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    Entries in Norway Chess 2013 (8)

    Saturday
    May182013

    Norway Chess Finale: Karjakin Wins; Carlsen and Nakamura Tie for Second

    There was some drama in the last round of the Norway Chess supertournament, but it was a little surprising that it mostly came from the victor, Sergey Karjakin, rather than his main rivals. Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand were half a point behind, and with Karjakin having the white pieces against Veselin Topalov it seemed they needed to win to have a chance.

    Carlsen had Black against Levon Aronian, and never came close to getting anything. He equalized with no problem in a Queen's Gambit Declined, but the opening is so solid that even once Carlsen obtained a token edge Aronian didn't have much difficulty steering the ship to the drawing harbor after trading almost all the pieces.

    Anand, by contrast, not only didn't come close to winning; he even lost against the resurgent Wang Hao. Like Carlsen, Anand came out of the opening (an unusual Symmetrical English) in fine shape with the black pieces. That was the good news, but from 17 on it was all bad news. If Anand had traded queens he would have kept equality; instead, 14...Bxa2? 15.Qa4! got him in trouble, and then 16...Rfd8 sealed his fate. Perhaps Anand missed Wang Hao's 16th and 17th moves, or maybe the oversight had to do with something that happened later in the sharp tactical sequence that followed. Whatever the case, Wang Hao finished with a material advantage, and in the end Black had no hopes of a fortress against White's powerful queen.

    Radjabov-Svidler was a short draw, preventing Svidler from catching up to Carlsen, but Hikaru Nakamura did catch Carlsen by defeating Jon Ludwig Hammer. Hammer has gone after his opponents in this tournament, not just trying to draw or even win but to win by landing haymakers - knockout shots. So it was here too, as Hammer went all-out on the white side of a Noteboom, shoving pawns in the center and going for a kingside attack as his queenside collapsed. It looked a little scary and made for a great show for the spectators, but Nakamura had everything well-calculated. Had Hammer not resigned when he did, on move 34, he would soon have found himself down a queen and a rook and getting mated. Sometimes when you go for broke, you wind up broke!

    That left Karjakin-Topalov. Karjakin was surprised not by the Najdorf, but by Topalov's choosing 7...Qc7 (after 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4) for the first time in his career. He handled things a bit unsurely, and after 16.Nd5 (16.Na5 was better) Black enjoyed an edge. There were no big swings through the time control, with neither player being more than slightly better, and the position was so difficult to play that inaccuracies were easy to make. I don't know if Karjakin was playing for a win or just to hang on, but it's clear that Topalov was pushing, whether or not he was objectively better. Topalov's 45...Rbb5? changed that, however, as 46.Qc2 left White clearly better. (Topalov may have missed that on 46...Rb3 47.Nd2 Rcxc3 White has 48.Rc4+, winning. Even if he throws in 47...Bxd2 48.Rxd2 and only then plays 48...Rcxc3, 49.Rc4+ is very strong here as well.) In the end Karjakin repeated moves from a position of strength, preferring guaranteed tournament victory to the chance for a few more rating points. (It would have pushed him to #4 in the world, but he can pursue an additional 3.8 rating points another day.)

    Congratulations to the victor, Sergey Karjakin! I'm reminded that showcase events don't always turn out as the organizers planned. 100 years ago a double round-robin tournament was organized in Havana, Cuba, but hometown hero Jose Raul Capablanca finished second, half a point behind Frank Marshall - thanks in good part to losing a game to him in the second cycle. 50 years ago the First Piatigorsky Cup was organized in part for Bobby Fischer's benefit; he didn't show up. Three years later he did play in the Second Piatigorsky Cup, only to finish half a point behind Boris Spassky, who beat him in their game from the first cycle. And so it was here: Norway had their first super-tournament, and Magnus Carlsen finished half a point behind. (A consolation: his "great predecessors" went on to become world champions.) Here are the full standings:

    1. Karjakin 6 (out of 9)
    2-3. Carlsen, Nakamura 5.5
    4-6. Svidler, Aronian, Anand 5
    7. Wang Hao 4.5
    8. Topalov 4 (one loss and eight draws!)
    9. Radjabov 3 (losing 12 more rating points - he has dropped 60 points since the start of the Candidates!)
    10. Hammer 1.5

    Friday
    May172013

    Norway Chess, Round 8: Shades of London As Karjakin, Carlsen Both Lose

    What a strange and exciting round at the Norway Chess tournament! After four rounds Sergey Karjakin was very close to being the runaway winner, and by round 6 it seemed that the contest was between him and Magnus Carlsen, with the other eight players relegated to a secondary tournament of their own. Not any more! Coming into round 8, the penultimate round, Karjakin had 5.5 points, Carlsen 5 and no one else had more than 4. At that point it seemed almost impossible that someone else could win the tournament, but now it seems well within the realm of possibility.

    The first game to finish was the round's only draw. Topalov-Aronian was a Karpov Variation Nimzo-Indian that saw Topalov come up with a good new plan with 21.Be3 (rather than 21.Ba3, which had been played before) and then 23.a4 and 24.a5. This put a little pressure on Black, but Aronian's decision to sac a pawn for play enabled him to hold without undue difficulty.

    The shortest decisive game in terms of moves was Nakamura-Radjabov, which was won by the American; the logical result, given the trend through the middlegame up to around move 33, but then strange things happened. The game grew increasingly wild, with Nakamura trying to give mate while Radjabov sought to crash through the center. Whether due to the complicated nature of the position or from an attempt to play on Radjabov's severe time pressure (or some mixture of the two) Nakamura started to err (34.Nf5! would have kept a winning, or very nearly winning advantage), and had Radjabov played 36...Bxc4 he would have been on top. When he played 38...Bxc4 two moves later, however, it was the wrong time, and Nakamura was winning again - this time for good.

    Taking a few more moves but (I think) finishing slightly sooner than Nakamura-Radjabov was Anand-Hammer. The game was very messy early on, with even the world champion admitting that he was both at sea and missing various tactical possibilities. Nevertheless, he kept his head together, and while Hammer may have missed some small chances, Anand took advantage when a big one came his way. 20...Rd8 was a serious mistake, and 21.Nxf7! was a crusher. With the win, Anand got to 5 points, tying him with Carlsen's score before the round.

    As it turned out, that was also Carlsen's score after the round. He lost to Wang Hao in the same way that he usually beats people: he keeps on playing, and then an equal position gradually turns into a slightly better position, which turns into a pawn up, which turns into a win. Carlsen flirted with an edge with the white pieces, but after 23 moves the position was simply equal. Here Carlsen played the double-edged 24.Nd6. It's a good move, and an ambitious one too, but the danger is that the knight is too committed, and can't get out. That's what ended up happening. Carlsen played 29.c5 to cement it, and after an inevitable ...Bxd6 cxd6 the pawn would likely drop, as it finally did on move 34. Even after losing the pawn, Carlsen probably should have drawn the ensuing rook ending. Wang Hao suggested that 52.f4 would have drawn, and the engine "claims" that 56.h5 would draw and that 64.Kf2 was White's last chance to defend. After 64.Kg2? d3, it was definitely over, thanks to the nice tactical trick that finished the game. Carlsen had missed and Wang Hao had foreseen the cute 79...g3+!, which wins the queen: 80.Kxg3 Qg1+ followed by 81...Qh1+ and 82...Qxh8.

    This meant that Karjakin could have won the tournament with a win against Peter Svidler, or at least guaranteed himself a tie for first overall (with the guarantee of nothing worse than a blitz playoff in case someone caught him) with a draw. Svidler had prepared the line he chose with White for some time, but only spotted the idea with 9...d5 that morning. He was unhappy, as he felt that it killed the line, but as it hadn't been played he consoled himself that Karjakin wouldn't know it. Sure enough, Karjakin had found it too and played it, and had he followed up with 11...Nd6, Svidler felt he would have nothing, that Karjakin's approach would have killed the line for White.

    11...Nxd2 was no disaster though, but it allowed Svidler to sharpen the position and soon obtain a serious advantage. Both sides made errors (Svidler's 20.Qh5? instead of 20.Qg4; Karjakin's 30...Qb6? rather than 30...dxc4 [Svidler's explanation is that Karjakin intended 30...Qb6 31.cxd5 Bd2, only to realize a move too late that 32.Re7 (or even 32.Bxh7+ Nxh7 33.Re7) wins on the spot.]), but the general flow was in Svidler's favor. When the time control was made Svidler only had two bishops for a rook and two pawns, but what bishops! Practically speaking, Karjakin's situation was extremely difficult, and the bishops finally swallowed him alive. Objectively, he could have held with 47...Ra8 or the bolder 47...Rc2, and a move later he still might have been able to save the game with 48...d3. (48...d3 49.Qg6 a3 50.Bxh6 Qe7 51.Bd2 Qxe6! 52.Bxc3 d2 53.Bxd2 a2 54.Bc3 a1Q 55.Bxa1 [what a rapacious bishop!] 55...Qe1+ 56.Kg2 Qxa1, with a likely draw.) It's one thing to work things out moving pieces or (especially) with an engine, but at the board Black's plight is nearly hopeless, and the decisive error was 48...a3. Svidler finished in style, the key move being 53.Kh3! (Without that, it may still be drawn.)

    There's one round left, and for those of you want to see it live, be forewarned that it starts three hours earlier than usual. Here are the last round pairings (scores are in parentheses):

    • Aronian (4.5) - Carlsen (5)
    • Wang Hao (3.5) - Anand (5)
    • Hammer (1.5) - Nakamura (4.5)
    • Radjabov (2.5) - Svidler (4.5)
    • Karjakin (5.5) - Topalov (3.5)

    Just think: if Aronian draws or wins, Anand draws, Nakamura and Svidler win and Karjakin loses we can have a five-man blitz playoff! Half the field is still in the running for first place, with three players having an especially good shot at it. Still, Karjakin has the best chances, both because he leads and because he has White. Will he do it? We'll see starting in five hours.

    Thursday
    May162013

    Karjakin Leads Norway Chess With Two Rounds Left; Carlsen Half a Point Behind

    I've been letting the Norway Chess reports slide, as I've been trying to catch up on work while also moving along in the back-and-leg saga. About the latter: I had a second cortisone shot on Monday and started physical therapy today. Fun! The pain is more or less gone, but some numbness remains in my foot (and could last another six months to a year) and my body still has a lot of self-repair to do. Of course, it's also very important that I not just get through the current episode, but go on to do what I can to avoid suffering this same fate (or worse) next year, or the year after that, etc.

    Back to chess. Between the last rest day, after round 3, and this one, four rounds have gone by. Sergey Karjakin was 3-0 while Magnus Carlsen was 3-for-3 as well - but three draws rather than three wins. Karjakin started the next block by defeating Levon Aronian - impressively, and with the black pieces to boot! - while Carlsen drew again. In round 5 they met, and with Karjakin having White and an eight-game winning streak (counting the blitz, and including a win there over Carlsen) it looked like a fantastic opportunity for him to practically put the tournament on ice.

    Things started terrifically for Karjakin, and he obtained a significant edge against Carlsen's Breyer, winding up with an extra pawn. Around move 29 though, it started to fall apart. If Karjakin had played 29.Bb5, looking to round up the c-pawn, Carlsen would have been in trouble. Instead, 29.Bc2 looked to consolidate behind the e-pawn, but the main result was to give Black a free hand to develop his counterplay. After 36 moves Carlsen had regained his pawn and enjoyed some initiative, but the game was still up in the air. Unfortunately for Karjakin, he erred on moves 37 and 39 (and move 40 too, but by then it was already too late), and by the time he made the time control the game was as good as over.

    The win brought Carlsen to within a point of Karjakin, and with a grind-'em-out victory over poor Teimour Radjabov (who was defeated by him in similar style in the penultimate round of the Candidates) he closed to within half a point. That wasn't such bad news for Karjakin though, as it meant he drew with Black against world champ Viswanathan Anand - and he did so only with great effort. That he held was both impressive and important, demonstrating both mental toughness and probably giving his confidence a boost.

    He was able to build on that in round 7, defeating Hikaru Nakamura on the white side of a 6.Bg5 Najdorf. Carlsen remained "on" as well, defeating his countryman Jon Ludwig Hammer with Black. (About Hammer: he started the event 0-3, but drew with Black against Veselin Topalov in round 4 and beat Wang Hao in round 5. He lost in rounds 6 and 7 though.) Today (Thursday) was a rest day; the penultimate round starts Friday. Here are the pairings, with scores in parentheses:

    • Carlsen (5) - Wang Hao (2.5)
    • Topalov (3) - Aronian (4)
    • Anand (4) - Hammer (1.5)
    • Nakamura (3.5) - Radjabov (2.5)
    • Svidler (3.5) - Karjakin (5.5)

    Saturday
    May112013

    Norway Chess, Round 3: Karjakin Leads With 3/3

    Six rounds remain in the Norway Chess super-tournament, and Sergey Karjakin has yet to play Magnus Carlsen, Levon Aronian, Viswanathan Anand or Veselin Topalov - four of the world's top five players. Still, he leads with a 3-0 score, and this after winning the blitz tournament too, which he concluded with a 4-game winning streak. So he seems to be in good form and should be full of confidence - just what every sportsman wants.

    His third victory in the main tournament came at Wang Hao's expense. Karjakin enjoyed a slight but persistent advantage on the white side of an old Rauzer main line, thanks to the bishop pair and an apparently more useful pawn majority, but that's all it was until Wang Hao's 36...f5(?). This increased the power of White's bishops, and when Karjakin sealed up the kingside with 39.h4(!), preparing 40.Re5, Black gave up. White's pieces dominate and Black has nothing to do but watch his pawns drop and White's queenside majority advance.

    Aronian and Anand are tied for second, a full point behind Karjakin. Levon Aronian was a little fortunate to play Peter Svidler, who has apparently been visiting doctors for a variety of ailments during the event. Svidler was better throughout, but offered a draw after his 31st move, just after the legal limit. (Here the rule is that draw offers are forbidden before move 30.) The main line Svidler considered after his final move, 31.a5, continued 31...Nc4 32.Rb7+ Re7 33.a6 Na5 34.Nd6+ Ke6, but here he missed that after 35.Rxe7+ Kxe7 he would have 36.Nc8+, winning the a-pawn. It may or may not be enough to win, but it's certainly worth trying, as White gets winning chances for free; i.e., with no risk whatsoever.

    Anand joined Aronian in second by defeating Veselin Topalov on the white side of a Najdorf. He enjoyed the easier play in the quasi-ending/late middlegame with all the heavy pieces plus opposite-colored bishops, but had Topalov braved the risky-looking 28...Qxh4 he might have been alright. After 28...Bd6 Anand played 29.Bg2 and 30.Bxd5, when the beautiful bishop gave him an obvious, clear advantage. Black's pieces lacked coordination and f7 became a target, and the position became just about impossible to hold. Topalov couldn't, and with the flashy 35.Be6 Anand won material, and Black gave up after the first time control.

    What about Magnus Carlsen? The world's #1 faced Hikaru Nakamura and, of all things, the Bishop's Opening (via a Vienna move order). As one would expect from two players who like to play and have great faith in their ability to win games at the board, the play quickly grew creative when Carlsen offered a pawn with 10...b5!? Nakamura might have improved slightly, by his own admission, with the (more) natural 16.Qg4, but even so the game was always about equal up until 29.Nc3?! (29.Ne3 was better and equal). Carlsen played 29...e3, and the game soon finished in a draw, but he missed an opportunity with 29...Qe5(!), seen by the computer but not the players. The idea is seen in the variation 30.b6 e3 31.b7 (losing; 31.Re1 is forced, but Black is better, but not winning, after 31...Rd2) and now 31...Bxg2+! wins: 32.Kxg2 Rd2+ 33.Kf3 Qxf5+ 34.Kg3 Qxf1! 35.b8Q+ Kh7 and despite White's large material advantage he is lost.

    Finally, Teimour Radjabov won his first game by giving Jon Ludwig Hammer his third consecutive loss in an up and down game.

    Saturday is a rest day, and on Sunday they will play round 4, with these pairings (player scores in parethenses):

     

    • Carlsen (1.5) - Svidler (1.5)
    • Topalov (1) - Hammer (0)
    • Anand (2) - Nakamura (1.5)
    • Aronian (2) - Karjakin (3)
    • Wang Hao (1) - Radjabov (1.5)

     

    Thursday
    May092013

    Norway Chess, Round 2: Karjakin Leads With a 2-0 Score

    It is because of Magnus Carlsen that the Norway Chess tournament exists, but so far it's the Sergey Karjakin show. First he won the preliminary blitz tournament, and now he leads the main event with a perfect 2-0 score. There's a long way to go and his wins have come against the two players who seem likeliest to finish at the bottom, that's true: Teimour Radjabov, on account of his recent disastrously bad form, and Jon Ludwig Hammer, who is by far the lowest-rated player in the event. Even so, it's still a fine start.

    Today's win over Hammer was a case of the superior player winning a little at a time. I'll mention some moments I found interesting. The first came after Hammer's 44.Rf5. At first it looks like Black can just take on a4, but after 44...Rxa4? 45.Rxc5! bxc5 46.b6 Ra3/2/1 47.b7 Rb3/2/1 48.b8Q Rxb8 49.Nxb8 White's knight can hold the pawns, e.g. after 49...a4 50.Na6! So Karjakin played the interesting waiting move 44...Rc4, with the neat idea of putting White into zugzwang. He needs his knight on c6 and his rook on the 5th rank for the combination we saw above, and he can't move his king or push the g-pawn because then Black will have a crucial tempo-gaining check - 45.g4? Rxa4 46.Rxc5 bxc5 47.b6 Rb3+ (check!) 48.Kg2 Rb3 (or even 48...a4 for that matter - the extra tempo can pay off in the pawns vs. knight ending as well) and game over.

    So Hammer played 45.Rd5, letting Black's king into the game with 45...Kf7, and Karjakin won pretty easily. 45.Rf4 is an obvious move and one the players must have considered, but it seems that Black should win after 45...Rxf4 46.gxf4 Kf7 47.Kg4 Ke6. Black needs to respect White's kingside counterplay, but it seems that if he combines prophylaxis with the inevitable king invasion of White's queenside, the game will be over.

    Levon Aronian is in clear second with 1.5 points after defeating Hikaru Nakamura in an Exchange Slav. Aronian has suffered on the black side of that variation against Vladimir Kramnik, so perhaps he thought it might be worth a try from the other side of the board. He may have enjoyed a slight edge in the middlegame, but it may not have been much had Black played something like 23...Rcd8, using the loose position of the bishop on d3 to gain a crucial tempo. If White tried to play as in the game with 24.Ne4, then after 24...Qxe3+ 25.Qxe3 dxe3 26.Nd6 (not attacking the rook, which has left c8) 26...b6! 27.Bxa6 Nb4 is at least equal for Black. After Nakamura's 23...dxe3(?), Aronian's 24.Ne4 followed by 25.Nd6 gave him a serious advantage, which he was able to convert in an endgame. It seems that Nakamura's 43...g4 may have been the decisive mistake, going two pawns down in a bid for some counterplay that didn't succeed. Nakamura eventually regained one of his pawns, but by then Aronian had consolidated and won pretty easily. (As an aside, I didn't see Aronian's press conference, but I'm curious if Nakamura's decision to play on a rook down for 11 moves came up.)

    One last note on the game. Ken Regan sent me a beautiful and unusual little variation he found during the game. Had Aronian played 41.Rcc4, which at first glance looks more solid than 41.Rc2, he walks into a nasty tactical shot: 41...Nf6! 42.Rxe5 b5!!, which is not just a fork but a bizarre case where taking en passant leaves both rooks en prise! Odder still is that after 43.cxb6 White also attacks both of Black's rooks, but 43...Rd7+ clarifies matters from a material point of view: Black wins a rook. Ken stopped there, but although this line is certainly worse than Aronian's 41.Rc2, it's worth noting that after 44.Kc2 Rxe5 45.b4! Black may only be slightly better!

    How about Carlsen? He had White against Viswanathan Anand, but although he got to do the pressing against the champ he was never able to turn it into anything serious. Although it was a different line than that played in a well-known win by Judit Polgar over Anand (that was a Najdorf that continued 6.Be3 e5 7.Nf3), Carlsen's approach was similar in principle to Polgar's. As noted above, what fun there was in the game was White's to enjoy, but Anand has learned his lessons from the Polgar game and defended successfully. (As he did recently in another tournament game in the aforementioned Najdorf line. People are checking Anand, and he's showing that he has done his homework.)

    The game between Veselin Topalov and Teimour Radjabov was also drawn. Radjabov's 10...Ne5 was a new move and a new idea in the Rossolimo Sicilian, preparing to swing the knight to g6 (after White commits to h3). The knight has its pluses there, but it also gets it out of the way and takes away some of White's tactical ideas in the usual lines. Topalov may have earned a very small edge out of the opening, but growing it proved difficult. After the game Topalov thought 16.Nb6 would have been good for an edge, but he liked 16.Qb6 better. Radjabov's 16...Qe5 was a remarkable and surprising rejoinder, as in line after line Black's queen seems to be in trouble and ready to be victimized by some discovered attack. Radjabov admitted to being nervous about it, but neither player could find a concrete refutation, and the engine doesn't find one either. Maybe Topalov maintained a very small advantage, but Radjabov played well and drew. Hopefully this means he has finally regained his form and his confidence.

    Finally, Wang Hao defeated Svidler in a 3.f3 Anti-Gruenfeld. Through 13.Qe2 the players followed the game Karjakin-Giri from the Wijk aan Zee tournament this January before Svidler varied. It's not clear where Svidler's preparation ended, but Wang Hao's had continued through 15.Kb1, when he had expected (and had analyzed) 15...Qb6. Svidler went instead for 15...Rd8, which looks objectively weaker but helps set up some tricky tactics.

    After 16.Nf3 came the real shocker: 16...b5(?). 17.Nxb5 is of course impossible (it hangs a2), but 17.Bxb5 is possible though risky. What Svidler missed or at least underestimated was 17.a3, after which he was simply busted, bound to lose a pawn without any real compensation. Svidler resisted for a long time, but Wang Hao was up to the task and won the ending.

    So what motivated 16...b5? The idea, as Svidler told Wang Hao after the game, was this: he wanted to play 16...c5, with the idea 17.d5 Bxc3. Here 18.dxe6?? loses to 18...Rxd1+, regaining the queen with a piece for interest, while 18.bxc3 is met by 18...Nxd5. What Svidler had missed beforehand was the nice intermezzo 18.Bc4!, when White is slightly better after 18...Qf6 19.bxc3 b5(!) 20.Be2. Getting b5 in for free would be nice, but White didn't have to play some sort of irrelevant move waiting for ...c5 to hit him on the next turn.

    One other nice line pointed out by Wang Hao: In case Svidler met 17.a3 with the obvious, coffeehouse move 17...a5, then White should certainly avoid 18.axb4? axb4, when Black is better, and if 18.d5 it looks like Black can get away with 18...Bxc3. As before, 19.dxe6?? loses to 19...Rxd1+ while 19.bxc3?? again loses to 19...Nxd5. Again White has a little trick, but this time it's 19.axb4, winning a piece.

    Standings After Round 2:

    1. Karjakin 2
    2. Aronian 1.5
    3-8. Anand, Carlsen, Nakamura, Wang Hao, Topalov, Svidler 1
    9. Radjabov .5
    10. Hammer 0

    Round 3 Pairings:

    • Anand - Topalov
    • Nakamura - Carlsen
    • Svidler - Aronian
    • Radjabov - Hammer
    • Karjakin - Wang
    Thursday
    May092013

    Norway Chess, Round 1: The Big Four Draw Each Other; Karjakin, Nakamura and Svidler Win

    It was an exciting first round at the Norway Chess super-tournament, and for those of us who like seeing decisive results (= all of us?) seeing three decisive games out of five must have satisfied our metaphorical blood lust. On the other hand, it didn't seem to be an especially well-played round, and that may be a partial function of just how much chess some of the participants have played lately.

    Let's start with the world champion's. Viswanathan Anand had White against world #2 Levon Aronian, and found an interesting and rare way to handle the Ruy: 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.d3 d6 7.c4!? I have seen that idea before as a way of meeting the Delayed Steinitz (4...d6 5.c4, as played in an old Keres-Alekhine game), but never before in this line. It was an interesting idea, and one that will hopefully be explored further. Anand's subsequent play may not have been as resolute or precise as he may have liked, and he confessed to being surprised by 23...Bxf4! Fortunately for him, he was at most just a little worse after that and drew without too much trouble, but there was one fascinating possibility that went untried.

    Aronian could have played 31...Re3, and after the obvious 32.Rf3 traded rooks. At first glance it would seem obviously good for White, who enjoys a clean extra, passed pawn on the kingside while Black's extra pawn on the queenside is doubled. Despite that, it is surprisingly White who must play accurately to draw.

    Next up, the day's other draw, between Magnus Carlsen (the world's #1 player and Anand's pending challenger) and Veselin Topalov (#5 and quickly returning to the form that made him FIDE world champion and twice the barely failed challenger in world championship matches). This was a pretty sedate affair in a Symmetrical English. Carlsen, as is his wont, went for and achieved a position where he could simply play and press, and as Topalov is not exactly known as a technical specialist that seemed an especially good strategy in this case. If there is any truth to that stereotype, however, one wouldn't know it from this game, as he was never in any trouble, objectively speaking, and held convincingly.

    Now for the wins. Sergey Karjakin won with relative ease against Teimour Radjabov, who has just come off of two disastrous tournaments. Radjabov fell far behind on the clock in a Rossolimo Sicilian, missed some tactics (e.g., he had planned 18...e4 before realizing that it was a blunder: 19.Nxe4 Bxa1?? 20.Ng5+, winning the queen), and soon lost a pawn. Maybe there were some chances to hold the ending, but if there were Radjabov didn't find them, and he resigned the hopeless rook ending after making the time control.

    Hikaru Nakamura defeated Wang Hao on the white side of a 5.Nc3 Petroff. Wang Hao's 8...b6 was very unusual - generally Black plays 8...Nd7 or 8...Nc6, aiming to play ...Ne5 and keeping the queenside pawns free to fly. With White about to castle long, the most common plans for Black involve counterattacking the white king, and ...b6 makes that difficult. The bishop on b7 will be on a great diagonal, that's true; but that isn't the most important feature of the position.

    From there things went smoothly for Nakamura, while his opponent, in his opinion, kept piling up the inaccuracies. When the players reached an ending with Nakamura's bishop and knight against Wang Hao's rook, it was just a matter of technique, and the American wrapped things up efficiently.

    Finally, while Peter Svidler is a great specialist in the Gruenfeld Defense, he seemed to have trouble when facing it. Jon Ludwig Hammer got a very good position out of the opening, but the tables turned after 22...a5? If Black played 22...f5 instead White would have been playing for a draw (which he would likely have achieved); instead, it was Black who had to play for a draw in what was soon a pawn-down rook ending. The draw could have been held if Hammer knew that ...Kg8 (rather than ...Kf6) was correct and known to endgame theory - Carlsen pointed this out immediately while briefly commenting on the game. Missing that chance on moves 37, 39 and 42, Svidler finally struck on the right idea with h4-h5, and the rest was straightforward.

    Round 2 is getting underway now, with the following pairings:

    • Carlsen - Anand
    • Topalov - Radjabov
    • Aronian - Nakamura
    • Wang Hao - Svidler
    • Hammer - Karjakin

    Tuesday
    May072013

    Karjakin Wins Norway Blitz; The Real Event Starts Tomorrow (Updated)

    Normally I'd have waited until a bit later in the day to report on this, but as there is so much misinformation running around, thanks primarily to arbiters' incompetence (but I repeat myself), that I thought I'd write sooner rather than later. (Or at least that was the plan. Unfortunately, for only the second time since I've used this host, the server ate about 80% of my post without saving a copy. Ugh! The one bright side is that I became aware of and corrected an earlier error, and now have the main tournament's first round's pairings to report.)

    A few days ago I offered high praise for the organization of the Norway Chess tournament's website. The website still deserves it, but today's coverage was pretty bad; certainly in comparison with what we've come to expect from super-events in Russia.

    For starters, a little joke. On a flight a year or two ago, the flight attendant decided to liven up the usual pre-flight spiel with some humor, adding that the cabin lights would be dimmed "to enhance the beauty of the person sitting next to you." It seems the Norway organizers have taken that to heart in their use of cameras. There's one for every table, which is great, but they have the sort of resolution you'd expect from a cheap digital or web camera circa the mid-to-late 1990s. The angle and distance are poor too, so while you can kind of make out the position if you try hard and follow the game from the start, and can kind of make out the players' emotions, neither is easy or a pleasure. Maybe high-def cameras are expensive, but I think the typical iPhone camera could do a better job.

    And then there are the arbiters. Where do they find these people, anyway? Errare humanum est and all that, and they may be the nicest people in the world. But seriously, can't they figure out how to operate a DGT board after all these years? They goofed up Svidler-Wang Hao in round 1, entering it as a draw when Black won, and they made a bookend goof in the last round, labeling Wang Hao-Karjakin a draw too. As a result, sites everywhere (including TWIC) left claiming the tournament ended in a five-way tie for first between Magnus Carlsen, Viswanathan Anand, Sergey Karjakin, Peter Svidler and Hikaru Nakamura. (That's at least better than the live commentary, when despite looking at and discussing the standings for the last several minutes of the broadcast, Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam repeatedly failed to notice that Nakamura's last-round win put him into the alleged tie.)

    Only after everyone stopped watching and started posting erroneous reports did they correct their goofs. The first-round loss dropped Svidler out of the tie for first, and more importantly, Karjakin's last-round win meant there wasn't a tie to begin with: Karjakin took first all to himself!

    Now a few words about the tournament.

    First, Teimour Radjabov was the early hero, winning his first four games, including one over Carlsen. It looked like he had bounced back from his back-to-back disasters in London and Zug. A draw in round 5 kept him in good shape, but just when it looked like he'd be the hero of the event he lost three in a row before drawing in the last round. Plus-one was still a good result, but a disappointment after the early start and not enough to reach a position in the coveted top five. (Or is it "coveted"? More on that later.)

    Having just the opposite sort of tournament was Jon Ludwig Hammer. Coming into the event he looks like the special du jour for whoever gets to play him, and it seemed that this would be true of the blitz event as well. After five rounds, going into the break, he had just half a point, and he was lucky to have that. (Topalov had a colossal advantage and missed several chances to mate him in round 2.) In a private conversation with live commentator (and his former trainer) Simen Agdestein over the break, he opined that he really hadn't played so badly in the first half, and in the second half he proved it. He won his next two and drew the last two to finish with a very respectable 3.5 points. (Especially considering that Veselin Topalov only scored one total point, with his second draw coming in the last round. Even Levon Aronian finished behind Hammer, scoring just half a point through four rounds and two and a half points in total.)

    Of course most eyes were on the other Norwegian participant, Magnus Carlsen. Several of his games were especially worthy of note. First was the marquee matchup and world championship preview; to wit, his round 1 game with Viswanathan Anand. Anand had White in a Closed Ruy, and alas, there were no fireworks. Carlsen held, the game remained controlled, and it ended in a draw. Carlsen lost in round 2 to Radjabov, but soon, as always, he made a good run. He was certainly helped along by a massive gift from Nakamura in round 7. Carlsen had a large advantage that dwindled slightly but still remained serious prior to his blunder 29.Rd5?(?), after which Nakamura enjoyed the better chances. Soon they reached a position that was absolutely unloseable for Nakamura and almost surely for Carlsen as well. Unfortunately for Nakamura, in his desire to make "something" happen he chose a plan with ...g4-g3 followed by ...Kg4 and ...Kf3. The problem is that the plan simply couldn't work, and only managed to get Nakamura in trouble. As a practical matter, he should have tried to work out the details first, and if he lacked the time he could have made a long series of pointless moves to build up time using the increments. As it was, the plan was only dangerous for Nakamura, and when he failed to admit his mistake and retreat his king on move 53, the result was a routine rook ending win for the Norwegian.

    What he received in round 7, however, he returned in round 8. Sergey Karjakin has been one of his regular "customers" for some time now, but today he held on as Carlsen started to build an advantage, kept in the game, and when Carlsen got a little careless with 39...Nxe3(?!) he pounced with 40.Bh5. Carlsen needed to play 40...Qe4!, when chances remain even, but surprised by Karjakin's move he played the "automatic" 40...Rf8?? and lost a piece and the game to 41.Re7 Qf5 42.Qxe3.

    Carlsen bounced back in the finale though, with a small measure of revenge for the last round of the Candidates'. Carlsen beat Svidler, keeping up the pressure until the Russian finally cracked from move 39 on.

    Karjakin was the hero of the day, however, vanquishing his tormentor and taking clear first with a four-game winning streak to end the tournament. Here are the final standings, and since the point of the exercise was to determine pairing numbers ties aren't listed:

    1. Karjakin 6.5/9
    2. Carlsen 6
    3. Anand 6
    4. Nakamura 6
    5. Svidler 5.5
    6. Radjabov 5
    7. Hammer 3.5
    8. Wang 3
    9. Aronian 2.5
    10. Topalov 1

    Those who finished in the top five are thus guaranteed an extra White in the tournament. But is this in fact an advantage? Of course it is, all things being equal - White outscores Black in tournament chess by a roughly 55-45 margin. The problem is that not all things are equal - there are the accursed tiebreaks once again. It isn't the first tiebreaker, which is the highly unlovely Sonneborn Berger, and it isn't the second one; that's most losses wins. But the third tiebreak is most games with Black.

    [UPDATE: This is incorrect; there will be a blitz playoff in case of a tie. The page with the regulations is rather odd though - have a look (it's linked in the previous paragraph). It says that tiebreaks don't matter, and then it lists tiebreaks for no apparent reason. At any rate, the argument below still has value, I think, as there are other tournaments where the number of games (and wins) with Black is used as a tiebreaker.]

    Now, consider Armageddon games. Only very, very rarely does anyone choose the white pieces for such contests. It's almost universally accepted that Black is better off there, possibly much better off. If that's so, is it really better to have five Whites? Think about it this way: after eight rounds, let's say that all the key rivals have had four white games and four black games. The S-B tiebreaker is so random that we can disregard it, and in many cases the "most wins" criterion will be a push. So now you're choosing in round 9: White or Black? If you're Black, you essentially have draw odds (or more precisely, tie odds.) White wins more often than Black does, but the odds of White winning are greatly inferior to the odds of Black winning OR drawing. So wouldn't you choose Black in such a situation?

    Once again, this strikes me as an argument for blitz playoffs. Or at the very least, considering that pairing numbers were determined here by skill rather than by a random process, let those players who did well here keep their advantage: an extra white game with no repercussion in the tiebreaks.

    Enough ranting! On to the pairings for the classical tournament, which ought to be a great one.

    Round 1 Pairings:

    • Carlsen - Topalov
    • Anand - Aronian
    • Nakamura - Wang Hao
    • Svidler - Hammer
    • Karjakin - Radjabov
    Saturday
    May042013

    Coming Soon: Norway Chess!

    The hits just keep on coming, as we chess fans are getting spoiled with increasingly frequent and top-heavy super-tournaments. Starting next Tuesday, May 7, Norway will host its first-ever super-tournament, in Stavanger. Pairing numbers will be determined by a blitz event that day, and then the tournament proper will begin the next day, May 8. Here's the field:

    • Magnus Carlsen 2868
    • Levon Aronian 2813
    • Veselin Topalov 2793
    • Viswanathan Anand 2783
    • Hikaru Nakamura 2775
    • Peter Svidler 2769
    • Sergey Karjakin 2767
    • Teimour Radjabov 2745 (he was 2793 just a few weeks ago!)
    • Wang Hao 2743
    • Jon Ludwig Hammer 2608 (clearly there because of his Norwegian nationality, but what an opportunity for him!)

    Do check out the website - it's extremely well-done and beautifully easy to navigate - schedule, rules, player bios, where to go for live games, video, and commentary. If only a certain ongoing tournament website were as well-constructed!