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    Wednesday
    Aug082012

    Event Update: Ukranian, Russian and World Junior Championships; Shirov-Laznicka

    Two of the four events have finished since our last update. Anton Korobov achieved a tremendous success, winning the very strong Ukranian Championship with the fine score of 8/11. Alexander Areshchenko and Andrei Volokitin were a point back, and top seed Ruslan Ponomariov took clear fourth another full point back. This was Korobov's second Ukranian championship title; the first was back in 2002. (Also, a word about Volokitin. He, along with his old trainer Vladimir Grabinsky, is the co-author of one of the best tactics books written for strong players [2100 or so and up], Perfect Your Chess.) The other completed event is the match between Alexei Shirov and Viktor Laznicka. The first three games saw Shirov do most of the pressing before the draw was agreed. Shirov won games 4 and 5 to clinch match victory, and then today game 6 was drawn. Shirov 4, Laznicka 2.

    The Russian and World Junior Championships are still in medias res. The Russians are resting today, and after five rounds of this draw-heavy tournament (of 25 games 20 have been drawn, but there have been very few short games) Evgeny Alekseev leads with 3.5 points; Dmitrys Andreikin and Jakovenko are half a point behind. Five more players are a further half a point back, including super-GMs Sergey Karjakin, Alexander Grischuk and defending champion Peter Svidler. As for the World Juniors, they've just passed the halfway point - round 7 of 13 is finishing up as I write this - and Alexander Ipatov is in clear first with 6 points. Nine players are half a point back, and it will be 10 if someone pulls out a win in the Pavlidis-Wei Yi game. American GM-elect Conrad Holt has scored 2.5 points in his last three games, and is now in the large group with 5.

    Monday
    Aug062012

    Last Week's ChessVideos Show: Quick Ruy XXX, The Yates Variation

    We've reached our last stop before the 9.h3 main lines of the Closed Ruy in the 30th episode of the Quick Ruy series as we cover the Yates Variation. It's quite a decent variation in its own right, and it has the further merit of avoiding the Marshall Gambit. (It can be reached either "voluntarily" with 7...d6 8.c3 0-0 9.d4 or as an Anti-Marshall: 7...0-0 8.d4 d6 9.c3.) White also gets to avoid a considerable amount of theory with the Yates too, so while it may not offer as many chances for an edge as the 9.h3 lines, it's a very practical choice for club players. And since even some very strong grandmasters (like Emil Sutovsky) use it on a regular basis, it's clear that it has not been completely "solved" by Black either.

    So if you're interested in examining this line for either color, have a look at my video coverage here. The show is free, as always!

    Sunday
    Aug052012

    Event Update: British, Ukranian, Russian and World Junior Championships; Plus Shirov-Laznicka

    Maybe there aren't any "super-tournaments" going on, but there's a lot of interesting and high-level chess being played contemporaneously with the Olympic fortnight.

    1. The British Championship finished on Saturday with a tiebreak, as Gawain Jones and Stephen Gordon had seesawed their way throughout before finishing on Friday with identical 9/11 scores, half a point clear of David Howell. Gordon had taken a half-point lead by winning in the penultimate round, but perhaps unwisely drew quickly with White in the last round, allowing Jones to catch him by beating a 2246 player with Black.

    In their two-game rapid playoff (20 minutes for the game with 10 second increments after each move), absurdity or tragedy struck. Jones blundered with 22...Ne8??, allowing Gordon to win his queen for a mere bishop by 23.Bh5. Demonstrating the fine sportsmanship that so exemplifies the ICC era, Jones played on. One of the things about being a part of the ICC era is that one must get used to this and learn to cope. If you get offended, or outraged that your opponent is such a donkey, or start taking victory laps in your mind, well, you know what will happen. If you can suck it up, stay focused and enjoy the chance to play chess with an extra queen, you'll be alright. Gordon failed to, or perhaps got into time trouble or his mind just wasn't working that day. On move 41, he fell into a similar trick, but had he played 42.Nf5 or 42.Rf5 the game was still his to win. Instead, he played the dreadful, panicky 42.f7??, returning all his extra material and reaching a worse position to boot. Maybe he could have held with best play, but it was a difficult position to play in general, and if one adds time trouble and the psychological woes he was probably suffering into the mix, the task was hopeless.

    The second game was pretty easy for Jones, and would have been even easier had he spotted the one-move winner 26.Qh5. Missing that, the game grew closer to level, but Jones was never in the least trouble and he eventually won (maybe on time).

    2. The Ukranian Championship just finished its ninth round (of 11), and the co-leaders are Andrei Volokitin and Anton Korobov with 6.5 points; Alexander Areshchenko is half a point back. Top seed and world #20 Ruslan Ponomariov is in fourth place with just 5 points, so that gives some idea of just how strong a tournament it is.

    3. That said, the Russian Championship (the super-duper ultra mega-final or whatever they call it) is even stronger. Like the Ukranian Championship (missing Vassily Ivanchuk) the Russian Championship also lacks the country's highest-rated player (Vladimir Kramnik), but with Sergey Karjakin, Alexander Grischuk and Peter Svidler participating (plus three other 2700s) it's still remarkably strong. This event is just a nine-rounder, and after three rounds Dmitry Andreikin and Evgeny Alekseev lead with two points apiece; Dmitry Jakovenko, Svidler, Karjakin, Grischuk, Daniil Dubov and Vladimir Potkin are half a point back; finally, Nikita Vitiugov and Sanan Sjugirov bring up the rear with a point apiece.

    4. The World Junior Championship is still early on - round 4 (of 11) is finishing up now. After three rounds there were only nine perfect scores (130 players in total), and four GMs had been nicked for a draw and four more (if we include GM-elect Conrad Holt) had already given up a full point. (Speaking of Holt, he's struggling for a draw this round as well.)

    5. Finally, Mr. Fire on Board, Alexei Shirov, is in the middle of a six-game match with Czech GM Viktor Laznicka. The first three games were drawn.

    Thursday
    Aug022012

    Biel 2012: Wang Hao Wins (Thanks, Fake Scoring)

    Magnus Carlsen came close to winning the tournament and threatened Garry Kasparov's all-time rating record for a while, but in the end he was second on both counts. Wang Hao quickly defeated Anish Giri in a Gruenfeld, and then waited while Carlsen tried to grind Bacrot down in a Spanish torture. Bacrot held firm, and the result was that although Carlsen outscored Wang Hao on normal scoring (7 vs. 6.5 [out of 10]) and beat him 2-0 in their head-to-head battles, Wang Hao won Biel thanks to the ridiculous 3-1-0 scoring system. The difference was that although Carlsen went +4, he had six draws, while Wang Hao only drew one game while winning six (and losing three). (Mind you, I'm not complaining about the result. Wang Hao seems like a nice, humble person who plays very exciting chess, and I think it's good that Carlsen not win every tournament he plays in. It's just that this seems a ridiculous outcome.)

    A little more about Wang Hao - Giri. The line of the Russian System Gruenfeld they chose had previously seemed like an instant draw. In particular, the position after 17.0-0 had been played in 13 GM games since 2009 (and only in GM games!), with an overall score of +1 -1 =11. Yawn, right? Except it didn't work out that way. Giri's 19th move was new, but he didn't follow it up in the right way. After White's slightly inaccurate 22.Bc5, Giri would have equalized (with chances for more) with 22...Rfd8. Then if 23.Rfd1 e6 looks slightly better for Black after 24.dxe6 Rxd1+ (24...Qxc6 is fine too) 25.Qxd1 Qxc6 26.exf7+ Kh8.

    Giri first played 22...Bh6, and after 23.Rc2 continued 23...Rfd8 24.Rc2 e6. This time it doesn't work: after 25.dxe6 Rxd1+ 26.Qxd1 Black cannot play 26...Qxc6 on account of 27.exf7+ Kh8 28.Bd4 (or 28.Be7), when it's time for him to resign. 22...Bh6 was an okay move, but not in conjunction with the (here) mistaken 24...e6(?). Giri played 26...fxe6, but the damage had been done. After 27.Ba4 material was even, but White's bishops were monsters and the e6 pawn was a big weakness. Giri was in trouble, and further errors on moves 27 and especially 29 led to a speedy finish. Down the exchange with the worse position, Giri gave up on move 32.

    Finally, just as it was Bacrot's lot to repeatedly lose with the King's Indian, Viktor Bologan's bane was the Benko. In fact he wasn't in too much trouble in the middlegame and early endgame against Hikaru Nakamura, but couldn't quite manage to hold the rook and knight ending a pawn down. One of the curious aspects of the game was the seeming "immortality" of White's a-pawn. Starting from around move 22 it looked for all the world like the pawn would be rounded up, but there was always some trick that kept it alive. Eventually it perished as a b-pawn, but by that point Black was suffering in a clearly lost knight ending. Maybe Bologan could have kept some drawing chances with 33...e4 or some other 34th move, though it would have been difficult. Once the rooks came off, it was a "mathematical" forced win.

    With the win, Nakamura finished tied for third-fourth with Giri (both on normal and fake scoring) and has come within 1.6 rating points of Bobby Fischer's American record of 2785. (If you think there has been rating inflation, then he still has a ways to go to "really" catch him, but it's still a very impressive figure in any case.)

    Final Standings (3-1-0 scoring first, 1-.5-0 scoring in parenthesis):

    1. Wang Hao 19 (6.5)
    2. Carlsen 18 (7)
    3-4. Giri, Nakamura 16 (6)
    5. Bacrot 7 (3)
    6. Bologan 4 (1.5 out of 8 games, with Morozevich 0 for 2 before that)

    Thursday
    Aug022012

    Other Events: British, Ukranian, And World Junior Championships

    The British Championship is nearing the finish, and with 9 rounds of 11 in the books it's a two-man race between Gawain Jones and Stephen Gordon. Both players have 7.5 points - Jones has given up three draws, while Gordon lost to Jones in round 4 and a draw with Matthew Turner. They lead their closest pursuers (David Howell and Daniel Gormally) by a point, and as both have White in round 10 they have good chances to clinch the top two places entering the final round.

    The Ukranian Championship isn't as far along. After six rounds of 11, Andrei Volokitin leads with an excellent score of 5/6, including Ruslan Ponomariov and Pavel Eljanov among his victims. Anton Korobov is half a point back, and then Alexander Areshchenko and Eljanov are a further point back with 3.5. Of course Vassily Ivanchuk isn't playing, but it's still an impressive event with three 2700s (Volokitin, Ponomariov and Alexander Moiseenko) and three more players over 2690 (Areshchenko, Eljanov and Zahar Efimenko) among the 12 players in this round robin. (Also missing, in a way, is their ex-pat Sergey Karjakin, who moved to Russia a couple of years ago. I wonder if there's a chess blogger in Ukraine who plaintively writes "send him back!" or something of the sort when mentioning his performances.)

    And tomorrow - or today, depending on where you are - the World Junior Championships starts in Athens, Greece. (I should have found an excuse to go watch!) The event isn't what it could be, with Fabiano Caruana and Anish Giri not bothering with it, but it's still a strong event and a fun opportunity to root for one's countrymen and women.

    Thursday
    Aug022012

    Biel 2012, Round 9: Carlsen Narrowly Leads Wang Hao And Giri Entering The Last Round

    This was the setup round in Biel, and the best chance for someone not named "Magnus Carlsen" to win the tournament. Anish Giri was just a point behind Carlsen (remember, they're using 3-1-0 scoring) and had White against the Norwegian, but failed to achieve anything against the latter's unambitious but very solid line of the Queen's Indian. The pieces came off quickly, and by move 23 the only remaining task was to make the draw official.

    That seemed like great news for Wang Hao, who entered the round tied for first. He had the black pieces, but his opponent was Viktor Bologan, who had only managed one draw against five losses in his previous games. Unfortunately for Wang Hao, results aren't pro-rated based on earlier games, and things didn't turn out his way. Bologan enjoyed an advantage most of the way in a positional Najdorf, but let it slip near the end of the time control. Most of the advantage was already gone before White's 40th move, and when Bologan played 40.Re2 rather than 40.Rf2, it was equal. Unluckily for Wang Hao, he didn't have time to properly calculate his 40th move, and on the last move of the time control he played 40...Ne5(?? - 40...Ne8=). The move loses material to the obvious 41.Rxb2, when 41...Qxb2 42.Qxb2 Rxb2 43.Bd4 wins. Wang Hao chose instead 41...Rxb2, when here too 42.Bd4 wins material.

    There's no doubt in my mind that Wang Hao saw this obvious two-mover, but thought his kingside counterplay would be enough. It's close, but Bologan found all the only-moves to pull out the win. For instance, after 42...Qg3 White correctly played 43.Bxb2! If instead 43.Qxb2? Black draws with 43...Nfg4 44.hxg4 Nxg4 45.Rf2 (45.Rd1 Qh2+ 46.Kf1 Ne3+ 47.Bxe3 Bxb2=) 45...Bxd4 46.Qxd4 Qh2+ 47.Kf1 Qh1+ 48.Ke2 Qxb1 and despite the extra rook White cannot win, e.g. 49.Rf4 Qa2+ 50.Qd2 Qa6+=.

    After 43.Bxb2! Nf3+ 44.Rxf3 exf3 45.Qd2! (45.Qc2?? Qe1+ 46.Kh2 f2-+) it's fortunate that White can meet 45...Bh6 with 46.Nxf5!! - without this resource, Black wins! I doubt Bologan foresaw this in time trouble; indeed, he burned lots of time in the second control working through all the complications. But he succeeded in clearing all the hurdles and obtained his first victory of the tournament.

    Finally, Etienne Bacrot vs. Hikaru Nakamura was a tough fight that ended abruptly when Bacrot blundered with 30.Re1??, losing on the spot to the elementary desperado 30...Qxe1+. Before that their Semi-Slav had been quite unclear: White enjoyed a bit more space thanks to the passed d-pawn, but his light-squared weaknesses and the presence of opposite-colored bishops gave Nakamura enduring counterplay.

    Going into the last round, here are the standings:

    1. Carlsen 17
    2-3. Wang Hao, Giri 16
    4. Nakamura 13
    5. Bacrot 6
    6. (Morozevich/)Bologan 4

    Last Round Pairings:

    Nakamura - Bologan
    Wang Hao - Giri
    Carlsen - Bacrot

    Wednesday
    Aug012012

    Biel 2012, Round 7 & 8: Carlsen, Wang Hao Lead; Bologan Gets On The Scoreboard

    Magnus Carlsen's recent tournaments have often seemed to follow a pretty consistent pattern. He gets off to a decent start, has a long lull of decent but not particularly special results, and then after a tough (even, on occasion, a lucky or undeserved win) becomes an unstoppable monster. Once he gets his confidence up, he's a buzz saw.

    And so it is here in Biel. For a good chunk of the make-up game with Viktor Bologan Carlsen didn't seem to have anything special going, but after overcoming a severe time shortage to outplay Bologan and win, he started turning into a new player. In round 7 he took on the leader, Wang Hao, and won that game with Black as well. It was a pity for Wang Hao, as he had been playing great chess in the tournament and played a very nice game against Carlsen as well. A positional pawn sac gave the Chinese grandmaster enduring pressure, and had played 46.b6 his position would have been unloseable. 46...a3 would be forced, and then White could choose between 47.Nxa3 Nxb6 48.Nxc5 with a dead draw, or 47.Nc1 Kf8 48.e5 Nd5 49.b7 Ke7 50.Nxa3 with a position that's still drawn but which forces Black to show some accuracy.

    Instead, Wang Hao erred with 46.Ndb2, missing a nasty trick: 46...Nb6! The knight is immune from capture (47.Nxb6?? a3, 48...a2, 49...a1Q), but the upshot was that Black kept his extra pawn, and now all the winning chances were his. Even after that the game may not have been lost, but the tide had turned and Wang Hao was unable to regain his mental equilibrium. 52.Na3 was inaccurate (52.Kc2 kept the damage manageable) and 55.Ne5 (again, 55.Kc2 was better) finished the job.

    As a result, Wang Hao and Carlsen were tied for first at the end of round 7, and they both won in round 8 to maintain their places. Wang Hao impressively bounced back by defeating Hikaru Nakamura with the black pieces. They played a rare line of the English, reprising the game Nakamura-Topalov from this year's Wijk aan Zee. Nakamura varied with the very, very rare 8.Be3, and with Wang Hao's 8...Qd8 the players were on untrodden ground. 20...Ne6 seems to have been inaccurate (the engine prefers 20...Qb6, a sensible move that keeps White's queen out of d6), and White's resulting edge could have grown larger had Nakamura played b4 on moves 22, 23 or 24. After 30 moves the chances were roughly level (which is not to say that the position was in any sense a "flat" one - the game was non-standard throughout, with each side having very different and unusual trumps), with the trend running in Black's favor. 32.Nc5 would have maintained equality; after 32.Nd2? White was in trouble, and 34.Rfe1 probably lost the game. (Right idea, wrong rook.) Black's d-pawns were too much, and in dealing with them White suffered serious king problems as well.

    As for Carlsen, his second game with Bologan in three days gave him his third consecutive win. Bologan essayed the Benko Gambit for the second time in the tournament (he had done so in round 5 against Wang Hao), and managed to keep the extra pawn to the end. Normally White's a- and b-pawns are weak, but Carlsen not only managed to keep them reasonably safe, he was eventually able to turn the a-pawn (which became the b-pawn) into the winning asset.

    It's not just the Wang Hao and Carlsen show, though; Anish Giri is just a point behind (a point behind in the 3-1-0 scoring system, that is, which means that if he wins while they draw, he leapfrogs them into first by a point). In round 7 he was unable to get anything with White against Nakamura in a "near-Meran", and after what may have been the minimum number of moves permitted - 30 - they agreed to a draw in a completely even knight ending. In round 8, however, he bounced back, defeating Etienne Bacrot on the black side of a 6.h3 Najdorf-turned-Keres Attack Scheveningen. Bacrot's 10.Bg2 varied from Vallejo Pons' (and others') 10.a3, which he used to crush Topalov in their rapid match earlier this year. That worked out well for Black, but Giri's 19...bxa3 was a big error. (19...dxe5 was equal.) Fortunately for Giri, Bacrot returned the favor with interest. Instead of 21.Qd3, with a big advantage, Bacrot's 21.Nd4? either blundered the exchange or misjudged the compensation afforded by his bishops. Maybe there was some way for White to hold, but he didn't manage to keep control over Giri's rooks and the blunder 32.c6?? didn't help either.

    After drawing with Giri in round 7 and losing to Wang Hao in round 8, Nakamura is in a distant fourth. Bacrot is well back in fifth, ahead of only Bologan. They played in round 7, and the game was drawn - a success for both players. For Bologan, it put him on the scoreboard - at last he has more points than in the tournament than we do! - while for Bacrot it was his first draw with the King's Indian, after suffering three pretty brutal losses with it in the previous rounds.

    Standings After Round 8 (on 3-1-0 scoring):

    1-2. Carlsen, Wang Hao 16
    3. Giri 15
    4. Nakamura 10
    5. Bacrot 6
    6. Bologan 1

    Round 9 Pairings:

    Bacrot - Nakamura
    Giri - Carlsen
    Bologan - Wang Hao

    Monday
    Jul302012

    Score One For FIDE: Ethics Commission Confirms French Cheating Case Suspensions

    It was been quite a while now, but after about two years FIDE has leaped into action, suspending Arnauld Hauchard for three years, Sebastien Feller (the beneficiary of the cheating) for two years and nine months, and Cyril Marzolo for a year and a half. Much more about this, including links to the backstory for those who forgot or are new to it, here.

    Monday
    Jul302012

    Biel 2012, Round 3 Make-Up Game: Carlsen Defeats Bologan

    Didn't see that one coming, did you? Okay, you probably did, but during the game few spectators expected that Magnus Carlsen would defeat Viktor Bologan. A Moscow/Rossolimo Sicilian hybrid turned into a sort of Ruy Lopez, and with White Bologan came out of the opening in great shape. His position was a little more comfortable, and he had a huge lead on the clock. After 17 moves Bologan had more than 70 minutes left; Carlsen just 29. Three moves later Bologan still had over an hour left, Carlsen less than nine minutes.

    That time needed to be spent, as Black needed to play accurately to neutralize White's initiative. Carlsen succeeded and equalized, and kept his cool as his time continued dwindling away - 3 minutes left with 15 minutes to go. A key moment came at move 32. Bologan spent a ton of time - almost half an hour - before playing a move that looked inaccurate. By now he was a little worse, but the spectators and (or maybe because of) the engines preferred 32.h5, keeping and fixing the pawn on h6 as a weakness and possible snack for a knight after Ng4 or Nf5. Instead he traded, and after 32.hxg5 hxg5 played 33.Rd2 b3 34.Bxe5?, hoping for and probably expecting 34...fxe5.

    What Bologan missed was 34...g4! (Incidentally, this trick is one reason why 33.g4 would have been a good move.) Now 35.Nxg4, as played, allows a decisive queenside infiltration with 35...Nc4, but if the knight retreats then White's compensation for the piece (after 35...fxe5) would be inadequate. After 35...Nc4 Bologan was lost, and further errors on moves 36, 38, 39 and 40 let Carlsen finish the time control with a move forcing a quick and simple mate.

    So Bologan has lost all four of his own games in Biel, "building" on Alexander Morozevich's double donut. Incidentally, we need a term for their combined 0-6 score. Two losses are castling short (0-0), three are castling long (0-0-0), four have been described as an "Audi" (the company's logo has four rings), five as Olympic rings. It's not a visual metaphor, but maybe we can call it "getting Fischered", after the fate suffered by Mark Taimanov and Bent Larsen in their Candidates matches with the late and former world champion Bobby Fischer?

    Standings After Round 6:

    1. Wang Hao 13 (on 3-1-0 scoring)
    2. Giri 11
    3. Carlsen 10
    4. Nakamura 9
    5. Bacrot 5
    6. Morozevich/Bologan 0

    Round 7 Pairings:

    Giri - Nakamura
    Bologan - Bacrot
    Wang Hao - Carlsen

    Sunday
    Jul292012

    Other Events: Hou Yifan Wins Women's Grand Prix, Jones Leads British Championship

    The finish of the Women's Grand Prix event in Jermuk, Armenia, was most unusual. Hou Yifan led coming into the last round, a point ahead of her countrywomen Ju Wenjun and Ruan Lufei. All three lost! Two players who were a further half point back both won, and thus they - Nadezhda Kosintseva (who defeated Ruan Lufei) and Kateryna Lahno (who defeated Hou Yifan) tied for second.

    The British Championship took Sunday off*; on Saturday, GM Gawain Jones beat Matthew Turner to preserve clear first with 5.5 out of 6; GMs David Howell and Stephen Gordon defeated their untitled opponents James Holland and Marcus Harvey, respectively, to stay within half a point of Jones. Five rounds remain.

    * (Or did they? On the official site the round 7 pairings are given as Sunday's, but I see nothing to indicate any results on the official site or on TWIC, so I guess that's an error. Maybe the tournament webmaster was distracted by the Olympics?)