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    Entries in Boris Gelfand (39)

    Friday
    Oct042013

    The Grand Prix Ends With Pusillanimousness In Paris

    Congratulations to Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who is the recipient of the second qualifying spot for the next Candidates' tournament from the 2012-2013 Grand Prix. Fabiano Caruana would have taken that spot if he managed to finish ahead of Boris Gelfand, with whom he was tied for first going into the last round of the final Grand Prix event of the cycle, which concluded today in Paris.

    The task would not be easy, as Gelfand was due for the white pieces in his last-round game, against Ruslan Ponomariov, while Caruana had black against Leinier Dominguez. Caruana played a Taimanov Sicilian, and faced a new move early on, 13.Rd2. Caruana thought for about 40 minutes, and then played 13...Rc8, which is a typical move in that line of the Taimanov. The following moves quickly ensued: 14.Bxb5!? axb5 15.Nxb5 Qc6 16.Na7 Qc7 17.Nb5 Qc8 18.Na7 Qc7 19.Nb5 Qc6 and draw.

    WHAT???

    If the tournament in Paris were an end in itself, that would be a sensible decision, but it wasn't, on both counts. Winning meant qualifying for the Candidates tournament, the gateway to the world championship! If he lost the game, so what?? He'd lose something like six rating points, which he could easily regain in his next tournament. He would some prize money too, and that's not nothing. But he's a very successful tournament pro, and unless he's investing with a Bernie Madoff-type his financial future is bright. The loss is something, but not much in the big picture. And if he wins, he not only wins a bigger prize in the tournament (and maybe from taking second in the overall Grand Prix?), he's also guaranteed a further payday by making it into the Candidates, with a shot at serious money and a match for the world championship.

    Now, if refusing the repetition entailed a losing position, I'd be with him. Risk is one thing, pointless risk another. But starting with the position after the move, 13.Rd2, Caruana had several reasonable ways to avoid the repetition, none of which entailed a position that would be more than slightly worse and a few that offered approximately equal chances. Rather than take the slightest risk, however, he bailed out and took the draw. I'm dumbfounded.

    He could still take clear first in the tournament if Gelfand lost and Nakamura and Etienne Bacrot didn't win. As it turned out, nobody won in the last round, which meant that Gelfand tied with him for first place in the event (his third super-tournament win over the year - two ties and one clear first), and they were half a point ahead of Nakamura and Bacrot.

    Six of the eight spots have been settled for the next Candidates event: Vladimir Kramnik and Dmitry Andreikin qualified through the World Cup, Levon Aronian and Sergey Karjakin qualified by rating, and Veselin Topalov and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov qualified through the Grand Prix. The seventh qualifier will be the loser of the upcoming world championship match between Viswanathan Anand, the champ, and his challenger Magnus Carlsen. The eighth spot is a wildcard, to be determined by the organizer. The only official requirement is that the player have a rating of at least 2725.

    Who will get it? The obvious candidates (small "c") are Nakamura (rated #4 in the world), Caruana (#5, one tenth of a point below Nakamura), Alexander Grischuk (rated #6 but less likely to be chosen, I think, unless the Candidates are held in Russia) and Boris Gelfand (#7 in the world; if he gets in it will be because he will have had the best year of anyone not already qualified for the Candidates or better). If Caruana had gone out on his sword today, then he would have been a reasonable pick for that wildcard. If I were an organizer, what I saw would tell me that he doesn't really want it that badly, and so I would give the spot to someone (like Nakamura) who will give it his all, someone who will risk losing when the situation demands it.

    Thursday
    Oct032013

    Paris Grand Prix: Caruana and Gelfand Lead Going Into The Last Round

    There is one round to go at the Grand Prix tournament in Paris, and the double race is heading for a thrilling finish. Fabiano Caruana and Boris Gelfand are tied for first with one round to go in the tournament, and unless Caruana can finish ahead of Gelfand it will be Shakhriyar Mamedyarov who wins qualification from the overall Grand Prix series to the next Candidates' tournament.

    Today, round 10 showed both Caruana and Gelfand rising to the occasion. Caruana did what he needed, defeating Evgeny Tomashevsky with the white pieces to keep his hopes alive. Meanwhile, Gelfand had the more challenging task, facing Hikaru Nakamura, then the tournament leader, with Black. Nakamura made the practical mistake of going head-to-head with Gelfand in the Najdorf. Gelfand won a fantastic game, and now he and Caruana have 6.5 points apiece heading into the last round. Nakamura has 6, as does Etienne Bacrot, who obliterated Laurent Fressinet on the black side of a Bayonet King's Indian.

    About this last game: if someone can explain it to me that would be wonderful. (Insomnia? Illness?) In an extremely well-known theoretical line, Fressinet suddenly stopped to think for more than 40 minutes and played the near-novelty 15.exf5. (It was played once before in a non-correspondence game featuring a 2000 vs. a 1900.) This is by no means a typical capture in the variation, and to all appearances it gives Black what he wants. It's hard to know what Fressinet had in mind or what he may have overlooked, but five moves later he was a pawn down without much compensation. His 22nd and 23rd moves were both blunders, and he resigned after Black's 24th move. He was down two pawns with a horrible position and further material losses to come. Anyone can blunder, but this game was just odd from move 15 on.

    Key Last Round Pairings:

    • Gelfand (6.5) - Ponomariov
    • Dominguez - Caruana (6.5)
    • Giri - Nakamura (6)
    • Bacrot (6) - Grischuk

    Monday
    Sep302013

    Paris Grand Prix, Round 7: Gelfand Wins, Caruana Loses

    It was a great day for Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, as the only two players to lose were the only two players who could still pass him in the Grand Prix standings. Alexander Grischuk was a point out of first, but with a win over one of the leaders, Boris Gelfand, he would have helped his cause greatly. Had he won, he'd have been just half a point behind Hikaru Nakamura heading into the final four rounds. Instead, he's two points behind Gelfand and almost surely out of contention.

    By contrast, Caruana was in very good shape, coming into the round tied with Gelfand for first. Unfortunately for his cause, he lost to Nakamura thanks to a blunder in the opening. When I first replayed the game, zipping through, it looked as if 15...Qxd4 was some sort of spectacular scholastic chess-style blunder. Obviously 15...Bxd4! But look for a few moments, and you'll realize that Black is just as dead after 16.Qh6, which threats like 17.Qh7+ Kf8 18.Rxd4 Qxd4 19.Qh8+ Qxh8 20.Rxh8+ Kg7 21.Rxd8, winding up with an extra piece. The real blunder came the move before, when he recaptured on g6 with the h-pawn. Capturing with the f-pawn was a must, when the position is complicated and both sides have their trumps.

    So after seven rounds of this, the final Grand Prix event of the current cycle, Boris Gelfand leads with 5 points, half a point ahead of Nakamura and a point ahead of Caruana. By no means is all lost for Caruana, however, as he has the white pieces against Gelfand in the very next round. Meanwhile, I'd really love to know what is Gelfand's secret. The last six years he has been improving like a teenager or at least a young adult, and is in the running for player of the year this year. Of course Magnus Carlsen will get that award, and deservedly so if he defeats Anand, but if Gelfand holds on and wins this tournament is there anyone else whose year compares with his? But Gelfand fans shouldn't count their chickens yet, as he will also have Black against Nakamura in round 10.

    Saturday
    Sep282013

    Catching Up on the Grand Prix

    (Or Grands Prix, if you prefer. You can find all sorts of interesting discussion about this on the interweb.)

    In the men's/open Grand Prix in Paris two more rounds have passed since we last took notice, and at the end of these two rounds - making six in total of the eleven to be played - Boris Gelfand is still in front, but sharing the lead with Fabiano Caruana. Gelfand has drawn his last two games, whlie Caruana just won, taking advantage of the precipitously plummeting Vassily Ivanchuk.

    Ivanchuk had shared the lead after four rounds, but it was very shaky, as he was lost or nearly lost in the two games he went on to win. In round five against Alexander Grischuk he got another lousy game early on, but this time there was no reprieve. Despite having the white pieces, he was crushed in just 31 moves. In round six, as already mentioned, he lost to Caruana - weirdly. First, he committed a fingerfehler on move 16, intending or at least calculating 16...f6 and then playing 16...Bd7. (Chalk this up as another of the horrors we discussed here some weeks ago, as well as yet another odd episode in Ivanchuk's strange [though often spectacularly successful] career.) Second, he resigned rather prematurely, even if his position may have been lost with best play by Caruana. Ivanchuk should have continued, but he just couldn't stand his position!

    All the other round 6 games were drawn, while in round 5 there was a second decisive game: Etienne Bacrot defeated Anish Giri with the black pieces. So Gelfand and Caruana lead with four points, and remember that if Caruana takes clear first in the tournament he qualifies for the Candidates'. Likewise if Grischuk wins, but for the moment he's a point behind, in a six-way tie for 4th-9th place. Just so I don't have to be accused of "forgetting" something, I'll note that Hikaru Nakamura is in third, half a point behind the leaders.

    In the Women's Grand Prix (in Tashkent, Uzbekistan), round nine was very strange. After eight rounds Humpy Koneru was plowing through the field with a great score of 6.5/8, gaining tons of rating points and making steady overall progress towards winning a spot in the 2015 World Championship match. She led by a point over the persistent peleton led by Harika Dronavalli and Kateryna Lagno, both of whom were a full point behind. So what happened in round 9? All three lost!

    Their relative positions are obviously the same, and no one has passed any of them. Someone has joined the tie for second, though, and that's Bela Khotenashvili, who defeated Humpy in round 9. Two rounds remain, and as Humpy's last two opponents aren't doing very well in the tournament she's still a strong favorite to take clear first.

    Wednesday
    Sep252013

    Updates on Ongoing Events

    1. FIDE Grand Prix (Men): After four rounds it's time for the first rest day in this, the final Grand Prix event of the 2012-2013 cycle. Recall that this event has greater competitive signficance only if either Alexander Grischuk or Fabiano Caruana takes clear first, in which case that person will qualify for the next Candidates' event (rather than Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who has already played his full complement of Grand Prix events in this cycle). Grischuk and Caruana played in round 4, and Grischuk was winning and really should have collected the point. It looks like the win slipped when he played 39.gxh3, hoping that the quantity of pawns would suffice and outweigh the slight cost to their quality that capture entailed. It was a plausible decision - who wants to allow a "coffin nail" like the pawn on Black pawn on h3 to survive? - but apparently a mistaken one.

    The draw left Grischuk at -1 and Caruana at +1. The latter is in third, half a point behind Boris Gelfand, who won in round 3, and Vassily Ivanchuk, who was rather lucky to win in round 4 against Laurent Fressinet. Fressinet was completely winning early on, but he lost the game a little at a time.

    In sum, from someone who is completely impartial: guys born in the 1960s still rule the chess world!

    2. FIDE Grand Prix (Women): Humpy Koneru continues to lead - solo at the moment - after 7 of 11 rounds. Her score of 5.5 points puts her half a point ahead of her fellow Indian Harika Dronavalli and the Ukranian Kateryna Lagno.

    3. World Junior Championships: There's one round to go, and while it's still technically a two-player race in the Open (Boys') division it's nearly a done deal. Top seed Yu Yangyi has a fantastic score of 10.5/12 and leads second seed and defending champion Alexander Ipatov by a full point. Yu has White in the last round too, so he's a pretty big favorite to get at least a draw and clinch the title. In the Girls' section it's a little closer, but Aleksandra Goryachkina is a pretty big favorite to win the title. Her 9.5 points gives her a half point lead over Zhansaya Abdumalik, and in addition she (Goryachkina) will have White in the last round against a player rated 200 points lower while Abdumalik has the black pieces against a higher-rated opponent.

    4. Topalov-Laznicka Match: This finished nicely for Veselin Topalov, who won both games 4 and 6 with Black while drawing game 5 with White. As a result of this Hou Yifanesque performance in the second half of the match, he defeated Viktor Laznicka by a 4-2 margin.

    Thursday
    Jul042013

    Beijing Grand Prix, Round 1: Topalov Beats Gelfand

    It's only round 1, but Veselin Topalov must be very happy to beat one of his main competitors, Boris Gelfand, and with the black pieces too. It's a nice way for him to start his final grand prix event of the current cycle.

    Other round 1 results in Beijing: Karjakin won with Black against Giri, Grischuk won with Black against Kamsky (so much for the fourth of July!), and the other three games (Morozevich-Wang Yue, Ivanchuk-Wang Hao and Leko-Mamedyarov) were drawn.

    Tuesday
    Jun252013

    Is Chess Really A Young Man's Game?

    Jacob Aagaard has some doubts. Therein he takes issue with Garry Kasparov, uses Boris Gelfand as a shining example and offers some good advice to those of us who aren't kids. (The advice isn't bad for kids, either.) It's worth your time, as are most if not all of his "training tips" posts.

    Monday
    Jun242013

    Happy Birthday, Boris Gelfand

    The Israeli super-GM turns 45 today, but to judge only by Boris Gelfand's results the last few years one might think he was an up-and-comer like Magnus Carlsen. Thanks, Boris, for the great chess and for inspiring middle-agers to realize that one can play his best chess well past the days of his youth!

    A bio and links to many of his games, including a number of "notable" ones are here; lovers of flashy games might especially enjoy the 1998 win over Shirov along with the wins over Shabalov and Karjakin.

    Sunday
    Jun232013

    Gelfand Wins The Tal Memorial

    On the eve of his 45th birthday, Boris Gelfand added another major success to his already packed resume by winning the extremely strong 2013 Tal Memorial. After six rounds he was in second place, half a point ahead of Magnus Carlsen (and others) and half a point behind Hikaru Nakamura. In round 7 he defeated Nakamura with Black, and as Carlsen only won one game in the last three round (in round 8, against...Nakamura) and none of the other pursuers made a serious run, Gelfand finished in clear first with 6/9. The man is having a great run, and his rating has achieved a career peak of 2773. Not bad for an "old" guy!

    Magnus Carlsen finished in second with 5.5, and three players finished another half a point back. Shakriyar Mamedyarov was one of them, and he had some real winning chances against Carlsen in the last round. Had he won, he would have leapfrogged the Norwegian into second place. Fabiano Caruana is the second member of the trio, and he finishes the tournament on the verge of becoming the 7th player to break the 2800 barrier. (His rating will be 2796 when the next list comes out.) The third member of the triumvirate was a surprise, Dmitry Andreikin. Andreikin drew eight games and defeated Vladimir Kramnik when the ex-champ blundered his queenside away.

    The remaining players all have cause for disappointment. Nakamura went from first to sixth by losing his last three games, the last to then-tailender Alexander Morozevich. Sergey Karjakin's -1 score wasn't a disaster but it wasn't cause for celebration either, especially after his recent triumph in Norway. Morozevich's score of 3.5 was leavened only by the last round win - his only win of the tournament - and by the fact that he finished even with world champion Viswanathan Anand, whose only win was against Morozevich. Finally, the tournament was an unmitigated disaster for Vladimir Kramnik, who finished winless at -3. I'm sure he'll rebound from London, but he hasn't yet.

    Wednesday
    May012013

    Aronian Wins Alekhine Memorial On Tiebreaks Over Gelfand

    Coming into the last round of the Alekhine Memorial, Boris Gelfand led Viswanathan Anand, Levon Aronian, Mickey Adams and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave by half a point. Gelfand faced Anand in the last round, played it safe with the white pieces, and Anand drew without much trouble. That eliminated one rival and made it such that no one could catch him unless he or they won their games.

    Unfortunately for Gelfand, Aronian defeated Vachier-Lagrave in a generally impressive game, finishing with some very nice tactics. Through the first 28 moves, everything was going smoothly, and had Aronian played 29.d6 he would have been well on his way to a clean victory. Instead, 29.Rxb8+ was a mistake, and after 29...Rxb8 30.Rxa7 Bxc3! 31.Rxd7 Rb4 Vachier-Lagrave had reached an objectively drawn position. This is a pure abstraction though, and would remain so as long as White's d-pawn was alive and dangerous. After 32.d6 Rxc4 33.Be7 some care was required.

    Black's best move would have been 33...f6, immediately eliminating all the dark-squared mating nets around Black's king and allowing it to join in the fight against White's d-pawn. Maybe there's a sly trap both players thought was winning, but I'm not seeing it. Instead, it just looks like a relatively straightforward draw, e.g. 34.Ra7 Kf7 35.Bd8+ Ke6 and now White seems to have nothing better than 36.d7 Rd4 (36...Rf4 first is an interesting finesse, threatening mate starting with 37...Bd4+. White plays 37.g3 and only then Black's rook goes to d4. The point is that after the same moves given in the 36...Rd4 line, the presence of a White pawn on g3 makes it easier for Black to liquidate the kingside and draw. Remember that he can give up everything he has for White's kingside pawns, his bishop included, and then draw with his king parked in the a8 corner.) 37.Bb6 Rxd7 38.Rxd7 Kxd7 39.Bxc5, when White's outside passer won't give him any serious winning chances.

    Vachier-Lagrave played 33...Kg7 instead, and while it wasn't losing it kept him in danger. For one thing, it keeps the king away from the d-pawn; for another, it doesn't yet save the king from possible mating nets. After 34.Ra7 Black had to play 34...Re4!, and it still seems that he should hold the game. White can promote: 35.d7 Rxe7 36.d8Q Rxa7, but it appears that Black has a fortress, despite the presence of White's a-pawn. Of course if it's exchanged for Black's c-pawn the result is a dead draw, so let's see what happens if White tries to keep it: 37.Qd5 Bf6 38.Qc4 (threatening to start making progress with a2-a4) 38...Ra3! Now White's only winning idea is to bring the king over to b1, so the queen can go to c1 to push Black's rook away. (And even that is just a first tiny step.) This plan is incredibly slow, however, and Black has many ways to deal with it - just pushing the kingside pawns, for instance, easily generates sufficient counterplay.

    Unfortunately for Vachier-Lagrave (and Gelfand and their fans), but fortunately for Aronian (and his fans and for those of us who can appreciate the aesthetics of his winning combination), Black played the losing move: 34...Rd4(?). It looks like an obvious blunder, but Black had a nice trick in mind. After 35.d7 Rd1+ 36.Kf2 Vachier-Lagrave played 36...c4!, a move with not just one but two points. The first, obvious point (though not so obvious when you have to think it up several moves in advance) is that if Aronian promotes (36.d8Q??) then Black saves the game with 36...Rxd8 37.Bxd8 Bd4+ and 38...Bxa7. But the really brilliant point was that if Aronian had played something obvious like 36.Rc7(?) Black has a de facto perpetual check! 36...Rd2+ 37.Kf3 (37.Ke1?? Rxd7+ and it won't be a perpetual; Black will simply win) 37...Rd3+ 38.Kg4 h5+ 39.Kf4 (39.Kh4 Bf6+ 40.Bxf6+ Kxf6 41.Rxc4 Rxd7=) Rd4+ 40.Ke3 Rd3+ etc.

    But Aronian was up to the challenge, and played the only clear winning move: 37.g3! This eliminates the perpetual, allows Black to play ...Bd4+ if he wants (which he doesn't, as 38.Ke2 Bxa7 39.Kxd1 is a trivial win). The remaining moves were pretty simple, and in the final position White plays 43.Ra8 and starts pushing the a-pawn, with our without first interpolating Rc8.

    The reason all this was bad news not just for Vachier-Lagrave but for Gelfand as well is the same reason why the last round of the London Candidates was a triumph for Magnus Carlsen despite his loss: tiebreaks. The same one, in fact, that cost Kramnik in London: it was number of wins of that determined the official winner of the event: Carlsen then and Aronian now. As then, and even before then - I've expressed similar complaints going back to the introduction a few years ago of chess tournaments with 3-1-0 scoring - I object to privileging a win and a loss over a pair of draws. Going +1, -1 doesn't show that someone played better chess or more enterprising chess than the player who drew twice; it doesn't even necessitate more fighting spirit. (Look at some of Kramnik's events here, or Nakamura's marathon draws in Zug.) It's impossible to discern anything about a game's quality just by knowing that it was drawn. What one does know, however, is that decisive games contain mistakes. So we know that the player who went +1 -1 made at least one error, and we don't know that his win was of particularly high quality. Maybe his opponent made a gross blunder in a perfectly good position.

    It's also true that the draws might have been fightless and dull while the decisive games were dazzling and daring. It could be, but the point is that we don't know this a priori without looking at the games, and the games hadn't been played when the decisions about tiebreaks were being made. I'd prefer to skip out on tiebreaks altogether, either having co-champions when possible or a playoff when necessary. If tiebreaks are necessary though, I'd propose eliminating the "most wins/losses" tiebreaker or putting it much further down the list. (And why isn't head-to-head the first tiebreaker? It wouldn't have affected anything here or at the Candidates', but when it is relevant how is that not the most obvious and natural way to distinguish the players? Still another idea, aiming for objectivity over the kinds of dumb luck rewarded by the Sonneborn-Berger tiebreak: what about factoring in something like Ken Regan's Intrinsic Performance Ratings, both for the player's moves and his opponent's? It's not perfect, but it at least tries to isolate the most relevant factor: the quality of a player's moves.)

    Rant over. In other games, Kramnik was successful today where he wasn't yesterday, this time winning the 7-hour game. Adams (his opponent) was doing fine for a long time, but a couple of loose moves between moves 30 and 40 got him in trouble. 33.Ne2 would have been better than 33.Nf1, but the bigger culprit was 36.Nd5? Adams must have missed or underestimated Kramnik's 36...f4! It's antipositional and ugly as sin, but it sets up the threat of ...c6, exploiting the knight's lack of squares to win the b-pawn. (Note that ...c6 needed to be prefaced by ...Be5, as White could have met 37...c6? with 38.Nf6!=.) From there it was a long, hard grind, and while Kramnik in general handled the ending extremely well and was a deserved winner, he seems to have erred on moves 61 and 65. I'm not 100% sure that Adams could have drawn even then, but at the very least Kramnik endangered the win.

    In both cases Adams returned the favor; the first with inaccuracies on moves 62 and 64; the second with 70.Rf5. I'm not sure Kramnik is winning after the immediate 70.Rf8, e.g. 70...Rd3+ 71.Kc2 Re3 72.Nf6+ Kg6 73.Ng4 Rg3 74.Ne5+. White's setup is incredibly effective: the f- and g-pawns are frozen and the poor Black king can't go to its otherwise ideal square, h5, on account of Rh8#. The h-pawn has a little freedom, but it's limited. Continuing a bit: 74...Kg7 75.Rf7+ Kh6 (75...Kg8 76.Kd2 h3 77.Rf6 eventually comes to the same thing) 76.Rf8 h3 77.Kd2 Kg7 78.Rf7+ Kg8 79.Rf6 may just be drawn. When Black's king goes to the 7th rank, White plays Rf7+ and then goes to f6 or f8 - whichever rank is opposite Black's king. If there is a win in there, it's not easy to find. Anyway, Adams missed this chance and played 70.Rf5(?), after which Kramnik only had to find the simple but nice finesse 70...Rd3+! and only after 71.Kc2 Rg3. With the king on d1 White could capture and draw, but with the king on c2 it's an elementary win for Black. Adams played a few more moves, and then resigned.

    Nikita Vitiugov and Ding Liren slugged it out in the Anti-Saemisch Gambit line of the King's Indian. For a while Vitiugov looked like he would be able to keep the material and win, but he never quite figured out how to extinguish his opponent's activity and the game finally ended in a draw. There are various improvements available to White, but the last chance to keep winning chances was with 32.Rc1 rather than 32.Rd1. After 32.Rd1 Rc4 followed by doubling on the 2nd rank, the game was equal. The difference is that if Black goes for the same plan with 32.Rc1 Rd4 White has 33.Rc6. In the 32.Rd1 Rc4 version, 33.Rd6 is ineffective due to 33...Bd4+, when White is lucky that he can still draw. In the 32.Rc1 Rd4 version, 33...Bd4+ is illegal, so White is winning. 32...Rd4 isn't forced, but White can still fight for the full point.

    Finally, the game between Peter Svidler and Laurent Fressinet also finished in a draw. Fressinet was better most of the way and probably could have pushed a bit more, but in general it looked like the players were happy to vacuum up the board and draw at move 40 - which they did.

    Final Standings:

    1-2. Aronian (first on tiebreaks), Gelfand 5.5
    3. Anand 5
    4-8. Vitiugov, Fressinet, Kramnik, Adams, Vachier-Lagrave 4.5
    9. Ding Liren 3.5
    10. Svidler 3