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    Wednesday
    Apr082015

    Kasparov-Short in St. Louis

    Garry Kasparov and Nigel Short famously played a world championship match in 1993 (won easily by Kasparov), not to mention a rapid match in 1987 (also won easily by Kasparov) and then a rapid and blitz match in 2011 (won by Kasparov thanks to a win in the final game). Now, for some reason, they're going to do it again.

    The match will take place April 25 and 26 at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, with each day starting with a rapid game (25' + 10" delay; using time delay rather than increment is a horrible custom foisted upon us in the U.S. by our beloved federation) followed by four blitz games (5' + 3" delay). I suppose it's good publicity for the St. Louis club, a chance for Kasparov to erase the stain of his near-collapse in the 2011 match (he led by two with three games to go, then promptly lost two straight games) and a chance for Short to finally slay the man he once called a "hairy ape". (I think this was shortly after Kasparov's famous quip, when he was asked who the winner of the Short-Timman final candidates match would be and how his championship match with that winner would go. His reply: "It will be Short and it will be short.")

    Hopefully Kasparov will be in good form and can still show something of his old class; having him show up just to lose to someone he had a +22 score against in classical games would be a pity.

    HT: Allen Becker.

    Wednesday
    Apr082015

    U.S. Championships, Round 6: More Upsets

    It was not a good day for the favorites in the U.S. Championship, with the top three seeds scoring a grand total of half a point between them. The leader, Hikaru Nakamura, came out of the opening against Sam Shankland, but it wasn't long before it had disappeared and Shankland had the edge. Periodically the evaluation would revert to equality and then back again in Shankland's favor, and in fact when the draw was agreed Shankland again had a slight edge.

    Thanks to the draw Nakamura remains in clear first with 4.5/6, half a point ahead of Ray Robson. Robson leapfrogged Wesley So, whom he defeated in a see-saw game. Robson was better for most of the first 25 moves, but when the game sharpened So outplayed him in the complications and was apparently on his way to a win. So had a great opportunity on move 25 with the double sacrifice 31...Rxb7! 32.Qxb7 Bd5 33.Qc7 Bxg2! The bishop can't be taken, but if it's not then it will play a major role in what should be a decisive attack on White's king. Even after missing that chance Black was better, but errors on moves 34-36 gave Robson a winning advantage he converted a few moves later.

    Meanwhile, no sooner had Gata Kamsky made his way into the chase with a win in round 5, his first victory of the tournament, did he fall back to the pack by losing in round 6. Kamsky played a Chebanenko Slav against Alexander Onischuk, quickly surrendering his "bad" light-squared bishop to achieve a solid, Fort Knox-like position without any bad pieces. Unfortunately for Kamsky, Onischuk did a very nice job of making his bishop pair count, opening the board and saddling Black with pawn weaknesses. The nature of White's advantage kept changing, but the fact of that advantage was a constant. Most of the time it was substantial in magnitude. Although Kamsky put up a lot of resistance, Onischuk was finally able to break him down and grind out the win in 88 moves.

    Onischuk now has 3.5 points, and is tied for third with Wesley So and Sam Sevian, who won again today. His opponent, Kayden Troff, was better and even winning for most of the first part of the game, and still wasn't losing until his 47th move. 47.Kg3 was a serious mistake - something like 47.h3 should have been preferred. The point is that after 47...Rd6 48.Rd6 Rxc7 White can play 49.Rxd6 when his king is on f3 but not when it's on g3, as in the latter case there's 49...Rg7+. (In the former case 49...Rf7+ 50.Rf6 is equal.) A technical task remained for Sevian, and he was up to the challenge.

    In the other two games, Conrad Holt defeated Varuzhan Akobian in a messy battle, and Timur Gareev and Daniel Naroditsky had a short and safe draw.

    In the women's championship the leader, the surprising Katerina Nemcova, managed to extend her lead over Irina Krush to a full point. Nemcova beat Jennifer Yu with the black pieces, while Krush was unable to cash in a winning advantage against Anna Sharevich and only drew. Nemcova has 5/6, a point ahead of Krush and Rusudan Goletiani, who defeated Apurva Virkud with Black. Paikidze and Abrahamyan are a further half a point behind, so at least for now the rating favorite (Krush) is anything but a runaway favorite to pick up her 7th U.S. women's championship title.

    Monday
    Apr062015

    U.S. Championships, Round 5: The Favorites Triumph

    The top seeds, Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So, regained their momentum today at the U.S. Championship, and occupy the two top places after five rounds, entering the first rest day.

    Nakamura essayed the Dragon against Daniel Naroditsky, and went for a surprising ...Rxc3 sacrifice. That kind of sac isn't so surprising, but as Nakamura's version involved a queen trade and didn't include the usual compensating pawn it was riskier than usual. The computer wasn't impressed by the sac, but then humans aren't computers. Naroditsky didn't maintain an advantage for very long, and when he decided to return the exchange in hopes of achieving a safe position he must have miscalculated something. 28.e5 was pretty much a blunder, and while it's hard to believe Naroditsky could have played it intending to follow up with 29.Bxe5, not seeing 29...Bh6 until it was too late, it's also hard to see what he thought he'd have after 29.Rxe5. Anyway, returning the exchange only exacerbated White's problems, and a flurry of tactics soon forced Naroditsky's resignation.

    So also won, defeating Timur Gareev on the white side of a Fort Knox French, with Gareev offering a funny twist with 9...h5. That didn't work out too badly, and Gareev was still only slightly worse by his 20th move. Unfortunately, the plan he chose with 20...Qb8 followed by 21...e5 wasn't so good, and while So didn't play perfectly he obtained the upper hand and never released it.

    So thereby reached 3.5/5, half a point less than Nakamura. With a draw, Ray Robson would tie with So, while a win would keep him in a tie for first. Instead, he lost to Gata Kamsky, leaving both players in a tie for third place. Robson outthought himself in the opening, and chose 2...d5 rather than his usual 2...g6, aiming for the Gruenfeld. His reasoning was that Kamsky always avoids mainstream theory, opting instead for lines like the London System. Robson felt that 2...d5 would be better there, only to be surprised when Kamsky played 3.c4 and headed for "normal" theory. Robson managed to keep a decent position until around move 30 or so, but that forced him to burn a lot of time. As the time control drew near and time pressure increased, Robson couldn't keep up with Kamsky's level of play, and the veteran obtained his first win of the tournament.

    The tie for third has a third player, Kayden Troff, who was unbelievably lucky against Conrad Holt, who is apparently one of his customers. Troff had a 4-0 score against Holt coming into the game, but he was totally outplayed in the opening and losing by move 13. Holt had his first chance to put Troff away on move 16 with 16.Qa3!, taking e3 away from Black's queen and preparing Bc7. Instead, he played 16.Bc7, which let Troff fight on with 16...Qe3! 19.Be6 was another error (19.Qc2!), after which the game was equal. It was only a few moves later that Holt again enjoyed a winning advantage, and he maintained it to and past the time control on move 40 as well. All Holt needed was to keep alert and make a few more accurate moves, and his two extra pawns and the terrible Black king would give him the full point.

    On move 43, Holt could have played 43.Kf3, 43.Kh1 or even the taunting moves 43.Kg1 and 43.Kf2. Instead, thinking to end the game by stopping the checks, he played 43.Kh3??? This succeeded in both aims: it did end the game, and it did stop the checks. Unfortunately for him, the way the game ended wasn't what he had in mind. Troff played 43...g5!, threatening 44...Qh6#, and to White's misfortune and Black's incredible good luck, there was no way for White to stop the mate that didn't walk into some fork or other. If White played 44.g4, Black would have 44...Qh6+ 45.Kg3 Nf1+, forking the king and queen. If instead 44.Qd6+, then 44...Qxd6 45.Rxd6 g4+ 46.Kh4 and then 46...Nf5+ picks up the rook on the fork. Holt tried 44.Rd6, but once again it was time for a fork: 44...g4+ 45.Kh4 Nf5+. Holt played three more moves and resigned in understandable disgust.

    The other two games (Akobian-Onischuk and Shankland-Sevian) were drawn, so let's turn to the women's championship. Here too, the key decisive game saw the winner enjoy a bit of spectacular luck on the way to victory. Irina Krush was falling prey to a great attack by Rusudan Goletiani, and had Goletiani played the naive and obvious 22...dxe5 she would have been well on the way to a victory. Instead, she got too clever by half with 22...Bxg2??, missing the neat rejoinder 23.Rh5! Qxh5 24.Qd4+!, forcing Black to either trade queens or play 24...Kg8, taking the g8 square from Black's rook. Either way, Black's attack was over and White enjoyed a non-trivial winning advantage. Krush slipped up and let Goletiani back into the game a few moves later, but near the time control Black returned the favor. Krush regained the advantage, this time for good. As a result Krush moved to 3.5/5, within half a point of Katerina Nemcova, who drew with Tatev Abrahamyan.

    Sunday
    Apr052015

    Women's World Championship Finals, Day 4: Mariya Muzychuk The New Women's World Champion

    Another year goes by, and there is yet another women's world chess champion. There have been nine champions during this millennium - or eight, if one counts Hou Yifan's different reigns, of which there is likely to be a third starting late this fall. But let's give credit to the women who were in the arena in Sochi, and in particular to the one who came out the winner: Ukraine's Mariya Muzychuk. Her opponent, Natalia Pogonina, needed to win today to force tiebreaks, and while she took every chance and every reasonable risk she could, Muzychuk managed to keep control pretty much from start to finish. If anything, Muzychuk missed various chances to gain more, but as a draw was sufficient she preferred control to the pursuit of the full point.

    So congratulations to the winner, who is the second straight Ukranian to win the knockout title. For her sake, hopefully she will fare better than her predecessor (Anna Ushenina) when she faces Hou Yifan in a title match later this year.

    Saturday
    Apr042015

    Recap of Everything: Women's World Championship, Aeroflot and the U.S. Championships

    (Not literally everything, of course; that might take a while.)

    The women's world championship tournament could have come to an end today, and it was close. Natalia Pogonina lost the previous game and needed to make something of her last white in game 3. After a very complicated opening resulted in a middlegame where Pogonina had a piece for three pawns, it seemed that she had the better chances for a good while. To keep and try to grow that advantage, she needed to try f4-f5 at some moment - on move 29, for example - in order to open lines for her extra piece and to clear f4 for the knight. When she delayed too long her opponent, Mariya Muzychuk, was able to lock up the white pieces and steadily encroach into her opponent's territory. I don't know if she was ever winning, but she was close. Pogonina's 43.f5 was perhaps a case of better late than never: it didn't offer her any winning chances by this point, but it had some of the same virtues as before; in particular helping the sidelined knight from h3 return to the fray. White soon returned the piece, and although she didn't get all three of her pawns back she was still able to save the game. Tomorrow Pogonina will have to win with Black to force tiebreaks; otherwise, it's over and Muzychuk is the new world champion.

    About the Aeroflot Open I will say very little. Only this: Daniil Dubov defeated Lu Shanglei in the last round to tie for first with Ian Nepomniachtchi, who only drew his game. Unfortunately for Dubov, Nepomniachtchi had the better tiebreaks, which meant the latter won the big prize: qualification to the Dortmund super-tournament at the end of June.

    On to the U.S. Championships. Today the marquee matchup took place between Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So, and it was a dramatic game. So was doing alright until his 28th move, 28...g5, which he regretted the moment Nakamura played 29.f4. This gave White a significant edge, but it didn't last long. After 29...gxf4 30.Qf2 Nh4 Nakamura blundered with 31.Bxf4?/??, missing the shot 31...Nf3+. In a move Nakamura went from clearly better to clearly worse, but despite a prolonged bout of head-shaking he kept his concentration and defended well. So enjoyed a tax-free extra pawn in the endgame, but Nakamura managed to reach a rook ending. All rook endings are drawn, according to the ancient wisdom of our forebears, so Q.E.D. In fact, all six games on the "men's" side were drawn. Nakamura and Robson remain the co-leaders with 3/4.

    In the women's section there were only two draws. One was round 3 co-leader Rusudan Goletiani's game against Paikidze. That allowed Katerina Nemcova to take over clear first with 3.5/4, thanks to her win with Black against Alisa Melekhina. Goletiani is in clear second, while Paikidze, Irina Krush (who defeated Apurva Vikud) and Sabina Foisor (who defeated Annie Wang) have 2.5 points. Tatev Abrahamyan won her second straight game, and she has 2/4.

    Friday
    Apr032015

    Boris Gelfand: An Interview and a Film

    There's an English translation of a TV interview with Boris Gelfand, and as the interview is substantive I recommend it as worth your time. Better still, the documentary film "The 61st Album" is available on that page, which looks at Gelfand's development as a player from his younger years, in part through the eyes of his doting father, and covers his very near miss in the world championship match with Viswanathan Anand in 2012 and its immediate aftermath. The film won an award, and rightly so. I very heartily recommend it, though I should point out that a couple of utterly unnecessary girlie pics make it potentially unsuitable for younger kids. (Better: just find that spot and skip over it.) That's a pity, as the movie could otherwise be watched by anyone of any age, and it is the kind of movie that could make for a great parent-child bonding experience. Anyway, that's obviously your decision to make, parents, but with that one minor caveat I recommend the film to chess player and non-chess player alike.

    HT: David McCarthy

    Friday
    Apr032015

    U.S. Championships, Round 3: Upsets and Stumbles Aplenty

    Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So are scheduled to play tomorrow, in round 4, and for most of the round it looked like they'd face each other with perfect scores on the line. Instead, the U.S. Championship is now without any perfect scores as Wesley So lost what had been a winning position against Sam Sevian while Hikaru Nakamura let Gata Kamsky escape with a draw.

    Nakamura is still tied for first place, but now with Ray Robson. Robson defeated Conrad Holt to reach 2.5 points, and joined Sevian as the day's only winners. Alexander Onischuk should have been a third winner, but a moment of carelessness allowed Kayden Troff to escape with a draw. (Akobian - Gareev and Naroditsky - Shankland were also drawn.)

    Being the top seed didn't do much for Irina Krush in the women's championship either, as she was mauled by Paikidze. Krush has 1.5/3, a point behind Rusudan Goletiani and Katerina Nemcova.

    Friday
    Apr032015

    Women's World Championship Finals, Day 2

    There's bad news and good news for Natalia Pogonina's fans. The bad news: she lost today against Mariya Muzychuk and trails their (best of) four game match 1.5-.5. The good news: she trailed in her last three matches as well before winning them, so she can shrug it off as business as usual and come back raring to go. It's not too late for her to win the women's world championship.

    Today's game was somewhat strange, in my estimation, as both players - especially Pogonina - seemed to persistently underestimate the importance of controlling the e5 square. In fact, she needn't have allowed White's f4 break in the first place. She stood better in the early middlegame, and one slightly ugly but strong way of keeping control was 27...g5, to be followed by ...Ng6 (and ...Bxg3 the moment White breaks the pin on the knight). Such a position would be almost unloseable for Pogonina.

    Instead, she allowed White to achieve 28.f4, after which the pressure would always be on Black to hold. A computer might thrive on this task, but not a human, and very soon Muzychuk had a winning advantage. She missed a chance to deliver an earlier knockout with 45.Ndf5!, when after 45...gxf5 46.R1xf5 Qe7 47.Rh6 Black will get picked apart one piece and pawn at a time. Black's slight material advantage is useless, as the bishop on b7, the knight on c5 and the rooks are playable no-to-almost no role in the defense whatsoever.

    Muzychuk missed this opportunity and one or two more chances later on to put a quicker end to the game, but the trend was always on her side and her position was just too much easier to play. Pogonina lasted until move 58 before throwing in the towel.

    Thursday
    Apr022015

    U.S. Championships, Round 2: The Favorites Win

    It was another strange day at the U.S. Championships. The main event is led by the two favorites, Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So, and both are 2-0. Nakamura won pretty cleanly against Varuzhan Akobian, and while he played it down in the postgame interview I think the rest of us find it noteworthy that he is now #2 on the live rating list. Not bad at all! Also not bad is Wesley So's position at #5 on that same list. (If only Fabiano Caruana - now #3 - would also represent the U.S. What an Olympic team that would be!) However, while So won, the manner of his victory will leave him anything but satisfied. He was repeatedly winning against Sam Shankland, and repeatedly gave that advantage away. The game was a horror show, and it culminated in a bizarre blunder by Shankland on the final move, in a position where he was probably within sight of the draw. The less said about this game, the better, so let's move on to other action.

    Ray Robson is alone in third place with 1.5/2 after a draw with Alexander Onischuk, and then five players have a point apiece, including Akobian and Onischuk. A third is Gata Kamsky, who drew a good fighting game with Sam Sevian. The fourth one-pointer is Conrad Holt, who bounced back from yesterday's loss to defeat Timur Gareev, and the fifth player with a 50% score is Kayden Troff, who won convincingly against Daniel Naroditsky.

    In the women's section Irina Krush won pretty easily against Viktorija Ni, while Tatev Abrahamyan was crushed by Alisa Melekhina. The win of the round was Katerina Nemcova's attacking effort against Anna Sharevich, culminating in mate on move 29. Sharevich played very poorly, in my humble opinion, but sometimes that's not so much a matter of bad form as it is the result of playing an opponent who drags you into an unfamiliar and uncomfortable position. Either way, Nemcova played very well and won a pretty game. She is tied with Krush for first with 1.5/2, along with Apurva Vikud and Rusudan Goletiani.

    Thursday
    Apr022015

    Women's World Championship Finals, Day 1

    The final round, and thus the final match, of the women's world championship started today. Natalia Pogonina and Mariya Muzychuk played the first game of a best-of-four classical match (there will be rapid tiebreaks in case of a 2-2 tie), and although Pogonina had good chances at one moment the game finished in a draw. The critical point in the game lasted for only two half-moves: Pogonina stood somewhat better after 26.Bg2, aiming among other things to expand on the kingside with f4 while trying to prevent Black from safely achieving ...c5, liberating her queen's bishop. Muzychuk probably should have played 26...Bd6, fighting for the c5 square and allowing the bishop to retreat to f8, where it would help cover the kingside.

    Instead, she played 26...Bc7, and now if Pogonina had played 27.Nd4! Black would have been in some trouble, e.g. 27...c5 28.Nf5 with pressure all over the board. Fortunately for Muzychuk, White played 27.Nf4, to put the knight on d3 in order to keep control over c5. She succeeded in that aim, but after 27...Nd7 28.Nd3 Bb6 29.Nc5 Bc8! 30.Nxd7 Bxd7 31.Bc5 Bxc5 32.Qxc5 Qa5! White's advantage was completely gone and the game was drawn soon thereafter.

    Game 2 is tomorrow, and while Pogonina might be slightly disappointed, she can at least take comfort in the fact that she is not starting a fourth straight match with a 1-0 deficit.