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    Thursday
    Sep042014

    Hou Yifan Clinches First in the Grand Prix Series, Guarantees Herself a Slot in the 2015 Women's World Championship Match

    Hou Yifan hasn't yet won the final event of the Grand Prix series (in Sharjah), but she doesn't need to. All she needs is to finish ahead of Humpy Koneru, and that is now guaranteed, as she has a three point lead over her rival with two rounds remaining. This means that if Hou loses her title in the women's world championship knockout tournament in October, she'll have qualified for a match with the knockout winner next year. If on the other hand she wins the KO, then since FIDE apparently doesn't want to watch Hou play a match against herself Humpy will get to face her by virtue of her second-place finish in the current Grand Prix series.

    Two other bits of interest from the tournament. First, while Hou has had an excellent tournament, she's currently in second behind her countrywoman Ju Wenjun, half a point behind. Second, while Hou was at one point very close to overtaking Judit Polgar for #1 on the women's rating list, draws in the last two games have pushed her back a little, and she trails Polgar by 6.5 points. Not a lot, but probably enough for Polgar's lead to survive for at least another month.

    Wednesday
    Sep032014

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 7: Caruana 7-0!

    The "impossible" continues to be not only possible but actual at the Sinquefield Cup, as Fabiano wins yet again. With his second victory over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the tournament Caruana improves to 7-0, guaranteeing himself at least a tie for first in the tournament. (In case there is a tie, there will be a playoff.) Caruana played the solid Queen's Gambit Declined, but Vachier-Lagrave was ambitious (as he should be with the white pieces). Unfortunately, his accuracy didn't live up to his ambition, and the strange 14.Qa4 led to all kinds of trouble. Soon he was a pawn down with a vagabond king, and Caruanaadministered yet another drubbing of a top-10 opponent. Incredible.

    Nevertheless, a glimmer of suspense remains in the tournament, as Magnus Carlsen still has a tiny chance to end the tournament equal with Caruana. Today he did what he needed to do against his regular customer, Hikaru Nakamura. (Their cassical score, excluding draws, is now 11-0 for Carlsen.) Nakamura played a Slav line he has used before, but goofed something up very early and was almost losing after 11 moves. Carlsen had a very easy time of it, and with 4/7 and Caruana on tap for tomorrow he can still fight for first, or at least to make it a good tournament. Caruana will have the white pieces, and has remained level-headed throughout the tournament, so chances are he won't implode out of dizziness.

    The third game, between Veselin Topalov and Levon Aronian, was drawn.

    The games, with my notes to the first two, are here. Tomorrow's pairings are Nakamura (2) - Topalov (3), Aronian (2.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (2.5), and Caruana (4) - Carlsen (7).

    Tuesday
    Sep022014

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 6: Caruana 6-0!

    If this keeps up, is anyone going to care about the world championship in a couple of months (assuming it happens)? Fabiano Caruana is putting on a spectacular, almost unique demonstration in the history of chess. Four rounds remain at the Sinquefield Cup, but Caruana's 6-0 score and three point lead over his closest pursuer (some guy named Magnus Carlsen) have the tournament all but over. The real drama is in seeing how far the streak can go, and if he can maintain the combination of perfect preparation and incredible form he has shown so far.

    Today's victim was Veselin Topalov. Topalov played a new move with Black in a Taimanov Sicilian, but there was no opening surprise from the Bulgarian. Caruana replied immediately, and soon it was Topalov who was on his own. Some little inaccuracies led to a vulnerable position, and that vulnerability turned into collapse after 23...Nc6? 24.Bxe6! Black was unable to put up much resistance, and Caruana finished accurately and in style.

    The other two games were drawn, but Carlsen had terrific winning chances against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, though maybe there was no clear way to win by force. Carlsen enjoyed a superior ending with opposite-colored bishops and an extra pawn, but the Frenchman's strong defense saved the day. In the other game Hikaru Nakamura briefly had good winning chances against Levon Aronian. Aronian's 26...d3 was inaccurate and probably would have cost him his d-pawn had Nakamura played 28.Be3 followed by Rb3. Instead the American played 28.Bd2, and Aronian's problems were over.

    The games, with my notes, are here.

    Tomorrow's pairings are Carlsen (3) - Nakamura (2), Vachier-Lagrave (2.5) - Caruana (6), Topalov (2.5) - Aronian (2).

    Sunday
    Aug312014

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 5: Caruana 5-0 (Updated)

    Prior to this round Fabiano Caruana was 0-3 against Hikaru Nakamura in decisive games played with a classical time control, but that didn't stop the golden boy of the Sinquefield Cup. He outplayed his opponent with the black pieces, and while he could have won a little more easily it was still a convincing victory overall, and he now enjoys a remarkable 5-0 score at the halfway point.

    Two other players won today, and share second place. Magnus Carlsen slowly ground out a win in a rook ending against Levon Aronian (winning, like Caruana, with Black) while Veselin Topalov won on the white side of a Najdorf against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Both players looked very good in winning, and as both Carlsen and Topalov are very dangerous once their confidence levels go up it's too soon to hand first prize to Caruana. On the other hand, Caruana will have White against both players in the second cycle, making it that much more difficult for them to catch up.

    This is especially so with tomorrow's rest day, which might serve to break Caruana's rhythm a bit. So far, however, this is one of the great starts in tournament chess history, going 5-0 against the world's #1 and #2 (former #2 now) and three other players in the top ten.

    Round 6 pairings (Tuesday): Nakamura (1.5) - Aronian (1.5), Caruana (5) - Topalov (2.5), Carlsen (2.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (2)

    Games later.

     UPDATE: Games here. I've annotated Nakamura-Caruana in some detail and offered a brief explanatory note at the end of Topalov vs. Vachier-Lagrave.

    Sunday
    Aug312014

    Sharjah Update: Hou Yifan Closing in on the Grand Prix Crown, Polgar's Rating

    Hou Yifan has been hitting her stride in the final Women's Grand Prix event of the 2013-2014 series, in Sharjah, while Humpy Koneru has played way below her rating. The former has won three in a row and has 5/6, tied for first with her countrywoman Ju Wenjun. Humpy Koneru, by contrast, has just two points. If they finish in a tie, Humpy will win the Grand Prix series, but unless she can make up the three points in the final five rounds Hou wins the series and is guaranteed a world championship match even if she fails to win the knockout world championship event later this year. (If she wins the Grand Prix and the knockout tournament, then Humpy's second place in the Grand Prix series will get her a title match with Hou next year.)

    The other fun part of the story is that (rounding up) Hou is within five points of the freshly retired Judit Polgar. Impressive!

    Sunday
    Aug312014

    Barden on the Carlsen-FIDE Controversy

    Here. (HT: Marc Beishon) Not much if any new information there, but his opinion that Magnus Carlsen's potential abdication is a lose-lose for both sides seems to me spot on.

    Saturday
    Aug302014

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 4: Caruana is 4-0 (Updated Twice)

    The 2nd Sinquefield Cup still has six rounds remaining, but with only Maxime Vachier-Lagrave even within two points of Fabiano Caruana the prognosis for the rest of the field is getting grim.

    Here's the quick summary of today's action:

    Caruana defeated Levon Aronian, showing that the position after his/his coach's novelty 15.Na2 had its drop of poison. Aronian's view was that he needed to play ...Nc3 (I think on move 20), and while Caruana didn't directly address that he stated that once he played 22.Qh5 Black was in trouble; his assessment appears to be correct. The next exciting moment came a bit later when Caruana sacrificed a piece with 29.Na5 Nxa5 30.Nxe5. Various commentators expressed their surprise and at least mild disapproval, but Caruana's judgment was not only confirmed by the computer and the course of the game, but by the players themselves. The alternative, 29.Nh2, would be met by ...Rf4 once White played Ng4, and the exchange sacrifice would give Black comparatively good chances. So it's another huge win for the American-Italian*, now 4-0 and showing both fantastic preparation and great play after the prep as well.

    The other two games were drawn, but after very different courses. Vachier-Lagrave vs. Hikaru Nakamura was an Archangelsk that was consistently interesting until it suddenly fizzled out to a draw, while Magnus Carlsen's draw with Veselin Topalov was rather strange. Carlsen obtained the sort of position where one would expect him to successfully grind against Topalov, but soon it was clear that Carlsen had overpressed. Topalov's big chance came on move 45. If he had found 45...Rc5 - a move that's well within his ability to spot and requires basically no further calculation - he probably would have won. Unfortunately for him (and for the rest of the field if Carlsen manages to play like his usual self) he missed the opportunity and the game was soon drawn.

    Tomorrow's round finishes the first cycle, and Nakamura will have White against Caruana. Nakamura noted that he has a very good score against Caruana (though Caruana seemed less impressed about it), so he's feeling confident and will be loaded for bear. Will it matter? We'll see!

    Here are the full pairings: Nakamura - Caruana, Aronian - Carlsen, Topalov - Vachier-Lagrave

    One final note, for now: Carlsen (like everyone else) does have bad results and poor stretches every now and then, but I suspect that his battle with FIDE over the world championship match contract is taking something out of him.

    * Please, Mr. Sinquefield, can't you bribe encourage Caruana to come back and represent the United States??

    Update: Here are the games, with my brief(ish) notes.

    Update II: As is clear from my notes, and as mentioned in the comments, my discussion of 45...Rc5 in the Carlsen - Topalov game was mistaken. It would have put some pressure on Carlsen, but there is a way for him to escape with a draw, and despite his apparent concern about it after the game I think it's pretty likely that he'd have found it.

    Saturday
    Aug302014

    Notre Dame Defeats Rice 48-17

    And it wasn't even that close, as Notre Dame receivers dropped a couple of touchdown passes while Rice scored their second TD in garbage time.

    Record so far: 1-0.

    Next victim: Michigan.

    Tune time!

    Saturday
    Aug302014

    Another Live Rating List Site

    This one, Top 40 Chess, covers the top 40 players, with separate lists for classical, rapid and blitz ratings. It doesn't have all the features of the 2700 Chess site, but the reverse is true as well. Here are three pluses of the Top 40 site:

    1. The slider bar at the top of the page allows one to compare one day's list with another throughout the month.
    2. Clicking on a player's name gives the details of their rating change: who they played and both the game and the rating result.
    3. Having three lists means you know who the top 40 are in rapid and blitz. While one can sort the players on the 2700 site by their rapid & blitz ratings, it doesn't show players on those lists whose classical ratings aren't over 2700.

    As noted above, the older site also has its advantages, so depending on your interests at a given time you might want to check one or both sites.

    Saturday
    Aug302014

    Notre Dame Eating Rice Today

    While the term might be new to you, we all know about and have experienced earworms: songs or snippets of songs that get stuck in one's mind. Yesterday, unbidden and from an unknown origin, the main theme from this song was my earworm:

    It's a pretty pleasant piece of music as earworms go, but it was driving me crazy: where was this from? There aren't any lyrics to help, and when my own efforts failed I was reduced to whistling the theme for others hoping they could help. (They couldn't.) And then, finally, I remembered! It's the theme from "Rudy", a movie based on a true story about an under-talented young man whose lifelong dream was to play for the Notre Dame football team.

    I'd like to think of this as a sort of mental alarm clock going off. Not a diurnal clock, but a seasonal one, and the season in question is for college football. So to the possible dismay of newer readers of this blog and the ongoing despair of my long-time readers, it's time once more for your weekly dose of (completely over-the-top but somewhat tongue-in-cheek) Notre Dame football propaganda!

    Today Notre Dame, the greatest college football team in the universe, kicks off its 2014 campaign to glory by taking on a team apparently named for a starchy foodstuff*: Rice University. 17th-ranked** Notre Dame ought to make a meal of them. (I'm sure Rice fans will take all of this with a grain of salt, which is probably how the Fighting Irish will take their Rice. I know, I know, I have a "Ricense" of humor.)

    Anyhow, lunch will be served at 3:30 p.m. ET today and televised on NBC.

    * Not really.

    ** Of course, they should be ranked #1, but part of the fun each year is watching them work their way up the rankings.

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