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    Wednesday
    Feb042015

    Grenke Chess Classic, Round 3: Carlsen Loses to Naiditsch, Who Leads With Caruana

    Round 3 of the Grenke Chess Classic wasn't a display of great chess players at their best, and that could be why it was such an entertaining round. Maybe the one draw wasn't terribly interesting, as Etienne Bacrot and Viswanathan Anand drew in a theory-heavy line of the Berlin ending, but the other three games were lively and decisive.

    The game of the round was of course the battle between Arkadij Naiditsch and Magnus Carlsen, or "Magnus Jobava" as some dubbed him after his questionable piece sacrifice on move 10. Neither human insight nor computer calculation could justify the sacrifice, and Naiditsch looked likely to win until his 31st move. After that a tense equality prevailed for almost 20 moves, but then Carlsen got in trouble again starting with 49...Kf6. (Or maybe before then. 49...Rf4 maintains equality, but Black has to find a lot of subtle and accurate moves to keep that equality.) The final error was 55...Rc7, after which Naiditsch accurately calculated things to the end, and won.

    Two additional Magnus Carlsen-related tidbits. First, this is his second straight loss to Naiditsch; the first loss was in the Tromso Olympics last year. The second was noted by Carlsen in a tweet: this is his fourth consecutive third-round loss. The first three came in the Sinquefield Cup, the match with Anand, and at Wijk aan Zee. He didn't win the Sinquefield Cup, but he went on to win the other two, and as he's only half a point back with four rounds to go his situation is far from hopeless.

    Naiditsch leads though, and so does Fabiano Caruana the latter defeated Levon Aronian. Aronian has been playing poorly (by his exalted standards) since last year's Candidates' tournament, and today's game won't do anything for his confidence. He started with a perfectly decent position, but a series of inaccuracies and errors (perhaps especially on his 31st and 34th moves) left him lost at the time control, and he resigned after Black made his 40th move.

    Finally, Michael Adams bounced back from yesterday's loss to Carlsen with a win over David Baramidze. They played a Closed Ruy with 6.d3, and Adams didn't have much until Baramidze blundered with 16...Ne7?? Adams spotted the position and obtained a won position, and Black's dubious piece sacrifice on move 25 eliminated any last chances he might have had to hold the game.

    Tomorrow (Thursday) is a rest day, and on Friday they'll play round 4, with these pairings:

    • Anand (1.5) - Carlsen (1.5)
    • Baramidze (1) - Naiditsch (2)
    • Caruana (2) - Adams (1.5)
    • Bacrot (1.5) - Aronian (1)

    In the meantime, you can see today's games, with my brief notes, here.

    Tuesday
    Feb032015

    Grenke Chess Classic, Round 2: Carlsen Wins, Leads

    A long day, so a quick summary of the round 2 action at the Grenke Chess Classic: Magnus Carlsen ground down Michael Adams, helped a bit by the latter's time pressure. Oddly enough, this was the only win of the day; in fact, it is so far the only win of the entire tournament.

    It's not that no one else has come close, though. Viswanathan Anand enjoyed a winning double-rook ending against Arkadij Naiditsch, but active play by Naiditsch and hesitant play from the former champ allowed the German #1 to escape.

    The other German entrant, David Baramidze, had an easier time of things on the way to his draw with Levon Aronian. (Having the white pieces certainly didn't hurt.) Aronian was doing fine until he played 20...Be6; after that he was in some trouble until Baramidze played 25.b4. After that the players hoovered up everything and finished the game.

    Finally, Fabiano Caruana was seriously better, off and on, against Etienne Bacrot, but it was never a comfortable and stable plus. The position remained complicated throughout, and at times Bacrot was even a little better. Such unbalanced and volatile positions are just very hard to play. The game marked a milestone of sorts: while it's only on the live list and isn't official, it is the first time in about half a year that someone other than Caruana was world #2, and the first time ever that Alexander Grischuk has held that spot.

    Games with computer analysis on the Chess24 site, here.

    Tuesday
    Feb032015

    Gibraltar, Round 8: Nakamura Extends His Lead

    Hikaru Nakamura put his little hiccup against David Howell behind him, and by defeating Yu Yangyi he has extended his lead in the Gibraltar Masters Open to a full point with two rounds to go. Yu Yangyi beat both Anish Giri and Vladimir Kramnik in the closing rounds of the Qatar Masters back in December, but this time he was stopped by the leader and favorite. Nakamura played a sideline of the 2.c3 Sicilian with White, and it worked very well. Yu surrendered the bishop pair without any clear justification, and a few moves later Black came under a permanent positional attack. It is very hard to defend a chronically weak position without letting something slip, and that's what finally happened. (The game, with my notes, can be replayed here.)

    Meanwhile, most of Nakamura's closest pursuers drew their games. Axel Bachmann drew with Howell, Daniel Naroditsky drew with Nikita Vitiugov, Peter Svidler drew with Hou Yifan, and on it went. The top pairings for the penultimate round, round 9, are as follows:

    • Bachmann (6.5) - Nakamura (7.5)
    • Howell (6.5) - Naroditsky (6.5)

    There are 16 players with 6 points, including Veselin Topalov and Peter Svidler, but their fate is no longer in their own hands. If Nakamura wins tomorrow and the board two game is drawn, he will clinch clear first with a round to spare. And if he wins out, he will not only take first in the tournament; he'll also join the select but growing club of players to reach 2800. While we're on the subject of ratings, Wei Yi is still over 2700 (2700.8!) while Hou Yifan is putting a little distance between herself and Judit Polgar, as she's now 2680.1, 5.1 points clear of her great predecessor. (That's still a shade less than 55 points below Polgar's peak official rating, so there's still a ways to go before that record falls.)

    Monday
    Feb022015

    Gibraltar, Round 7: Howell Half-Halts Hikaru

    Hikaru Nakamura's winning streak in the tournament stopped at six, but he was very close to winning his seventh today and still leads the Gibraltar Masters Open by half a point. David Howell held him to a draw, but only after making a misstep on his way to constructing the Vancura Defense. Nakamura in turn missed his opportunity to exploit Howell's error, which only serves to confirm Siegbert Tarrasch's adage that all rook endings are drawn. (Ironically, though, the Vancura Defense discovered, among other things, that a particular rook ending position Tarrasch claimed was winning for the strong side really wasn't. Chess is hard!)

    Howell thus didn't manage to catch up to Nakamura, and neither did Yu Yangyi. He had a serious advantage against Hou Yifan at one point, but Hou defended extremely well to hold. Yu remains half a point behind Nakamura, along with Howell and two new contenders. One is Paraguayan GM Axel Bachmann*, who defeated the strong young German Dennis Wagner, and the other is young American star Daniel Naroditsky, who won with Black against Baskaran Adhiban.

    Some fine players are in the group with 5.5 points, including Hou Yifan and Wei Yi (now 2700+ again), and surprisingly Veselin Topalov has only 5 points after scraping out a draw with White against American GM Aleks Lenderman. His fellow American and Giorgi Kacheishvili student Irina Krush is also having a good tournament, with 4.5 points, while John Watson is having an even better tournament: he, like Lenderman, has five points after defeating Gawain Jones!

    In round 8 (there are ten rounds overall) Nakamura (6.5) will have White against Yu Yangyi (6), Bachmann (6) will have White against Howell (6), and Naroditsky (6) will have White against Nikita Vitiugov (5.5). While we're at it, a resurgent Peter Svidler (5.5) has White against Hou Yifan (5.5). No easy life for her, with back-to-back black games against 2700s!

    The Howell-Nakamura game can be replayed here, with some brief comments on the crucial stage of the endgame.

     

    * Alas, Scottish GM Matthew Turner is not playing in this event, so that's one punny pairing that won't be happening here.

    Monday
    Feb022015

    Grenke Chess Classic, Round 1: Four Draws

    I commented in my preview that this looked like a tournament that was bound to have lots of decisive games, so of course all the games in round one finished in a draw. (I'm sticking to that prediction!) The games were more interesting than the results may suggest, and in at least two of the games one of the players was in some trouble.

    There were two marquee games, beginning with Levon Aronian vs. Magnus Carlsen. Aronian didn't get anything from the opening, an Exchange Queen's Gambit, but he outplayed Carlsen in the middlegame and was pushing for something serious until an error on move 37 (time pressure?) let Carlsen escape. In the second time control Carlsen even enjoyed an edge of his own, but it wasn't enough to win against Aronian's sturdy defense.

    The second headline game saw Fabiano Caruana take on Viswanathan Anand, but if there was a dud in the round this was it. Anand had the advantage out of the opening, but a series of wholly unforced concessions in pursuit of a draw left Caruana with the upper hand. Anand has been in the habit of doing this for a long time, but so far only Carlsen has proved able to punish the ex-champ for it.

    Etienne Bacrot and David Baramidze drew the shortest game of the round, but if Bacrot had played 27.fxg4 instead of 27.Nce4 it might still have been the shortest game - the difference being that Bacrot probably would have won. After his missed that opportunity, a perpetual check ensued almost immediately.

    Finally, Arkadij Naiditsch was Black in a Tarrasch French against Michael Adams, and somehow managed to outplay Adams in a very drawish position. If Naiditsch had played 40...Ng4+ instead of 40...Kf6, Adams may have had a tough time saving the point.

    Tournament site here, games (with my very brief notes) here, and the round 2 pairings are Anand - Naiditsch, Carlsen - Adams, Baramidze - Aronian and Caruana - Bacrot.

    Sunday
    Feb012015

    Gibraltar, Round 6: Nakamura the Latest Player with a Six-Game Winning Streak

    Seems like everyone's going on a six-game streak these days: Fabiano Caruana (who made it to seven games), Alexander Grischuk, Anish Giri, Vladimir Kramnik and Magnus Carlsen, to name a few super-GMs to have accomplished the feat since last year's Sinquefield Cup. Hikaru Nakamura added his name to their ranks with a victory over Veselin Topalov in the Gibraltar Masters Open, thereby maintaining a half point lead over David Howell (who ground out a win in a very long game against the world's youngest-ever ex-2700, Wei Yi) and Yu Yangyi (who beat Renier Vazquez Igarza).

    Nakamura will have the black pieces against Howell in round 7, while Yu will have the first move against his countrywoman Hou Yifan, who is among the 5-pointers. Both games ought to be extremely interesting. Other prominent pairings are Wagner-Bachmann and Adhiban-Naroditsky. (These are the remaining players with five points.)

    Other U.S. notables: Aleks Lenderman drew with the 2551-rated Grigory Oparin, and as a reward he'll have Black against Topalov. (Both have 4.5.) Irina Krush and John Watson both won their games to get to 4/6, but rusty James Tarjan lost and remains at 3. Krush and Watson will face strong GMs next round (David Anton Guijarro and Gawain Jones, respectively).

    Top games can be replayed here or here (the latter links lets you access the games with computer analysis and the video commentary too).

    Sunday
    Feb012015

    Starting Tomorrow: The Grenke Chess Classic in Baden-Baden

    In case you're not particularly excited by open events like Gibraltar, fear not: the next super-GM round-robin tournament begins tomorrow in Baden-Baden, Germany. The Grenke Chess Classic is an eight player single round-robin tournament with the following lineup:

    • Magnus Carlsen (2865)
    • Fabiano Caruana (2811)
    • Viswanathan Anand (2797)
    • Levon Aronian (2777)
    • Michael Adams (2738)
    • Etienne Bacrot (2714)
    • Arkadij Naiditsch (2703)
    • David Baramidze (2594)

    The mixed field should keep the number of decisive games up - something which is rarely a problem in any case when Carlsen, Caruana and Aronian show up.

    Will Caruana and Aronian bounce back from poor performances in Wijk aan Zee (and not only there)? Can Anand keep the magic from 2014 going in the new year? And will Carlsen be able to put some more distance between himself and the chase pack than he did in Wijk aan Zee?

    Sunday
    Feb012015

    Korchnoi to Play in Zurich?

    Hopefully. There have been a couple of false alarms since he suffered a stroke two or three years ago, but apparently things are going well enough for Viktor Korchnoi that he's going to try facing fellow octogenarian Wolfgang Uhlmann in a rapid match in Zurich. Their match will be a side event to the Zurich Chess Challenge, a six-player single round robin with Caruana, Anand, Nakamura, Kramnik, Aronian and Karjakin.

    Sunday
    Feb012015

    February Rating Lists

    A new month means new ratings, and ChessBase has a nice report on all the new top-lists, detailing not just who is on them but some of the (incredibly) rapid risers as well.

    Saturday
    Jan312015

    Gibraltar, Round 5: Nakamura Leads Alone with 5/5

    Wei Yi had his chances against Renier Vazquez Igarza, but when he failed to convert his advantage Hikaru Nakamura was the sole leader after round 5, thanks to his win against Baskaran Adhiban. Nakamura used an interesting exchange sac against in the Queen's Gambit Accepted first used by Romain Edouard, and after Adhiban made a couple of errors in the opening Nakamura quickly achieved a winning endgame. A slip or two could have given Adhiban some hopes of a draw, but he didn't manage to take advantage of them. Nakamura is now 5-0, and is a win away from reclaiming from Wesley So his place as the United States's #1 player.

    In addition to Wei Yi and Vazquez Igarza, there are several other 4.5 pointers. There's Yu Yangyi (the recent surprise winner of the Qatar Masters in December, where he beat Anish Giri and Vladimir Kramnik in successive rounds), David Howell (who is quietly sneaking up on the 2700 barrier), and none other than Veselin Topalov, who will be Nakamura's opponent in round 6. That will be entertaining.

    In the America watch (besides Nakamura), Aleks Lenderman drew comfortably with Black against Pentala Harikrishna to reach 4-1, and with a win playing down Daniel Naroditsky is on that score as well. The next group of U.S. players is at 3-2, and includes the relatively young Irina Krush and the relatively old James Tarjan and John Watson.

    Tournament site here.

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