At least a little. It has been a while, but there are a couple of bits of chess news to report, and then I'll offer a brief status update on my condition.
So, first, chess! Several people have noted this Vladimir Kramnik interview (Mark Crowther of TWIC was the first), and it's both a very good read in its own right and a balm for the soul to those of us who, like me, may have been pulling a little extra hard for him to break through to meet Viswanathan Anand for another title shot. Many of you may have already read it, but if you haven't I highly recommend it - whether you're a Kramnik fan or not.
Second, there's a very strong event underway - the Russian Team Championships. As is common these days, the event title is something of a misnomer, as plenty of non-Russians are participating. Unless you're a Russian from a relevant region, though, you are probably like me far more interested in the event as an excuse to see great individual players in action; if so, there's good news. Recent candidates Peter Svidler, Alexander Grischuk and the great spoiler Vassily Ivanchuk are all in action, along with former "vice-champions" Peter Leko and Gata Kamsky (Ivanchuk was one as well, if you count the old FIDE K.O.s), and plenty of other superstars like Sergey Karjakin, Fabiano Caruana, Alexander Morozevich, Shakriyar Mamedyarov and other 2700+ rated stars are in action.
I've only just started to glance at the games, and one immediately caught my eye - Baadur Jobava's rout of Karjakin in what at least appears at first glance to be an utterly insipid line of the Giuoco Piano. I'd post it using ChessBase's online "service", but as it appears to be nonfunctional yet again I'll just post the PGN notation here. (Note: It will take me a little while to figure out a new system - please bear with me - but the ChessBase server has simply failed too often for me to use it anymore. I don't know if they are suffering from hackers, or if they grossly underestimated the system load or what, but at least for the moment they appear utterly unreliable.)
GM Jobava, Baadur (2702) - GM Karjakin, Sergey (2786), 20th TCh-RUS 2013, Round 2:
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.e5 d5 7.Be2 Ne4 8.cxd4 Bb4+ 9.Bd2 Nxd2 10.Nbxd2 0-0 11.0-0 f6 12.Rc1 Kh8 13.Nb3 Bg4 14.a3 Be7 15.Re1 fxe5 16.dxe5 Rf4 17.h3 Bh5 18.Nc5 Bxc5 19.Rxc5 d4 20.e6 Bg6 21.Bd3 Qf6 22.Ng5 Ne7 23.Bxg6 hxg6 24.Ne4 Qxe6 25.Ng5 Qf6 26.Re6 Qf8 27.Rxg6 Rh4 28.Ne6 1-0
I don't believe Jobava's approach will set the world on fire any more than Kramnik's 10.h3 in the Scotch Four Knights, but what they do - and what Carlsen often does as well - is to create positions with at least three critical characteristics. First, they are new. By this I mean a type of position that is new in some respect - it's not just some micro-change in the context of a very well-understood position-type. Sometimes a novelty is finding a new finesse on move 22 that may gain a tempo in a race between two very well-known plans. This is not that. 5.d4 is ancient but utterly devoid of danger in the main lines to those in the know, and being in the know can be accomplished these days in about 10-15 minutes. But Jobava doesn't beat the dead horse that is 6.cxd4, but instead chooses the rarer 6.e5 and then, after 6...d5, the really rare 7.Be2. Ironically, Jobava was one of the few to previously try it, and he lost both times, in 2012, to other 2700-rated players (Malakhov and Kamsky).
In those games Black played 8...Bb6 rather than giving check on b4, and through move 11 they followed another high-level game, a Vallejo Pons-Ponomariov contest from 2011. Like Jobava's 2012 games Black won this one too, but here it was Jobava who innovated with 12.Rc1. And this, my friends and readers, presents a really new position! Who is better? What plans should be chosen? How, if at all, should the pawn tension between White's e- and Black's f-pawns be resolved? Do Black's bishops matter? Do the c-file and White's mini-plan of Nb3-c5 cause Black serious difficulties?
Karjakin is a great player, and on balance a stronger one than Jobava. But part of Karjakin's great strength is his diligence, his very professional level of preparation. This has been characteristic of his play for a long time, and his decision several years ago to work especially with Garry Kasparov's former "permanent" trainer Yuri Dokhoian has only solidified that tendency in Karjakin. Jobava, on the other hand, prefers the road less traveled. I don't mean by this that he is any less diligent in working on his openings than Karjakin, but rather that his openings are less traveled in general than Karjakin's. This gives him a double advantage, when he succeeds. First, he will know his lines better, simply because they are his. But to return to the initial comment starting this discussion, they are new positions, which means that Karjakin's greater general breadth and depth of chess understanding (I'm assuming that characterization is true - please join me there if only for the sake of the argument) isn't so relevant. So, there's newness.
Second, the positions are not readily resolved. This is pretty clear by implication in the foregoing discussion, but it's worth stating explicitly. Maybe White has absolutely nothing from a "God's-eye view" in this line, even as late as 12.Rc1, but so what? I've seen my share of super-GM post-mortems where a player will say something like "Yes, and here Black does this, this and this; trades off the bishops and the position is simply drawn." Such statements are sometimes made practically right out of the opening, and yet the thing is that they are frequently on the money with those assessments. (It's not necessarily that we would manage to hold the position against them, but it's fair for them to assume that a player of comparable technical skill could do so.) In fact, even I've made such statements on occasion in a few positions I've taken myself to understand extremely well, and it's quite possible that you have too, and with justification.
But getting back to the Jobava-Karjakin game, no such story is possible, at least not yet. This goes hand-in-glove with the "newness" point. If Jobava's Giuoco line catches on a bit then we'll have super-GMs and correspondence chess mavens working things out to death, and then we'll see the press conferences where Anand or Kramnik or whoever it is playing Black says "Yes, this is the important factor in the position, and by trading this, covering that square and maneuvering this and that to here and there White has nothing." But for now, it's far from obvious what the play-killing plan is, and that's what makes it work.Third, the opponent has real problems to solve. This isn't Chess960, where we're all just trying to figure out what to do even if there aren't any particular problems just yet. Nor is it simply a vague position where one isn't sure how to clarify the position, but isn't in any trouble as a result. Karjakin had real problems to solve right out of the opening. Jobava soon enjoyed a serious advantage, which he rapidly parlayed into a crushing attack.
That was a bit of a ramble, I suppose, but it's worth thinking about openings along the aforementioned lines. Many amateurs - and many pros too, for that matter - work on their openings with an eye to either murdering their opponents in the main lines or (more often in amateurdom) seeking some tricky, get-rich-quick sideline. The first approach goes back to opening encyclopedias going back at least as far as Bilguier, and is surely the preferred method of Generation Space Bar (i.e., of those who prompt Houdini or their favorite engine to execute its most highly-evaluated move by pressing the space bar on their keyboard). The trappy approach surely has an even older pedigree, though I'm sure its results overall are considerably worse. There are still other approaches, but I think it's worth taking this Jobava/Kramnik/Carlsen approach very seriously as a major third way.
Now from schach to sciatica. Thanks to the glory of painkillers and especially steroids (not of the sort that will get me banned from Olympic weightlifting competitions, fear not), I'm at least able to function like a reasonable facsimile of myself for the moment, after a week and a half of consistent agony and terrible sleep. This is not a cure though, and on Monday I'll see a neurologist to decide what's next: an injection, (comparatively minor) surgery or something else or some combination of options. It seems that my back and discs are pretty good in general, so there are reasonable grounds to hope that after treatment (and some possible post-treatment misery) I should function at least as well as before. And assuming I'm able to keep all of you posted, I will!
Again, many, many thanks to those of you who have contributed, often with some kind words as well. The financial help has indeed been a help, and the encouragement and care it represented has been if anything an even greater blessing - especially during the most painful and incapacitating days of this struggle. I'm not out of the woods yet, but as noted above, it's a relief to at least feel like a reasonable facsimile of my usual self. Thank you!