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    Tuesday
    Jul152014

    The Daily Update: Dull Draws in Dortmund, Giri Gets a Root Canal in Biel

    Two of the three elite tournaments saw action today, though some might deem that verb a stretch when applied to the chess in Dortmund. Two Berlins achieved their aim, and Georg Meier's exquisitely dull French was equally effective in securing a draw. (I'm not objecting to the procedure; it's just not a lot of fun for the spectators.)

    Vladimir Kramnik's game against Baramidze was genuinely exciting, however, but for the third time in three rounds something went drastically wrong for the ex-champ. In round 1 he played a disastrous opening against Meier and got crushed, in round 2 he was winning against Michael Adams but let him escape, and the same thing happened today. Kramnik had a big advantage through much of the middlegame, and after squandering it he was given a one-move opportunity to win with 28.fxg7+ Kg8 29.Qf4, winning the exchange (see here). At a certain moment he even stood worse, but he held tight and saved the draw.

    Two of the three games in Biel were also drawn, but the exception was notable. Anish Giri lost his second straight game, to Pentala Harikrishna in the rare Canal Variation of the Giuoco Piano (hence the pun in the title). The opening was not to blame, except to the extent that it helped get Giri into time trouble. Giri's position after Harikrishna's 37.Qf3 was still very playable, but challenging, and 37...Rg8 was an error. (37...Ba5! was best, forcing the rook to abandon the protection of the first rank.) Worse still, it was preparation for a blunder on the next move, after which it was all but over, and Giri resigned on his 41st move. As an old friend used to tell me, they can't all be jewels!

    Tuesday
    Jul152014

    Brilliancies Everywhere

    Three high-level tournaments are underway, in Dortmund (Caruana leads with a 2-0 score), Bergamo (the ACP Golden Classic; So leads with 2.5/3) and in Biel (Wojtaszek and Hou Yifan were first-day winners). More importantly, the chess has been good and entertaining, so rather than offering tournament summaries I'll present some of the games that have caught my eye, with my brief comments - here.

    Sunday
    Jul132014

    More Coming Events: Biel (Monday), Gelfand-Svidler (Next Week)

    In case Dortmund and the ACP Golden Classic aren't enough to keep your interest, two more major events are coming your way. Biel starts Monday - today for some of you, tomorrow for others - and looks quite attractive. The main event is a six-player double round-robin, starring Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Anish Giri, Radoslaw Wojtaszek, Pentala Harikrishna, Alexander Motylev (the graybeard of the event, the 35-year-old Russian is the only player in the event not in his 20s), and women's world champion Hou Yifan.

    The second event is an eight-game rapid match between Boris Gelfand and Peter Svidler, taking place in Jerusalem from July 20-24 (HT: Chess Today). The games will be followed by live video interviews, which is especially welcome with post-mortem world champion Svidler at the helm.

    With the Olympiad starting August 1, this is a great stretch for those who not only like to play but enjoy watching the game as well.

    Saturday
    Jul122014

    Day 1 of Dortmund and the ACP Classic

    Dortmund I already mentioned, but another strong event also began today - the ACP Golden Classic in Bergamo, Italy. What makes it a "classic"? It's not the tournament's age, but (I think) their choice to bring back to the good old days - or maybe it's the bad old days - and have adjournments. It's a round-robin with seven players, meaning someone always has a day off from playing. From playing, yes, but not working; the recipient of the bye must help with the live commentary. (This idea has been used elsewhere, like the London Chess Classic. It's a nice idea for the fans.)

    Like Dortmund, the tournament is well-stocked with 2700s, though they are more from the lower-tier than the upper crust of that elite level, and so they may be a hungrier bunch than the top stars playing in Germany. Nevertheless, all three of today's games were drawn: Zoltan Almasi - Ian Nepomniachtchi, Wesley So - Emil Sutovsky and Baadur Jobava - Sabino Brunello, with the last one reaching an adjournment before the players decided to split the point without resuming. The seventh player is Daniele Vocaturo, who will join the action tomorrow.

    As for Dortmund, there was not only action but blood on a day when Black was very much OK. Arkadij Naiditsch - Michael Adams and Peter Leko - Ruslan Ponomariov were both drawn, but in both cases White was down a pawn and had to sweat to save the game. The other two games featured superstars (Vladimir Kramnik and Fabiano Caruana) against local players rated in the low 2600s (Georg Meier and David Baramidze, respectively), but neither player had an easy time of it.

    Caruana won (with Black) in a long game, winning a great four bishop ending. After 29 moves both players had both of their bishops plus seven pawns apiece, but White had a problem with the d5 pawn. Afraid it might get cut off by ...e4, Baramidze played 30.f3 and 32.e4 to remedy the problem, but then 32...f4 highlighted the weakness of White's h-pawn. Slowly (very slowly) but surely Caruana made progress, exchanging one advantage for another, and after 75 moves White gave up.

    As for Kramnik - Meier, it was an unmitigated disaster for the former world champion. Kramnik chose a very passive approach in the English, perhaps just wanting to play a game rather than engaging in a theoretical battle, but the decision didn't work out very well at all. His position was clearly worse after ten moves(!) and pretty much lost soon thereafter. Meier kept accumulating advantages, and the series from moves 32 to 38 is pretty funny. Material is initially equal, but White loses four - count 'em, four - pawns without so much as a receipt to show for it. In the final position Kramnik can regain a pawn or two, but with Black about to make a second queen there was no delaying White's already tardy resignation.

    Saturday
    Jul122014

    A Last Batch of Games From the World Rapid Championship

    I've been taking my sweet time going through and presenting some games from the World Rapid Championship, but it isn't yet time for the 2015 edition - it hasn't been that long. Anyway, with Dortmund upon us and the Olympiad coming soon, it's time to put the Rapid Championship to bed with a final installment.

    A few posts ago we highlighted some of Viswanathan Anand's best and most important games from the rapid & blitz tournaments, which most notably included his win over Magnus Carlsen in round 12 in the rapid. That put him half a point clear of the field, but finishing with three draws left him tied for second (third on tiebreaks), half a point behind Carlsen. Anand played well overall, but was pretty shaky on the final day. Even in the Carlsen game he had been slightly outplayed before the world champion committed a 1-2 move blunder, and Anand was also in huge trouble against Fabiano Caruana in round 13 and Levon Aronian in round 15.

    Carlsen was also fortunate against Aronian in round 11 and Alexander Grischuk in round 14. The latter game was crucial for Carlsen: had he lost he would have been half a point down to several players going into the last round; instead, he pulled out a win and led by half a point. Moreover, his tiebreaks were excellent, so all he needed was a draw against Teimour Radjabov to seal the title (albeit with the black pieces), and he achieved it with ease.

    Still, the tiebreaks were very close, and if Sergey Karjakin had managed to defeat Alexander Morozevich with the white pieces in the last round a tiebreak win by Carlsen would have seemed somewhat arbitrary. Fortunately, that scenario didn't arise, as Morozevich not only avoided a loss but won a good game to boot.

    All the games discussed above (except Carlsen-Anand, which was presented in an earlier post) are here.

    Saturday
    Jul122014

    Dortmund Starts Today (Saturday)

    Vladimir Kramnik's favorite annual super-tournament, the Sparkassen Chess Meeting in Dortmund, Germany, kicks off today. The eight player round-robin headlines Kramnik and Fabiano Caruana, and begins at 3 p.m. local time with the following pairings:

    • David Baramidze - Fabiano Caruana
    • Arkadij Naiditsch - Michael Adams
    • Vladimir Kramnik - Georg Meier
    • Peter Leko - Ruslan Ponomariov

    The tournament is maybe a little weaker and smaller than it used to be, but with two players from the top ten and six players over 2700 it's still a strong and interesting event.

    Thursday
    Jul102014

    A Little Blitz Entertainment

    I don't watch much blitz online, but I took a few minutes earlier this afternoon to see some big guns slugging it out on (the) ICC. You can find one of the games I saw and replay it here, and my recommendation is to avoid looking at the notes until you get to the position after 24.Rac1 Nf4. Take a moment or two trying to work things out and look for tricks.

    It's nothing heavy; just a little light entertainment and a small workout. Enjoy it!

    Thursday
    Jul102014

    Dominant Players Graphic

    Here. (HT: Esteban) I'm sure there's a more thorough and easily read chart somewhere else though - maybe from Jeff Sonas. The "men's" graph only seems to cover players who were #1 or #2 at some point, so there are obviously going to be some major omissions. Also, it isn't clear what the scale is along the vertical axis.

    Anyway, have a look, and if you find a more thorough graph of the same sort (preferably with FIDE ratings or IPRs rather than ChessMetrics ratings) please let us know in the comments.

    Finally, if you hover over the graphic with your mouse there's a little pop-up about the "Vera Menchik club".

    Thursday
    Jul102014

    Hamppe-Meitner, Revisited

    One of the most famous draws in chess history occurred in Vienna in 1870, between Carl Hamppe and Philipp Meitner. The opponents' play was remarkably accurate, too, though improvements have been found in the computer age. It would not be easy to find these improvements OTB though, especially in a rapid (15' + 10") game. So when Rauf Mamedov and Aleksej Alexandrov repeated the game on their way to a draw in round 6 of the World Rapid Championship last month, were they just taking a round off, or was one player or the other trying to outfox his opponent? The two aren't countrymen, they're of different generations (Alexandrov is 15 years older) and tiredness was unlikely to be a factor as it was the first game of the second day. So one would expect a normal game from them, but repeating the Hamppe-Meitner game smacks of pre-arranged draw. Does anyone know?

    In case you're curious, you can replay their game here.

    Thursday
    Jul102014

    Beware of b3, Beware of b4

    In contemporary chess the move 1.b3 has experienced a small surge of popularity. At least one monograph has been published in English on the move, and in recent years it has been occasionally adopted by elite GMs Baadur Jobava and Hikaru Nakamura. 1.b4 is probably less strong, but it has had at least two book-length treatments in recent years!

    Moreover, the popularity of early b-pawn pushes for White is not limited to the opening move. When I was playing through the games from round 6 of the World Rapid Championship, I was simply amazed by how often White played either b3 or b4 while still in the opening. I've gone through many tournaments without pushing my b-pawn even once as White, but at least in this round of this tournament, it was prevalent: in at least 23 of the 50 or so games White pushed his b-pawn by around move 13 and generally much earlier!

    The situations often differed, and White's reason for playing it in one game didn't necessarily transfer to the reasons for its being played in another. So I hope that looking through all 23 of the examples here - with my brief commentary whenever the b-pawn push occurred - will give you an increased sense of the richness of contemporary chess, along with an increased understanding of how such pawns moves can be useful. Enjoy, and don't worry - I only offer one comment per game, so going through all 23 of them won't take very long.