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    Saturday
    Mar222014

    European Championship (Old News)

    I mentioned the tournament a couple of times while it was still ongoing, but lost in busyness I didn't mention the final standings. Alexander Motylev won the European Individual Championship with a record-setting score of 9/11 and a 2872 TPR. The further importance of the tournament is that the top 23 automatically qualify for the next World Cup. You can find the final standings (and thus the qualifiers) here.

    Saturday
    Mar222014

    Carlsen In Action At The Norwegian Team Championship

    It looks like Magnus Carlsen decided to have some fun in what I'm guessing was a one-off game. He played for Stavanger, aiming to help them achieve promotion to the country's top league next season. More about it here, including the world champion's victory over Vladimir Georgiev. (Replayable here, for your convenience.)

     

    Saturday
    Mar222014

    The Master's Bulletin

    Before ChessVibes was purchased by the Borg Chess.com, they published a pair of weekly newsletters: ChessVibes Openings (CVO) and ChessVibes Training (CVT). The former offered surveys of varying depths on various openings, and the latter was a hodgepodge of strategic themes, tactical puzzles, endgames and a game of the week annotated by Anish Giri (or later, some other slightly less strong but still impressive player). CVO was most suited to stronger players - 2000 and up, I'd say - while CVT was geared more to a middle to upper-middle club level - 1600 up to around 2200.

    After ChessVibes was assimilated, those newsletters were cannibalized, with some surviving features merging with new ones to form the monthly Chess.com newsletter called "The Master's Bulletin." Written in a very reader-friendly way and distributed in a PDF with an accompanying PGN file, it tries to have a bit of everything (as does Chess.com itself) aimed at a diverse audience.

    For example, here's a survey of this month's issue. After the Table of Contents Peter Doggers (who was the founder of ChessVibes, I think, and has an important role with Chess.com) introduces the issue, and then there's a page with some news reports linking to the Chess.com website. After these preliminaries the issue begins in earnest with a ten page article by IM John Watson recapping the Candidates' events from 1950 through 1965, complete with six well-annotated games.

    After that, there's some light entertainment in the form of a two-page interview with Indian GM Pentala Harikrishna, and then it's time for some opening theory. GM Emanuel Berg, who is two volumes into a three volume series on the French Defense for Quality Chess's "Grandmaster Repertoire" series, takes a look at the McCutcheon French line with 6.Be3. (In his QC books he advocates the Winawer, so there's no overlap.) It's a substantial article, running more than eight pages, and then GM Tamir Nabaty also takes more than eight pages to cover the "New Veresov" with 1.d4, 2.Nc3 and 3.Bf4. I should add that although CVO presented opening analysis, the approach taken here is very different: rather than slight-to-moderate depth with a relatively wide spread of opening lines the authors go in great depth with a smaller number of lines - just two, here.

    Next up is a set of 12 tactical positions taken from recent games, one of the standard features from the old CVT issues. Next up is IM Arthur van de Oudeweetering's column, "Middlegame Musings", and while the title is different it seems to reprise the nature of his (excellent) CVT column as well. He finds an interesting theme or themes, and after highlighting it (or them) in the main game further illustrates them with a series of helpful supplemental games.

    The CVT redux continues with IM Robert Ris's endgame column; this time Ris takes a pretty close look at three B vs. N endgames. In the first the knight was the boss, in the second the knight started out well but the bishop prevailed, and in the third the bishop again won thanks to some delicate play.

    After the solutions to the tactics, something new and challenging: the IM and great study composer Yochanan Afek presents three (challenging!) endgame studies, and unlike the tactics positions the solutions aren't given in the issue; one has to wait until next month's issue to see the answers.

    Last, there's GM Alex Yermolinsky's two-page column called "Grandmaster Tips for Beginners". It is what it sounds like, but some of those tips are pretty useful for stronger players too!

    The last page of the Bulletin is a bit of Chess.com advertising: some featured blog posts are linked and the rating leaderboards are presented.

    More about the issue here, and subscription information is here.

    Saturday
    Mar222014

    Candidates 2014, Round 8: Draws At The Top

    Three games were drawn today in round 8 of the Candidates' tournament, and drawn quickly. The game between the leaders was interesting early on, as Levon Aronian uncorked 1.c4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.Qb3!? against Viswanathan Anand, who replied with an interesting pawn sac: 3...d4 4.e3 c5 5.Qb5+ Nc6. White surrendered a lot of space and time for the material, and Anand drew by repetition after only 19 moves from a position of strength. Maybe he could have played for more, but an easy draw against his leading rival, with the black pieces, wasn't such a terrible result - especially since it means he keeps the lead on tiebreak.

    Vladimir Kramnik could have joined Anand and Aronian on +2 with a win against Dmitry Andreikin, but he wasn't able to maintain his opening edge and even had to scramble a little to get the draw.

    The third draw was Veselin Topalov - Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, and was probably a missed chance for White. He had an edge in a 6.h3 Najdorf-turned-Dragon, and to avoid getting squeezed Mamedyarov played the interesting but possibly not fully sound 18...Nc4. It was a good practical choice, though, and Topalov returned the piece with 20.Bd4 (rather than 20.Qb4!), after which it was a routine draw.

    Finally, Peter Svidler's hopes for first in the tournament probably came to an end when he lost to Sergey Karjakin. Svidler had White and played very aggressively, with the King's Indian Attack, but Karjakin defended well and eventually reached a superior ending with rooks and opposite-colored bishops. With best play Svidler probably should have drawn, but it was difficult, and with the nice sequence 64...Rxd4! 65.Kxd4 b6! Karjakin proved a win.

    The tournament standings are curious now: Anand and Aronian are on +2, Kramnik is +1, and everyone else is -1.

    The games (with my comments) are here, and tomorrow's pairings (with player scores in parentheses) follow:

    • Karjakin (3.5) - Kramnik (4.5)
    • Andreikin (3.5) - Svidler (3.5)
    • Anand (5) - Topalov (3.5)
    • Mamedyarov (3.5) - Aronian (5)

    Friday
    Mar212014

    A Review of Paulsen's Book on the Semi-Slav with 5.Bg5

    Bryan Paulsen, Chess Developments: Semi-Slav 5.Bg5 (Everyman, 2013). 192 pp., $19.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.

    Why should grandmasters have all the fun?

    Lots of amateurs stay away from theoretical lines for several reasons, including these: it’s too much work, too much memorization, and there’s no creativity. But is it really true? Learning a robust opening like the Ruy Lopez does take time and some memorization will be involved, it’s true. But one can play such an opening without memorizing everything at once. One strategy would be to learn the main lines against Black’s third move alternatives to 3…a6 while taking up either the Exchange Variation against 3…a6 or else play 4.Ba4 and then lines with a quick d3. Those are easy to learn, and once one is comfortable against the third move sidelines White can repeat the procedure for 4th move alternatives, 5th move alternatives, and so on. How does one swallow a camel? One bite at a time.

    What about the charge that it’s not a creative way to play, that one is engaged in a ton of memorization rather than a contest of skill between two individuals fighting on their own. That’s a romantic notion and has a degree of attractiveness, but some flawed thinking undermines the point. First, unless one is dead set against learning anything from one’s own games, let alone the games of others who play those same sidelines, we won’t be playing purely “on spec” against our opponents. Are we really being more creative when we follow ourselves for the 50th time instead of following something that Garry Kasparov or Vladimir Kramnik has played 10 times? Second, I think top players would be rather surprised to learn that what they’re doing isn’t creative. It seems to be the other way around: they generally play the lines they do because they think they offer the most scope for creativity and thus give their opponents the greatest chances to go astray. If you play the Koltanowski Colle or the Exchange French your opponents need to spend about 5-10 minutes with a book or a computer, and then they’re going to equalize. It’s not impossible that people will find interesting ideas and ways to tweak things, but at this point it looks like the plans there are well understood and the paths to equality are abundant and easy to find.

    My own opening preferences have generally been a mix of main lines, second-tier main lines (as an example, though not one I use, there’s 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+), and tricky sidelines. But nowadays when I play the second (and lower) tier lines I sometimes think that I’m missing out. There are so many amazingly complicated variations in chess, opening lines that some of the greatest minds our game has known have explored and enriched without reaching rock bottom, and rather than joining in that conversation and savoring the intellectual gems chess has to provide I’m spending my time in a relatively dry, dull desert. There’s nothing wrong with playing lots of different kinds of openings, just as there’s nothing terribly wrong with pop music, kitsch art, and pulp fiction. But to enjoy those forms at the expense of great music, art, and literature is to impoverish oneself. Likewise in chess: the main lines are the main lines for a reason, and generally that reason is not mere fashion.

    Further, learning and playing main lines is a good way to stretch oneself, a little like learning a new language or a musical instrument. There is always room for both research and (informed) improvisation. In sum, there are lots of good reasons to take up main lines: the problems they pose your opponents, their richness, their history, and the opportunity they offer to stretch yourself mentally. To reiterate the question I started with: why should grandmasters have all the fun?

    With this lengthy introduction and apologia behind us, let’s look at a new book discussing one of the sharpest and richest of all the opening systems in chess: the 5.Bg5 Semi-Slav. Bryan Paulsen’s new book subdivides the material into five sections, two of which are often omitted from discussions of the 5.Bg5 Semi-Slav. In chapter 1 he covers what he calls the Queen’s Gambit Declined Hybrid, wherein Black plays the rather compliant 5…Be7. That is generally omitted from Semi-Slav books, as is the Cambridge Springs Defense with 5…Nbd7 6.e3 Qa5, covered in chapter 2. Chapters 3-5 return to standard Semi-Slav fare, with chapter 3 examining the wild, wooly, and very deeply theoretical Botvinnik System, which starts with 5…dxc4. Chapters 4 and 5 cover 5…h6, with the first chapter looking at the more quiet Moscow Variation – 6.Bxf6 – while the final chapter looks at the very sharp Anti-Moscow Gambit – 6.Bh4 (with the almost automatic continuation 6…dxc4 7.e4 g5 8.Bg3 b5).

    This wide coverage makes the book useful for players on both sides: Black has options, while White can be prepared for the whole gamut of Black’s important replies. Now, if this were a repertoire book that wouldn’t be the case: important possibilities would be missing for one side or the other. But the idea of Everyman’s “Chess Developments” series, of which this is an instance, is to provide neutral coverage of the opening in question. One caveat, though: if you want to play this way for Black you must also be prepared for the other major complex of lines starting with 5.e3. That’s not a criticism of the book, though; only a heads-up for those interested in taking up the Semi-Slav.

    Two issues then: how good is the coverage, and how well is the material presented?

    Let's start with the Queen’s Gambit Hybrid: After 5…Be7 6.e3 0-0 7.Qc2 Nbd7 8.Rd1 h6 9.Bf4 he mentions 9…b6, and continues 10.Bd3 Bb7 11.0-0 and so on, finishing up with a slight edge for White. But 10…Ba6 looks very sensible, was played by the highest-rated player to man the black side of the position, and is also Komodo TCEC’s first choice. (Houdini 4, by contrast, flaps around between several moves, sometimes preferring 10…Nh5, sometimes 10…a6, occasionally 10…Bb7 and for only a moment or two 10…Ba6. At depth 24, my machine stops jumping around and prefers 10…Ba6, but at depth 25 10…Nh5 and 10…Bb7 re-take the lead, with 10…Ba6 pushed to third.) This is not a major criticism of the book, but it does show that the coverage isn’t encyclopedic and may indicate that the author is relying on Houdini as his backstop rather than another engine. I would add on a substantive note that 10…Ba6 is an interesting idea, too, aiming to liberate and swap the light-squared bishop without having to take on hanging pawns.

    While I mentioned and praised the book’s scope, I must offer a slight retraction of the comment when it comes to his coverage of 5…Be7 6.e3 c6 7.Rc1. He presents a game with 7…Nbd7 and does a good job of it, but he also says that 7…h6 would “definitely be my preference”. He notes that White can choose between 8.Bf4, 8.Bxf6, and 8.Bh4; and although he offers a brief line for 8.Bf4 he just notes that the other options transpose to different lines. (8.Bxf6 is a line of the Classical Queen’s Gambit Declined, while 8.Bh4 Ne4 is the Lasker Variation, which he seems to think is Black’s best choice under the circumstances.

    Should he cover this? Here are two arguments, one con and one pro, in that order. First, no: It’s impossible to cover everything, and if Black wants to play Lasker’s Defense he shouldn’t bother with the Semi-Slav! Second, yes: Maybe Black should transpose to Lasker’s Defense here, but that doesn’t mean he wants to play it in every case. For instance, after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 maybe Black is very happy to go into the Semi-Slav lines with 5.e3, and only wants to bail out and head for safety when White plays 5.Bg5.

    I’m more inclined towards the second argument, but the decisive consideration seems to be that Everyman has already published a book (by John Cox, in 2011) on the Queen’s Gambit Declined, and so here and elsewhere in chapter 1 Paulsen sends his readers to that work for further details. I’m not really a fan of that procedure, but then I’m not running Everyman Chess, either.

    Skipping chapter 2 on the Cambridge Springs and turning to the Botvinnik System, it looks like he has covered the key games as of the book’s completion, at least in the important line 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.Bg5 dxc4 6.e4 b5 7.e5 h6 8.Bh4 g5 9.Nxg5 hxg5 10.Bxg5 Nbd7 11.g3 Bb7 12.Bg2 Qb6 13.exf6 0-0-0 14.0-0 c5 15.d5 b4 16.Na4 Qb5 17.a3 Nb8. 17…exd5 is generally given by the books as the main move here, but some important correspondence and OTB games have shown that Black has ample resources after 17…Nb8, despite the glory that was Kamsky’s win over Kramnik in game 1 of their 1994 Candidates’ match. Paulsen rightly makes 17…Nb8 his main line, and covers the appropriate games and lines extant when he wrote it.

    Finally, skipping the Moscow Variation (5…h6 6.Bxf6) I checked his analysis on the Anti-Moscow Gambit (5…h6 6.Bh4 dxc4 7.e4 g5 8.Bg3 b5) with two excellent recent books, Lars Schandorff’s 2012 work Playing 1.d4 The Queen’s Gambit and Konstantin Sakaev’s 2013 Complete Slav II, and his game citations and analyses seemed to hold up.

    In conclusion, his book held up pretty well, especially when it came to the sharper lines. Paulsen is a fairly low-rated player – I couldn’t find his USCF rating, and his FIDE rating is only 2186 – but he seems to have done a competent job. While I think the Queen’s Gambit Hybrid chapter is a bit of an odd man out, the remaining chapters, both those I reviewed here and those I didn’t, cover what needs to be covered well enough that just about everyone reading this review will be in good theoretical shape if they use his book. Recommended for Semi-Slav players! (Publisher page here, Amazon page here.)

    Friday
    Mar212014

    Candidates 2014, Round 7: Anand and Aronian Lead At The Halfway Point After A Crazy Round

    The first cycle of the 2014 Candidates' tournament finished with a crazy and chaotic round that saw three decisive games, and it could easily have been four. In the end Viswanathan Anand and Levon Aronian were tied for first at +2*, half a point ahead of Vladimir Kramnik.

    Anand has led the entire tournament, by himself for most of it, and he probably would have kept that lead if he had played 20...Rxf2 against Peter Svidler. White's compensation looks pretty slim, so it looks like Anand has sunk into an overly safety-first mentality. If he fails to win the tournament, it will be unforced errors like this that will be to blame. After foregoing this great opportunity, Svidler was able to neutralize his minimal disadvantage and save the game.

    Meanwhile, Aronian took the opportunity to catch up to Anand at the halfway point, thanks to his convincing win over Sergei Karjakin, now the tournament tailender. Interestingly, both Aronian and Anand were Black in a 4.d3 Berlin, and in both games Black came out of the opening smelling like a rose. Karjakin played b4 on move 10, and then went for d4 some moves later. As a result, the c4 square was weakened, and Aronian managed to conquer that square and infiltrate the queenside in general. White's position got worse and worse, and a desperate counterattack ultimately led to an ending where Aronian was down the exchange but had too many pawns for White to cope with.

    (One nice quote about that game, from chess24's round report. It comes from Rustam Kasimdzhanov, a chess24 contributor, Karjakin's second and a great player in his own right - the winner of the FIDE knockout world championship in 2004. He writes this about Aronian's 47...Qc4, which was the only winning move: "Qc4!! I mean wow!! It's at times like this you recognise the greatest. I'd never pull it off, not after 5 hours of play. It was SUCH a difficult move. It just does not occur, not to mortals.")

    Kramnik bounced back from his painful loss against Topalov with a win over Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, but he was very lucky. He was doing well with White after a well-played opening, but not as well as he thought. As a result he overpressed, and was soon forced to head for an ending where he hoped his queenside passers would compensate for Black's extra piece. For a long time Mamedyarov played very well, but at just the moment when he could obtain a straightforwardly winning position he blundered - twice! Worst of all, he did so with loads of time on the clock. He missed a tactic, and while that can happen to anyone he would surely have spotted it if he had spent a bit more time. Instead, he went from winning to equal to dead lost, and the game ended just a few moves later. A real tragedy for Mamedyarov, who had worked his way back from -2 after the first three games and would have finished the first cycle at +1, half a point behind the leaders. Instead, he's now -1 and it's Kramnik who is nipping at the leaders' heels.

    Another player who came into the round with an equal score also fell back to -1: Veselin Topalov. His opening preparation against Dmitry Andreikin was very good, but as in the game with Svidler two rounds earlier he fell apart almost immediately after his preparation ended. Topalov was crushed, and I'm guessing that he forgot to make sarcastic comments about his opponent at today's press conference.

    There is no break between the two cycles, and round 8 starts tomorrow (or today, if you're across the pond) at the usual time, with the following pairings (player scores are in parentheses):

     

    • Kramnik (4) - Andreikin (3)
    • Svidler (3.5) - Karjakin (2.5)
    • Topalov (3) - Mamedyarov (3)
    • Aronian (4.5) - Anand (4.5)

     

    Aronian - Anand is clearly the game of the day, but it's also an important opportunity for Kramnik, playing the white pieces against one of the relative outsiders. Svidler too needs to regain the winning habit before the leaders break away for good, and White against the tailender is a good place to start.

    Meanwhile, here are the round 7 games, with my notes.

    * Remember last year: there are no real ties for first. In case of a tie, tournament victory is determined by tiebreaks rather than a playoff. As Anand defeated Aronian in round 1, he would qualify for the match with Magnus Carlsen if they alone finish tied for first and Aronian doesn't beat Anand in the second cycle.

    Friday
    Mar212014

    Carlsen On Kramnik

    That there are quite a few digs by the world champion at Vladimir Kramnik's expense is pretty obvious, even with the shaky Google translation. (Norwegian readers are welcome to offer better translations!) This should sweeten the pot in case they end up playing in November.

    (HT: Ross Hytnen)

    Thursday
    Mar202014

    Carlsen On The Candidates' Tournament

    World champion Magnus Carlsen offers his thoughts on the tournament through yesterday's round 6, here. (HT: Ian Lamb)

    Wednesday
    Mar192014

    Tim Krabbé's Open Chess Diary, Active Once More

    Dutch writer, FM, and chess lover Tim Krabbé stopped updating his magnificent Open Chess Diary several years ago. This was in protest, I think, to those who cribbed his material without acknowledgement or permission, but happily there have been a few new entries over the past half year. If you aren't familiar with his website you're in for an incredible treat; if you are, you'll be pleased to see some fresh activity. Let's hope it continues!

    Wednesday
    Mar192014

    Kasparov At Fischer's Grave

    Garry Kasparov went to Bobby Fischer's graveyard on what would have been the latter's 71st birthday and attended a small memorial at the church there. More here, with a video and transcript of his remarks during an accompanying on-site interview.

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