That's the name of a documentary film on the Polgar sisters that came out last year. More here, including a trailer. That makes two chess documentary films in the last year from Israel (the other was on Boris Gelfand, called "Album 61"), both very respectful of their subjects. Hopefully the result will be a chess boom in that country, or at least some positive growth for our great game. (I'm inclined to wish that U.S. filmmakers would do the same thing, but apparently the lure of the cheap, formulaic presentation of the mentally unstable chess nerd is too strong.)
Walter Browne was one of the strongest players in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s, a remarkable personality and a great fighter at the board. He was still battling in chess and had been making a bit of a comeback after some years with indifferent results. He hadn't looked particularly well in recent years, but it was still a shock to learn today that he had died this afternoon in Las Vegas at the age of 66.
In the early 1970s Browne was one of the youngest grandmasters in the world (perhaps the second youngest, after Anatoly Karpov) and seemed to be headed for world-class status. He did reach 2590 at one point in his career (but not the 2682 erroneously given on the Wikipedia page) and did so at a time when that was something special, though he never got too close to the absolute summit. Nevertheless, his accomplishments were considerable, including six U.S. championship titles and numerous victories in international and major U.S. open events.
Among his scalps you'll find a veritable who's who of chess in the '70s and '80s: Enrique Mecking, Samuel Reshevsky, Svetozar Gligoric, Lubomir Kavalek, Andras Adorjan, Jan Timman, Pal Benko, Bent Larsen, Vasily Smyslov, Zoltan Ribli, Mikhail Tal, Yasser Seirawan, Robert Byrne, Ljubomir Ljubojevic, Anthony Miles, Miguel Najdorf, Eugenio Torre, Vlastimil Hort, Viktor Korchnoi, Lajos Portisch, Ulf Andersson, Nigel Short, Lev Polugaevsky, Sergey Dolmatov, Gata Kamsky...the list goes on and on. For those unfamiliar with some or all of the foregoing, the list includes two world champions and 19 players who were "only" Candidates, including three (losing) world championship finalists. He also drew all five games he played against Boris Spassky and the only game he played against Bobby Fischer - and Fischer only drew that game by a hair.
Going down several levels, he also faced a far less notable player - yours truly - in a couple of games, winning the first and drawing the second. Though he was an extremely competitive person, as anyone who ever watched him play can attest, I was treated with respect, and equal respect, in both games. He wasn't arrogant when he beat me and wasn't a bad sport when I drew. It was an honor for me to have the chance to play him, a player I had read about and looked up to from when I was a young boy, years before I entered my first tournament.
He deserves a fuller tribute on here, and I'm sure he'll receive many laudatory articles around the web and in chess magazines in the days and weeks to come. For now, here are a couple of links, to the first announcement of his passing and to his ChessGames.com page.
To his family and friends I offer my condolences. Rest in peace, Walter Shawn Browne.
Veselin Topalov had been riding high through the first seven rounds of the Norway Chess tournament, scoring an undefeated 6-1 that was a combination of strong play (against non-Norwegians) and good fortune (against Norwegians). He led by 1.5 points with just two rounds to go, but in round 8 he finally received his comeuppance at the hands of the youngest player in the tournament, Anish Giri. Topalov played an uncharacteristically passive line of the Queen's Indian/Catalan with Black, hoping to draw the resulting technical position. This really isn't Topalov's forte, however, and Giri simply outplayed him, step by step.
As a result tournament victory is still up for grabs, but Topalov is still in good shape. He is half a point ahead of Viswanathan Anand and a point or more ahead of everyone else, and he has White against Anand in the final round. If he can draw with White (or win), he wins the tournament; if he loses, then Anand wins. Anand obtained this opportunity by beating Jon Ludwig Hammer. Hammer was fine out of the opening and into the early middlegame, but drifted into a bit of pressure and then blundered a pawn on move 27 and some more material a few moves after that.
Hikaru Nakamura could have been in the running as well, had he managed to convert an extra pawn against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. The Frenchman was slippery though, and Nakamura couldn't manage to neutralize his opponent's counterplay and keep his extra pawn at the same time. With the draw Nakamura is a point out of first, tied for third with Giri half a point behind Anand.
The other games had no implications for first place (surprisingly). Fabiano Caruana slightly outplayed Alexander Grischuk with Black, but it wasn't enough to win the game. Finally, what would normally be one of the absolute highlights of any chess tournament, a battle between Magnus Carlsen and Levon Aronian, was almost an afterthought with both players near the bottom of the tournament table. Aronian played a terrific opening with Black and was somewhat better, only to go wrong with 21...Qb6. This gave Carlsen a very slight edge, which was neutralized, and then Aronian went awry again with 31...Nd3? and 34...Qxb2? Now he was losing, but when Carlsen with 36.Rc2?? Aronian had the chance to be better with 36...Qb8! Both players missed it, but a kibitzing Anand spotted it right away. (If only he had spotted ...Nxe5 in some game played in 2014....) Instead, Aronian blundered back and resigned on his 40th move, down a rook with no counterplay and the queens coming off.
The games, with my notes (except to Grischuk-Caruana), are here. These are the last-round pairings:
- Vachier-Lagrave (3.5) - Grischuk (3)
- Aronian (3) - Nakamura (5)
- Hammer (2) - Carlsen (3.5)
- Topalov (6) - Anand (5.5)
- Caruana (3.5) - Giri (5)
It wasn't the most interesting round of the Norway Chess tournament, but given all the blood we've seen so far there's not much to complain about. Besides, most of the draws had their interesting moments as well.
Veselin Topalov came into (and left) the round with a one and a half point lead, and it looked like his game with Fabiano Caruana would be a dull draw. Caruana played the ...c6+...d5 line of the Fianchetto Gruenfeld, a line that tends to be pretty dry even on the best of days. When the game looked like it was about to terminate in a handshake, Topalov shook things up on the board with 28.Qa1 and a series of very risky moves. The geometry involved in some of the lines was pretty remarkable, and while most of the risk was objectively Topalov's the position definitely held some dangers for Caruana. Still, he defended alertly, and the game concluded with a Topalov piece sac followed by perpetual check.
With a win Hikaru Nakamura could have come to within a point of Topalov, but he didn't manage to get anything with White against Alexander Grischuk in an English. Likewise for Viswanathan Anand, who was also slugging things out in an English, but with Black against Levon Aronian. Anand equalized easily and drew quickly, while Nakamura's game made it to the end of the first time control.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Magnus Carlsen had an even shorter draw - just 17 moves - but theirs was a wild and almost completely uncharted opening. In the Semi-Slav with 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bh4 g5 7.Bg3 Carlsen came up with 7...Ne4, a very unusual and provocative move. Vachier-Lagrave's reply was even more remarkable: he sacrificed two pawns for unclear compensation. Unfortunately, the game didn't get much further, ending in a repetition that commenced just four moves after the second pawn sac. Hopefully the line will get played again soon, as it has the potential for great entertainment.
The longest game of the round was Jon Ludwig Hammer's. He had a chance for a huge attack against Anish Giri while the game was still in the opening, but instead of 12.0-0-0 he went for a slightly better queenless middlegame with 12.Be4. Although he retained some advantage after that, it wasn't nearly enough to push Giri over the edge.
The games (with my notes) are here. The round 8 pairings are as follows:
- Grischuk (2.5) - Caruana (3)
- Giri (4) - Topalov (6)
- Anand (4.5) - Hammer (2)
- Carlsen (2.5) - Aronian (3)
- Nakamura (4.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (3)
The score (5.5/6!) and the all-time high rating suggest that the Veselin Topalov of the mid-2000s is back. Is he? I have my doubts, but he's still playing at a very high level and showing his best chess in at least the past five years. In today's round 6 action he won, though with an undue amount of help from Alexander Grischuk. Not all the "credit" goes to Grischuk, however. Topalov obtained an edge with Black, but 16.Nb5 was a gift horse without any hidden soldiers inside. (Perhaps next Grischuk could have offered a large wooden badger...) Topalov accepted the gift and won the game, though it took the further error (which should not be thought of as a gift) 28.Rxg3 to turn Black's advantage into a decisive one.
There was one other winner on the day, and that was Viswanathan Anand. The ex-champ is looking like he could be headed for a third match with Carlsen, with his convincing victory over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave being only the latest bit of evidence. It seemed that Vachier-Lagrave was poorly prepared for Anand's opening choice, There was an earlier game between David Navara and the aforementioned Grischuk in the same line and in which the same Bxh6 sac occurred, and there too White won. Maybe MVL was overly trusting of his computer's evaluation (see my notes for more details) and maybe he missed the earlier game because it came about through a slightly different move order. Whatever the story, Black had to be ready for Anand's 19.Bxh6, and he wasn't. The result was a smooth victory for White.
Magnus Carlsen needed a win to remain mathematically alive in the race for first, and with the white pieces against Hikaru Nakamura he couldn't have picked a more convenient opponent - at least in theory, based on their lopsided score in classical chess. (It's something like 11-0 in Carlsen's favor, not counting draws.) Carlsen was slightly careless in the opening, allowing Nakamura to equalize fully, but as as is usually the case in Carlsen's games that wasn't the end of the story. Carlsen managed to win a pawn and get his fans (and the engines) revved up about his chances. This was only an illusion, however. Nakamura was able to reach a rook and three vs. rook and four scenario with all the pawns on the same side and the defender's pawns arranged in the ideal f7/g6/h5 formation. The game went 95 moves, of which the last 50 or so were unnecessary. (Carlsen was right to try; I'm merely noting that he never came close to posing Black any real problems.)
The other two games were drawn. Fabiano Caruana had a huge advantage early in the game against Jon Ludwig Hammer, but slipped up and let his opponent escape. Anish Giri tested Levon Aronian in the razor-sharp Vienna Variation (an important sub-line within the Ragozin), and Aronian had done his homework. As often happens in such openings, a series of complications suddenly resolves after a series of exchanges, resulting in a drawn, playless ending.
- Nakamura (4) - Grischuk (2)
- Vachier-Lagrave (2.5) - Carlsen (2)
- Aronian (2.5) - Anand (4)
- Hammer (1.5) - Giri (3.5)
- Topalov (5.5) - Caruana (2.5)
The Norway Chess tournament has passed the halfway point, and Veselin Topalov continues his success. When he's not playing Norwegians, he wins cleanly; when he does, he hangs in there and waits for miracles to happen. And that's what happened in round 5. Topalov was in all kinds of trouble with Black against Jon Ludwig Hammer. Maybe he was never flat out lost, but it was close! Topalov finally took over the advantage from move 42 on, yet Hammer defended well and was on the verge of a draw after 73 moves. All he needed to do was play 74.f5, a move that any club player could find and that requires calculating a grand total of two moves ahead. Instead, Hammer played 74.Kc6?? and had to resign after the obvious 74...Ke6. A blind spot for Hammer?
Yes, but perhaps it was a literal blind spot. It was suggested, very plausibly, that Hammer didn't really look up when Topalov played 73...Ke7 and assumed that Black had played 73...Bb8 instead. In that case, 74.Kc6 would have been the only move. Hammer's haste cost him the game, and completely unnecessarily, especially since he had 15 minutes left on his clock when that happened.
With the win Topalov leads the second-placed Hikaru Nakamura by a point with an impressive score of 4.5/5. Nakamura started the round half a point behind, but after a draw with Viswanathan Anand the gap doubled. Anand is a further half a point back, tied for 3rd-4th with Anish Giri, who in turn drew comfortably with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.
The other two games finished with a winner, and like Hammer-Topalov those victories had a tinge of the accidental to them. In fact, all three games were decided by hasty moves, though in the two games we haven't yet described that haste was due to time trouble. Levon Aronian had an opening edge against Fabiano Caruana, but Caruana had equalized and the game was headed for a draw as the first time control neared its end. 39...Qg6 would have sealed the deal, giving Caruana full, safe equality and the ability to reach the second time control without any big worries. Instead, he thought he spotted an opportunity and quickly played 39...Qxg3+. It's a nice little tactic, and...it loses. Black wins a pawn for the moment, but White's king achieves maximum activity and ransacks all of Black's queenside pawns. Caruana fought on to move 60, but there was no saving the game.
Finally, Magnus Carlsen had been having a dreadful tournament with only half a point out of four, and despite this he showed his resilience by winning in classic Carlsen style. Alexander Grischuk had managed to equalize, though as usual with Grischuk he didn't manage to do this without getting into time trouble. With the game about to reach the point where a club player could hold Grischuk's position Carlsen tried one last idea: 26.c5! Grischuk could and should have held this, but without time it was far from trivial. Carlsen obtained a very usable edge, though perhaps not yet enough to win the game. On move 40, it was time for another trick: 40.f4. This may not have been the very best move, and had Grischuk replied correctly he probably would have saved the game. Time trouble killed him, though, and 40...exf4?? made it easy for the world champion. (The games, with my notes, are here.)
Carlsen has awakened, and while it's almost impossible for him to contend for first it's not too late for him to do some damage. Next up, he has the white pieces against one of his usual "customers", Hikaru Nakamura. If Nakamura had White it might be a great opportunity for the American to get a '1', but with Black it may be another story. We'll see; meanwhile, here are the pairings for round 6:
- Grischuk (2) - Topalov (4.5)
- Caruana (2) - Hammer (1)
- Giri (3) - Aronian (2)
- Anand (3) - Vachier-Lagrave (2.5)
- Carlsen (1.5) - Nakamura (3.5)
The Capablanca Memorial is a six player, double round robin tournament in Havana, Cuba, and after the first cycle Chinese grandmaster Yu Yangyi leads with a blistering 4.5/5, two points ahead of Pavel Eljanov, Dmitry and Andreikin and Cuban #1 Leinier Dominguez. It's a great performance so far and has netted him more than 21 rating points thus far, but to be fair he was quite lost to Ian Nepomniachtchi in round 5 before winning a wild game. As they say, it's better to be lucky and good!
Magnus Carlsen has been dominating the chess world for years now, including great results last year (winning world championships in three different sub-disciplines) and this (winning every event he has entered). But in the Norway Chess tournament, a tournament that owes its existence to the prominence of its national hero, he has come a-cropper. In 2013 and 2014 he failed to win as Sergey Karjakin won the two inaugural editions of the tournament, and Karjakin's absence this year hasn't improved a thing for Carlsen.
First he lost to Veselin Topalov on time from a winning position because he was unaware that there wasn't a third time control. Then he got thumped by Fabiano Caruana and his outstanding preparation. In round 3 he failed to win a won game against Anish Giri, who never stops rubbing in the fact that Carlsen has never yet beaten him, and then today, in round 4, he was crushed by Viswanathan Anand in a Breyer Ruy. Anand played very well, winning with a nice attack, but Carlsen did not play anywhere near his usual standard.
Carlsen thus has just half a point from four games, is in last place and has pitched away 19.5 rating points thus far. At this point we can forget about Carlsen winning the tournament and ask instead of he can achieve a more modest goal like getting back to 50%. With three white games in the next four rounds, including one against his traditional "customer" Hikaru Nakamura, plus the chance to play his countryman Jon Ludwig Hammer in the last round, he'll still have a shot at the more modest goal if he can get his mind together. Saturday is a rest day, and that's bound to help. Whatever happens, he'll be back in the saddle soon, striking fear into all his opponents, but it's interesting and remarkable to see that even the highest-rated player of all time can have an inexplicable slump.
Meanwhile, let's return to the top of the crosstable. Veselin Topalov is alone in first place with 3.5/4 after a convincing victory against Levon Aronian. Topalov seemed like a spent force 2-3 years ago, but now he's back near his peak rating and is #2 in the world. An impressive comeback! He was lucky in this tournament in round 1, but since then he has earned his points cleanly, and deserves his spot at the top.
Hikaru Nakamura is in second, half a point behind, after his draw with Anish Giri. Nakamura had Black in a very theoretical line, and while Giri emerged with some advantage it wasn't enough to parlay into a win. Giri and Anand are tied for third with 2.5/4.
Fabiano Caruana and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave were both on 50% coming into the round, and after they drew with each other in a well-played 6.h3 Najdorf they ended the round the same way.
Alexander Grischuk is also at 50%, thanks to a win over Jon Ludwig Hammer. The opening was anything but traditional, and it was Grischuk who navigated the uncharted waters better than his opponent. Grischuk is known for his excellent theoretical preparation, but I've seen him play some fantastic chess from original, even bizarre (and certainly untheoretical) positions. Hammer is tied with Aronian at -2; not good, but not quite last place.
(The games are here, with my notes.)
After the rest day the action will resume on Sunday, with the following games:
- Carlsen (.5) - Grischuk (2)
- Nakamura (3) - Anand (2.5)
- Vachier-Lagrave (2) - Giri (2.5)
- Aronian (1) - Caruana (2)
- Hammer (1) - Topalov (3.5)