Monthly Archives: Jul 2014

Going North

Tomorrow I start for the Arctic circle. The voyage is anything but short and pleasant, but I’m sure Roald Amundsen must have felt the same.

At 10am (couldn’t have been earlier!) I’m off for Thessaloniki airport (some 5h drive) where at 9pm local time I fly for Oslo. The organisers of the trip definitely have no sense of time and what it means to spend meaningless hours at airports. Once in Oslo, at 11.30pm, the Golgotha starts. Instead of going to a hotel for a sleep, the whole team will try to bond more closely at Oslo Rygge airport until 3am when a bus is scheduled to take us to the other Oslo airport, Gardermoen. We should arrive there at 4.40am. More bonding will follow until 8.55am when we board the flight for the Arctic circle and Tromso, our final destination, which, if all goes well, we should reach at 10.50am. A whopping 24h after the beginning of the journey and then some more until we get to the hotel, without a sleep all night. Our love for the game is limitless.

The (only) good news is that we arrive a day before the event starts, so hopefully I’ll be able to get a lot of sleep and recuperate in time for the first round on Saturday.

And then the games can start.


The Fianchetto Grunfeld and Must-Win Situations

Here’s the second article I wrote for Informator 120

The Fianchetto Grunfeld and Must-Win Situations by GM Aleksandar Colovic

The last round of the Shamkir super-tournament saw a very exciting situation – Caruana had to beat Carlsen with black to win the tournament. Even though they were equal on points he needed a win because he had an inferior tie-break. So the first question was how he would approach the opening in this delicate situation.

Caruana showed his aggressive intention as early as move 5 when he offered a pawn for central domination. He could have taken on d4 instead and transposed to the well-known exchange variation of the Fianchetto Grunfeld, known for its solidity and drawing tendencies – it served Kasparov well in his matches with Karpov as he never lost a game in it. But certainly this isn’t the way to play when you need to win. Or is it?

Let’s go back in history a bit and see what happened in another elite game in a similar situation. Round 12 of the Palma Interzonal in 1970 saw the clash of the leaders – Geller was sole first with 8/11 ahead of Fischer with 7.5/11. He was white and a draw would have kept him in the lead, so he started with 1 Nf3, 2 c4 and 3 g3, similar to what Carlsen did against Caruana. Admittedly, the situation in Palma wasn’t as critical as in Shamkir, as a round 12 game in a 23-round tournament shouldn’t be that important, but here it was a principled fight – Geller had been Fischer’s bete noire, beating him in their last three encounters, so even though the tournament victory didn’t depend on this one game, we do know that for Fischer every game was a must-win situation. So how did he react to Geller’s obvious intention to sit and make a draw? He did not lunge forward like Caruana and calmly went into the exchange variation of the Grunfeld. Geller must have misinterpreted this as he offered a draw as early as move 7, the moment he took on d5. A big psychological mistake, but he was probably thinking that he was putting Fischer under pressure with the offer, as if telling him “if you don’t want a draw, try to beat me in this symmetrical and most solid position.” Fischer laughed at the offer and simply continued as if nothing had happened. This seemed to get Geller out of his comfort zone and soon he lost a pawn, but he defended well and should still have drawn, if not for his blunder on move 71. Eventually, Fischer’s decision proved to be right.

In the 44 years since the Palma Interzonal theory has advanced immeasurably, so I am pretty convinced that if white really wants to make a draw in the Fianchetto Grunfeld, he can do that rather comfortably. So Caruana was probably right not to go there. But where did he go?
After Carlsen took on c5 and both sides castled we were actually in yet another Fianchetto Grunfeld variation, but with colours reversed (and hence a tempo up for white) – now it was Carlsen playing the Grunfeld! This line was used (rather unsuccessfully, as he drew one and lost one game with it) by Romanishin in his match against Anand in 1994. White (or in Carlsen’s case black) sacrifices a pawn in order to establish a powerful centre and have chances for an attack. But if Anand was able to difuse the line with black, certainly Carlsen was in much better situation being a tempo up? He used that tempo to land a knight on d6 to obtain an advantage and win a good game.

Was Caruana’s choice on move 5 right? I’d say yes and now. Yes, because he avoided a probable draw in case of taking on d4 and gave himself a fighting chance to try and outplay Carlsen; no, because the position objectively was better for white, a whole tempo up compared to a line which is considered good for black when a tempo down. And giving Carlsen a pawn and a tempo is rarely, if ever, a good idea.

The Importance of Being Monotonous

This was published in the latest Informator 120, the Maracana edition. Soon I’ll also post my other article from the same book.

The Importance of Being Monotonous by GM Aleksandar Colovic

Anand’s victory at the Candidates was a surprise for many, yours truly included. How could a player who struggled for several years, lost a World Championship match without winning a single game (following Lasker and Kasparov) and was generally considered way past his prime, stage such a convincing come-back?

The answer can be summed up in two words, quite popular in the world of tennis – unforced errors.

Anand showed that he learned quite a lot from his lost match to Carlsen. What he learned was the meaning of the word ‘monotonous’.

Back in the 1950s Smyslov used to say that he would play 40 good moves and if his opponent would match them then the game would be a draw. In the 1970s Spassky said that Fischer’s play was “solid and monotonous” while Taimanov described Fischer’s play as “a wall coming at you.” They were talking of a style of play that puts you under pressure throughout the whole game, of moves of high quality whose level never drops. Today this style of play is known as computer style, but you can see that there’s nothing new under the sun.

Carlsen beat Anand because his play was solid and monotonous. Anand’s play was also solid, but not as monotonous – he committed errors in positions where they weren’t really forced, the endgames he lost in games 5 and 6 were pretty equal for most of the time. He simply couldn’t withstand the pressure of Carlsen’s solid and monotonous play.

But Anand learned and he showed it in Siberia. There were four other players who won the same number of games as him, three, but all of them also lost at least three games, while he didn’t lose a single one. He played solid moves on a constant, regular basis throughout the whole game, round after round. Add to this his excellent opening preparation – he didn’t have a single bad position after the opening in the whole tournament – and you have the recipe for a victory.

Anand had another advantage in Khanty. He didn’t have the Monomakh’s cap with him this time, the burden of the title (remember Spassky words that his championship years had been the most unhappy in his life), the pressure of the public. After Chennai, nobody was expecting anything of him, but most important, he wasn’t expecting anything from himself. As he said it, he was hoping to do well, but that was all. Compare this attitude to the attitude of the other players, especially the favourites Aronian and Kramnik. They came to Siberia to win. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but they put so much importance on that, so much pressure on themselves, that eventually they cracked. They also played good, solid chess, but they lacked the monotonous part, exactly because of the pressure they were feeling. They couldn’t concentrate completely on the task at hand and while they could still cope with the pressure at the beginning of the tournament, when they were still fresh and had energy, as the tension increased they started to lose control and break down.

Going back to the unforced errors from the beginning, we can see that they weren’t exactly unforced. From a purely chess perspective they were, as Kramnik, for example, wasn’t forced to blunder on move 7 against Karjakin, but he was “forced” in another way – he was forced by the pressure he put on himself, the burden of the role of the favourite, the importance the event had for him. The same was for Aronian, Svidler, Topalov, Mamedyarov. Anand didn’t have any of those problems. That’s why he won.

Botvinnik was 49 when he lost convincingly to 23-year old Tal in 1960. Tal was “a genius” and Botvinnik was written off after the match as “too old”. The whole world was expecting the new and young king to rule for many years ahead. We all know what happened only one year later and the situation certainly does sound familiar. Anand is 5 years younger than the Patriarch and the rematch will definitely be more interesting and hard-fought – and if history is considered, anything is possible!

Лига 2014

Оваа година лигата беше понеизвесна отколку што може да се заклучи гледајќи ги само резултатите. Титулата се реши во дербито меѓу Алкалоид и Гамбит кое се одигра во третото коло.

Како што се очекуваше, Алкалоид доминираше на првите 3 табли кадешто освои 2.5 поени – Криворучко беше изненаден од Берлинската на Делчев и ремизираше, додека Волокитин го победи Арнаудов, а Кузубов го победи Данчевски. На 4-та табла Недев и Стојчевски одиграа мирно реми и резултатот беше 3-1 за Алкалоид, но целата драма се случи на последните две табли.

Јас со бели против Марјан Митков на 5-та табла имав одлична позиција после отварањето и во раната средишница и очекував брзо да добијам со напад на крал, меѓутоа Митков добро се бранеше и ја искористи мојата непрецизна игра (на ова повеќе ќе се осврнам подолу) и успеа да ја сврти ситуацијата во своја корист. Панчевски против Андоновски на 6-та табла уште од почеток беше во проблеми во Кралско-индиска одбрана, а да бидат работите уште полоши трошеше и многу време и дојде во цајтнот. Но во тој цајтнот се случија многу работи, во кои дојде дури и добиен, но по нови грешки повторно беше изгубен и наеднаш беше многу веројатно дека мечот ќе заврши 3-3.

По контролата јас успеав да му создадам проблеми на Митков кој не успеа да најде јасен пат до победа и по една негова грешка форсирав реми. Со тоа обезбедив победа во мечот и уште една титула за Алкалоид! Во веќе потсмирена атмосфера Андоновски не успеа да реализира против Панчевски, па и таа партија заврши реми. Останатите 2 меча Алкалоид ги доби убедливо и со тоа освои уште една титула државен шампион.

Сега сакам да се осврнам повеќе на мојот настап и да изложам некои размислувања на тема која е многу популарна во спортот – темата за добра форма и како да се биде во најдобрата за време на натпреварот и што тоа всушност значи.

Пред лигата се чувствував многу добро како физички така и ментално и очекував да играм добро. Впрочем, на лигите моите резултати биле или 100% или максимум 1 реми, а последниот пораз ми се случил во 2003 година. Но и покрај позитивните субјективни фактори, резултатот оваа година беше 50% со еден пораз од 4 партии. Зошто?

Да одговорам на тоа прашање најпрво ќе направам преглед коло по коло како би се добила подетална слика за тоа што се случувало во партиите.

Во првото коло бев бели против Јани Богоевски. Јани е цврст и солиден играч кој обично не е амбициозен кога игра со црни. Уште во отварањето тој одигра лоша варијанта и наскоро имав огромна предност која со добра игра ја зголемував во раната средишница. Главата ми работеше добро и варијантите ги пресметував чисто. Во еден момент имав можност да освојам пешак, но не бев сигурен дали тоа е најдобриот начин затоа што за возврат црниот добиваше шанса да ги активира своите до тогаш пасивни фигури и да создаде некаква контра игра. Размислував долго во тој момент, но не најдов подобар начин како да продолжам и сепак се решив да го земам пешакот и понатаму сакав да преминам во позиција во која ќе останат само дами и топови на таблата, со пешак повеќе за мене. И тука почнуваат да се случуваат работите кои се релевантни на темата наречена форма. Кога работите „одат“ тогаш противникот нема да пружа многу отпор. Но, наместо да редуцира, Јани одигра покомпликуван потез и со тоа задржа некаква неизвесност во позицијата. Чувствував дека треба да сум скоро добиен, но никако не можев да најдам директен пат, ниту пак начин со кој ќе ја разјаснам ситуацијата на таблата. И вака беше добро, и така беше добро, но ништо не беше целосно задоволувачки. Ситни превиди почнаа да се поткраднуваат во пресметките. Полека дојдов и во цајтнот и работите почнаа да се компликуваат, згора на тоа Јани играше единствени потези. Ја испуштив целата предност и по контролата позицијата беше реми. Иако направи неколку превиди и си ја отежна работата во топовската завршница, на крај сепак црниот одржа реми.

Во второто коло бев бели против Жарко Митковски. Во Кралско-индиска одбрана многу брзо дојдов во стратешки добиена позиција – даминото крило се изблокира, а на кралевото белиот беше спремен за напад и мислев дека наскоро ќе му дадам мат. Позицијата беше таква да можев да се подготвувам колку сакам и како сакам затоа што црниот беше без контра игра. Изгледаше како ништо да не може да тргне наопаку, но кога работите не одат, тогаш најчесто со сопствени раце им даваме на противниците шанси. Така беше и сега, со еден потег (19 b3) ја ослабив долгата дијагонала, потегот беше сосема во ред, но при пресметка на една варијанта во која тој се обидува да ја искористи таа слабост (објективно – очајнички обид кој само би го забрзал поразот) не видов елементарен начин како да се одбранам и да ја добијам партијата. Мислејќи дека сум згрешил, одиграв друг потез (20 Sb5, наместо голема рокада како што планирав кога размислував за 19 b3), исто така добар, но иако објективно позицијата сеуште беше стратешки добиена, јас не се чувствував исто – веќе бев малку вознемирен од превидот во пресметките. Два потези подоцна црниот не издржа и одигра конечно …f5, но тоа беше грешка заради моето 22 Lg5 и тука знаев дека сум скоро (пак тоа исто „скоро“ како против Богоевски!) добиен, но пак без јасна варијанта како точно. Повторно множество варијанти кои се добри, но ниту една „чиста.“ Овој пат, за разлика од партијата со Богоевски, таа постоеше (24 Sf5), но не ја одиграв затоа што не видов еден потез на крајот на варијантата што ги држи работите под контрола. Наместо тоа, одиграв многу лошо (24 ef5) и наеднаш црниот ја имаше иницијативата и требаше да се борам да не изгубам! Каков пресврт во само 2 потеза! Знаев дека не би требало да сум изгубен, но не успеав да го најдам единствениот (!) начин да се спасам (26 Kb1), а црниот не ми остави шанси до крај (силен потез 30…Le5, единствен што победува). Кога „не оди“ тогаш и послабите играчи играат јако.

Во трето коло повторно бев бели против Марјан Митков. Успеа да ме изненади во отварањето (Шпанка со 3…Lb4) меѓутоа на излез од отварањето и раната средишница имав голема предност – неговите фигури беа на даминото крило а јас се спремав за напад на неговиот крал. За да избегне директен напад Митков се реши на 13…f5, но тоа само повеќе ги ослаби белите полиња. Првиот критичен момент беше во 16 потез кога можев да избирам помеѓу поостриот потез 16 d4 и помирната опција 16 Le3. Последиците од поострата варијанта не ми беа најјасни и ја одбрав помирната опција, објективно двата потези беа подеднакво добри. Но само 2 потези подоцна повторно имав избор од позициона варијанта (18 Ld5, што и беше мојата првоначелна идеја кога размислував за 16 Le3) и поагресивна варијанта (18 d4). Овој пат се решив за агресивната опција, прво заради фактот што тој полека доаѓаше во цајтнот, а второ затоа што мислев дека со тоа ќе му направам повеќе проблеми – наскоро тој беше принуден да го ослаби својот крал. Повторно, објективно немаше ништо лошо во мојот избор, но очигледна е некоја неконсистентност во изборите – тоа обично не се случува кога работите „одат сами по себе.“ Набрзо дојдов до скоро (повторно тој збор!) решавачка предност и пак истата ситуација – не наоѓам јасен начин, повеќе варијанти изгледаат добро и не можам да се решам која е најдобра. Анализата после партијата покажа дека работите биле покомплицирани одошто ми изгледале за време на партијата и дека форсирана победа не постоела. Играм лош потез (24 d6) затоа што превидувам ресурс за него со кој тој веднаш добива: 24…Df6 25 g3 (сеуште не гледам) Td4 и тука на моето замислено 26 Tad1 не видов 26…c5 со идеја Df3 и матира! А после неговиот 25 потез веќе треба да се спасувам да не изгубам, повторно драматичен пресврт како со Митковски! Иако во цајтнот тој одигра добро и беше објективно добиен, но неколку пати пропушти форсирани победи. По контролата најдов два збунувачки потези, 43 b4 и 44 f4 и за среќа тие завршија работа – после 45…Dc4 партијата е реми, иако во тој момент веќе нема пат кон победа за црниот.

Во четвртото коло бев црни против Ѓоко Котески. За прв пат немав предност после отварањето, дури и направив погрешна процена на мојот план кој започна со измената на d5 и 13…a4. Со силниот потез 14 b4 и потоа 16 Sb1 белиот имаше предност, но потоа не продолжи плански – требаше да игра Ld2, Sc3, Db1-b2 и Tb1, со максимален притисок на b5 и даминото крило. Јас ја искористив неговата непланска игра и создадов типичен кралско-индиски напад, а партијата брзо ја реши неговиот превид. Ова беше прва партија типична кога посилен играч игра со послаб – неговите грешки остануваат неискористени, а противникот игра потези соодветни на неговото ниво и тие се исто така соодветно искористени. Можеби работите конечно тргнаа? Можеби, но турнирот за мене тука заврши затоа што во последното коло бев слободен од игра.

Од искуство знам дека има една законитост кога станува збор за добрата и лошата игра. Кога играш лошо, но резултатите се добри (кога „имаш среќа“), тогаш на крај ќе почнеш и да играш добро, во согласност со резултатите. А кога играш добро, а резултатите се лоши (како во случајов со мојата лига), тогаш најчесто на крај ќе почнеш и да играш лошо! Тоа и се случи во мојата партија со Котески, но за среќа и тој не се прослави многу во таа партија – од две лоши игри, мојата сепак се покажа како помалку лоша.

Од анализата на партиите може да се проследи една шема по која се случуваа работите: предност од отварање, добра игра до одреден момент во средишница, добра игра на противниците кои „се жилават“, ненаоѓање (или непостоење) на јасен начин за зголемување на предноста или трансформација во технички добиена позиција, фрустрација заради тоа, ситни превиди во пресметките, комплицирање на позицијата и од тој момент партијата излегува од контрола и сѐ е можно – дури и пораз.

Прашањето над кое многу размислував е зошто и покрај мојата добра психофизичка форма пред турнирот резултатот се покажа како лош? Зошто противниците ги играат најдобрите потези, зошто не играат на своето вообичаено ниво, како што обично играат, и во тој случај моите вообичаени потези се доволни за победа?

Кога работите „не одат,“ ништо не оди – и противниците играат силно, и случајната тактика во позицијата е во нивна корист, и позициите се компликувани, и нема јасни варијанти и генерално сѐ оди тешко. За ова има пишувано уште Аљехин (за неговата игра на турнирот во Њујорк 1927г.), но не се сеќавам да има дадено некој совет што да се прави. Спротивното исто така важи – кога работите „одат“ (или кога сме „во форма“) тогаш противниците превидуваат, не пружаат отпор, сѐ оди лесно и без напор.

Фишер кажал „Chess depends on you“, шахот зависи од тебе. Јас исто така верувам во тоа. Но надворешните фактори не може да се контролираат, значи единствено што јас можам да направам е да погледнам навнатре и да разберам што тоа во мојата психа ги предизвикало тие „надворешни“ фактори кои во случајов биле против мене.

Поминаа неколку дена од последната партија што ја одиграв на лигата и некои работи почнаа да ми се разјаснуваат. Тешко е да се опише со зборови тоа што го разбрав и секој обид тоа да го сторам ќе звучи премногу генерално, но ќе се обидам. Главниот проблем беше отсуството на нацеленост на победа. Очекував партиите да се добијат сами од себе од моментот кога имав решавачка предност. Немав претстава за завршеност на партијата, заокруженост на процесот. Мислам дека тоа отсуство на јасна внатрешна претстава резултираше во исто такво отсуство на јасен резултат во реалноста – партии со пресврти, несигурна игра и противници кои играа во полна соответност со мојата внатрешна состојба. Знам дека ова можеби звучи општо, но верувам дека оние кои играле шах подолго време ќе разберат што зборувам.

На крајот на краиштата, не треба да се посветува премногу внимание на минатото, треба да се научи од него тоа што се може и да се гледа напред. А напред е Олимпијадата! Одиме во најдобар можен состав, за прв пат по подолго време работите се организирани своевремено и отсуствува вообичаената нервоза пред тргнување. За успех на било кој турнир е потребна добра игра и среќа, се надевам дека по дождот доаѓа сонце, па макар и 350км северно од артичкиот круг. Впрочем, таму цело време ќе биде ден…

Dortmund 2014 – Rounds 5-7

Back from the Macedonian League, where my team won the title (while my result was mediocre, I compensated for that by drawing the crucial game that secured the title) I can now take a look at the last 3 rounds of the Dortmund tournament.

Caruana easily survived his clash with Kramnik without too many problems and then cruised on to win the tournament after winning one more game, against Adams in round 6. An impressive result for Caruana, who scored 100% with white, won a 7-round tournament with 1.5 point margin, crossed the 2800-mark on the live list and reached number 3 in the world!

In his game with Kramnik, he chose Smyslov’s move 6…b6 in the Fianchetto Grunfeld (almost never played nowadays) and solved his opening problems easily. The structure resembled the Exchange Slav and with patient play Caruana exchanged almost all pieces and drew, something he definitely welcomed after 2 losses in a row with black against Kramnik.

Leko beat Naiditsch in a structure with fixed centre where white had the better bishop. A very smooth and impressive performance by Leko and a game that wasn’t decided by a direct blunder – quite a rarity these days! The game reminded me of the Botvinnik-Petrosian, 14th game from their 1963 match, even though there white had a knight vs bishop, but the manner of slowly improving the position was very similar.

Ponomariov got some advantage in the popular (in this tournament) Breyer against Baramidze (they followed Spassky-Karpov, 10th game of their 1974 Candidates match until move 20) and after the latter’s inexplicable 22…Re7 won the pawn on e5. I’m pretty sure the Ponomariov of old would have wrapped things up from that moment, but what followed was a game full of missed opportunities for Ponomariov. Eventually the German saved the game, something the Germans really enjoy doing!

Meier must have been surprised by the first-ever Slav by Adams and he got outplayed in the middlegame as when the position opened up the king safety and pawn weaknesses were more important than the bishop pair. Adams missed a good chance before the time control (36…Rd4 would have been strong) and after that the German managed to save the game. Nothing surprising there.

In round 6 Caruana secured his victory in the tournament by beating last year’s winner Adams with white in the Berlin. A white win in the Berlin is a rare occurence in modern play (a black win even rarer), but it’s interesting to note that the structure and the piece arrangement (knight and bishop vs a pair of bishops) was very similar to Caruana’s win against Carlsen from the Gashimov Memorial. It’s obvious that this is the type of position black Berlin players must try to avoid, yet Adams was somehow tricked into it! Far from it being lost, it’s just unpleasant, as Adams had better ways of playing, but the fact that he didn’t find them and ended up losing convincingly shows the dangers the position holds for black.

Baramidze and Meier played a well-known drawing line in the Catalan. Nothing much to add there.

Naiditsch beat Ponomariov, who tried to improve upon his rapid game with Karjakin from 2013. His improvement of 18…Nh5 brought him acceptable play, however the game was decided by a blunder by Ponomariov on move 28, when he should have retaken with the other knight on c5, keeping control of the e5-square. Games are almost always lost because of blunders (that’s why I was impressed by Leko’s win against Naiditsch from the previous round) and this one was no exception. After missing a win in the previous round the punishment came swiftly for Ponomariov.

Kramnik tried his latest pet-move 4 e3 move against Leko’s Queen’s Indian, but got nowhere with it. (He also used 4 e3 against Aronian’s Queen’s Gambit in the Candidates.) In a symmetrical position pieces were exchanged systematically, leading to an expected draw.

The last round saw Leko draw Caruana in one of the most fashionable Berlin deviations, not a very exciting game where the result suited both players perfectly.

Adams repetead the line Ponomariov used against Baramidze and the latter deviated on move 18 by playing 18…h6. Once more he allowed the exchange on c5, only this time he didn’t blunder a pawn. I don’t know what positives he saw after this exchange as I really don’t like the look of those doubled pawns on c4 and c5, plus white’s protected passed pawn on d5, plus white’s initiative on the queenside. The comp finds an amazing resource for black on move 25, 25…h4 26 Nf1 and now 26…Bd5, sacrificing a piece for 2 pawns. A very tricky thing to see and decide upon in a practical game where you don’t think drastic measures are necessary. But on that very move Baramidze sacrificed a pawn (or perhaps just gave it away, as there wasn’t any compensation for it) and went down unceremoniously. The win brought Adams his first win and a 50% score, while this was Baramidze’s 3rd loss.

Naiditsch chose a dubious line (14…dc) in the KID against Meier and as it’s usually the case he backed it up with some computer analysis. But that didn’t change the verdict that the position was dubious! Meier got a big advantage and yet in a complicated and unknown position he let it slip several times. A fluctuating complex endgame came down to a position with a rook and 3 pawns each plus opposite coloured bishops. Naiditsch was still the one who had to look for the draw and he was very close, but on move 50, instead of 50…c3 he chose 50…Rd4 and after 51 Kc3 white got a blockading king with a strong passed pawn on the a-file. He put both to good use and there were no more chances for Naiditsch. This win brought Meier to shared 2nd, possibly the biggest success in his career.

Ponomariov chose the same Berlin deviation Leko chose against Caruana, but instead of the usual drawing lines Kramnik chose the more complex 7…Nf5, something he chose against Kobalia in the World Cup. They followed the recent Guseinov-Malakhov game from the World Rapid Championship and Kramnik introduced the new 11…Nce7. He got a good game, as he usually does after the opening and his play in the middlegame was also quite strong, managing to put pressure on Ponomariov. But somewhere around move 25 he lost the plot and suddenly lost the pawn on e4. This time Ponomariov wrapped things up (perhaps after 6 games he finally got the necessary practice?!), leaving Kramnik with a miserable -2 score.

After the tournament I read a tweet by Eljanov, who said he was sorry for Kramnik and this is an alarming sign for Big Vlad. The strong never evoke pity, they evoke fear. And if Kramnik starts to evoke pity, that means that people don’t fear him as he’s not strong anymore… And coming down to 2760 and number 10 on the live list plus a third (Candidates and Stavanger being the other 2) bad tournament in a row – something is definitely going on with the former world champion! All this makes me eager to see how he reacts to all these setbacks at the Olympiad, where I don’t expect his undisputed status of number 1 player in the Russian team will be affected.

The Dortmund tournament is another one in the string of recent tournaments where a young player wins it without giving a chance to the older participants. From the supertournaments this year only the Candidates was won by a player from another generation, everything else was won by Aronian (Wijk) Carlsen (Zurich, Gashimov Memorial), Karjakin (Stavanger) and Caruana (Dortmund) and if you count the ACP Bergamo, Wesley So. The domination of these players is already obvious and So is firmly on his way to the Top 10. We’re witnessing a change of generations and these are the players who will dominate in the foreseeable future. Since their chess is very exciting, I don’t really mind that!


Dortmund 2014 – Rounds 3&4

I couldn’t write in the previous days due to my own (long) games in the Macedonian league. But today I finally won (and quickly at that) so I can take a look at what happened in Dortmund.

In my last post I wrote “Tomorrow Kramnik plays Baramidze…” without realising that the relaxed people of Dortmund gave the players a free day after only 2 rounds! And it’s a 7-round event! And they have another free day after the 4th round! Some people really have it easy… but at least they will play 3 games in a row in the last 3 rounds. That should tire them and push them to the limit!

So Kramnik eventually did play Baramidze a day after my prediction and again failed to win from a winning position. He outplayed a 2600-rated player in a nice fashion, but didn’t win. A lot of things happening to Kramnik which I cannot recall happening to him before – not winning with two pawns up, not winning against a 2600-rated player, losing (with white!) after being utterly outplayed by a 2630-rated player. It’s obvious this is something psychological and only the man himself knows what exactly it is. What’s more worrying is that at the live ratings he’s at number 10, probably his lowest ever since he entered the elite in the mid-90s. This puts him at risk of missing qualification to the next Candidates based on rating, but maybe he doesn’t care about the Candidates any longer?!

The other 3 games of Round 3 were all tranquil affairs. Two Berlins, Naiditsch-Caruana and Leko-Adams were typical of the opening, white trying, not achieving anything and agreeing to a draw. In Ponomariov-Meier white didn’t even try to test the Rubinstein French and after mutually correct play it was drawn in a rook endgame.

Round 4 saw Caruana continue his stomping. His game with Meier was what in my mind constitutes a difference in preparation of an elite player and a solid professional of 2630 who knows his openings very well. Meier is very predictable when playing with black, against 1 e4 it’s always the French and Caruana could prepare very deeply. They followed the recent Karjakin-Goganov game from 2013 when Meier introduced a novelty on move 21, a move that didn’t change the position as it was rather static – bishops of opposite colours and heavy pieces without immediate break-throughs for either side. Both players prepared this far and at first sight it was black who had the initiative on the queenside as white was forced to put his rooks on d1 and d2 to cover all the entry points. But once they were covered, it was white who started to advance on the kingside, but without the help of the rooks it was difficult to see how to achieve anything. This was all seen in the Karjakin game and here comes the difference – in order white to try something he has to push f6 and then black has to decide how to react. When preparing you analyse this type of typical moves and reactions to them. It seems that Caruana did analyse them while Meier didn’t. Or perhaps there’s another reason – in the Karjakin-Goganov game, when white pushed f6 black took on f6 and created counterplay after subsequent Qe2 because he managed to exchange one rook before that. Caruana was more precise (by putting the rooks on d2 and d1) as he didn’t allow that exchange. So maybe Meier remembered that Goganov took on f6 and was OK and he did the same without noting the difference? As it was, he took on f6 in a different position and this led him to difficulties and he lost in further 4 moves. A very instructive game from the point of view of deep opening preparation!

Adams missed several wins against Ponomariov and they eventually drew. What puzzles me is Ponomariov’s play – he’s far from his usual standard. It went unnoticed, but for quite some time Ponomariov is no longer part of the elite players who travel from one supertournament to another and this lack of practice with opponents of the highest caliber makes it difficult for him to adjust when he gets the rare chance like now in Dortmund. In the last 2 years (classical chess only) he played the FIDE Grand Prix events, the Ukranian championship, the World Cup, the King’s tournament and the recent Chinese closed tournament – all these events field players of a lower level than the various Wijks, Dortmunds, Bilbaos and Stavangers and even his results in those were +1 in two of the Grand Prix, +4 in the Ukranian championships, -1 in the Paris Grand Prix, -2 at the King’s and +2 in China – not the kind of results I’d expect from him. Constant practice at the highest level is an essential prerequisite for elite chess – just take a look at Caruana, but in order to get it you either need to be a young and exciting new prospect or to have good ties with the organisers. Ponomariov used to be the former some 10 years ago, but as things stand now his time seems to have passed.

Baramidze tested Leko in a Catalan, introducing the new 16 Ne4 instead of the 16 Rac1 from Carlsen-Aronian, Candidates 2013. The new move is the comp’s choice (aren’t they all?) in an equal position and Leko professionally held the draw without many problems.

Naiditsch went into the Berlin against Kramnik, something not many people try these days. Naiditsch’s 13 g3 was new (the comp’s suggestion, again) but as usual in these positions when black’s king is undisturbed on e7 (and later e6) black never had any problems – in fact sometimes he can even try to play for more. White was careful though and they drew on move 47.

My prediction of Caruana winning it are becoming more substantial now that he has a whole point advantage over second-placed Naiditsch. Tomorrow (this time I’m right, it is indeed tomorrow) will be the stiffest test when he’s black against Kramnik. Kramnik won their last two classical encounters, both with white, but which Kramnik will we see tomorrow? The world-beater or the Kramnik from Round 1?

Dortmund 2014 – Round 2

So Germany always wins. At least in football. And Kramnik doesn’t always win when two pawns up. This more or less sums up today’s day for me as I arrived in Struga for the Macedonian team championship that starts tomorrow.

I noticed that Kramnik’s treatment of the Trompowsky is very different from his usual approach to his black openings (which are very solid and classical). I remember his game with Morozevich from Astana 2001 when he won a classical game (which started with 1 d4 d5 2 Bg5) and that game is in big contrast to his games with Carlsen from the Tal Memorial 2013 and today’s game with Adams. In both these games he went for atypical, double-edged positions with unclear positional imbalances. He deviated from his game with Carlsen with 6…Bc5 and managed to outplay Adams in the complex middlegame. And when he won two pawns I thought he’d just wrap things up, in spite of Adams’s stubborn defence, after all Kramnik has won many less winning positions against the world’s best players. But the Kramnik machine (unlike the German) broke down and he failed to win. It puzzles me what factors are behind the bad play Kramnik showed in the second half of the Stavanger tournament and in the first game here in Dortmund, plus his far-from perfect technique against Adams (he did play well in the middlegame and early endgame to reach a winning position though!) After a disappointment, like the one in the Candidates in Khanty, it’s understandable that a player suffers a dip in form and this is probably a time when Kramnik is considering his future career as a chess player. These thoughts are probably always in the back of his head and prevent him from concentrating fully – this is only my assumption, of course. We won’t know for sure until he gives an interview. However, I have also noticed that there seems to be some sort of silent consensus among the chess journalists not to ask Kramnik questions when he plays badly! So perhaps we can hope that Russia wins the Olympiad and then somebody just remembers to ask him about the first rounds in Dortmund?!
In the meantime Caruana showed that he may have some German origin. He went about his business and in an unassuming yet impressive fashion pushed Ponomariov out of the board in the Petroff, an opening that lost some of its popularity in the last years. In a symmetrical position he slowly outplayed Ponomariov and won with a nice combination. He’s at 2/2 and at the moment I don’t see who can prevent him from winning the tournament – this is both based on his play and the play of the others. It’s still early though, but the tournament has only 7 rounds so not so many games left for the others!
Meier-Leko was a game we see when both players want to draw. In a Catalan and in a very professional manner they reached a dead drawn endgame on move 27.
In the battle of the Germans, Naiditsch won with black against Baramidze. So at least one German lost today! I had the impression that Baramidze started the game with the intention to draw and then possibly got a bit ambitious, by ruining his structure but trying to play with a good knight against a bad bishop. A bishop is a bishop though and Naiditsch created counterplay against white’s weak pawns. It seems that on move 27 Baramidze miscalculated something as he lost a piece 8 moves later, after a forced line. It’s tough to adjust to the level of play of the elite when you’re used to playing people rated 2500-2600 or even lower. That’s why it’s essential for young and upcoming players to enter the elite as soon as possible, so as to get accustomed to this level and it becomes their inherent way of playing. This is one of the factors of Carlsen’s success, but very few get that chance.
Tomorrow Kramnik plays Baramidze and I’m really curious to see what opening he chooses! I’m also playing tomorrow, so it will be business as usual.


Dortmund 2014 (& ACP Bergamo)

Today was the first round of the Dortmund tournament and it caught me packing for tomorrow’s trip to Struga, where the national team champiohship starts on Monday. Since tonight is the match for 3rd place in the World Cup, I’ll be brief with my comments on the games.

The real shocker was the Kramnik-Meier game. Kramnik won all their 4 previous encounters and there was nothing to suspect that this won’t continue. But Kramnik’s opening choice was rather odd and it all went from bad to worse from there. If I saw the position after move 10, without knowing the names of the players, I would have thought that white was a die-hard King’s Indian player who’s playing a stronger opponent and tries to steer the game to positions he knows. And as it usually happens in these cases, when a weaker player tries to play a closed position against a stronger one, the weaker player got utterly outplayed. Just that in this case the “weaker” player was a former world champion, none other than Kramnik himself, while the “stronger” player had 145 rating points less than the “weaker” one. I cannot recall a case when Kramnik was outplayed so thoroughly! Meier didn’t have to do anything special, he used the standard methods of playing in these KID positions and he won. Something’s happening to Big Vlad and I’m just hoping this is not the beginning of the end of his playing career.

Two of the other three games saw the Leningrad Dutch. It has been popular lately, even I faced it several times in the last year (for an instructive play from white’s perspective I refer you to Colovic-Sowray,4NCL 2014). Leko-Ponomariov saw a repeat of the recent games Gelfand-Caruana, Zurich 2014 and Tomashevsky-Anton, Gibraltar 2014 (and also the Radjabov-Ringoir from the world blitz championship 2014) and Ponomariov introduced the rare 10…Qd1. I had the impression the endgame was better for white, but soon enough it was Ponomariov who was pressing. Luckily for Leko, the opposite-coloured bishops helped him secure the draw.

The other Leningrad Dutch was Baramidze-Caruana. I played Baramidze in 2007, at the European Team Championship in Crete. I caught him in a long theoretical line in the Rauzer and obtained a winning position, but with typical German tenacity he saved the draw. Today he played a rare line and by move 10 they were on the outskirts of modern theory. The game seemed to be heading to an uneventful draw as pieces were traded en masse, but then with some imprecisions before the time control white lost a pawn. The game is still in progress at the time of writing, but the chances Caruana has are at their highest from the beginning of the game!

Naiditsch-Adams was a Berlin and white introduced the computer move 11 c4 as a novelty (11 Nc3 was Anand-Carlsen, game 4 from their match and 11 g4 was Karjakin-Carlsen from Stavanger 2014). Black reacted in solid Berlin fashion and was never in trouble. He even won a pawn later on, but white managed to keep things under control and draw.

Today was also Round 1 at the Bergamo tournament, organised by the ACP and the only tournament that I know of that still has adjournments after move 40 and has the time control of 2.5 hours for 40 moves. This strikes a nostalgic note for the “good old times,” even though I never played with 2.5 hours for 40 moves. I did have adjournments in my early career and I usually had good results in those games! The tournaments started with 3 draws but I didn’t have the time to take a closer look. I’m curious to see if these old rules will have impact on the quality of play and the results.

A few words about the upcoming Macedonian Team Championship. It should serve as a good preparation for the Olympiad, in a sense of getting into playing mode, after almost two months without a serious tournament game. Usually it’s complicated to write about tournaments while playing my own, but I’ll try to keep an eye on the Dortmund event.


On Some Recent Events

I haven’t commented on the blitz and rapid world championships mostly because I prefer classical chess, but Carlsen’s achievement cannot be overlooked. I think Carlsen will be successful in defending his classical title, probably more than once, but I am not so sure about his rapid and blitz titles. The reason is obvious, it’s much more difficult to win these events (let alone that they’re played one after the other) as they are swiss events and the element of luck is rather big. This makes it even more incredible that he has managed to unite all 3 titles, it’s difficult we will see again. As a tidbit, I noticed that in the blitz event, playing black, Carlsen castled long in 3 games (Fedoseev, Nepomniachtchi and Lu Shanglei) and made an artificial long castle in 1 (against Meier). Just a coincidence probably and not a new element of playing for a win with black.

Hou Yifan closes the rating gap between her and Judit Polgar. She seems to be completely dominating the female players and after winning her last 2 Grand Prix events with 1.5 and 2 points advantage respectively, the gap is down to less than 30 points. In fact, I’d dare say that in a direct match Hou Yifan would have the better chances! Judit has practically left the elite and plays only occasionally, but what’s worse she doesn’t seem to do much work in between events. This shows in her poor openings and the problems she faces in this phase (a loss in 11 moves against Mamedyarov, even though a blitz, is not something a player of her caliber would allow herself!) I’d love to see a match between these two and I’m sure it won’t be too difficult to find a sponsor for that one. But I doubt Polgar would accept, she would have all to lose (the prestige, the image of best female player of all time, sponsorhip deals etc.) and very little to win in that match.
The political battle for the FIDE presidency looks like a future election of a President of the World. I imagine that one day the world will be united and then the election would be just like today’s battle for FIDE – the presidential candidates will be travelling the whole world (in private jets, of course) lobbying for their cause. It’s difficult to say whether it will be less dirty than now, but at least for once the chess world is ahead of time! Back to the present, I don’t know whether the FIDE Rules address a situation when in the best interest of the game of chess both candidates are disqualified. This thought occurred to me just now, as I write this, as I’m watching the France-Germany match in the World Cup and as an England fan the thought of disqualification of both teams arose very naturally.
And speaking of football, on a chess blog, is something not to be encouraged. I’ll try to disguise it by making a chess-related parallel. The underdogs in the tournament (Mexico, Chile, Switzerland, USA) played fantastic and high-quality game, only to lose to the favourites in the same way an underdog loses to an experienced GM – eventually they cracked. They couldn’t keep their level up infinitely and the fatigue coupled with the pressure of the opponent led to their demise. Here we can see why the favourites are better – they have more experience in playing high-tension matches with opponents of the same caliber, thus they are used to keeping their level up for very long periods of time. I addressed this issue in my post about the monotony in a game of chess ( and I will soon post here my article from the latest Informator 120 that discusses the same idea.
And I really still cannot decide which team (France or Germany) I like less…