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    Tuesday
    Mar182014

    Chess24.com

    If you've been visiting some of the major chess sites you've probably come across banner and other ads for Chess24.com. This young site is clearly ambitious, and at least based on the current content I hope it succeeds.

    Some bits of the site are accessible without a membership, including reports on the world championship (the round 5 report is here). They're also transmitting the games live with computer analysis and, as a nice little feature, the time used after each move. (Voila.)

    Their playing zone isn't so attractive yet, in part because it's scarcely populated and there's no simple way to download your games (whether in PGN or some other format). One just selects a time control and waits for the computer to pair you, and it can be a long wait. (But that's just for now; as the site becomes better known that's bound to change.) There's also a tactics trainer feature, which is a nice aspect of the site.

    The main attraction of the site are video series. The crown jewel at the moment is a 12-hour repertoire series on the Gruenfeld by none other than Peter Svidler. (There's a sample here.) No PGNs here either, alas, so one must manually enter the analysis into one's own database, but it's still worthwhile for aficianados of that opening. That, as I said, is the main attraction at the moment, but there are other attractive video series for a wide range of playing strengths. Viswanathan Anand had a few series dedicated mostly to lower-rated players, but some of the later examples in his tactics series can be enjoyed by stronger club players. There's a very good series on Magnus Carlsen by Artur Jussupow, with Jan Gustafsson in a supporting role. Gustafsson has a good series on formulating a 1.d4 repertoire, not so much delving into deep theory but offering a wide range of move order considerations. These can be very useful, and are typically underappreciated by club players.

    There are other elite presenters like Rustam Kasimdzhanov and Matthew Sadler, and still more series by non-elite titled players. Not all of the series are in English - not by any means. German and Spanish-language video series are very common on the site, so if those are your native languages you're in luck. Spanish speakers benefit by the presence of a 2700(ish) commentator, too: Francisco Vallejo Pons.

    The site can surely improve in various ways, but it's pretty attractive even where it is now. They're adding content pretty regularly too, so it's not as if a membership will just get you what's there now and that's the end of it. At this point I wouldn't really recommend signing up if your main aim is to find a place to play online or to look for a place to practice tactics. Far better playing zones exist and there isn't any real shortage of books and sites to practice tactics.

    The salient question is whether one wants a membership to watch their videos. There are excellent video sites on the web (given that I do videos for ChessLecture.com, this claim shouldn't be surprising), but if chess24.com keeps creating video series by 2700+ players it will be hard to beat for that form of chess instruction and entertainment. (Especially for those who also understand German and/or Spanish.)

    Tuesday
    Mar182014

    Candidates 2014, Round 5: Svidler Wins, Joins The Tie For Second Behind Anand

    Round 5 of the Candidates' was very exciting, even if there was only one decisive game.

    Viswanathan Anand came into the round in first place, and though playing Black would presumably have his chances against tailender Dmitry Andreikin. Indeed, Anand did manage to achieve an advantage, but Andreikin defended well and held the draw.

    The marquee game saw Vladimir Kramnik take on Levon Aronian, and Kramnik played very energetically and obtained what he thought was a winning position. He was certainly pushing, but Aronian defended terrifically up until 33...Bxd5, which was a serious error that went unpunished. (Both 33...exf1Q/R+ and 33...hxg5 sufficed to hold.) Had Kramnik played 35.Rg1 he would have had a winning position, but after missing it the result was a rook ending where Kramnik's extra pawn wasn't enough to win.

    Peter Svidler joined Kramnik and Aronian in second, half a point behind Anand, by winning against Veselin Topalov. Svidler showed his naivety (his word) by following an earlier game he played against Antoaneta Stefanova and walked into some strong preparation and a difficult position. It wasn't as bad as Svidler made it sound in his characteristically self-deprecating manner, but Topalov did have an advantage. Shades of the old Topalov, but once the preparation ended the flashes were gone. Svidler played very well and Topalov didn't, and he (Svidler) won pretty convincingly.

    Finally, Sergey Karjakin and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov played a pretty calm draw in a Moscow Variation Sicilian, of all things. Karjakin is a player who characteristically heads for main lines, the sharper the better, so it was odd to see him play the quiet 3.Bb5+. Against a weaker player he might have been able to achieve something with the position after 15.Qxd4, but Mamedyarov did a fine job of neutralizing White's efforts and the game soon leveled out into a drawn rook ending. Black made it look easy, but there were some problems to solve.

    The games are here, with only the lightest comments (zeitnot here, but maybe fuller comments will come later), and here are tomorrow's pairings (as usual, player scores are given in parentheses):

    • Aronian (3) - Andreikin (1.5)
    • Anand (3.5) - Karjakin (2)
    • Mamedyarov (2) - Svidler (3)
    • Topalov (2) - Kramnik (3)

    Monday
    Mar172014

    Candidates 2014, Round 4: Anand Leads Kramnik and Aronian By Half a Point

    Had Viswanathan Anand defeated Vladimir Kramnik in today's action he would have been at least a pretty decent favorite to win the Candidates' tournament, even at this early stage. That was never in much danger of happening, however. Kramnik had Black, yes, but he was prepared to the gills in a Vienna Variation Queen's Gambit and drew in 30 moves without ever leaving his prep. So Anand remained half a point in front of Kramnik.

    Anand could have been caught by Peter Svidler, had he managed to win with Black against Levon Aronian. After some long preparation in a Gruenfeld (nowadays that goes without saying) a position arose where Svidler was up a piece for a pawn, but Aronian had a mighty center and enduring play against Svidler's king. Svidler had the chance to steer the game to an easy draw, but with some justification and ambition he went for more. On this occasion, that hope went unrewarded. Aronian negotiated the complications better than his opponent, and when Black returned the piece the result was a terribly passive ending where Aronian would surely break through sooner or later. He did, and leapfrogged Svidler in the standings. Aronian is tied with Kramnik for second place, and they play in round 5.

    Veselin Topalov drew his fourth straight game, this time in an English against Sergey Karjakin. Neither player was ever close to getting an advantage, and the play remained pretty calm throughout.

    Finally, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov escaped the cellar by defeating Dmitry Andreikin and putting him there instead. Mamedyarov generally had the better of the play in an offbeat Chebanenko Slav, but only managed to win when Andreikin blundered with the unnatural 37...Kf7.

    The games, with my light comments, are here, and here are tomorrow's pairings, with player scores in parentheses:

     

    • Andreikin (1) - Anand (3)
    • Karjakin (1.5) - Mamedyarov (1.5)
    • Svidler (2) - Topalov (2)
    • Kramnik (2.5) - Aronian (2.5)

     

    Sunday
    Mar162014

    Candidates 2014: Extreme Commentary

    If you've been watching top level chess on the internet for any time now, you'll know that when it comes to post-game press conferences, Peter Svidler is quite the talker. He is wonderfully articulate even in English, though it is not his native tongue, and just as a matter of personality he loves to talk. Whenever I've seen him at such a conference, he has dominated the proceedings.

    Likewise Vladimir Kramnik. While he is not as eloquent in English as Svidler, his grasp of the language is certainly very good, and he too tends to dominate press conferences. His style is a little different - a bit more variation heavy and shorter on psychological narration, but his conferences are enjoyable and impressive as well.

    So what would happen when these two shared the spotlight in a post-game presser? Further, how would they cope with the regular interruptions necessitated by the need to have their comments translated into Russian?

    The fascinating result can be seen below, starting at the 5:31:10 mark. I can't recall ever seeing anything like it before, but it was pretty amazing, almost savage. Enjoy!

    Sunday
    Mar162014

    Candidates' Seconds

    I noted one or two seconds earlier, Thomas offered some more in a comment to an earlier post, while Danny Olim has sent some more by email. Here's what we have so far:

    • Anand: Sandipan
    • Kramnik: Efimenko, Matlakov (maybe)
    • Svidler: Vitiugov
    • Aronian: An Armenian GM (not Sargissian) - he named the player, but I don't recall who it was
    • Topalov: Romain Edouard
    • Karjakin: Motylev, Dokhoian, and Kasimdzhanov
    • Andreikin: ?
    • Mamedyarov: Rauf Mamedov

    Sunday
    Mar162014

    Candidates' Analysis Is Available

    The technical difficulties have been straightened out, and so my analyses for rounds 1-3 of the Candidates' tournament are available. The links are in the posts for each round.

    Saturday
    Mar152014

    Candidates 2014, Round 3: Anand Regains Clear First

    Is he back? Viswanathan Anand has 2.5 out of 3 in the Candidates' tournament, good enough to lead the pack going into the first rest day. His opponent, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, lost pretty badly yesterday (blundering his queen practically in the opening) and didn't look like himself today either. Mamedyarov had White, but didn't manage to gain any advantage or even come close in a 4.Qc2 Slav. The players followed a 2012 game between Ivanchuk and Vallejo through 14.e4, when instead of Vallejo's 14...Qe7 Anand played a new move, 14...e5. (Interestingly for you computer fans, Komodo TCEC doesn't put 14...e5 in its top five [not that it hates the move], but Houdini 4 recommends it immediately. The third member of the current triumvirate, Stockfish DD 64, also settles on 14...e5 as its top choice after a bit of waffling around.)

    After 15.Be3 exd4 16.Bxd4 Black played Kh8, allowing ...f6 and ...Bf7 in some circumstances. White chose the prophylactic 17.e5 against this - 17...f6 can be met by 18.e6 - but this was a mistake. After the preliminary 17...Re8, forcing 18.f4, 18...f6 was now a very effective move. White cannot push through this time, as 19.e6? Nb6 wins the pawn. (White can flail with 20.Bxb6 Qxb6+ 21.Kh1, but 21...Qe3 will win the pawn, at least if White doesn't want to lose the exchange instead.) White was forced to swap on f6, and Black enjoyed a nice advantage.

    Anand's 21st move may not have been the best move (the computer prefers 21...c5!), but it was tricky. White's best move, 22.Qd3, looks less natural than 22.Re3, and Mamedyarov chose the latter. Black quickly whipped up a dangerous attack, and the game was soon over. 26.Rf1 was another mistake in a bad position (my guess is that White missed the nice shot 27...c5, or at least hoped Anand would miss it), and Mamedyarov resigned after making the move 31.Kh1 before Anand chose either 31...Nf2+ or 31...Ne3.

    Peter Svidler and Vladimir Kramnik entered the round tied for first, and so if either beat the other in their head-to-head game they would have kept pace with Anand. Svidler built up an advantage and had the initiative throughout, but he failed to strike a winning blow. After the time control on move 40 Kramnik defended perfectly, capped off by the fantastic 45...f5! 46.gxf5 Rf6! A narrow escape for Kramnik, and a game that overall shows both players to be in excellent form.

    Veselin Topalov and Levon Aronian also played an exciting game that finished in a draw. As in round 1, Aronian threatened the Marshall Gambit, but instead of repeating Anand's 8.h3 Topalov chose the classical Anti-Marshall with 8.a4. Topalov probably never had an advantage, but he certainly posed some serious problems with his kingside buildup and the complications unleashed with 23.Bd6. From there on, with the possible exception of 28.Qxh7 (28.Qxa5 was a playable alternative), both sides seem to have played all the best moves through the perpetual check on move 35. Both Topalov and Aronian are on 50%, but they seem to be playing well too and are still very much in contention.

    The last two players, by contrast, already look like outsiders. Dmitry Andreikin and Sergey Karjakin started and finished the day on -1 after a short, correct and not especially interesting draw in a 4.d3 Berlin.

    Round 4 will take place on Monday, with the following pairings (player scores are given in parentheses): 

    • Mameydarov (.5) - Andreikin (1)
    • Karjakin (1) - Topalov (1.5)
    • Aronian (1.5) - Svidler (2)
    • Anand (2.5) - Kramnik (2)

     UPDATE: Games here, with the brief comments given above.

    Friday
    Mar142014

    Candidates 2014, Round 2: Kramnik, Svidler And Aronian All Win

    Today's round at the Candidates was very exciting, with three wins from the four games. Vladimir Kramnik's win was especially good. The ex-champ found a remarkable new idea in a very well-known position, and his sustained initiative eventually proved too much for Sergei Karjakin. The game was such an achievement that Karjakin himself said this after the game: "This is one of those rare cases when I'm not ashamed of my play, because White [Kramnik] was playing very enterprising and interesting [chess]".

    With the win Kramnik caught his great successor, Viswanathan Anand, who drew efficiently against Veselin Topalov with the black pieces. Anand was able to do what he couldn't do against Carlsen; namely, hold a slightly worse ending. (Of course, he's not alone in that respect.) So for both he and Kramnik are looking very good both in terms of prep and form.

    Peter Svidler is a third co-leader thanks to his victory over Dmitry Andreikin. Andreikin played the Kalashnikov and achieved a good position from the opening, but went wrong with 16...b5. (The consensus view is that 16...Bxd5 17.exd5 Ne7 was better.) After that relatively small inaccuracy Svidler played extremely well, with 17.Qg3!, 20.f4!, 24.Nf5! as the star moves.

    Finally, Levon Aronian bounced back from yesterday's loss with a win over Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. The latter blundered with 13...Ne7 (13...Qg5 would be have been fine), missing the nice but not overly difficult tactical trick 14.Nde4! White won the queen for inadequate compensation, and he gradually reeled in the full point.

    UPDATE: The games, with my brief comments, are here.

    Here are tomorrow's pairings (players' scores are in parentheses): 

    • Andreikin (.5) - Karjakin (.5)
    • Svidler (1.5) - Kramnik (1.5)
    • Topalov (1) - Aronian (1)
    • Mamedyarov (.5) - Anand (1.5)
    Friday
    Mar142014

    A Reminder

    This blog isn't meant to be an echo chamber, but I do have a strange preference that comments bear a pretty close relationship to the content of the posts. Or as a cartoonist recently expressed the matter:

    Thursday
    Mar132014

    Candidates 2014, Round 1: Anand Beats Aronian, Other Games Drawn

    It's only one round into the 2014 Candidates, but maybe the recently deposed world champion is back! Viswanathan Anand smoothly dispatched top seed and frequent bete noire Levon Aronian on the white side of an Anti-Marshall, bringing hope to his fans and fear to Aronian's. It was Aronian who produced the first new move in a position both players had tested before (though not against each other), but Anand seemed better prepared or at least more skilled in handling the resulting position. After 19.Ne5! White achieved an extremely pleasant ending with two great bishops against a mediocre bishop and knight, and Anand didn't have too much trouble winning the game. It's too early to draw any sweeping conclusions, but given that Anand is one of those players who is much stronger when confident the rest of the field may have something to worry about.

    The other three games were drawn, and in two of the games Black had no trouble at all in the opening. Dmitry Andreikin may not have taken Vladimir Kramnik out of preparation in the entire game, and while the same can't be said for the Shakhriyar Mamedyarov - Veselin Topalov clash Black was at least equal for a long time. Maybe Mamedyarov managed to achieve a small plus around move 27, but a tactical flurry soon resulted in a draw. In the third game Sergey Karjakin did achieve an opening plus against Peter Svidler in a Taimanov Sicilian, but his inaccurate 22.Ng3?! allowed Svidler to more or less force an immediate draw with 22...Bc4.

    UPDATE: Games here, with my comments.

    Here are the pairings for round 2: 

    • Kramnik - Karjakin
    • Svidler - Andreikin
    • Topalov - Anand
    • Aronian - Mamedyarov
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