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    Sunday
    Feb262017

    Two Weeks Ago's World Chess Column: Joop van Oosterom's Legacy

    A couple of weeks ago I noted the passing of Dutch billionaire and two-time world correspondence chess champion Joop van Oosterom, and mentioned his sponsorship of the Amber Rapid & Blindfold events and other chess tournaments as well. So rather than present any of his correspondence games, I decided instead to show a couple of beautiful games played in the events he sponsored - have a look.

    Sunday
    Feb262017

    Catching Up: Gibraltar

    Yes, it's almost ancient history by now, but not quite. I'd mentioned the Gibraltar tournament when it started and never intended to provide daily coverage, but at least three things are worth addressing: the final results, the master classes, and Hou Yifan's protest.

    First then, results: Hikaru Nakamura came from behind to win the main tournament in a playoff over Yu Yangyi and then David Anton Guijarro. Anton led the field by half a point going into the last round, and after a draw with Mickey Adams he was caught by Nakamura and Yu. Anton had the highest TPR of the event, so the format for the playoff required Nakamura and Yu to play a pair of rapid games for the right to play another pair of rapid games with Anton for the title.

    The rapid games were both drawn, so they went on to blitz, and there Nakamura defeated Yu 2-0. The final went more smoothly for Nakamura, drawing with Black and defeating Anton with White to win the title.

    Second, master classes: Hou Yifan and Veselin Topalov gave special, prepared lectures during the tournament; this is a tournament tradition. They (and the 2016 master classes as well) can be accessed here.

    Third and finally, Hou Yifan's protest. Judit Polgar decided in her earliest teenage years to forsake the world of women's chess and to focus only on playing in the best events she could. Her decision paid off, as she became not simply the strongest female player in the world by a significant margin, but one of the best players in the world, period, peaking at #8.

    Hou Yifan took longer to come to the same point, but her dissatisfaction with how FIDE conducts the women's world championship and the realization that she has to play stronger opponents to improve has recently brought her around as well. So imagine her surprise and dismay when after nine of the 10 rounds at Gibraltar, seven of her games were against women. She had complained about it earlier in the event, but she made her displeasure even clearer in the final round, uncorking this immortal game:

    Hou Yifan - Lalith Babu M R:

    1.g4? d5 2.f3? e5 3.d3 Qh4+ 4.Kd2 h5 5.h3 hxg4 0-1

    What's wrong with this, you ask? Plenty.

    (1) Protesting in the last round comes too late to fix the problem.

    (2) Protesting when facing a male opponent, the "kind" of opponent she expected to play, doesn't make any sense.

    (3) The loss costs other players money. Given the reasonable likelihood of a draw in the course of a normal game, the players who tied for a prize with Lalith were potentially cheated out of some money.

    (4) Throwing a game, as opposed to forfeiting (a la Fischer in game 2 in 1972 or Kramnik in game 5 of the 2006 world championship match) is unethical.

    (5) No proof or even evidence was supplied to show that the pairings had been rigged by the organizers. As they pointed out, and no doubt pointed out to her if she raised the issue earlier in the tournament, they are done by computer. Pairing programs have been around for decades, and it would be easy to replicate their results.

    (6) The organizers have been fans of Hou Yifan's for years, and as noted above had invited her to give one of this year's Master Class lectures. Why would they suddenly act antagonistically towards her? It doesn't make much sense.

    I add that I'm a fan of hers, and approve wholeheartedly of her decision to eschew the women's world championship cycles to focus on becoming the best player she possibly can. Her frustration was understandable, but the protest doesn't seem to be defensible.

    Friday
    Feb242017

    More Work for Ken Regan?

    A few posts ago I mentioned Paul Keres' book on the 1948 World Championship, which has been praised by greats like Boris Gelfand and even Garry Kasparov. It looks very good so far, but will it hold up once we sic the computer on it?

    This leads me to wonder about older books in general. It would be interesting to see who were the most accurate analysts of the pre-computer era. Does over-the-board strength correlate with analytical precision? Keres has achieved high fame as an analyst; another candidate for top honors is Isaac Boleslavsky, whose autobiographical Selected Games was singled out by Bobby Fischer for its accuracy and objectivity. I'd expect them to fare well, likewise Fischer himself for his My 60 Memorable Games.

    Other interesting characters, with my guess for their accuracy in parenthesis: (pre-computer) Kasparov (high), Anatoly Karpov (relatively low), Mikhail Tal (relatively low), Alexander Alekhine (good for his day, but lower than the post-WW II champions), Mikhail Botvinnik (high).

    But how are we to test this? This looks like a job for Ken Regan and his wonderful Intrinsic Performance Ratings (IPRs). Unfortunately, entering the analysis into the computer is rather time-consuming, but maybe publishers can send him the PGNs, or readers who have created them already could do so.

    Note: he hasn't volunteered for any of this - this is just a fun idea I had, made all the more fun by my not having to do any of the work involved. But if Ken's interested and others - whether publishers or curious readers - are willing to supply him with the raw material, then we may be on to something.

    Friday
    Feb242017

    Paul Keres - Part 6

    There has been a great series on Chess24 on the life of Paul Keres, and part six, focusing his second-place finishes in the 1953, 1956, and 1959 Candidates tournaments, is now up. Have a look, whether you're a long-time Keres fan or just discovering the Estonian great for the first time.

    Friday
    Feb242017

    Return of the Blogger

    What, me? Yes, me too. But while I expect to do a lot of blogging the next few days, I was referring to a new post by Tim Krabbé, his first in two and a half years. If you're not familiar with his site, make sure you leave yourself a few hours to check it out - it's a treasure trove of chess entertainment.

    Saturday
    Feb112017

    This Week's World Chess Column: Miniatures Lost by Elite GMs

    Hou Yifan's five-move loss in the last round of Gibraltar was a protest, not a real game, but it got me curious about very short games lost by elite GMs (I'm arbitrarily defining that as GMs rated at or over 2600) at a classical time control. Some of my surprising (and entertaining and instructive) findings can be found here.

    Friday
    Feb102017

    Joop van Oosterom, 1937-2016

    Dutch businessman, chess patron, and two-time world correspondence champion Joop van Oosterom died late last year at the age of 79. More here.

    He was best known for sponsoring the Amber Blindfold & Rapid tournaments that attracted all of the world's top grandmasters except for Garry Kasparov, and he sponsored a number of other big events as well. He was one of the great sponsors of our game, and deserves to be fondly remembered by chess fans for the many events he organized and funded.

    His prowess in correspondence chess is a bit iffier. It has long been rumored that Dutch super-GM Jeroen Piket did the heavy lifting for him; if so, this is unfortunate. (One commentator at the link above claims that the Piket rumor is false, but that other GMs helped him instead. Well, that's much better, isn't it?)

    Anyway, he did a lot for the game, and it's nice to see some of the world's best players singing his praises at the aforementioned link. Our condolences to his family, may he rest in peace.

    Wednesday
    Feb082017

    Queen of Katwe

    I didn't watch the movie when it was in theaters, but had a look now that it's on DVD. It's based on the story of the young Ugandan player Phiona Mutesi, who, while not a prodigy in any conventional sense (her FIDE rating is 1628), was able to perform remarkably well given an environment that didn't conduce to success in chess or any other overtly intellectual pursuit.

    It's a formula movie, but a well-done entrant in the genre. Moreover, it's good publicity for chess, and not only because it presents chess players presented as human beings rather than collections of neuroses straight out of the DSM-5. (Well, Mutesi is presented that way. Her opponents tend to be a somewhat haughty lot, puffed up before the game and distraught afterward. There's probably a rule somewhere that Hollywood can only dispense with one stereotype at a time; perhaps they think audiences are so simple-minded that making everyone in a movie three-dimensional would be too confusing.)

    Anyway, while it's not a must-see it's a decent movie, especially for kids and our "civilian" (i.e. non-chess-playing) friends.

    Wednesday
    Feb082017

    Keres on the 1948 World Championship Match-Tournament

    Paul Keres, one of the greatest players of the 20th century not to become world champion, was a participant in the 1948 World Championship Match-Tournament held in the Hague and Moscow. The former champion, Alexander Alekhine, had died in 1946 in possession of the crown, so five players: Mikhail Botvinnik, Vassily Smyslov, Paul Keres, Samuel Reshevsky, and Max Euwe competed for the vacant title. (Reuben Fine was also invited, but declined to participate, while Miguel Najdorf was arguably deprived of a rightful spot in the event due at least in part to Botvinnik's dislike for Najdorf. See the book reviewed here - though not the review itself - for more on that topic.)

    Botvinnik won the event and the title, in large part thanks to his dominance over Keres in their mini-match. Botvinnik won their first four games, only losing the last game after he had already clinched clear first by a significant margin. Their games in that event have been the subject of enormous speculation, with a significant minority maintaining that Keres was forced to throw the games or at least play below his best. (I don't subscribe to this thesis myself, though I think it has more going for it than sour grapes that the universally beloved Keres lost to the far less lovable Botvinnik.)

    While the machinations behind the scenes are fascinating (and perhaps tragic for Keres and/or Najdorf), they shouldn't be dwelt on to the point that one forgets that this was a great chess event, with five all-time greats playing a total of 20 games against each other. Those games have long been available through various databases, of course, but decent analytical coverage has been scarce until now. Keres's own book of the event had long been available in Russian, and has been widely praised. (Garry Kasparov once called it one of the three best chess books ever written, which would ideally be followed by a mic drop and everyone ordering the book.)

    It is now available in English, and I heartily recommend that anyone interested in good chess content or the history of the game give him- or herself a belated Christmas present and order a copy. (I'm about to do so myself.)

    HT: Mutlu Arpaci

    Wednesday
    Feb082017

    Last Week's World Chess Column: Jones Takes The Tata Steel Challengers Group

    The previous two World Chess columns covered the then-ongoing Challengers Group at the Tata Steel Chess Tournament (mostly in Wijk aan Zee), and last Friday's column - the current column - covered the finish. He won on tiebreaks over Markus Ragger, thanks to his win over him in their individual game, which is covered therein. Jones also won a clutch game in the penultimate round over Vladimir Dobrov; that game is also presented in the column.