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    Entries in 2013 Tal Memorial (3)

    Sunday
    Jun232013

    Gelfand Wins The Tal Memorial

    On the eve of his 45th birthday, Boris Gelfand added another major success to his already packed resume by winning the extremely strong 2013 Tal Memorial. After six rounds he was in second place, half a point ahead of Magnus Carlsen (and others) and half a point behind Hikaru Nakamura. In round 7 he defeated Nakamura with Black, and as Carlsen only won one game in the last three round (in round 8, against...Nakamura) and none of the other pursuers made a serious run, Gelfand finished in clear first with 6/9. The man is having a great run, and his rating has achieved a career peak of 2773. Not bad for an "old" guy!

    Magnus Carlsen finished in second with 5.5, and three players finished another half a point back. Shakriyar Mamedyarov was one of them, and he had some real winning chances against Carlsen in the last round. Had he won, he would have leapfrogged the Norwegian into second place. Fabiano Caruana is the second member of the trio, and he finishes the tournament on the verge of becoming the 7th player to break the 2800 barrier. (His rating will be 2796 when the next list comes out.) The third member of the triumvirate was a surprise, Dmitry Andreikin. Andreikin drew eight games and defeated Vladimir Kramnik when the ex-champ blundered his queenside away.

    The remaining players all have cause for disappointment. Nakamura went from first to sixth by losing his last three games, the last to then-tailender Alexander Morozevich. Sergey Karjakin's -1 score wasn't a disaster but it wasn't cause for celebration either, especially after his recent triumph in Norway. Morozevich's score of 3.5 was leavened only by the last round win - his only win of the tournament - and by the fact that he finished even with world champion Viswanathan Anand, whose only win was against Morozevich. Finally, the tournament was an unmitigated disaster for Vladimir Kramnik, who finished winless at -3. I'm sure he'll rebound from London, but he hasn't yet.

    Friday
    Jun212013

    Further Reflections on the Tal Memorial

    Some more thoughts on the super-strong Tal Memorial, whose last three rounds will take place Friday-Sunday:

    * Magnus Carlsen is having a good tournament but not a great one. Nevertheless, he did enjoy a very important victory when he crushed Viswanathan Anand in round 5. He achieved some advantage in the opening with White in a Nimzo-Indian, and that advantage grew quickly and massively after his 19.f3 aned 20.e4. Anand didn't manage to find a good response to the plan, and resigned just nine moves later. Perhaps the culprit was that he missed 25.Bh3; indeed, without that White has no advantage at all. (With it, he's practically winning.)

    That was the highlight of his tournament so far; the lowlight came in round 3 when he lost a peculiar game to Fabiano Caruana. First he blundered a pawn just after the opening, missing a short and simple tactic. Trading judiciously, he reached a rook ending where he was still a pawn down but holding the draw should have been routine. Instead, he botched it, twice rejecting Rb8. The first time, on move 49, it would have resulted in an easy hold; the second time, in a more challenging one. This was Carlsen's second recent loss in the sort of technical position where he excels (the other was to Wang Hao in the Norway super-tournament), leading one wag to suggest that Carlsen was hiding his endgame preparation for Anand.

    * Speaking of the champion, he is tied for last place with his "great predecessor" Vladimir Kramnik and with the often erratic Alexander Morozevich. About Kramnik: he lost his first two games (a continuing hangover from London?) - first to Carlsen in a very good fight, but then to Hikaru Nakamura in most uncharacteristic fashion. Kramnik was essentially up a pawn for nothing, and yet somehow the wheels came off and he lost two pawns and then the game. Since then he has drawn his last four games, and two of them - the ones with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in round 3 and with Caruana in round 6 - were remarkable. In both games he had the black pieces, in both games his opponent played the first new move, and in both games his theoretical preparation extended to the end of the game. The game with Caruana is especially impressive, and I cover it here.

    * Caruana is only at 50%, but that's enough for him to have moved into third place on the live rating list, a hair ahead of Kramnik. Send him back!!

    * Boris Gelfand is also doing well on the rating list and in the tournament. His rating is at an all-time peak, and he is undefeated in the event with wins over Morozevich and Caruana, good enough for clear second place. How much does this guy have to do to get some love from chess fans who aren't middle-aged or from Israel or the former USSR? In the last several years he won the World Cup, the Candidates, basically drew a match for the world championship, tied for first in a FIDE Grand Prix event and in the Alekhine Memorial, and now he's in second place in a colossally strong round-robin. The man is not some sort of journeyman 2700; he is a legitimately great player!

    * Finally, we must mention the tournament leader, Hikaru Nakamura. He won the blitz event convincingly, but a game and a half into the real event it looked like a disaster. He was crushed by Mamedyarov and was apparently on his way to a loss against Kramnik.  A strange sequence by Kramnik later, and everything turned around: he won that game, then beat Sergey Karjakin and Fabiano Caruana in a pair of good games. Following a draw with Dmitry Andreikin (who has acquitted himself very well so far; despite being the lowest-rated player he has drawn all his games) he added Anand's scalp to the collection. This has him at #5 in the live ratings, and - if he can hold it - he will at last pass Bobby Fischer's rating record for an American: Fischer's peak was 2785, while Nakamura is at 2789. (I think most people would allow that there has been at least five rating points' worth of inflation, but it's a significant accomplishment all the same.) Getting to 2800 by tournament's end is unlikely (though not impossible!), but making it to #4 or even #3 on the rating list is very much a possibility.

    Friday
    Jun142013

    Some Early Reflections on the Tal Memorial

    Some thoughts that came to mind, mostly having to do with the blitz tournament:

    * Morozevich-Carlsen: Claim a draw! In an otherwise worse position, Magnus Carlsen repeated a position three times but didn't claim the draw. Alexander Morozevich promptly varied and obtained an advantage, and two moves later Carlsen lost on time. Yes, it was blitz, but I watched several players successfully claim a draw in the World Blitz Championship 2-3 days beforehand. It can be done.

    * Hikaru Nakamura was the convincing winner of the blitz tournament, scoring an undefeated 7-2, but it didn't help him in round 1 of the main event - he was crushed by Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, and with the white pieces, too.

    * Carlsen-Kramnik was interesting - both times! I was extremely impressed by both sides' play in the rook ending in the blitz, and intend a separate post about it soon.

    * I don't remember if it was Andras Adorjan of "Black is OK!" fame, Mihail Suba, or someone else who joked that Black has the advantage or at least an advantage because he gets more information. White goes first, sure, but that first move represents a commitment. That's my thought about the way pairings were determined from the blitz. Nakamura won and chose his pairing number, Anand took second and chose his, Kramnik took third and chose his. Great? Not really. Carlsen chose fifth (behind Gelfand on tiebreaks) and picked a number that not only gave him five Whites in the tournament, but gave him White against all Nakamura, Anand and Kramnik. Whoops! Maybe a better way to reward rather than punish the winners is to have them bid secretly on what pairing number they'd like first, then second, third, etc., with the higher-placed finisher getting priority on his bid.

    Someone might point out that Carlsen had no choice - he took the only remaining five-white pairing option left to him. That's true. What's really incredible is that Boris Gelfand didn't take that pairing number instead! Gelfand has Black against Nakamura, Anand and Kramnik, and only gets White against Carlsen. (Just speaking of the top five finishers, of course.) And going in the other direction, Nakamura starts and finishes with White, switching colors after every game. That's great in the abstract, but that doesn't count as much as who winds up with White and who with Black in a given round. Nakamura's reward for picking first? Black against Anand, Kramnik, Carlsen and world #4 Caruana. What a success! That isn't his fault; it's the fault of the system.

    * Once a victim, always a victim: Sure as night follows day, Karjakin lost to Carlsen "on-demand", and Kramnik likewise lost to Karjakin. Time to consult a psychologist? (I know, in round 2 of the main event Karjakin managed to draw with Carlsen. But he did so with White, while making the game as "flat" as possible. It wasn't quite 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5, but it felt like it.)

    * Gelfand did okay, coming in fourth with a 50% score (though as noted above, he picked very, very, very badly when choosing a pairing number), but he could fairly easily have won the tournament. He was winning against Anand in round 1, but let him slip with a draw; likewise with Nakamura in round 2 and Kramnik in round 9. In round 7 it was even worse, as he lost a winning rook ending against Mamedyarov. In none of these cases were the wins based on obscure or deep factors; they were all issues of technique, where Gelfand has traditionally been considered quite strong. Maybe everyone is technically strong now, or perhaps his technique has slipped since his younger days. Whatever the case, he could easily have done better (though the value of that is unclear, as we've already mentioned).

    In a way, it seems that Gelfand was unlucky. Indeed, as I think back about Gelfand's play, he's rarely lucky - that is, he rarely enjoys good luck. (By "good luck" I mean that a player is the recipient of an unforced error.) I suspect this is a question of style: players of a classical style tend to have fewer occasions where they can receive lucky breaks, while volatile "firebrands" create the sorts of chaos that make it possible. That doesn't mean a wilder style is better, except possibly when there is a 3-1-0 scoring system.