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    Monday
    Feb092015

    Gustafsson's Marshall Gambit Video Series

    A few years ago Jan Gustafsson did a two-disk repertoire series offering a 1.e4 e5 repertoire for ChessBase based on the Marshall Gambit, and it was the best video series I had ever seen at the time, bar none, and by far. That series was #1, and whatever I'd count as #2 basically didn't exist in the same time zone.

    His new series for Chess24 isn't meant to replicate or compete with the earlier work; rather, it's an update of sorts. The series, called Marshall 2015 (free preview here), only examines one particular line of the Marshall (8.c3 d5 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Nxe5 Nxe5 11.Rxe5 c6 12.d3), along with the Anti-Marshall lines 8.h3 Bb7 9.d3 d5 (in two videos) and 8.a4 b4. If you're a fan of his ChessBase material or a Marshall Gambiteer you'll want to check this out, but if you're looking for a repertoire to get you started you'll want to start elsewhere and come back to this later on.

    Monday
    Feb092015

    Grenke Chess Classic, Round 7: Carlsen Wins In An Armageddon Victory over Naiditsch

    The final day of the Grenke Chess Classic was exciting and very, very strange. Entering the final round, Magnus Carlsen and Arkadij Naiditsch were tied for first, with Fabiano Caruana half a point behind. Carlsen had White against Etienne Bacrot, Naiditsch had White against Levon Aronian, and Fabiano Caruana had Black against David Baramidze. On paper Naiditsch had the fewest winning chances, Carlsen the next move and Caruana the best opportunity to come out with a victory; after all, Baramidze was the lowest-rated player in the tournament, and was firmly ensconced in last place while on a four-game losing streak.

    As it turned out, all three games were drawn, but only after many adventures. Bacrot achieved a lost position in two stages. First, he would have been absolutely fine after the obvious 22...Ne4, but misassessed something and played 22...Nd5, allowing 23.e4. That got him in trouble, but if he had taken the somewhat lucky chance that 27...Nhf4 afforded him he would have been fine. After 27...Re2 he began to slide, and Carlsen was soon winning. He had his choice of wins, and he saw some of them too. Unfortunately, the way he chose allowed Bacrot some serious counterplay against White's king, and Carlsen had to allow a repetition to avoid losing.

    Naiditsch was also better against Aronian, significantly and persistently better, too. Aronian defended well, however, and it doesn't appear that Naiditsch ever enjoyed a decisive advantage.

    Caruana tried for a very long time against Baramidze, and after around six and a half hours, on move 71, he got his one and only chance to win the game. Unfortunately, 71...Kd4 was not an easy move to play, and Baramidze finally escaped with a draw after 85 moves.

    Before turning to the playoff, let's make mention of the one remaining game. Michael Adams initially had nothing against Viswanathan Anand when they reached a single rook ending after White's (Adams's) 30th move. Had Anand played 30...Ra4 it would have been almost dead even, but Anand's 30...Rd7 gave Adams a nibble. From there, nothing much happened until move 55, when Anand chose to play 55...Rd5. As Adams hadn't made any progress with the previous sort of position, this concessive approach seemed wholly unnecessary, even if the position was still drawn after the pawn sac. From there, absolutely nothing happened until move 84, when Anand played 84...Ke5?? and essentially lost the game in one move. Any move that maintained the status quo would have drawn, but Anand's move allowed White to push his pawn to h7 rather than just h6, which in turn allows White's king to achieve a decisive penetration into Black's camp.

    On to the playoff. Carlsen and Naiditisch were to play a couple of 10-minute games. If they remained tied after that, then a couple of five-minute games, and if that didn't settle the issue it would be time for an Armageddon game (White gets six minutes for the whole game; Black gets five minutes plus draw odds.) Carlsen won the first 10-minute game with the white pieces and was in excellent shape in the second game until he goofed with 25...h4 26.g4 Nxf4+ 27.Kh2 Rg5. White was winning after 28.Nxf4, and while Carlsen had the occasional chance in the players' mutual time trouble the trend was almost always in White's favor, and Naiditsch finally won.

    Carlsen began the five-minute games with the white pieces, but this time Naiditsch held the first game comfortably. In the second game, Naiditsch outplayed Carlsen in the early going and enjoyed a pleasant edge. The big upset didn't materialize though. Carlsen held and then took over, and Naiditsch ultimately did very well to save the game.

    So it came down to an Armageddon game, and Carlsen had White this time too. The game got interesting in a hurry after Naiditsch's 13...Be6. It seemed to drop a pawn, but after 14.Qxa6 Qc7 it looked like Carlsen had dropped an exchange. Maybe, but he had compensation for it just as Naiditsch did for the pawn. Ultimately, White had the same micro-edge he had before Naiditsch's pawn sac. Soon the game was trending in Carlsen's favor, and Naiditsch had one last chance to stop the train. Had he played 22...g6 it would have been anybody's game. Instead, he played 22...Qb4, which was a mistake, and followed this up with an outright blunder on move 23. After that there was no saving the game, and under other circumstances Naiditsch would have resigned earlier than he did, on move 32.

    It was a great tournament for Naiditsch, and hopefully he will get another top class invitation or two thanks to this performance from an event outside of Germany. For Carlsen, this was his 23rd super-tournament victory, which puts him in a tie with Vladimir Kramnik and Viswanathan Anand. Good company, and he achieved this a lot more quickly than they did.

    Games here, sans notes.

    Final standings:

    • 1-2. Carlsen, Naiditsch 4.5 (out of 7)
    • 3-4. Caruana, Adams 4
    • 5-6. Bacrot, Aronian 3.5
    • 7. Anand 2.5
    • 8. Baramidze 1.5

    Sunday
    Feb082015

    Grenke Chess Classic, Round 6: Naiditsch & Carlsen Still Lead With One Round to Go

    Arkadij Naiditsch and Magnus Carlsen started round 6 of the Grenke Chess Classic with a half point lead over Fabiano Caruana, and that's how they finished the round as well. Three of the four games were drawn today, with Viswanathan Anand beating the only player who has had a worse tournament than he has; namely, David Baramidze. Baramidze is by far the lowest-rated player and had already lost three games in a row, so this wasn't much of a surprise.

    As for the leaders, Carlsen drew comfortably and quickly against Caruana on the black side of a Berlin, while Naiditsch also drew with black, though Etienne Bacrot made him work a bit longer and harder to get his half a point. Finally, Michael Adams had very good winning chances against Levon Aronian on the black side of an English, but couldn't figure out how to put him away. (The games, with brief notes, are here.)

    The final round pairings are:

    • Adams (3) - Anand (2.5)
    • Naiditsch (4) - Aronian (3)
    • Carlsen (4) - Bacrot (3)
    • Baramidze (1) - Caruana (3.5)

    If Carlsen ties for first on points, then he wins on tiebreaks as he will have won more games than either Naiditsch or Caruana. If Caruana wins tomorrow while Carlsen & Naiditsch draw their games, he (Caruana) will take second because he'll have won one more game with the black pieces than Naiditsch did. I'm not a huge fan of rewarding the ability to win more games than to avoid losses, but I can live with it as *a* tiebreaker. But I've always thought that head-to-head should be the first tiebreaker, and find it irritating that Naiditsch could beat his main rival and come in second (or even third) in spite of that. Unfortunately (from my perspective, but not from any anti-Carlsen animus), head-to-head is their third tiebreaker.

    Saturday
    Feb072015

    Grenke Chess Classic, Round 5: Carlsen Catches Naiditsch

    As usual, Magnus Carlsen has bounced back from a loss in style and with a vengeance, and after his second straight win in the Grenke Chess Classic he has caught up to Arkadij Naiditsch. Both players have 3.5 points out of five, and lead their closest pursuer by half a point with two rounds to play.

    Carlsen was playing the tournament tailender and bottom seed, David Baramidze - with the white pieces, to boot, so his win isn't exactly shocking. Still, it was a nice, typical Carlsen win: he chose a variation (within a mainline opening, it's true) that was slightly off the beaten path, offering a position with plenty of play and no easy way for Black to simplify the position. He maneuvered, increased the tension and created imbalances, and in due course Baramdize erred. 28...Re6 wound up a waste of time, and a further error on move 38 took away all hope.

    Naiditsch had White against Fabiano Caruana, and to his credit he did what few super-GMs are willing to do: allow the Marshall Gambit. For once someone seemed better prepared than Caruana in the opening, and although Naiditsch returned the extra pawn his bishop pair looked very strong, and he surely had good winning chances. Caruana defended well, and although he had to suffer for a long time he never broke, and he remains in the hunt for first - especially given his pairing for the next round.

    The day's other winner was Levon Aronian, who improved his lot in life by adding to Viswanathan Anand's recent miseries. Anand had outplayed Aronian on the black side of a Ragozin, and was building a promising kingside attack before playing 23...Nh6? I suspect he missed something like 24.e4 Qxf3 (Anand played 24...Bxc5) 25.Qxg5+ Kh7 26.e5+ Bf5 27.Bxf5+ Nxf5 28.Rc3! Aronian wasn't immediately winning, but Anand didn't adapt well to the sudden change, and he was losing just a few moves later and then resigned somewhat prematurely.

    Finally, Etienne Bacrot was the only player to make a good case for the black pieces in any of the games, and enjoyed a winning advantage against Mickey Adams. Adams defended well, and like Caruana, saved half a point after a lot of suffering.

    The games are here (I've analyzed the two decisive results), and the pairings for the penultimate round are:

    • Anand (1.5) - Baramidze (1)
    • Caruana (3) - Carlsen (3.5)
    • Bacrot (2.5) - Naiditsch (3.5)
    • Aronian (2.5) - Adams (2.5)

    Friday
    Feb062015

    Book Notice: Leonid Verkhovsky's Draw! The Art of the Half-Point in Chess

    Leonid Verkhovsky, Draw! The Art of the Half-Point in Chess (Russell Enterprises, 2014). 132 pp. $14.95.

    We'll get to the content of this book shortly, but first I must note a few oddities. Mikhail Tal wrote a foreword to the book that is dated to 1972, and the book's back jacket also suggests that the book was written in the early '70s. No problem. Russell Enterprises (RE) often releases new printings of older works, which frankly is a very good thing, as there are some treasures of chess literature that deserve a second lease on life.

    So I start to work my way through the book: Capablanca-Fine, Amsterdam 1938; Capablanca-Nimzovitsch [sic], Kissingen [sic] 1928; O'Kelly-Penrose, Varna 1962; Kramnik-Kasparov, World Championship London (6) 2000...wait, what?

    I started to look around for an explanation. The author's introduction is dated 2014, but there's nothing in there that indicates any modernization. (There's a brief reference to Profile of a Prodigy, dated 1973, but that's the only thing that suggests anything later than Tal's foreword.) There's nothing on the back jacket, no publisher's introduction, nothing. The majority of the book looks like it was written when it was said to be written, but there are a lot of post-1972 examples, some even from the 2000s. Is this a translation of a revised edition, or is this itself the revised edition? It's a surprisingly ahistorical presentation from RE, especially given their usual care about and love for chess history.

    Anyway, let's turn to the book. There are 291 games and game fragments in the ten chapters (plus the introduction), and then the book concludes with 32 exercises and their solutions. The chapters investigate all sorts of draws both actual and merely possible: those achieved with a material disadvantage, draws that could have been had if a player hadn't resigned, draws that were taken when a win was available, counterattacking draws, traps, draws arising from mutual errors, paradoxical drawing ideas, draws (actual or missed) involving zwischenzugs, stalemates, and grandmaster draws in the real, full-blooded sense.

    This slim volume is primarily a pleasure book, though of course one can benefit by trying to solve the positions beforehand. (Sometimes this is impossible, however, as the critical moment often arises after the diagrammed position.) The analysis is generally pretty light, and at least the parts I examined seemed to have been computer-checked, albeit imperfectly.

    I enjoyed books like this a lot when I was a kid, and they were great for growing my enthusiasm for the game. I would recommend the book as a gift for kids whose ratings are north of 1000 or as a semi-gag, semi-serious gift for friends with an inordinate disdain for draws.

    Friday
    Feb062015

    Grenke Chess Classic, Round 4: Naiditsch Wins Again, Still Leads; Carlsen Beats Anand

    Round four of the Grenke Chess Classic was an exciting one, featuring two games that were settled by blunders. In both games the player with Black won and the player trying to conduct a kingside attack lost.

    Since he is leading the tournament and defeated Magnus Carlsen in round 3, we'll give Arkadij Naiditsch his due and start with his game. Playing his countryman David Baramidze, he came up with a very provocative way of meeting the English. The position was practically begging for Baramidze to attack, and he took up the challenge with gusto. First he sacrificed a pawn, then the exchange and a pawn - which he turned into a full rook sacrifice, and then another piece. The last one was one sac too many, and just five moves later Baramidze realized the attack was out of gas, and resigned. Without the last sacrifice, the game would have remained unclear and anything would have been possible.

    Carlsen had trouble with the black pieces against Viswanathan Anand in their world championship match last year, and today he switched openings again, opting for a Stonewall Dutch. After 19...e5 the board quickly opened up, and Carlsen's brave - and correct - 25...Bb2 raised the stakes. White's attack had better break through, or Black's a-pawn would soon promote. Play continued logically through Black's 31st move, but on move 32 Anand made an amazing blunder, 32.Rd7?? It wasn't difficult to refute, and the oddness was compounded by the fact that Anand only spent 52 seconds on the move. Anand wasn't speaking afterwards, so it's unclear if he overlooked something that happened in the game or if he hadn't found the right move (32.Re6). Anyone can overlook something, but the speed with which he executed the blunder was remarkable, especially given that he wasn't in time trouble.

    The other games were drawn. Fabiano Caruana had chances for more against Michael Adams, with the last opportunity coming on move 32. After Caruana played 32.Bc4 rather than 32.Kf3, Adams was able to limp home with a draw. The opening between Etienne Bacrot and Levon Aronian was unusual and interesting before it resolved into a very equal QGD-like structure.

    The games (with my notes) are here, and these are the pairings for tomorrow's round 5 (of 7):

    • Aronian (1.5) - Anand (1.5)
    • Adams (2) - Bacrot (2)
    • Naiditsch (3) - Caruana (2.5)
    • Carlsen (2.5) - Baramidze (1)

    Thursday
    Feb052015

    The "Golden League"?

    There didn't seem to be anything wrong with the Norway Chess, Sinquefield Cup and London Chess Classic supertournaments in the first place, but apparently the thought is that combining these three events and a possible fourth (in Indonesia, naturally) a sort of non-FIDE-based Grand Slam can be created analogous to what goes on in tennis. Players would be participate in three of the four events (which sounds more like FIDE's Grand Prix than the tennis grand slam) and would be open to the top nine on the rating list, plus one wild card for the organizer.

    Apparently Garry Kasparov is at least one of the individuals behind this idea, which suggests that this is motivated in part by a desire to poke a finger in FIDE's eye. Please permit the proceeding prediction, as sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. If this is presented as in any way an attempt to set up an alternative or even complementary system of deciding who the world's top player is, FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov will start scheduling every relevant qualifying event for the world championship to run concurrently with these Golden League tournaments. Just watch: the Grand Prix tournaments and the World Cup, and probably the next Candidates, too, will mysteriously and "coincidentally" start to coincide with the tournaments in Stavanger, St. Louis, London and Jakarta.

    More about the Golden League here.

    Thursday
    Feb052015

    Gibraltar, Final Round: Nakamura First, Howell Second (Updated)

    Entering the final round of the Gibraltar Masters Open Hikaru Nakamura led with 8/9, half a point ahead of David Howell and a point ahead of Pentala Harikrishna, Hou Yifan, Nikita Vitiugov and Axel Bachmann. Nakamura had White against Harikrishna, Hou had White against Howell, and Vitiugov had White against Bachmann.

    The last pairing was the first to finish, a 30-move draw that put Vitiugov and Bachmann out of the running for first. The other two games went a long time, and for a while a playoff between Nakamura and Howell seemed a real possibility. Howell was definitely better against Hou, while Nakamura's edge against Harikrishna was relatively slight.

    The tables turned against Howell, who missed his chances and then tried too hard to avoid the looming draw. He nearly succeeded in avoiding that draw, too, but not the way he intended. Hou was winning, but 45.g5?? let Howell escape. Had Hou won, she would have taken clear second and won £16,000 prize; instead, she "only" won £15,000 for being the top female finisher. (You can replay that game, with my analysis of the ending, here.) Soon after they finished, Nakamura made a little slip in the drawn rook ending that allowed Harikrishna to achieve the draw instantly, and the American finished with a cool £20,000 payday.

    As of this writing, the size of the tie for third place remains undetermined. Behind Nakamura's 8.5 and Howell's 8 there's a large group of 7.5 pointers. So far, there's 

    • Pentala Harikrishna
    • Hou Yifan
    • Nikita Vitiugov
    • Axel Bachmann
    • Veselin Topalov (who crushed Mateusz Bartel with Black)
    • Maxim Matlakov (who very speedily defeated Stefan Kuijpers, likewise with the black pieces)
    • Baskaran Adhiban (another speedy winner with Black; his victim was Ivan Cheparinov)
    • Dennis Wagner (who won with White against Eduardo Iturrizaga Bonelli. Wagner is an IM, but surely not for long.) 

    One more player could join their ranks and that's Wei Yi, who is trying to squeeze out a win in a queen ending against Ruben Felgaer. Right now he is winning with best play, but after 10 straight days and six hours' play there are no guarantees. (You can follow the game here.)

    **UPDATE** Wei Yi did in fact win, joining the nine-way tie for 3rd-11th. He finished the tournament rated 2706.1, making him officially the youngest-ever 2700-rated player in chess history.

    Of U.S. interest: Daniel Naroditsky could have joined the big tie for third with a win, but a last round draw with Dmitry Jakovenko is hardly a bad result, and he gained some money and a pile of rating points with his score of 7/10. Aleks Lenderman and Kayden Troff both scored 6.5, and Irina Krush scored 6. Unfortunately, her last-round victory came at the expense of another American, John Watson. After seven round Watson was in great shape with 5 points, but he finished with a bit of a thump, losing his last three. Even so, he gained a few points with his final score of 5/10, which was not the case for the United States's Rip Van Winkle - Jim Tarjan - who also finished with five points. After 30 years off he's going to have to take a few lumps.

    Back to general interest: John Saunders just tweeted this list of players who achieved title norms in Gibraltar; congratulations to those players as well.

    Wednesday
    Feb042015

    Gibraltar, Round 9: Nakamura Leads by Half a Point Over Howell Entering the Final Round

    The Gibraltar Masters Open is winding up, and it's a two-horse race. Hikaru Nakamura was held to his second draw of the event, this time by Axel Bachmann (who had White and had whatever advantage there was in the game), while David Howell played a nice positional exchange sac against Daniel Naroditsky and slowly outplayed him to pick up the full point. Thus after nine rounds Nakamura has 8 and Howell 7.5, and after them there are several players with 7 points.

    In the last round Nakamura has White against Pentala Harikrishna (7 points), who won rather easily in round 9 against a lower-rated player. On board 2 Howell has Black against Hou Yifan (7 points), who defeated Richard Rapport in a game with a strange finish. (Incidentally, she now outrates her great predecessor by more than 10 points. Not bad!) Finally, Nikita Vitiugov (7 points) takes on Bachmann (the last 7 pointer) on board three. There are five 2700s in the next score group, all out of contention for first. It's a very strong tournament!

    Wednesday
    Feb042015

    Grenke Chess Classic, Round 3: Carlsen Loses to Naiditsch, Who Leads With Caruana

    Round 3 of the Grenke Chess Classic wasn't a display of great chess players at their best, and that could be why it was such an entertaining round. Maybe the one draw wasn't terribly interesting, as Etienne Bacrot and Viswanathan Anand drew in a theory-heavy line of the Berlin ending, but the other three games were lively and decisive.

    The game of the round was of course the battle between Arkadij Naiditsch and Magnus Carlsen, or "Magnus Jobava" as some dubbed him after his questionable piece sacrifice on move 10. Neither human insight nor computer calculation could justify the sacrifice, and Naiditsch looked likely to win until his 31st move. After that a tense equality prevailed for almost 20 moves, but then Carlsen got in trouble again starting with 49...Kf6. (Or maybe before then. 49...Rf4 maintains equality, but Black has to find a lot of subtle and accurate moves to keep that equality.) The final error was 55...Rc7, after which Naiditsch accurately calculated things to the end, and won.

    Two additional Magnus Carlsen-related tidbits. First, this is his second straight loss to Naiditsch; the first loss was in the Tromso Olympics last year. The second was noted by Carlsen in a tweet: this is his fourth consecutive third-round loss. The first three came in the Sinquefield Cup, the match with Anand, and at Wijk aan Zee. He didn't win the Sinquefield Cup, but he went on to win the other two, and as he's only half a point back with four rounds to go his situation is far from hopeless.

    Naiditsch leads though, and so does Fabiano Caruana the latter defeated Levon Aronian. Aronian has been playing poorly (by his exalted standards) since last year's Candidates' tournament, and today's game won't do anything for his confidence. He started with a perfectly decent position, but a series of inaccuracies and errors (perhaps especially on his 31st and 34th moves) left him lost at the time control, and he resigned after Black made his 40th move.

    Finally, Michael Adams bounced back from yesterday's loss to Carlsen with a win over David Baramidze. They played a Closed Ruy with 6.d3, and Adams didn't have much until Baramidze blundered with 16...Ne7?? Adams spotted the position and obtained a won position, and Black's dubious piece sacrifice on move 25 eliminated any last chances he might have had to hold the game.

    Tomorrow (Thursday) is a rest day, and on Friday they'll play round 4, with these pairings:

    • Anand (1.5) - Carlsen (1.5)
    • Baramidze (1) - Naiditsch (2)
    • Caruana (2) - Adams (1.5)
    • Bacrot (1.5) - Aronian (1)

    In the meantime, you can see today's games, with my brief notes, here.

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