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    Thursday
    Jan082015

    Tactics Time: Two Combinations by Moiseenko - Solutions (Updated)

    Yesterday I offered a couple of positions from the recent praxis of the strong Ukranian grandmaster Alexander Moiseenko for your solving pleasure (the positions are here), and now it's time for the solutions. Both come from the combinations section of Informant 122, which I hope to review for you within a day or two.

    The solutions are here, with some variations and comments added (prefaced with "DM") to the first position for clarity's sake.

    [UPDATE: The solutions are now linked.]

    Wednesday
    Jan072015

    An Interview with Boris Spassky

    The original is here, while large excerpts have been translated into English on the Chess24 website. As usual, I'd recommend that non-Russian readers start with the translation and then go to the original, making what they can of the Google Translate rendering.

    Tuesday
    Jan062015

    Tactics Time: Two Combinations by Moiseenko

    Both can be found here, and in both cases it's White - Moiseenko - to play and win. (The second position can be accessed by means of the arrow above the board.) Solutions tomorrow, though I think many of you will successfully solve them on your own well before the follow-up post.

    Monday
    Jan052015

    Ongoing: Hastings

    The annual Hastings tournament is a classic event, going back into the 19th century. While there are stronger opens nowadays, the mention Hastings will always quicken the pulse of historically aware chess players due to the famous 1895 edition of the tournament.

    The current tournament is 7 rounds in, and the leader is Chinese grandmaster Zhao Jun who raced out with six straight wins before giving up a draw in round 7. Six players are a point behind, and two rounds remain.

    Sunday
    Jan042015

    Lose Like a Grandmaster - In 10 Moves?!

    This certainly doesn't happen every day:

    1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 e6 6.a3 Be7 7.g3 Qb6 8.Nb3 Ne5 9.e4? Nfg4 10.c5 Qxb3 and White resigned in the game Qun Ma-Danny Raznikov, Groningen 2014.

    What's especially odd about the game is that even the pedestrian 10...Bxc5 is very good for Black. So what happened to White in the game? If anyone knows the back story of the game, please pass it along! Meanwhile, you can replay the game here (as well as above), but with my brief analytical comments.

    HT: Marc Beishon

    Saturday
    Jan032015

    Nakamura-So Death Match: Who Won? (Updated)

    If anyone knows, please pass it along.

    UPDATE: As approximately 6,000 people told me (thanks to all of you!), starting with Allen Becker, Hikaru Nakamura won his Chess.com "Death Match" against Wesley So by an overall score of 21.5-11.5. Nakamura won the 5' + 1" stage with an undefeated 6.5-2.5, split the 3' + 1" stage 4.5-4.5 (with only one draw), and won the bullet (1' + 1") finale 10.5-4.5 (again, with only one draw). There's a nice report here, and I think there are others in the comments section as well.

    Friday
    Jan022015

    Rating Reports

    ChessBase has a nice wrap-up of the year's new rating lists, separated by gender, age and time control. Their report also notes the somewhat bizarre case of 14-year-old Azeri Parviz Gasimov, whose rating has skyrocketed from 1949 on the October list to - get ready for this - 2517! Incredible. The bizarre aspect is that while he play and performances have been remarkable, he has yet to have a TPR over 2400! Helpfully, Chess24 offers a detailed explanation of how it happened.

    There won't be a world championship this year (in the unqualified sense, that is; there will be a women's world championship, rapid & blitz world championships, junior world championships and so on), so let's do a little speculating about what the top of the rating lists will look like in January of 2016. Right now the top five looks like this:

    • 1. Magnus Carlsen 2862
    • 2. Fabiano Caruana 2820
    • 3. Alexander Grischuk 2810
    • 4. Veselin Topalov 2800
    • 5-6. Viswanathan Anand, Levon Aronian 2797

    What do you think the top five will look like in a year? I won't try to guess the specific ratings, but my prediction for the top five is this:

    • 1. Magnus Carlsen
    • 2. Fabiano Caruana
    • 3. Levon Aronian
    • 4. Alexander Grischuk
    • 5. Anish Giri

    I'm also going to guess that Hou Yifan will pass Judit Polgar on the rating list at some point this year (at the moment, she only needs two points to do so) and bring her rating within ten points of 2700.

    Thursday
    Jan012015

    Happy New Year!

    May you and your loved ones flourish in 2015, both on and off the chessboard.

    Tuesday
    Dec302014

    A Short Review of Improve Your Chess Pattern Recognition

    Arthur van de Oudeweetering, Improve Your Chess Pattern Recognition: Key Moves and Motifs in the Middlegame. New in Chess, 2014. 301 pp., $26.95/€22.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.

    If any of you subscribed to the now-defunct e-periodical ChessVibes Training, you will be familiar with IM Arthur van de Oudeweetering's work; if not, then probably not. I'll offer a spoiler here: I think his contributions were by far the best part of that periodical, and not because all the other material was of poor quality. The book under review consists of 40 of those columns, all revised to some degree or another, and if you didn't see them the first time around I'd recommend seriously considering picking them up in this version.

    Each of the columns takes some theme - a piece on a (particular) strong square, an unusual exchange, certain typical sacrifices, some typical maneuvers, and so on - and illustrates them with a healthy number of well-chosen examples. There are also 40 exercises (the obvious guess is that there is one exercise per chapter theme, but I didn't check to see if there is a one-to-one correspondence between them) and a short epilogue.

    He has divided the material into four almost equal parts. Part I, "Typical Piece Positions", has 11 chapters, and in each one there is one particular piece on one particular square that gets highlighted. (Or two pieces and two squares, if we count once each for White and Black.) For example, there is one chapter on the "octopus" (a well-known label invented, I think, by Ray Keene when commenting on Garry Kasparov's famous knight on d3 in the classic 16th game of the 1985 Karpov-Kasparov match), another about a knight on f5, another on the blockading Black knight on d6, still another about a White bishop on d6, and so on.

    Part II, "No Automatic Pilot", has nine chapters, all of them involving something counter-intuitive: trading off a good knight (an octopus!) for a bad bishop on c8, full exchange sacrifices, voluntarily accepting doubled f-pawns, recapturing with a pawn away from the center, and so on.

    Part III, "Typical Strategic Means: Sacrifices", looks at 10 different typical sacrifices. These include e5-e6 sacs to stuff up Black's kingside, the "impossible" h2-h4 (Black can take the pawn without receiving immediate punishment), Rx(B)e6 exchange sacs, Rx(N)f6 exchange sacs, and so on.

    Part IV, "Typical Strategic Means: Typical Little Plans" finishes the book with 10 mini-plans, mini-maneuvers and other small themes. There's the "Nievergelt Manoeuvre", which is ...Kh8, ...Rg8 and ...g5 in a Hedgehog-type position, there's the queen maneuver ...Qd8-b8-a7, there's Bd3 blocking one's own d-pawn, making the decision about whether or not to exchange queens, and among other topics there's the one that closes the book: "The Runner and the Bulldozer". That is how he characterizes the race between a passed pawn on the one side and a wave of attacking pawns on the other, as in the practically deciding 9th game of the first Anand-Carlsen match back in 2013.

    There are plenty of interesting chapters besides the ones I mentioned, and perhaps many of them are even more interesting, as many of the ones listed above are relatively conventional. I think it's an excellent book, and while it's not systematic in a way that would turn it into a primer on positional play, there is no question but that this will improve the positional understanding of many club players. I'd highly recommend this to players rated around 1400 to 2100, and I think even masters can (and will) learn something from this book as well.

    Tuesday
    Dec302014

    A Review of Sveshnikov vs. the Anti-Sicilians

    Evgeny Sveshnikov, Sveshnikov vs. the Anti-Sicilians: A Complete Repertoire for Black. New in Chess, 2014. 251 pp., $28.95/€25.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.

    Earlier this year (I'd better hurry up with this review!) New in Chess published a book by Evgeny Sveshnikov on the anti-Sicilian move 2.f4, which I reviewed here. While I thought Sveshnikov did a good job of presenting the material both deeply and fairly, it seemed to me that the objective merits of 2.f4 and 2.Nc3 followed by f4 were insufficient to justify the book's purchase. (At least for most people.) I think this book should fare a lot better, and deservedly so.

    Sveshnikov's black opening repertoire against 1.e4 is currently based on Sicilian lines starting with 2...Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 e5, and in this book he covers pretty much all of White's alternatives on move 2: 2.a3, 2.Na3, 2.b4, 2.d4, 2.b3, 2.c4, 2.d3, 2.c3, 2.f4, 2.Ne2* and then a series of 2.Nc3 lines, which he meets with 2...Nc6. If you play any Sicilian at all, you'll at the very least be interested in the pre-2.Nc3 material, and even if you play, say, the Najdorf you may still be interested in the second part of the book. That's because after 2.Nc3 Nc6 he does not allow White to return to an Open Sicilian after 3.Nge2 or 3.Nf3, but meets both moves with 3...e5. Najdorf, Dragon and Scheveningen fans can therefore follow his repertoire even if they have no interest in Sveshnikov's Sicilian repertoire against 2.Nf3. Of course, if you play the white side of any of these sidelines, you may still be interested in the book (or at least borrowing a friend's copy) to see what he says about your pet system.

    Sveshnikov has some strong, surprising and provocative opinions. For instance, he thinks that White has the advantage in the Classical, Kan, Taimanov and Sveshnikov (the 5...e5 version) variations, and also thinks that after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.b3 "White has every right to count on an advantage" (p. 37)! Regarding the first claims, my understanding of contemporary theory is that he's probably right about the Classical Sicilian and might be correct about the Sveshnikov, but the Kan and Taimanov (or Paulsen) are in great shape at the moment. As for his claims about meeting 2...e6 with 3.b3, there is some logic to White's move, sure, but to claim an advantage, full stop? That's an interesting claim, but it's not overwhelmingly plausible.

    I note this to highlight Sveshnikov's status as a maverick. He has gone his own way in opening theory for a long time, and it must be admitted that he has created great forests of theory where there were only deserts or at most oases. What you get with Sveshnikov are idiosyncratic but well-worked out schemes and ideas he's always willing to defend in his own practice.

    Let's have a look at one of his suggestions. Against the Smith-Morra Gambit** Sveshnikov offers three replies. One is to decline the gambit with 3...Nf6, a move he advocates in his chapter on the 2.c3 Sicilian - a line which is often associated with his name. We'll leave that one alone and focus on the two replies he offers that are specifically for the Smith-Morra itself, one a sideline and the other a mainstream response. In the interest of brevity, I'll only look at the former one here***, which is this: 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 e5. "Black immediately forces the play, so as to force mass exchanges and an equal endgame" (32). He focuses on the obvious 4.cxd4, but as Morra maniac Marc Esserman advocates 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.Bc4 (White's last two moves can also be played the other way around) let's stick to that. Interestingly, Esserman only gives 5...Nf6 here, leading to a position reminiscent of the Two Knights after 6.Ng5. Instead, Sveshnikov notes that 5...Qb6 is interesting, while elaborating on 5...Qc7: 6.0-0 Nf6 7.Ng5 Nd8 8.Qb3 Ne6 9.cxd4 Nxd4(!) 10.Qd3(?) ("Better is 10.Bxf7+, although here too, after 10...Ke7 11.Qb4+ d6, Black has the initiative.") 10...d5(!) 11.exd5 Bf5 12.Bb5+ Nd7 13.Bxd7+ Qxd7 14.Ne4 Qxd5 15.Nbc3 Qc6 "with a large advantage to Black, Fedoseev-Filipenko, Ekaterinburg 1996" (32).

    Points to Sveshnikov for avoiding Esserman's prep, but there's also Hannes Langrock's book on the Smith-Morra to deal with. Langrock thinks that 5...Nf6 (the move covered by Esserman) is Black's best bet, but he does examine 5...Qb6 and 5...Qc7 as well. Regarding the latter, his line is 6.Qb3 d6 7.cxd4 a6 (7...exd4 8.0-0 Nf6 9.Bg5 gives White the initiative) 8.Nc3 Nf6 9.Nd5(!) Nxd5 10.Bxd5 Bg4 11.Be3 Bxf3 12.gxf3 exd4 13.Bxc6+ bxc4 14.Bxd4 with a slight advantage for White. It seems to me that Langrock has the better argument, as I think his analysis is correct. I tried 6...Nd8 to see if Black could perhaps transpose back into Sveshnikov's line, but White can do better, and I also took a look at the spirited 6...d5. It's a nice idea, but not enough for equality either.

    In sum, I don't think Sveshnikov has the better of the argument over 3...e5 in the Smith-Morra, and as you'll see in the game file (have a look here) I don't think he has the better of the argument in his recommendation of 3...dxc3 either. Does this mean that you shouldn't buy the book? Not at all. Maybe his analysis of the Smith-Morra was a bit lax because of his confidence in 3...Nf6, and this was an unfortunate outlier. I think a reasonable case can be made for that, especially as there are other chapters where he delves much more deeply - typically in chapters featuring lines where he has made a well-known contribution to theory.

    So my suggestion is to consider the book if you're in its target audience, but do check his suggestions carefully. Let's finish with some praise: Sveshnikov offers a lot of prose, and his explanations about what each side is trying to do, ought to avoid and ought to prevent, etc., are very useful. He is a man with a lot of ideas, and there is much to be learned from his works. But do check the details!

     

    * 2.Ne2 is covered in the chapter on 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Nge2.

    ** Or the Morra Gambit, to follow the most common label nowadays, even though Ken Smith's fanatical advocacy of the gambit helped put it on the map. Alternatively, Sveshnikov claims it's also referred to as the Morra-Matulovic Gambit. This could be an interesting subject for debate. The Mega 2015 database gives 15 games by Matulovic on the white side of the gambit, all from 1954 to 1958. For Smith, there are just his three failures from San Antonio 1972, where he was badly outrated by his opponents. If you're old enough to have his Chess Digest pamphlets from the 1970s and/or 1980s, though, you'll know just how often he played it and how tirelessly he promoted it. As for Morra, whose claim is apparently unchallenged, I don't see any of his games with the gambit in the database. Actually, the first person to punt 1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 in the database is the immortal loser: Lionel Kieseritzky, who won a very nice game against one Conrad Vitzthum von Eckstaedt in Paris in 1846. (It wasn't characteristic of the Gambit as we now know it, but it's pretty all the same.)

    *** I take a quick look at the other approach in the game file.

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