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    Thursday
    Aug212014

    A Coming Chess Documentary

    At least there will be, if the producer can raise a bit more money. The short preview clips look interesting, but the producer's intro...seriously? The king and queen are set up backwards, the bishop and knight on the queenside are backwards, at one point a pawn is moved backwards, and there are more crimes against the rules besides. Let's hope he re-shoots that sequence. As for the rest, that looks good: among others he has secured the participation of Vladimir Kramnik, Judit Polgar, and Anish Giri.

    Sunday
    Aug172014

    Shirov Loses to a 2200!

    When an amateur defeats a super-GM, it's not only a shocking story but also grounds for hope. Even the greatest players can be upset, and in the case of Florian Armbrust's first round win over Alexei Shirov, they can earn it! The point did not just drop in the winner's lap thanks to a simple blunder; no, he played very well and won a nice game. (Maybe even more impressively, it isn't as if Shirov was rusty or had been in bad form. He had been in excellent form in the Olympics, which just ended a few days ago.)

    HT: Ross Hytnen

    Sunday
    Aug172014

    Olympiad Deaths, and Death In Chess In General

    As has been widely reported, there were two deaths at the Tromso Olympiad, both occurring at the end of the event. The first was Kurt Meier, a 63-year-old player from the Seychelles, who died during his final round game. The second was Alisher Anarkukov, an Uzbek player who wasn't part of the country's national team but a participant on a special team for the hearing impaired. (Why being hearing impaired counts as a disability for chess is something I don't know, but assume it has to do with the Kirsan Ilyumzhinov's longstanding and so far futile hope to have chess included in the larger Olympic movement.)

    This is sadly not unheard of, and a number of famous players have died "with their boots on" over the years. Is chess a risky sport, even an "extreme" sport? Maybe so, at least as the stress levels rise for one in iffy health. (But parents of young kids, don't worry. The dangers for your children are many decades away - this isn't like boxing, football or even soccer.)

    Friday
    Aug152014

    Tromso Olympics: China Wins the Open; Russia the Women's Section

    There was some drama on the last day of the Tromso Olympiad, but it didn't have to do with the race for first. In the Open Section the Chinese team crushed Poland and coasted to a 3-1 victory, clinching clear first place. Congratulations to them, and to Ding Liren and Yu Yangyi, their second and third boards, respectively. Ding took the bronze medal on board two, while Yu not only took the gold medal for board three but did so with the highest TPR of the entire Olympiad - a fantastic 2912. That pushed his rating from 2668 to 2700 (when rounded up).

    The battle for second was extremely close, however. The Hungarian team started the day in clear second, but when they drew their match with Ukraine a bunch of teams had the chance to catch them, and catch them they did. In addition to Hungary, India (thanks to a crushing 3.5-.5 win over Uzbekistan), Russia (2.5-1.5 winners over France), and Azerbaijan (2.5-1.5 winners over the USA - more about this below). Four teams competing for two medals meant two teams would be left out, and they were Russia and Azerbaijan. Hungary beat India for the silver by the narrowest of margins on the first tiebreak, and had they been tied there India would have taken second based on the next tiebreaker.

    For Russia it was yet another disappointment, though they at least managed to finish strongly. As for Azerbaijan, it was probably also somewhat of a disappointment, but they can also console themselves with having been a bit lucky today. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov had outplayed Hikaru Nakamura and had been winning for a long time, but first made it difficult and then definitely threw the win away with 40.g5 (if it was still there). Now Nakamura needed to nothing but wait, e.g. with 40...Rf5, but instead played 40...hxg5?? after which the game was gone. The point was that this allows White to win by returning the piece to achieve an elementary and winning pawn ending. From the final position, play might continue 42...Rd2+ 43.Kc5 Rc2+ 44.Kd6 Rf2 45.Rxf7+! Rxf7 46.Bxf7 Kxf7 47.Kd7 and so on. White's king wins the pawn, and because it is on the 6th rank it won't matter if Black has the opposition or not. White will regain it when it counts and safely promote his pawn.

    So why doesn't the same trick work even if Black sits and waits? It would work if Black played 40...h5: 41.Rxf7+ Rxf7 42.Bxf7 Kxf7 43.Kd5! (not 43.Ke5?? Ke7, with a draw - we'll see this exact position again shortly) and White's king will zigzag to the g-pawn. Instead of 40...h5 though, when Black plays something like 40...Rf5 he's fine: 41.Rxf7+ Rxf7 42.Bxf7 Kxf7 43.Kd5 Ke7 (the king is close enough to cope with 44.gxh6) 44.Ke5 and now 44...h5! allows Black to gain the opposition, with a draw.

    In addition to this bit of good fortune, Azerbaijan was also bailed out when super-sub Sam Shankland, winner of the gold medal for board 5 (9/10 and a 2831 TPR) didn't manage to convert his big advantage against Eltaj Safarli. So a drawn match was far from impossible, and with a little good luck the United States might have even won the match, though whether "our" tiebreak would have sufficed to win a medal is unclear.

    In the women's section Kateryna Lagno lost again, this time to Antoaneta Stefanova, and on board two Valentina Gunina was in trouble against Iva Videnova. Fortunately for the Russians, Videnova blundered on three consecutive moves (or at least made a big error on the first and blundered twice) and lost, allowing the Russians to defeat Bulgaria 2.5-1.5 and clinch clear first.

    China and Ukraine started the day tied for second, and had the chance to settle it head-to-head. It didn't happen, however, as all four games (and thus the match) were drawn it would come down to tiebreaks. There was a possibility coming into the round that Germany, which was alone in fourth place one match behind them, could sneak into the medals if they defeated Georgia. Only one thing went wrong, though - the part after the "if". Georgia smashed the Germans 4-0, leaving China and Ukraine alone in their score group. China took the silver on tiebreak; Ukraine the bronze.

    (More reportage here, complete with all the board prizes.)

    Finally, one tragic story, about which I haven't seen much by way of detail. An unnamed player on the Seychelles in his 60s collapsed and died during the round. We offer our condolences to and prayers on behalf of his family.

    Wednesday
    Aug132014

    Tromso Olympics, Another Last Round Preview

    From the official/Chess24 site. This one has its own distinctive flavor to it, and also takes note of specific last-round individual pairings, which players are sitting out, who besides Judit Polgar may be retiring soon, and more besides.

    Wednesday
    Aug132014

    Tromso Olympics, Last Round Preview

    Here's a useful article on the ChessBase website, previewing the last round of the Tromso Olympiad, covering both the team aspect and the competition for the board prizes. Enjoy the stats!

    Tuesday
    Aug122014

    Tromso Olympics, Round 10: China, Russian Lead the Open & Women's Sections, Respectively

    One round remains in the Tromso Olympics, and it will be played on Thursday, after the second (and final) rest day. At this point, each section has a clear leader, and as both leaders are facing teams with considerably lower ratings their chances of victory look excellent.

    In the open section, China and France shared first entering the round, and were matched. Three games were drawn, and the decisive battle was on board three between Laurent Fressinet and Yu Yangyi. Fressinet had White and hoped for a position where Black's static pawn weaknesses would prove the deciding factor, but he always lacked the tempo or so needed to keep his opponent from having enough activity to compensate. I suspect that 21.Rd6 was played in hopes of bailing out to a draw, but it was inaccurate. Black soon won a pawn, and as he maintained the more active position as well he went on to win the game without much trouble.

    The Hungarian team is in a surprising second place, solo, after beating Romania 3-1. Their path to second was sneaky, but there they are, a point behind China and a point ahead of eight other teams, which are listed in their current tiebreak order: France, Ukraine (drew with Azerbaijan this round), Russia (beat Serbia), the United States of America (beat rather than drew with Argentina by a miracle, as Mareco was crushing Onischuk before letting him sneak out with a draw; also noteworthy was Shankland's win, bringing his total score to 8.5/9), Uzbekistan (beat the Netherlands), India (beat Germany(!); imagine if they had Anand playing for them!), Azerbaijan and Poland (overcame a loss on board 1 to Topalov to beat the Bulgarians). Here are the last round pairings involving these teams:

    Poland - China, Hungary - Ukraine, Russia - France, Azerbaijan - USA, India - Uzbekistan.

    Also of note: the Armenian team, which has been extremely successful in olympiads over the past dozen years or so, was held to a draw by Vietnam and is out of the running. Also of interest was the 3.5-.5 shellacking of Norway by the Croatian team. Ivan Saric massacred Magnus Carlsen on board 1, and it was as if that drained the spirit out of the Norwegians. Immediately after Carlsen resigned, Kjetl Lie made a series of blunders that took him from an equal position to the loss of two rooks and mate. (The last rook and the mate may have been deliberate, but even without that the collapse was stunning.) Jon Ludwig Hammer's position also rapidly disintegrated after Carlsen's resignation as well, and match that looked like a toss-up suddenly turned into a rout. Headed into the last round, the Norwegian first and second teams are tied with 12 match points apiece.

    To the women's section: Russia still enjoys the solo lead despite losing to Ukraine. Kateryna Lagno escaped punishment on board 1, getting an easy draw with Black against Anna Muzychuk, but justice was served (if justice it be) on board 4, somewhat ironically by Natalia Zhukova's win over Olga Girya. (The irony is that Zhukova is married to a Russian, Alexander Grischuk.) The Ukranian team is now a single match point behind Russia, and so is China. China could have caught the Russians, but although Hou Yifan did her job the Chinese third board lost with the white pieces to Ana Matnadze, whom she outrated by 100 points. In the last round Russia plays Bulgaria, and on paper that looks like an easy win for Russia. Bulgaria has Antoaneta Stefanova, who is a solid GM, but after that the team is made up of mostly 2300s. China and Ukraine will face each other, and a point behind them Germany still has a shot at the medals; they will face Georgia.

    The download page, once again, is here.

    Tuesday
    Aug122014

    Judit Polgar Retiring From Tournament Chess

    Unfortunately, the full story is only accessible to subscribers, but the gist is clear from the tease: Judit Polgar is retiring from chess, at least from tournament competition. (HT: David McCarthy.) She hasn't been a full-time player for some years now, although she has been more active the last several years than when she was a new mother. Whether she feels that she can't perform at her best level because of her commitment to parenthood, or prefers to be a sort of goodwill ambassador for the game, or has some other reason is something I don't know but might be revealed in the article, so those of you who are subscribers should please let us know in the comments!

    It is a pity that she is dropping out now, though, when Hou Yifan is getting very close to surpassing her. Polgar was the strongest woman in chess history - by far - and she maintained that status for an incredible quarter of a century. Her best chess was inspiring to all chess lovers, and her example was certainly an inspiration to many girls and women playing the game. It's easy to see why she would want to retire while she's still on top, but it might make for an even better story if she played on until she was at very long last passed by another female player. The first scenario makes her the story, while the second makes her a large part of an even bigger story. Or still another option: she goes out with a match against Hou Yifan, when the result will determine which tale is told.

    Tuesday
    Aug122014

    Tromso Olympics, Round 9: China, France Lead

    Yesterday wasn't just about the FIDE election; there was a round played, too. In the open section most of the top matches were drawn (e.g. China-Ukraine, Azerbaijan-Romania(!), Belarus-Netherlands, Argentina-India, USA-Germany, Armenia-Serbia(!) and Norway 1st-Turkey(!), to name a few). As that group included the leading team - China - that offered an opportunity for four of the five teams on their tail to catch them. (Ukraine was the fifth.) Azerbaijan and Romania drew their match, as noted above, but that left an opportunity for the winner of the match between France and the Czech Republic. As it turned out, the French won 2.5-1.5, and so they're now tied for first with two rounds to go. Five teams are right behind them, a group that includes the other two high-profile match winners on the day: Hungary (which beat Israel 3-1) and Bulgaria (2.5-1.5 winners over Cuba).

    On the individual level I'll note three results. First, Magnus Carlsen had White against Dragan Solak, but was getting his head handed to him until Solak played the awful 32...a3?? in time trouble. That only served to shield Carlsen's vulnerable king; had he played 32...Rxd4! instead he would have remained on his way to a beautiful and shocking upset. Having escaped peril in that game, Carlsen remains in the running for an individual gold medal for board 1, along with Veselin Topalov, who took another huge scalp yesterday in beating Lenier Dominguez. Finally, on a lower board, young American GM Sam Shankland was held to his first draw yesterday by Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu. Shankland has 7.5/8 and looks likely to win the gold medal for board 5.

    In the women's section Russia kept their two-point lead over China with a narrow win over Armenia. Kateryna Lagno lost to Elina Danielian, but the Russians won on boards 2 and 4 to assure themselves of at least a drawn match. That would have been the result, too, had Armenia's board 3 converted her huge advantage, but she let the Russian slip out with a draw. As for the Chinese, they crushed the French 3.5-.5 to keep their gold medal hopes alive. Russia is playing Ukraine this round, and as the Ukranian team is both very strong and highly motivated, some drama remains. (At least I assume they're highly motivated. If they're not feeling driven both by political factors and to punish Lagno for defecting from their team, someone should check them for a pulse or at least for major depression.)

    More information and the games can be downloaded here.

    Monday
    Aug112014

    Breaking News: Ilyumzhinov Re-elected FIDE President, Wins 110-61

    Defeating incumbents is never easy. This is true when the incumbent is competent and honorable, but it seems almost equally true even when the sitting office-holder is incompetent and corrupt. (Perhaps especially when he is corrupt.) Which kind of incumbent Kirsan Ilyumzhinov is I leave to your evaluation, but one way or another he repulsed Garry Kasparov (pun intended) and won re-election a few minutes ago with a big margin of victory, 110-61.