Here's a new interview with Vladimir Kramnik, with a couple of new tidbits and a couple of comments about Magnus Carlsen. (Regarding one of them, Carlsen has a staff of ten people? I could see that if one includes the people managing the business side of things, like his father and Espen Agdestein, but ten chess players? There's Jon Ludwig Hammer, Peter Heine Nielsen, Laurent Fressinet and...?)
Entries in Vladimir Kramnik (74)
Let's get caught up on Dortmund, which is now 5/7 over after round 4 on Wednesday, a rest on Thursday and round 5 today. Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu continues to lead, as he has the entire event, but now he has company. After three rounds he was alone in first with 2.5/3, but was caught in round 4 by Vladimir Kramnik and in round 5 by Fabiano Caruana. Let's review the action.
In round 4 Nisipeanu had Black against Ian Nepomniachtchi, and after a slight advantage see-sawed between the two players Nepomniachtchi was the last player to get an edge, but it was unusable. An extra pawn in a rook + three vs. rook + two ending with all the pawns on the same side is almost always drawn, and this wasn't a difficult hold for Nisipeanu.
Meanwhile, Kramnik managed to keep just enough tension in the position to outwit Georg Meier, who yet again lost half a point or more from a good position. Meier played the Anti-Berlin line 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.Re1, which looks unpretentious but isn't as insipid as it seems. Kramnik did manage to equalize, but in his desire to push for a win he had to take some fairly serious risks. Meier enjoyed a clear advantage leading up to the time control, and had he played 35.R5e4 or 35.gxf4 Rxf4 and then 36.R5e4 things might have turned out differently. When the time control came the position was about equal, but the danger was mostly on Meier's side. The game was lost in one move: 50.Ke2; after 50.a4 it would remain equal, and there were other moves that would have kept the game going. Such collapses are very possible in complicated positions, even after the time control; in fact, Kramnik lost in similar fashion in round 5. More on that later; for now, Nisipeanu and Kramnik were the co-leaders with 3/4.
Fabiano Caruana also gained ground on Nisipeanu, winning his second straight game to get to half a point out of first. His victim was Arkadij Naiditsch, who was only a little worse until he played 25...Bxc5; it would have been better to play 26...Rc8 straight away rather than doing so after swapping the bishops. The difference was that Caruana anchored the rook on c5 with 27.b4, and when Black traded rooks White had a passed pawn. Not all was lost until Naiditsch played 35...a5, however; 35...e5 or 35...Kf6 followed by 36...e5 would have kept the game going. In the game Naiditsch quickly lost a piece, and that was that.
Finally, Hou Yifan and Wesley So had an interesting battle in a Classical Caro-Kann. Hou was starting to outplay So, but 31.Ka2 allowed a nice tactical sequence that led to a draw.
On to round five, when the marquee matchup with Kramnik - Caruana. The opening was a Fianchetto Gruenfeld with ...c6 and ...d5 which quickly left theory. (That's probably a good thing, as the variation tends to be pretty dull.) Kramnik's whole plan with 12.Re1, 13.Bxe4, 14.Nxe4 and especially 15.Qc2? was a bit of a disaster, and from there on out Kramnik was pretty much reduced to swindle mode. Remarkably, his resilient play succeeded and when Caruana played 23...e6 Kramnik had made it back to objective equality. Not practical equality, as the burden on him to find the right moves was more difficult, but objective equality was a real achievement. He kept up his end of things for a good while, but eventually things went astray. First, it's pretty difficult to make a move like 28.Kd4!, but the idea is that if 28...Qg2 White now has time to take on h6 and give perpetual before Black mates White's wandering king. Even so he was still alright until move 31, when 31.Nd2 fatally weakened his king. He needed to play either the greedy 31.Rxc5 or 31.Qe5 followed by 32.Rb8, simplifying the position for the sake of the king. After his error Caruana regained the initiative, and the rest was one-sided.
Kramnik had won three in a row, but that streak came to an end with Caruana's third straight win. As a result of the latter's win he leapfrogged the former and found himself tied for first. His co-leader, Nisipeanu, had White against Meier, but got little from the opening and the game was clearly, almost self-evidently headed for a draw as soon as move 18. They continued until move 42, surprisingly (even if they're using the Sofia rules players in such contexts normally construct some sort of repetition to get the thing finished), but there could never have been any doubt, especially after the rooks came off at move 30.
In the other games, So beat Nepomniachtchi on the white side of a King's Indian-turned-Modern Benoni. So's kingside play was gaining ground, and the end was expedited by Nepo's inaccurate exchange sac before the time control. Finally, Hou Yifan drew in a good fight with Black against Naiditsch. She equalized and then some early on, and it seemed that she would have enjoyed some advantage with the obvious 17...Nd3 (instead of 17...Na6). Her not playing that was rather mysterious, but even so she was doing fine for a very long time. Finally, somewhere in the second time control, she got into a little trouble in a major piece ending. Had Naiditsch played 54.e4 he would have enjoyed decent winning chances. Fortunately for Hou he didn't, and she wrapped up the draw confidently after that.
Here are the pairings for the penultimate round, tomorrow:
- Caruana (3.5) - Hou Yifan (2)
- Nepomniachtchi (1.5) - Naiditsch (2.5)
- Meier (1.5) - So (2.5)
- Kramnik (3) - Nisipeanu (3.5)
It was another day full of fight and craziness in Dortmund, and in the end the chase pack drew closer to the leader, Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu. Nisipeanu gave up his first half point in the event, but although he had White it was his opponent, Hou Yifan, who had whatever winning chances there were. The key moment was Black's 21st move. If Hou wanted to play for a win she'd have to make go pawn-snatching, taking either on b2 or a2. Both moves seemed to be alright, but with White's pieces clustering around her king she took a practical decision that more or less forced a perpetual check some moves later.
That was a good result for both players, in different ways, and it benefited the rest of the field too as it brought the leader back to the pack. The first player to exploit this was Arkadij Naiditsch, who won his second game of the tournament with Black (sandwiching a loss with White!). The victim this time was Wesley So, who got in trouble in several stages. First, allowing 18...d4 gave Black tremendous activity. It wasn't fatal though, and probably didn't even promise Black any advantage, but it made the position more challenging for White - especially against a dangerous attacker like Naiditsch. Second, 21.Ra1 was a clear error, ceding the c-file. So had to do something about the threat of 21...Rxc1 followed by 22...Qe1+ 23.Rxe1 Rxe1#, and 21.Ra1 fulfilled that task. It would have been better to play 21.g3, however, taking care of the back rank without conceding the file. There was an exchange of errors on move 24 (I'm guessing that both players missed 24...Nf4 25.Qh6 Qf6!, threatening especially 26...Bf8), and the final, now fatal, error came on move 26 when White grabbed the a-pawn. White is still kicking after 26.Qf3, though Black will have the upper hand. After 26.Qxa6? the rest was a massacre, and Naiditsch finished in style.
That put Naiditsch at 2/3, and he was joined there by Vladimir Kramnik. Kramnik beat Ian Nepomniachtchi with some tactical confusion. Kramnik had a significant advantage out of the opening but when it slipped away around move 25 the game remained equal through the time control. Kramnik did maintain an initiative, however, and with his rook and knights hopping around the Black king Nepo needed to stay on high alert. Black's fatal error was 46...Be5, when 47.Nb7 (with the idea of 48.Nd8 and 49.Rf7#!). While Black was able to stop that threat, there were too many other threats that he couldn't, and Kramnik soon reached a completely winning knight ending.
Finally, Georg Meier let a full point slip away against Fabiano Caruana. Meier was winning and then some, right up until the time control. By then it was equal while remaining complicated, and Meier didn't manage to retain the balance. A tough loss for him; he could quite easily have had 2.5/3 by now.
Here are the round pairings:
- Caruana (1.5) - Naiditisch (2)
- Hou Yifan (1) - So (1)
- Nepomniachtchi (1) - Nisipeanu (2.5)
- Meier (1) - Kramnik (2)
No, I'm not talking about (more than) 99.99% of the internet, though I could be. Instead, I'm referring to an interesting phenomenon in chess that has increasingly caught my attention of late: moves that appear to waste a tempo in the opening for what seems at first like absolutely no good reason. Further, in most of the cases, the pattern is similar: a piece moves to a square, then a move or so later proceeds to a square it could have reached on the previous turn. I've cataloged five instances of this for you here; readers are invited to offer examples of their own.
The Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir got off to an exciting start with two victories in five games and two other games that very nearly had a winner. The first decisive game was Wesley So's crushing win over Anish Giri. So quickly dragged Giri out of theory, and as great as he is Giri looked like the proverbial fish out of water. I was reminded of a game I played against Anna Sharevich in 2014, where shortly after the opening ended I managed to do just about everything wrong. There was a famous model game in the opening line we played that I knew very well and had taught various students and shown in videos, and yet I was allowing my opponent to execute practically every idea from that earlier game. Fortunately, my play improved at a certain point and I scraped out a draw, but the first part of the game was almost a horror as I watched myself walk into every kind of trouble. I imagine Giri felt something like that, and in his case he wasn't given a chance to climb off the canvas.
The second won game also featured surprisingly soft defense by the conquered player. Vladimir Kramnik enjoyed some pull with White in a Catalan against Michael Adams, and through move 23 that's all it was. A slip on that move (23...Rab8 instead of 23...Rdb8, allowing 24.Rfd1!) made Kramnik's advantage a serious one, and then further errors on moves 28 and 30 put the game out of reach.
Those games would have been minor stories, however, had Viswanathan Anand managed to convert a winning advantage against Magnus Carlsen. Somewhat shockingly, Carlsen played the Marshall Gambit against Anand, entering the sort of theoretical discussion where Anand typically shines and which Carlsen tends to avoid. Anand played well and had an edge, but the big moment occurred when Carlsen blundered with 19...Qd7? After 20.Nd5! Carlsen was fortunate not to lose on the spot, yet even the resulting pawn-down endgame should have been losing for him in the long run. For a while Anand showed excellent technique, and was well on the way to the win. Unfortunately for him, he missed a possible winner on move 43 and definitely miscalculated on move 47, either missing 49...g5! or 51...Kh7, after which the game finished in a draw.
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov pushed hard against Fabiano Caruana and may have been close to a win. In the end, after 90 long moves, the players called it a day.
Finally, Rauf Mamedov and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave also drew, and for the only time in the round no one was close to a win. Mamedov had an edge throughout, and thanks to MVL's good defense that's all he ever got, and the players agreed to a draw right after making the time control on move 40.
The games, with my (light) comments are here; round 2 pairings follow:
- Adams (0) - Caruana (.5)
- Carlsen (.5) - Mamedyarov (.5)
- Vachier-Lagrave (.5) - Anand (.5)
- Giri (0) - Mamedov (.5)
- Kramnik (1) - So (1)
The Zurich Chess Challenge came to an unusual and controversial conclusion today, and in the end Hikaru Nakamura was the winner in an Armageddon game. We'll get back to this, but first, there was a rapid event.
Viswanathan Anand entered the rapid round-robin with a one point lead over Nakamura, a two-point lead over Vladimir Kramnik and a massive three point lead over everyone else. Despite this, he was somewhat fortunate to reach an Armageddon match at all. Anand drew the first game against Kramnik and Nakamura beat Fabiano Caruana, cutting the lead to half a point. In round 2 Anand lost to Levon Aronian, but as Nakamura lost to Kramnik Anand kept his half-point lead over Nakamura while Kramnik closed to within a point. In round 3 Anand beat Caruana while Nakamura drew with Sergey Karjakin, so the gap between them went back to a full point. Kramnik stayed within striking range, catching up to Nakamura by defeating Aronian.
The fourth round was huge for Nakamura. He defeated Anand in their head-to-head game, catching up to him in first place, while Kramnik lost what was at one point a winning position against Karjakin. Nakamura got a second bit of fantastic news after the round: it was suddenly decided that in the event of a first-place tie, the rules that had been agreed upon before the tournament would be thrown out the window. Rather than using Sonneborn-Berger tiebreaks, a tie would be settled by blitz games. As Anand would have won on tiebreaks, this was obviously a boon to Nakamura's chances.
In the last round Kramnik bounced back with a win over Caruana, and he became the winner of the rapid portion of the tournament. That didn't help him win the overall event, however, as the leaders drew: Anand with Karjakin and Nakamura with Aronian.
So it was on to blitz for Anand and Nakamura--or was it? Initially the clocks were set for a 4' + 3" blitz game, and Nakamura was sitting at the board waiting for Anand to show - but he didn't. Nakamura was called away from the board, and some time later he came back, as did Anand, with the clocks reset for an Armageddon game. Anand got five minutes, Nakamura four minutes plus draw odds. Anand probably should have told the organizers to take a flying leap, as his great predecessors Bobby Fischer, Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik surely would have done. No doubt he would have done it in a very gracious way, but that is what he should have done. If it's necessary to declare a winner I'm all in favor of playoffs as a way of breaking ties, but this was ridiculous. You simply don't change rules - rules that weren't unfair to begin with - right at the very end of a tournament, especially without the players' prior consent.
Instead, Anand played, and played badly. He chose the same line of the QGD he had used to defeat Magnus Carlsen in game 3 of the last world championship match and to defeat Nakamura in their classical game in the tournament, but the third time wasn't the charm. His plan with 9.g4 was simply bad, and Nakamura was winning while he was still in the opening. Whether his subpar play was due to the poor opening idea or a lack of emotional stability due to the rule change, Anand was mercilessly crushed in 29 moves.
In conclusion, it was yet another very good event for Nakamura, who has gone from success to success the past several months. It was also a good event for Anand, at least as far as the classical portion is concerned, and a nice way to bounce back from the disaster in Baden-Baden. Kramnik also had a reasonable tournament: an undefeated 50% in the classical portion was par for the course, and a win in the rapid should boost his confidence a bit. For the other three players, it was a tournament to forget.
Despite its brevity, this year's Zurich Chess Challenge will still be a true super-tournament. There are only six players, but the "weakest" of them is rated 2760. Here's the lineup:
- Fabiano Caruana 2810
- Hikaru Nakamura 2792
- Vladimir Kramnik 2783
- Viswanathan Anand 2782
- Levon Aronian 2774
- Sergei Karjakin 2760
If I understand the tournament website correctly, there will be a blitz tournament on Friday the 13th which will determine the pairings for the classical tournament. That will run from the 14th through the 18th, and then there will be a rapid event on the 19th. As I mentioned in an earlier post, octogenarians Viktor Korchnoi and Wolfgang Uhlmann will play also four rapid games with each other (two each on Sunday and Monday), so this should be a very entertaining event.
In my dreams, right? Exactly!
Of course, dreams are funny, and the draw wasn't exactly according to Hoyle. I had White and think it was in one of the big Swiss events that take place in Las Vegas every year. The opening may have been an Accelerated Dragon, and at some point in the early middlegame, roughly around move 22 or so, I played the move b3-b4, gaining space in the Maroczy Bind structure and perhaps preparing an eventual c4-c5 pawn break.
Big Vlad was a resourceful player - he wasn't world champion for nothing! - and came up with a move I hadn't foreseen: 22...b4-b3!! I looked up with some sort of amused and confused expression, I think only half aware in my dream that this was simply against the rules, and Kramnik looked up with a laughing smile that sort of recognized that something unusual and funny had just happened...but not something illegal.
I think I played b4 again, and while we drew very quickly I'm not sure that it was by a repetition. There was some other weird going-on first, as one of the players on the board next to us was unhappy with the physical characteristics of his rooks, so he switched his rooks with Kramnik's. At some moment Kramnik offered me a draw, and although I stood better and was considering what had to be the key move, I was doubly distracted. First, by the guy on the neighboring board who was complaining about his rooks, and secondly by the fact that I could now draw with Vladimir Kramnik! Unfortunately, point #2 trumped everything else, and I took the draw.
After the game Kramnik didn't go so far as to say that the critical move won, but seemed to acknowledge or at least assumed as obvious that I had an advantage. He did suggest that I should have been able to work out the details of this critical move, and I pleaded distraction (not mentioning the bigger impetus, of course) as the conversation finished.
What next? Well, if you're Magnus Carlsen or Viswanathan Anand you're not going to excitedly tell all your friends you drew with Vladimir Kramnik, but if you're a bit further down the food chain, like me, it would be awfully hard not to. A couple of local (Las Vegas) friends (one I've known for more than 35 years) were right there when I had finished the quick chat with Kramnik, so I didn't think I'd have to mention anything - they could hardly have missed seeing and hearing everything for themselves. So I eagerly awaited their pats on the back and the rest, but their congratulations weren't forthcoming. Instead, they were discussing the success of some other local player in a lower section. Gee, thanks, guys! Maybe my subconscious was punishing me for wimping out with the draw, or for wanting to brag?
I'm sure you guys have some better chess dream stories than this; if so (as long as they're clean!) write away!
There weren't any decisive games in today's action at the London Chess Classic, but there was some excitement in the games between Hikaru Nakamura and Viswanathan Anand on the one hand, and between Michael Adams and Vladimir Kramnik on the other. (The third game, between Fabiano Caruana and Anish Giri, also had some brief excitement as the players broke new ground in the Berlin endgame, but it fizzled out by move 23 and the remainder was just for the sake of appeasing the organizers.)
Nakamura essayed the Evans Gambit against Anand, and while that may sound exciting to players who haven't looked at many games played with that gambit since Chigorin and Steinitz were duking it out for the world championship, they tend to be pretty dull. (Not always, but usually.) Anand came out of the opening in good shape, but small inaccuracies in the early middlegame gave Nakamura an initiative. Once in a bit of trouble, however, Anand defended like a lion, and he held his own through the complications. Eventually the players repeated, and while the engines on the Chess24 live feed makes it look as if Anand had an advantage he didn't. White remains quite active (look at the board!) and there are a lot of tricks, too. The position is equal even if Black continues, and there are probably many more ways for Black to go wrong than for White in a game between humans.
Finally, there's the Adams-Kramnik game. Like Caruana-Giri it went into the Berlin "endgame", and Kramnik found a significant new idea for Black in the trendy 9.h3 line. He equalized easily and could have forced a draw, but decided to press instead. The idea of running the a-pawn was a good one, but it would have been better without his rook on a3. A very long think on his 34th move led him into all kinds of trouble, and with his 40th move Adams could have put the game away. He saw the move and assessed it correctly, but to his misfortune decided that another move would give him an even better version of the same thing. As he surely realized very quickly, his assessment was completely mistaken, and Kramnik escaped with a draw without any further adventures. Ironically, both players made bad decisions based on overthinking a particular move: long think, wrong think.
Had Adams won, he would have taken over the lead. As things stand, Kramnik and Giri continue to lead with 5 points apiece on the tournament's 3-1-0 scoring system. Adams has 4 points, Anand 3, and Nakamura and Caruana have 2. Tomorrow's round starts two hours earlier, and has these pairings:
- Anand - Giri
- Kramnik - Caruana
- Nakamura - Adams
The games are here, with some annotations to Adams-Kramnik.