The Boat Trip

There was an organised boat trip during the tournament. A good idea of the organisers to shake up the usual tournament routine. Usually I don’t go to these kind of things, as they are a distraction and are energy consuming, but this time I decided to go. For one, because I really like Mallorca, and two, because I really like the sea.

The first surprise was that I didn’t expect we were going to fly on water (remember you can click on the image for a bigger version):

The second surprise was our guide – silent, yet very expressive:

The trip was along the coast, southward from Arenal. The scenery was captivating, first rocky coastline with some vegetation:

Then we passed by a residential area with its own nooks and crannies:

Followed by private beaches:

Then the big rocks came:

We made our only stop at one beach which it seemed it could only be approached from the sea. I’ve always fancied having a yacht (let’s not be too modest here) and exploring such hidden treasures, like the people who were already there when we arrived:

I imagine that this kind of boat trip must be fantastic in mid-summer, as the idea of the stop is to allow the people on board to have a swim in a very nice place and clean water. Unfortunately it was too cold for me, but not so for the other passengers. Here you can see a mermaid swimming with the fish:

WGM Irina Sudakova

And here definitely not a mermaid:

GM Andrey Sumets (2600+ whale)

The stop lasted for 30 minutes and then we went back. I must add that we had a very experienced captain. He navigated with his feet:

In spite of my initial skepticism, it turned out to be a very pleasant experience. I think it gave me a lot of positive energy and I continued to have a very successful tournament.


Llucmajor Open 2014

It’s difficult to keep up the blog during the tournament and the reason is the starting time of the games – they start at the rather unusual time of 8.30pm. It may appear that I have all the time in the world during the day, but the preparation process takes all my thoughts and energy, so no time to write about the games. Besides, the games finish well past midnight and then it’s really too late for writing!

So to keep my readers busy, here are a few photos of the beautiful beach in Arenal (the name Llucmajor is the name of the municipality, I’m actually in Arenal. If you go from Palma eastwards, following the coast, adjacent to Palma is Playa de Palma and adjacent to Playa de Palma is Arenal).


Positional Calculation

I introduced this term a few posts ago when I was trying to explain Carlsen’s dip in form at the Gashimov Memorial. It is a term I invented for my own purposes and it is about the calculation that is done in quiet positions, when there is no tactics and general plans and principles come to the fore. In the last round of the 4NCL I played a game that illustrates this concept very astutely, so I’ll present the complete game here. Bear in mind that all the lines in the notes are the lines I calculated during the game, unless otherwise stated (which is only once, in the note to black’s 17th move).

Colovic,A (2479) – Sowray,P (2348) [A89]
4NCL, 2014

1.d4 f5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.0-0 0-0 6.b3 d6 7.Bb2 Ne4 

 8.c4 [8.Nfd2 was an alternative, but eventually I decided to go for the more central approach. The reason was that I already saw the line leading to the endgame from the game] 8…Nc6 9.Nc3 Nxc3 10.Bxc3 Kh8 not really necessary, as black has no choice but to push …e5 [I was expecting 10…e5 11.dxe5 dxe5 12.Qd5+ Kh8 13.Qxd8 Rxd8 14.Ng5

which is very similar to the game, here white’s rook is still on a1. This was the endgame I was aiming for. I reached this position when analysing my game against Rendle, from the previous 4NCL weekend and I considered it quite favourable for white as after taking on c6 white will have a very easy game against black’s weaknesses] 11.Rc1 e5 12.dxe5 dxe5 13.Qxd8 Rxd8 14.Ng5! Rf8 15.Bxc6 bxc6 16.Ba5 

From this moment the game is a good illustration of the concept of positional calculation. All that was necessary was to calculate lines a few moves ahead and to be aware of black’s ideas. [16.Rfd1 a5 was what I wanted to avoid] 16…Bf6 I thought this was the only move. [16…Bh6 17.h4+/- with the idea of Bc3,f4; 16…h6 17.Nf3 e4 18.Nh4 with a tempo 18…Kh7 19.Bxc7] 17.Nf3 [I wasn’t sure whether to insert 17.h4 h6 as in some lines it was useful for me, and in others it was useful for him. Eventually I decided against it, as it gave him the opportunity to reduce the material on the kingside and gain space there with …g5]

17…Rf7? after this it’s really difficult to pinpoint where black could have played better as the remaining of the game seems to be a smooth ride for white [I was expecting 17…e4 18.Ne1 Rf7 19.Nc2 with Nb4 or Rfd1 and Nd4 to come and I thought I was doing quite alright, but after 19…f4!

black seems to be able to activate his bishops. I saw the move, but underestimated its strength. What follows is the computer analysis of the position 20.gxf4 (20.Nb4 fxg3 21.hxg3 Bb7; 20.e3 Bh3 21.Rfd1 Bg4 22.Rd2 fxg3 23.hxg3 c5 24.Rd5 Raf8 25.Rxc5 Bb2 26.Rf1 Bh3 with counterplay; 20.Kg2 g5 21.Rfd1 Kg7 22.Nd4 fxg3 23.hxg3 Bg4 with counterplay) 20…g5! 21.fxg5 Bxg5 22.Bc3+ Kg8 23.Ra1 (23.Rcd1? Bh3 24.Rfe1 Bh4-/+)23…Bh3 24.Rfd1 Bh4 with counterplay] 18.Rfd1 [18.Bc3 forces 18…Re7 19.Rfd1 Bb7 20.Bb4 Rf7 but I couldn’t see why this was better than the game continuation] 18…Bb7 [18…e4?! 19.Nd4] 19.Ne1 with ideas like Nd3-c5 or Nc2-b4

19…Re8 [19…e4 again this was what I expected 20.Nc2 (20.c5 Ba6 21.e3 with the idea of Bc3 was my alternative, leaving him only with a white-squared bishop and the knight is coming to d4)20…c5 21.Ne3+/-] 20.Nd3 Bc8 

21.Bc3! preventing possible …Be6 and preparing to play f4, which is the ideal for white here – the dark-squared bishops will be exchanged and black will be stuck with horrible pawn weaknesses and a bad bishop on c8 [21.Nc5 threatens nothing 21…Kg8; 21.Nb4 Bb7 and the bishop is stuck on a5] 21…Kg7 22.e3 with f4 to come and black cannot prevent it [the immediate 22.f4 wasn’t very good 22…exf4 23.Nxf4 Rfe7 here I realised that I’d prefer to take on f4 with a pawn, hence the game move] 22…g5 

23.f4+- this is already strategically winning for white 23…exf4 24.Bxf6+ Rxf6 25.exf4 Re2?! after so much suffering, he finally decides to go active, but as usual, it only hastens the end [25…gxf4 26.Nxf4 was pretty grim too 26…Rd6 27.Kf2] 26.fxg5 Rf8 

27.Nf4 after some thought I continued to play for domination [27.a4 was my alternative, and I couldn’t decide between this and the game move 27…c5 28.Re1+- (28.Nxc5?! f4! 

and things start to get messy – this was the reason I went for the game move, even though I saw the better moves 28 Re1 and 28 Nf4; 28.Nf4+-) 27…Rxa2 28.Ra1 Rxa1 29.Rxa1 black is completely paralysed 29…a6 30.Rd1 Kf7 31.Kf2 Be6 

32.Re1 forcing him back to go back immediately 32…Bc8 [32…Bd7? 33.Nd3; 32…Re8? 33.Rxe6 Rxe6 34.Nxe6 Kxe6 35.Ke3+-] 33.Nd3 Rd8 34.Ne5+ Kf8 [34…Kg7 35.Nxc6 Rd2+ 36.Re2 Rd3 37.Re7+]

35.Ke3 again not allowing him any counterplay [35.Nxc6 Rd2+ 36.Re2 Rd3 was what I was trying to prevent, even though I saw it’s winning after 37.Re7+-] 35…Rd6 36.h4 h6 

37.gxh6! [37.g6 was very tempting, but after 37…Kg7 38.h5 Kf6 39.Nf7 Re6+ 40.Kf2 Rxe1 41.Kxe1 f4! 42.gxf4 Bg4 all of a sudden B draws!

After seeing all this it was easy to decide to take on h6] 37…Rxh6 38.Rd1! Ke7 39.Kf4 Re6 40.h5 a move on general basis, but in fact I saw that I transpose to a winning rook endgame 40…Kf6 [40…Rd6 41.Rxd6 Kxd6 42.h6]

41.Rd8! the point 41…Rxe5 42.Rf8+ Kg7 43.Rxc8 Rc5 44.Rxc7+ Kh6 45.Rf7 Ra5 46.Rxf5 [46.Rxf5 Ra3 47.Rf6+! Kg7 (47…Kxh5 48.g4+ Kh4 49.Rh6# was the point behind the check on move 4748.Rxc6 Rxb3 49.Rxa6 was the final calculation I had to do in this game] 1-0

As you can see I didn’t calculate a lot in this game and what I calculated wasn’t very complex. The required state of mind in these types of position is the harmony of intuition and calculation. The intuition “suggests” a move and then, provided the calculation is precise (and when it is, it is a sign of good form), it is justified by the calculation. Additionally, the precise calculation leads to clarity of the evaluation, as seeing clearly what lies in every position allows you to evaluate it correctly – the typical example was the line after 37 g6 and the position when white is two pawns up but black draws. In my opinion this is the thought algorithm used by the great intuitive technical players such as Capablanca, Karpov and Carlsen: their intuition would “tell” them the correct move and then they would proceed to verify it with precise calculation. As long as their calculations stay precise they never make mistakes and stay on top of their game. But I don’t see a reason why a player of any strength shouldn’t try to play in the same manner. In my experience following your own intuition brings you much more inner comfort and satisfaction during the game so even if only for that it is a path worth following.


4NCL 2014 Final Weekend

The final 3 games of the 4NCL took place from 3-5 May. My team Cheddleton had an outside chance of finishing 3rd after losing to direct rivals White Rose the previous weekend.

Our first match was against Guildford 2 and the match didn’t run as smoothly as we hoped. In fact, we were lucky not to lose – my win against GM Flear with white was just enough to draw the match. The game started as a rather tame Queen’s Gambit, but curiously enough it got complicated once the queens got exchanged! The moves 15, 16 and 17 took me more than one hour and as the complications began I didn’t have much time, less than 15 minutes to reach move 40. I was lucky that he started to play moves that avoided the most complex lines and this led to his pieces becoming loose. He was also spending masses of time and on move 22 he was already in trouble, his blunder on the same move only quickened the end. An important win as it gave me more self-confidence ahead of the match with the superteam of Wood Green.

I was black against GM Laznicka in the match with Wood Green. He chose an unambitious line in the Queen’s Gambit Exchange and I had no problems in the opening. In the early middlegame he started to put his pieces on the kingside in order to advance there, but I had enough counterplay in the centre, I really liked the centralised position of my pieces on move 19: Bg6, Nf6 and Ne6, Bd6, Re8 and Rd8 and Qa6. Quite unexpectedly he blundered on the next move, allowing me to penetrate with my rook to e2. But he kept his cool and avoided immediate loss. We both entered time-trouble at that time and the lines were complex as I was trying to limit his counterplay based on g5, f5 and f6 when the outside knight on h4 would prove useful. At this moment he offered a draw and as time was running out I accepted. A very good result for the team, a draw with black, but unfortunately we lost several games after that point.

In the last round we needed to win to secure the 4th spot and we won comfortably. I was white against FM Sowray and he went for his usual Leningrad Dutch. I was well prepared and went into the endgame with an exchange operation that I had analysed in my preparations. The endgame was difficult for black as he had a lot of pawn weaknesses. He didn’t manage to create counterplay and I won a scholarly game.

A very good result for me, 2.5/3 and a repeat of the team’s 4th place. It was a very pleasant time spent at the Hinckley Island Hotel, the team atmosphere was at the highest level and I’m already looking forward to next season! After all, after two years finishing 4th, it’s time we moved upwards!

In the decisive match for the title, Guildford demolished Wood Green 6-2 and defended their title. Well done for the Guildford team, whose success started with the win of the French GM Edouard against GM Hammer and was sealed with GM Vachier Lagrave’s win over GM Adams, both wins with the black pieces. It is a rare thing to see the French helping the English win something.

As always, everything was organised at the highest level. The Hinckley Island Hotel is confirmed as the venue for the next season, so it’s more good times ahead!


Gashimov Memorial 2014 Round 10 – No Surprises

Everything ended as expected, but we were definitely enjoying the ride! Round 10 saw Carlsen win again, avenging his loss to Caruana from the first half of the tournament and winning the tournament a point ahead of the same Caruana.

The opening was rich in psychology. First we should remember that a draw was enough to Carlsen to win the tournament. He offered Caruana to play the Fianchetto Grunfeld on move 4, but Caruana, needing to win, went for 4…c5 instead, offering a transposition to a Benoni, Benko Gambit or possibly an English. Then Magnus persisted, and went 5 c3, again offering the Fianchetto Grunfeld, but this time the exchange variation (after 5…cd 6 cd d5) where the probability of draw is extremely high. But Caruana again showed fighting spirit and went for 5…d5, sacrificing the pawn on c5, which Carlsen took. And now what we got was a reversed Grunfeld, white a tempo up, obviously! In the normal Grunfeld, when white sacrifices the pawn in this manner, it is considered to be good for black to defend the pawn when white gets the usual compensation with the strong centre, but now white took the pawn and was a tempo up. Caruana did obtain compensation for the pawn, but objectively speaking it was an uphill task from there. That is not to say that the game wasn’t complicated and demanding on both players. But Carlsen showed himself to be the better player on the day, the quality of his moves was higher, especially as the onus was on Caruana to find compensation and create play in the centre and the kingside. Caruana went into time trouble, but the feeling was that Carlsen was always in control anyway and he wrapped up the game nicely.

I doubt he needed any, but this was definitely a confidence-booster for Carlsen – winning a decisive game in a last round, avenging his previous loss to the same, very serious  opponent (potentially even a challenger in the future), winning another very strong tournament and showing character and determination after his crisis at the end of the first half. Like I wrote back then, the great Magnus performed another feat!

The rest of the games weren’t very notable, perhaps Mamedyarov preparation against Karjakin’s already played line in the double fianchetto English (against Nakamura in round 5) was a bit shallow, as soon after he introduced his novelty on move 18 (18 g5) he spent more than 1 hour (!) on his next move. There were obviously many lines to calculate, but in fact they were following the first line of the engine until the perpetual check. So it’s unclear whether he knew everything and was resting for 1 hour at the board, or he was calculating his way to the draw. This draw must have made Karjakin very happy, as he managed to fulfill his dream of drawing all his games.

Nakamura must have been surprised by Radjabov’s first ever Berlin and it showed. White got nothing out of the opening and by move 20 black got everything one wants from a Berlin. The game could have ended there and then in fact, as I’m sure the players knew it was a dead draw, but they still decided to play 57 moves more.

Carlsen won another super tournament. What was different this time was that he showed weakness and lost 2 games and then showed strength of character and resolve to win 3 more games after that. What he did was in fact regain his usual peace of mind and with it came the quality of his moves. Now how did he do that, is really something I’d like to know! He attributed his success to some luck, but let’s not forget that the strong players are always lucky! That usually means that they play strong moves and the opponents crack under the pressure – later this is called luck, as in, “I was lucky he blundered”. But that “luck” is fully deserved by the strong moves played and the pressure put on the opponent. It’s not in vain when they say there’s no luck in chess!

It’s been a great tournament, but more are on our way, with the Norway supertournament scheduled for the beginning of June. The show goes on!


Gashimov Memorial 2014 Rounds 8&9 – 14 f3?!?

Round 8 of the Gashimov Memorial saw two decisive games, for the first time since Round 5, the round when Carlsen lost to Radjabov.

The only game that was drawn was the game Carlsen-Karjakin. Carlsen finds it difficult to get a position when he plays Karjakin, especially with white – the last time he beat him, last year in Wijk, was that long 92-move Reti and he won in spite of the opening, not because of it. You might say it’s the same as with the other players, but it isn’t, with Karjakin it is different. The reason is that Karjakin is wonderfully prepared and when he doesn’t experiment he manages to achieve rock-solid positions that are almost impossible to lose. And another thing is that Karjakin is happy with playing for a draw. In yesterday’s game Carlsen tried to surprise him with an extremely rare line in the Queen’s Indian, but that led to nothing and soon enough he had to be a little careful (as he said in the press conference) to secure the draw. An uneventful game, but a food for thought for future encounters – how to create problems to Karjakin when playing with white. This game continued Karjakin’s drawing streak and he didn’t seem to mind.

The other two games were much more dynamic. Caruana beat Radjabov after the latter missed something in time trouble. In King’s Indian Caruana, like Carlsen, also sacrificed an exchange and the position was dynamically balanced. The game should have been a draw, but it was spoiled by Radjabov’s mistake on move 38. Mamedyarov-Nakamura was a Slav that quickly became sharp and it was black who took over the initiative. This line with 4 g3 against the Slav seems to be getting some popularity, it’s interesting to observe how white players are willing to part with material in order to just get a game – not to everyone’s taste, of course, to sacrifice material that early in the game, but this shows the tendency in elite chess – black is so well prepared that if white wants to play for more than a draw then more drastic measures are needed. In the game though, Nakamura didn’t take the pawn on c4 and soon enough it was white who was doing the sacrificing again. In mutual time-trouble and complications Nakamura managed to keep his advantage and win.

What surprised me most today was the game Karjakin-Nakamura and the post-game comments by Karjakin. It was a King’s Indian (Karjakin said he was “surprised” by this, as he was expecting the Slav – but surely the King’s Indian is one of Nakamura’s most frequent choices, so how can that be a surprise?!) and Karjakin went for the popular line with h3 (usually called the Makagonov line). The game followed the Ostenstad-Nakamura game from 2013 and then on move 14 a bomb dropped. Had a beginner played the move 14 f3, he would have politely been told not to come back for any more lessons, because he had no talent for chess. The move shows complete lack of understanding of the King’s Indian and is a big positional blunder. And yet Karjakin played exactly that. And to make things worse, they were following a game by his opponent, if he didn’t prepare that, then what the hell did he prepare? After the game he whined that he didn’t bring a second with him (implying that he cannot prepare without a second? Poor Karjakin) and said that he played the line for the first time in his life and he briefly looked at the lines, but surely he’s a top-10 player who should have a general positional understanding of the highest calibre, even though he’s never played the King’s Indian in his life? But no, and this is a comfort for the lesser mortals, that even elite players have blind spots and positions they understand nothing about and play them like patzers. To his credit, Karjakin then showed his usual grit at defending and saved the draw. But to me, the 14 f3 move was a bigger shock than a blunder of mate in one.

Caruana won again, his second win in a row with white. He beat Mamedyarov who again couldn’t (or wouldn’t) control his aggressive impulses in a relatively calm position. He set the table on fire with 22…e5 and in the complications he had his chances to draw, but he didn’t take them (I wonder if he didn’t because he was playing for a win) and then Caruana showed good technique to win the endgame an exchange up.

Carlsen was under pressure in the middlegame against Radjabov, but then for some reason the latter switched to defensive mode (as Svidler put it) on move 31 and had to defend for 70 more moves. He did that successfully and the game was drawn.

So tomorrow we have the decisive game of the tournament – the leaders play each other, Carlsen having the white. He did beat Caruana very nicely in Zurich with white, in a Spanish with 4 d3. But in this tournament he’s exclusively played 1 d4 and somehow I doubt it he’ll go for some topical Grunfeld line tomorrow. So I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays something else, just in order to avoid the Grunfeld. Carlsen has had problems with Caruana in the past and lost to him in the first half of the tournament, so we’re all set for an exciting battle tomorrow! The tie-breaks do favour Carlsen, though, so he may not try too hard, but that will also depend on Caruana. Stay tuned!


Како ШФМ го одредува календарот

Одговорот на ова го знаеме сите одамна – лигата е во јули или август за да може луѓето кои играат да си истераат одмор во Хотел Дрим на сред сезона. Овој аматерски пристап не е променет од кога ги играм тие лиги, а тоа е уште од 80-те години.

Оваа година Олимпијадата е од 1-14 август, што го поремети вообичаениот термин за лигата, па луѓето од ШФМ направија предлог-календар кој предвиде поединечното отворено првенство на Македонија да биде во јули, а лигата во септември. Имајќи го ова предвид, и во консултации со ШФМ, јас ги испланирав своите настапи за периодот пролет-лето.

Како шаховски професионалец со стаж од преку 20 години учество на турнири низ светот се трудам да се однесувам така – професионално и одговорно спрема работата, клубовите за кои играм и репрезентацијата. Играњето за репрезентација ми претставува посебна чест и задоволство, иако за жал од сите активни играчи до сега јас таа чест сум ја имал само 3 пати до сега (Европските екипни во Крит 2007 и Грција 2011 и Олимпијадата во Дрезден 2008). Со оглед на тоа дека Олимпијадата е настанот на годината, јас направив план како најдобро да се подготвам за него. Дел од тие подготовки е и учеството на турнири и со таа цел имав во план да настапам на силниот опен во Ретимно, на Крит, кој е во периодот од 11-19 јули. Идеален термин, кој остава малку време и за одмор по турнирот а пред заминувањето за Тромсо на 1 август.

И што се случува следно? Денес дознавам дека ШФМ решава да го замени терминот на лигата со терминот за поединечното првенство, со други зборови лигата да биде на сред јули. Објаснувањата од типот, не се знае дали ќе има пари за поединечното до јули, кој ќе го игра поединечното ако не е во лето, не можат луѓето да плаќаат ако се игра во Скопје итн се несериозни и само потврда на аматерскиот пристап за кој говорев погоре. Дури и моите предлози за компромис, лигата да остане во јули но да се помести пред или после турнирот не наидоа на разбирање и беа одбиени, иако ми изгледаа сосема фер и разумни. Суштината е во тоа чии интереси се гледаат – на професионалците (годинава тука сум само јас, со оглед дека на останатите играчи од репрезентацијата им е сосема сеедно кога е лигата, јули или септември, но други години биле засегнати повеќемина) или на луѓето кои сакаат да играат лига и да тераат одмор истовремено. Од постапката на ШФМ одговорот е сосема јасен – терањето одмор е поважно од еден од најдобрите играчи во државата и член на репрезентацијата. ШФМ воопшто не ја интересира мојот углед како професионалец, кој мора да откаже учество на турнир за кој потврдил дека ќе го игра, престижен турнир на кој многу тешко се добиваат услови и треба години за да се изгради довербата кај организаторите; не ја интересира тоа што со неиграњето на турнирот ме спречува да заработувам со својата професија; не ја интересира што член на репрезентацијата нема да може соодветно да се подготви за тоа натпреварување (да ве потсетам ли само на резултатите од минатогодишното Европско првенство и претпоследното место?) Едноставно кажано, ШФМ воопшто не ја интересираат професионалците.

Една од главните цели на ШФМ е подготовка и настап на репрезентацијата. Од разни причини подготовките се најчесто непостоечки, па затоа играчите ги земаат работите во свои раце – секој се подготвува како што знае и умее. Во случајов дури и тој момент на индивидуални подготовки се саботира.

Да биде работата уште полоша, ова не е прв пат ШФМ да донесува вакви одлуки со календарот при кои јас и други играчи биле оштетени. Иако луѓето кои се таму отсекогаш во текот на годините биле бивши шахисти, очигледно позицијата ги прави повеќе политичари отколку шахисти кои учат од сопствените грешки. А за причините и целта на промовирањето на аматерскиот шах (кој апосолутно го поддржувам, но не на сметка на професионалниот шах), во некоја друга прилика.


Gashimov Memorial 2014 – Rounds 6&7: 10-0

The power of football. Or the magic of the ball. It seems that was all it took to get Carlsen back to his old routine.

Usually a free day after a loss is an added torment, let alone two losses. The player keeps going back to the mistakes, analyses the games over and over again, cannot forget the agony of defeat. And this is where the football kicks in. In my last post I said that the recipe for coming back after loss(es) is forgetting what has happened and “just play.” For Carlsen the football match on the free day served as the perfect distraction from his brooding (as any chess player, he was definitely suffering after the two losses) and at the same time as a way of letting go of all the negative emotions that accumulate after a loss of a chess game.

Mamedyarov-Carlsen followed the game Capablanca-Nimzowitch from Bad Kissigen 1928 until move 8 – Capablanca preferred to take on f6 while Mamedyarov kept the pin and later used the bishop to attack the black queen on b6. It was the typical Catalan-type compensation, double-edged and complicated. It’s a tendency I noticed that the players are trying to get this type of position against Carlsen: starting with Anand’s Nimzo with 4 f3 in Chennai, then Nakamura in Zurich (the same Nimzo with 4 f3, he repeated the line today as well, but more on that below), then also Karjakin used the same Nimzo line in round 3 here and Radjabov went for the King’s Indian. All these choices lead to complex positions with not-so-clear positional guidelines and the players obviously think that it is here that Carlsen’s potential weakness lies. They may be on to something, as he doesn’t feel very comfortable in these positions, even though he still manages to win. The game with Mamedyarov followed the same pattern, Carlsen may not have been too comfortable, but he still found good squares for his pieces (I liked 20…Rf7 with the idea of Nf8). Mamedyarov blundered soon afterwards, but black was already clearly better by then.

The other two games of the round were no less interesting, though they both finished in a draw. The funny thing in the Caruana-Nakamura game was that they both played that line of the Open Spanish with black! Nakamura played this line last year against Safarli, while Caruana played it way back in 2010 against Shirov. As it happened, he improved on Shirov’s play and won a pawn, but somehow with active play Nakamura held the draw. Radjabov-Karjakin was interesting because of the endgame that arose: a rook endgame with 3 vs 3 on the kingside and a passed b-pawn with white’s rook in front of the pawn. Fairly typical stuff and the usual defensive method with a passed a-pawn is to put the pawns on f7, g6 and h5 and keep the king around the e6-square. But here white had a b-pawn and the king is closer to it, so Karjakin played 32…g5!? and I found that very instructive – the idea is to reduce the material and in case of h5, like Radjabov played, to play 34…g4 in order to isolate the pawn on h5 and take it with the king. This is exactly what happened and black saved the draw. A valuable defensive idea!

Today Carlsen increased his lifetime score against Nakamura to 10-0. It’s curious how the game followed similar pattern to their game from Zurich: Nakamura again went for the 4 f3 line in the Nimzo and again got a very good position. And again he misplayed it. I am sure that he would never misplay that position (not to talk about the winning one in Zurich) against any other player in the world; yet in happens against Carlsen and on a pretty regular basis at that. Psychology is the only possible explanation, but what exactly does that mean? My guess is that Nakamura places too much importance on these games against Carlsen. With his statements and behaviour he tries to show the public that he’s “the one” who will dethrone Carlsen and all this brouhaha he creates impedes his own chess ability and consequently he plays below his level in these games. He creates the tension, he puts too much significance on the games and then he can’t withstand them. What serves him pretty poorly is the typically American need for self-promotion – it seems that it doesn’t bode well with his character. For some people it works well and gives them extra strength, they feed on their own words, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with Nakamura. If he would just shut up and play, he’ll do much better against Carlsen. However, I doubt he’ll shut up.

I’m starting to think that what I said some posts ago about Karjakin getting the wrong impression from the Candidates, that he can do well by playing for draws, is becoming true. Another non-game against Caruana today, repeating the game Giri-Caruana from Zug 2013 until move 29 and then 5 moves later it was a “dead draw” (as Karjakin said in the press conference). His statement from the press conference that “chess is a draw” seems like a lame attempt to excuse his shameful approach.

Radjabov-Mamedyarov was another friendly draw and not really worth mentioning.

We now have the same situation as at the start of the tournament – Carlsen is winning, the others aren’t. I just don’t think that this time he will crack – I am pretty convinced that he will clinch it.


Gashimov Memorial 2014 – Rounds 3-5: Carlsen Castles Short

It’s an unpredictable place, this (chess) world of ours. Just when everybody was expecting the usual Carlsen dominance, things started to go terribly awry for the World Champion.

It all seemed to go so well – in Round 3 he first got Karjakin out of his preparation, then outplayed him and put him in severe time pressure. Just when you expected the inevitable, Karjakin started to defend with only moves while Carlsen started to waver. Definitely not what he had got us used to! The game ended in a draw. (I noticed that Karjakin was smart to say after the game that he was happy not because he drew with Carlsen, but because he saved a difficult position – saying the former would have been a grave psychological mistake, it would have implied he had an inferiority complex).
I think this draw disturbed Carlsen’s inner peace – he was doing what he usually does and yet couldn’t finish the process, he couldn’t clinch the game, something that simply doesn’t happen with him. After all, he built all his reputation on mercilessly clinching games! He wasn’t his usual self the next day against Caruana, even though he played his usual Berlin. In the press conference he said he wasn’t feeling very well that day, it was just “one of those days” that we all have, when everything that can go wrong, goes wrong. This was indirectly confirmed by Chuchelov, Caruana’s second and coach, when he said that before the game they looked at the exact line that happened in the game – that’s how it goes, when things go wrong for you, they go right for your opponent. The Berlin structure they got in the game, with white’s pawns on h3, g4, f3 and e5, with a Ne4 and Bf4 is uncomfortable for black, this was also noted by Svidler during the online commentary (he even went on to explain that this was the reason for the popularity of the Berlin lines with Ke8 and h5, as they prevent white from establishing this structure). Carlsen was unhappy with his position and just as any other mortal would when under pressure, blundered and lost. What I found insightful was his confession after the game that he misjudged the position several times – this usually means that his positional calculation wasn’t precise (I invented the term “positional calculation” for my own purposes – something similar was mentioned already by Kotov – it refers to the calculation of lines “when nothing is going on in the position”. It usually consists of calculating many candidate moves 2-3 moves ahead both for yourself and the opponent and is more difficult than it sounds). When your calculation isn’t clear and precise, you cannot have good judgement.
Caruana was his usual confident self in converting the advantage (his slip on move 40 only would have prolonged the game, had Carlsen taken advantage of it, which he didn’t). During the game, while observing him, I noticed that he reminds me of the young Karpov from the early 70s (from the photographs I’ve seen). The same fragile constitution and gentle disposition outwardly, but with infinite self-confidence in their ability and will to win.

Not exactly look-a-likes, but they won’t pass the chance to beat you.

Unfortunately, Carlsen’s state of mind didn’t change much today. He tried to go back to what he usually does, going for a fight and outplaying his opponent, but Radjabov was very much up to it. He took too many risks, the positional exchange sacrifice did look good at first sight, but this is again proof of his problems with the positional calculation – your eyes are telling you it’s OK, but you should back that up with calculation, and he couldn’t because, as he said, he was missing and misjudging things. A deserved loss, but all credit should go to Radjabov, who played really well and found all the best moves, and rather surprisingly, finds himself in sole first before the rest day. Carlsen also admitted that he was out of energy, I think this is the first time I hear him say that. From a person who pays so much attention to physical exercise it can only mean that he’s deflated emotionally and definitely needs the rest day tomorrow. This is his first serious crisis in a very long time (people have noted that this is his first short castle (two losses in a row) since Bilbao 2010 when he lost to Kramnik and Anand in rounds 1 and 2), so it will be interesting to see how he responds to it.

The other Azeri player also struck today and showed that Caruana still isn’t Karpov. He got very good compensation in the Grunfeld as black, but then strangely enough started to play somewhat loosely and allowed Mamedyarov to untangle and later on to try to play for a win. But even then it seemed that he could draw with the opposite-coloured bishops (plus queens). And just when one more precise move was needed, he blundered. I don’t think Karpov (from any  period!) would have missed this chance.

Karjakin continues to surprise me. After the difficult draw with Carlsen, he didn’t even try to win against Mamedyarov, as they rattled out their preparation which ended in a perpetual check (was he naively hoping that the cat ate Mamedyarov’s preparation?) Today he showed another interesting opening idea in the English double fianchetto against Nakamura. In the online commentary Svidler said it may have been preparation until well over move 30 and he may be right – all Karjakin’s moves are the first line of the engine, except 29…Qf2 when the engine prefers h4 or Rc8 and gives zeros. I think that maybe the second place in the Candidates gave Karjakin the wrong impression that he can do well with playing for a draw. You never win tournaments when playing for a draw, but perhaps he still lacks the confidence that he can actually win elite tournaments (in spite of Stavanger 2013)?!

Before the rest day we have a situation when the first and the last are divided by only a point. This means that any player can win the tournament and we’re in for an exciting second half. For me the most interesting will be to see how Carlsen responds to the situation he has found himself in, as I have encountered this situation many times in my practice. The key to recovery is the ability to detach from the previous events and “just play”, but as you probably sensed it, that’s easier said that done. Great champions make the difficult things seem easy so let’s see if the Great Magnus will perform one more feat.


Gashimov Memorial 2014 – Rounds 1&2

I met Vugar Gashimov in 2007, in Havana, during the Capablanca Memorial. He seemed a very likeable and approachable guy, I remember we chatted in the lobby of the Triton Hotel about the best way to get convertible pesos and avoid being tricked by the locals in the process (those who have been to Cuba will understand).

I also saw him at the subsequent European Club Cups and European Team Championships and in the meantime I was following with great interest his games in the Benoni, as he was the only elite player to play that opening on a more or less regular basis (and quite successfully too). His games with Gelfand from Linares 2010 and Aronian from Wijk 2012 still serve as a starting point of analysis of the popular line with Bf4.

It is quite rare that players get to have their memorial tournaments nowadays. A more common picture is to see those memorial tournaments disappear, due to financial issues. It is a grand gesture by the Azerbaijan government to establish a Gashimov Memorial and I really hope this one is just a start of a wonderful tradition in memory of a great player.

The tournament started in an expected fashion. Carlsen is winning, the others aren’t. It certainly did help him that he got two whites at the start, but at the time of writing he’s pressing for his third win, this time with black, against Karjakin.

What I found very amusing is how Nakamura’s big mouth is making him look foolish. I can’t easily forget his “Sauron” comments, him being the  “biggest threat” to Carlsen and yet he cannot win a single game against “Sauron” and with every loss these statements sound more and more hilarious and absurd. He is fast turning to what Shirov was to Kasparov, just to remind you, Kasparov had an all time score against Shirov of 15-0 (in classical). Carlsen for now leads Nakamura by “only” 9-0. Just before the tournament Nakamura signed a sponsorship deal with Red Bull. He also put the can of the drink on the table when he played Carlsen. But whatever wings it may have given him, they didn’t help him avoid losing yet another game to the stomping Norwegian. It was another typical Carlsen game, where he “just” outplays the opponent from an equal position. I don’t know if his idea to lose a tempo in the opening (6 Be2 h6 7 Bd3?!?!) was intended to taunt Nakamura or not, but the position was equal all the time until the quality of black’s moves started to drop. And then it was the same old story: strong moves that put pressure, the opponent feels the pressure, but for the time being responds with good moves; this goes on, the opponent spends more time and energy to counter Carlsen’s strong moves, this leads to fatigue and time trouble; the pressure piles up, time runs down; the opponent commits mistakes; Carlsen continues with his strong moves and wins. The process is easy to describe, what I find fascinating is observe it as it happens before my eyes!

From the other players, I can see that Radjabov has done some work to rejuvenate his opening repertoire, at least with black. He dug up his old favourite, the French (remember that he beat Kasparov with it Linares in 2003!) and against 1 d4 he used the Slav to draw comfortably against Mamedyarov. As for the rest, it’s still early to tell.

It certaily looks like it’s going to be an interesting tournament, all eyes will be on Carlsen, but let’s see if the likes of Caruana and Karjakin point to some spots on the sun.

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