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    Thursday
    Jun022016

    Petrosian Wins GM Blitz Battle, Faces Carlsen June 23

    Tigran L. Petrosian won Chess.com's qualifier and earned a quarterfinal match against Magnus Carlsen in their GM Blitz Battle event. The other quarterfinals have finished, with wins by Alexander Grischuk (over Levon Aronian), Hikaru Nakamura (over Pentala Harikrishna) and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (over Fabiano Caruana). The winner of Carlsen-Petrosian will face Grischuk in one semi-final, and the other will be Nakamura-MVL.

    Thursday
    Jun022016

    Arturo Pomar, 1931-2016

    Arturo Pomar, the first Spanish grandmaster, died last week (May 26) at the age of 84. Pomar became famous when he was just 13 when he drew with then-World Champion Alexander Alekhine in a tournament game. While he didn't grow into a world championship level player, he did enjoy a successful career in the game. To list only his most bare-bones achievements, he became an IM in 1950 (when FIDE first started issuing titles), a GM in 1962, and a 7-time Spanish champion.

    More information about Pomar (and a selection of his games) on the Wikipedia, Chess.com, and Chess History pages.

    Wednesday
    Jun012016

    A Short Review of Karolyi's *Legendary Chess Careers: Yasser Seirawan*

    Tibor Karolyi, Legendary Chess Careers: Yasser Seirawan (Chess Evolution, 2016). Pp. 123, €19.99.

    This slim volume on American legend Yasser Seirawan is one in a series of books by Hungarian IM Tibor Karolyi on relatively older, elite players who never quite reached the game's greatest height. The books (previous volumes featured Lajos Portisch and Jan Timman) take the form of extended interviews, with well-annotated games interspersed at the appropriate point in the conversation. Neither a traditional biography nor a straight best-games collection, the books help readers get a sense of the player himself as a human being, of his contributions to and achievements in the game, and to see some of the player's best and most significant games.

    Seirawan was born in Syria (in 1960) but came to the U.S. as a child, and though he learned the game at the relatively late age of 12 he was a strong master by 15 and went on to become the World Junior Champion and a grandmaster just a few years later. He was for years the top player in the U.S. and looked for some years like a player who might be able to challenge for the World Championship. As things worked out Seirawan never really got close, but he had an impressive career and performed very well against elite players, world champions in particular. (Especially freakish was his 4.5-.5 score against Mikhail Tal.)

    The volume begins with short tributes from IMs Nikolay Minev and Jeremy Silman, both long-time friends of Seirawan's, and then the interview begins. Seirawan briefly discusses his family and their move to the U.S., his early years and learning the game (and how he might have been one game away from quitting before he started getting good!), and from there it's on to his career.

    As anyone who has read Seirawan's books or heard him do live commentary will know, he is an inveterate story-teller, and some of that shines through this book as well as he recalls some of his adventures in chess, his interactions with world champions (including Bobby Fischer), his work on the magazine he founded (Inside Chess) and on other topics as well.

    As for the games, there are 13 complete games and five game fragments (plus a few more of each in the notes), most against world champions and other elite grandmasters. The games are thoroughly annotated; it is by no means a so-called database dump; Karolyi has put in some real effort.

    Overall, it's a nice little book, one I would recommend especially to American readers who should know that we had real chess players between Bobby Fischer and Gata Kamsky (and not just Seirawan, either; there's Walter Browne and especially Robert Byrne, who was a Candidate in 1974 and very nearly qualified for the 1977 Candidates matches). Seirawan's style is so unusual that he's not "just" another elite GM whose best games could have been played by another half a dozen or more of his peers; his games are very much his games.

    There are some critical points worth making, both in case the publishers revise this work, or for the sake of subsequent books in the series. First, the Preface was a mess, with at least five obvious typographical errors in less than a page of text. Fortunately, whatever went wrong there didn't go wrong in the rest of the book.

    Second, there were a few places where Karolyi repeated questions (sometimes implicitly) that had been asked (and answered) earlier. I think this was because the interview was conducted by email, but maybe this could have been smoothed out in the editing process. It's something the reader will notice, but it's not such a big deal.

    Third and very surprisingly, this book seems to exist in a universe where Seirawan's great 2010 book, Chess Duels, was never written. Seirawan mentions practically every other book he wrote (and of course Inside Chess), but not Chess Duels, while Karolyi oddly seems unaware of it as well. To take just one example: when annotating the game Seirawan-Karpov, London 1982, Karolyi gives most of Karpov's famous revenge win from a game in Hamburg later that year, and then astutely notes the following: "Despite this disaster Seirawan was ready to play this line against Geller[,] so he had an improvement in his mind" (p. 62). That's correct, he did, and he gives it on p. 226 of Chess Duels:

    After the game my attention was drawn to 14.Qc2! [DM: After Karpov's improvement in the Hamburg game, 13...b5], which I wrongly thought favored White. The idea is to prevent ...c7-c5, quickly complete my development, and then to take advantage of Black's chronic queenside weaknesses as well as the offside a6-knight. It all sounds good, but concrete analysis doesn't show an advantage. Black plays 14...c5! anyway, the very move I had hoped to prevent. The line seems pretty straightforward: 15.dxc5 Nb4 16.Qd2 (16.Qd1 and 16.Qb1 look less trustworthy) 16...Qe4! 17.a3!? Qb1+ 18.Qd1 (18.Rc1? Nd3+! is Black's trick) 18...Qxb2 19.Qb3 Qxb3 20.Rxb3 Nc6, with an equal game.

    Finally, the 20 Euro price tag seems a little steep to me, but maybe this is me showing my age and being used to full-size books costing between $15 and $25, not to mention e-books going for $10. For that matter, New in Chess magazine is larger, has color photography and much higher overhead, and still costs considerably less than this book. (Of course they have a larger print run - probably much, much larger. I get it. Even so, there may well be a vicious circle at work here.)

    Criticisms notwithstanding, it's a nice little book suitable for a wide range of audiences. Everyone can enjoy the stories, while (as usual with Karolyi's books) stronger players will benefit the most from the analysis.

    Wednesday
    Jun012016

    Shamkir, Round 6: Five Draws

    It was a good round for Anish Giri, in that it could have been a very bad round for him but it wasn't, and he thus remains just half a point behind Fabiano Caruana with three rounds to go.

    Three of today's games were drawn quickly: Teimour Radjabov vs. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (of course), Rauf Mamedov vs. Sergey Karjakin and Hou Yifan vs. Pentala Harikrishna. The two games involving the leaders were another story. In both cases the player with the black pieces had excellent winning chances, and in neither case did they convert. Caruana had a big advantage against Eltaj Safarli and, in his best form, would almost surely have converted it into a full point. Pavel Eljanov's advantage against Giri wasn't quite as serious, but he too had his chances. Thus Caruana's lead could well have stretched to a point and a half, but it remains minimal heading into the tournament's final third.

    Here are the pairings for round 7, tomorrow, headlining the battle of the leaders:

    • Caruana (5) - Giri (4.5)
    • Mamedyarov (3) - Safarli (2.5)
    • Karjakin (3.5) - Radjabov (2.5)
    • Harikrishna (3) - Mamedov (2.5)
    • Eljanov (1.5) - Hou Yifan (2)

     

    Monday
    May302016

    (Big) Shamkir Update: Caruana Leads with 4.5/5, Giri Half a Point Behind

    Starting from round 2 the event heated up and decisive results have abounded. Even many of the draws have been interesting – at least when they haven’t involved all-Azeri pairings.

    In round 2, Hou Yifan had an advantage against Eltaj Safarli on the white side of a Winawer French, but didn’t manage to convert. On the other hand, the top player most associated with draws these days, Anish Giri, managed to defeat Sergey Karjakin. In fact, nothing much was happening in their game until Karjakin’s 33…Qg4 followed by 34…Rhe8, walking himself into a tactical disaster. After 35.f5! gxf5 36.Nf2 Qg6 37.exf5 the best Black could do was enter an ending with two rooks against a queen, and with as many weak pawns as Karjakin had the result was a foregone conclusion. Pavel Eljanov has had some great results over the past year, but this tournament doesn’t look like it’s going to be one of them. Fabiano Caruana was pressing early on with Black, combining queenside play (with his passed a-pawn and later with a rook on the b-file) with control of the a8-h1 diagonal and penetration by his queen on the kingside. Eljanov needn’t have lost, but as often happens under sustained pressure the defender eventually lets something slip – especially in time trouble. Eljanov’s just before the time control allowed Caruana’s heavy pieces to penetrate to the first rank, and the game ended several moves later. Rauf Mamedov and Teimour Radjabov went through the motions to draw in 20 moves. Finally, Pentala Harikrishna won very easily against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Harikrishna took the space that Mamedyarov offered, used it to penetrate Black’s porous position, and soon material fell.

    In round 3 Mamedyarov bounced back with a win over Eljanov. The game was more or less equal until the last move of the time control, 40…Rd7?! (though perhaps Eljanov’s 36…d5 was a risky choice that put him in a situation where accuracy was required) Instead 40…Rd6 would have maintained equality. After this inaccurate move Mamedyarov engineered a nice kingside breakthrough and won with a passed h-pawn. Caruana cruised to a second straight win, defeating Hou Yifan on the white side of an Open Ruy. In her world championship match against Mariya Muzychuk Hou faced the Open Ruy several time; perhaps as a result of her work on the opening in that match she has decided to give it a try here. Caruana produced the first novelty, however, and quickly obtained an advantage. Things weren’t too bad for the women’s champion until 27…h5, whereupon her position collapsed. Radjabov-Giri looked like it could have been an all-Azeri battle (i.e. a very easy draw) – which was the case in Safarli – Mamedov. Karjakin – Harikrishna was another story. Like Mamedyarov, Karjakin recovered from his loss in round 2 with a win to get back to 50%, dragging Harikrishna back down to the same score. Harikrishna’s 12…h6 was provocative, and Karjakin accepted the provocation with 13.Bxh6. Karjakin’s assessment was better than his opponent, and after a series of exchanges White’s two rooks and six pawns proved stronger than Black’s rook, bishop, knight, and three pawns. Converting the advantage wasn’t easy, but Karjakin did it.

    Round 4 saw perhaps the first outright blunder of the event, Harikrishna’s 24…Qxd4 against Giri. His position was uncomfortable before that, but it was dead lost afterwards, and he resigned three moves later. Radjabov and Safarli did the patriotic thing and draw speedily; at least the game was entertaining for a while. Caruana stayed half a point ahead of Giri by winning his third game in a row, this time with Black against Mamedov. Mamedov’s hyper-aggressive opening idea fizzled, and although he enjoyed the nominal material advantage of rook and two pawns against two bishops, the power of the bishop pair is often supreme in such cases. Eventually it proved so in this game as well, helped along by Mamedyarov’s erroneous 30.Re7+ and some further mistakes to boot. It was not a great game by Caruana, but with the win he maintained his lead and leapfrogged Vladimir Kramnik into second place in the Live Ratings. The last two games, Hou Yifan-Mamedyarov and Eljanov-Karjakin, were both good fighting draws.

    In round 5, only one game was drawn (Mamedyarov-Mamedov – the usual story); in the remaining games it was mostly the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Hou Yifan went for another Open Ruy against Karjakin (though a different line), and while she may have won the theoretical battle (25…d3 seems a little better for Black) she lost the war, getting ground down in an ending. Caruana won his fourth game in a row, this time at Radjabov’s expense. In a Rossolimo with opposite-sides castling White’s attack was much faster than Black’s after Black failed to play 16…b4 and White took advantage with 17.b4! Caruana misplayed the position near the end and gave Radjabov a chance to keep fighting, but after 33…Bf5? White finished in style with 34.e6! Rxg4 35.exf7 Rxd4 36.Ne8! Giri also won again, staying just half a point behind Caruana. Safarli – Giri’s victim – may have expected that Black’s pawn duo on e4 and f5 was bound to collapse, but it remained long enough to give Giri a winning attack. Finally, Harikrishna got back to 50% by giving Eljanov his third defeat of the tournament. White’s kingside attack was very dangerous but only enough for equality until 26…exd4. After a forced sequence White wound up with a queen and four pawns against two rooks and four pawns, but White had connected passers while Black’s pawns were all weak. Once the time control was reached White had queen and three pawns vs. the two rooks and a single pawn, and with no counterplay available to Black he decided to call it a day.

    All the decisive games in the tournament up to now are here, with my comments.

    Tuesday is a rest day, and on Wednesday the round 6 pairings are as follows:

     

    • Giri (4) – Eljanov (1)
    • Hou (1.5) – Harikrishna (2.5)
    • Mamedov (2) – Karjakin (3)
    • Radjabov (2) – Mamedyarov (2.5)
    • Safarli (2) – Caruana (4.5)

     

    Thursday
    May262016

    Stage 1B of TCEC Season 9 Underway

    Stage 1a of season 9 of the TCEC is history, and Komodo (then version 9.42; the just-released version 10 will takes its place in stage 2) won with a super score of 14/15, giving up just two draws. Its chief rival, Houdini 4, was also undefeated going into their head-to-head battle in the last round, but lost to Komodo (I've posted the game here) finish a point and a half behind, a point ahead of fellow old-timer Rybka 4.1.

    All of those programs and more qualified for stage 2, which will include the successful programs from stage 1b. The top program in that part of the draw is Stockfish, which surprisingly didn't manage to win in round 1 - albeit with Black - against a program (Vajolet) rated 301 points below it.

    You can follow the live action here.

    Thursday
    May262016

    Last Week's World Chess Column: Highlights From Recent Events

    A little less recent now, but the games are still interesting and worth a look. Featured games and events include the decisive game of the match between Ding Liren and Wesley So, one of Julio Granda Zuniga's victories from his runaway triumph in the Llucmajor Open, and an impressive win by David Navara from the recently completed European Championship (won by Ernesto Inarkiev).

    Thursday
    May262016

    Shamkir, Round 1: Five Draws

    Mostly short and bloodless ones at that, but Safarli - Eljanov was a massive exception. Eljanov played the first half of the game brilliantly, and could have converted his winning advantage. Instead he missed his chance, and as getting that chance involved sacrificing material he wound up with a lost position. Fortunately the position was still complicated, and Safarli missed his chance as well.

    So everyone is tied for first (and last) going into round 2, which sees the following pairings:

    • Giri - Karjakin
    • Harikrishna - Mamedyarov
    • Eljanov - Caruana
    • Hou - Safarli
    • Mamedov - Radjabov

    Thursday
    May262016

    Why Hou Yifan Dropped Out of the Women's World Championship Cycle

    While Judit Polgar dropped out of women's chess before she was even a teenager (excepting one final women's olympiad at the age of 14), Hou Yifan has played in both women's and open events in her career. She has won four women's world championship events and has utterly dominated women's chess in the wake of Polgar's retirement from the game in 2014.

    While there are other strong women who can compete with her, albeit as heavy underdogs in a longer match, Hou's toughest opponent seems to be FIDE. While the open world championship eliminated the knockout system after Tripoli in 2004, returning to the older approach where the champion plays a match against the winner of a challengers' cycle, the women's world championship does not work in that way. Considering that Hou Yifan has been dominant and generally outrates her closest competitors by around 100 points, this is rather odd.

    Hou went along with this for a few years, going through all the machinations to keep qualifying for the next world championship match, but she has decided not to do so any longer, at least not until FIDE changes their procedures. On the bright side - for her, anyway - it means she can focus her energies on "men's" events, where she is the one trying to break through to the next level rather than trying to beat back the hungry hordes.

    Thursday
    May262016

    A Magnus Carlsen Q&A

    With video and a partial transcript, here.

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