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    Friday
    Aug112017

    Where's Waldo: Sinquefield Cup Edition

    Maybe not Waldo, but someone's hiding on this page.

    Friday
    Aug112017

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 9: Vachier-Lagrave Defeats Nepomniachtchi and Wins the Tournament Outright

    Maxime Vachier-Lagrave had the best chances of anyone coming into the round to emerge as the sole tournament winner, and he came through with a smooth positional win over Ian Nepomniachtchi. It was a little cheeky of Nepo to play the Najdorf against the world's top specialist in that variation, and it was interesting to see MVL avoid the most theoretical lines in reply. Vachier-Lagrave went for one of the stock positional plans, aiming to swap all the minor pieces except for a white knight (to plant on d5) and a black bishop (destined to suffer either from restriction or irrelevance on the dark squares). Having achieved the plan, he had little trouble converting his advantage, and by the time Nepomniachtchi resigned only Levon Aronian could catch him.

    And that was only in theory. Aronian played very sharply with Black against Magnus Carlsen, but Carlsen defended well while accumulating positional advantages elsewhere. By the time MVL won, Aronian was struggling for a draw, but couldn't achieve it. That left Magnus Carlsen half a point behind Vachier-Lagrave, and with mixed feelings at the end of the tournament. Overall he played well and finished strongly, but he could very easily have finished the clear winner with a +5 score, had he not blundered away a winning position against Vachier-Lagrave in round 4 on his way to a loss, and had he converted a winning rook ending against Hikaru Nakamura in round 6.

    Carlsen shared second place with Viswanathan Anand. The good news for Anand was that his opponent was Wesley So (this wouldn't normally be good news, but So had a very bad tournament by his standards), but the bad news is that he was playing Black. The game was a fairly short draw, and if anything So could have pushed a little harder than he did. Overall, though, it was a fine tournament for the former world champion.

    Sergey Karjakin could have joined the tie for second with a win over Nakamura, but with Black that wasn't going to be easy. The game was pretty balanced throughout, with Nakamura enjoying the initiative until almost all the pieces were hoovered off the board.

    Finally, Peter Svidler's quest to win a game finally bore fruit. After losing in round 1 and drawing his next seven games, Svidler reached 50% with a win over Fabiano Caruana.

    Final Standings:

    1. Vachier-Lagrave 6 (of 9)
    2-3. Carlsen, Anand 5.5
    4-5. Aronian, Karjakin 5
    6. Svidler 4.5
    7. Caruana 4
    8. Nakamura 3.5
    9-10. So, Nepomniachtchi 3

    Thursday
    Aug102017

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 8: Three Lead Entering the Last Round; Two More Half a Point Behind UPDATED: With Games

    There will be a playoff on Saturday in case of a tie for first after tomorrow's (Friday's) round, and that playoff might be a long one. Three players are currently tied for first, and it's possible that it will be a four-way tie after the last round. We'll get to this below, but for now, let's summarize today's round.

    Four of the five games were drawn, but there was tension in all of those games, including the three that finished in 32 moves or less. Levon Aronian came into the round as a co-leader, and his 19-move draw with Peter Svidler was full of content. The pawn structure that arose after 14 moves was apparently unique in the history of chess (at least as represented by the standard databases), and the position was highly imbalanced and complex. It was Svidler who had the better chances in the end, but the move that would maintain the advantage was one he dismissed too quickly. Given the other two options available to him, he chose the right one and repeated moves.

    Viswanathan Anand and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave were the other two co-leaders, and they played each other in tihs round. Anand enjoyed a small space and development advantage, which transformed itself into the advantage of the bishop pair. It was still a very small edge, and maintaining it would require exceptional accuracy. Anand kept a small initiative, but couldn't consolidate his pluses, and the result was a fairly speedy draw.

    If Magnus Carlsen could defeat Ian Nepomniachtchi with the black pieces, he'd make it a four-way tie for first. Nepo hasn't had a great tournament, but he played well in this game to seize the advantage. It almost became a serious advantage, but Carlsen's actively put out the fire before it became serious.

    Nepomniachtchi hasn't had a great tournament, but Wesley So's has been even worse. Today he lost his fourth game in the tournament, getting ground down by Sergey Karjakin in a long game. Karjakin's edge grew promising right at the end of the time control, and from there So's position degenerated on almost every move until White (Karjakin) found himself with a winning position at move 47. Karjakin's technique wasn't perfect, but it was good enough to bring home the point. He is now tied with Carlsen, half a point behind the leading troika.

    Finally, Fabiano Caruana could also have been in the group half a point out of first, if he had seized a big opportunity given him by Hikaru Nakamura right after the time control. Nakamura played very well for most of the game, and had been better from the early middlegame on. Shortly before the time control, however, he started to go astray, and after Caruana's 41st move he had a usable plus. After Nakamura's 41st move that plus wasn't merely usable; it was (probably) decisive. Unfortunately for Caruana, he had a choice between two good-looking options, and he chose the one that overlooked Nakamura's threat. Fortunately for Caruana the price was that he had to allow perpetual check; it wasn't a losing error. Nevertheless, the draw cost him in the ratings race for the two Candidates' spots and put him out of the running for first place in the Sinquefield Cup.

    Here are the pairings for the final round:

     

    • Carlsen (4.5) - Aronian (5)
    • Vachier-Lagrave (5) - Nepomniachtchi (3)
    • So (2.5) - Anand (5)
    • Nakamura (3) - Karjakin (4.5)
    • Svidler (3.5) - Caruana (4)

     

    If all the five-pointers draw (or if MVL and Anand both draw while Carlsen wins) they'll all finish with 5.5 points and tied for first, where they could be caught by Karjakin. Obviously the five-pointers want to win, and MVL and Anand both have excellent chances to do so, at least on paper, against opponents who have had a hard time in St. Louis. Carlsen still has a chance to emerge as the tournament winner, and considering the 1.5 points he left on the table in his games MVL and Nakamura - in both cases seeing the winning moves - it wouldn't be a violation of any sort of "higher justice" if he pulled it out.

    UPDATE: Here are the games, with my (mostly brief) comments.

    Thursday
    Aug102017

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 7: Three Lead With Two Rounds to Go

    Maxime Vachier-Lagrange had enjoyed the solo lead for a while, but now he's part of a three-way tie for first going into the penultimate round. He did his best to maintain the lead, employing some very deep preparation against Sergey Karjakin on the white side of the Berlin ending. After his 26th move, he had used just over a minute on his clock, while Karjakin had burned much more time - and would continue to do so. The bishop vs. knight ending that had arisen was very complicated, and it gave Karjakin yet another chance to justify the "Minister of Defense" sobriquet others have bestowed upon him. He used almost all his time in the first time control, while MVL had loads of time left - and it paid off. With essentially perfect defense he avoided a number of pitfalls, and held the draw.

    This gave three people the chance to catch Vachier-Lagrave in first: Magnus Carlsen, Viswanathan Anand, and Levon Aronian. Carlsen managed to achieve the very slightly happier side of a draw against Peter Svidler, and won the moral victory of doing so with Black (in a Scotch), but the bottom line is that he remains half a point behind the leader.

    Or rather, leaders, as both Anand and Aronian won. Anand had a small edge against Ian Nepomniachtchi in a double rook ending, and it unexpectedly turned into a winning advantage when Black played 31...b4. Black had no real threats against White's king, while his kingside counterplay was too slow for White's queenside pawn majority. Anand's accurate 40th move eliminated Black's last hope for play, and accordingly Nepo resigned.

    Aronian also won, and with Black, against Hikaru Nakamura. Nakamura played the English, and the players entered a line from the 1987 Kasparov-Karpov match in Seville. Nakamura's 15.Ne4 varied from some earlier games (none by Karpov or Kasparov) in which 16.Bb2 was played; most recently in Svidler-Karjakin from the Candidates tournament in 2016. Nakamura's move looks good, but Aronian handled the resulting position better and obtained an edge. Many moves and some White inaccuracies and errors lately, Aronian won a bishop vs. knight ending with an extra pawn.

    Finally, Wesley So drew a short game with Fabiano Caruana; not the result he hoped for, but he did stop the bleeding after a couple of losses.

    Here are the round 8 pairings:

    • Anand (4.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (4.5)
    • Aronian (4.5) - Svidler (3)
    • Nepomniachtchi (2.5) - Carlsen (4)
    • Caruana (3.5) - Nakamura (2.5)
    • Karjakin (3.5) - So (2.5)

    Wednesday
    Aug092017

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 6: Aronian Defeats So to Join the Second-Place Tie behind MVL

    Wesley So was the #2 player in the world coming into the event, and had he defeated Magnus Carlsen in the previous round he'd have been #1. After losing to Carlsen in round 5, and now losing - badly - to Levon Aronian in round 6, he's now #6 in the world and has fallen below 2800. (It isn't easy at the top, or near it. Aronian, Fabiano Caruana, and several other players who have been #2 in recent years - sometimes with a healthy gap between them and the #3 player - have all taken a tumble and had to gradually work their way back up.)

    About the Aronian-So game. Aronian criticized So's 19th and 24th moves, 19...Bxe4 (allowing White to open the f-file, with attacking chances) and 24...Rb7, but while these moves made So's situation precarious the engine insists that Black wasn't in grave danger until he played 27...Qe7 (27...Re7 was correct) and especially 28...Qc5. So needed to play 28...Qd6, to prevent Aronian's excellent response to the move actually chosen. Aronian's 29.Rf6! was crushing, and when So resigned a few moves later it was in a position where White had winning plans to spare.

    The other four games were drawn, with the most notable of the bunch being Carlsen's marathon draw with Hikaru Nakamura. To mention just two or three of the interesting moments in the game: first, there was the series of 10 consecutive captures after Carlsen's 20.Bg5; second and third, and related, there's Carlsen's handling of his kingside pawns in the rook ending. Playing h4-h5 on move 43 or especially move 42 would have given him a forced win (and at least excellent practical chances even if he didn't manage to play like a computer). Instead, 43.g5? made it impossible to make progress against good defense, and while Nakamura may have made his life a little more difficult than he needed to, he held the fort and got the draw.

    Carlsen thus missed out on a chance to catch Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in a tie for first; instead, he's tied with Aronian and Viswanathan Anand. Here are the pairings for round 7, which begin in an hour or so:

    • Vachier-Lagrave (4) - Karjakin (3)
    • Svidler (2.5) - Carlsen (3.5)
    • Nakamura (2.5) - Aronian (3.5)
    • Anand (3.5) - Nepomniachtchi (2.5)
    • So (2) - Caruana (3)

    Monday
    Aug072017

    2017 World Cup Pairings Are Up

    Oh the excitement! Will Magnus Carlsen succeed in his quest to earn a world championship match against himself? The first obstacle in his way is unrated Nigerian FM Oluwafemi Balogun, and assuming he wins that match there will be six more rounds of knockout matches before he qualifies for the Candidates. (The whole mess of pairings can be seen here in tree form, or you can go here for something that's a bit easier on the eyes.)

    The event runs from September 2-28, and the two finalists qualify for the Candidates. I assume - or at least I hope, for sanity's sake, that Carlsen will not be eligible for the Candidates. That would be amusing, but also kind of stupid, unless winning the Candidates means that he doesn't have to defend his title in this cycle in a world championship match. Anyway, on the assumption that he's ineligible for the Candidates (but then why does he get to play in the World Cup?), I guess that if he's a finalist the two players who lose in the semi-finals will have a match for the second Candidates' spot. (And if I'm wrong, I trust that someone will correct me.)

    Monday
    Aug072017

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 5: Carlsen, Anand Win to Come Within Half a Point of Vachier-Lagrave

    Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is taking his lead into the rest day on Monday, with the last two world champions hot on his heels. Vachier-Lagrave did his best to extend his lead with the white pieces against Levon Aronian, but Aronian defended extremely well. After a long tactical sequence MVL found himself in an ending with a bishop and knight for a rook and a pawn. In the middlegame that material (im)balance generally favors the minor pieces, but in the ending it's generally more equal, as the relatively empty board gives the rook maximum scope for activity. So the game finished in a draw, leaving MVL with 3.5 points out of 5.

    Magnus Carlsen bounced back after yesterday's loss to Vachier-Lagrave by defeating Wesley So, something that has become a good habit for the world champion this year and a very bad one for the American champ. Things looked good for So out of the opening - a Scotch - but the exchanging sequence starting with 19.Bf4 proved mistaken. It was better to protect the pawn with 19.b3, maintaining for the moment the tension in the center. Once the series of exchanges came to an end, Black's position was more active than White's. White's a-pawn soon dropped, and after a couple more moves White had lost a second pawn as well, without obtaining serious compensation in return.

    The game of the day, however, was unquestionably Viswanathan Anand's spectacular win over Fabiano Caruana. Caruana was doing well out of the opening, but things started going south after Anand's 19.f4. Black's best was 19...Bd5, aiming to meet 20.e4 with 20...Bc4, with unpleasant pressure against White's center. Instead, he played 19...Bg4, aiming for complications his position couldn't justify. After 22...Rxe2 Black is winning if White doesn't have anything special, but he did: 23.f7+ Kf8 24.Bxg7+! Kxg7 25.Qc3+ and now Caruana's 25...Re5(?) was met the attractive and crushing 26.Qd4!, more or less winning on the spot after 26...Qg5 27.Rc5! Instead, 25...Qe5 would have been more resilient, but after 26.Rxe2! Qxc3 27.Re8 White should win, e.g. 27...Qd4+ 28.Rf2 Qxb4 29.f8Q+ Qxf8 30.Rfxf8 Rxd3 31.Rg8+ Kf7 32.Ref8+ Ke7 33.Ra8 the ending is a win. Great chess by the former champ, and he's back in the hunt.

    Sergey Karjakin's game with Ian Nepomniachtchi finished peacefully, but was noteworthy for two reasons. The primary reason was Karjakin's intriguing two-step with his bishop. First 5.Bd3 in the Austrian Attack against the Pirc, a line that has been known for many decades (though generally with 5.Nf3 first and 6.Bd3 next), but then after 5...0-0 6.Nf3 Nc6 he played the incredible 7.Be2!? Karjakin claimed in the post-game interview that he had forgotten some of the analysis, so we'll have to see if this was a one-off joke or if this will prove an important new wrinkle. The second noteworthy aspect was that Nepo nearly won with Black. Had he done so, he would have made it back to 50% - an excellent score in light of his 0-2 start.

    Finally, the game between Hikaru Nakamura and Peter Svidler finished in a draw. It had been heading there, but a Svidler error gave Nakamura some serious chances to at least push for a win. He tried, but Svidler defended well and saved the game.

    As already noted, Monday is a rest day. Here's what the round 6 pairings look like for Tuesday's action:

    • Caruana (2.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (3.5)
    • Carlsen (3) - Nakamura (2)
    • Karjakin (2.5) - Anand (3)
    • Aronian (2.5) - So (2)
    • Nepomniachtchi (2) - Svidler (2)

    Sunday
    Aug062017

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 4: Vachier-Lagrave Wins From a Lost Position Against Carlsen, Leads the Tournament

    Today was certainly an eventful day at the 2017 Sinquefield Cup, one which will gnaw at Magnus Carlsen if he doesn't come back to win the tournament. Through 40 moves of his game with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave the evaluation had been steadily equal, despite the complex position. As he has done to so many people over the years, he managed to outfox MVL, and just a few moves later he was winning. The winning move was a natural and obvious one - 46.Rd2 - and it would be surprising if Carlsen didn't see and consider it. The basic point is that if Black moves the attacked rook away, to b8, say, to neutralize any Nxb6 tricks, White plays Ka3 (so that ...Nb4 or ...Nc1 won't come with check) followed by Ne3, picking up the wayward knight on d3.

    I'm not sure what Carlsen would have missed in that line; perhaps he just thought that 46.Rg2 was winning and played it. Both players made the next moves quickly: 46...Bh3 47.Rxg3 Bxf1 and now 48.Rf3, which was another error. (48.Bxd8 was equal.) Maybe Carlsen had only expected 48...Bg2 in reply, and here 49.Rxd3 Rxd3 50.Ne5+ followed by 51.Nxd3 is winning. After Vachier-Lagrave's 48...Be2, however, Carlsen was in trouble, and now he thought for more than 13 minutes. The move he chose wasn't best, though it may have been the best practical decision. Either way, MVL figured everything out perfectly, and when the dust settled after a long forcing sequence Black was up a pawn in a knight vs. bishop ending, soon to be two pawns up. Carlsen was able to set his opponent one last problem with 62.b4, but Vachier-Lagrave's great move 62...c4! sealed the victory.

    That was a fine achievement by Vachier-Lagrave, after getting into trouble, and he's now the sole leader with three points out of four. Carlsen had been tied for first, so he's now a point behind, while the other co-leader coming into the round, Fabiano Caruana, is half a point back after his draw with Sergey Karjakin on the white side of a 4.d3 Anti-Berlin.

    That was a quick draw, as was Levon Aronian's game with Viswanathan Anand. It was an English, and both players continued their "trends" from earlier in the event. As in his round 1 game with Ian Nepomniachtchi - where he was also White in an English - Aronian played a speedy h4-h5, while Anand continued his much more consistent, seemingly lifelong habit of swapping bishops for knights. The game was short but interesting, and in the end Anand repeated moves in a slightly better position.

    The third draw of the day was also short, and lively. Peter Svidler played the Italian Game against Wesley So, but rather than go for the trendy lines with 0-0, d3, and a4, he played a good old-fashioned line with c3 and d4, meeting ...exd4 with e5. Baadur Jobava has been an advocate of this system for some time, most recently beating Vladimir Kramnik with it in Leuven. So was ready for it, and once he was on his own he did a nice job of figuring things out, and the game finished peacefully.

    The last game was actually the first one to finish, and it did not have a peaceful conclusion. Hikaru Nakamura came out of the opening against Ian Nepomniachtchi in good shape, but his 20th and 21st moves were mistaken (and probably a matched pair, as Nakamura played the second move quickly). It seems that he just blundered material (rather than sacrificing it). It's hard to believe that he missed 22.Ba6, but maybe he initially thought it wasn't a big deal due to 22...Ra8 23.Rxc6 Rxa6, or maybe he saw that and missed 24.Bd6, or that after that 24...Qb7 25.Bxf8 Qxc6 26.b5 leaves Black without any last tricks to keep material equality. Whatever the story, Nakamura wound up lost after 22...Nxb4 23.Bxc8 Rxc8 24.Rxc8+ Bxc8 25.Rc1, despite having a pawn for the exchange. Nepomniachtchi did a competent job of bringing home the full point, and is now doing alright in the tournament after his 0-2 start.

    Here are the pairings for round 5:

    Vachier-Lagrave (3) - Aronian (2)
    Anand (2) - Caruana (2.5)
    So (2) - Carlsen (2)
    Karjakin (2) - Nepomniachtchi (1.5)
    Nakamura (1.5) - Svidler (1.5)

    Saturday
    Aug052017

    Informant 132: A Short Review

    Just when reviewing the latest issue of the Chess Informant was becoming formulaic, the team in Belgrade have once again made some fairly radical changes to this well-established periodical, now 51 years old. Some parts remain the same, but in the prose sections the changes are substantial. Let's deal with each in turn, starting with the parts displaying continuity.

    The historical heart remains in place: there are 200 games annotated with symbols but without natural language covering the relevant time period from late February to late May of 2017. This is how the Informant began back in 1966, except back then almost the entire periodical consisted of these languagelessly annotated games. Also remaining in place: sections for solving combinations (nine of them), endings (18!), studies (9), the best game of the preceding volume (Nepomniachtchi-Li Chao, from Sharjah), the best novelty of the preceding volume (Giri's 12.c6! against Harikrishna, from Wijk aan Zee), and tables for the FIDE events covered in this issue.

    Some bits are gone, however. For a long time, some super-GM has had a column: Kasparov, Morozevich, and Adams in particular. In this issue, the super-GMs are gone. This is not to say that a work is without value without a super-GM, of course, nor is it to insult the level of the contributors. Robert Markus has a FIDE rating of 2672, and both Ivan Ivanisevic and Milos Perunovic are also rated over 2600, so we're not talking about club players. Still, it was nice seeing the insights and reflections of some of the world's absolute best. Mihail Marin's "Old Wine in New Bottles" column is gone too, and so is Karsten Mueller's column on the endgame.

    So here's what's in this issue. There's a report on the extremely strong 2017 European Championship, with sections on games, attack, combinations, endings, and blunders. There's little prose here; it's more like a mini-Informant devoted to the tournament.

    The next chapter has more prose, as the aforementioned GM Markus tells of his difficulties in facing 1.e4, and describes how he came to choose Alekhine's Defense as his new repertoire choice. He then presents the repertoire, albeit with old-style symbolic annotations and without language.

    Ivanisevic then offers his thoughts on trying to "crack open" the Hedgehog, and presents some games based on an approach recommended to him by his fellow GM Branko Damljanovic.

    Perunovic looks at an anti-Sicilian line that used to be an occasional part of my own repertoire (I learned the line from Craig Chellstorp, a talented player who gave up the game at a fairly early age): 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 dxe5 5.Nxe5. White cannot prove a theoretical advantage, but the positions are fresh and unfamiliar enough to offer decent practical chances.

    Nikola Dukic looks at the "Banker Scandinavian" for Black, i.e. the 3...Qd8 line. It's solid, easy to play, and not the sort of variation where one must live in fear of a big novelty. Dukic used it against Magnus Carlsen in the 2014 Olympiad and had no problems from the opening, and later in the event Carlsen used it successfully against Fabiano Caruana.

    Switching to the trendier, or even avant-garde, IM Goran Arsovic has a look at the recent tries 6.a3 and 6.h4 against the Najdorf. Both moves have been used, successfully, by great players, so even if they are mainly good for surprise value, that shouldn't be underestimated.

    In Informant 130 Benjamin Gledura wrote about 3...Nh5 against the 3.f3 Anti-Gruenfeld, showing an impressive game he won with the black pieces. GM Danilo Milanovic offers his analysis of the line, concluding that with best play White may obtain a slight advantage. The lines are very intricate and the theory is developing apace, so one should not conclude that 3...Nh5 has been tamed.

    Next, Branko Tadic offers a survey of the 2017 Serbian Championship that's similar in format to the article on the European Championship mentioned above. This one has sections on games, the most important theoretical novelty, "storming initiative", attack, combinations, endings, and blunders.

    Just over to the west, Srdan Sale looks at the 2017 Croatian Championship. There are sections with the most important theoretical novelty, endings, selected games, and blunders.

    Finally, in a surprise move, one of the former Informant traditions has been restored with a "Best of Chess Informant" section on Wesley So. No fewer than 31 of his best games are given, along with seven of his best opening novelties, 24 "excellent moves and combinations", and six of his best endings. I think bringing this feature back is a good idea, even if it's not done in every issue.

    There is a remarkable small amount of text in this issue. In all the columns mentioned above, the authors offered some introductory remarks, but once actual chess moves were presented the subsequent commentary was only given in symbols. I'm not certain why they've made the change. Was it a one-off? Is it a cost-cutting measure to save paper? Are they attempting to win or improve their readership in countries without a significant number of English readers? Or perhaps they're outsourcing the language commentary to the American Chess Magazine and British Chess Magazine? I must confess that it makes the publication less attractive, though the Informant remains a valuable resource for serious players.

     

    Saturday
    Aug052017

    An Interesting But Unsound Sac in the Gelfand-Inarkiev Match

    Ernesto Inarkiev equalized the scores in his match with Boris Gelfand with a win in game 3. This was a rapid game, and as such he was able to get away with an interesting but ultimately unsound sac. (Of course, if he had had more time, he would have realized that it was unsound and wouldn't have played it.) Here's the game, with my notes to the relevant portion.

    Addendum: game 4 was drawn, so the score is tied at two points apiece.