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    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.

    Wednesday
    Mar192014

    Candidates 2014, Round 6: Anand Still Leads; Kramnik and Svidler Lose

    What was looking like a four-man race has transformed significantly after today's sixth round at the Candidates' tournament. It seemed like a prime opportunity for the chase pack to catch the leader, Viswanathan Anand, after he failed to achieve anything with White in a Berlin ending against Sergey Karjakin, but as it turned out all three of his closest pursuers stumbled.

    The most interesting game from a psychological perspective was the renewed hatefest between Veselin Topalov and Vladimir Kramnik, going back to the "Toiletgate" controversy from their world championship match back in 2006. Whether this affected either man's play for better or worse I don't know, but Kramnik played pretty badly in this game. His plan with ...f7-f5-f4 wasn't very good and was criticized by Topalov, the commentators and the computers, and 13...a5 seems to have been inaccurate as well. White won a pawn with the tactical sequence starting with 19.Nxd5, and Kramnik didn't manage to put up much resistance after that. As a result Topalov jumped and Kramnik fell to 50% overall in the tournament.

    The same happened with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Peter Svidler. Svidler surprised Mamedyarov with the Dutch, and came out of the opening smelling like a rose. If he had played 22...Qd7 he would have been comfortably better, but instead made three errors in a row, culminating in the odd sac/blunder 24...h6, after which he was lost. Svidler's resignation might raise some eyebrows for those looking at the computer's evaluation, but White's winning method is pretty simple; it just takes a lot of moves to finish the job.

    Finally, Levon Aronian was winning against Dmitry Andreikin, but let his opponent slip out with a draw. 28.Bxe4! was an outright winner, while 31.Bxe4 Rxd2 32.Ra7 was probably a technical win. By move 38 it wasn't quite as clear, but what does seem clear is that 38.Bxe6 was an error. White can't simultaneously anchor his kingside while keeping the a-pawn protected, and Black's counterplay is in time in case White's king heads for the queenside.

    Today's games (with my comments) are here. Tomorrow is a rest day, and on Friday the first cycle concludes with the following pairings (player scores in parentheses):

    • Karjakin (2.5) - Aronian (3.5)
    • Svidler (3) - Anand (4)
    • Kramnik (3) - Mamedyarov (3)
    • Andreikin (2) - Topalov (3)

    Wednesday
    Mar192014

    Book Notice: Bezgodov on the Caro-Kann

    Alexey Bezgodov, The Extreme Caro-Kann: Attacking Black with 3.f3 (New in Chess 2014). 271 pp., $28.95/€25.95.

    On the surface the Caro-Kann looks like a very solid opening choice, but in fact it degenerates into mayhem in a surprisingly large number of lines. In some cases the play is deeply worked out and the adventures arise later, as in the Classical Caro-Kann (3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5 etc.), while in others play gets sharp more quickly. The Fantasy Variation (1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.f3!?) is one such line, and is the subject of the book. (A note on terminology. I've always seen the line referred to as the "Fantasy" variation, but that label is never applied by Bezgodov, who instead dubs it the "Extreme" Caro-Kann. Perhaps neither moniker is very good, but I'll stick with the original poor label rather than endorsing and adopting Bezgodov's attempt to co-opt it with a new one.)

    Unlike the book reviewed in the previous post, this one is friendlier to the club player. Model games are used and there are plenty of lengthy verbal explanations. This doesn't imply that the book is a frivolous "Winning With The ___" title; Bezgodov delves deeply when necessary and not every variation ends in an advantage for White.

    At any rate, I'm not an expert on either side of this variation and this is not meant to be a full-fledged review, just a book notice. So I'll close by suggesting that aggressive players looking for something fresh and fighting against the Caro-Kann may find this book just what they wanted, while Caro-Kann aficianados may want this book for the purpose of self-defense.

    Tuesday
    Mar182014

    Book Notice: Hera & Tuncer on the Queen's Indian

    Imre Hera and Ufuk Tuncer, A Cutting-Edge Gambit against the Queen's Indian (New in Chess 2014). 174 pp., €19.95/$24.95.

    This book is a dense monograph dedicated entirely to the theoretically hot gambit line 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.g3 Ba6 5.Qc2 c5 6.d5. It was first played (as far as I can tell) by Levon Gregorian against Paul Keres in the 1967 USSR Team Championship, but only hit the bigtime in a mainstream way after 2006, when Mamedyarov used it against Gelfand and Aronian employed it against Leko. By 2007 it was hot and by 2008 everyone was using it. It may have cooled off a bit from its high point, but it's still popular, important and not fully solved.

    One reason this is an important line is that once Black has committed to a Queen's Indian, there aren't too many reasonable ways for him to avoid this gambit. Moreover, once 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 is on the board, 3...b6 is likely to arise. Some professionals prefer 3...d5, transposing to the Queen's Gambit family, but at the club level most players who want a Queen's Gambit will head for it on move 1. The other reasonable option is 3...Bb4+, the Bogo-Indian. This book won't help you with that one, but they do offer brief coverage of Black's alternatives on moves 4 and 5. All in all then, this book may not offer a full opening repertoire with 1.d4 or even for 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3, but it does offer a big chunk of such a repertoire.

    The book has two main authors - GM Imre Hera and FM Ufuk Tuncer - and has a glowing foreword by Alexey Shirov. Shirov praises the book as a book on "modern chess": the authors go very deeply, push theory along, and (so they say, and Shirov concurs) don't keep any secrets.

    Whether they have really kept any secrets isn't something I can judge, but what I can say from checking some of their lines with the computer and with recent games is that their work is thorough, accurate and creative.

    It's a very good book, but who is it for? Definitely not the average club player: the material is very dense - this is not "wash and wear" material. It's clearly suitable for titled players who grapple with this line, and for correspondence players too. I'd say that tournament players rated 2000 (more likely, 2100-2200) and up could benefit from it, but it will take some hard work. I can heartily recommend the book, but only to serious tournament players and of course their brethren in correspondence chess.

    Tuesday
    Mar182014

    Old In Chess?

    We do what we can to keep you posted on the chess events of the day, but what about the events of 100 years ago? Relive the past as present on the Old In Chess website. (HT: Brian Karen) If only its subjects had internet access!

    Tuesday
    Mar182014

    A Short Review of Sam Collins' New Book on the Tarrasch Defense

    In 2011 Quality Chess put out a great book on the Tarrasch Defense (the opening that characteristically arises via the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5) by Nikolaos Ntirlis and Jacob Aagaard. As is typical for QC books, that work didn't just summarize the theory of that opening but developed it, and while the book was (and is) a useful resource for club players it's pitched for stronger players - around 2000 and up, in my opinion. Also, its scope is somewhat limited. It is a repertoire book (nothing wrong with that), and in the main line with 9.Bg5 the coverage is limited to 9...c4. That's quite enough, as anyone who has the book will know, but there are other interesting lines available to Black as well.

    There are thus three reasons why Irish IM Sam Collins' new book on the Tarrasch from Everyman has a useful spot in the market. First, 2-3 years have passed since the QC book's publication, so it's useful to take note of new developments. Second, Collins is aiming not at strong club players and those with FIDE titles but at typical club players. Stronger players will learn something too, but he isn't writing primarily for professional players and wannabes. And third, more repertoire choices are offered, which means that the book is not "Ntirlis & Aagaard for the Masses" but an independent work on the line.

    There are other possibilities for White, but I will focus my attention here on the main line arising after 4.cxd5 exd5 (interestingly, Collins takes a little look at 4...cxd4) 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.g3 Nf6 7.Bg2 Be7 8.0-0 0-0 9.Bg5 (9.dxc5 is another big complex). The QC book advocates 9...c4, and after 10.Ne5 Be6 11.b3 put their energy into 11...h6. They mention 11...Qa5 in the Introduction, but think that after 12.Qd2 Rad8 13.Nxc6 (13.bxc4 Nxd4!!) 13...bxc6 14.Rfd1 Bb4 15.Rdc1 (recommended by Lars Schandorff in Playing 1.d4: The Queen's Gambit) promises White an advantage. They also address both the old-fashioned 9...Be6 and the absolute main line 9...cxd4 10.Nxd4 h6, but likewise offer brief arguments for the claim that White has an advantage.

    It is these three options that Collins seeks to rehabilitate. Though he does offer a few paragraphs' coverage of the Ntirlis & Aagaard approach with 11...h6 in the 9...c4 line he spends more time on 11...Qa5. Unfortunately, he doesn't directly address Schandorff's line. After 12.Qd2 Rad8 13.Nxc6 bxc6 14.Rfd1 Bb4 he considers 15.Bxf6 gxf6 and now 16.Rdc1, but as it looks like his main line transposes to Schandorff's we can continue. After 16...c5 we transpose to Schandorff's 15.Rdc1 c5 16.Bxf6 gxf6, and now 17.bxc4 dxc4 18.d5 and here rather than 18...Bxd5 (given in Schandorff) Collins proposes 18...Bxc3 19.Qxc3 Qxc3 20.Rxc3 Bxd5 21.Bxd5 Rxd5 22.Rxc4 Rb8, with a version of a typical Tarrasch endgame that's slightly better than usual for Black, but which Collins admits is still "a bit better" for White. A mixed success there, to be sure: it's not as bad for Black as Schandorff suggests, but not as good for Black as the positions Ntirlis and Aagaard achieve, if their analysis is correct.

    Next and surprisingly, Collins also plumps for that rare old bird, 9...Be6. Ever since the Yusupov-Spraggett game back in 1989, won in model style by White, theory has frowned on this variation for Black. It is solid but gives White a slight and permanent edge, while Black has no winning chances whatsoever against a decent player who doesn't blunder. Against this, Collins rightly points out that most of us aren't going to be facing Yusupov and that there Spraggett's play can be improved. That's true, but then most of us aren't going to play the endgame even as well as Spraggett did either! Moreover, Collins admits that "Black can't be better!" and "should never win such a position", while White is guaranteed "a small but enduring advantage" and "his position is considerably easier to play." Not exactly a ringing endorsement! That said, if one puts in the time to really understand the position with Black, it could be used as an occasional drawing weapon as needed. Maybe it won't be much fun, but if the experience edge is sufficiently on Black's side of the ledger it might not be so bad.

    Finally, there's the main line with 9...cxd4 10.Nxd4 h6. Now 11.Bf4 is a good second approach, but we'll stick to the usual move, 11.Be3. Now 11...Re8 12.Rc1, and here Collins discusses both 12...Bf8 and 12...Bg4. White's #1 reply in the latter case is 13.h3, and Collins examines this, but there's also 13.Qa4. This is less common but has a better score, and is recommended in the intro to the QC book on the Tarrasch. Unfortunately, Collins doesn't address this one. As for 12...Bf8, Ntirlis and Aagaard suggest 13.Na4 Bd7 14.Nc5 Bxc5 15.Rxc5 Qe7 16.Nxc6! bxc6 17.Rc2!N Ne4 18.Qd4 a5 19.Rfc1, with a slight edge for White thanks to the bishop pair and his general harmony. Against this I have some bad news and some good news. The bad news is that while Collins covers that line up to move 15, he doesn't consider 16.Nxc6. The good news is that he offers two alternatives on move 14 and two more on move 13.

    In summary, the book does not go into the same depth as the earlier Quality Chess publication, but that's not its function. It is not an exhaustive repertoire book suitable for masters and grandmasters; it is instead an introduction to the Tarrasch Defense for club players that can benefit stronger players, though it is not primarily aimed at them. One nice feature of the book as an introduction to the opening is a "Structural Introduction" early on. It covers six typical pawn structures that can arise in the Tarrasch, and then follows up with a brief discussion of the transportability of Tarrasch lessons to other openings with isolated d-pawns.

    The bottom line: I can recommend this book to club players interested in the Tarrasch. If you're a strong club player (or even higher-rated) and can only buy one book on the Tarrasch, you should go for the Ntirlis and Aagaard masterpiece, but if you can I'd recommend buying both books. Being able to play more lines in the Tarrasch is good, both for the sake of variety and to avoid being too stationary a target. I think stronger players will want to supplement Collins' book in a way they might not need to with the QC work, but with that caveat I can recommend it to them too.

    Tuesday
    Mar182014

    Chess24.com

    If you've been visiting some of the major chess sites you've probably come across banner and other ads for Chess24.com. This young site is clearly ambitious, and at least based on the current content I hope it succeeds.

    Some bits of the site are accessible without a membership, including reports on the world championship (the round 5 report is here). They're also transmitting the games live with computer analysis and, as a nice little feature, the time used after each move. (Voila.)

    Their playing zone isn't so attractive yet, in part because it's scarcely populated and there's no simple way to download your games (whether in PGN or some other format). One just selects a time control and waits for the computer to pair you, and it can be a long wait. (But that's just for now; as the site becomes better known that's bound to change.) There's also a tactics trainer feature, which is a nice aspect of the site.

    The main attraction of the site are video series. The crown jewel at the moment is a 12-hour repertoire series on the Gruenfeld by none other than Peter Svidler. (There's a sample here.) No PGNs here either, alas, so one must manually enter the analysis into one's own database, but it's still worthwhile for aficianados of that opening. That, as I said, is the main attraction at the moment, but there are other attractive video series for a wide range of playing strengths. Viswanathan Anand had a few series dedicated mostly to lower-rated players, but some of the later examples in his tactics series can be enjoyed by stronger club players. There's a very good series on Magnus Carlsen by Artur Jussupow, with Jan Gustafsson in a supporting role. Gustafsson has a good series on formulating a 1.d4 repertoire, not so much delving into deep theory but offering a wide range of move order considerations. These can be very useful, and are typically underappreciated by club players.

    There are other elite presenters like Rustam Kasimdzhanov and Matthew Sadler, and still more series by non-elite titled players. Not all of the series are in English - not by any means. German and Spanish-language video series are very common on the site, so if those are your native languages you're in luck. Spanish speakers benefit by the presence of a 2700(ish) commentator, too: Francisco Vallejo Pons.

    The site can surely improve in various ways, but it's pretty attractive even where it is now. They're adding content pretty regularly too, so it's not as if a membership will just get you what's there now and that's the end of it. At this point I wouldn't really recommend signing up if your main aim is to find a place to play online or to look for a place to practice tactics. Far better playing zones exist and there isn't any real shortage of books and sites to practice tactics.

    The salient question is whether one wants a membership to watch their videos. There are excellent video sites on the web (given that I do videos for ChessLecture.com, this claim shouldn't be surprising), but if chess24.com keeps creating video series by 2700+ players it will be hard to beat for that form of chess instruction and entertainment. (Especially for those who also understand German and/or Spanish.)

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