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    Tuesday
    Jun102014

    A Short Review of Van Perlo's Endgame Tactics

    G. C. Van Perlo, Van Perlo's Endgame Tactics: A Comprehensive Guide to the Sunny Side of Chess Endgames(New, Improved and Expanded Edition) (New in Chess, 2014). 607 pp., $34.95/$29.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.

    This fascinating and delightful book may not be the "best" endgame work ever written, but it's probably the most enjoyable book on the subject. The late G.C. van Perlo, who passed away in 2010, was a correspondence chess grandmaster and a terrific writer, and the first edition of Endgame Tactics won lots of awards when it came out in 2006. There were minor changes in the next two editions - corrections to mistaken analyses - but this latest edition has some significant additions - it's 25% bigger, according to the back cover. Van Perlo had finished a new book on rook endings that was similar in style to what he had done in the rook endings section of Endgame Tactics. The book hadn't yet been published, so it was decided to add it here as a new and large chapter to his already sizable masterwork.

    For those who are new to the book, it consists of a huge number of endgame positions which mostly involve some tactical nicety or niceties (thus the book's title) - fine points which are often missed. A huge part of the book's charm comes from the author's writing. Van Perlo writes with a good deal of punchy humor and puts a psychological twist on many of the fragments, and both work well given the huge number of heartbreaking failures displayed in the book.

    In all there are a whopping 1368 fragments, 75 of which are official exercises included in the material new to this edition. As in traditional endgame texts, the positions are divided by material (pawn endings, queen endings, rook endings, minor piece endings and so on, with further subdivisions as appropriate) and then often further divided by themes.

    Anyhow, the book has been reviewed and praised many times over the past eight years, so rather than gild the lily and bring coal to Newcastle I'll stop here and join the chorus. It's a great book, and one practically every chess player of whatever strength can and will enjoy, whether he is a fan of endgames or not. The book can be used to help learn endgames, to practice tactics, and even just for the sheer pleasure of seeing beautiful tactical ideas and/or for the occasion guilty pleasure of schadenfreude.

    Recommended to all chess players.

    Tuesday
    Jun102014

    Norway Chess, Round 7: Karjakin Joins The Tie For First After Giri Self-Destructs

    Round 7 of the Norway Chess tournament was a very long one, with four of the five games going past five hours, even past five and a half hours, and one game nearly reaching the whopping eight hour mark. But despite that the games were relatively uneventful. Peter Svidler and Simen Agdestein drew quickly, and the next game to finish was between Magnus Carlsen and Alexander Grischuk. Carlsen had the better structure in a knight vs. bishop ending and eventually won a pawn, but the material was too limited and Black's pieces too active for him to convert the edge.

    Next to finish was Fabiano Caruana vs. Veselin Topalov. Caruana had what chances there were with his slight material advantage (rook and two pawns vs. bishop and knight, plus other material for both sides), but Topalov's pieces were well-coordinated against the pawns. In fact, the previous sentence requires correction. There was one brief moment early in the game where Topalov had a chance: if he played 23...Nb6 instead of 23...Ne5 he would have had a serious advantage, according to the computer. Missing that one shot, the game remained very balanced for the remaining 43 moves.

    Vladimir Kramnik and Levon Aronian agreed to a draw mere moments after the Caruana-Topalov game finished, but despite similarity of result, and length both in time and moves the storyline was the reverse of its counterpart. For a long time nothing much was happening, with Kramnik trying to gnaw away at Black's slightly weak pawn on c6 (the product of the minority attack b2-b4-b5xc6). After 50 moves Kramnik was finally making some progress, but precision was needed. Apparently 51.Qb6 was the right move, because after Kramnik's very natural 51.Ba4 Aronian was ready with the tactically alert 51...f4! 52.exf4 Bxh4!, assuring himself of sufficient counterplay to draw. The follow-up with 55...Bxg3+!! 56.Kxg3 h4+ 57.Kh2 Qd6 was especially nice, after which it was clear that Kramnik needed to acquiesce in the draw lest something worse happen to him.

    That valuable bit of wisdom escaped the young Anish Giri, who suffered a rather painful and altogether unnecessary defeat against Sergey Karjakin. Giri inflicted doubled and isolated pawns on Karjakin all the way back on move 18, and then did very little for about the next 36 moves. At that point Karjakin managed to improve his structure, albeit at the cost of immobilizing one of his rooks. 20-some odd moves later Giri won the exchange, but Karjakin believed - maybe rightly, maybe not - that he had an unbreakable fortress. After collecting the exchange on move 76, Giri engaged in another long session of doing nothing/very little until he hit on a very good idea, to put the queen on h1 and go for the g4 break. The latter finally occurred at move 116, and it worked. The position was very different and somewhat dangerous for Black, and Karjakin made what should have been a fatal error when he played 118...c5. That move was desirable and worked out, but he needed to play 118...Qc7 instead. Not an easy move to play, especially as it gives up the d-pawn.

    After 118...c5 119.Qf7+ Ka6 White needed to ask himself what was Black's idea or threat, and then he would have found 120.Qd7 (or 120.Qe8), preventing Black from (safely) activating his queen with ...Qc6. Having eliminated Black's main source of counterplay, Giri could have finished Karjakin off after activating his rook. Instead he played 120.Rc2?, and after 120...Qc6! 121.Qg6 c4! Black was completely fine. Now it was White who needed to show a modicum of accuracy and - more importantly - White also needed to recognize that he was in more danger than Karjakin. Giri failed at this task, and rather than repeating the position with 131.Ka2, asking Karjakin if he had any good ideas, he played 131.Rc4?? Karjakin played 131...Bc3, and White is getting mated in pretty obvious fashion Giri resigned right away. (Games, without notes, are here.)

    As a result of this well-deserved victory, Karjakin is now tied for first, while Giri is tied for last; had Giri won the opposite would have been the case! One point still separates first place from last with two rounds to go, so everyone has all to play for on Thursday and Friday. Tomorrow is a rest day, and here's what we have to look forward to in round 8:

    • Aronian (3) - Caruana (4)
    • Karjakin (4) - Kramnik (4)
    • Grischuk (3.5) - Giri (3)
    • Svidler (3) - Carlsen (4)
    • Agdestein (3.5) - Topalov (3)

    Monday
    Jun092014

    Nakamura-Navara Match: Nakamura Clinches Victory With A Game 3 Draw

    After a couple of losses, David Navara at least got to do the pressing in game 3 of his four-game match with Hikaru Nakamura. Ultimately he won a pawn in a rook ending, but with limited material and all the pawns on the same side of the board it wasn't nearly enough to win. The match concludes tomorrow.

    Monday
    Jun092014

    Norway Chess, Round 6: Four Draws and a Kramnik Loss

    To Veselin Topalov, naturally. No matter what Vladimir Kramnik says in this interview pretending that he isn't affected by Topalov over the board, his fairly poor results against him since their world championship match tell a different story. Kramnik used to own him, but now, no matter how bad Topalov's form is in any given event, he is even looking like a favorite against him.

    With the loss, the Norway Chess tournament now has three co-leaders: Kramnik, Magnus Carlsen (who drew a Berlin ending with Black against Sergey Karjakin), and Fabiano Caruana (who drew with Black against Simen Agdestein). Their draws were "clean" - no one had a serious advantage at any point, and the same goes for the other two draws. Levon Aronian had White against Anish Giri, but ultimately had the (not-too-difficult) task of forcing a draw while a pawn down. Finally, Alexander Grischuk and Peter Svidler drew quickly.

    The games are here (without notes), and tomorrow's round 7 pairings follow:

    • Svidler (2.5) - Agdestein (3)
    • Carlsen (3.5) - Grischuk (3)
    • Giri (3) - Karjakin (3)
    • Kramnik (3.5) - Aronian (2.5)
    • Caruana (3.5) - Topalov (2.5)

    Sunday
    Jun082014

    Nakamura-Navara Match: Nakamura Leads 2-0

    Two games down, two to go. (More here.)

    Sunday
    Jun082014

    Norway Chess, Round 5: Kramnik Beats Caruana, Leads; Carlsen Beats Aronian

    There were two heavyweight battles today at the Norway Chess tournament, one between Magnus Carlsen (world champion and world #1) and Levon Aronian (world #2), the other between the Fabiano Caruana (the tournament leader and world #3) and Vladimir Kramnik (ex-world champion, [now] #4 in the world and in second in the tournament). Both games were long, both games were tough, and both games had a winner.

    Taking them in reverse order, Caruana entered the round in first and in excellent shape, having already played Carlsen and with (alleged) tournament rabbit Simen Agdestein next on the schedule. All he needed was to survive Kramnik with the black pieces, and his chances of overall victory would be excellent. Not a trivial task, especially with Black, but Caruana coped with the pressure of the moment and his opponent's moves for a long time. It was only at move 50 that he cracked, and with a very simple error: 50...Ke8?? Instead 50...Kf8 or 50...Kg8 would draw easily, almost trivially. The point is that 51.Kf6 would be adequately met by 51...Rb6+, and White is going nowhere. As White has few (no?) other real ideas, it's just a draw. The problem with 50...Ke8 was that after 51.Kf6 Rb6+ White had 52.Kg7, but even here Black can put up plenty of resistance with 52...Rb3. Instead Caruana resigned, and Kramnik supplanted him in first place.

    As for the Carlsen-Aronian game, it was more heartbreaking in one way, less in another. Aronian didn't lose the game with a one-move error, but unlike Caruana who was always fighting for a draw, Aronian had a winning or nearly winning position before the time control. Playing 32...h5, as suggested by the engines and by Aronian himself immediately after the game would have kept White bottled up and in desperate trouble. Instead, Aronian made a series of mistakes up to the end of the time control, and after his 40th move he was probably lost. There were some later moments when he was briefly back in the game, but Carlsen's technique eventually told. With the win Carlsen moved into a tie with Caruana for second, half a point behind Kramnik.

    There was a third winner on the day, Anish Giri, and his win was also a piece of good luck. Veselin Topalov was always fine against him with Black in a Rauzer Sicilian, and after 29 moves the position was equal. Then Giri played 30.f5??, and was lost after 30...Re5. Fortunately for the youngster, Topalov met 31.Re1 not with 31...d5, winning material, but 31...Kh8?? not only surrendered the advantage; it gave Giri a winning position. With the win Giri got back to 50%.

    Also extremely lucky today: Alexander Grischuk. ATR* Simen Agdestein was winning with Black in the same line of the Classical French he essayed against Sergey Karjakin in round 3. Agdestein varied first, but still had a little trouble early on. Agdestein handled the complicated position better than his opponent, and Grischuk didn't have enough compensation for his two pawn deficit. Agdestein's biggest chance was a tactical one: 39...Rxg2+! would have won on the spot, leaving Grischuk only the choice between two different hopelessly lost endings three pawns in arrears. Agdestein missed it, and let Grischuk slip out of trouble with a draw. Agdestein has five draws in five games, and on paper is doing great. His result so far is surely exceeding everyone's pre-tournament expectations except maybe his own. But he has let several opportunities slip, and at some point that may discourage him.

    Finally, Peter Svidler had an advantage against Karjakin for a while, but didn't manage to keep it. It looks like the key moment was on move 23, when 23.Nh4 (rather than 23.h3) looks rather unpleasant, threatening both Nf5 and to take on c6. Black could play 23...Ne7, but after 24.Bxa8 Rxa8 25.Rxb5 it looks like White has an extra pawn for nothing. Ultimately, the game was drawn.

    The games, with my notes, are here; tomorrow's round 6 pairings follow:

    • Aronian (2) - Giri (2.5)
    • Karjakin (2.5) - Carlsen (3)
    • Grischuk (2.5) - Svidler (2)
    • Topalov (1.5) - Kramnik (3.5) (Uh oh...)
    • Agdestein (2.5) - Caruana (3)

    * ATR = Alleged Tournament Rabbit

    Sunday
    Jun082014

    A Short Review Of Chess Training For Post-Beginners

    Yaroslav Srokovski, Chess Training for Post-Beginners: A Basic Course in Positional Understanding (New In Chess, 2014). 221 pp. $21.99/€19.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.

    If you've been browsing some of the major chess sites around the web you've probably seen the ads for this book, featuring the author's claim that "[e]very player who studies my book intensively will gain at least 100 Elo points." Really? This book will put Magnus Carlsen on the verge of achieving a 3000 rating? I'd say not, and such nonsensical claims can only put off those who are even mildly thoughtful. Fortunately, IM Yaroslav Srokovski probably isn't making such a crazy claim; it's just another case of a publisher yanking something out of context to improve book sales. It's a despicable practice, one that will likely continue to the end of time, but early in Srokovski's preface he says something that puts it in context:

    My book is aimed specifically at this Elo 1400-2200 group.

    Much better! In fact, the whole paragraph deserves to reprinted:

    In the course of his or her development, a chess player goes through many different phases. At first there are the difficulties of remaining focussed on the whole of the board and pieces or pawns are often simply left en prise. The next stage in development requires some intensive work on improving the skill of combination. Whenever the player has reached an Elo rating of 1400-1500, he should start to take an interest in simple strategic problems. My book is aimed specifically at this Elo 1400-1700 group.

    Now we understand what the book is about and who it's for, and in this context the claim about gaining 100 points doesn't require someone taking his crazy pills to believe it. A player who has achieved, or is at least well on the road to achieving, basic tactical competence is ready to move on to some fundamental, simple strategic ideas, and if with this book's help he learns and achieves some degree of mastery of those ideas then of course he could make significant rating gains. Naturally, those gains will be more readily achieved by someone in the neighborhood of 1400 than 2200, but it's possible that a 2200 might learn something from this book or at least benefit from a small refresher course in positional play. It depends on the 2200, as 2200s are no more interchangeable than grandmasters. One may be stronger or weaker in endings, in their openings, in their ability to calculate quickly, deeply, accurately and imaginatively; and in their knowledge of simple positional ideas. So whether he is right about a 2200's ability to gain 100 points (or more!) in strength by studying his book "intensively" is hard to evaluate, but it's quite plausible that good gains are possible as one slides down the 1400-2200 range.

    Let's turn at last to the book's contents. There are 12 chapters, which together have 129 examples. Each chapter concludes with some training exercises to reinforce the material, and there are a total 54 of these in the book. The chapters are: 

    1. Pieces cut off from the play
    2. Open files
    3. Strong and weak squares
    4. Weak complexes and weak diagonals
    5. Pawn majority on the (queen-)side
    6. The strength of the passed pawn
    7. Weak pawns
    8. The king in the middle
    9. Good knight versus bad bishop
    10. Good bishop versus bad knight
    11. The advantage of the bishop pair in the endgame
    12. The advantage of the bishop pair in the middlegame 

    As you can see, most of the chapters focus on primarily static elements (chapter 8 is the only clear exception), and quite a few chapters reinforce similar themes (chapters 3 & 4 are obviously related, chapters 5 & 6 are broadly akin as a pawn majority often results in a passer, and chapters 10-12 have strong natural commonalities as well). The topics comprise a fairly typical list of positional themes, but this isn't a big criticism: there's a reason those elements are typical, and it's that they come up fairly regularly.

    Something that is missing from many, probably most books I've seen on positional play - this one included - is a discussion of pawn play. Figuring out how to orient oneself in an unfamiliar pawn structure, knowing how and when to use pawn levers/pawn breaks, having a sense for when a weakened pawn structure is compensated by activity, etc. are ubiquitous questions in chess. There is some discussion of pawns in chapters 5-7, but the set of issues addressed there is very limited.

    You might think from the foregoing that I don't like this book, but in fact I do. To protest the book's advertising copy and to wish the book also dealt with another, less frequently addressed element of positional chess doesn't mean that the book's content isn't good as far as it goes - it is. I think it's a useful resource for both trainers and for those who want to learn on their own. The examples are very clear and in sufficient supply (especially as supplemented by the exercises) to help the student get the basic models in mind. So it is a good book that I can recommend, and it's one I'm already trying out with those of my students who are in the general vicinity of 1400. As for stronger students, I would point them to the book if they exhibited a lack of awareness of one of the topics covered, but probably wouldn't recommend that they buy it otherwise. In sum: for players from at least 1400-1900 or so, I think it's a worthwhile purchase; above (and maybe slightly below) that, it will depend on the particular student.

    Sunday
    Jun082014

    Book Notice: Kaufman's _Sabotage the Gruenfeld_

    Larry Kaufman, Sabotage the Gruenfeld: A Cutting-Edge Repertoire for White based on 3.f3 (New in Chess, 2014). 187 pp., $24.95/19.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.

    The Gruenfeld Defense may be Black's #1 choice against 1.d4 at the top level, and this has been so for the last several years. Important books have been coming out defending Black's cause (not to mention Peter Svidler's video series on Chess24), so the burden on White has been growing. Larry Kaufman has stepped in to fill the gap with a book advocating (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6) 3.f3 as the solution to White's troubles. He has written some fine repertoire books over the years, and has also written some strong opening books for Rybka (in its heyday) and has more recently been heavily involved in developing Komodo. That he is a computer specialist is well-known, and this is the first book I've seen where the evaluations are given with computer numbers - e.g. White is +.79 or +.36, etc. The computer evaluations are likely to be pretty stable, too, as he checked "virtually everything" in the book for at least 15 minutes with Komodo and Houdini 3 (and later Houdini 4) on eight core and twelve core machines.

    The book has five chapters. Chapter 1 is a historical chapter, offering 24 games played from 1929 up until 1997. It serves to introduce some of the key ideas and variations. Chapter 2 presents relatively minor third move alternatives for Black, most notably Adorjan's 3...e5, 3...Nc6 (which he recommended in his most recent repertoire book), Vachier-Lagrave's 3...e6, and then attempted Benonis and Benko Gambits starting with 3...c5. I say attempted, especially in case of the Benoni, because Kaufman's proposed repertoire steers it towards a Saemisch King's Indian - about which more will be said below.

    Chapter 3 is the "official" Gruenfeld chapter, in which the principled 3...d5 is essayed. The central line arises after 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nb6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.Be3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.0-0-0 Qd6 10.Kb1 Rd8 11.Nb5 Qd7 12.d5 a6 13.Nc3. This is a hot line, and important new games are taking place here all the time (see for example Carlsen-Caruana from round 3 of the ongoing Norway Chess tournament).

    Chapters 4 and 5 look at what happens if Black decides to meet 3.f3 with a King's Indian instead. Chapter 4 looks at lines with ...c5, while chapter 5 looks at everything else. This gives the book added value: if you need a repertoire against both the Gruenfeld and the King's Indian, you can kill two birds with one stone. Interestingly, Kaufman doesn't think the Saemisch (which is what 3.f3 will turn into against the King's Indian) is the best way to meet the King's Indian, but does think that White achieves a "normal" advantage with it. It's good enough, in his view!

    Finally, the book ends with 25 exercises and their solutions. It makes for a nice pre- and post-test of some key theoretical ideas, and also serves as a fun set of tactical exercises. (It isn't all tactics, but that does make up a significant component of that material.)

    Recommended for strong club players (1800-1900) and up, at least if they are looking for something to play against the Gruenfeld and/or the King's Indian. Similarly, it is recommended to players of the same range who play those openings and want to know what they can start to expect from their opponents.

    Saturday
    Jun072014

    Nakamura-Navara Match Underway

    American #1 and world #7 Hikaru Nakamura is taking on Czech #1 and world #25 David Navara in a four-game match in Prague. Game 1 was today and was won by Nakamura with the black pieces.

    Saturday
    Jun072014

    Norway Chess, Round 4: Caruana Continues To Lead After A Day Of Draws

    Today's round at the Norway Chess tournament wasn't the most exciting one. Four of the five games were drawn, three pretty uneventfully. Fabiano Caruana had the most interesting draw of the day, and had some pressure against Anish Giri late in the first time control. In mutual time trouble he was unable to keep the advantage, and the game quickly petered out in the second time control.

    Vladimir Kramnik entered and exited the day in second place after a draw with ostensible tournament rabbit Simen Agdestein. After Agdestein's 13.d5, however, Black was never going to win the game, absent many serious errors by White, and while Kramnik almost managed to scrape up something out of nothing, a few accurate moves by Agdestein late in the first time control sufficed to hold the balance.

    Alexander Grischuk was tied with Kramnik for second entering the round, and when Sergey Karjakin offered a questionable exchange sac on move 17 Black (Grischuk) was objectively better. The position may have been easier for White to handle, and this was especially so after Grischuk's too-ambitious 22...b5. He hoped to achieve ...a5 and ...b4 from there, but by the time he made those moves White had achieved considerable activity. Instead, 22...b6 was more stable, keeping everything under control. Both players were in some time trouble, and by the time it was over Karjakin had managed to outplay him. It wasn't winning yet, but Grischuk failed to put up the best resistance in the second time control and lost decisively. With his fourth consecutive decisive result Grischuk fell to 50%, while Karjakin got back to 50% and won his first classical game since the Candidates' tournament.

    The games featuring the two highest-rated players weren't very interesting. Magnus Carlsen had Black against Veselin Topalov, and was a little worse at the end. Topalov found a nice pawn sac in exchange for the bishop pair and something of a queenside bind, but rather than play it out he acceded to an early repetition of moves; the game ended in a draw after 28.Bc7. Not very Topalovian, and it's curious that both Carlsen and Agdestein have drawn all their games. As for Levon Aronian vs. Peter Svidler, Aronian had a very small pull for a while in a theoretically significant 8.Rb1 Gruenfeld, but Svidler held without much of a sweat. The players continued until the time control, and then called it a day.

    The games are here (without notes); here are tomorrow's round 5 pairings:

    • Grischuk (2) - Agdestein (2) (whose streak will continue?)
    • Svidler (1.5) - Karjakin (2)
    • Carlsen (2) - Aronian (2)
    • Giri (1.5) - Topalov (1.5)
    • Kramnik (2.5) - Caruana (3)

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