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    Sunday
    Aug032014

    Holt Wins the U.S. Open

    Six players finished the 9th and final round of the U.S. Open with 7.5 points: Conrad Holt, Michael Mulyar, Giorgi Margvelashvili, Fidel Corrales Jimenez, Ilya Nyzhnyk, and Alexander Shabalov. The first two had the best tiebreak scores and had a playoff game, and as Holt won he is the U.S. Open champ for 2014.

    There was a big tie for 7th-15th place with 7 points apiece, and James Tarjan was one of the players in that tie; not bad for a 62-year-old who has taken 30 years off! The tournament was a bit too short to really separate the elite players from the rest though, and Tarjan's result can be broken down into two unequal parts: the U2300 part and the GM part. He was very efficient against the first group, scoring 6.5/7, but while he drew against Nyzhnyk he lost to Dmitry Gurevich. All the same it wasn't a bad result, and if he can do this on his first try it could be interesting to see what kind of form he can reach once he's back in the swing of things.

    Sunday
    Aug032014

    Tromso Olympics, Round 2: The Upsets Begin

    The favorites all rolled in round 1, but in round 2 both individuals and whole teams suffered their first upsets.

    The top two Norwegian teams were notably involved in a couple of big stories. The Norwegian A team failed to defeat the Finns despite outrating them on every board, and by heavy margins on the first two boards. Nevertheless all four games were drawn, including the top board contest between Tomi Nyback and Magnus Carlsen, and so the match was as well. That would have been disappointing for the home crowd, but whatever disappointment they may have felt about that match was surely outweighed by the incredible accomplishment of their B team, which drew with Ukraine. Vassily Ivanchuk blew up on board 1, losing to IM Frode Urkedal in just 29 moves. Boards 2 and 3 drew, so it was only Alexander Moiseenko's win on board four that enabled Ukraine to eke out a drawn match.

    The other major favorites won their matches, though there were nicks here and there - Levon Aronian only managed to draw in a crazy game against David Smerdon, for example, and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Gata Kamsky were also held to draws by their considerably lower-rated opponents. All in all though, it was still pretty much business as usual at the Tromso Olympics.

    There were three games I intended to present, but I see they're already covered in the round 2 bulletin, so I'll simply refer you there. The first, Urkedal-Ivanchuk, has already been mentioned; the second was a crazy win by Judit Polgar that saw her opponent miss some chances to get the upper hand in the complications. The third was a remarkable museum piece, with Sarunas Sulskis showing some serious chutzpah against Alexei Shirov by allowing the Fried Liver Attack. It's not just that 5...Nxd5 in the 4.Ng5 Two Knights is unbelievably risky and possibly just bad; it's that he had the um, guts/insanity to play this against Alexei "Fire On Board" Shirov. Out of all the human players active in chess at the moment, I cannot think of a single worse player to choose such an opening against. I'm sure Sulskis prepared this, while I doubt that Shirov has analyzed this opening since he was a kid. All the same, Shirov crushed him.

    A sidenote: I remember in the mid-2000s seeing various commentators claim that chess engines can't do this and can't do that, and even back then they were usually wrong. Of course engines still have their limitations, but they are getting fewer and fewer and nowadays it's pretty rare when a commentator will override the engine - and this almost never occurs without some sort of analytical proof. I was therefore quite surprised to see this comment in the bulletin: "It's hard to convince a computer that White's long-term initiative gives him sufficient compensation for the sacrificed piece" (referring to the Fried Liver Attack). This didn't seem at all plausible to me, so I fired up Stockfish on my decent but not spectacular computer to put it to the test. The result? It immediately gave White +1 after 5...Nxd5, putting 6.Nxf7! at #1 instantly and never varying from that. (I let it go to depth 32 and it was always over +1.) 9.a3 is another story: here the engine thinks White should play 9.Qe4 or 9.Bb3 instead. After 11...Qh4 instead of Sulskis's 11...Kd6? the position is a mess, but maybe Black will be alright or even better. (Another aside: 9.a3 is a well-known try that scores well in the database, so how did he miss 11...Qh4 in his preparation? Maybe he just forgot what to do.)

    Finally, this is the page to download the men's games, the women's games and even the bulletins in PGN format.

    Sunday
    Aug032014

    Coming Later This Month: The Sinquefield Cup

    Last year's inaugural edition of the Sinquefield Cup had four players: Magnus Carlsen (not yet the world champion), Levon Aronian, Hikaru Nakamura and Gata Kamsky. This year the tournament will expand to six players and will actually have a higher average rating than last year. Kamsky won't be back this time, but in his place Fabiano Caruana (please stay!), Veselin Topalov and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave will participate in this double round-robin, bringing the average rating to a whopping 2802.

    The tournament goes from August 27 through September 7, and since we're all going to forget about the tournament with the Olympiad going on you might want to bookmark the website now, for future reference. Speaking of which, why is the St. Louis chess club's website so consistently strange in its design? Rex Sinquefield is as rich as Croesus and has built a beautiful facility for chess in St. Louis. Thanks to his work St. Louis is the capital of chess in the United States of America. So one would expect a top-class website, organized in a logical and aesthetically pleasing way. So...is there a dedicated website for the tournament? Nope. Okay then, we can at least get there directly from the St. Louis club's website, right? Kind of - there is a banner at the bottom of the page that links to some useful information about the tournament. But according to the press release I was sent, the official page is - or rather, can be found - on the U.S. Chess Championships website. Very strange.

    Saturday
    Aug022014

    Tromso Olympics Begin; So Far, No Upsets

    Or more precisely, no upsets of any significance at the team level; in particular games the (much) stronger player was occasionally nicked for a draw and even the odd loss or so. But the top 14 teams all won 4-0, and one must go all the way down to the 20th seed to find a team that "only" won by a 3-1 margin. Oddly, the strongest team by far to have a lousy result - though still a victorious one - was the main team of the host country: Norway's top team only won 2.5-1.5 over a Yemeni team whose players' FIDE ratings ranged from 2082 to 2396. It's true that Magnus Carlsen took the day off, as did many top teams' first boards, but the Norwegians still put out an all-GM team.

    Blowouts were typically the order of the day in the women's section too, and in both the open and women's sections we can expect more of the same tomorrow (or today, depending on where you are). It'll get hotter soon, so stay tuned.

    Readers: There are far, far too many games for me to look through, at least with my current schedule, so please help out. If there were some games that really caught your eye let us know in the comments, and if you have ChessBase or some other way to post those games online a direct link would be great!

    Tournament site here, round 1 bulletin (in PDF) here.

    Thursday
    Jul312014

    British Championship & Politiken Cup Conclude

    Everything is finishing up just in time for the Olympiad, which begins August 1. In particular, the British Championship concluded in a tie between Jonathan Hawkins and David Howell, and apparently there was no playoff. They finished with 8.5/11, a point ahead of six other players (including both of the Pert brothers). As for the Politiken Cup, there was no doubt about the winner there. Bu Xiangzhi had been overshadowed by several of his younger Chinese countrymen for most of the last decade, but his 9/10 score left him a point clear of his closest competitors. Moreover, he added a staggering 38 points to his rating and jumped 30 places to 2731 and #24 on the rating list.

    Monday
    Jul282014

    Informant 120: Back on the Upswing

    I've been reviewing new issues of the Informant for some years now, and it has been something of a roller coaster. For a while it looked like it was dying, then they started experimenting in what was usually a positive direction, but then in the last issue it looked like much of the progress had been lost. I was very unhappy with Informant 119, but I'm glad to report that the newest issue, the 120th in the series, is very good and a huge step up from its immediate predecessor.

    The first thing I was happy to see, ironically, was the (approximate) absence of my least favorite columns. For many issues it seemed there was a bit of nationalistic/regional pandering. I didn't like this at all, even when countries I'm fond of (such the U.S. and Greece) were featured. A significant idea or a beautiful game isn't any better by virtue of having been played within a couple of hundred miles of me or by someone of my ethnicity. (There's still a tiny bit of it, but it's greatly reduced. Please, Informant editors, eliminate it for good!)

    The current issue has contributions that make sense. There are opening articles, including a monster piece by Vassilios Kotronias on the 2.c3 Sicilian (this was part two) and shorter but still substantial works on the Slav and the Scotch.

    Mihail Marin's generally excellent column remains, and I found the current installment (a pro- and contra- on Botvinnik's steamroller plan in the Nimzo-Indian) especially interesting.

    Garry Kasparov's contribution may have ceased a couple of issues ago, but no matter: some other outstanding players have taken up the slack and then some. Alexander Morozevich offered a column demonstrating some fantastically imaginative opening play, taking a close look at the incredible line 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 d4 3.b4 g5!? Also representing high-level chess, erstwhile 2700s Peter Heine Nielsen and Ivan Sokolov write about the 2014 Candidates and attacking play, respectively.

    While he may not be as strong as the writers mentioned in the previous paragraph, Karsten Mueller's reputation as an expert on the endgame is extremely high, and it's a real coup for the Informant people to get him on board.

    There are other columnists too (have a look here), and as usual there are about 200 games with languageless annotations along with sections for solving combinations, endgame positions and studies. I'm happy once again to be able to recommend the Informant to players 1800 and up.

    Monday
    Jul282014

    Another Improved Lisitsin Gambit

    In a recent post we examined the Loek van Wely's 14-move win on the white side of an Improved Lisitsin Gambit against Erwin L'Ami; today we'll have a quick look at another game in this line. Jonathan Hawkins came into round 9 of the British Championship in clear first with 7/8, and essayed the gambit against Nicholas Pert, who was a point behind. The line Hawkins chose was one I mentioned in the earlier post as being particularly unsuccessful for White, and nothing in this game suggested anything different. White was never better and was usually worse, and at one point had a serious disadvantage. Hawkins was either surprised or prepared badly; whatever the story the game is of little theoretical interest; it merely confirms that Black is doing (very) well in the 4.Nc3 line. The game, with my comments, is here. (HT: Ian Lamb)

    As for the standings: Hawkins continues to lead with 7.5 points, half a point ahead of Mark Hebden (against whom he'll have the black pieces in round 10, the penultimate round) and David Howell (who will have Black against the aforementioned Pert - the only 6.5 pointer in the field - next round).

    Monday
    Jul282014

    Tarjan At The U.S. Open

    After 30 years' inaction, GM James Tarjan is in action! Tarjan gave up the game in the early 1980s (in fact, I played him when I was a kid in one of his last tournaments, back in 1982) but now at long last he has taken up the game again, at least to the extent that he is playing in the U.S. Open in Orlando, Florida. (HT: Alex) Here's hoping he enjoys his return to the game.

    Sunday
    Jul272014

    Three Queen Sacs

    And all on the same square, too. Some time ago I came across a puzzle in Chess Today, and while the first move was pretty obvious I managed to get myself sidetracked while working out the details. It was psychologically amusing, and it brought to mind a failure to accurate calculate a vaguely similar queen sac in a game ten years earlier. Both games can be found here, along with a third, even earlier game with yet another sacrifice; all three queen sacs are on the same square and share a family resemblance.

    Sunday
    Jul272014

    A Miniature From The Dutch Championship

    The Dutch Championship finished a week or two ago (won by Loek van Wely in a playoff over Sergei Tiviakov), but I didn't notice the remarkable game between van Wely and Erwin L'Ami until some time later. How often does a 2650 player lose in just 15 moves? Have a look here at the short, gory details.