The schedule is here. This is a sort of companion piece to last week's Grand Chess Tour event in Paris (won by Hikaru Nakamura, with Magnus Carlsen a close second and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in third). The format is the same, and so are the players, except that Viswanathan Anand will participate rather than Laurent Fressinet. Play starts at 2 p.m. local time in Belgium (= 8 a.m. ET).
Entries in Grand Chess Tour (6)
Is it possible to say "Poor Hikaru Nakamura" after he wins the rapid section, ties for first in the blitz, and takes first overall in the Paris leg of the 2016 Grand Chess Tour? Maybe so, in light of the ongoing tragedy that is his head-to-head rivalry with Magnus Carlsen, though I think he prefers the overall outcome to one where Carlsen won the event but Nakamura won the head-to-head.
When we left off in the previous post Nakamura and Carlsen were tied for first, but Nakamura won one more game than Carlsen on day two, finishing half a point ahead in normal scoring (7/9, to Carlsen's 6.5; Wesley So and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave tied for third-fourth with 5.5 points apiece). As the rapid games count double compared to the blitz games, Nakamura led by a point, 14 to 13 heading into the blitz.
The blitz was a double-round robin, with one round robin per day. Nakamura got off to a hot start, an undefeated 6.5/8, which was half a point better than Carlsen and good enough for a point and a half lead overall. They were paired in the final game of the day, with Nakamura getting the white pieces. Carlsen was well-prepared, but 17...Qd5 seemed to be an inaccuracy. After Nakamura's 18.Bf1 Carlsen thought for almost three full minutes before reconciling himself to a pawn-down ending where only two results were possible. (At least outside of the Twilight Zone.) Nakamura failed to activate his king and allowed Black to create a passed e-pawn, and then he even allowed Carlsen's king to penetrate to the point where his own king was in a mating net. In the end, Carlsen even managed to win the game, taking the lead in the blitz, cutting Nakamura's overall lead to a mere half a point, and doubtlessly ruining Nakamura's mood.
On day two Nakamura came out shaky, losing to MVL in round 2 and drawing in rounds 1 and 3. Carlsen started by defeating So with Black in the first round, but when he lost to Fabiano Caruana - who had been having a terrible tournament up to that point - the wheels started to come off from him as well. That gave Nakamura time to clear his head, and with two rounds to go Nakamura led the blitz by a point and a half.
It didn't last - but fortunately for Nakamura, it didn't need to. Nakamura drew quickly with White in the penultimate round to clinch a tie for first in the blitz, and overall tournament victory. It should have clinched clear first in the blitz, as Carlsen was "dead" lost against Laurent Fressinet, but he received a near-miracle when Fressinet played 38.Rc8??? instead of the obvious 38.Bc8. (Actually, practically any other move maintains the win, and even after the terrible rook move White was still winning.) It kept going downhill after that, and one panicky move after another allowed Carlsen to win, closing to within a point of Nakamura going into their last-round matchup. Needless to say, unfortunately, Carlsen's hypnotic powers came through once again. White (Carlsen) was better after his 32nd move, but not winning until Nakamura's reply, which was a blunder. After 32...Ne4?? 33.Nh4 Black has no good answer to the threatened 34.Ng6 followed by 35.Rh8#.
So they split the blitz and Nakamura won overall first. MVL had a great performance on the second day of the blitz and finished just half a point behind them in that discipline, which also gave him third place overall.
In passing: The Veselin Topalov-Vladimir Kramnik grudge match was a bit of a push: Kramnik won their rapid game, while Topalov won the blitz match 1.5-.5. Since the rapid counted double, Kramnik outscored his foe, but Topalov's win in the second game of the second day of the blitz started Kramnik on an incredible tailspin. Kramnik drew his first game that day, with Black against Anish Giri: so far, so good. In round 2 he lost to Topalov, however, and finished the day with only one more draw, going a dismal 1-8. (His only other draw was against Levon Aronian in the penultimate round.) Also in passing: Carlsen did manage a win over Giri on the first day of the blitz, but their rapid game was a draw and Giri promptly beat Carlsen on day two of the blitz.
Next week they'll do it all over again in Leuven, Belgium, except with Viswanathan Anand taking Fressinet's place.
Read more here. The bit that's getting all the attention is a tweet from London Chess Classic organizer Malcolm Pein. In response to a tweet from (Norwegian) Tarjei J. Svensen, who expressed the view that Sergey Karjakin's decision to skip the Norway Chess supertournament was "disrespectful...towards the organizer, the players and the entire chess world", Pein upped the ante:
Preparation? Nah - he's just chickening out - pathetic, pleased we didn't invite him to Grand Chess Tour
I'm inclined to agree with Pein's choice of the word "pathetic", but think it should be applied to his comment instead. Svensen has a point, though it's a little overstated (for one thing, the player who gets to take his spot is getting a great opportunity and a nice payday), but "chickening out"? If there's one thing Karjakin has a reputation for, it's that he is an extraordinarily resilient fighter. It also seems remarkably unwise of Pein to alienate someone who might be the world champion at year's end. (He's an underdog, but it certainly isn't impossible for him to win the title.)
Maybe the moral is that forums like Facebook and Twitter can make fools of us all.
As you may recall, the Norway Chess Tournament decided to withdraw from the Grand Chess Tour (GCT), leaving only the Sinquefield Cup and the London Chess Classic on the schedule. The GCT has just added a pair of events to take the Norway tournament's place. Both are rapid & blitz tournaments, run back to back. The first takes place in Paris, France from June 8-14, and the second in Brussels and Leuven, Belgium, from June 15-21.
Are blitz and rapid chess starting to take over elite chess?
This is approaching ancient history by now, but it's still worth mentioning in case anyone missed the news a couple of weeks ago. The Grand Chess Tour comprises three events: the Norway Chess tournament, the Sinquefield Cup, and the London Chess Classic. At least that's how it worked in last year's inaugural version; this year, the Norway organizers decided to say thanks but no thanks. That tournament will continue, independently of the Tour, and the Tour organizers (the Tourganizers?) are looking for a replacement event.
Having concluded my reporting on the proceedings, it's time to vent some spleen. Before doing so, it's important to note that nothing I will now say is intended to blame Magnus Carlsen or to deny that he was a deserving winner of the London Chess Classic. (I certainly don't think he's the deserving winner of the Tour, but again, that's not his fault.)
I've already noted the unfairness of the playoff procedure which forced Anish Giri and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave to engage each other for around three or four hours (including breaks between games) while Carlsen could rest, nap and/or prepare for his tired challenger. For that matter, I don't understand why it should have been a two-stage event. Using the Sonneborn-Berger tiebreak makes sense in a Swiss system event, where players face different opponents; in a round-robin it seems to me without value. Fine, player A beat player C while player B beat player D, where A and C finished in a tie while C outscored D by half a point. Why not criticize A for his relative incompetence in failing to beat D? And what if A beat C because C was fighting for first place and had to take undue risks? Also, maybe A had White against C while B had Black against both C and D. Why is A's performance more noteworthy? Still further: suppose A is higher-rated than B. Then B had a higher TPR than A; again, why isn't that the first criterion? It has the further benefit of not making A's and B's tiebreakers dependent on how C and D perform against players E through J.
So those are two ways - one more particular, one more general - in which Carlsen was (greatly) benefited and Giri and Vachier-Lagrave were harmed by the tiebreak system in the London Chess Classic. Next, let's recap the way Giri and MVL were punished by the Grand Chess Tour's tiebreak system in the Sinquefield Cup while Carlsen was rewarded. That tournament was won by Levon Aronian, and after that there was a four-way tie for second between Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura, Vachier-Lagrave and Giri (in tiebreak order). Rather than splitting the points for second through fifth places, the points were allocated as if each player had outscored those below him. As a result Carlsen obtained 10 Tour points, Nakamura 8, Vachier-Lagrave 7 and Giri only 6. As was widely noted at the time, the upshot was that Giri, who was undefeated and +3 in the first two Tour events (the first event was the Norway Chess tournament back in May), was behind Carlsen, whose cumulative score was -1. What a crock.
Finally, Vachier-Lagrave got ripped off in his own special way by the Tour and its absurd policies. The London Chess Classic wasn't just important in its own right or even in its own right and for its implications for this year's Tour; it also had implications for next year's Tour invitees. So, you may ask, who gets to play in next year's Tour? The answer is that the top three finishers from this year's Tour, plus the next six players based on the average of their monthly ratings from February through December of this year, with their live post-tournament rating counting as another "month" to average. (As this year, so too next year will include a tenth wildcard spot for each tournament, decided by the organizers.) They are:
- Magnus Carlsen
- Anish Giri
- Levon Aronian
- Vladimir Kramnik
- Hikaru Nakamura
- Fabiano Caruana
- Viswanathan Anand
- Veselin Topalov
- Wesley So
The first three were Tour qualifiers, the last six made it by rating. Carlsen finished with 26 Tour points, Giri with 23, and Aronian with 22. Vachier-Lagrave finished with 21 points, and before you say "hard luck, he just had to win rather than take second", here's some information for you: he took third. That's right: he beat Giri in the playoff and nevertheless took third in the tournament, behind him. (Incidentally, it wouldn't have mattered to Giri if their places were reversed, because Giri still would have qualified by rating, bumping Wesley So off the list.) So Vachier-Lagrave finished tied or better with Carlsen in all three tournaments (not counting the playoff), but somehow finished fourth and off of the 2016 Tour.
There's enough steer manure here to fertilize a small country. FIDE has been guilty of incompetent and unfair practices over the years, but I don't think they've ever managed to pack so many brain-dead and unjust policies within such a small space in their entire history, and that's really saying something. Well done, Grand Chess Tour. Well done.