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    Entries in Bilbao 2012 (8)

    Saturday
    Oct132012

    Carlsen Wins Final Masters In Blitz Playoff Over Caruana

    The Final Masters came to a conclusion today, and Magnus Carlsen won - deservedly - against Fabiano Caruana in a blitz playoff. Both players finished with +3 scores, each losing only one game in the event - to each other. Caruana went +3 in the first cycle and even in the second, while it was the reverse for Carlsen. So why do I say Carlsen was the deserved winner, when both players had such similar results?

    The answer came in today's round, before the blitz games. Both Carlsen and Caruana had Black, against Levon Aronian and Francisco Vallejo, respectively. Carlsen drew with Aronian, but he had to sweat a while, as Aronian enjoyed a definite and nagging edge for a long time in a very old-fashioned Queen's Indian. Nevertheless, once he equalized, even though he had no legitimate chances to win at all, he played on a bit longer when Aronian offered a possible repetition. He took chances early in the game, in the hopes of reaching a position where he could fight for a win, and then even later fought when there was practically nothing left to fight for.

    Contrast that with Caruana's game. Caruana is a big specialist in the Neo-Archangelsk variation of the Ruy, but chose instead to play the Zaitsev. Trying to avoid some preparation? Maybe, but he wasn't worried about that earlier in the event, even though he's aware that every professional on the planet knows he plays the line. Anyway, Vallejo shamelessly played the Ng5-f3 repetition, daring Caruana to choose a different system. Not particularly admirable on Vallejo's part, but when you're -4 and just turned what could have been 2.5 points (on classical scoring) the past three rounds into a single half a point, wanting to put an end to the event is pretty natural. But why is Caruana giving him a break? Vallejo isn't a bad player, but he's not doing well and he's the lowest-rated player by a considerable margin. If you're not going to play for a win against the bottom marker by rating and score, who are you going to play for a win against?

    Viswanathan Anand and Sergey Karjakin played a lively draw in a sharp line of the Slav, and so the final standings (not counting the tiebreak) looked like this:

    1-2. Carlsen, Caruana 17 (on 3-1-0 scoring; their "real" score was 7-3)
    3. Aronian 11 (5-5, with one win and one loss)
    4. Karjakin 10 (4.5-5.5, with one win and two losses)
    5. Anand 9 (4.5-5.5, with one loss)
    6. Vallejo 6 (3-7, with four losses)

    On to the blitz (4' + 3") playoff. Carlsen had Black in game one and played the Berlin Defense. Carlsen managed to artificially isolate White's e-pawn and win it, and he subsequently converted his material advantage in a rook ending. The second game was a bit of a farce. It's very difficult to win on-demand with Black - especially against Carlsen - so Caruana probably felt the need to play a riskier and somewhat unfamiliar opening. Carlsen played somewhat untheoretically as well, but clearly had a better feel for the opening:

    1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.g3 b6 4.Bg2 Bb7 5.Qe2 d6 6.d4 cxd4 7.Nxd4 Nf6 8.0-0 Nbd7 9.Rd1

    Here White is threatening a standard trick that more often arises from the g3 line against the Taimanov/Paulsen. Caruana either didn't know it, didn't suspect it, or just grossly underestimated it. (Ironically, he made a similar mistake against me in a blitz game a couple of years ago, and was extremely fortunate to draw - I had a winning position and he had no material, but I ran out of time.) Black needed to play something like 9...Qc7/Qc8/Qb8; instead:

    9...a6? 10.e5

    and now another big error:

    10...Bxg2? 11.exf6

    Black is completely lost. If 11...Bb7, 12.Nxe6 finishes the game, but after

    11...Bh3 12.Qh5

    was curtains. (If 13...Bf5 14.Nxf5 exf5 15.Qe2+/15.Re1+ followed by 16.fxg7 and 17.f4 wins a piece.) Caruana kicked on for five more moves (12...Qxf6 13.Qxh3 Be7 14.Nc3 Qg6 15.Nc6 Ne5 16.Nxe7 Kxe7 17.Bf4) and called it a day.

     

    Saturday
    Oct132012

    Bilbao, Rounds 8 & 9: Carlsen & Caruana Lead Entering the Final Round

    Coming into round 8 of the Final Masters (now in Bilbao; the first half was in Sao Paulo), Fabiano Caruana and Magnus Carlsen were tied for first, one point (on 3-1-0 scoring) ahead of Levon Aronian. With one round to go, the race has gone from three horses to two, thanks to the drama of round 9.

    First though, round 8. All three games were drawn. The best and most thrilling game was Vallejo-Aronian, which was itself a very narrow escape for the world's #2 player. He was in big trouble, in a passive position with his king about to come under an attack, and short of time as well. Fortunately for him, Francisco Vallejo avoided the pedestrian 26.Bxd4, which would have given him a no muss, no fuss clear advantage. Instead, he went for glory with 26.hxg6 fxg6 27.Rxh7+, and from there through the end of the time control it was a thrill ride for the spectators. Practically every turn required Aronian to find the only move, and he rose to the occasion, pulling out a tough draw.

    In round 9, however, Aronian was not able to pull a rabbit out of his hat. In a way, it was an inverse of round 8. Though he had Black again, this time his position was just fine coming out of the opening and into the middlegame. That's not to say the position was simple, as it wasn't. After 20.Nh4 b3 21.Bb1 Caruana was clearly going headhunting on the kingside, with first the bishop and then Black's king as targets. Nevertheless, with 21...c4 or 21...Nd7 followed by ...c4, Black would have been very much in the game. Instead, either from panic or an oversight somewhere in his calculations, Aronian decided to sacrifice a piece with 21...Nxg4. His follow-up was even less successful, and soon Caruana's position was completely won. It looks like Aronian just had a bad day, and as a result he is out of the race for first.

    The other game relevant for the first place standings was Carlsen's battle against world champion Viswanathan Anand, who is unfortunately playing less and less like a champion every year. (His narrowly defeated rival, Boris Gelfand, is on the other hand playing better and better: not only did he tie for first in the London Grand Prix a week or two ago; he has also gotten off to a good start in the insanely strong European Club Cup in Eilat, Israel. A quick look at the right sidebar of the live chess ratings page will give some idea of how loaded the field is.) Anand's string of eight draws came to an end as he lost in a Moscow Sicilian. It seems that Anand may have underestimated Carlsen's attacking plan of 18.e5, 19.e6 and then 20.Nf4. It took a few more moves before Black's potentially vulnerable kingside turned into a death zone for his king, but 24.g4! (restricting Black's knight) and then the powerful retreat 25.Nh3! ensured Black's fate. With all Anand's heavy pieces stuck helplessly on the queenside, the end was near and his position was hopeless, so Anand gave up before the overt massacre appeared on the board.

    The last game wasn't important in the race for first, but it was another exciting battle. Sergey Karjakin was on the ropes against Vallejo, but this time the story was even sadder for Vallejo. He drew against Aronian, but this time he lost, and from a winning position. 32...b3 would have maintained a decisive advantage, and 33...Nxe5 would have kept a meaningful plus as well. His position deteriorated over the next few moves, probably due to time trouble, and the final straw was 37...Qb2, blundering into mate.

    And so the last round pairings look like this (player scores are in parentheses):

    • Vallejo (5) - Caruana (16)
    • Aronian (10) - Carlsen (16)
    • Anand (8) - Karjakin (9)

    Tuesday
    Oct092012

    Bilbao, Rounds 6 & 7: The Magnus Monster is Back

    After the first cycle in Sao Paulo, Magnus Carlsen looked like an also-ran - lucky to be in clear third place, "only" five points behind the leader, Fabiano Caruana. Two rounds into the second cycle, in Bilbao, he and Caruana are tied for first, and he's not far from catching Garry Kasparov's all-time rating record. (Prescinding from any possible rating inflation, anyway.)

    All the non-Carlsen games in the second cycle of the "Final Masters" have been drawn (just three more Viswanathan Anand will keep his title!), but the Norwegian terror is again working his magic. In round 6 he had the white pieces against Caruana, and this was pretty close to a must-win game for him. He rose to the occasion, and in his usual style: a semi-theoretical opening (the King's Indian Attack vs. the French, in this case), using the middlegame to induce some enemy weaknesses, which leads to persistent pressure in the ending followed by the opponent eventually cracking. Check, check and check. Caruana maintained material equality for a long time, but the bishop ending they finally reached was hopeless. Curiously, it was a sort of mirror image of Fischer-Keres from Zurich 1959. There the players had light squared bishops, and Fischer had the only two pawns, on the f- and h-file. In Carlsen-Caruana, they ultimately reached an ending with dark squared bishops and white c- and a-pawns! In both cases the only real task was to prevent the defender from sacrificing his bishop for the bishop-pawn (the f-pawn in Fischer-Keres; the c-pawn in Carlsen-Caruana), and the winners coped in both games.

    Then today, Carlsen had White again; this time against rating tail-ender Francisco Vallejo Pons. Once again Carlsen left the beaten tracks of opening theory most expeditiously, meeting today's French Defense with 4.exd5 against the Winawer. That isn't a completely theory-free zone, but Carlsen avoided most of that theory as well. The difference between this game and yesterday's is that Vallejo didn't make it to an endgame. Carlsen maintained pressure against Black's kingside, and eventually broke through and won.

    Here are the pairings for round 8, with scores (remember, 3-1-0 scoring) in parenthesis. There are three rounds to go:

    Karjakin (5) - Carlsen (12)

    Anand (7) - Caruana (12)

    Vallejo (4) - Aronian (9)

    Sunday
    Oct072012

    The "Final Masters" Resumes Tomorrow (Monday)

    (Sorry for the scare quotes, but it's an absurd name, at least in English.)

    The ridiculously strong double round-robin event that started a couple of weeks ago in Sao Paulo, Brazil resumes tomorrow (today for many of you) in Bilbao, Spain. When we left off after the first cycle, Fabiano Caruana (send him back!) was leading with 11 points (on 3-1-0 scoring), with Levon Aronian in second with 7, Magnus Carlsen with 6, Viswanathan Anand with 5 and Francisco Vallejo and Sergey Karjakin tied for last with three points apiece. Here are the pairings for round 6:

    • Carlsen - Caruana
    • Karjakin - Aronian
    • Vallejo - Anand

     

    Tuesday
    Oct022012

    Catching Up! Sao Paulo

    The other major ongoing event is on hiatus, as the participants in the Final Masters* go from Sao Paulo, Brazil to Bilbao in Spain. The first of the two cycles is over, and Fabiano Caruana leads with 11 points after 5 rounds (three wins and two draws, on 3-1-0 scoring). Levon Aronian is in clear second with 7 points (+1 =4), but it could easily have been very different.

    When we left off after round 3, Caruana was in first with 7 points and Aronian in second with 5. Caruana won by blowing Francisco Vallejo Pons off the board with White in an Advance French. Caruana (probably) prepared an interesting two pawn sacrifice that may not lead to an objective advantage, but figuring out what to do on spec wasn't easy for Black. Vallejo's 20...Qd8 may have been his only error (20...Qc7 was forced, when 21.Bxg6 Bxe3+ 22.Qxe3 fxg6 23.Rf6 leaves White with full compensation for the pawns, but probably not more), but one mistake was all that was necessary.

    Aronian should have won too, though. With Black against Magnus Carlsen, his structural problems were balanced by his kingside play, and when Carlsen played 27.Bf4?? he missed the kind of mate you'd find in a standard issue puzzle book: 27...R8xf4 28.gxf4 Nxf4 (threatening ...Qg2#) 29.Rg1 Qxh2+! 30.Kxh2 Rh3#. Nice, but not especially difficult. And yet the two strongest players of our day both missed it, and with more than enough time, too!

    The results was that Caruana extended his lead to 4 points, but in the very next round it could and should have been cut down to a single point. Aronian enjoyed an advantage against Caruana after the opening, extended it in the middlegame, and had a winning ending. Caruana's bishops made it tricky, though, and in the interests of keeping things simple Aronian played 44.Rxg7+? This was an unnecessary concession, as both 44.Re4 (simplest) and 44.Rh4+ (best but trickiest: 44...Bh6+ 45.f4 Bxa4 46.Re1! and amazing at it may seem, there's no way for Black to avoid losing a bishop) would have assured White a clean win.

    Later on 55.h6+?? was an incredible blunder, turning a still possibly won ending into a draw. It's hard to believe Aronian could have missed 55...Kxh6 56.Nxc6 Kg5 (or maybe that after 57.Rg4+ Kf5 White is essentially stuck), but fatigue can do all kinds of crazy things to us.

    So Caruana drew and leads comfortably, with Aronian in second. All the other games from the two rounds were drawn, so here are the standings after round 5:

    1. Caruana 11 (4-1)
    2. Aronian 7 (3-2)
    3. Carlsen 6 (2.5-2.5, with a win and a loss)
    4. Anand 5 (2.5-2.5, with five draws; five more and he keeps his title**)
    5-6. Vallejo, Karjakin 3 (1.5-3.5: two losses and three draws apiece)

    Play resumes in Spain on October 8.

    * I predict there will be more masters in years to come.

    ** I know, they play rapid tiebreaks now in world championship matches. Work with me.

    Wednesday
    Sep262012

    Sao Paulo, Round 3: Three Tough Draws

    The players maintained the status quo in the Sao Paulo/Bilbao Final Masters, but not for a want of trying. Fabiano Caruana had Viswanathan Anand on the ropes for a long time. The champion hasn't won a classical tournament in four and a half years(!!) and over the past year or two rarely defeats his peers and near-peers, but he's still a resilient defender. Maybe Caruana could have gotten more from the ending, but I'm not sure. One suggestion I came across was to avoid swapping knights on move 56, but after 56.Nb6 Nd3 57.Nc4 Ra1! with the idea of 58...Re1 may hold.

    Levon Aronian's game with Francisco Vallejo was a weird one. Aronian got himself into all kinds of trouble with his plan of 16.Bb5 and 17.Nc4, and after 29...Ra2 White's position looked abysmal: a pawn down, king in trouble, ridiculous rook on h1, etc. Incredibly, 30.Rg1! made everything alright. I can't remember if Vallejo described this as a "miracle" when speaking with the commentators after the game, but if he didn't he came as close as possible to expressing that sentiment. The incredible point is that after the obvious 30...Qxh2(??), grabbing a second pawn and closing in for the kill, White has the powerful interference shot 31.Ne5+!, winning (e.g. 31...fxe5 32.Rc7+ Ke7 33.Qe7#). Vallejo could have continued the game, swapping rooks and queens, but short both on time and developed pieces, he reasonably decided to call it a day.

    Finally, in the battle for 1990 supremacy, Sergey Karjakin enjoyed some advantage - with the black pieces, no less - against his bete noire Magnus Carlsen. Carlsen had the superior structure, Karjakin the activity, and when Carlsen managed to neturalize the latter it looked like another vintage victory was on the way. (There was one interesting tactical speed bump both players missed, though: 46...Rxb2+!! 47.Nxb2 fxe4, and White's rook is trapped!) The knight vs. bishop ending looked promising for Carlsen, but Karjakin defended well and assured himself of a draw with 59...Bxf2.

    So after three rounds the standings are as follows (based on 3-1-0 scoring...sigh):

    1. Caruana 7
    2. Aronian 5
    3. Carlsen 4
    4. Anand 3
    5. Vallejo 2
    6. Karjakin 1

    The round 4 pairings are Caruana - Vallejo, Carlsen - Aronian, and Karjakin - Anand.

    Wednesday
    Sep262012

    London, Round 5 and Sao Paulo, Round 2

    Just a quick update on yesterday's action at the two super-events, the London Grand Prix and the Sao Paulo/Bilbao Final Masters. In London, all the games were drawn, so Gelfand maintains his half point lead over his closest competitors, Grischuk and Leko. As sometimes happens before a rest day, the players seemed ready for a full two-day weekend and played low energy chess, with the usual notable exceptions of Nakamura and Topalov. Their reward was to get into a little trouble, but I don't think either player was ever lost. After today's rest day, they'll resume tomorrow (Thursday) with the following pairings (player scores in parenthesis):

    • Leko (3) - Giri (2)
    • Grischuk (3) - Adams (2.5)
    • Gelfand (3.5) - Ivanchuk (2)
    • Kasimdzhanov (2) - Mamedyarov (2.5)
    • Nakamura (2.5) - Wang Hao (2)
    • Topalov (2.5) - Dominguez (2.5)

    In Sao Paulo, two of the three games were again decisive. Caruana made it back to back victories, convincingly defeating Karjakin with Black in a Neo-Archangelsk Ruy Lopez. Anand had absolutely nothing with White against Aronian's Berlin defense, so the result was a quick draw (considering Anand's disastrous record against Aronian the past few years, maybe he felt "better safe than sorry" was the way to go). Finally, Carlsen bounced back from his loss in round 1, working his famous endgame magic against Vallejo. I'm not sure the game could have been saved in any case, but Vallejo's decision to swap rooks with 31.Rc1 looks like it loses by force.

    After two rounds, Caruana leads with 2 points, Aronian has 1.5, Anand and Carlsen have 1, Vallejo has half a point and Karjakin has a goose egg for his troubles. Here are the pairings for round 3, which started about an hour ago: Carlsen - Karjakin (castling queenside, anyone?), Caruana - Anand, and Aronian - Vallejo.

    Monday
    Sep242012

    Bilbao Round 1 Pairings; Quick London Recap for Round 4

    Round 1 of the Bilbao Chess Masters Final will start momentarily, with the following pairings:

    Caruana - Carlsen

    Aronian - Karjakin

    Anand - Vallejo

    I'll have more to say about round 4 of London later today; in brief, the two decisive games were Grischuk beating Mamedyarov in a lively game and Gelfand beating Wang Hao when the latter blundered into mate in a rook ending. Gelfand is in clear first with 3/4, half a point ahead of Grischuk and Leko.