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    Sunday
    Oct122014

    "Millionaire Monday": So, Robson, Yu and Zhou In Monday's Final Four

    The seventh and last round of the preliminary stage of the open section of the Millionaire Open was a dramatic one. The top four players would advance to "Millionaire Monday", a final knockout stage to determine the distribution of the top prizes. Entering the round six players had five points and nine more had four and a half.

    On the top board, top seed Wesley So (now in the world's top ten) was the first to assure himself of qualification, thanks to a convincing victory over Timur Gareev. On board two, Daniel Naroditsky and Yu Yangyi drew. That assured them of at least (and practically speaking, at most) a shot in a playoff event to move on to Monday. The board three battle between Ray Robson and David Berczes must have been a roller coast ride for their fans. First Robson was better, but in the lead up to the time control Berczes was simply winning, and it's hard to believe that he wouldn't have won the game and qualified for the final four had he chosen the straightforward 39...Rxe4. Even after missing (or just avoiding) that move he continued to be better for quite some time, but by move 48 it was anyone's game. On move 52 Black would have been fine after 52...Bxf3, but instead the overoptimistic 52...Rcc2? left him lost. Robson grabbed his chance with both hands, and like So punched his ticket to Monday's rounds.

    In the realm of the 4.5 pointers, two players won to force a four-man playoff with Yu and Naroditsky. Surprisingly, both won with Black: Zhou Jianchao beat Rauf Mamedov and Sergei Azarov defeated Alejandro Ramirez.

    The playoffs, which took place Sunday night, were effected by means of a g/15 (with five second time delay) single round robin. In the first round the Chinese players drew with each other while Azarov drew with Naroditsky. In the latter game Azarov had a somewhat better position while Naroditsky had a substantial lead on the clock, but he must have felt that with the time delay his opponent would be able to hold the position (or more) without undue risk of losing on time. In round two Naroditsky drew with Yu while Zhou beat Azarov, and in the last round both Chinese players won and qualified.

    I'm not sure as of this writing what the pairings are for tomorrow's first round, but the semi-final round will start at 10:00 a.m. local time (= 1 p.m. ET) and the last round at 5 p.m. local time/8 p.m. ET.

    Sunday
    Oct122014

    The New York Times Chess Column Ended Today

    ...and sadly, not just in their print edition but online as well. One can always hope for its eventual reinstatement, but for now, this is it.

    (HT: Ken Regan)

    Saturday
    Oct112014

    A New Svidler Video Series (Updated)

    Chess24 has an improving playing zone and worthwhile news reports, but their biggest attraction is their growing library of video series. The most noteworthy series was by Peter Svidler on the Gruenfeld, but there have been many other interesting ones as well. Still, when a player of Svidler's caliber engages in such a project it's likely to be something special, and that was certainly true of the one on the Gruenfeld.

    Now Svidler has released another opening series, this one offering a White repertoire in the Ruy Lopez with the very trendy 6.d3 (after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7). Nowadays this is considered a more promising way for White to avoid the Marshall Gambit (6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.c3 d5) than the standard 8th move dodges like 8.a4 and 8.h3, and it has almost become the new main line of the Ruy. Svidler acknowledges that it doesn't seem to promise White an advantage - what does? - but aims to offer White fresh ideas that will at least put the onus on Black (especially if he hasn't already prepared for those them) to solve new problems.

    Svidler has long been a specialist in the Ruy, having played both sides of the opening with great regularity for the past 20 years or so; indeed, he states that he probably knows this opening better than anything else in his repertoire apart from the Gruenfeld. So the series should be a very attractive one to anyone who plays either side of the opening, and also for those who simply want to understand the game better; the Ruy is an extremely rich opening.

    As usual, there are two ways to access the series. One is to buy a premium membership on the site for $135.99 for a year (pricy, but if you like watching chess videos it's a good deal), and the other is to buy the series a la carte for $14.99 - not a bad deal at all. (It would be an even better deal if Chess24 would finally create the downloadable PGN files they've promised since the site's inception, but even without that it's a very good price in comparison to comparable video series across the landscape.)

    UPDATE: As noted in the comments section, there's a third way to access the series, which works for all the other series as well: purchase a one-month membership for $13.99.

    Saturday
    Oct112014

    Ongoing: The Millionaire Open in Las Vegas

    Maurice Ashley ran a high-stakes open tournament in Minneapolis in 2005 that hemorrhaged money, from what I was told, and unless almost all of the participants in the "Millionaire Open" in Las Vegas paid the late entry fee, this one is losing a ton as well. The tournament name alludes to the guaranteed prize fund of $1 million, but with $1,000 early entry fees ($2,000 for stragglers) and only about 550 participants, you can see where the math leads. Add to this the costs of renting a space, advertising the event, running the website and paying the staff and the online commentators, and it might be 2023 before we see the next such event.

    But let's hope not. Ideally the sponsors will figure out what went right and what didn't, and maintain the former while fixing the latter. Las Vegas is a great place for big swiss-system events, and the National Open (in early June) and the North American Open (right after Christmas) have been successful for many years. And if they can figure it out, their successes may be replicable, after which tournament organizers here and elsewhere may be able to increase the number of successful opens while also raising the profile of chess in the broader culture.

    To the tournament itself, they're trying out an unusual format to decide the winner of the Open section, which has a guaranteed first prize of $100,000. After tomorrow's round 7, the top four players will advance to a knockout competition on Monday to determine the winner. Something similar has been used in the U.S. Championship the last few years, so I'm guessing that that's the inspiration. (If they use bid-Armageddon games, that conclusion will be an obvious one.)

    At this moment, five rounds are in the books, and the moment three players are tied for first with 4.5 points apiece: Wesley So, Yu Yangyi and Daniel Naroditsky. Eight players are half a point behind: Bu Xiangzhi, Evgeny Najer, Ray Robson, Timur Gareev, Zhou Jinchao, Conrad Holt, Sabino Brunello and David Berczes. It's unlikely that any of the 3.5 pointers could sneak in the top four in the next two rounds, but all 32 of them will surely try to prove otherwise.

    Saturday
    Oct112014

    Notre Dame 50, UNC 43

    As usual for UNC this year, their defense was abysmal. Notre Dame's defense wasn't up to its usual standard either, but 21 of those points were less their fault than that of "our" quarterback, who continued his turnover-prone play from the last couple of games. (When he's playing well, however, he's fantastic, which is how Notre Dame could win despite throwing away so many points.) There were other blunders as well, and if "we" play this way next week against #1 Florida State we will be blown to smithereens. Hopefully this week's stinker of a game can be chalked to a combination of a let-down after last week's important victory and a mental lapse looking forward to next week's challenge.

    Record so far: 6-0.

    Next victim: Florida State University.

    Tune time!

    Saturday
    Oct112014

    Notre Dame To Tar and Feather the Tar Heels

    (It's nice that the University of North Carolina offers a headstart on the project.) The sixth-ranked Fighting Irish of Notre Dame will wallop UNC today, starting at 3:30 p.m. ET (the game will be shown on NBC). It ought to be pretty routine. The real battle comes next week against #1 Florida State, but hopefully ND won't forget to show up and take care of business for this one.

    Saturday
    Oct112014

    Baku Grand Prix: The Streak Ends!

    It had to end sooner or later, but it was quite the surprise to see Fabiano Caruana's insane streak of successes come to an end against Dmitry Andreikin in round 7. Andreikin is the second-lowest rated player in the field, was in clear last place with a -3 score, and is renowned for his poor opening play. If anyone was tailored-made for Caruana in the Baku Grand Prix tournament, it was Andreikin. So what happened? Caruana played the Scandinavian - an opening that puts relatively little pressure on White to be specially prepared - but more importantly didn't play very well, made a few mistakes, and lost.

    More significantly, it allowed Boris Gelfand to catch him, and as Gelfand was pressing hard against Rustam Kasimdzhanov Caruana was even a little fortunate to end the round tied for first. They both finished the day with 4.5/7, half a point ahead of Kasimdzhanov, Teimour Radjabov, and Sergey Karjakin. The latter was the day's other winner, defeating Hikaru Nakamura with the black pieces. Nakamura played a line of the Veresov with a bad reputation (I'll refrain from joking "but I repeat myself"), and was already worse after four moves. Karjakin could have won quickly, but despite not playing in the best possible way he eventually brought home the full point.

    Round 8 was less eventful. Caruana drew comfortably with Black against Kasimdzhanov, while Gelfand had a good position against Nakamura that slipped away. Sergey Karjakin could have caught the leaders by beating Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, and should have done so. In time trouble, however, he missed his best opportunity and was still significantly better when the game was drawn. The day's only winner was Peter Svidler, who ground down Leinier Dominguez and thereby joined the group half a point behind the leaders.

    Saturday is a rest day, and Sunday's round 9 pairings are as follows:

    • Nakamura (4) - Kasimdzhanov (4.5)
    • Mamedyarov (3) - Gelfand (5)
    • Radjabov (4.5) - Karjakin (4.5)
    • Svidler (4.5) - Tomashevsky (4)
    • Andreikin (3) - Dominguez (3)
    • Caruana (5) - Grischuk (3)

    Wednesday
    Oct082014

    The Chess Cafe: Behind the Paywall

    Several people have written in to ask what I think about the Chess Cafe website's now using a paywall and charging $50 for membership (though with a perq). Here is one such email (name withheld):

    I noticed that the new ChessCafe website requires people to pay 50 USD for a membership just to read content that was free earlier. 50 USD seems too high to me.

    ChessCafe promises to issue a 50 USD coupon for products in its shop six months after a person joins. I don't know if there's a way to enforce this promise. Would someone pay 50 USD to become a member because one hopes a desire [sic - desired? desirable?] product will be available in the shop more than six months later?

    Would you become a member of ChessCafe under these conditions?

    There are at least four topics that can be addressed here. First, is a year's membership for the ChessCafe worth it to a "typical" club player? Second, is it worth paying for a website that used to be available for free? Third, what should we think about the $50 coupon offer and its reliability? And fourth, what would - or will - I do? These questions merit a long post or even a series of reasonably long posts, but I will try to be brief.

    To the first question, assuming the quality of the upcoming year's posts is on a par with what we've seen the last 18 years or so, then yes. (I don't see any indication that there are only offering access to old material; it certainly looks like they will continue with new material each week, as usual.) A subscription isn't a must - almost nothing in chess publishing is - but they put out a lot of good material, and for readers who didn't look at all the archived material in the days before the paywall it's an even better deal.

    To the second question, I don't see why the fact that it used to be available for free should have any relevance. It is psychologically relevant, yes. That I get; in fact, that phenomenon is why I'm no longer doing videos for ChessBase. For four or five years pretty much anyone could watch my shows for free, and then ChessBase decided to change the model to require Premium Membership (which cost money) or for viewers to pay a la carte every show. Some kept on watching under the new conditions, but too many people didn't want to pay for what they had for free for several years, and eventually I had to move on.

    In the case of the Chess Cafe, they have expenses. It's not just paying for the domain and the website, but also paying columnists like Mark Dvoretsky and Karsten Mueller for their monthly contributions. I have no idea what the Chess Cafe's costs are, but I'm inclined to think we should feel fortunate to have had free access for 18 years rather than having a negative feeling about the request for pay.

    The third question may be slightly troubling. Why only after six months? If we've paid for the whole year, which is the only option offered, then we've paid; the money is out of our pockets or bank accounts and into the Chess Cafe's. It at least suggests that they need cash now, and that in turn makes me wonder what will happen if they don't quickly receive it. Will the site go belly up in less than a year, and if so, will there be pro-rated refunds? That said, my expectation is that even if that worst-case scenario occurs, the site will honor the $50 coupon. Still, the delay strikes me as strange.

    And now to the last question: will I dive in and purchase a membership? At this point, the answer is no - but that's because I'm already unable to keep up with the deluge of material, free and purchased, that comes across the transom on a daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly basis. It's not because I'm worried about the site's solvency or think poorly of its quality; in fact, up through the last month I saved all the Dvoretsky and Mueller columns in PDF format to my computer. If I had made it through all of them by now, then I probably would sign up! There's just too much information out there, so unless one is a full-time chess player or money isn't an object then it's necessary to pick and choose, and for the moment I'm going to stick to the tons of material I already subscribe to. But I wouldn't discourage anyone from signing up on the Chess Cafe website.

    Wednesday
    Oct082014

    Baku Grand Prix, Round 6: Caruana Wins, Leads

    Fabiano Caruana wins a game and leads the tournament. Where have we heard that line before? A few more months of this and people will start offering retrospectives on the Magnus Carlsen era. Today it was Peter Svidler who was tossed into the wood chipper, though the game wasn't as clean as one might have liked. Caruana came out of the opening, a 3.f3 Anti-Gruenfeld, with a significant advantage, but 18.e5 was a mistake. (A very natural move, but a mistake nevertheless; 18.Nge2 was probably best.) The struggle flared up anew until Svidler's 27...Rh8?; the computer suggests (the very risky-looking) 27...Bxe4 28.Nxe4 f5 instead. For rating watchers, Caruana is now over 2851 and a win or two away from beating Garry Kasparov's career best (live) Elo rating. Carlsen himself is just 12 points away, though the latter's all-time mark will be safe at least through the end of this tournament.

    Boris Gelfand could have kept pace with a win over Sergey Karjakin, but while the game was a success - an easy draw with Black in a Najdorf where he even enjoyed some advantage - he is out of first place for the first time in the tournament.

    Rustam Kasimdzhanov won pretty easily against Dmitry Andreikin, who once again appeared not to "have any openings". Kasimdzhanov had a large advantage after the opening and rolled to victory.

    Alexander Grischuk's woes in this tournament continued with a strange loss to Teimour Radjabov. He came out of the opening with a slight edge with White into a middlegame with a large margin of safety. This margin disappeared with the combination of 19.b4 and 25.f4 (the latter move in particular was an error), creating targets for Radjabov on both sides of the board. 29.Qxe8 was the decisive error, after which Radjabov was able to take aim at the weaknesses and stroll to success.

    Leinier Dominguez had some advantage against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, but was unable to bring home the full point.

    Likewise, Evgeny Tomashevsky had an edge (though generally not a very big one) against Hikaru Nakamura throughout their game, which was drawn as well.

    Round 7 Pairings:

    • Gelfand (4) - Kasimdzhanov (3.5)
    • Nakamura (3.5) - Karjakin (3)
    • Mamedyarov (2) - Tomashevsky (3)
    • Radjabov (3.5) - Dominguez (2.5)
    • Svidler (3) - Grischuk (2)
    • Andreikin (1.5) - Caruana (4.5)

    Wednesday
    Oct082014

    One to Watch: Vladislav Artemiev

    Russian GM Vladislav Artemiev is 16 years old and rapidly approaching 2700; that's pretty good even by the standards of contemporary prodigies. More about the young soon-to-be superstar here.

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