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    Wednesday
    Feb022011

    Karpov and Anand, On the Road (or Rail)

    The 12th and 15th world champions played a pair of exhibition games, and as a happy surprise for fans of Anatoly Karpov, he drew both and if anything had slightly the better of things. (That said, even if Anand was playing seriously, I don't think he was using anything real in the opening.) You can read about the event, see the games, and hear (or try to hear) a long interview with Karpov, here.

    Wednesday
    Feb022011

    Charles Slade on Jimmy Quon

    Charles Slade is a friendly acquaintance of mine from my days out west, and in the comments to my short notice on Jimmy Quon's passing he offered a nice remembrance meriting its own post:

    This is a terrible shame. I just heard about Jimmy's untimely passing myself, and found this link. (Apparently he was better known as "Jim Quon," so many of my google searches were in vain.)

    Although this thread has probably long since run its course, I thought I'd share a story or two.

    I first met Jimmy at my first or second chess tournament. I was probably about 9 years old, which made him about 17. (Curiously, I never knew how old Jimmy was until I saw this post... he had a zen-like ageless quality to him.) We didn't play much chess when we met, although we recognized each other as being in the tournament. Instead, we met in the arcade at whichever Downtown (!) Vegas casino was hosting the tournament... the El Cortez, I think. He showed me how to get free games on the Congo Bongo machine, and that won him my immediate friendship, respect, and awe.

    I would see him at the bigger tournaments that came to Vegas over the years. Even as a kid, he stood out to me because so mellow and willing to socialize with everyone... regardless of age or rating.

    In fact, I never knew how good he really was. Whenever anyone would ask him what his rating was -- usually after he destroyed the guy who was asking -- he would always say something like "about 1500... but I'm getting better!" As a kid, I took that at face value. But only once I earned the 1500 ... or 1600, or 2000... rating and still never beat him did I come to appreciate the joke. At a time when the local chess scene seemed to be socially stratified by rating, I really liked that he treated everyone with dignity and respect. (In that regard, he reminded me of you, Dennis.)

    I remember asking him constant questions on how to improve. I was always asking the wrong questions -- along the lines of "I've memorized the book x moves deep, but what's the best x+1st move if black does so and so?" (Of course, this was before I really understood what positional play was about). Rather than answer those questions, he would patiently explain the nuances of the positional struggle. But of course, this was done in his self-deprecating style, along the lines of "Oh, I don't know what the x+1st move is! You've memorized the book way more than me... but let's see if we can figure it out.")

    Fond memories.

    Wednesday
    Feb022011

    More Tal Material on Spektrowski's Blog

    The great old material from Mikhail Tal just keeps on coming, thanks to "Spektrowski". (Have a look here.) Between this site and especially Chess in Translation, these are great times for those of us curious about Russian chess writings past and present, but are unable to read them in the original language.

    HT: Brian Karen

    Wednesday
    Feb022011

    Linares?

    Normally the next big event on the tournament calendar is Linares, but I've heard various rumors the past few days that it would be delayed or even cancelled this year. Can anyone shed some further light on this?

    Incidentally, if Linares doesn't occur at the usual time, then the Amber rapid & blindfold tournament will be the next super-GM event, and to compound the misfortunate it's in its final incarnation as well: this is to be its last year.

    Wednesday
    Feb022011

    Gibraltar, Round 8: Partial Results

    For whatever reason the Gibraltar results page hasn't updated yet for round 8 (more problems with the power?), even though the round has been over for many hours now, so I don't know all the day's results. What can be reported is that Ivanchuk is in clear first with 7 out of 8, Short and Mikhalevski are tied for 2nd-3rd half a point behind, and at the very least Fridman, Melia and Caruana have 6. As for Korchnoi, he had 4.5 points coming into the round and was still undefeated, but I don't know how he fared.

    Two rounds remain.

    Sunday
    Jan302011

    Gibraltar, Round 6: Ivanchuk Beats Short, Leads; Korchnoi Still Undefeated!

    Vassily Ivanchuk's victory over the hitherto perfect (with respect to his tournament score, that is) Nigel Short propelled him into clear first with 5.5/6. Daniel Fridman and Victor Mikhalevski are tied for second with 5. Back, but still in the leading group, is Viktor Korchnoi, who drew with Black today with the 2690-rated Krishnan Sasikiran. He has 4/6, and continues to pick up rating points faster than a Ukranian junior. Go Viktor!

    Sunday
    Jan302011

    Wijk aan Zee 2011, The End: Nakamura Wins, McShane, Vocaturo Achieve Promotion

    The 2011 edition of Wijk aan Zee is over, and Hikaru Nakamura has won. He, like all his rivals - in fact, like everyone in Group A today - drew his game, and that was good enough for clear first. He didn't pull another 5.Re1 Anti-Berlin today, but essayed the strategically double-edged Modern Benoni against Wang Hao once White had committed to a kingside fianchetto. Neither player took many risks though, and by move 22 Nakamura had enough excitement for the day and offered a draw, which was accepted.

    So Viswanathan Anand could have caught Nakamura with a win over Ian Nepomniachtchi, and although the world champion had Black he came out of the opening with the better game. Nepo defended actively, though, and if there was any way for Black to build the advantage Anand didn't have the energy to find it, and the game was agreed drawn in 38 moves.

    Magnus Carlsen had played ambitiously the last couple of rounds, and probably began the round wanting to fight against Alexander Grischuk, too. Carlsen's Chigorin wasn't really an inspired choice, though, as Grischuk enjoyed an advantage without doing anything special at all. Grischuk could have played for something, but after a really bad tournament, he decided that the one bright spot yesterday would be enough, and he let the position peter out into a draw after just 19 moves. (The position really was a dead draw by that point though; the place to fight was around move 15 and 16.)

    Levon Aronian has pushed hard in almost every game, and he did so once more with Jan Smeets. Unlike the other leads, Aronian had White, but it was Smeets who was better well into the middlegame. Shortly before the first time control, Aronian finally got a pull, but it wasn't enough, and Smeets once again showed his defensive mettle and held the draw.

    Vladimir Kramnik came up with an interesting new idea against Vachier-Lagrave's Gruenfeld, but it didn't pan out and the draw was agreed after Kramnik's 23rd move. (I suspect that Carlsen would not have accepted this draw!)

    Anish Giri and Ruslan Ponomariov contested a Catalan/Queen's Indian that turned out well for Black, but after an exchange of inaccuracies the position leveled out and the players called it a day.

    Alexei Shirov obtained an advantage against Erwin L'Ami with White against the Open Ruy Lopez, but luck just hasn't been on Shirov's side in this event. 31.Qe3, precluding the perpetual check possibility that arose in the game, would have maintained an advantage. He missed it, or at least the need for it (assuming my assessment is correct), and the result was clear last place.

    Final Standings:

    1. Nakamura 9
    2. Anand 8.5
    3-4. Carlsen, Aronian 8
    5-6. Kramnik, Vachier-Lagrave 7.5
    7-8. Giri, Ponomariov 6.5
    9-10. Nepomniachtchi, Wang Hao 6
    11-13. L'Ami, Grischuk, Smeets 4.5
    14. Shirov 4

    In the B-Group Navara and McShane drew (after McShane held on grimly for many hours) and remained tied for first. Efimenko also drew, and did not manage to catch them, so the "winner" on tiebreaks was Luke McShane, who thereby receives an automatic invitation to next year's A-Group.

    In Group C Vocaturo sacrificed practically all his pieces to force a perpetual check against Nyzhnyk, who was half a point behind entering (and exiting) the round, so he won clear first in his section and will automatically advance to next year's B-tournament. Knowing the organizers' track record of giving breaks to juniors, I think the odds are much better than 50-50 that Nyzhnyk will be playing in Group B next year anyway, at least as long as his rating continues to climb by the time they make their invitations.

    Finally, my comments, which are today more engine-based than usual (in part to slightly mock critics, but primarily because analyzing 98 games the past two weeks has been an awful lot of work), can be found here.

    Sunday
    Jan302011

    Gibraltar Update: Short Leads with 5/5, Korchnoi Still Undefeated

    You can replay the latest games here.

    Sunday
    Jan302011

    Wijk aan Zee, Round 12: Nakamura Leads With A Round To Go

    Hikaru Nakamura entered the penultimate round of the 2011 Wijk aan Zee tournament with a half-point lead over Viswanathan Anand, paired with Vladimir Kramnik with his final White of the tournament. How did he use it? A little suprisingly, he decided to "smeet" ("smeetsify"?) Kramnik. This neologistic crime indicated that he, like Jan Smeets some rounds back, decided to play 5.Re1 against Kramnik's Berlin Defense, and to wield it as uninspiringly as possible with the aim of achieving an easy draw. If this had clinched clear first, that would be one thing, or even a tie in the last round it would be understandable, but given the tournament situation it's not as clearly the right decision. (I don't mean it's clearly wrong, either - Kramnik is Kramnik, after all - but unless Nakamura had nothing on tap against the Berlin or was running low on energy, he could have had more faith in his chances with White.)

    For one thing, Anand had White against Anish Giri, and with a win - hardly a shocking result, had it happened - he would have caught Nakamura going into the last round. As it happened, however, Giri outplayed Anand, whose chess seemed rather weary, only to miss a win and allow an immediate draw on his final move.

    Nakamura's decision could have allowed Levon Aronian to close to within half a point as well, but like Anand he got in trouble against one of the Dutchman. Aronian played the risky Czech Benoni, and he played it riskily. In fact, he was probably lost, but as the time control neared Erwin L'Ami lost control enough for his opponent to pull out a draw.

    One player who did gain ground on the leader was Magnus Carlsen, who butchered Wang Hao's Caro-Kann. He is now even with Levon Aronian, a point behind Nakamura and half a point behind Anand.

    A further half a point back, tied with Kramnik, is Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who defeated Ian Nepomniachtchi. Nepo seemed to overestimate the endgameness of the position (each side was down to a queen and two rooks, plus pawns) when he played 21...f5, only to fall prey to a vicious mating attack.

    Further down the table, Ruslan Ponomariov tortured Alexei Shirov for many moves, but was unable to exploit his bishops against Shirov's knights.

    Last but not least, Alexander Grischuk finally won a game and escaped last place by defeating Jan Smeets in a rook ending.

    Standings After Round 12:

    1. Nakamura 8.5
    2. Anand 8
    3-4. Carlsen, Aronian 7.5
    5-6. Kramnik, Vachier-Lagrave 7
    7-8. Giri, Ponomariov 6
    9-10. Nepomniachtchi, Wang Hao 5.5
    11-13. L'Ami, Grischuk, Smeets 4
    14. Shirov 3.5

    In one of the games, I noted the relevance of Noah's Ark trap. Here too I shall invoke that hoary reference, as the players are very close to entering the final standings two by two. But is it possible? Here are the last round pairings (N.B.: The last round starts 90 minutes early, at 12 noon CET/6 a.m. ET):

    Nepomniachtchi - Anand
    Kramnik - Vachier-Lagrave
    Wang Hao - Nakamura
    Grischuk - Carlsen
    Aronian - Smeets
    Shirov - L'Ami
    Giri - Ponomariov

    On paper, Nakamura looks like a decent bet to take clear first, but I'm not so sure. I doubt Wang Hao will win unless Nakamura really overpresses, and based on Nakamura-Kramnik that doesn't seem so likely. Nepomniachtchi, however, has played some very loose chess the last few rounds, losing his last two games, three of his last four and his last two White games. Wang Hao, on the other hand, had been playing well, winning his last two games prior to getting crushed by Carlsen last round. So who knows.

    B-Group: Speaking of So, he was one member of the leading quadrumvirate entering round 12, along with McShane, Navara and Efimenko. Navara won, McShane beat So and Efimenko drew, leaving McShane and Navara tied for first entering the last round with 8 points apiece, half a point ahead of Efimenko. In a happy coincidence, the leaders play each other, with Navara getting White. Efimenko has White against Sargissian, and I'm very curious to know what will happen if the leaders draw and Efimenko wins. The "moral" result, in my view, would be Efimenko's qualification for group A next year, as he defeated both McShane and Navara, but unfortunately that's not the tiebreak system they use.

    C-Group: Oddly, the situation is somewhat similar here, and was half a point away from being identical. Vocaturo again lost when he seemed on the verge of running away with the tournament, and as Nyzhnyk won again the former's lead has shrunk to half a point over the latter (8.5-8). Conveniently, they play each other in the last round, with Vocaturo getting White. It would have been bizarre if Vocaturo had only 8 points, as he and Nyzhnyk would have been tied, half a point ahead of Ivanisevic, who has beaten both Vocaturo and Nyzhnyk! Unfortunately for Ivanisevic, this is a counterfactual, and as things stand in the actual world he can only catch one or othe other (at best), but not both. In the other C-group storyline, Sachdev won in round 12, but I don't think her TPR will hit 2600 even if she wins her last round game against Siebrecht. She has had a great event, but it doesn't look like she (or any of the other IMs - she is first amongst them) can get a GM norm in this year's tournament.

    As usual, I have annotated all seven group A games, which you can replay here.

    Incidentally, as this came up elsewhere on the web, I'd like to set a couple of things straight. First, I generally do not look at other annotators' work until I've finished my own. (A couple of times, for instance, I had a look at what Shipov said about his game of the day before finishing my notes, but that's very much the exception and only one game in seven.) Second, I almost always use the engine to "proofread" my analyses after I've done them, and as a supplement when I've missed something important. This isn't bragging or a critique of using chess engines, I just want people to realize that the notes are first and foremost my notes, not regurgitation from someone or something else's. (Even though my notes are not as thorough as I'd like, even so there's a reason you're not getting these annotations five minutes after the games end, and it's not just that I'm busy with other things.)

    Saturday
    Jan292011

    Gibraltar: Short, N. Kosintseva Lead, Korchnoi Still Undefeated

    The round 4 report isn't up yet on their site, but you can find the games of that round here. It's still pretty early in the event, but there have already been plenty of GM-GM battles. Short and Nadezhda Kosintseva lead so far with perfect 4-0 scores, Ivanchuk is half a point behind, and the indefatigable Viktor Korchnoi has three points and is continuing to play very well. In round 3 he drew Akobian, and in round 4 pressed near-2700 Bologan with Black. (Hopefully he can maintain his energy through the tournament!)