Monthly Archives: Sep 2014

Game Viewer and the Bishop Pair

I’ve been busy lately trying to find an appropriate game viewer for my blog. After the “negotiations” with Chessbase failed (their viewer as nice as it looks turned out to be buggy for me) I was looking at various others and on a suggestion of a friend, FM Riste Menkinoski, currently a coach in Bangkok, I turned to the options of the popular site and managed to do something.

So this below is an excerpt from a recent game of mine where I managed to play well and use the power of the bishop pair. It is also a test of the new viewer. Hope you like both!


The Art of Learning

Just before the start of the Bilbaos I finished reading the book The Art of Learning written by IM Joshua Waitzkin. If the name of the author doesn’t ring a bell, Waitzkin is a former chess celebrity (if such exist!) and the subject of the Hollywood film Searching for Bobby Fischer.I’ve actually met Joshua in 1990 during the World Championship Under 14 in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, we played tennis together. We also met 4 years later, in Szeged, Hungary, during the World Championship Under 18 and that was the last time I saw him.

Unable to withstand the pressure of celebrity lifestyle after the film came out, he left chess and went into Tai Chi Chuan. In the book he describes how he used the principles he knew from chess to become a World Champion in Tai Chi Push Hands.

It is a very interesting and thought-provoking book and one that gave me several ideas for my own further development. I have always considered chess as a means for personal growth because it gives me very precise feedback of my thought processes and the (inevitable) mistakes that are hidden there. “…chess became a form of psychoanalysis,” “[I] was discovering myself through chess”.

By unearthing these mistakes in my thinking I improve the quality of my thought process and this leads to higher quality of my moves and better results. This process of discovering and avoiding mistakes is general and can be applied to real life and here Waitzkin’s book comes to the fore. He formulates general principles and only uses chess and Tai Chi as examples to illustrate them.

I’ll touch upon several ideas from the book. One of them is the entity vs. incremental approaches with the conclusion (backed by scientific evidence) that the incremental approach is essential to continuous growth. To clarify, fixed entity approach means that the person is fixed in his/her understanding of their abilities (resulting in statements like “I’m smart”, “I’m dumb”) while the incremental approach is process-based (“if I work hard I can do this”) and mastery oriented. The people with the latter mental set-up react well to challenges and are open to constant learning.

Waitzkin discovered his “soft-zone”, the performance state he needs to be in in order to perform at his best and the book is designed to show the reader that he, too, can learn how to enter this zone. He describes how to build mental resilience and how to avoid the downward spiral of mistakes following one another.

He introduces several syntagms that were new to me, but whose concepts I recognised, like numbers leaving numbers (internalisation of technical information until it feels like natural intelligence), investment in loss (how by losing you become accustomed to stay relaxed under pressure), making smaller circles (depth over breadth, or condensing the feeling of what is right), seeing things in slow motion (when the unconscious takes care of most of the information the conscious can pay attention to the few small details and time seems to slow down).

Another idea that rang a bell was the chunking and the creation of carved neural pathways, something I read about in another great book, The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle and his discovery of the importance of myelin. Basically both authors talk about the same – when certain actions are drilled in so much, the brain creates super-fast connection inside (thanks to the myelin, which is reponsible for the transmission of the impulses) and they become our second nature.

Waitzkin also had contact with elite sport and performance psychologists and during the sessions they discovered that the quality of the thought process was higher when preceeded by a period of relaxation. This reminded me of Botvinnik’s pre-game routine when he would lie down and relax – the old man was intuitively onto something!

Another discovery he made, closely related to the one above, was the importance of recovery. The routine use of recovery periods – being able to relax in brief moments of inactivity – dramatically improved his performances. In chess this can be done during the game (relaxing when the opponent thinks) but also between the games during a tournament. While reading this I remembered that Fischer had this peculiar habit of napping in a middle of a conversation or whenever he felt like it. Kasparov also naps several times a day. And children are also very much in tune with their natural needs and often they can just lie down for a few moments before continuing their play (as observed when playing with my cousins). A related idea I had was the one of polyphasic sleep, but that’s an altogether different topic.

The book also gives advice how to build your trigger and achieve your peak state. First you should define a serene activity that you do in your life and then create a routine to reach it, internalise it and condense it.

The essence of the book can be summed up with the following quote: “Once you know what goodfeels like, you can zero in on it, search it out regardless of the pursuit.”

I really enjoyed reading the book (I read it in two days) because I’m always happy when I can gather ideas that inspire me. This book did just that.

The Bilbaos 2014 – Final Round

Heh, so Anand had to botch it, didn’t he? This has happened to him in the past, twice losing to Wang Hao in the last round: in Wijk 2013, spoiling somewhat a good tournament, and again in Sandnes 2013 throwing him back to only +1. Having already won the tournament he was under pressure right from the opening against Aronian in yet another Ragozin. Incidentally, I’ve analysed this line in depth some time ago and according to my analysis the following ideas are worth noting: on black’s 11th move 11…Qg6 is an interesting alternative; white had an option to play 13 Bd3; Anand’s 14…f5 is something I hadn’t analysed, my move was 14…Rfd8 and black gradually equalises. Anand’s computer is without a doubt much more powerful than mine so what he played is probably good enough and the comp does give some zeros around move 20, but with a weakened king this is probably one of those equal positions “that you like to play” (Anand) but only with white. Objectively though, black should have drawn this. But Anand losing this can also be considered a good warning sign not to get too confident. (And some time ago we were talking of him not being confident…)

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:

Draw agreed

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!


The Bilbaos 2014 – Penultimate Round

A peculiar thing happened today – in all the three tournaments (men’s ECC, women’s ECC and the Masters) the winner is already known one round before the end! Incredibly rare occurence in a 7-round Swiss event, the first one being having two elite tournaments at the same time in the same place.

Anand played it safe today against Ponomariov, another Ragozin, where they followed the game of Carlsen’s second Hammer against Mamedyarov (Anand is known for quickly picking up new lines, sometimes in a matter of days, like here), just three days earlier at the ECC – Ponomariov deviated with 11 Qc2 (instead of Mamedyarov’s 11 e4) but didn’t get much either. 
11 Qc2 Ponomariov, 11 e4 Mamedyarov
The comp says black could have tried for more later in the game, but I have the impression Anand wasn’t interested in squeezing out tiny advantages today, especially as with this draw he secured his victory in the tournament. Wonderful result for Anand that will further boost his confidence for the upcoming match.
Aronian played a novelty on move 11 (11 Bd2) against Vallejo’s Semi-Tarrasch with 5…cd4 (instead of 5…Nd5 which would have been the proper Semi-Tarrasch). 
11 Bd2, a new attempt
This line, made popular by Keres in the Zurich Candidates in 1953 got back into fashion again recently, but not as a sharp weapon (as used by Keres – he beat Geller and Stahlberg and drew with Najdorf in the mentioned tournament), but as a way to get to an inferior endgame and draw. Vallejo managed both, but it seems Aronian was a bit indecisive in the four-rook endgame that arose by force after his innovation.
The ECC brought a lot of action and a 5-1 victory for SOCAR in the decisive match for first place – they destroyed Malakhite, with only Grischuk (who was also lost in the endgame a piece down; earlier he could have drawn several times) and Lysyj managing a draw! Amazing performace by the impressive Azerbaijan juggernaut team, securing the final win with a round to spare – I don’t think this has happened before, particularly in a 7-round team Swiss event!
In the position below Mamedyarov’s last move 24…Rdf8 is a good positional exchange sacrifice based on white-square blockade (everybody’s mentioning Petrosian when it comes to positional exchange sacrifices, so I won’t). White (Karjakin) declined and tried to wrestle the white-square control from black, but that made it even worse for him because of another exchange sacrifice:
25 Bf4? Bf4! 26 Bf3 Nh2 27 Rh1 Nf3 28 gf4 Rf4
Black dominates and went on to win
Wang Hao-Bologan saw a spectacular king march reminiscent of the famous Short-Timman, Tilburg 1991, with the difference that black wasn’t completely paralysed:
29 Kg3, 30 Kh4, 31 Kh5
Great technical game was played by Durarbayli who beat Kamsky with white from this position:
To beat Kamsky from here is an incredible feat!
Worth mentioning is that Caruana won again, with black against GM Swinkels, rated 2493, and he introduced a very rare move in an otherwise popular position – in the position below the main move is 8…Bb7, with 8…Nh6 being played sporadically. Caruana’s 8…b4 is played even less, but it may introduce a new development of this line:
Usually the last rounds decide everything, but in Bilbao they will decide nothing. That leaves us with the hope that the players will not be burdened by the pressure of getting a result and will play interesting and creative games.

The Bilbaos 2014 – Round 4 and 5

Anand won a beautiful game against Vallejo’s QGA. Vallejo chose a somewhat inferior line, popular in the 90s (the important game Karpov-Milov, Biel 1997 damaged its reputation for the black player because it showed that black doesn’t really have an attack) and sporadically used by Tkachiev in the late 00s (he played it twice against Gelfand in blitz in 2008 and once against Ponomariov in 2009). Vallejo chose a plan of play in the centre, but white’s position was better prepared and in spite of the symmetrical structure black was in trouble because of the offside knight on g6 – just compare the position of the knights:

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 ( 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!


Bilbao ECC 2014 – Round 4

In the clash of the teams with maximum number of points the juggernaut of SOCAR beat last year’s winners Novy Bor with 4-2. A major step in the fight for final victory, as now they’re the only team with a 100% score. But it’s not over till it’s over and they still need to overcome the Italian Obiettivo with Caruana on board 1.

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:

24…Qd4! still making problems for white

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!


The Bilbaos 2014 – Round 3

The big fight I was expecting in the game Svidler-Caruana was a letdown – Caruana chose his trusted 8…b6 in the Fianchetto Grunfeld that he used to good effect to draw against Kramnik in Dortmund this year. The symbolic advantage white had meant nothing and Caruana professionally made an easy draw.

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?


The Bilbaos 2014 – Round 2

In the Masters Anand continues his winning ways – he won against Vallejo with black employing the Ragozin, something of a rare choice in his repertoire. Vallejo didn’t expect this and it seemed as if he messed up the opening (usually when black has played …h6 the line with 8 dc5 is considered good for him).

8 dc5?!

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 ( 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!


The Bilbaos Start

It is a very curious situation that one city should host two top-level tournaments at the same time! I cannot recall another example of this year’s Bilbao tournaments – the European Club Cup and the Chess Masters Final both start on the 14th and last until the 20th of September.

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.


Perfect Coincidence

Those are the words that GM Chuchelov used to describe Caruana’s performance in the Sinquefield Cup. Chuchelov is a long-time coach of Caruana and he could not have been more succinct.

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!

1 2