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    Thursday
    Jan082015

    I Just Drew With Kramnik (Sort of)

    In my dreams, right? Exactly!

    Of course, dreams are funny, and the draw wasn't exactly according to Hoyle. I had White and think it was in one of the big Swiss events that take place in Las Vegas every year. The opening may have been an Accelerated Dragon, and at some point in the early middlegame, roughly around move 22 or so, I played the move b3-b4, gaining space in the Maroczy Bind structure and perhaps preparing an eventual c4-c5 pawn break.

    Big Vlad was a resourceful player - he wasn't world champion for nothing! - and came up with a move I hadn't foreseen: 22...b4-b3!! I looked up with some sort of amused and confused expression, I think only half aware in my dream that this was simply against the rules, and Kramnik looked up with a laughing smile that sort of recognized that something unusual and funny had just happened...but not something illegal.

    I think I played b4 again, and while we drew very quickly I'm not sure that it was by a repetition. There was some other weird going-on first, as one of the players on the board next to us was unhappy with the physical characteristics of his rooks, so he switched his rooks with Kramnik's. At some moment Kramnik offered me a draw, and although I stood better and was considering what had to be the key move, I was doubly distracted. First, by the guy on the neighboring board who was complaining about his rooks, and secondly by the fact that I could now draw with Vladimir Kramnik! Unfortunately, point #2 trumped everything else, and I took the draw.

    After the game Kramnik didn't go so far as to say that the critical move won, but seemed to acknowledge or at least assumed as obvious that I had an advantage. He did suggest that I should have been able to work out the details of this critical move, and I pleaded distraction (not mentioning the bigger impetus, of course) as the conversation finished.

    What next? Well, if you're Magnus Carlsen or Viswanathan Anand you're not going to excitedly tell all your friends you drew with Vladimir Kramnik, but if you're a bit further down the food chain, like me, it would be awfully hard not to. A couple of local (Las Vegas) friends (one I've known for more than 35 years) were right there when I had finished the quick chat with Kramnik, so I didn't think I'd have to mention anything - they could hardly have missed seeing and hearing everything for themselves. So I eagerly awaited their pats on the back and the rest, but their congratulations weren't forthcoming. Instead, they were discussing the success of some other local player in a lower section. Gee, thanks, guys! Maybe my subconscious was punishing me for wimping out with the draw, or for wanting to brag?

    I'm sure you guys have some better chess dream stories than this; if so (as long as they're clean!) write away!

    Thursday
    Jan082015

    Tactics Time: Two Combinations by Moiseenko - Solutions (Updated)

    Yesterday I offered a couple of positions from the recent praxis of the strong Ukranian grandmaster Alexander Moiseenko for your solving pleasure (the positions are here), and now it's time for the solutions. Both come from the combinations section of Informant 122, which I hope to review for you within a day or two.

    The solutions are here, with some variations and comments added (prefaced with "DM") to the first position for clarity's sake.

    [UPDATE: The solutions are now linked.]

    Wednesday
    Jan072015

    An Interview with Boris Spassky

    The original is here, while large excerpts have been translated into English on the Chess24 website. As usual, I'd recommend that non-Russian readers start with the translation and then go to the original, making what they can of the Google Translate rendering.

    Tuesday
    Jan062015

    Tactics Time: Two Combinations by Moiseenko

    Both can be found here, and in both cases it's White - Moiseenko - to play and win. (The second position can be accessed by means of the arrow above the board.) Solutions tomorrow, though I think many of you will successfully solve them on your own well before the follow-up post.

    Monday
    Jan052015

    Ongoing: Hastings

    The annual Hastings tournament is a classic event, going back into the 19th century. While there are stronger opens nowadays, the mention Hastings will always quicken the pulse of historically aware chess players due to the famous 1895 edition of the tournament.

    The current tournament is 7 rounds in, and the leader is Chinese grandmaster Zhao Jun who raced out with six straight wins before giving up a draw in round 7. Six players are a point behind, and two rounds remain.

    Sunday
    Jan042015

    Lose Like a Grandmaster - In 10 Moves?!

    This certainly doesn't happen every day:

    1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 e6 6.a3 Be7 7.g3 Qb6 8.Nb3 Ne5 9.e4? Nfg4 10.c5 Qxb3 and White resigned in the game Qun Ma-Danny Raznikov, Groningen 2014.

    What's especially odd about the game is that even the pedestrian 10...Bxc5 is very good for Black. So what happened to White in the game? If anyone knows the back story of the game, please pass it along! Meanwhile, you can replay the game here (as well as above), but with my brief analytical comments.

    HT: Marc Beishon

    Saturday
    Jan032015

    Nakamura-So Death Match: Who Won? (Updated)

    If anyone knows, please pass it along.

    UPDATE: As approximately 6,000 people told me (thanks to all of you!), starting with Allen Becker, Hikaru Nakamura won his Chess.com "Death Match" against Wesley So by an overall score of 21.5-11.5. Nakamura won the 5' + 1" stage with an undefeated 6.5-2.5, split the 3' + 1" stage 4.5-4.5 (with only one draw), and won the bullet (1' + 1") finale 10.5-4.5 (again, with only one draw). There's a nice report here, and I think there are others in the comments section as well.

    Friday
    Jan022015

    Rating Reports

    ChessBase has a nice wrap-up of the year's new rating lists, separated by gender, age and time control. Their report also notes the somewhat bizarre case of 14-year-old Azeri Parviz Gasimov, whose rating has skyrocketed from 1949 on the October list to - get ready for this - 2517! Incredible. The bizarre aspect is that while he play and performances have been remarkable, he has yet to have a TPR over 2400! Helpfully, Chess24 offers a detailed explanation of how it happened.

    There won't be a world championship this year (in the unqualified sense, that is; there will be a women's world championship, rapid & blitz world championships, junior world championships and so on), so let's do a little speculating about what the top of the rating lists will look like in January of 2016. Right now the top five looks like this:

    • 1. Magnus Carlsen 2862
    • 2. Fabiano Caruana 2820
    • 3. Alexander Grischuk 2810
    • 4. Veselin Topalov 2800
    • 5-6. Viswanathan Anand, Levon Aronian 2797

    What do you think the top five will look like in a year? I won't try to guess the specific ratings, but my prediction for the top five is this:

    • 1. Magnus Carlsen
    • 2. Fabiano Caruana
    • 3. Levon Aronian
    • 4. Alexander Grischuk
    • 5. Anish Giri

    I'm also going to guess that Hou Yifan will pass Judit Polgar on the rating list at some point this year (at the moment, she only needs two points to do so) and bring her rating within ten points of 2700.

    Thursday
    Jan012015

    Happy New Year!

    May you and your loved ones flourish in 2015, both on and off the chessboard.

    Tuesday
    Dec302014

    A Short Review of Improve Your Chess Pattern Recognition

    Arthur van de Oudeweetering, Improve Your Chess Pattern Recognition: Key Moves and Motifs in the Middlegame. New in Chess, 2014. 301 pp., $26.95/€22.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.

    If any of you subscribed to the now-defunct e-periodical ChessVibes Training, you will be familiar with IM Arthur van de Oudeweetering's work; if not, then probably not. I'll offer a spoiler here: I think his contributions were by far the best part of that periodical, and not because all the other material was of poor quality. The book under review consists of 40 of those columns, all revised to some degree or another, and if you didn't see them the first time around I'd recommend seriously considering picking them up in this version.

    Each of the columns takes some theme - a piece on a (particular) strong square, an unusual exchange, certain typical sacrifices, some typical maneuvers, and so on - and illustrates them with a healthy number of well-chosen examples. There are also 40 exercises (the obvious guess is that there is one exercise per chapter theme, but I didn't check to see if there is a one-to-one correspondence between them) and a short epilogue.

    He has divided the material into four almost equal parts. Part I, "Typical Piece Positions", has 11 chapters, and in each one there is one particular piece on one particular square that gets highlighted. (Or two pieces and two squares, if we count once each for White and Black.) For example, there is one chapter on the "octopus" (a well-known label invented, I think, by Ray Keene when commenting on Garry Kasparov's famous knight on d3 in the classic 16th game of the 1985 Karpov-Kasparov match), another about a knight on f5, another on the blockading Black knight on d6, still another about a White bishop on d6, and so on.

    Part II, "No Automatic Pilot", has nine chapters, all of them involving something counter-intuitive: trading off a good knight (an octopus!) for a bad bishop on c8, full exchange sacrifices, voluntarily accepting doubled f-pawns, recapturing with a pawn away from the center, and so on.

    Part III, "Typical Strategic Means: Sacrifices", looks at 10 different typical sacrifices. These include e5-e6 sacs to stuff up Black's kingside, the "impossible" h2-h4 (Black can take the pawn without receiving immediate punishment), Rx(B)e6 exchange sacs, Rx(N)f6 exchange sacs, and so on.

    Part IV, "Typical Strategic Means: Typical Little Plans" finishes the book with 10 mini-plans, mini-maneuvers and other small themes. There's the "Nievergelt Manoeuvre", which is ...Kh8, ...Rg8 and ...g5 in a Hedgehog-type position, there's the queen maneuver ...Qd8-b8-a7, there's Bd3 blocking one's own d-pawn, making the decision about whether or not to exchange queens, and among other topics there's the one that closes the book: "The Runner and the Bulldozer". That is how he characterizes the race between a passed pawn on the one side and a wave of attacking pawns on the other, as in the practically deciding 9th game of the first Anand-Carlsen match back in 2013.

    There are plenty of interesting chapters besides the ones I mentioned, and perhaps many of them are even more interesting, as many of the ones listed above are relatively conventional. I think it's an excellent book, and while it's not systematic in a way that would turn it into a primer on positional play, there is no question but that this will improve the positional understanding of many club players. I'd highly recommend this to players rated around 1400 to 2100, and I think even masters can (and will) learn something from this book as well.