In my most recent World Chess column, I take a look at the recently completed Corsica Masters, a rapid event won by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. MVL defeated Viswanathan Anand in the final knockout match, and I present several of their games from that event.
Entries in Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (25)
No spoilers here for those of you who missed yesterday's action, fear not. You can watch the semi-final match between Magnus Carlsen and Alexander Grischuk here (the report is here, for those who don't care about spoilers); while the second semi-final in Chess.com's Grandmaster Blitz Battle Championship, between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Hikaru Nakamura, will start at 1 p.m. ET. (Viewing instructions here.)
I'd already mentioned Maxime Vachier-Lagrave's dominance over Peter Svidler in their classical and rapid match in Biel, but it turned out that there was a larger blitz event that followed their match. As it turned out, ironically, MVL and Svidler tied for first and then played a 2-game match to decide the winner. Naturally, Vachier-Lagrave won this one too, 2-0.
A better reason to harken back to Biel is that Vachier-Lagrave gave a "Master Class" on a free day, which you can watch below.
More recently, Michael Adams won the British Championship in style, scoring an undefeated 10/11 to finish a point and a half ahead of his closest challenger. Along the way he defeated the next two seeds, David Howell (recently a 2700) and Gawain Jones, so it was in every sense a dominant performance by the strongest chess player in British history. Congratulations to GM Adams, who was at least once upon a time a reader of this blog, and someone whose success I appreciate as a player of my generation (more or less).
As already reported, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave had already clinched match victory over Peter Svidler with one classical game yet to play; that game has been played and was drawn.
Meanwhile, the British Championship is underway. Nigel Short and Luke McShane aren't playing, but Michael Adams, David Howell, and Gawain Jones are and make for a strong set of headliners. Round 6 of 11 is underway, and entering the round Howell led with 4.5 points. Six players, including Adams and Jones - who has White against Howell - are half a point behind.
The Karpov Poikovsky tournament is even stronger, a 10-player round robin whose field includes three players rated over 2700 and most of the rest (maybe even all of the rest) have been over 2700 as well. Round 7 (of 9) is almost finished, and Anton Korobov leads with 4.5 points. Dmitry Andreikin, Maxim Matlakov, and Dmitry Jakovenko have 4 points apiece, while Radoslaw Wojtaszek has 3.5 points but is still playing. He has been pressing against Igor Kovalenko, but the game looks overwhelmingly likely to finish in a draw.
There's still a round to go, but Maxime Vachier-Lagrave has clinched match victory against Peter Svidler. He won the rapid portion 2.5-1.5, and with a game to go leads the classical stage 2.5-.5. The classical games count double, but of course it wouldn't matter at this point if they counted 100 times more than the rapid games.
There's a nice report on the match here, and it also notes that MVL's rating is (rounded up) 2820! The '90s generation has taken over, led by those actually born in the year 1990.
And not only that, but he has moved into #2 in the world on the live rating list. This is mainly due to his fine play in Dortmund, but he has received a sort of assist from Vladimir Kramnik, who has drawn all his games so far. Kramnik had very good winning chances against Fabiano Caruana in today's round - round 5 - while in round 3 Kramnik failed to convert a significant but not decisive advantage in what would have been a brilliant win over Rainer Buhmann. Even if he had won both games he'd still be half a point behind MVL, but he would have maintained his lead in the ratings.
Vachier-Lagrave has 4/5; most closely pursued by Leinier Dominguez and Ruslan Ponomariov, both of whom have 3 points. As they are his opponents in the last two rounds, first place is still very much up for grabs.
Meanwhile, let's have a look at that remarkable Kramnik-Buhmann game.
UPDATE: It shouldn't have gone without saying that Buhmann's play in that game, while not quite perfect, was still extraordinarily good. Both he and Kramnik deserve major kudos for their play, and while Kramnik's play was flashier he at least had a headstart from his home prep. Buhmann had to try to work everything out at the board, and then to play more than a dozen moves at the end of the first time control with only a minute or two left on the clock.
In round 1 of Dortmund Maxime Vachier-Lagrave got off to a great start by defeating one of his main rivals, Fabiano Caruana, and did it with the black pieces. There was a period 2-3 years ago when Caruana lost practically every game with white against the Najdorf Sicilian, but while his score against this variation isn't very good today's loss can't be attributed to the opening. His position entering the middlegame was fine, and when he went wrong it wasn't due to any typical Najdorf motifs. If anything, his position was rather pleasant, and it's possible that he overestimated his chances. It appears that Caruana missed 39...Rxg5, but even with a different 39th move he would still have been in trouble, while even if Vachier-Lagrave missed that little tactic he would still have had a much better position. Perhaps time trouble was to blame? At any rate, it was a painful and fundamentally unnecessary loss for Caruana, while for Vachier-Lagrave it was a great start and a welcome to the 2800 club (at least on the live list).
The other 2800 player (aside from MVL and Caruana) in the tournament, Vladimir Kramnik, drew comfortably with Black in a boring 5.Re1 Anti-Berlin (but I repeat myself) against Leinier Dominguez. Occasionally White finds a way to get a little nibble in that variation, and Kramnik has lost to it at least twice. Not today; if anything, it was Kramnik who was playing with house money for most of the game as he tried to squeeze blood from a stone for teh last 30 moves of the game.
The draw between Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu and Ruslan Ponomariov had much more life to it. White did most of the running, but despite that there was a period where the engine at least thinks that Black was better, believing more in his extra pawn than in White's better development, space advantage and attacking chances. Once the queens came off Ponomariov's winning chances looked more realistic, but 34...b5 (rather than te patient if somewhat passive 34...b6 35.Bf1 Ra8) allowed White to liquidate the queenside and escape with a draw.
Finally, in the game between the tournament's biggest underdogs, Evgeniy Najer and Rainer Buhmann, a very interesting and mostly level battle was spoiled when Buhmann missed a simple tactic (time trouble?). 26...b6?? missed the point of White's previous move, and after 27.Nxe6 Black was completely lost and resigned a few moves later. In fact Black's 25th move could also have been a decisive error, but its refutation was more subtle. Instead of 26.Rh2 Najer had 26.Kd1!, forcing Black to either allow White's rook to use the c-file (winning), or if Black retreats his attacked rook on the c-file White plays 27.Kd2 and then Rah1. This forces a quick mate; the mechanism is this: Rh8+, R1h7+, Rh6+, R8h7+, and then either Rg6+ followed by Rf7+ or the reverse, depending on which way Black's king goes. Either way, White will give mate next move.
Here's what round 2 looks like:
- Vachier-Lagrave (1) - Kramnik (.5)
- Buhmann (0) - Dominguez (.5)
- Ponomariov (.5) - Najer (1)
- Caruana (0) - Nisipeanu (.5)
If Vachier-Lagrave wins this next game too it's an exaggeration to say he's clinched first place, but not much of an exaggeration to say he'll be the prohibitive favorite to take the title. There's also a pretty good chance he'll spring to #2 on the live rating list, though Caruana might retain a tiny lead if he beats Nisipeanu.
The semi-final matches Magnus Carlsen vs. Alexander Grischuk and Hikaru Nakamura vs. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave have been set; they will take place on August 18 and August 24, respectively.
There's a report on it here, while if you, like me, haven't seen it yet and would rather watch it "live" without knowing the result, you can watch the on-demand video here. Somehow I managed to dig up those links without seeing the result of the match, which took place on Tuesday, so I'll let you find out for yourself.
This is part of an eight-player knockout event on Chess.com, and I reported last month on another of the quarterfinal matches, Alexander Grischuk's win over Levon Aronian. Somehow I missed last week's match between Hikaru Nakamura and Pentala Harikrishna, so I'll have to dig that one up as well. (Don't tell me what happened, even if it's extremely likely that Nakamura was the victor!) The last of the quarterfinal matches will see Magnus Carlsen take on the winner of a qualifying tournament, making this probably the strongest blitz tournament (by average rating) in chess history.
UPDATE: It would be hard for the commentators of the match between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Fabiano Caruana not to say what happened in the Nakamura-Harikrishna match, so I decided to find (and hopefully watch) that one first. If you also don't want to spoil the drama, you can watch that one here.
My fantasy of a 13-way tie for first in Gibraltar didn't come to pass, as Hikaru Nakamura and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave won their games against David Anton and Sebastien Maze, respectively, to finish tied for first with 8/10. The result was a playoff, and after four consecutive draws (of which Nakamura had winning positions in two of them, albeit very briefly in the second) it came down to an Armageddon game. Nakamura won the coin toss and took black, and when he neutralized Vachier-Lagrave's pressure (that was convincingly achieved with 35...Kg7) the latter was forced into some serious risks. Nakamura was up to the challenge, and soon he was up the exchange while MVL was forced to trade queens or lose a knight. He chose a third option - resigning - and Nakamura won the event for the second straight year and the third time overall. (He first won in 2008.)
Tied for third through eighth places with 7.5 points were, in tiebreak order, Etienne Bacrot, S. P. Sethuraman, Pentala Harikrishna, Gawain Jones, Li Chao, and Emil Sutovsky. The women's prize went to Anna Muzychuk with 7 points, which was a fine score for just about anyone. (By comparison, Viswanathan Anand and Nigel Short wound up with 6.5 points, and Anand had to win his last two games to achieve that. Admittedly, his tournament was a disaster, but there were 2700+ players who, like Muzychuk, scored 7/10 and had perfectly respectable performances.)
Congratulations to the winners and condolences to the losers. I was going to engage in some speculation about what Anand's performance here might mean for the Candidates' tournament next month (the short answer: I'm inclined to think it doesn't mean much), but since he'll be in action about a week from now in Zurich we should look towards that event, which will feature three other candidates as well - Hikaru Nakamura, Levon Aronian, and Anish Giri. They will be joined by Vladimir Kramnik and Alexei Shirov in a "slow rapid" (G/40' + 10") and blitz competition from February 13-15.
The Zurich organizer, Oleg Skortsov, is hoping that this time control (or something close to it) will become the new classical time control. Speaking for myself, I would like to see more tournaments with rapid time limits, but I don't want to see slower time controls go extinct, either. It isn't a pleasure playing back-to-back six hours games in Swiss system events, but the value of depth shouldn't be scorned. It too has a place in our chess world. But what say you? Please answer both as a chess fan (what do you like watching when you're watching top grandmasters in action?) and as a chess player.