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    Friday
    Jan112019

    Pro Chess League: The 2019 Season Begins

    A summary of week one, here. Featured players including America's Big Three (Caruana, So, and Nakamura), Ding Liren, and MVL. Carlsen didn't play, at least this time - I'm guessing it's because he's playing in Wijk aan Zee. So is Ding, you say; and rightly, but none of the other players mentioned above are participating. (More on that shortly, in a coming post.)

    Anyhow, do check out the link above, which gives a full report and a link to download the games in PGN format.

    Thursday
    Jan032019

    The World Rapid Championship: Dubov Wins by a Nose

    While the World Blitz Championship was a breakaway battle with only two contenders down the wire, the Rapid Championship that finished two days earlier was a wild affair in which at least three players had a real shot at first entering the last round and five players could contest for a tie for first.

    Magnus Carlsen fit into the latter group, but not the former. But first, the leading pairings going into the last round:

    1. Mamedyarov (10) - Dubov (10.5)
    2. Nakamura (10) - Carlsen (10)
    3. Karjakin (9.5) - Artemiev (10)

    (N.B. Carlsen was always listed and seated as board 1. This is rather obnoxious, but probably has to do with Norwegian TV and money. That makes it understandable, but it's still obnoxious, and a slap in the face of those players who have outscored him at any given moment in the event.) Five other players had 9.5 points entering the last round, but as the pairing guaranteed that the tournament winner would have at least 11 points those with 9.5 weren't contending for the top prize.

    So why was Carlsen out of the running for first? Because of his terrible start: he lost his first two games and three of his first seven, and that meant that he played a lot of relatively weak and ultimately low-rated, low-scoring players on his way back to the top. That guaranteed that his tiebreak scores wouldn't be very good, and indeed, it eventually put him off the podium even though he tied for second. Hikaru Nakamura's were better, but they weren't good enough to surpass Daniil Dubov's or Shakhriyar Mamedyarov's, so even if he finished tied for first whichever one of them had 11 (or more) would have come in front. Likewise with Vladislav Artemiev.

    Anyway, what happened in the last round will bring tears of anguish to all those who hate classical chess for its drawishness and want faster time controls: the first three games all finished in draws. In fact, all the games featuring 9.5 pointers also finished in draws. The 22-year-old Dubov thus came in first with 11 points, followed by Mamedyarov, Nakamura, Artemiev, and Carlsen all with 10.5 points, in that tiebreak order. Carlsen thus had the best overall performance in the two events, winning one and coming only half a point out of first in the other, but Nakamura took home the most hardware with a pair of bronze medals.

    Carlsen's plight was already alluded to. He lost the first game on time in a better position - pretty startling, since it was in a position where there were no big risks and they were playing with 10-second increments. In game 2 he eventually obtained a big advantage against 2304-rated Shamsiddin Vokhidov, playing the jerky 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5, but an error on move 20 lost the advantage and blunders on moves 22 and 23 left him with a completely lost game. Vokhidov did his job, and Carlsen was 0-2. He didn't have anything special in round 3 against another 2300 either, but then the fellow thoughtfully blundered into an obvious mate in two, and then Carlsen was off and running. He won three more in a row, and after a loss to Alexander Zubov in round 7 won another three in a row to enter the last day only half a point out of first, though behind seven players and tied with nine more. He drew in rounds 11 and 12 with Dubov and Viswanathan Anand, beat Grigoriy Oparin and Dmitry Andreikin in rounds 13 and 14, and as noted above drew with Nakamura in the last round.

    Nakamura was the second seed in the event, and he got off to a better start, winning his first two games. Prosperity didn't last though: he drew in round 3 and then lost to Ian Nepomniachtchi in round 4 to fall off the pace. He won in round 5, but then lost again in round 6 to Tigran Petrosian to fall behind Carlsen. He leapfrogged him with a win in round 7, then drew in round 8 to slip back into a tie with Carlsen at 5-3. After a win in round 9 he again slipped back with a draw in round 10, leaving him a point off the pace going into the last day. A drew with Duda in round 11 didn't help, but then he put together his only three-game winning streak of the tournament, defeating Alexander Riazantsev, Gabriel Sargissian, and Yu Yangyi before his last round draw with Carlsen.

    Vladislav Artemiev was the third seed, and he started with wins over A. Tari, Nikita Vitiugov, and Farrukh Amonatov before tasting defeat at the hands of Andreikin and then the talented Iranian youngster Alireza Firouzja. His comeback with immediate, and after wins over Markus Ragger, Daniel Fridman, Dmitry Bocharov, Anton Korobov he was again tied for first. This continued after a draw with Yu Yangyi, and he was in the group of seven entering the final day with 7.5/10. Draws with Wang Hao, Maxim Matlakov, and Dubov left him half a point back - behind Dubov - and although he defeated Boris Gelfand in the penultimate round it wasn't enough. He drew with Sergey Karjakin in the last round, and finished tied for second but without a medal in fourth.

    Mamedyarov was the sixth seed (though hewould have been the second seed based on classical ratings), and he outperformed his seeding by finishing in second. He won two, drew, and then won and drew to finish the first day with a healthy and undefeated 4/5. Things were slower on day two: a draw, a win, and then two more draws. Finally in round 10, a serious setback: a loss to Matlakov. At 6.5/10 he was a point behind the leaders. He came back strong, defeating Artyom Timofeev, David Anton Guijarro, drawing Andreikin and then beating Saleh Salem with the Black pieces in the penultimate round. In the last round he had the ideal pairing: White against the only player with more points than him, but he got nothing from the opening and offered a draw on move 24 in a slightly worse position. It was a surprising decision from a great fighter, but it was a practical approach. He was a little worse, had a little less time, and the position wasn't very tricky, so there wasn't much reason to think that a swindle would be likely. if he lost, the monetary difference would be substantial, so the draw made sense.

    Finally, let's trace Dubov's path to the title. He was a relatively low seed - only 25th. His rating wasn't bad at all - 2723 in rapid - but it was a strong tournament! He got off to a good start: two wins, a draw, a win and and another draw to finish the first day with 4/5. Day two kicked off with a pair of draws, and then he beat Kacper Piorun, drew with Peter Svidler, and defeated Firouzja to finish the second day undefeated and tied for first with 7.5 points. In round 11 he drew with Carlsen, and then defeated Korobov in round 12 to take the clear lead for the first time in the tournament. He drew with Artemiev in round 13, but all his closest pursuers also drew, so he maintained the lead. In round 14 he beat Wang Hao with Black, keeping that half-point lead, and as we've already noted his last-round draw with Mamedyarov was good enough to take clear first as all the people who could have caught him drew their games. (And even if they had, they probably would have finished behind him on tiebreaks.)

    Going undefeated in such an event is an extremely impressive feat, and Dubov was the deserved winner of the competition. Congratulations to the youngster, who has been considered a "talent" for a long time. Now he's not just a talent, but a world champion, albeit not THE champion. Will he break through to the next level? Time will tell...

    Here too, readers, I ask: did any games from the tournament grab your attention? Please note them in the comments - there were far too many for non-professionals to go through them all, so let's do some crowdsourcing to find the cream of the crop.

    Wednesday
    Jan022019

    A Look at Carlsen's Win in the World Blitz Championship

    As most if not all of you know, Magnus Carlsen won the World Blitz Championship in St. Petersburg, Russia, several days ago. His finished with a huge score of 17/21, didn't lose a single game, and added 15 points to his massive blitz rating - he's now 2954. Despite the huge score, he only won the event by half a point, as Jan-Krzysztof Duda finished only half a point behind. (If his pummeling by Wesley So in the semi-final of Chess.com's Speed Chess Championship made us suspect that Duda's earlier wins over Sergey Karjakin and Alexander Grischuk were flukes, we should re-evaluate that conclusion! He is now #7 in the world in blitz, having picked up 124 rating points in the event.) Those two ran away with the event; Hikaru Nakamura was third, scoring 14.5 points - two behind Duda. Just missing the medals were Levon Aronian, Peter Svidler, Ian Nepomniachtchi, and the aforementioned Karjakin; all scored 14 points.

    Lots of top players participated, obviously, but there were some notable absences as well. Fabiano Caruana may have had enough of rapid and blitz chess, and of reading about his (supposed) deficiencies in rapid and blitz, to want to bother with the tournament. More surprising was So's absence, especially given his fine performance in the Speed Chess Championship mentioned above. Another surprise was Maxime Vachier-Lagrave's absence. He's the #2 blitz player in the world, by rating, briefly reaching #1 a couple of weeks before in the London Chess Classic. No doubt they had their reasons, but it's a pity for us as chess fans that they elected to skip the event.

    Let's get back to those who did play; in particular, to the winner. All 21 of his games can be replayed here, with some brief comments highlighting the key moments (where applicable). At some point around the middle of the tournament he played his way into form, but for the first 1/3 to 1/2 of the tournament he received one present after another, as if Norwegian TV was paying his opponents to take a dive. It wasn't good, but once he woke up he started playing consistently excellent chess.

    I don't have time to scour the remaining games looking for gems, but readers, please help: if you saw especially good games not involving Carlsen, please mention them in the comments. Thank you, and Happy New Year!

    Monday
    Dec312018

    Another Free ChessLecture Show From Yours Truly

    Last week's free ChessLecture show harkened back to the 2014 World Blitz Championship, offering on-demand viewing of a presentation I did on miniatures won by White in that event. Apparently the powers that be decided that they were harking up the right tree and are now offering its sequel for free on-demand viewing the next two weeks: "Blitz Miniatures from Dubai: Black Wins". (An account is needed to watch, but that can also be obtained for free.)

    Happy viewing, and in a few hours, Happy New Year!

    Saturday
    Dec292018

    Notre Dame Outscores Clemson by -27 Points

    Ok, that was a rout (30-3), although I think that it largely came down to weaknesses in two or three positions. Unfortunately, Notre Dame's weaknesses there (in their secondary and on the right side of their offensive line) were too serious, and Clemson gave ND a whuppin'. But hey, wait till next year!

    Tune time...

    Saturday
    Dec292018

    Notre Dame to Tame the Tigers

    World Championships come and go (and I'll try to catch up on the rapid & blitz events, but I was traveling during the holidays and didn't have the chance to do any real blogging), but we know the real reason we keep coming back to this blog year in and year out: Notre Dame football. (Remember, this is totally not tongue in cheek, nosirree.) Here we are at last, at the day of the college football semi-final playoffs.

    The first game - the game that matters - sees the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, take on the Clemson Tigers in the Cotton Bowl. It starts at 4 p.m. ET, and the drubbing of the latter by the former can be seen - and who wouldn't want to see it? - on ESPN.

    Tuesday
    Dec252018

    Merry Christmas, Everyone!

    I hope everyone is having a wonderful day with friends and family, and has neither time nor thought for this blog on Christmas of 2018 (at least for those of us on the "new" calendar). But for those of you who are taking a minute to stop in, or are having a look the day after (or - just barely - the day before, for for those of you to my west reading it hot off the press), Merry Christmas!

    I always try to find something interesting to share with you on Christmas and Easter - either something of historical or intellectual interest, and preferably both. Here's a short piece by St. Augustine (354-430) - it may have been a sermon, but I didn't spot a reference to confirm this - a leading thinker for Catholics and Protestants alike. (There may be more later, depending on whether time and tryptophan allow.)

    Have a wonderful Christmas day - the first of the 12 days of Christmas - and hopefully spare a thought for the real meaning of the season, which isn't keeping retailers in business.

    Monday
    Dec242018

    This Week's ChessLecture Freebie: Miniatures from the 2014 World Blitz Championship

    With the 2018 World Rapid & Blitz Championships almost upon us (the event starts the day after Christmas - at least for those of us on the Gregorian calendar), the powers-that-be at ChessLecture.com have released as this week's freebie a video I did looking back at blitz miniatures in the 2014 event. It's available on demand through not just this coming Monday but the Monday after as well for free, provided one has a membership for the site - and that is available for free as well. Hope you like it!

    Wednesday
    Dec192018

    Puzzle Rush

    After hearing Chess.com's "Puzzle Rush" mentioned approximately 6,543 times on recent chess broadcasts - and not always on Chess.com, either - I decided to give it a shot myself. It's a pretty straightforward setup: you have five minutes to solve as many tactics as possible, and if you get three strikes you're out. (When you miss a move, it automatically goes to the next puzzle.) The problems are trivially easy at first, with lots of mates in one and taking hanging pieces, but the difficulty gradually increases and the puzzles become challenging - at least in comparison with what came before.

    The best score I've heard of is 55 (one point per problem solved), by Hikaru Nakamura, and I've seen several other scores over 50 points as well. My best so far is 41, which seems to be pretty decent, and although I think I can improve on it there's no way I'm getting to 55 unless I've memorized all the puzzles. (Readers, what are your best scores? You might also give your rating if you want to, so we can have a friendly challenge to see who can get the highest score in their rating range.)

    It is fun, and may be a good warmup exercise, but I wonder if it has any real value for developing one's overall tactical skill. Any opinions on this, especially evidence-based opinions?

    Wednesday
    Dec192018

    Buying Nerds, Part 3: Leinier Dominguez Now Represents the U.S.

    "Buying nerds" was Jon Stewart's and then Magnus Carlsen's line after Fabiano Caruana, following Wesley So, paid/had paid for him the fees necessary to switch federations to represent the United States. Now it's Leinier Dominguez's turn, according to this press release by the United States Chess Federation (see also this short article in the Washington Times:

    GM Leinier Domínguez Joins US Chess Federation

    Top Cuban grandmaster will now play under the U.S. flag

    CROSSVILLE, TENNESSEE: The 501(c)3 US Chess Federation is pleased to announce that Grandmaster (GM) Leinier Domínguez, originally from Cuba and currently living in Miami, Florida, has successfully switched federations from the Cuban Chess Federation and will now play under the United States flag.  Domínguez says, “I am very excited about this new stage in my career and I am really looking forward to joining US Chess. It is great to see the tremendous level that the game has acquired in the U.S. and I definitely want to be a part of it.”

    The 35-year-old was born in Havana, Cuba and became a grandmaster in 2001, going on to win the Cuban national championship five times between 2002 and 2016. He currently carries a rating of 2739, ranking him 20th in a world that includes well over 1,000 grandmasters. He instantly becomes one of the top players for the United States, joining recent world-championship competitor GM Fabiano Caruana (2832) and the rest of the “super” grandmasters from the U.S.: Wesley So (2765), Hikaru Nakamura (2746), and Sam Shankland (2724).

    Grant Oen,  the FIDE Events Manager at US Chess (the Fédération Internationale des Échecs or World Chess Federation is the official governing body of which the US Chess Federation is a member) boils the complicated process involved in a transfer of federations down to, “It requires a player and the new federation to file an application, submit documentation demonstrating residency, notify the former federation, and pay transfer fees.”

    US Chess Executive Board Vice President Randy Bauer enthuses, “Grandmaster Domínguez is a strong addition to the US Chess roster of world-class players. Leinier has achieved notable successes as a chess player, trainer, and author.  But perhaps most importantly for our organization’s goals, he is an outstanding ambassador for chess worldwide, and we look forward to his adding to the already rich and diverse US chess culture.”

    The only bad thing is that it didn't happen in time for Dominguez to play in the Olympiad, but things are looking bright for 2020 and beyond. (Only one thing remains for complete bliss...Garry? C'mon, it's time.)

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