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    Tuesday
    Jan242017

    Wijk aan Zee 2017, Round 9: So Still Leads After Almost All the Games End in Draws

    It was a quiet round in terms of results, with six draws in seven games, but there was plenty of turbulence within the games themselves. Magnus Carlsen defeated Loek van Wely pretty easily (clearly better out of the opening, a pawn up 10 moves later, in a clearly winning rook ending about another 10 moves after that followed by a smooth conversion). That brought him back where he was before his loss to Richard Rapport in the previous round; namely, within half a point of the leader, Wesley So.

    So had White in a Vienna Variation of the Queen's Gambit against Levon Aronian, and as the latter was well-prepared it was soon obvious that the game would finish in a draw. So remained in clear first with 6/9, while Aronian was a point behind.

    Two players had an excellent chance to catch up with So. Pavel Eljanov was clearly winning against Dmitry Andreikin in a fantastically complicated game, but couldn't put him away and the game finished in a perpetual. Wei Yi's game with Baskaran Adhiban was quieter (to be fair, most of Tal's games would have been quieter than the Eljanov-Andreikin adventure), but in this game too the player nipping at So's heels should have won, but didn't.

    Of the remaining draws, Ian Nepomniachtchi also failed to convert a winning advantage, though unlike Eljanov and Wei Yi he is nowhere near the top of the tournament table. His fortunate opponent, Penteala Harikrishna, isn't quite in the leading group, but is still close enough to make a run in the last four rounds. As for Anish Giri vs. Richard Rapport and Radoslaw Wojtaszek vs. Sergey Karjakin, those were correct draws.

    My analysis of Carlsen-van Wely is here, and these are the pairings for round 10 (which won't be in Wijk aan Zee, in an implicit rebuke to my labeling this tournament in the traditional way rather than after its current sponsor, Tata Steel):

    • Aronian (5) - Rapport (3.5)
    • van Wely (1.5) - Giri (4.5)
    • Harikrishna (4.5) - Carlsen (5.5)
    • Adhiban (5) - Nepomniachtchi (3.5)
    • Eljanov (5.5) - Wei Yi (5.5)
    • Karjakin (5) - Andreikin (4)
    • So (6) - Wojtaszek (4)

    Things are tightening in the Challengers Group after the co-leaders scored .5/2 between them. Ragger only drew with White against Tari, while Jones was mated by Xiong. Smirin defeated Van Foreest with Black, so now he and Ragger share first with 6.5/9, half a point ahead of Xiong and Jones, a further half a point ahead of Hansen and Lu Shanglei.

    Sunday
    Jan222017

    Wijk aan Zee 2017, Round 8: So Still Leads, Rapport Beats Carlsen

    There wasn't much excitement in Wesley So's game. Sergey Karjakin played a slow system with White against the leader, and by move 22 they were already content to shake hands and call it a day. That meant that Wei Yi, Pavel Eljanov, and of course world champion Magnus Carlsen could catch So with a win.

    Wei Yi's game with Pentala Harikrishna was a short draw with Black in a Petroff, so nothing doing there. Eljanov, however, was winning against Radoslaw Wojtaszek, and at two different points in the game. Unfortunately for the early leader of the tournament, he failed to convert his advantage, and also drew. Still, that's better than what happened to Carlsen. Carlsen more or less equalized against Richard Rapport, but chose a very bad play with 22...d3 23.e3 Ne5. Perhaps this was due to a surfeit of ambition; whatever the case, he was losing two moves later, and Rapport finished with a nice little combination starting with 29.Rb6. It had been a bad tournament for Rapport and a good one for Carlsen, but even so Rapport is too strong a player for even Carlsen to take such liberties against.

    In other games: Levon Aronian demonstrated an interesting new idea in the Catalan and won a terrific game against Anish Giri, and Baskaran Adhiban also won in crushing style against Dmitry Andreikin. Finally, in a battle between players at and near the bottom of the crosstable, Loek van Wely failed to convert a winning advantage against Ian Nepomniachtchi, and they eventually drew the longest game of the round.

    The decisive games, with my comments, are here, and here are the pairings for round 9 (on Tuesday):

    • So (5.5) - Aronian (4.5)
    • Wojtaszek (3.5) - Karjakin (4.5)
    • Andreikin (3.5) - Eljanov (5)
    • Wei Yi (5) - Adhiban (4.5)
    • Nepomniachtchi (3) - Harikrishna (4)
    • Carlsen (4.5) - van Wely (1.5)
    • Giri (4) - Rapport (3)

    In the Challengers section, six of the seven games were drawn, which is very unusual - all the prior rounds had at least three decisive games (and that low number only occurred once, in round 1) and one round even saw seven decisive games out of seven. The only non-draw featured players near the bottom of the table, so the relative standings are the same: Jones and Ragger lead, half a point ahead of Smirin and a full point in front of Lu Shanglei and Xiong.

    Sunday
    Jan222017

    Wijk aan Zee 2017, Round 7: So Still Leads

    Wesley So continues to lead the Masters group at the Tata Steel chess tournament with 5 points, but that is only good for a half-point edge over the troika of Magnus Carlsen, Pavel Eljanov, and Wei Yi.

    In round 7 So had White against Eljanov, and although he had a slight edge in the opening Eljanov outplayed him in the second half of the game, though not quite enough to muster serious winning chances.

    Carlsen really should have caught him, but he faltered badly against Anish Giri. Carlsen played a great first half of the game, and had mate in three (more or less; Black could avoided the mate by accepting catastrophic material losses). With plenty of time on the clock Carlsen missed this and went for another, significantly less convincing winning line, and botched that one too. Giri hung on like grim death and got the draw after 123 moves.

    As for Wei Yi, he joined the tie for second by beating Loek van Wely. Van Wely was badly prepared and was lost after just 14 moves, and although Wei Yi made life a bit more difficult for himself than he needed to he was still in control all the way.

    The day's other winners were Sergey Karjakin and Baskaran Adhiban. Karjakin beat Levon Aronian in what a very nice, clean positional game, marred only by his missing a chance to win the game on move 11. As for Adhiban's win, it was a messy see-saw struggle with Radoslaw Wojtaszek that won't make either player's best games collection.

    As usual, I've annotated all the decisive games, and as a bonus I've included Carlsen-Giri as well, here. Here are the round 8 pairings:

    • Aronian (3.5) - Giri (4)
    • Rapport (2) - Carlsen (4.5)
    • van Wely (1) - Nepomniachtchi (2.5)
    • Harikrishna (3.5) - Wei Yi (4.5)
    • Adhiban (3.5) - Andreikin (3.5)
    • Eljanov (4.5) - Wojtaszek (3)
    • Karjakin (4) - So (5)

    In the Challengers group almost all the leaders won their games, so the top standings look like this:

    • 1-2. Jones, Ragger 5.5
    • 3. Smirin 5
    • 4-5. Lu Shanglei, Xiong 4.5

    Potentially major games in round 8 include Smirin-Ragger and Lu Shanglei-Xiong.

    Saturday
    Jan212017

    This Week's World Chess Column: Taking a Look at the Wijk aan Zee B Group

    The column is here, written before round 6 and thus focused on Markus Ragger's early success.

    Saturday
    Jan212017

    Wijk aan Zee 2017, Catching Up!

    I disappeared for a few days, but the momentous occasion that took place on Friday, the 20th of January in 2017 has brought me back to blogging. I refer, of course, to Anish Giri's winning a game of chess at a classical time control.

    So let's get caught up on the action from rounds 2-6. Pavel Eljanov led through round 4, building on his first round win over Richard Rapport with further wins over Loek van Wely (round 2) and Baskaran Adhiban (round 4) - both with Black. Unfortunately for Eljanov things weren't so great with White: he could only draw with Pentala Harikrishna in round 3 and then lost to Levon Aronian in round 5.

    That dropped him into a tie for second with Magnus Carlsen, who won a couple of beautiful games with the white pieces, first against Radoslaw Wojtaszek in round 2 and against Wei Yi in round 4.

    The leader, however, is Wesley So. Like Eljanov, he has won three games - three in a row from rounds 3-5 - but unlike Eljanov hasn't lost any games. He was in grave trouble against Rapport in round 3, and probably should have lost that game, but Rapport faltered near the time control and lost the game. So's win over van Wely in round 4 wasn't overwhelming either, but van Wely made too many errors leading up to the time control to save the game. So's win in round 5 over Harikrishna was clean by comparison, but there too he didn't play anything close to his best chess, and he was also given a big headstart by Harikrishna's poor opening preparation. If So keeps playing so-so chess, he is not going to win the tournament, but if he can work his way into his best form his chances will be excellent.

    Other notables: Aronian, Giri, and Wei Yi are all +1. Aronian's one victory was already mentioned (with Black in round 5 against Eljanov), Giri inflicted a speedy defeat on Ian Nepomniachtchi in round 6, and Wei Yi's round 4 loss to Carlsen was offset by a win in round 2 over Nepomniachtchi and a round 6 victory over Rapport.

    I've analyzed all the decisive games from round 2-6, here. As for round 7's pairings, here they are:

    • Karjakin (3) - Aronian (3.5)
    • So (4.5) - Eljanov (4)
    • Wojtaszek (3) - Adhiban (2.5)
    • Andreikin (3) - Harikrishna (3)
    • Wei Yi (3.5) - van Wely (1)
    • Nepomniachtchi (2) - Rapport (1.5)
    • Carlsen (4) - Giri (3.5)

    In the B-group (aka the Challengers tournament) Top seed Markus Ragger raced out to a 4-0 start before drawing in round 5 in a game he probably should have won. The co-second seeds also went 3.5/4 in rounds 2-5: Ilia Smirin drew in round 1 before his streak to reach 4/5, while Jeffery Xiong was a further half a point behind as he started the event with a loss to Ragger. (That game was analyzed in my round 1 report.) Oddly, all three players lost in round 6, so the leaderboard there looks like this:

    • 1-2. Ragger, Gawain Jones (Jones's rating is just a touch behind Smirin's and Xiong's, and he's the one responsible for defeating Ragger in round 6): 4.5
    • 3-4. Smirin, Lu Shanglei 4
    • 5-7. Eric Hansen, Jeffery Xiong, Nils Grandelius 3.5

    Tuesday
    Jan172017

    Hans Berliner, 1929-2017

    Former Correspondence World Champion, over-the-board International Master, and computer chess programming legend Hans Berliner died this past Friday, January 13, at the age of 87, two weeks short of his 88th birthday. He was an impressive figure whose work as a chess programmer indirectly affects almost all of us today.

    Do check out the link above for an overview of his many successes in and contributions to the royal game. Berliner wrote a book a couple of decades ago called The System. There are some interesting bits in the book, but overall it's a bit nuts. It is interesting that as a programmer he realized the impossibility of "teaching" the program to play by logic rather than brute force, but then thought that a relatively simple algorithm was the Rosetta Stone to playing the opening better than even world champions.

    Sunday
    Jan152017

    Wijk aan Zee 2017, Round 1: Eljanov the Sole Winner in the Masters Event

    The battle between the top two seeds in the Tata Steel Masters was a bit of a dud, as Wesley So and Magnus Carlsen finished in a short, peaceful draw, as did several other games in the round. And six of the seven games finished with shared honors (or dishonor, depending on the degree of one's antipathy towards draws), with the only decisive result occurring in the Pavel Eljanov vs. Richard Rapport game. Rapport played a slightly oddball opening line and had Black against a higher-rated, more experienced opponent, but it turns out that the opening wasn't to blame. Rapport was fine after the opening and even had a chance to be better. His 15th move was a critical error, and his inaccuracy on move 18 left him with a very unpleasant position. Eljanov soon obtained a dream position where Black had plenty of weaknesses and no counterplay, and confidently brought home the point.

    Here are the round 2 pairings:

    • Aronian (.5) - Wei Yi (.5)
    • Nepomniachtchi (.5) - Andreikin (.5)
    • Carlsen (.5) - Wojtaszek (.5)
    • Giri (.5) - So (.5)
    • Rapport (0) - Karjakin (.5)
    • van Wely (.5) - Eljanov (1)
    • Harikrishna (.5) - Adhiban (.5)

    In the Challengers tournament the battle between #1 and #2 took a different turn. Markus Ragger obtained a serious advantage in the early middlegame, and although an error later gave Jeffery Xiong an opportunity to scrape out with a draw Ragger was the deserved victor when Xiong missed his chance. There were two other decisive games in this section: Jorden Van Foreest beat Erwin L'Ami, while Benjamin bok defeated Tingjie Lei.

    I've annotated the Eljanov-Rapport and Ragger-Xiong games, which you can replay here.

    Saturday
    Jan142017

    Wijk aan Zee 2017 Starts Today!

    The Tata Steel Chess Tournament in Wijk aan Zee begins today (Saturday), about four and a half hours from the time of this post, and stars some of the world's top stars in a 14-player round robin. This includes World Champion Magnus Carlsen, his challenger Sergey Karjakin, and 2016 player of the year Wesley So. Here are the first round pairings:

    • Pentala Harikrishna (2766) - Levon Aronian (2780)
    • Baskaran Adhiban (2653) - Loek van Wely (2695)
    • Pavel Eljanov (2755) - Richard Rapport (2702)
    • Sergey Karjakin (2785) - Anish Giri (2773)
    • Wesley So (2808) - Magnus Carlsen (2840)
    • Radoslaw Wojtaszek (2750) - Ian Nepomniachtchi (2767)
    • Dmitry Andreikin (2736) - Wei Yi (2706)

    Predictions? I'll be patriotic and claim that So will win the tournament.

    Technically, the foregoing is the Masters tournament; there's also a concurrent 14-player Challengers event, the winner of which qualifes for the 2018 Masters tournament. The favorites in this round-robin are Markus Ragger (2697), Jeffery Xiong (still just 16 years old) and Ilia Smirin (both rated 2667), and Gawain Jones (2665). Ragger has White against Xiong in round 1, so both events have #1 facing #2 to start the tournament.

    Saturday
    Jan142017

    The Best World Champion, According to the Computer, Is...

    Magnus Carlsen, according to Chess.com's "CAPS" (Computer Aggregated Precision Score), with Vladimir Kramnik #2, Garry Kasparov #3, Bobby Fischer #4, and on it goes. It's a bit interesting, but the concept seems rather a lot like IM and computer science professor Ken Regan's Intrinsic Performance Ratings (IPRs), which have been well-known for years now - see this profile, for instance. (I didn't see any mention of him or his work either in that article or in this one, which is really surprising.)

    Saturday
    Jan142017

    ChessBase's 2016 Player of the Year: Wesley So

    Wesley So gets ChessBase's vote for player of the year, an achievement I'd concur with as well. Still, Magnus Carlsen had a lot of success last in 2016 too, even if it wasn't a banner year by his lofty standards. Interestingly, in the ChessBase piece Carlsen gets kudos for the game of the year, the endgame of the year, and the move of the year. Not bad at all!

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