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    Monday
    Jul212014

    The Daily Roundup: Vachier-Lagrave Extends His Lead In Biel; Svidler Leads Rapid Match vs. Gelfand

    Biel: Caruana won Dortmund convincingly; likewise So in Bergamo. Now it looks like Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is going to be a third straight impressive winner of an elite round-robin event. His win today over Alexander Motylev extended his lead to a point and a half over the field - pretty impressive after just seven rounds (of 10). He has 5 points; Pentala Harikrishna, Radoslaw Wojtaszek and Hou Yifan have 3.5.

    Vachier-Lagrave's triumph today wasn't one of preparation. He was surprised by Motylev's 17.c3, which was a new move in a reasonably well-known position. (It wasn't a huge novelty, as it's a natural move and the computer's first choice, but given how much there is to know even a somewhat "obvious" novelty can still be effective.) Vachier-Lagrave's reaction wasn't best, according to the computer, which advocates the greedy 17...Nxb3 18.axb3 Qxb3. Easy for a computer, but not for a human, who doesn't know if the pawn is nutritious or poisonous. Motylev obtained the advantage, but in a very risky situation after he sacrificed a piece. The advantage would have been significant after 23.exf7+ Kxf7 24.Rhf1 Qe3+ 25.Kb1 Qe6 26.Qb4!, though even after that he maintained a plus through 27 moves. 28.Qe4 would have kept up the pressure, but after that small slip, and a bigger slip next move, he was suddenly worse. Then came time trouble, and on his last move he even managed to blunder a rook to a trivial two-mover. A pity for Motylev, but a good practical achievement by the young Frenchman.

    Anish Giri failed to make up ground with the second-placers or to keep pace with the leader, and drew disappointingly with White against Harikrishna. Hou Yifan had an excellent chance to take over solo second, but spoiled a winning position against Wojtaszek. Her 29.Qxc2 was very natural, eliminating a dangerous passed pawn and consolidating her material advantage, but after a long series of exchanges her winning chances were minimal. Instead 29.Bxd5 Qxd5 30.Re8 (threatening 31.Qa3/b4!) would have won. After 30...g5 (30...g6 31.Qa3! mates) 31.R8e5! (not 31.Qa3 this time, because after 31...Rxe8 32.Rxe8+ Kg7 33.Qf8 isn't mate; here Black is even winning) 31...Qf3 (not 31...Bxe5?? 32.Ne7+) 32.Rc5 and now White will be two pawns up, not just one, and will win.

    Gelfand-Svidler: Peter Svidler won an interesting third game, converting an ending with a doubled extra pawn with Black to score the first full point in this eight-game rapid match. Game 4 was an "easy" draw, so at the halfway point and leading into the rest day Svidler leads Boris Gelfand 2.5-1.5.

    I should mention that the British Championship is underway across the pond. After 3 rounds of 11 there are three leaders: Jonathan Hawkins, Chris Ward and Justin Tan of...Australia. Unfortunately, the three biggest dogs are all absent - Michael Adams, Nigel Short and Luke McShane aren't there, and Gawain Jones and Matthew Sadler aren't playing either. That's not the fault of the players who are there, but it does take away from the event's attractiveness.

    Sunday
    Jul202014

    The Daily Roundup: Caruana Wins Dortmund; So Wins Bergamo; Gelfand-Svidler Underway

    Two of the major ongoing tournaments ended today, but in both cases the identity of the winner had been known well in advance. In Dortmund, Fabiano Caruana had already clinched clear first the day before, and for him today was a mere formality. He drew comfortably with Peter Leko, and his final score of 5.5/7 added up to victory by a point and a half, a TPR of 2934 and a soon-to-be-official rating of 2801. That puts him into third place on the rating list, and makes him the 7th player in chess history to (officially) go over 2800. (The others: Kasparov, Kramnik, Topalov, Anand, Carlsen and Aronian.) Come on home!

    While the last round may have been a coronation ceremony for Caruana, the other games were played with something at stake, and all finished with winners and losers. Georg Meier won in the first round, against Vladimir Kramnik, and he got his second victory in the last round, over Arkadij Naiditsch. That was a strange and very hard-fought game, with the evaluation regularly fluctuating between a significant advantage for Meier and equality. The last fluctuation was hard to understand, but at the end of a tournament fatigue is common, and with it errors often follow close behind. With the obvious 50...c3+ Naiditsch would eliminate Meier's passed a-pawn, and then a draw would be a foregone conclusion. Instead he must have thought that he could do more damage by keeping his c-pawn alive, and using it and his e-pawn to overtax White's resources. Instead, it was White's a- and g-pawns that proved overwhelming, and Meier caught Leko in a tie for second. (Had the game been drawn Naiditsch would have been the one tying for second.)

    Like Meier, Kramnik also bookended the tournament - but with losses rather than wins. He came out of the opening and early middlegame with at least equality and sometimes even an edge against Ponomariov in a 5.Re1 Berlin, but got outplayed little by little and eventually lost. The tournament was about as bad for Kramnik as it was good for Caruana. Kramnik came in next to last and lost 17 rating points, barely staying in the world's top ten. After a great 2013, Kramnik is having a disastrously bad 2014. Meanwhile, Ponomariov leapfrogged Kramnik in the tournament standings, with 3 points to Kramnik's 2.5.

    Kramnik avoided clear last only because of David Baramidze, who lost his third game in the tournament, this one to Michael Adams. Adams tied for 3rd-4th with Naiditsch on 50%.

    Next, the ACP Golden Classic in Bergamo, which finished with a clear victory for Wesley So. His 4.5/6 (and a 2844 TPR) gave him first place by a full point over Baadur Jobava, and in the process he gained 11 rating points to reach #12 on the rating list - up four places from the tournament's beginning. (So has been going to college in the U.S., so wouldn't it be nice if he decided to represent the U.S., and likewise for Caruana? Put them on a team together with Hikaru Nakamura and Gata Kamsky, and we'd have real chances to compete for Olympic gold! Waking from my dream now....)

    Finally, while two of the three big ongoing events have finished (Biel is on a rest day), a new one has sprung up to take its place. A rapid match between Boris Gelfand and Peter Svidler started today (Sunday), and the first two games were exciting draws. Gelfand was very close to a win in the first game, while the second saw both players having chances (though not as big as Gelfand's in the first game).

    Saturday
    Jul192014

    The Daily Roundup: Dortmund (Caruana Clinches First), Biel

    1. Dortmund: With one round to go, Fabiano Caruana (come home!!) clinched clear first with a white win in a Berlin ending over Michael Adams. His brilliant score of 5/6 gives him a 2972 TPR and a 2801.7 rating on the Live List. Unless he loses against Peter Leko in the last round, he will finally achieve an official 2800 rating, making him the 7th player in history to reach that remarkable plateau. Leko, who drew with Vladimir Kramnik, is a point and a half behind, as is Arkadij Naiditsch, who won an impressive attacking game against Ruslan Ponomariov.

    2. Biel: The second cycle got underway with three draws, and so Maxime Vachier-Lagrave maintains his full point lead over Pentala Harikrishna, Radoslaw Wojtaszek and Hou Yifan.

    Friday
    Jul182014

    The Daily Roundup: Dortmund, Biel, and Most of Bergamo

    1. Dortmund: Peter Leko beat Arkadij Naiditsch, while the other three games were drawn. Michael Adams pressed with Black against Georg Meier and won material, but was unable to convert. In the battle of the top dogs (by rating), first Fabiano Caruana (with Black) had some advantage and then Vladimir Kramnik did, but it never got out of control for either player and the draw was agreed after 48 moves. Caruana leads with 4/5, a point clear of Leko.

    2. Biel: After losing his first two games, a resurgent Anish Giri won the next two and faced top seed and tournament leader Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the final game of the first cycle. With a win Giri would have put himself in clear first; instead, Vachier-Lagrave won a nice game to extend his lead and relegate Giri into a tie for last. (The other two games were drawn.) Vachier-Lagrave has 3.5/5, three players have 2.5, including Hou Yifan, and Giri and one other player have 2.

    3. Bergamo: The game between Zoltan Almasi and Sabino Brunello has been adjourned, but in the game that was most critical for the leading standings Wesley So beat Baadur Jobava - convincingly - and has 4/5 with one game to play. There are a number of players who could theoretically catch him, depending on the remaining games and adjournments, but it seems unlikely. Emil Sutovsky is in nominal second with 3/5 and a game to play, Brunello has just one and a half points, but with two adjournments and a game with So yet to be played he's still theoretically alive in the race for first.

    Friday
    Jul182014

    More on the Olympic Scandal

    First, an open letter from FIDE President Kirsan Iljumzhinov to the Norwegian organizers of the upcoming Olympiad, expressing his dismay about their decision not to allow the Russian women's team to compete. He also protests what he considers their usurpations of FIDE's authority, a theme struck here by Russian Chess Federation President Andrey Filatov and the legal counsel he has retained.

    Thursday
    Jul172014

    The Daily Roundup: Biel & Bergamo

    Biel: Anish Giri won his second straight game (the only decisive game of the round), this time over Alexander Motylev, and thereby managed to get back to 50%, where his 2-2 score puts him in a four-way tie for second. Motylev dropped to solo last place with 1.5 points, and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave remained in clear first with 2.5 points.

    Bergamo: It's doubly hard to assess the tournament situation here, for two reasons. First, the staggered byes for each player; second, the adjournments. If, however, Baadur Jobava manages to convert his advantage against Zoltan Almasi, which seems likely, he will have 3.5/5 with one round to play while Wesley So will have 3/4 (and thus two games remaining). No one else appears to have a realistic chance at first, though Sabino Brunello entered the round looking like a contender. He started the day with 1.5/3 and White against the tournament tailender, but at the adjournment his position is lost or nearly so.

    As for Dortmund, the games were as exciting as usual, despite its being a rest day.

    Thursday
    Jul172014

    Kasparov On The Olympiad Crisis

    I noted yesterday that a major controversy is afoot with the Olympiad. The base problem was the failure of the Russian chess federation to register their women's team - the defending Olympic champions! - by the deadline. From that starting point further controversy is roiling, including an accusation by FIDE VP Israel Gelfer that the Olympiad organizers in Tromso, Norway failed to show lenience to the Russian team because they were acting under Garry Kasparov's influence. (Kasparov is running for the FIDE Presidency, which will be decided at the Olympiad, and he is in many ways estranged from Russia and Russian chess.)

    Today, we have a reply from Kasparov. He expresses sympathy for the Russian women's team but affirms with the organizers that the rules ought to be followed. As for Gelfer, he has no sympathy there, as you can see for yourself.

    Thursday
    Jul172014

    Book Notice: Jon Edwards' Mastering Mates: 1,111 Two-Move, Three-Move & Four-Move Mates

    Jon Edwards, Mastering Mates Book 2: 1,111 Two-Move, Three-Move & Four-Move Mates. (Russell Enterprises, 2014.) 224 pp. $19.95.

    This is the second of two volumes in Jon Edwards' "Mastering Mates" series, and my review of the first volume expresses the gist of what I would want to say about this one. Here too there are 1111 puzzles from actual games, and as in volume one the player with the mate didn't always manage to find it.

    The first 650 positions are mates in two, the next 308 are mates in three, and the remaining 153 are mates in four OR more moves - contrary to the claim in the title. It often makes me grumpy when the publisher writes false or misleading information on the back cover, and it seems to me even worse when it's the author telling a fib with the title! (It's a minor point that shouldn't be a make-or-break issue for someone thinking about buying the book, but it's disappointing that the very title itself isn't truthful.)

    As with the first volume the production values are good and the positions aren't sorted by theme (as opposed to, say, Fred Reinfeld's 1001 Checkmate book). And in contrast with volume 1 I think the quantities make more sense, especially given the greater diversity of possible patterns for mates in two or more moves. So the main question here is one of cost. Readers, what do you think? Is $19.95 too much? Do you know of other books or software that cover roughly the same territory for less? (Materials that are legally obtainable, not illegal PDF copies of books or pirated software.)

    Thursday
    Jul172014

    A Short Review of Jon Edwards' Mastering Mates: 1,111 One-Move Mates

    Jon Edwards, Mastering Mates: 1,111 One-Move Mates. (Russell Enterprises, 2014.) 224 pp. $19.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.

    About a month ago I mentioned Alex Baburin's quip about Jon Edwards' earlier book Sacking the Citadel to the effect that Edwards was engaging in a bit of overkill:

    Recently I received an interesting book called "Sacking the Citadel" (Russell Enterprises, 2011, 400 pages, $25). This book, written by Jon Edwards, is devoted exclusively to the Greek Gift sacrifice (Bxh7+, usually followed by Ng5+). It contains 308 examples of this theme, which is probably about 300 examples more than one needs to study in order to understand how this sacrifice works.

    One might have a similar thought about the current book under review, which sees Edwards present 1111 (that's base 10, not base 2!) one-move mates, all taken from actual games. Wouldn't 306 puzzles be enough? (That's how many mates in one are offered in Laszlo Polgar's tome Chess: 5334 Problems, Combinations, and Games.) 500? 800? Surely we don't need more than 1110, do we?!

    Apparently Edwards thinks we do, so while I'm probably not in Edwards' target audience I decided to solve them all in one session. It took me about 80 minutes to plow through them all, less a few minutes to take some notes for this post and a few moments here and there to clear my mind from the fog. The experience was something like a long-distance run. At first I felt fine, and after a bit of a slow-paced warmup everything kicked into gear and I started speeding along. At a certain point a fog starts to set in, and I started wondering why I was doing this and if it would ever finish. After several minutes of slog I got my second wind, but inevitably hit a second wave of fog. Mercifully, that passed more quickly, and when I turned the last page and saw to my surprise that there was only one problem left I enjoyed a small wave of euphoria. Done! I don't recommend that anyone follow my example.

    About the puzzles: they are not sorted by themes or patterns, although sometimes the same pattern will appear in back-to-back problems. Over the long haul, certain mating patterns arose many times - not to the point of painful repetition (unless like me you go through the whole thing in one shot) - but to an extent that will be useful for the beginners and near-beginners for whom this book is intended.

    In passing: early on I wondered if Keres-Fischer from the 1959 Candidates would be there; to my pleasure, it showed up - #801! (That probably helped get me going on the homestretch.) Something that didn't show up that really should have been there was a version of the four-move mate. How do you not include that in a book designed for novices?! At one point there was a mate with Bxf7# supported by a knight on e5 (#344), but not including Scholar's Mate was a real omission. (A possible objection: All Edwards' examples are taken from real games in databases, not from games played in after-school chess clubs or between parents and their young kids. Response: One can even find Scholar's Mate in ChessBase's Mega Database. I just did a search for the position that can arise via 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nc6 3.Qh5 Nf6 4.Qxf7# and found seven examples; there are surely more games demonstrating other versions of the mate.)

    A nice aspect of the book is that in some of the games the player missed the mate; when that happened Edwards noted the move that was played. Something I like a bit less is that several positions had multiple solutions (#s 10 & 339 were the ones I caught), especially since Edwards doesn't mention the successful alternatives in the solutions section.

    If there is a second printing, the publisher should note that pages 38 and 153 are mislabeled as "Black to move" and "White to move", respectively; it should be the other way around. Also, the very bottom of diagram 74 is cut off. (The publisher's page for the book is here.)

    Recommended? I don't think anyone needs 1000+ mates in one or believe that this would be more effective than, say, going through a set of 500 such mates twice. The giant Polgar tome (1104 pages!) mentioned above has more than 300 mates in one, and then goes completely off the deep end with 3412 mates in two with even more content after that, and besides that the paperback version basically costs the same as the Edwards book! Living in the real world, though, there is one big advantage in favor of the Edwards book: one can carry it around without needing a truss. Edwards' book is much lighter, the paper is nicer and the diagrams are easier to see - all advantages for kids and adults alike. My conclusion is that if you already have something that fits the bill, use (or give) it; if not, this book will certainly help inexperienced players develop a good eye for many standard mate-in-one patterns.

    Thursday
    Jul172014

    The Daily Roundup: Dortmund, Biel and Bergamo

    Dortmund: This is the Fabiano Caruana show. He was the only winner in today's round, defeating Georg Meier on the white side of a Steinitz French. Meier was under serious pressure, but the trouble only came near the end. First, his 34...gxf6 gave Caruana the upper hand, and only his last move, 37...Rcc8, gave up the game; 37...Rg6 instead would have allowed him to put up plenty of resistance. Caruana has 3.5/4, good for a full point lead over Arkadij Naiditsch and more over everyone else. Caruana has now jumped into third on the Live Rating List, and is closing in on 2800 once again. (In two previous tournaments he reached 2800 while the tournament was underway, but has yet to finish an event at or over 2800.)

    Biel: All three games were decisive today, and all three of the round's losers started the day tied for first! They were leapfrogged by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who is in clear first with two out of three.

    Bergamo: Wesley So continues to lead after an easy draw with Zoltan Almasi. He has 3/4 and leads Baadur Jobava (who won in this round) by half a point.