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    Sunday
    Dec062009

    World Cup: Round 6, Day 1: Gelfand Wins in Style

    It was a great day for Boris Gelfand, who defeated Sergey Karjakin in brilliant style - and with Black, no less. This puts him in great shape to make the final, where he'll meet the winner of the match between Ruslan Ponomariov and Vladimir Malakhov, who drew their game.

    The latter game was well-played and had some fight, but it's the first game that will deservedly receive the most attention. To avoid the Petroff, Karjakin played the Bishop's Opening. He didn't get much (if anything), but he couldn't have imagined the bombshell that him on move 11. Gelfand thought for about 14 minutes before playing it, and it was time very well spent. Karjakin wasn't losing yet, but his position became very difficult. Gelfand's strong move seized the initiative, and his opponent never managed to neutralize it. To break the attack, Karjakin had to sacrifice a bunch of pawns, after move 33, down three pawns in an endgame, he gave up.

    You can replay it (along with the draw) here (with my notes) - and you should!

    Sunday
    Dec062009

    Diaz Cartoons

    Jose Diaz is a well-known chess cartoonist, but his work probably deserves to be better known than it is. Here's an easy opportunity to get acquainted with it if you're not already: visit his website! I'm a big fan of his cartoons from Wijk aan Zee 1999, and only hope the Corus team hires him to do some more this year.

    Saturday
    Dec052009

    A Cautionary Note to Parents of Chessplaying Kids

    First, here's a link to a sad story about a well-known American chess teacher, recently apprehended in Belize. (HT: Brian Karen) This seems like a propitious occasion to quote some advice I offered four years ago, on the previous edition of the blog:

    First of all, if you're a chess teacher, REFUSE to be the sole chaperone of ANY kids you didn't bring into the world. I have turned down several opportunities to earn some extra income by driving kid x to a tournament, and I simply won't do it. (I'm referring to driving a male child. All this gets raised exponentially if we're talking about a female student.) If the child is a minor, then even he's big enough to physically damage me, I'm not going anywhere with him in the absence of another adult, preferably one of his parents. Everyone stays out of trouble that way, and if you're a good teacher, you'll make plenty of money anyway.

    Second, for parents: follow this same rule. If you can't bring your kid to a tournament, then he doesn't go. Or if he or she does go, this only happens when there are multiple adult chaperones, who do not stay in kids' rooms. In fact, I'd say that unless there's a medical emergency, no adult should ever be by him- or herself in a kid's room. Further, unless these chaperones have been investigated by the school district, forget about it. A freelance guy like me should NEVER be the chaperone, even if I'm with my wife, another chessplayer or instructor, whatever, if it involves situations where I could be out of the public eye with a child. (Part of a group, sure, as long as the group has some sort of worthy accreditation and, again, no one is ever alone with the kids.)

    All this seems like common sense to me, just as (male) pastors should never counsel women behind closed doors, teachers should never be in an office with students of the opposite sex behind closed doors, etc. Instructors (or parents, if they take off work to take their kids) might lose a little money, and kids might miss out on opportunities to play every now and then, but that's life. Chess teachers won't have to worry about false rumors, and parents will have a lot less to worry about with their kids.

    Saturday
    Dec052009

    World Cup: Round 5, Day 3: Gelfand and Ponomariov Advance

    Boris Gelfand and Ruslan Ponomariov have both earned a spot in the semi-finals, and they did so in the minimum number of tiebreak games. For Gelfand, the path to success against Dmitrij Jakovenko started with an easy hold in the Petroff, followed by a convicing win against the Ragozin and a strong win with Black against the Shabalov-Shirov Gambit in the Semi-Slav.

    Ponomariov's route wasn't as smooth, but he too wound up with 2.5-0.5 tiebreak score against Vugar Gashimov. In the first game, Ponomariov was getting outplayed, but his wild idea with 38.Rb1 and 39.Rxb6 randomized things. Gashimov was winning, and could have bailed out several times to achieve an easy draw (even on the game's penultimate move), but considering the time pressure, stress, exhaustion and disbelief it's not surprising that he lost. In game 2, Gashimov overpressed a bit, and then it was back to the normal, Karpovian Ponomariov again. He ground him down to take a 2-0 lead. Gashimov tried to imbalance things in game three, but Ponomariov always had things in hand, and could have played for a win had he needed to. (Of course, in a different situation Gashimov wouldn't have taken the same risks.) Instead, he kept it nice and safe, and coasted to an easy draw.

    (All the tiebreak games, with my comments, are here.)

    We're down to the semi-finals now, and here are the pairings:

    Gelfand-Karjakin

    Ponomariov-Malakhov

    Who will win? The favorite, the ex-champ, the second-best player born in 1990 with the second-best second, or the dark horse?

     

    Friday
    Dec042009

    This Week's ChessVideos Show: More High- (and Low-) Lights from the World Cup

    Last time, I looked at some blunders from the World Cup; this time, it's a couple of blitz highlights from round 4. In this week's presentation for ChessVideos, I examine the rook and bishop ending from the second Jakovenko-Grischuk blitz game, and then present the second Gelfand-Vachier Lagrave blitz game in its entirety. The first game wasn't exactly characterized by its overwhelming accuracy, though it had its instructive moments, but the second game was very impressive.

    I hope you'll have a look. The show is free (free registration is the only pre-requisite, if you haven't fulfilled it already), and will be available on-demand for the next month or so.

    Friday
    Dec042009

    World Cup: Round 5, Day 2: All Draws

    Those who drew yesterday took the day off to rest and prepare for the tiebreaks. Both Jakovenko-Gelfand and Gashimov-Ponomariov were drawn after 15 uneventful moves.

    For Svidler and Mamedyarov, who both lost yesterday, it was another matter. Svidler had the hardest task, as he needed to win with Black. He did what he could, switching from his beloved Grünfeld to the King's Indian and trying 6...Nbd7 rather than the Classical 6...Nc6. All the same, it was to no avail, as Malakhov kept things under control and drew easily.

    Mamedyarov had real chances against Karjakin, however. A tough and even battle turned into a golden opportunity for Mamedyarov when his opponent lost the thread shortly before move 30. Had White played 30.Nxd5, it's likely that their match would have continued tomorrow, but after missing it his residual advantage wasn't enough to win.

    Karjakin thus makes his second straight semi-final appearance in a World Cup, and will face the winner of the Gelfand-Jakovenko match, while Malakhov will take on either Gashimov or Ponomariov.

    Today's games, with my comments to the ones with a genuine fight, are here.

    Thursday
    Dec032009

    World Cup: Round 5, Day 1

    Only four games today, and one of them - Gelfand-Jakovenko, was drawn quickly. The other three games were eventful, and two of them had a winner.

    Ponomariov-Gashimov wasn't one of them, but it could have been. In a well-played Modern Benoni, Gashimov gradually gained the advantage in a very sharp position, but missed his best chance on move 27. His next move was a mistake too, and now Ponomariov could have won serious material with 29.f3. He missed his chance too, and afterwards the play was strong and balanced, and a draw was agreed after 42 moves.

    Svidler-Malakhov was brief but exciting. Svidler started sacrificing for an attack, and rightly so. He was probably winning with 25.Qxh4, but after 25.Ba2? he was lost.

    Finally, Mamedyarov's great run has come to an end (or at least a major speed bump). He had won every match in regulation, going 7/8 overall, but now he has to hope for a tiebreaker. With White, Karjakin was better for a long time in an Open Ruy, but Black could have held the rook ending. He didn't, and Karjakin joined Malakhov in the winner's circle.

    Games, with my comments, here.

    Thursday
    Dec032009

    World Cup: Round 4, Day 3 (Tiebreaks)

    It's no longer a 3G network, but two of the Gs - Gelfand and Gashimov - survived. For Gashimov it was pretty easy, beating Caruana in the first two rapid games and drawing the third, but for Gelfand it was only in the 6th tiebreak game, the second in their blitz mini-match, that sufficed to knock off Vachier-Lagrave. As for the third G, Grischuk went down 2-0 to Jakovenko in their blitz mini-match.

    As for the feel-good story of Wesley So, this chapter has come to an end, as Malakhov wiped him out 3-0 in the rapid games. Finally, in one of history's dullest matches, Bacrot forgot to draw the ending of their fourth rapid game, and was eliminated by Ponomariov. We can all wake up now.

    Games of note: the first Caruana-Gashimov game was really wild, and my impression when I first saw it was that Gashimov had fallen into some amazingly deep tactical preparation. Impressively, Gashimov took the material, held on, and won. In the first Malakhov-So game, So looked outclassed, but he was right back in game two, pushing all the way. Unfortunately, he pushed a bit too hard and committed an act of chess hara-kiri.

    All four blitz games (from Jakovenko-Grischuk and Gelfand-Vachier Lagrave) were very interesting. Starting with the first blitz round, Grischuk with White seemed to have the better deal: two weak black pawns to only one of his own, but somehow it was White's weaknesses that wound up being more significant. Meanwhile, Gelfand, with Black, had an extra pawn in return for significant suffering. It took him quite a while, but he finally overcame everything and could start trying to use his pawn - only to blunder with 46...Bc7+?? He was extremely fortunate that he could still draw after that, and it's a testament to his competitive character that he came back and won in the next game - and impressively too. As for Grischuk's second game, he was pressing hard and had some chances - only to fall comically into mate at the very end.

    We're down to the final eight now - all from the countries of the former USSR! (Gelfand is not an exception: he has lived in Israel for about a decade, but he's from Belarus.) Here are the pairings:

    Gelfand - Jakovenko

    Mamedyarov - Karjakin

    Gashimov - Ponomariov

    Svidler - Malakhov

    Who's the favorite? Mamedyarov has at least one advantage: he should be well-rested, as he hasn't had to play a single tiebreak! (Ironically, Akobian played twice as many games in the first round as Mamedyarov has the entire event.) Better still, he has had two days off, thanks to Laznicka's absurd 13-move draw. Gelfand is the top seed and highly experienced, and Svidler's résumé is just as impressive. Ponomariov can boast of having won one of these before - for the FIDE World Championship, no less. Karjakin was a semi-finalist back in 2007 and won one of this year's super-tournaments, so his credentials are pretty good too. Only Jakovenko and Malakhov are slight outsiders, but not much, especially since Jakovenko was rated as high as 2760 earlier this year. Whatever happens, let's just hope the chess is good!

    (Games here.)

    Thursday
    Dec032009

    Anand-Topalov: A Date is Set

    Their 2010 World Championship match is set to start in April. The opening ceremony will be on the 21st and the first game on the 23rd. They'll play two days, take a day off, play two more days, etc. If the match goes the distance, the last regular game will be May 9, followed if necessary by tiebreaks on the 10th.

    More details here.

    Wednesday
    Dec022009

    This Week's ChessBase Show: Lasker-Blackburne, London 1899

    London 1899 was a great triumph for then world champion Emanuel Lasker. He won the 27-round double round-robin (Teichmann dropped out after the first cycle) by 4½ points over a strong field that included Maroczy, Pillsbury, Schlechter and Chigorin. He only lost one game, to a player whose name, but little else, is known to contemporary chess fans.

    That player was Joseph Henry Blackburne (1841-1924), nicknamed “the Black Death”. He learned the game late, at the age of 19, but just two years later defeated Wilhelm Steinitz in a tournament game! It took him another decade or so until he was a top player, and while he was outclassed by the very best players (clearly demonstrated by the 7-0 thrashing he received in an 1876 match with Steinitz) he remained one of the world’s best until his early 60s. (In 1914, several months before his 73rd birthday, he drew a game with Alekhine.)

    But back to Lasker-Blackburne. Lasker was in fine form in London, but in this game he was no match for Blackburne. At times in the opening and early middlegame, you can clearly see that this is an old-time game, but at a certain point the light turns on and Blackburne’s play is forceful and beautifully logical. From move 18 on, it’s a game that could have been played by one of today’s elite GMs, and in the end even the great and resourceful Lasker cracks under the pressure.

    It’s an entertaining game, but is it instructive? The answer is yes: Blackburne’s attacking buildup was very logical, and the very flawed opening is helpful to us as well. By putting some positional errors on clear display, we’re able to gain a better understanding of how that opening line is supposed to work, and that’s going to be useful to someone on either side of the board. You will definitely enjoy the game, so I hope you’ll join me tonight – Wednesday night – at 9 p.m. ET (that’s Thursday morning at 3 a.m. CET) in the Broadcast room. Look for Lasker-Blackburne in the games window, select it, and you’re ready to go: it’s free for Premium members.

    See you then!