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    Entries in 2015 World Cup (28)

    Friday
    Sep252015

    Pruce-Zimmerman's Chess By The Numbers: Current World Cup Predictions

    For those interested in stats and odds, you can find Tai Pruce-Zimmerman's numbers and prognostications for the final four of the World Cup - here.

    Friday
    Sep252015

    World Cup 2015: Round 5 (Quarterfinals), Day 3: Svidler and Karjakin Advance

    And so we're down to the final four at the 2015 World Cup, with two slots available for the finalists to reach next year's Candidates' tournament. Two of the semi-finalists were determined yesterday, when Pavel Eljanov drew with Hikaru Nakamura to seal a 1.5-.5 match victory and Anish Giri beat Maxime Vachier-Lagrave to win by the same score. The other two matches, between Peter Svidler and Wei Yi and between Sergey Karjakin and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, both saw a pair of draws in the classical games and went on to tiebreaks today.

    Both matches began with a further pair of draws in the 25'+10" tiebreaks. Svidler had Wei Yi on the ropes in both games, as the young Chinese star could barely get out of the opening with a decent position, even with White. But somehow he kept defending and doing it well, and he slipped out by a hair to make it to the 10'+ 10" games. The games between Karjakin and Mamedyarov were more balanced. In both of the 25-minute games the player with White had a brief stretch where his edge was creeping into dangerous territory, but in both cases gravity set in and the result was a relatively comfortable draw.

    Both matches finished after a pair of 10-minute games. Continuing where they left off all match, only more so, Svidler was winning with White after just 13 moves against Wei Yi, but once again let the advantage slip away. In fact, Wei Yi even enjoyed some slight winning chances later on, with two extra pawns, but it seems that White could probably maintain a fortress in the ending with rooks and opposite-colored bishops. What is clear is that Wei Yi's chances to win slipped away fairly quickly, and the game was drawn.

    It often happens that when a player misses chance after chance his opponent finally gets a chance of his own and takes it, and it looked like that story would repeat itself here. Playing 1.b3, of all things, We Yi finally got a good position out of the opening, and Svidler was in danger of landing in a prospectless position where his opponent could grind away with two bishops against two knights (with rooks and pawns). Svidler found a good idea, to play 24...Ra6 and 25...Rb6, and Wei Yi reacted quite badly. His last chance to keep an edge - and to not be worse - came on move 27, when 27.Rc3 or 27.b4 would keep some pull. After 27.Qxe6 fxe6 28.b4 the pawn sac wasn't so promising. He was't losing for a long time, but now it was Svidler who could grind away. The combination of Wei Yi's time trouble and Svidler's king raid up the e- and d-files put White over the edge, and Svidler won the game and the match.

    In the Karjakin-Mamedyarov match, Karjakin won the first g/10 somewhat strangely. He came out of the opening with an overwhelming position, but somehow managed to botch things a bit. Mamedyarov was always worse, a pawn down with the worse position, but by the end he had reached a double rook ending a pawn down, and with fair hopes of reaching a single rook ending with all the pawns on the kingside (four vs. three). Working out the details...he lost on time. In the sequel, Mamedyarov fought for a long time on the white side of a blocked-up Nimzo-Indian position. He never had anything concrete, but he could try forever without any risk, and did so. Karjakin defended well enough, but the pressure continued as the game went past move 80. The battle finally came to an abrupt end after 85.Bd1? Nd3?! 86.Reh2??, blundering at least a piece to the simple 86...Rxh5. If 87.Kxh5, 87...Rh8+ wins the remaining white rook with a skewer, while Mamedyarov's 87.Rxh5 lost the bishop to the knight fork 87...Nf2+. So Mamedyarov resigned, and the hopes of the host country for a Candidate came to an end for this cycle. (Unless they host the Candidates' tournament next year and give a spot to Mamedyarov or Radjabov.)

    Tomorrow is at last a rest day, and on Sunday the semi-finals begin. The pairings are Giri vs. Svidler and Eljanov vs. Karjakin. Oddly enough, the first match features two players who were born in Russia and the latter two who were born in Ukraine, but in each case one of the players now represents another country. (It's not just the U.S. that lures away or inherits other countries' players!)

    A couple of asides. A few days ago I mentioned the at least apparent tension between the commentators, Evgeny Miroshnichenko and Emil Sutovsky, with most of the overt agitation coming from "Miro". Sutovsky left a few days back for another commitment, and not the slightest trace of sarcasm or irritability has been seen since then. To my mind this is good - the story should be the participants and their chess, not the commentators, but others will disagree.

    Aside #2: FIDE takes out a hefty 20% tax from each participant's prizes. Why? Beats the heck out of me; my guess is that they do it because they can. To the organizers' great credit, they are footing that bill on the players' behalf, which is a very generous action on their part. To all accounts, the organizers deserve great credit: it's an attractive venue, the players have been well-treated, notably including the Armenian participants, and this is another fine gesture on their part. Well done, and hopefully next year's chess olympiad in Baku will go just as smoothly.

    Friday
    Sep252015

    World Cup 2015: Round 5 (Quarterfinals), Day 2: Eljanov, Giri Advance

    Hikaru Nakamura is a ferocious fighter at the chess board, but needing a win to stay alive against Pavel Eljanov in the World Cup, he was unable to achieve anything, even with the white pieces, and their game finished in a draw just after the time control. Eljanov simply played very well, as he has pretty much throughout the event, and he moved on to the semi-finals. For Nakamura it's likely a disappointment, of course, but in the big picture it's no big deal as he has already qualified for next year's Candidates' tournament all the same.

    Joining Eljanov in the semis - but not meeting him there - is Anish Giri. Giri's first game with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave finished in a draw, but he won the rematch with White, finishing the game off with a deftly handled rook and pawn ending. Giri has been in very good form as well in the event, and it didn't hurt that MVL gave him the sort of position he likes - one with a safe positional advantage.

    The other two games were drawn, and those matches are headed for tomorrow's (today's) tiebreaks. After their marathon game yesterday Sergey Karjakin and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov called it quits after just 14 moves; not terribly interesting, but the Wei Yi - Peter Svidler game was much more interesting. Svidler had an edge and a very promising position, but a couple of inaccuracies allowed the young Chinese player to escape.

    More coverage of the tiebreaks tomorrow, and on Saturday the four semi-finalists will at last enjoy a day off.

    Thursday
    Sep242015

    World Cup 2015: Round 5 (Quarterfinals), Day 1: Eljanov!

    Pavel Eljanov is having the tournament of his life at the 2015 World Cup, though there's still a long ways to go before he reaches the finals and qualifies for the Candidates' tournament. He has scored 8/9 so far in the classical games, and that includes not just his 2-0 victory over Alexander Grischuk in round 3 but now a very impressive and convincing win over Hikaru Nakamura in the first game of the quarterfinal round. He played the 8.a4 line in the Classical Open Catalan, a line that is supposed to promise White nothing, and somehow he managed to reach a position where Black had to wait and suffer. Nakamura tried to solve his problems in one shot with 19...Na6, but the exchanging combination starting with 20.Nxb7 and culminating with 25.Nxd8 Rxd8 left Black with a prospectless position. All he could do was wait for the guillotine, and Eljanov's slow but steady technique got the job done. It wasn't always as efficient as it could have been - 50.Kf6 would have forced a quick mate and immediate resignation, for instance - but it was definitely up to the task. It was a very impressive game by Eljanov, and if he can keep this form to the end of the tournament it would be hard to see anyone else knock him out.

    On the day, no one else managed to knock anyone else out. The games Peter Svidler - Wei Yi and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave - Anish Giri were both drawn quickly. It wasn't a question of energy-saving collusion, however, but good opening prep by the players with black in both games. The fight between Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Sergey Karjakin was another story altogether. Mamedyarov had a big advantage and really should have won, by Karjakin hung on like a barnacle and saved half a point, to the dismay of the local Azeri fans.

    The second game starts in a few hours, and if anyone manages to win their match in the classical stage they'll get not just one but two, count 'em, two days off. There's the tiebreak day on Friday, whether there are any matches left to play off or not, and then at long last there's a rest day for everyone on Saturday.

    Tuesday
    Sep222015

    World Cup 2015: Round 4, Day 3 - Wei Yi Scrapes Through

    It's on to the quarterfinals at the 2015 World Cup in Baku after four tiebreakers concluded the action in round 4. Unlike the action in the previous rounds, none of the matches made it to an Armageddon game; in fact, only one match even made it to the 10' + 10" games, and it ended there. Nevertheless, there was plenty of excitement, and more than one match could have easily finished with a different winner based solely on the action in the tiebreaks.

    One such match was Sergey Karjakin vs. Dmitry Andreikin. In the first game Karjakin trapped Andreikin's bishop, but Andreikin got three pawns and a big initiative in return - compensation and then some. Karjakin defended well, but wasn't better until Andreikin's 40...e5. It looked good at first glance, but in fact it meant the collapse of his center and a loss of material after 41.Ne3. From there Karjakin confidently wrapped things up, and in game 2 Andreikin's attempts to mix things up would have resulted in a second loss were it not for a mercy draw from his victorious opponent.

    Anish Giri was never in danger of losing the match, but he was in danger of a second round of tiebreaks. He won the first 25-minute game against Radoslaw Wojtaszek pretty easily, but was in trouble in the second game until Wojtaszek's 23.g4??, missing a simple tactic that turned the tables completely. Unlike Karjakin, Giri wasn't in the mood to offer a mercy draw, and he finished his opponent off with a 2-0 victory in the tiebreaker.

    Pavel Eljanov's perfect streak from the first three rounds came to an end with two draws in the classical stage of his match with Dmitry Jakovenko, but I'm sure he's satisfied to reach the quarter-finals through the tiebreaker. In the first rapid game, with Black, he drew with relative ease, and in his rematch with the white pieces he won a model positional game.

    That left the all-Chinese battle between Ding Liren and Wei Yi, and they went at each other like Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots. All of the games had interesting moments, and both players showed their tactical skill and resourcefulness throughout. In the first game, Wei Yi had white and found an interesting idea with 15.a4 and 16.Nb1, aiming for a bind with Nb1-d2-c4, but Ding Liren's 16...c4 threw a monkey wrench in the works. Black even had an edge for a while, but eventually the game settled down into a draw.

    Game 2 featured some sort of crazy English that quickly resulted in imbalanced material, with White getting a rook, pawn and a space advantage for a bishop and knight. Nevertheless, the usual presumption in favor of the minor pieces held once more, especially after Ding Liren's overly ambitious 23.g4 was met by 23...Ne4! Now White was in some trouble, but the great 27.d5! Bxd5 28.f5! let him seize the momentum in the game, and after further complications this game also finished in a draw.

    In the first 10' + 10" game Wei Yi demonstrated a beautiful but already known tactical trick in the opening, resulting in an ostensible material advantage of rook and two pawns for a bishop and knight. Ding Liren did a great job of coordinating his forces, and White's edge dissipated as Black could (and did) force a nice perpetual check.

    The second 10-minute game was an incredible battle. The players repeated the crazy English line from the second 25-minute game, but this time Ding Liren offered a serious improvement, 11.Qc1. Black did not find the right response, and after 11...Ne4 his position was already objectively lost. White played quickly and confidently for the next 8 moves or so, and had he played 20.f3 the game would almost surely have finished in a speedy win for White. Instead, 20.Rfd1? lost almost all of White's advantage, and then the game started anew. It was still White who was pressing most of the rest of the way, but Black defended very resourcefully and generally accurately for a long, long time. Finally, deep into a queen and bishop ending, Ding Liren lost both his time advantage and his objectivity, overpressing, and finally feeling the pressure made a fatal error when he played 53.Qe7. He must have missed that Black could win the e-pawn while avoiding a repetition, and when he lost the b-pawn as well the game was over. Not a "clean" win for the 16-year-old Wei Yi by any means, but a great achievement all the same.

    So now it's down to the final eight, and these are the pairings for Wednesday's round:

    • Peter Svidler - Wei Yi
    • Maxime Vachier-Lagrave - Anish Giri
    • Shakhriyar Mamedyarov - Sergey Karjakin
    • Pavel Eljanov - Hikaru Nakamura

    Monday
    Sep212015

    World Cup 2015: Round 4, Day 2 - Four Match Winners, Four Tiebreaks Tomorrow

    After yesterday's games four players were one draw away from advancing to the quarter-final round of the 2015 World Cup: Peter Svidler, Hikaru Nakamura, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Ding Liren, who defeated Veselin Topalov, Michael Adams, Fabiano Caruana and Wei Yi, respectively. After today's games, four players have indeed qualified for the quarters, but only three of the four come from the aforementioned quartet.

    Svidler was getting outplayed by Topalov in an Anti-Marshall, but shortly before the time control Topalov let the advantage slip. Worse still for the Bulgarian's fans, his first two moves in the second time control were serious errors, and only the fact that there was still one line at the end where Topalov could at least cause a tiny bit of trouble - a rook down - if Svidler declined the draw offer prompted the Russian to settle for a 1.5-.5 match win.

    Nakamura's troubles, by contrast, were pretty mild. Maybe there was a move or two where Adams had a tiny something in a Berlin ending, but its solidity held up and Nakamura coasted into the 5th round.

    Mamedyarov had a more serious disadvantage on the black side of an Open Ruy against Caruana, but the American's 24th and 25th moves turned out to too accommodating. With 25...Bd5 and especially 26...a5!! Mamedyarov obtained enough counterplay to save the game. Caruana may have thought he would enjoy a big advantage after 26.Bxb5 axb4 27.e6 fxe6 28.Bxc6 Bxc6 29.Ne5, but the ice-cold 29...Bd6! 30.Reg3 Rd7! held everything together. After that the only player with an edge was Mamedyarov, but the draw sufficed and the players repeated moves until splitting the point at the time control.

    That leaves Ding Liren, and the obvious implication that he was defeated in the second game of his match with Wei Yi. Wei Yi outplayed his opponent in another Anti-Marshall (by transposition) and won a pawn, but converting it proved to be exceedingly difficult. Once they reached a rook ending, both players - Wei Yi especially - were quite short of time, and as it was a complex ending both players made errors that could have cost first one and then the other half a point. Ultimately, the practical task facing Ding Liren was too difficult, and his 72nd move lost by force. I suspect that his position was practically hopeless in any case, at least without a lot of time on the clock. Tomorrow, both he and his opponent will have even less time if and when they reach a similar ending; they're headed to tiebreaks.

    Someone who is not headed to tiebreaks: Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. (Also his opponent, for that matter.) MVL found himself in a lousy position out of the opening, but Wesley So came up with a very clever combination that was, sadly, too clever by half. The tactical sequence that began with 22.Bxd5? (and was perhaps envisioned on the previous move, which was also inaccurate) came a-cropper when Vachier-Lagrave played 26...Bc6. After that So fought long and hard for a draw, but couldn't quite pull it off. (The subtle 41.Ra7 was his last, best chance to save half a point, with the idea that if Black takes on f2 a series of checks will eventually force Black to cough up his g-pawn. Instead, 41.Rf6 allowed Black to lock up his remaining kingside pawns in a way that guaranteed that the h-pawn would survive and that Black could swap off the rooks.)

    The other three matches saw draws and will see tiebreaks. Radoslaw Wojtaszek had an advantage against Anish Giri, but didn't manage to turn his space advantage into something more tangible. Pavel Eljanov played 60 moves against Dmitry Jakovenko, enjoying a slight advantage the whole time, but never came even a little close to getting anything serious. Finally, Sergey Karjakin and Dmitry Andreikin played on a little longer than they did yesterday, but it was always clear that they were headed for a short day and tomorrow's tiebreaks.

    Interestingly, none of the round 5 matches are settled, as all of the round 4 winners must wait for tomorrow's tiebreakers to determine their opponents.

    Sunday
    Sep202015

    World Cup 2015: Round 4, Day 1: Four Winners in Eight Games

    The first day of round 3 at the World Cup was laden with draws; not so at the start of round 4. Starting with the marquee matchup between Peter Svidler and Veselin Topalov, a crazy and hard-fought game finished in a win for Svidler. A Moscow Sicilian transmogrified into a Hedgehog, and with White (all the day's wins were with White) Svidler outplayed his opponent in the never-ending complications. Topalov did have a chance to save the game in the second time control, but he missed his one chance to save the game when he played 57...fxg6? rather than 57...f5. His lapses around moves 54 and 56 notwithstanding, it was a well-deserved victory by the Russian, who passed up a chance for a safe draw by repetition earlier in the game.

    The official #2 seed and now top-rated player in the event, Hikaru Nakamura, had a better time of it than Topalov, defeating Michael Adams in a rook ending. Adams was suffering throughout, but might have had better chances to hold with the counterattacking 45...Rb3, as passive defense with 45...Rb7 made it easy for Nakamura.

    That was good news for one U.S. player, but for our #2 player the news was all bad. Fabiano Caruana came out of the opening in good shape against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, and a weird opening it was, too: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Bg5!? Play soon came to resemble Stefan Buecker's "Geier" (the "Vulture" [1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 Ne4, often followed by ...Qa5+, ...Nd6 and ...g6] - an opening I briefly played in my youth before getting an absolutely lousy position with it against a fellow master; I won the game when my opponent made a very big mistake, but was convinced that the Vulture was likelier to turn me into carrion than my opponent), and one that was pretty decent for Black. Unfortunately for Caruana, he lost the fight for the initiative, and after that Mamedyarov just rolled him; it was a very one-sided game.

    The final decisive game saw Ding Liren, the Chinese #1 player, defeat Wei Yi, possibly the world's greatest young talent, in an up-and-down game. Wei Yi was in good shape most of the way, but his 32nd and 33rd moves were too leisurely when it came to taking White's h-pawn into account. Black was in time trouble, and while he didn't lose on time he couldn't make it to the end of the first time control, as White's h-pawn was about to cost him a rook.

    To the draws: Anish Giri had White in a 6.Be3 e5 7.Nf3 Najdorf against Radoslaw Wojtaszek, but couldn't make anything of his token advantage. (By the end of the game, it was Wojtaszek who had the token edge, but neither player was in any danger at any point.) Maxime Vachier-Lagrave played the ultra-super-boring 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.Re1 line against Wesley So's Berlin Defense, and in due course had some advantage in the endgame thanks to his bishop pair. I'm not sure if he missed any serious winning chances, but So did have to suffer a while to get the draw. Dmitry Jakovenko had White against Pavel Eljanov and put the latter's winning streak to an end at six games; nevertheless, Eljanov drew pretty comfortably on the black side of a Reti. Finally, Dmitry Andreikin and Sergey Karjakin decided to take a rest day and drew in 12 uneventful moves. Will they make it to move 15 tomorrow?

    Sunday
    Sep202015

    World Cup Controversies/"Controversies"

    Here are some topics for discussion, all involving the ongoing 2015 World Cup.

    (1) Castlegate. In the final game of the tiebreaks between Hikaru Nakamura and Ian Nepomniachtchi, Nakamura was guilty of a double no-no - one intentional and one not. The first was castling with two hands, and the second was that he apparently touched the rook first by an almost unnoticeable fraction of a second. (I'll ignore the second point in what follows.) While there is no evidence to think that this made the slightest difference in terms of the outcome of the game, and Nepomniachtchi didn't seem to react to it when it happened, what Nakamura did was against the rules.

    After the game, however, he filed a protest, aiming to have his opponent forfeited for his action. The appeals committee agreed that what Nakamura did was wrong, but denied that Nepomniachtchi could make a case since he didn't do anything at the time of the infraction. Since Nepomniachtchi claimed that Nakamura castled in this illegal way through the tiebreaks, why didn't he protest earlier? (In fact, Nakamura has been doing this in blitz for many years, but I suspect he won't do it any more, at least not in any official competitions.) The timing of the complaint looks like a last ditch effort to achieve by a technicality what he couldn't do over the board.

    That said, it's surprising that Nakamura didn't know better, and it's even more surprising that the arbiters never did a thing about it. (Maybe they just didn't know the rule?) Nepomniachtchi was justifiably upset about that. Nepomniachtchi also complained about Nakamura's adjusting pieces on the squares without explicitly j'adoubing them. I've seen many players do that in blitz - including Carlsen, I think - and it's really pretty obvious that they are adjusting the piece without any intention of moving it, e.g. by nudging it with their fingertip or even their fingernail. There's more on the story here and here (N.B. there's a bit of crass language at the second link).

    (2) Partial Delays. Each day, at least during the classical stages of each round, a certain number of games, chosen at random, weren't shown live but only on a 15-minute delay. This is a bit annoying for the spectators and for the commentators as well, who often simply ignored the directive and had the cameras show a bit of the board. I know they've been doing this for years at Dortmund, but can someone please explain to me how this is supposed to prevent cheating? I guess the fantasy is that there's a guy watching in the hotel, and he communicates via some sort of earpiece to a spectator, who in turn finds some way of signaling the player (by coughing, standing in a certain location - whatever). There must be better ways to handle the problem than this: signal-jamming, arranging the lights so the audience can't be seen, going Fischer-plus and getting rid of the live audience altogether, putting the players in a glass room with one-way visibility, etc. Also, on the Dortmund model, what's to stop the confederate from leaving the playing hall and relaying the moves to the computer guy in the room?

    Anyway, the World Cup idea of doing the delay with approximately five games in rounds 2 and 3 (I forget the figure for round 1) strikes me as nearly pointless. The overwhelming majority of potential cheaters can still cheat, if that's what they are inclined to do; if anything, it is the higher-rated players on the non-delayed boards who are at a potential competitive disadvantage thanks to this practice.

    (3) Miroshnichenko vs. Sutovsky. Emil Sutovsky's commentary stint ended with the round 3 tiebreaks, but the nine days he worked with Evgeny Miroshnichenko were often very uncomfortable to watch, primarily due to "Miro". Maybe Sutovsky did something to really bother him once upon a time, but it was often unpleasant to watch as Miroshnichenko would direct all sorts of snide and sarcastic remarks at Sutovsky. Maybe it was supposed to come across as good-natured ribbing, but most of the time it seemed like passive-aggressive sniping. It abated somewhat the last few days, perhaps because quite a few other people noticed it and they were told by the organizers to knock it off. Is there more to the story - or maybe, less to it?

    Comment away.

    Saturday
    Sep192015

    World Cup 2015: Round 3, Day 3. Kramnik Out, Nakamura Survives

    As noted in yesterday's post on the World Cup, today's tiebreaks featured a lot of top players, and only one of the matches had a clear favorite going in. Sure enough, the matches were all quite difficult and one even reached the Armageddon stage.

    Let's start with a recap of the G/25' + 10" action. Veselin Topalov was the one clear favorite alluded to above, and in his first game with Lu Shanglei he won easily when his opponent blundered an exchange in a position that was already pretty lousy. But then it got more interesting. For the vast majority of the game Topalov was in no danger. He'd have a winning position, then he'd let his opponent slip out and be okay, then he'd be winning again, then even, then winning - this happened quite a lot. As the game gradually worked its way into an ending, however, Topalov slipped up in a serious way and allowed Lu to achieve rook and knight vs. bishop and knight, with no pawns. It was still a theoretical draw, but Topalov was rattled and was getting into real danger of losing the game. Just in time, though, he came up with a nasty trick. He spent a precious minute on move 87 to come up with 87...Bf2, setting a little trap that Lu fell right into. After 88.Rh2 Kf3 89.Kxd3 it looked for a moment like White was winning, but 89...Bg3! was the point. White could only try rook vs. bishop for a few moves, but with Topalov's king near the correct corner (e.g. one opposite the color of his bishop) there was no danger, and the match was soon over.

    Peter Svidler overcame Teimour Radjabov in a "pick 'em" contest between two essentially equally strong players. Radjabov appeared to have a serious advantage in his white game, but when Svidler reached the exchange-down ending with all the pawns on the a- through e-files it was a clear draw. Radjabov continued the game for a long time, but without any real chances to win. The second game was a bit funny, in that Svidler had White against the Gruenfeld, and he played a line Radjabov himself had used with the white pieces. Apparently Svidler dealt with the role reversal better than his opponent, and soon Radjabov had no compensation for the sacrificed pawn. In general Svidler won a clean and smooth game, but there was one serious hiccup. His 26.Ne6 is objectively a '??' move, as it took him from a winning or near-winning game to a lost one. Radjabov had to find one key tactic, however, and he didn't. He took with the bishop and lost without a fight, but 26...fxe6 27.dxe6 Rxc4! would have resulted in an easy win, as Black's bishops would have overmatched the rook.

    Wesley So also made it through to the 4th round in the G/25s against Le Quang Liem, though not by traditional means. In the first game, he got nothing with White in a Berlin ending and was the weaker half of the draw. In the second game he was a little worse, as Le seemed to have nagging pressure in a position where White couldn't possibly lose. No way at all...or so it seemed. In fact, it was a sort of trap, and Le fell headlong into it with the natural 30.Kf4?. So's 30...h5 won a pawn, or at least that's all it would have done if White had understood what was happening. Instead, he played 31.Rc2??, and after 31...h4 he could have resigned. The threat is 32...g5#, and if 32.g5 Rf5# is another mate. White sacrificed his knight to avoid the mate, but the resulting endgame was hopeless and he resigned a few moves later.

    The last match to be decided in the 25-minute games was between Vladimir Kramnik and Dmitry Andreikin. With the one exception of the 2013 World Cup final, Andreikin has been besting Kramnik on a regular basis, and he did so once again in today's games. As usual in rapid games, there were adventures. The first game was relatively equal through Kramnik's 30.Nd4, and then Andreikin uncorked the horrific 30...Rd6, walking into the obvious one-move fork 31.Nc8. Andreikin could have resigned there, but probably from a combination of disgust and both sides being fairly low on time he played on. Nevertheless, down the exchange and, after several more moves, down a pawn on top of that, he battled on, and somehow Kramnik couldn't figure out how to win. Kramnik has had many high-profile failures with his technique over the years, going back to at least his Candidates' match with Boris Gelfand back in 1994, but this might be the biggest failure of his career in terms of the size of his advantage and the degree to which the win should have been completely routine. Full credit to Andreikin though; he hung in there and kept causing problems. After Kramnik's 52.Rxe4+? (instead of first playing 52.c6 to pull Black's rook off the second rank), the game could no longer be won.

    It often happens that after such a failure, it's too hard to recover, and indeed Kramnik did not manage to do so. Kramnik's pawn sac in the opening of the second game was either a sort of "what the heck?" move that showed that the wheels had come off, or else he didn't manage to remember his prep. Whatever the case, he was soon down a pawn with a lousy position, and with fine endgame technique Andreikin managed to win an opposite-colored bishop ending to advance to the fourth round.

    Now to the longer matches. With White Evgeny Tomashevsky started the playoff with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (MVL) with excellent winning chances in the first 25-minute game, but he twice let his opponent off the hook. (46.Bf2 was a good opportunity to keep playing for the win.) MVL had a token advantage in the second game, but there was never any serious chance to convert with the opposite-colored bishops. MVL broke through in the first 10' + 10" game, winning with White. They played the same opening as in the G/25, and if anything Tomashevsky enjoyed an even better position in the middlegame the second time around. The key moment came on move 30, when 30...Qd7 would have given him a good game. Instead, 30...Rf8? left White with the advantage, and he was soon able to convert it into a full point. The second game was balanced for a long time, but Tomashevsky's need to mix things up eventually led him to overpress, and MVL won the second 10-minute game as well, winning the match by an overall score of 4-2.

    The match between Michael Adams and Leinier Dominguez went even deeper, to the 5' + 3" games. Neither player missed any big opportunities in the 25-minute games, but Adams apparently missed a fairly simple tactic in the first 10' + 10" game that would have netted an exchange and most likely the game: 23.Bxf5 Bxf5 24.Nd7. He missed an even bigger chance several moves later, though it was also more subtle: 28.Bxf5 Bxf5 29.Qxf5. That part is obvious, but so is Black's most natural rejoinder, 29...Qxg3. The subtle part is to realize that 30.Qf6 simply ends the game: 30...Bxe5 31.dxe5 Q-anywhere safe and then 32.Bh6 followed by 33.Qg7#. (I'm sure that if Adams had a second, he went out of his way to make sure that Adams never found out about this until after the match.) The second 10-minute game was another fairly innocuous draw, and then it was on to the 5-minute games.

    In the first one, something incredible happened. Adams was gradually outplayed, despite having the white pieces, and eventually lost the exchange (or blundered it, if one goes back a couple of moves before the fork that won it) for no compensation whatsoever. But somehow he managed to create a fortress, or at least a reasonable enough facsimile thereof, and Dominguez couldn't find a way through. Eventually Dominguez opened the queenside, but somehow that only helped Adams to obtain dangerous counterplay. The game was already unclear by the time Dominguez blundered with 84...Qb4??, and that allowed Adams to regain his exchange - with two extra pawns. (Blundering an exchange...where have we heard that before? It seems to be the theme of the day.) Adams won in the sequel as well, and qualified for the next round with a 5-3 victory.

    Finally, there was the most exciting match of the day, contested by the runners-up in last year's world blitz championship, Hikaru Nakamura and Ian Nepomniachtchi. (In fact Nakamura is still #1 in the world in rapid, slightly ahead of Magnus Carlsen, while "Nepo" is #10; in blitz Nakamura is #2 and Nepomniachtchi is #4.) In the first rapid game, Nakamura had some chances with White, but Nepo defended well and managed to hold. The same was true, with colors and players reversed, in the second game. Nepomniachtchi did have one interesting possibility there, but it probably wouldn't have won: 38.e5+ Kxc6 39.b5+ Kb7 40.bxa6+ Ka7 41.Kd4 Bxa6 42.Bh5 Bc8 43.Bxf7 Kb7, and now White doesn't have anything that's obviously better than 44.f5 exf5 45.e6 Kc7 46.e7 Bd7 47.e8Q Bxe8 48.Bxe8. If White's remaining pawn were on any other file, he might be winning, but here he's left with a wrong-colored bishop and rook-pawn combination. Black puts his king on h8, waves his pawns goodbye and draws in his sleep.

    After this, all the games were decisive. Nakamura won the first G/10 after Nepomniachtchi fell for an elementary trap in time trouble; the problem, of course, is that in time trouble even elementary traps can be deadly. That was an see-saw struggle, and so was the second game. It looked like Nakamura was going to win the match, as he had taken the upper hand in a very complicated game, but then he made a huge error that at first seemed to be very strong. His 40th move, 40...e4, wins against every White move but one, and that's what Nepo played: 41.Rd2! Black is completely busted after this, and soon the match score was leveled.

    The first five-minute game saw further adventures. Nakamura again eventually managed to get the advantage with Black when White blundered - you guessed it - the exchange - but it wasn't such a big advantage this time around. In fact, winning the exchange did Nakamura a disservice. Rather than playing it safe and going for a draw a few moves later when it was objectively clear that Nepomniachtchi wasn't in any danger, Nakamura overpressed and was soon losing the game.

    A lesser player may have folded after that, but if Nakamura is anything he's mentally tough, especially as a blitz player. Nakamura won the next game, and while it wasn't a perfect game it was probably the cleanest victory of the entire match. As a result the players moved on to the Armageddon game, with Nakamura taking Black, four minutes and draw odds against Nepomniachtchi's five minutes. Nepo had his chances early, but Nakamura's kingside buildup proved more effective, and even before White fell into a mate at the end Black was clearly winning and in no danger whatsoever of losing the game.

    Tomorrow, round 4 begins, with the following pairings (given in bracket order):

    • Veselin Topalov - Peter Svidler
    • Wei Yi - Ding Liren
    • Wesley So - Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
    • Radoslaw Wojtaszek - Anish Giri
    • Fabiano Caruana - Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
    • Sergey Karjakin - Dmitry Andreikin
    • Pavel Eljanov - Dmitry Jakovenko
    • Michael Adams - Hikaru Nakamura

    All three United States players are still in it, and if they keep winning they won't face off in the quarter-finals either - good news for us. There are four Russians still in it, and the home country (Azerbaijan) still has one representative in the fight. Surprisingly, only two Chinese players are left, and they're facing each other next: China's current #1 against the player of their future - which might turn out to be now. The tournament has been very hard on the veterans so far, but three of them are still in it. Unfortunately for them, two of them are facing off against each other and the third is facing Nakamura, but who knows what will happen? Adams is a tough and tricky guy, but I think that unless Adams wins in classical chess Nakamura will manage to catch him with tactics in the quicker games. Another problem for the older players is that there are no days off (except by winning in the classical games or by taking de facto days off with quick draws in the classical games) until after the quarter-finals. Then, at long last, the final four will get to enjoy ONE day off.

    Friday
    Sep182015

    World Cup 2015 Round 3, Day 2: No Revenge From Day 1 and Many More Winners

    This is the first round in this World Cup in which none of the day 1 losers managed to equalize the scores in day 2. In fact - though I'm not going to bother looking this up (but you're more than welcome to!) - I wouldn't be surprised if in most of the previous World Cups there was at least one player who lost on day 1 who managed to strike back in the next game. Here, however, neither S. P. Sethuraman (against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov), Anton Kovalyov (against Fabiano Caruana), Yu Yangyi (against Sergey Karjakin) nor even the erstwhile world #2 Alexander Grischuk (against Pavel Eljanov) managed to make it to the tiebreaks. The first three players drew their games, while Grischuk even lost the second game to Eljanov to finish with a bagel. (In fact, Grischuk went through the whole competition without a win in classical chess or even in a 25' + 10" game.) Yu Yangyi could also have finished this round with a second zero, but he was given a mercy draw by Karjakin.

    So those four players were eliminated, and in this, the round of 32, another five players were shown the door. One Chinese player (Yu Yangyi) may be gone, but two others have punched their ticket to the next round, where they will play each other. Wei Yi defeated Alexander Areshchenko on the white side of a Poisoned Pawn Najdorf, while Ding Liren defeated one of the locals, Gadir Guseinov, in a Chebanenko Slav that turned sharp.

    The next pair of winners will also face off in round 4. Anish Giri defeated Peter Leko, and did so in the sort of technical style that would have made Leko proud in his salad days. He'll play Radoslaw Wojtaszek, who defeated Julio Granda Zuniga with a nice kingside attack in a Queen's Gambit Declined, of all things.

    The final winner on the day was Dmitry Jakovenko, who eliminated Vassily Ivanchuk. Jakovenko will go from one Ukranian to another, facing Eljanov in the next round. (Incidentally, Eljanov has gone 6-0 so far in the tournament!) Caruana and Mamedyarov, whose wins were already mentioned, are the final known pairing for round 4, and of all the players who qualified for the next round it is only the identity of Karjakin's opponent that remains unknown (except that it will be either Vladimir Kramnik or Dmitry Andreikin).

    Here's what's on tap for tomorrow's (or today's) tiebreaks:

    • Veselin Topalov - Shanglei Lu
    • Teimour Radjabov - Peter Svidler
    • Wesley So - Le Quang Liem
    • Maxime Vachier-Lagrave - Evgeny Tomashevsky
    • Dmitry Andreikin - Vladimir Kramnik
    • Michael Adams - Leinier Dominguez
    • Ian Nepomniachtchi - Hikaru Nakamura

    That's a lot of big names on the bubble, and that includes many of the underdogs as well. It should be very exciting, especially if it lives up to the adventures we saw in the round 2 tiebreaks.