Reykjavik Open 2014 – FIRE IN THE HOUSE! (Rounds 2&3)

Today was one of those exhausting, double-round days. The first game started at 9.30am. I played a resilient Norwegian kid (aren’t they all), from the U16 category. So naturally I followed Carlsen’s white play from his rapid game with Nakamura, from the Zurich tournament, but the kid deviated on move 7. I got a pleasant position and after some hour and a half, all of a sudden, the loudspeaker in the Harpa announced something in Icelandic, followed by “MAY I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE! MAY I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE! THERE IS FIRE IN THE HOUSE! PLEASE EVACUATE THE BUILDING!” The clocks were stopped immediately, everybody got outside.

After approximately 1 minute, we were told we can go back in and continue. So we got back inside and played exactly 1 move, when we were told we should go out again.

This time the break was some 15-20 minutes. Eventually we returned to the hall and resumed play. Luckily these disturbances didn’t affect my play and I won a nice technical game, albeit a very long one, lasting 5 hours and 70 moves.

This was the first time in my career that a play had been interrupted because of a fire. Back in 2005 in Santiago de Cuba there were interruptions because of power cuts, but never because of fire! Later on I understood that there actually was some fire in the building (and it wasn’t a drill as I assumed), but I never saw any fire brigades or commotion or panic. I guess people are naturally cool in Iceland.

Due to all this, the afternoon game started at 5pm, instead of the scheduled 4.30pm. I was very tired from the morning game and due to the time constraint I couldn’t prepare properly. I was surprised that Jovana Vojinovic (WGM, 2323) entered the Benoni (something that she had almost never done before) and I couldn’t recall my analysis. I messed things up pretty badly and was lucky she accepted my draw offer on move 16. So 1.5/2 in one day isn’t bad at all.

The main upset in the third round was Naiditsch’s loss to Ezat (the guy who sacrificed a queen and tortured Kramnik in the last round of the World Teams).

These double-round days are the plague of modern open tournaments, they take away so much energy that now what’s important is to get rest and get back on track. Looking forward to some sleep!

CONTINUE READING

Reykjavik Open 2014 – First Impressions

I arrived late last night in Reykjavik. The bus took me from the airport to the hotel driving through the lava fields on an empty motorway. The feeling was one of calm.

After getting a good night sleep today I got a chance to take a stroll through the city. The first thing that struck me was the lack of traffic. Naturally, there are cars, but I had the sensation that it’s pretty empty on the streets, probably that’s why they cross them wherever they please. When in Rome, do as Romans do, so I followed suit.

One street I crossed was this one:

I wonder how many Jesus Streets there are in the world.

Following the street of their main God, I reached the Cathedral:

It’s pretty impressive on the outside and very simple on the inside:

And they use crystal to keep the Holy water. Unfortunately, it was empty:

It was time to go the playing hall to register, so I started in that direction. The first thing I saw when I exited the Cathedral was this:

I suppose they opened it for the lovers of the film Thor. But by now I realised they were very fond of their Gods, even the nastier ones.

Further downwards I encountered The Pond. I couldn’t help but wonder whether Tchaikovsky had been to Reykjavik:

One pair of swans was very much in love:

I had to leave them and continued to the playing hall called Harpa, the concert hall and conference centre of the city:

It is equally impressive on the inside:

Eventually I registered with the organiser and at 4pm was the opening ceremony, followed by Round 1. I won rather easily against a weaker opponent. Tomorrow is a double-round day, so it will be tough.

Time to rest now. More stuff from the north when I get more time in the following days.

CONTINUE READING

Традиционален брзопотезен турнир на Алкалоид

Како и што најавив во постот за моите следни настапи, денес играв на традиционалниот брзопотезен турнир во организација на шаховскиот клуб Алкалоид.

Се чини дека турнирот со секоја година зема се поголем замав – денес учествуваа 130 шахисти од 6 федерации, од кои 8 велемајстори и 19 играчи со други меѓународни титули. Масовноста е секако за поздравување, тоа само говори дека на Скопје му фалат ваков вид шаховски збиднувања. Вакви настани се ретка прилика шахистите да се најдат на едно место, да разменат мислења, да се дружат и да продискутираат за последните шаховски и нешаховски новости. Но, масовноста од друга страна носи и одредени проблеми кои се огледаа во неефикасноста со парувањето, главно заради конфузијата што се создаваше на последните табли и пријавувањето на резултатите – инвентивните шахисти веќе по второто коло во кулоарите предлагаа алтернативи како играње во помали групи или дури квалификационен турнир за послабите категории.

Победник на турнирот беше гостинот од Бугарија, велемајсторот Кирил Георгиев со импресивни 12/13. Загуби една партија, од Трајко Недев во 5. коло, но потоа до крај ги доби сите партии, вклучувајќи ја и победата против мене во 9. коло (фина техничка партија во ретка варијанта на Нимцо-индијска одбрана). Кога му честитав на победата на турнирот Киро се пожали дека порано играл подобро, дека квалитетот на партиите му бил повисок. Веројатно самиот си знае најдобро, но кога му кажав дека веројатно сега резултатот му е подобар, само се насмеа и не можеше да не се согласи со тој факт!

На делбата на 2 и 3. место се најдоа гостинот од Србија, велемајсторот Миљковиќ и нашиот Недев со 10/13, цели 2 поени зад победникот. Трајко имаше одличен турнир и беше единствениот кој држеше чекор со Георгиев, но неочекувано во претпоследното коло загуби од Младеновиќ (со рејтинг 2188!) и со среќното реми во последното коло против Панчевски успеа да се задржи на врвот.

На 4. место заврши Панчевски, со 9.5/13. Почна несигурно, со 2/3 и 3/5, но потоа како да влезе во ритам и да ја добиеше последната партија против Недев (а беше добиен) резултатот ќе му беше уште подобар.

Јас го поделив 5-13. место, со 9/13 и бев 6. по Бухолц. Сосема солиден резултат, играв како што и треба да се игра цугер, со рака, пробав некои варијанти и главната цел ми беше да добијам малку рутина пред настапот во Рејкјавик. Колку успеав, ќе видиме наскоро!

Комплетната табела можете да ја погледнете тука: http://www.chess-results.com/tnr123762.aspx?lan=1&art=1&rd=13&turdet=YES&flag=30&wi=984

Турнирот несомнено може да се прогласи за успешен, Алкалоид ја продолжува традицијата на организација на турнири и на тој начин го одржува активен шаховскиот живот во Македонија. Љубителите на шахот сигурно би сакале вакви настани да има почесто, но важно е и тоа што кога ги има, тие се квалитетни и добро организирани.

Следен настан на македонската шаховска сцена е Опен Карпош. Турнирот ветува да биде најуспешен до сега, а настап планираат скоро сите македонски шахисти. Да се надеваме дека тој настап ќе биде успешен!

CONTINUE READING

Coming Up Next: My Schedule

After the long winter break I’m hitting the road again, just like Jack. But before that I’ll warm up at the traditional blitz tournament organised by my club Alkaloid this Saturday at Hotel Continental. Blitz is always fun so it should be a time nicely spent in a friendly atmosphere.

After the blitz it’s show time in Reykjavik. It will be my first visit to this Nordic country and the first time I play in one of the world’s most famous open tournaments. Apart from being famous, it is also one of the strongest open tournaments in the world, so far there are 263 registered participants with 27 GMs. You can see the complete list here http://www.reykjavikopen.com/info/participants/

After the apalling showing at the 4NCL I hope to do better, but I do not have any high hopes, my aim will be to show better play. It will be good to see that all the work I put in during the winter hasn’t gone in vain.

I will try to post from Reykjavik, but this will obviously depend on the internet access. The organisers say that Garry Kasparov will visit the tournament for 2 days, so that should be interesting, too. There are many side events during the tournament, one being the famous Golden Circle tour, but this time specially tailored for chess players, as it includes visit to the resting place of Bobby Fischer.

Looks like exciting times are ahead! Forward and upwards!

CONTINUE READING

The Candidates 2014: Analysis – Part II

In this second part of the analysis I will focus on the children of the (computer) revolution. Again, in order of probability of winning the tournament.

1. Aronian is the player on fire this year. He played in both Wijk and Zurich and was in great shape, winning Wijk and sharing second in Zurich. The curious thing in both tournaments was that in both he lost in the last round. Probably a coincidence, but last rounds do have their own peculiarities. Together with Kramnik and Anand, Aronian is the world’s best prepared player. His white repertoire is incredibly well studied and sharp – in 2014 his score with white in classical games is 6.5/8, the only loss being to Van Wely in the last round in Wijk, when he already secured 1st place. Like Kramnik he is a player who tries to win with white as his black repertoire, especially against 1 e4, is rather conservative, focusing on the various lines in the Spanish (but even here if white overpresses black can win – see for example his game with Dominguez from Wijk, but that is not very likely to happen in the Candidates). I expect everything to be OK with Aronian chess-wise, but it will be interesting to see if he finally managed to overcome the problem of his nerves. The collapse in the second half in London left a mark on his subsequent play throughout the year, something which he finally overcame when he played for his beloved Armenia in the European Team Championship and the World Team Championship. Will the pressure again turn out to be too much for him or has he matured and learned how to keep himself under control? This is the key question that will determine whether Aronian will win and earn the right to face Carlsen later this year.

2. Karjakin was the lucky loser in the World Cup and thanks to Kramnik’s fantastic performance got his ticket to Khanty. Players who get into tournaments thanks to luck are usually a safe bet for a good showing, but this is a different tournament than most. Karjakin is a classical all-round player, with excellent preparation and support team (working on a permament basis with Dokhoian, Kasparov’s former coach, and Motylev, a fantastic analyst, plus the usual logistical support from the Russian Federation specifically for this tournament). But this former child prodigy seems to have failed somewhat to live up to his alleged potential. True, in the last few years he is in Carlsen’s shadow (who isn’t?), but I think more was expected of Karjakin by this time. He is a solid Top 10 player, no doubt about it, but now it is high time he showed what he’s capable of and what his ambitions are. A good showing in the Candidates will solidify his status as a potential challenger and justify his luck of getting in the tournament. This tournament is his chance to make a leap from a Top 10 player to a Top 2 or 3 player and from there he can think of more. Karjakin already has a lot of experience playing the elite players and sooner rather than later he will have to step things up. But I still think he will play it safe in this tournament as he probably lacks the self-confidence necessary to play for 1st place in this company. He will be very solid with both white and black and will wait for his chance in case somebody overpushes against him or in case somebody turns out to be completely out of shape. I don’t expect anything spectacular from him, but I am looking forward to see his preparation.

3. Mamedyarov got his reward for the stability he showed in the last year by qualifying for the Candidates from the Grand Prix. He matured a lot and the groundwork set in the preparation for his match with Gelfand in Kazan 2011 (when he admitted that he changed a lot both in his preparation and style) finally bore the fruit last year. But in spite of this newly-acquired stability, Mamedyarov is a volatile player and prone to collapses which are difficult to explain (Mamedyarov-Nakamura, Zug 2013, loss in 22 moves, or the strange loss to Topalov at the European Team Championship). In an atmosphere full of tension and so much at stake I think we will see more of the old, erratic and explosive Mamedyarov, especially as things heat up and players fall back to what they feel most comfortable with. And Mamedyarov is most comfortable with playing sharp and exciting chess, throwing caution to the wind and going for the throat because that is his natural style. However, in such a company of experienced fighters this is more likely to backfire that not. It is unlikely that he will suffer a meltdown like Radjabov, but I also don’t see him fighting for the top honours either. What I’m looking forward to in the case of Mamedyarov is his exciting games and possibly a brilliance prize!

4. Andreikin fully deserved his place in the Candidates with his dogged performance in the World Cup. Winning only one classical game and eliminating everybody in the rapid playoffs he showed that everything is in order with his nervous system. After becoming a champion of Russia in 2012 he got more chances to play elite events and gain experience. Last year he shared 3rd in the Tal Memorial (thanks to a win against Kramnik with black!), but he was less successful in Dortmund (where he beat Kramnik again!). But in spite of this, he is the least experienced player in the field, which makes him something of a dark horse. His personal score with Kramnik is 3-1 with 3 draws so this shows he can fight with the big guys on equal terms, but whether he can sustain that in such a long event is a big question. He probably paid a lot of attention to his openings in his preparation (a rather weak point of his play so far) so I guess we won’t be seeing much of his Bg5 in various versions. But he has his own ideas (he dug out an interesting side line in the Berlin for his game against Kramnik in the Russian Superfinal) and coupled with serious preparation this can give him certain advantages. Just as Karjakin, I expect him to be solid and being an outsider he will try to use the burden of the favourites to beat him in order to strike from the counterattack. Being a natural counterattacking player this can work for him, but I don’t think he will get many chances to show his counterattacking skills. His presence adds spice to the tournament because being a relative newcomer on the elite stage (for example he has never played classical games against Topalov and Aronian and has played only one with Anand) he is more difficult to pinpoint, thus making him unpredictable and dangerous.

To sum things up from this long analysis, I’d say that any other player outside Kramnik and Aronian to win the tournament will be a major surprise. But every player will be prepared to the teeth and they will give their best, so I expect to see new trends in the openings (more concepts, less move-novelties) and hard-fought games. I hope there are no meltdowns like the ones of Radjabov and Ivanchuk so we see a tough, closely contested tournament. Probably a score of +3, like in London, should suffice for at least shared 1st, but unfortunately FIDE didn’t change the rules so again we might witness a tie-break agony (in case of a 1-1 score between the players sharing 1st place, it is the higher number of wins that decides the winner, just like in London) instead of a rapid playoff.

So may the best player win and for the rest of us let’s sit back and enjoy the show (preferably without engines running).

CONTINUE READING

The Candidates 2014: Analysis – Part I

As the big event draws nearer it is time for a more detailed look at each participant’s chances and possible developments. In my Preview from 3rd of February I labeled the tournament a clash of the centuries, but now I think I might as well have called it T-Rex! Please bear with me as it’s really amusing – it’s 20th Century Boys versus the Children of the Revolution! (For those of you who still haven’t got it, the songs with these titles are two of the greatest hits of the famous British rock band T-Rex). I’m not implying that the 20th century boys are dinosaurs, but perhaps it’s time to end with the puns and start the analysis.

In this first part of the analysis I will focus on the older players in order of probability of winning the event. The second part will concentrate on the 21st century players.

1. Kramnik is obviously one of the main candidates to win and this is probably his last chance to do it. Kramnik has been one of the main innovators in the openings after he won the title in 2000, but what makes him special is that his innovations were not just some novelties here and there, but profound and new concepts that still drive the theory forward. I’ll mention just the main ones: the Berlin (practically winning him the title in 2000), whose effects are still affecting modern theory, the Petroff, starting from the late 90s well up until 2010 when he picked up the Berlin again (my guess is because of the vast amount of forced lines in the Petroff), the queenless endgames in the Grunfeld (just ask Kasparov and Svidler), the Catalan (starting with his match with Topalov in 2006), the Queen’s Gambit Declined in Kazan 2011 (which again started the talks about the death of chess), the Semi-Tarrasch in the London Candidates 2013 (curiously, an old favourite of mine!), the Reti and the fianchetto systems against the King’s Indian and the Grunfeld (again in London Candidates, especially the fantastic new concept 5 e3 in his game with Gelfand), the ideas in the Nimzo Indian (games with Radjabov and Gelfand in London Candidates) and the Pirc (in the footsteps of the Patriarch, when trying to win with black, famously backfired in the last round in London). So no wonder I can’t wait to see what new concepts Kramnik will think of for Khanty! This ability to come up with opening innovations coupled with his knowledge how to prepare for important tournaments makes Kramnik an irresistible force (and an immovable object at the same time)!

Kramnik has previously played in two tournaments of this kind – in Mexico 2007 and in London 2013. Both times he finished second, in Mexico Anand was unstoppable, while in London Caissa favoured the younger Carlsen in that unforgettable last round. Will Khanty be Kramnik’s third time’s a charm? Or will he remind us of the great Keres by finishing second a third time in a row? Everything will depend on his form, stamina and nerves, but if these are alright then with a little bit of luck (as compensation for 2013) Kramnik will once again play a match for the title. And what a fascinating match that will be!

2. Topalov emerged from his “wilderness years” after losing to Anand in 2010 by winning the Grand Prix series and establishing himself once again as a force to be reckoned with. His psychological preparation for the Candidates already began when his manager started to employ Jose Mourinho’s favourite strategy – the whole world is against us! A few days ago Danailov announced that Topalov’s French second (probably Edouard, but don’t take my word for it – I only made a reasonable guess after looking at the best French players) had been denied a visa for Russia and that when they asked the organisers to stay at another hotel (not the official one), they were ignored and forced to arrange everything by themselves. This strategy creates a siege mentality and has two benefits: it helps the player concentrate better and it deflects all the pressure off him and onto the manager. It has worked for Jose’s teams and it will probably work for Topalov, but he will anyway have to show how good he is on the board. Topalov’s openings have lost their edge in the last years, mainly because his novelties were mostly move-novelties (unlike Kramnik’s concept-novelties) and the computers evened out the field in this respect. I am sure his team will provide him with fresh ideas, but I am not sure he will be able to repeat the play from San Luis in 2005. He doesn’t seem to have the same hunger and energy as before and his class never seemed to be on par with the class of Kramnik and Anand. When he was winning everything in the mid 2000s, he was winning because of his excellent openings, tremendous energy and great willpower. Now all these are diminished to a various degree and even in his Grand Prix tournaments he was showing certain instability, something that will not go unpunished in Khanty. For Topalov to be a serious contender, he will need a qualitative leap in his play, but whether that’s possible it’s questionable.

3. Anand is a bit of an enigma to me. In my Preview I even said that he may be the Ivanchuk of Khanty. I didn’t really expect that he will accept to play in Khanty after the long negative trend in his play culminating with the match with Carlsen. But he won a game in Zurich, with black against Gelfand, a nice game actually, and I think this gave him confidence that he still has what it takes. I don’t think he sees himself as a favourite to win, but rather he sees this as a chance to prove that he can still play at the highest level and in doing so to get rid of the torment he must be feeling. His openings will be in good shape as he has accumulated so much in those World Championship preparations. Anand said recently that from January he is working on changing his style and that he still enjoys the game, so I really hope to see at least glimpses of the old Anand as this will definitely add excitement to the tournament. If he manages to get to a plus score early on, then he will be more confident and confidence is all that he needs to be back to his true self.

4. Svidler will play in his 4th tournament of this kind – in San Luis he was 3rd (shared 2nd with Anand), in Mexico 2007 he was 5th (obviously a disappointment) and in London 2013 he was 3rd again. Last year Svidler showed that he is capable of changing a lot when he is motivated – a change in his diet led to a massive weight loss, he assembled a team to help him prepare and he learned how to prepare better (in an interview he said that he was incredibly well prepared in his openings for Mexico 2007, but his play was awful). He will undoubtedly try to improve on London as he seems to have found what works for him. And in order to have a successful tournament he will have to improve as he will need new surprises like the ones from London where he introduced 1 d4 in his repertoire with fundamental choices like the Saemisch against the King’s Indian (and the Nimzo, but that was only for one game), a very interesting idea against the Grunfeld (7 f4 in the Bd2 line), his black game against Aronian (great preparation in the Queen’s Gambit Accepted). As black, apart from the Aronian game, he was predictable and I think this time a lot will depend on his stubborness with the Grunfeld as it is the most vulnerable point (something that Kramnik exploited in London). Even though the Grunfeld has an excellent reputation at the moment and is causing a lot of headaches to white 1 d4 players, due to its character it is susceptible to one-game novelties and it requires an enormous amount of memorisation. Together with Kasparov, Svidler is the best Grunfeld player of modern times and he knows it inside out, but it is a double-edged opening and a risky one in a tournament where everybody will be expecting it. More surprises like the ones from the game with Aronian will help Svidler minimise the risk of being caught in some deep preparation and this will seriously increase his chances of a successful outcome. Svidler on good form is a dangerous opponent for anyone (ask Carlsen) and let’s just hope that he arrives in that form when the first round starts in Khanty Mansiysk.

CONTINUE READING

4NCL Rounds 5 and 6

It’s pretty late (2.15am) in London and my bus to Victoria is at 4am, followed by an hour-trip to the airport and a flight at 8.45am. I didn’t sleep much today as I had to play at 11am, so it was a long day. But let’s start from the beginning.

They say there’s always a first time for everything and this weekend was a first timer for me as well. Alas, it was not a pleasant first-time experience. I have played in many leagues and I had never lost two games over a weekend. This time it happened.

In round 5 my team Cheddleton played against Blackthorne Russia and we were the favourites to win. Win we did, but only yours truly spoiled it a bit as the only one to lose a game. I played black against the solid IM Richard Bates, who always plays the Catalan. I chose a modern and risky gambit line and obtained a good and complex position, only to start spoiling it with every subsequent move. My thoughts lacked clarity and I was feeling as if my head was full of fog. Possibly all because of the longer lay off from practical play?! My opponent played well and even though I resisted until move 55, I never had a chance.

The round 6 was the big derby against Guildford. We were equal on match points so the winner of the match would win the Pool A with a round to go. It’s worth mentioning here that last year we were trashed 8-0 against them so this year I even dared to publicly announce on Twitter that this time it won’t be the same! I was right, but that was a small consolation. We lost 6.5-1.5, the GingerGM (Simon Williams) scoring our only victory (over GM Marc Hebden) and IM Jonathan Hawkins drawing on board 1 against GM Matthew Sadler. Everybody else lost. I ran into some good preparation in an obscure line against GM Romain Edouard, but I thought I was reacting well for the time being. But then something strange happened, as white’s position very rapidly started to deteriorate at move 15 and by move 20 I was practically lost! This is a rare occurence in chess, but it can happen in these hypermodern openings – W seemingly plays sensibly and puts his pieces in the centre when all of a sudden the trend turns against him and he’s run over. I will analyse this game more deeply and will undoubtedly learn much from it!

Everybody reacts differently to set-backs. I have always tried to bounce right back, stronger and more motivated. Now is a time to analyse the mistakes, learn from them, forget them and come back winning. And that’s what I intend to do again.

CONTINUE READING

On Short, Stalemates and Sofia

There have been many discussions in recent years about the draws in chess. To me the draw is an integral part of the game of chess: after all there are two armies which are equal in size and quality and if their respective commanders deploy them well, it is very probable that there won’t be a winner.

There are many types of draws, a drawn game can be of high quality (Carlsen-Aronian from the Zurich tournament comes to mind as the lastest example), but I understand that it is the short and not-played-out draws that bother the people. (Short draws can also be entertaining, see Ivanchuk-Vachier from Gibraltar, even though it wasn’t that short. But I’ll talk about Short further on). So they went to Sofia (a nice city, but personally I prefer Plovdiv) and started prohibiting the draw offer. This does solve the problem of not-played-out draws to a certain extent, and it is a drastic solution, but it takes away one important aspect of the psychological warfare – the exact draw offer they are trying to get rid of. Very often a player will offer a draw for various reasons: as a bluff, as an attempt to get the opponent thinking more or distract him, in time-trouble or as a sign of bravado. The psychology behind the draw offer makes chess a much richer game so this is all well and nice, the only problem is that the opponent may actually accept the offer and then we have the not-played-out draw which was the problem in the first place. I suppose you cannot have it all, you need to give something to get something and obviously we’re in an experimental phase, trying various things out (banning draw offers entirely, or before move 30, or 40. I still haven’t heard of the idea of introducing fees for each draw offer during a game – an idea that needs further examination, but I’m sure they’ll come to this in the future).

The draw exists because if the game is played out until the very end there will be a stalemate. Doctor Short (Nigel is a Doctor, in case you didn’t know already) is the most vocal adherent of banning the stalemate as a draw and proclaiming it a win for the stronger side. I don’t know how serious the venerable Doctor is in his claim, but I find it difficult to accept that he cannot see the idea of the Creator of the game when the stalemate was made to be a draw. How many times has it happened to you when you’re trying to teach a beginner to give a mate with a queen and he or she keeps stalemating you? How annoying was that? Here lies the ultimate finesse of chess (thanks to Walter Browne for the beautiful syntagm) – you need to be precise until the very end! Sloppiness cannot and shoudn’t be rewarded, how much chess would lose if we reduced it just to banging moves irrelevant if they end up in mate or stalemate? There is never a “doesn’t matter” in chess, just as in life and that is why chess is so attractive to people. Precision is the name of our game and it requires mental effort that is very rewarding when executed accurately. If precision and accuracy didn’t matter then chess wouldn’t be in harmony with Nature (where everything is precise and exact) and would stop being the wisest game ever invented. And I don’t want that.

CONTINUE READING

Zurich Chess Challenge 2014

The world was waiting to see Carlsen’s first showing after winning the title. Botvinnik was probably turning in his grave watching Carlsen’s “preparation” for the Zurich Chess Challenge – yes, he did play training games, like the Patriarch preached, but Bill Gates doesn’t sound like the opponent he would have approved of. I remember back in 2011 when Kasparov was criticising Carlsen for neglecting chess in between tournaments (remember Carlsen-Giri from Wijk 2011?) but it seems Carlsen learned his lesson.

We live in modern times and things have changed since the time of the Patriarch. And we have a modern champion who epitomizes these times. Photo shoots, promotions, talk shows, advertising obligations, this is our modern world and Carlsen the superstar is very busy when not playing chess. I am sure he did some preparation before Zurich, but I think he was mostly relying on his baggage from the match with Anand. Nevertheless he was rusty at the beginning, as the blitz preview showed, but kudos to him for getting a grip and winning the last 2 games. I am sure he got an incredible psychological boost from his miniature against Anand, after all mating an ex-World Champion in some 20 moves is no small feat.

The real chess started with the classical part and for me the game with Gelfand from the first round was very impressive. Gelfand introduced a very interesting idea in the Fianchetto Grunfeld which equalised (I remember seeing a photo of Carlsen in his room in Chennai, with his laptop and cashews and a lot of books on the table, one of which was Avrukh’s 1. d4 volume 2). It was obvious that Carlsen was rusty (as he admitted in the press conference) but he spent some time in the opening and activated his myelin (check out The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle for this term) and from that moment it was vintage Carlsen. 15 g4! was the star move and even though he tried, Gelfand couldn’t handle the pressure.

After the high-quality draw with Aronian, the tournament was decided in the round 3 game with Nakamura. Carlsen was outplayed (he probably wrongly assessed these positions in his preparation) and was lost, but in spite of the +9 engine evaluation, things weren’t simple in a real game against a World Champion with the clock running down. Nakamura missed several wins and he couldn’t even draw afterwards. Nakamura has a score of 0-8 against Carlsen in classical chess and his arrogance and self-promotion (“I do feel that at the moment I am the biggest threat to Carlsen” on the cover of the latest NIC Magazine) only does him harm. More humility and modesty will make him more likeable and his results will improve, but that’s entirely up to him.

The game with Caruana was probably Carlsen’s smoothest game. Caruana got a bit ambitious (not trying to win, but trying to kill off the game immediately) with his plan of 16…b6 and 17…d5 and it was amazing to see that it was all Carlsen needed to take over the initiative. The rest was deja vu – relentless pressure and victory.

A few words about the others. Aronian was the other outstanding player, but again as in Wijk he lost in the last round and that spoiled it a bit for him. His game with Nakamura was his best effort, even though the American was in knock-down after his Carlsen shock (and a bit unwise opening choice – why go for the King’s Indian when you’re still reeling after such a loss?). Aronian was well-prepared as always and this result only confirmed his status as number 1 (or 2, for the Kramnik fans) candidate to win Khanty Mansiysk.

Anand still seems to be rather shaken, if not stirred. The impression is that he cannot really handle the pressure when put to him (the Nakamura game) and cannot handle his nerves (the Aronian game, there was no need to sacrifice the piece). His starting 3 losses in a row in the rapid were no consolation either. I wonder if he’s going to be the Ivanchuk of Khanty Mansiysk.

Caruana showed his resilience once again. I quite like it that he manages to keep his level very high even when not in top form. This is a sign of the highest class. His last round win against Aronian was huge for his self confidence and he showed this by destroying the field in the rapids. Gelfand had two lousy tournaments in a row and I attribute it to the instability that comes with age. You simply cannot maintain the same high level all the time and with age the downs are especially painful (Kramnik also has started to suffer from this, even though not to that extent). I already mentioned Nakamura and it will be interesting to see how he reacts to these setbacks.

Zurich showed that for the time being Carlsen is a class above the rest (with the exception of Aronian and probably Kramnik). Let’s see how far he can go.

CONTINUE READING

The Candidates 2014: Clash of the Centuries

When Anand finally confirmed his participation, the final line-up for the upcoming Candidates tournament was official. But even before that I noticed that this tournament will be a clash of players from different centuries: Anand, Kramnik, Topalov and Svidler all made their names and established thelmselves as elite players in the 20th century; Aronian, Mamedyarov, Karjakin and Andreikin did the same in the 21st. So it promises to be an interesting struggle between two generations of players!

I won’t be very original by saying that it will be either Kramnik or Aronian who wins it. But in Carlsen’s absence, it’s really difficult to see anyone else coming close – Anand has won similar tournaments in the past (Mexico 2007), but he’s no longer the same player; Topalov did it in San Luis in 2005, but not being the same player applies to him as well, even though he does seem a bit more motivated than Anand at the moment. Svidler did very well in London last year, but was never really in contention for first place. Kramnik is the only hope of the guys from the 20th century!

Aronian was in contention in London, but he broke down under pressure – if he manages to keep calm, like recently in Wijk and Zurich (though surprisingly he lost the last games in both tournaments), he’s a strong favourite. The other guys of the 21st century are all dark horses – they might win, but it’s very unlikely. Of the three, I’d say Karjakin has the most chances, as he’s shown more consistency and has more experience playing top level chess (especially when compared to Andreikin).

I will try to do a more detailed analysis of each player’s characteristics and chances as the tournament draws closer.

CONTINUE READING
1 45 46 47 48