobian should have won. Both players are also on 5.5 points, and will face Caruana and Peter Leko, respectively. Jan Timman finally lost a game, to David Howell, blundering horribly in a slightly worse position. Alexei Shirov showed a little of his trademark "fire on board" style, outfoxing Alexandra Kosteniuk in a complicated middlegame. He too is at 5.5 and will have White against Howell in the last round. Finally, Tarjan rides again, drawing Vishnu Prasanna (2543) with Black. He'll finish the tournament with the white pieces against Kosteniuk (2552).

    Some games (with varying degrees of commentary) here; tournament site here.

    Saturday
    Sep302017

    Ding Liren Profile

    It's not exactly a biography or an exposé, but given how little-known Ding Liren is to most of us in the west, it's nice to know a little more about him.

    Saturday
    Sep302017

    Notre Dame to Defeat Miami this Afternoon

    Back by popular demand...go Irish!

    Notre Dame takes on Miami at 5 p.m. ET - no, not the one with the convicts; this is Miami of Ohio. It should be a rout, so no hyperbole is necessary today. The game will be televised on NBCS.

    Reading material here.

    Friday
    Sep292017

    Isle of Man, Rounds 5-7

    But mostly rounds 6 and 7. My comments about round 5 will be limited to the difficulties experienced by two members of the semi-old guard: Vladimir Kramnik and Boris Gelfand. Kramnik's travails were already noted in the preceding post, while Gelfand's suffering began in that round. After a solid 3-1 start, he lost in round 5 to S.P. Sethuraman, and from a position that would normally be impossible to lose. He was clearly better in a rook and bishop ending with even material, but hallucinated his way into a lost bishop ending a pawn down.

    In round 6, he doubled down on this, losing to Anna Zatonskih from a winning position. To her credit, she made things tricky in time trouble and devised a dastardly trap, but normally Gelfand would have cashed in on at least one of the winning positions he enjoyed in the game. After this, he took a bye to stop the bleeding.

    Speaking of players who needed byes, Hou Yifan took one after playing her fourth female opponent in a row, and has bounced back against the men, winning in round 6 and 7. She has five points and plays Sebastian Bogner in round 8.

    Another player who has bounced back a bit is Kramnik, who won with White in round 6 (no problem there - he has gone 3-0 with White, albeit against much lower-rated opposition) and then finally won a game with Black in round 7, employing the Benko Gambit for the first time in his life (or so said the commentators at one moment; is should be checked to see if he transposed into one via a King's Indian or a Benoni). Despite all his miseries in the tournament, he has 4.5 points and will play Sethuraman in round 8.

    James Tarjan, one of the players who contributed to Kramnik's earlier sorrows, has continued to play well. He bounced back from his unnecessary loss to Niclas Huschenbeth in round 4 by drawing with Sabino Brunello (2555), beating Pavel Tregubov (2589), and drawing with Rasmus Svane (2595). His 4-3 score is good for a 2654 TPR.

    Still one more member of the old guard deserves some praise: Jan Timman. Like Tarjan, he's both 65 and has the initials "J.T." More relevantly, he has also had success against elite players. No wins over 2800s, but four draws against players who are or have been rated over 2700. That's a fine result, and he has gone undefeated so far. He gets another 2700 in round 8, David Howell.

    Two noteworthy norm aspirants are Aman Hambleton and Ramesh Praggnanandhaa. Hambleton is well-known for his mighty beard, which he intends to keep until he achieves his third GM norm. He had been in the running until he lost a defensible ending to Gabriel Sargissian in round 6. Praggnanandhaa is a 12-year-old who has already achieved a 2500 rating (and is already the youngest IM ever, achieved at the age of 10 years, 10 months, and 19 days), but has no norms. If he can achieve them in the next five months or so, he can break Sergey Karjakin's record for the youngest GM ever. He was in the running until round 7, but his loss to Varuzhan Akobian probably put an end to his hopes in this tournament. He's playing an untitled 2384 in round 8, which seals it.

    Now let's turn to the leaders. Going into round 6 there were two tournament leaders, Pavel Eljanov - who won this tournament last year - and the world champion, Magnus Carlsen. Carlsen cheekily played Owen's Defense with Black, albeit against 1.Nf3 rather than 1.e4 (after the latter move it's considered somewhat dubious), and won with remarkable ease. That gave him the clear lead, and although he only drew against the fast-rising Indian star Santosh Gujrathi Vidit in round 7 (with difficulty, with White) he's still half a point ahead of his pursuers.

    The most notable among them is perhaps Fabiano Caruana, who will have White against Carlsen in round 8. He drew in round 6 and defeated Gawain Jones in round 7, thanks largely to some fine preparation. He has 5.5/7, as does Hikaru Nakamura, Eljanov, Vidit, and Emil Sutovsky.

    Another half a point back is a large group that includes Viswanathan Anand and Hou Yifan, along with the U.S. players Akobian and Aleks Lenderman. Lenderman remains undefeated after drawing his last four games; his TPR is 2793, 6th highest in the tournament. (The top two TPRs, by a long way, belong to Carlsen and Caruana at 2893 and 2873, respectively.) Unfortunately for American fans, Akobian and Lenderman are paired for round 8.

    Here are the leading pairings for round 8:

     

    • Caruana (5.5) - Carlsen (6)
    • Nakamura (5.5) - Sutovsky (5.5)
    • Vidit (5.5) - Eljanov (5.5)

     

    Finally, here is a selection of games from the past three rounds.

    Wednesday
    Sep272017

    Tracking Kramnik's Ratings Progress for September 2017

    It has not been a good month for Vladimir Kramnik, from his early exit in the World Cup to an absolutely disastrous time at the Isle of Man. Today, he only managed to draw against Lawrence Trent (2427), coughing up another 4.1 rating points and going down a whopping 25.9 rating points for the month.

    Here's a helpful chart tracking Kramnik's recent rating progress.

    Of course, this happens to just about everyone sometimes, and it's the most maddening feeling in the world. You just have to wait it out; sooner or later, the ship rights itself.