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    Entries in Sergey Karjakin (18)

    Sunday
    Mar302014

    Candidates 2014, Round 14 (The Finale): Anand Still The Winner; Karjakin Second

    The most important business of the 2014 Candidates' tournament was settled yesterday when Viswanathan Anand clinched first and a world championship rematch with Magnus Carlsen, but cash and honor remained at stake for the other seven players. In the end, only one game was decisive, and it saw Sergey Karjakin grind out the full point against Levon Aronian to take clear second and a sizable payday of 88 thousand euros.

    Anand had White against Peter Svidler, and kept the game under control, drawing in 34 moves without a scintilla of risk. Anand thus finished the tournament with an undefeated +3 score, while Svidler remained on -1.

    Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Vladimir Kramnik also drew their game quickly. Perhaps Mamedyarov came into the game with some ambitions, but Kramnik equalized effectively and expeditiously, and the game ended on move 30 rather than move 20 only because the rules required it. They both finished on 50%.

    Veselin Topalov enjoyed a nominal edge against Dmitry Andreikin, winning a pawn on move 30. Given the damage to his kingside structure, however, Andreikin was still basically fine. Topalov continued through move 69, and then gave in to the inevitable. He thus finished in clear last place, while Andreikin remained at 50%.

    That just left the Aronian-Karjakin battle. The two players' fortunes had gone in opposite directions since their previous meeting in round 7. Then, after winning their head-to-head game, Aronian was +2 and tied for first, while Karjakin was -2 and alone in last place. By the time of today's game, they were both at 50%, and if anything Karjakin could have had an even bigger score. Their game was a see-saw battle early on, but from around move 32 it was clearly Karjakin who would do the pressing. Aronian held tight for a very long time, but finally cracked with 72.Kg2(?). After 72...Qb2 White had nothing better than 73.Rh1, sacrificing a piece, but there wasn't enough compensation and Karjakin reeled in the point after 94 moves. It's a pity for Karjakin that he got started so late in the tournament, but clear second and a fantastic +3 in the second cycle should give him plenty of encouragement for the next time around.

    Final Standings (given in tiebreak order)

    • 1. Anand 8.5
    • 2. Karjakin 7.5
    • 3. Kramnik 7
    • 4. Mamedyarov 7
    • 5. Andreikin 7
    • 6. Aronian 6.5
    • 7. Svidler 6.5
    • 8. Topalov 6

     

    Wednesday
    Aug282013

    2013 World Cup: Round 6, Day 3: Kramnik & Andreikin Reach Finals; Andreikin & Karjakin Qualify for Candidates

    Today's tiebreak session at the World Cup was a short one, as two 25-minute games were enough to determine the match winners. In the first session Evgeny Tomashevsky and Dmitry Andreikin had a fairly quick draw, but theirs was the marathon of the round. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave played like he had lost his mind in his white game against Kramnik, and had to resign after just 22 moves. After 16 moves of that game the position was level and sharp, and here Vachier-Lagrave's decision to bring the rook into play with 17.Re4 quickly backfired. After 20...Bf5 White was already in some trouble and the c-pawn looked likely to fall after a subsequent ...Bd3. That would have been a dream scenario for the Frenchman compared to what actually happened. After 21.Rh4?? Bc2 White's best would have been to surrender an exchange for less than nothing with 22.Qe2 Bd3 23.Qd1. Instead, he uncorked the even more disastrous 22.Qxc2??, hoping for 22...Qxc2 23.Be4. That also loses to 23...Qxd2+ 24.Bxh7+ Kh8 25.Bc2+ Qh6, which will leave Black a rook up, but Kramnik's 22...Nxf3+ was even simpler, winning the house.

    In the rematch Kramnik was a little slack, and his whole plan to swap everything with 13.d5, 14.Ne1 and 15.Nxd5 gave Vachier-Lagrave a little pull, but when Black played the premature 23...b5 the game started to tip back in Kramnik's favor. By the end Kramnik was close to winning, but took the opportunity to draw by repetition. That won him the match and a trip to the finals, but it didn't win him a ticket to next year's Candidates' tournament. That's because he had already qualified. What it did do was switch his ticket. Rather than qualifying by rating he qualifies as a World Cup finalist, and that means that the player who was the #3 finisher (and thus non-qualifier) on rating has now qualified: Sergey Karjakin.

    Today was an interesting day for Kramnik, and it's not clear that he really benefited. There's the prestige of making it to the finals of the World Cup, and even more if he wins it. There's the added payday, too. On the other hand, his score against Karjakin isn't fantastic, to put it mildly. Since 2010, taking all time controls into account, the score is 7-1 for Karjakin, not counting five draws. Even just taking classical games into account it isn't good news for Kramnik: 2-0 for Karjakin, plus four draws.

    Meanwhile, the other semi-final was also bad news for Kramnik. Kramnik did lose a blitz game to Tomashevsky last year, but their classical record shows that Kramnik has won both of their games: one in 2004 and one in 2012. As for Andreikin, Kramnik has lost both games they've played, both in the last couple of months.

    So who advanced? Andreikin, of course. Tomashevsky was doing pretty well with Black into the middlegame, but it all went downhill after 28...Re1? He apparently missed 30.Qd2 after the trade of rooks, and after that Andreikin whipped up an initiative that quickly decided the game. Tomashevsky should have traded queens with 28...Qxd3 and after 29.Rxd3 played 29...Re6 so as to defend the f-pawn if necessary. The position would have remained equal and the match unclear.

    Tomorrow is the one and only absolute day off in the entire event, and then the best-of-four game final begins on Friday.

    Saturday
    Jun082013

    Rapid Events: Karjakin Wins Sberbank, Nepomniachtchi Running Away With The World Rapid Championship

    Veselin Topalov was the early leader in the Sberbank Rapid tournament, but he was bludgeoned nicely on day 2 by Sergey Karjakin, who wound up winning the tournament with 6.5/9, half a point ahead of Topalov.

    Meanwhile, over in Khanty-Mansyisk, the World Rapid Championship is turning into a runaway for Ian Nepomniachtchi, who has given up a single draw each of the first two days. He has 9/10 and leads his closest pursuers (Ivan Cheparinov and Ildar Khairullin) by two points going into the last day and the final five rounds. (The live commentary with GMs Alexander Khalifman and Efstratios Grivas is pretty good and available on-demand, so if you have a little free time for chess spectating you might enjoy that.) After this finishes, the World Blitz Championship will take place at the same site (and with the same players? I'm not sure) on Sunday and Monday.

    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

    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
    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
    Thursday
    Apr112013

    Let's Blog!

    At least a little. It has been a while, but there are a couple of bits of chess news to report, and then I'll offer a brief status update on my condition.

    So, first, chess! Several people have noted this Vladimir Kramnik interview (Mark Crowther of TWIC was the first), and it's both a very good read in its own right and a balm for the soul to those of us who, like me, may have been pulling a little extra hard for him to break through to meet Viswanathan Anand for another title shot. Many of you may have already read it, but if you haven't I highly recommend it - whether you're a Kramnik fan or not.

    Second, there's a very strong event underway - the Russian Team Championships. As is common these days, the event title is something of a misnomer, as plenty of non-Russians are participating. Unless you're a Russian from a relevant region, though, you are probably like me far more interested in the event as an excuse to see great individual players in action; if so, there's good news. Recent candidates Peter Svidler, Alexander Grischuk and the great spoiler Vassily Ivanchuk are all in action, along with former "vice-champions" Peter Leko and Gata Kamsky (Ivanchuk was one as well, if you count the old FIDE K.O.s), and plenty of other superstars like Sergey Karjakin, Fabiano Caruana, Alexander Morozevich, Shakriyar Mamedyarov and other 2700+ rated stars are in action.

    I've only just started to glance at the games, and one immediately caught my eye - Baadur Jobava's rout of Karjakin in what at least appears at first glance to be an utterly insipid line of the Giuoco Piano. I'd post it using ChessBase's online "service", but as it appears to be nonfunctional yet again I'll just post the PGN notation here. (Note: It will take me a little while to figure out a new system - please bear with me - but the ChessBase server has simply failed too often for me to use it anymore. I don't know if they are suffering from hackers, or if they grossly underestimated the system load or what, but at least for the moment they appear utterly unreliable.)

    GM Jobava, Baadur (2702) - GM Karjakin, Sergey (2786), 20th TCh-RUS 2013, Round 2:

    1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.e5 d5 7.Be2 Ne4 8.cxd4 Bb4+ 9.Bd2 Nxd2 10.Nbxd2 0-0 11.0-0 f6 12.Rc1 Kh8 13.Nb3 Bg4 14.a3 Be7 15.Re1 fxe5 16.dxe5 Rf4 17.h3 Bh5 18.Nc5 Bxc5 19.Rxc5 d4 20.e6 Bg6 21.Bd3 Qf6 22.Ng5 Ne7 23.Bxg6 hxg6 24.Ne4 Qxe6 25.Ng5 Qf6 26.Re6 Qf8 27.Rxg6 Rh4 28.Ne6 1-0

    I don't believe Jobava's approach will set the world on fire any more than Kramnik's 10.h3 in the Scotch Four Knights, but what they do - and what Carlsen often does as well - is to create positions with at least three critical characteristics. First, they are new. By this I mean a type of position that is new in some respect - it's not just some micro-change in the context of a very well-understood position-type. Sometimes a novelty is finding a new finesse on move 22 that may gain a tempo in a race between two very well-known plans. This is not that. 5.d4 is ancient but utterly devoid of danger in the main lines to those in the know, and being in the know can be accomplished these days in about 10-15 minutes. But Jobava doesn't beat the dead horse that is 6.cxd4, but instead chooses the rarer 6.e5 and then, after 6...d5, the really rare 7.Be2. Ironically, Jobava was one of the few to previously try it, and he lost both times, in 2012, to other 2700-rated players (Malakhov and Kamsky).

    In those games Black played 8...Bb6 rather than giving check on b4, and through move 11 they followed another high-level game, a Vallejo Pons-Ponomariov contest from 2011. Like Jobava's 2012 games Black won this one too, but here it was Jobava who innovated with 12.Rc1. And this, my friends and readers, presents a really new position! Who is better? What plans should be chosen? How, if at all, should the pawn tension between White's e- and Black's f-pawns be resolved? Do Black's bishops matter? Do the c-file and White's mini-plan of Nb3-c5 cause Black serious difficulties?

    Karjakin is a great player, and on balance a stronger one than Jobava. But part of Karjakin's great strength is his diligence, his very professional level of preparation. This has been characteristic of his play for a long time, and his decision several years ago to work especially with Garry Kasparov's former "permanent" trainer Yuri Dokhoian has only solidified that tendency in Karjakin. Jobava, on the other hand, prefers the road less traveled. I don't mean by this that he is any less diligent in working on his openings than Karjakin, but rather that his openings are less traveled in general than Karjakin's. This gives him a double advantage, when he succeeds. First, he will know his lines better, simply because they are his. But to return to the initial comment starting this discussion, they are new positions, which means that Karjakin's greater general breadth and depth of chess understanding (I'm assuming that characterization is true - please join me there if only for the sake of the argument) isn't so relevant. So, there's newness.

    Second, the positions are not readily resolved. This is pretty clear by implication in the foregoing discussion, but it's worth stating explicitly. Maybe White has absolutely nothing from a "God's-eye view" in this line, even as late as 12.Rc1, but so what? I've seen my share of super-GM post-mortems where a player will say something like "Yes, and here Black does this, this and this; trades off the bishops and the position is simply drawn." Such statements are sometimes made practically right out of the opening, and yet the thing is that they are frequently on the money with those assessments. (It's not necessarily that we would manage to hold the position against them, but it's fair for them to assume that a player of comparable technical skill could do so.) In fact, even I've made such statements on occasion in a few positions I've taken myself to understand extremely well, and it's quite possible that you have too, and with justification.

    But getting back to the Jobava-Karjakin game, no such story is possible, at least not yet. This goes hand-in-glove with the "newness" point. If Jobava's Giuoco line catches on a bit then we'll have super-GMs and correspondence chess mavens working things out to death, and then we'll see the press conferences where Anand or Kramnik or whoever it is playing Black says "Yes, this is the important factor in the position, and by trading this, covering that square and maneuvering this and that to here and there White has nothing." But for now, it's far from obvious what the play-killing plan is, and that's what makes it work.Third, the opponent has real problems to solve. This isn't Chess960, where we're all just trying to figure out what to do even if there aren't any particular problems just yet. Nor is it simply a vague position where one isn't sure how to clarify the position, but isn't in any trouble as a result. Karjakin had real problems to solve right out of the opening. Jobava soon enjoyed a serious advantage, which he rapidly parlayed into a crushing attack.

    That was a bit of a ramble, I suppose, but it's worth thinking about openings along the aforementioned lines. Many amateurs - and many pros too, for that matter - work on their openings with an eye to either murdering their opponents in the main lines or (more often in amateurdom) seeking some tricky, get-rich-quick sideline. The first approach goes back to opening encyclopedias going back at least as far as Bilguier, and is surely the preferred method of Generation Space Bar (i.e., of those who prompt Houdini or their favorite engine to execute its most highly-evaluated move by pressing the space bar on their keyboard). The trappy approach surely has an even older pedigree, though I'm sure its results overall are considerably worse. There are still other approaches, but I think it's worth taking this Jobava/Kramnik/Carlsen approach very seriously as a major third way.

    Now from schach to sciatica. Thanks to the glory of painkillers and especially steroids (not of the sort that will get me banned from Olympic weightlifting competitions, fear not), I'm at least able to function like a reasonable facsimile of myself for the moment, after a week and a half of consistent agony and terrible sleep. This is not a cure though, and on Monday I'll see a neurologist to decide what's next: an injection, (comparatively minor) surgery or something else or some combination of options. It seems that my back and discs are pretty good in general, so there are reasonable grounds to hope that after treatment (and some possible post-treatment misery) I should function at least as well as before. And assuming I'm able to keep all of you posted, I will!

    Again, many, many thanks to those of you who have contributed, often with some kind words as well. The financial help has indeed been a help, and the encouragement and care it represented has been if anything an even greater blessing - especially during the most painful and incapacitating days of this struggle. I'm not out of the woods yet, but as noted above, it's a relief to at least feel like a reasonable facsimile of my usual self. Thank you!

    Tuesday
    Jan012013

    Piterenka Rapid/Blitz: Karjakin Wins A Crazy Armageddon Game

    Four Russian super-GMs participated in the Piterenka Rapid/Blitz tournament in Moscow, Russia. Sergey Karjakin, Alexander Grischuk, Dmitry Jakovenko and Ian Nepomniachtchi battled it out on the 29th in two double-round robins. In the rapid (10' + 5") portion Karjakin and Grischuk tied for first with 4/6, ahead of Nepomniachtchi's 3 and Jakovenko's single point. In the blitz (3' + 2"), Karjakin, Grischuk and Nepomniachtchi all had 3.5/6; Jakovenko again brought up the caboose with 1.5.

    Since Karjakin and Grischuk tied in both disciplines they obviously tied overall as well, so they played an Armageddon game. Grischuk finally broke through with White and achieved a completely won position on the board, but by that point both players were very low on time. Up a rook and more, but nearly out of time, Grischuk blundered into a stalemate trick, and so Karjakin won the event - see for yourself.