Fans of Magnus Carlsen might take Alexander Morozevich's claim that players like Vassily Ivanchuk and Ian Nepomniachtchi are more talented than he (Carlsen) is, but they shouldn't. Many factors go into being the best, and even if Morozevich's assessment of Carlsen's talent is correct, that's only one part of the story, and "Moro" has plenty of other things to say in praise of the World Champion. (And it isn't as if he's saying that Carlsen is very talented!)
Entries in Magnus Carlsen (236)
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.
This is "old news", as the well-known oxymoron has it, and as the final pairing was announced here earlier it's likely that any readers who were interested then already know how things turned out. Nevertheless, for the sake of completeness: the St. Louis Arch Bishops won the inaugural PRO Chess League rapid tournament (15 minutes/game, plus a two second increment added after every move), a team event that stretched from early January through the end of March. The team was led by Wesley So, and in the final they defeated the Norway Gnomes, led by Magnus Carlsen.
Both So and Carlsen had enormous scores over the course of the season, and both were 3-0 leading into their head-to-head matchup in the final round of the team match. (Each team has four active players, and each player faces every member of the opposing squad.) Carlsen won that game - with the black pieces, at that! - but as St. Louis had already clinched overall victory So may have been a little less circumspect than normal. Even if that's true, however, it was a nice feather in Carlsen's cap to remind the world's hottest player who's boss.
The film came out last year, and many of you may have seen it already. I just noticed it on Netflix and watched it there, so those of you who have it and haven't yet seen the movie now have your chance.
This was a lot of work, but I think or at least hope you'll all agree that it was worth it. Did I mention that it was a lot of work? Have a look: all the chess from last Sunday's episode of "The Simpsons", with Magnus Carlsen.
But barely. Wesley So entered the last round with a half-point lead over Wei Yi and more against everyone else, and with White against Wei Yi decided to play it safe. Black went for a well-known line of the Queen's Gambit Declined called the Peruvian Variation (I think) that results in Black's having a structure that appears as ugly as sin but which turns out to be very difficult to beat. In the game Wei Yi had no trouble keeping the draw, which meant that he remained half a point behind So, who guaranteed himself of a clear lead heading into the last round.
Unfortunately for So - and for Wei Yi too, for that matter - both Magnus Carlsen and Levon Aronian won and also came to within half a point of So. Carlsen was in serious trouble against Pavel Eljanov, who played a great game for 28 moves. Eljanov has played a very good tournament so far, but he has failed to convert several better-to-winning positions, and this one he even managed to lose. His 29th move was a serious error, giving away the advantage, and his 37th to 39th moves left him lost. Carlsen played the ensuing rook endgame just about perfectly to stay within striking range of the leader.
As for Aronian, his opponent, Loek van Wely, like Eljanov managed to play very well the first half of the game but not the second. Van Wely's queen moves from 22...Qd8 through 27...Qxe4 left him with a lost position, and Aronian did a fine job of navigating the complications to near perfection.
The remaining games were drawn, several of them quietly, and in any case none of them left the protagonists with a shot at first place. So after the customary link to the day's wins, with my notes, here are the pairings for the final round:
- Andreikin (5) - Aronian (7.5)
- Wei Yi (7.5) - Wojtaszek (5)
- Nepomniachtchi (5) - So (8)
- Carlsen (7.5) - Karjakin (6.5) - !
- Giri (6) - Eljanov (6.5)
- Rapport (4.5) - Adhiban (6.5)
- Van Wely (2.5) - Harikrishna (6)
I don't know what the tiebreak situations will be in case two or more players wind up sharing first, so if some enterprising reader (we all know who that is) wants to inform us, he's welcome to do so. Hopefully for the sake of my patriotic prognostication So will make it simple by winning in the last round.
As for the Challengers Group, the chances of the U.S. national anthem (probably metaphorically) playing took a bit hit as Jeffery Xiong went from clear first to a tie for third after losing to Tari while all his closest rivals - Markus Ragger, Gawain Jones, and Ilia Smirin all won. Ragger and Jones are tied for first, while Smirin and Xiong are tied for third-fourth half a point behind. But the good news for Xiong is that he's the only one of the four with White in the last round, and his opponent has the lowest score of the leaders' four opponents. Here are the critical pairings:
- L'Ami (6.5) - Ragger (8.5)
- Lu Shanglei (7.5) - Jones (8.5)
- Hansen (7) - Smirin (8)
- Xiong (8) - Bok (5)
It was a quiet round in terms of results, with six draws in seven games, but there was plenty of turbulence within the games themselves. Magnus Carlsen defeated Loek van Wely pretty easily (clearly better out of the opening, a pawn up 10 moves later, in a clearly winning rook ending about another 10 moves after that followed by a smooth conversion). That brought him back where he was before his loss to Richard Rapport in the previous round; namely, within half a point of the leader, Wesley So.
So had White in a Vienna Variation of the Queen's Gambit against Levon Aronian, and as the latter was well-prepared it was soon obvious that the game would finish in a draw. So remained in clear first with 6/9, while Aronian was a point behind.
Two players had an excellent chance to catch up with So. Pavel Eljanov was clearly winning against Dmitry Andreikin in a fantastically complicated game, but couldn't put him away and the game finished in a perpetual. Wei Yi's game with Baskaran Adhiban was quieter (to be fair, most of Tal's games would have been quieter than the Eljanov-Andreikin adventure), but in this game too the player nipping at So's heels should have won, but didn't.
Of the remaining draws, Ian Nepomniachtchi also failed to convert a winning advantage, though unlike Eljanov and Wei Yi he is nowhere near the top of the tournament table. His fortunate opponent, Penteala Harikrishna, isn't quite in the leading group, but is still close enough to make a run in the last four rounds. As for Anish Giri vs. Richard Rapport and Radoslaw Wojtaszek vs. Sergey Karjakin, those were correct draws.
My analysis of Carlsen-van Wely is here, and these are the pairings for round 10 (which won't be in Wijk aan Zee, in an implicit rebuke to my labeling this tournament in the traditional way rather than after its current sponsor, Tata Steel):
- Aronian (5) - Rapport (3.5)
- van Wely (1.5) - Giri (4.5)
- Harikrishna (4.5) - Carlsen (5.5)
- Adhiban (5) - Nepomniachtchi (3.5)
- Eljanov (5.5) - Wei Yi (5.5)
- Karjakin (5) - Andreikin (4)
- So (6) - Wojtaszek (4)
Things are tightening in the Challengers Group after the co-leaders scored .5/2 between them. Ragger only drew with White against Tari, while Jones was mated by Xiong. Smirin defeated Van Foreest with Black, so now he and Ragger share first with 6.5/9, half a point ahead of Xiong and Jones, a further half a point ahead of Hansen and Lu Shanglei.
There wasn't much excitement in Wesley So's game. Sergey Karjakin played a slow system with White against the leader, and by move 22 they were already content to shake hands and call it a day. That meant that Wei Yi, Pavel Eljanov, and of course world champion Magnus Carlsen could catch So with a win.
Wei Yi's game with Pentala Harikrishna was a short draw with Black in a Petroff, so nothing doing there. Eljanov, however, was winning against Radoslaw Wojtaszek, and at two different points in the game. Unfortunately for the early leader of the tournament, he failed to convert his advantage, and also drew. Still, that's better than what happened to Carlsen. Carlsen more or less equalized against Richard Rapport, but chose a very bad play with 22...d3 23.e3 Ne5. Perhaps this was due to a surfeit of ambition; whatever the case, he was losing two moves later, and Rapport finished with a nice little combination starting with 29.Rb6. It had been a bad tournament for Rapport and a good one for Carlsen, but even so Rapport is too strong a player for even Carlsen to take such liberties against.
In other games: Levon Aronian demonstrated an interesting new idea in the Catalan and won a terrific game against Anish Giri, and Baskaran Adhiban also won in crushing style against Dmitry Andreikin. Finally, in a battle between players at and near the bottom of the crosstable, Loek van Wely failed to convert a winning advantage against Ian Nepomniachtchi, and they eventually drew the longest game of the round.
The decisive games, with my comments, are here, and here are the pairings for round 9 (on Tuesday):
- So (5.5) - Aronian (4.5)
- Wojtaszek (3.5) - Karjakin (4.5)
- Andreikin (3.5) - Eljanov (5)
- Wei Yi (5) - Adhiban (4.5)
- Nepomniachtchi (3) - Harikrishna (4)
- Carlsen (4.5) - van Wely (1.5)
- Giri (4) - Rapport (3)
In the Challengers section, six of the seven games were drawn, which is very unusual - all the prior rounds had at least three decisive games (and that low number only occurred once, in round 1) and one round even saw seven decisive games out of seven. The only non-draw featured players near the bottom of the table, so the relative standings are the same: Jones and Ragger lead, half a point ahead of Smirin and a full point in front of Lu Shanglei and Xiong.
I disappeared for a few days, but the momentous occasion that took place on Friday, the 20th of January in 2017 has brought me back to blogging. I refer, of course, to Anish Giri's winning a game of chess at a classical time control.
So let's get caught up on the action from rounds 2-6. Pavel Eljanov led through round 4, building on his first round win over Richard Rapport with further wins over Loek van Wely (round 2) and Baskaran Adhiban (round 4) - both with Black. Unfortunately for Eljanov things weren't so great with White: he could only draw with Pentala Harikrishna in round 3 and then lost to Levon Aronian in round 5.
That dropped him into a tie for second with Magnus Carlsen, who won a couple of beautiful games with the white pieces, first against Radoslaw Wojtaszek in round 2 and against Wei Yi in round 4.
The leader, however, is Wesley So. Like Eljanov, he has won three games - three in a row from rounds 3-5 - but unlike Eljanov hasn't lost any games. He was in grave trouble against Rapport in round 3, and probably should have lost that game, but Rapport faltered near the time control and lost the game. So's win over van Wely in round 4 wasn't overwhelming either, but van Wely made too many errors leading up to the time control to save the game. So's win in round 5 over Harikrishna was clean by comparison, but there too he didn't play anything close to his best chess, and he was also given a big headstart by Harikrishna's poor opening preparation. If So keeps playing so-so chess, he is not going to win the tournament, but if he can work his way into his best form his chances will be excellent.
Other notables: Aronian, Giri, and Wei Yi are all +1. Aronian's one victory was already mentioned (with Black in round 5 against Eljanov), Giri inflicted a speedy defeat on Ian Nepomniachtchi in round 6, and Wei Yi's round 4 loss to Carlsen was offset by a win in round 2 over Nepomniachtchi and a round 6 victory over Rapport.
I've analyzed all the decisive games from round 2-6, here. As for round 7's pairings, here they are:
- Karjakin (3) - Aronian (3.5)
- So (4.5) - Eljanov (4)
- Wojtaszek (3) - Adhiban (2.5)
- Andreikin (3) - Harikrishna (3)
- Wei Yi (3.5) - van Wely (1)
- Nepomniachtchi (2) - Rapport (1.5)
- Carlsen (4) - Giri (3.5)
In the B-group (aka the Challengers tournament) Top seed Markus Ragger raced out to a 4-0 start before drawing in round 5 in a game he probably should have won. The co-second seeds also went 3.5/4 in rounds 2-5: Ilia Smirin drew in round 1 before his streak to reach 4/5, while Jeffery Xiong was a further half a point behind as he started the event with a loss to Ragger. (That game was analyzed in my round 1 report.) Oddly, all three players lost in round 6, so the leaderboard there looks like this:
- 1-2. Ragger, Gawain Jones (Jones's rating is just a touch behind Smirin's and Xiong's, and he's the one responsible for defeating Ragger in round 6): 4.5
- 3-4. Smirin, Lu Shanglei 4
- 5-7. Eric Hansen, Jeffery Xiong, Nils Grandelius 3.5
Magnus Carlsen won a very nice game against Levon Aronian on the white side of a Ragozin a couple of years ago, and in a vlog sometime later suggested a better plan for Black. The idea was already known, but became the way for Black to handle the position. As we'll see in my column this week, it's even possible for White to get in trouble in this seemingly ultra-safe system.