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    Saturday
    Apr202019

    Grenke Chess Classic, Round 1: Carlsen Wins, Leads

    Round 1 of the Grenke Chess Classic is in the books, and the most important game was a memorable one. With Black against German prodigy Vincent Keymer, Magnus Carlsen felt compelled to take some extra risks to guarantee that he could play for a win. He succeeded, but it took a very long time - 81 moves - and he was probably losing (and at least in very big trouble) early on. A Keymer miscalculation or two let Carlsen escape his early woes and start grinding with an extra pawn, and it was bearing fruit until a very big error on move 56.

    This allowed Keymer to reach an objectively equal position, if one where he still had to work hard to prove the draw. At first he handled the situation properly, but on move 67 committed a fatal error. A drawing line was available, and it's likely that he calculated it, too. My guess is that he assumed the position would be lost and didn't bother to check; had he done so, he would have discovered that it draws pretty easily. Missing - or rejecting - this opportunity, he found himself in a lost position, and Carlsen took home the full point without giving Keymer another chance to survive.

    The other four games were drawn, and without anything especially interesting taking place. Levon Aronian had a nice edge early on against Arkadij Naiditsch, but quickly let it slip.

    The other three games were less eventful, with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave's "game" with Viswanathan Anand being rather pitiful. (It was drawn in 20 moves, by repetition, following numerous predecessors.) Unless MVL was sick or only reached the tournament at the last minute due to some logistics problems, it's a pretty lame performance. (If something was wrong, then never mind!)

    Peter Svidler decided to test Fabiano Caruana's Sveshnikov (Caruana has been playing this quite a bit lately; if you can't beat 'em, join 'em), and at least as a practical matter failed to achieve anything. Caruana enjoyed the easier play and could have pressed with 31...Kf7 instead of liquidating to a dead drawn ending with opposite-colored bishops.

    Finally, the game between Georg Meier and Francisco Vallejo featured an unusual opening, and while Meier obtained an advantage early on the slow 17.Bf1 let it slip. (17.Nb3 was better.) A repetition soon followed, and the game was drawn on move 25.

    The games, with my notes to Keymer-Carlsen, are here. Here are the round 2 pairings:

    • Vallejo (.5) - Carlsen (1)
    • Anand (.5) - Keymer (0)
    • Caruana (.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (.5)
    • Naiditsch (.5) - Svidler (.5)
    • Meier (.5) - Aronian (.5)

    Saturday
    Apr202019

    Trivia Time: Who is Caruana's Most Unpleasant Opponent?

    Let's restrict the scope of possible answers to players Fabiano Caruana has faced since becoming a grandmaster, and has played at least four times. (No doubt there's some club player who has a 1-0 or 2-0 score against him from when he was a kid, and maybe there's some professional with similar results.)

    There's a sense in which the answer should be Magnus Carlsen, as Carlsen is the world champion and long-time world #1. The question is referring to actual results, and while Carlsen's overall score against Caruana is good, of course, there's a better answer.

    Friday
    Apr192019

    Tal on TV, with Subtitles

    I'm not sure if I posted this before; if I did, I wasn't able to find it. So here you go - enjoy!

    Friday
    Apr192019

    Grenke Chess Classic, Round 1 Pairings

    The Grenke Chess Classic starts tomorrow (Saturday) at 3 p.m. local time (9 a.m. ET) in Baden-Baden, Germany. This is a big one, with Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, Viswanathan Anand, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and Levon Aronian headlining the event. Peter Svidler and Arkadij Naiditsch aren't chopped liver either, as they say, and the field is rounded off with Francisco Vallejo Pons, Georg Meier, and young German star Vincent Keymer. Here are the round 1 pairings:

    • Keymer - Carlsen (Keymer's chance to really put himself on the map!)
    • Svidler - Caruana
    • Vachier-Lagrave - Anand
    • Aronian - Naiditsch
    • Meier - Vallejo

    Almost all of these players produce exciting and fighting chess, and if the players weren't already strongly motivated the rating spread will give them a further impetus to go into battle each day. It should be a good event, with the Carlsen vs. Caruana subplot the most notable storyline. (Their head-to-head matchup takes place in round 4, with Caruana getting the white pieces. Will he have anything special ready for Carlsen's Sveshnikov?)

    Who do you think should be favored, Magnus Carlsen or the rest of the field?

    Friday
    Apr192019

    Du Te Cup (Shenzhen)

    It slipped under my radar that there's a strong tournament afoot in Shenzhen, China. It's a small one, with only six players, but all are over 2700 and one - Ding Liren - is over 2800. After three rounds of the Du Te Cup, a ten-round double round-robin, Anish Giri is in first with 2 points, Richard Rapport is in last with 1, and the other four players - Yu Yangyi, Dmitry Jakovenko, Ding Liren, and Pentala Harikrishna - are on 50%.

    You might guess that Giri beat Rapport and all the other games were drawn. There have been a lot of draws, but there have been two decisive games, not one. Giri beat Harikrishna in round 2, and Harikrishan turned around and defeated Rapport in round 3. (For those who would like to see a six-way tie for first through last, Rapport can "fix" everything by defeating Giri in round 5.)

    English language coverage here and here.

    Sunday
    Apr142019

    In the Interim (Updated)

    Just a quick note to say what's coming up. From April 20-29 the massively strong Grenke Chess Classic will take place, with Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, Viswanathan Anand and other mega-stars, plus one of the top prodigies these days, 14-year-old Vincent Keymer. I'm also hoping to write up 1-3 book reviews in the near future as well. Stay tuned.

    [Note: I've corrected the dates for the tournament.]

    Tuesday
    Apr092019

    Gashimov Memorial, Final Round: Carlsen Wins Again

    In the end, the 2019 Vugar Gashimov Memorial was a complete triumph for Magnus Carlsen. While everyone else was getting the tournament over with, Carlsen played for keeps against Alexander Grischuk, and won his third consecutive game and fifth overall to finish the tournament with an undefeated 7-2 score. As a result he won the tournament by two points, achieved a ridiculous 2988 TPR, gained 15.8 rating points* and now enjoys a 44.4 point rating lead over Fabiano Caruana. Order in the chess world has been re-established.

    His victory over Grischuk was a masterpiece. It was hard to even figure out where Grischuk lost the game, both for Grischuk and this commentator. Carlsen's play was brilliant, most especially the pawn sacrifice set up by his 29th move. If you've ever wondered why GMs harp on the value of the bishop pair, this game offers a powerful demonstration of that theme. Have a look, learn, and especially enjoy - the game is here, with my comments. (The other games are there too, but without notes.)

    Here are the final standings:

    • 1. Carlsen 7 (of 9)
    • 2-3. Ding, Karjakin 5
    • 4-6. Radjabov, Grischuk, Anand 4.5
    • 7-8. Topalov, Navara 4
    • 9. Mamedyarov 3.5
    • 10. Giri 3

    * I'd say 16 points, but he's playing in the Grenke Chess Classic later this month, so it won't necessarily be rounded up.

    Tuesday
    Apr092019

    Gashimov Memorial, Round 8: Carlsen Crushes Karjakin, Clinches First

    It wasn't all that long ago that Magnus Carlsen's championship reign and his spot atop the rating list were in jeopardy. It wasn't that long ago according to the calendar, but the current reality is that he is the dominant #1 player in the world. After a sluggish start to Wijk aan Zee in January, he has turned on the afterburners, and with his fourth win in this event he has clinched clear first place in the 2019 Gashimov Memorial with a round to spare.

    His victim in this round was Sergey Karjakin, who entered the round just half a point behind Carlsen. Karajkin had White, too, making the matchup all the more interesting. He decided to join the crowd testing Carlsen's world championship prep in the Sveshnikov Sicilian, continuing the recent trend with 7.Nd5. Carlsen sacrificed the h-pawn for compensation, and absolutely hammered Karjakin to death with powerful play on the kingside and in the center. Some of what happened to Karjakin had to do with Carlsen's preparation, I think, but not all of it, and Carlsen's play was very convincing.

    Congrats to the champion, who leads Karjakin, Alexander Grischuk, and Ding Liren by a point and a half. He has picked up a dozen rating points so far, and has achieved a 2963 TPR thus far. I don't know if it'll hit 3000 if he defeats Grischuk in the last round, but it will be close.

    About Grischuk and Ding, they also won in round 8. In Grischuk's case, he won convincingly with White against David Navara; as for Ding, his win over Veselin Topalov was remarkable. Topalov was a pawn down in a rook ending, with all the pawns on the same side of the board, and his somewhat shaky play was still good enough to reach an ending of knight vs. rook, with no pawns on either side. It's generally drawn when the king isn't in the corner and the knight isn't cut off, but it was an in-between situation where the draw was precarious, not trivial. Ding did a great job of making Topalov's task difficult, and he eventually cracked.

    The other two games were drawn. In the case of Teimour Radjabov and Viswanathan Anand, it was a short, correct draw, but the battle between Anish Giri and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov was anything but correct. Giri was winning practically out of the opening (18.e5 would have kept a decisive advantage), but let the advantage drip away, and near the end he was even in some trouble. Fortunately for him Mamedyarov's inaccurate 39th move let Giri off the hook.

    (The games are here, with my notes to Carlsen's and Ding's wins.) One round remains, and here are the pairings:

    • Anand (4) - Topalov (3.5)
    • Navara (3.5) - Radjabov (4)
    • Carlsen (6) - Grischuk (4.5)
    • Mamedyarov (3) - Karjakin (4.5)
    • Ding Liren (4.5) - Giri (2.5)

    Sunday
    Apr072019

    Gashimov Memorial, Rounds 6 & 7: Carlsen and Karjakin Vie for First

    Magnus Carlsen entered round 6 half a point in front of Sergey Karjakin and Viswanathan Anand, and exits round 7 with that same half point lead, still over Karjakin, with Anand having dropped a further point behind. Karjakin caught Carlsen in round 6, winning a very good game over Anand that was part good preparation, part excellent technique at the board. Carlsen only managed to draw against Ding Liren, and only after some anxious moments.

    Veselin Topalov got back to 50%, while Shakhriyar Mamedyarov's bad 2019 continues. Mamedyarov was alright most of the way, but a miscalculation on move 29 led to a loss. (29...Qe7 was equal.)

    The other two games - Anish Giri vs. David Navara and Alexander Grischuk vs. Teimour Radjabov - finished in draws. Grischuk had a nice advantage coming out of the opening, but 17.Bxc6 gave it away. (17.Ne1 was correct.)

    Carlsen bounced back in round 7, and in a big way, crushing Giri with a vicious attacking plan the Dutchman didn't see coming. After 16...c6 Giri expected 17.d4, and was seriously surprised by the champion's 17.f4 instead. He didn't react well, and was completely lost just a few moves later. Carlsen didn't find the best way to finish Black off, but given a slight chance to resist Giri almost immediately re-collapsed, losing before the time control.

    The other four games were drawn, including that of the co-leader, Karjakin. He had some difficulties in the opening against Navara, but was let off the hook by the Czech GM's 19.Nc3 instead of 19.Nd6. The right move would have given Navara a clear advantage; after the error, Karjakin drew without any further trouble.

    Mamedyarov-Ding was a long game that finished with a dramatic king and pawn ending that both sides played correctly, resulting in a drawn queen ending. Mamedyarov has been having a poor tournament, so it's to his credit that he stayed resilient through his long defensive task.

    Finally, Radjabov-Topalov and Anand-Grischuk were fairly uneventful draws.

    The games, with my notes to Karjakin's win in round 6 and Carlsen's win in round 7, are here. Here are the pairings for round 8, and it features THE pairing of the tournament: Karjakin-Carlsen:

    • Topalov (3.5) - Ding (3.5)
    • Giri (2) - Mamedyarov (2.5)
    • Karjakin (4.5) - Carlsen (5)
    • Grischuk (3.5) - Navara (3.5)
    • Radjabov (3.5) - Anand (3.5)

    Thursday
    Apr042019

    Gashimov Memorial, Round 5: Carlsen Leads Entering the Rest Day

    There were three decisive games in round 5 of the 2019 Vugar Gashimov Memorial, but none affected the race for first. (Or so it seems at the moment. It may turn out by the end of the tournament that one of those three games played a critical role in that race.)

    The leader entering the round, and exiting it too, was Magnus Carlsen. He achieved a slight edge with White in a somewhat offbeat Tarrasch, but Shakhriyar Mamedyarov was able to hold. He even gained the upper hand himself, momentarily, but in the end it was a well-played draw by both players.

    Had Sergey Karjakin won with Black against Teimour Radjabov, he would have caught Carlsen in first. This was never in the cards, though, and Radjabov had a semi-serious pull before it drifted towards a drawish (and ultimately drawn) ending.

    Ding Liren also had the opportunity to catch Carlsen, but he was even less successful in his try to defeat David Navara with the black pieces. They contested a very sharp line of the Semi-Slav, and while Ding's position in the opening and early middlegame was fine, he soon got in trouble in an with two minor pieces against a rook and pawn (plus two more pawns for each side). That material balance is generally in favor of the side with the minor pieces, but this time the rook was the better piece. Finally, Ding got his knight stranded and had to resign when he was about to lose it for a mere pawn.

    While Ding fell out of second place, Viswanathan Anand joined Karjakin there, half a point behind Carlsen. His victim was Anish Giri, who came out of the opening in good shape (with Black) before being outplayed step by step by the former world champion.

    Finally, Alexander Grischuk defeated Veselin Topalov in a long game. Topalov had to suffer a long time with a queen and two knights against Grischuk's queen and two bishops. Breaking through wasn't easy, but neither was defending, and Topalov eventually broke.

    The games, with my comments, are here. Friday is a rest day, and on Saturday round 6 will be played, with these pairings:

    • Topalov (2) - Mamedyarov (2)
    • Ding (2.5) - Carlsen (3.5)
    • Giri (1.5) - Navara (2.5)
    • Karjakin (3) - Anand (3)
    • Grischuk (2.5) - Radjabov (2.5)

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