Return To Hotel Anibal

After exactly 16 and a half years I stepped back into the legendary venue of “The Wimbledon Of Chess.”

I still remember year 2002 when I was playing in the open and before each game I would go into the playing hall where Kasparov, Anand, Ivanchuk, Ponomariov, Adams, Shirov and Vallejo were playing. It was inspirational to be able to watch these players up close and every day I had 30 minutes before my own game started to get inspired by their play.

It was common to run into these guys in the hotel. I once witnessed a blind-folded analysis by Kasparov and Anand on the staircase leading to the upper floors. Or a lift ride with Ivanchuk, who commented with “hmmm” when I told him that Kasparov beat Ponomariov in the penulttimate round to clinch the tournament.

That win over Ponomariov was very important for Kasparov. Apart from winning the tournament, it was a matter of prestige since at that point Ponomariov was the FIDE Champion, having beaten Ivanchuk in the final of the knock-out event in 2001. I remember seeing his mother Klara in the audience going crazy and pumping fists when Ponomariov resigned the game. Was it an extra motivation for Kasparov the fact that the game was played on Fischer’s birthday?

This year, unlike last, the Second Spanish Division was played in the Anibal Hotel and that is where I and my team stayed. I don’t know if it was the aura of the place, the inspiration, or the fact that this time we played in the same playing hall they were playing in 2002, but I played rather well, scoring 100% (6 out of 6) on Board 1. One of the first things I did was to go and see Kasparov’s suite, the one he always occupied when playing here.

This plaque was placed next to the entrance in the suite after his retirement. The room number is 103.

All the winners of the tournament are proudly displayed In the lobby.

My best game from the tournament was played in Round 1. I was Black against a young Spanish talent, rated 2395. I noticed that he played the Nd2 line in the Catalan and I prepared well.

In spite of the mistake on move 14, I quite liked the way I played, the nice positional idea of doubling the g-pawns and also the controlled attack that won the game in style.

Even though my team didn’t do as well as last year, we had a great time in Linares. Additionally, I am quite happy with my recent results and the way I play and feel during the games. After Porto Mannu where I shared 3rd place, this is another good result for me. I cannot really complain about a 100% score, can I?

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Mastering Chess Middlegames

I have heard many times about Alexander Panchenko’s teaching methods and successes. A talented player whose playing career was cut short by an unexpected request to head a school for promising young players. He put all heart into the work and in times (1980s) where it was very difficult to collect and organise high-quality training material he was one of the best ones in doing so.

Apart from the Middlegames, Panchenko also had a similar course on endgames, something he valued very much and following Capablanca’s principle that chess should be studied from the endgame backwards, he emphasised the study of the last part of the game.

Very recently my friends at Chessable.com prepared Panchenko’s Mastering Chess Middlegames in their well-known inter-active format. The whole book is organised in chapters, videos and problems to solve in the already recognisable and highly efficient manner. As a preview, they offer a free one-hour sample video that you can see here.

Mastering Chess Middlegames is a book that is a result of Panchenko’s work throughout the years. The organisation of the material and its quality is its highest value. The Chapters have the names like Attack on the King, Defence, Prophylaxis, Equal Positions etc. all being equally important for a successful navigation of the middlegame. Each chapter ends with several positions to solve individually.

It is not obligatory to read and study the book from the beginning until end. I was interested in the chapter Realising an Advantage and went directly to it.

One of the main things that I have noticed in the games of my students is that once they have an advantage they sort of “switch off” (Panchenko’s expression). They expect the games to be won by themselves and just sit back and relax. Coupled with this attitude can be a lack of combinative ability and these two together are the most difficult factors to overcome as a player doesn’t really expect he needs to play combinations or attack, as these two are never associated with “technique.”

Closely related to the combinative ability is the feeling for when “to go over to active operations.” Panchenko says that “this ability usually comes with experience.”

In the same chapter Panchenko addresses the problem of time trouble. It is often that an advantage should be realised with limited time on the clock, especially nowadays with the shortened time-controls and eternal 30-second time trouble. He states 5 main reasons why players fall into time trouble and of these I have found the “uncertainty in oneself and one’s strengths” to be the most common one.

When showing examples of successful realisation of an advantage Panchenko shows quite a few games where direct king attacks and aggressive play are involved. I found it very important to get used to the fact that realisation of an advantage is not a boring, “technical” task!

But there is plenty of that too, as the title “Playing for a Squeeze” would suggest. The classical game Botvinnik-Zagoriansky never fails to impress me.

This is how the whole book is structured. With so many instructive examples it is inevitable that you will increase the level of your play. And add to this Chessable’s structured repetition with their trademarked MoveTrainer and you have a winning combination to increase your playing strength.

Mastering Chess Middlegames is out soon on Chessable (linked) and you can claim your free 1h video here.

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Shakh-Attack Destroys Biel 2018

Mamedyarov’s victory is Biel was impressive. Finishing a point and a half ahead of the World Champion and beating him in the individual match is an incredible feat.

I would like to note a distinct characteristic of Shakh’s opening preparation. He often relies on super-sharp and forcing lines to achieve his aim. For example, his use of the old, almost forgotten, line in the Open Spanish when Black sacrifices on f2 and obtains a rook and a couple of pawns for two pieces – he used it to a great effect to secure a good game against Vachier.

With White he is often even more aggressive, using the move g4 whenever he can. He beat Vachier thanks to a deep preparation in the English Opening.

I think the improved quality of his opening preparation has a big impact on Shakh’s recent stability and a firm establishment in the top 3.

The decisive game of the tournament was the direct duel between Mamedyarov and Carlsen. The latter was forced to play for a win since he was trailing with a full point. Here’s what came out of it.

The World Champion didn’t have a good event in spite of the promising start. In fact, both here and in Norway a couple of months ago he started with 2.5/3 and both times he failed to win the tournament!

In the past the scenario of Carlsen’s tournaments was a slow start followed by warming up and an excellent finish. Lately the tendency has reversed: he starts well, but then instead of improving as the tournament goes on his play deteriorates. Carlsen himself admitted to many oversights during his game with Mamedyarov.

It is clear that Carlsen is in some sort of a transitional phase when it comes to his match preparations. He is trying main lines, plays aggressively with White and Black, but at the same time he still hasn’t reached the level of stability he would desire. A lot of work lies ahead for the World Champion!

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Peace In Biel 2018

It seems that yesterday’s bloodshed took some toll on the players in Biel.

Still, it is primarily Nico Georgiadis’s effort that ensured that all games finished in a draw. By ultra-aggressive and valiant play he managed to draw with the World Champion! In spite of losing the first three games, they didn’t go without a hidden benefit. When you play stronger opponents they are forcing you to raise your level of play. And it seems that three games were enough for Nico to raise his level enough to draw the World Champion!

Carlsen chose the French Defence, but don’t forget that all his opening choices are made with the title match in mind. Nico most likely didn’t expect the Armenian Variation, yet he still continued boldly. Soon enough he sacrificed material and even the engine approved of his decision! The pressure was enough even for the World Champion to crack and fail to find the best moves.

As you can see, the game was extremely complicated and even with a help of an engine I couldn’t really pinpoint a clear win for Black except on move 26. Nobody likes being attacked and this goes for the World Champion too! A fantastic result for Nico and a reminder to all that with courage no battle is hopeless.

Mamedyarov and Svidler played a Fianchetto Grunfeld where White was pressing but Black defended well. In another Grunfeld, Navara and Vachier played an exciting game.

We had bloodshed in Biel, we had draws. What’s next?

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Bloodshed In Biel 2018

With all eyes on the World Champion the Biel tournament is shaping up to be quite a brutal one.

After 3 rounds what I noticed is that Carlsen is playing much sharper and aggressive chess in Biel. In Round 1 he sacrificed a queen against Navara in order to keep the game going, though he knew he wasn’t risking much. In Round 2 he played the Pirc against Vachier, showing aggressive intentions even with Black against one of the world’s best players. In Round 3 he played the sharpest 6 Bg5 against Svidler’s Najdorf.

I see this as a preparation for the match in November – no matter what they say, both Carlsen and Caruana have their sights on the match and everything else fades in comparison. All the games they play until London are aimed at improving their chances in that match. Carlsen’s shift to more aggressive chess is an indication that perhaps he thinks that he won’t be able to overcome Caruana only by technical means. Be as it may, it’s great to see the Champion play open and attacking chess.

The inaccuracies permitted by Carlsen show that perhaps he is not 100% at ease in these sharp Najdorf positions, but then again it is an encouraging sign that the World Champion is looking for ways to expand his (already very wide) horizons.

Another player on fire in Biel is Mamedyarov. He destroyed Georgiadis in Round 1, escaped from a lost position against Navara in Round 2 and beat Vachier in Round 3 thanks to some original opening play.

Svidler is half a point behind the leaders thanks to a complex win against Georgiadis, while Vachier already lost 2 games and is in need of a quick come-back. With 0.5/3 he is only 1 point ahead of Anand on the live rating list as world’s number 10!

Navara is on 50% thanks to a win against Georgiadis (who sacrificed a queen for interesting positional compensation), while Nico is last will three losses, but I think he is still looking forward to all the remaining games, especially the one tomorrow against Carlsen!

It looks like the bloodshed in Biel with continue and that can only make me happy!

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Dortmund 2018 Won By Nepo

Finishing with two White wins Nepomniachtchi won the tournament with an impressive 5/7. One of those White wins was against the over-ambitious (as usual) Kramnik.

Funny thing this Kramnik style. So pleasurable to watch, but if you root for him, as I often do, it hurts to see him become so unstable. Botvinnik used to talk about the necessity for “self-programming” after a certain age and by that he meant taking advantages of the accumulated experience in order to compensate for the loss of calculating power and energy. This is what Anand is trying to do and more or less successfully.

Kramnik, on the other hand, is doing completely the opposite. He’s trying to fight the younger players on their territory – getting a game out of the opening, thus expending energy from the early stages of the game, and then being as aggressive as possible, relying on his calculational abilities and energy levels, both of which are clearly inferior when compared to the younger players. He may be enjoying chess playing like this, but his results will unavoidably become only worse.

As I don’t see Kramnik change his approach I think his days in the Top 10 are numbered and that number is pretty low. Of course, this depends on the next tournament he plays, but each tournament is just another realistic opportunity to lose points and fall lower.

Here’s that game with Nepomniachtchi.

Nepo wasn’t without the usual winner’s luck. In the next round he escaped from a lost position to Duda.

In the last round Nepo demolished Meier’s super-solid French and won irrelevant of the results of the other games.

After losing to Kovalev, Giri made a nice comeback, winning twice with the Black pieces. He beat out-of-form Nisipeanu in a Najdorf and he beat his recent boss Kramnik. Perhaps it is more precise to say Kramnik committed a hara-kiri with his absurd winning attempts, but that doesn’t diminish Giri’s merit.

Giri even could have finished clear second had he won a winning position against Duda in the last round, but it wasn’t to be. Both players finished shared second with 4/7.

This leaves the unsung hero of the tournament, the Aeroflot qualifier and rating outsider Vladislav Kovalev. He beat Giri with Black and almost beat Kramnik with White in the last round. Need I say Kramnik blundered terribly in an equal position? Undefeated 4/7 and a shared second is an incredible result for Kovalev, but I don’t see him getting more elite-level invitations as a result of this success. Elite tournaments are not really a meritocracy, even though Spassky once said that chess is a meritocracy. Chess may be, but getting into those closed circles requires much more than just good play.

To finish, here’s that Kramnik blunder in the last round.

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Dortmund 2018 Starts

This year the traditional Dortmund tournament sees a few familiar faces and a couple of new ones.

The home player is of course Vladimir Kramnik. Having won the tournament 10 times, he’s a regular for “26th or 27th time” as even he himself couldn’t remember the exact number of times he’s played there. He is in search for an 11th win in Dortmund, but I doubt he’ll win it – Kramnik is an exciting player to watch, but he allows too many chances in his games and modern players have learned to take them.

Kramnik’s second in Berlin was Anish Giri. He will definitely want to win a supertournament for the first time since Reggio Emilia’s 2011. That’s definitely a long wait for somebody who is attempting to establish himself as a worthy World Championship candidate. He did show glimpses of his potential in Wijk this year as he only lost to Carlsen in the tie-break, but so far his Dortmund play leaves much to be desired. Here’s what he managed to lose to the Aeroflot qualifier and definitely the outsider here, Vladislav Kovalev.

The game shows that even world-class players are not immune to a loss against weaker opposition. The reason is that the “weaker opposition” isn’t weak at all and they are fully capable of taking advantage of the world-class player’s mistakes.

Nepomniachtchi came to Dortmund fresh from winning the strong Gideon Japhen Memorial in Jerusalem. In a double-round robin with a rapid time control that included Svidler, Gelfand, Ivanchuk, Meier and Anna Muzychuk he won with 6/10, a full point ahead of the rest. He won a smooth game against Nisipeanu in Round 3.

Leading the tournament is the best U20 player in the world, the Polish GM Duda. It’s interesting to see him win against Nisipeanu in one of the most drawing lines in the 3 Bb5+ line in the Sicilian.

Duda’s aggressive intentions were awarded in this game, but it is this spirit of trying to win a game with Black even against an openly draw-minded opponent that can bring the Polish player far. As for Nisipeanu, he’s clearly out of form in Dortmund and Kramnik can perhaps curse his bad luck that he had to play him in Round 1 while that still wasn’t visible.

The other two players, Meier and Wojtaszek (who again lost to Duda, after their duel in the Polish championship) still need to show something notable. At least Meier drew with Kramnik and Giri.

Dortmund is really a very relaxing tournament – only 7 rounds and 2 rest days. A chess-player’s paradise. Let’s see what the rest of the tournament has to offer.

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A Spoilt Masterpiece

The first time I met GM Neelotpal Das was in 2005 when he burst into my hotel room in Sort. Actually I had a brief conversation with him earlier that day, at the Barcelona bus station, when he asked me whether he was in the right bus going to Sort. I didn’t know who he was nor that he would become a very good friend barely a few hours later.

Sort was part of Catalunya’s chess circuit of open tournaments that was very popular back in the pre-crisis days when the prizes and conditions were good and the competition was less stiff. In fact, 2005 marked the first year of a huge Indian invasion of young, unknown and largely under-rated players coming to Spain. Apart from Paul (as he quickly told me to call him) there were Tania Sachdev, Abhijeet Gupta, Parimarjan Negi, Soumya Swaminathan, Shardul Gagare, to name only the most famous ones today. With each passing year the Indian contingent grew only bigger, making winning prizes at the Spanish opens increasingly tougher.

As it turned out I brought Paul some luck. In Sort he scored his first GM norm. Next year in San Sebastian, where we again shared a room, he scored his last GM norm and became a GM.

Paul is a very talented tactial player and when in good form he can beat anybody (just ask Nigel Short, who was obliterated and mated with White in 26 moves!). His openings were his weakest spot, but with experience he learned to take care of that aspect as well.

Paul sent me the following game with his comments some time ago. I also noticed it while browsing the database and was sorry to see him spoil such a wonderfully played game. It wasn’t just the nice attack he conducted, I quite liked the gradual build-up of the attack, so typical for White in this line of the Scheveningen. I present the game with my comments in [brackets] while I leave Paul’s as they are.

Such a pity! Games like this can be really hard on the soul… Yet, it is our duty to be able to pick ourselves up and continue, no matter of the setbacks. I am sure Paul already managed to do so!

From the chess news from around the world, GM Tiviakov became a champion of the Netherlands with an impressive 5.5/7, a full point and a half ahead of the field! In his usual unassuming, yet technically perfect style Tiviakov breezed through the field including Sokolov, L’Ami and van Wely. He scored 4/4 with White and made 3 draws with Black. Here’s his demolition of Ivan Sokolov.

Soon enough we will see the World Champion back in play in Biel. I am quite curious how my friend Nico Georgiadis will fare in the field that also includes Svidler, Mamedyarov, Vachier and Navara, as last year he had an amazing 5/9, sharing 4th with such legends as Leko, Ponomariov and Morozevich and behind winner Hou Yifan (to whom he lost in the last round!), Bacrot and Harikrishna. Keeping fingers crossed!

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From Russia With Love

I returned from Russia safely. And it was quite a challenge.

Watching the World Cup was a great experience. The game I saw was Spain-Morocco and the city of Kaliningrad was uncharacteristically Russian. The “Russian” spirit in Kaliningrad was mixed with the rich vegetation and remnants of the German times. The result was surprisingly pleasant.

Everything went smoothly on our way there. We (myself and two friends) drove the 2000km without problems and arrived relatively quickly. Our stay there was nice and the game was one of the most interesting ones from the World Cup. We witnessed 4 goals and also a bit of VAR controversy.

It was the way back that turned out to be tricky. First we were held up on the Russian-Polish border for almost 2 hours. Routine checks, but it set the course of what was to come. Then we started hearing noises from the engine. Nothing could be seen when we opened the hood, so we continued driving.

Some 700km later, near Ostrava in the Czech Republic, the car broke down. Multiple failures in the engine and we could barely get off the motorway and reach the nearest village. The locals weren’t helpful. They didn’t want to talk to us and a couple of them even ran away when we approached them for help!

We stared calling various numbers for help and, to cut the story short, after more than 3 hours a tow service came and took us and the car to the Mercedes car repair garage.

More bad news came when they informed us that they would need at least 1 week to fix the car. Now we were really stuck. We booked a hotel, still without a clear idea what to do.

My friends don’t have the same travelling experience as I have. This meant that it had to be me who would find a way out of the situation. While watching Argentina qualify I was thinking of various ways to get us back home. My first idea was to take the train to Prague and then fly back to Skopje. But one of my friends has such a fear of flying that he basically blackmailed us into not considering that option.

This made things more complicated and problematic. Eventually I discovered that we can reach Budapest by train if we left in a few hours, at 2.36am. Then I arranged a friend of mine to pick us up from Budapest and drive us to Skopje.

The night train… It brought vivid memories of my decades of tournament-hopping. Impossible to sleep in fear of robbers. Usually I would take the night train either before a tournament, trying to reach it for Round 1, or after it, when I’d be on my way to the next one. It was profoundly excruciating experience, lack of sleep at its worst. It was often preceeded by trying to stay awake at the station, often in the mid-winter cold, waiting for the train to come.

This time at least I arrived at the train station by taxi and didn’t wait for too long. We also had the whole compartment for us so there was no need to fear being robbed. I still couldn’t sleep though, old habits die hard and the familiar surrounding turned on the forgotten switches.

I was severely sleep-depraved when we arrived. It all accumulated, each day of our trip we got up at 4.30am in order to have the whole day to drive. My friend picked us up soon after we arrived and then we set out to Skopje. I was falling in and out of sleep for the duration of the whole journey.

I didn’t have time to follow chess developments while away. The Grand Chess Tour finished in the meantime with the same players dominating both in Leuven and Paris. Caruana was still awful, his blunders becoming more shocking.

Karjakin-Caruana, the blitz in Paris. Of course this is easily winning, just don’t do what the Challenger did – he put the king on c4 and dropped the rook on a2.

The following one is equally unbelievable.

Caruana as Black is winning against Anand. The plan is to pick up the a-pawn with the king. What Caruana did follows the plan and loses the game in 1 move: 51…Kd7??? 52 Nxc5+.

I already posted the position that Caruana managed to lose to Nakamura in the rapid in Paris. Now take a look at the following transformation in the blitz:

Caruana is Black and is 3 pawns up. This is move 53 and White played 53 Bd3. Now take a deep breath and see the position that appeared on the board 45 moves later.

I won’t even try to explain this. Obviously Nakamura won the game.

The Paris leg of the Grand Chess Tour was won by Nakamura. It is good to have him back and win something, after a prolongued period of mediocrity (also see here). Still, it is “only” rapid and blitz and I would like to see him win a classical tournament for a change.

To finish with some good news, it was recently announced that the wild card for the Sinquefield Cup (with classical time controls) will go to Magnus Carlsen. This means that we will get to see another clash between the Champion and the Challenger before the match in November. I am certainly looking forward to that!

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On The Road Again

There are periods when it is impossible to slow down. Things and events just keep coming and you cannot get off the roller coaster.

Tomorrow I’m off to Russia. Surprisingly enough, it’s not chess-related. I am actually going there to watch a game from the World Cup. To make it even more adventurous, and not entirely to my liking, we (me and two friends) will drive all the way to there. It is more than 2000km one-way. For some this may be fun, for a seasoned traveller like me, who prefers to limit the travel time and arrive at the destination as soon as possible, this is way too much time spent in a car! We’ll see, hope it all goes well.

In the meantime in the chess world the Grand Chess Tour started with the rapid and blitz events in Leuven and Paris. It is interesting that with only a few days between the two events the same players who were in form in Leuven continued to dominate in Paris.

Wesley So dominated the rapid in Leuven. An undefeated 7/9, point and a half ahead of second-placed Aronian and Vachier. But he completely botched the blitz, with appaling 8/18, while Karjakin won it with 11.5/18. Still, the regulations stating that the rapid points are worth double, So emerged the winner of the event, half a point ahead of Karjakin and Vachier. That wasn’t without last-round excitement, when all three (!) lost their games.

Worth noting is Caruana’s catastrophe, pretty much everywhere. In the Leuven rapid he scored 3.5/9, in the blitz 6.5/18 and currently in the Paris rapid he’s winless on 1.5/6. This brings me to a thought I had recently. Since the results show that Carlsen is so much superior to Caruana at faster time-controls, it makes sense for Carlsen to actually play the match in a more constrained fashion, basically playing for 6-6. He will definitely feel very confident if it comes to a rapid tie-break. As for Caruana, he really needs to find a “cure” for his faster-control troubles. Perhaps these events are a result of his saturation with chess recently, playing practically non-stop, but in any case this aspect of his play is a serious concern before the match in November.

To illustrate the extent of his bad form, take a look at the following position after move 50 in his game against Nakamura.

And the following one is 31 moves later:

It is here that Caruana blundered horribly. He went 81…Ne5, missing that White can simply take the pawn on h5 thanks to the fork on f5 in case Black recaptures. While even now the position should be a draw, Nakamura went on to win the game on move 123.

These kinds of break-downs never happen to Carlsen. They are a glaring weakness of Caruana and something Carlsen will definitely try to take advantage of. The Challenger has some serious work to do in this respect!

Time to prepare that backpack now!

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