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    Entries in Magnus Carlsen (284)

    Wednesday
    Feb142018

    Carlsen Wins Fischerrandom Match vs. Nakamura, 14-10

    Considering how dominant Magnus Carlsen has been in rapid & blitz chess against even his peers, Hikaru Nakamura did well to lose by only a 14-10 margin. Still, it's clear that Carlsen was the stronger player in the match, and barring the bizarre end to the last of the slower games the final margin could have been less flattering to the American. Let's recap the last day's action, which comprised eight 10'+5" games. As before, the players would both get a shot with White at the same starting position, and the player who had White in the first game of one pair would have Black in the first game of the next pair. Carlsen entered the last day with a 9-7 lead, and here's how it went:

    Carlsen had White first, and got on the scoreboard with a quick win. Nakamura was generally a little worse but very much in the fight for equality until move 22. Nakamura should have defended his e-pawn with 22...Rd6 instead of 22...Re7, as the rook would also safeguard the knight on c6. After 23.e4! dxe4? 24.Qxg5 Kb7? 25.d5! exd5 26.Rxc6! White had won a piece, and Black resigned a few moves later.

    Nakamura had trouble in the slower games with the white pieces, and didn't get off to a good start in the faster games. His 10th move was a serious error that left him clearly worse, and Carlsen soon reached a position where only he could win. His advantage increased and was winning until he played 45...Bxe5+?? He must have thought it didn't matter very much how he won White's h-pawn, but it did. (Or putting it differently, it mattered that he wound up with a pair of h-pawns rather than a g-pawn and an h-pawn, as it gave White the ability to play for a bishop and wrong-colored rook pawn draw.) A narrow, slightly lucky escape for Nakamura.

    In the third game it was Carlsen's turn to play Houdini (referring metaphorically to the person, not the engine). After 59 moves Nakamura, with White, had a queen against Black's rook, d- and a-pawns, and the d-pawn perished on move 68. At that point it was a theoretical win, though not an easy one. That was still the case until move 85 (which doesn't mean that either player's technique was perfect), when 85.Kc4 rather than 85.Qe2+ rendered a tablebase draw. Carlsen didn't reply with the tablebase-approved move, but two moves later Nakamura's 87.Qd2+ made it a tablebase draw again. From here through the end of the game on move 138, Carlsen made no mistakes, and the game was drawn. To be fair, there weren't too many tricks he had to dodge, but even so it's hard to play so many correct moves in a row without goofing up somewhere.

    Game four was also drawn. Nakamura sacrificed an exchange in the opening for no pawns and dubious compensation, but Carlsen's 12.e5 and 14.Nd4 surrendered a pawn and the advantage. Very strange. Nakamura even had the advantage at one moment, and it went back and forth before petering out to a drawn ending.

    The string of draws came to an end in game five, another convincing and short victory by Carlsen. Nakamura got into some trouble in the early middlegame, but if he had found 23...a5 with the idea of ...Ba6 not all would be lost. After 23...e6?? 24.Ra3 all was lost. Black had to give up a bunch of material, and then the game - and with it, the match, as Carlsen led 12.5-8.5 with three games to go.

    Carlsen won game six as well. It helped having a big headstart, as he was clearly better - with Black - after just five moves. Then again, the position was equal a couple of moves later, which just goes to show how reliant even the world's greatest chess players are on pattern recognition. We may think that all the beloved opening patterns and principles we've discovered over the centuries are obvious, natural, and intuitive. In fact they're not; they've been earned by the sweat of our collective brows, the inheritance of many generations of deep thought and hard work. This is also true of our tactical skill: Carlsen missed a nice opportunity on move 29, when 29...Re2+! won straight away. White would either give up the queen for the rook, or get mated after 30.Nxe2 Qd2+ 31.Kb1 Be4#. Although I'd normally expect Carlsen to spot that even in Chess960 without all that much time on the clock, the unusual position probably made it more difficult for Carlsen to sense that there could be a tactical opportunity. Back to the game summary: Nakamura overextended in the center, and this left a slew of weak light squares on the kingside. Carlsen took advantage and was soon winning everywhere, until he missed the opportunity mentioned above. Nakamura somehow scrambled back to equality, then got outplayed again, and yet had one last opportunity to save the game that also went by the wayside.

    Nakamura did have the pleasure of winning the last decisive game, however. In the day's seventh game, he went for broke, sacrificing a couple of pawns in the opening for attacking chances. It was unsound, but Carlsen's strange decision to play 10...Kc8, forsaking the right to castle, immediately justified Nakamura's concept. (Also on castling: Nakamura castled kingside on move 20, but here the expression that's synonymous in normal chess - "castling short" - was wildly inapplicable, as his king went from b1 to g1! Another funny Chess960 castling moment came in game 3, the marathon draw mentioned above. The kings were on the f-file and the king's rooks were on the g-file, and the game began 1.0-0 0-0.) There were some further ups and downs over the next several moves, but soon it was clear that Nakamura had a serious attack and no risk, and that at a minimum he would recoup his sacrificed material. Nakamura obtained a completely winning position, but Carlsen being Carlsen, he managed to fight his way all the way back to a drawn rook ending. But not an easily drawn ending, even with time to think. (And had both players had more time, Nakamura almost certainly wouldn't have let his advantage slip.) Anyway, Nakamura dominated most of the game, so the result was fitting rather than accidental.

    Finally, the last game was well played by both sides on the way to the draw, but there was a brief moment where Carlsen may have been winning. Nakamura should have taken on c4 when Carlsen played 39.c4. After 39...Kc7 40.cxd5 cxd5 White could have won a pawn, and apparently the game, by setting up a nice zugzwang: 41.b4!, and now as an example let's say 41...a5 42.b5 Kd6 43.Bh7 Ke7 44.Bg8 Kd6 45.a4, and if the king retreats White wins the d-pawn and brings his king to e4, while if the knight moves then 46.Kf3 will quickly win the f-pawn. Carlsen missed this subtle idea (it's a 10'+5" game, after all, and the 16th game over a five-day period) and the game quickly worked out to a draw. (To replay the games, scroll down from the home page of the official site.)

    Magnus Carlsen is thus the unofficial king of Chess960/Fischerrandom as well as the official world champion at blitz and classical chess, and if this helps boost the variant's popularity it's possible that he'll have the chance to become the official Fischerrandom world champion someday.

    Tuesday
    Feb132018

    Carlsen-Nakamura Fischerrandom Match: Carlsen Leads 9-7 After the "Slow Rapid" Games

    Add "slow rapid" to the list of putative oxymorons that includes "jumbo shrimp", "act naturally", and "living dead". It's a funny phrase, but as the paradigmatic rapid time control is 25'+10", the 45-minute games Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura have contested the past four days count as slow rapids.

    Whatever you want to call it, the score in this Fischerrandom (aka Chess960) match is in Carlsen's favor, 9-7, though it would have been 10-6 had he not lost his marbles in the final game. First, a quick summary of the rules and scoring, and then a recap of the scoring on a day-by-day basis. Each day they play a pair of games with each color from the same starting position, chosen at random 15 minutes before the start of play. On days 1 and 3 Carlsen had white in the first game, and on days 2 and 4 it went the other way around. The slow rapid games are scored on a 2-1-0 basis, as opposed to the eight quick rapid games (10'+5") they'll play tomorrow (Tuesday). Those will be scored on the traditional 1-.5-0 system.

    On day 1, both games were drawn. Game 1 was very clean and roughly equal throughout, but in game 2 first Nakamura and then Carlsen enjoyed a serious (but not winning) advantage before peace was declared.

    On day 2, the first game was drawn. It was a bit like game 2: Nakamura had White in both games, and in both cases first Nakamura and then Carlsen had the advantage. In game 3, however, Nakamura's advantage wasn't so big, while Carlsen's was enough to win. Nevertheless, it too finished in a draw - the last one of all the slow rapid games! Carlsen won game 4 with white - the last white win of the slow rapid games. He was pressing throughout, but after 50.Qb6? Nakamura should have escaped with a draw. It wasn't automatic though, and 67...Kg6?? lost the game straightaway. After 68.Qg8+ Black cannot avoid getting mated (68...Kh6 69.g5#) or losing the queen (68...Kf6 69.Qh8+), so that was that. Carlsen thus led 5-3.

    On day 3 the parade of black wins began. Nakamura won in good style in game 5 to equalize the scores, but overextended with white in game 6. His pawn sac with 13.d5 followed by 14.d4 was too optimistic; Carlsen grabbed White's h-pawn and wound up with both the material and the attack. Had Nakamura played 13.dxc4 Nxc4 14.f5 instead, he'd have had a pleasant edge, and then who knows how the match would have continued. Carlsen led 7-5.

    On day 4 Carlsen won once again with the black pieces, this time without any trouble after Nakamura's laggardly development allowed Carlsen to take over the center. He now led 9-5 and it seemed that the rout would be on, especially when he obtained a huge opening advantage in game 8. His decision to liquidate everything to win the b7-pawn was questionable, but it was still a two-result position: either Carlsen would win or Nakamura would eke out a draw. With gritty defense Nakamura managed to reach an ending with rook vs. rook and bishop. This is a theoretical draw, as most of you know, but it's also possible to lose it - again, as most of you know. Of course, when we say that, we mean that the side facing the rook and bishop can lose it. We don't mean that about the player with the extra piece! But here's the issue: Carlsen was down to 77 seconds left at the start of that ending, on move 69, and they were playing without an increment.

    But here's the thing: Carlsen had four opportunities to trade the rook immediately, and once to force the trade; in either case with an instant draw. Even more to the point, he could have claimed the draw at any moment. (I don't like that rule at all, but that's irrelevant; what counts is that it is the rule, and he could and should have taken advantage of it.) Ironically, Carlsen had still a third way to get the draw; namely, by claiming the 50-move rule at the last instant before his flag fell after Nakamura's 119th move.

    Instead, he kept on playing, and by the end he was willing to let Nakamura trade the rooks; Nakamura, absolutely rightly, refused all such offers. If Carlsen wants to play forever for a win, that's fine, but then when he's out of time there's absolutely no reason why Nakamura should give him amnesty. I've never been in that situation in a tournament game, but I find it hilarious in online blitz when someone tries to win a drawn - sometimes dead drawn - ending against me and then begs for a draw when his efforts have failed and he's about to lose on time. To be clear, Carlsen did not do that. He didn't ask for a draw, and he didn't protest or criticize anyone after the game. That's fair: he tried hard to win and overstepped; that happens to all of us. My only criticism of Carlsen is that he should have known, or realized, that he could have claimed the draw; he didn't have to hope he could somehow pull a rabbit out of his hat at the board. Rather, I'm defending Nakamura's choice to go for the win when Carlsen waited too long to call off the dogs.

    So kudos to Nakamura for his fine defense, which earned one point on the board and another point on the clock; his two-point deficit is much more manageable than the four-point hole he should have faced or the catastrophic six-point deficit that seemed very possible much of the way. Of course he'll be an underdog tomorrow, but who knows? Maybe the psychological impact of the last game will give Nakamura some extra wind in his sails. We'll see!

    I wanted to post the games, but apparently ChessBase's publication tool can't handle Chess960 games - or maybe I just don't know how to tweak it so it can. So here's the Live Games page on the tournament website; scroll down to access previous games.

    Wednesday
    Feb072018

    Carlsen-Nakamura Chess960 Match

    Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura will play a 16-game rapid and blitz match in Chess960 (or Fischerrandom, if you prefer) from the 9th (this Friday) through the 13th (next Tuesday), in Bearum, Norway. They'll play a pair of rapid games each of the first four days, and then eight blitz games the last day.

    Is this Nakamura's chance to break Carlsen's stranglehold over him, or will Sauron win again?

    Monday
    Jan292018

    Wijk aan Zee 2018, Final Round and Playoff: Carlsen Defeats Giri To Win the Tournament

    The exciting and closely contested 2018 edition of the Tata Steel Masters, held mostly in its traditional site in Wijk aan Zee, concluded in a two-game blitz playoff between Magnus Carlsen and Anish Giri. Both played very well in the tournament, and Giri probably played the better chess overall. (Certainly his level was more consistently excellent throughout the tournament, and he can also boast of having beaten the players who tied for third-fourth, half a point behind him and Carlsen.) He can take pride in that, but ultimately moral victories matter less than real ones. Carlsen won their first playoff game very smoothly, and while Giri had some chances in the second game Carlsen's defense was more than up to the task. As a result, Carlsen won his sixth Wijk aan Zee crown, and also, scarily, maintained an unbeaten streak in tiebreaks going back to 2007.

    For Carlsen, it was his first victory in a Classical round-robin event in quite some time, and for Giri it marked a clear return to the world's elite. He gained a whopping 25 rating points, and was very close to becoming the first Dutch player since Jan Timman back in 1985 to win the Wijk aan Zee supertournament.

    Let's go back to round 13. Carlsen had Black against Sergey Karjakin, and was apparently perfectly prepared for Karjakin's novelty in an anti-Marshall, drawing easily. Anish Giri also had Black, against Wei Yi, and he too drew in comfort.

    This gave Shakhriyar Mamedyarov the chance to catch them in a tie for first, if he could beat Viswanathan Anand. Unlike Carlsen and Giri, Mamedyarov had White, and he gave it a good try. Anand defended very well though, and his slight inaccuracy on move 35 wasn't enough to cost him the game. It was a great tournament for Mamedyarov, but not good enough to get him into a playoff.

    Joining Mamedyarov in a tie for third, half a point behind the leaders, was Vladimir Kramnik. He defeated Baskaran Adhiban with Black, though not smoothly. He was in serious trouble, but was bailed out and then some when Adhiban came up with the bad idea of sacrificing the exchange. Instead of a big advantage after 33.Nxb7, Adhiban was just about lost after 33.Rb1? Rc7 34.Rb5 b6 35.Rxa5? bxa5. Kramnik's result was good, he gained rating points (his new rating will be rounded up to 2800), and notched up more wins - 6 - than anyone else in the tournament. Overall though, his play was inconsistent and sometimes shaky, and it will have to be better if he hopes to win the Candidates in March.

    Another half a point back were Anand and Wesley So. So defeated Hou Yifan to finish a successful tournament, while for Hou she finished tied for the worst score in the history of 13-round Wijk aan Zee events. (Ironically, that too was a record of Jan Timman's.)

    The other games were drawn: Caruana-Svidler and Matlakov-Jones. All the games, including the tiebreaks, are here, with my comments to all but Matlakov-Jones.

    Final Standings:

    • 1. Carlsen 9 (and 1.5-.5 in the playoff vs. Giri)
    • 2. Giri 9
    • 3-4. Kramnik, Mamedyarov 8.5
    • 5-6. Anand, So 8
    • 7. Karjakin 7.5
    • 8. Svidler 6
    • 9. Wei Yi 5.5
    • 10-12. Jones, Caruana, Matlakov 5
    • 13. Adhiban 3.5
    • 14. Hou Yifan 2.5

    Sunday
    Jan282018

    Wijk aan Zee 2018, Round 12: Carlsen and Giri Lead Entering the Last Round

    The penultimate round of this year's Tata Steel Masters event was a fighting one...mostly. The game between Gawain Jones and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov was a bit of a shocker, though. Not from Jones's side of the board: as the underdog in every game, and having lost three of his last four games, it's not surprising that he'd be happy to get a quick draw, even with White. But for Mamedyarov it's really odd. He was a significant favorite by rating and in good form, yet he played the Petroff and stumbled into a draw by repetition after just 12 moves. Maybe he assumed that Jones would play more ambitiously with White? Whatever the story, it was a terrible result for Mamedyarov, as both his main rivals won.

    The first of the two to win was Anish Giri, who dispatched Baskaran Adhiban with relative ease. After 17...Qb6(?) 18.Be3 Giri had a nice edge - maybe Adhiban missed that after 18...Ng4 19.Qe4! Black couldn't take on e3 as the bind following 20.Qe8+ Bf8 21.fxe3 would be fatal. So he had to give up a pawn several moves later, and Giri managed to convert his advantage. Amusingly, the secret was to return the pawn some moves later to establish a new bind, and this one wound up costing Adhiban a piece and the game.

    For Magnus Carlsen, the win took a lot longer, and was yet another demonstration of his unmatched endgame prowess. The game went straight from the opening to the ending, and after 23 moves the players were down to a rook apiece and opposite-colored bishops, with three pawns apiece on the kingside and Carlsen enjoying an extra pawn on the queenside. The pawn looked worthless though: he had an a-pawn and doubled c-pawns against Black's a- and b-pawns. A draw, surely? For most of us, yet; in fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see even some titled players call it a day at that point. Carlsen's 24.Rd1 did keep a slight edge though, and while Matlakov's response was understandable it may not have been the best idea, as it gave Carlsen additional targets. Still, a draw was much likelier than a win for White, but the game went on and on, and Carlsen is Carlsen.

    Thus Giri and Carlsen lead Mamedyarov by half a point entering the final round. If Viswanathan Anand had won against Wesley So, he would have caught up with Mamedyarov. To his misfortune, he had nothing special prepared for So's Open Ruy Lopez. In a very well-known line they followed an Adams-Giri game from last March for 27 moves. In that game, Adams played 28.Ra8 and a draw was agreed after White's 31st move. In this game, Anand played 28.Rd1, and a draw was agreed after Black's 32nd move.

    Anand is therefore in fourth place, where he was caught by Vladimir Kramnik. Kramnik bounced back from his loss to Sergey Karjakin in the previous round by defeating Fabiano Caruana - an impressive comeback. Kramnik could have won the queen ending sooner than he did, but despite an excess of caution he never let the win slip.

    The other games were drawn: Peter Svidler split the point with Karjakin in 32 moves, while Hou Yifan-Wei Yi drew in 45.

    The games (unannotated today, sorry) are here, and these are the pairings for the last round:

    • So (7) - Hou Yifan (2.5)
    • Mamedyarov (8) - Anand (7.5)
    • Matlakov (4.5) - Jones (4.5)
    • Karjakin (7) - Carlsen (8.5)
    • Caruana (4.5) - Svidler (5.5)
    • Adhiban (3.5) - Kramnik (7.5)
    • Wei Yi (5.5) - Giri (8.5)

    No fewer than five players still have a shot at first, but on paper Giri probably has the best chances to win the event. In case of a tie, there will be a two-game playoff - a pair of 5'+3" games - followed by an Armageddon game, if necessary. (I'm not sure what happens in case of a three-way [or even four-way] tie. Maybe the top two by tiebreak play the two-game match, and the third place finisher is out?)

    Finally, a quick check-in on the Challengers group. Vidit Gujrathi and Anton Korobov had been tied for a while, but in round 12 Vidit won and Korobov drew, so the former leads by a half point entering the last round. (Recall that the winner is promoted to next year's Masters tournament.) The players have approximately equally strong opponents in the last round - Vidit faces Jorden Van Foreest, while Korobov gets Dmitry Gordievsky. (Both JVF and DG are 2620-something.) But Vidit has White and Korobov Black, so it looks good for Vidit to join the top players next year.

    Wednesday
    Jan242018

    Wijk aan Zee 2018, Round 10: Dog Bites Man (Giri Draws, Everyone Else Wins)

    That's not strictly true; rather, it's that all the players in contention won (except for Wesley So, who was playing another contender).

    Anish Giri entered the round half a point ahead of Magnus Carlsen and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, a point ahead of Vladimir Kramnik, and a point and a half ahead of So and Viswanathan Anand. Giri had the white pieces, but was unable to achieve anything against Sergey Karjakin, and the game finished in a speedy draw. Everyone else (except for So) took advantage.

    Let's start with the big dog: Carlsen, against So. Despite playing with White he got nothing out of the opening and was maybe a little worse. But So, one of his regular patrons, played too submissively (18...Nd4 was a move repeatedly noted by Carlsen as an example of this unfortunate tendency), and Carlsen escaped to a better ending a pawn up with rooks and opposite-colored bishops. That should have been a draw, but So didn't play it as well as he could have. Still, Carlsen decided to transform it into another ending - which again should have been drawn with best play, but where best play wasn't at all easy to achieve. Carlsen gave up his bishop for a couple more pawns, and So was unable to solve the problems of that new ending. It wasn't a masterpiece by Carlsen, but it was a great illustration of why he's the #1 player: his mental strength and his ability to keep posing new problems, hour after hour, and to take advantage when even the strongest opponents slip, far exceed his competitors' abilities in those respects.

    Case in point: Kramnik vs. Maxim Matlakov. Kramnik won and posed lots of interesting problems for Matlakov, but time after time Kramnik would meet his opponent's error with one of his own. Kramnik is an all-time great, and he's not doing badly here, either, but his current form isn't going to win the Candidates, never mind a world championship match against Carlsen. For his sake, hopefully it's just a matter of rust, and he'll be fully ready in March.

    Kramnik is half a point behind the leading triumvirate, so let's return to the leading triumvirate. We haven't mentioned Mamedyarov's game yet, a 21-move bludgeoning of Peter Svidler. Svidler had White and played the unusual 6.Bf4 in the Ragozin. That wasn't a problem by itself; in fact, Svidler defeated Giri with it in 2015. But after 6...Ne4 his 7th move was a strange novelty that probably wasn't prepared beforehand. (What he meant to do, or what he was getting mixed up, isn't clear.) After this Black had the initiative, but it wasn't out of control until 11.Bg2(?). After this Black was better, and after 15.Qb3? (I suspect Svidler would add the second question mark) 15...Na5 followed by ...Nc4 the game was just over. Mamedyarov played well, but Svidler was unrecognizable.

    Finally, Gawain Jones's tournament is starting to crumble a bit. After losing a won position against Carlsen in round 8 and failing to convert a won position against Hou Yifan in round 9 (though he was also lost at one point against her as well), he ran into some excellent preparation against Anand in this round, round 10. I'm not sure if Jones really was prepared for Anand's idea, but if he was he mixed something up and was lost almost right away. Anand won convincingly with the black pieces, and although he's a point behind the leaders he's playing well and will have two white games of the remaining three.

    Tomorrow (Thursday) is the second and last rest day of the event (they played in Groningen today; it's back to Wijk for the remaining games). Today's games, with my notes to all the aforementioned games but the very long adventure story that was Carlsen-So, are here. (The other two games were Wei Yi-Caruana, which was a short draw; and Hou Yifan-Adhiban, which was a very long draw.) And here are the pairings for round 11, on Friday, featuring above all a clash between two of the leaders, Mamedyarov vs. Carlsen:

    • Anand (6) - Hou Yifan (2)
    • So (5.5) - Jones (4)
    • Mamedyarov (7) - Carlsen (7)
    • Matlakov (4) - Svidler (4.5)
    • Karjakin (5.5) - Kramnik (6.5)
    • Caruana (4) - Giri (7)
    • Adhiban (3) - Wei Yi (4)

    Sunday
    Jan212018

    Wijk aan Zee 2018, Round 8: Giri Beats Mamedyarov, Carlsen Blunders a Piece and Wins Anyway; All Three Lead

    Did we jinx Shakhriyar Mamedyarov? Did he, like Icarus, fly too close to the sun? If it was too soon yesterday to crown him the heir apparent, it's likewise too soon today to say that he's getting dragged back to the chase pack behind Magnus Carlsen. What we can say is that his one point lead over the rest of the field at Wijk aan Zee is gone after a terrible game against Anish Giri. Giri started off 2-0, and after a series of mostly very short draws, apparently thought it might be fun to try to win again once again - and he succeeded. He's now tied for first with Mamedyarov, and...

    Magnus Carlsen. Just about everything about his win over Gawain Jones was absurd. First, he said he was surprised by Jones's Dragon. That would make sense if one changed one word in the last sentence: Jones (or rather, Jones's). Jones wrote two major books on the Dragon a couple of years ago, and has played more than 100 games with it that have reached the databases. It's not that Jones can't play any other opening - he does - but for the Dragon to come as a surprise to any of his opponents is crazy. Even crazier is that Carlsen just blundered a piece, full stop, on move 17. It wasn't some sort of Alpha Zero-deep idea; it was what an old friend of mine would call a stick-an-ice cream cone-on-your-forehead moment. But the biggest absurdity of them all is it hardly mattered. Jones was winning, but six moves later the position was unclear, and another six moves later Carlsen was completely winning. Jones may be the lowest-rated player in the field, but he's still a great chess player in the mid-2600s. He had an even score in the tournament coming into this game, but no matter: Carlsen can blunder a piece against a 2640-50 player in good form and still win going away. (It's reminiscent of the New England Patriots in the NFL, whose combination of excellent play and seeming deal-with-the-devil quality and quantity of good luck over the past 17 years or so is mind-boggling.)

    In other games, featuring (comparatively) normal human beings, most of the other games were drawn, and most of them were quick draws. Only one other game had a winner, and that was Fabiano Caruana coming back from a lost position against Hou Yifan to gain the full point. Caruana has had a horrible tournament, which included the first part of his game in this round, but fortunately for him Hou is having an even worse tournament. She still has just one point, and lost 19 rating points in the tournament so far.

    Here are the games, and here are the pairings for round 9, on Tuesday: 

    • Jones (3.5) - Hou Yifan (1)
    • Anand (4.5) - Carlsen (5.5)
    • So (5) - Svidler (4)
    • Mamedyarov (5.5) - Kramnik (5)
    • Matlakov (4) - Giri (5.5)
    • Karjakin (4.5) - Wei Yi (3)
    • Caruana (3) - Adhiban (2) 

    Some comments on the round 9 games, going from top to bottom.

    Jones-Hou Yifan: It's a nice opportunity for Jones to get back on track against a player who is really suffering. If he can get back to 50% it would be a terrific achievement.

    Anand-Carlsen: Anand has done pretty well against Carlsen lately, so this could well add some intrigue to the tournament.

    So-Svidler: So has been lurking close to the leaders. Svidler is not an easy pairing for anyone, but if he can win it could put him into a tie for first.

    Mamedyarov-Kramnik: Or not: Mamedyarov has a very good score against Kramnik - the ex-champ is pretty close to becoming an official "customer". As long as he's able to play his normal chess without being too discouraged from the Giri loss, he'll have excellent chances to gain a full point. (How good is his score? From 2013, including all time controls, Mamedyarov's score is +8-1=6, and four of those draws were in 2013. And just counting classical games, Mamedyarov has scored 3.5 points in the last four games.)

    Matlakov-Giri: Giri hasn't shown any ambition with Black in this tournament, so unless Matlakov self-destructs quickly a draw can be expected.

    Karjakin-Wei Yi: If Karjakin hopes to compete for first he has to start winning, and Wei Yi hasn't played particularly well so far. We'll see if Karjakin has any ambition left for the tournament, or if he's already looking ahead to the Candidates.

    Caruana-Adhiban: I'm sure Caruana will play for the full point, to boost his confidence and his rating going into the Candidates. The first half of the tournament (after his round 1 draw with Carlsen) was awful, but if he can salvage it with a strong finish he can feel good about his chess heading into the second biggest event of the year.

    A note about the Challengers' tournament. Anton Korobov had been a convincing leader, with his only real rival Vidit Gujrathi a full point behind. No longer: Korobov lost with White (from a winning position) against Bassem Amin, and now he and Vidit share first with 6/8. The winner gets promoted to the Masters' tournament next year, so there's a lot at stake for them in the last five rounds.

    Friday
    Jan192018

    Wijk aan Zee 2018, Round 6: Mamedyarov the Sole Leader

    It was a strange round as White managed to parlay three winning positions into a glorious total of half a point. Two of the leaders, Anish Giri and Viswanathan Anand, faced off briefly before calling it a day, giving Shakhriyar Mamedyarov to take the lead by himself with a win over Baskaran Adhiban.

    It seemed instead that Mamedyarov was headed for the third place tie. Adhiban got to the time control with an edge, and after Mamedyarov's 41st move Adhiban's advantage was enough to win. But there's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip, and Adhiban first lost the win, then the advantage, then equality, and finally his last chance to fight for survival. When it rains, it pours, and now Mamedyarov is in clear first with +3 while Adhiban is tied for last at -4.

    The day's other winner was Wesley So, and he too was losing with Black. Wei Yi's enterprising chess had him in great shape for a win and a +1 score overall, but he fell to pieces in time trouble. So is now tied for second place with Giri and Anand.

    Vladimir Kramnik could have been a part of that tie as well, but he gave away a big advantage (like Adhiban and Wei Yi, he too had White) and Gawain Jones slipped away. Kramnik remains at +1, while Jones is playing over his head and retains an equal score.

    The most exciting draw of the round, and probably the most exciting game, period, was Peter Svidler's game with Magnus Carlsen. There were plenty of tactics, sacrifices, and material imbalances, and both sides were simultaneously attacking each other's king. Better yet, their personal post-mortem was caught on video - see below. (I've done my best to include their analysis in the game file, too.)

    The other two games (Fabiano Caruana vs. Maxim Matlakov and Hou Yifan vs. Sergey Karjakin) were "clean" draws, i.e. there were no big errors or missed chances.

    The games, with my analyses of four of the games, are here. The video follows the round 7 pairings, which are: 

    • Carlsen (3.5) - Hou Yifan (1)
    • Jones (3) - Svidler (3)
    • Anand (4) - Kramnik (3.5)
    • So (4) - Giri (4)
    • Mamedyarov (4.5) - Wei Yi (2.5)
    • Matlakov (3) - Adhiban (1)
    • Karjakin (3) - Caruana (2) 

    Thursday
    Jan182018

    Carlsen's Pro League Chess Games

    As mentioned earlier today, the 2018 season of the PRO Chess League is underway today - and still going (Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is the strongest player in action at the moment) - and among those players in action there's the world champion. Magnus Carlsen decided that the value of his rest day at Wijk aan Zee was in part that it allowed him to play for his team. It paid off: his team won the match, and Carlsen himself went 4-0. His games, with brief notes to his third game, are here.

    Wednesday
    Jan172018

    Wijk aan Zee 2018, Round 2

    I won't offer a full summary of the round 2 action, but here are the games, some of which have been annotated for your entertainment and instruction. Rounds 3 and 4 will gradually make their appearances as well.

    If you can remember all the way back to round 1, there were three winners: Giri, Kramnik, and Anand. The first two faced off, and while Giri has generally been one of Kramnik's customers, in this round the roles were reversed. Giri had all the fun, and Kramnik collapsed badly before the end of the time control. The world champion notched his first (and through round five, only) victory of the event against Adhiban. Adhiban plays lively chess, but perhaps hoping for a solid draw against the world champion played the Scotch Four Knights with White. Carlsen equalized without any problem, and when Adhiban failed to play 25.c3 his position fell to pieces. The third winner on the day was Mamedyarov (at the moment the world's #2 player); he defeated Hou Yifan (who is having a terrible tournament with just half a point out of five). I didn't analyze this last game, but did offer some comments on the marathon battle between Wei Yi and Svidler. Wei Yi was on the verge of winning, but a moment of carelessness allowed the 45-time Russian champion to eke out a draw. (Yes, I'm exaggerating; he has "only" won eight Russian titles.)