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    Entries in Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (35)

    Tuesday
    Apr172018

    A Mamedyarov Interview

    In which the world's #3 (#2 until very recently, and technically still is #2) talks about his performance in the Candidates tournament and looks forward to the Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir, which starts on Thursday.

    Monday
    Mar262018

    2018 Candidates, Round 13: Caruana Regains the Clear Lead

    Perhaps the rest day helped, or maybe it was good preparation. Or, maybe it's that Fabiano Caruana's opponent, Levon Aronian, is so out of form at the moment that it was enough for Caruana to play a decent game to obtain good winning chances. Whatever story we invent in all of its ex post facto glory, the facts are that Caruana rebounded from his painful loss to Sergey Karjakin on Saturday with an almost entirely clean and convincing victory over Aronian today. Since Karjakin was only able to draw his game against Wesley So, Caruana is in clear first, half a point ahead of both So and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who was given a massive present by Alexander Grischuk. Ding Liren is a full point behind after a lucky draw against Vladimir Kramnik. Amazingly, he's not yet mathematically eliminated from the race for first. But more about this below.

    First then, Caruana's win over Aronian. Caruana repeated the Anti-Marshall line 8.d3 d6 9.Bd2 played by Grischuk (also against Aronian) in the previous round. Aronian varied first, but it looked like either Caruana's preparation or just his feel for the position was better than his opponent's, and soon he was outplaying the great Armenian. On the verge of getting rolled up, Aronian made a good practical decision to sacrifice a piece. It shouldn't have worked, but Caruana's 29.N1e3?? needlessly endangered the win. (I recognize that the double question mark is pretty harsh; I defend that evaluation in the game file.) The problem wasn't easy to spot, however, and once Aronian missed his chance Caruana finished most convincingly.

    As for Karjakin, he never had a chance. When So has White and is determined to be solid, it's almost impossible to get a position where one can play for a win. Magnus Carlsen has managed to do it against him, but that's about it. Besides, Karjakin's classical style doesn't help much either when it comes to must-win situations with Black. He did try to get a sharp line against So's 4.Qc2 anti-Nimzo-Indian line, but So kept it safe and the draw was never in doubt.

    Meanwhile, Mamedyarov joined Karjakin in second. His game with Grischuk also looked like an inevitable draw, and had looked that way for a long time. Mamedyarov did just enough to keep the game from becoming a dead draw, and finally at move 34 Grischuk had to find the right move. He thought he had found a way to achieve an instant draw, but White's reply proved otherwise. Grischuk was tied with Mamedyarov entering the round, so if he had won he'd have had a shot. Not any longer.

    Finally, Kramnik showed how to play for a win with Black, and up until his 30th move had played a great game. Ding would have been lost after 30...Rxe7, and even after 32..Kg7 (or 32...Kh7) Kramnik probably would have won thanks to White's weak king. Instead, Kramnik allowed White to trade queens, and then his king wasn't an issue. The resulting ending was only a little better for Black, and Ding held the draw without much trouble.

    Caruana has 8 out of 13, Mamedyarov and Grischuk have 7.5, and Ding has 7. This site (HT: Chuckles) offers the odds of tournament success for each of the four, and (sacrificing a few decimal places) they are:

    • Caruana: 56.4%
    • Mamedyarov: 20.9%
    • Karjakin: 20.7%
    • Ding: 2%

    The site's author has more information and an explanation of his method, so you're encouraged to check out the full details there.

    Rapping things up over here...the games (with my notes) are here; and the final pairings, to determine the identity of Carlsen's challenger this coming November, are:

    • Grischuk (6.5) - Caruana (8)
    • Aronian (4) - So (5.5)
    • Karjakin (7.5) - Ding (7)
    • Kramnik (6) - Mamedyarov (7.5)

    Saturday
    Mar242018

    2018 Candidates, Round 12: The Tournament gets Karjaked

    Yes, it's a bad pun, and yes, I know the "j" in Sergey Karjakin's name is pronounced like a "y". I'm sticking to the dumb pun anyway. Who'd have thought that Karjakin, -2 after four rounds, would lead the tournament eight rounds later? What's that, you say, he's only tied for first? Incorrect. By beating "co-leader" Fabiano Caruana, Karjakin has the better tiebreaks, and given the tournament rules it means he would win the event if it finished right now. (Just as Magnus Carlsen advanced and Vladimir Kramnik didn't when they finished London 2013 with the same number of points.)

    Amazing. Karjakin has won four games in seven rounds, going from worst to first, and for the moment he has the pole position for a second straight title tilt with Magnus Carlsen. With White against Caruana and the latter's Petroff, Karjakin avoided nonsense like 5.Qe2 and went for the main lines, choosing 5.Nc3. After 10.a3 and 11.Nd4 there was a new position on the board, and it seems that he obtained an advantage. The critical idea that probably won him the game, and possibly a second shot at the title, was 17.Bxd5, sacrificing the exchange for a pawn and a nuclear bishop on d5, radiating power in every direction. Caruana didn't manage to cope with this piece, and by the time Karjakin picked up a second pawn for the exchange on move 31 Black's position was hopeless.

    Caruana's loss could have been Shakhriyar Mamedyarov's gain. Like Caruana, he had been undefeated all tournament long and had been in first or just half a point behind for a long time. Had he won with White against Ding Liren, he'd have been in sole first. Even a draw would have been acceptable: he'd have been in a three-way tie for first, and then he'd have been ahead on tiebreaks given his plus score against Karjakin and even record vs. Caruana. If, if, if. Ding didn't lose, and despite drawing all 11 of his games up to this point he didn't split the point either. Instead, he won, and now he's even with Mamedyarov, half a point behind the leaders.

    Ding took a page out of Kramnik's book (why not? Everyone else copies his openings) and played the Semi-Tarrasch. He equalized, and when Mamedyarov pushed to create a kingside attack Ding was able to push his queenside majority, make a second queen, and win.

    So four players lead or are within half a point of the lead. Did I say four? Make it five: we shouldn't forget Alexander Grischuk. If had defeated Levon Aronian he'd have been in the tie for first. He had a big chance on move 23, but rejected it for some reason and Aronian escaped with a draw. Still, Grischuk is within half a point of Karjakin and Caruana, so with two rounds to go more than half of the field still has a great shot at winning the tournament.

    The last game featured two players who are out of the running. Vladimir Kramnik had a winning advantage against Wesley So, but for the umpteenth time in the event left half a point (or more) on the table, and the game finished in a draw.

    The games (with my notes) are here. Sunday is a rest day, and the penultimate round will be played on Monday, with these pairings:

     

    • Mamedyarov (6.5) - Grischuk (6.5)
    • Ding Liren (6.5) - Kramnik (5.5)
    • So (5) - Karjakin (7)
    • Caruana (7) - Aronian (4)

     

    Thursday
    Mar222018

    2018 Candidates, Round 10: Mamedyarov-Caruana Drawn, Kramnik Wins Another Tactical Slugfest vs. Aronian

    Once again, for the third round in a row, play in the Candidates resulted in three draws and a decisive result in Vladimir Kramnik's game. Kramnik's results since round 3 have been atrocious - two draws and four losses. His last win was in round 3, against Levon Aronian, and now he has reprised it with a second win over Aronian. In fact, like the first game, this too was a thrilling tactical slugfest, but with some differences.

    For starters, Kramnik got a great position in the opening of the earlier game, but this time his opening play was poor while Aronian's was excellent, and Kramnik was in trouble even early on. He went all-out for a kingside attack, and after an Aronian inaccuracy on move 22 the position was unclear. Both players kept the balance in the Mikhail Tal-style middlegame that followed, and as often happened in Tal's games, the defender would stay alive for a pretty long time before collapsing on a relatively simple point. Aronian's mistake on move 36 wasn't the sort of thing one only spots on a good day or with an engine; normally one would expect Aronian to see the problem with his move in a blitz game. It's just the pressure of calculating move after move, hour after hour, exerting one's imagination to the utmost that gives rise to the occasional lapse, and alas for Aronian, he slipped. Kramnik is now at -1, not yet mathematically eliminated from the race for first, but - as he might way - it would be a "miracle" if he could win.

    The two players with the best chance to win faced off, with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov playing White against Fabiano Caruana. It was a Catalan - the theme opening for this tournament - but a very sharp line for a change. Had Caruana played ...h4 on moves 13 or 14 it would have been utter chaos on the board. Instead, after setting the fire with his play on moves 5-12, he called the fire department and ran around with an extinguisher, playing not for middlegame sparks but a drawish semi-middlegame, semi-endgame a pawn down. Mamedyarov may have missed a chance on move 17, but that aside it was a very well-played and interesting game from beginning to end.

    The other two games weren't particular interesting, and were drawn quickly. Though Alexander Grischuk had White and was within a point of Caruana, he didn't seem to have anything special prepared against Sergey Karjakin, and by move 15 it already seemed that he had given up on the game, which was drawn by repetition in 28 moves. Ding Liren vs. Wesley So was also drawn quickly. Surprisingly, while both Mamedyarov-Caruana and Grischuk-Karjakin were Catalans, the most devoted Catalan addict in the field, Ding Liren, avoided it against So, entering a conventional Queen's Gambit Declined. So went for an unusual pawn sac on move 9, and it worked perfectly. If there's an advantage to be had for White, it had to be demonstrated somewhere between moves 12-14. After 14.Kg1 Bxf3 15.Bxf3 e5 Black had completely equalized, and the remaining moves were necessary only for the sake of reaching move 30. White made his 31st move and offered a draw in a dead rook + three pawns vs. rook + three pawns ending.

    (All four games, with my comments, are here.)

    Four rounds remain, and Caruana still leads Mamedyarov by half a point; Grischuk is a further half a point behind, followed by Karjakin and tournament drawmeister Ding Liren. (He's 10 for 10, just four games away from joining the immortal Anish Giri.) It's not too late for any of them, but it's getting close. Here are the pairings for round 11:

    • Ding Liren (5) - Grischuk (5.5)
    • So (4) - Mamedyarov (6)
    • Caruana (6.5) - Kramnik (4.5)
    • Aronian (3.5) - Karjakin (5)

    One would expect the first two games to end in solid draws and the second two to be anything but. The first time around, both Kramnik and Karjakin lost to their rivals with White, in both cases - especially Kramnik's - doing great damage to their tournaments. If they win with Black - which won't be easy, especially for Kramnik - they're back in the hunt.

    Friday
    Mar162018

    2018 Candidates, Round 6: Shakh Catches the Car; Aronian, Kramnik Look on in the Distance

    Please excuse the overly informal subject line, offered for the sake of painting a picture. As Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Fabiano "Car"uana drive away, two of the pre-tournament favorites, Vladimir Kramnik and Levon Aronian, are left behind as their hopes vanish in the distance. It's still not too late - there are eight rounds remaining - but it's not looking good for them, and they're going in the wrong direction.

    The game of the day, at least in the race for first, was Mamedyarov-Kramnik. For the second straight day Kramnik played the Semi-Tarrasch with Black, and for the second straight day managed to equalize. Also for the second straight day, Kramnik was unsatisfied with an easy draw with the Black pieces, and decided to play on. At this point the script diverged. Again Wesley So in round 5 Kramnik never overstepped the bounds of acceptable risk, but against Mamedyarov in round 6 he did so, repeatedly, as if he was still "on tilt" from the loss to Caruana in round 4. A poor mini-plan on moves 23 and 24 could have been punished by 25.f4, with a big advantage for White, but Kramnik got away with that one. A further mistake on 31 could have been punished by 32.Rbc1, with a winning advantage for White...but Kramnik got away with that one, too. On move 34 he went too far, and instead of enjoying full equality and even some small chances of playing for a win after 34...Rxc1 35.Rxc1 Bc6, he uncorked 34...Rdc8?? Three strikes and you're out: Mamedyarov played 35.Rxc7+ Rxc7 36.Rh1, winning the h-pawn for nothing, with a vastly superior position to boot. Kramnik tried valiantly to save the game, coming up with some nice tricks at the end, but they were too simple for an alert Mamedyarov.

    With the win, Mamedyarov caught up Caruana in first place, a point ahead of their closest competitors. Caruana was doubtlessly hoping for more with White against Alexander Grischuk, and he seemed to be better most of the way. The position was tricky though, and in the end Caruana decided that it was better to play it safe and allow a repetition than to take big risks.

    Ding Liren and Sergey Karjakin avoided serious risks; in fact, they avoided almost all risks. Ding played something new on move 11, varying from what had been played by a number of super-GMs - himself included. But after just two more moves, he decided that it was time to allow (and semi-force) a repetition, which was accomplished after 18 moves in total.

    Levon Aronian's event had been disappointing so far, with a bad loss to Kramnik that was mostly an opening disaster and a couple of winning positions he had failed to convert. Despite this, he was still on 50%, and although he was Black in the round his opponent was Wesley So, who was still on -2 and tied for last place. So deserves a lot of credit, though. He lost his first two games, but has rebuilt his confidence and proved that he can compete here. In round 3 he took a safety draw with White, and in rounds 4 and 5 he drew "real" games. Now in round 6, he played an excellent game, showing good preparation and good play after the preparation as well to convincingly outplay his very experienced opponent. Both players are now on -1, but So must feel a lot better about his standing in the event than Aronian does about his own.

    The games, with my comments, are here. Tomorrow is a rest day (the pattern, which continues throughout the event, is to have a rest day every three rounds), and the pairings for round 7 - the last round of the first cycle - are as follows:

    • Grischuk (3) - Mamedyarov (4)
    • Kramnik (3) - Ding Liren (3)
    • Karjakin (2) - So (2.5)
    • Aronian (2.5) - Caruana (4)

    Monday
    Mar122018

    2018 Candidates, Round 3: Kramnik Crushes Aronian, Leads

    The hot start to the Candidates continued today with a couple of very exciting games. That obviously includes the day's one win, though it must be said that Levon Aronian played very badly. Aronian had White against Vladimir Kramnik, and instead of his usual d4/c4 repertoire he trotted out 1.e4. Kramnik went into a Berlin, of course, and while 4.d3 was a very normal response 7.h3 was not. Kramnik was even ready for that semi-lemon, almost immediately playing 7...Rg8!!, and Aronian was already on his own in a dubious position. Kramnik soon enjoyed a clearly better, and after 18.Qa4? f5! it was over. The only question was which beautiful finish Aronian would allow, and with Kramnik finding all the right moves (19...Rxg5, 24...Bd5, and 26...Qe2) the massacre ended after just 27 moves. It was a disastrous game for Aronian, who was one of the pre-tournament favorites, and except for his comfortable draw with Black in round 2 the tournament has been a disappointment. Still, there are 11 rounds to go, so there's still time for him to right the ship and contend for first.

    The other crowd-pleaser involved the players who shared the lead with Kramnik coming into the day; namely, Fabiano Caruana and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Mamedyarov played a Najdorf, and Caruana went in for the Byrne Attack. The play was sharp and unclear throughout, and while Caruana had a significant advantage for a while it was never stable. Given his time trouble, it was hard to maintain the plus, and Mamedyarov fought his way back to objective equality and even tried for the win. Both players played perfectly from around move 35 on, both skating the precipice, and the game was agreed drawn after Mamedyarov's 49th move, with an equal king and pawn ending in sight.

    The other two draws were less interesting. Wesley So went for safety first against Ding Liren, taking the white side of a Marshall Gambit. As often happens, White obtained a minuscule edge in the ending, but Black's bishop pair held the day, especially after one of the bishops was exchanged for a knight, producing a dead drawn opposite-colored bishop ending. Sergey Karjakin's game with Alexander Grischuk was only slightly more interesting, a Giuoco Piano with an early 5.Nc3. Maybe Karjakin was counting on the line's rarity to surprise Grischuk, but Black knew what to do and even enjoyed a tiny edge before the game petered out to a draw after 30 moves. (All four games, with my comments, can be replayed here.)

    Kramnik is the sole leader heading into the first rest day, with Caruana and Mamedyarov half a point behind. Kramnik will have White against Caruana in round 4 (on Wednesday), so he'll have a chance to put some ground between him and one of his most dangerous rivals); while at least on paper Mamedyarov will have a great chance to boost his score and increase his confidence, as he'll have White against tailender So. Here are the full pairings:

    • Grischuk (1.5) - Ding Liren (1.5)
    • Mamedyarov (2) - So (.5)
    • Kramnik (2.5) - Caruana (2)
    • Karjakin (1) - Aronian (1)

    Saturday
    Mar102018

    2018 Candidates, Round 1: Three Wins! **UPDATED**

    No warm-up round today! Three of the four games finished with a winner, and it should have been four out of four. Interestingly, all three of the wins came in the "collusion pairings": one Russian beat another Russian, an American beat another American, and one very good friend beat another. Only in the game with "unrelated" opponents was there a draw.

    The first win was quick and painful, as Fabiano Caruana won with a kingside attack against Wesley So. The game was initially a rather dry-looking Closed Catalan, but after 15...e5 it livened up. A key moment came on move 18, when So chose 18...Bxc5 rather than 18...Nxc5. In case of the knight capture, White would have a small, persistent edge, but nothing dramatic. After 18...Bxc5 White had no advantage, but Black had no margin for error. Had So played 23...Ra2 and about a dozen only-moves after that, he'd have achieved equality. (Assuming my analysis is correct.) Instead, he played 23...Ba6, and after that he was losing. White's pieces broke through to Black's king, while most of Black's forces were stuck on spectator duty on the queenside.

    Levon Aronian's game finished quickly, especially in the number of moves (22), but with the wrong result. Aronian's 8.h4 was an interesting near-novelty in the Mikenas Variation of the English, and Ding Liren didn't find the best answer to White's idea. Despite missing opportunities on moves 12 and 15 to obtain a winning advantage, Ding was also unable to perfectly navigate the crazy middlegame they created. After 18...Rd6? (instead of 18...Ba8) Aronian was winning, but needed to play 19.Rb2. Or 21.Rb2. Or...well, he didn't get the chance to play 23.Rb2, because the players repeated the position. A big missed opportunity by Aronian.

    The day's next winner was Vladimir Kramnik, who gradually outplayed Alexander Grischuk in a...hmm. 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.b3 is what? Eventually it turned into a sort of English, one in which Black was just fine. This remained the case until around move 21, when Grischuk started making inaccuracies. Kramnik's play wasn't perfect, but he kept an advantage and the pressure on, and by the time the players made the time control White had a winning advantage. Kramnik showed good technique the rest of the way, and shares the lead.

    Finally, Sergey Karjakin and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov played a long game that went almost six and a half hours, and in the end the world's #2 came away with a win, with Black, over the winner of the last Candidates event. Mamedyarov played a dubious line of the Ruy, but Karjakin's unenterprising 12.Bxd4 let Black off the hook. 14.Qxc7 was a further inaccuracy, but Karjakin still managed to reach a drawish queen & rook ending. Mamedyarov had a passed c-pawn, with all the remaining pawns on the kingside, so what winning chances existed were on Black's side. Nevertheless, the position was equal, and normally Karjakin would hold the draw without too much trouble. Unfortunately for Karjakin, his plan of 26.Ra5 followed by 27.Qc8+ and 28.Qg4 was a sort of extended blunder; he must have missed 28...Rb5, forcing a trade of rooks and leaving him with a much worse, possibly lost queen ending. The play was back and forth, as you'll see in the notes, but in the end Karjakin made the last mistake and was ground down in 71 moves.

    The games, with my notes, are here; here are tomorrow's pairings:

     

    • Grischuk (0) - So (0)
    • Ding Liren (.5) - Caruana (1)
    • Mamedyarov (1) - Aronian (.5)
    • Kramnik (1) - Karjakin (0)

     

    Aronian and Karjakin will have to show some resilience after their unforced errors cost them each half a point, especially playing Black against confident opponents who won in round 1.

    **UPDATE**

    I watched the post-game press conferences on World Chess's Facebook page, and have incorporated players' comments into a revised analysis file, which you can access here. Also of note is that most of the players complained about the noise in the playing hall, which was pretty severe. Even worse: Mamedyarov reported that at one point he could see Judit Polgar's analysis of his game on a monitor from his seat at the board!! (I guess there was a monitor that would allow the spectators and players to see the game positions, and somehow the commentary feed suddenly showed up instead.) Karjakin also complained about the hotel, so it looks like the organizers haven't exactly covered themselves in glory so far.

    Wednesday
    Jan242018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Sunday
    Jan212018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Saturday
    Jan202018

    Wijk aan Zee 2018, Round 7: Mamedyarov Wins Again, Leads by a Full Point

    Shakhriyar Mamedyarov had a great 2017 (apparently he had the best TPR for the entire year - see the last entry), and he's starting 2018 the same way. With his easy win today over Wei Yi he has scored a hat trick, moving to +4 overall and a full point lead over his closest pursuers. The tournament still has six rounds left and Mamedyarov will face Carlsen soon, but for now everything is coming up roses for him.

    He was not the only winner on the day - there was a lot of blood spilled on the boards. Viswanathan Anand came into the round tied for second, but lost badly, with White, to Vladimir Kramnik. Now it's Kramnik who is part of a second-place tie. Another player who has entered the tie for second is Magnus Carlsen, who defeated tournament tailender Hou Yifan. Carlsen had a significant advantage early on but let it slip. Hou defended well for a long time, but Carlsen kept posing problems and eventually broke his opponent's resistance. The other two players in the tie are Wesley So and Anish Giri, who faced each other today. Giri fought his way out of a difficult position and made a draw.

    The final decisive result saw Sergey Karjakin defeat Fabiano Caruana. Caruana seemed to blunder a pawn shortly after the opening, and Karjakin converted without much trouble. Karjakin is half a point out of the tie for second, while Caruana is near the bottom with a -3 score.

    The day's other games were draws between Maxim Matlakov and Baskaran Adhiban, and between Gawain Jones and Peter Svidler. Jones is the lowest rated player in the event, far lower-rated than everyone but Hou and Adhiban (who are in last and next-to-last, respectively), but it doesn't look like it. He's still on 50%.

    The games (some annotated, some not) are here. These are the round 8 pairings:

    • Hou Yifan (1) - Caruana (2)
    • Adhiban (1.5) - Karjakin (4)
    • Wei Yi (2.5) - Matlakov (3.5)
    • Giri (4.5) - Mamedyarov (5.5)
    • Kramnik (4.5) - So (4.5)
    • Svidler (3.5) - Anand (4)
    • Carlsen (4.5) - Jones (3.5)