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    Entries in 2015 World Cup (28)

    Thursday
    Sep172015

    World Cup 2015 Round 3, Day 1: Draws Aplenty; Grischuk Loses a Won Game

    There weren't too many short draws on day 1 of round 3 at the World Cup, but one way or another 12 of the 16 games finished in a peaceful way. Of these, perhaps the most notable was the board 1 game between Veselin Topalov and Shanglei Lu. Topalov was winning - by a mile, and with multiple ways of cashing in. For instance, 25.Ref1 (rather than 25.Rhf1, which should also have been good enough) 25...Qg3 26.Qf6 is beyond devastating, threatening captures on f7 and f5 as well as 27.Rhg1. Later, 30.Bb3 f6 31.Rxe5 fxe5 32.Rxg6 would have been a fairly easy win as well. Finally 32.Bxh5 may still be winning, but this is a lot less certain. It seems at first as if it should be easy, as White's pieces appear to escape while Black's knight remains in the box, but Black can escape to a rook ending that at first glance may not seem completely clear after a line like 32.Bxh5 Rc5 33.Be2 Re5 34.Rxe1 Rde8 35.Rf1+ Kg7 36.Nf5+ Rxf5 37.Rxf5 Rxe2. Maybe it would be unclear if Black's king were on d6, but cut off from the queenside I suspect this is a win for White as well.

    So Topalov let his young and much lower-rated (though also underrated) opponent escape, and so did Alexander Grischuk. (Both players have something else in common, too. Can anyone recall what that might be?) In Grischuk's case, he not only lost a chance to win against Pavel Eljanov with 38.a7 and then a move later (though less clearly) with 39.Qf5, he even went on to lose the game. Beating Eljanov, a solid 2700 who has been as high as 2761 is not going to be an easy task for him tomorrow, especially with the black pieces.

    The other three decisive games were won by the white pieces. Sergey Karjakin his recent string of super-human results against Chinese players, smoothly outplaying Yu Yangyi in a Sicilian. Fabiano Caruana also won smoothly in a Sicilian, defeating Anton Kovalyov after the latter chose 23...dxc5 rather than 23...bxc5. I'm not sure what Kovalyov was hoping for, as d6 doesn't look like a great blockading square in this particular position while the b-file could have proved useful to him, if only to distract White's pieces from building at leisure in the center and on the kingside.

    Finally, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov defeated S. P. Sethuraman in a sharp line of the Panov-Botvinnik Attack against the Caro-Kann. I haven't looked at the theory of the variation they played in a while, but my understanding was that Black normally flicks in 7...h6. White doesn't have to play 8.Bh4, but if he does then Black goes for the same line as in the game, with the point being that after 14...Ne6 (actually 15...Ne6) the rook on c4 attacks the bishop on h4, gaining a crucial tempo for the defense. The way Sethuraman played it has been known for a long time and the evaluation has always been in White's favor. My inclination was to say that he must not have thought White's advantage amounted to very much, but considering that he spent 36 minutes on his 16th move in a position that is well-known in this variation and arises almost by force once Black plays 7...Qxd4, I'm at a loss to explain what Sethuraman was thinking. Maybe his 7th move was a fingerfehler and he intended to play 7...h6 first? If someone comes across an answer, please share it in the comments.

    Thursday
    Sep172015

    World Cup 2015 Round 2, Day 3: Most Favorites Advance In Tiebreaks, But Not Aronian

    Today (or yesterday, depending on where you are) there were tiebreaks for those round 2 matches that were undecided after a pair of classical games, and after 15 tiebreakers the field at the World Cup has been whittled down to 32 players.

    Of those 15 tiebreakers, the higher-rated player won in 13 of them. Success stories include Grand Chess Tour participants Hikaru Nakamura (winning in the second 25' + 10" game against Sam Shankland), Anish Giri (won both 25' + 10" games vs. Alexander Motylev) and Alexander Grischuk (a winner in the second 10' + 10" game against Vladimir Fedoseev). Other high-rated winners include Sergey Karjakin, Dmitry Jakovenko, Evgeny Tomashevsky, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (who eliminated women's #1 Hou Yifan with a win and a draw in the 25-minute games) and Michael Adams, the latter winning the Armageddon game with White against Viktor Laznicka.

    One other favorite who advanced was Wei Yi, who won an incredible match against Yuri Vovk. Pretty much every game they played was spectacular, and almost all of those games were decisive as well. If you only look at one match from the second round, be sure to make this one your choice.

    There were two upsets, as noted above. The first was fairly mild, with Le Quang Liem going 1.5-.5 against Nikita Vitiugov in the 25' + 10" games. Le is below 2700 at the moment, but has been over and is a beast at faster time controls, having won the world blitz championship in 2013.

    The other upset was a monster result. Alexander Areshchenko defeated Levon Aronian in both 25-minute games to send to send the world's #7 player (and the 5th highest-rated player in the tournament) packing. Aronian had been in poor form for much of the past two years, but having recently won the Sinquefield Cup he seemed to be in great shape. (One wonders...is there any chance that spending an extra 2-3 days in St. Louis interfered with his preparations and with his ability to acclimate to the venue and the time zone? For that matter, one could wonder about Giri's hiccup in the first round against an FM and Grischuk's inability to win a single game so far in either classical chess or at the 25-minute time control. Fedoseev is a very good player, but Grischuk's first round opponent, Yusup Atabayev, isn't someone one would think Grischuk could only defeat in 5-minute chess. Many, many years ago Mikhail Botvinnik suggested going to events of this sort a couple of weeks in advance, and as in so many other matters when it came to training he was probably right or at least on the right track.)

    On to round 3, which has the following pairings (given in bracket order):

    • Veselin Topalov - Lu Shanglei
    • Teimour Radjabov - Peter Svidler
    • Alexander Areshchenko - Wei Yi
    • Gadir Guseinov - Ding Liren
    • Wesley So - Le Quang Liem
    • Maxime Vachier-Lagrave - Evgeny Tomashevsky
    • Julio Granda Zuniga - Radoslaw Wojtaszek
    • Peter Leko - Anish Giri
    • Fabiano Caruana - Anton Kovalyov
    • Shahkriyar Mamedyarov - S. P. Sethuraman
    • Sergey Karjakin - Yu Yangyi
    • Dmitry Andreikin - Vladimir Kramnik
    • Alexander Grischuk - Pavel Eljanov
    • Vassily Ivanchuk - Dmitry Jakovenko
    • Michael Adams - Leinier Dominguez
    • Ian Nepomniachtchi - Hikaru Nakamura

    Wednesday
    Sep162015

    World Cup 2015 Round 2, Day 2: Mixed Fortunes for the Favorites

    Part of the excitement of the first day of the second round of the 2015 World Cup was due to the upsets. Elite players Sergey Karjakin, Michael Adams, David Navara and Wang Hao all lost against sub-2700 level opposition. How did they fare on the second day?

    The answer is that their fortunes varied. Karjakin managed to strike back against American (and fellow Ukranian ex-pat) Alexander Onischuk, demonstrating once again that opposite-colored bishops don't guarantee a draw even in the ending. Michael Adams also came back with a massacre against Viktor Laznicka. For the other two 2700s, the news wasn't so good. Navara was never better against Gadir Guseinov, despite having the white pieces, and had he needed to Guseinov could have pushed for more at the end rather than forcing a draw. So that's good news for the hosts, as another Azeri player advances to the third round. Finally, Wang Hao did have some winning chances against Shanglei Lu, but couldn't convert them. (Lu has beaten back-to-back 2700s; his reward is a 2800 - Veselin Topalov - in round 3.)

    Not every 2700 who emerged unscathed on day 1 did so again on day 2. Wei Yi had beaten Yuri Vovk in the first game, but was ground down in a knight endgame in the rematch. Pentala Harikrishna drew the first game of his mini-match against fellow Indian S. P. Sethuraman, but was upset in game 2 and eliminated from the competition.

    There were again a fair number of short draws, some of which no doubt were motivated by a desire to save energy for the long haul. They will have to work tomorrow (or today, depending on where you are) - Wednesday - as 15 of the round 2 matches will be settled in the tiebreaks. Rather than list them, here's a list of the round 3 matches that have already been determined:

    • Topalov - Lu Shanglei
    • Guseinov - Ding Liren
    • Julio Granda Zuniga - Radoslaw Wojtaszek
    • Fabiano Caruana - Anton Kovalyov
    • Dmitry Andreikin - Vladimir Kramnik

    The last match is especially interesting as that was the final match in the previous World Cup, back in 2013. Kramnik won that match, but has otherwise got a terrible score against Andreikin in classical chess - just one win (in the World Cup) and three losses.

    Tuesday
    Sep152015

    World Cup 2015 Round 2, Day 1: A (Mostly) Exciting Round

    The first day of the second round of the 2015 World Cup featured some really terrific games; a good thing, too, as an early spate of short draws initially threatened to turn the day into a dud. Getting the draws out of the way, Sergei Zhigalko and Ilia Smirin drew with Veselin Topalov and Teimour Radjabov in 11 and 12 moves, respectively. If they had the black pieces that would be one thing, but it was very surprising to see them give away their white games against their elite opponents. But then I was even more surprised to see the higher-rated player give away draws with White as well. Hikaru Nakamura and Peter Svidler each drew in just 18 moves with White, against Sam Shankland and Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu, while Anish Giri split the point against Alexander Motylev in just 17 moves. There were five more games that were drawn in fewer than 30 moves, so boooooo.

    But all told, that's still just 10 games out of 32, and 22 good games are more than enough to maintain the spectators' interest. Some highlights:

    "U-S-A! U-S-A!": Nakamura and Shankland played to a quick draw, as noted above, but the other three Americans all won their games. Fabiano Caruana won with Black against Rauf Mamedov, Wesley So ground out a win - also with Black - against Csaba Balogh, and in a serious upset Alexander Onischuk defeated Sergey Karjakin, albeit with White. There's still at least one more game to be played, but for the moment chances look great for three and maybe four players for the United States to reach the third round, which may be their best ever performance in the World Cup and the knockout world championships. After decades of early exits by U.S. players not named "Gata Kamsky", I'm going to enjoy seeing the American players succeed.

    Successful Favorites: Among the biggest stars not already mentioned, winners include Vladimir Kramnik (who managed to finally trick Lazaro Bruzon in the rook and bishop vs. rook ending), Ding Liren (who won with a nice kingside attack against Ernesto Inarkiev), Radoslaw Wojtaszek (who defeated Russian prodigy Vladislav Artemiev), Vassily Ivanchuk (who won with Black against Maxim Rodshtein), and Chinese super-prodigy Wei Yi beat Yuri Vovk.

    Unsuccessful Favorites: Wang Hao was butchered by his countryman Shanglei Lu, David Navara lost to Azeri player Gadir Guseinov, and Mickey Adams lost to Viktor Laznicka.

    In all, 15 of the 32 games had a winner, so while there will probably be some tepid draws tomorrow, at least 15 players will have to fight hard for their tournament lives.

    Monday
    Sep142015

    World Cup Round 1, Day 3: Most Favorites Survive, But Not Gelfand

    24 of the 64 first-round matches in the 2015 Chess World Cup went to tiebreaks on Sunday, including some of the biggest names in chess. Alexander Grischuk, Dmitry Jakovenko and Boris Gelfand were among them, and all three had all they could bargain for and then some, even though none of them were facing grandmaster opposition. Both Grischuk and Jakovenko failed to win in the 25' + 10" games and 10' + 10" games, but both finally prevailed in the 5' + 3" blitz, winning both games. As for poor Gelfand, he was bounced in the first round of tiebreaks, losing badly with White in the second 25-minute game. His opponent, an almost-19-year-old Chilean IM named Cristobal Henriquez Villagra, won confidently. Will he build on this result, or was it a one-off result? We'll see; his next opponent is another very experienced grandmaster, Julio Granda Zuniga of Peru.

    Another upset, but to my mind a minor one, saw another 2700-GM go down when Shanglei Lu defeated Alexander Moiseenko. Lu is a rising player and a great rapid  and blitz player, so that's not so surprising. Lu's reward is to face his countryman Wang Hao in the next round. One other 2700 - and a former FIDE world champion through the knockout system - was bounced: Rustam Kasimdzhanov, to Canadian GM Anton Kovalyov in the final 5' + 3" game. All their previous games were drawn, but Kasimdzhanov almost lost the first blitz battle in a way that reminded me of one of my all-time luckiest wins.

    Kasimdzhanov had the better position in a bishop ending, but lacked any clear winning plan. Kovalyov's bishop was completely paralyzed, but despite that he had what appeared to be (and probably was) simply a fortress. Kasimdzhanov made a bunch of meaningless moves to gain a little thinking time via the increments, but at a certain point got lost in thought and only just recovered, making a move with one second left on the clock. Something similar happened to me some years ago (which I mentioned on my blog at the time). I was defending the ending rook vs. queen (just those pieces and the kings; no pawns) against a good opponent (2140-something) who started the ending with only seven seconds on his clock, but with five-second time delay before each move. (A practice in the U.S. that isn't followed anywhere else, as far as I know, but I'm entirely open to correction on this matter.) Early in the ending my opponent spent five of his "real" seconds on a move, and then on the 25th move of the ending "accidentally" started thinking and lost on time. They say that human beings are not very good at multitasking, and occurrences like these seem to confirm this.

    In fact, I had an experience like this on Kasimdzhanov's side as well - I've written about this one, too. In a game back in 1999, I believe, I was somewhere between much better and winning, but wasn't sure how to convert it into a full point. I had several minutes to make my final move of the time control, and fluctuated between several ideas, all the while aware of the clock as the minutes counted down. Then, at some point, I got sucked into the position and was fully concentrated, and when I made my move I did so calmly, as if it was just any normal situation in the game. When I did so, I looked at the clock, and noticed with horror (and perhaps relief, but only after I got over the shock) that I had done so with one second left on my clock. Thankfully, that's the only time that has happened to me in all the years I've been playing tournament chess.

    Back to the World Cup! Women's #1 Hou Yifan won her match on tiebreaks against Rafael Leitao, thereby exceeding women's world champion Mariya Muzychuk's performance in the event. Amongst U.S. players, one won and one lost. Sam Sevian lost both 25-minute games to Teimour Radjabov, so he's out, while Alexander Onischuk went 1.5-.5 against Andrei Volokitin in the game/25 round to advance. Finally, one match made it all the way to the Armageddon game, and that was Gabriel Sargissian vs. Mateusz Bartel. Sargissian drew the Armageddon game with Black, and so he advanced.

    Monday sees the start of round 2, and here are some of the notable pairings:

    • Veselin Topalov - Sergei Zhigalko
    • Wang Hao - Lu Shangeli (all-Chinese battle)
    • Teimour Radjabov - Ilia Smirin
    • Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu - Peter Svidler (both this match and the previous one pit current 2700s against former 2700s)
    • Wesley So - Csaba Balogh
    • Peter Leko - Wen Yang (a solid 2700 vs. one of the possibly seriously underrated Chinese players)
    • Fabiano Caruana - Rauf Mamedov
    • Anton Kovalyov - Sandro Mareco (a battle between two upset victors)
    • Shakhriyar Mamedyarov - Hou Yifan (a huge test for the women's #1)
    • S. P. Sethuraman - Pentala Harikrishna (an all-Indian battle)
    • Sergei Karjakin - Alexander Onischuk
    • Alexander Grischuk - Vladmir Fedoseev (an all-Russian battle)
    • Sam Shankland - Hikaru Nakamura (an all-U.S. battle)

    Sunday
    Sep132015

    World Cup Round 1, Day 2

    (Sorry for the delay, but I was playing in a local one-day tournament.)

    We're closer to the start of the tiebreaks than to the end of the second day's games, but the update will proceed all the same! Let's get started.

    Comebacks: Only four players bounced back from a loss yesterday to win today. The most notable victor was Leinier Dominguez, who was a pawn down in a rook and bishop ending against Federica Perez Ponsa; fortunately for Dominguez his opponent allowed his bishop to be trapped. Even after that the ending remained drawn for a long time, but Ponsa waited way too long to try to reach a rook vs. rook and bishop ending. If he knew how to defend it and felt comfortable doing so he could have saved the game, but to his misfortune (and serious financial detriment if he is eliminated in the tiebreaks) he didn't. Another big-name save saw Alexander Moiseenko slaughter Shanglei Lu in a fine attacking game; the other comebacks were Maxim Matlakov's win over Gadir Guseinov (sad news for the how team) and Milos Perunovic's win over Wang Hao - a definite upset.

    Big Name Eliminations: Amongst the 2700s, the following are gone: Igor Kovalenko (2702 in the ratings used for seeding the players, but only 2699 at the start of the event; he was eliminated by Wen Yang), Ni Hua (bounced by Sandro Mareco), and...that seems to be it. A near- (and former) 2700 to go out was Gata Kamsky, who didn't manage to bounce back from yesterday's defeat to Hrant Melkumyan.

    Big Names Going to Tiebreaks: The fact that few 2700s were eliminated in the first two days doesn't mean that the rest comfortably advanced; this was certainly not the case. While Anish Giri put away his resilient IM opponent on day two, neither Alexander Grischuk nor Boris Gelfand could defeat their IM opposition and they're headed to tiebreaks. Other 2700s headed for playoffs: Moiseenko (mentioned above), Wang Hao (mentioned above), Teimour Radjabov (vs. the young U.S. star Sam Sevian), David Navara (vs. Tamir Nabaty), Gelfand (mentioned above, facing Cristobal Henriquez Villagra), Nikita Vitiugov (vs. Samvel Ter-Sahakyan), Evgeny Tomashevsky (vs. Ziaur Rahman), Laurent Fressinet (vs. Ante Brkic), Ian Nepomniachtchi (vs. Zhao Jun), Dominguez (mentioned above), Grischuk (mentioned above, vs. Yusup Atabayev), and Dmitry Jakovenko (also vs. an IM, Ilia Iljiushenok).

    In all, not just including 2700-rated players, there are 24 matches going to tiebreaks later today. The format is as follows: first, a pair of 25' + 10" games. If they finish with one player ahead, the match is over; if not, they move on to a pair of 10' + 10" games. If the players are split after that they move on to a couple of 5' + 3" games, and if that doesn't work it's on to an Armageddon game. White gets 5 minutes, Black 4 minutes plus draw odds, and there are 3-second increments after each move from move 61 on.

    American Results: Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So all went 2-0 to advance, and Sam Shankland drew to advance with a 1.5-.5 match victory. Sam Sevian and Alexander Onischuk are headed for playoffs, while Gata Kamsky, Ray Robson and Varuzhan Akobian are (presumably) headed back to the United States. Robson had good chances to level his match with Yuri Vovk, but let him slip away. Another unfortunate note for U.S. fans is that at least one American player is guaranteed to lose in the second round, as Nakamura-Shankland is one of the matches on tap.

    Miscellaneous: Mariya Muzychuk did very well to draw with Black against Mickey Adams in the first game of their match, and even had a chance for more against Adams today. She faltered in a tricky position, however, and her tournament is over. Hou Yifan, however, is still going - barely - after a second straight draw with Rafael Leitao. And finally, congrats to Alexander Ipatov, who defeated Ivan Cheparinov 1.5-.5 to advance to the second round. Ipatov was undoubtedly buoyed by a relatively recent draw with a comparatively little-known American player. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

    Friday
    Sep112015

    World Cup Round 1, Day 1: Upsets Already

    For the first round, I'll stick to noting the significant upsets, the results of the U.S. players, and maybe one or two other things as they catch my eye. As the rounds go on and the field is whittled down to manageable proportions, it will be feasible to take a closer look. (Of course, if you spot something of special interest, you can help out in the comments.)

    There were a fair number of "half" upsets among the 2700s, with the most notable one being Anish Giri's draw with Ugandan IM Arthur Ssegwanyi, rated 2357. With Black, Giri was winning out of the opening, but allowed his resilient opponent to escape to a drawn ending. Giri charmingly played the drawn ending with an extra pawn and all the pawns on the kingside from move 53 until bare kings on move 158, but despite his hope that his opponent would die of old age, a heart attack or from sheer boredom, Ssegwanyi held the draw. (I'm now rooting for Ssegwanyi to win tomorrow.)

    Alexander Grischuk also surrendered a draw to an IM - with White! - giving up half a pawn to Yusup Atabayev of Turkmenistan. Boris Gelfand also gave up a draw with White to an IM (albeit one with a GM rating), one Cristobal Henriquez Villagra of Chile, and oddly enough did so in a winning (but very complicated) position.

    Other big dogs giving up draws: Teimour Radjabov (squandering a large if possibly never winning advantage against American Sam Sevian), David Navara (to Tamir Nabaty), Radoslaw Wojtaszek (to Babu M.R. Lalith), Nikita Vitiugov (to Samvel Ter-Sahakyan), Evgeny Tomashevsky (to Ziaur Rahman), Laurent Fressinet (to Ante Brkic), Ian Nepomniachtchi (to Zhao Jun), Michael Adams (to women's world champion Mariya Muzychuk), Dmitry Jakovenko (to Ilia Iljiushenok), and Rustam Kasimdzhanov (to Anton Kovalyov).

    That's 13 out of 36, by my count, and there were also two 2700+ rated players who lost. Leinier Dominguez lost to Argentine GM Federico Perez Ponsa while Ni Hua lost to another GM from Argentina, Sandro Mareco.

    So it was a very good day for Argentina, and it was also a good day for the host country as Azeri players went +3 =3. The Chinese players had a strong performance as well, despite the aforementioned loss by Ni Hua. Their remaining players went 7-2 (+6-1=2), including a draw by women's #1 Hou Yifan and an upset by Shanglei Lu of former (and near-) 2700 player Alexander Moiseenko.

    How about the Americans? In general, they did very well. The big three won, with Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana winning comfortably and Wesley So winning...almost comfortably. (There was one hiccup near the time control, but that aside So was generally in charge.) Sam Shankland defeated Ivan Popov, giving the U.S. four first-game winners. We saw above that Sam Sevian stole a draw against Teimour Radjabov, and Alexander Onischuk and Varuzhan Akobian both drew their games as well (against Andrei Volokitin and Viktor Laznicka, respectively). There were two bits of bad news, however, as our #4 and #5 players both lost - and with White. Gata Kamsky was impressively outplayed by Hrant Melkumyan in a Berlin ending, while Robson lost to Yuri Vovk in a Classical French. (It should be noted that Vovk's win was quite attractive, with his 26th move being particularly nice.)

    Tournament website here.

    Friday
    Sep112015

    The World Cup Starts Today!

    While I wasn't a fan of the knockout format as a means for determining the world championship, I think it's a terrific way of determining some of the slots for the Candidates' event. This, the 2015 World Cup, takes place in Baku, Azerbaijan, and starts in just a few hours, at 6 a.m. ET (=3 p.m. local time in Baku/11 a.m. CET). Practically all of the world's best players, excepting world champion Magnus Carlsen (whose participation would be inappropriate, as this is an event to determine two of his potential challengers) and Viswanathan Anand (who is automatically seeded into the Candidates anyway). The vast majority of the 2700+ rated players are participating, including Hikaru Nakamura, Veselin Topalov, Anish Giri, Fabiano Caruana, Levon Aronian, Ding Liren, Vladimir Kramnik, Alexander Grischuk, Sergey Karjakin and Wesley So.

    There are 128 players in all in this knockout event, which means that six rounds are necessary to determine the final two (who thereby win a place in the Candidates) and seven to determine a winner. The first six rounds consist of two classical games (one the first day, one the second) followed if necessary by a series of increasingly rapid tiebreaks. The finale will be a best-of-four classical match, again with rapid tiebreaks if they are needed.

    As is usual in knockout competitions, the first round pairings see #1 take on #128, #2 against #127 and so on through #64 vs. #65. That means that most of the top players will enjoy blowout wins in the first round, but the honeymoon doesn't last very long - even the top seed will probably face a 2700-rated player as soon as round 3.

    For a nice summary of the tournament info, a player list and the brackets, the Wikipedia page is useful, and to watch the live broadcast (and for another representation of the brackets) Chess24's page is worth bookmarking as well. The tournament site is here, and it will doubtlessly have its own unique assets as well.

    Who will win, wise readers? Or rather, who will be the top two?

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