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    1948 World Chess Championship 1962 Candidates 2.c3 Sicilian 2.f4 Sicilian 2011 European Team Championship 2011 Russian Championship 2012 Capablanca Memorial 2012 Chess Olympiad 2012 European Women's Championship 2012 London Chess Classic 2012 U.S. Junior Championship 2012 U.S. Women's Championship 2012 US Championship 2012 Women's World Chess Championship 2012 World Rapid and Blitz Championships 2013 Alekhine Memorial 2013 Beijing Grand Prix 2013 European Club Cup 2013 European Team Championship 2013 FIDE World Cup 2013 Kings Tournament 2013 London Chess Classic 2013 Russian Championship 2013 Tal Memorial 2013 U.S. Championship 2013 Women's World Championship 2013 World Blitz Championship 2013 World Championship 2013 World Rapid Championship 2013 World Team Championship 2014 Capablanca Memorial 2014 Chess Olympiad 2014 London Chess Classic 2014 Petrosian Memorial 2014 Rapid & Blitz World Championship 2014 Russian Team Championship 2014 Sinquefield Cup 2014 Tigran Petrosian Memorial 2014 U.S. Championship 2014 U.S. Open 2014 Women's World Championship 2014 World Championship 2014 World Junior Championships 2014 World Rapid Championship 2015 Capablanca Memorial 2015 Chinese Championship 2015 European Club Cup 2015 European Team Championship 2015 London Chess Classic 2015 Millionaire Open 2015 Poikovsky 2015 Russian Team Championship 2015 Sinquefield Cup 2015 U.S. Championship 2015 Women's World Championship KO 2015 World Blitz Championship 2015 World Cup 2015 World Junior Championship 2015 World Open 2015 World Rapid & Blitz Championship 2015 World Team Championships 2016 2016 Candidates 2016 Chess Olympiad 2016 Chinese Championship 2016 Sinquefield Cup 2016 U.S. Championship 2016 U.S. Women's Championship 2016 Women's World Championship 2016 World Championship 2018 Chess Olympiad 22014 Sinquefield Cup 22014 U.S. Championship 2Mind Games 2016 60 Minutes A. 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    Friday
    Mar252016

    Candidates Update: Getting Caught Up (Almost!), With Lots of Annotated Games

    Round 12 (of 14) of the Candidates took place earlier today (yesterday for those of you across the pond), and it was a major round. We'll get to that later tonight or sometime tomorrow, but for now it's time to get caught up on preceding rounds' action. Here are some of the major story lines from rounds 7-11.

    1. Caruana Awakens. Fabiano Caruana drew his first seven games, the entire first cycle, but since then he has won twice and shared the lead after 11 rounds. He defeated Hikaru Nakamura in round 8 (promptly killing the latter's chances after he defeated Veselin Topalov in round 7) and then knocked Viswanathan Anand out of a tie for first in round 10. Caruana could have been the sole leader, as he was clearly winning against Topalov in round 11, but a very big mistake on move 38 let his opponent escape.

    2. Anand's Roller Coaster. Anand sometimes gets into drawing ruts, but not here. He won in round 1, lost to Sergey Karjakin in round 4, beat Peter Svidler in round 6, beat Levon Aronian in round 9, lost to Caruana in round 10 and then got revenge by defeating Karjakin in round 11. That made him the co-leader with Caruana, or almost so. Because he lost their mini-match he is in fact behind him - if they finish the event tied for first it's Caruana who qualifies for the title match with Magnus Carlsen.

    3. Aronian's Sinking Feeling. Aronian often comes into Candidates' events as one of the favorites, and invariably and inexplicably, something bad happens and he's out of the running before the final rounds. Sadly, this is happening once again. He was tied for first after eight rounds with a +2 score, but starting in round 9 it all fell apart. First he lost to Anand, against whom he has a great score in games that don't matter and a very bad score in games that do. In round 10 he had a significant advantage against Topalov, but squandered it and was even on the verge of getting into trouble before making a draw. Finally, round 11 was a disaster. Once again he had a clear advantage, this time against Peter Svidler, and not only did he let Svidler off the hook, he even lost the game. That was Svidler's first and so far only win in the event, and for Aronian the death blow to his hopes of qualifying for the world championship.

    As for other storylines, I'll leave them to you to decide on your own. Meantime, here are the games of rounds 7-11, most of them annotated.

    Tuesday
    Mar222016

    Candidates Update: Anand, Karjakin Lead After 9 Rounds; Five Rounds Remain

    A real report will have to wait, but some scattershot comments are in order at the moment.

    1. The fallout from the Aronian - Nakamura touch-move game has been significant, with both players coming in for criticism. The source in Nakamura's case is obvious: for the rules violation. (He has had another problem that indirectly resulted from the first. Understandably upset about the game, he avoided the post-game press conference, and as a result will be docked 10% of his prize fund. Ouch.) As for Aronian, he has received a couple of criticisms. The first was from Nakamura, who said in an interview that Aronian had "made it personal" (or words to that effect) in the immediate aftermath of the situation. I have no idea what was said, but perhaps some lip reader can suss out the details from the video. The second criticism concerned Aronian's claim in the post-game press conference that he was winning. Emil Sutovsky (on Facebook) was particularly exercised about this, and while I think he's right on the substance - Aronian wasn't winning or even close to winning; if anything, it's a near-elementary draw - his reaction was severely overblown.

    2. Anyone in the mood for Anand-Carlsen III? There were five matches between Karpov and Kasparov, back in the day, and all five had a great deal of excitement. (There were also three Botvinnik-Smyslov World Championship matches and - sort of - three World Championship matches between Karpov and Korchnoi.) Granted, the first A-C match was terrible, and the second one was better but still disappointing. But maybe the third time is the charm? If nothing else, it will mean that Anand will have automatic qualification to at least one more Candidates cycle, and I'm sure all his rivals are excited about that. Frankly, whatever one's feelings about Anand and seeing him play in his 25th consecutive world championship match (just kidding, it will "only" be his sixth if he makes it back), it's still an incredible accomplishment.

    3. Will Giri (or Svidler) win a game in this event? They have had some enormous advantages, but somehow, something keeps happening to thwart them before the finish line.

    Friday
    Mar182016

    Candidates Update: Karjakin and Aronian Lead with +2, Anand at +1 After 6 Rounds

    After three more rounds of the Candidates - six overall, out of 14 - the players get another rest day, and it was well-earned. In round 4 there was only one decisive game, but it was a big one with one leader - Sergey Karjakin - beating another - Viswanathan Anand. That gave Karjakin sole ownership of first place, which he maintained after four draws in round 5.

    In round 6 things livened up. First, Anand pole-axed Peter Svidler, winning with a nice sacrificial attacking game that constituted a serious improvement over a 2004 game between Alexei Shirov and Alexander Onischuk. Svidler's 18...Nb3 was a good move when Onischuk played it, but the seemingly slight difference between the two games made all the difference in the world, and Anand crushed him in good style.

    That brought Anand within half a point of the lead by round's end, and Karjakin was fortunate to remain in first (shared first by round's end) as he was in some serious trouble against Fabiano Caruana. Fortunately for Karjakin his opponent preferred 30.g5 to 30.Bf3, after which he saved the game with a couple of spectacular moves.

    The third game to finish was a draw between Veselin Topalov and Anish Giri. Giri came close to a win, outplaying his opponent step by step, but Topalov made a last desperate stand and held the game a pawn down.

    The fourth and final game was an oddity. Levon Aronian was pushing with White throughout against Hikaru Nakamura, but the rook endgame that arose after White's 52nd move should have been drawn. Nakamura promptly made a serious error, which Aronian in turn failed to take advantage of. Another 22 moves go by with Aronian still pressing and Nakamura still probably drawing. Unfortunately for Nakamura, he hastily grabbed his king with the obvious intention of moving it, only to realize that it was a huge error. At that moment he tried to turn it into a "j'adoube", which is pretty amazing. Of course Aronian would have none of that, and the arbiter came quickly to help resolve the situation. Nakamura gave up the claim, moved the king, and soon had to resign the game. Here's the video of the critical moments (HT to Ross Hytnen):

    The games of the last three rounds are here, and I've analyzed three of the four games from round 6, either in whole or in part. Here are the pairings for round 7, on Saturday:

     

    • Svidler (2.5) - Caruana (3)
    • Karjakin (4) - Aronian (4)
    • Nakamura (2) - Topalov (2)
    • Giri (3) - Anand (3.5)

     

    Tuesday
    Mar152016

    Book Notice: Sergey Kasparov's *The Exchange Sacrifice: A Practical Guide*

    Sergey Kasparov, The Exchange Sacrifice: A Practical Guide. (Russell Enterprises, 2016.) 256 pp., $24.95.

    Belarusian grandmaster Sergey Kasparov (no known relation to the 13th World Champion) is a prolific author of opening books, but as far as I'm aware this is his first book on a different chess subject. The book covers the theme of sacrificing a rook for a bishop or knight - the "exchange sacrifice" of the title - more specifically, the positional exchange sacrifice (often but not always with the materially weaker side gaining a pawn as further compensation). In other words, Kasparov examines cases where the sac doesn't result in material gain or a forced mate, but only in enduring compensation of one kind or another.

    What that kind amounts to is the basis for chapters 3-12 of the book. The first two chapters are a little odd, or at least the second one is. Chapter 1 is "The Exchange Sacrifice in the Games of Tigran Petrosian", and chapter 2 replaces the last two words with "Anatoly Karpov". These titles are written with lawyerly precision: technically true but somewhat misleading. Most chess fans, especially those acquainted with Petrosian, would think that these chapters look at successful exchange sacrifices by those players. In Petrosian's case, they'd be mostly right. Most of the exchange sacs in that chapter are by Petrosian, and in almost every one of those cases he wins or draws. In the Karpov chapter, by contrast, he is often on the receiving end of an exchange sac, and his overall results in the chapter are relatively poor. (Maybe S. Kasparov has inherited some of G. Kasparov's antipathy towards the 12th World Champion?) There's also a noteworthy omission from the chapter. One of Karpov's best games, from what was unquestionably the best tournament of his career, was his victory over Veselin Topalov from Linares 1994. This game featured not one but two exchange sacrifices, and even if the author felt that the second one was more of a sham sac leading to clear gains, the first exchange sac merited inclusion in the volume.

    After those chapters the material is organized by objective subject matter. Chapter 3, "Domination", covers exchange sacs where a "player tries to compensate for his material losses by optimizing the positions of his pieces which in turn become considerably more active than their counterparts"; in these situations "the sacrifice does not lead...to anything specific."

    The subject matter of Chapters 4-5, "Fighting for the Initiative", "Trying to 'Muddy the Waters'", and "Utilizing an Advantage" are what one would expect from the chapter titles. But what of Chapter 7, "Simply the Best"? There is no thematic unity here, nor any guideposts that would help players generalize from the examples. The only common thread is that in each case the exchange sacrifice was the best move--but isn't that what we're normally aiming for in any case? (Not always, but usually.)

    After this the chapter headings return to comprehensibility: Chapter 8 is "Launching an Attack Against the King", and Chapter 9 covers the flip side: "Reducing Your Opponent's Offensive Potential". If the ...Rxc3 sac in the Dragon and other Open Sicilians leaps to mind when you think of exchange sacrifices, you'll feel a sense of resolution and relief in Chapter 10, "Destroying a Pawn Chain" - though the title is a misnomer. (Pawns on [for example] a2, b2, and c2 may constitute a pawn island, but they are not a pawn chain - that occurs when pawns are connected by bonds of protection [e.g. pawns on c3, d4 and e5 constitute a chain].) Chapter 11, "Building a Fortress", is the longest chapter in the book, and it is followed by the finale, Chapter 12, "Activating Your Bishop".

    The book concludes with 16 exercises. In each case the task is to evaluate an exchange sac, and this brings up an important point about the book. Kasparov is not giving a primer that could be titled, "Winning With the Exchange Sacrifice"; he is exploring the topic and examining the sacrifice in its many manifestations. There are no promises that it will or even should succeed. This is a strength of the book, not least because we will all sometimes be on the receiving end of the "gift".

    The book uses a complete game format, and in all there are 197 games in the book. That's a lot of games, and I don't know how many amateurs will find the topic so riveting that they'll want to read through the book from cover to cover. It is a useful book, as there are few if any books dedicated solely to the subject, and Kasparov's upbeat writing style helps as well. If you find the topic interesting, get it; if not, don't. And if you're not sure, or if you're simply curious about the book, have a look at this excerpt. (Or at least try to. It's messed up at the moment, but I've contacted the publisher and a proper file will hopefully be uploaded very soon at the same URL.)

    Tuesday
    Mar152016

    Jorasch & Capobianco on the Candidates, Post-Round 3

    Round 4 is in the books now (Karjakin beat Anand; all other games drawn), but here at least, courtesy of James Jorasch himself, are his win probabilities after round 3:

     

    Pre-tournament

    Including Round 1

    Including Round 2

    Including Round 3

    Point Standings

    Anand

    6.7%

    13.0%

    15.2%

    13.1%

    2.0

    Aronian

    14.5%

    16.3%

    14.5%

    27.8%

    2.0

    Caruana

    19.1%

    20.0%

    19.2%

    17.9%

    1.5

    Giri

    16.7%

    14.9%

    16.3%

    12.4%

    1.5

    Karjakin

    6.7%

    6.1%

    12.7%

    13.4%

    2.0

    Nakamura

    17.2%

    16.1%

    8.8%

    7.0%

    1.0

    Svidler

    5.9%

    6.2%

    5.8%

    5.9%

    1.5

    Topalov

    13.2%

    7.4%

    7.6%

    2.3%

    0.5

     

    Those interested in more data on a round-by-round basis can email him at james[at symbol]sciencehouse[dot com] with the subject line "subscribe candidates tournament."

    Tuesday
    Mar152016

    Book Notice: Reinfeld's *The Complete Chess Course*

    Fred Reinfeld, The Complete Chess Course, 21st Century Edition. (Russell Enterprises, 2016.) 288 pp., $24.95.

    Fred Reinfeld (1910-1964) was an insanely prolific writer (and not just on chess) and a strong master as well. Despite his achievements in chess, most of his contributions to the literature of our game were aimed at novices and lower-level club players. The book under review here, originally published in 1959, is just such a book. Americans around my age will remember the black cover with the infinite chessboard, and the book's thickness. It was a 704 page monster that probably filled its owner with the confident belief that if he could just work his way through the whole thing he'd be ready to whip everyone but the club pro. (I was dumbfounded to see that the current edition runs just 288 pages - a substantial size in its own right, but skinny compared to the older version.)

    The book was not one of my first books, but at some point, when I was 10 or 11, I picked up a copy and brought it with me on a vacation to Greece, along with another book of the same era, The Soviet School of Chess. (Both books were in print years before I was born; I'm not that old.) All I remember about the CCC (as opposed to the book about chess in the CCCP) could be summed up in results. When I left, I was scoring around 80% against my best friend, and when I came back two months later, after a steady diet of weak opposition and Reinfeld's book, it was more like 55-60%. (I'm reminded of an old joke. Question: How do you make a small fortune? Answer: Start with a large fortune and open a restaurant.)

    The narrower gap between me and my friend isn't really Reinfeld's fault. My friend may have been working harder, looking at books better suited to our skill level, practicing his tactics more diligently, and certainly playing stronger opposition than I was. Chess improvement - like improvement in many fields - benefits from exertion and feedback. There is good advice and good chess content in CCC, but it was too easy for me as a youngster to enjoy the book as a passive reader.

    So my advice to a novice considering the book - or any book for novices - is to go through it once and then either give it away or put it on the shelf for at least a year. A beginner's book is useful to get a novice started, to offer the bare rudiments, but most improvement is going to come from playing, getting some feedback, doing tactics, and seeing what good chess looks like. Ultimately though, very few people learn to play decent chess from a book, so treat CCC (or any other book of that ilk) like the user's manual for your TV rather than a Bible.

    For more on the book, there's a PDF excerpt here.

    Tuesday
    Mar152016

    Kramnik and Gelfand on the Candidates: Age or Youth?

    Both Vladimir Kramnik and Boris Gelfand remain near the top of the heap of world chess, despite their both being north of 40 years of age, but the interviews compiled here they take opposing sides when it comes to the role of age in the ongoing Candidates' tournament. Which player took which side? I'll let you guess before looking it up, although since one of the two often refers to himself as a "pensioner" you can probably figure it out in advance. As for which of the two is correct, we'll have to wait and see.

    Tuesday
    Mar152016

    Women's World Championship: Hou Yifan Wins Game 9 To Regain Her Title

    In a dog-bites-man story, Hou Yifan won game 9 to finish off a relatively easy Women's World Championship match against Mariya Muzychuk. Muzychuk had won the title by winning a knockout event last year; Hou had skipped the event due to another commitment.  Hou earned the match by winning the previous Grand Prix cycle, and regained the title she held from 2010-2012 and from 2013-2015 by defeating Muzychuk 6-3, winning three games, drawing six and losing none.

    Going into the last game Muzychuk needed a win, as the match was a best-of-ten contest and Hou needed only a draw to regain her title. Hou tried to keep things safe on the white side of an old-fashioned Classical Sicilian with 6.Be2, but Muzychuk managed to inject some life into the game. Unfortunately for her, Hou played very well, neutralized Black's initiative on the kingside, and her typical queenside break through won the day. Muzychuk made no egregious errors; her opponent simply won a masterpiece on the way to reclaiming the crown. (The last three games can be replayed here, with my light annotations to the finale.)

    Congratulations to the new/old champion!

    Monday
    Mar142016

    Lawsuits, Anyone?

    Agon issued a ban preventing other sites from transmitting the moves from the Candidates Tournament until an hour or so after the round finished; a ban which was essentially ignored by the parties the order was aimed against. Here's the latest develoment, from Agon.

    Monday
    Mar142016

    Candidates Update: Anand, Karjakin, and Aronian Lead With +1 Scores

    The event hasn't really heated up yet and no one is showing especially stellar form. This is typical for such a high-stress event, where the first order of business is to avoid losing. So far six of the eight players have managed to do that, the exceptions being Veselin Topalov and Hikaru Nakamura.

    Topalov lost to Viswanathan Anand in round 1 (unnecessarily so given that he had an advantage early on) and then again in round 3, this time to Levon Aronian when he missed a fairly simple trick. Topalov sacrificed a pawn for the bishop pair and was doing fine, but his 17th move was a blunder. He assumed that 17...Nxe4 was impossible because of 18.Bxe4, when 18...dxe4 loses to the obvious 19.Rxd8. But what he missed is that 18.Bxe4 would be met by 18...Qf6, attacking the rook on a1 while breaking the pin. So Topalov went two pawns down, and Aronian succeeded in winning the game in the second time control.

    As for Nakamura, he lost in round 2, blundering in a worse but certainly not lost position against Sergey Karjakin. With White, I think Nakamura would have anticipated and seen what was wrong with 29...Nxg3 10 times out of 10 in classical chess, and probably at least 80% of the time in a 3-minute game. Sometimes players overestimate their own chances, however, and somehow he failed to spot the refutation culminating in 34.Rc7 when executing 29...Nxg3 as Black.

    The players are off on Monday, and the pairings for round 4 on Tuesday are as follows:

    • Svidler (1.5) - Aronian (2)
    • Caruana (1.5) - Topalov (.5)
    • Karjakin (2) - Anand (2)
    • Nakamura (1) - Giri (1.5)

    All the games so far (but without notes) are here.

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