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    Entries in 2013 FIDE World Cup (24)

    Friday
    Aug232013

    2013 World Cup: Round 5, Day 1

    The World Cup has reached the quarter-finals and the fatigue is starting to show. With no rest days other than those earned by avoiding tiebreaks, the players have been playing for most of the past 13 days. Caruana and Vachier-Lagrave have managed to get three days off; Kramnik, Kamsky, Tomashevsky two; Svidler, Andreikin and Korobov just one. That's not easy, especially as there aren't any tension-free games.

    The nerves and fatigue have been showing, as I said, and that in almost all of today's games. Tomashevsky-Kamsky was a 16-move draw, and while Kamsky had equalized it seems likely that part of the story was that Tomashevsky simply didn't have the emotional energy to force himself to go for a big fight. His tournament road has been absolutely exhausting: he escaped the first round by winning an Armageddon game, and after a relatively straightforward win in normal time in round 2 he came up against Aronian. He came through that test, and then went through yesterday's incredible tiebreak with Morozevich, needing to win in 169 moves with Black just to force more playoff games. It's a pity to burn a white game so quickly, but self-preservation is part of the game here.

    Andreikin-Svidler was the one game where it seemed to me that nerves and exhaustion didn't play much of a role. Andreikin played a Torre Attack-cum-London System, and was on the verge of making progress when Svidler found the excellent idea of 19...f6, 20...Rae8 and 21...e5. The tactics made it work by a single tempo, and Svidler soon found himself with an edge. He was satisfied with a draw though, believing that the sort of small advantage he had wasn't the kind that would plausibly lead to a win.

    The other draw saw Vachier-Lagrave really pushing against Caruana, and at some points Vachier-Lagrave thought it was or was about to be technically winning. He made a few inaccuracies though, and Caruana just managed to escape and draw a pawn-down ending.

    Finally, there was one win. Kramnik defeated Korobov with White, alternating stretches of good play with serious errors. He was winning or very nearly so in the early middlegame, but 29.Rb7? was a big error, allowing Black to the opportunity to round up and take White's powerful passed c-pawn. 29.Rd7 would have stopped that, and then the win would have been more straightforward. Korobov was in time trouble though, and his plan of 32...g6 followed by the exchange sac 33...Rxc6 gave Kramnik a winning advantage all over again. (32...Ne7 and grabbing the c-pawn without sacrificing anything would have led to a position where Kramnik's compensation was sufficient, but not more - or at worst not much more.) Still, prosperity didn't seem to suit the ex-champion, and he missed the relatively obvious 38.Qb4, just about winning on the spot. Fortunately for him his advantage was too large to squander, and he converted the win in the second time control.

    Kamsky, Caruana, Korobov and Svidler have White tomorrow (Saturday) - stay tuned.

    Thursday
    Aug222013

    2013 World Cup: Round 4, Day 3: Tomashevsky The Tiebreak Hero

    Three of the four tiebreaks today at the World Cup were straightforward affairs, but the last was something else. Two of the three relatively mundane tiebreaks saw upsets as two of the pre-tournament favorites were eliminated.

    Dmitry Andreikin didn't just show Sergey Karjakin the door, he gave him a swift kick through it. In their first game Andreikin blew him off the board with a very direct kingside attack. As usual, Andreikin didn't go at him with an absolute main line. That's not his usual approach anyway, and against Karjakin, who is one of the most well-armed theoreticians on the planet, that would be counterproductive in any case. Instead, he chose the Torre Attack, and everything was as smooth as silk. In the second game the more theoretical Steinitz French appeared on the board, and this time Karjakin went head-hunting. Andreikin defended well, and in need of the win Karjakin may have eventually gone astray out of a need to take risks. The result was a second Andreikin win. This guy is dangerous!

    That was a match of two players born in 1990, and the winner will be joined in the quarterfinals by another member of that golden year, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. (The leader of that pack is of course Magnus Carlsen.) "MVL", as people who don't want to type his full name tend to call him, was in some trouble in the first tiebreak game against Boris Gelfand, thanks to the lemon 21.f3? This didn't last too long, and the position became equal after Gelfand erroneously chose to take on d5 on move 27 rather than going after the f-pawn (e.g. with 27...Rf8 or 27...Bf6 28.Qd2 Bxf5). Soon Vachier-Lagrave was better, and he eventually won the game in an ending. In game two Gelfand tried hard to make something happen, but in the end he was the recipient of a semi-charitable draw offer.

    In the match between Peter Svidler and Le Quang Liem, the favorite (Svidler) eventually prevailed, but it wasn't at all easy. In their first game, Le was just about winning out of the opening, had he played 21.Bf3. Missing that chance he was still better, but with (very) resilient play Svidler eventually managed to equalize and draw. Game two was a 135-move marathon that could very well have been drawn, but as in his second classical game with Alexander Grischuk (a 154-move monster) Le got a bit careless in an ending that just went on and on. The place where the trouble really began was 73...Ra1; 73...axb5 was better. The difference is that after 73...Ra1 Svidler could (and did) play 74.Bxd5, and with a passed d-pawn Svidler was able to keep posing difficult problems, and finally Le was unable to solve them. After 73...axb5 the capture 74.Bxd5 results in an immediate draw: 74...Ra4+ and now if 75.Kc3 b4+! saves the game. If the king goes to d3 Black has 76...Ra3+ and 77...Rxe3, while on king moves to the second rank 77...b3+ will quickly do the trick.

    Finally, there was the majestic fight between Alexander Morozevich and Evgeny Tomashevsky. In the first g/25 Tomashevsky pressed a bit with White and even won a pawn in a rook and bishop ending, but because the bishops were of opposite colors Morozevich held the draw. In game two it was almost exactly the same story with the names changed: Morozevich pressed, had good winning chances, won a pawn but failed to win in an ending with rooks and opposite-colored bishops. So they and they alone were forced to move on the 10' + 10" games.

    In the first Tomashevsky obtained a huge advantage with White in the early middlegame, and if he had played 25.Nc7 the point would almost surely have been his. Instead 25.Rc1 allowed Morozevich a great tactical trick: 25...exf4 and now on the obvious 27.exf4 Black has 27...Qxb5!! 28.axb5 Bd4+ 29.Kh1 Nf2+ with a draw. The knight can't be taken on account of a back rank mate, while 30.Kg1 Nh3+ 31.Kh1 Nf2+ repeats. Tomashevsky was forced to play 26.Rxc8 Rxc8 27.Rxf4 (27.exf4 Qxb5!! again), maintaining a smaller advantage. More importantly, he no longer had control over the position, and Black started to enjoy more tactical possibilities. After 29.Qd5? (29.Rd1 is probably still winning) the game started to get away from Tomashevsky, and in severe time trouble on move 36 he blundered with 36.Qe7?? (the logical follow-up to his mistaken 35th move) and resigned after 36...Qxb4, as 37.Qxd8 allows an elementary smothered mate combination: 37...Qxd4+ 38.Kh1 Nf2+ 39.Kg1 Nh3+ 40.Kh1 Qg1+ 41.Rxg1 Nf2#.

    Between the discouragement and Moro's having White one would expect this to be the end of Tomashevsky's World Cup, but he showed some fantastic mental strength. He equalized pretty quickly with Black, but achieving equality is one thing and obtaining winning chances is another. So he maneuvered...and maneuvered and maneuvered, managing to find every possibility to keep the game going and to create chances. When he found something, he went for it; when he didn't, he manuevered around, looking for chances and luring Morozevich into doing something impatient. After a staggering 169 moves and about an hour and a half of play, the "ten-minute" game came to a conclusion, and Tomashevsky had won it. (That game, with my brief comments, is here.)

    It's pretty hard to come back from a game like that, but it looked like Morozevich was up to the challenge in the first 5' + 3" game. Tomashevsky castled queenside on the black side of an Advance Caro-Kann, and Moro's attack on that wing looked very dangerous. With accurate play Black could hold, and that's just what Tomashevsky demonstrated. Tomashevsky made a couple of minor errors, but the overall trend was in his favor and he was the deserved winner. He rebuffed Moro's attack, collected his offerings and crashed through with a powerful counterattack to win the game.

    Now the burden was on Morozevich to win with Black to stay alive, and he couldn't do it. In fact, he was lucky to come out with a draw - Tomashevsky even missed mate in one (twice!) in his haste at the end of the game to force a perpetual. All in all, though, it was great play by Tomashevsky. Defeating Levon Aronian wasn't a fluke and it wasn't followed by a letdown: he's really there and not just showing up to collect a paycheck.

    It's down to the quarter-finals now, with the following matches (given in bracket order):

    • Tomashevsky - Kamsky
    • Svidler - Andreikin
    • Caruana - Vachier-Lagrave
    • Kramnik - Korobov

    I went 5-3 predicting last round's results (I got Tomashevsky right, but missed on Korobov, Andreikin and Vachier-Lagrave); let's see if I can improve my percentage this round. In the first match I'll go with Kamsky just to fulfill my patriotic duty, but I wouldn't be very upset to see Tomashevsky win. He's having a great tournament and it would be nice to see it continue, and he seems like a decent individual as well. The second match is the hardest one to predict, I think. Svidler's top end is presumably still higher than Andreikin's, but the latter is looking so smooth and confident that it's hard to guess against him. Still, I expect Svidler to find a way to win. In the third match I'll stick my neck out and go for the upset: MVL. Vachier-Lagrave has been playing great chess recently, and his rating is approaching the ranks of the super-elite. Finally, I expect Kramnik to end Korobov's run.

    Wednesday
    Aug212013

    2013 World Cup: Round 4, Day 2: Kramnik, Caruana, Kamsky and Korobov "Kwalify"

    There's something about chess excellence and names starting with a "k" sound: Karpov, Korchnoi, Kasparov, Carlsen, and the first and third players listed in the title have enjoyed remarkable careers as well. Caruana is an up-and-comer who is just about "there", and Korobov is no slouch either. The only player missing from the list is Karjakin, but no doubt he'll do his duty in tomorrow's tiebreaks. Just a coincidence, you say? Of course, and I agree almost completely. The small bit where I think there may be something to it is a player's self-confidence. Knowing that one is a part of a tradition, even an artificial one like this, can make a psychological difference. (To offer a similar example, studies have found that students' math scores improved when they were told they shared a birthday with a famous mathematician. The mind is an amazing thing!)

    Let's turn to today's games from the World Cup. Vladimir Kramnik had a tougher time with White against Ivanchuk than with Black, perhaps in part from a bit of indecision about going for a win or a draw. Still, he never got into too much trouble, and managed to draw and qualify for the next round.

    Fabiano Caruana needed to hold with the black pieces against Julio Granda Zuniga, and the latter's overly unprepossessing opening made Caruana's life a little too easy. With some hard work Granda found a way to create some problems, but no sooner had he done so than he slipped up and went under. Caruana won the match 2-0.

    Third, Gata Kamsky needed to hold with Black against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, and he did so - but only after some harrowing adventures. Mamedyarov had attacking chances, a big center and an even larger time advantage, but somehow Kamsky escaped with a lightning counterattack. It was a second straight impressive performance by the American GM.

    The other American GM, Hikaru Nakamura, is going home. Anton Korobov did a great job of outplaying Nakamura on the white side of a Dutch, and stood up as the first big upset of the round.

    The other four pairings are off to tiebreaks. Evgeny Tomashevsky seemed to have good chances against Alexander Morozevich, but the latter slipped away and achieved a draw. Peter Svidler didn't get much on the white side of an Exchange Slav, and so he and Le Quang Liem split the point relatively quickly. Sergey Karjakin also enjoyed a pull against Dmitry Andreikin, but like Morozevich Andreikin managed to hold. Finally, Boris Gelfand and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave had a hard-fought draw that saw one player and then the other obtain a very small edge, but never anything serious.

    To wrap up: the only quarter-final match that's set is Kramnik-Korobov. There will be four tiebreaks tomorrow, and as for my predictions so far I've got three right and one wrong (Nakamura's loss). Finally, the games are here, with my brief comments.

    Tuesday
    Aug202013

    2013 World Cup: Round 4, Day 1: Kramnik, Caruana and Kamsky Win

    Day 1 of round 4 of the 2013 World Cup got off to a slow start with super-quick draws in the Dmitry Andreikin - Sergey Karjakin and Hikaru Nakamura - Anton Korobov games, but then it heated up. (That's not to say the players with White had no ambitions - that surely was not the case with at least Nakamura. But neither achieved even the most minuscule of edges, and in neither case was there anything for White to do.)

    The next draw was a 27-mover between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Boris Gelfand, but don't be fooled for an instant by the move count. This was a very complicated game that would have been an impressive achievement by both sides, were it not all or practically home prep for both of them.

    Le Quang Liem drew an up and down game with Peter Svidler. Le's plan with queenside castling was a new wrinkle in the line, at least to Svidler, and soon White was much better. In fact, had Le played 23.Rxd5 Svidler professed himself just about ready to resign, and that isn't just a matter of Svidler's typical self-deprecation. He really would have been completely lost. After that reprieve he was still worse, but not lost, and by the end he may have been even better with 38...Ke6 instead of 38...Kf6, going for a repetition. After Susan Polgar and Lawrence Trent prodded him about that, Svidler bemoaned his being a "chicken". Despite all those misadventures, he's still tied in the match and has White tomorrow.

    The last draw was between Alexander Morozevich and Evgeny Tomashevsky, and the latter continued his fine, solid play, gradually equalizing and then even enjoying a little pull by the end.

    Now to the wins. The first game to finish, barely, was Fabiano Caruana's win over Julio Granda Zuniga. Granda was at most slightly worse before playing 20...f5??; after it, he was dead lost, and after the obvious 21.exf6 he resigned. Black can't take twice on e2 because White will trade rooks and promote the f-pawn, while 21...Qa6 can be met several ways, most appealingly and effectively by 22.f7! Rxe2 23.Bf5+! gxf5 24.Rxd8+ Kxd8 25.f8Q+ Kd7 (25...Re8 26.Rd1+ mates quickly) 26.Qf7+ when Black can move his king to the c-file and get mated with 27.Qxc7, or do something else and lose huge quantities of material after 27.Rd1+.

    The second decisive game to finish was a greater achievement by the winner. Gata Kamsky won a very impressive attacking game against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, filled with a whole series of sacrifices. Really a beautiful game.

    Finally, Vladimir Kramnik won with the black pieces against Vassily Ivanchuk, though as he told Polgar and Trent - the first thing out of his mouth after the congratulations - it would have been much better had it happened in London. In a queen and rook ending Ivanchuk underestimated the danger of pushing pawns around his king, and it cost him.

    So far my predictions for the round are going well: three right and none wrong! Meanwhile, enjoy all eight games here, with perfunctory comments in some cases and a bit of analysis in others.

    Monday
    Aug192013

    2013 World Cup: Round 3, Day 3 (Tiebreaks)

    We're down to the final 16 at the World Cup, and of the top 16 seeds only nine remain. Today's casualty was fourth seed Alexander Grischuk, who lost to Le Quang Liem. One would have expected Grischuk to be revitalized and Le discouraged by the former's 154-move marathon victory, but the Vietnamese player took it in stride and advanced pretty straightforwardly, winning the first game cleanly with Black and holding a draw in the rematch.

    Sergey Karjakin was in danger of getting bounced too after making one of the day's many egregious blunders in his first 10-minute game with Pavel Eljanov. 18...Rad8?? missed a nice but simple tactic: 19.Ng5 pretty much won on the spot, as 19...Bxg2 20.Rf4 leaves Black without a good defense to the threat of 21.Rxf6 followed by 22.Qxh7#. Playing 20...Re8 just shifts the mating square over to f7, so Karjakin varied a move earlier with 19...e5. After 20.Bxb7 exd4 21.Bd5 was a crusher, as the only defense to 22.Qxg6+ is 21...Nxd5, allowing 22.Qxh7#. Karjakin therefore resigned, but he rose to the occasion and won the rematch. He drew his first blitz game, with Black, and then ground out another win in the second blitz game, escaping the need for an Armageddon game.

    Among other favorites, Vladimir Kramnik and Fabiano Caruana both went 2-0 in the rapid phase, but while Kramnik's wins were clean Caruana was completely lost in the first game - with the white pieces, too - against Vladimir Malakhov. Luckily for him, Malakhov missed plenty of wins, the last of which was 61...Rf6+ 62.Ka7 Rxa6+ 63.Kxa6 Qa1+ and 64...Qxa8.

    Also getting through was Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who defeated the 14-year-old Chinese star Wei Yi with White and gave his opponent a draw from a won position in game 2. Wei Yi wasn't the only youngster to get the boot: Daniil Dubov was sent packing by Anton Korobov (the latter won with White and then drew with Black), while Anish Giri became Julio Granda Zuniga's third victim of the tournament. Granda won the first game with White and did an excellent job of holding with Black in the rematch to advance. Granda is both the lowest-rated player still remaining (2679 at the start of the tournament) and its eldest participant as well, as he is a ripe young 46 years of age.

    Other winners: Vassily Ivanchuk blanked Yuriy Kryvoruchko 2-0 in the rapid games, Alexander Morozevich squeaked out a win over Nikita Vitiugov by defeating him in the second blitz game (from what was a drawn ending just two moves up until Vitiugov's very last move), and Dmitry Andreikin defeated Dreev in a tiebreak match dominated by the latter. All that counts is the final result though, and Dreev was unable to close the deal. He won the first rapid game with Black and was better through much of the second game too, but eventually blundered a few times in time trouble and lost it. Andreikin won the third game with White reasonably cleanly, but in game 4 Dreev was really winning - up a rook for almost nothing. Andreikin had some initiative, but with a couple of accurate moves Dreev could have neutralized it and sent the match to the blitz games. Instead, he blundered his queen, and that was the end.

    So we're down to our final 16, and here are the pairings, in bracket order:

     

    • Tomashevsky - Morozevich
    • Kamsky - Mamedyarov
    • Le Quang Liem - Svidler
    • Karjakin - Andreikin
    • Caruana - Granda
    • Gelfand - Vachier-Lagrave
    • Kramnik - Ivanchuk
    • Nakamura - Korobov

     

    I'll dare some predictions. First, Morozevich has been very shaky all tournament long, so unless Tomashevsky has caught Aronian's cold or is too hung over from celebrating his win in the last round I think he'll knock Morozevich off too. Kamsky-Mamedyarov is a toss-up, but I'll do my patriotic duty and vote for Kamsky. The third match should normally be Svidler's and that's who I'm going with, but when Le is on he has this air of inevitability about him. Karjakin hasn't looked great in the tournament, but neither has Andreikin, and Karjakin is the stronger player. Caruana hasn't looked fantastic either, while the "old" guy is playing really well. I'm rooting for Granda, but I suspect Caruana is just a bit too strong. Let's go with Gelfand in the 6th match and Nakamura in the 8th, and that leaves the intriguing Kramnik-Ivanchuk tete-a-tete. If Kramnik isn't motivated out of his mind for this match, someone needs to check his pulse. I'm going with Kramnik to avenge himself on the man who cost him another shot at the world championship.

    Sunday
    Aug182013

    2013 World Cup: Round 3, Day 2: Lots of Draws, Aronian Out, Grischuk and Granda Survives

    For the most part it was a pretty boring sub-round at the 2013 World Cup. Of the first 14 games (out of 16), 13 were drawn, 7 in fewer than 29 moves. The only early win was Hikaru Nakamura's success against Baskaran Adhiban, featuring a nice exchange sac in the endgame. Nakamura won his match 2-0 and will face the winner of the Korobov-Dubov quick draw match. (Six more quick draws there followed by Armageddon? Don't bet against it.)

    Of the draws, two are especially worth singling out. Peter Svidler demonstrated some incredibly deep and lively preparation against Teimour Radjabov's anti-Gruenfeld line, giving up a whole rook for genuine compensation lacking in guarantees. Svidler was disappointed after the game that he didn't play 26...Rxd2 27.Rxd2 Nf1+, which forces White to choose between an immediate perpetual with 28.Kg2 Ne3+ 29.Kh2 Nf1+ (and elimination from the tournament) or vary with 28.Kg1 (all other ways to avoid the perpetual are outright losers) 28...Nxd2, when Black is at least very nearly winning. It was an aesthetic and practical flaw in the game, but even after Svidler's move the position was still objectively equal.

    The other particularly notable draw with Evgeny Tomashevsky's thrill ride against Levon Aronian. Having won game 1 with Black Tomashevsky probably would have dried the game up with White, given half a chance to do so, but Aronian's choice of the Snake Benoni prevented that idea from the start. Tomashevsky responded not just in a principled way, but as you might have expected him to play if he had been in the must-win situation. First he sacrificed a pawn in the opening, and then on move 17 really let the fur fly with the knight sac 17.Nxh7! While perfect play would have been practically impossible under the circumstances - the tension of the situation, the ticking clock (especially Tomashevsky's - he was just about living off the increments well before the end) made perfection a near impossibility. Although there were some moments where with absolute best play Aronian could have had chances, it was a very difficult task, and in the end Tomashevsky's bravery was rewarded. He has advanced to the fourth round, where he will play the winner of the Morozevich-Vitiugov tiebreak. [N.B. I hope that Tomashevsky won't be hampered by catching Aronian's cold. Aronian seemed to be hacking and coughing and blowing his nose pretty regularly, and after the post-game handshake Tomashevsky soon put his hand to his face and his finger to (not in!) his nose. It would be a shame for that to wreck his chances in 2-3 days.]

    Now to the last two games to finish. Julio Granda Zuniga spoiled a fantastic chance against Anish Giri yesterday, blundering the game after a lot of hard work finally resulted in a winning position. With Black today he had his work cut out for him, but probably less so than a lot of players. Granda is renowned for his natural strength and (for many years) his lack of special concern for the vicissitudes of modern theory. (I don't mean that he plays crazy or bad openings, just secondary systems and lines that generally allow him to play chess, roughly a la Magnus Carlsen.) Today he chose the Old Indian, which took a King's Indian direction in the middlegame, and slowly but surely he outplayed the young Dutchman. As it did yesterday, so today: Granda's time trouble cost him, as by the end of the first time control Giri almost managed to equalize. Fortunately for Granda, and perhaps appropriately, in some higher, chess-justice sense, Giri returned the favor with a tactical oversight on move 44. With 44.Bxd4 the game would be just about equal; instead, he played 44.a5, sealing up the queenside - or so he thought. Instead, it was a blunder: 44...Nb3 45.Rcc2 Nxa5! takes advantage of the White rooks' forkability by a pawn on b3. Three moves later the game was over, and they are off to tiebreaks tomorrow.

    Finally, there was the crazy six-and-a-half hour marathon between Alexander Grischuk and Le Quang Liem. Le won yesterday after Grischuk self-destructed in a heavy piece endgame, so unlike some players even in this tournament Grischuk was going to play to the last drop before bowing out of the event. And so he did, grinding away with the tiniest of edges. In one sense, the decisive moment came at move 87, when Grischuk allowed Le to win his h-pawn. It was probably a blunder, but it proved a boon to the Russian in two ways. First, the time Black's king had to spend getting the pawn and then later coming back to rejoin civilization gave Grischuk a lot of time to further activate his pieces. Second, it probably relaxed Le somewhat: if he was equal to the tiniest bit worse before, surely he couldn't have any problems now, with an extra pawn? This was not the case. White obtained heavy pressure, and it wasn't easy for Black to defend. Maybe 104...Nf7 was the move that cost him, and 104...Ra5 would have held, with the idea that 105.Kh5 could be met by the tactically alert 105...Ra1, when Black's knight is indigestible on account of the check on h1. After 104...Nf7 Black started shedding pawns, and while White could have won more easily I don't think he ever let the win slip away. After 154 moves, Le finally gave up, and so they too are going to tiebreaks.

    In fact, there are seven matches that will proceed to tomorrow's tiebreaks: Vitiugov-Morozevich, Mamedyarov-Wei Yi, Grischuk-Le Quang Liem, Karjakin-Eljanov, Andreikin-Dreev, Caruana-Malakhov, Giri-Granda, Kramnik-Areshchenko, Ivanchuk-Kryvoruchko and Korobov-Dubov. In case you're wondering about rest days, there aren't any until after round 6, except for the rest day one gets by finishing the match in two games. (Cynically, though, one could say that those who follow the "Grischuk strategy" get two rest days out of three - at least if the opponent cooperates.)

    Saturday
    Aug172013

    2013 World Cup: Round 3, Day 1: A Day of Huge Upsets and Late Collapses

    The top favorites have looked pretty shaky in general over the first two rounds of the World Cup, and at the moment several are on the verge of elimination. The biggest shock came in the next-to-last game to finish, when top seed Levon Aronian lost with White to Evgeny Tomashevsky. Tomashevsky is a fine player and was the deserved winner of the game, but it's a huge surprise all the same. Although he was pressing for quite a long time, it only became clear that he was winning when he played 43...Ra2! 44.Bc1 Rg2!, which more or less forced the (eventual) win of a second pawn.

    Almost as surprising was 4th seed (and the third highest-rated player in the tournament, given current ratings) Alexander Grischuk's loss to Le Quang Liem. Maybe it isn't a huge upset, as Le has had some great results, but it a surprise all the same. Even more surprising was the way Grischuk lost. He was a little worse in a heavy piece ending, and could quite possibly have held had he not exchanged straight into a dead lost king and pawn ending. This isn't the first time he has made such a mistake - he lost to Vladimir Kramnik the same way in the Candidates' tournament in London earlier this year, and in both cases the culprit was the same: time pressure. At least he'll have White tomorrow, so his chances are probably a bit better than Aronian's.

    The other absolute favorites avoided losing, but didn't win. Fabiano Caruana drew comfortably with Black, Kramnik drew uncomfortably with White, and Sergey Karjakin could and should have won but botched a pretty simple ending. 36.Kc6 followed by dragging the pawn to d7 looks good enough to do the job. White has to make sure Black's king can't come in and ransack White's kingside, but that plan shouldn't succeed.

    After that the favorites were pretty happy. Hikaru Nakamura won pretty easily with Black against Baskaran Adhiban, Boris Gelfand won convincingly against Alexander Moiseenko and Gata Kamsky won with Black against Jon Ludwig Hammer. That was a strange game, as in a normal, level position Hammer went berzerk with 13.Rxe4, followed by more wild and ultimately self-destructive play. Kamsky collected the gifts and the full point.

    Chinese prodigy Wei Yi drew quickly with Black against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave offered Leinier Dominguez a draw early on and then won after it was refused, and the young Russian Daniil Dubov continued the "Grischuk strategy", offering a draw with White after just 16 moves. Some of you might have seen his little post-game interview, where he acted surprised by Black's 9...Nxd5. For those of you who bought that routine, did you know that the word "gullible" is no longer in the dictionary? (Go check for yourself!) 9...Nxd5 is played four times as often as 9...exd5 and scores a little better too.

    Moving on: Dmitry Andreikin got nothing with White against Aleksey (or Alexey, or Alexei...) Dreev, and took a very quick draw as well. Maybe he's engaging in a bit of Grischukism too. Peter Svidler simply crushed Teimour Radjabov, who doesn't look like remotely like the player who on the verge of 2800 last fall. Vassily Ivanchuk drew quickly (with White) against his countryman Yuriy Kryvoruchko, and then on the last two boards there was some genuine drama.

    Julio Granda Zuniga has been playing extremely well so far, and today he was grinding away against Anish Giri. After 50 moves the pressure started to bear fruit, and with 54.Qh8+ Kd7 55.axb5 Nxd5 56.Qxg7+ Granda would have been on the verge of collecting a full point. Instead, in serious time trouble (he was living off the 30-second increments by this point) he seems to have fallen into one of the horrors we discussed on this blog a couple of weeks ago. He forgot to interpolate the check on h8, and took on b5 straight away: 54.axb5?? This just lost a piece, because after 54...Nxd5 55.Qh8+ Black's king can go to f7, defending the knight on g7. Granda resigned after 54...Nxd5; the loss was a real pity.

    On the bottom board Nikita Vitiugov was worse against Alexander Morozevich almost from the get-go, despite having the white pieces, and by move 40 he was lost. He hung on grimly though, and although he remained lost for more than 30 more moves, his persistence finally paid off. The win was already much more difficult than it could have been, and after 73...Bc6? (73...Be4!) Vitiugov defended with computer-like accuracy. 83.Rg1! was an especially fine move, even if it can be found by a process of elimination. And so he drew, keeping his chances alive.

    Friday
    Aug162013

    2013 World Cup: Round 2, Day 3

    The grand show that is the 2013 World Cup moves on to the third round tomorrow, and several leading stars won't be moving with it. The biggest names, Levon Aronian, Vladimir Kramnik and Sergey Karjakin, safely made it through today's tiebreaks, as did second-tier favorites like Gata Kamsky, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Peter Svidler. But other major stars like Ruslan Ponomariov, Wang Hao and Michael Adams were all bounced from the competition, losing to Daniil Dubov (in the Armageddon game!), Alexey Dreev and Yuriy Kryvoruchko, respectively.

    Wang Hao was dominated by Dreev, and was fortunate to survive the classical stage of the match, but for the other two favorites it must be a bit of a shock. Adams has been a fearsome competitor in knockout events, twice coming within a hair of winning when these were FIDE World Championships, and with his fantastic recent result in Dortmund he had every right to be hopeful. He missed a win in the second classical game, and had good chances in the first g/25 today. The second g/25 was his Waterloo, and Kryvoruchko outplayed him in a rook ending to take the match.

    As for Ponomariov, Dubov employed what Vladimir Kramnik dubbed the "Grischuk strategy": drawing all the games as quickly possible, even with White, to try one's chances in the faster time controls. Dubov took it to an extreme, not trying even with White in the final 5' + 3" game, happy to wait for the Armageddon game. Ponomariov drew the black pieces for that game, which meant that Dubov had to play for a win - no draw would be acceptable here. (The rules for the Armageddon game are that White gets 5 minutes, Black 4 minutes + draw odds, with a three second increment only from move 61.) Ponomariov seemed to be doing well, setting up a nice blockade, but when the key challenge came with 25.f4 he erred. 25...exf4 was alright, but only if he met 26.Qc3 with 26...Re5 27.f4 Na4. Clearly missing that last move, he played 26...f6, and it was all one-way traffic from then on. Only the clock could stop Dubov, and it didn't.

    Some round 3 pairings:

    Aronian - Tomashevsky: The top seed must finally face a 2700.

    Nakamura - Adhiban: On paper a mismatch for the American, but the 21-year-old Indian didn't get here by being weak.

    Kamksy - Hammer: The last Norwegian participant is an underdog, but maybe not a big one after wins against Movsesian and Navara.

    Mamedyarov - Wei Yi: A tough pairing for the 14-year-old, who is surprisingly the last remaining Chinese player in the event. He has been a revelation already; if he wins this match a new encomium will be necessary.

    Svidler - Radjabov: Thanks to Radjabov's plunge this year starting with the Candidates, his rating is considerably lower than normal. As a result, we have our first pairing of the super-elite already in round 3.

    Thursday
    Aug152013

    2013 World Cup: Round 2, Day 2

    As yesterday, so today: 12 of the 32 games played in the World Cup finished with a winner. Of these, only three were repeat winners: Vassily Ivanchuk, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and Anish Giri. And only two came back from a loss yesterday to even the match: Baadur Jobava, who beat Anton Korobov, and most notably Aleksandr Shimanov, who won a blunder-filled King's Gambit to level the scores with Gata Kamsky. That means that 17 matches are over, and 15 will continue with tiebreaks tomorrow.

    Of today's winners I'll note just one, the 14-year-old Chinese GM Wei Yi. After defeating Ian Nepomniachtchi in round 1, today he knocked out the very strong and experienced Alexei Shirov. Wei's rating coming into the tournament was "only" 2557, but when he was being interviewed after the match Wang Hao (rated 2752) commented that Wei was something really special and already playing at a 2700 level. It seems so! He'll next fact the winner of the match between Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Maxim Matlakov.

    More surprising perhaps than who has advanced is the list of players needing playoffs. That includes Levon Aronian, Vladimir Kramnik, Sergey Karjakin, Kamsky, Mamedyarov, Ruslan Ponomariov, Wang Hao, Peter Svidler and Michael Adams - some real superstars. It would be a pity to see the top players knocked out so early, but it's a lot of fun for us as spectators to see these guys having to play rapid and possibly blitz chess.

    The U.S. roundup: Hikaru Nakamura held off Eltaj Safarli in a good, tough game to advance to the third round; he'll play Baskaran Adhiban, who defeated Alexandr Fier in a mild upset. (No more fear/Fier jokes this tournament.) Kamsky's crazy game with Shimanov was already mentioned, so he's playing tiebreaks. If he gets through that he'll play the winner of the tiebreak between David Navara and Jon Ludwig Hammer, Norway's sole remaining participant. Alexander Onischuk played very strangely today, offering Leinier Dominguez a draw on move 21 that amounted to tournament suicide. He didn't have anything in the position, but is the risk of losing four rating points so terrible that he should give up the match? (No.) The right way was Ray Robson's. He had Black against Vassily Ivanchuk in a must-win situation, and took some real risks. Ultimately he lost the game, but he forced Ivanchuk to play very well, and managed to create some real complications that ran Chuky short on time. You're not guaranteed to win if you get into the fight, but if you avoid a fight you're guaranteed not to win.

    Finally then, here are a couple of games. The first is the topsy-turvy Shimanov-Kamsky game, featuring that phoenix known as the King's Gambit. Second, Nikita Vitiugov's win over Markus Ragger, featuring a super-aggressive attacking idea straight out of the opening. Enjoy.

    Thursday
    Aug152013

    2013 World Cup: Round 2, Day 1

    The round of 64 got underway at the World Cup, and once again there were few upsets: only one, to be precise, if for an upset we require the lower-rated player to win. In fact, the pattern on the first 11 boards was predictable and amusing: if the higher-rated player had Black the game was drawn, and if he had White he won. Those winners were Fabiano Caruana, Alexander Grischuk, Hikaru Nakamura, Gata Kamsky and Leinier Dominguez.

    From boards 12-15 there was a different story. The favorites didn't win with White, and the one upset took place on board 15 where Julio Granda Zuniga, undeterred by having to play all the way through the Armageddon game yesterday, defeated Peter Leko all the same. There was almost an upset on board 12, too, as Aleksey Dreev missed out on an excellent chance to defeat Wang Hao - and with the black pieces. In fact, he might have been winning in the final position, but his best chance was the beautiful 46...f5!! Taking the pawn allows Black to win the knight on d2, and the main tactical point is that 47.Rbxd3 (either rook, really) 47...Re2+ 48.Kf3 Rf2 is mate, and 48.Kf1 Rf2+ followed by 49...Rc1+/# isn't any better.

    Another missed chance came on board 16. Alexander Morozevich won, and one must say that it was mostly deserved, as he dominated the chances for a long time. However, we all know that we don't get any points on the scoretable for games that we dominated but lost, and on move 35 Rafael Leitao had his chance to steal the game. Morozevich's careless 35.Qb4?? allowed the fairly simple shot 35...Ng3+!, when the best White can do is 36.hxg3 Qh6+ 37.Kg1 Be3+ 38.Rf2 Bxf2+ 39.Kxf2 Qf6+ 40.Kg1 Qxa1, and that's not saying very much at all. All the moves are forcing and ...Ng3+ is a move one would expect a good club player to find, let alone a strong and experienced GM like Leitao. Even in time trouble I'd expect him to find that - it's an obvious move and the follow-up is so forcing that it's very easy to work it out.

    So what happened? My guess is that ...Ng3+ had been impossible for so long that Leitao's mental "suspector" was no longer attuned to such an idea. What I mean by a "suspector" is nothing literal, of course. When we see tactical possibilities, we're generally attuned to it by familiar features of a position or by typical series of moves. In other words, when certain conditions are right we suspect that certain motifs will be available, and to start to look for and calculate them. By contrast, when a pattern is extracted from its usual settings it's easy to miss, and all the more so when it becomes possible not after one's own move, but the opponent's.

    Anish Giri was the next player (going in board order) to win, defeating Li Chao. Today was another bad day for the Chinese contingent as Yu Yangyi also lost and Wang Hao survived by a thread against Dreev, as already noted. Only Wei Yi can feel good about his performance, as he defended nicely and cleanly with Black against Alexei Shirov. Back to Giri: one funny aspect of his game is that although it was one of the longest in terms of moves, it was one of the first games to finish and the first one with a decisive result.

    Other winners: Vassily Ivanchuk (who defeated Ray Robson; the Americans went 2-2 on the day as Alexander Onischuk also lost [vs. Dominguez]), Anton Korobov, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Evgeny Tomashevsky. About Vachier-Lagrave's game: he was utterly busted against Isan Reynaldo Ortiz Suarez, who had defeated Judit Polgar in round 1. Ortiz Suarez was up the exchange and had made the time control, and needed just a bit of accuracy to handle Black's mass of central pawns. Unfortunately for him, he let things get completely out of control, and what would have been a very well-deserved victory speedily turned into a loss.

    In sum, there were 12 winners from the 32 games, and all but two (Ivanchuk and Vachier-Lagrave) won with White.