Category : Tournaments

Batumi Impressions

I am finally back home after a gruelling 14h-trip. Another sleepless night filled with bus rides and a flight. It reminded me of those times when I was tournament-hopping with no end in sight, just that this time it was no fun at all.

The results of the Olympiad are already known, the Macedonian teams didn’t do so well and for this I blame the pre-game travel of some 40 minutes. It is impossible to play well throughout the whole distance of such a demanding tournament as an Olympiad if your energy is drained before each game by a road trip and traffic jam. From what I’ve been told in Khanty it will be better.

Here I would like to share my view of the Olympiad as a whole and also of the most impressive (for me) event there – the FIDE General Assembly.

This was a first Olympiad where I wasn’t a player. This allowed me to see things from the outside – when I play I am completely focused on my own regime, preparation and play so I deliberately block out everything that it outside of my primary focus. Now things were different.

By different I mean the social aspect. The busiest place in the playing venue was the so-called EXPO, where there were several stands: of the both presidential candidates, of the 2022 Minsk Olympiad (they didn’t have an opponent so it will be organised there) and of the ECU presidential candidate Azmaiparashvili (who also didn’t have an opponent and was elected again). An hour into the round the EXPO was bustling with all sorts of people (both Dvorkovich and Makropoulos were there almost every day) and if you needed somebody you could be certain that he or she would be there. In the informal atmosphere that ruled the place it was very easy to approach anybody (including the candidates) and start a conversation.

In spite of living some 30km from Batumi, I also managed to see a lot of people in the city. This meant quite a few extra taxi rides from my hotel in Kobuleti to Batumi, but it was worth it. In the wake of the FIDE elections meeting people was even more interesting. I talked to several high-level officers in FIDE and some very rich and powerful people and learned a lot in the process.

A very important place to be were the parties organised by the candidates. I went to both and just by observing who’s talking to whom and their body language I could see a lot. The most telling moment for me happened during the organiser’s party which also doubled as Makropoulos’s. At one point there were speeches and I could clearly see both candidates standing relatively close to each other. In that moment I realised that Makro was losing – he was uneasy while Dvorkovich was calm, in spite of the speeches being angled to favour Makro. He was even given a chance to talk and he turned it into a propaganda for his campaign, but even that didn’t help. He was nervous.

The main event was the General Assembly. It started at 9am and it ended at some time after 6pm when the winner of the elections was announced. During the assembly I was amazed to see how well-oiled Makropoulos’s team was. Whenever a negative comment from the delegates was aired, he would either cut it down or turn it to his favour. Very often a member of his team would add something that would make the accuser inadequate and would bolster Makro’s image. There were also several comments that were aimed at showing the Makro team in better light. At times he would just not discuss the question and that would be it. It was clear that the experienced politician was controlling everything from his chairman position.

The speeches of the three candidates were very telling. Dvorkovich spoke first and even though he stammered a few times he basically elaborated his future plans. He received a big applause. Short spoke second. He attacked FIDE and Makro and ended with a withdrawal of his candidacy and endorsing Dvorkovich. And then came Makro. I remember that Kasparov said that he was wrong to talk first in Tromso in 2014 because when he finished Ilyumzhinov came out and said he’d give 20 million USD to chess, mocking Kasparov’s figure of 10. This was met with laughter and approval and Kasparov felt that this was the final straw convincing him that he had lost. So I thought this was Makro’s last chance to try to sway things in his favour.

But Makro didn’t take it. His speech was weak, a mixture of attacks on his opponents and mentions of his past glory. Nothing about the future. He also lacked energy while speaking. It was clear to me that he already knew it was over. He received a meek applause.

The lobbying part that took place outside the hall was a separate show to observe. The voting had barely started (185 countries had to vote and it took around 2h to finish. It goes in alphabetical order and while waiting the delegates go outside the hall for a drink or snack) and the delegates were already discussing and negotiating, all of them already knowing the final results. Deals were made literally every minute.

The final result wasn’t a surprise for anybody. There was a wild ovation when it was read aloud and it did feel as if people were really eager for this change to happen. There was an air of hope present and I saw a lot of happy smiles.

When I finally left the Sheraton Hotel and took a taxi back to my hotel I felt completely drained. It was a first time that I felt such fatigue, as if all my energy had been squeezed out of me. Later I realised that this shouldn’t have surprised me. In a hall full of people from the whole planet engaged in historical elections the energy is easily zapped. Politics is a high-energy endeavour.

Dvorkovich won. He brings change and he brings hope. After decades of the same thing the world needed this. So the start is promising. The next 4 years will quickly pass and Minsk will hold the next elections. At least now I know how they will look like.

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Bad In Batumi

In fact Kobuleti, if I have to be more exact.

I also have never heard of it before. Now I will spend the next 12 days here, being part of the Olympiad that takes place in Batumi, some 30km from here.

The only good thing about Kobuleti is the 5-star hotel we’re staying in. Even though at the very beginning we said we preferred less stellar accomodation in exchange for being actually in the city where the games are played. It wasn’t meant to be.

So what does this mean? Let me give you a backward timeline. The games start at 3pm. The trip from the hotel to the playing hall takes 45 minutes, if there is no traffic (often there is). The scheduled transport from the hotel leaves at 1.30pm. Lunch finishes at 1pm and starts at 11.30am. The board pairings are supposed to come out at 10am, but today they didn’t (they came out after 11am) and we will see what happens tomorrow. I will leave you do the math of how much time is left for preparation and rest.

The entrance to the playing hall is the players’ worst nightmare. Only 3 (!!!) entrances for each hall. Again, do your own math how many people have to go through those entrances and the frame scanners behind them. Just for a comparison sake, the USA team spent 50 (no typo, fifty) minutes waiting in the sun before entering the playing hall in Round 1.

Yes, Round 1 is the Olympiad’s worst. They told me today it was better. But what does better mean? It simply means that in order to let the people in faster, the whole idea of security checks loses its purpose because the only way to do it is to check less thoroughly. One player told me that when they asked her what she had in the bag (because it sent the scanner off) she told them she had some coins and without even checking the bag they let her in. I am sure this wasn’t the only case. There’s your “tight” security.

There was even more mess before Round 1, when people were supposed to pick up their accreditation cards. Instead of distributing these to the hotels where the players were staying (a very good practice we saw in Baku) they opened a small, 10m2 room for this purpose. There are 185 countries participating. The queues were so long that some people were waiting for more than 3 hours to get into that room.

For us the main problem is the travel. It reminds me of the famous opens in Cappelle la Grande. Staying in Dunkirk, playing in Cappelle, bus rides between the two. Not very professional, to say the least, but the wine was unlimited and free, so no surprise they were one of the most popular opens. Wines aside (though the Georgian ones are pretty good), it is simply not fair to place some teams at a disadvantage. While the majority arrive to the playing hall in 10 to 15 minutes, it takes us 45. The same is for going back after the game. It just isn’t fair.

Of course we will fight, we always fight. Perhaps especially hard when it is against the odds. Yet the bitterness is already here. For me this Olympiad won’t feel like the celebration I have always considered it to be.

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Dubov’s Ideas

Daniil Dubov is one of the more original thinkers in modern chess. If you look at it at face value it is very easy to be original, just do something nobody has done before. The trick is to be original and good at the same time.

Dubov is one of the rare breed of very talented and strong young players who is also quite original. I am primarily speaking of his opening ideas, who cannot but catch your attention.

In my newsletter (use the friendly yellow box on the right to subscribe if you wish) I already noted some of his new ideas in the Grunfeld (he is a Grunfeld player with Black) and here I would like to draw your attention to his latest novelties. Currently he is playing the Russian Superfinal (just finished today), where in spite of the good start and leading the tournament he lost the rhythm and dropped to a minus score in the end. Curiously enough, he first won 2 games with Black before losing the next 3 with the same colour.

I am sure he will learn to deal with the pressure of being a leader, but in the meantime we can look at and perhaps pick up some of his ideas from the tournament.

In Round 2 Dubov introduced a true novelty on move 8 (it hasn’t even been played in games between computers or online!):

Even though he didn’t win the game this looks like an interesting way to steer the game clear of the usual paths. Black can probably neutralise this novelty, but that is difficult to do during the game as a GM as strong as Oparin failed to do so.

In Round 5 Dubov played a shocker (at least for me) on move 6!

Objectively speaking, Vitiugov reacted very well to Dubov’s 6 Nd2 and obtained a good position. But perhaps White’s play can be improved upon?

In Round 7 playing White against Fedoseev, Dubov continued in similar vein with the already-established aggressive treatment in the trendy …a6 lines in the QGD. Only this time the move e4 turned out to be a new one.

It is my impression that these lines with …a6 in the QGD work better when the White knight is already on f3!

Dubov’s ideas are very interesting and exciting, sometimes even shocking, so I always make sure to take a look at this games, wherever he plays. I would suggest doing the same if you are looking for ways to spice up your opening play, you won’t regret it!

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Sinquefield Cup 2018 – A Threesome

The Sinquefield Cup finished a few days ago and I would like to share some impressions I got from the tournament.

The crucial moment of the whole tournament was the game Carlsen-Caruana. The game lived up to the expectations and it followed a scenario where Carlsen managed to outplay Caruana, but failed to nail the game when it was within his reach.

If you take all their classical games from this year (Wijk aan Zee, Grenke, Stavanger and Saint Louis) you can notice that in all of them Carlsen had the advantage – he was constantly outplaying Caruana, but he only managed to win one, in Stavanger. This is both good news and bad news for Carlsen. The good news is that he manages to outplay Caruana on a more constant basis, but the bad news is that he wins very rarely. He was doing the same in his match with Karjakin, obtaining winning positions and failing to win, and I’m sure we all remember where that got him. As for Caruana, it is quite clear that he will have to raise his level even more if he wants to be equal in that match, but at least he can take a positive from this last game that he managed to save a lost position.

Another characteristic is that Caruana won his games showing fruitful opening ideas and then capitalising on them. Carlsen won his games in long, “completely drawn” endgames. It has been a while since Carlsen won a game in this manner, but I am pretty sure that this won’t work in London. He needs to find other ways to win games and his adoption of mainstream theory in his last tournaments looks promising in that direction. Even in the above game he introduced a fresh opening idea!

Nakamura continues to be awful in classical chess. Shared last place with 3 losses and no wins and even more shockingly a drop out of the top 10 (of which I have already written on this blog) is a big concern for the American player. He is still dominant at faster time controls, but in classical he seems to have lost the patience. The way he lost to Carlsen in the last round is shameful. I really doubt it that he will find motivation to get back on track, but I also hope he proves me wrong.

Karjakin was similarly horrible. Just plain, no opening ideas, no spark, no motivation. He lost a Berlin endgame to Aronian and a “dead drawn” endgame to Carlsen before losing to Caruana after falling into an unpleasant position. Both Karjakin and Nakamura know that they will never become a World Champion and they are both financially secure for life – what motivation do they have?

The tournament ended in a farce. The regulations stated that there should be tie-break between two players, but since there were three and their tie-breakers were all equal, the odd man out had to be determined by drawing of lots. The players protested, but that’s what the regulations stated. Still, the organisers decided not to follow their own regulations and proclaimed all three, Caruana, Carlsen and Aronian, as winners.

This is ridiculous. Why are they writing regulations if they don’t plan to follow them? If they are so bad, why not take some time to write better ones? This is very similar to the Candidates tournament – back in 2013 in London everybody agreed that the first place shouldn’t be decided by a Sonneborn-Berger or whatever, but rather by a rapid tie-break match, yet the same regulations have remained in place for all the subsequent tournaments. Sometimes I get the impression these organisers are really lazy sods who hope that the tricky situations never occur. And to make it worse, that’s what most of the time happens!

There was still a tie-break in the end, for a place in the GCT Final Four in London in December. Caruana easily dispatched of So 1.5-0.5, securing the spot. I am firmly convinced that So’s loss was a result of his miserable last round game against that same Caruana. The previous day he boldly stated that he must go all in for a win in order to secure qualification for London, yet when the game came he chickened out with the queen exchange in the Petroff and a boring draw. This failure to stir up the spirit to fight for the prize is not a sign of strong character. When you don’t take your chances somebody else will, and that is what Caruana did in the tie-break. So is a great player, but his character seems to be still “under construction.”

The next big tournament is the Olympiad, where I will also be present, only this time not as a player. Too bad, but then again being there “where the action is” is still something that excites me.

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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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