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    Entries in Vladimir Kramnik (117)

    Thursday
    Jan312019

    Sosonko & Shankland, Good News and Bad News

    Jokes about Gennadi Sosonko as a sort of chronicler for the grim reaper have been going around for at couple of decades now. If Sosonko writes about you, there's a kind of good news, bad news to it: the good news is that if he does, you're somebody in the chess world; the bad news is that if he does, you're probably dead. (That may or may not be bad news for you, but it's at least sad for your loved ones.)

    Sam Shankland may be the moderately grim reaper. If you lose to him in the last round of an event (or at least your last round), the good news is that you're clearly a really strong player. The bad news is that it might be your last serious game: he sent Judit Polgar into retirement in the 2014 Chess Olympiad (I can't believe it has been four and a half years! I initially wrote "2016", but then checked to make sure), and now he has sent Vladimir Kramnik out of professional chess as well. It's possible that there's no causal relationship between their losses to Shankland and their retirement, but you can't be too careful: make sure your favorite players don't face him in the last round of a major tournament.

    Wednesday
    Jan302019

    Chess.com's Post on Kramnik's Retirement (Includes a Tweet Fit For a Donkey) **Updated**

    It is a gracious post, of course, both in its original text and in the surveyed tweets. (Well, mostly so; there is one notable exception - a garbage tweet from the current owner of the game's highest title.) Hopefully there will be plenty of tributes, and some good books on his career - ideally by the man himself.

    **Update** Magnus Carlsen says a little about Kramnik's retirement in the first few minutes of this video interview with Jan Gustafsson.

    Tuesday
    Jan292019

    Vladimir Kramnik Retires At 43

    I guess this explains his kamikaze performance at Wijk aan Zee, though why he preferred to go out showing insane chess rather than making an all-out effort to remind the world of his best chess is hard to understand. Different strokes for different folks, as they say.

    Anyway, it's sad news to see Vladimir Kramnik, who has been in the top 10 (often in the top 5, and for serious stretches in the top 3) for almost all of the past 25 years hang it up at the relatively early age of 43. There are athletes who still play professional sports at that age (not many, but still), and while Garry Kasparov threw in the towel at the age of 41 it's rare for a chess player to give up so early. Viswanathan Anand was still the world champion at that age, and Anatoly Karpov also held one of the world titles when he was 43 (and just a few months before he turned 43 he had one of the greatest results of all time when he destroyed the field in Linares in 1994).

    Kramnik was the world champion from 2000 to 2006, defeating Kasparov to win the title. In addition to his colossal achievements as a player, he has been the leading influence on opening theory over the past quarter of a century. With White, he was among the movers and shakers of the 4.Qc2 Nimzo-Indian. Against the King's Indian, his use of the Petrosian Variation and then especially the Bayonet Attack gave King's Indian players headaches for years, and helped chase Kasparov away from that defense. His advocacy of the Catalan also produced much suffering for Black for years, while with the black pieces he not only put the Berlin Defense on the map, he made everything else on the 1.e4 map look like a tiny island, at least for a while.

    Kramnik had made jokes about being a "pensioner" for a few years, and had threatened to retire at age 40. I'm glad he stuck around a while longer (though I would have been okay with his retiring before his dreadful performance in Wijk aan Zee), and hope he gets his motivation back soon. (He probably won't, but I can hope.)

    More about the decision here, and if someone else doesn't do it first I might try to cobble together a "best of" post at some point.

    Saturday
    Jan262019

    2019 Wijk aan Zee, Round 12: Carlsen Wins Again, Leads Giri By Half a Point Going Into Their Last-Round Showdown

    Last year Magnus Carlsen and Anish Giri tied for first in the Tata Steel Chess Tournament, and in this year's edition they are once again the only contenders for first. Last year, Carlsen defeated Giri in a playoff; this year, a playoff is impossible, as Carlsen enters the round half a point ahead of his rival and they face off in the last round. (I suppose one could consider it a de facto playoff: an Armageddon game with a classical time control. If Carlsen wins or draws, he wins the tournament; if Giri wins, then he does.)

    They entered the round tied for first after Giri got a colossal gift from Sam Shankland, who resigned in a completely drawn position. In this round Giri got a second gift, as Teimour Radjabov offered a draw (which was of course accepted by Giri) in a won position. Not a dead or obviously won position, but a winning one all the same. Even with all the freebies Giri is enjoying, Carlsen still enters the last round as the sole leader after grinding out a victory against Jan-Krzysztof Duda. No freebies, just hard work: he obtained an advantage in the early middlegame and never let go. Duda didn't make it easy for him, but he was still forced to surrender after 71 moves.

    Ian Nepomniachtchi entered the round only half a point behind the leaders, but now he's a point and a half behind after getting clobbered by Shankland. Perhaps trying to hard to get a complicated and untheoretical position Nepo played an experimental line, a Pirc with ...e6. The combination of ...g6, ...Bg7, ...Nf6 and ...e6 generally don't go very well together (to oversimplify a bit: if you want to play a Pirc, avoid ...e6; if you want a Hippo, don't play ...Nf6), and they went dreadfully wrong in this game. Shankland played natural, healthy, aggressive chess, and won convincingly.

    Ding Liren and Viswanathan Anand could have remained a point behind Carlsen, had either defeated the other. That still would have left them mathematically eliminated from the race for first, after Carlsen's win, but at least they'd be a bit closer. It was a very good game, with Ding playing 1.e4 - an unusual first move for him - and having some deep preparation. Anand defended well, and 28...Rd6 was a beautiful idea that led to an ending where White's had no way to use his material advantage.

    Finally, Vladimir Kramnik made it two consecutive wins by defeating Vladimir Fedoseev in a queen and rook ending, while Shakhriyar Mamedyarov bled some rating points by drawing with Jorden Van Foreest. Kramnik is now "only" -18.7 for the touranment, while Mamedyarov is a ghastly -26 on the live rating list. And Santosh Vidit Gujrathi was winning against Richard Rapport, but after he missed the right way to prosecute his attack the game finished in a draw.

    The tournament site is here, the games (with light comments, though not about photons) are here, and these the pairings for the final round, tomorrow:

    • Giri (8) - Carlsen (8.5)
    • Nepomniachtchi (7) - Radjabov (6)
    • Kramnik (4.5) - Shankland (5.5)
    • Mamedyarov (4.5) - Fedoseev (4.5)
    • Rapport (5.5) - Van Foreest (4.5)
    • Anand (7) - Vidit (6.5)
    • Duda (5) - Ding (7)

    In the Challengers Tournament, the sole leader is Vladislav Kovalev, who came into the event as the second seed. He has 9/12, good for a half-point lead over 16-year-old Andrey Esipenko and Maksim Chigaev. Unfortunately for Chigaev and Esipenko, they're both playing Black against strong opponents (Gledura and Bareev, respectively) while Kovalev has White against bottom seed and co-cellar dweller Stefan Kuipers. One never knows for sure, but the odds of Kovalev's getting clear first and securing qualification to next year's top group look awfully good.

    Tuesday
    Jan152019

    2019 Wijk aan Zee, Round 4: Nepomniachtchi Remains in Clear First; Carlsen Draws Again

    Looks like I was wrong about Magnus Carlsen and Vladimir Kramnik. After Kramnik's first three games I assumed he'd be ripe for the picking by Carlsen, but where Kramnik's suicide streak only extended to three games (and two in which he was successful), the champ's 20-game series of draws was an unstoppable force. Kramnik put on his Sunday best, played strong and sensible chess, and drew like the three-time world champion and frequent 2800 player that he is.

    Theirs was an interesting draw, but the other four drawn games were utterly forgettable. I'd tell you more about them, but they've already slipped my memory, so I'll only note that one of the draws was the shared property of Ian Nepomniachtchi, who continues to enjoy the sole lead in the event with a +2 score of 3 out 4.

    On to the two decisive games. As usual, the Dutch players were involved. On the sunny side, Anish Giri moved to +1 by defeating Richard Rapport with the black pieces. The game was balanced until Rapport found an exchanging combination that backfired. Rapport presumably missed Giri's 22nd or 24th move, and the result was a lost middlegame that Giri cashed in without much trouble. Things were less sunny for Jorden Van Foreest. He found himself a pawn down in an opposite-colored bishops ending. It was probably drawn, as I think I've demonstrated in the analysis, but (possibly due to time trouble) he didn't manage to save hte game against Santosh Vidit.

    All the games can be replayed here, with comments to the two decisive games and Carlsen-Kramnik. (Tournament site here.) Here are the pairings for round 5: 

    • Van Foreest (1) - Carlsen (2)
    • Fedoseev (1.5) - Vidit (2.5)
    • Shankland (2) - Ding (2.5)
    • Radjabov (2) - Duda (2)
    • Giri (2.5) - Anand (2.5)
    • Nepomniachtchi (3) - Rapport (1.5)
    • Kramnik (1) - Mamedyarov (2) 

    Carlsen has to win this time, right?

    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.

    Wednesday
    Mar212018

    2018 Candidates, Round 9: A Round 8 Encore - Three Draws and a Kramnik Loss

    There were three draws on the day, just as in round 8, but once again the games were (mostly) hard-fought. Wesley So's game with Alexander Grischuk was a damp squib, a 5.Re1 Anti-Berlin with what looked like a harmless novelty on move 23. All the previous games had been drawn, and it doesn't look like Grischuk broke much of a sweat in adding another half-point to the pile. By contrast, the other three games had plenty of life.

    Fabiano Caruana and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov entered the round in first and second place, respectively, separated by half a point. They could have finished the round a point, or even a point and a half, apart. In the longest game of the round Caruana outplayed Ding Liren and was clearly winning - at least twice. Unfortunately for the American, he faltered at the last hurdle, and Ding escaped with a draw. As for Mamedyarov, he had Black against Levon Aronian, and while he was never in as much trouble as Ding was against Caruana, he was under pressure. If Aronian had anything serious, it was over after 32.b3, when his pawn sac left him with sufficient compensation for the sacrificed pawn but nothing more. They agreed to a draw right after the first time control, leaving Mamedyarov half a point behind Caruana (and Grischuk half a point behind Mamedyarov).

    Finally, there was poor old Vladimir Kramnik - but this time it was his opponent who won the game, not Kramnik who self-destructed. Sergey Karjakin found a very interesting new idea against Kramnik's beloved Semi-Tarrasch: 7.Rb1 Be7 8.Nf3 0-0 9.h4!? Kramnik chose a very combative response with 9...cxd4 10.cxd4 Nc6 11.h5 f5!?, but went astray on move 14. After this Karjakin played very well, and even an inaccuracy on move 20 wasn't enough for Kramnik to save the game. Kramnik did have one extraordinary opportunity to give Karjakin some serious trouble, though - be sure to have a look at the note to Black's 23rd move for the details.

    Wednesday is a rest day, giving you plenty of time to enjoy the round 9 games (here, with my comments). Here are the pairings for round 10, on Thursday; Mamedyarov-Caruana is the key matchup, which could very well determine Magnus Carlsen's challenger this November:

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

    Tuesday
    Mar202018

    2018 Candidates, Round 8: Three Draws and Another Kramnik Loss

    The second cycle of the Candidates got underway in round 8, and the outcome was more peaceful than in round 1. In that round, with the same pairings (with colors reversed), three games finished with a decisive result. Not this time: three games were drawn, and the one decisive result should have been the fourth draw.

    The leader coming in was Fabiano Caruana, who defeated Wesley So with White in round 1. He came reasonably close with Black, too, as for the second time in this event the lame 5.Qe2 against Caruana's Petroff resulted in a very poor middlegame position for White. To So's credit, he defended exceptionally well and saved the game, using an endgame trick famously discovered by Emanuel Lasker in 1924.

    Shakhriyar Mamedaryov also defeated his opponent, Sergey Karjakin, in their first round game - and that was with the black pieces - but like Caruana, he only drew in the rematch. He obtained a small advantage in a Catalan sideline, and a slight inaccuracy enabled Karjakin to achieve full equality. Wisely shepherding his strength, Mamedyarov decided to call it a day after just 30 moves.

    Ding Liren and Levon Aronian drew their game in the first cycle, and drew this one, too. Their first game was a short draw, but Aronian was much better, even winning had he chosen not to repeat. This time it was Ding who failed to maximize his chances, misplaying an ending with a clean extra pawn.

    Finally, Vladimir Kramnik's bizarre self-destruction continued. He defeated Alexander Grischuk in round 1, but this time nothing more than a draw was on the cards. The simplest way to achieve it was with 31...Bxc3, when the pin after 32.Bxc3 Rxc3 was of no consequence. Instead Kramnik let Grischuk keep his extra pawn, and found himself lost after the first time control. Both players were tired, however, and the evaluation kept switching between equality and a serious advantage for Grischuk. After playing one long game after another - something which was entirely Kramnik's fault the past three rounds - he was tired and by his own admission "couldn't see anything". The result was another loss, in 91 moves. It was better to spend a few extra minutes making sure 31...Bxc3 worked, and then he'd have saved himself 3+ hours of play and half a point in the tournament table. As for Grischuk, he's at +1 now and in the running for first place.

    The games, with my comments, are here; here's what coming up in round 9:

     

    • So (3) - Grischuk (4.5)
    • Caruana (5.5) - Ding (4)
    • Aronian (3) - Mamedyarov (5)
    • Karjakin (3.5) - Kramnik (3.5)

     

    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)

    Thursday
    Mar152018

    2018 Candidates, Round 4: Kramnik Loses a Soul-Crusher to Caruana

    Wow, what an amazing round! In a normal tournament, the game between Alexander Grischuk and Ding Liren would be talked about for days. It was a razor-sharp Anti-Moscow Gambit, and on top of that Grischuk trotted out the fascinating 12.Nxf7 piece sac Veselin Topalov used against Vladimir Kramnik in Wijk aan Zee 2008 to win a huge grudge-match game. Both sides had winning chances, there were crazy tactics and material imbalances practically from start to finish, there was time pressure - practically everything a fan could want in a game. Yet this spectacular draw was completely overshadowed by the war between Vladimir Kramnik and Fabiano Caruana.

    Nothing presaged what was to come. Caruana played the Petroff (yawn), and Kramnik played 5.Qe2 (triple yawn). The game looked dull and was dull, and then Kramnik came up with a plan that didn't work out very well. Soon he was worse, then losing. Unfortunately for Kramnik, he started playing very well at this point, from move 24. Despite his growing time trouble, Caruana played very well too until his 33rd move, and from there to the end of the time control he not only squandered his advantage, but wound up worse. His 41st move was a further mistake, and now Kramnik's advantage was decisive.

    This was no ordinary position, however. Caruana was a piece up, with two (split) passed pawns on the kingside. Kramnik, however, had four, count 'em, four passed pawns on the queenside, and both sides had some troubles with their king. This time it was Kramnik's turn to falter, and once he realized that what he probably thought was winning wasn't, he started burning a lot of time. Now he had to survive until the third and final time control, and while he hung on very well from move 46 until move 58, he finally cracked on move 59, the next-to-last move of the control. He made the time control, but there was no saving the game at this point. He played a few more moves, mainly to collect himself and his composure, to resign and face the press conference.

    Had he won the game, he'd have been a huge favorite to win the event, even with ten rounds to go, but as it is he trails Caruana by half a point and must regain his psychological equilibrium. It would have been much easier on him had he just lost the first time he had a losing position, but let's stay tuned and see how he bounces back.

    Speaking of bouncing back, Levon Aronian overcame his shellacking by Kramnik in the previous round, and beat Sergey Karjakin with the black pieces. Karjakin got tricked or confused by Aronian's unusual move order in the Vienna Variation of the Ragozin, and came out of the opening down a couple of pawns for inadequate compensation. He recovered one of them, but the result was a winning endgame for Aronian. Though the game went 68 moves, it didn't take anywhere near as long as the 66-move Kramnik-Caruana game, and the technical task for Aronian was pretty easy.

    Finally, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Wesley So kept the commentators and the annotators from a complete overload by playing a short and unimpressive draw. Considering how poor So's tournament had been, it's a little surprising that Mamedyarov didn't go for a "position" rather than trying a relatively forcing, clear-cut theoretical line.

    Anyway, the games, with my notes, are here; this is what we have to look forward to in round 5:

    • Aronian (2) - Grischuk (2)
    • Caruana (3) - Karjakin (1)
    • So (1) - Kramnik (2.5)
    • Ding Liren (2) - Mamedyarov (2.5)