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    Thursday
    Aug132015

    Carlsen on Changing the World Championship Format

    Before becoming the world champion, Magnus Carlsen complained about the privileges the champion receives; in particular, being automatically seeded into a final match against a challenger who had to qualify through an arduous multi-stage process. Carlsen was not the first player without the title to protest the champion's advantages, but he would be among the first to surrender them - if it in fact comes to that. To his credit, he seems genuinely open to a privilege-free format like the old and little-loved knockout tournaments FIDE called championships from 1997 to 2004, and which have been repurposed a level down as World Cup events. (They're still used for every other women's world championship as well.) My own view is that it's a horrible format that devalues and deromanticizes the champion's title, but others may find it delightful for exactly the same reasons.

    What say you? Should the world chess champion be more like a boxing champion or the winner of Wimbledon?

    Monday
    Aug102015

    Computer Advice

    Dear Readers,

    Help! My desktop computer may be on its last legs, so I'm at least looking into buying/building a replacement in the near future. The only thing I do with it that requires much power is running ChessBase and its engines, but I do want to run those puppies at a pretty good clip. I'm not looking for an absolute top of the line, super-duper premium cost system, but do want something that's above average and certainly not the bare minimum.

    Suggestions? Intel vs. AMD, which chip, how much RAM, what kind of hard drive, etc. Have at it, and thank you in advance.

    Sunday
    Aug092015

    The Love for Wood

    That is the enigmatic title of a Dutch documentary from 1979, filmed mostly in and around that year's Dutch chess championships, and features mostly Jan Timman, Hans Ree, Ulf Andersson, Jan Hein Donner and Max Euwe. You can watch it below - just make sure to switch on the English subtitles (unless of course you understand Dutch).

    A number of games are shown or referred to, and I've done my best to compile them for you, here.

    Here's a bonus of sorts. Early on in the film Donner says that "[i]n the split second you touch the piece you'll see more than you have seen in the past 30 minutes or hour in which you have been thinking." This is of course an exaggeration, but it is true that players very often recognize their move (or their intended move) to have been a mistake the instant after they touch the piece or worse, release it and hit the clock. As if on cue, I had paused the film above shortly after seeing Donner's comment, and then before having the chance to return to the documentary watched the following blitz game online:

    At 2:10 Alexander Morozevich, with Black, plays ...a5, and after thinking for 24 seconds his fellow GM, Vladimir Belous, plays the queen from d1 to d2, and only then recognizes that it's a blunder - Black will play ...g5 winning a piece. At least that's what I assumed. It makes sense of the move he finally does play another 20 seconds later, Qc1. Ironically, though, three moves later Belous plays e3, allowing ...g5 anyway. I'm not completely sure he intended it as a piece sacrifice, both because his compensation dries up pretty quickly and because I think I detected a tiny expression of surprise/shock right after he made his move - but I could be wrong, and will leave it to you to decide. At any rate, I suspect that many of you could share horror stories of moves recognized as blunders a moment after it is too late.

    Friday
    Aug072015

    Kasparov on American Diplomacy

    No one who has followed Garry Kasparov's political statements for any time will be surprised to learn that he is less than impressed by the pending U.S. deal with Iran or with recent American foreign policy in general. In case this is news to you, however, or you'd just like to see how he articulates his views on the matter, this recent article in The Daily Beast may be of interest to you.

    Friday
    Aug072015

    Starting Sunday: The Russian Championships

    They're not China or anything, but apparently the Russians have some strong chess players as well. Their national championship begins on Sunday, a 12-player round robin that includes five players over 2700: Dmitry Jakovenko, Sergei Karjakin, Evgeny Tomashevsky, Peter Svidler and Nikita Vitiugov. Their women's championship will be held concurrently.

    Friday
    Aug072015

    Catching Up On Recent Action

    Rather than offer a round-up of recent events, I'll send all of you to this piece on the Chess24 website, which showcases some of the highlights - and lowlights - of those events. I will add only that the British Championship, which finished after that article was published, was won by Jonathan Hawkins. His score of 8.5/11 put him half a point ahead of top seed David Howell, Nick Pert and Daniel Gormally.

    Friday
    Jul312015

    A Short Review of Spielmann's The Art of Sacrifice in Chess

    Rudolf Spielmann, The Art of Sacrifice in Chess, 21st century edition, revised and expanded by Karsten Mueller. (Russell Enterprises, 2015.) 272 pp., $24.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.

    Austrian grandmaster Rudolf Spielmann (1883-1942) was one of the great swashbuckling players of his era, and was a fine writer on the topic as well. His masterwork, The Art of Sacrifice, was written in the mid-1930s and was a classic from its inception. Its main contribution to chess literature, aside from the 37 exciting games (all Spielmann's) covered therein, was its taxonomy of sacrifices, apparently the first of its kind.

    Spielmann's first distinction is between sham sacrifices and real ones. A sham sacrifice is one that leads to a clearly foreseen gain - a material advantage (or at least the recovery of the material with some positional gains) or mate. A real sacrifice is the opposite: material is offered without any clearly foreseeable and tangible return on the investment.

    In part 1, he covers the three kinds of sham sacrifices given above: positional sacrifices (the material is regained with positional interest), sacrifices for gain (the sacrificer winds up with extra material), and mating sacrifices.

    In part 2 (or is it part 2 of part 1? It's unclear in the book's formatting) he discusses real sacrifices, subdividing them into these types, each getting its own chapter: sacrifices for development, obstructive sacrifices, preventive (anti-castling) sacrifices, line-clearance sacrifices, vacating sacrifices, deflecting/decoy sacrifices, (castled) king's field sacrifices and king-hunt sacrifices.

    Finally, in part 3 (or 2?), on "sacrificial values", he has one chapter on exchange sacrifices and another on queen sacs. A brief epilogue follows, and that brings an end to the original edition, one of the classic works of its time.

    Eighty years later, we have a new edition, thanks to German grandmaster Karsten Mueller and Russell Enterprises, and it offers a significant expansion and improvement of the original. One improvement is a now-standard one, though one which will be welcomed by the vast majority of the readership: the old English descriptive notation has been replaced by algebraic. The other revisions are far more substantive: there are analytical corrections to Spielmann's original (inserted in blue italics within the body of the text), and then there are 11(!) extra chapters, each with exercises, written by Mueller.

    Of these new chapters, most involve sacrifices on a particular square, two feature star attacking/sacrificial players, one focuses on defense and then there's a final chapter with only exercises. To elaborate: chapters 14-20 feature, respectively, sacs on h2/h7 (Greek gift sacs), g7/g2, f7/f2, h6/h3, g6/g3, f6/f3 and e6/e3. Chapter 21 presents some of Mikhail Tal's magic, and chapter 22 is on Shirov's sacrifices. Chapter 23 is on defense, chapter 24 gives some final exercises for the road, and then there are 50 pages of solutions. As half the book is brand new, this is not a minor revision!

    I think the book is worthwhile in both its parts, and could be appreciated and well-used by players rated from, say, 1600 (one should have basic tactical proficiency to get the most out of the book) all the way up to and through the master level. Recommended.

    Wednesday
    Jul292015

    Events Here and There

    We've got to hold on for another three weeks before the 2800 crowd is in action again, at the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis, but if you're the sort of person who can be satisfied with chess played by mere 2700s then you're in luck. Biel just finished, and both the British Championship and another Russia vs. China event are underway.

    1. Biel: This finished earlier today, and was won by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. MVL had been having a really lousy year, dropping down to something like #26 in the world after having been in the top 10, but he bounced back here. His score of 6.5/10 was good enough for first place, half a point ahead of Radoslaw Wojtaszek and a point ahead of David Navara and Mickey Adams, and boosted his rating by 13 points. That put him back to #16 in the world and well on the road to recovery. A lot of crazy chess was played in the tournament, so it's worth replaying the games if you haven't already.

    2. British Championship: This is a monster event by contemporary standards, with 11 rounds, and after 4 of those rounds there is a 7-way tie for first with 3.5 points apiece. One of the leaders is the top seed and new member of the 2700 club, David Howell.

    3. China-Russia Challenge Match: This is a strangely formatted event which will apparently stop on August 1 and then be resumed at some point in December. Players here include Sergey Karjakin on the Russian side and Ding Liren on the Chinese team; the latter, notably, has had a series of great events and is now #10 in the world at 2770.4, ahead of Levon Aronian and on the verge of passing Alexander Grischuk. Very impressive, and he's only 22 years old.

    4. Caruana's Birthday: Today (Thursday) marked the end of Fabiano Caruana's tenure as the world's strongest 22-year-old; he is now 23. Happy birthday!

    Saturday
    Jul252015

    Loads of Chess Footage

    The Associated Press and British Movietone have released many, many hours of their old footage to the web, and there's a good deal of chess footage included. Here are some links, some from Brian Karen, who told me about this, and some I found doing a little exploration of my own:

    1. Jose Raul Capablanca & Salo Flohr giving a simul.

    2. Boris Spassky interviewed after losing the 1972 match to Bobby Fischer.

    3. Anatoly Karpov giving a simul in 1977; opponents include a very young Nigel Short.

    4. A long (14 minute) report on the then-ongoing world championship match between Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi in Baguio City in 1978. There are some mistakes made by the commentators; for instance, at one point they refer to Korchnoi as having a 4-2 lead, when in fact it was the other way around.

    5. Footage of Tigran Petrosian and Boris Spassky, from their first world championship match in 1966.

    6. Also from the great (chess) year of 1966: footage from the Havana Olympiad, including the draw between Fischer and Spassky.

    7. More Spassky: six minutes or so of footage from Hastings 1965/66. Spassky went +6 but only tied for first with Wolfgang Uhlmann, a point and a half ahead of Evgeni Vasiukov and two points in front of Svetozar Gligoric and Helmut Pfleger.

    8. More Hastings: the next year's event featured Mikhail Botvinnik (who won with 6.5/9) and a very young Henrique Mecking; Uhlmann came in second this time, a point behind the Patriarch.

    There are doubtlessly many more gems, and I hope you'll share the best ones you find in the comments.

    Thursday
    Jul232015

    Navara-Wojtaszek: Ke1-h8 As Home Prep!

    King walks in the middlegame are already unusual when they are taken voluntarily and don't lead to mate; when they involve the white king going all the way to h8, and when this is done as a matter of home preparation? That must be unique or at most very nearly so. That's what David Navara pulled off today in his victory over Radoslaw Wojtaszek in round 4 in Biel. Wojtaszek, to his credit, played extremely well for a long time, and by contrast Navara made a couple of slips once he was out of his preparation. In the end though, Navara was able to turn his brilliant concept into a full point, and leads the event with 3/4.

    Here's the game.