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    Friday
    Jan252019

    Gibraltar 2019: The 2700s Remain Undefeated Through Round 4

    Through four rounds of the 2019 Tradewise Gibraltar Masters, the 14 participating 2700s have made it through 55 games without a defeat. (Rauf Mamedov had a bye in round 1.) This does not mean that they are all 4-0, of course; in fact, only one of them - David Navara - is 4-0, and he is in fact the only player with a perfect score in the whole tournament. This is surprising for a tournament with 250 players, but that's the way it is.

    Here are the leading pairings for round 5 of this 10-round tournament:

    • Navara (4) - So (3.5)
    • Grandelius (3.5) - Naiditsch (3.5)
    • Jumabayev (3.5) - Artemiev (3.5)
    • Adams (3.5) - Papp (3.5)
    • Khademalsharieh (3.5) - Adhiban (3.5)
    • Vitiugov (3) - Harsha (3.5)

    Romain Edouard also has 3.5 points, but is taking a bye. In addition to Vitiugov another 41 players have 3 points, including Vachier-Lagrave, Aronian, Yu, Nakamura, Le Quang Liem, and  Ivanchuk, to name just the 2700s. It's a strong, deep tournament, and it's likely that there are more riches to be found here than in Wijk, if one has the patience to look for them.

    Friday
    Jan252019

    2019 Wijk aan Zee, Round 11: Giri Gets a Gift, Co-Leads with Carlsen

    Well, that was embarrassing. Sam Shankland lost by resigning to Anish Giri in a theoretically drawn position. What's worse is that he didn't have to find anything. All he had to do was retreat the king, and the job would be done. It's remarkable that so studious a player as Shankland was unfamiliar with this particular fortress - it's a bit like Viktor Korchnoi once asking an arbiter if castling queenside was legal if the rook passed over an attacked square. That's chess for you: there's so much to know that it's possible for a 2700 not to know an elementary draw known to many club players.

    It was a big gift for Anish Giri, who thereby caught up with Magnus Carlsen in first place with two rounds to go after the latter drew quickly and easily with Black in a Sveshnikov against Teimour Radjabov. They are half a point ahead of Ian Nepomniachtchi, who bounced back from yesterday's loss by defeating Vladimir Fedoseev. Nepo had a serious, evening winning advantage early on in an Advance Caro-Kann, let it slip, and then won the game a second time when Fedoseev faltered just before (and after) the time control.

    Ding Liren and Viswanathan Anand are a further half a point behind. Ding drew with Richard Rapport in all of 16 moves, while Anand came close to achieving something with White against Jan-Krzysztof Duda. Close, but Duda had the one tempo he needed to equalize.

    The last two games were decisive. Santosh Vidit Gujrathi defeated the plummeting Shakhriyar Mamedyarov with Black, and pretty easily, too. Meanwhile, Vladimir Kramnik finally won a game - with great difficulty - against Jorden Van Foreest. Kramnik was winning smoothly early on, and was on the way to what would have been an attractive attacking game. He missed his best opportunity, and after further inaccuracies Van Foreest equalized. But Kramnik started grinding and kept on grinding, and in the second time control Black made several errors to lose in a double bishop ending. Even with the win Kramnik is still alone in last place, half a point behind Van Foreest and Mamedyarov. Both Kramnik and Mamedyarov have lost 23 points in what has proved to be a disastrous event for them. (Tournament site here, games here, with notes to Kramnik's and Giri's games.)

    But enough about their woes. The race for first is where the action is, and five players are still in the hunt. Better still, the pairing for the last round is Giri-Carlsen. First we have round 12, and here are the pairings:

    • Carlsen (7.5) - Duda (5)
    • Ding (6.5) - Anand (6.5)
    • Vidit (6) - Rapport (5)
    • Van Foreest (4) - Mamedyarov (4)
    • Fedoseev (4.5) - Kramnik (3.5)
    • Shankland (4.5) - Nepomniachtchi (7)
    • Radjabov (5.5) - Giri (7.5)

    Just think: if Carlsen and Giri draw, Nepomniachtchi wins, and either Ding or Anand wins, there will be a four-way tie for first entering the last round. And if we add to that a draw between Van Foreest and Mamedyarov and a Kramnik win there will be a five-way tie for last. It's impossible to happen in this event, but has a tournament ever finished with half the players tied for first and the other half tied for last? My favorite oddball super-GM tournament result was Linares 2001, when Kasparov finished in first with a +5 score while the other five players (Polgar, Karpov, Leko, Shirov, and Grischuk) tied for second=last place with -1 scores.

    Wednesday
    Jan232019

    Gibraltar Round 2: Upset Watch

    It's still early in Gibraltar, so for now I'm only keeping half an eye on the goings-on there. All I'm keeping track of at this point is the fate of the 2700s, and today was not a very good day for them. Of the 14 (pre-tournament) 2700s, 10 drew their games today, most against relative unknowns. Even more remarkably, the three who drew yesterday - Yu Yangyi, Hikaru Nakamura, and Maxim Matlakov - all drew again today. (Rauf Mamedov was also a half-pointer entering the round, but he had a bye in round 1.)

    As for the leaders, there are 33 of them. We'll wait until there's some stratification at the top before considering in-depth coverage.

    Wednesday
    Jan232019

    2019 Wijk aan Zee, Round 10: Carlsen Defeats Anand, Enjoys the Clear Lead

    I warned you! After 21 straight draws, Magnus Carlsen finally broke the string with a win over Jorden Van Foreest and then another win over Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, and now he's back. His confidence has been restored, and he is putting in that extra bit of fight, causing his opponents as many problems as possible. Even Viswanathan Anand succumbed today in a long ending, unable to hold an objectively (but certainly not trivially) drawn knight endgame a pawn down.

    In that way he took care of one of the co-leaders, and with the unexpected help of Jorden Van Foreest the third co-leader, Ian Nepomniachtchi, was also kicked a point behind. Nepo seemed to have been surprised in the opening, chose a dubious line, and got crushed by a kingside attack. (While we're at it, pretty much the same thing happened today to Vladimir Kramnik, albeit in a very different line, as he was drubbed by Santosh Vidit Gujrathi.)

    Carlsen is in great shape, in clear first at the Tata Steel Chess Tournament with three rounds remaining, but there is still one player who is nipping at his heels. Anish Giri is only half a point behind after winning with Black against Vladimir Fedoseev in a game that was probably determined by White's time pressure.

    Perhaps the nicest win of the round was Richard Rapport's win against Jan-Krzysztof Duda. The game seemed headed for a draw, but Duda got greedy, careless, or both. His 32.Qd8? was both a bad move and a terribly impractical one. An easy draw was available with 32.Qb2, but his move threatened mate. The reason this was an impractical decision is that Rapport had at least a couple of moments where he could have bailed out and maintained equality if he couldn't find anything better. So Duda let Rapport play with house money: if Rapport finds a win, he wins; if not, he is in no worse shape than he would have been after 32.Qb2. Happily for chess fans, Rapport worked out the combination in full, and won in style.

    There were only two draws today, and while neither was thrilling they were decent games played to a logical end. Sam Shankland and Teimour Radjabov split their point, with neither player enjoying any real edge, while Ding Liren pressed Shakhriyar Mamedyarov before calling it a day on move 46.

    The games (with comments to the decisive games) are here. The last rest day is tomorrow, and on Friday we'll have round 11, with these pairings:

    • Radjabov (5) - Carlsen (7)
    • Giri (6.5) - Shankland (4.5)
    • Nepomniachtchi (6) - Fedoseev (4.5)
    • Kramnik (2.5) - Van Foreest (4)
    • Mamedyarov (4) - Vidit (5)
    • Rapport (4.5) - Ding (6)
    • Anand (6) - Duda (4.5)

    Tuesday
    Jan222019

    Gibraltar, Day 1: Any Upsets?

    No. Well, yes, but no full-point upsets at the top. Still, there were some half-points stolen by the underdogs: Yu Yangyi and Hikaru Nakamura gave up draws to IM Ariel Erenberg (2409) and FM Vaso Blesic (2390), respectively, on boards 4 and 5. Maxim Matlakov (2700) drew on board 13 against FM Anand Nadar (2373), and unless my eyes aren't doing their job the next half-point upset didn't arise until board 29. For the most part then, the favorites did their job, so we'll check back in tomorrow. For those who wish to explore further, the tournament website is here.

    Tuesday
    Jan222019

    2019 Wijk aan Zee, Round 9: Nepomniachtchi Makes it a Three-Way Tie On Top

    It wasn't the most thrilling round of this year's Tata Steel Chess Tournament, but with Ian Nepomniachtchi getting back into a tie for first it was a significant one. Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand entered the round tied for first, and that's how they left it, too - but with a little company.

    For Carlsen, it was a fairly comfortable draw with Black against Sam Shankland. He never had a ghost of a chance to achieve more than that, as Shankland's sound and solid play kept it a two-results game throughout. A similar story could be told about Anand's draw with Richard Rapport: a fairly comfortable hold with the black pieces, but without any opportunities for more.

    That left the door open not only for Nepomniachtchi, but for Ding Liren and Anish Giri to catch up, if any of them could win. On paper Giri had the best chance, with White against Jorden Van Foreest, but he never achieved enough of a plus (at least in his eyes) to play for more, and the game was agreed drawn in just 30 moves. Giri was a pawn up, but apparently felt that Black's counterplay with the bishop pair would suffice. Ding had Black against Vladimir Kramnik, and for what - the sixth time(??!!) in the tournament Kramnik obtained a losing position. (Or was it seven?) Kramnik lost four of the previous five lost positions he had, but this time he escaped when Ding fell for a nice but not terribly difficult cheapo. That said, the win wasn't obvious either, but all the same Kramnik was fortunate to escape.

    As for Nepo, he defeated Santosh Vidit, who seemed on his way to holding in a Petroff Defense. Nepomniachtchi enjoyed a nice space advantage, but until Vidit's 26...Kb7 it wasn't something that should prove fatal. Even after that White's win wasn't completely clear until Black played 34...Kc7?, which Nepo exploited with 35.Rb4!, followed shortly by Vidit's resignation.

    One other game finished with a winner, and that was Vladimir Fedoseev's marathon win with Black against Teimour Radjabov. It was one of those games where the players could have agree to a draw at any point over a very long stretch, but first one player and then the other decided to flog the dead horse - or the almost-dead horse, as it turned out. Even having lost/sacrificed a pawn, Radjabov still enjoyed equality in the rook ending as late as move 78, but the terrible 79.Rg7+?? let Black's king escape up the board. White still could have put up a bit more resistance with 82.Rd8, because 82...Kb4 83.Rd4+ Rc4? allows White to save the game in the pawn ending: 84.Rxc4+ Kxc4 85.Kf6 b5 86.axb5 Kxb5 87.Kxg6 and the players queen simultaneously.

    But Radjabov probably chose 79.Rg7+ because he assumed that the pawn ending resulting from the immediate exchange would be drawn. What he missed is that after 82.Rxc6+ Kxc6 83.Kf6 b5 84.axb5+ Black does not have to play 84...Kxb5, when 85.Kxg6 transposes to the drawn final position of the line given above. Instead, Fedoseev met 87.Kxg6 with the brilliant 87...Kd6!! - a resource that was unavailable to Fedoseev in the other line - and Radjabov resigned. Black gains a crucial tempo in one line, and in another line forces White's king to g7, whereupon ...a1Q comes with check before White can promote his f-pawn. It's a nice tactic for the puzzle books of the future. (And it's very possible that it already exists as an endgame study, though without the superfluous h-pawns.)

    Finally, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Jan-Krzysztof Duda played a draw that will be of interest only to those whose aesthetic sense will be tickled by the hyper-symmetry of the game.

    The games (without notes) are here; these are the pairings for Wednesday's round 10 action: 

    • Carlsen (6) - Anand (6)
    • Duda (4.5) - Rapport (3.5)
    • Ding (5.5) - Mamedyarov (3.5)
    • Vidit (4) - Kramnik (2.5)
    • Van Foreest (3) - Nepomniachtchi (6)
    • Fedoseev (4.5) - Giri (5.5)
    • Shankland (4) - Radjabov (4.5)
    Monday
    Jan212019

    Gibraltar Starts Tomorrow

    In case Wijk aan Zee isn't enough to keep your interest, there's good news: the Masters tournament of the 2019 Gibraltar International Chess Festival starts tomorrow (Tuesday). Not all the top players who aren't already in WaZ are playing in Gibraltar, but it's close. 13 2700s are playing, including Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Levon Aronian, Wesley So, Yu Yangyi, Hikaru Nakamura, and David Navara. Of the top 10 players in the world, only Fabiano Caruana and Alexander Grischuk aren't playing in one event or the other, and if we go down to #20 only Sergey Karjakin, Veselin Topalov, and Peter Svidler are in absentia - and we're really getting more of Svidler than anyone else since he's doing the commentary for Chess24. Good times, my friends, but it's a pity the events aren't staggered.

    The Masters tournament goes 10 rounds and runs through the end of the month, the 31st.

    [An exit question: There is one other top 20 player who is absent - or is there? The United States' most recent super-GM, Leinier Dominguez, has a current rating of 2739 according to Wikipedia and, more importantly, FIDE. But he doesn't show up on the 2700chess site. There's no inactivity flag on Dominguez's page, so I'm not sure what's happening. If there's something more to this than an oversight on the 2700 site, maybe someone can fill us all in.]

    Monday
    Jan212019

    A Short Review of Genna Sosonko's *Smyslov on the Couch*

    Genna Sosonko, Smyslov on the Couch (Elk & Ruby, 2018). 199 pp. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.

    For almost as long as there have been people, there have been dead people. Some of those people have been chess players, and if they were prominent chess players living in the time of the Soviet Union, there's a good chance Genna Sosonko has something to say about them. In 2011 Vasily Smyslov, the World Chess Champion from 1957 to 1958, passed away, and that meant that his memorialization by Sosonko was just a matter of time. That time is here.

    Actually, it was back in 2016, in Russian, and now the translation (which is also an expansion of the original), called Smyslov on the Couch, is available to us in English. The title suggests something Freudian, as if Sosonko is going to psychoanalyze Smyslov, but if so the book doesn't live up to this portent. It seems instead to connote that what we'll see is a relaxed Smyslov in the context of a long friendship with the author. Indeed, one of the three photos on the cover shows author and subject sitting on a couch in a relaxed, happy conversation.

    The book is itself a pleasant read, because Sosonko clearly liked and respected Smyslov. This is not at all like his rather poisonous memoir of David Bronstein, which left me (and others) dismayed by Bronstein's pervasive bitterness and Sosonko's unfortunate desire to share his need for catharsis with the rest of the chess world. This book won't leave you with those feelings at all.

    That's not to say that this is a hagiography. He pokes a bit of fun at Smyslov in the beginning for his superstitiousness, and there are other places where Smyslov comes in for mild critique or is shown with a few warts. But it's only very mild: it's clear that he has a great deal of love and respect for the former world champion, and he is gentle with him.

    The book divides into three sections: "The Real Smyslov", "Match Fixing in Zurich and the Soviet Chess School", and "The Final Years". For those of you who are unfamilar with Sosonko and his biographical style, he is a 75-year-old Dutch GM who emigrated from the USSR back in 1972. He didn't become a grandmaster until after he emigrated - few Soviet players had the chance to fight for norms - but he was respected enough to work as a second for players like Mikhail Tal and Viktor Korchnoi. For the past two decades he has written dozens of articles and several books memorializing (primarily, maybe exclusively) players he knew from the Soviet Union. These are not biographies per se - there's usually very little about the person's childhood or chess career. They are pen portraits, offering a picture of what the person was like, the environment they had to cope with, how he himself interacted with them, and depending on the person profiled some critical moment or moments in their life would come under the microscope.

    And that's what you get here. The first part of the book gives the reader a sense of what he's like, much more than it gives details about his chess career or his hobby and semi-career as a singer. The second part of the book is a reflection on Bronstein's charge that both he and Paul Keres were pressured to achieve certain results during the 1953 Candidates to make sure that American Samuel Reshevsky wouldn't finish ahead of the Soviets and qualify for a World Championship match with Mikhail Botvinnik. Finally, the last section is largely a series of excerpts from their phone conversations, relaying Smyslov's comments on varied, mostly mundane matters. (Some of part three reads a bit off-puttingly, as Sosonko's part of the conversation is typically omitted. So it reads as if Smyslov is just randomly remarking on this and that, as if complaining to no one in particular and without any prompting. This probably isn't the case - it's quite possible that Sosonko would ask questions during their conversation to which Smyslov gave relevant replies, but the reader can't know this.)

    Anyway, Smyslov is probably the least well-known of the Soviet world champions, both in terms of his chess and his personality. You won't learn much about his chess from the book (only one game is given - and that's one game more than you'll find in most of Sosonko's memorializations - and it's a game Smyslov played when he was 14), but you will spend a few pleasant hours with one of the nicer, more humane figures of the Soviet era. Warmly recommended for those who are interested in the history of the game.

    Monday
    Jan212019

    This Week's Free ChessLecture Show: A Beautiful, Human-like Attack by Stockfish

    As I've mentioned before, ChessLecture.com offers a new free video each week, available on demand for the next two weeks. (One must sign up for at least a free membership first, if you're not already a member.) Every so often it's one of my videos that's available, and that's the case this week. It's a pretty recent game, played last April, between Stockfish and Houdini in the TCEC Season 11 Superfinal. It's a very impressive and, as I suggest in the title field, very humanlike attacking game by the best of the "normal" engines. There's a nice combination of systematic building and tactical flash which together make the game both instructive and entertaining. I hope you'll check it out, and while you're at it you might check out the second week of Nadezhda Kosintseva's video, Bobby Fischer's Famous Bishops.

    Sunday
    Jan202019

    2019 Wijk aan Zee, Round 8: Carlsen, Anand Win and Lead

    The logjam at the top has broken up a bit, and now it's the current world champion and his predecessor who head the tournament table in the 2019 edition of the Tata Steel Chess Tournament with +3 scores. Magnus Carlsen crushed Richard Rapport, obtaining a large positional advantage with he transformed into a powerful kingside attack; while Viswanathan Anand took advantage of Shakhriyar Mamedyarov's blundering not just one but two simple tactics involving the d5 square.

    Ding Liren and Ian Nepomniachtchi were part of the first-place tie entering the round, but paired with each other they drew speedily, in just 17 moves. Anish Giri was the last member of the pentumvirate(?), but he was never getting more than a draw as Black against Santosh Vidit Gujrathi. Teimour Radjabov trailed the leaders by half a point entering the round, but he too took the round off, also drawing in 17 moves (with Black) against bottom seed and co-cellar dweller (with Vladimir Kramnik, but not any more!) Jorden Van Foreest.

    So today's draws were all pretty lame, but this was compensated by the presence of four decisive games. Two have already been mentioned, and the other two were Vladimir Fedoseev's win over Sam Shankland and Jan-Krzysztof Duda's victory over Kramnik, who no longer weighs the same as a duck but is sinking like a stone. (Ask your parents.)

    The games are here (with some comments). Tomorrow is a rest day, and on Tuesday they'll contest round 9, with the following pairings:

    • Shankland (3.5) - Carlsen (5.5)
    • Radjabov (4.5) - Fedoseev (3.5)
    • Giri (5) - Van Foreest (2.5)
    • Nepomniachtchi (5) - Vidit (4)
    • Kramnik (2) - Ding (5)
    • Mamedyarov (3) - Duda (4)
    • Rapport (3) - Anand (5.5)

    It looks like a round that could have lots of decisive games - let's hope so.