Entries in endgames (8)
The pain, the pain! At least that's how Vladimir Kramnik must feel, and it's a pain surely shared by his fans (if only to a lesser extent). The game between Evgeny Tomashevsky and Dmitry Andreikin was richer than yesterday's 16-move draw, but it was still relatively short and uneventful. In the other game, though, Kramnik ground away in a pawn-up ending with rooks and knights and all the pawns on the kingside.
Objectively it should have been a draw, but Maxime Vachier-Lagrave failed to handle the tension and blundered with 58...Rf1+?? What he should have played was 58...Nd6. Black's position would remain tenable, though Kramnik could keep trying indefinitely. Instead, after 58...Rf1+?? 59.Ke3 it was no longer possible to play 59...Nd6 (or 59...Nxg5, for that matter) on account of 60.Ng6+ Kf7 61.Rf8+, skewering the king and rook. At death's door, Vachier-Lagrave found the only way to continue: 59...g6! 60.fxg6 Kg7! 61.gxf7 Kxf7. With a rook, knight and pawn against Vachier-Lagrave's bare rook White's position was winning, but one bit of work remained. White's pieces were poorly coordinated, and his knight and pawn were a little vulnerable. If Kramnik could re-establish the harmony of his forces his opponent could resign, and then Kramnik would be in the final and qualify for the Candidates' tournament via the World Cup, leaving the second automatic rating qualification spot for the Candidates' to Sergey Karjakin.
I was watching the live coverage at this moment, and several thoughts ran through my mind. First, I remembered Kramnik's complaint during this tournament that he would have various lapses in concentration, when he would prematurely relax, and wondered if this too might be such a moment. Indeed, Kramnik has had such problems throughout his career, going back as far as the mid-1990s (several examples are mentioned in his best games book, co-written with Damsky). As a fan I hoped he would bear down and solve the final puzzle of the game, and was both spooked by and a made slightly hopeful by game 4 of his match with Kasparov. The same material balance existed there, and there too Kramnik's knight and pawn were rather awkwardly placed. In that game he failed to find the win - the spooky part - but I hoped that the process of having analyzed that game and a realization of the potential trickiness of the ending would place him in good stead for this game.
Nope. The key variation Kramnik needed to work through started with 62.Nd7 (natural enough, but the critical moment comes later) 62...Rf5 63.Rf8+ Kg6 64.Rg8+! Kf7 and now 65.Ke4!! This clever in-between move is most likely what he missed, with the further crucial point that 65...Ra5 66.Ne5+! saves the pawn, as 66...Kxg5 67.Rf5+! wins the rook: 67...Kh4/Kh6 is met by 68.Nf3+/Ng4+ and 69.Rxa5.
With more time on the clock or more energy, Kramnik (or any other strong grandmaster, and probably some "weak" ones too) would almost definitely be able to find that variation and work it out to the finish. There are some subtle moves, but in general the line is forcing enough that one won't get lost in a maze of variations. Whether from fatigue or a lack of time Kramnik didn't manage to find this one chance, and Vachier-Lagrave managed to achieve a fortress. White's forces were completely tied down, and the only way to attempt progress was to surrender the pawn and hope to win with rook and knight vs. rook. That ending is a fairly easy draw as long as the defender's king doesn't start out in a (very) bad position, and Vachier-Lagrave saved it without too much trouble. (The game is here, with the my comments above reproduced therein.)
Both matches are therefore going to tiebreaks, and we'll see if the "tie-break beggars" as Anish Giri labeled both Andreikin and Vachier-Lagrave (for their willingness to throw away the white pieces and then hold on with Black to try their chances at the faster time controls) manage to achieve success.
Mark Dvoretsky, Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual, 3rd Edition (Russell Enterprises 2011). 405 pp. $34.95.
I can make this review really quick: if you don't have an earlier edition, buy this one; if you do, then don't.
There's no fundamentally new material here, just some tidying up of the earlier analysis here and there (but where in particular, neither the author nor the publisher gives us any advance clue*) and a slightly improved color scheme for the print. Otherwise, there's no difference between this edition and its predecessor. You might at first be fooled into thinking there are three more pages in the new edition, but that's because the page counted started two pages earlier, with the title page and its overleaf, plus the purely pro forma publisher's preface to this edition.
So while there may not be much reason to get the "mini-upgrade", it's very much worth buying if you don't have an earlier version. This large and widely, rightly praised volume serves a dual function: it provides all the standard theory you'd expect in an endgame textbook, but has a strong practical component as well. Dvoretsky emphasizes typical techniques and mistakes, highlights and focuses in on what's foundational and builds from there, provides numerous exercises, and presents content not only by material but thematic elements as well. The reader isn't just given theory but loads of practical content as well.
If you're around 1800-1900 and up, definitely get the book if you don't already have it. (Even an industrious 1600 could benefit considerably from the book.) There are other good endgame books (and videos) out there, but this is about as close to a must-have book as there is in chess, certainly for endgame play.
* Maybe this silence has been done in the hopes of getting owners of the old editions to buy this one. After all, if they know where the changes are, they can just scan those pages (either figuratively or literally) and not bother buying the new book. Fine, but what about the people who actually buy it - do they really have to sit there with the two books side by side, poring over 400 pages in each, to see what the changes are and if they're significant? Not nice.
German Grandmaster Karsten Müller has been known for a long time as an endgame authority; indeed, one might call him the Yuri Averbakh of our generation. He has written some useful endgame books, and over the last few years he has released a series of DVDs with ChessBase covering the last phase of the game. The early volumes in the series focused on theoretical endings, while more recent disks have turned to principles and concepts.
Volume 7 is a bit of a grab bag, in that the contents are extremely diverse. The chapters are numbered in the broad context of the series, and on this disk you'll find chapters 10-16, which are as follows:
Chapter 10: Weaknesses (14 clips)
Chapter 11: The Art of Pawn Play (15 clips)
Chapter 12: Converting an Advantage (11 clips)
Chapter 13: Stalemate (8 clips)
Chapter 14: Fortresses (12 clips)
Chapter 15: The Art of Defense (6 clips)
Chapter 16: Typical Mistakes (7 clips)
That makes 73 clips in all, which suggests that this is either the longest DVD in history, with a compression algorithm many years ahead of its time, or else the clips are fairly short. As you've guessed, it's the latter: they typically run in the neighborhood of 4-8 minutes, with a total running time of 5 hours and 40 minutes.
Because the disk treats general topics, it's not some sort of manual. The clips, and the game fragments discussed therein, are not intended to be exhaustive treatments or material to memorize. If anything is to be memorized, it is at the level of principles like "do not hurry" and the "principle of two weaknesses". That said, it would be just as wrong to take a passive attitude towards the videos, letting them wash over one's head like water from a shower. The best way to go at it is to stop the clips at the start (Müller generally prompts the viewer at the right time) and try - really try - to solve the position before going on. To attack the clips in that way will give the viewer the maximum benefit, not only for really grasping the particular lesson of the video, but also as just good old-fashion exercise. Chess is about calculating and solving problems, and Müller's material is well-suited to that end. It doesn't hurt, either, that the clips are all bite-sized, so there's no need to invest an hour going through a single exercise.
Müller is a good pedagogue, the topics are important and the examples are well-chosen. Accordingly, this disk is recommended - at least to viewers who will use it patiently!
In this week's show I have a look at a couple of recent blitz games. The first was a GM vs. IM battle, with both sides making lots of errors in an ending. Nevertheless, several of the mistakes are instructive, and thus not only of schadenfreude value. The second goes in a different direction: it's a nice but short attacking effort by yours truly, complete with a winning combination. Consider it dessert.
The show is free as always (free registration required) and will be available on-demand for the next month or so.
A friend of mine was watching some games on ICC a few days ago, and wanted me to have a look at a completed 3' + 2" blitz game between two GMs. White had a knight and pawn vs. two pawns, and although his pawn was safe and the enemy pawns were blockaded, he was unable to win it. My friend's first thought was that it was an amusing display of GM incompetence (something that's always possible in speed chess, of course), but then I spent a few minutes trying to figure out how to win the ending without getting to the bottom of it either (I did make some progress, though). Admittedly, I wasn't trying my very hardest, but it wasn't a completely trivial effort either.
So have a look and see how you do. It's White to move here (Black has just played 41...Kc4):
You can see for yourself what happened in the game; as for what should have happened, I'll post that in a day or two.
The worst bishop is better than the best knight, some wag from the old USSR used to say, and while it's an exaggeration it's also true that in a strong player's hands the bishop's long-range powers come into play more often than one might expect. That's just what happens in the recent GM game Gennadij Ginsburg-Pavel Eljanov, which I present here. The game started off with an early exchange-fest, reaching a bishop vs. knight ending on move 20. The position looks as equal as can be, but Eljanov, with the bishop, grinds his opponent down and wins in an instructive, seemingly textbook fashion.
GM technique at its finest? Watch and see! The show is free and available on-demand (for about the next month) or so, and should be watched very carefully. (You'll see why!)
In round 5, the leaders in Aeroflot, both (surprisingly) from Vietnam, drew their game. Only one of the players in the closest chase group caught them, and round 6 maintained the status quo. Therefore, Le Quang Liem, Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son and Boris Grachev share first with 4.5 points, half a point ahead of 11 others, including Bacrot, Naiditsch, Cheparinov and So. (More details here and here.)
Meanwhile, for your entertainment, here are two games from the last two rounds. From round 5, we have McShane McShaning another opponent, while the round 6 game Bacrot-Bareev can be filed under "blink and you'll miss it".
The games are here.