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    Monday
    Jun202016

    Amonatov Wins Eurasian Blitz Chess Cup

    In something of a shocker, Farrukh Amonatov of Tajikistan won the Eurasian Blitz Chess Cup on tiebreaks ahead of the well-known GM and blitz specialist Ian Nepomniachtchi. (A blitz event concluding in tiebreaks rather than a playoff strikes me as bizarre, but that's how it ended.) Both players scored 16/22. Baadur Jobava of Georgia and Russian youngster Vladislav Artemiev tied for third (half a point behind), with the former enjoying the better tiebreaks. Three players tied with 15 points apiece: Sergey Karjakin, Peter Svidler, and Vladimir Onischuk.

    Some of the other players further down in the table (in scoring and/or tiebreak order): Igor Kovalenko, Rustam Kasimdzhanov, Ruslan Ponomariov, Boris Gelfand, Rauf Mamedov, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (who led after two days' action), Wang Hao, Alexander Grischuk (the current and three-time World Blitz Champion; he finished 20th on tiebreaks), Le Quang Liem (the 2013 World Blitz Champion), Alexey Dreev (39th!), Laurent Fressinet (46th!).

    It was a brutally strong tournament, so it's incredible that the Amonatov, the 24th seed, managed to win the event.

    Games available here.

    Monday
    Jun202016

    Ivanchuk Wins Capablanca Memorial (Elite Group); Xiong Wins Premier

    Vassily Ivanchuk cooled off a bit in the second half of the Capablanca Memorial, but even finishing with a +1 =4 score in the second round robin was good enough for him to finish with an undefeated 7-3 score, a point ahead of his countryman Yuriy Kryvoruchko. Ivan Cheparinov and Zoltan Almasi both finished on 50%, while the native players Lenier Dominguez and Lazaro Bruzon took the bottom places with 4.5 and 2.5 points, respectively.

    That was the Elite Group; in the "Premier" tournament the very young American GM Jeffery Xiong took first with 6.5/9. He won his first three games in the tournament, then drew five in a row before winning in the last round, and in so doing finished half a point clear of Cuban GM Isan Ortiz Suarez and Polish GM Kamil Dragun.

    Monday
    Jun202016

    Leuven Blitz, Day 1

    The first cycle of the blitz portion of the Leuven rapid & blitz event is over, and the status quo was essentially maintained at the top. Magnus Carlsen led by Wesley So by a point, and led Levon Aronian and Viswanathan Anand by another point. Nine blitz games later, and Carlsen still leads So by a point, while Aronian got half a point closer and Anand fell another half a point further behind. (After that, the closest pursuers are another two points behind and - barring something extraordinary - out of the race for a spot in the top three.)

    Saturday
    Jun182016

    Leuven Rapid, Day 2

    Just to recap: at the end of day 1, Viswanathan Anand was alone in first with 7/10 (3.5/5 on normal scoring, but with everything doubled so that individual rapid games count twice as much as the individual blitz games to be played on Sunday and Monday), a point ahead of Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So. Magnus Carlsen was tied for next to last with 4 points after losing a winning position to Caruana in round 4 and blundering a piece in the opening against Hikaru Nakamura in round 5.

    In round 6, Anand extended his lead over the field with a quick win over Anish Giri. With White in an Anti-Berlin Anand took the better structure while Giri banked on dynamic play, and when Giri played 17...Re8(?) rather than 17...Nh5 the structural considerations took precedence. Soon White was a pawn up for nothing, and the game ended shortly thereafter. Neither So nor Caruana gained any ground: Nakamura played solidly against the former to draw, while Maxime Vachier-Lagrave made Caruana sweat before the latter achieved a draw. Levon Aronian-Vladimir Kramnik was also a stable draw, but the remaining game had a winner: Carlsen defeated Veselin Topalov in an endgame grind to get back to 50%.

    Leader: Anand 9/12, two points ahead of his closest pursuers.

    In round 7 there were four decisive games, and the leader was on the wrong side of one of them. Kramnik obtained only the smallest of edges against Anand, but ground away, won a pawn, and made the rook ending tricky enough that even a great defender like Anand was unable to hold. This enabled So to catch up with an impressive win over Topalov. So played a provocative opening with Black, inviting Topalov to grab a ton of extra space. Topalov took it, but when his center blew up so did everything else. So sacced a couple of pawns to get at White's king, and Topalov gave up after just 28 moves. If Caruana had won, he would have joined the tie for first, and for a long time he had good chances to defeat Aronian. In the end, he overpressed and then blundered, and with the win Aronian closed to within a point (half a point on traditional scoring) of the leaders. The fourth victory belonged to the surging Carlsen, who defeated his erstwhile nemesis Giri with no trouble at all. Giri's e-pawn proved weak in an Advance Caro-Kann, and it soon dropped off the board. Giri could have struggled on, but decided to call it a day after 23 moves. Finally, MVL could have made it five decisive games out of five, but after his 26...Rfc8? instead of 26...Rd8 Nakamura escaped with a draw.

    Leaders: Anand, So 9/14; Aronian, Carlsen 8

    The penultimate round saw more shuffling at the top, headlined by the Carlsen-Anand pairing. Anand had seemed to equalize on the black side of an Anti-Berlin, and although he may have done so in the eyes of the computer there were still problems to solve. Carlsen constructed an ingenious bind, and after 37.b3 Anand was in an absolute zugzwang. He resigned a move later. So would have been in clear first with a win, but he allowed Giri to show some nice preparation in the Semi-Slav reminiscent of some work done by Rustam Kasimdzhanov and Anand from several years ago. The game ended in a draw that's probably on every elite GM's computer if they play the Semi-Slav with Black. So and Carlsen were thus tied for first, and Aronian made it a three-way tie after defeating Nakamura. The American apparently mixed up his Ragozin lines, and Aronian won a pretty easily. In the other games, Caruana won comfortably against Kramnik (and finished with a simple but nice tactic), and Vachier-Lagrave barely avoided (what would have been an unnecessary) defeat against Topalov thanks to a study-like draw after Topalov's 48...h5?

    Leaders: Aronian, Carlsen, So 10/16; Anand, Caruana 9

    The first game to finish in the final round was Anand-So. In yet another Anti-Berlin, So found a clever way to force a repetition, and the game ended in just 17 moves. Anand was thus eliminated from first-place contention in the Rapid, while So - who went undefeated! - was the clubhouse leader. The second leader, Aronian, didn't even manage a draw. Topalov played a very good game against him with White, winning convincingly. That left the way clear for Carlsen, and he outplayed Kramnik with Black to win, going 4/4 (8/8) on the day. Very impressive. It is possible that Kramnik had a fortress in the end - not the fortress he thought he had when he played 47.Nxd5, but with 47.Ne4 followed by g5 and bringing the king up it looks like a draw. Kramnik didn't go for that, and declined an opportunity for a repetition earlier in the event, and Carlsen took advantage. In the one game where neither player had a shot at first, Giri tortured MVL for a very long time in a rook ending, and after a long and stout defense Vachier-Lagrave made the inevitable fatal error and lost. Finally: at the start of the round Caruana could hope to sneak into a tie for first (if all the other results went his way) and played very enterprisingly against Nakamura, sacrificing two exchanges for a couple of pawns. It was a nice idea, but Nakamura kept things under control and was never worse, and eventually (117 moves!) he managed to garner the full point.

    Final Rapid Standings:

    • 1. Carlsen 12 (of 18)
    • 2. So 11
    • 3-4. Aronian, Anand 10
    • 5. Caruana 9
    • 6-8. Topalov, Giri, Vachier-Lagrave 8
    • 9-10. Kramnik, Nakamura 7

    Saturday
    Jun182016

    Eurasian Blitz Chess Cup

    In case the action in Leuven isn't enough for you, there's a super-strong blitz event going on in Almaty, Kazakhstan: the Eurasian Blitz Chess Cup. It started Friday and finishes Sunday, and includes monsters like Alexander Grischuk, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Sergey Karjakin, Le Quang Liem, Boris Gelfand, Peter Svidler, Ruslan Ponomariov, Rustam Kasimdzhanov and many more. After 14 of 22 rounds, Mamedyarov leads with 11.5 points, a point ahead of Karjakin, Farrukh Amonatov, Baadur Jobava, and Kasimdzhanov.

    I haven't spotted any video coverage of the event, but the games are available here and here.

    Saturday
    Jun182016

    The 2016 U.S. Olympic Team

    The identities of the first four players offers nary a surprise: Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So, and Ray Robson. The reserve spot was more closely contested, but in the end Sam Shankland earned his place on the team. It could have been an even stronger team if Gata Kamsky had maintained his level from just a few years ago, but short of Garry Kasparov taking U.S. citizenship and coming out of retirement it's about the best the U.S. can do - and it's very good.

    More here. (HT: Daniel Parmet)

    Saturday
    Jun182016

    Bilbao Lineup

    It's a few weeks off (July 13-23), but the lineup for the Bilbao Masters Final is impressive and offers a foretaste of the World Championship match in November. It's a double-round robin with Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura, Anish Giri, Sergey Karjakin, Wesley So, and Wei Yi.

    Friday
    Jun172016

    This Week's World Chess Column: Out-Sidelining One's Opponent

    What should we do when our opponent's head for sidelines? I offer some suggestions here.

    Friday
    Jun172016

    Leuven Rapid, Day 1

    In round 1, World Champion Magnus Carlsen drew with Black against Wesley So, and the other games finished with a winner. Vladimir Kramnik won an impressive technical game against Hikaru Nakamura on the white side of a Reti; the beginning of a bad run for last week's winner of the Paris Rapid & Blitz tournament. (That said, if Nakamura had chosen ...a5 on move 21 or 22, he probably would have drawn without too many tears.) Viswanathan Anand also won impressively, defeating Maxime Vachier-Lagrave with Black with a well-calculated sacrificial attack. The other two wins weren't quite as clean, but both Fabiano Caruana (vs. Veselin Topalov) and Levon Aronian (against Anish Giri) were deserved winners.

    Leaders: Anand, Aronian, Caruana and Kramnik.

    Less blood was spilled in round 2 - only Topalov-Nakamura ended with a decisive result. Nakamura came out of the opening in great shape, with a rook and two massive center pawns for a pair of minor pieces. Topalov defended well, managed to blockade the position, and after Nakamura played 38...Rfd8? it was a light-squared rout after 39.Bxe5 Qxe5 40.Nh4. Giri-Caruana should have been a second win, as Giri had an overwhelming advantage, but Giri got careless and allowed Caruana a near-miracle draw.

    Leaders: Exactly the same: Anand, Aronian, Caruana and Kramnik.

    In round 3 more strange things happened. Anand blundered a piece against Caruana on move 8 to a straightforward tactic, and then kept playing and pulled out a draw. Almost as strange was the grudge game Kramnik-Topalov. Kramnik enjoyed a two-results ending for a long time, but then he uncorked 58.f6??, blundering a piece to a trivially simple tactic and lost. Aronian had an edge against Carlsen for a while, and certainly should have drawn. In the rook ending, however, everything went wrong for Aronian, who is not the first and won't be the last player to lose a "drawn" rook ending to the champ. Nakamura-Giri was another disaster for the American, whose was lost already out of the opening. Finally, MVL-So was a clean draw.

    Leaders: Anand, Carlsen, Caruana and Topalov.

    Round 4 finally resulted in a single leader: Fabiano Caruana. He was getting outplayed by Carlsen in a complicated middlegame, but in mutual time trouble Carlsen's 43.Bd6! allowed 43...Re5!, equalizing, after after 44.Rf1 Rg5 Carlsen was about to play the correct 45.Rf2 before changing his mind and sliding the rook on to f3. That lost to 45...Rxg2+! 46.Kxg2 Nd4, and Caruana duly converted his advantage. Anand and Topalov failed to keep up, as they only drew with Nakamura and Giri, respectively. So-Aronian was also drawn, while Vachier-Lagrave defeated Kramnik after the latter again blundered a piece (this time in an inferior position).

    Leader: Caruana.

    That state of affairs did not last. In round 5, Caruana lost with White to So; this was the undefeated So's first win of the tournament, and was good enough to put him into a tie for second with Caruana. And in first? It is Anand, who defeated Topalov on the black side of a rather peculiar English (1.c4 e5 2.d3). White was fine after the opening (though not better), so the "blame" for the loss goes to Anand's better play in the middlegame and not to any fault with the opening experiment. Both Aronian (against MVL) and Kramnik (against Giri) had some advantage with White before their long-lasting games finished peacefully.

    Finally, in the remaining game - which was the first one to finish - a sort of miracle happened: Nakamura defeated Carlsen in something other than a blitz game! It was no masterpiece, and Nakamura didn't have to show any grit or find any brilliant ideas. Carlsen just hallucinated or miscalculated - or didn't calculate at all - and straightforwardly blundered a piece on move 11, resigning six moves later. It's not a game Nakamura will brag about, but to finally defeat Carlsen after taking so many lumps from him over the years must still be psychologically huge.

    Here are the full standings after day 1 (remember, the rapid games are counted on a 2-1-0 scoring system; the blitz will have the traditional 1-.5-0 weights):

    • 1. Anand 7/10
    • 2-3. Caruana, So 6
    • 4-7. Topalov, Aronian, Vachier-Lagrave, Giri 5
    • 8-9. Carlsen, Kramnik 4
    • 10. Nakamura 3

    Friday
    Jun172016

    Leuven Rapid & Blitz Starts Today (Friday)

    The schedule is here. This is a sort of companion piece to last week's Grand Chess Tour event in Paris (won by Hikaru Nakamura, with Magnus Carlsen a close second and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in third). The format is the same, and so are the players, except that Viswanathan Anand will participate rather than Laurent Fressinet. Play starts at 2 p.m. local time in Belgium (= 8 a.m. ET).

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