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    Entries in Levon Aronian (47)

    Tuesday
    Sep092014

    Nakamura Defeats Aronian 3.5-2.5 in Chess960 Match

    This year's Sinquefield Cup festivities finally came to an end today with a six-game rapid (15' + 2") Chess960 match between Levon Aronian and Hikaru Nakamura, both of whom are former Chess960 world champions.

    There are some starting positions that favor White far more than is the case in regular chess, so each starting position in the match was repeated so that both players would have a chance to have White. To further ensure a fair match, the player starting each two-game series switched: Nakamura had White in game 1, Aronian White in game 3, and Nakamura White again in game 5. (I suppose there should have been eight games so that each player got to start two series, but perhaps time constraints got in the way.) The funny thing is that fears of an excessive advantage for the white pieces turned out to be unfounded, and one could jokingly say that Nakamura won the match by drawing game 1 with White; after all, Black won the next five games!

    As for a link...I couldn't find the games on the St. Louis website, and they didn't seem to have any video coverage today; likewise Chess24. You can download them from TWIC (go to the very bottom of the linked page), but whether you'll be able to replay the file depends on your chess software. If you're an ICC member you can replay them there (they're in the library Naka-Aronian960). Finally, while I was able to replay the games from the TWIC download to ChessBase, my attempt to upload the games to the web didn't work - their upload program isn't designed to handle Chess960's castling rules.

    Monday
    Sep082014

    Aronian, Studying the Classics, and the Dunning-Kruger Effect

    Chess24 has translated most of this interview with Levon Aronian, and while it's worth a quick look (also in the original) I'll just note one Q & A in particular:

    Question: Do you think it's important to study the chess classics? Or do you think that the use of technology has made an awareness of the famous games of chess history superfluous?

    Answer: I think it’s a matter of perception. Personally I always wanted to study classic games to find my own style. To find your individuality you have to seek out and get to know the classics. When you start to play chess you think you’re inventing something new; each player believes that, but in time you realise that a lot more has been played than you think. That process of studying games and finding something that can enhance your individuality is what I especially value in chess. And also its history: how, when and why it was invented fascinates me and I think that usually occurs with people who play it at a very high level. As for technology, it has changed the game a lot. It’s true that it’s caused a lot of people to ignore classic games, but I doubt anyone “at the top” can neglect that aspect of chess.

    Studying chess history doesn't stifle creativity, because human beings don't have the cognitive wherewithal to master the game. Even if we someday create a computer that solves the game, that still won't be enough. (Don't believe me? Have a look at entry 393 here and ask yourself how likely it is that you could win that, if "perfect play" from move 1 somehow resulted in the starting position of that monstrosity. And if your opponent deviates somewhere in the first, oh, let's say 500 moves or so, what then?) All the same, I've heard from club players over the years that they don't want to study openings or look at great players' games because then they wouldn't be creative and wouldn't be figuring things out for themselves. Is there anything to this idea?

    I think there's a nugget of truth to it, but it's mixed in with some mistaken ideas. Moreover, the part that's right can be extracted and transplanted into a context that includes learning from others. The bit that's right is that one should try to understand and figure out what's going on for oneself. The more we engage with the material and practice calculating and analyzing, the better we'll be, as long as we're getting feedback. And what's the feedback mechanism? A stronger player's analysis, whether that be from a human author (or coach, or some other competent player) or a chess engine. A test without feedback really isn't a test at all.

    So when you're studying an opening line, you might start from a given position and spend thirty minutes or more looking at the board, maybe moving pieces around, seeing what you can come up with, what problems you suspect are there, what plans come to mind and so on. That's where you start. But that's not the end of the story. Then crack open the opening book and see how things square with your thoughts. Maybe you had a good idea, but it can't be implemented for one reason or another, and therefore players have had to move on to different plans. Or perhaps you overlooked your opponent's idea completely. Or maybe you managed to figure out the main idea of the position, or one of the main ideas, and your grasp of the variation is excellent!

    Now, suppose your idea isn't mentioned, or it is but you think there's a good response to what the book (or article or whatever) says. Great: now switch on the engine and see what it comes up with, and continue your pursuit of the truth. You can do the same with studying classics, too: start the game at a certain point near the end of the opening, and go through the game in solitaire-chess style. Again, you're investing yourself, developing your skills and exercising your creativity, and once you're done you can compare your thoughts with those of the human annotator and perhaps with the computer.

    This procedure lets us learn from others while still satisfying our desire to figure things out for ourselves, too...or rather, to try to figure things out for ourselves. As noted above, chess is simply too deep for us to figure it out even cooperatively, let alone as a solo achievement. Indeed, when even the world's greatest players from Fischer to Carlsen (and Caruana!), and far more so their predecessors, make imprecisions and even mistakes on a regular basis, how can the rest of us avoid them? (In fact, engines still manage to beat each other, and there are much, much stronger than the best humans. So it's obvious that even they still make at least minor mistakes.)

    How can anyone think they can solve chess on their own? One interesting (and worrisome!) answer comes in the form of something called the Dunning-Kruger Effect (DKE). The nutshell summary is that people who are incompetent are often, maybe even typically, unable to recognize their own incompetence. (As we are all incompetent in many things, God help us all!) All of us who have watched "American Idol" and other "talent" shows have seen this in action when positively dreadful singers protest vociferously that they are really quite gifted. (Perhaps so, but it would be better if they gave their gifts elsewhere.)

    The DKE has three "official" components, according to David Dunning & Justin Kruger. Citing Wikipedia, Incompetent people

    1. tend to overestimate their own level of skill;
    2. fail to recognize genuine skill in others;
    3. [and] fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;

    Bad news indeed, but there is a fourth claim that offers us a ray of hope:

    • [Incompetent people can] recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they are exposed to training for that skill.

    All the more reason for us to train with an eye on what others have done. Study the classics, my friends!

    Saturday
    Sep062014

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 10: Three Draws Finish The Tournament

    And fairly peaceful draws at that, but after nine very exciting rounds at the Sinquefield Cup it's hard to begrudge the players the relative day off.

    The first game to finish went only 19 moves and featured two of the most combative players in the world and a situation where one might normally expect a big fight, but it was not to be. Veselin Topalov was apparently surprised by the particular line of the Berlin Magnus Carlsen chose, and without making a dent on theory the game ended in a quick repetition. If Topalov had won he would have taken clear second and jumped to #3 on the rating list, but in the final position the players agreed that playing on would have entailed more risk for White than for Black.

    The second game to finish was Levon Aronian vs. Fabiano Caruana. Even in this game it was Caruana who had what slight chances there were for a decisive result, but fatigued and possibly a bit undermotivated he didn't play energetically enough and Aronian managed to equalize. Concerned he might even be getting a little worse, Caruana offered a draw at the first available moment, on move 30, and Aronian accepted, happy to put a very unsuccessful tournament behind him.

    Finally, Hikaru Nakamura and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave made it to the time control and a bit further, but the game was equal all the way (but with play) and the draw was a normal result there too. (All three games here, with some comments and game citations for the first two.)

    An anti-climax, yes, but what an amazing tournament for Fabiano Caruana! His final score of 8.5/10 put him three points ahead of the second-place finisher (Carlsen 5.5, Topalov 5, Aronian & Vachier-Lagrave 4, Nakamura 3). He gained 35 rating points to take second on the rating list by a massive 43 point margin, has reached a rating level previously achieved (and surpassed) by only Magnus Carlsen and Garry Kasparov, and his 3097 TPR is unsurpassed in the history of chess (in events of this sort). Speaking of Kasparov, he himself said that this was the most amazing tournament performance he had seen, better than anything he achieved and even than Anatoly Karpov's 11/13 in Linares 1994. While I don't think it breaks his heart to put someone else's performance ahead of Karpov's, it is true that the players are getting better and better, and on top of that Caruana really had no lucky games; if anything, he was a bit unlucky against Carlsen in round 8 and Nakamura in round 9. (On the other hand, Karpov was close to winning three of the four games he drew in Linares, so we shouldn't be too quick to bury that event in the sands of time.) At any rate it was a fantastic performance by Caruana. Bravo!

    And now for dessert: rumors are floating that he may switch back to representing the USA. He was asked about it in the post-game press conference, and his "I don't want to say anything about this" seems like the kind of remark that suggests that it may in fact be in the works. (Yessssss!)

    Looking forward, it should be noted that while the Sinquefield Cup is over the festivities in St. Louis are not. First, the final press conference will begin momentarily. Second, on Monday they will have the "Ultimate Moves" competition. Here's how the tournament site describes it:

    Ultimate Moves will feature eight two-man teams made up of a GM and an amateur player each. The teams will compete in a double-round knockout bracket, with teammates alternating moves in games with a time control of 15 minutes and 2-second increments. Stay tuned for more details.

    Third and better still, Aronian and Nakamura are reportedly playing a 6-game Chess960 match on Tuesday, and as they are both former world champions at that version it should be especially entertaining to see.

    Thursday
    Aug282014

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 2: Caruana Wins Again, Aronian Also Wins

    Fabiano Caruana (please stay here!) is off to a great start, two for two, at the second Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis, Missouri. While round 1 saw him take advantage of Veselin Topalov's self-destruction, today's victory over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave took a completely different course. Yesterday Vachier-Lagrave was the speedier player in a fascinating theoretical battle against Magnus Carlsen, but today the Frenchman was the victim. Caruana blitzed out his first 17 moves, all prepared with his second Vladimir Chuchelov some months earlier for a game against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. He didn't get to use it then and didn't expect to use it today, but Vachier-Lagrave walked into it and paid the price. Caruana didn't have to think until his opponent erred with 17...Nh6, and it didn't take him too long to figure out the refutation. Black resigned after 30 moves, and really could have thrown in the towel at least six moves before that. It was a very impressive win by the world's #2 player, even if it was largely a result of superior homework.

    While that result was clear very early in the round, it turned out that it was the second game to finish. Levon Aronian got curious at the board about an idea he "knew" wasn't very good, and when he played it his suspicions were confirmed. Topalov played well and forced Aronian to sac an exchange for some compensation, though it shouldn't have been enough. Having achieved the advantage, however, Topalov fell apart almost immediately, committing both tactical oversights and positional misjudgments (most notably making the self-destructive decision to castle queenside), and he was quickly crushed.

    Finally, Hikaru Nakamura and Carlsen drew their game. Carlsen met the Ruy with 3...g6, and while the succeeding play was always interesting neither player managed to achieve any advantage, and the world champion's attempts to sharpen the play at the end were smoothly neutralized by the American.

    After two rounds, Caruana has 2 points, Aronian 1.5, Nakamura and Carlsen 1, Vachier-Lagrave half a point and Topalov has as many as the rest of the world put together. Here are the pairings for round 3, tomorrow: Topalov - Nakamura, Vachier-Lagrave - Aronian, Carlsen - Caruana.

    Finally, here are the games, with my comments.

    Monday
    Aug252014

    Starting Wednesday: The 2014 Sinquefield Cup

    The opening ceremonies and such begin tomorrow (Tuesday), but the real action begins on Wednesday. It's a double round-robin with six great players:

    • Magnus Carlsen
    • Levon Aronian
    • Fabiano Caruana
    • Hikaru Nakamura
    • Veselin Topalov
    • Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

    The average rating is over 2800! More info about the Sinquefield Cup here.

    Saturday
    Jun282014

    Carlsen & Aronian Interviewed

    And more too, including the latest video entry with Magnus Carlsen & Espen Agdestein discussing his (Carlsen's) play in the World Rapid Championship. Have a look.

    Tuesday
    May132014

    Aronian: "I Never Imagined Carlsen Would Become A Top Player"

    That quote from Levon Aronian about the current world champion sounds more provocative than it really is. It's still surprising, but not an insult in context.

    Tuesday
    May062014

    Various Chess24 Articles

    The new portal Chess24 has been putting out some interesting articles lately, of which I will highlight three.

    First, there is this article on the lack of bids for the Carlsen-Anand rematch. It does a nice job of listing some of the (mutually compossible) reasons there have yet to be any bids, the just-passed deadline notwithstanding.

    The other two articles also touch on the pending rematch, at least in passing. The second article is an interview with Levon Aronian that focuses on his unsuccessful performance in the Candidates' tournament back in March, while the last article gives the lineup for next month's super-tournament in Stavanger, Norway. While the field for Stavanger is impressive indeed, the article is more likely to attract attention for Carlsen's comments about Anand. Quoting from the article:

    During the press conference Carlsen commented:

    I can’t imagine facing him before the World Championship match. It’s fine with me that his last memories from our games are the ones from Zurich. It could have been a positive experience for him, but it’s more likely that it would have been a negative one.

    Asked about Anand’s performance in the Candidates, Carlsen told Dagbladet.no:

    To put it arrogantly, he didn’t face me in the Candidates. It’s still Anand who has something to prove.

    I don't know if Anand is the kind of guy who collects quotes like this to motivate him, but if he does that last one ought to work wonders. (The statement is true, but that doesn't make it any less abrasive and ungracious.)

    Saturday
    Apr122014

    Bundesliga Finale

    The latest Bundesliga season ended last weekend, with Baden-Baden winning for about the 30th time in a row. (Okay, it was only their ninth consecutive title. Other teams had better find rich benefactors if they hope to break this strangehold.) Levon Aronian was the special guest star helping push them over the edge to victory, scoring 2.5/3 over the final weekend to not only help them but himself as well as he aimed to recover from a poor finish at the Candidates.

    More about that here, but I'd like to focus on Anatoly Karpov's surprise appearance. He played a couple of games, drawing with the lower-rated Felix Graf before defeating the 2664-rated Maxim Rodshtein in his second game, and with the black pieces. You can replay those games here, and I would especially draw your attention to Graf's unusual drawing combination in the first game. Most sacrifices involve captures - think of bishop sacrifices on h6 and h7, for example - but sometimes a piece is moved to an empty square. It's even rarer to have the first sac accepted only to have a second empty-square sacrifice on the next move, but that's just what Graf did. There are probably other examples of this happening, but I'm unable to recall any offhand. If you can think of some other examples, please share them with us!

    Friday
    Mar212014

    Candidates 2014, Round 7: Anand and Aronian Lead At The Halfway Point After A Crazy Round

    The first cycle of the 2014 Candidates' tournament finished with a crazy and chaotic round that saw three decisive games, and it could easily have been four. In the end Viswanathan Anand and Levon Aronian were tied for first at +2*, half a point ahead of Vladimir Kramnik.

    Anand has led the entire tournament, by himself for most of it, and he probably would have kept that lead if he had played 20...Rxf2 against Peter Svidler. White's compensation looks pretty slim, so it looks like Anand has sunk into an overly safety-first mentality. If he fails to win the tournament, it will be unforced errors like this that will be to blame. After foregoing this great opportunity, Svidler was able to neutralize his minimal disadvantage and save the game.

    Meanwhile, Aronian took the opportunity to catch up to Anand at the halfway point, thanks to his convincing win over Sergei Karjakin, now the tournament tailender. Interestingly, both Aronian and Anand were Black in a 4.d3 Berlin, and in both games Black came out of the opening smelling like a rose. Karjakin played b4 on move 10, and then went for d4 some moves later. As a result, the c4 square was weakened, and Aronian managed to conquer that square and infiltrate the queenside in general. White's position got worse and worse, and a desperate counterattack ultimately led to an ending where Aronian was down the exchange but had too many pawns for White to cope with.

    (One nice quote about that game, from chess24's round report. It comes from Rustam Kasimdzhanov, a chess24 contributor, Karjakin's second and a great player in his own right - the winner of the FIDE knockout world championship in 2004. He writes this about Aronian's 47...Qc4, which was the only winning move: "Qc4!! I mean wow!! It's at times like this you recognise the greatest. I'd never pull it off, not after 5 hours of play. It was SUCH a difficult move. It just does not occur, not to mortals.")

    Kramnik bounced back from his painful loss against Topalov with a win over Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, but he was very lucky. He was doing well with White after a well-played opening, but not as well as he thought. As a result he overpressed, and was soon forced to head for an ending where he hoped his queenside passers would compensate for Black's extra piece. For a long time Mamedyarov played very well, but at just the moment when he could obtain a straightforwardly winning position he blundered - twice! Worst of all, he did so with loads of time on the clock. He missed a tactic, and while that can happen to anyone he would surely have spotted it if he had spent a bit more time. Instead, he went from winning to equal to dead lost, and the game ended just a few moves later. A real tragedy for Mamedyarov, who had worked his way back from -2 after the first three games and would have finished the first cycle at +1, half a point behind the leaders. Instead, he's now -1 and it's Kramnik who is nipping at the leaders' heels.

    Another player who came into the round with an equal score also fell back to -1: Veselin Topalov. His opening preparation against Dmitry Andreikin was very good, but as in the game with Svidler two rounds earlier he fell apart almost immediately after his preparation ended. Topalov was crushed, and I'm guessing that he forgot to make sarcastic comments about his opponent at today's press conference.

    There is no break between the two cycles, and round 8 starts tomorrow (or today, if you're across the pond) at the usual time, with the following pairings (player scores are in parentheses):

     

    • Kramnik (4) - Andreikin (3)
    • Svidler (3.5) - Karjakin (2.5)
    • Topalov (3) - Mamedyarov (3)
    • Aronian (4.5) - Anand (4.5)

     

    Aronian - Anand is clearly the game of the day, but it's also an important opportunity for Kramnik, playing the white pieces against one of the relative outsiders. Svidler too needs to regain the winning habit before the leaders break away for good, and White against the tailender is a good place to start.

    Meanwhile, here are the round 7 games, with my notes.

    * Remember last year: there are no real ties for first. In case of a tie, tournament victory is determined by tiebreaks rather than a playoff. As Anand defeated Aronian in round 1, he would qualify for the match with Magnus Carlsen if they alone finish tied for first and Aronian doesn't beat Anand in the second cycle.