Vallejo finally won a game. He got quite a comfortable position in the Nimzo with 4 Qc2 against Ponomariov and on move 21 he had an eternal knight on e5 against black’s bishop on d5.
|White is better here
A few moves later the following transformation occured:
|White is winning
A strange game on Ponomariov’s part, his whole tournament was very patchy and Vallejo at the end got his consolation win.
At the ECC, SOCAR confirmed their dominance with a last round win to finish with a 100%. They beat SPB 3.5-2.5, Topalov beating Svidler with white on 1 and the rest drawing. An impressive victory, the whole team played well and seemed to be in good form. Great results also for last year’s winners Novy Bor, coming second and Odlar Yourdu, Sutovsky’s proteges and the next generation of Azerbaijan’s top players coming fourth. The third place of Malakhite is not bad at all, but a team like that is only interested in first place.
With his win Topalov got back to 2800 and number 3 in the world, something I didn’t expect of him, but a string of results thoroughly deserved, especially for a man who considers himself on the way out of the Top 10. And speaking of the Top 10, after the ECC results one very big guy is out – none other than Vladimir Kramnik! As his next scheduled event is an open (!!) this is another worrying thing for the great champion…
From today’s games, the clash Caruana-Karjakin saw the former try to win a better position for a very long time:
|White is better, but couldn’t win
The bitter rivals Grischuk and Nakamura reached the following impasse:
Vachier lost to Leko and went out of the Top 10. Leko used the advantage of having two knights against two bishops:
|The extra pawn, not the knights, decided the outcome
Edouard played a rare move against Kamsky in a centuries-old theoretical position:
|7…b6!? (instead of the normal 7…Nc6)
In the past this has been played once by Korchnoi and three times by Ganguly, but without encouraging results. Since Edouard is well-known for his excellent preparation, perhaps a new trend is coming? Kamsky’s reply was the sharp 8 e4 and it seems that black shouldn’t take on e4 (like Edouard) and should take on d4 instead (as played by Ganguly).
And the inimitable Sulskis produced a move in his style (introduced by Nunn in 1991):
|9 g4, no typical Hedgehog today
The Bilbaos finished and the heroes are on their way home. Anand to his team and preparation for the match, Aronian to have a really good think what to do, Topalov probably quite happy and Caruana considering whether to raise money and challenge Carlsen, circumnavigating FIDE. I wonder what Karjakin is up to, but he’ll probably surprise me with announcing that together with his sponsor and manager his goal is to bring the crown back to Russia.
Jokes aside, we have the Grand Prix coming up in October and the world championship match in November. Like I said before, it will be an autumn to remember!
|11 Qc2 Ponomariov, 11 e4 Mamedyarov
|11 Bd2, a new attempt
|25 Bf4? Bf4! 26 Bf3 Nh2 27 Rh1 Nf3 28 gf4 Rf4
|Black dominates and went on to win
|29 Kg3, 30 Kh4, 31 Kh5
|To beat Kamsky from here is an incredible feat!
|The control of the d-file is bonus!
Anand was precise in the realisation of the advantage. A typical top-level game that shows what happens when one of the players cannot get out of the opening with an acceptable position. And the encouraging signs for Anand continue!
In Ponomariov-Aronian white obtained good compensation for the pawn, but even though black ended up with a pathetic bishop on c8 it turned out that everything was defended and white couldn’t break through. Usually these games are lost for the passive player, but here he survived – in the final position his bishop is still pathetic, but there’s nothing white can do to take advantage of it:
|Black surviving his worst nightmare
At the ECC, SOCAR won again, yet they’re still not guaranteed first place! Topalov (beating Nakamura again after the Sinquefield Cup, making it three in a row!) and Korobov (beating Kiril Georgiev) more than compensated for Caruana’s win against Mamedyarov (who sacrificed a pawn in the opening, in the footsteps of Radjabov who used the same line against Mchedlishvili in the Olympiad, but his compensation fizzled out). Caruana seems to be flying high after his Sinquefield triumph and it’s a good sign – perhaps we’re witnessing the beginning of another big rivalry of players whose names start with the same letter?
When writing about round 3 (https://www.alexcolovic.com/2014/09/the-bilbaos-2014-round-3.html) I mentioned that Alekhine’s employment of the Spanish with Nc3 got me interested in the line and that he tried to jump to d5 as soon as possible. The modern treatment is somewhat slower, but the old ideas are still valid, just take a look at this:
|8 Nd5! Mamedov,N-Bartel
My good friend Nidjat Mamedov played no worse than Alekhine in this game – only two moves later he was practically winning!
|Black is forced to take on d4 with his bishop, but that didn’t help
The final position is also worth taking a look at, it could have occurred in one of Alekhine’s games very easily:
|White’s last move is 23 Kh1
The final move and position reminded me of Alekhine-Asztalos, Kecskemet 1927:
|Followed by Rg1-g7
Tomorrow we have another clash on the top board – SOCAR meets Malakhite (Leko, Shirov, Malakhov – it’s fitting that a Malakhov should play for Malakhite I think, Motylev, Lysyj and Bologan). Another great fight ahead!
Speaking of Caruana (the man on fire lately) I noticed a peculiar motif that keeps repeating in his games – he sacrifices two pieces for a rook and a pawn (or two) quite often. Here’s today’s example:
And here’s the position from his game with Topalov in Stavanger, earlier this year:
And the theme from his game against Aronian in Saint Louis:
Now, to get things straight, today against Roiz and against Aronian the “sacrifice” was in fact the best move in the position, while against Topalov it was a result of the opening line – the reason I noted this was probably because I have always been wary of giving away the two pieces – either I underestimated the rook or I overestimated the pieces. I always find it curious to pinpoint such pecualiarities in my own thinking!
Back to the ECC, here’s a move I saw for the first time in a well-known theoretical position:
|8…Re8?!?! in Leko-Vitiugov
I checked and in fact the move has already been played by Zvjaginsev (the man with many peculiar ideas) in 2013. But a weird move nevertheless.
And I noted two excellent technical efforts. The first one from Grischuk, another man on fire – yesterday he destroyed Rodshtein in 22 moves, today he outplayed Dominguez from what looked like a dead-drawn position (I’m sure Dominguez was very surprised by Grischuk’s choice of the Sveshnikov Sicilian, but he could have been more circumspect by deviating from his recent game against Frolyanov):
|18..d5, Grischuk’s improvement over Frolyanov’s 18…Qb6
The improvement was good enough for a draw, but Dominguez must have been under pressure and managed to lose this:
Later on Grischuk demonstrated good technique by winning the rook endgame (which was already won for him – in the double-rook endgame white still had drawing chances on move 30, when he should have prevented black’s rook from penetrating on the second rank).
The other example I noted was the game Hammer-Ruck. A typical Maroczy endgame with white having the pair of bishops and the space advantage.
|An endgame worth studying!
Hammer showed great technique, which I’m sure he already had when he started working with Carlsen! When seeing this game I remembered the two classical endgames won by Polugaevsky at the same tournament in Belgrade 1969:
|Polugaevsky-Ostojic, Belgrade (14) 1969
|Polugaevsky-Ivkov, Belgrade (1) 1969
Tomorrow the Masters return so we’re having double action again. Always curious about Anand’s play, whether he’ll just sit on his lead or try for more – soon we’ll find out!
One blast of a game was Grischuk-Rodshtein. Even in a Reti there can be a scholarly example of an attack on the king stuck in the centre and a miniature in 22 moves! Usually we associate these kind of attacks with the open games, but here take a look at the e-pawn!
|Grischuk-Rodshtein, final position
In the Masters, Anand played safe and drew with Aronian by holding a slight edge in the popular Spanish with a white knight on c3 (Alekhine used to play this occassionally, that’s how I got interested in the line, but he played with different ideas, he used the first opportunity to jump to d5).
The other game, Ponomariov-Vallejo was more interesting. In the popular Najdorf with 6 h3 white employed the idea that Svidler introduced in his game against me at the Olympiad. Over the board I didn’t manage to find the right way – it’s a very unpleasant idea for the black player: white plays Nce2 and c3 before black can take on d4, thus strengthening his centre and eliminating black’s counterplay on the queenside. In the stem game Svidler-Colovic the idea can be seen in its ideal form – I missed the moment to take on d4 and was left without counterplay. Ponomariov didn’t even allow black to have the chance to take on d4 – he played 9 Nce2 Nc6 10 c3! Black went wrong immediately, his 10…h5 was probably based on a miscalculation. The rook from h8 went to h5-c5-c3-c4, but after white’s 16 Ne6 it was all over.
Tomorrow is a free day at the Masters while the ECC continues. Last year’s winners Novy Bor play with last (and this) year’s big favourites SOCAR. Perhaps again a match for first place?
Anand’s game should have been drawn though, but obviously Vallejo had an off day. So Anand’s 2/2 is similar to his 2.5/3 in the Candidates (and may well be identical if tomorrow he draws Aronian) – a good omen for the Indian, not only for the tournament, but also for the big match ahead.
Aronian beat Ponomariov in yet another KID by the latter. Obviously he prepared the opening for the event, but it’s not bringing him any dividents so far. The opening aside, I think Ponomariov’s main problem is the lack of practice on this level – for a long time he’s been out of the elite tournaments. He played Dortmund this year (scoring -1) and this is only his second elite tournament of that level this year. I wrote about this in a post about Dortmund (https://www.alexcolovic.com/2014/07/dortmund-2014-rounds-3.html). What was surprising in the game was that Aronian actually allowed Ponomariov to escape – on move 38 black could have saved the game! But Ponomariov missed it and things went back to normal. Uncharacteristic for both Aronian (allowing an escape in a winning position) and Ponomariov (missing his chance).
At the ECC the favourites already started playing each other. The surprise was Shirov’s loss to Jensson (2349) and SOCAR’s destruction of SHSM with the score of 5-1 (Mamedyarov beating Nepomniachtchi with black in the Petroff!) But the game of the match for me was Topalov-Morozevich – after the scandal in San Luis their relations are non-existent (except for the mutual not-so-concealed insults via their comments to their games in New in Chess), but this seems to hurt Morozevich – he lost the last 3 classical games (two of them with white) and he lost today too, which makes it 4-0 for Topalov in the last 2 years. The game itself was interesting, Morozevich invited a Benoni, but Topalov chose a line with a safe, if small, edge for white after taking on d5 with the e-pawn. Morozevich tried to do something active but this backfired and Topalov increased his advantage with further exchanges. His king march in the queen endgame 29 Kg2, 30 Kf3, 31 Ke4, 32 Ke5, 33 Ke6 was an amusing sight!
|29 Kg2 and then Kf3-e4-e5-e6!
Tomorrow’s pairings bring us the big game Svidler-Caruana, should be a good fight!
Starting with the Chess Masters, my main interest will be to see how Anand will do before he closes down shop and intensifies his preparation for the match with Carlsen. And today (OK, yesterday, since it’s after midnight already!) he didn’t disappoint at all! In fact, his victory against Ponomariov was rather impressive, but the major part of the work was done in the opening, (or, rather, by the opening).
The h3 system against the KID (also called the Makagonov System) has been a real killer of late and the biggest problem for the KID players. Actually, only when discovering this system did I decide to fully switch to 1 d4 and my results with it were 100% (10 out of 10) until I lost a game from a completely winning position a few months ago. So it was no surprise that Anand chose it and obtained an advantage. When analysing this system I noticed that even life-long connoisseurs of the KID get thoroughly outplayed and are made to look like they don’t understand the opening. Just to give you an idea, here are two experts of the opening who ended up in embarassing positions:
Ponomariov didn’t fare better either, here’s the position after move 18 (in fact, 18 Qd5, instead of 18 Nc3xd5 was even stronger and probably winning!):
The other game, Vallejo-Aronian was also exciting. Vallejo’s early novelty brought him only trouble, but his recent fine form seems to continue as he managed to stir up enough counterplay to confuse even the great Aronian (or is it perhaps Aronian’s poor form that prevented him from using his advantage in a better way?) The game ended in a draw and Anand again (like in the Candidates) gets an early lead in the tournament. This further increases his self-confidence and the trend is definitely in his favour!
At the European Club Cup the first round is usually a match-up of favourites against outsiders and the results are predictable. But chess becomes more and more difficult because the general level of play increases by the day and the “weak” are not that weak anymore. There were a lot of surprises, here are the biggest ones: Leko (2734) was lost in 15 moves against Bosboom (2424) and resigned on move 26; Vitiugov (2742) couldn’t beat Geske (2386) with white and was even close to losing; Schramm (2401) was winning in 20 moves against Movsesian (2663) and won in 33; Matlakov (2694) couldn’t beat Seyb (2374); Polzin (2426) beat Najer (2646), Sutovsky (2632) drew with Arnaudov (2438).
The biggest surprise however was in the game Sandipan (2619) – Frischmann (2254) where the following position was reached after white’s 27th move:
|Guess the final results!
The result? White lost!!! How on earth can that happen to a player of Sandipan’s caliber?? Let’s take a look. First he improved the position by pushing up the board and reached this position:
Now he decided to transform his advantage and pushed 42 e6, but this surely was based on a miscalculation because the pawn endgame is drawn (he could have continued to press in the queen endgame instead).
|White to play and lose!
And here came the suicide. 47 Kc7??? After this black simply walked to the f2 pawn and queened his e-pawn.
If you ask me how is it possible for a grandmaster to blunder like this, the answer is I don’t know. I only know that anything, and I mean literally anything, is possible in one game of chess.
In order to achieve such a result against opposition consisting exclusively of top-10 players a lot of things must fall into place: the openings, the mental set-up (both of the player himself and that of the opponents), the small (and big) decisions during the game.
Breaking it down on a game-to-game basis, Caruana had it look smooth from the very beginning. Topalov, who showed fine form at the Olympiad by winning gold medal on board 1, went too aggressive and Caruana’s solid position soaked up the pressure and busted the Bulgarian on the counterattack. In round 2 “things started to fall into place” as he won the game in his preparation when Vachier missed the best defence in a Caro Kann. Then it was Carlsen’s turn to make it look as if points were falling to Caruana from the sky – his odd opening led him to trouble, but then in the mess that followed Caruana showed that he also fully deserved those points: fantastic calculation and control won him the game. Another strong opening idea against Aronian (15 Na2!) followed by forceful play netted another point. Nakamura didn’t get anything as white in a Slav and Caruana outplayed him thoroughly – another sign that the quality of his moves was way above the others’. Then another strong opening idea against Topalov followed by forceful play – the same scenario as against Aronian. A surprise choice of the QGD against Vachier (instead of his usual Grunfeld) signified that he was happy to play it safe, but that didn’t mean he was ready to draw just yet – Vachier’s weird play at the beginning of the middlegame was duly punished and we got to the historical 7/7.
To generalise, Caruana’s play followed a pattern – excellent opening play (either obtaining advantage – Vachier from round 2, Aronian, Topalov from round 6, or simply a good and solid position – Topalov from round 1, Carlsen, Nakamura, Vachier from round 7) followed by accurate and aggressive play afterwards. A rather sensible game plan, easy to define, almost impossible to execute, the latter part especially. There is no secret behind Caruana’s result, we all know what should be done, it’s just that the doing part is so hard. And doing means playing moves of the highest quality, all the time. Every single move should be of the highest quality. Fantastic preparation plus moves of the highest quality plus, and here lies the difference, the opponent’s failure to keep it up with those moves (mind you, every day a different opponent, all of them incredibly strong players capable of coming up with moves of the highest quality, cracking on the exact day when they played Caruana – this is the ultimate luck in chess) led to this result.
Caruana continued with strong play against Carlsen in round 8 and was close to winning there as well, but his previous game with Vachier showed that he was already happy to slow things down, as if he subconsciously didn’t believe he can win more (he even said something similar in the press conference, that he would have been happy with a draw in that game). The missed elementary win against Nakamura further convinced me of this and he also drew with Aronian in the last round, making a no less historic 8.5/10. Caruana wrote history in this tournament and the expectations of his future results are even higher now.
I noted a difference between Carlsen now and one year ago. Back then he was focused, accurate and very technical, with solid openings and all ready to go at Anand in Chennai. This year, starting with the Olympiad he was choosing strange openings in some games: Scandinavian against Caruana and Bird’s Spanish against Saric with black and Closed Sicilian against Wojtaszek and a peculiar treatment of the Slav against Solak as white. Here his white opening against Caruana from round 3 was pretty bad while with black the Maroczy against the same Caruana and the Steinitz Deferred in the Spanish against Nakamura also raised my eyebrows. I suppose it is an attempt to get some training in different positions. I think that he expects Anand to go for sharper stuff in the match, so he uses these as a way to get more practice in complex positions. He is no stranger to this (remember the Chigorin against Kramnik in London 2010?) but he largely abandoned that practice in the last few years. Another thing I noticed is that he started making mistakes in technical positions – missing a win against Naiditsch at the Olympiad and Aronian in round 9 and allowing Vachier to escape with a draw in round 6. Until these two tournaments this was something unheard of, he was winning more drawn positions than the one he got against Vachier. He did, however, win a good technical game against Aronian with black, so things are not that terrible for him. Alekhine said that technique is nerves, so Carlsen probably needs to do some calming down before his match with Anand.
Of the rest of the field Topalov was a pleasant surprise. After starting with 0/2, with that horrible loss against Aronian in round 2 I expected him to collapse and he was on the verge of it – he was close to losing in round 3 against Nakamura! Luckily for him, Nakamura turned out to be in an even worse shape and Topalov went on to win the game – this obviously gave him a lot of positive energy and confidence and in spite of losing to Caruana again (due to a very strong novelty by the winner) he went on to beat Vachier and Nakamura in fine style. It’s obvious though that he stands no chance in the fight for the title (or for victory in tournaments of this kind), he’s way too unstable and this year’s Candidates clearly showed his weaknesses. He’s also noted this himself in recent interviews, but his play is always exciting and his openings always full with fresh ideas.
Aronian continues his freefall after the Candidates. I thought his +3 at the Olympiad got him out of the hole, but it happened to be just a happy interlude in an otherwise gloomy year. After the lucky win against Topalov in round 2 he lost 3 in a row, something so rare that I wonder if it’s not the first time that has happened to him. Another rare thing is seeing him below the 2800-mark – at the age of 31 (32 in October) Aronian enters a critical phase of his career – the young players (mainly Caruana, but don’t forget the likes of Giri, Rapport, Wei Yi…) are coming and his chances of a successful assault on the throne are diminishing. It has always been psychological with him, I just wonder why he hasn’t managed to resolve that issue by now.
Vachier finished on -2 and it was a mixed experience for him. He had his highs – beating Aronian, but he also had his lows – the white game against Caruana (14 Qa4, 15 g3), the evaluation mistake in the Najdorf against Topalov, the unlucky opening disaster in the black game against Caruana. Overall a useful experience for the Frenchman, one that he will try to build upon if he is to progress further up the ladder.
Nakamura finished on -4 and played badly. His Olympiad wasn’t great either and after the missed win against Topalov in round 2 his tournament went downhill. It’s curious how one game can send the players in totally opposite directions – Topalov went on to play well and finish 3rd, Nakamura went down and lost 3 more games. The worst of them was his black game with Carlsen, when he misplayed the opening and was losing on move 10. He could have lost one more game, if Caruana didn’t miss an easy win in round 9.
From my experience, there are four types of chessplayers:
1. those motivated by their problematic personal lives;
2. those depressed by their problematic personal lives;
3. those motivated by their calm and harmonious personal lives and
4. those whose calm and harmonious personal lives take away their competitive edge and make them mushy.
It’s known that Nakamura found his dolce vita in his private life in Naples, Italy. Judging from his latest results he seems to fall into category 4. And that is a problem.
Next up on the calendar is the European Club Cup in Bilbao, the Grand Prix events and the World Championship match in November. It will be an autumn to remember!