And so the exhibition match between Alexei Shirov and Daniil Dubov has come to an end with a draw in game 6. As after game 1, a draw in the classical game meant they had to play blitz afterwards, and the results were a repeat of what happened in game 1: a draw followed by a Dubov win. In the part that counted, however, Shirov proved his dominance, and while Dubov is an impressive young talent this will have reminded him that he still has a long way to go to reach the elite. For Shirov, it netted him some points and probably some confidence, and hopefully presages a return to better things for him. There's nothing wrong with 60-move rook endings, but as chess fans most of us - myself included - would rather see his "fire on board" approach instead.
Entries in Alexei Shirov (8)
Mr. Fire On Board is having his way with young Russian GM Daniil Dubov in their six-game match, consistently outfoxing him in the crazy complications. If you enjoy tactically rich positions, this match is a feast for you.
The Daily Update: Russia Beats Ukraine And Leads The World Team Championship; Shirov Beats Dubov Again
There's still a round to go at the World Team Championship, but for practical purposes the winner and the medalists seem to have been decided. In the key match of the tournament, the leading Ukranians took on the Russians, hoping to keep or extend their lead of a single match point (half a point in normal chess scoring). The first three boards were drawn, but Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi defeated Yuriy Kryvoruchko, and his team won the match. As the Russians' final opponent is the Egyptian team, which has lost all its matches and has only managed eight points in their eight matches - in 32 games - it would seem to be a foregone conclusion. If so, it would mark the first time in quite a while that the Russian team has managed to win a major team competition.
Ukraine is now a point behind, but their chances of catching or leapfrogging the Russians are exceedingly slim, as we just noted. Worse, they're not in second right now but in third. The Chinese team beat the Germans - also 2.5-1.5 with the sole victory coming on board four - and while they are tied with Ukraine on match points they are ahead in board points. Better still for the Chinese, Ukraine must play the tough and motivated Armenian team, while China will play the next-to-last placed Turks. If Armenia wins, they will finish ahead of Ukraine (they are the only other team besides the Russians and the Chinese) who can do so, but before we assume that the Chinese are a shoo-in for second there's a warning to be issued.
The American team played Turkey in this round, and if they had won they still would have been in the medal hunt. They were apparently confident enough to rest Hikaru Nakamura, and they paid the price. Ray Robson was convincingly beaten on board 3, and only Varuzhan Akobian's fine endgame play enabled them to save a tie thanks to Akobian's win on board 4.
Meanwhile, in the other noteworthy ongoing event Alexei Shirov won again to take a 2.5-.5 lead over Daniil Dubov in their match (and to get back over 2700). They've reached the halfway point, and have a rest day tomorrow.
They're headed for home at the World Team Championship, and right now it's a three-team race for the gold. The Ukranian team bounced back - sort of - from yesterday's loss with a victory over Egypt. It was only 2.5-1.5 over a team that had lost all of their matches, but as match points have priority over board points that was good enough. The Ukranians thus lead with 12 match points out of 14 (six match victories worth two points apiece, and one loss).
They are a point ahead of the Russians, who beat the Dutch team 3-1. The Dutch team had been in the thick of the medal hunt, but will now have a tough time catching up. They had been tied for third, but now that belongs to the Chinese alone. The Chinese team beat Azerbaijan 3-1 and have 10 match points.
Three teams have 8 match points, and in tiebreak order they are the U.S. (3-1 victors over Germany), Armenia (3-1 winners against Turkey) and (as noted above) the Dutch team.
Here are the key pairings for the last two rounds:
- Ukraine-Russia (that match will probably decide the tournament, especially if Russia wins)
There's also the exhibition match between Alexei Shirov and Daniil Dubov. Game 2 was an exciting win for Shirov with the black pieces in a Moscow Gambit (Semi-Slav), and while Dubov had a big advantage in time out of the opening Shirov's very deep experience in such positions mattered, and he managed to outplay his young opponent in the complications. So far, it's a very entertaining match.
At the World Team Championship Ukraine had gotten off to a rip-roaring 5-0 start, but today they received their come-uppance from the Dutch team, 2.5-1.5. Three games were drawn, and on board 2 Loek van Wely won with Black against Anton Korobov. Korobov had a safe position but went for more, and van Wely outfoxed him in the complications.
Ukraine still leads, but the Russians are just a single match point behind after defeating their Turkish hosts 3-1. Ian Nepomniachtchi won with Black against Mustafa Yilmaz in just 20 moves, while Vladimir Kramnik beat Alexander Ipatov in a pretty remarkable game. When Kramnik played 19...c4 the "know-it-all" spectators on ICC said "sure, and next he'll play ...g4 and draw, boring". They got one part right: Kramnik played ...g4 just three moves later. But this was not the prelude to a draw or a peaceful disposition, as became clear when he sacrificed first a pawn with 29...e5 and then a piece on the next move. An impressive win, and one that shows how large the gap is between the world's very best and even a strong, 2600+ rated GM like Ipatov.
Another big surprise was the Armenian loss to the Germans by a 3-1 score. Daniel Fridman defeated Sergei Movsesian with the black pieces, while Arkadij Naiditsch beat Vladimir Akopian with White - the only White win mentioned thus far in the recap.
Since Radjabov and Mamedyarov aren't playing it probably isn't really an upset, but it is surprising that the USA's match victory over the Azerbaijan team didn't come from their top seeds Hikaru Nakamura or Gata Kamsky (both players drew) but from board 4 Ray Robson. Gadir Guseinov sacrificed four(!) pawns for a dangerous-looking attack, but in the end Robson's defense held and the material matterered.
In a separate event, a six-game match between Alexei Shirov and Russian prodigy Daniil Dubov started today. Both players - Shirov especially - are known for their very sharp styles, but game 1 was a rather straightforward-looking draw with Shirov playing White. Still, I'm expecting some very exciting chess to come from this match, so keep your eyes peeled.
UPDATE: Oops! I needed to research the event a bit more. Part of the arrangement is that if their regular game ends in a draw, they have to play some additional blitz games. And so they did. The first game also finished in a draw, but a very wild one, and Dubov won the second blitz game (which was also pretty sharp) with Black.
Keeping up with theory is a thankless task: there's so much to learn, and what's worse is that “helpful” chess publishers support your side today before rearming your opponent tomorrow. It hardly seems fair, but that's our plight. As long as we play chess, we must make our peace with the situation and decide what to do.
When we're young and ambitious, we're ready, willing and able to jump on the treadmill without a second thought. It's fun, it comes easily to us, and we're rewarded with great positions against many of our theoretically unsophisticated elders.
At some point, however, unless we're professionals, we can't keep up. (Another, subtler problem is that we must not only continue to assimilate new information, we must unlearn what we thought was true but wasn't. That's a discussion for another day.) So we might react in one of several ways. We can try to keep up, but only in a limited sphere. (Even Garry Kasparov did this, when he decided he couldn't maintain a suitable standard of preparation for both the Najdorf and the King's Indian Defense, and bid the latter goodbye.) We could start hanging out on sidestreets, looking for variations that are sound but a bit off the most beaten paths. Or we could go even further on the path to obscurity, playing and specializing in dodgy lines. Or, finally, we can decide not to worry about it, play what we want, and simply do our best. Occasionally we'll lose badly (see the preceding paragraph), but most of the time we'll get a playable position against our peers and the better player that day will be successful.
Of course, publishers have no interest in seeing us reach that final stage, and will do their level best to persuade us that opening success is just one more book away. There are books (and DVDs and other media) that are bold: “Winning With the ____”. Other books have more modest titles, but the marketing prose on the cover and the website offer similar promises. And then still others promise resurrection – or is it a sort of reincarnation? - by bringing you back to the starting line. “Tired of bad positions? Try the main lines!”
Many of these are excellent works in their own right. But really, can an author legitimately promise that we will win with a certain opening? And what are we to do, a year or six months or three months later, when another author (or sometimes even the same one!) writes a tome promoting the other side? It's wonderful that chess is so rich that even the combined efforts of hundreds or thousands of authors and their electronic henchmen can't send it into extinction, but the question remains: what are we to do? To learn fully “responsible” openings takes an awfully long time, and by the time we've succeeded our knowledge is out of date.
Fear not, trusty publishers have another solution. Rather than presenting second- (or third-, or fourth-) best openings with manageable amounts of theory or first-rate openings in encyclopedic fashion, there's another way: very carefully narrowed presentations of first-rate lines. Maybe those lines will go out of business in a year or two, but no matter: the time investment is small and you can get another quick fix then. It's a lot faster to build a raft or a canoe than on ocean liner, and while the canoe might capsize there's no guarantee that the Titanic will complete its voyage either.
So let's have a look at a couple of rafts, or maybe we should say one raft (Kritz's work) and one canoe. Both examine the Berlin Defense (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6, which often heads for the Berlin “Wall” endgame after 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8), with Leonid Kritz advocating it for Black and Alexei Shirov advising its opponents.
We'll start with Kritz's work, “Being Safe in the Berlin Defence”, which exemplifies the sort of approach mentioned two paragraphs ago. Kritz, a strong German GM originally from Russia, attempts to offer a short and simple repertoire for Black. It's one in a series of DVDs by ChessBase offering repertoires in (about) 60 minutes. Breadth and depth are sacrificed, but in return the material is very manageable. After a very short introduction (two minutes), Kritz first examines 4.d3 (about 14 minutes), then 5.Re1 (about 18 minutes), various 6th move alternatives (approximately 12 minutes) and finally the Berlin Endgame (about 18 and a half minutes). Thus in just over an hour the key lines are covered and the viewer is ready to go out and play the Berlin.
Bearing in mind that Kritz is not offering encyclopedic coverage, we can evaluate the material on three levels. First, is it easy to master the material he offers? Second, are his lines sound, as far as they go? And third, how likely is it that you'll get the positions he offers?
To question one, I think the answer is a clear yes. Kritz does a good job of keeping the quantity manageable and the ideas clear. So far, so good. Likewise on question two: Kritz plays the Berlin and plays the system he advocates, and so do many other titled players. Nor have I found any path to a significant White advantage against his proposals. Finally, while there are some gaps in his coverage of the sidelines, he hits the main moves in the endgame. Further, because the system he recommends is largely conceptual – do x, y and z – the need for encyclopedic coverage is reduced. Much of the time, though not always, it's enough to evaluate White's moves by how they try to interfere with Black's plans.
On the opposite side in more ways than one is Alexei Shirov's DVD, strangely titled “Beating the Berlin Defence”. I say “strangely” not because of any personal attachment to the Berlin or because I believe it's impregnable, but because the optimistic title doesn't seem to reflect Shirov's attitude or stated position; indeed it's not even clear that he believes White can obtain an edge. It's not for want of trying, as Shirov spends nearly four hours on 11 clips (10 games plus the intro) on the Berlin ending. I wouldn't say that he despairs of finding an advantage, but nothing in what he says suggests that he has found one. The title is likely the idea of ChessBase's clever marketing people and not Shirov's fault, and while I understand the temptation to label products with terms and expressions like “Beating” and “Winning With”, it's both ridiculous when it comes to mainstream openings and, in the case of this product, a misrepresentation of what Shirov is doing.
This isn't Shirov's fault, and it's not by itself a reason to avoid this product. But given that Shirov doesn't yet have the ultimate refutation of the Berlin, is it a waste of time and money for Ruy Lopez players to get this? I don't think so. One doesn't get the key to the Rosetta Stone, but Shirov presents a large number of diverse plans – for both sides – and as a result players on both sides will understand the Berlin far better than they did before. And that, I think, is more valuable than a transient novelty that promises White a slight edge today and nothing tomorrow.
Let me offer some specifics about both products. First, on Kritz. There are many ways to play the Berlin endgame, and his choice in the video is for 9.Nc3 Ke8 10.h3 Be7. Black's aim is to play ...Nh4, exchange a pair of knights, exchange a pair of rooks on the d-file, bring the king to e6 and live the good life. It sounds too simple to work, but it's a standard plan, it has fared pretty well, and in fact Kritz himself had good results with it. There is a downside, however, and it's that it's a pretty drawish setup. Levon Aronian once famously said that he played the Berlin when he needed a win (as opposed to his other main 1...e5 system, the Marshall Gambit), but the setup Kritz chooses offers practically no winning chances against certain standard White plans, e.g. after 11.g4 Nh4 12.Nxh4 Bxh4 13.Kg2.
Likewise, Kritz seems content with many positions in the 5.Re1 variation being “drawn”, but admittedly it's hard to give good advice there. Those positions are pretty flat, and at the GM level there would have to be a significant disparity in strength for one side to win. On the other hand, let me offer my readers some hope. To test all the Berlin products I've received lately, I've been trying to play it online at almost every opportunity. Since the Kasparov-Kramnik match, I've found the Berlin endgame remarkably rich, and after a few years off from the “Wall” I was looking forward to trying some new and unfamiliar plans. I'd love to tell you how it went, but all I see is 4.d3 and 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.Re1 – alas! Anyway, while there are some razor sharp lines in the 5.Re1 variation (many of which completely backfire against White) I've generally seen the dry as dust lines. My results have been excellent, so don't worry too much about weaker players using 5.Re1 to get a cheap draw.
In some ways, it's akin to the Exchange French. White is admitting failure from a theoretical standpoint, and often from a competitive standpoint as well, implicitly accepting a draw as the height of his ambitions. Thus Black is starting from a good position both theoretically and competitively, and more than that, by heading for an endgame, at least in the Berlin, White is entering Black's territory. Berliners are endgame players “by occupation”, so for Black it's business as usual, while White has forfeited his hopes of avoiding what he perceives to be the Berliner's rut. So be not afraid: once you've gained a little experience you will start obtaining a plus against the anti-theoretical approaches.
The 4.d3 line is another story – I wouldn't call that anti-theoretical, just anti-endgame. And speaking of this line, you'll see it an awful lot if you take up the Berlin, and it should be noted that there's a gap in Kritz's coverage. After his recommended 4...Bc5 (not the only option, but the one generally considered best by Berlin experts) 5.Bxc6 dxc6, Kritz suggests meeting 6.Be3 with 6...Bxe3 7.fxe3 Bg4. No problem – and that's one reason why 6.h3 is a pretty popular move. Alas, he doesn't cover it.
Now for a few words about Shirov's disc. He doesn't spend any time to speak of on lines other than the Wall endgame, asserting in the intro that neither 4.d3, 5.Re1, 6.dxe5 nor 6.Bg5 offers White any advantage and leaving it at that. So what you get is a series of long clips, featuring both his games and those of others (he was especially impressed by several of Vugar Gashimov's white games against the Berlin) trying to break down various Black setups. Were this a true “beating the Berlin” presentation, you'd expect one video for White per setup, but that's not what you get at all.
The first two videos (not counting the brief intro) examine the line 9.Nc3 h6 10.h3 Bd7 11.b3 c5 12.Rd1 Kc8 13.Nd5 a5 14.a4, with the first video exploring 14...Ne7 and the second 14...g5. Case closed, on to the next Black system? Not exactly! The third clip see White playing 12.Bb2, while the fourth presents 12.Nd5. Likewise, while the fifth and sixth videos show White meeting 9...Ke8 with 10.h3, he found Gashimov's 10.Ne2 interesting enough to show in a later clip. As you long as you consider the Shirov disc an education on the Berlin rather than a guide on how to beat it, you won't be disappointed. More importantly, you'll learn a lot, whether you play the white or the black side of the Berlin endgame.
A criticism of both products: when presenting a line, both Shirov and Kritz sometimes forget to promote a certain variation in the notation page. For those of you unfamiliar with ChessBase software, what I mean is this. Let's suppose you're entering your black repertoire against 1.e4 in a single database entry (we're keeping things simple), and you consider the Ruy Lopez the most important opening you have to face. What you would normally do is make 3.Bb5 the main line, and cover third move alternatives (3.d4, 3.Bc4, etc.) in parentheses. This is a general principle: the most important or best line should be outermost relative to less important or weaker tries. In general, both Shirov and Kritz arrange the games that way, but not always. Of course it's easy to tell what's what when you're watching the video, but if you want to come back to it later it's easy to be confused by the notation. (Worse still, though this only happened once or twice: sometimes a wrong move is accidentally entered, and then the presenter entered the new move without overwriting the mistaken one. Unless the user creates his own version, he might look at it sometime later and think that the unerased error represents another option.) So to my dear friends at ChessBase: please tidy up the players' notation and put the cleaned up version in a separate analysis entry! There you can organize things properly, put in the evaluations they state but don't insert, and in so doing really tidy things up and make the product more user-friendly.
The need to do this is a nuisance, but it's not a reason to forego either product. If you're curious about the Berlin, at least as an occasional weapon, Kritz's product isn't bad. If you're a stronger player who already has some familiarity with the Berlin on either side, Shirov's work is particularly valuable. Both are recommended. (Ordering info on the Kritz DVD/download is here, Shirov's is here. And a heads-up: I'll be reviewing more products addressing the Berlin very soon.)
Finally, let me come full circle in my discussion of opening theory. In the intro I presented the task of keeping up with theory as a burden and a nuisance. But there's another way to look at it. Rather than thinking of it as an odious and expensive task, one can view it as a chance to broaden one's horizons. It's fun to learn new things and visit new places – metaphorically in this instance, but the principle applies! Taken as a job or duty, keeping up with theory is a pain in the neck; as a small-scale adventure, it can be most pleasant. It can also help your chess in general, both by helping you to avoid the staleness that results from playing the same few openings over and over again, and by teaching you some new positions and thereby broadening your general understanding. So every now and then, dive in to a new opening, whether it's the Berlin or the Najdorf or something completely different.
A couple of days ago I reported being amazed by the heavyweight battle between Artur Yusupov (or "Jussupow", as his name is given in the databases) and Alexei Shirov from the just-completed open event in Gibraltar. Yusupov's opening repertoire often looks quiet and toothless, but that appearance is often entirely deceptive. He is able to find some remarkable attacking ideas, and he unleashed a furious attack against Shirov that shocked the Latvian GM and had him scrambling to stay alive in the opening. He rose to the occasion, and the result was an incredibly high-level battle that eventually finished in Shirov's favor.
It's a really beautiful and well-played game, and I hope my readers on this site will also be my viewers over on ChessVideos. It's a game worth seeing, and I do my best to show just how many shoals both sides, but especially Shirov, had to avoid along the way. This is great chess.
You can see my video of the game here. It's free as always (one-time only free registration is required), and it will be available on demand for the next month or so.