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    Entries in Zurich 2015 (9)

    Thursday
    Feb192015

    Zurich 2015: Nakamura Wins After An Armageddon Win Over Anand

    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.

    Wednesday
    Feb182015

    Zurich 2015, Round 5: Anand Finishes the Classical Stage in the Lead

    All three of today's games finished in a draw, so the classical stage of this year's Zurich Chess Challenge has come to an end with Viswanathan Anand in the lead. Anand drew pretty comfortably with Black against Sergey Karjakin, and most of the way he was even a bit better. There were no big advantages on either side of the Hikaru Nakamura - Levon Aronian or Fabiano Caruana - Vladimir Kramnik games either, so everyone should enter tomorrow's rapid action on an emotionally even keel. (Games here, without annotations.)

    Current Standings:

    • 1. Anand 7 (out of 10)
    • 2. Nakamura 6
    • 3. Kramnik 5
    • 4-6. Karjakin, Caruana, Aronian 4

    Tomorrow they will play a rapid (25' + 20") round robin, and their scores will be added to their current totals. The point values will be the traditional ones: a win will be worth one point, a draw half a point and a loss adds nothing.

    A few days ago I neglected to mention the results of the second day of the rapid match between Viktor Korchnoi and Wolfgang Uhlmann. Here too they took turns winning, and the match finished in a 2-2 tie. On day one the players won their White games; on day two they both won with Black.

    Tuesday
    Feb172015

    Zurich 2015, Round 4: Anand Beats Nakamura to Take Over First

    It was a strong game by ex-champion Viswanathan Anand, who leapfrogged former leader (and for now, former 2800 player) Hikaru Nakamura by beating them in their head-to-head game. If I'm not mistaken, this was the first time he had beaten Nakamura (at least in classical chess), and it came at a propitious moment in the tournament. There's still plenty of action left, as tomorrow's game is only the end of the classical portion of the Zurich Chess Challenge and will be followed by a rapid round robin; still, this was a big victory for Anand.

    They briefly followed the line in which Anand beat Magnus Carlsen in game 3 of last year's title match, but Nakamura played 7...Nh5 rather than 7...c6. The move Nakamura chose has been considered very satisfactory for Black, and everything looked fine for him for quite a while. After a while, though, it looked like Nakamura had a bit of a dilemma. If he didn't swap everything off on the queenside he'd remained cramped, but if he did open the board White would have the option of playing on both wings with his extra space.

    These dilemmas persisted throughout the game. For instance, when Black played 22...h5 it weakened the kingside, but if he didn't do it Anand would have achieved further progress by playing h5 himself. Another hard choice came a couple of moves later, after 24.fxe5. If the bishop retreated to d8 it would have kept White's rook off of b6. That's a good thing for Black, and he probably should have done that. If he had, however, then his kingside would be even more barren, and had White built up an attack with Nf4, g4 and so on, and crashed through, then "geniuses" like me might have picked on him for not keeping his bishop on the kingside to protect his king. In this game, though, Anand crashed through on the queenside, and Nakamura's attempt to create counterplay on the kingside came too late to save the day.

    The other two games were drawn. Levon Aronian was better with White against Fabiano Caruana in a Lasker QGD thanks to White's customary space advantage. The question in such cases is usually whether the player can maintain his extra space and then turn it into a different sort of advantage, and in this game the answer was negative: he couldn't. Finally, Vladimir Kramnik couldn't make any headway against Sergey Karjakin in a Reti...or was it an oddball Closed Sicilian? I have almost no idea about how to classify their opening, except to say that it was more of a success for Black than for White.

    The (unannotated) games are here, and these are the pairings for round 5:

    • Caruana (3) - Kramnik (4)
    • Nakamura (5) - Aronian (3)
    • Karjakin (3) - Anand (6)

    Monday
    Feb162015

    Zurich 2015, Round 3: Nakamura Outprepares Karjakin, Wins, and Joins the 2800 Club

    Now there are ten lifetime members of the 2800 club, though the last two to make it - Anish Giri yesterday and Hikaru Nakamura today - have "only" achieved it on the Live List and not yet on an official FIDE list. Still, it's enormously impressive accomplishment, as was the preparation with which he achieved it.

    Facing Sergey Karjakin in round 3 of the Zurich Chess Challenge Nakamura went for a very sharp line of the English, where he was armed to the teeth with some great computer analysis. Karjakin claimed afterwards to have had the analysis as well:

    The worst way to lose a game is, when you know the line until a draw, but, can not remember how it goes and get a losing position immediately.

    I disagree. To my mind it's far, far worse to lose a game when you blow a winning position, especially with a lot of money or a title or a norm at stake. Or suppose you lose on time in a winning position because you lost track of the move number and went to get some orange juice, thinking the time control had been made. (That actually happened to Nakamura a few years ago - at least the losing on time part. He may not have been winning when that happened, but he certainly wasn't losing.) To blow a draw because you forget something in an incredibly complicated line you didn't expect and that you might have prepared somewhere between one to five years ago is hardly in the same category. What happened to Karjakin is annoying, sure, but there's a big difference between merely having the analysis somewhere and remembering that analysis. Here's an amusing parallel:

    With the win Nakamura is in clear first with 2.5/3 with just two rounds of classical chess to go - or rather, 5/6. Viswanathan Anand is a point (4/6) behind after drawing a tough game against Fabiano Caruana. First he was worse, bordering on seriously worse, until Caruana played 24.Nc2? That was a serious error that left Anand with a significant advantage, but he was unable to maintain it and the game was agreed drawn shortly after the time control. Levon Aronian and Vladimir Kramnik drew their game as well. Aronian had the upper hand throughout and won a pawn; it just wasn't enough to win the game. (The three games are here, including notes to Nakamura's win.)

    Here are the pairings for round 4:

    • Kramnik (3) - Karjakin (2)
    • Anand (4) - Nakamura (5)
    • Aronian (2) - Caruana (2)

    Sunday
    Feb152015

    Zurich 2015, Round 2: Anand Beats Aronian With Great Preparation (UPDATED)

    The games between Vladimir Kramnik and Hikaru Nakamura and between Sergey Karjakin and Fabiano Caruana were both drawn, and while each had their moments the big game of round 2 in Zurich was between Viswanathan Anand and Levon Aronian. In their classical matchups Aronian has enjoyed a big plus score, most recently winning just eight days ago in the Grenke Chess Classic, but Anand has won the most important and the most spectacular games. (Important games: Mexico City 2007 and the Candidates' in 2014; spectacular games: Wijk aan Zee 2013 and to a lesser degree today's game.)

    Today's victory was the product of some outstanding opening preparation, almost surely done in the wake of his draw with Magnus Carlsen in game 10 of last year's world championship match. Aronian does play the occasional Gruenfeld, and after this game the amount of time he takes before trying it again is likely to increase. To his credit, Aronian's first five moves or so after the surprise were very good ones; his misfortune is that he needed to find a bunch more to come through safe and sound. Inevitably he erred, and Anand was able to finish things up at the board very quickly.

    That puts Anand into a tie for first with Nakamura with three points each after two rounds (they're using 2-1-0 scoring for the classical games; the subsequent rapid games will be scored in the usual way, with the overall totals tallied to determine a winner); there are three rounds to go. Tomorrow's pairings are as follows:

    • Aronian (1) - Kramnik (2)
    • Caruana (1) - Anand (3)
    • Nakamura (3) - Karjakin (2)

    I've analyzed the games, but the ChessBase online viewer is down (and has been for over a day); I'll post my analysis once it's back up. (UPDATE: It's back up, and the games are here.)

    Also of note: Viktor Korchnoi and Wolfgang Uhlmann played a two-game rapid match. The quality was low for the great players they once were (in Korchnoi's case, this wasn't long ago at all), but pretty high for players who will be 84 and 80, respectively, this March. Both players won with the white pieces; Uhlmann first and Korchnoi second.

    Saturday
    Feb142015

    Zurich 2015, Round 1: Caruana Self-Destructs Vs. Nakamura; Aronian Misses a Chance (UPDATED)

    Zurich 2015 opened with a battle between the champions, and it finished in a draw. Vladimir Kramnik held a relatively sedate Queen's Gambit Declined, Exchange Variation against Viswanathan Anand with patient defense, but the other two games were both livelier and more eventful.

    Levon Aronian and Sergey Karjakin contested a Meran, and the latter brought something new to the table. In a position that had arisen hundreds of times Karjakin produced a new move. It might be good one too, but as things transpired Aronian got the upper hand. The Armenian correctly offered a piece sac, and on move 24 had a choice: either take on f6 or give perpetual check. Aronian correctly assessed that the former was a draw and chose the second option; unfortunately for him there was a third choice: 24.Qg6+ Kh8 and now 25.Ng3! The best Black could do after that is an ending two pawns down and some drawing chances.

    The last game to finish was the first (and only) game with a winner. For most of the game that was likelier to be Fabiano Caruana, whose extra pawn counted for something. Caruana could have drawn at will, or even reached a pawn-up ending with no losing chances, albeit at the cost of reaching a position where his winning chances wouldn't be especially great either. As sometimes happens, the side who is better persuades himself to keep rejecting decent options that are drawish, and winds up pursuing paths that can lead to defeat. That's what happened here, as Caruana's position collapsed at the end of the time control. Caruana made it to move 41 just in time to realize that he was getting mated by force, and resigned a move later. Just to be clear, Nakamura did a very nice job of keeping things messy. Caruana's desire for more may have been what did him in, but he got a lot of help along the way from Nakamura. (All three games here, with my notes.) UPDATE: The games have been re-posted the usual way, here.)

    Because the classical stage will be followed by a rapid stage, these games are scored double. (The classical games are scored on a 2-1-0 system and the rapid will be scored in the traditional 1-.5-0 way.) Here, then, are the pairings for round 2, with the weighted scores in parentheses:

     

    • Kramnik (1) - Nakamura (2)
    • Karjakin (1) - Caruana (0)
    • Anand (1) - Aronian (1)

     

    Friday
    Feb132015

    Zurich 2015: Aronian, Caruana and Anand "Win" the Blitz

    In fact the blitz event was won only by Levon Aronian, scoring an undefeated 4/5, but as the primary aim in the blitz was to finish in the top 3 and thereby acquire an extra White game in the classical tournament starting tomorrow, Fabiano Caruana and Viswanathan Anand were in that important sense also winners by virtue of their second-place tie with 3.5 points apiece. Hikaru Nakamura finished with 2 points, while Vladimir Kramnik and Sergey Karjakin tied for last with just a single point each to their name.

    Pairing numbers were received and pairings were made, and this is what we have to look forward to tomorrow:

    • Anand - Kramnik
    • Aronian - Karjakin
    • Caruana - Nakamura

    Tournament site here.

    Tuesday
    Feb102015

    Next Up: Zurich

    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.

    Sunday
    Feb012015

    Korchnoi to Play in Zurich?

    Hopefully. There have been a couple of false alarms since he suffered a stroke two or three years ago, but apparently things are going well enough for Viktor Korchnoi that he's going to try facing fellow octogenarian Wolfgang Uhlmann in a rapid match in Zurich. Their match will be a side event to the Zurich Chess Challenge, a six-player single round robin with Caruana, Anand, Nakamura, Kramnik, Aronian and Karjakin.