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    Wednesday
    Jan062010

    Karjakin Interview

    Brief, but slightly interesting - and depressing, too. A talented and elite professional like Karjakin can't even afford his own apartment in Moscow? I knew that the situation for Kasparov and Karpov in the old days and Anand, Kramnik and Topalov (and now Carlsen) was something special, but thought that once someone made it into the privileged circle of the super-tournaments as a "permanent" member their ticket had been punched. Apparently not!

    Wednesday
    Jan062010

    This Week's ChessBase Show: Rubinstein 99 Years Ago

    A lot has changed the last 100 years. For instance, the current world champion may not be the strongest player (at least judging by the rating list), but in 1910...it may have been the same story. Emanuel Lasker barely survived a challenge to Karl Schlechter that year, and while he (Lasker) was most likely stronger than Jose Capablanca (the closest approximation to Magnus Carlsen at the time), it's entirely possible that the best player at that moment was the great Akiba Rubinstein (1882-1961).

    During the few years from around 1909 up to the beginning of WWI, Rubinstein was the dominant figure in tournament chess, winning most events and in glorious style. He was an openings innovator who could play sharp and quiet positions extremely well, and his endgame technique was fantastic by any standard - he was probably the best endgame player of the first half of the twentieth century. Unfortunately, the "Great" War put an end to his hopes of playing a title match with Lasker, and after that his nerves worsened. Although he remained a top player, he was supplanted by Capablanca and then Alexander Alekhine, and never again became the dominant player he once was.

    All the same, his legacy to our game is colossal, and we'll celebrate it with a look from a game or two of his from the 1911 tournament in Karlsbad. We'll start with a victory that was decided in the middlegame - his win over Grigory Levenfish (whom we recently profiled on this show) - and then, time permitting, we'll look at the great rook ending he conducted against the aforementioned Alekhine. (If time doesn't permit, we'll look at next week - Rubinstein certainly merits back-to-back shows, and the games are very different in character.)

    To tune in, it's simple. Log on to the Playchess server at 9 p.m. ET Wednesday night (that's tonight, or 3 a.m. CET Thursday morning for those on the other side of the Atlantic), go to the Broadcast room and look for Rubinstein-Levenfish under the Games tab. Hope to see you there!

    Tuesday
    Jan052010

    The Daily Update: Rilton Cup, Hastings, Reggio Emilia and the World Team Championship

    The first two events, both open tournaments, are now history.

    At the Rilton Cup five players entered the last round tied for first, and they all drew their games. Remarkably, not one of the six players in the next score group managed to win either, so it ended with the same players tied for first: Rozentalis, Wojtaszek, Ponkratov, McShane and Lysyj, all of whom finished with 6½/9. Rozentalis had the best tiebreak score, so if there was a special prize for first and if there's no playoff system, it would seem that he would be the recipient.

    At Hastings, round 8 had seen the seven-way tie for first winnow down to a pair of leaders: Istratescu and Hebden. They decided to call it a day after 11 less than thrilling moves and to hope that none of the five players in the next score group would catch them.  Not quite: Edouard defeated Ansell and Howell beat Hracek - in both cases with Black - to join the tie. Hebden, Istratescu, Edouard and Howell all finished with 7 point out of 9. In this case, I know neither the tiebreak nor playoff order (or even if it's relevant to the prize-giving or titles).

    Not quite finished, but almost finished in both the literal and metaphorical senses, is the Reggio Emilia tournament. As usual, it was a hard fought round with all the draws reaching endings. The only game to go less than 40 moves was Almasi-Vocaturo, and that's because White won! It's good news for Almasi, who leads by a point with just one round to go. Unfortunately for Almasi, he'll have Black against his closest pursuer, Kamsky, in the last round.

    Standings After Round 8:

    1. Almasi 6½

    2. Kamsky 5½

    3-4. Caruana, Godena 4½

    5-7. Landa, Jobava, Bologan 4

    8. Safarli 3

    9. Brunello 2½

    10. Vocaturo 1½

     

    Finally, the World Team Championship kicked off today, with the following results:

    Azerbaijan 2½ - Armenia 1½ (Mamedyarov was the only winner, vs. Pashikian.)

    Turkey 1 - USA 3 (But the Turks' one win was very nice: Can Emre - Shuman.)

    India 2½ - Greece 1½ (India was lucky - that's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

    Russia 2½ - Brazil 1½ (The only decisive game was Grischuk's endgame win over Vescovi.)

    Egypt 1 - Israel 3 (Wins by Sutovsky and Postny.)

    Monday
    Jan042010

    The World Team Championship Starts Tomorrow

    Ten teams are playing in this event in Bursa, Turkey, which continues through the 13th. Here are the first round pairings in the World Team Championship:

    Azerbaijan - Armenia

    Turkey - USA

    India - Greece

    Russia - Brazil

    Egypt - Israel

     

    It's a very interesting selection of teams, featuring a large selection of teams with long-running political animosities. If everyone behaves, then I think it will have been a good thing. The selection of teams has caused controversy for other reasons, however. Here's Mikhail Golubev in the latest Chess Today:

    It was indeed a nice move by the organizers of the world team championship - to invite Greece which does not have any players in the Top 100 and not to invite Ukraine which has ten such players (Karjakin already plays for Russia and is not counted).

    C'mon, Mikhail, what have you got against Greece! But he's certainly right that it at least seems odd not invite a team with Ivanchuk (#8 in the world), Ponomariov (#13) and Eljanov (#14).*

    Anyway, back to the teams that are there. You can find the full list here; here are some highlights:

    Azerbaijan: Gashimov, Mamedyarov, Radjabov

    Russia: Grischuk, Morozevich, Jakovenko, Malakhov, Tomashevsky (all over 2700) and Vitiugov (2692)

    Israel: Gelfand

    Armenia: Aronian

    U.S.: Nakamura, and playing second reserve the 2570-rated 15-year-old Ray Robson (he's still listed as an IM, but I thought he earned his 3rd GM several months ago)

     

    * An incidental note of interest. While looking up the top Ukranians' rank on the FIDE top 100, I was quite surprised to note that the top 9 represented 9 different countries. Has this ever happened before?

    Monday
    Jan042010

    This Week's ChessLecture Show: Pawn Phalanxes, Part 2

    In this week's presentation at ChessLecture.com, I present a number of games with passed pawns. Not just any passed pawns, either, but passed pawns in bunches - hordes, even! Have a look and you'll find some of the most entertaining games you've ever seen.

    Monday
    Jan042010

    The Daily Update: Almasi Leads Reggio Emilia, Plus Hastings and the Rilton Cup

    It wasn't for lack of trying (generally!), but only one of the five games today at Reggio Emilia had a winner. It seems every round there's one quick game, and that was Godena-Brunello. For Brunello, who had Black and is having a tough event, it's understandable, but why Godena played such an unenterprising opening is beyond me, especially since he's among the leaders.

    The other four games had much more content, but only Almasi won, grinding Safarli down on the White side of a Ruy Lopez, Norwegian Variation. That put him half a point ahead of Kamsky, who, curiously, used the same uninspiring anti-Caro-Kann line as Godena. He tried much harder, but Landa's defensive play was just up to the job. (Note Landa's excellent final move, 44...c4. Black may draw anyway, but now that there's no Kd7-c7xb6 followed by a possible fork of the a- and c-pawns to worry about, it's easy. Now Kd7-c7 is met by ...Bg5 (for example) and ...Be3. The point is that if White has only one extra pawn on the queenside, then at the end of the day, after two pairs of pawns are swapped off there, the bishop can sac itself for the last pawn. (Meanwhile, White's kingside pawns will have disappeared.)

    Caruana-Jobava was a Classical Rauzer that quickly went into a complicated, unbalanced ending. Finally, Bologan pressed very hard with Black against Vocaturo, with predictable results: he got in trouble. His fighting spirit didn't go completely unrewarded, however, as he was able to save himself (and then try, rather in vain, to win a dead drawn position) in a rook ending.

    With two rounds to go, Almasi has 5½/7, Kamsky has 5, and Caruana and Godena have 4. Since Kamsky and Almasi have yet to play, the event is very much up in the air. (Tournament site here, games here.)

     

    On to the other two somewhat major events, which I haven't been covering. After 8 of 9 rounds of the Rilton Cup in Stockholm, there's a five way tie for first between Rozentalis, Wojtaszek (you might remember him as one of Anand's seconds in the Kramnik match), Ponkratov, McShane and Lysyj. (More here.) As for Hastings, it also finishes tomorrow, but I can't find results from round 8 as of this writing. After 7 rounds, then, there was a seven-way tie for first: Drozdovskij, Howell, Edouard, Hracek, Istratescu, Ansell and Hebden, all of whom had 5½ points.

    Monday
    Jan042010

    More Magnus Carlsen in the Media

    I didn't see it at the time, but Brian Karen informed me (via Chessdom) was featured this weekend on the Wikipedia front page due to his becoming the youngest #1 and youngest 2800 player of all time. Also, though I only noticed the interview in the online edition of TIME Magazine, there was a profile piece as well, which you can read here.

    Monday
    Jan042010

    Goodbye, Kavalek Column

    American (by way of the former Czechoslovakia) GM Lubosh Kavalek has written an excellent chess column for the Washington Post for the past 23 years, but now, alas, it's history. The grand finale is here. In the last few years we've lost Robert Byrne's column and now Kavalek's, leaving only Jack Peters of the L.A. Times among the country's heavy hitters in the fish-wrap media.

    HT: Brian Karen

    Sunday
    Jan032010

    The Daily Update: Reggio Emilia, Round 6: Almasi, Kamsky Continue to Lead

    The rounds get better and better! There was one disappointingly short draw (Jobava-Godena), which was very messy looking when the players called it day on move 21, but the other four games finished with a winner.

    First up, Safarli-Caruana. Safarli's play looked quite original - perhaps a little too original. His Qb1-a2 maneuver, for instance, connected the rooks while bringing the queen to a potentially useful diagonal and in the area of Black's weak light squares on the queenside. The only problem is that with the queen far away from the kingside, Black turned his attention there. White's further decision to play 23.Ne4 and 24.Nxf6+ sealed his own fate - Black's pieces poured in from all directions, and White resigned on the verge of getting mated.

    The next game to finish was Brunello-Kamsky. The Fianchetto Grunfeld with ...c6 + ...d5 is very solid and not at all easy for Black to win, but such grinding positions are right up Kamsky's alley. Brunello's idea starting with 18.Ne4 and leading to an exchange sac was clever, but probably a bit better for Black. Still, White was equal until 29.Nd3? (29.g4, ousting the strong Nf5, or 29.Nb3 to block up the b-file were both better.) Perhaps Brunello missed that after 29...Rb1 30.Rxb1 Rxb1+ 31.Kg2 Qa8+ he couldn't play 32.Kh3 because 32...Qf3 wins - White is powerless against the threat of 33...Rh1 followed by ...Qh5+. He thus had to play 32.d5, giving away the pawn for nothing. Kamsky soon won the a-pawn as well, after which the Q+R vs. Q+B ending was an easy win. That guaranteed Kamsky at least a tie for first at the end of the round.

    Landa-Vocaturo tested a popular line of the Dragon (9.0-0-0 d5 10.Kb1 Nxd4 11.e5 Nf5 12.exf6 exf6 [rather than Golubev's queen sac line 12...Bxf6 13.Nxd5 Qxd5 14.Qxd5 Ne3 15.Qd2/3 Nxd1 16.Qxd1 Be6, generally considered slightly better for White after 17.Bb5 followed by Ba4 and Bb3]).  They followed a 2009 Nisipeanu-Radjabov game through White's 22nd move, and then we have the following options:

    (1) Follow the original: That game went 22...Qa4+ 23.Kc1 Qxe8 24.Qxe8 Ne4 25.Rd1 Nf6 with only a very slight edge for White. Radjabov drew, but White may have some other ways to cause trouble.

    (2) Follow the computer: It also suggests 22...Qa4+, but after 23.Kc1 it's high on 23...Nb3+ - at least for a moment. Follow the line, however, and it reconsiders: 24.axb3 Qxf4+ 25.Kb1 Qh6 and now White wins with 26.Rhe1 followed by 27.Rxf8+ Qxf8 28.Re8.

    (3) Something else: Vocaturo chose to give up the queen without the intermediate check. 22...Qxe8 23.Qxe8 Ne4 24.Rd1 Nf6 was played, and like option (1) White has a small edge. After 25.Qd8 Black might consider 25...Kg7 as a possible improvement, extricating himself from one of the back rank pins. After 25...Nh5 and the queen vs. three minor piece ending that ensued White's edge was more substantial.

    The end was pretty funny. White's winning chances were mostly based on his 3-1 queenside majority, so of course the win came when his 3-4 minority on the kingside turned into a 2-1 edge with a pair of voracious passers. Landa sacrificed his queen for the Black passer, and before creating a new queen (or two) Vocaturo gave up.

    The last game to finish was between Bologan (the comeback kid) and Almasi (the co-leader). Bologan made serious progress against Almasi's Berlin, and would have maintained a winning advantage with 37.Ke1 followed by Bf2 and only then returning the knight into play with Ng3. The way Bologan handled the position with 37.Bh2 followed by 38.Ng3 allowed Black's potentially weak c-pawn become a strength. White eliminated the pawn at the cost of his bishop, and the result should have been a draw. For instance, 47.Kg1 Rg2+ 48.Kf1 (covering e2) Rxh2 49.Rc7+ Kd8 50.e7+ Ke8 51.Rc8+ Kxe7 52.Rxa8 is a dead draw.

    Bologan played 47.Ke3?! instead, and after 47...Rxh2 48.Rc7+ Kd8 49.Rf7? (49.e7+ Ke8 50.Rc8+ Kxe7 51.Rxa8 Rxh3+ 52.Ke4 Rxa3 53.Kd5! gives White enough counterplay to draw) 49...Rxh3+ 50.Kd4 Bf3 51.Rxf6 Bxg4 52.Ke5 Rf3 White would have to fight for the draw rather than collecting it in his sleep. Indeed, he immediately went astray with the losing 53.Rxh6 - 53.Kd6 keeps drawing chances - and the rest was a matter of (slow) technique. (The bishop + wrong rook pawn aspect is overcome by the addition of a pair of rooks.) So Bologan fell back to 50%, while Almasi rejoined Kamsky in first place with three rounds to go.

    Standings After Round 6:

    1-2. Almasi, Kamsky 4½

    3-4. Caruana, Godena 3½

    5-7. Jobava, Bologan, Landa 3

    8. Safarli 2½

    9. Brunello 1½

    10. Vocaturo 1

    More info, and games, here.

    Sunday
    Jan032010

    The Daily Update: Reggio Emilia, Round 5

    I had hoped to have a full presentation of yesterday's round, but was too busy to do so. Nevertheless, I highly recommend that you check out the games, if you haven't already.

    Viktor Bologan continued his powerful comeback, defeating early co-leader Eltaj Safarli to win his third straight game. His play in the very tactical middlegame looked so smooth that I thought it was home prep, but it was Safarli who came up with the first new move with 14...Nb3. (That doesn't mean, of course, that Bologan hadn't prepared for it.) After the forced variation concluded with 21.fxe3 White may have had a slight edge, but after 21...Bxb4? it was a big one. The game soon reached an opposite-colored bishop ending where White had two extra pawns, and it was simple technique from there. From an 0-2 start, Bologan is just half a point out of first.

    Zoltan Almasi - Konstantin Landa looked interesting as far as it went, which wasn't far enough. White played aggressively in the Advance Caro-Kann (that's almost redundant), sacrificing a pawn to keep Black's king in the center. In the end - sadly, on move 22 - White still enjoyed sufficient compensation for the pawn, but whether it would amount to anything tangible will remain a mystery. At any rate, Almasi remained in first with the draw.

    He was caught there by Gata Kamsky, who defeated Baadur Jobava on the White side of a somewhat offbeat Botvinnik System English. (It was unusual, but it's strange that whatever program Mark Crowther of TWIC is using labels it "Dutch, QI and KID Systems".) Whatever it was, it led to a position where Kamsky was able to obtain an advantage by taking control of the light squares. Jobava's 19...a6 may have been inaccurate, as after 20.Bh3 Bxh3 21.Nxh3 (preventing ...f5) 21...Re5 22.Nf4 Rhe8 22.Nd5 White was clearly better. Black could achieve ...f5 before it would be forever too late, or he could protect his h-pawn, but not both. White's advantage was significant but not decisive, however, until the blunder (probably in time trouble) 34...d5, losing the exchange to 35.Ne6.

    Michele Godena could have joined the tie for first if he beat Fabiano Caruana, but his very unambitious opening play gave him nothing. The play sharpened a little at the end, but it only served to make a race: who would give perpetual first?

    Finally, good news for Sabino Brunello, who won his first game in the tournament. His opponent, his fellow Italian IM Daniele Vocaturo, obtained a pleasant advantage with White in the round's second Advance Caro-Kann. Perhaps he didn't handle things perfectly, but he was still a bit better prior to 29.Re4? He probably just missed Brunello's 29...Rxf3!, when after 30.gxf3 Nf6 he was faced with an uncomfortably choice: swap queens and get devoured by Black's minor pieces, or return the exchange while picking up a pawn with 31.Qxb7 Nxe4 32.Qxe4. He chose the latter, and while it might objectively have been a draw at the start of the ending, it was nearly impossible to hold from a practical standpoint. He didn't, and now he (Vocaturo) replaces his conquerer in last place.

    Standings After Round 5:

    1-2. Almasi, Kamsky 3½

    3-4. Godena, Bologan 3

    5-7. Caruana, Safarli, Jobava 2½

    8. Landa 2

    9. Brunello 1½

    10. Vocaturo 1