The Dutch Championship finished a week or two ago (won by Loek van Wely in a playoff over Sergei Tiviakov), but I didn't notice the remarkable game between van Wely and Erwin L'Ami until some time later. How often does a 2650 player lose in just 15 moves? Have a look here at the short, gory details.
Biel ended as one would have expected for most of the event; Maxime Vachier-Lagrave recovered from yesterday's "hiccup" against Anish Giri and took clear first after drawing - hanging on, really - against Radoslaw Wojtaszek. "MVL" had the white pieces and played a very safe opening line, but after the odd 25.f4 he was worse and had to pull it together to avoid a complete collapse in the event. He did, and his score of 6/10 kept him half a point ahead of Wojtaszek.
Hou Yifan could have tied for first with a win against Pentala Harikrishna, but although she equalized with Black she went a bit crazy and lost. She had already been taking some risks for several moves by her 27th move, but 27...Rf5? was just too much. 27...Bg5 had to be played, when Black is still okay; instead, she sacrificed the exchange for scant compensation, and was slowly but surely ground down. She finished tied with Harikrishna and Anish Giri for 3rd-5th with 50%.
In dead last was Alexander Motylev, who had some advantage against Giri but preferred the safety of a draw by repetition to the possibility of a 5th loss in the tournament.
The Gelfand-Svidler rapid match also finished today (or yesterday, depending on where you are), and Peter Svidler was the winner. He won game 7 while game 8 was drawn, and he thus won the match with a 5-3 score.
That does it for elite events until the Olympiad, but two other events may be of interest to some readers. The British Championship has passed the halfway point, and Jonathan Hawkins is leading with a perfect 6/6, leaving him a point and a half clear of his closest competitors. There's also the Politiken Cup, a strong annual open tournament held in Helsingor, Denmark; this too is led thus far by a player with a perfect score. Bu Xiangzhi has 5/5; nine players are half a point back in this 10-round tournament.
Biel: On Tuesday all three games were drawn, but on Wednesday White went 3-0. This was highly significant to the race for first, because Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who had been a convincing leader throughout, was finally defeated while his closest rivals both won their games. Vachier-Lagrave lost to the hitherto winless Anish Giri, who played very well if not perfectly to keep some drama in the tournament. Radoslaw Wojtaszek won a nice game against Pentala Harikrishna, while Hou Yifan capitalized on a serious error by Alexander Motylev, and in the process brought her rating to a very impressive 2665. (Just 11 points south of Judit Polgar!) Both Wojtaszek and Hou are within half a point of Vachier-Lagrave, but as both have Black in the last round (in Wojtaszek's case, Black against Vachier-Lagrave himself) the Frenchman is still a big favorite to finish in clear first.
Gelfand-Svidler Rapid Match: Boris Gelfand won quickly in game 5, with the black pieces, no less, but then promptly lost the rematch to end the day as he started it: a point behind his opponent. The last two games will be played today.
Hou Yifan fans may wish to check out her video series on her career over on Chess24. (It's available a la carte for non-members for five euros.) While presenting in English is clearly a struggle for her, her meaning is usually pretty clear and her understated style is pleasant. Not a "must see", perhaps, but I find it interesting to watch a world champion talk about his or her successes.
Perhaps so, or at least close enough to have the Olympiad take place with all the tardy teams participating. See this article, especially the update, for more information.
Biel: Caruana won Dortmund convincingly; likewise So in Bergamo. Now it looks like Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is going to be a third straight impressive winner of an elite round-robin event. His win today over Alexander Motylev extended his lead to a point and a half over the field - pretty impressive after just seven rounds (of 10). He has 5 points; Pentala Harikrishna, Radoslaw Wojtaszek and Hou Yifan have 3.5.
Vachier-Lagrave's triumph today wasn't one of preparation. He was surprised by Motylev's 17.c3, which was a new move in a reasonably well-known position. (It wasn't a huge novelty, as it's a natural move and the computer's first choice, but given how much there is to know even a somewhat "obvious" novelty can still be effective.) Vachier-Lagrave's reaction wasn't best, according to the computer, which advocates the greedy 17...Nxb3 18.axb3 Qxb3. Easy for a computer, but not for a human, who doesn't know if the pawn is nutritious or poisonous. Motylev obtained the advantage, but in a very risky situation after he sacrificed a piece. The advantage would have been significant after 23.exf7+ Kxf7 24.Rhf1 Qe3+ 25.Kb1 Qe6 26.Qb4!, though even after that he maintained a plus through 27 moves. 28.Qe4 would have kept up the pressure, but after that small slip, and a bigger slip next move, he was suddenly worse. Then came time trouble, and on his last move he even managed to blunder a rook to a trivial two-mover. A pity for Motylev, but a good practical achievement by the young Frenchman.
Anish Giri failed to make up ground with the second-placers or to keep pace with the leader, and drew disappointingly with White against Harikrishna. Hou Yifan had an excellent chance to take over solo second, but spoiled a winning position against Wojtaszek. Her 29.Qxc2 was very natural, eliminating a dangerous passed pawn and consolidating her material advantage, but after a long series of exchanges her winning chances were minimal. Instead 29.Bxd5 Qxd5 30.Re8 (threatening 31.Qa3/b4!) would have won. After 30...g5 (30...g6 31.Qa3! mates) 31.R8e5! (not 31.Qa3 this time, because after 31...Rxe8 32.Rxe8+ Kg7 33.Qf8 isn't mate; here Black is even winning) 31...Qf3 (not 31...Bxe5?? 32.Ne7+) 32.Rc5 and now White will be two pawns up, not just one, and will win.
Gelfand-Svidler: Peter Svidler won an interesting third game, converting an ending with a doubled extra pawn with Black to score the first full point in this eight-game rapid match. Game 4 was an "easy" draw, so at the halfway point and leading into the rest day Svidler leads Boris Gelfand 2.5-1.5.
I should mention that the British Championship is underway across the pond. After 3 rounds of 11 there are three leaders: Jonathan Hawkins, Chris Ward and Justin Tan of...Australia. Unfortunately, the three biggest dogs are all absent - Michael Adams, Nigel Short and Luke McShane aren't there, and Gawain Jones and Matthew Sadler aren't playing either. That's not the fault of the players who are there, but it does take away from the event's attractiveness.
Two of the major ongoing tournaments ended today, but in both cases the identity of the winner had been known well in advance. In Dortmund, Fabiano Caruana had already clinched clear first the day before, and for him today was a mere formality. He drew comfortably with Peter Leko, and his final score of 5.5/7 added up to victory by a point and a half, a TPR of 2934 and a soon-to-be-official rating of 2801. That puts him into third place on the rating list, and makes him the 7th player in chess history to (officially) go over 2800. (The others: Kasparov, Kramnik, Topalov, Anand, Carlsen and Aronian.) Come on home!
While the last round may have been a coronation ceremony for Caruana, the other games were played with something at stake, and all finished with winners and losers. Georg Meier won in the first round, against Vladimir Kramnik, and he got his second victory in the last round, over Arkadij Naiditsch. That was a strange and very hard-fought game, with the evaluation regularly fluctuating between a significant advantage for Meier and equality. The last fluctuation was hard to understand, but at the end of a tournament fatigue is common, and with it errors often follow close behind. With the obvious 50...c3+ Naiditsch would eliminate Meier's passed a-pawn, and then a draw would be a foregone conclusion. Instead he must have thought that he could do more damage by keeping his c-pawn alive, and using it and his e-pawn to overtax White's resources. Instead, it was White's a- and g-pawns that proved overwhelming, and Meier caught Leko in a tie for second. (Had the game been drawn Naiditsch would have been the one tying for second.)
Like Meier, Kramnik also bookended the tournament - but with losses rather than wins. He came out of the opening and early middlegame with at least equality and sometimes even an edge against Ponomariov in a 5.Re1 Berlin, but got outplayed little by little and eventually lost. The tournament was about as bad for Kramnik as it was good for Caruana. Kramnik came in next to last and lost 17 rating points, barely staying in the world's top ten. After a great 2013, Kramnik is having a disastrously bad 2014. Meanwhile, Ponomariov leapfrogged Kramnik in the tournament standings, with 3 points to Kramnik's 2.5.
Kramnik avoided clear last only because of David Baramidze, who lost his third game in the tournament, this one to Michael Adams. Adams tied for 3rd-4th with Naiditsch on 50%.
Next, the ACP Golden Classic in Bergamo, which finished with a clear victory for Wesley So. His 4.5/6 (and a 2844 TPR) gave him first place by a full point over Baadur Jobava, and in the process he gained 11 rating points to reach #12 on the rating list - up four places from the tournament's beginning. (So has been going to college in the U.S., so wouldn't it be nice if he decided to represent the U.S., and likewise for Caruana? Put them on a team together with Hikaru Nakamura and Gata Kamsky, and we'd have real chances to compete for Olympic gold! Waking from my dream now....)
Finally, while two of the three big ongoing events have finished (Biel is on a rest day), a new one has sprung up to take its place. A rapid match between Boris Gelfand and Peter Svidler started today (Sunday), and the first two games were exciting draws. Gelfand was very close to a win in the first game, while the second saw both players having chances (though not as big as Gelfand's in the first game).
1. Dortmund: With one round to go, Fabiano Caruana (come home!!) clinched clear first with a white win in a Berlin ending over Michael Adams. His brilliant score of 5/6 gives him a 2972 TPR and a 2801.7 rating on the Live List. Unless he loses against Peter Leko in the last round, he will finally achieve an official 2800 rating, making him the 7th player in history to reach that remarkable plateau. Leko, who drew with Vladimir Kramnik, is a point and a half behind, as is Arkadij Naiditsch, who won an impressive attacking game against Ruslan Ponomariov.
2. Biel: The second cycle got underway with three draws, and so Maxime Vachier-Lagrave maintains his full point lead over Pentala Harikrishna, Radoslaw Wojtaszek and Hou Yifan.
1. Dortmund: Peter Leko beat Arkadij Naiditsch, while the other three games were drawn. Michael Adams pressed with Black against Georg Meier and won material, but was unable to convert. In the battle of the top dogs (by rating), first Fabiano Caruana (with Black) had some advantage and then Vladimir Kramnik did, but it never got out of control for either player and the draw was agreed after 48 moves. Caruana leads with 4/5, a point clear of Leko.
2. Biel: After losing his first two games, a resurgent Anish Giri won the next two and faced top seed and tournament leader Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the final game of the first cycle. With a win Giri would have put himself in clear first; instead, Vachier-Lagrave won a nice game to extend his lead and relegate Giri into a tie for last. (The other two games were drawn.) Vachier-Lagrave has 3.5/5, three players have 2.5, including Hou Yifan, and Giri and one other player have 2.
3. Bergamo: The game between Zoltan Almasi and Sabino Brunello has been adjourned, but in the game that was most critical for the leading standings Wesley So beat Baadur Jobava - convincingly - and has 4/5 with one game to play. There are a number of players who could theoretically catch him, depending on the remaining games and adjournments, but it seems unlikely. Emil Sutovsky is in nominal second with 3/5 and a game to play, Brunello has just one and a half points, but with two adjournments and a game with So yet to be played he's still theoretically alive in the race for first.
First, an open letter from FIDE President Kirsan Iljumzhinov to the Norwegian organizers of the upcoming Olympiad, expressing his dismay about their decision not to allow the Russian women's team to compete. He also protests what he considers their usurpations of FIDE's authority, a theme struck here by Russian Chess Federation President Andrey Filatov and the legal counsel he has retained.