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    Entries in Paris Grand Prix (8)

    Friday
    Oct042013

    The Grand Prix Ends With Pusillanimousness In Paris

    Congratulations to Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who is the recipient of the second qualifying spot for the next Candidates' tournament from the 2012-2013 Grand Prix. Fabiano Caruana would have taken that spot if he managed to finish ahead of Boris Gelfand, with whom he was tied for first going into the last round of the final Grand Prix event of the cycle, which concluded today in Paris.

    The task would not be easy, as Gelfand was due for the white pieces in his last-round game, against Ruslan Ponomariov, while Caruana had black against Leinier Dominguez. Caruana played a Taimanov Sicilian, and faced a new move early on, 13.Rd2. Caruana thought for about 40 minutes, and then played 13...Rc8, which is a typical move in that line of the Taimanov. The following moves quickly ensued: 14.Bxb5!? axb5 15.Nxb5 Qc6 16.Na7 Qc7 17.Nb5 Qc8 18.Na7 Qc7 19.Nb5 Qc6 and draw.

    WHAT???

    If the tournament in Paris were an end in itself, that would be a sensible decision, but it wasn't, on both counts. Winning meant qualifying for the Candidates tournament, the gateway to the world championship! If he lost the game, so what?? He'd lose something like six rating points, which he could easily regain in his next tournament. He would some prize money too, and that's not nothing. But he's a very successful tournament pro, and unless he's investing with a Bernie Madoff-type his financial future is bright. The loss is something, but not much in the big picture. And if he wins, he not only wins a bigger prize in the tournament (and maybe from taking second in the overall Grand Prix?), he's also guaranteed a further payday by making it into the Candidates, with a shot at serious money and a match for the world championship.

    Now, if refusing the repetition entailed a losing position, I'd be with him. Risk is one thing, pointless risk another. But starting with the position after the move, 13.Rd2, Caruana had several reasonable ways to avoid the repetition, none of which entailed a position that would be more than slightly worse and a few that offered approximately equal chances. Rather than take the slightest risk, however, he bailed out and took the draw. I'm dumbfounded.

    He could still take clear first in the tournament if Gelfand lost and Nakamura and Etienne Bacrot didn't win. As it turned out, nobody won in the last round, which meant that Gelfand tied with him for first place in the event (his third super-tournament win over the year - two ties and one clear first), and they were half a point ahead of Nakamura and Bacrot.

    Six of the eight spots have been settled for the next Candidates event: Vladimir Kramnik and Dmitry Andreikin qualified through the World Cup, Levon Aronian and Sergey Karjakin qualified by rating, and Veselin Topalov and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov qualified through the Grand Prix. The seventh qualifier will be the loser of the upcoming world championship match between Viswanathan Anand, the champ, and his challenger Magnus Carlsen. The eighth spot is a wildcard, to be determined by the organizer. The only official requirement is that the player have a rating of at least 2725.

    Who will get it? The obvious candidates (small "c") are Nakamura (rated #4 in the world), Caruana (#5, one tenth of a point below Nakamura), Alexander Grischuk (rated #6 but less likely to be chosen, I think, unless the Candidates are held in Russia) and Boris Gelfand (#7 in the world; if he gets in it will be because he will have had the best year of anyone not already qualified for the Candidates or better). If Caruana had gone out on his sword today, then he would have been a reasonable pick for that wildcard. If I were an organizer, what I saw would tell me that he doesn't really want it that badly, and so I would give the spot to someone (like Nakamura) who will give it his all, someone who will risk losing when the situation demands it.

    Thursday
    Oct032013

    Paris Grand Prix: Caruana and Gelfand Lead Going Into The Last Round

    There is one round to go at the Grand Prix tournament in Paris, and the double race is heading for a thrilling finish. Fabiano Caruana and Boris Gelfand are tied for first with one round to go in the tournament, and unless Caruana can finish ahead of Gelfand it will be Shakhriyar Mamedyarov who wins qualification from the overall Grand Prix series to the next Candidates' tournament.

    Today, round 10 showed both Caruana and Gelfand rising to the occasion. Caruana did what he needed, defeating Evgeny Tomashevsky with the white pieces to keep his hopes alive. Meanwhile, Gelfand had the more challenging task, facing Hikaru Nakamura, then the tournament leader, with Black. Nakamura made the practical mistake of going head-to-head with Gelfand in the Najdorf. Gelfand won a fantastic game, and now he and Caruana have 6.5 points apiece heading into the last round. Nakamura has 6, as does Etienne Bacrot, who obliterated Laurent Fressinet on the black side of a Bayonet King's Indian.

    About this last game: if someone can explain it to me that would be wonderful. (Insomnia? Illness?) In an extremely well-known theoretical line, Fressinet suddenly stopped to think for more than 40 minutes and played the near-novelty 15.exf5. (It was played once before in a non-correspondence game featuring a 2000 vs. a 1900.) This is by no means a typical capture in the variation, and to all appearances it gives Black what he wants. It's hard to know what Fressinet had in mind or what he may have overlooked, but five moves later he was a pawn down without much compensation. His 22nd and 23rd moves were both blunders, and he resigned after Black's 24th move. He was down two pawns with a horrible position and further material losses to come. Anyone can blunder, but this game was just odd from move 15 on.

    Key Last Round Pairings:

    • Gelfand (6.5) - Ponomariov
    • Dominguez - Caruana (6.5)
    • Giri - Nakamura (6)
    • Bacrot (6) - Grischuk

    Thursday
    Oct032013

    Paris Grand Prix, Rounds 8 & 9: Caruana Beats Gelfand; Nakamura Leads

    After nine rounds of 11 of the Paris leg of the Grand Prix, Hikaru Nakamura is the sole leader with 6 points, half a point more than Fabiano Caruana and Boris Gelfand. Gelfand led after seven rounds, but lost to Caruana in round 8. Gelfand's 12...e5 was an inaccurate move he singled out after the game; instead, he should have played 12...Nf4 and only after the bishop retreated from c2 played 13...e5. That way his knight could retreat (as needed) to e6, keeping very good control over the dark squares. After that slip, Caruana played very well. He took over the queenside and won a pawn, and then put out the flames of Gelfand's desperate attack.

    That let him catch Gelfand, but Nakamura's win over Vassily Ivanchuk put him in clear first. It was a very strange game, as Ivanchuk played extremely well before the first time control, achieving a big, possibly decisive advantage, and then let it slip. In the final position, however, chances were event when Ivanchuk let his flag fall. (Again, couldn't he have done this against Kramnik in London??) It wasn't even a particularly complicated position and there was an increment...incredible.

    As you may recall, the larger importance of this tournament is that if either Caruana or Alexander Grischuk can manage to take clear first, then that player will obtain the second automatic qualification from the Grand Prix cycle to the next Candidates' tournament. (Veselin Topalov has the first spot wrapped up, while Shakhriyar Mamedyarov will qualify if Caruana or Grischuk fail in their quests.) So about Grischuk: he was in dire straits entering the round, trailing Gelfand by two points and Nakamura by a point and a half. As he won his game (and Gelfand lost his), he finished the eighth round a point and a half out of a tie for first and two points away from the sole first place that he needs.

    In round 9...everyone drew. There were some key moments in the top games though. First, Nakamura pressed a bit in the late opening, and wound up lost as a result. Had Ruslan Ponomariov played 17...Rac8, the pin would have been White's undoing. Caruana, in the meantime, was under serious pressure by Anish Giri, but defended well and saved half a point. As for Gelfand, Ivanchuk found a nice idea with 14...Ke7, and he was able to keep Gelfand's forces at bay. Finally, Grischuk had some advantage in the opening against Tomashevsky, but seems to have let it slip with the natural 15...Nd3. (He missed Tomashevsky's great 18.e5!) Instead, 15...Nfd7 would have kept the initiative, cutting out all the e5 ideas.

    At this point Grischuk may not be mathematically eliminated, but it's close enough. Caruana still has a decent chance, however. Here are the key pairings for the last two rounds:

    Round 10:

    • Nakamura (6) - Gelfand (5.5)
    • Caruana (5.5) - Tomashevsky

    Round 11:

    • Giri (currently in last place) - Nakamura
    • Dominguez - Caruana
    • Gelfand - Ponomariov

    Monday
    Sep302013

    Paris Grand Prix, Round 7: Gelfand Wins, Caruana Loses

    It was a great day for Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, as the only two players to lose were the only two players who could still pass him in the Grand Prix standings. Alexander Grischuk was a point out of first, but with a win over one of the leaders, Boris Gelfand, he would have helped his cause greatly. Had he won, he'd have been just half a point behind Hikaru Nakamura heading into the final four rounds. Instead, he's two points behind Gelfand and almost surely out of contention.

    By contrast, Caruana was in very good shape, coming into the round tied with Gelfand for first. Unfortunately for his cause, he lost to Nakamura thanks to a blunder in the opening. When I first replayed the game, zipping through, it looked as if 15...Qxd4 was some sort of spectacular scholastic chess-style blunder. Obviously 15...Bxd4! But look for a few moments, and you'll realize that Black is just as dead after 16.Qh6, which threats like 17.Qh7+ Kf8 18.Rxd4 Qxd4 19.Qh8+ Qxh8 20.Rxh8+ Kg7 21.Rxd8, winding up with an extra piece. The real blunder came the move before, when he recaptured on g6 with the h-pawn. Capturing with the f-pawn was a must, when the position is complicated and both sides have their trumps.

    So after seven rounds of this, the final Grand Prix event of the current cycle, Boris Gelfand leads with 5 points, half a point ahead of Nakamura and a point ahead of Caruana. By no means is all lost for Caruana, however, as he has the white pieces against Gelfand in the very next round. Meanwhile, I'd really love to know what is Gelfand's secret. The last six years he has been improving like a teenager or at least a young adult, and is in the running for player of the year this year. Of course Magnus Carlsen will get that award, and deservedly so if he defeats Anand, but if Gelfand holds on and wins this tournament is there anyone else whose year compares with his? But Gelfand fans shouldn't count their chickens yet, as he will also have Black against Nakamura in round 10.

    Saturday
    Sep282013

    Catching Up on the Grand Prix

    (Or Grands Prix, if you prefer. You can find all sorts of interesting discussion about this on the interweb.)

    In the men's/open Grand Prix in Paris two more rounds have passed since we last took notice, and at the end of these two rounds - making six in total of the eleven to be played - Boris Gelfand is still in front, but sharing the lead with Fabiano Caruana. Gelfand has drawn his last two games, whlie Caruana just won, taking advantage of the precipitously plummeting Vassily Ivanchuk.

    Ivanchuk had shared the lead after four rounds, but it was very shaky, as he was lost or nearly lost in the two games he went on to win. In round five against Alexander Grischuk he got another lousy game early on, but this time there was no reprieve. Despite having the white pieces, he was crushed in just 31 moves. In round six, as already mentioned, he lost to Caruana - weirdly. First, he committed a fingerfehler on move 16, intending or at least calculating 16...f6 and then playing 16...Bd7. (Chalk this up as another of the horrors we discussed here some weeks ago, as well as yet another odd episode in Ivanchuk's strange [though often spectacularly successful] career.) Second, he resigned rather prematurely, even if his position may have been lost with best play by Caruana. Ivanchuk should have continued, but he just couldn't stand his position!

    All the other round 6 games were drawn, while in round 5 there was a second decisive game: Etienne Bacrot defeated Anish Giri with the black pieces. So Gelfand and Caruana lead with four points, and remember that if Caruana takes clear first in the tournament he qualifies for the Candidates'. Likewise if Grischuk wins, but for the moment he's a point behind, in a six-way tie for 4th-9th place. Just so I don't have to be accused of "forgetting" something, I'll note that Hikaru Nakamura is in third, half a point behind the leaders.

    In the Women's Grand Prix (in Tashkent, Uzbekistan), round nine was very strange. After eight rounds Humpy Koneru was plowing through the field with a great score of 6.5/8, gaining tons of rating points and making steady overall progress towards winning a spot in the 2015 World Championship match. She led by a point over the persistent peleton led by Harika Dronavalli and Kateryna Lagno, both of whom were a full point behind. So what happened in round 9? All three lost!

    Their relative positions are obviously the same, and no one has passed any of them. Someone has joined the tie for second, though, and that's Bela Khotenashvili, who defeated Humpy in round 9. Two rounds remain, and as Humpy's last two opponents aren't doing very well in the tournament she's still a strong favorite to take clear first.

    Wednesday
    Sep252013

    Updates on Ongoing Events

    1. FIDE Grand Prix (Men): After four rounds it's time for the first rest day in this, the final Grand Prix event of the 2012-2013 cycle. Recall that this event has greater competitive signficance only if either Alexander Grischuk or Fabiano Caruana takes clear first, in which case that person will qualify for the next Candidates' event (rather than Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who has already played his full complement of Grand Prix events in this cycle). Grischuk and Caruana played in round 4, and Grischuk was winning and really should have collected the point. It looks like the win slipped when he played 39.gxh3, hoping that the quantity of pawns would suffice and outweigh the slight cost to their quality that capture entailed. It was a plausible decision - who wants to allow a "coffin nail" like the pawn on Black pawn on h3 to survive? - but apparently a mistaken one.

    The draw left Grischuk at -1 and Caruana at +1. The latter is in third, half a point behind Boris Gelfand, who won in round 3, and Vassily Ivanchuk, who was rather lucky to win in round 4 against Laurent Fressinet. Fressinet was completely winning early on, but he lost the game a little at a time.

    In sum, from someone who is completely impartial: guys born in the 1960s still rule the chess world!

    2. FIDE Grand Prix (Women): Humpy Koneru continues to lead - solo at the moment - after 7 of 11 rounds. Her score of 5.5 points puts her half a point ahead of her fellow Indian Harika Dronavalli and the Ukranian Kateryna Lagno.

    3. World Junior Championships: There's one round to go, and while it's still technically a two-player race in the Open (Boys') division it's nearly a done deal. Top seed Yu Yangyi has a fantastic score of 10.5/12 and leads second seed and defending champion Alexander Ipatov by a full point. Yu has White in the last round too, so he's a pretty big favorite to get at least a draw and clinch the title. In the Girls' section it's a little closer, but Aleksandra Goryachkina is a pretty big favorite to win the title. Her 9.5 points gives her a half point lead over Zhansaya Abdumalik, and in addition she (Goryachkina) will have White in the last round against a player rated 200 points lower while Abdumalik has the black pieces against a higher-rated opponent.

    4. Topalov-Laznicka Match: This finished nicely for Veselin Topalov, who won both games 4 and 6 with Black while drawing game 5 with White. As a result of this Hou Yifanesque performance in the second half of the match, he defeated Viktor Laznicka by a 4-2 margin.

    Monday
    Sep232013

    Plenty of Ongoing Events

    There's action everywhere, and here's a quick round-up:

    1. FIDE Grand Prix (Men's): There have been two rounds, and there have been two wins - one per round. In the first round, which was very exciting, Boris Gelfand was the sole winner, defeating Anish Giri. In the second round, which was remarkably dull, the one and only one winner was Laurent Fressinet, upsetting Alexander Grischuk.

    The game I'd recommend to readers looking for something entertaining to observe and fascinating to analyze was Nakamura-Tomashevsky, with the spectacular near-novelty 11.Bxf6 leading to some entertaining mayhem. (The initial point of the move is on the immediate 11.0-0-0 Black can play 11...Kf7, but after 11.Bxf6 gxf6 12.0-0-0 Kf7 is a blunder due to 13.Bh5+; there's no g-pawn left to block the bishop.)

    2. FIDE Grand Prix (Women's): After five rounds, the Indian women continue to lead, as both Humpy Koneru and Harika Dronavalli have four points apiece; Zhao Xue and Kateryna Lagno (or "Lahno" in some sources) are half a point behind.

    3. World Junior Championships: They're coming into the home stretch now, with three rounds left in this 13-round tournament. It has been a two-man race most of the way, and for now it still is with top seed Yu Yangyi and second seed and defending champion Alexander Ipatov leading the way with 8.5 points apiece, a full point in front of their nearest competitors. In the girls' section, Irina Bulmaga still leads and has 8 points, but Deysi Cori (whose brother is tied for third in the main event) and Aleksandra Goryachkina are but half a point behind.

    4. Topalov-Laznicka Match: Heavy favorite Veselin Topalov won game with the white pieces and one might have expected the rout to be on in this six-game match, but when Viktor Laznicka won game two with White and then held a draw with Black to reach the midway point and the rest day with an even score the Czech's fans might have even started to daydream about his winning the whole thing. Unfortunately for them, Topalov came back to win game 4 with Black, and it looks as if order will be restored in Dr. Elo's universe.

    Saturday
    Sep212013

    Paris Grand Prix: Play Starts Tomorrow

    Play in the final event of the 2012-2013 Grand Prix cycle begins tomorrow in Paris, France, in a tournament that will decide one more place in the next Candidates' tournament. Two spots were available from the Grand Prix series, and while Veselin Topalov has clinched the overall first place three players are in the running for the second. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov currently leads that race, but he has already played in the maximum number of Grand Prix events (four) and isn't in this one. That leaves Alexander Grischuk and Fabiano Caruana the chance to snipe him for that second spot. If either of the latter takes clear first in this tournament, they're in; anything less and it's Mamedyarov who will go to the Candidates.

    Here's the full list of players:

    • Alexander Grischuk (2785)
    • Fabiano Caruana (2779)
    • Hikaru Nakamura (2772)
    • Boris Gelfand (2764)
    • Leinier Dominguez Perez (2757)
    • Ruslan Ponomariov (2756)
    • Anish Giri (2737)
    • Wang Hao (2736)
    • Vassily Ivanchuk (2731)
    • Etienne Bacrot (2723)
    • Laurent Fressinet (2708)
    • Evgeny Tomashevsky (2703)