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    Monday
    Dec012014

    Qatar Masters: Giri Leads With 6/6, Kramnik Up Next With 5/6

    In round 5 of the Qatar Masters Open Anish Giri won very quickly with Black against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, but it looked like he would be held today by Swedish GM Nils Grandelius. Grandelius was very close to making a draw, but Giri kept the game alive for a long time, and his opponent finally fell apart around move 60. With the exception of Mamedyarov, Giri hasn't been playing the same kinds of opponents Fabiano Caruana did when winning seven in a row at the Sinquefield Cup or that Alexander Grischuk did in his six game streak across the Baku Grand Prix and the Tigran Petrosian Memorial, but even so it's very impressive.

    His next opponent will be Vladimir Kramnik. Kramnik got off to a poor start, drawing in the first two rounds against considerably lower-rated GMs and just eking out a victory in round 3. Since then, however, he has been pummeling his opponents, and in round 6 he knocked out the talented young grandmaster Sanan Sjugirov in just 25 moves. With four wins in a row he is in clear second, and tomorrow he'll have the white pieces against Giri. That should be very entertaining.

    Twelve players are in the next score group, at 4.5 points, and two of them are Americans. Sam Shankland will have Black against Yuriy Kryvoruchko on board three, while Aleksandr Lenderman will have the black pieces on board four against Yu Yangyi. Daniel Naroditsky has 4 points, and will have White against Pavel Eljanov.

    Monday
    Dec012014

    Carlsen on the World Championship

    Here's a 14+ minute video on YouTube, with Magnus Carlsen offering a brief personal recap on the games of his match vs. Viswanathan Anand. (HT: Ian Lamb)

    Saturday
    Nov292014

    USC 49, Notre Dame 14

    A real nail-biter, that one.

    Record so far: 7-5.

    Next loss: TBA, depends on the bowl game.

    Saturday
    Nov292014

    Retired Chess Politician Beats IM In Rapid Match

    In one of the sillier stories in the chess world, Garry Kasparov played a two-game rapid match with Japanese IM and Shogi legend Yoshiharu Habu, and of course won 2-0. The silly part is Kasparov's remark that he had "everything to lose". While it would be a little embarrassing for a player of Kasparov's stature not to win 2-0, there was objectively little chance that it would happen. Further, while his opponent could take justifiable pride in such a result, who would really care about the result of a rapid exhibition match played nine years after Kasparov's retirement from serious chess? Kasparov's place in chess history wouldn't be dented in the least by an accident in such an event. Finally, if there was really everything to lose, then why participate? Perhaps Kasparov should read a book on decision-making before agreeing to any more such events in the future.

    Saturday
    Nov292014

    Four Lead the Russian Championship After Two Rounds

    In round 1, Igor Lysyj was the sole leader of the Russian Championship after defeating Nikita Vitiugov with the black pieces, and he was caught in round 2 by three others. Alexander Morozevich beat Boris Grachev in a nice attacking game, Ian Nepomniachtchi defeated Sergey Karjakin, and Vadim Zvjanginsev defeated Denis Khismatullin with Black in a line that can arise via the English or the Caro-Kann. I haven't checked to see if Zvjaginsev's pawn sac on move 14 and its immediate follow-up was known theory or not, but it was one of the most unusual ideas I can recall seeing.

    Saturday
    Nov292014

    Qatar Masters: Giri Leads With 4/4

    So far it's a fine performance by the young Dutchman and top seed Anish Giri, who is the solo leader of the Qatar Masters Open with 4/4. Thus far he hasn't been tested, and today he crushed his opponent, Mikhailo Oleksienko, in just 18 moves on the white side of a Caro-Kann - and he was probably winning after Black's 10th move. (In case you're wondering, Oleksienko is a GM with a 2620 rating; this isn't some sort of master vs. amateur rout at the local club!) Ouch.

    Five players are just half a point behind - Evgeny Tomashevsky, Nils Grandelius, Yuriy Kryvoruchko, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, and Pavel Eljanov - and then there are a ton of players with 3/4, including Vladimir Kramnik. Kramnik started with two draws and a very shaky win in round 3, but in round 4 he finally looked more like himself and is getting back into the hunt. The top American player so far, Sam Shankland, also has 3 points, and several Americans have 2.5 points including Daniel Naroditsky, Alex Lenderman and Irina Krush. (Krush had an especially impressive victory in round 3 over Sergey Fedorchuk, and with the black pieces at that.) Another notable 2.5 pointer is Bela Khotenashvili. She defeated Baadur Jobava in round 1, and today in round 4 she defeated another super-strong GM, Gabriel Sargissian.

    It's a very strong tournament, and as you can see from the foregoing even top GMs aren't getting much "respect" from their opponents. Especially notable among the super-GM victims are Arkadij Naiditsch, whose 2719 rating still left him with an 0-2 start, and after a win in round 3 he lost to an IM in round 4 to fall to 1-3. Even worse: Viktor Bologan started 0-3 and only managed his first draw of the event today, against an FM. (Worse yet: while some might conceivably have a tough time in Qatar because they're unused to the climate, I believe Bologan has spent a lot of time working as a trainer there over the years. He's just having a very bad tournament.)

    Five rounds remain.

    Saturday
    Nov292014

    Notre Dame to Beat USC Today

    At least if they don't turn the ball over four times, miss routine field goals, Brian Kelly doesn't make any crazy coaching decisions, etc. Notre Dame will start to win the game at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX; the question is whether they will beat USC or themselves in another paroxysm of self-destruction.

    Thursday
    Nov272014

    Qatar Masters, Round 1 Upsets

    Just limiting the discussion to the games of 2700s for now, there were three games out of the 14 involving 2700-rated players at the Qatar Masters where the favorite failed to win. Second seed Vladimir Kramnik drew with Stelios Halkias, who had the chutzpah to play the Evans Gambit against him! He didn't get anything out of the opening, but in the middlegame was making progress and managed to win a pawn. In the ending, however, he let his advantage slip, and finally decided to repeat rather than try to grind anything out.

    The biggest full-point upset came on board 7, where Baadur Jobava lost with White against his countrywoman Bela Khotenashvili. His 16.Bxd5 looked a bit crazy to me (a viewpoint confirmed to me by a grandmaster friend) and his considerably lower-rated opponent (though still a GM) outplayed him convincingly and impressively.

    Finally, the third upset was remarkable and flashy. As with Jobava, Arkadij Naiditsch lost with the white pieces, to Indian GM R. Rajpara Ankit. Naiditsch had the better of play in the early going, but was gobsmacked by the fantastic sequence 19...Bh4 (intending 20...Bg3) 20.Kg2 (stopping ...Bg3) Bg3!! anyway! In fact 20...Bg3 may not have been the best move due to 21.Nf6+! followed by 22.Qxd8+ and 23.Kxg3, when White stands better, but Naiditsch either missed this or thought that his approach of taking the "free" bishop was even better. It wasn't, and Ankit won a spectacular game.

    These three games (sans notes) can be replayed here.

    Tuesday
    Nov252014

    Coming Events: Qatar Masters Open (Tomorrow/Today), Russian Championships, 

    Some open tournaments get the occasional "low" 2700 player, but the Qatar Masters is apparently no ordinary open. In addition to 10 "rank and file" 2700 players (what a ridiculous phrase) there are four superstars participating as well: Vladimir Kramnik, Anish Giri, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. The action begins Wednesday at 1 p.m. CET/7 a.m. ET.

    A couple of days later, on Friday, the Russian Championship begins. Participants include Sergei Karjakin, Peter Svidler, Nikita Vitiugov, Dmitry Jakovenko, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Alexander Morozevich.

    Looking further ahead, the London Chess Classic begins December 10 (Caruana, Anand, Giri, Nakamura, Kramnik and Adams; unfortunately, it seems to be a single round-robin event) and the World Mind Games rapid & blitz championships start in Beijing on December 11 and December 13, respectively. There's no shortage of chess entertainment coming our way the next three weeks!

    Tuesday
    Nov252014

    St. Louis, Final Day: Nakamura Defeats Aronian in Blitz

    The "Showdown in St. Louis" between Levon Aronian and Hikaru Nakamura was tied after four classical games, so the winner in tonight's best-of-16 blitz match would win the event and $60,000, while the loser would "only" get $40,000. After a shaky first couple of games, Nakamura felt he got in the zone, while Aronian kept getting into time trouble and all the difficulties it tends to generate. Afterwards Aronian opined that while he's a good blitz player when it's 4'+2", 3'+2" - the time control used in this match - was a bit too fast for him. In the end Nakamura won 9.5-6.5, clinching match victory with two games to spare.

    In the GM norm event Sam Sevian drew his last game (a long game, not a quick handshake deal as in his previous game with the black pieces) and finished in clear first with 7.5/9, a ton of rating points and the grandmaster title. He is the youngest U.S. player to achieve the title, and the sixth-youngest of all time.

    Congrats to him, to Nakamura, and also to Michael William Brown who made norm in the concurrent IM norm event as well!