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    1948 World Chess Championship 1959 Candidates 1962 Candidates 2.c3 Sicilian 2.f4 Sicilian 2011 European Team Championship 2011 Russian Championship 2012 Capablanca Memorial 2012 Chess Olympiad 2012 European Women's Championship 2012 London Chess Classic 2012 U.S. Junior Championship 2012 U.S. Women's Championship 2012 US Championship 2012 Women's World Chess Championship 2012 World Rapid and Blitz Championships 2013 Alekhine Memorial 2013 Beijing Grand Prix 2013 European Club Cup 2013 European Team Championship 2013 FIDE World Cup 2013 Kings Tournament 2013 London Chess Classic 2013 Russian Championship 2013 Tal Memorial 2013 U.S. Championship 2013 Women's World Championship 2013 World Blitz Championship 2013 World Championship 2013 World Rapid Championship 2013 World Team Championship 2014 Capablanca Memorial 2014 Chess Olympiad 2014 London Chess Classic 2014 Petrosian Memorial 2014 Rapid & Blitz World Championship 2014 Russian Team Championship 2014 Sinquefield Cup 2014 Tigran Petrosian Memorial 2014 U.S. Championship 2014 U.S. Open 2014 Women's World Championship 2014 World Championship 2014 World Junior Championships 2014 World Rapid Championship 2015 Capablanca Memorial 2015 Chinese Championship 2015 European Club Cup 2015 European Team Championship 2015 London Chess Classic 2015 Millionaire Open 2015 Poikovsky 2015 Russian Team Championship 2015 Sinquefield Cup 2015 U.S. Championship 2015 Women's World Championship KO 2015 World Blitz Championship 2015 World Cup 2015 World Junior Championship 2015 World Open 2015 World Rapid & Blitz Championship 2015 World Team Championships 2016 2016 Candidates 2016 Capablanca Memorial 2016 Champions Showdown 2016 Chess Olympiad 2016 Chinese Championship 2016 European Club Cup 2016 Isle of Man 2016 London Chess Classic 2016 Russian Championship 2016 Sinquefield Cup 2016 Tal Memorial 2016 U.S. Championship 2016 U.S. Junior Championship 2016 U.S. Women's Championship 2016 Women's World Championship 2016 World Blitz Championship 2016 World Championship 2016 World Junior Championship 2016 World Open 2016 World Rapid Championship 2017 British Championship 2017 Chinese Championship 2017 Geneva Grand Prix 2017 Isle of Man 2017 PRO Chess League 2017 Sharjah Masters 2017 Sinquefield Cup 2017 Speed Chess Championship 2017 U..S. 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    Entries in Hou Yifan (64)

    Friday
    Sep292017

    Isle of Man, Rounds 5-7

    But mostly rounds 6 and 7. My comments about round 5 will be limited to the difficulties experienced by two members of the semi-old guard: Vladimir Kramnik and Boris Gelfand. Kramnik's travails were already noted in the preceding post, while Gelfand's suffering began in that round. After a solid 3-1 start, he lost in round 5 to S.P. Sethuraman, and from a position that would normally be impossible to lose. He was clearly better in a rook and bishop ending with even material, but hallucinated his way into a lost bishop ending a pawn down.

    In round 6, he doubled down on this, losing to Anna Zatonskih from a winning position. To her credit, she made things tricky in time trouble and devised a dastardly trap, but normally Gelfand would have cashed in on at least one of the winning positions he enjoyed in the game. After this, he took a bye to stop the bleeding.

    Speaking of players who needed byes, Hou Yifan took one after playing her fourth female opponent in a row, and has bounced back against the men, winning in round 6 and 7. She has five points and plays Sebastian Bogner in round 8.

    Another player who has bounced back a bit is Kramnik, who won with White in round 6 (no problem there - he has gone 3-0 with White, albeit against much lower-rated opposition) and then finally won a game with Black in round 7, employing the Benko Gambit for the first time in his life (or so said the commentators at one moment; is should be checked to see if he transposed into one via a King's Indian or a Benoni). Despite all his miseries in the tournament, he has 4.5 points and will play Sethuraman in round 8.

    James Tarjan, one of the players who contributed to Kramnik's earlier sorrows, has continued to play well. He bounced back from his unnecessary loss to Niclas Huschenbeth in round 4 by drawing with Sabino Brunello (2555), beating Pavel Tregubov (2589), and drawing with Rasmus Svane (2595). His 4-3 score is good for a 2654 TPR.

    Still one more member of the old guard deserves some praise: Jan Timman. Like Tarjan, he's both 65 and has the initials "J.T." More relevantly, he has also had success against elite players. No wins over 2800s, but four draws against players who are or have been rated over 2700. That's a fine result, and he has gone undefeated so far. He gets another 2700 in round 8, David Howell.

    Two noteworthy norm aspirants are Aman Hambleton and Ramesh Praggnanandhaa. Hambleton is well-known for his mighty beard, which he intends to keep until he achieves his third GM norm. He had been in the running until he lost a defensible ending to Gabriel Sargissian in round 6. Praggnanandhaa is a 12-year-old who has already achieved a 2500 rating (and is already the youngest IM ever, achieved at the age of 10 years, 10 months, and 19 days), but has no norms. If he can achieve them in the next five months or so, he can break Sergey Karjakin's record for the youngest GM ever. He was in the running until round 7, but his loss to Varuzhan Akobian probably put an end to his hopes in this tournament. He's playing an untitled 2384 in round 8, which seals it.

    Now let's turn to the leaders. Going into round 6 there were two tournament leaders, Pavel Eljanov - who won this tournament last year - and the world champion, Magnus Carlsen. Carlsen cheekily played Owen's Defense with Black, albeit against 1.Nf3 rather than 1.e4 (after the latter move it's considered somewhat dubious), and won with remarkable ease. That gave him the clear lead, and although he only drew against the fast-rising Indian star Santosh Gujrathi Vidit in round 7 (with difficulty, with White) he's still half a point ahead of his pursuers.

    The most notable among them is perhaps Fabiano Caruana, who will have White against Carlsen in round 8. He drew in round 6 and defeated Gawain Jones in round 7, thanks largely to some fine preparation. He has 5.5/7, as does Hikaru Nakamura, Eljanov, Vidit, and Emil Sutovsky.

    Another half a point back is a large group that includes Viswanathan Anand and Hou Yifan, along with the U.S. players Akobian and Aleks Lenderman. Lenderman remains undefeated after drawing his last four games; his TPR is 2793, 6th highest in the tournament. (The top two TPRs, by a long way, belong to Carlsen and Caruana at 2893 and 2873, respectively.) Unfortunately for American fans, Akobian and Lenderman are paired for round 8.

    Here are the leading pairings for round 8:

     

    • Caruana (5.5) - Carlsen (6)
    • Nakamura (5.5) - Sutovsky (5.5)
    • Vidit (5.5) - Eljanov (5.5)

     

    Finally, here is a selection of games from the past three rounds.

    Sunday
    Sep102017

    Hou Yifan Profiled by ESPN

    It's nice to see a sympathetic profile of chess players in the popular media, and this piece on Hou Yifan is no exception. That said, it's not flawless, and it almost presents her ambivalence about putting in her utmost effort as some sort of virtue. It's not, and there aren't going to be any stories about the #74 player in the world if it's a guy who doesn't make the most of his talent. If you're a professional athlete or competitor and you're not married, then give it your all. There is no prize for the player with the greatest quantity of squandered talent.

    It is possible to combine extremely hard work on chess with broad interests. Levon Aronian and Peter Svidler are a couple of contemporary players who succeed at a very high level while exploring lots of outside interests. And above all, look at Garry Kasparov. He is and has been voracious in his intellectual interests, but that didn't stop him from being the hardest worker in chess for many years.

    Finally, it's also odd that Judit Polgar isn't mentioned in the entire piece. Hou Yifan is a great player, but her story isn't unique, and at least at this point she hasn't yet equalled her great predecessor's accomplishments in the game.

    Friday
    Aug252017

    Aronian-Nepo and Caruana-Hou Yifan Links

    In the previous post I mentioned the online speed chess matches between Levon Aronian and Ian Nepomniachtchi and between Fabiano Caruana and Hou Yifan. They're over now, and can be viewed here and here, respectively. To avoid spoilers, I'll give the results in the comments.

    Monday
    Aug212017

    Speed Chess Championship: Aronian-Nepo and Caruana-Hou Coming Up This Week

    Chess.com's big speed chess event rolls on this week with two more knockout matches. Levon Aronian faces Ian Nepomniachtchi on Wednesday, August 23, at 10 a.m. PDT (= 1 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CET) and on Thursday, August 24 Fabiano Caruana will play against Hou Yifan starting at 3 p.m. PDT (=6 p.m. ET/1 a.m. CET).

    For those who haven't seen Chess.com's blitz battles before, here's how they work. The start with 90 minutes of 5'+2", take about a three minute break, play 60 minutes of 3'+2", take one more short break, and then conclude with half an hour of 1'+2". There are extremely brief interviews before the matches, longer interviews afterwards (depending on the quality of the connection and the players' facility with English), and running commentary (often pretty corny) throughout.

    Wednesday
    Aug022017

    Biel 2017: Hou Yifan Wins!

    In one of the greatest results of her career - if not the greatest, apart from women's world championship events - Hou Yifan has won the 2017 edition of the Biel GM Tournament.

    After five of nine rounds, when we left off, Etienne Bacrot was in clear first with four points, and Hou was half a point behind. In round 6 Bacrot drew and Hou was defeated by Pentala Harikrishna, who along with David Navara was the top seed entering the tournament. That kept Bacrot in clear first with 4.5 points, Harikrishna in second with 4 (along with Ruslan Ponomariov, who defeated Navara), and Hou (but not only Hou) with 3.5. In the next round, however, everything went up in the air. Harikrishna drew, and Hou defeated Bacrot to leave them all tied for first with 4.5 points, and they were joined there by young IM Nicos Giorgiadis. Giorgiadis defeated Noel Studer to make it a four-way tie for first, with Alexander Morozevich and Ponomariov just half a point behind after the former beat the latter.

    In round 8 Hou and Harikrishna won again, against Rafael Vaganian and Ponomariov, respectively. Bacrot and Giorgiadis dropped half a point back after drawing with Navara and Peter Leko, respectively, and they were caught by Morozevich after he defeated Studer. Thus Hou and Harikrishna led with 5.5 points entering the final round, with Bacrot, Morozevich, and Giorgiadis half a point behind.

    Hou kept on winning! She beat the hitherto undefeated Giorgiadis (who easily made a GM norm in any case, if he needed it), and Harikrishna blundered against Bacrot and lost. (He had probably missed that after 21.Bc5?? Bxf5 he couldn't recapture with the queen because of the simple fork 22...Rd5, so he had to let Black's queen into h2. That proved decisive as well.) That guaranteed clear first for Hou, and since Morozevich lost to Leko it meant that Bacrot finished in clear second, half a point back.

    Hou finished the tournament rated 2669.6, gaining 17.6 points for her efforts. She's got a ways to go to get back to her career high rating of 2687.5, but she's certainly going in the right direction.

    Final Standings:

    1. Hou Yifan 6.5 (from 9)
    2. Bacrot 6
    3. Harikrishna 5.5
    4-7. Ponomariov, Leko, Giorgiadis, Morozevich 5
    8. Navara 4
    9. Vaganian 2
    10. Studer 1

     

    Wednesday
    May242017

    Three Interesting Recent Games

    I'm not going to analyze any of the three, mainly to avoid domesticating them. Each impressed and amazed me in its own way. The first, Najer-Mamedyarov, is a tactical tour de force by the hottest player in chess. (Don't peek, students!) The second, Ding Liren vs. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, featured a surprising sacrifice of a full exchange in the opening. The entire game was a mess, and the only thing that was clear is that Black was very fortunate to come away with half a point. The third game, between Hou Yifan and Jon Ludwig Hammer, was another matter. I watched a few moves early on in the rook vs. knight ending that arose after Black's 49th move, and was sure that it was a draw. A few hours later, I saw that Hou had won it (on her way to an excellent +1 result in the Grand Prix) and could hardly believe my eyes. Brilliancy by Hou or insanity by Hammer? I'll let you figure it out by yourself; I'll offer my own guess in the comments if anyone else offers one first.

    Games here.

    Friday
    Apr212017

    Catching Up: Zurich, Grenke

    The Korchnoi memorial event in Zurich finished a few days ago, and Hikaru Nakamura won this combined rapid & rapid event. (The first stage was a slow rapid: 45' + 30", and the second was 10' + 5" - a rapid rapid.) The slower portion finished with Hikaru Nakamura and Ian Nepomniachtchi tied in first with 10/14 (5/7 in normal scoring, but as the slower games counted for twice as much as the blitz, the scoring was doubled), a point ahead of Viswanathan Anand and two points ahead of Vladimir Kramnik and Peter Svidler.

    At the shorter time control Nakamura again went 5/7, winning the second portion of the event outright and thereby taking overall first as well. It came down to the wire though, as Nepomniachtchi had White against Grigoriy Oparin. Oparin is young, strong, and talented, but for now he was badly outrated by everyone except for local player Yannick Pelletier. He and Pelletier were the tailenders, so things looked good for Nepo. Had he won he'd have tied for first, and presumably would have had a playoff against Nakamura. Instead, Oparin won, giving Nakamura his third consecutive victory in Zurich.

    Final Combined Standings:

    • 1. Nakamura 15/21
    • 2. Nepomniachtchi 14
    • 3. Anand 13.5
    • 4. Svidler 12
    • 5. Kramnik 11
    • 6. Gelfand 9
    • 7. Oparin 5.5
    • 8. Pelletier 4

    Grenke: This tournament got off to a bang when Hou Yifan won her first two games, over Fabiano Caruana and Georg Meier, to take a full point lead over a field that also included Magnus Carlsen, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and Levon Aronian as well. Incredibly, she was close to winning in round three against Carlsen as well, but psyched herself out and let him escape his bad position rather easily with a draw.

    Her punishment was deserved and came in the very next round. Vachier-Lagrave had a much smaller advantage against her than she had against Carlsen, but he kept prodding and testing until she finally cracked. It took 68 moves, but he got the full point, pushing her out of first. The next day she gave up a draw to one of the two players in the event who are lower-rated than she is, so she has fallen out of contention for tournament victory.

    And yet...she is still tied for second, with Carlsen and Caruana, with 3/5, a point behind Levon Aronian. Aronian drew with Meier and Carlsen in the first two rounds, and then went on a tear, winning three in a row. He has defeated MVL, Mathias Bluebaum, and Arkadij Naiditsch. In the next round he plays Hou Yifan, with White. Will he make it four in a row, or will she bounce back and turn this into the tournament of her life?

    Carlsen also has an interesting pairing, with Black against Naiditsch. Carlsen is a favorite, of course, but in the last few years Naiditsch has given him trouble. Naiditsch upset the world champion in the 2014 Olympiad, with Black, and took a couple of games off of him in the same tournament two years ago. As for Caruana, he'll have Black in the next round against Bluebaum.

    Monday
    Apr102017

    Ivanchuk Defeats Hou Yifan, 3-1

    Vassily Ivanchuk and Hou Yifan played a four-game match in China from April 5-8, and the favorite - Ivanchuk - won in unusual style, drawing games 1 and 3 with White and winning games 2 and 4 with Black. Here are the last two games from the match, both of which were short and entertaining.

    Sunday
    Feb262017

    Catching Up: Gibraltar

    Yes, it's almost ancient history by now, but not quite. I'd mentioned the Gibraltar tournament when it started and never intended to provide daily coverage, but at least three things are worth addressing: the final results, the master classes, and Hou Yifan's protest.

    First then, results: Hikaru Nakamura came from behind to win the main tournament in a playoff over Yu Yangyi and then David Anton Guijarro. Anton led the field by half a point going into the last round, and after a draw with Mickey Adams he was caught by Nakamura and Yu. Anton had the highest TPR of the event, so the format for the playoff required Nakamura and Yu to play a pair of rapid games for the right to play another pair of rapid games with Anton for the title.

    The rapid games were both drawn, so they went on to blitz, and there Nakamura defeated Yu 2-0. The final went more smoothly for Nakamura, drawing with Black and defeating Anton with White to win the title.

    Second, master classes: Hou Yifan and Veselin Topalov gave special, prepared lectures during the tournament; this is a tournament tradition. They (and the 2016 master classes as well) can be accessed here.

    Third and finally, Hou Yifan's protest. Judit Polgar decided in her earliest teenage years to forsake the world of women's chess and to focus only on playing in the best events she could. Her decision paid off, as she became not simply the strongest female player in the world by a significant margin, but one of the best players in the world, period, peaking at #8.

    Hou Yifan took longer to come to the same point, but her dissatisfaction with how FIDE conducts the women's world championship and the realization that she has to play stronger opponents to improve has recently brought her around as well. So imagine her surprise and dismay when after nine of the 10 rounds at Gibraltar, seven of her games were against women. She had complained about it earlier in the event, but she made her displeasure even clearer in the final round, uncorking this immortal game:

    Hou Yifan - Lalith Babu M R:

    1.g4? d5 2.f3? e5 3.d3 Qh4+ 4.Kd2 h5 5.h3 hxg4 0-1

    What's wrong with this, you ask? Plenty.

    (1) Protesting in the last round comes too late to fix the problem.

    (2) Protesting when facing a male opponent, the "kind" of opponent she expected to play, doesn't make any sense.

    (3) The loss costs other players money. Given the reasonable likelihood of a draw in the course of a normal game, the players who tied for a prize with Lalith were potentially cheated out of some money.

    (4) Throwing a game, as opposed to forfeiting (a la Fischer in game 2 in 1972 or Kramnik in game 5 of the 2006 world championship match) is unethical.

    (5) No proof or even evidence was supplied to show that the pairings had been rigged by the organizers. As they pointed out, and no doubt pointed out to her if she raised the issue earlier in the tournament, they are done by computer. Pairing programs have been around for decades, and it would be easy to replicate their results.

    (6) The organizers have been fans of Hou Yifan's for years, and as noted above had invited her to give one of this year's Master Class lectures. Why would they suddenly act antagonistically towards her? It doesn't make much sense.

    I add that I'm a fan of hers, and approve wholeheartedly of her decision to eschew the women's world championship cycles to focus on becoming the best player she possibly can. Her frustration was understandable, but the protest doesn't seem to be defensible.

    Saturday
    Feb112017

    This Week's World Chess Column: Miniatures Lost by Elite GMs

    Hou Yifan's five-move loss in the last round of Gibraltar was a protest, not a real game, but it got me curious about very short games lost by elite GMs (I'm arbitrarily defining that as GMs rated at or over 2600) at a classical time control. Some of my surprising (and entertaining and instructive) findings can be found here.