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    Wednesday
    Nov252009

    A Nice Rook Ending: Can You Win It?

    Here's a position from an old game: Mititelu-Barcza, Budapest 1960. It's Black to move, and it's on the verge of being drawn:

    Is there a way for Black to make any trouble here, and maybe even win this? I'll give the solution later tonight, or tomorrow at the latest.

    Wednesday
    Nov252009

    Dangerous Brains?

    That's the title of an interesting essay by Hans Ree on the Chess Cafe website (but without the question mark). Are chess players to blame for the current financial crisis?

    Wednesday
    Nov252009

    World Cup, Round 2, Day 2: The Empire Doesn't Strike Back

    Not much, anyway. Of the Fantastic Four who lost yesterday (Svidler, Morozevich, Radjabov and Ivanchuk) only Svidler won to earn a spot in tomorrow's tiebreaks. The 2729-rated Pavel Eljanov also managed to bounce back from yesterday's defeat to Ernesto Inarkiev, but to "make up" for it Alexei Shirov lost to Sergey Fedorchuk and will also have to play tomorrow.

    USA report: all four games were drawn, which means that Kamsky advances, Onischuk goes home, and Akobian and Shabalov will have playoffs tomorrow against Ponomariov and Navara, respectively.

    There will be plenty of action (and maybe plenty of blunders) tomorrow, as 16 matches (half of the total) are going to tiebreaks.

    Full results and games here, while the best brackets can be seen here.

    Tuesday
    Nov242009

    This Week's ChessBase Show: Karpov-Timman, Mar del Plata 1982

    After Bobby Fischer and before Magnus Carlsen, the "Best in the West" was the Dutch grandmaster Jan Timman. Twice a world championship finalist (if only of the FIDE variety during the split title era), Timman was for many years the most consistently successful player outside the USSR (and once it fell, the countries that comprised it). Timman is also a fine author and study composer, but it is his over the board play we'll examine in our show this week.

    Timman played many games against former world champion Anatoly Karpov - including two title matches - and while Karpov had (much) the better score overall, Timman got in his licks too, beating Karpov no fewer than 11 times over the course of their rivalry. Their games were generally very rich in content (with few short draws), and we will see just such a game in this week's show. Played in Mar del Plata in 1982 - won by Timman, who was two points ahead of Karpov! - Timman played a Scheveningen Sicilian, allowing the then-feared Keres Attack, and gradually outplayed Karpov in a fine game.

    This was an exceptional performance on several levels. First, beating Karpov was extraordinarily difficult in those days, especially with the black pieces. Second, to do so in one of Karpov's favorite lines was even more impressive, and to do it by outplaying one of the greatest positional players of all time (maybe even the greatest) is the icing on the cake. It's an instructive game too, so I hope you'll join me as we take a closer look this Wednesday night at 9 p.m. ET (that's 3 a.m. CET for my overseas viewers). To watch, log on to the Playchess.com server at that hour, go to the Broadcasts room and then find and select Karpov-Timman under the Games tab.

    Watching is easy, the show will be fun, and I hope to see you there.

    Tuesday
    Nov242009

    World Cup, Round 2, Day 1: If All the Favorites Lose, Are They Really the Favorites?

    Today's round was seriously weird. Boards 1 and 2, Gelfand and Gashimov, drew their games (Gelfand easily and quickly with Black, Gashimov with White), but after that it was disaster-time for the favorites. Nyback got a nice advantage against Svidler from the opening and carried it through as if he were the favorite. (One key moment was when Nyback played 30.e6. Objectively, this could have lost the advantage if Svidler played 30...Qf5, but after 30...Rxe6? 31.Ng5 his one opportunity was gone and Nyback reeled him in.)

    Of course, Svidler had Black; we'd expect more from Morozevich with White. Sure enough, he got an advantage against Laznicka, and he would have maintained it by taking the exchange with 16.Bxb6. He decided that other goals were more pressing, but by the time he cashed in with 24.Bxb5, he was lost and never had a ghost of a chance to catch up.

    Board 5: Radjabov was Black against Sakaev, but since he was playing his baby, the King's Indian, we'd expect good things. In fact, as far as the opening was concerned, Radjabov did fine. The position was roughly equal for most of the game, but at the end Black self-destructed, staying in a pin on the f-file that wouldn't have been serious, had Black not opened the queenside for the benefit of White's king.

    Ok, but surely we can trust Vassily Ivanchuk - Mr. Dependable - on board 6? Just kidding, especially in today's round! He and Filipino talent Wesley So had a real slugfest going, and when Ivanchuk rejected one drawing possibility too many So cashed in on his extra material.

    On the lower boards, things went back to normal. One other 2700 lost (Eljanov, to Inarkiev), but most of the rest won: Grischuk, Jakovenko, Wang Yue, Mamedyarov, Shirov, Wang Hao and Bacrot all put a "1" on their side of the wall chart.

    Turning to "local" interest, it was a mixed day for the American contingent. Akobian and Shabalov drew with Ponomariov and Navara, respectively, albeit with White. Onischuk lost with Black to Naiditsch, but Kamsky won with Black against Zhou Weiqi. More good news for Kamsky, potentially, was Sutovsky's first round ouster - ironically against the aformentioned Zhou Weiqi. When Kamsky won the last World Cup, back in 2007, it was Sutovsky's early exit that made all the difference. Sutovsky was immediately employed as Kamsky's second, and his theoretical prep may have given Kamsky the boost he needed to win. If they have the same professional relationship this time around, it's possible that the American will be a dark horse in this event as well.

    Full results and replayable games here.

    Monday
    Nov232009

    World Cup Results: Round 1, Tiebreaks

    Worst. Chess. Ever.

    I've never seen such bad chess from great players with their eyes open, at least not in these quantities. This might be unprecedented.

    But first, let me set the stage and discuss today's goings-on. Of the 64 first-round matches, 20 (not 19, as I miscounted earlier) were tied after the two "classical" games. (Or rather, what passes for classical chess now, thanks to FIDE. The time control is 90 minutes for the whole game, with 30 second increments and an additional 30 minutes given after move 40.) It used to be that the first round of tiebreakers was just two rapid (25' + 10") games, but now it's four. If it's still tied after that, then two games at 5' + 3", if still tied than another two at the same time control, and then two more, and then two more...in all, the players are given five blitz mini-matches before they are forced into an Armaggedon game where White gets 5 minutes to Black's 4 minutes + draw odds.

    Of the 20 matches, seven were settled after three rapid games, and seven more ended after the fourth game. That left six matches going to blitz, of which all but one - Tregubov-Akobian - ended with a winner. That match seemed to go on forever, before Akobian won three in a row and put Tregubov out of his misery by a 9-7 score.

    In the remainder of the post, I'll discuss upsets, games without blunders that caught my eye, and then finally enumerate the blunders I noted. (There may be more.) First, the upsets: Dominguez, Navara and Bacrot survived (in Navara's case with a bit of luck, as he was lost in game 4), but Sargissian lost to Li Chao, Sutovsky lost to Zhou Weiqi and Tiviakov lost to Iturrizaga. (In the other matches, the ratings were close enough that the upsets weren't that significant.)

    Next, the good and the interesting. In round 1.3, Shabalov resigned after 12 moves, which struck me as a pretty clever decision. Objectively, he was lost, but he could have kept going. The decision seemed to me motivated by a desire to forget the game as quickly as possible and to rest up and prep for the next game - and it worked!

    Moving on to round 1.5, I was impressed by Zhou Weiqi's technique against Sutovsky, found Shabalov-Baklan a very entertaining draw, and was both impressed and amused by Khalifman-Fier. Khalifman's strong play impressed me, while Fier deserved a (sarcastic) good sportsmanship award for continuing around 20 moves down a piece for absolutely nothing against the former FIDE World Champion. In the same round, Negi-Milov was an Evans Gambit, showing the hand of Nigel Short on the young Indian. The disastrous way the game ensued for White might have left Short wishing he could be dead for a moment so he could spin in his grave. Milov declined the gambit and obliterated Negi. Finally, Akobian-Tregubov was an excellent technical win by the American.

    In round 1.6, Tiviakov had White against Iturrizaga and theoretically the better chances to win the match, but he missed the nice shot 25...Nf3! and lost the game and the match. Baklan-Shabalov was another crazy game, and at the finish Shabalov had a rook against five(!) pawns. The game was drawn, but I'd be shocked if Shabalov wasn't winning until very near the end. (To his credit, despite all the setbacks I mentioned, Shabalov went on to win this match!) Savchenko-Shulman was funny in its own way, ending with Shulman being forced to give mate with bishop and knight. One of the curious aspects of the game was that it reached a position where Shulman had bishop and knight against a single, thoroughly stopped pawn. Rather than just winning it and giving mate, though, Shulman made 25 pointless moves first and only then captured it. I find it hard to believe a grandmaster of Shulman's caliber - in fact, a grandmaster of any caliber - needs more than the 10 second increments to perform the mate, but it was pretty smart of Shulman all the same. Supposing he gained eight seconds on his clock each time, that gave him an additional 200 seconds, which could come in handy just in case he happened to find himself stumped at some moment or other. My best guess, however, is that Shulman's interest in accumulating all that time had less to do with OTB worries and more to do with taking a restroom break. (If anyone knows, confirmation would be appreciated!)

    Now to the blitz rounds. In round 1.7, Akobian obtained two bishops vs. two knights, but it was a candidate for the worst bishop pair ever, and he got crushed. Andreikin-Nyback saw 1.Nc3 e5?!, and Nyback only just held on by a thread. (1...d5! is probably the best response, but anything other than 1...e5 is fine.) In round 1.8, Shabalov tried the Smith-Morra Pawn Loss Gambit against Baklan's O'Kelly Sicilian, and went on to win (though Baklan declined with 4...d3).

    On to part 3: blunders! There are so many it's incredible, but rather than describe them here I'll let you see them for yourself - have a look here.

    As for results and all the games, you can find them here, while pairings for round 2 are...I don't know where. If someone has seen a nice bracket chart, please post the location in the comments.

    Sunday
    Nov222009

    World Cup Results: Round 1, Sub-Round 2

    Most of the big favorites finished off their foes, but quite a few matches are headed for tiebreaks tomorrow, while some matches were won by the higher-rated players.

    On boards 1-14, the favorites won and can take tomorrow off. On board 15, heroic defense by David Smerdon let him stay alive against Leinier Dominguez, and they're going to tiebreaks. On board 16, we had our biggest upset of the first round, as Chinese prodigy Yangyi Yu upended Sergei Movsesian 1.5-.5. Two other 2700s will be playing tomorrow: David Navara, who lost today to Darwin Laylo, and Etienne Bacrot, who has drawn twice with Friso Nijboer. Another upset worthy of note is that of former 2700 Bu Xiangzhi, who lost 1.5-.5 to Yannick Pelletier.

    Turning to the U.S. results, our guys have followed "tradition" and generally left the scene.

    Tomashevsky - Ivanov 1.5-0.5

    Friedel - Wang Hao 0-2

    Jobava - Robson 1.5-0.5

    Hess - Motylev 0.5-1.5

    Kamsky - Antonio 1.5-0.5

    Onischuk - Flores 1.5-0.5

    Smirin - Ehlvest 1.5-.0.5

    Shabalov - Baklan 1-1 (Shabalov led, lost game 2)

    Savchenko - Shulman 1-1

    Akobian - Tregubov 1-1 (Akobian also lost game 2, losing an elementary rook ending)

     

    If I've counted correctly, 19 matches are going into playoffs, so there will be plenty of action tomorrow. The full standings are here, while you can find a number of games, with my brief comments, here.

    Saturday
    Nov212009

    An Anand Interview

    Everyone wants press these days; if not, they're getting it anyway. Earlier we had Kramnik, Carlsen and Aronian, and now it's Anand's turn - have a look.

    Saturday
    Nov212009

    Chess Books and "Chess" Books at the Internet Archive

    There are lots of free downloads at the internet archive, including lots of chess books. Not all of the books there are especially interesting, and some (e.g. all four entries of Soviet Chess by Wade) turn out not to be of chess at all, but it's still worth a browse. (HT: Tim Cianciola.)

    One entry I found interesting and then amusing was Frank Marshall's Marshall's Chess Openings. Some things he says there look reasonable, and a lower club player can get some good general ideas from the book. On the other hand, it's pretty funny to read claims like 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 is slightly better for Black, or that Black's best defense to the Ruy is 3...f5.

    At a deeper level, I found the book provocative. My first reaction, especially upon seeing such categorical remarks, was to laugh at how primitive opening theory was at the time - even considering that he was writing for the general public at a time when amateur play was far more casual. But then I thought about some of my games against average club players, and realized how thin their opening knowledge really is, too, most of the time; especially when they're not in a pet opening. (One memorable tournament occurred in 2004 when, incredibly, in 6 of my 7 games I had a significant advantage by move 6!) Maybe there's a place for such primitive books in chessplayers' libraries after all. They can outgrow them, and hopefully quickly, but maybe it's a place to start.

    Saturday
    Nov212009

    UConn 33-Notre Dame 30 (2 OT): Almost Everyone Wins!

    UConn wins, obviously, because they won the game. And Notre Dame wins too, because this makes it really likely they'll start shopping for another coach in exactly seven days. The only person who loses is Charlie Weis, but if he's able to move to another job where he can thrive, then everyone wins.