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    Sunday
    Aug102014

    Tromso Olympics, Round 7: A Day Of Mega-Upsets

    If you had asked me before round 7 what players were having a really outstanding tournament, I would have given you four names: Magnus Carlsen, who has been playing like the world champion he is; Hou Yifan, about whom I would only change the pronoun; Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who has been successfully leading the first place team; and Rustam Kasimdzhanov, who has defeated Arkadij Naiditsch, Vassily Ivanchuk and Vladimir Kramnik. All four players lost today, in most cases pretty badly.

    Carlsen had White against Naiditsch, and when he won a pawn one would have expected everything to be smooth sailing. As it turned out, it was - for Naiditsch. The German grandmaster completely outplayed the world's #1, and in the process his team was victorious as well.

    Hou Yifan at least had the black pieces in her game, and she picked the worst possible time to come a-cropper. Her Chinese team really had just one rival in the tournament, the Russians (and vice-versa, with all due respect to the Georgian women), and this was the day when they met. Unfortunately for Hou, she was already lost after 12 moves (thanks to her 11th and 12th moves), and while Kateryna Lagno (aka the face that almost stopped the launch of a thousand ships*) may not have played perfectly, she played well enough to reel in the full point. The other Chinese women were unable to make up for their leader's failure, and Russia's 3-1 victory has them in great shape for tournament victory.

    On to Mamedyarov. He was butchered by Leinier Dominguez, who won a great game, but - unlike Carlsen and Hou Yifan - Mamedyarov was bailed out by his teammates. Teimour Radjabov won on board two and Gadir Guseinov won on board 4, and so the Azeris beat the Cubans to take sole possession of first place.

    Finally, Kasimdzhanov received his come-uppance from Hikaru Nakamura, but this was more due to Nakamura's playing extremely well than to Kasimdzhanov being in bad form. In fact, his preparation was excellent and he enjoyed a big lead on the clock, but Nakamura worked everything out, winning some material and converting his advantage. In fact, it was an excellent day for the USA, which won 3.5-.5.

    More info (available for download) can be obtained here.

    * This is not meant as a disparaging remark about her appearance, but refers to the controversy generated by her switch from the Ukranian to the Russian chess federation and the kerfuffle it raised between FIDE and the Norwegian organizers. At one point there was even talk of cancelling the Olympics, which would have metaphorically entailed scrubbing the launch of the "thousand" "ships" bringing the players to Tromso.

    Friday
    Aug082014

    Tromso Olympics, Round 6: Azerbaijan, Cuba Lead

    The Olympiad is in an especially fun stage for fans. It's far enough in that lots of top teams are battling with each other, but still early enough that a few semi-outsiders are still hanging on to their medal hopes. The Serbs and the Romanians are in the tie for the 3rd-12th places, and Bosnia, Canada and Qatar are among the teams giving the favorites a consistently hard time.

    Overall though, the top teams are justifying their ratings. Azerbaijan, led by a very much in-form Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, crushed Georgia 3.5-.5. Cuba won by the same margin, but against the considerably lower-rated team from Kazakhstan. They will face off in tomorrow's games.

    Top-seeded Russia has the best tiebreak score of the next group down, but while they defeated Uzbekistan it wasn't so easy. Vladimir Kramnik was crushed by Rustam Kasimdzhanov, but was avenged on board 2 when Alexander Grischuk whipped Anton Filippov with a beautiful attack. Ian Nepomniachtchi won on board 4 to put the Russians up 2-1, but Peter Svidler could very easily have lost to Marat Dzhumaev. Svidler put up great resistance, but Dzhumaev's position was clearly winning for a long time, and he could have won in spite of it despite Svidler's efforts. In the end though, Svidler's persistence paid off, and with the draw the Russians won their match 2.5-1.5.

    Magnus Carlsen already played Levon Aronian, and today he took on Fabiano Caruana. In both games he had the black pieces, but this time - using the 3...Qd8 Scandinavian of all things - he managed to slowly grind Caruana down. (Caruana enjoyed a small advantage into the middlegame though, despite the sure surprise, so 3...Qd8 fans shouldn't try to wrest this game for propaganda purposes. The real lesson of this game is a familiar one: Carlsen can win against everyone playing just about anything.)

    The United States defeated Paraguary 3-1, but unfortunately the Greeks lost Qatar 2.5-1.5. Drat.

    In the women's section, nothing is new: China and Russia won their matches and remained perfect, a state of affairs that will finally come to an end next round when they play each other. Hou Yifan won her individual game, over a second GM (Judit Polgar has yet to play a GM in the open section, though she did play a highly-rated IM today), and remains perfect in the event. The American women beat the Estonians, so they're still very much in the medal hunt.

    The download page for games and the tournament bulletin is here. If nothing else, do check out the Kasimdzhanov and Grischuk wins!

     

    Thursday
    Aug072014

    An Old Kasparov Victory in Blindfold Chess

    Continuing our recent series of posts on Garry Kasparov...

    I was looking through one of Kasparov's recent autobiographical volumes, and when describing his activities in 1985 between his two world championship matches against Anatoly Karpov that year he mentions a 10-board blindfold simul. He doesn't give any of the games but mentions with some pride a victory over a computer with sacrifices and a long mating combination. Naturally I was curious to find the game, but it isn't in ChessBase's Mega database. Fortunately it can be found online, so I downloaded it and added some very brief comments; you can replay it here.

    Thursday
    Aug072014

    The New York Times Magazine on Kasparov and the FIDE Elections

    As many of you may know, one of the coming non-chess highlights of the Tromso Olympiad is the FIDE Presidential Election (on August 11, I think, but I may be wrong about this), pitting former world champion Garry Kasparov against the 19-year-incumbent Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Those interested can find so much material to read that the election will be over before they can finish reading it, so I'll just point you to this longish article in the popular press. (HT: Chris Falter.) In the unlikely event anyone is curious about who I'm rooting for, it's Kasparov, but I worry that while he's fantastic at attracting sponsors to the game he's equally adept at subsequently destroying those partnerships and chasing them away.

    Thursday
    Aug072014

    A Chess Documentary from 1986

    The documentary film Chess: A State of Mind came out in 1986 and was written by British IM William Hartston. This (almost) 30-minute piece offers a recap of the world championship from Paul Morphy (not an official champion) through the beginning of the Garry Kasparov era. It goes from Morphy through Boris Spassky pretty quickly, and then takes its time with Bobby Fischer and Anatoly Karpov. Viktor Korchnoi gets a lot of air time in the Karpov segment, and both Korchnoi and Spassky have a bit of fun at Karpov's expense.

    Young whippersnappers should watch for the history lesson, and oldsters should watch for the nostalgia.

    Wednesday
    Aug062014

    Tromso Olympics, Round 5: A Big Tie For First Entering the First Rest Day

    All three teams entering round 5 with a 4-0 score drew their matches, and a bunch of others caught them at the top. Right now seven teams have 4.5/5 (or rather, 9/10, since the official scoring uses 2-1-0 rather than 1-.5-0); in tiebreak order they are Azerbaijan, Serbia, Kazakhstan, Bulgaria, Cuba, Uzbekistan and Georgia. No less than 17 other teams are right behind them at 4/5 (or 8/10), including main contenders Russia, France, China and Armenia, but also surprises like Indonesia, Norway's B team, and Iran! Norway's A team has 7/10, along with the USA, Greece, Italy (Caruana et al), Israel (Gelfand et al), Ukraine (Ivanchuk et al) and many more. Not much stratification has occurred yet.

    In the women's event China, Hungary and Russia remain perfect; the Netherlands, Poland and Serbia all have 9/10, and then there are 12 more teams at 8, including the USA and Greece. Bravo Hellas!

    As the top teams are already facing off there were some real highlights on the day, most notably one-on-one battles between Levon Aronian and Magnus Carlsen and between Vladimir Kramnik and Veselin Topalov. In the first game Aronian was up a pawn for most of the game, but never with any serious winning chances. Still, it was probably nice to press, and in the end his team won - the most important thing.

    As for the hatefest between Kramnik and Topalov, Kramnik played what Garry Kasparov labeled a "great game", and he (Kramnik) certainly enjoyed discussing the game afterwards (with a bit of occasional gleeful malice) with the commentators. His pleasure was in good part spoiled however by the Russian team's failure to win the match. The culprit was Sergey Karjakin's blunders against Valentin Iotov. The most obvious one was his failure to recapture on d5 with the bishop on move 27. He apparently thought he could build up more and then take, but the problem with taking later was that Black would win by sacrificing the exchange on d5 and playing ...f4, when the threat of ...Qh2# would win the game. That wasn't a worry on move 27: 27.Bxd5 Rxd5 28.cxd5 Qf4 and now White returns the exchange with 29.Rxe5, and he'll have no problems. Karjakin may be even more upset when he learns that he could have won the game practically in the opening with 14.Qa3! The knight on e4 can't be taken because of 15.Qe7#, 14...Bxg5 is met by 15.Nd6+ Kd8 16.Nxf7+, and meanwhile the threat of 15.Bxf4 followed by 16.Nd6+ forces Black to cough up a pawn without a shred of compensation (in fact, White will have the better position to go along with the extra pawn).

    Another high-profile blunder cost another of the pre-tournament favorites a crucial point in the standings. The Ukraine-Uzbekistan match was headed for a draw, but an out-of-form Vassily Ivanchuk blundered in time trouble and lost to Rustam Kasimdzhanov from what Kasparov had considered a "dead drawn" position. Errare humanum est!

    As usual, I refer you to this page for more information, but as a little added bonus, here's the Kramnik-Topalov game, with my summary of Kramnik's comments and analysis.

    Wednesday
    Aug062014

    Tromso Olympics, Round 4: Azerbaijan, Bulgaria and Serbia Lead

    The presence of Azerbaijan atop the leaderboard isn't so surprising, and they certainly earned their place by defeating the fabulous French team 2.5-1.5 in round 4. The key game was on board 1, between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Mamedyarov played great early on, achieving a winning position with Black, but as the game grew increasingly complicated Vachier-Lagrave worked his way back into the game, and had he played 34.Qf4+ he might even stand better thanks to his passed a-pawn, despite his pawn deficit. Instead, he went for a little tactic that allowed him to temporarily regain his pawn, but the end result was a lost queen ending that Mamedyarov won in good style.

    That Bulgaria and Serbia are also tied for first with 4-0 team scores is a little more surprising, but only a little. Neither team has yet to face one of the favorites, so one should not infer from their score to date that they are at all likely to finish on the podium by the end of the tournament.

    Russia and China drew their match, and the last two games to finish had some drama. Vladimir Kramnik had a big advantage against Wang Yue, but made a mistake more commonly seen in amateur play when he "cashed out" prematurely. Kramnik took the opportunity to go an exchange ahead, but in return accepted some structural damage while allowing his opponent's pieces to come alive. Instead of the flashy and greedy 19.Nxf7, 19.b5! would have opened the board beautifully for his bishop pair, and Black probably would have been lost. Later in the game Kramnik even got into trouble, and Wang Yue would have had excellent winning chances had he played 40...Ndc6. Missing his chance, the game soon petered out to a draw, but Alexander Grischuk had to suffer quite a while before finally saving the game against Ding Liren.

    There were other matches between 3-0 teams that finished in a draw as well: Uzbekistan vs. Germany and the Netherlands vs. Israel. There are also a good number of teams that won in this round to reach 3.5 team points, including Magnus Carlsen's Norway 1.

    In the women's section five teams have perfect scores, including not just the Chinese and Russian teams but the Indonesians, the Hungarians and the Iranians(!) as well.

    Finally, both U.S. teams won today, and so both have 3-1 scores. The men will play Canada in round 5, while the women will square off against Azerbaijan.

    The games and bulletin can be downloaded from this page.

    Tuesday
    Aug052014

    Tromso Olympics, Round 3: Favorites Start to Clash

    The tragedies began in round 3 of the Olympics, by which I mean that the U.S. team lost its first match! Hikaru Nakamura got nothing with White against Anish Giri and drew quickly by repetition, but when Alexander Onischuk beat Loek van Wely things were looking up for the Americans. Alas, the Dutch won on the other two boards, with Erwin L'Ami and Robin van Kampen defeating Gata Kamsky and Varuzhan Akobian, respectively. Phooey!

    Even higher-ranked teams lost, though; the Armenians lost to France 2.5-1.5 (three draws, plus a win by Laurent Fressinet with Black over Sergei Movsesian), and Hungary lost in incredible fashion to China. The match was even at 1.5-1.5 with just Zoltan Almasi vs. Yu Yangyi left to play. Almasi was up a pawn in an endgame, and for absolutely nothing. Somehow he lost the extra pawn, but the resulting queen ending was drawn, and was drawn for a long time, until he played 81.Ke2??, allowing Black to trade queens and thereby enter a won pawn ending.

    So far, the most reliable team has been the top-seeded Russians, who shut out the Macedonians. The Russian women are doing well too, and have likewise won all their matches. The top-seeded Chinese are also 3-0, having defeated the U.S. today by a 3-1 score. (A small irony: Judit Polgar hasn't played in a women's Olympiad in a long time, since 1988, if I recall correctly, preferring the stronger competition in "men's" events. No argument from me on this one, but it's funny that on board 4 for the Hungarian team in the open competition she has faced a 2100 and a 2300, while Hou Yifan's one opponent so far in the women's competition was a grandmaster. It's unlikely, but by no means impossible, that Hou will be the women's #1 by the time these olympics have come to an end.)

    The download page for the games and the bulletin is here.

    Sunday
    Aug032014

    Holt Wins the U.S. Open

    Six players finished the 9th and final round of the U.S. Open with 7.5 points: Conrad Holt, Michael Mulyar, Giorgi Margvelashvili, Fidel Corrales Jimenez, Ilya Nyzhnyk, and Alexander Shabalov. The first two had the best tiebreak scores and had a playoff game, and as Holt won he is the U.S. Open champ for 2014.

    There was a big tie for 7th-15th place with 7 points apiece, and James Tarjan was one of the players in that tie; not bad for a 62-year-old who has taken 30 years off! The tournament was a bit too short to really separate the elite players from the rest though, and Tarjan's result can be broken down into two unequal parts: the U2300 part and the GM part. He was very efficient against the first group, scoring 6.5/7, but while he drew against Nyzhnyk he lost to Dmitry Gurevich. All the same it wasn't a bad result, and if he can do this on his first try it could be interesting to see what kind of form he can reach once he's back in the swing of things.

    Sunday
    Aug032014

    Tromso Olympics, Round 2: The Upsets Begin

    The favorites all rolled in round 1, but in round 2 both individuals and whole teams suffered their first upsets.

    The top two Norwegian teams were notably involved in a couple of big stories. The Norwegian A team failed to defeat the Finns despite outrating them on every board, and by heavy margins on the first two boards. Nevertheless all four games were drawn, including the top board contest between Tomi Nyback and Magnus Carlsen, and so the match was as well. That would have been disappointing for the home crowd, but whatever disappointment they may have felt about that match was surely outweighed by the incredible accomplishment of their B team, which drew with Ukraine. Vassily Ivanchuk blew up on board 1, losing to IM Frode Urkedal in just 29 moves. Boards 2 and 3 drew, so it was only Alexander Moiseenko's win on board four that enabled Ukraine to eke out a drawn match.

    The other major favorites won their matches, though there were nicks here and there - Levon Aronian only managed to draw in a crazy game against David Smerdon, for example, and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Gata Kamsky were also held to draws by their considerably lower-rated opponents. All in all though, it was still pretty much business as usual at the Tromso Olympics.

    There were three games I intended to present, but I see they're already covered in the round 2 bulletin, so I'll simply refer you there. The first, Urkedal-Ivanchuk, has already been mentioned; the second was a crazy win by Judit Polgar that saw her opponent miss some chances to get the upper hand in the complications. The third was a remarkable museum piece, with Sarunas Sulskis showing some serious chutzpah against Alexei Shirov by allowing the Fried Liver Attack. It's not just that 5...Nxd5 in the 4.Ng5 Two Knights is unbelievably risky and possibly just bad; it's that he had the um, guts/insanity to play this against Alexei "Fire On Board" Shirov. Out of all the human players active in chess at the moment, I cannot think of a single worse player to choose such an opening against. I'm sure Sulskis prepared this, while I doubt that Shirov has analyzed this opening since he was a kid. All the same, Shirov crushed him.

    A sidenote: I remember in the mid-2000s seeing various commentators claim that chess engines can't do this and can't do that, and even back then they were usually wrong. Of course engines still have their limitations, but they are getting fewer and fewer and nowadays it's pretty rare when a commentator will override the engine - and this almost never occurs without some sort of analytical proof. I was therefore quite surprised to see this comment in the bulletin: "It's hard to convince a computer that White's long-term initiative gives him sufficient compensation for the sacrificed piece" (referring to the Fried Liver Attack). This didn't seem at all plausible to me, so I fired up Stockfish on my decent but not spectacular computer to put it to the test. The result? It immediately gave White +1 after 5...Nxd5, putting 6.Nxf7! at #1 instantly and never varying from that. (I let it go to depth 32 and it was always over +1.) 9.a3 is another story: here the engine thinks White should play 9.Qe4 or 9.Bb3 instead. After 11...Qh4 instead of Sulskis's 11...Kd6? the position is a mess, but maybe Black will be alright or even better. (Another aside: 9.a3 is a well-known try that scores well in the database, so how did he miss 11...Qh4 in his preparation? Maybe he just forgot what to do.)

    Finally, this is the page to download the men's games, the women's games and even the bulletins in PGN format.