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    Sunday
    Jun022013

    Thessaloniki Grand Prix, Round 10: Kamsky Leads Going Into The Last Round

    One round remains in the ongoing Grand Prix event in Thessaloniki, and thanks to his win today Gata Kamsky enjoys a half point lead over Leinier Dominguez. Kamsky beat Alexander Morozevich, who managed three serious errors out of his 24 moves. (It seems that more and more of the games are being marred by serious errors, sometimes by both players, which suggests a degree of fatigue. Or maybe it's the beauty of Greece itself!) Kamsky won quickly and convincingly, but missed a chance to win even sooner. 17...Nxb2 was a real stinker, and Kamsky could have capitalized immediately with the natural and obvious 18.Nd5. (I'm sure he saw it; the question is what he overlooked in his analysis.) Anyway, he soon got a second chance, and Morozevich had to resign, faced with massive material loss and checkmate likely to come soon afterward.

    If Dominguez had beaten Alexander Grischuk, he would have remained tied for first. With Black that would have been a tough order, and a draw was a very reasonable result. It was a very sharp, even crazy game with Dominguez sacrificing material and both players attacking. This accurately played game finished in a perpetual.

    The third game with relevance to the first-place standings was a real mess, with Fabiano Caruana outlasting Veselin Topalov in a hard-fought and mistake-filled game. This was a very important result, as Caruana remains alive in the hunt for first place, and gets the white pieces against Kamsky in the last round, while Dominguez will have White against Topalov. Here are the full pairings:

    • Kasimdzhanov (5) - Grischuk (5.5)
    • Nakamura (4) - Svidler (4.5)
    • Bacrot (4) - Ivanchuk (2.5)
    • Morozevich (3.5) - Ponomariov (5.5)
    • Caruana (6.5) - Kamsky (7.5)
    • Dominguez (7) - Topalov (4.5)

    Note to those of you who may want to watch the last round live: the games start two hours earlier than usual, at noon Greek time/11:00 a.m. CET/5 a.m. ET.

    Saturday
    Jun012013

    Three Queens: A Game and a Puzzle

    It's not often that a player has three queens on the board simultaneously - at least if we're talking about serious chess. (If we're talking about scholastic chess, it's almost mandatory that there will be a game on the lower boards where a player has lots of extra queens. Of these about half will end in a draw by stalemate.) Nevertheless, it happened recently, in a game between Yannick Pelletier and Andreas Skytte Hagen. (HT: Marc, Chess Today.)

    It's a very entertaining game, and fun to analyze too, but if you'd like something a bit simpler and still involving three queens, try this:

    • White: Queens on b1, c1 and d1.
    • Black: King on a8.

    White to move and mate in 7 without moving any of the queens off the first rank.

    I first learned about this puzzle around 30 years ago, maybe longer, and don't think I had the patience at the time to work it out. I dug it up again for this post, and this time managed to solve it in about five minutes, give or take, though with a little frustration before the joyous "aha" moment came. So do your best and hang in there, and if no one puts the answer in the comments by Monday I'll supply it then.

    Saturday
    Jun012013

    Thessaloniki Grand Prix, Round 9: Dominguez Catches Kamsky

    Overall it was one of the least interesting rounds so far in Thessaloniki, and not just because there were only two wins out of six games. Fortunately, it turned out that one of the decisive games was also the most important game for the leaderboard.

    The less important win was Veselin Topalov's victory over Alexander Morozevich on the black side of an Advance Caro-Kann. Morozevich had some nice ideas, but something was always a bit off. His pawn sac on move 23 was interesting, but he had a nice tactical opportunity with 23.Nc5, the point being that 23...Bxc5 24.Ra4! leads to a queen trap. Black will obtain sufficient material compensation, but White's position is superior. Later, the "sac" of his knight for three pawns beginning with 35.Nxf7 was an excellent chance, but he made a crucial - fatal - error in the follow-up. The idea of Bxf5 gxf5 d5 was completely correct - if properly timed. White absolutely needed to play 39.Rd3 first, keeping Black's nosy rook out of c3. If Black continued with 39...Be7, aiming to get both the bishop and the rook on h8 into the game, now White could take on f5 and play d5, with pretty fair compensation. As things went Morozevich was lost, and although he was given a bit of a chance with 41...Rxb3 (the unobvious 41...g5! was the winner), he gave the game away for good with 42.Rfe2?, allowing Topalov to force mate starting with 42...Rxg3+.

    Now for the main event. Gata Kamsky drew pretty easily with Black against Etienne Bacrot, which meant that if either player won in the clash between Fabiano Caruana and Leinier Dominguez, that person would catch up to Kamsky in first place. Caruana had White, but it was Dominguez who dominated the game. I'm especially impressed by his exchange sacrifice on move 29, for which he received no pawns, no new passed pawns (at least not immediately) and no attacking chances. Queens were off the board and White had the bishop pair, too, so all the usual justifications were absent. Black's position was obviously pleasant - if one ignores the material - but I think most of us would expect White to slowly consolidate and make progress. Maybe Black would hold a draw, but not more than that unless White made some pretty big errors, right?

    Wrong. Looking at the game as it happened, it's easy to agree with and internalize the logic of Dominguez's decision. Chances were even after the sacrifice, but Black's position was easier to play: more space, more active pieces, further advanced pawns, etc. As Dominguez pointed out after the game, Caruana probably should have bailed out on move 45 with 45.Rf1+ Ke5 46.Rxf6 Kxf6 47.Rxe4, with a draw. Caruana either missed this (unlikely) or trusted in his winning chances based on queenside counterplay, but that was a deeply mistaken decision. Dominguez may have made a couple of inaccuracies the rest of the way, but that only meant that Caruana might have had an outside shot at a "miracle" draw; the rest of the time Dominguez had a big enough advantage to win two or three games. It was a very impressive game by Dominguez, and he and Kamsky are very deserving leaders at this point.

    Here are the pairings for the penultimate round, round 10:

     

    • Grischuk (5) - Dominguez (6.5)
    • Topalov (4.5) - Caruana (5.5)
    • Kamsky (6.5) - Morozevich (3.5)
    • Ponomariov (4.5) - Bacrot (4)
    • Ivanchuk (2) - Nakamura (3.5)
    • Svidler (4) - Kasimdzhanov (4.5)

     

    And a look ahead: the critical last round pairings are Caruana - Kamsky and Dominguez - Topalov.

    Friday
    May312013

    Reinfeld Revised(!?)

    Fred Reinfeld, How to Be a Winner at Chess (Russell Enterprises 2013), 96 pp., $12.95; How to Play Chess Like a Champion (Russell Enterprises 2013), 136 pp., $14.95.

    For those of you unfamiliar with Fred Reinfeld (1910-1964), he was a strong American master and an incredibly prolific author. He may have written as many as 200 books, and on a wide array of subjects. Many of his books were on chess, and many of those were written for kids and amateurs taking their first serious steps in the game.

    For a long time, up through at least my teen years and early adulthood (i.e. into the 1980s), his books could often be found here in the United States in ordinary brick-and-mortar bookstores. Eventually they started to disappear, probably for two main reasons: first, they were written in descriptive notation, which has gone the way of the dinosaurs; second, because other, contemporary writers stepped up to take his (and I.A. Horowitz's and Irving Chernev's) place as the low-level club player's best friend. With respect to the second factor, some contemporary writers do a good job, but I'm inclined to think that most do not, and some are almost criminally bad. Nevertheless, the descriptive notation issue is a problem.

    Enter Bruce Alberston and Russell Enterprises, who have issued a "21st Century Edition" of two of his Reinfeld's works, with two more on the way. (Those are his "1001" books: 1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate and 1001 Winning Sacrifices and Combinations. I don't think I had the Checkmate book, but I'm a fan of the latter work, which I've recommended to people who can stand descriptive notation. There are a number of errors in it though, which I hope they'll catch and note.) Now, while there are some works by Reinfeld that I like (see the previous, parenthetical sentence) and I enjoyed some of his books when I was a kid, my first reaction was to compare a new and improved edition of Reinfeld books to McDonald's cheeseburgers, now served on fine china! (Oooooh...ahhhh.)

    It's a funny line - at least I'm inclined to think so - but it isn't really fair. One might eat fast food for pleasure - many do! - but to make it a regular part of your diet is to beg for health problems down the road, and not necessarily that far down the road, either. Most Reinfeld books, by contrast, are not going to make their intended audience weaker. They are simple and present chess with a wide-eyed excitement that might make experienced players roll their eyes, but that convey the right attitude towards newer chessplayers, especially kids. One should (quickly) graduate to more substantial books - instructive game collections would be my recommendation for the next step - but Reinfeld is a good guide for those taking the next steps after learning the rules, looking to understand how to conduct a decent game of chess.

    The first book is the simpler one. How to Be a Winner at Chess hits the basics: how to give and recognize checkmate, the value of the pieces, the power of checks, captures, threats (especially double attacks), and promotion; how to play the opening in an intelligent way, simple middlegame and endgame tips, and so on. There's even a brief summary of the rules of chess.

    The second book is more "inspirational" and more advanced. It includes some beautiful games and combinations that seem to me more designed to delight the reader than to instruct. This is okay! Part of becoming a chessplayer is falling in love with the game, and the sooner a player "catches" the aesthetic part of the game, the better. Even very strong players can find their own games getting stale from time to time, and when they do it's good to take time out to remind themselves of why they grew enthralled by chess in the first place. After the refresher, they - we - are ready to go back out there and try again, inspired by the beauty of the game.

    The books have their flaws, and no one should confuse his book with a curriculum for mastery. If taken for what they are, however, and for the right audience, they are worthwhile.

    Friday
    May312013

    Thessaloniki Grand Prix, Round 8: Kamsky Leads Alone

    Gata Kamsky still intends to retire when he turns 40, unfortunately, but for now he's enjoying some fine performances. That he won the U.S. Championship wasn't much of a surprise - with Hikaru Nakamura gone he was a pretty significant favorite. After eight rounds there his score was 6-2, which was good but not a shock. He's also 6-2 thus far at the FIDE Grand Prix tournament in Thessaloniki, and that is a surprise. He has won three games in a row, and his latest victim was the aforementioned Nakamura. It was a remarkably easy win, more or less settled when Nakamura played 15...Qa3? White was already better, but that gave Kamsky a won position after 16.Bg6+ and 17.Bf7, picking up the e-pawn. Nakamura fought an additional 30+ moves, but the advantage was just too big.

    Fabiano Caruana shared the lead going into the round, but he was fortunate to escape his game with Alexander Grischuk with half a point. (That was the only draw of the round.) Caruana was a bit worse for a long time, but it wasn't too worrisome until 40...Kh6, imperiling his king. Grischuk's 41.Rd1! revealed Black's trouble, but on move 44 he let Caruana slip away with 44.Rh1+; 44.Rd7 Rg7 45.e6 kept a probably winning bind.

    Tied for second with Caruana is Leinier Dominguez, who had led or been tied for the lead after rounds 4-6. He outplayed Alexander Morozevich pretty smoothly. White's position looked pleasant after 23.Rfe1; after 23...Be6 it was probably winning. It's hard for me to understand that move; maybe Morozevich felt his position was bankrupt in any case and hoped to gain some compensation with the bishop pair in return for the pawn (and the space, and the e-file, and the dark squares...). He didn't.

    Other games: Veselin Topalov played a very poor opening against Etienne Bacrot - especially unusual for Topalov with the White pieces. He must have missed Bacrot's nice tactical shot 14...Bxb4, after which he was in very bad shape. In fact, Bacrot may have been winning with 15...Nd4 rather than 15...Nxb4. Presumably White intended to give up the queen for three minor pieces with 16.Nxd4, but after 16...Bxe2 17.Nxe2 c6 White's d-pawn will drop, and his e-pawn may soon join his neighbor in the afterlife as well. So 15...Nxb4 may have been a bit of an amnesty, but when Topalov gave up the exchange with 20.Nd5 (rather than holding it with 20.Nc2 - 20...Bh3 21.Ne1 followed by Ng2 is the point) it became a matter of technique. The technical task was simplified by Topalov's 31.h4?; 31.Nf5 first would have kept some hope alive.

    The two remaining games were also won by Black: in the battle of the Rus's (neither of whom is from Russia), Rustam Kasimdzhanov won a very nice ending over Ruslan Ponomariov, while Vassily Ivanchuk's tournament of implosion continued against Peter Svidler. In fact it was a good battle, not lost by the Ukranian on any single really bad move. (Perhaps the simplest and easiest improvement came on move 27, when 27.Rxh6 would have maintained the balance.)

    Today (Friday) was the second and last rest day, and the last three rounds will be played on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Here are the pairings for round 9:

    • Svidler (3.5) - Grischuk (4.5)
    • Kasimdzhanov (4) - Ivanchuk (1.5)
    • Nakamura (3) - Ponomariov (4)
    • Bacrot (3.5) - Kamsky (6)
    • Morozevich (3.5) - Topalov (3.5)
    • Caruana (5.5) - Dominguez (5.5) (Probably the most important game of the round.)

    Friday
    May312013

    The Machine: Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

    At least if you live in London or New York. "The Machine" is a play revisiting the second match between Garry Kasparov and Deep(er) Blue, won by the computer when Kasparov cracked and disintegrated in the sixth and final game. Needless to say - unfortunately - the historical event is of no particular importance to the play; it's just offers a convenient scaffolding for whatever idea the playwright has in mind.

    Here are a couple of representative quotes from playwright Matt Charman:

    I didn't want to write a play that was just about chess. In fact, the chess is almost the least important part of the play.

    [So what is the story about? What's the driving idea? The answer:] You've got these two guys [Kasparov, and Deep Blue's primary programmer and designer Feng-Hsiung Hsu] coming into America wanting what it's got to offer and, I think, both being seduced and ruined by it."

    Huh? The match happened to be in the United States, but how is this a "coming to America" story? Kasparov had been here many times and has an apartment in New York, but he wasn't "coming" here for any interesting reason. As for Feng-Hsiung Hsu, he had been in the U.S. for over a decade, beginning with his time as a grad student. It's also hard to see how either person was "ruined". It was a blow for Kasparov, but his chess career and life continued successfully after that event. In fact, just two years later Kasparov began the best run of his chess career, winning something like seven consecutive super-tournaments and pushing his rating to a then-record of 2851. It was no blow for his human "opponent" either: he won, gained some fame, and has continued his very successful work in the computer industry.

    So, if you have to miss one play this year, "The Machine" is it. In fact, I'd even consider leaving London or New York during the play's run.

    Here's an obvious question for the playwright: why not just write an original story, preferably one that's not about chess? It seems to me that "historical fiction" is a fancy way of minimizing the need for originality and creativity and getting a little free PR (based on the familiarity of the principals or the historical events). Meanwhile, an author has the freedom to lie like a psychopath engage in a bit of artistic license, just as long as he hides behind the term "art" and includes a boilerplate disclaimer.

    Please note: I'm not saying that there is anything slanderous or defamatory in this play. My point is that "historical fiction" is a genre that allows for defamation under the guise of "art". Thus while Charman's cartoons of Kasparov and Feng-Hsiung Hsu may produce characters who are just as praise- or blameworthy as the real individuals, it doesn't seem from the quotations that he has much concern for the principals' actual motivations.*

    Another "winning" quote:

    A piece of software beat the best and the brightest. What does that actually mean? We're suddenly not the smartest thing on the planet.

    Er, no, that's not what it means, and it's hard to believe that any reasonably intelligent person who stops to think about that claim for a few moments could really believe it. I think we would all agree that Kasparov is an exceptionally intelligent individual, but few people would claim that he is - or at least was as of 1997 - the smartest person (or "thing") on the planet. It isn't even clear that intelligence is such a tight, unified concept that one can identify, even in principle, someone who is THE smartest person on the planet.

    Comparatively speaking, that's a quibble; here's a more serious problem. We can grant that Deep Blue was a better chessplaying entity than Kasparov, but that's where its reputed intelligence ends. Deep Blue could only play chess, so all the things Kasparov could do that Deep Blue couldn't gives him an enormous plus in the intelligence department. Nor would reprogramming Deep Blue to perform other functions have solved the problem. Recognizing faces is a mundane and very routine skill for humans - even very young children have it down, and don't need to go to college to develop it. For computers, especially those of that era, it was a task at which they were utterly incompetent, and there are many other skills and feats that are routine for us and difficult-to-impossible for machines.

    Even more fundamentally, Deep Blue couldn't have been the smartest thing on the planet, because it didn't have any smarts at all. Even if one thinks computers will eventually be conscious or thinks we are just really fancy biological computers ourselves**, no one believes that Deep Blue was conscious. (I don't recall anyone picketing IBM and accusing them of murder when they ended the project and used its processors for other tasks.) No one thinks an abacus is "smart". Useful, sure, but not smart. Unless there's someone "there", computers like Deep Blue are also useful - incredibly useful - but still not smart.

    Enjoy the performance.

    HT: Bob Banta

    * Alert readers, especially those who disagree with what I'm writing, may think that I'm creating a caricature of Mr. Charman, and am thus guilty of doing what I've just criticized. In that case, consider this post as a satire. Now that it's art, the problem has been solved. See how easy that is?

    ** I grant neither assumption, or for that matter the assumption that the things we call computers exist as things in their own right as opposed to being collections of parts whose "unity" is a matter of performing functions of human interest, but I waive these challenges above for the sake of argument.

    Thursday
    May302013

    Thessaloniki Grand Prix, Round 7: Kamsky, Caruana Lead

    It was a very good day for citizens of the United States at the FIDE Grand Prix tournament in Thessaloniki as they went three for three while no non-citizen managed to win. Two of them, Gata Kamsky and Fabiano Caruana (who holds dual citizenship but represents Italy) are tied for first, while the third, Hikaru Nakamura, got his first win of the event.

    Kamsky's win was the cleanest, as he simply outplayed Rustam Kasimdzhanov with the black pieces in a Dutch Defense. Kasimdzhanov didn't make any obvious, egregious errors, but was beaten a bit at a time. The only really clear error came on move 27. White should have played 27.e4, temporarily sacrificing a pawn. His position was worse but wouldn't have been lost. Instead, he tried 27.exf4, but this opened the kingside files and Kamsky took speedy advantage.

    Caruana's win wasn't so smooth. First one player and then the other had a very slight advantage, but it was Alexander Morozevich who was doing most of the pressing. The key moment came on move 47. Caruana threatened 47...Qb1+ 48.Nf1 Qxf1+ 49.Kxf1 Rh1#, and so Morozevich played 47.Nf1(??). That took care of the mate, but it was a blunder, and he was lost after 47...Nh3+!, forcing the win of the queen. Instead, 47.Nxf4 exf4 48.Nh5 sufficed for full equality. (Note that 48...Qb1+ 49.Kh2 Qxe4?? walks into mate starting with 50.Qc8+.) A nice gift for Caruana!

    The third decisive game was Nakamura's win over Veselin Topalov. Nakamura quickly won a pawn, but in light of the locked pawn structure and Black's good knight vs. White's bad bishop, a draw was the likelier result. Nakamura thought that Topalov's decision to exchange the last pair of rooks was a mistake, though even after the trade it wasn't clear that White could win. After the game Nakamura believed he could have won more easily with 44.Bxg6, but this is a mistake: after 44...Kxg6 45.Ke5 Nf5! 46.d6 Nd4! 47.d7 Kf7! 48.Kd6 Ne6 49.f4 Kf6! it's a draw.

    Another key moment came at move 50. Nakamura thought for half an hour on 50.f5 before playing it, and Topalov instantly replied with 50...Nd6, which looks like a serious (and fairly obvious) error. As Nakamura pointed out, Black needed to play 50...Kg7, aiming to park the king on f6 and bringing the knight back to d6. He didn't see a way to win after that, and it's not clear that there is one. (I'm not completely sure about that, but I'm not spotting one and the computer doesn't offer any sensible lines either.) Topalov's move allowed 51.f6, which in turns makes it possible for White's king to make further inroads.

    Nevertheless, the adventures hadn't yet come to an end. After 54...Nxb5 White had any number of clear winning approaches; for example, 55.Be8 Nd6 56.f7 Kg7 57.Kg5 followed soon by Ke6, or 55...Nd4 56.Kg4 Nxb3 57.d6 Nd4 58.Bf7 Nc6 59.Kf5. In both cases, White is not just winning but easily winning. Instead though, Nakamura played 55.Be2, probably anticipating 55...Nd6 and intending to meet it with 56.Bd3, cutting off the Black king. Instead, Black played 55...Nd4!, and now Nakamura had to think. He was down to his last 4-5 minutes until the second time control (achieved by making the 60th move). He looked nervous and his time was dwindling, but to his credit he played the absolutely correct - and probably only winning move - 56.Bh5!! To make this move he had to accurately calculate that 56.Bd3 failed, to recognize that 56.Bh5 won, and to have the inner strength to undo his last move. After 56.Bh5, 56...Nf5+ was probably a better try, but Topalov was lost in any case.

    The other three games were drawn, but only Bacrot-Dominguez merits mention. It was a very long game, but instructive in two ways. First, it shows both the strengths and the limits of the minority attack. White got what he wanted and saddled Black with a chronically weak c-pawn. That's the strength. On the other hand, Dominguez showed that the one weakness, by itself, wasn't the end of the world. He never had any counterplay, but even so it was very hard for White to convert this slight advantage into something major. The second instructive aspect came late in the knight ending, when Dominguez bravely and correctly sacrificed the aforementioned c-pawn with 60...Nd7. If Mikhail Botvinnik's maxim that "knight endings are pawn endings" were true, then White would have won. Instead, Black got just enough counterplay, and between that and White's backward e-pawn, Dominguez was able to hold the game.

    Round 8 Pairings:

    • Grischuk (4) - Caruana (5)
    • Dominguez (4.5) - Morozevich (3.5)
    • Topalov (3.5) - Bacrot (2.5)
    • Kamsky (5) - Nakamura (3)
    • Ponomariov (4) - Kasimdzhanov (3)
    • Ivanchuk (1.5) - Svidler (2.5)

    Tuesday
    May282013

    Thessaloniki Grand Prix, Round 6: Three Lead

    Leinier Dominguez was the solo leader after five rounds of the Grand Prix tournament in Thessaloniki after winning three games in a row, and in round six he should have made it four in a row. Really should have made it. He had a big advantage against Hikaru Nakamura after just 10 moves, and after the nice shot 13.Bh6! Black was nearly busted. 13...0-0 was out of the question due to 14.Bxg7 Kxg7 15.Qg3+ followed by a knight check and 17.Qxc7. 13...Bf8 needed to be played instead, but Nakamura tried 13...gxh6 14.Qxf6 when Dominguez was probably winning. As usual, Nakamura defended tenaciously, and after the time control Dominguez let things slip.

    As many as four players could have caught him in first, and two managed to do so: Fabiano Caruana (send him back!) and Gata Kamsky (thanks for sending him!). Kamsky kept Peter Svidler under pressure on the white side of an English (a Reversed Dragon) and outplayed him before the time control. Kamsky's minor pieces found their way to excellent outposts, and all Svidler could do was give up buckets of material trying for counterplay. Maybe it would have had a shot if Kamsky had to make his tough defensive decisions before the time control, but as he could do it instead just afterwards he (Kamsky) was able to win wiht ease. As for Caruana, it was a typical sort of victory in the Scotch over Etienne Bacrot. He sacrificed a couple of pawns to destroy Bacrot's structure, only to win it back with a pawn's interest on move 31. At that point Bacrot could have drawn if he could only liquidate the queenside pawns - IF. There was no simple way to achieve it, but the outcome was unclear until the rash 35...c4. That guaranteed that Black would lose the pawn for nothing, and once the players reached the time control Bacrot gave up.

    Topalov-Kasimdzhanov and Grischuk-Morozevich were both Ruys that finished in a draw, but in both games one of the players had good winning chances: Kasimdzhanov in the first game and Grischuk in the latter. Finally, Ponomariov defeated the sinking Ivanchuk in just 19 moves. Chuky's 16...0-0-0 was very risky, while 18...Na7 blundered a pawn. After 19.a5 White wins at least a pawn, e.g. 19...Nbc8 20.bxc4 bxc4 21.Nxc4. As it won't just be a pawn but progress in pursuing the vulnerable Black king, Ivanchuk had enough and called it a day.

    Round 7 Pairings:

    • Ivanchuk (1) - Grischuk (3.5)
    • Svidler (2) - Ponomariov (3.5)
    • Kasimdzhanov (3) - Kamsky (4)
    • Nakamura (2) - Topalov (3.5)
    • Bacrot (2) - Dominguez (4)
    • Morozevich (3.5) - Caruana (4)

    Monday
    May272013

    Thessaloniki Grand Prix, Round 5: Dominguez the Sole Winner, Sole Leader

    Coming into round 5 seven players led the FIDE Grand Prix in Thessaloniki, and only one - Rustam Kasimdzhanov had White. Normally we'd think this would give him a leg up, but instead he was the day's only loser. His opponent, Leinier Dominguez, has now won three in a row and enjoys the sole lead with 3.5 points. Dominguez played the solid Bogo-Indian, in shocking violation of the guild's policy of playing the Gruenfeld whenever possible, and was rewarded for his insouciance. Kasimdzhanov misassessed the rook ending he started to head for with the exchanging combination starting with 22.Qxe4 and directly permitted with 26.Rc5. The resulting ending wasn't lost but it was very difficult, and some neat moves like 28...Kf8, 33...Re2 and 39...Ke8 helped push White over the edge.

    The other five games went in every direction. Ivanchuk-Kamsky was drawn in just 25 moves and in half an hour, but the other draws all made it to at least the second time control. Svidler-Topalov saw White gain an advantage after 23...Nf8, but the position re-equalized after the natural 26.Ne5. (26.Nd2 was better, even though it doesn't force Black to initiate the swap.) Ponomariov-Grischuk was a Berlin that always looked pretty comfortable for Black. Interestingly, Grischuk wasn't completely sure that the final position was drawn, so the endgame mavens among you may wish to delve and see.

    Two games made it past move 80, both Gruenfelds. Bacrot-Morozevich saw Moro down the exchange in return for a pawn and a beautiful knight. Soon he was even a little better, and refused a draw by repetition. Soon he regretted it, and after inaccuracies on moves 60 and 61 and an outright error on move 64 (he needed to try 64...Nxb5) he was lost. The key moment came on move 66, when Bacrot had to decide which way to move the king: to the kingside, to deal with Black's most dangerous pawns, or to the queenside, to support his own passer and free his rook to deal with the pawns. He chose wrongly, keeping the king on the kingside with 66.Rb8 followed by 67.Ke4-f3. Instead, 66.Kd4 followed by 67.Kc5 probably won.

    Nakamura-Caruana initially followed a somewhat similar trajectory: Nakamura's inaccuracies just before and after the time control turned an equal position into one that favored Black and may have been winning. Nakamura had some compensation for a couple of pawns, but had Caruana immediately started the plan he initiated a move later it might not have been enough. Instead of 45...c5, it would have been better to consolidate with 45...Kf7 and 46...Bc8 (or vice-versa). As things went, Nakamura got one of his pawns back, and while Caruana tried for a long time to win the resulting same-colored bishop ending he was unable to break through against Nakamura's accurate defense.

    Round 6 Pairings:

    • Grischuk (3) - Morozevich (3)
    • Caruana (3) - Bacrot (2)
    • Dominguez (3.5) - Nakamura (1.5)
    • Topalov (3) - Kasimdzhanov (2.5)
    • Kamsky (3) - Svidler (2)
    • Ponomariov (2.5) - Ivanchuk (1)

    Saturday
    May252013

    Thessaloniki Grand Prix, Round 4: Seven Lead!

    Two players won today in round 4 of the FIDE Grand Prix in Thessaloniki, Veselin Topalov and Leinier Dominguez, and as a result they share the lead with five others going into the first rest day.

    Topalov blitzed Vassily Ivanchuk off the board in just 21 moves, but this was primarily Ivanchuk imploding rather than a collapse due to his opponent's heavy pressure. Topalov had a small initiative after 17.dxe6, but it shouldn't have been anything too worrisome after 17...Nxe6 18.Qa4+ Kf8. Black's king isn't where it wants to be, but White's kingside structure isn't a dream come true either. Instead, Ivanchuk played one bad move after another, and his reward was a lost piece and a terrible king.

    Dominguez beat Peter Svidler after the latter failed to preserve his king in a queen and rook ending. Svidler needed to play the overtly passive 26...Qf8 rather than the more active-looking 26...Qb7. The question is which White piece to contain, and it turned out that it was more important to keep White's queen off e8 than White's rook from a7. 29.f5 left Svidler in trouble, but the game wasn't decided until Black played the natural but erroneous 33...Kh8. Understandably, Black wanted to avoid allowing Qxe6 to come with check; the more important detail was that Black needed to keep extra control over f7. Thus after 33...Kh8 34.f6 White threatens 35.Ra8+ Qxa8 36.Qxg7#. If Black played 34...Rc8, then 35.f7 wins right away thanks to the threat of 36.Qh5#. This wouldn't be a factor had Black played 33...Kg8, as 34.f6 Rc8 35.f7+ just blunders the pawn: 35...Qxf7. Black tried 34...Rc7 instead, but after 35.Rf1 (threatening to take on g7 and continue 37.Rf8+, mating) 35...Rf7 36.Rf3 White is mating; the only question is how much material Black wants to throw into the wood chipper to delay it by a few moves.

    Of the four draws, I'll take note of two. Kamsky-Ponomariov was even throughout, except for one fascinating moment right after the first time control. Kamsky should have played 42.Rxc5, when he should be able to neutralize Ponomariov's pressure after 42...Rxe4 43.Qb1 (e.g. 43...Re2 44.Qf1, or 43...Rd4 44.Rd5 Rxc4 45.Rd8+ Kh8 46.Qb2 etc.). Instead he played 42.Nf6+, but after 42...Qxf6 43.Rxc5 he was fortunate that Ponomariov missed 43...Qe7, which basically wins on the spot. Black threatens White's rook, and also threatens 44...Qe1+ 45.Kg2 Re2, when White cannot save his queen and cover the mate threat starting with ...Qxf2+. 44.Rc6! is the best try, aiming to meet 44...Qe1+ 45.Kg2 Re2 with 46.Rxg6+! If Black takes the rook, White has perpetual check; if he tries instead 46...Kf8? White wins with 47.Qf5.

    Fortunately for Black in this variation, but unfortunately for Ponomariov, who must rue the missed opportunity, Black can improve with 44...Qb7! Now the rook sac is in vain: 45.Rxg6+ fxg6 46.Qxg6+ Qg7, forces a queen trade. If the rook retreats, however, e.g. 45.Rc5, then Black forces a speedy mate with 45...Re1+ 46.Kh2 Qf3. Instead of the winning 43...Qe7, Ponomariov instead returned the queen to f3, and Kamsky managed to hold starting with 44.Qd2.

    The other especially noteworthy draw was the mind-boggling battle between Morozevich and Nakamura. Rather than give any hints or clues about it, I'll leave it to you to replay, analyze and simply enjoy it on your own. I'll note only that it was a remarkably well-played game considering its wildness.

    Tomorrow (Sunday) is a rest day, and on Monday round 5 will occur with these pairings:

    • Ponomariov (2) - Grischuk (2.5)
    • Ivanchuk (.5) - Kamsky (2.5)
    • Svidler (1.5) - Topalov (2.5)
    • Kasimdzhanov (2.5) - Dominguez (2.5)
    • Nakamura (1) - Caruana (2.5)
    • Bacrot (1.5) - Morozevich (2.5)