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    Wednesday
    Sep082010

    Shanghai Masters Finishes: Shirov Wins, Kramnik Beats Aronian in a Tiebreaker

    Alexei Shirov had already clinched clear first after round 5, and maintained his winning margin with a last-round draw against Levon Aronian with White in a Marshall Gambit. If Vladimir Kramnik could have achieved something against Wang Hao with White, he could clinch qualification to the final in Bilbao, but he got nothing and that game was also a fairly quick draw.

    Aronian and Kramnik were thus tied for the second spot and needed a blitz playoff. Kramnik won pretty convincingly with White in an Exchange Slav, and was better or equal throughout his second game too. But somehow he lost it, in a dead won game where he could give safe checks pretty much automatically. I assume it was a loss on time - odd given the increment, but errare humanum est. That meant it was time for an Armageddon game (White got 5 minutes, Black 4 minutes + draw odds), and this time Kramnik (again with Black) held the drawn-or-better position throughout without losing on time. The final position was a dead draw, so I guess Aronian lost on time. Maybe it was a draw and the wrong result was relayed, but either way Kramnik advanced.

    Final Standings:

    1. Shirov 12 out of 18 (based on the tournament's 3-1-0 scoring; Shirov went +3 =3)

    2-3. Kramnik, Aronian 7 (+1 =4 -1)

    4. Wang Hao 3 (=3 -3)

     

    Tournament site here, round 6 and tiebreak games, with my comments, here.

    Tuesday
    Sep072010

    Shanghai Masters, Round 5: Shirov Wins, Clinches First; Kramnik Beats Aronian (Updated Again)

    Alexei Shirov continues to live a charmed existence at the Shanghai Masters, while Wang Hao remains firmly beneath the black cloud that has followed him throughout the event. The Chinese player had a big advantage from the opening and obtained a won position, but let Shirov slip out. Wang still had a draw for the taking for about 15 moves in a row, but - perhaps lamenting the missed opportunities earlier - overpressed and got punished. With the win Shirov clinched clear first (and thus qualification to Bilbao) with a round to go with an impressive score of 11/15 (4-1 [+3 =2] in normal scoring; they're using a 3-1-0 system).

    With a win Levon Aronian would have guaranteed qualification to Bilbao as well, while a draw would have made it extremely likely. He had White, but Kramnik was very well-prepared in a Catalan (this is not a surprise!) and reached a winning ending with an extra exchange. He messed it up at one moment, allowing Aronian a neat draw, but the Armenian missed his chance and then Kramnik reeled in the full point.

    [UPDATE 1: The only error was with the relay: Kramnik didn't make the error in question. This has been fixed in the game file (link below).]

    [UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: There was no error, only well-meaning spectators a bit too sure that Kramnik and Aronian couldn't have made the back-to-back errors they did. The earlier "correction" has been fixed.]

    Kramnik's tournament had been pretty luckless so far (at least devoid of good luck), but thanks to good play in this game and the exchange of gifts in the ending he caught up with Aronian at 6 points (+1 =3 -1). In the last round Kramnik will have White against tailender Wang Hao (=2 -3), which certainly looks like the ideal pairing, while Aronian will have Black against Shirov. But I'm not really sure. For one thing, Shirov's play has been extremely volatile, so I suspect Aronian will have his chances. Give Anand White and the task to draw, and it's all over, forget about it. But Shirov? (And who says he wants to draw?) As for Kramnik, he has alternated some very good play and good prep with oversights in almost every game, so if Wang Hao stays alert Kramnik might give him a gift.

    The next question is this: what happens if Kramnik and Aronian finish tomorrow tied for the second qualification spot? Does anyone know? [UPDATE 2: They'll play a pair of blitz (4' + 3") games, if necessary, and if it's still tied there will be an Armageddon game. White will have 5 minutes, Black 4 plus draw odds.]

    Today's games, with my comments, are here.

    Monday
    Sep062010

    Russian Championship Qualifiers

    I mentioned yesterday that nine players were tied for four qualifying spots to the Russian Championship later this year. The four qualifiers, in addition to Ian Nepomniachtchi, who won the tournament, were Denis Khismatullin, Vladimir Potkin, Igor Kurnosov and Vadim Zvajginsev.

    HT: Chess Today.

    Monday
    Sep062010

    Shanghai Masters, Round 4: Shirov Beats Kramnik

    Levon Aronian - Wang Hao was a solid, uninspired draw that gave both players something they wanted. For Wang Hao it stopped the bleeding and gave him an easy draw with Black; for Aronian, it consolidated his position in the top two. Meanwhile, Alexei Shirov defeated Vladimir Kramnik with White in a 4.f3 Nimzo-Indian. This put him in clear first, practically guaranteeing qualification with two rounds to go while leaving Kramnik in a deep hole.

    With two rounds to go, here are the standings (remember, they're using 3-1-0 scoring):

    1. Shirov 8 (+2 =2)

    2. Aronian 6 (+1 =3)

    3. Kramnik 3 (=3 -1)

    4. Wang Hao 2 (=2 -2)

    To have a chance to advance, Kramnik will have to beat Aronian with Black. Not impossible, but not terriby likely either.

    Tournament site here, games with my comments here.

    Sunday
    Sep052010

    Need to Improve Your Calculation Skills? Then Calculate!

    In his new book Studying Chess Made Easy, Andy Soltis offers advice on a wide array of chess topics, including improving calculation skills, and one of his suggestions is to play checkers. The point is that checkers is a very tactical game, and so the skills of looking ahead and working through complicated variations will be of general use to your chess "muscles". It makes sense, and maybe we can extend the idea.

    For example...I'm in the middle of watching the slightly insane movie (or "film", if you must) "Last Year at Marienbad", and in it they play a simple but not quite trivial game I learned when I was about 11 from my old chess friend Jeff Gallegos. (I wonder if he learned the game from someone who watched this movie, or from someone who learned it from someone who watched the movie, etc.) Here's how to play:

    Arrange a set of objects (cards, matchsticks, coins, small vertical lines on a sheet of paper - whatever) in four rows. The top row will have 1 object, the next 3, the next 5 and the last one 7. Players take turns removing at least one object per move. You can remove as many or as few objects as you like on a turn, with two conditions: you must remove at least one, and you can only remove objects from one row on a given move. The player to remove the last object loses.

    Let's look at a sample game. We start with this setup:

    I

    III

    IIIII

    IIIIIII

    (Normally it would be set up in a pyramid shape, but let's not worry about graphics here.)

    Suppose the first player removed one from the second row. Then we'd have this:

    I

    II

    IIIII

    IIIIIII

    Let's suppose player two is impatient and removes the entire bottom row, and player one in turn wreaks havoc with the third row. Then we have this simple situation:

    I

    II

    Player two to move can force a win by eliminating the entire second row.

    I

    Player one must eliminate the last object, and thus loses.

    In the movie the same player wins all the time, regardless of whether he goes first or not, but this does not reflect some sort of grandmasterly skill on his part. It's not too difficult to work out for yourself who should win - always - and why this is the case. It's a fun game until you do work it out, and might have some of that checkers-like value if you try to work it out mentally rather than solving it by pure trial and error.

    Sunday
    Sep052010

    Russian Championship Semifinals Finishes, And More

    The Russian Championship Higher League is a qualifier for the "Super League" later in the year. Some players are already seeded there, and five more are to come from this event. The 10th and final round finished earlier today, and Ian Nepomniachtchi took clear first with 7 points. Nine players have 6.5: Denis Khismatullin, Vadim Zvjaginsev, Vladimir Potkin, Evgeny Tomashevsky, Igor Kurnosov, Ildar Khairullin, Alexander Riazantsev, Evgeny Alekseev and Vladimir Belov. I don't know if they're going to run a playoff or if the qualifiers have already been decided based on tiebreaks - maybe a reader of Russian can figure it out from the event website?

    Also, to tidy up on an event I had mentioned a week and a half or so ago, the US Senior Championship finished; GM Alex Ivanov won with 5.5/6, half a point ahead of GM Sergey Kudrin and FM Luis Barredo.

    Sunday
    Sep052010

    Shanghai Round 3: Shirov Wins, Co-Leads With Aronian

    Alexei Shirov won an up-and-down game against Wang Hao today, and thereby caught Levon Aronian in first at the halfway point of the Shanghai Masters. With White, Shirov started the game in fine shape. He was slightly better in the opening, and when his opponent sacrificed a pawn for play he took it and was repulsing the enemy attack. The critical moment came when Wang Hao tried 22...Bxd4, a desperate piece sac. Had Shirov taken it, he would probably be winning. Black's attack looks scary, but I haven't found any way to make it into something real. Instead, Shirov declined the sac, and his reward was a probably lost position.

    Having been handed this chance, Wang Hao squandered it. He was winning in the middlegame, slightly better in the endgame, and even up until near the end had a theoretically drawn rook and pawn vs. rook and bishop ending. His problem, I bet, is that he only knew the "second-rank defense" in the rook and bishop vs. rook ending, and that was unavailable to him on account of the extra pawn. If he knew the old standby, the more traditional Cochrane defense, he could have held. It was very clear that he didn't know it (he will very soon after this tournament, I have no doubt!), and as a result went down without much of a fight.

    So Shirov is now tied with Levon Aronian for first. Aronian was under pressure from Vladimir Kramnik, but the latter's 30.Nb3 (rather than 30.Qf4) let him escape with an immediate draw.

    After the first cycle, Aronian and Shirov have 5 points (on 3-1-0 scoring), Kramnik has 3 and Wang Hao just 1.

    Tournament site here, games with my comments here.

    Sunday
    Sep052010

    If At First You Don't Succeed...

    Do you have a rival at the chess club who just keeps beating you? Here's a (non-chess) story that may hearten you. Of course, I hope that your success occurs more quickly than hers does, but if not, you can think of it as giving new meaning to the term "960 chess".

    Saturday
    Sep042010

    Notre Dame 23, Purdue 12

    A little sloppy around the end of the third quarter, but overall a good win at the start of the Brian Kelly era.

    Next victim: Michigan.

    And now, a little celebratory music...

    Saturday
    Sep042010

    Notre Dame to Crush Purdue Shortly

    That's right, sports fans: the college football season kicks off this weekend, and in a couple of hours the Notre Dame football team will start to demolish in-state rival Purdue. The game will be televised on NBC starting at 3:30 p.m. ET, for now, you can read more about the game and ND football here.

    For my delusional readers who think some team other than Notre Dame will win the BCS Championship, here's your chance to offer your own predictions. In the imaginary universe in which ND doesn't exist, what team would win this year?