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    Sunday
    May232010

    The US Championship, Quad Finals Day 1/Round 8 For the Rest of the Field

    The tension builds, as the four man final started with a pair of draws.

    Nakamura - Kamsky was an exciting battle, with Kamsky giving up the queenside in return for a kitchen sink attack against White's king. In what seems to have been a very well played middlegame by both sides, it was White who had to force the perpetual just as Black was crashing through.

    Onischuk - Shulman, on the other hand, was a tepid affair that seemed unnecessarily long even for a 33-move game. It wasn't that the players didn't want a fight, it's just that White's attempt to play for only the safest sort of edge gave Black an easy day.

    Tomorrow, Nakamura will have White again, this time against Shulman, while Kamsky gets White against Onischuk. This almost seems like a must-win situation for Nakamura, but since he presses in almost every game anyway I'm sure we'll see some exciting chess no matter what.

    In the battle for fifth, in the swiss system part of the tournament, Christiansen squandered a promising position against Stripunsky and lost (the culprit - or at least the first big step off the cliff - was 28...Rg4. If White had to grab the rook immediately, it would be fine for Black, but since he didn't, it wasn't.

    The only player within half a point of Stripunsky going into their last round is Shabalov, who will have White against Stripunsky. Shabalov got there by defeating Irina Krush, who must now win against Kraai in the last round to get her second GM norm. Krush's game with Shabalov was extremely interesting, and wouldn't be a bad game for aspiring players to analyze on their own. For those not interested in doing so right now, I'll mention 22...Qb5 and 26...Bxc5 (rather than 26...Nxc5) as a possible improvements.

    The most interesting improvement, however, came later.

    White has just played 36.Nd4, and it was here that I stopped my live commentary, as the top boards were all either finished or headed in an obvious direction, and basically said that the game was as good as over, just a wrap-up operation, etc. Material was nominally even at that moment, with Krush having a bishop and three pawns for two knights, but the only important pawn, her pawn on b2, was dropping, while her c6 pawn was a dying duck as well. Sure enough, White did take on c6 and a few moves later on b2, and while she put up some resistance he Shabalov brought in the full point.

    But after logging off, I consulted with the computer in that very position after 36.Nd4, and after agreeing with me for a few moments it produced an amazing variation:

    36...Ra3!! 37.Nxc6 Ra1! with the point that 38.Nxb8?? loses immediately to the Bernstein - Capablanca-like tactic 38...Qd2!, winning. White must instead play something like 38.Kf1, but after 38...Rb3 39.Ke2 Rxb1 40.Nxe7+ Qxe7 41.Qxb3 Qg5! 42.Nc3 Rh1 43.Qxb2 Qxg2 a perpetual check is in the offing, and it will probably be White who ends up breathing the sigh of relief.

    It wouldn't have been easy to work through such a line under normal circumstances; in a pressure game with time trouble it's all the more challenging. If she had found it, though, that would almost have merited the GM norm by itself.

    More info on the tournament site; I'll have my usual post with full pairings and a reminder of the live broadcast shortly before the round.

    Saturday
    May222010

    The US Championship, Stage 2

    And now the battle continues, in two separate and very unequal sections.

    At the top, there's a quad for the top four finishers after the first seven rounds, featuring Nakamura, Kamsky, Onischuk and Shulman. The pairings there are given just as I listed the players: Nakamura - Kamsky, Onischuk - Shulman. Although the scores are cumulative, all four players have five points, so it might as well be a fresh start.

    And then there's everyone else. They keep playing as if nothing ever happened, on their way to finishing a nine-round swiss. Their pairings look like this:

    3. Stripunsky (4.5) - Christiansen (4.5)

    4. Finegold (4) - Hess (4)

    5. Shabalov (4) - Krush (4)

    6. Kraai (3.5) - Yermolinsky (4)

    7. Akobian (3.5) - Ehlvest (3.5)

    8. Robson (3) - Khachiyan (3)

    9. Bhat (2.5) - Kaidanov (3)

    10. Benjamin (2.5) - Altounian (2.5)

    11. Gurevich (2) - Lenderman (2.5)

    12. Kudrin (2) - Shankland (1.5)

     

    The play, as usual, starts at 2 p.m. St. Louis time = 3 p.m. ET = 9 p.m. CET, and my live commentary on the Playchess server gets underway 90 minutes later (viewing directions are here). Hope to see you there!

    Saturday
    May222010

    Astrakhan, Round 11: Eljanov Leads; Everyone 1-1.5 Points Behind

    That's an exaggeration, but not by much. Eljanov drew and leads by a point at The Least Interesting Chess Tournament In The World*, but since he can't qualify for the Candidates it's a little beside the point. (But it is impressive, as the Ukranian #1 - over Ivanchuk, Ponomariov, and Karjakin if you're inclined to count him - continues to climb the rating list.)

    Eljanov has 7 points, but at 6 there's Ponomariov (who defeated previous Grand Prix frontrunner Gashimov), Gashimov, Jakovenko and Radjabov (the day's other winner, who defeated Mamedyarov). And at 5.5 there's Alekseev, Gelfand, Mamedyarov, Leko and Wang Yue. So practically anything can happen in the next two rounds - especially if, as some conjecture, Aronian will decline the invitation to the Candidates because they'll take place in Baku**, and the Grand Prix third-place finisher will also get in.

    More here, on the tournament site.

     

    * I don't always play tournament chess, but when I do, I prefer to draw quickly. Stay boring, my friends. [This will make sense to U.S. readers who watch televised sports. Everyone else can do a web search for "the most interesting man in the world".]

    ** I have no desire to explore the viccisitudes of Armenia vs. Azerbaijan politics, but it is problematic at best for FIDE to award the Candidates to one of the two countries when a representative of the other might play. They did this in Tripoli in 2004, which deprived Gelfand and others of a shot in the FIDE k.o. that year, and it would be just as big a mistake for them to hold such an event in Israel if there's a representative from a country whose relations with Israel are poor.

    I'm not drawing any moral equivalences here. My point is only that FIDE should strive to avoid the most blatantly problematic situations, so that players aren't put in difficulties because of historic and intergovernmental conflicts.

    Friday
    May212010

    Astrakhan Grand Prix, Round 10: Eljanov Leads, Gashimov Second

    Pavel Eljanov finally showed that White can be OK, too, winning with that color against none other than chess's brick wall, Peter Leko. That keeps him in clear first with 6.5/10, half a point ahead of Vugar Gashimov, who also won with the white pieces, against Ernesto Inarkiev. Gashimov is a further half a point ahead of Jakovenko and Mamedyarov, who are in turn half a point ahead of a large group of 5-pointers, including Teimour Radjabov - the day's other winner. (He won with Black against tailender Vladimir Akopian.)

    I don't offhand understand the Grand Prix scoring rules to know exactly where everyone stands with respect to the overall standings. (The significance is that whoever comes in second [behind Aronian] in the overall Grand Prix standings qualifies for the next Candidates event.) I can say this much: Eljanov is not in the running, but Gashimov most certainly is. Maybe Thomas or someone else can fill in the details?

    Tournament site here.

    Friday
    May212010

    This Week's ChessVideos Show: Attacking Play at the US Championship

    In my show this week, I cover Kamsky-Christiansen from round 5 of the U.S. Championship, an impressive win by the first-named player. Kamsky himself labeled it aggressive positional chess rather than attacking play, but whatever we label the whole, the attacking portion was a little work of art. Further, it's not only the final attack that's worth seeing, but the game as a whole. First Kamsky builds up his position, then he creates weaknesses in Black's position, and only then, with all necessary preconditions in place, does he close in for the kill.

    So have a look, here - it's a good way to get in a little chess viewing during the rest day. The show is free (free registration required), and will be available on-demand for the next month or so. (Note: after that month, the shows goes into an archive which can be accessed by premium members. That archive includes several years' worth of my shows, but there's also material by GMs Josh Friedel and Alex Lenderman, by IMs Luis Coelho and Renier Castellanos, and by WGM Jennifer Shahade. They're about to bump up the rates for the premium membership for new PMs come Sunday, so have a look here and here and decide quickly!)

    Friday
    May212010

    US Championship, Round 7: Nakamura, Kamsky, Onischuk and Shulman in the Final Four

    All four players drew their final games and advanced to Saturday's "final four", but it wasn't easy for two of them.

    In the "battle" between Shulman and Onischuk, the game was a very comfortable draw, as predicted yesterday. I don't know if they agreed to a draw beforehand, but it was so obviously in both players' interest that there was no need for collusion. Black played the Lasker Defense (maximum result: half a point except against Topalov), and White didn't try to create any special problems. A simple, short draw was the result.

    Christiansen - Nakamura was another matter. Christiansen needed a win to make the final, and he was better throughout. I think there was a win at one point, too, with 34.Rxd5! If Black doesn't take anything, he's down a pawn with a lousy position. Taking on d5 is horrible too, so the only feisty move is 34...Bxe2. Now 35.Rd7 Qc4 36.Qe5, and Black has no answer to the threat of Rbb7 (followed by a catastrophe on g7) that doesn't drop the bishop on e2 and leave him with a lousy position a pawn down. After missing that, Christiansen still had some advantage, but it wasn't enough to win.

    Kamsky - Shabalov seemed strange to me while I was doing the live commentary - I thought White had a comfortable positional edge with 16.Bd3 of 17.Bd3, but instead came up with 16.Rad1 Bf5 17.Bh4, and after 17...Qg6 Black suddenly had lots of play. But this was Kamsky's plan, and his big idea was the combination 18.Nfxe5 Nxe5 19.Nxe5 Bxe5 20.Bxh5 Qxh5 21.Rxe5 Qxh4 22.Qd4, threatening a lethal discovered check. Now 22...Qf6 loses to 23.Rxf5 Qxd4 24.Rxf8+ and 25.Rxd4, while 22...Kg8 23.Qd5+ and 24.Rxf5 wins for White as well. But what Kamsky admitted to missing was 22...Bg6, when White has no meaningful discovered check. (Actually, 22...c5 is fine for Black as well.) Fortunately for Kamsky, he was able to pick up a couple of pawns on the queenside, and Black's exposed king made it difficult for him to exploit his advantage. By the end of the game, White was better and could have played for a win, but perhaps he felt he had enjoyed enough adventures for one day, and the game ended in a draw.

    This was bad news for Christiansen and Stripunsky too. The latter defeated Kraai after 22.Bxc4?? - Kraai must have seen only 22...Bxc4 and missed 22...Rxc4! 23.Rxc4 Nb6, winning. Finegold almost joined Christiansen and Stripunsky, but couldn't quite put Yermolinsky away. Likewise, Akobian could have joined the fifth-place tie, but he lost to Hess. Here are the full results:

    1. Shulman (4.5) - Onischuk (4.5) 1/2-1/2

    2. Christiansen (4) - Nakamura (4.5) 1/2-1/2

    3. Kamsky (4.5) - Shabalov (3.5) 1/2-1/2

    4. Kraai (3.5) - Stripunsky (3.5) 0-1

    5. Yermolinsky (3.5) - Finegold (3.5) 1/2-1/2

    6. Hess (3) - Akobian (3.5) 1-0

    7. Krush (3) - Lenderman (2.5) 1-0

    8. Ehlvest (2.5) - Bhat (2.5) 1-0

    9. Kaidanov (2.5) - Robson (2.5) 1/2-1/2

    10. Khachiyan (2) - Benjamin (2.5) 1-0

    11. Kudrin (1.5) - Gurevich (1.5) 1/2-1/2

    12. Shankland (1.5) - Altounian (1.5) 0-1

    Tomorrow is a rest day, and then the tournament continues (at the usual hour) in two pieces: a quad for the final four, and two additional, normal rounds for everyone else. More about this later. Meanwhile, visit the official site for games and more.

    Thursday
    May202010

    US Championship, Round 7 Pairings

    Earlier I mentioned the top pairings; here's the whole list:

    1. Shulman (4.5) - Onischuk (4.5)

    2. Christiansen (4) - Nakamura (4.5)

    3. Kamsky (4.5) - Shabalov (3.5)

    4. Kraai (3.5) - Stripunsky (3.5)

    5. Yermolinsky (3.5) - Finegold (3.5)

    6. Hess (3) - Akobian (3.5)

    7. Krush (3) - Lenderman (2.5)

    8. Ehlvest (2.5) - Bhat (2.5)

    9. Kaidanov (2.5) - Robson (2.5)

    10. Khachiyan (2) - Benjamin (2.5)

    11. Kudrin (1.5) - Gurevich (1.5)

    12. Shankland (1.5) - Altounian (1.5)

     

    The games, as always, start at 2 p.m. St. Louis time (= 3 p.m. ET/9 p.m. CET), and my live commentary on Playchess will start 90 minutes later. (Viewing directions are here.) The top four finishers go on to play for the biggest money, while the rest of the field will continue on for two more rounds starting Saturday, so tune in for today's hugely important games!

    Thursday
    May202010

    An Interview With Anand, Part 2, And Topalov Interview Excerpts

    This part is a little less interesting, but there is a brief discussion of Topalov's strongest "second": Rybka 4 on a computer cluster with 114 cores - and not only that but access to an IBM super-computer capable of running 50 trillion floating point operations per second. (If my quick online research is correct, that's about a thousand times faster than even a really souped-up home system.)

    Have a look here, too. After a recap of the first part of the Anand interview, there's a brief interview with Topalov. Kind of amazingly to my mind, he boasts about what he takes to have been his superior preparation against Anand, as if having access to a super-computer reflects favorably on his abilities. He also reiterates his triumphalist story about game 1, as if it wasn't just decided by a one-move blunder which Anand claims was the product of mixing up his moves.

    Anyway, Topalov aside, the idea of chess preparation moving to the super-computer stage is slightly nauseating to me. I'm no Luddite and I find the progress of opening theory interesting, but is it really the game we play and are trying to understand when Blue Gene blinks on to tell us at depth 55* that our favorite opening variation loses unless we find 27 only-moves in a row? I guess it's not that bad yet, since Topalov, for all his (alleged) dominance in the openings, (allegedly) better nerves, relative youth and better physical condition still couldn't beat Anand, but how long do we have before machine prep renders the gap between those with access and those without unbridgeable?

     

    * Depth 55 is a made-up figure, but can anyone out there tell us what sorts of depths such a machine would reach in a given time period, using Rybka or Fritz or some other contemporary engine on a desktop computer as a benchmark?

    Thursday
    May202010

    US Championship, Round 6: Four Lead

    That's convenient too, as there are four spots available in this weekend's final. But first, there's still tomorrow's round to be played, and today's round to be recapped.

    Coming into the round, Onischuk and Kamsky were tied with 4 points apiece. They were paired, and Kamsky held pretty easily with the Black pieces. That ensured them of at least a tie for first going into the last round; the question was if they would have any company. They would.

    First, Nakamura won pretty easily against Kraai, using everyone's new favorite weapon, the Catalan. I think White was slightly but very comfortably better after 19.Bf1, but after Kraai's 19...c5 20.dxc5 Rfc8 White was just winning. Kraai's intentions were good, to get rid of a potential weakness and give his pieces a little space; unfortunately for him, the simplifying sequence 21.Nxc4 Rxc5 22.Nb6 Rxc1 23.Rxc1 Nxb6 24.axb6 left him with a lost or nearly lost position. If he takes on f1, then after recapturing White plays Rc7 and brings the king up the board (e.g. to d6) with a routine win. Black tried 24...Bc6, but after 25.Bg2 faced the same dilemma. Maybe after 25...Kf8 26.Bxc6 he'd have had some slight chances to hold after 26...Rc8, but the game continuation 26...bxc6 27.Rxc6 proved hopeless. This brought Nakamura back into the first-place tie.

    Second, Stripunsky - Shulman added Shulman's name to the logjam atop the leaderboard. Stripunsky played the 4.Ne2 system against the Winawer French. It isn't esteemed by theoreticians, but it does at least avoid "Winawery" positions. White did not gain any advantage, however, and after Shulman's astute 18...Bh3 19.Rf2 (19.gxf4!?) Bg2! gained an edge that only increased as the game went along.

    This means that the top four are composed of four of the top five by rating. Only one player is within immediate striking distance, and that's Christiansen, who took powerful advantage of a Krush error. Christiansen was making threatening gestures in the direction of Krush's king, but had nothing concrete until her 28...h5? She must have missed 29.Ne5!, when 29...fxe5(?) 30.fxe5 Rxf2 31.exd6! Qxd6 32.Qh6+ Kg8 33.Rxg7+ forces mate in one. She therefore chose 29...Bxe5 30.fxe5 f5, but in time trouble the task of holding her weak kingside together proved too difficult.

    As for the remaining games; well, here are the complete results:

    Onischuk (4) - Kamsky (4) 1/2-1/2

    Nakamura (3.5) - Kraai (3.5) 1-0

    Stripunsky (3.5) - Shulman (3.5) 0-1

    Akobian (3) - Yermolinsky (3) 1/2-1/2

    Christiansen (3) - Krush (3) 1-0

    Shabalov (2.5) - Kaidanov (2.5) 1-0

    Finegold (2.5) - Benjamin (2.5) 1-0

    Robson (2) - Ehlvest (2) 1/2-1/2

    Altounian (1.5) - Hess (2) 0-1

    Lenderman (1.5) - Kudrin (1.5) 1-0

    Bhat (1.5) - Shankland (1.5) 1-0

    Gurevich (1) - Khachyian (1.5) 1/2-1/2

    (The games and further info can be found on the tournament website.)

     

    The top pairings tomorrow are these:

    1. Shulman (4.5) - Onischuk (4.5)

    2. Christiansen (4) - Nakamura (4.5)

    3. Kamsky (4.5) - Shabalov (3.5)

     

    Now, normally I'd expect Shulman - Onischuk to take only as long as needed to satisfy the anti-quick draw totalitarians. (Players who aren't in the Anand/Topalov/Kramnik tax bracket are supposed to risk a good shot at $35,000 and, at minimum, a 3/4 chance to make at least $5,000 more than a non-finalist, just to make some spectators happy? Riiiiight. Maybe I can sell you the Brooklyn Bridge.) However, because the finalists' scores carry over to the final, it is at least possible that they'll play a real game - but I wouldn't bet on it.

    Certainly Christiansen will fight against Nakamura, given the likelihood of a Shulman-Onischuk handshake and the improbability that Shabalov will defeat Kamsky with Black. (It's not impossible, of course, just unlikely.) It would be a great day in his illustrious career if he managed to pull it off, especially at the (old for this field) age of 54.

    We shall see! As always, the games start at 2 p.m. St. Louis time (= 3 p.m. ET and 9 p.m. CET), and my live commentary will begin an hour and a half after that on the Playchess server.

    Thursday
    May202010

    Astrakhan Grand Prix, Round 9: Eljanov Wins Again, Leads Again

    When it comes to Ukranian #1 Pavel Eljanov's chess, Black is OK! For the fifth straight game, Black won in his games, and since he had Black this time it was good news for him. In a game that was fairly even for a long time, Eljanov started to take the upper hand just before the time control, and slowly but surely ground Radjabov down in the endgame.

    Five games were drawn, four in typically dull Astrayawn fashion. The one non-lame draw was extremely well-played, though, with Ponomariov torturing Akopian for 96 moves before giving it up. Akopian's defense was fantastic, and reminds me of why he was able to get to the FIDE k.o. finals in 1999. (One minor but nice example of his defense was seeing that 57.b5 did not win: after 57...cxb5 58.axb5 Black plays 58...Rxb5! 59.Nc7+ Kb7 60.Nxb5 Kc6, regaining enough material to draw.)

    The only decisive game other than Eljanov's was Inarkiev - Mamedyarov, also won by Black. It was an imbalanced game generally in Black's favor, but it only turned deadly for White after 39.Qd2? Qe7.

    Tomorrow is the second and last rest day; round 10 (of 13) will be Friday.

     

    Standings After Round 10:

    1. Eljanov 5.5

    2-5. Jakovenko, Gashimov, Mamedyarov, Leko 5

    6-9. Gelfand, Alekseev, Ponomariov, Wang Yue 4.5

    10-13. Svidler, Ivanchuk, Inarkiev, Radjabov 4

    14. Akopian 3.5

     

    Tournament site here.