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    Sunday
    Dec282014

    Komodo Wins TCEC Season 7

    The chess engines Komodo and Stockfish have played in the last three Thoresen Chess Engine Competition (TCEC) finals (or four if you count the Chess960 competition they had, if memory serves), and after "loaning" the TCEC title to Stockfish it won the latest season, and in dominant fashion. It won every stage and defeated Stockfish in the final 33.5-30.5. It's nice to see that the engines keep getting stronger, even if the engine that's not available for free came out on top.

    Friday
    Dec262014

    A New Interview with Anand

    I'm not sure where the original interview was, but Jaideep Unudurti, our essential source for all things Viswanathan Anand, has very kindly supplied us with the full text of his interview with the former world champion. This took place shortly after the end of the London Chess Classic, which Anand won on tiebreaks thanks to his last-round with the black pieces against Michael Adams.

    Q: Let’s go back to the dramatic last round. You got into the Berlin versus Adams who’d worked as Carlsen’s second. Were you worried about falling into ‘prep’?

    I assumed if they had found something, Carlsen would have actually used it in the match. So there was some consolation that in fact they didn’t find anything very effective.

    We had also checked it very well and in the end, it comes down to ‘do you trust your own analysis or do you get scared by ghosts?’

    And the other thing I wanted to do was to avoid indecision at the last stage so I took a very quick call to just play this and stuck with it.

     

    Q: Your head-to-head against Adams is in your favour, but he’s beaten you the last two times?

    Yeah exactly, I used to have a very very good score against him. And the last two games I lost was very similar to how he lost to me yesterday. We had a normal game and suddenly it turned around violently. So I was happy to improve that record a little bit. But its not something I thought about a lot. I just wanted to play the game yesterday that was it. I just wanted to end the year on a good note.

     

    Q: You’ve been dropping quite a few crucial last round games in tournaments…

    The pattern is getting alarming.  Having said that there is no point thinking about it. Then you start obsessing. I have lost quite a few last round games in the last two years.

    And infact even the rapid game with Nakamura, I thought was really silly. Because there isn’t much reason to play on so I should have just taken his draw offer. I’m happy this one went differently.

     

    Q: Wasn’t it surprising that 5 of 6 players could win the tournament the last round?

    No it isn’t. That is the thing with this football scoring, in that it very often produces situations like that. My hunch is that people forget after a tournament how many people had chances before the last round or the last two rounds. I think in most tournaments this system has the advantage that you keep half the field or more than half the field in contention. I mean it is almost impossible for half the field not to be in contention. Unless one guy wins four games or something and is beyond reach.

     

    Q: Were you tracking what was happening in Giri-Kramnik and Nakamura?

    I don’t like to sit and depend on other people. So after I finished my game, I just wanted to come back to the hotel. I mean by winning my game I had a satisfactory finish to the year and I was happy with that but by this point I understood that both Giri would draw and Nakamura wouldn’t win. If Kramnik had won he would have gone ahead, and if Nakamura had won he would have gone ahead. All these results could have passed me but by the time I’d finished I knew that the most likely result was that I would win on tie-break.     

     

    Q: After the blitz you had 3 blacks in a 5-round event. What were your expectations?

    Honestly I think in 5 games its better not to look for any patterns. Over longer tournaments at least some trends will become clear but 5 games it hardly matters. It is so short that the main thing is to get on with the job at hand. So I didn’t think about it too much. I was fine with the colours. To be honest I didn’t really mind an extra white or an extra black.  

     

    Q: Nakamura essayed the Evans Gambit; were you taken aback?

    I looked at it quite recently in fact and that was quite useful. Like with many openings, taking a fresh look with a new computer produces completely new results so it was good I’d done that.

     

    Q: Are we going to see a lot more of such approaches, thanks to the Berlin?

    It cuts both ways. There seems to be an increase in the number of Berlin endgames and in the sidelines. I think the Berlin is just becoming more popular (laughs).

     

    Q: Next year for the first time in 8 years you will not be either playing a world championship or preparing for it. What are your thoughts?

    I think the main thing is that your focus can shift to tournaments. It is not like that you can stop working. The point is that instead of thinking of one person you can think of everybody in chess. That obviously means more things to work on; it is a chance to do things very differently and I’m going to try and make use of that.  

     

    Q: What are your plans and goals for 2015?

    I’m going to play in Baden and then in Zurich so that’s as far as my plans have gone now. And then later on I’ll see what else I can play, I mean it depends on the invitations I get.

     

    And goals…?

    Just enjoy chess. It is a great feeling to have good results and play well and leave the tournament with some satisfaction.

     

    Q: Recently we saw top players taking part in the Qatar Open. Would you ever play in an Open tournament?

     Could be very interesting and I heard very good reviews about it. Definitely if something like that comes along, I would take a close look at it.

     

    Thursday
    Dec252014

    Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual, 4th edition

    It's remarkable that Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual is already in its fourth edition, but therein lies the clue to its tremendous success. The author, Mark Dvoretsky, may not be a perfectionist, but he is a very honest laborer and when there's a mistake in his analysis or some other improvement comes to light, he emends his work. The third edition came out in 2011 (I reviewed it here), and what was true of that one is true of this one as well. Here is what Dvoretsky says about the fourth edition:

    Readers familiar with previous editions of the Manual have probably noticed that the new edition is larger than the previous one. But it is not because its content has been significantly increased or is more complicated - it is not. On the contrary, I have tried to make it more accessible to study, adding about 200 new diagrams to the text. Those who read the book without a board (there are many players who are able to do this) will find it easier to follow complex examples. In addition, the new diagrams will draw your attention to many interesting and instructive moments previously buried in the text and variations.

    As always with new editions, I have revised the text with clarifications and corrections which were found since the release of the previous edition. Significant revisions have been made in some aspects of the theory of rook endings. For that, I would like first and foremost to thank the author Vardan Pogosyan. In 2011-2012, I actively corresponded with Pogosyan, and he showed me many of the discoveries he had made, leading me to rethink some important theoretical concepts. [DM: Most of Pogosyan's contributions to this edition seem to have been in the section on rook endings with 3 vs. 3 on the kingside and a passed a- or b-pawn for the strong side. This is an area where endgame theory has really developed over the past 10-15 years.]

    Relatively recently the computer database "Lomonosov" was created; it accurately evaluates seven-piece endings (previously only six-figure endings were available). Naturally, I checked the book's seven-piece examples with the "Lomonosov" database and corrected any errors found.

    For those of you who are unfamiliar with this monster work (421 large pages), it's a combination of a theoretical treatise and a practical manual. Dvoretsky covers all the theoretical basics and then some, with an emphasis on what practical players need. (He does this not only by choosing the right positions, but by illustrating the right techniques and expressing the relevant principles in a brilliant way.) That's just the beginning, however. What makes this book special is the way he builds on that structure. Having presented the essentials, Dvoretsky then provides example after example where the theoretical material serves as a guide and is often at least part of the key, but is rarely enough by itself to solve the problem. The diligent reader gets a tremendous workout, and in the process learns how to apply that theoretical knowledge, and how to apply theoretical knowledge in general, to the context of a real game.

    In 2003, when writing the preface to the original edition of the work, GM Jacob Aagaard, himself no slouch as a player, analyst, trainer and writer, called the work "[t]he best chess book ever written." It's possible that he has changed his mind in the meantime, and maybe he thinks that one of the books he has written or published for Quality Chess surpasses it. (Many of them are very good, but I suspect he'd still put the Manual at number one.) Even so, even if Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual only ranks at #2 on Aagaard's all-time list, it's still a book you should rush and get if you don't already have it - at least if you're say, a 1600+ rated player with any ambition at all. (I'd add that there's a great deal of beauty in the examples, so even if your attraction to chess is primarily aesthetic rather than competitive, it's still at least worth considering.) If you've already got an earlier edition of the book, then unless you're super-serious about your endings I don't think you need to make the upgrade. But to everyone else who fits the description above, have Santa get you the book: if any chess book is a must-have, this one is it.

    Thursday
    Dec252014

    Merry Christmas!

    I hope everyone out there is having a wonderful Christmas with their loved ones. Enjoy the holidays!

    For those who are interested, I found a nice Christmas post. (It's on a political site, but whether you love or hate the site's point of view, please ignore it if you can - the post's reflections are fundamentally apolitical.)

    Wednesday
    Dec242014

    Chess Structures - A Grandmaster Guide

    This looks reeeeeally, really good. Based on the PDF excerpt (accessible from the link) I'm going to buy the book the moment it comes out, and will strongly recommend that all my 1800+ students do the same. I just hope none of my future opponents are reading this post!

    Wednesday
    Dec242014

    Yusupov Interview

    After a week off, it's time to do a little blogging. We'll start with something easy, a report of an interview with Artur Yusupov (or "Jussupow", for those who only know his name through German sources). Yusupov is best known today as a trainer and author (and an excellent one at that), but in the 80s and early 90s he was also one of the world's best players, making it to the Candidates semi-finals (they played matches back then) in three consecutive cycles. Though no longer among the world's elite he still maintains an approximately 2600 rating when he plays, but his other chess duties have taken precedence for some time now.

    At any rate, his career has been an interesting one, and he discusses it in some depth in this ChessPro interview. It's in Russian, but I'd recommend giving it a read with Google Translate, and there are lots of fun pictures too. There are substantial excerpts translated into English on the Chess24 website as well, so unless you can read Russian the best strategy might be to read the latter first and then skim the former (while enjoying the classic pics).

    Wednesday
    Dec172014

    World Mind Games Finish: Nepomniachtchi, Hou Yifan "Basque" in Glory (Updated)

    (Thank you, thank you; I'll be here all week.) The SportAccord World Mind Games concluded today, and the final stage of the chess competition was won by Ian Nepomniachtchi on the men's side and Hou Yifan on the women's. This last stage was the "Basque" tournament, a five double-round Swiss with each double round with each participant playing a pair of games simultaneously against the same opponent, one with each color.

    Both Nepomniachtchi and Hou went undefeated and won their respective sections by a point and a half. "Nepo" scored 7.5/10 while Teimour Radjabov, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov all wound up with 6. Radjabov won the silver and Vachier-Lagrave added a bronze to his silver medals in rapid & blitz. Alexander Grischuk won both the rapid & blitz events, but only scored 5.5 points here to finish tied for 5th-7th (out of 16), 6th on tiebreak.

    In the women's section Hou's score was a dominant 8.5/10, and this time there was no race with Valentina Gunina, who came in 9th with 50%. Alexandra Kosteniuk came in second with 7 points, and Zhao Xue took third on tiebreak with 6 points to beat out Antoaneta Stefanova for the bronze.

    The event produced many interesting games for chess fans, and since there aren't any more major events until the Tata Steel tournament (Wijk aan Zee) January 9, you've got a little extra time to catch up on all of them in between Christmas and Hanukah celebrations!

    UPDATE:

    (1) I see Chess24 used the same lame joke for their title as well. It's hard to resist!

    (2) Also from the Chess24 piece: fans of quick play will only have to suffer for 48 hours, as the European Rapid & Blitz championship starts on Friday.

    (3) Actually, there's no need to suffer at all if you want to see top-level play, as the final stage of season 7 of the TCEC is underway, with the latest versions of Komodo and Stockfish duking it out once again for silicon supremacy. Komodo dominated the earlier stages while Stockfish looked shaky, but after seven games Stockfish leads 4-3. "Only" 57 games to go.

     

    Tuesday
    Dec162014

    Silman on Chess Engines

    A chess engine is not the non-master's friend, says IM Jeremy Silman. (HT: Ross Hytnen) He moderates that conclusion slightly by the end of the article, but his general point that most players would be far better served trying to understand things themselves, in human categories, and would benefit from human teaching seems right to me - at least or especially for those who are interested in improving.

    I'm inclined to agree with the drawbacks he notes of using an engine - especially (but not only!) for non-masters, but suspect he's neglecting some positive ways of using engines. What are your thoughts, readers, especially on this last point?

    Monday
    Dec152014

    Grischuk Wins World Mind Games Rapid & Blitz; Gunina & Hou Yifan Split the Women's Titles

    The SportAccord World Mind Games is 2/3 of the way in, and so far it has been a success for two men and two women. Alexander Grischuk won both the rapid and the blitz competitions, with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave coming in second in both events. On the ladies' side Valentina Gunina won the rapid event while Hou Yifan came in second, and they switched positions in the blitz. Next up for the last two days, the "Basque" competition, wherein the competitors play two simultaneous games with their partners, one with each color.

    Sunday
    Dec142014

    London Chess Classic, Round 5: Anand Beats Adams and Wins on Tiebreaks

    The Berlin theme tournament London Chess Classic is over, and Viswanathan Anand was the tiebreak winner over Vladimir Kramnik and Anish Giri thanks to the fact that his one win came with the black pieces, while their single wins each came with the white pieces.

    Anand's single win came in the last round, in a Berlin (what else?) against Michael Adams. Interestingly, Adams would have won the tournament had he won the game, and this even though he'd have an even score (on the traditional system) and would have lost almost half his games. (Seems absurd to me, and it's even more absurd that he would have been the tiebreak winner by virtue of winning more games than his rivals. Isn't it crazy to reward wins not just once but twice?) Adams had the advantage at multiple moments in the game, but in time trouble basically fell apart starting around move 28.

    Had there been a win in either of the other games, other than by Fabiano Caruana, that person would have passed Anand in the scoretable. Hikaru Nakamura tried hard with Black against Caruana in a Berlin (and this after he more than once semi-jokingly accused Vladimir Kramnik of ruining chess with the Berlin!), but was unable to achieve anything and was at times even a little worse. They drew, and so did Giri and Kramnik. Their game was an Open Catalan (an opening that might be even less of a fan favorite than the Berlin), and while Kramnik eventually obtained a nominal edge it was an easy hold for Giri.

    It was a nice tournament for the three winners, and a very good year for all of them too. Anand won three tournaments this year, came in a close second in the world rapid championship, and performed creditably in his title match with Magnus Carlsen. Giri played very well in 2014 and is finishing the year at #7 in the world. Kramnik's year was more up and down, but he finished the year on a high note, gaining more than 20 points in his last few tournaments.

    The final standings: 1-3. Anand, Giri, Kramnik 7; 4. Nakamura 6; Adams, Caruana 4. The last round games are here, with comments on the Adams-Anand game.

    ...

    The Mind Games tournaments are still going on in Beijing, but once they finish in a couple of days I think the Big Guys are done until Wijk aan Zee (with Carlsen, Caruana, Aronian, etc. - including Hou Yifan, who can surpass Judit Polgar's current rating if she gains at least three rating points), which starts January 9 - a good break for player and fan alike.

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