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    Tuesday
    Jun142016

    IM Danny Kopec, 1954-2016

    In addition to being an IM, Danny Kopec was also a computer science professor at Brooklyn College. A smart guy! His best days as a player were behind him, but he achieved some repute as an author, most recently for his collaboration with Lubosh Ftacnik and Walter Browne in the Quality Chess book Champions of the New Millennium. American players of my generation and earlier may remember him for promoting what he dubbed the Kopec System, which was 3.Bd3 against the Sicilian. (He wasn't the first player to use this against 2...d6, 2...e6, or 2...Nc6, but he did use it consistently over the years against 2...d6, and like Ken Smith in the case of the Smith-Morra Gambit, was for a time its tireless promoter.)

    He passed away this past Sunday; rest in peace.

    Tuesday
    Jun142016

    Stockfish Wins Stage 1b of TCEC 9

    Stockfish's victory in its stage 1 round robin of the current season of the Top Chess Engine Championship wasn't as impressive as Komodo's, but it still won and easily earned advancement to stage 2. It went undefeated, winning nine games (eight of which were against the bottom eight) and drawing six to finish half a point ahead of Nirvana and a full point ahead of Jonny, which lost to Nirvana in the final round. Three programs were another half a point behind: Fire, Naum, and Chiron.

    Stage 2 will start soon.

    Tuesday
    Jun142016

    Anand Wins Leon Rapid

    The 29th City of Leon Master Chess tournament was a small event - a four-player knockout event in rapid chess - but with Viswanathan Anand and Wei Yi in the field it merits a mention.

    In the first best-of-four semi-final Anand seemed well on the way to an easy win over the lower-rated David Anton Guijarro, achieving a clean draw with Black in game 1 and winning a nice (though not perfect) win with White in game 2. Things were going well for Anand in game 3 as well, up until he played 27...Ne4. The move wasn't that bad, but it started him on the path to trouble. The e-pawn was slightly weak, and soon his pieces lost coordination as they worked to achieve compensation for the (soon lost) e-pawn, and then further errors followed. The former world champion bounced back well, though, and as in game 2 he dominated the game, even if his technique wasn't always perfect.

    In the second semi, Wei Yi was a significant favorite against Jaime Santo Latasa, and like Anand managed to win with a 2.5-1.5 score. Games 1 and 3 saw Santos play a secondary main line with White against the Karpov Variation of the Nimzo-Indian. In game 1 Wei Yi misplayed it slightly and was worse for a while before outplaying his opponent and coming close to a win. In game 3 Wei Yi got the theory right and it was a wasted white game for the underdog. With White in game 2, Wei Yi obtained an advantage and won, while in the final game he was happy to repeat moves in a position where he could have played for more if he needed to.

    Anand won the final by winning game 1 with White and drawing the rest. His win came on the white side of a slow Giuoco, outplaying his opponent almost from start to finish. There was a serious slip on move 32, when Anand should have played 32.e5, with a decisive advantage. Instead, he played 32.Ra8? Qxa8 33.Qxd6 Qxa2 34.Nxe4?!, when his advantage was almost completely gone. Fortunately for him, Wei Yi erred several moves later with 37...Qg5; instead 37...Qf2 or 37...Qb2 would have maintained equal chances.

    In game 2 Anand was fine until he wasted a couple of tempi with 21...Be7-f6 followed by the opposite move on the next turn. Had Wei Yi played 23.b4 he'd have been clearly better. After 23.Rc2?! a5! Anand's position was okay, and after a few more anxious moments he managed to hold.

    Anand looked shaky in round 3 as well. This time his opponent was better prepared in another Giuoco, and he pressed almost from start to finish. Again though, Wei Yi missed some opportunities, and the ex-champ escaped with a draw.

    The shakiness was not present in round 4. Anand was never in trouble, and this time it was Wei Yi who had to work for the draw, despite having the white pieces.

    Hopefully this was a good warm-up for Anand, who will play in Belgium next week against all the players from the Paris Rapid & Blitz except for Laurent Fressinet.

    Tuesday
    Jun142016

    Paris Rapid & Blitz: Nakamura Takes First, But the Jinx Continues

    Is it possible to say "Poor Hikaru Nakamura" after he wins the rapid section, ties for first in the blitz, and takes first overall in the Paris leg of the 2016 Grand Chess Tour? Maybe so, in light of the ongoing tragedy that is his head-to-head rivalry with Magnus Carlsen, though I think he prefers the overall outcome to one where Carlsen won the event but Nakamura won the head-to-head.

    When we left off in the previous post Nakamura and Carlsen were tied for first, but Nakamura won one more game than Carlsen on day two, finishing half a point ahead in normal scoring (7/9, to Carlsen's 6.5; Wesley So and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave tied for third-fourth with 5.5 points apiece). As the rapid games count double compared to the blitz games, Nakamura led by a point, 14 to 13 heading into the blitz.

    The blitz was a double-round robin, with one round robin per day. Nakamura got off to a hot start, an undefeated 6.5/8, which was half a point better than Carlsen and good enough for a point and a half lead overall. They were paired in the final game of the day, with Nakamura getting the white pieces. Carlsen was well-prepared, but 17...Qd5 seemed to be an inaccuracy. After Nakamura's 18.Bf1 Carlsen thought for almost three full minutes before reconciling himself to a pawn-down ending where only two results were possible. (At least outside of the Twilight Zone.) Nakamura failed to activate his king and allowed Black to create a passed e-pawn, and then he even allowed Carlsen's king to penetrate to the point where his own king was in a mating net. In the end, Carlsen even managed to win the game, taking the lead in the blitz, cutting Nakamura's overall lead to a mere half a point, and doubtlessly ruining Nakamura's mood.

    On day two Nakamura came out shaky, losing to MVL in round 2 and drawing in rounds 1 and 3. Carlsen started by defeating So with Black in the first round, but when he lost to Fabiano Caruana - who had been having a terrible tournament up to that point - the wheels started to come off from him as well. That gave Nakamura time to clear his head, and with two rounds to go Nakamura led the blitz by a point and a half.

    It didn't last - but fortunately for Nakamura, it didn't need to. Nakamura drew quickly with White in the penultimate round to clinch a tie for first in the blitz, and overall tournament victory. It should have clinched clear first in the blitz, as Carlsen was "dead" lost against Laurent Fressinet, but he received a near-miracle when Fressinet played 38.Rc8??? instead of the obvious 38.Bc8. (Actually, practically any other move maintains the win, and even after the terrible rook move White was still winning.) It kept going downhill after that, and one panicky move after another allowed Carlsen to win, closing to within a point of Nakamura going into their last-round matchup. Needless to say, unfortunately, Carlsen's hypnotic powers came through once again. White (Carlsen) was better after his 32nd move, but not winning until Nakamura's reply, which was a blunder. After 32...Ne4?? 33.Nh4 Black has no good answer to the threatened 34.Ng6 followed by 35.Rh8#.

    So they split the blitz and Nakamura won overall first. MVL had a great performance on the second day of the blitz and finished just half a point behind them in that discipline, which also gave him third place overall.

    In passing: The Veselin Topalov-Vladimir Kramnik grudge match was a bit of a push: Kramnik won their rapid game, while Topalov won the blitz match 1.5-.5. Since the rapid counted double, Kramnik outscored his foe, but Topalov's win in the second game of the second day of the blitz started Kramnik on an incredible tailspin. Kramnik drew his first game that day, with Black against Anish Giri: so far, so good. In round 2 he lost to Topalov, however, and finished the day with only one more draw, going a dismal 1-8. (His only other draw was against Levon Aronian in the penultimate round.) Also in passing: Carlsen did manage a win over Giri on the first day of the blitz, but their rapid game was a draw and Giri promptly beat Carlsen on day two of the blitz.

    Next week they'll do it all over again in Leuven, Belgium, except with Viswanathan Anand taking Fressinet's place.

    Friday
    Jun102016

    Paris Rapid: Carlsen & Nakamura Tied After Day 1

    Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura each scored 3.5/5 - translating into 7/10, as the rapid games count double (presumably the point is that the later blitz games will count singly). That 7/10 score puts them a point ahead of Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Wesley So; two points ahead of Vladimir Kramnik; three points ahead of Fabiano Caruana, Levon Aronian, Laurent Fressinet, and Anish Giri; and four points ahead of Veselin Topalov (who had the further indignity of losing his individual game with Kramnik, and with the white pieces). The rapid portion of the contest will finish today (Friday).

    Carlsen could have had 9/10 (4.5/5), but in an unloseable position in round 1 he got distracted deciding between two winning continuations and lost on time to So. Another bit of (sort of) bad luck is that his usual customer - Nakamura - "forgot" to lose to him and drew pretty comfortably. They'll meet twice more in the blitz, and it should not be forgotten that Nakamura has beaten Carlsen in blitz tournaments. It could happen again, and if it does that might help him overcome his woes against the world champion in classical events. Time will tell.

    Thursday
    Jun092016

    Paris Rapid & Blitz Starts Today

    When the Norway tournament organizers withdrew their event from the Grand Chess Tour earlier this year, the decision was made to replace that classical tournament with a pair of rapid & blitz round robins. Those events will be held back-to-back; the first in Paris, starting today, and the next one in Leuven. The events feature the same players, and probably have the same format as well. (Feel free to correct me my assumption is mistaken!)

    The rapid portion (25' + 10") begins today (Thursday, 2 p.m. local time = 8 a.m. ET) and is a single round-robin that will last two days, followed the next two days by a double round-robin blitz (5' + 2"). The dramatis personae are:

     

    • Magnus Carlsen
    • Vladimir Kramnik
    • Fabiano Caruana
    • Levon Aronian
    • Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
    • Hikaru Nakamura
    • Anish Giri
    • Wesley So
    • Veselin Topalov
    • Laurent Fressinet

     

    Perhaps the event could be even more interesting if the last two or three players were replaced with players who are higher-rated in rapid and blitz (e.g. Ian Nepomniachtchi), or for that matter Garry Kasparov. Still, it's a great field and the event should be a feast for the spectators.

    Tuesday
    Jun072016

    Korchnoi Around the Web (Updated, Updated Again, Update #3)

    Viktor Korchnoi died yesterday - Monday - at the age of 85, and he is being memorialized as he ought to be. The best material will probably be in Russian, and those who speak that language are invited - even encouraged - to supply any Russian language Korchnoi-related links they deem appropriate. (Likewise others with English-language links.)

    Two good English-language tributes are on the Chess24 and ChessBase websites, and the Telegraph gives an excellent obituary in the mainstream press, though it could have said more about his later life and career. The same can be said for the otherwise good obit in the New York Times and the similar, slightly better version by the same author on the World Chess website. That omission is rectified by The Guardian, which even notes the two events he contested in 2015.

    UPDATE: Edward Winter's Chess History site has a new (or at least newly updated) page compiling its past Korchnoi material.

    UPDATE 2: Chess.com has a couple of pieces. Peter Doggers offers a good overview of Korchnoi's career, with some games, videos, and tweets. The other remembrance is by none other than Garry Kasparov. It's a pity he doesn't say even more, but to be fair he gets 200 large pages in volume 5 of Kasparov's My Great Predecessors series. (Has Karpov written or said anything about Korchnoi's passing that's on the web?)

    UPDATE 3: Peter Svidler on Korchnoi.

    Tuesday
    Jun072016

    Grischuk Wins ICC Open (Blitz)

    The event featured an impressive cast of characters that included world champion Magnus Carlsen, but the chess was so dreadfully bad that the best thing to do is acknowledge its existence and promptly forget about it. That, and at least for me, to issue at least a semi-retraction to all the people I've told over the years that increments in blitz are only there to prevent people from "manning up" to accept that they've lost on time. I still feel that way about blitz as a participant (even on those occasions when I'm the one losing a winning position on time), but as a spectator it's another story. A huge percentage of the games were utterly ruined, as you can see for yourself if you're so inclined.

    Monday
    Jun062016

    Viktor Korchnoi, 1931-2016

    Sad news, but unfortunately not unexpected. Viktor Korchnoi, one of the greatest players of the 20th century, most certainly the greatest senior player ever, and one of the strongest players never to become World Champion, died earlier today at the age of 85.

    Much more on this later.

    Sunday
    Jun052016

    10,000 Hours vs. Talent

    It's not really "versus", of course, though it's sometimes portrayed that way. Inborn talent, if it exists, is never sufficient by itself to make someone a professional in any challenging field; hard work is required. But is it all hard work? Sometimes fans of the Anders Ericsson's "10,000 Hour Rule" make it seem that way (provided the hours in question are spent on so-called deliberate practice), but the arguments that talent exists and makes a difference continue - plausibly - to exist. In support of the latter, here's something new to chew on.