Stavanger 2014 – Round 3

Today we found out that Carlsen knows how to prepare topical lines. I read it somewhere that he’s consciously going for complex positions, on one hand to enrich his playing style, and on the other, and this is my opinion, to prepare for the match with Anand – after all, he can’t expect Anand to do the same and play the boring chess he played in Chennai; surely Anand should try to play more active and dynamic chess and this is exactly what Carlsen has been doing in the tournaments this year (the games Nakamura-Carlsen, Zurich, Karjakin-Carlsen, Shamkir, Carlsen-Radjabov, Shamkir, Nakamura-Carlsen, Shamkir are all good examples.) Curiously enough, a week ago I was browsing through Kaufman’s book “Sabotaging the Grunfeld” where the line with 3 f3 is recommended for white. And quite unexpectedly, Carlsen goes for it! In the book Kaufman suggested the novelty 15 Bh6 and up to move 17 they followed his analysis when Caruana played 17…Qe7 instead of Kaufman’s 17…Qf8. Probably Caruana’s move is worse than Kaufman’s, who used a very powerful hardware for the book, as Carlsen managed to get an edge – after black’s 18…e5 white is better on both wings. But then it seems to me that Carlsen miscalculated something. It’s obvious that black’s counterplay is based on the move …c6 and on move 26 he could have prevented it with 26 Qe3 and if Rb8 renewing the threat, then 27 Qc5 with domination. Instead, he allowed it and suddenly it was white who had to be careful – a clear indication that he missed something in his calculations. Realising this, he made another debatable decision – instead of keeping equal material and defending against black’s initiative (30 Nd5 Nd5 31 ed and now black can choose between 31…a4 and 31…b4), he went for an endgame – a piece down. This decision clearly shows his preferences! True, he got two pawns for the piece, and they should have stayed only two, if it wasn’t for Caruana’s miscalculation on move 34 – he should have inserted the zwischenzug 34…gf4, the idea is that white cannot take on d7 in view of 35…f3 and black wins! Good technique often relies on such “details.” Instead he allowed Carlsen to get a third pawn for the piece and increase his drawing chances. The position was difficult to play for both – Carlsen had to be careful not to lose the pawns for nothing, and Caruana wanted to avoid too much simplification. Probably both players missed better ways of handling the position (as the comp suggests) but this only shows the level of complexity. Eventually Carlsen managed to save the draw. It’s not the first time that Carlsen gets into trouble with Caruana with white (see for example their games from Wijk aan Zee in 2010 and the Tal Memorial in 2013 – the latter particularly typical as he blundered in an equal position) but what is surprising is that he got into trouble after achieving an advantage from the opening – usually at this level it’s a rare sight to see an advantage turn into a fight for a draw. When it happens though, it’s always as a result of a miscalulation. Both players can be equally unhappy with the result, but Caruana still leads with 2.5/3 while Carlsen is yet to win a game.

It’s always a pleasure to see Kramnik go on the offensive, especially with black. This is such a rare sight and the examples I recall have mostly tended to backfire on him – against Naiditsch in Dortmund 2010, against Shirov in Shanghai in 2010, against Svidler at the Russian Championship in 2011 and most famously against Ivanchuk in the last round of last year’s Candidates. But today it went well for him, probably because they had a classical position on the board as Giri chose to play the Catalan against him. I very much liked 13…Qe8, the move that set the tone for the whole game. The idea is obvious: he wants to put the knight in the centre and play …f5. Giri seemed to play with fear, as if he didn’t expect such an open aggression from Kramnik. Kramnik’s 22nd continued his aggressive intent, he could have taken on b5 and played …b6, establishing something of a fortress, but he wasn’t interested in that – he sacrificed the pawn on a5 instead in order to plonk the knight on f3! When you’re under this sort of pressure, both psychological and chess-wise, it feels very uncomfortable and this makes it difficult to find the right moves – Giri chose to sit and wait while he could have tried to disturb Kramnik’s maneuvering by Ba5 at some point (on moves 34 and 35 for example.) Both players committed inaccuracies on move 40, as Giri’s 40 Qf1 allowed 40…Qf7 with the idea of Bb3, but they were both probably in time-trouble. But some mistakes are made on move 41 and that’s what Giri did – it seems that he completely missed that he had a weak back rank, after his 41 Rc2? Qe6 black threatens to take on h3 and mate with Rd1. It seems Giri just collapsed, but coupled with his missed 16…Rh4 yesterday, it doesn’t bode well for him at this tournament – missing tactics is the worst sin you can have in chess! On the other hand, a great game by Kramnik, it’s good to see him play liberated and aggressive chess, something he used to do in the late 1990s!

I admired Karjakin’s spirit today. Losing a game after 17 draws in a row must have pissed him off and he went out guns blazing against the rating outsider Agdestein. He was white and introduced a novelty on move 17 – it’s remarkable that Houdini doesn’t think much of it, while the move (17 g3) is actually recommended by the latest version of Stockfish! It’s obvious Karjakin (or his coaches) have used Stockfish to find this novelty – they followed Stockfish’s line until move 23 and here it seems Karjakin either forgot his preparation or didn’t leave Stockfish long enough to think. After 23 Bb4 white is almost winning! It takes Houdini quite a while to understand this – what an amazing discrepancy between the engines in this position (sometimes to crack a position you need to switch between the engines, usually one will suggest a way forward.) After his sacrifice 23 Nd5 he could maximum hope for a draw, but he kept pushing (he could have drawn with 26 ef6+ for example)! He didn’t risk losing, but to my eyes it seemed risking too much to play on in a position when the only side that had winning chances was black! As it usually happens, when you try too hard to win (and I suppose he was trying to win, even though there weren’t really any chances) the hunt becomes the hunter. 42 fg5 was the final drawing possibility as after 42 Qd3 black was already winning. Agdestein’s cleanest chance was on move 48, when the calm 48…Kf7 would collect the g7-pawn with the king, while after the game move it became messy again. Black’s last mistake was 55…f3 and after that white saved the draw. A hugely disappointing game and result for Karjakin – he blew a great novelty and then he spent most of the game trying to invent chances when there weren’t any, in defiance to the inevitable draw that should have happened. The only positive for him is that he didn’t lose, but I’m sure he was expecting to win against the lowest rated player in the tournament. But all sharks, big or small, have sharp teeth and Agdestein has definitely proven that he is one! It will be interesting to see if he manages to keep it up, even though I suspect that he will let his guard down when he tires, simply because he’s not used to this level of chess on a daily basis.

Svidler-Topalov started as a Najdorf, then transposed to a Scheveningen and after Topalov’s very rare 8…d5 (I must quote the only other game in the database: Gietl-Wuensch, Mittelfranken 1996) it transposed to a French with the superfluous a4 for white.This weakening gave black enough counterplay on the queenside. Topalov’s decision on move 17 (17…Qa5) is typical of the player’s character. A player with a calmer disposition and a liking for endgames would have taken on f2 and would have entered a well-known endgame that is slightly better for white, but drawable for black. Topalov chose to keep the queens on board in order to have more counter-attacking chances. In view of white’s weakening a4, I would tend to agree with him. But even with the queens on he was forced to patiently destroy white’s pawn centre, first with 22…f6 and then with 27…e5. This eventually allowed him to equalise. All in all a game that shows the kind of patience one must have when defending slightly worse positions.

Grischuk-Aronian was a strange game because it lasted only 12 moves. Something went awfully wrong with Aronian’s preparation, but usually that is not the end of the world in non-forced variations. To make things irreparable, he blundered badly with 12…e4 (losing a pawn, but he played this with his next in mind) and 13…Qf5, losing the queen. This reminds me of Mamedyarov’s blunder against Aronian at the Candidates, when he also lost the queen in the opening – what goes around, comes around you could say! The rest was not too difficult and Grischuk mopped things up. A nice comeback by Grischuk, who after the initial loss scored 2/2 and is now in shared second with Kramnik, half a point behind Caruana.

So blunders still lose games, let’s stick with yesterday’s motto!

Stavanger 2014 – Round 2

Before examining the games from round 2, I’d like to explain why yesterday I called Agdestein’s exchange sacrifice a-la Botvinnik and not Petrosian, as everybody else. It is because it reminded me of a very old game of Botvinnik as black, somewhere from the 1940s, way before Petrosian became famous for his exchange sacrifices. So today I checked and the game in question was Luiblinsky-Botvinnik, Moscow 1943. Long time ago I was a serious student of Botvinnik’s games, thoroughly digesting his 3 tomes of selected games and not surpsingly something stuck in my memory.

Today was an exciting round. The main match-up of the day, Kramnik-Carlsen was a bit of a let-down because they chose to play it safe. It was a repeat of the Catalan they played back in 2011 in Wijk aan Zee. Kramnik blundered badly in that game and lost, but here it was Carlsen to introduce a novelty on move 11. It was within the boundaries of equality throughout and what I found interesting was to observe Carlsen (again!) try to squeeze something out of nothing in the symmetrical position starting from move 31. And, as we’ve grown accustomed by now, he managed to squeeze something! It was not enough for win, but he definitely made Kramnik suffer – he even won two pawns at one moment. Of course, Kramnik was never in any danger, but in games like this one it is no less important to establish a psychological initiative: Kramnik was pressing from the beginning and Carlsen defended patiently and when it was finally equal Carlsen started to play for more! Why? Because the trend shifted in his favour and he tried to capitalise on it. He didn’t manage this time, but players like Lasker, Karpov and Carlsen himself (to name just the most typical ones) have won immeasurable number of games after defending for long periods and when they finally equalised they started to play for a win, very often quite successfully. It is difficult for the side that had an advantage to shift gears and steer to a draw, they either continue playing under the impression of the old (and gone) advantage, or they just relax thinking that the position is an “easy draw.” In both cases they start to make mistakes and end up in trouble. This is the psychology behind the incredible victories of the great fighters.

Caruana made it 2/2. Svidler’s Paulsen quickly became very sharp and Caruana sacrificing, first a pawn and then a piece. My feeling is that these types of attacks in the Sicilian are won by white, in the vast majority, simply because it’s easier to play when attacking. It was far from straight-forward, of course – to illustrate, the comp gives 19…Rb8 as the only way to hold a draw! The idea is to play …Rb5 at some moment, defending the pinned knight on e5. Not an easy move to find! After 19…Bf6 Svidler gave his queen for a lot of material, but he probably missed that white recaptures one of the pieces by force. But even then I thought he had enough counterplay based on the passed f-pawn. Caruana’s 30thmove (30 Qf2) was strange to me – I thought it was natural to block the pawn with the rook, leaving the queen free to roam around. But he thought otherwise, he thought that the rook should roam around and the queen can jump out at the opportune moment. After looking at the position for a while I realise that it is actually difficult for black – white has many motifs to play for a win – he can use the h-pawn as a deflection in order to win the f-pawn, he can start attacking black’s queenside pawns with a3 and he can create threats against black’s king, while all black can do is wait. In such situations, when one side has ideas while the other one has to wait, it’s almost certain that the side with the ideas wins, as it is next to impossible to be very precise against anything that they throw at you. It also happened here, on move 38 (possibly in time-trouble) Svidler blundered (38…Bd7 would have continued the fight) and allowed a mating attack.

Topalov-Grischuk was an exciting Najdorf. By a curious transposition they found themselves in the old game Shirov-Gelfand from Greece 1993. Ever since then it was considered that black is quite comfortable and the current game didn’t change that verdict. Topalov varied with 17 Kb1, instead of Shirov’s 17 h4 (due to the …Ng4, Bc1 repetition in the opening the numbering of the moves is different from the Shirov game, there it was 15 h4) but black just proceeded with natural development of his pieces and it was him who actually started to create threats first. Topalov lunged forward on move 23 with Nf5, when he had a more solid alternative in 23 Bg5 and only then Nf5. The game move allowed …d5, but he probably thought that the pawn sacrifice gave him an attack – a typical decision by an aggressive player, trying to wrestle the initiative from the opponent by violent means. However, his 26 h5 allowed 26…Qf2, a kind of defensive move you know it’s good once you see it. Looking at the position with a comp, it suggests the check on h6 first (26 Nh6 Kg7 27 Bc1) and then it gets crazy and simply takes on b2 for black and after 28 Kb2 continues calmly with 28…Qc6. An amazing idea – the threat is Na4+ and the Nh6 is out of play. White can bring it back by 29 Nf5 Kg8 30 Nd4 and it seems it just wins, only to be countered by 30…Na4 31 Ka1 h5!! The line goes on 32 Qf3 Bd4 33 cd Rac8 and it’s “just” a draw (i.e. 0.00.) Unbelievable stuff, I mean it’s relatively easy to make sense of the moves, once you look at them with the help of the comp, but actually finding them over the board is impossible. After 26…Qf2 black took over the initiative as he managed to defend his kingside. I suspect that Grischuk was in time-trouble again, but it was Topalov who succumbed to the pressure with a gross blunder on move 33. I have the impression that Topalov is on his way out of the elite – he did win some Grand Prix tournaments last year, but his play was far from convincing and the disappointing result at the Candidates must have left him pretty depressed. I think he lacks motivation and, more importantly, energy to be able to play his trademark chess.

A long series of draws almost always finishes with a loss and this was proven again by Karjakin. He had 17 draws in a row until today and it seemed the series would continue as in a tame line of the Queen’s Indian Aronian only got a small advantage. But the advantage wouldn’t disappear in spite of the exchanges, making it more difficult to play with black. This structure, of 2 vs 1 pawns on the queenside and 3 vs 4 pawns on the kingside (from white’s point of view) can arise from many openings, like the French, the Sicilian and here from the Queen’s Indian. Usually it is pretty safe for black, provided he puts his knight on d5 and controls white’s queenside pawns. Here it was exactly this that was Karjakin’s problem – he couldn’t put a knight on d5: just watch how Aronian skillfully prevented it, first with 25 Qf3 (f7 is hanging) then 28 Re3, with the idea of retaking on f3 with a rook, again not letting the knight jump to d5. Hence Karjakin’s 28…Rf8, but then 29 Rc4, again preventing it – if black takes on f3, 29…Qf3 30 Rf3 Nd5, there comes 31 Nf7! It’s very difficult to play against this type of moves, you can’t play what you want, they are not letting you! And since you can’t play what you want, you play something you don’t want – nevertheless I’m still surprised by Karjakin’s 29…a4. Why give white a passed pawn for nothing? He should have kept still with something like 29…Qd6 and suffer some more. After 29…a4 30 b4 white’s advantage rose to almost decisive. Aronian even let black finally establish a knight on d5 as white’s domination was too much for black to handle. I was a surprised though by Aronian’s decision to put the wonderfully centralised knight on e5 on a6 (34 Nd7, 35 Nc5, 36 Na6), it just doesn’t look like “good technique.” The comp then suggests 36…Ra7 and says that black should hold – the idea is to prevent the exchange of black’s pride, the knight on d5. Karjakin missed that and went down quickly after the knights were exchanged.

Giri varied from his usual Grunfeld and went for the Ragozin against Agdestein, a rare occurrence in his repertoire. Agdestein in turn decided to turn back the clock and chose Capablanca’s move 7 Qa4 from his famous win against Spielmann in New York 1927. Giri decided not to follow Spielmann and chose the modern treatment of 7…c5 (incidentally, Spielmann played this in 1936). Agdestein’s 14 Be2 was new, but it didn’t change much in the position – black had good play in a typical position from the Ragozin. Something strange happened on move 16. The comp points out an amazing resource for black, namely 16…Rh4!! The idea is to come to e4 with the knight from f6 and then take on f2 as this knight cannot be taken by the king in view of Ne4+ and the queen on a3 is undefended. But otherwise white’s pawn on e3 also falls and white is just lost! This means that white’s 16 Rfd1 was a big mistake and that the players didn’t notice this hidden idea. Two moves later it was white’s turn to miss a tactic. By 18 c4 he could have got rid of the weak pawn and opened the position for his bishops. After 18…dc 19 Bd6 and Bxc5 black would have a difficult time to defend the doubled pawns on the c-file and his kingside. The same move c4 was a possibility again on move 20, but Agdestein decided to straighten up his structure by moving this pawn to d4 (after the exchange of the rooks on that square.) But this actually gave black a good square for the knight on e4 and from there it went to c3, completely paralysing white’s queenside. All white could do was give one of his bishops for the dominating knight and reach a drawn opposite-coloured bishop endgame. Curious missed chances by both opponents, especially the more positional c4 ideas, as the sacrifice on h4 really isn’t something you expect to work (and consequently you don’t look at it too deeply.)

If yesterday’s motto was “you don’t blunder, you don’t lose” today’s can quite appropriately be “you blunder, you lose!” Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

Stavanger 2014 – Round 1

I am not able to follow the games live so I only take a look at them once they finish. I find this useful as I’m not clouded by the opinions of the commentators, the players, the GMs on Twitter and the rest of the world – I can draw my own conclusion and explain my own thoughts.

Before going on to the games, I noticed that even though Carlsen won the blitz, he didn’t get the number 1 starting number, as I expected, but he got number 4 instead. Whether it was his wish or there was something else, I don’t know.

So as number 4 Carlsen played Giri with white. In the blitz he allowed the Grunfeld but this time he decided to avoid it with 1 c4. Giri is well-known for his excellent preparation and fully in line with Carlsen’s strategy in the opening he went for something less explored. It’s curious to note that in the 23rd game in Seville Karpov also went for this system against Kasparov and managed to pose some problems to black. The first important decision was on move 12 – white decided to abandon his strong centre that limited the bishop on g7 and went for piece activity and initiative. Personally I prefer structure, but in modern chess initiative is probably valued more. I get a feeling that white was forced to go forward all the game as a result of this decision. So after 12 dc5, 13 Qd5 and 14 Rfd1 white got pressure in the centre and the queenside, but after black calmly defended white had to find a way to somehow keep the initiative that was about to evaporate. He went 16 Ng5 and after the forced 16…e6 17 Qc6. Somehow from move 12 to move 17 all play seems forced. Giri wasn’t forced to take on c6 and allow white a dangerous passed pawn, but perhaps he thought he could just take it? 17…Rac8 was quite possible when black is fully developed and not even close to being worse. But he was also OK after the game continuation – he must have calculated pretty well that he can contain the c7-pawn – in fact both players must have calculated pretty well – white not to lose it without compensation and black to see that he is out of trouble. And again pretty forced play ensues: white strives to defend the c7-pawn by all cost and black trying to take it, leading to a forced exchange sacrifice by white only to head to a positional draw when neither side can improve. White’s last chance was in fact 25 Bc5 and now I’d prefer to play 25…a5 with black, as after 25…Bc5 26 Nc5 and Na6 black is completely tied down – his best is probably 26…Kf8 27 Na6 Re8 with the idea to put the other rook on c8 and after 28 Nb8 Rb8 it’s a drawn rook endgame. 25…a5 is more double-edged after 26 Bd4 a4 27 Nf6 Kh8 white also needs to be careful. It’s probably again a draw, but at least here black threatens something with his a-pawn. All in all a good game, well played by both players and a somewhat surprising forced play from moves 12 to 17 and then from 17 to 25.

Aronian-Agdestein saw a theoretical line that I analysed more than 10 years ago when I was preparing the Queen’s Indian. Eventually I decided that I didn’t quite like these positions for black – he has good control over the central white squares, but I was never comfortable in the training games I played as white somehow always managed to regroup by Bf1 or Bh3, Nd2 or Nh4 and then f3 and e4 while black’s plan is rather vague. What Agdestein did was to play …c6 and …b5, followed by taking on c4 and opening the b-file. It’s one of black’s possible plans, but I don’t like it very much (this may be my old aversion to these type of positions!) Aronian exerted some pressure by putting his rooks on c1 and d1 and putting the knight on e1, finally achieving white’s basic plan of restriction of the black bishop by playing f3 and e4. But I’m not so sure this was good. Usually the unopposed bishop is the one to be activated and by closing the centre he killed it. It was better to play 22 Bc3, putting the bishop on the long diagonal. After 22 f3 the idea behind black’s 17…Re8 was seen as after 22…e5 he threatens …e4, forcing white to play e4 himself, but then the knight comes to d4. White’s knight also comes to d5, but since both knights can be taken with a bishop it means that eventually white will be left with a bad white-squared bishop. Eventually that is what happened but before that black even took over the initiative with the typical Botvinnik exchange sacrifice on b4. White was happy to escape after that. It seems that white’s chance for an advantage in the early middlegame was to push c5 at some moment, most conveniently on move 19. A good start for Agdestein, whom I had the pleasure to watch at the Llucmajor open where he played pretty well.

Svidler-Kramnik followed Carlsen-Kramnik, London 2009 until move 18, and now Kramnik put the knight on f7 instead of 18…Ne8. I have always wondered how is it possible that black has good play in this particular line of the English – it’s basically a Dragon Sicilian with colours reversed and a tempo up for white and yet white cannot prove an iota of an advantage! The peculiarities of chess I suppose. The game was very complex, both players were enticing each other with pawn sacrifices – first white could take on c7 (but then black develops strong iniative on the queenside after exchanging queens and putting a knight on c4) and then black could have taken on d3 on move 23, but then white would have compensation with the pair of bishops (even though the comp prefers black there.) Black didn’t have difficulty in the game, he even could have tried for more had he taken on c4 on move 24 – Kramnik went for a forced line leading to an equal endgame instead (with an optical pull for black though, something which is important when playing a game, but Svidler neutralised this neatly.)

Karjakin continues to dream he’s Carlsen. He went for an unambitious set-up against Topalov just to get a game. And he did get a game just that he didn’t win. Topalov’s 7…g6 is a known motif in these structures, usually arising from the Queen’s Indian when white plays 4 e3. My first thought was to take advantage of this by 9 Ba3, but it doesn’t work – black plays 9…Nc6 and puts pressure on the d4-pawn. Then my second idea was to take advantage of the fact that black has already played …a6 and play c5 and b4. This is a typical idea in these structures and white could in fact have played 10 c5 followed by Nc3. It is more effective here than in the Queen’s Indian because there black already has a pawn on b6 and that makes the c5-push more difficult to achieve. So that was an interesting option for white. After the standard moves 10 Nbd2 Nc6 11 Ne5 black had an interesting tactical possibility, he could have taken 11…Nd4. It’s unclear after 12 Bg6 hg 13 Bd4 – white has a strong grip in the centre, but with the pair of bishops black can’t be worse. It’s curious to know whether the players missed this. After Topalov’s solid 11…Bd7 white seemed to get what he wants with this system: good centralisation and more space. But black is solid as a rock – the reason behind this is the fianchetto as usually white wishes to attack the king after a timely d5-break but here that’s impossible. This makes me wonder whether then white’s set-up loses its appeal – why put all the pieces aimed at the kingside when you can’t do anything there? So Karjakin started to play on the queenside 14 a4, 15 Qb3 and then mixed it up with 17 Rfd1 and 18 f4. All this makes an incoherent impression and it was no surprise that white had to defend after black started attacking the pawns on c4 and d4 (not hanging anymore as there was a pawn on e5, but targets nevertheless.) An interesting decision was to push 22 d5 and take the exchange – it wasn’t a way to get an advantage, but rather a way to change the dynamics of the position, to create an imbalance, as white was under pressure in the centre and even though nothing immediate was visible for black, nobody wants to just sit and wait. Hence the decision to lunge forward and stir things up. With the pawn weaknesses on a5 and e5 and the more vulnerable king white had to be a bit careful as black’s position was just too solid with the blockade on the white squares. But white did have a better try on move 27, 27 Rdd1 at least kept the queens and the tension on. Instead, Karjakin’s 27 Rf4 allowed black to reduce the material and draw comfortably.

The only decisive game was Grischuk-Caruana. In a fianchetto Benoni I was surprised by black’s 13…a5 – not a move you normally see in a Benoni! But it wasn’t the “horrible positional blunder that gives away b5” because white couldn’t prevent black’s …b5 on the next move. As black was dominating the queenside with his rook on b4 white’s only possible plan was to try to do something on the other wing. Using his knight and black-squared bishop Grischuk created some threats on the kingside and Caruana decided to sacrifice a pawn in order to get rid of white’s black-squared bishop, thus eliminating possible threats against his king and establishing a monster bishop on g7, which coupled with his passed a-pawn seemed very Grunfeld-like (don’t forget that Caruana is a Grunfeld player!) White wisely sacrificed an exchange for the dangerous a-pawn and it seemed the game would be a draw as white had no weaknesses. But then time-trouble happened and sadly enough Grischuk blundered on move 38 (38 Qa1 should draw instead.) An exciting game spoiled by a blunder and now we have a leader in the tournament.

Tomorrow’s big match-up is Kramnik-Carlsen, so I’m looking forward to that!

Stavanger 2014 Starts With a Bang (On the Clock)

It’s an interesting idea to have a blitz tournament instead of drawing of lots and it seems it’s catching on. It is based on the premise that the players who finish in the first half of the standings in the blitz will have an extra white in the classical part. All well and logical, but what if the player who wins the blitz doesn’t wish to start with two whites in a row? That isn’t the case with Carlsen though, as he quite likes it – he started as number one in several tournaments and won them all!

He will also start as number 1 in Stavanger as he won the blitz convincingly with 7.5/9, full point ahead of Aronian, which means he will be white against the Armenian in round 2.

I was surprised to see Kramnik collapse – he started well with 2/2 and then drew two and lost 3 in a row, followed by a draw with Carlsen and yet another loss to Aronian in the last round.

The funniest game of the blitz was of course Carlsen-Caruana, which saw the Italian blunder a piece on move 11 and resign immediately. Anything is possible in blitz.

But these results don’t mean anything. My last tournament in Llucmajor also started with a blitz. I was too tired from the trip and the toils of the week before so my head wasn’t working too well – I was playing fast and very badly (which is still much better than playing slowly and badly.) But it did help me in a sense of getting “a fast hand” which was especially important as the tournament’s time control was 90 minutes plus 30 seconds to finish the game – in almost all my games I was ahead on the clock and had my opponents in time trouble. As for the head, once I got a good sleep it started to work as expected and I had a very good tournament.

As a sidenote, here at my training camp I also dedicate time to physical training. One of the things I do is this:

You can see a number on the bottom stair, that’s 214. I climb these stairs at least 5 times a week and I can assure you that the first week I had no eyes for a tiger nor I felt motivated by a punching bag – in fact I felt like one! But things improve with constant practice and now I can proudly say that I climb these 214 stairs without problems!

So after tomorrow’s climb I am looking forward to the games of the first round in Stavanger!

At a Secret Location

After the Llucmajor tournament I continued to a very nice place to get rest and do some training and preparation for the Olympiad. The only drawback is the rather irregular internet access, which makes it difficult to stay updated with what’s going on, but that’s more than enough compensated with the surrounding (as you can see below).

I won’t reveal the name of the nice place, but I invite you to take a look at these photographs and perhaps you can guess where it is (click on image to enlarge):
The Spaceship


Llucmajor Open 2014 – A Round Up

The tournament finished today so now I have time to take a look backwards and see how things went.

I started with 2/2, with two pretty straight-forward wins against lower rated opponents. Usually these early games serve as an illustration of one’s form: if you beat the lower-rated opponents effortlessly and confidently, that normally means that you’re in good form. I did beat them in a confident manner and that gave me a boost for the following games.

In Round 3 I had the first more serious challenge. I played GM Pogorelov, who in spite of his ridiculously low rating of 2362, always motivates himself when playing strong players. It was the same in this game – after a risky opening I managed to get a winning endgame, plus a big time advantage – by move 23 he was already playing on increment time, while I had more than 30 minutes left. And yet he played very tenaciously and I made one slip after another and eventually he held the draw. But I had only myself to blame for this as it shouldn’t really matter how your opponent is playing when you have a winning position.

The draw meant that I’d get another lower-rated opponent in Round 4 and it was WIM Matras-Clement, rated 2254. Quite surprisingly she went for the Tarrasch Defence, something she had never played before. I managed to remember what I had analysed ages ago and I got an advantage out of the opening, resulting in a symmetrical position of white having the pair of bishops against a bishop and a knight for black, with two pairs of rooks. I exchanged all the rooks and proceeded to win a very nice technical endgame, which I was quite pleased with.

The battles with the big guns started in Round 5. I was white again against GM Narciso Dublan. It seems that he wasn’t too well prepared in the opening and I got an advantage, but then I was tempted with a very interesting sacrificial idea on move 19. I went for it, but he defended well and when I should have settled for equality I chose to be ambitious and fight for more, only to face a worse position a few moves later. After mutual imprecisions, the game went to a queen endgame where active play on my part saved me the game.

Round 6 was an exciting struggle with the current European vice-champion, GM Anton Guijarro. I forgot my preparation and was worse in the opening, but the position was very complex and required a lot of calculation. So he made some mistakes and allowed me back in the game, when I had ample compensation for the exchange I sacrificed early in the game. By move 30 we were already down to 2-3 minutes to finish the game (the time control was 90 minutes plus 30 seconds per move to finish the game) and as my position was easier to play I got a chance to get an advantage. I missed it and then it was unclear and then with only seconds remaining I went for yet another exchange sacrifice, which I saw it wasn’t entirely correct, but with so little time I didn’t see much else. But he also erred and we started repeating moves, as the position objectively was a draw. Nobody wanted a draw, but I didn’t have a choice and had to repeat, while secretly hoping he’d continue since the only way to do so looked very risky for him. The problem was that I only sensed this, and when he did actually deviate from the repetition (which was a big mistake), I had very little time to see the winning move – which I didn’t. But I had another chance for a big advantage on my next move, only to blunder instead and lose. His gamble paid off, much to my regret, but it was a good fighting game and I wasn’t feeling particularly bad after the game. It gave me more insight into the tension that exists in these high-level games and another proof that the strong players also blunder when put under pressure.

In Rounds 7 and 8 I got FM Garcia del Rey and GM Abergel. While I won against Garcia with white rather easily, after he sacrificed a pawn in the opening and got nothing in return, against Abergel, with black, I was under pressure when he opened the centre. I calculated hard and deep and found a good way to continue, only to be surprised by his nonchalant manner of playing in a position that required a lot of calculation. This led to him blundering in a still unclear position and I won after transposing to a winning rook endgame with my rook behind my passed pawn, which later transposed to a winning pawn endgame.

In Round 9 I had to win in order to win a prize. I was paired white against GM Sumets. Here I must whine a bit – I quite liked the late starting time of the games, every day at 8.30pm, as it gave me a lot of time to think about my strategy and preparation. The games ended at around 1am and then the pairings would come out, not a big problem as there would be plenty of time the next day. However, the organisers scheduled the last round for 9.30am (!!) and when I tried to argue that after the 8th round there is no time at all to rest, see the pairings, prepare and sleep, they came up with some laughable explanation of players having to catch their flights after the round. As it was, the pairings for the last round came out at around 1am, I prepared until 3am, then couldn’t fall asleep and woke up at 8.30am. Quite an abrupt break of the regime and no wonder my state was far from ideal. That was my only objection to the otherwise great event. In the game I pressed for a long time, but the early hour took its toll and I lost control over the position on move 31 when it was me who had to defend to secure the draw. I managed to do that and draw the game.

Eventually I shared 7-17th place, and with only 10 prizes I needed two more Bucholz points to get into the top 10. Nevertheless I had a great tournament, winning more than 10 rating points and showing play of a very good overall quality. Together with my successful play during the last 4NCL weekend, this result again brought my rating in the region of 2500.

In my post How to Win Opens ( I analysed four players who are very successful in open tournaments. It was no surprise for me that two of those players who played here won the tournament – GMs Fedorchuk and Delchev – congratulations to both, as it was a very demanding and incredibly strong tournament with 30 GMs and 22 IMs participating. Their way to the top was quite different – Fedorchuk started with 6/6 and finished with 3 draws, while Delchev had a great finish with 2.5/3, beating GM Agdestein in the last round.

I will now use the next several weeks first to rest and then to prepare for the biggest chess event of the year, the Olympiad in Tromso, Norway. The work of the chess players is never done, there are always variations to analyse, things to think about, psychological nuances and approaches to develop.

I am also very much looking forward to the Stavanger tournament, the first round starting on 3rd of June. It should be another great tournament and another chance for “the rest of the world” to try to give the World Champion a run for his money. Should be fun!


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!

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