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    Entries in Zug 2013 (8)

    Tuesday
    Apr302013

    Topalov On Top At Zug; Zugs Up In The New Rating List

    He's baaaaack! Veselin Topalov closed out the Grand Prix tournament in Zug, Switzerland in emphatic fashion, Actually, that may overstate things a bit. He won today (in what was the only decisive game of the round) almost in self-defense against Sergey Karjakin. Topalov needed only a draw to clinch clear first (a loss combined with a win by Hikaru Nakamura would leave them tied for first), but Karjakin got ambitious after coming out of the opening with an edge. He was justified in that ambition, but on this occasion his reach exceeded his grasp, and he was soon punished. Thus Topalov finished with a very impressive +5 score (and a 2929 TPR), gained 22 rating points and jumped up to #4 on the brand new rating list, not too far below the 2800 barrier he had traversed in the mid '00s.

    Even more good news for Topalov is that he leads in the overall Grand Prix standings. He has played in two of the three Grand Prix events held so far, and in addition to his clear first in Zug he tied for first (with Boris Gelfand and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov in the other, in London last year). There will be three more such tournaments in the current series, with each player participating in four of them. The overall winner and runner-up will receive automatic berths into the next Candidates' event, so while plenty of time remains his chances are looking extremely good at the moment. Of course, if he keeps playing like this, he may manage to qualify by rating even if somehow two players manage to squeak past him by the end of the series.

    Final Standings:

    1. Topalov 8 (out of 11)
    2. Nakamura 6.5
    3-4. Ponomariov, Caruana 6
    5-6. Kamsky, Morozevich 5.5
    7-9. Giri, Leko, Karjakin 5
    10-12. Radjabov, Mamedyarov, Kasimdzhanov 4.5

    Monday
    Apr292013

    Zug Grand Prix, Rounds 9 & 10: Lots Of Action; Topalov Leads

    I'm a bit too tired to offer a substantive report on the goings-on at the FIDE Grand Prix in Zug, Switzerland; so I'll confine myself to "just the facts" comments and a few links. The last two rounds have been something of a bloodbath with three decisive games (of six) in round nine and four of six in round 10. This is at least partially due to a pretty fair number of blunders.

    The most important decisive games in round 9 were Kamsky-Caruana (a well-played win for Caruana [send him back!] in a Closed Ruy and Nakamura-Morozevich (in which Morozevich self-destructed, going from much better to worse to dead lost and resigning in a game of just 34 moves; that was his third consecutive loss). After the round Topalov (who drew with Mamedyarov) still led, but by just half a point over Caruana; Ponomariov, Karjakin and Nakamura were a further half a point behind. (For further, fuller reports on the round there are plenty of options including the official site and TWIC.)

    So what pairing headlined the tenth round? Caruana-Topalov, naturally. The played a Byrne Attack Najdorf that saw Topalov eschew the eponymous Topalov Variation (8...h5) with one featuring an eventual ...a5. That's not the most common approach in the Byrne Attack, and the players agreed afterwards that White had some advantage. (Though they seemed to differ about how large the advantage one - Caruana seemed more sanguine.) Topalov played the second half of the game much more accurately and incisively than Caruana, however, and managed to grind out the full point. He thus increased his lead over the field, but only to a full point rather than a point and a half. That's because Nakamura won his second straight game, and even more quickly than in round 9. Nakamura defeated Mamedyarov in just 22 moves. (There is some feeling that Mamedyarov may have resigned prematurely, but his position was clearly inferior in any case.)

    Standings After Round 10:

    1. Topalov 7
    2. Nakamura 6
    3-4. Ponomariov, Caruana 5.5
    5-7. Kamsky, Karjakin, Morozevich 5
    8-9. Giri, Leko 4.5
    10-12. Radjabov, Mamedyarov, Kasimdzhanov 4

    Final Round Pairings:

    • Leko - Kasimdzhanov
    • Kamsky - Giri
    • Topalov - Karjakin
    • Nakamura - Caruana
    • Radjabov - Mamedyarov
    • Ponomariov - Morozevich

    Saturday
    Apr272013

    Zug, Alekhine Memorial Updates

    Saturday is a rest day for the participants in the FIDE Grand Prix tournament in Zug (we're between playing days there, so is this a zwischenzug?), while the players at the Alekhine Memorial have Friday and Saturday off as their tournament moves from Paris, France to St. Petersburg, Russia.  Let's take the opportunity then for a quick scoreboard update:

    Zug: After eight rounds of 11, the standings are as follows:

    1. Topalov 5.5
    2. Ponomariov 5
    3-4. Caruana, Karjakin 4.5
    5-7. Kamsky, Morozevich, Nakamura 4
    8-10. Giri, Leko, Mamedyarov 3.5
    11-12. Kasimdzhanov, Radjabov 3

    Two quick comments about ratings. After his loss to Viswanathan Anand in the 2010 World Championship match, Veselin Topalov's play and his rating took a bit of a nosedive, and his results right after a fairly long break weren't especially good either, as I recall. Lately though, he has been playing very well again, and he has worked his way back up to #4 in the world. Going in the opposite direction is Teimour Radjabov, who entered the Candidates' as the world's #4 player. He finished last there and his tied for last here, and has lost a staggering 46 rating points between the two events. (A note to readers only familiar with USCF or ICC ratings: FIDE ratings, especially for top players, are far more stable. Losing a game to a peer doesn't cost 16 points or so, but only around five points. So if you want to "translate" his last month into USCF "language", imagine your rating going down 150 points or so. Yikes!)

    Round 9 Pairings (Sunday):

     

    • Giri - Kasimdzhanov
    • Leko - Karjakin
    • Kamsky - Caruana
    • Topalov - Mamedyarov
    • Nakamura - Morozevich
    • Radjabov - Ponomariov

     

    Alekhine Memorial:

    Here the standings are a bit of a shock. The leader is not world champion Viswanathan Anand, nor is it world #2 Levon Aronian. Vladimir Kramnik started with an impressive win in round 1, but since then it has been a bit of a nightmare for the ex-champion. One won't find the leader in the ranks of near-champions, whether of the absolute sort (Boris Gelfand) or the FIDE variety (Michael Adams). No, the leader after the French segment, five rounds into this nine-round tournament, is Maxime Vachier-Lagrave! Can he keep his lead to the end of the tournament? I doubt it, but with only Aronian left on his schedule among the super-big guns, he might not be as big an underdog as one might otherwise suspect.

    Standings After Round 5:

    1. Vachier-Lagrave 3.5
    2-5. Adams, Aronian, Fressinet, Gelfand 3
    6. Anand 2.5
    7-9. Kramnik, Vitiugov, Ding Liren 2
    10. Svidler 1

    You might be surprised to see Fressinet up there, but he earned it by butchering Kramnik in round 5 - with Black, no less. Among the leader's games, Vachier-Lagrave's win over Ding Liren (which certainly involved home prep, as he acknowledged in his post-game comments) was a positional classic in which he managed to keep Black's king's bishop and king's rook out of the game from start to finish. (In this it was an interesting reversed echo of a famous win of his against Morozevich from Biel 2009. There it was Vachier-Lagrave whose rook was frozen for a long time, but in that game he finally managed to disentangle everything and pull out the win, despite having been lost early on. Another echo of Vachier-Lagrave's win over Ding Liren pertained to the concluding mating attack, which somehow reminded me of Kramnik's win over Topalov from their blindfold game in the 2003 Melody Amber tournament.)

    Speaking of Kramnik and tournament leader Vachier-Lagrave, their game in round 3 had some surprising moments. Kramnik seemed on his way to a typical smooth win: a strong opening idea led to enduring pressure and then an extra pawn. But then a funny thing happened on the way to the textbook victory, and it happened, as Dr. Tarrasch intimated long ago, in a rook endgame. Where exactly, I'll leave to you to discover; my interest right now is in pointing out where it didn't happen.

    Here's the position after 38...Kd5. Kramnik continued 39.Rb1, which allowed Black to get in 39...h5 right away. White has two possible winning strategies here in general. One is to use zugzwang to force Black back. For instance, if Black's rook retreats, White may push b4-b5, and if Black continues with ...Kc5 White's idea is to follow up with e3-e4, and after everything is traded White's king will devour Black's kingside. The other idea is to play e4 with check; that is, while Black's king is still on d5 (and White's pawn is still on b4). After ...fxe4+ Ke3 White will meet a "pass" move with Rd2+ followed by Rd4 and taking the e-pawn.

    For the first strategy to succeed, White must put Black in zugzwang, and that will only happen once Black's h-pawn has gone to h5. For the other strategy, however, there's no reason for White to wait, and there may be good reason for him to hurry. Which strategy would you choose? What should Kramnik do?

    In the game, Kramnik played 39.Rb1, opting for the first strategy. After 39...h5 40.Rb2 Rb6 the consistent move would be 41.b5, but by this point he realized that after 41...Kc5 42.e4 Rxb5! 43.Rxb5+ Kxb5 White isn't winning. Strange, but true! Here's a variation to illustrate the basic point: 44.exf5 Kc6! 45.f6 Kd7! 46.Ke4 Ke6 47.f7 Kxf7 48.Kf5 and now 48...h4! 49.Kxg4 hxg3 leads to an elementary draw.

    Perhaps Kramnik lacked the time to calculate that variation before the time control, though my recollection was that he had a fair amount of time left. By now he understood that it didn't work and reverted to the second plan: 41.Rb1 Rb5 42.Rb2 Rb6 43.e4+ fxe4 44.Ke3, but here Vachier-Lagrave obtained sufficient counterplay to hold the balance with 44...h4! 45.gxh4 g3.

    But what if Kramnik had gone for e4+ immediately, while Black's pawn was still on h7? Dutch chess legend Jan Timman was doing the English-language commentary for the tournament website, and proclaimed that the idea won, and Mark Crowther cites him approvingly. Specifically, Crowther (citing Timman) claims that from the diagrammed position the variation 39.e4+ fxe4+ 40.Ke3 h5 41.Rd2+ Ke6 42.Rd4 results in a winning position for White. Quoth Crowther: "It's hard to understand why Kramnik didn't do this."

    Well, I can think of two reasons why he didn't. The first is that he probably believed he had calculated the variation 39.Rb1 h5 40.Rb2 Rb6 41.b5 out to a win, which reminds me of a joke I heard a couple of decades ago from a comedy tape called something like "How to be a Jewish Mother". One of the "techniques" went like this:

    Step 1: Buy your son two sweaters.

    Step 2: When he wears one of them, ask "What's the matter, don't you like the other sweater I bought you?"

    As Crowther seems to recognize that Kramnik didn't realize until it was too late that 41.b5 (in the 39.Rb1 line) didn't win, I'm not sure what he expected him to do - especially as there's no way for Kramnik to wear both sweaters.

    Now for reason #2: the Timman/Crowther line doesn't win! Timman was a really great player for many years and is still a very good grandmaster, but his online commentary was more him having a fun time with his friend Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam than an exercise in hardcore analysis, and he wasn't using an engine. This was a case where Ronald Reagan's slightly oxymoronic adage "trust, but verify" should have been employed: Timman is a legend, but the computer will give you the truth about such a position. (Not that Timman or even Crowther couldn't have worked things out with a bit of elbow grease.) Or to go another way with the trust angle, would it make more sense to trust the computer-less analysis of a fully motivated, fully concentrated Kramnik (rating: 2800+) or that of a very relaxed, informal Timman (rating: 2576)?

    Let's get down to business: after 39.e4+ fxe4+ 40.Ke3 h5 41.Rd2+ Ke6 42.Rd4 White is not winning, because 42...h4! draws. The idea is to undermine the f-pawn, and the ensuing Black counterplay will let him hold the balance. White has plenty of options, but to at least give the most obvious one we have 43.Rxe4+ Kf5 44.gxh4 g3 45.Kf3 (45.Rc4 Kg4) 45...g2 46.Re1 Rxb4 with an elementary draw, as Black will win White's f-pawn. (You can replay these lines and a little more besides, here. [Using the software I don't want to. Sometimes a guy has to pick his battles.])

    Finally, before sending this post into the world and myself to the land of Nod, here are the pairings for Sunday's round 6 games:

    • Vachier-Lagrave - Gelfand
    • Aronian - Adams
    • Fressinet - Vitiugov
    • Kramnik - Anand
    • Ding Liren - Svidler

    Sunday
    Apr212013

    The Daily Update: Zug, Alekhine Memorial

    In the battle of the dueling super-tournaments, it was the Alekhine Memorial that was, appropriately enough, more memorable in today's action. For a second straight day all six games in the FIDE Grand Prix tournament in Zug finished as draws. As usual the games were almost all very interesting, but a win could not be found. They'll have a rest day tomorrow, and hopefully come Tuesday some (metaphorical) blood will be spilled.

    Zug may have been forgettable, but we'll always have Paris. Three of the five games finished with a winner, each featuring one of the absolute elite. The first game to finish was a short draw between the two Frenchmen, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Laurent Fressinet, but the other draw was more interesting. Boris Gelfand found a remarkable idea against Peter Svidler that might have been part of his (Gelfand's) preparation for the Anand match. The tactical sequence with 13...h5, 14...h4 and 15...Nxh2 was unusual and effective, and allowed him to essentially equalize once the complications had played themselves out.

    Now for the wins. Nominal top seed Levon Aronian came up with a new or at least rare idea against Ding Liren in a Chebanenko Slav when he played 12...Bc4, but it didn't seem to work out very well. Alexander Grischuk (now #4 in the world, thanks to a great result in the recent Russian Team Championship and the last game discussed below) was the English-language commentator on the tournament website, and his opinion was pretty clear, that White had a pleasant and enduring advantage after that. Maybe, according to Grischuk, that advantage could have best been preserved by 22.Bd6 rather than 22.h3, but even so Aronian's life was never going to be easy. 32.Nd5 was a spectacular move, and then 36.Nxd5! and especially 37.Bxg7! were key follow-ups. After 42.Re1 Ding Liren was a rook down, but Aronian's king was defenseless against the coming rook lift, and Black resigned four moves later.

    Vladimir Kramnik bounced back from the last-round trauma of London with a win over Nikita Vitiugov. Round about move 34 or so it looked like a draw would be inevitable. Material was even, and although Black's queenside pawns were split White's b-pawn looked plenty vulnerable as well. Whether it should have been a win or not, I don't know, but what soon made the key difference was Vitiugov's inability to bring his bishop back into play. Kramnik centralized his knight, improved his queenside pawns, and then engineered the nice breakthrough with 45.b5, quickly deciding the issue.

    Finally, world champion Viswanathan lost to Mickey Adams for the second time in the last few months, again with White and from what had been a pretty decent position. Anand looked to have some pressure against Adams' queenside pawns, but Black managed to liquidate his way to safety. According to Grischuk, Anand should have played 31.Re5, prioritizing the capture of Black's queenside pawns. Then the draw would have been routine. After 31.Re6 Black had winning chances, and he made the most of them.

    Saturday
    Apr202013

    Zug Grand Prix, Round 3: Six Draws

    There were certainly some ups and downs in the games that were drawn - they weren't non-games, except for Giri-Radjabov (a 19-move joke that makes a mockery of the anti-draw regulations), but all six games ended peacefully. In several games players missed opportunities for more: Mamedyarov had very good winning chances against Kasimdzhanov, but missed his opponent's idea with 25...Rb5 and 26...Rd5. Topalov was in great shape against Kamsky and may have been winning had he played 33...Ng4. Leko too had some nice opportunities against Nakamura, but his decision not to play e5-e6 around move 35 let his opponent pull out a draw as well.

    So we finish the day with the same leaders: Morozevich, Ponomariov and Topalov. Monday is a rest day, but first we have tomorrow's round 4:

     

    • Kasimdzhanov - Topalov
    • Nakamura - Kamsky
    • Radjabov - Leko
    • Ponomariov - Giri
    • Morozevich - Karjakin
    • Mamedyarov - Caruana

     

    The excellent tournament website is here.

    Saturday
    Apr202013

    Zug Grand Prix, Round 2: Champions' Day!

    Maybe their FIDE World Championship titles don't rank as high as those associated with the historical lineage through Kasparov, but Veselin Topalov, Ruslan Ponomariov and Rustam Kasimdzhanov are all great players capable of taking down any opponent on a given day. In round 2 of the Grand Prix in Zug, they and only they were successful in bringing home the full point - though not without some trouble.

    Topalov in particular was at times in serious trouble against Peter Leko, but the latter's time trouble errors on moves 39 and 40 brought Topalov from much worse to much better. Leko erred a final time, in the second time control, and that left Veselin victorious.

    Kasimdzhanov likewise had some anxious moments in his game before winning. Like Topalov, Kasimdzhanov had the white pieces but wound up outfoxed in the complications. I don't know if Kamsky ever had a serious advantage, but he was the one pressing through most of the middlegame. The imitation also carried over in the negative way too, though: like Leko, Kamsky went awry in time trouble, and Kasimdzhanov enjoyed a fairly easy technical task in the second time control.

    The third winner was Ponomariov, who showed Fabiano Caruana and all watching the considerable technical prowess that allowed him to become the FIDE World Champion back in 2002 as a mere 18-year-old.

    In other games, Hikaru Nakamura (lightly) pressed Anish Giri for a long time, but only because of the rule against draw offers. (As an editorial note: when a player as renowned for his ferocious fighting spirit as Hikaru Nakamura says that such a rule is dumb, as he did in the post-game press conference, it might at least incline one to suspect that it really is dumb, and that other critics of the rule aren't necessarily objecting because they pine for the days of the 30-move draw. In fact, in that same press conference Nakamura offered his general approval of the idea of not having draw offers before, say, move 40.)

    Finally, Alexander Morozevich and Teimour Radjabov both enjoyed some advantage on the white side of the Gruenfeld against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Sergei Karjakin, respectively, but little slips let their opponents reach safety.

    Morozevich, Ponomariov and Topalov are the early leaders with 1.5/2; here are the round 3 pairings:

    • Mamedyarov - Kasimdzhanov
    • Caruana - Morozevich
    • Karjakin - Ponomariov
    • Giri - Radjabov
    • Leko - Nakamura
    • Kamsky - Topalov

    Thursday
    Apr182013

    Zug Grand Prix, Round 1: Caruana, Morozevich Win

    There weren't going to be many bloodless draws in any case at the FIDE Grand Prix in Zug due to the lineup of dynamic, fighting players, but the anti-draw rules in effect offered some overkill just in case.

    There were four draws, two agreed shortly before move 40 and the other two going many more moves. Giri-Topalov was a Fianchetto Gruenfeld where Giri seemed to have a slight advantage with White, but somehow missed that after 23.Bf4 Bxf4 24.gxf4 Topalov's 24...Rcd8 would make the draw easy - and so it did. Leko-Kamsky was a very lively game, an Open Ruy (a real rarity for Kamsky) that saw Leko use an old idea of Bobby Fischer's (vs. Unzicker in 1966) - 15.Ne2 rather than the commonplace and practically universally chosen 15.Nxe6. Leko obtained a definite advantage, but was perhaps dazzled by having too many good options and allowed Kamsky to escape with a nice counterattack.

    Those were the shorter draws. Mamedyarov enjoyed a slight pull against Ponomariov in a Bf4 QGD, but Black eventually managed to equalize. Under normal circumstances the game could have been agreed drawn before the first time control, but the players (quickly) went through the motions and ended the game with bare kings on the board after 71 moves - half of them completely pointless. The final draw, and the last game of the round, went even longer - 107 moves. That game was evidently headed for a draw as well for a long time, but in this case the length was better justified, as Nakamura tried desperately to squeeze out a win against Karjakin. He enjoyed a better structure and the bishop pair from a successful French Defense, but as Karjakin was "only" playing Nakamura and not Carlsen, he didn't manage to give away the game. Maybe Nakamura missed some opportunities at some point, before the last pair of rooks were exchanged, but in general I think the game was instructive by both players - Nakamura did a nice job of trying to extract the maximum from the position, while Karjakin calmly and clear-mindedly always managed to focus only on what was necessary to save the point.

    Now for the wins. Morozevich ground down Kasimdzhanov in a King's Indian Attack. One move Kasimdzhanov was especially unhappy with was his 19th, 19...Ra8; he believed that he should have swapped on b3 first and only then moved the rook to the open file. After the game continuation, it was only White whose rooks could make use of open lines on the queenside. Eventually Morozevich was able to secure an advantage on the kingside and then the center too, while Black remained hopelessly passive. The instant Morozevich was able to convert those advantages into a material one, Kasimdzhanov gave up.

    Finally, Caruana defeated Radjabov in a version of the nightmare middlegame/ending Black hates - or ought to hate - in the Schliemann (aka Jaenisch). In the best-known version (which arises in the 4.Nc3 variation, not the 4.d3 line of this game) Black is a pawn down but has a healthier queenside structure than he did in this game, but that's not a real barrel of laughs for him either. In the good old days when that was my main opening I could often hold the draw even with IMs and GMs (in the pawn-down version), after hours of suffering. Not bad, you might say. Maybe not, since I was outrated by 100-200 points and playing Black. But the problem is that it was also the most I could hope for when I outrated my opponents by 100-200 points as well, and if I goofed or had a bad day, I might lose that ending. (Thankfully, I didn't have to play the masochist's ending all that often!) Back to Caruana-Radjabov. The problem with Black's position after 14...dxc5 isn't that the tripled c-pawns are so weak - they really aren't - but that Black will end up in a position where he has dark squared weaknesses everywhere while his light-squared counter-control will be neutralized with patient, accurate play. Caruana was up to the task, and all Radjabov could do was suffer for a long time and then start shedding pawns.

    Round 2 Pairings:

    • Kasimdzhanov - Kamsky
    • Topalov - Leko
    • Nakamura - Giri
    • Radjabov - Karjakin
    • Ponomariov - Caruana
    • Morozevich - Mamedyarov

    Wednesday
    Apr172013

    Grand Prix in Zug(!) Starts Today (Thursday)

    Zug, Switzerland: How's that for a place name for a chess tournament? Starting later today (or tomorrow still, for some of you) is a 12-player FIDE Grand Prix event, and it's a very good one. Not only is it strong, which it must be by the nature of the Grand Prix tournaments, it is also loaded with interesting, fighting players. Here are the pairings for round 1, which will begin at 14:00 local time (=8:00 a.m. ET):

    • Alexander Morozevich (2758) - Rustam Kasimdzhanov (2709)
    • Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (2766) - Ruslan Ponomariov (2733)
    • Fabiano Caruana (2772) - Teimour Radjabov (2793)
    • Sergey Karjakin (2786) - Hikaru Nakamura (2767)
    • Anish Giri (2727) - Veselin Topalov (2771)
    • Peter Leko (2744) - Gata Kamsky (2741)

    It's quite the field: everyone is over 2700, there are three former FIDE world champions (Kasimdzhanov, Ponomariov and Topalov) and two others who "only" lost in world championship finals (Leko and Kamsky), a host of prodigies with good chances to challenge for the highest title in years to come, and if Mamedyarov and especially Morozevich are too old to be shoehorned into the latter category, they are still thrilling and creative players whose participation will add to the event's interest.

    I don't know how much energy I'll have to blog the tournament, but I'll certainly be watching. And maybe by the end of the event, on April 30, I'll really be back into the swing of things.