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    Monday
    Jan182010

    Wijk aan Zee, Round 3: Shirov Still Leads, Carlsen and Nakamura Chase

    It was a good day for the black pieces, as their users won four and drew three in the A-group. Of course, it helped that the players championing Black in this round included almost all the favorites.

    First and foremost, as long as he's leading, there's Alexei Shirov, who kicked Sergei Tiviakov's 2.Nc3 + 3.Bb5 Anti-Sicilian to the curb in a hurry. White's position never made a very good impression, and 24...Bxg2+ heralded doom for the white king. Seven moves later it had gone from f1 to b4, and with mate imminent Tiviakov called it a day.

    That gave Shirov a 3-0 score, but he's only half a point ahead of youngsters Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura. Carlsen had Black against Loek van Wely, and chose a dubious-looking sac against vW's Exchange QGD. (As I noted yesterday, very little of Carlsen's success can be attributed to his opening repertoire; the guy just outplays people from nothing.) Carlsen soon regained the pawn, then won a pawn and went on to win a double-rook ending. As for Nakamura, he played the Classical Sicilian against Nigel Short, and when the former mishandled the Boleslavsky line Black took over the initiative, won a pawn, and converted easily in a rook and bishop ending.

    The fourth win came from Vassily Ivanchuk, whose victory over Jan Smeets has him in clear fourth at 2-1. This was a Najdorf Sicilian with strong similarities to the Classical Rauzer, and on this occasion Black's queenside play and bishop pair proved more important than White's kingside clamp and extra pawn. White failed to pay enough attention to Black's attacking possibilities, and after 27...a4 28.Na1 b4 it was too late, and Smeets got rolled.

    The three draws were all pretty lame and featured the usual suspects: Leko with either color and Kramnik and Anand with Black. (This isn't to say that none of them ever plays for a win, only that they are relatively draw-friendly against their fellow elites under the given conditions.) Leko-Karjakin saw Gelfand's trendy pawn sac against the QID, but the ease with which Karjakin held suggests that it might soon say 2006-2010 on its tombstone. Caruana-Kramnik was - what else? - a Petroff, and Caruana didn't make the ex-champ break a sweat. Finally, there was Dominguez-Anand, and that was a long game - 77 moves. The number is a bit deceptive, however, as the game could have been agreed drawn on move 33. Dominguez had an extra pawn in a rook and bishop ending, but with all the pawns on the same side of the board and Black able to achieve an ideal defensive formation, together with the fact that swapping either the rooks or the bishops would keep the game a dead draw, this was just an exercise in going through the motions. It probably felt nice for Dominguez to "torture" the world champion without any possible danger, but unless Anand had a heart attack or died of boredom, there were no real winning chances either. (Those interested can see the games with Mark Crowther's brief comments here.)

    Standings After Round 3:

    1. Shirov 3

    2-3. Carlsen, Nakamura 2½

    4. Ivanchuk 2

    5-8. Dominguez, Karjakin, Anand, Kramnik 1½

    9-12. Tiviakov, Caruana, Leko, van Wely 1

    13-14. Smeets, Short ½

    Round 4 Pairings:

    Anand - Nakamura

    Carlsen - Short

    Ivanchuk - van Wely

    Shirov - Smeets

    Kramnik - Tiviakov

    Karjakin - Caruana

    Dominguez - Leko

     

    With the exception of Anand-Nakamura, it looks like a good opportunity for the rich to get richer.

    In the B-Group, Giri was held to a draw, so Ni Hua caught him at 2.5/3 by beating Nyback - with Black, of course. The group's only other winner was Harikrishna, who surprisingly managed to win Q+B vs. Q (no pawns) - with Black - against Anna Muzychuk.

    In the C-Group, Robson was also held to a draw and lost his perfect score. He was caught by Vocaturo, who demolished Van Kampen in 23 moves (with White!), and by Li Chao, who won quickly with Black against Plukkel. Other winners were Gupta, Swinkels and Lie.

    Tournament site here, TWIC page here.

    Monday
    Jan182010

    Nakamura-van Wely, Presented by Nakamura

    Monday
    Jan182010

    This Week's ChessLecture Show: Non-Traditional Queen Sacrifices

    We've all seen typical queen sacrifices, e.g. ones that force a quick mate, for instance, or that exchange the queen for a rook, minor piece and other compensation. But in my ChessLecture presentation this week, I take a look at some very different sorts of queen sacrifices seen in both games and studies. Have a look!

    Sunday
    Jan172010

    Wijk aan Zee, Round 2

    The action heated up today: there were no short, lame draws in the A group, and both Carlsen and Nakamura won their first games.

    Nakamura's win won the game of the day prize, and you can read his comments about it here.

    Carlsen-Smeets was fascinating too, a Botvinnik Variation Semi-Slav that saw Smeets continue the rehabilitation of a line thought dead years ago on account of a famous Kamsky-Kramnik game. Smeets' 25...Bc5 seems to be the first new move, and to all appearances he was doing fine and had prepared extraordinarily well. There was still lots of play in the position, however, and in spite of Kasparov and his database, Carlsen isn't #1 in the world because of his opening preparation. Carlsen kept creating problems for Smeets, who started going downhill with 30...Qd5. (30...c3 31.bxc3 Bxe3 32.Qxe3 Qxf6 33.Rb1 Kc8 34.Rxb3 Qxh6 35.Qxh6 Rxh6 is drawn, while experiments like 31.Bxd4 exd4 32.Qe7+ Qd7 look more dangerous for White than for Black.) A couple of moves later, 32...b5? was a fatal error. (As Peter Svidler insightfully noted in his commentary on ICC, when the pawn is on b6 Black's king is reasonably safe because it can hide from a rook on the a-file on both b5 and c6.)

    Black was thoroughly lost, but Carlsen gave him a reprieve with 38.Rf4? Had Black played 38...Kb6! White's options were a position with no advantage or returning the rook to d4. Unfortunately, the latter would have allowed a threefold repetition, so 38.Rf4 tossed away the win. Smeets had no time to work out his good fortune, however, and blundered the game.

    Neither Carlsen nor Nakamura is leading, however, because Shirov is now 2-0. He defeated Caruana in a rooks and opposite-colored bishop ending, grinding him down in 64 moves. Move 34 was a controversial moment, as Caruana eschewed the obvious 34...Ra8. On ICC, Svidler felt that the move would lead to an almost immediate handshake, while Caruana's decision not to go for a rook swap made the game go longer but without any positive purpose. Ultimately, I think Svidler is right (yes, it's brave of me to agree with one of the world's greatest players), but I also think that Caruana, possibly a little short of time leading up to the time control, may have been afraid of 35.Ra5 in reply. After 35...Rxa5 36.bxa5 White has an outside passer and his king can race to c5. So he might have felt that the trade was needlessly risky, and preferred a little passivity and suffering for the sure draw down the road. It's a reasonable decision, even if didn't work out this time.

    Now to the draws: Anand-Short was a Ragozin QGD that turned out very well for Short, but Anand managed to outplay him a little at a time. It wasn't quite enough, though, as Short just held on in a double rook ending.

    Ivanchuk-Tiviakov showed that the Scandinavian with 3...Qd6 is still viable. Ivanchuk got nothing, but like Anand and Carlsen, managed to outplay Tiviakov and gain an advantage. Like Anand and unlike Carlsen, however, he didn't get enough of an advantage to win, and Tiviakov held the rook ending.

    Kramnik-Leko was short but it wasn't dull, and it was only half-wimpy. Kramnik played very risky chess, and stood worse thanks to Leko's excellent defense. Fortunately for the former champion, Leko didn't feel like pushing his edge, and the game was drawn by repetition.

    Finally, Karjakin-Dominguez was a very sharp English Attack against the Najdorf, and it looks like Dominguez had the better of the theoretical battle before the game wound down to a draw, which leads me to a little tangent. Has the Kasparov era passed us by? I don't just mean this in the sense of Kasparov the player becoming a part of chess history, but maybe Kasparov the analyst is as well. Carlsen (working with Kasparov) and Karjakin (working with Kasparov's long-time permanent second Dokhoian) probably prepare as well as just about anyone else in professional chess, but it's not at all obvious that they prepare better than their rivals. They are every bit as likely to be surprised as to deliver the surprise, so it would appear that the colossal advantage in preparation Kasparov owned over his rivals for the last 20 years of his career has been eliminated or at least greatly diminished.

    A-Group Standings:

    1. Shirov 2

    2-3. Nakamura, Carlsen 1½

    4-10. Tiviakov, Dominguez, Karjakin, Anand, Ivanchuk, Kramnik, van Wely 1

    11-14. Smeets, Caruana, Leko, Short ½

     

    Round 3 Pairings:

    Dominguez - Anand

    Leko - Karjakin

    Caruana - Kramnik

    Tiviakov - Shirov

    Smeets - Ivanchuk

    van Wely - Carlsen

    Short - Nakamura

     

    In the B-Group, Giri won again, and leads with a 2-0 score. Ni Hua and Naiditsch, both of whom also won today, are half a point behind, and Nyback also won today to get back to 50%.

    In the C-Group, it's Robson who leads with a 2-0 score, half a point ahead of Li Chao, Vocaturo, Kuipers and Peng Zhaoqin. Li Chao and Vocaturo drew with each other, while Kuipers and Peng were the day's other winners (in addition to Robson).

    Full results, standings and games for all three groups can be found here. For my comments to Carlsen-Smeets and Shirov-Caruana, click here.

    Sunday
    Jan172010

    Book Notice: Dangerous Weapons: The King's Indian

    Everyman Chess has been putting out books in the "Dangerous Weapons" series for a few years now, and they're deservedly popular. It's in the same genre as New in Chess's "Secrets of Opening Surprises"; to wit, an effort to offer surprise weapons (that might be the name of some third publisher's series, borrowing one word from each of the two competitors) in mostly mainstream openings. The lines are not intended to be one-off throwaways, garbage lines that can only work by relying on the opponent's ignorance. Rather, the aim is to play sound, interesting lines that are either new and not yet well-known, or known but relatively unexplored. These lines generally have a special drop of poison (they are supposed to be "dangerous weapons", after all [are there "benign" weapons?]), but not always - sometimes they are worthy alternatives but aren't laden with any specially trappy ideas.

    Turning to the volume at hand, on the King's Indian, Richard Palliser, Glenn Flear and Yelena Dembo have put together a collection of 14 chapters focusing on 7 different variations of the King's Indian. While main lines in the broad sense are certainly covered, you won't find any discussion of super-theoretical lines like the Bayonet Attack or the 9.Nd2 Classical we've seen in the recent Beliavsky-Nakamura and Gelfand-Nakamura games. On the other hand, whether you play the King's Indian or play against it, this book will give you options before you have to worry about the aforementioned variations.

    This brings up another point, typical of this series: "weapons" are offered to both sides. While nine chapters are written from Black's point of view, that still leaves five chapters trying to help White. Further, from what I've seen so far, the authors are pretty fair. In lines intended for Black, the best White tries are discussed, and in at least one "Black" chapter the author acknowledges that White probably enjoys a small pull with best play from both sides.

    I've liked what I've seen so far, both of the series in general and this volume in particular. While I'll repeat my general advice that players under 1800 shouldn't worry too much about openings, except in a very general way, and focus on tactics and endgames, those who are interested in the King's Indian with either color but want to avoid tons of theory may want to investigate this book. (If you go here, you can get more information and download a sample in PGN.)

    Sunday
    Jan172010

    Book Notice: Mihail Marin, The English Opening Volume One

    Romanian grandmaster Mihail Marin is one of the best chess authors on the planet, and a big reason is that he has the heart of a teacher. There are opening books - even excellent opening books - that are great at providing information (even offering novelties by the truckload), but don't help the reader to understand the broader context. Marin does a better job than any author I've seen at explaining what each side is trying to do in a particular variation, the sub-variation, and at the end of the line; in helping the reader to understand move order issues and the evolution of a variation - and indeed, of Marin's own thinking. One interesting feature of his opening books, that I've almost never seen anywhere else, and then only in passing, is that he will sometimes spend a few pages on a line he won't recommend because it will help illumine something later on.

    The particular book I'm (briefly) reviewing is Marin's 2009 work The English Opening, Volume 1, published by Quality Chess in the same series as the Boris Avrukh book on 1.d4. Over the course of 477 pages, Marin offers a full White repertoire with 1.c4 against 1...e5. Like Tony Kosten's old The Dynamic English, Marin opts for 2.g3, but it's almost always followed by a quick 3.Nc3. Rather than discuss the ins and outs of his recommendations, however, I'd like to present an excerpt that demonstrates the clarity of his presentation. It was taken pretty much at random - there's nothing special about the variation in question from my point of view. It's simply that anywhere you turn in the book, you'll find helpful explanations, and this is where I turned. So:

    (1.c4 e5 2.g3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Bc5 4.Bg2 Nf6 5.e3)

    B2) 5...d6

    This normal developing move is of crucial importance if Black chooses the move order that is characteristic of Chapter 19. [DM: Without worrying about what's in chapter 19, note the very helpful cross-indexing and the implicit mention of move order issues.]

    6.Nge2

    White creates the positional threat of d2-d4. Black can choose between opening a retreat for the bishop with B21) 6...a6 and ignoring the threat with B22) 6...0-0.

    B21) 6...a6

    7.0-0 0-0

    7...Bg4 is premature because there is no pawn tension in the centre yet, and after 8.h3 the exchange on e2 simply gifts White the bishop pair. The bishop cannot retreat to e6 because of d4 followed by d5, winning a piece. After other retreats the extra move h2-h3 is useful for White, as will be seen at a later stage of the main line.

    8.d4 Ba7

    White has occupiece the centre with pawns, but has to be careful to avoid losing stability after an exchange on d4 followed by ...Bc8-g4.

    9.h3

    This generally useful move, preventing the aforementioned threat, prepares a later kingside expansion based on g3-g4.

    9...exd4

    Black releases the tension, hoping to obtain counterplay by building up piece pressure. 9...Bf5 10.d5 more or less transposes to B22.

    10.exd4 Re8

    Preparing ...Bc8-f5 followed by occupying the e4-square.

    The immediate 10...Bf5 can be strongly met by 11.g4 Bg6 12.f4 h6 13.f5 Bh7, as in the classic game Koltanowski-Colle, Belgium 1925. Both black bishops are out of play and White should have simply continued his development with 14.Bf4 +/-.

    10...h6 can also be met by 11.g4 followed by Bc1-e3 and Ne2-g3, or Bf4-g3 followed by f4-f5.

    11.g4!?

    White increases his space advantage and prevents Black's natural development.

    11...h5

    The logical reaction, aiming to make the f5-square available for his bishop by provoking the further advance of the g4-pawn.

    The restrained 11...Bd7 would allow White to consolidate his domination with 12.Bg5 h6 13.Bh4+=. In order to get rid of the pin, Black would have to weaken his position with ...g7-g5, leaving his king much more exposed than White's, mainly because of the isolation of the dark-squared bishop on the other wing.

    11...h6?! would be simply bad because of 12.g5 hxg5 13.Bxg5+/- when Black cannot escape the pin without allowing his structure to be spoiled.

    12.Bg5!

    The start of a spectacular but entirely logical sacrificial attack.

    12...hxg4 13.Nd5 gxh3 14.Bxf6 gxf6 15.Bf3

    In view of the threat of Kg1-h2 followed by Rf1-g1, Black faces a difficult defensive task. The engines are quite sceptical about White's attacking chances and consider that Black is much better due to his extra pawns.

    The course of the following e-mail game (in which, supposedly, the part played by engines was significant) illustrates the machines' weakness in this type of position.

    15...Kg7 16.Kh2 Rh8 17.Rg1+ Kf8 18.Qd3 Rh4 19.Rg3

    Only now did Black (and/or his engine) understand the danger, and retreat his rook.

    19...Rh8 20.Rag1 Ne7 21.Nxf6

    White has a devastating attack, N. Oliver - M. Lane, e-mail 2000. (pp. 77-78 in Marin's book)

    There is of course far more detail in this book than the average club player needs, and especially if you're under 1800 you should be far more concerned with tactics and endgames than with the delicate nuances of the English. But for anyone over 2000 (or ambitious players a little below that) who wants to play the English or just to receive an education in positional chess from Marin, it's an excellent book worth your money.

    Saturday
    Jan162010

    Capablanca Interview

    The interview is not new, of course, as the great former world chess champion has been dead for 68 years. But it is newly translated into English, by the famous chess historian and Jose Raul Capablanca biographer Edward Winter. It's interesting on its own merits and especially so for those with even a little knowledge of chess history, so do check it out.

    HT: Brian Karen

    Saturday
    Jan162010

    Wijk aan Zee Videos

     There are at least two sets of Wijk aan Zee video series floating around the internet. There are those on the official site, which will presumably accumulate on this page. And then there are those from Europe Echecs, which you can watch somewhere on their site, on ChessBase, or below. (Unfortunately, I only have the latest video and not the frame that gives all of them.)

    Saturday
    Jan162010

    Wijk aan Zee, Round 2 Pairings (Group A)

    Anand - Short (the battle of Kasparov WC match opponents without a "K" surname)

    Nakamura - van Wely (the king of ICC against ICC's KingLoek)

    Carlsen - Smeets

    Ivanchuk - Tiviakov

    Shirov - Caruana

    Kramnik - Leko (the battle of former world championship match opponents)

    Karjakin - Dominguez (another rematch: their last round game decided the 2009 tournament for Karjakin)

    Saturday
    Jan162010

    Wijk aan Zee, Round 1: Groups B and C

    Emil Sutovsky beat Dmitri Reinderman's Alekhine. He won because Reinderman botched the ending, but earlier it looked like he came out of the opening with an edge. His 9.dxe5 (after 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.Nf3 d6 4.d4 g6 5.Bc4 Nb6 6.Bb3 Bg7 7.Ng5 e6 8.f4 dxe5) is a lot less common than 9.fxe5, but it looks like a nice way for positional players who like to keep control to meet the Alekhine.

    L.D. Nisipeanu defeated Tomi Nyback with the black pieces, and Youngster Anish Giri upset Pentelea Harikrishna with what might have been some special opening prep. In a 6.Ne5 Slav, Giri avoided the ending of the main line, choosing after 6...e6 7.f3 Bb4 the sideline 8.Nxc4. After 8...Nd5 (only the 4th most popular move) 9.Bd2, Harikrishna went pawn grabbing with 9...Qh4+ 10.g3 Qxd4. The result was a lost position after 11.e4 Nxc3 12.bxc3 Bxc3 13.Ra2, when the problem is that White not only threatens 14.exf5 but 14.Qb3 as well, hitting the Bc3 and the pawn on b7 (and then the trapped Ra8). Harikrishna preferred a lot of suffering to a quick death, so the game went to move 55 - unnecessarily.

    David Howell-Parimarjan Negi was a draw, but another unusual continuation in a similar variation caught my eye. Again we had a 6.Ne5 Slav, but this time Black played 6...Nbd7. That's also a main line, but after 7.Nxc4 Qc7 White eschewed 8.g3 and played the unusual 8.Qd2. Blocking the Bc1 is not normal strategy, of course, but the point is prophylactic. After 8.g3 Black plays 8...e5, but after 8.Qd2 e5? 9.dxe5 Nxe5 White has 10.Qf4, winning a piece. (E.g. 10...Nfd7 11.Qxf5 Nxc4 12.Qe4+ followed by 13.f4 after either knight interposition.) The next moves were funny as well: Black played 8...Be6, blocking the e-pawn, and White replied with 9.e3, shutting in both queen and bishop.

    Still one more unusual opening: Anna Muzychuk-Varuzhan Akobian went 1.e4 d6 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.f4, and White achieved a better position, too, though the game wound up drawn. On the other end of the spectrum, Naiditsch-So was a 111-move draw in a rook and h-pawn vs. bishop and h-pawn ending. So knew how to defend it (one basic error to avoid is to keep the king near the queening square - that allows game-winning zugzwangs, as we saw in Kramnik-Ponomariov from the Tal Memorial back in November.

     

    In the C (for children's?)-group, the winners were Robson, Grandelius, Li Chao and Vocaturo. It's the weakest group, by rating, but year after year it seems to have the longest and hardest-fought games. So although I don't intend to say much about it, I certainly encourage my readers to keep an eye out for their games, both live and after the fact.