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    Entries in Zurich 2013 (5)

    Friday
    Mar012013

    Zurich Chess Challenge: Caruana Wins!

    The second half of the Zurich Chess Challenge not only saw more decisive games than the first half (not difficult, since there were no decisive games in the opening cycle), it saw more interesting and volatile ones as well. In the end, Fabiano Caruana (send him back!) was the deserved winner; not so much because he played especially sterling chess (no one in the tournament did), but because he made the most of his chances (at least in the second half of hte tournament) while everyone else threw away half-points on a regular basis.

    Let's start with round 4, when the pairings saw Viswanathan Anand have the white pieces against Caruana, and Boris Gelfand have White against Vladimir Kramnik. Caruana had no problems in a Neo-Archangelsk Ruy, but Anand was okay too before essaying the slightly panicky 29.Rxe5. (29.Re2 was about equal, though visually Black's position seems somewhat threatening.) After the time control Anand was slightly worse, down the exchange for a pawn and generally active pieces, but on move 41 he blundered (his word) with 41.Bg2. (41.Be2 was better, keeping the N@d3 adequately guarded.) The problem with 41.Bg2 was 41...Nc8!, which not only swapped off White's best piece but also forced the subsequent exchange of White's remaining rook and the loss of White's a-pawn. After that the technical task was trivial (certainly for this level), so Anand gave up.

    As for Gelfand-Kramnik, the former world champion produced an ingenious piece sacrifice (22...Nxf2!), and several moves later enjoyed a clear advantage. To maintain it, Kramnik had to play 28...Bxe4 29.Nxe4 Qa7, but his immediate 28...Qa7?? could have lost the game after 29.R4e3. Of course the position was very complicated, and White was surely concerned about threats along the a7-g1, h6-c1 and a5-e1 diagonals, not to mention the d-file. (Okay, I mentioned it.) Objectively though, it was winning. Black must attend to the threat of Nxc6, and in case of 29...Bxg2 White interpolates 30.Ncxb5 and only after, say, 30...Qd7 plays 31.Qxg2 with a winning advantage after something like 31...Bxb4 32.Qa2! Bxe1 33.Rxe1. In the game, Gelfand played 29.Ncxb5?, and Kramnik again obtained a better, maybe even winning position, but failed to convert it, and the game finished in a draw.

    On to round 5. Kramnik built up a scary-looking kingside attack with White against Caruana, and although Black was objectively fine Caruana - in time trouble - went for short-term safety with an exchange sacrifice. It wasn't so bad, but thanks to his opponent's ongoing time trouble Kramnik was able to take over yet again, and had he played the consolidating 39.Rf3 he would have had excellent winning chances. Instead, 39.c5? got him into hot water, and he had to find some nice tactical ideas (40.c6!, 45.Re4!) just to save the game - which he did.

    Gelfand-Anand also featured an interesting but unnecessary and slightly mistaken exchange sacrifice. Gelfand enjoyed an advantage with White in a Catalan, and with 20.Qe1 or 20.Nd2 would have had the world champion under serious pressure. Instead, he chose to sac the exchange with 20.Rxc4?!, and then gave away the rest of his advantage several moves later with 23.Rb7 (23.Rc4 kept a pleasant edge), mistakenly allowing the exchange of his last rook. (The same mistake Anand made against Caruana the round before, but here with two pawns for the exchange Gelfand had just enough of a margin to be alright.) Anand might have even pressed a little with 29...g5, preventing h4 which freed White's king to centralize. Missing or forsaking that opportunity, Gelfand drew without any real trouble.

    On to the final round. With a win over Anand, Kramnik could still hope to tie Caruana for first. Despite having the black pieces, Kramnik obtained an initiative in a complicated 4.d3 Anti-Berlin, but an inaccurate 20th move and a howler on move 21 cost him the game and finished his tournament with a rude bump. Kramnik had decent chances to score at least 2.5 points in the final three games, but only managed a single point. Not the way to go into the Candidates in two weeks!

    Likewise, Gelfand finished with a winless -1 score after losing his last round game to Caruana. Early in the middlegame he sacrificed a pawn to reach a position where his activity was probably just about enough to hold a draw, but Caruana, like Carlsen, requires his opponents to prove their ability to hold a position over many, many moves before letting them off the hook. Gelfand seemed to have decent drawing chances after the first time control, with all the pawns on one side of the board and the ideal h5-g6-f7 defensive pawn chain. His decision to push the pawns looked dangerous, but had he played the normal 50...hxg4+ it seemed he would have pretty decent chances to hold. His 50...fxg4+ looked odd - why give White an unearned passed e-pawn? - but even so the outcome was only certain after the incredible 55...h4?? It's hard to know what he even thought this achieved. Maybe he thought that after 56.gxh4 g3 57.Bg1 Bh6 he'd be able to play 58...Bxf4 59.exf4 Rxf4 and pick up the h-pawn too, reaching a drawn rook vs. rook and bishop ending? White has many ways to thwart that plan, however, including the move Caruana chose: 58.Kg2. Black resigned after that, since 58...Bxf4 59.exf4 Rxf4 60.Kxg3 keeps the h-pawn.

    So Caruana finished with a convincing, undefeated +2 in the tournament, and earned his way back to #7 on the rating list. Like Carlsen, his play is rarely "shiny" or characterized by dramatic opening successes; rather, like the great Norwegian (and players like Smyslov and Karpov before them), he makes a lot of very good moves, and is remarkably resilient both in defense and in prosecuting the slightest advantage.

    Anand's play wasn't fantastic, but resilience and a last-round gift made up for his own unforced error against Caruana, and his 50% score was enough for clear second.

    Kramnik and Gelfand can both be somewhat disappointed with their play and their results, but getting in six games with great, tough opponents playing unfamiliar positions (due to avoiding their real opening prep) will surely help warm them up for the Candidates. And that should be a fantastic event!

    Tuesday
    Feb262013

    Zurich Chess Challenge, Round 3: Two More Draws; Everyone in Last Place at the Halfway Point

    Or more charitably, everyone is in first at the Zurich Chess Challenge! Both games today were interesting, despite the inevitable draws. Viswanathan Anand and Boris Gelfand was a Najdorf with the trendy 6.h3 making an appearance. Gelfand came up with an interesting pawn sac. In fact there was no apparent need for it, as various commentators thought 14...Bxh3 was just fine. Maybe Gelfand had examined the position more deeply beforehand and knew of a problem easily overlooked in a superficial check with the engines, or perhaps he thought his approach might prove even more challenging for White. Whatever the story, he wound up the slightly worse side, but with accurate and active play he held the draw.

    Even more interesting was the battle between Fabiano Caruana and Vladimir Kramnik. Kramnik's latest experiment in hiding his real openings was a Modern Benoni. Thanks to his time-wasting 16...Kh7 (he should have played ...h5 straight away, as he wound up doing several moves later) he was worse, but after Caruana erred with 22.Qd2 the position was unclear. Both sides fought extremely hard and well in the resulting complications, and while Kramnik may have had slightly the better of things the game never got out of control for the young Italian (send him back!), and with that all six games in the first half of the tournament finished as a draw.

    Tuesday is a rest day, and then the second cycle begins with Anand - Caruana and Gelfand - Kramnik.

    On another note, ChessBase's consistent failure to keep the site functioning for replayable games is fairly maddening, and I'm reaching the point where I'm opening to considering (and promoting) alternative software. Recommendations?

    Monday
    Feb252013

    Zurich Chess Challenge, Round 2: Two More Draws

    As the hour is late and, yet again, the ChessBase replayable game service is on the fritz (pun intended), I'll send my readers to the official site and to the TWIC page for recap information. The bare facts are that Kramnik-Anand and Gelfand-Caruana both finished in draws. Kramnik-Anand never really got off the ground, and the only reason it went past move 40 was so the players could avoid having to play a "penalty" rapid game. Gelfand seemed to have some edge at first, but then Caruana seemed to have very good chances for a win before his opponent wriggled his way to safety.

    Round 3 pairings: Anand-Gelfand and Caruana-Kramnik. The former game is interesting as a continuation of their match, while the intrigue in the latter comes as Caruana has an excellent score against Kramnik. Will there finally be some blood on board, or will the first half of the tournament end with a four way tie for first and last?

    Saturday
    Feb232013

    Zurich Chess Challenge, Round 1: Two Draws

    Round 1 of the Zurich Chess Challenge is history, and not the sort of history that will be studied years later. As expected, Vladimir Kramnik played something a little offbeat with White (1.Nf3 c5 2.b3), undoubtedly saving his real preparation for when it counts - next month's Candidates' tournament. Boris Gelfand didn't have much trouble with this, and were it not for the tournament rule that if players agree to a draw in fewer than 40 moves they must play an exhibition rapid game immediately afterward, they probably would have called it a day much sooner than they did. To be fair, Kramnik did try a bit, but there was little to be had.

    The game between Fabiano Caruana and Viswanathan Anand was more interesting. Anand has had some trouble over the years against the 6.Be3 e5 7.Nf3 anti-Najdorf line - most recently earlier this month against Caruana in the Grenke tournament. Today he came out of the opening in good shape, and after 22...d5! he had equalized. Caruana managed to keep causing problems though, and after 31.g4! Qc8 32.Rb1! Anand had some difficulties with his semi-stranded rook on c2. Fortunately for Anand, Caruana was very short of time, and by the end of the first time control (completed after each side's 40th move) Anand wound up with an extra pawn. Caruana eventually held the draw, but it's clear that the world champion failed to make the most of his chances.

    You can replay the games here (with my annotations to Caruana - Anand). Tomorrow's (Sunday's) pairings are Kramnik - Anand and Gelfand - Caruana.

    Saturday
    Feb232013

    Zurich Chess Challenge Underway

    Only four players are involved in the Zurich Chess Challenge, but it's a very impressive field! There's world champion Viswanathan Anand, fresh from his come from behind win at the Grenke Chess Classic; there's world #2 and former world champion Vladimir Kramnik, who has been playing very well lately and will participate in the Candidates tournament next month in London; there's Boris Gelfand, who came very close to defeating Anand for the title last year and will also be in the Candidates; and finally, there's Fabiano Caruana, who nearly won Grenke and will likely be a contender for the title in the near future.

    The first round started a little while ago, with the pairings Caruana-Anand and Kramnik-Gelfand. The tournament is a double round robin, so color allocation isn't really an issue, but nevertheless a blitz preliminary was held yesterday to determine pairing numbers. In the first cycle, Caruana and Kramnik both beat Anand and Gelfand and then drew with each other, and in the second cycle they both beat Anand and drew Gelfand. (Anand beat Gelfand in the first cycle and drew in the second, and thus finished tied for last.) Finally, Caruana beat Kramnik with Black in the last round to win and get pairing #1.

    The tournament website is very good, with a live stream and commentary (for the classical games, at least; the blitz is still available but without commentary).

    Predictions? I'm finding it hard to prognosticate: Kramnik and Gelfand will surely hide their real prep, while I still don't think Anand is really playing anywhere near his peak - a good percentage of his recent wins (e.g. vs. Aronian and Fridman) were primarily based on strong preparation. That leaves Caruana, who is young, hungry, played well in the Grenke tournament and does well against Kramnik. He probably plays too much, but when one is 20 there is energy to burn. I'll pick him to win the tournament.