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    Monday
    Jun292015

    Kim Commons, RIP

    Kim Commons passed away last Tuesday (June 23) at the age of 63 after suffering a stroke the previous weekend. Commons was an IM who had given up serious play decades earlier, but was an up-and-comer in U.S. chess in the '70s. (Have a look here for a sample of his play during those peak years.)

    I knew of him and think I had seen his name on some chess servers, but never met him in person or played him online, as far as I know. Perhaps Ken Regan or another player who was around during Commons' career would like to offer some memorial comments?

    In any case, my condolences to his family and friends; may he rest in peace.

    Sunday
    Jun282015

    Informant 124: Another Fine Issue

    The good folks in Serbia have produced another excellent issue of the Chess Informant, and perhaps the best news is that it seems to be a consistent product as well: one pretty much knows what to expect again when buying and receiving the latest issue.

    Informant 124, which covers the goings on in the chess world from February through May of this year, is labeled the "Veni Vidi Vici" issue, and while I get the historic allusion to Julius Caesar I have no idea what this hast to do with the book's contents. For that matter, I don't understand what any of these code names are supposed to signify. Informant 123 was the "Hawaiian" edition, 122 was "Mechanics", 121 "Midnight Sun" and on it goes for a few more issues into the past. I don't see an explanation for this anywhere, but as this is pretty much the only complaint I have - and it's more a curiosity than anything else - it's good news for those of you thinking of getting a copy.

    As I've reviewed every Informant since 111 on this blog, regular readers already know the basics of this periodical even if they haven't purchased one for themselves. The historic core of this periodical is a big helping of games deeply annotated with languageless symbols but without any text, and that is the case here as well. As is standard nowadays, there are 200 such games (with an index of players but, alas, not annotators; most of the work is done by [very competent] staffers), plus nine combinations, nine endgame puzzles, nine endgame studies (plus the study of the year for 2013, with a short accompanying text), summaries of the tournaments, the presentation of the best game of the previous volume (Caruana-Carlsen from Wijk aan Zee this year) and the best novelty of the preceding volume (Ivanchuk's 15.a4 from his game with Vachier-Lagrave, also from Wijk aan Zee). The latter is followed by an updated ECO style page of the relevant theory.

    Now time for the "new" style material, all in English and comprising 185 pages, well more than half the volume. This is what makes distinguishes the contemporary Informant from your parents' version, and makes it a worthwhile buy for serious players.

    First, Alexander Morozevich takes a very close look at the Taimanov line recently sported by Dutch superstar Anish Giri. After 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 Qc7 6.Be3 a6 7.Qf3!? Giri has been playing the provocative 7...Ne5 8.Qg3 h5!?, with decent results. Morozevich discusses the logic of the move and its pros and cons before launching into a deep exploration of 9.Nf5 and 9.0-0-0. His coverage of this is more thorough than anything I've seen from several other sources, including some specially dedicated to the Taimanov and to giving "special", inside information. This blows them all away.

    Second, Pentala Harikrishna's "The New Romantics" looks at some games by the openings mavericks Richard Rapport, Baadur Jobava, Vadim Zvjaginsev and David Navara. The first game, between Rapport and Ahmed Adly, is romanticism on steroids at the beginning: 1.b3 a5 2.e4 a4 3.b4 e6 4.Bb2 d5 5.a3 dxe4 6.Nc3 Nf6 7.g4 c5 8.b5 h6 9.Bg2 Ra5 and so on. Crazy chess!

    Next, three different authors, Sarunas Sulskis, Rafael Leitao (both veterans of the "new" Informant) and Michael Roiz (a newcomer) dig into the action from the Grand Prix finale in Khanty-Mansiysk. Sulskis looks at "strategic highlights", Leitao examines the best opening ideas and Roiz looks at sacrifices from the event.

    After this, it's Mihail Marin's column, "Old Wine in New Bottles". This goes back to the start of the "new" Informant, and its continuation is deserved. This time he takes a look at some new tries in the old-fashioned, direct approach in the Giuoco Piano with 5.d4. In particular, he examines Nakamura-Giri, where the American met 5...exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ with 7.Nbd2 (rather than the boring 7.Bd2 or the fun but probably just bad 7.Nc3), and also has a look at Jobava's pet line starting with 6.e5. But there's much more besides, including some interesting material with 5.d3.

    Next, Mauricio Flores Rios (author of a terrific recent book on pawn structures) has a column called "Patterns", but contrary to what the title might suggest the subject of his column is Hikaru Nakamura and the run of great play that has pushed him over 2800. He looks at five of his games plus one ending, the latter supplemented by a similar and similarly instructive ending between Carlsen and Caruana (won by the latter).

    Next, Ivan Sokolov looks at some highlights from the Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir with a heavy emphasis on the games of the winner, one Magnus Carlsen.

    Emanuel Berg has a look at a pair of Dragon Sicilians, one won by White and the second by Black; both feature the Yugoslav Attack.

    Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant takes a look back at the Women's World Championship, won by Mariya Muzychuk.

    Dragan Solak takes a happy look back at his victory in the Dubai Open, which he calls his career-best win.

    Then it's time for a familiar name, but a new one to the stable of Informant authors. Karsten Mueller, reknowned as an endgame specialist, has indeed scored an endgame column with this publication. His inaugural piece is called "The Two Faces of Opposite Coloured Bishops", and shows the drawish "face" when it is purely the bishops (in addition to the kings and pawns) that remain on the board and the anything but drawish "face" that can arise when there are further pieces on the board and the strong side has some sort of attack or initiative.

    Finally, Vassilios Kotronias has part 300 six in his incredibly detailed series on the 2.c3 Sicilian from Black's standpoint; he has practically written a book on this over the past few issues of the Informant. This time around his attention is drawn to the line 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c3 Nf6 4.e5 Nd5 5.d4 cxd4 6.cxd4.

    And that's it! As I've said before, it's not a periodical for lower-rated club players, but anyone rated over 2000 with a bit of ambition or a willingness to put in some elbow grease will be well-served by this volume. If you're really ambitious, then maybe 1800 or 1900 is enough to make it worthwhile. (But I feel more comfortable saying 2000 and up.) If you're in the target audience, it's definitely worth your while.

    More info from the publisher's website, here.

    Saturday
    Jun272015

    Another Walter Browne Tribute

    Here, by Macauley Peterson. Let me add only that to those of you who may wonder about Walter Browne's book The Stress of Chess...and its Infinite Finesse, I can assure you that it's excellent and well worth your time.

    Saturday
    Jun272015

    Dortmund 2015, Round 1: Germany Dominates

    It was an almost shocking start to the first round in Dortmund as the German players scored 2.5/3 - and probably should have went 3-0 - while the three big guns managed just half a point between them.

    Top seed Fabiano Caruana was the only one of the top three to score, drawing easily with Black against Ian Nepomniachtchi. Indeed, he had good chances to win, but short of time leading up to the control on move 40 the advantage slipped away.

    Vladimir Kramnik had White against Arkadij Naiditisch in a Semi-Tarrasch, and as generally happens in Naiditsch's games tactics quickly tend to dominate. I'm not sure when and where Kramnik started to miss things, but at the very least it seems that he missed Naiditsch's great move 24...Nd3. The knight cannot be captured (e.g. 25.Qxd3? Rxf3 26.Qd1 Qe3+ 27.Kh1 Qxc1 28.Qxc1 Rf1+ 29.Qxf1 Rxf1#) and the alternatives, though better, are also insufficient. Kramnik fought on through his 57th move, but the game was decided long beforehand.

    For Wesley So it was even worse, as Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu was winning as early as move 13 and wiped him out with a brutal attack in just 28 moves. It was odd to see So think for 23 minutes on his 12th move, only to (apparently) miss White's rejoinder and then think for another 20 minutes. Instead of 13...Ne5, which met a brutal refutation, 13...Nd8 would have limited White to a normal small advantage.

    Finally, Georg Meier enjoyed a nagging edge in a Catalan against Hou Yifan for a long time - throughout the game, really - and could have hoped for more. On move 50 he could have moved his king to c5, when his majesty would have posed a double threat: collecting Black's queenside pawns and helping his e-pawn towards promotion. Instead 50.Ke3? allowed 50...Nc1, allowing Hou to escape into a drawn rook ending.

    Round 2's pairings are as follows:

    • Caruana - So
    • Naiditsch - Nisipeanu
    • Hou Yifan - Kramnik
    • Nepomniachtchi - Meier

    Saturday
    Jun272015

    Dortmund 2015 Underway

    After a day off, it's back to super-tournament action. Fabiano Caruana, Vladimir Kramnik (going for his 11th victory in this tournament!) and Wesley So headline the action in this eight player round robin the Sparkassen Chess Meeting in Dortmund, Germany. The first round started less than an hour ago, with the following pairings:

    • Georg Meier (2654) - Hou Yifan (2676)
    • Vladimir Kramnik (2783) - Arkadij Naiditsch (2722, but 2690 on the live list after a mega-disastrous French League)
    • Ian Nepomniachtchi (2720, 2710 after losing points in the Capablanca Memorial) - Fabiano Caruana (2805, 2797 after Norway Chess)
    • Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu (2654) - Wesley So (2778, 2780 on the live list)

    Friday
    Jun262015

    A Short Review of MacEnulty's My First Book of Chess Tactics

    David MacEnulty, My First Book of Chess Tactics (Russell Enterprises, 2015). 208 pp., $19.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.

    As the title suggests, this is a book for beginners, or at least near-beginners, and treads on well-worn ground introducing new and young players to the fundamentals of tactics. The obvious question is, does the chess world need another introductory puzzle book talking about forks, pins, skewers, discoveries and discovered checks, etc.?

    I'm not sure, because my knowledge of the literature for beginners is incomplete. What I can say is that this book does some things very well, things which are often overlooked in books of this sort. It really is an attempt to bridge the gap from near beginner-hood in chess to a reasonably sophisticated level, and aside from assuming a knowledge of the rules of the game it supplies pretty much everything else. First there's a discussion of chess notation, then the point values, then a glossary of tactical terms and concepts, with a special subsection distinguishing attacks and captures. An obvious point to any experienced player, but as experienced teachers know it's one that is often confused by younger, newer players.

    After this, David MacEnulty, a very experienced and successful chess coach in New York City (and the subject of the movie "Knights of the South Bronx"), makes another wise move. Rather than going straight to the sorts of tactics listed in the initial paragraph, he has a preliminary chapter called "En Prise". There's no sense in working on two- and three-move combinations if one can't first see a single move ahead, so MacEnulty begins at the beginning.

    The next chapter is also very wise: "Take a More Valuable Piece (Get more points than you lose)." Again, it's a completely obvious idea to the experienced player, but something kids can take some time to learn without guidance. The next chapter, chapter 6, is in the same vein: "More (or Better) Attackers than Defenders (Attackers outnumber the defenders; go take something!)".

    Only after these preliminaries does he turn to the standard list of tactical themes, followed in chapter 18 with "Make the Right Capture" (this is somewhat related to "Take a More Valuable Piece") and then a relatively long chapter where all the tactical ideas are included ("Mixed Tactics") without announcing which kind of tactic is needed. Finally, there's a brief chapter introducing the relationship between strategy and tactics, followed by the solutions to the mixed tactics problems (some of which will challenge even experienced club players).

    From chapters 4 ("En Prise") through 19 ("Mixed Tactics") each chapter is set up as follows. First, there's an explanatory section called "What's the Big Idea?" which explains the concept or what's going on in the rest of the chapter. This is followed by one or more examples, and then with puzzles for the reader to solve without any coaching. Finally, some (but not all) of the chapters conclude with one or more games or game fragments illustrating the theme.

    It is a thoughtfully designed book, and while I believe I would say this in any case it is important to admit that I occasionally worked with MacEnulty in the late '90s and with almost all of the people who gave input into the book. In fact, I co-coached with two of them for a couple of years, winning a national K-8 championship with a group of kids who were largely inherited from the school MacEnulty coached at. So one might suspect that there could be one or two people who would be more impartial than I am in reviewing this book.

    Despite my liking for the book, its author and its helpers, however, I do have some critical comments to make - primarily concerning the editing. I found a few typos with moves, a couple of diagram errors (missing pieces), and fairly regular cases of inconsistent punctuation (generally pawn captures are given with just the starting file - ...bxc6 - but sometimes with the full square - ...b7xc6; sometimes he would write 'disc+' for discovered check, other times the standard '+' would be given by itself - and there are some typos where the check symbol is missing altogether). Such errors are minor, of course, but there are enough such errors that it becomes noticeable.

    His use of evaluative punctuation also went astray a few times. For instance, on page 64 he gives 5...Nxd5 a question mark (after 1.c4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 Bb4 5.Nd5) and on page 67 does the same for 4.Nc3 (after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6). I would agree that neither move is the absolute best and most testing try, but neither move merits even a '?!' symbol, let alone a question mark. The first move, 5...Nxd5, was even used by Nepomniachtchi in a win over Grischuk (albeit in a blitz game), while in the second case White may still have chances for an edge after 4.Nc3 Nxe4 5.Nxe4 d5 6.Bd3 dxe4 7.Bxe4 Bd6 8.0-0 (the line MacEnulty himself gives). On the flip side, he sometimes fails to give question marks to moves that clearly deserve it. On page 87, for instance, no punctuation is given to 6.Nxd5(??) after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Nbd7 5.cxd5 exd5, even though it loses a piece (as he of course points out).

    So (much) more editing was in order, and editing of a different sort was called for in his invocation of the mythological four-move game between Gibaud and Lazard. (A further problem is that there have been shorter games, e.g. 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 c6 3.e3 Qa5+ 0-1, which has occurred at least twice.)

    Having offered some criticisms, let me continue the review with some praise. On page 43 MacEnulty articulates something all experienced players understand but may not have thought to put in words when instructing students: "An important note about forks: you must be willing to actually take the units that are under attack for the position to be a true fork." Thus in the position after 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5 the white queen isn't really forking Black's pawns. It attacks three of them - on e5, f7 and h7 - but only one, the pawn on e5, is edible.

    This is an excellent point that shows his attention and experience as a teacher. Once again he addresses something we all take for granted, but that we all needed to learn at some point. The funny thing is that even he forgets it a page later when one answer to a puzzle labels ...Qc6 a fork when it attacks a knight on c7 and a rook on a8. The rook is protected by the knight, so Black normally won't be willing to actually take that unit, unless of course the knight runs away.

    Finally, kudos to MacEnulty for noting the move 4...Nd4 after 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.Qg4 (page 106). This is an almost completely unknown move, but an interesting and playable reply to White's tricky opening line.

    In sum, it's a worthwhile book for near-beginners that will not only give them some useful training in basic tactics but will also bridge the gap they need to cross in order to properly appreciate those basic tactics. It could and should have been better edited, but it's worthwhile nonetheless.

    Thursday
    Jun252015

    Yu Yangyi Wins the Capablanca Memorial

    And decisively, too, though he cooled off from his blazing start of 4.5/5. In round 6 he lost to Dmitry Andreikin, drew a long game with Pavel Eljanov in round 7 and beat Leinier Dominguez in round 8 before finishing with a couple of quick draws. His final score of 7/10 put him a point and a half ahead of Eljanov and Andreikin and helped move him up to #21 in the world after picking up 20 rating points. Not bad at all, and there are now three Chinese players in the top 21.

    Tournament site here; Chess24 coverage here.

    Thursday
    Jun252015

    A Conversation with Walter Browne

    Via TWIC's item on Walter Browne's passing, here is an extended conversation from late last year between Walter Browne and Yasser Seirawan.

    Thursday
    Jun252015

    Norway Chess 2015, Final Round: Topalov Draws, Wins the Tournament; Hammer Beats Carlsen

    Another exciting super-tournament is now history, and the winner of the Norway Chess tournament of 2015 is the resurgent Veselin Topalov. Coming into the round he only needed a draw with Viswanathan Anand to clinch clear first, and he got it with ease as they played a known variation resulting in a draw by repetition.

    As Anand could have taken (clear) first place with a win, it would be easy to criticize this choice. But this was not a match and he was not in a zero-sum game situation. If he lost - and he had the black pieces - he would slip from at worst a three-way tie for second to potentially fourth place. Moreover, Anand's style and repertoire with black is generally classical and not based on strategically risky lines against 1.d4 like the King's Indian or the Modern Benoni. So while it would have been entertaining for us as spectators to see him go for broke in the last round, it's hard to criticize his decision to bring a successful tournament to a conclusion and to see if anyone would join him in a tie for second, half a point behind the winner.

    Two players had their chances, and one succeeded. If Hikaru Nakamura could defeat Levon Aronian with black, he'd catch Anand; likewise if Anish Giri could upend Fabiano Caruana with the black pieces. Remarkably, both had their chances, but only Nakamura reeled in the full point. Giri drew and finished in clear fourth, a point and a half ahead of Caruana and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. (Vachier-Lagrave drew with Alexander Grischuk.)

    The fifth game featured two players having bad tournaments, but bad in different ways and for different reasons. The player with the white pieces, Jon Ludwig Hammer, was alone in last place coming into the last round with just two points out of eight. This wasn't really a shock, as he was the lowest-rated player by a considerable margin, but as he had squandered many opportunities along the way he still had serious grounds for regret. The other player was the world champion, Magnus Carlsen. His score of 3.5/8 was terrible by his standards, but it seemed that he was playing his way into form after the catastrophe in round 1 and his getting clobbered in rounds 2 and 4. He had won convincingly in rounds 5 and 8, and looked good in round 6 as well even though that game only finished in a draw. With a win over his countryman and regular second, Carlsen could at least end the tournament with an even score and +3 over the last five rounds.

    But Hammer had his own ambitions. Before and during the tournament he offered two statements about what a good tournament would look like. The (probably) more serious statement was that he wanted to score at least three points; more jocularly, he said he'd be willing to lose every game as long as he beat Carlsen. In the end, then, it was a success: he got exactly three points out of nine and beat Carlsen - without having to lose the remaining games. He didn't even come in clear last place, but finished tied for last with Aronian, only half a point behind Carlsen and Grischuk.

    The games, with my notes, are here, and these are the final standings (the player listed first in case of a tie had the better tiebreak score):

    • 1. Topalov 6.5 (of 9)
    • 2-3. Anand, Nakamura 6
    • 4. Giri 5.5
    • 5-6. Caruana, Vachier-Lagrave 4
    • 7-8. Carlsen, Grischuk 3.5
    • 9-10. Aronian, Hammer 3

    Next stop: Dortmund, which starts on Saturday.

    Thursday
    Jun252015

    A Kramnik Interview on his 40th Birthday

    Vladimir Kramnik turned 40 today, and recently gave an interview to the Russian site ChessPro in anticipation of that milestone. (Long English-language excerpts here.) Worth a look.

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