Monthly Archives: Jan 2015

The Sochi Equation

The following analysis of the match in Sochi was published in the latest Informator, number 122. I have been a regular contributor to the legendary publication for almost a year and I must say that I’m proud to be part of chess history – the first Informator was published in 1966 and for many decades it was the go-to source of top-quality information.

The Sochi Equation

When Anand finished his final press conference he received a long and warm applause from the crowd. The moment he descended from the podium where the press conferences were held looked like a scene from a film, the ageing hero accepted his defeat and left the stage.
This match was always going to be more about Anand than Carlsen. Carlsen is a known variable, always performing on an extremely high level with only small deviations from the norm. Carlsen wasn’t at his best in Sochi, but even sub-optimal Carlsen is the best player in the world. Anand was the unknown variable in the Sochi equation, fresh from the Siberian triumph, but with not yet fully healed Chennai wounds.
Anand was better prepared in Sochi, mainly with white, as he realised in Chennai that winning with white in the Berlin was impossible against Carlsen. So a switch to 1 d4 was the only move for him and it did provide him what he wanted – in all his white games, except for Game 8 when he ran into deep Carlsen preparation, he got great positions with pressure and initiative. But he only managed to win one of those, Game 3, when it was Carlsen who fell into his preparation. It turned out that to win against Carlsen the advantages he was getting out of the opening weren’t enough – the quality of Carlsen’s moves was sufficiently high that he didn’t really have a chance to win another game.
Both players had problems when playing black. Carlsen’s strategy was to “jump around” and surprise Anand with his constant changes, similar to Leko’s strategy against Kramnik in 2004. He started with the Grunfeld in Game 1, not a regular feature in his repertoire, and followed it up with a Queen’s Gambit Declined in Game 3, which he lost badly due to bad preparation. This was followed by a Queen’s Indian, the Tiviakov line, in Game 5 and another Queen’s Gambit Declined in Game 8 (a different line this time, introducing the rare 9…Re8 and drawing easily – his only successful preparation with black). Game 10 saw the return of the Grunfeld with the lately-neglected Kasparov favourite 9…Na6 in the Russian System.
Anand’s black strategy wasn’t very different from Chennai and this was a surprise. This time he mixed the Berlin with the Sicilian, but people usually don’t play the Sicilian to get passive positions like the one he got in Game 6 from the Kan Variation. Surely they analysed it deeply and considered it holdable, perhaps he thought that with more confidence he can draw the inferior endgame, but why go there in the first place?
Much was said about the fateful Game 6 and indeed it proved decisive. Winning with black from a very dubious-looking position is huge in match play and undoubtedly it would have turned the fortunes of the players.
The mutual blunder in Game 6 was a cruel sign for Anand. When Fate unequivocally wants to show us she has made up her mind, she gives us a chance and watches us squander it. Anand had a unique opportunity, to win with black and take the lead in the match. But he didn’t take it, he only saw it after missing it and the inner flagellation that followed was inevitable. His inner peace was disturbed, he could not continue defending calmly and lost the game easily.
The inner peace was getting more and more difficult to maintain as the match progressed. The culmination happened in Game 11. Anand showed wonderful preparation in the Berlin and after 23…b5 he found himself in an unusual situation – for the first time in the match he got the initiative with black. Positive changes are also stressful and he had to adjust to playing for a win with black. The pressure led to loss of clarity in his thinking and the natural desire to defuse the tension as soon as possible. Keeping the tension is one of the most difficult things to do, waiting for the most appropriate moment to convert the advantage. This requires strong nerves and self-control, but Anand’s were shattered by this point and he obviously lost the self-control when he played the hasty 27…Rb4 and 28…cb4, his final mistake in this match.
Anand looked peaceful at that last press conference, content with the knowledge that this time he didn’t let himself down, he showed to himself that even though he may not be the best anymore he can still play with the best on equal terms.

Carlsen’s future lies in another direction. He has set his sights upon Kasparov’s record of 7 successful World Championship matches and even though the competition is getting stronger that will only serve as an additional motivation for him. The next match in 2016 should bring him a new opponent and a new challenge for which he will undoubtedly be more than ready.

Wijk aan Zee 2015 – Round 13

As expected Carlsen won the tournament, but not without excitement! In my view, this Wijk was one of the most exciting in recent history – a lot of decisive games, winning streaks, incredible losses and, of course, Jobava.

I am not sure Carlsen was with a clear mind what he wanted of today’s game against Saric. He started off with a certain dose of caution, but then became aggressive, only to end up worse. His usual resilience kept him out of danger and assured the draw that was enough to win the tournament.

This was because Giri already drew with Wojtaszek before Carlsen’s game was over. Giri tried the Grunfeld against the Pole, but Wojtaszek was Anand’s second in Sochi and we know that Carlsen played the Grunfeld in Sochi, so he was prepared very well. Giri managed to improve upon Petrosian-Botvinnik, game 15 of their match in 1963, but was never in danger of winning. In any case, shared 2nd is a great result for the new Max Euwe (read below for more on this).

Hou Yifan and Ivanchuk played a normal Giuoco Piano that ended in a draw. Worth noting is Ivanchuk’s move in the following position:


Jobava and Radjabov played a KID that soon got into Benko Gambit territory. It was balanced throughout but in the endgame white suddenly got winning chances. What he did with them you can see here:

50 Nb2?!? Bb2 which should have been a draw. Why not 50 Nd2?

This peculiar new habit of giving away pieces cost Jobava quite some points in Wijk (just remember the game against Hou Yifan two days ago when he left the bishop en prise to a double-check). But luck finally decided to award the fearless Jobava – very soon Radjabov blundered and allowed Jobava to end the tournament with a win.

Aronian had a horrible end to a horrible tournament. With white in a KID against Ding Liren he was practically lost by move 17. But this meant a great result for the Chinese, shared second is no small feat!

So destroyed van Wely in a Benoni, as if pissed off after yesterday’s loss. The shared second is a fantastic result for So, establishing himself firmly as the number 1 American player (sorry, Nakamura) and a Top 10 player. It’s curious why van Wely committed a cardinal sin in the Benoni by relinquishing control over e5:

16…Ndf6? 17 Nd3 and after the imminent e5 black was busted

The topsy-turvy tournament Caruana had ended with a knock. He lost with white to Vachier in a 6 h3 Najdorf where black executed the typical …d5 pawn break, sacrificing a pawn for black-square blockade.

An excellent result for Vachier, shared second in Wijk is surely his greatest achievent so far.

The final standings show a change of guard in the world of chess. Leading the field we have the World Champion and after him we have a cohort of young and ambitious players, all belonging to the Carlsen generation – Giri, So, Ding Liren and Vachier. These will definitely try to challenge Carlsen’s supremacy, although I don’t see any of them developing such a domination over the competition like Carlsen. Of these four Giri and So look more promising to me, So as an American and younger than Carlsen, and Giri (also younger than Carlsen) as the next Euwe.

Euwe became a World Champion because he was the right man at the right time from a right country. As the country’s only serious hope he got the whole support and managed to play the match with Alekhine in a period when the latter was feeling over-confident and negligent of his physical shape. Giri already has the support of the country, an awful lot has already been invested in him and this will continue. But in order to repeat Euwe’s feat he will first have to qualify and then win the Candidates. Only then he will have to beat Carlsen, who although at times shows signs of over-confidence, does not seem very negligent of his physical shape, quite the contrary. (Another example of over-confidence and bad physical shape was the return match Tal-Botvinnik). But of these two factors, the over-confidence bug is the more dangerous one. This is the only chink in Carlsen’s armour at the moment.

Ivanchuk had a good result, he quickly switched to making draws after his inexplicable loss to So. His best times are in the past, but he can still play well and a good sign for him that he only had one bad moment in a long tournament like this one.

What to say about Aronian? His decline after last year’s Candidates reached the lowest point. Minus 2 in his favourite tournament which he won 4 times is definitely a moment where good thinking is required (which I’m sure he’s doing for quite some time now). These mediocre results brought him down to number 9 in the world and already he’s not considered a favourite in the upcoming World Championship cycle. I think this is his big chance, without the burden of being the favourite he can return to his trademark style and finally score big when it matters.

The similar problem of raised expectations is taking its toll on Caruana. After his 7/7 every result of his is measured against it and that only adds to the already existing pressure. His last round loss spoiled his tournament, otherwise it would have been acceptable. I said that he’s consistent, but he will definitely have to forget about the 7/7 and go back to playing his excellent chess.

The World Champion again showed why he’s number one without a shadow of a doubt. What I find most impressive is that he manages to win all these games and tournaments without being at his best. He had bad games, he was outplayed at times, he blundered and yet he won rather convincingly. This shows the potential of the current World Champion, he can still improve and avoid these setbacks, imagine where that would take him. Unless, of course, he gets overwhelmed by the over-confidence bug and decides he can do whatever he pleases on the chessboard, in which case he will have the fate of Alekhine against Euwe and no amount of body-building will save him.

Elite chess continues very soon in February in Baden-Baden (Carlsen, Caruana, Anand, Aronian, Adams, Bacrot, Naiditsch, Baramidze) and Zurich (Kramnik, Anand, Nakamura, Karjakin, Aronian and Caruana). Stay tuned!


Wijk aan Zee 2015 – Round 12

I’m the first to admit it when I’m wrong and I admit I was wrong about the derby of the round, Giri-So.

I expected an uneventful draw as a result of a good opening preparation by So, but it turned out to be a one-sided game. In spite of the 111 moves played it was one-way traffic all the time. The reason? So didn’t make it out of the opening. Which I find surprising, as he’s already established himself as one of the best-prepared players in the elite, hence my expectations yesterday. Of course, all credit to Giri, who managed to find a grey area in So’s repertoire.

This win moved Giri above So in sole second, leaving him with theoretical chances to win the tournament. It’s curious that this loss is So’s first since April!

The other decisive game of the day was Saric-Wojtaszek, when they both confused the move-orders. Saric went along the game Caruana-Gelfand, considered good for black (instead of some better alternatives) and then Wojtaszek most probably forgot how Gelfand played and made a bad move. Then Saric didn’t take advantage of it and they transposed back to normal theory.

The other games were drawn. A few words about them as it’s time for bed.

Carlsen had some problems drawing with Ding Liren, but eventually managed. It’s surprising that he couldn’t draw easily in the QGD, bearing in mind that he prepared it for Anand.

Radjabov couldn’t do anything against Hou Yifan in the Catalan. Too sterile play by Radjabov with white, it happens to him occassionally.

Vachier and Aronian played an interesting game when the Frenchman went berserk and sacrificed his queenside for attack. It sufficed for a draw.

Ivanchuk and Caruana played a tame Grunfeld line that became alive only to peter out to a draw.

And finally Jobava played a dull game and drew without problems against van Wely.

Tomorrow’s last round sees Carlsen play Saric and Wojtaszek play Giri. I’d still say Carlsen wins his game and the tournament.


Wijk aan Zee 2015 – Round 11

Wesley So is the man to follow. That’s what I wrote yesterday and today I can only repeat it.

So beat Saric in a strange game that shows the dangers of (too much) computer preparation. They played a really long computer variation and on move 20 Saric played a move not tested by the computers. He was immediately worse and 2 moves later he blundered a piece. This is also part of modern chess.

This win moves So to sole second, within striking range of the leader. Two more rounds, can he stage a sensation? Personally, I don’t think so, as he plays Giri with black tomorrow, and we know what that means (in case you don’t read until the end of this report).

Carlsen couldn’t beat the Frenchman with too many names (I only use his first surname, Vachier). In a Grunfeld Carlsen went for the main line with 7 Nf3 c5 8 Rb1 by a completely different move-order – 7 Be3 c5 8 Rc1. It seemed that he confused the Frenchman and he was a pawn up in the endgame. Surprisingly he didn’t make the most of it and black saved the draw. Carlsen will most probably win the tournament anyway, as he gets to play the groggy Saric in the last round, and he will certainly be out for a revenge for that loss at the Olympiad.

I probably wrote too many times in these Wijk reports “Jobava lost again” so I’d like to avoid writing it again. This time I’ll say that Hou Yifan beat Jobava and I’ll show how:

39…Kg8?? 40 Qe6+, picking up the Bd6 (39…Kf8 was OK for black)

In the Dutch duel, Giri beat van Wely. A curious decision by van Wely to play the Pirc in this tournament. He has always been a Sicilian player and now that Kasparov is long gone it seems that he has nobody to fear there. He did lose to Ivanchuk in round 3, but that was really a bad prep on his part, something that is rare to see by van Wely, and he came close to beating the complexly-named Frenchman in round 5. Giri followed the game Karjakin-Wang Hao and black introduced a new move 10…Ng4, the second choice of the engine. It is becoming increasingly popular to play the second (or third) choice of the engines, since everybody’s analysing the first. Another quirk of modern computer preparation. But you cannot bamboozle Giri with such primitive tricks! He was prepared like a mongoose at a cobra convention and he obtained an edge, which he went on to win in a long game.

Aronian and Ivanchuk usually play decisive games, but not this time. Aronian was pressing the whole game, but Ivanchuk saved the draw. It’s likely that Aronian will finish the tournament on a minus score, something that I cannot recall ever happening to him.

Ding Liren is the new young Radjabov. He plays only the KID against 1 d4 (the wiser Radjabov of today included other openings in his repertoire, like the QGD). Today he was under pressure against Wojtaszek, but kept on finding those annoying chances the KID offers to its faithful followers. When white should have held the perpetual, he seemed indecisive, as he could play without risk, but then he blundered in the endgame.

Caruana and Radjabov played the Romanishin line in the Nimzo that was made popular after Kasparov’s impressive wins in his matches with Karpov. Theory advanced considerably since those times and nowadays it’s considered that black has more than one way to be fine. Radjabov chose a rare sideline and obtained slightly worse endgame which he was able to hold. Again I have to express my amazement at Radjabov’s transformation (or, reprogramming, as Botvinnik would have put it) from a dynamic player to a player ready to sit patiently and defend slightly worse endgames.

Looking at the standings, tomorrow’s big game should be Giri-So, but I predict an easy draw. It even rhymes!


Wijk aan Zee 2015 – Round 10

So all good things come to an end and today we saw the end of Carlsen’s winning streak. I cannot say I was surprised, as I actually expected Ivanchuk to be super-solid today.

Ivanchuk played a theoretical draw in the Ragozin against Carlsen. Nothing much to be added here, giving both players extra rest before the rest day.

The game between Ding Liren and So was another theoretical draw. This one in the QGD, in a line that was introduced by Botvinnik in his game against Spassky in Leiden 1970. As Botvinnik writes, he discovered the move 8 h4 while sitting in the hotel foyer in Menorca in 1967 while outside a hurricane was raging. Botvinnik thought that taking on h4 was bad for black, but he (un)fortunately didn’t have access to Stockfish, Houdini or Komodo. Funnily enough, Ding and So followed an old game by Geller (from 1982), but thanks to the 3 amigos above So successfully improved on Geller’s play.

Vachier and Wojtaszek, another two players who know their theory played an English Opening and instead of following Aronian on move 11 (who played 11…e4 and 11…Nd7, but lost both times), black followed So, who played 11…h6. Wesley So is very fast becoming the person to follow. Obviously the Frenchman improved on move 13, but after black’s 13…Kd8 he didn’t have much. He sacrificed a pawn to open up the position with 14 d6, but black defended accurately. After many moves considered best by the comp and played by both sides, the game ended in a draw on move 32.

Saric and Giri played an exciting Taimanov Sicilian following Radjabov-Giri from round 6, which ended in a spectacular perpetual, until Giri deviated with 14…Rc8. Strangely enough, they played computer moves until move 23! This was the first moment Giri thought in this game, for some 12 minutes. That’s what I call deep and high-quality preparation – to analyse deeply and precisely in a completely unknown territory! From then on Saric’s play deteriorated significantly (it’s quite typical, when you play your prep you play at a 3100 level, when you start to play on your own, your level drops several hundred points) and Giri won rather easily.

Radjabov and Aronian played a theoretical draw in the Marshall Attack. I remember Aronian saying once that if he wanted to play for a draw he played the Marshall, while if he wanted to play for a win, he played the Berlin.

Jobava lost to Caruana. How many players are out there who would think of 7 g3 in this position?

7 g3!??!

Jobava’s ugly-looking setup didn’t quite manage to impress Caruana who went on to outplay him in classical style. But ugly-looking doesn’t necessarily mean bad, no matter what Hollywood tells us. Jobava fought and even though he was losing he managed to confuse Caruana. And just when he managed to escape with a draw, disaster struck:

Van Wely beat Hou Yifan by playing 1 e4, a move he normally never plays. The game was very interesting – they followed the recent game Naiditsch-Sutovsky until move 16, when instead of the best move (according to comps) and the one chosen by Naiditsch, van Wely played 16 c5. This was cunning: first, Hou never expected 1 e4 and this line; second, Hou played 3…g6 and 4…bc6 in December and won, so van Wely could prepare with a degree of certainty that Hou would repeat the line; third, she must have had some vague recollection of the Naiditsch-Sutovsky game and used it to navigate the complications; fourth, playing by analogy can be very dangerous in tactical positions. And that is what happened, Hou copied Sutovsky’s recipe, but it didn’t work due to tactical reasons. A very good psychological preparation by van Wely!

Tomorrow’s a rest day and then the final 3 rounds will be played. Who will finish second?


Wijk aan Zee 2015 – Round 9

Carlsen makes it 6/6 and the tournament winner is already determined, 4 round before the end. I don’t think anyone can muster up enough points to challenge the World Champion, even more so, he may be tempted to improve his (and Kasparov’s) record of 10/13.

Today’s game against Radjabov followed along the second game of the match with Anand in Sochi (with a slight difference in the move-order) and it was Radjabov who deviated first. Like in the game with Anand, white didn’t have much from the opening, just a playable position. But perhaps that can be considered an advantage for Carlsen, as that’s what he strives for?! The game looks like smooth sailing for white, but even though this is deceptive, it still is an aesthetic pleasure to play through.

Giri beat Ding Liren in the Petrosian Variation in the KID. A very rare guest at top level until Kramnik resurrected it a month ago when he beat Nakamura with it in London. I have the impression Giri is a very good copycat, he plays everything Kramnik plays. But this time Giri went for the main line with 9 Bh4 (Kramnik went 9 Be3) and it seems to have caught black unprepared. After the unexpected and dubious exchange of the black-squared bishop for the knight on d2 black was much worse and even though it took a while (he could and should have won much faster) Giri won convincingly.

Wojtaszek and Ivanchuk played an odd Bogo-Indian with an uncharacteristic pawn structure. First they started repeating, then Ivanchuk declined the threefold repetition, then he ended up worse, offered a draw and Wojtaszek accepted. Tournament play has its own reasons for each player.

The duel of the theoreticians So and Vachier was fought in their favourite opening – the Grunfeld. They followed the game Aronian-Grischuk, first game of their Candidates match in Kazan 2011, until move 24 when Vachier deviated with 24…Rac8, a move suggested by Caruana in the comments to the Grischuk game. The position was already equal by then, black having full compensation for the pawn, besides, you don’t expect people like Vachier to go that deep without having it analysed until a draw. But then So made an uncharacteristic mistake and suddenly black had great chances.

I was surprised Caruana couldn’t beat Hou Yifan. He got a small, but stable advantage out of the Najdorf with 6 h3 and the fact that he managed to play it out to a worse position speaks volumes of his bad form. Before the time control things got out of hand and first black and then white had winning possibilities. All were missed and the game ended in perpetual check.

Aronian won his first game in the tournament against the Santa Claus of the tournament, the entertaining Jobava. Jobava is true to his style and playing philosophy, but perhaps sometimes shame should kick in? He’s a much better player than the score he has shows, being stubborn when things don’t go your way is just a recipe for a worse disaster.

Saric and van Wely played the longest game of the round. Another strange game by the players who showed very unusual bad play. First, Saric – how can such a strong player get from this position:

White should be technically winning here

to this position:

A dead draw

and then to this one:

Completely lost for white

It’s a mistery. But then it was van Wely’s turn to perform a miracle. In the above position, instead of 90…Kh3 with the idea of Rg2, g4-g3 etc. he went 90…Rg3?? and after 91 Ke4 the position was a dead draw again. Which is how the game ended.

The main question for tomorrow’s round is whether Ivanchuk will stop Carlsen’s streak? He is white, after all, but then again he lost without a fight with white against So…?!


Wijk aan Zee 2015 – Round 8

The shocking thing in today’s round was how Ivanchuk lost.

Playing white against So, he went for the line in the Anti-Marshall that Anand used to beat Aronian in the first round of last year’s Candidates. It may sound good, but in fact just after that game it was discovered that black had an absolutely amazing sacrifice which would have given him a devastating attack. This was widely known, even published in the the New In Chess magazine with analysis by Giri. I state my opinion in the comments to the game, as why this happened. This victory is So’s second tournament victory with black after 1 e4 e5, the first one being against Jobava a few rounds earlier.

Ding Liren won his second game in a row after losing to the Frenchman. Today he beat Saric, who didn’t react appropriately to Ding’s improvement on Tomashevsky-Vitiugov and was surely ground down. With this win Ding is shared second, an excellent result so far for the Chinese player, who has only one draw in the tournament (against Ivanchuk).

It can be said that the game Jobava-Carlsen was typical for both players. Jobava played well positionally (which he can do no less well than playing wild chess) while Carlsen was patient and hit the ball back, just like Nadal in tennis. It was a well-played game by both, until, typically again, Jobava over-extended himself and that was all Carlsen needed to notch up his 5th win in a row.

Hou Yifan repeated the line Harikrishna used against Aronian in last year’s Wijk, where black demonstrated a convincing way to equalise and practically shut down the whole line for white. Aronian followed his own recipe and equalised, but another sign of his bad form came when he sacrificed/blundered (choose as you wish) a pawn:

Vachier outprepared Giri. Now that’s a curious sentence. Both are known for their deep preparation, this time the Frenchman was more lucky in finding a blind spot in his opponent’s opening work. Perhaps yesterday’s marathon tired Giri who couldn’t find the correct moves over the board?

Van Wely lost to Caruana as a result of a one-move blunder. Too many blunders for the Dutchman who now stands on -4 while Caruana moves to +1. I expect Caruana to have a decent result here and getting decent results when out of form is a sign of a great player.

26 Nf2?? Bc4

Radjabov beat Wojtaszek, who seems to have run out of steam after yesterday’s loss to Jobava. Radjabov was better prepared in the 6 h3 Najdorf and won in 59 moves, never allowing black a chance. This win moves Radjabov to +1 while the Pole slips back to 50%.

Tomorrow is a free day and after that we have the duel of the theoreticians who share second place – So-Vachier. Perhaps an exciting Najdorf?


Wijk aan Zee 2015 – Round 7

The World Champion makes it 4/4 after his loss and is finally leading the tournament.

It was widely expected for Carlsen to beat Hou Yifan, but it took a lot of effort. This was mainly psychological – exactly because of the expectations of a win it seemed that Carlsen had to try very hard, in view of the equal position after the opening. Carlsen’s own words of his bad play are also a result of the hightened expectations prior to the game – he (and probably everybody else) expected to win easily, and that made it look hard. In fact, it was just another typical Carlsen game where he out-maneuvered his opponent from an equal position and deservedly won.

The first game to finish was the game Saric-Vachier. The game was a typical nervous breakdown of a player who is new to this elite company. Too much stress, too much tension, hard game after hard game, it takes a lot of games and practice with the elite so as to be able to play constantly on a very high level, without breakdowns like this one:

White’s last 31 Rd2?? (31 Qc1 draws) allowed 31…ab 32 Kb1 Qa2 mating.

No wonder great players of the past and present like Carlsen, Kasparov, Fischer, Karpov, Kramnik, Anand etc. can play on a very high level seemingly without effort – they entered the elite at a very early age and playing on such a high level comes naturally to them, the effort that is necessary to play on that level (the concentration, the deep calculation, the preparation) isn’t really an effort to them, just a normal way of everyday functioning.

Ding Liren and van Wely played a really strange game. In a seemingly equal position van Wely managed to push his passed pawn to b2 and obtain a big advantage. Then this happened:

Just as I got tired of writing “Jobava lost again”, Jobava won! As expected it was a wild affair and he was losing for some time, but Wojtaszek couldn’t navigate the complications and lost his way. Another example of a fluctuating level of play of non-elite players – Wojtaszek beat Carlsen and Caruana, but lost to Jobava. The final part of the game was full of mistakes by Wojtaszek:

So and Radjabov drew a correct QGD with 5 Bf4. I find it really curious to observe the transformation of Radjabov: from an aggressive KID, Jaenisch Gambit and Sveshnikov Sicilian player he evolved to a Berlin and QGD player (this process started with his match against Kramnik in Kazan 2011). I have always found this kind of turnaround in the playing style somewhat confusing – from an aggressive and counterattacking style moving to a solid and slowly-equalising style cannot be easy, as it confuses the instincts of the player. I noticed this with myself when I tried to play the Petroff some years ago, when my life-long Najdorf instincts led to some inappropriate reactions in perfectly normal and equal Petroff positions. Obviously these guys have all the time and resources in the world to make these kind of transformations successful, but in Radjabov’s case I think it was still too early (he’s 27) for this kind of reprogramming (the term Botvinnik introduced).

The game between Aronian and Caruana (world’s number 3 and 2) was a very complex struggle in the Rubinstein Nimzo-Indian. Usually they would have been placed somewhere at the top of the table, but with Aronian on -2 and Caruana on 50% this was an unusual situation. In his trademark style Aronian sacrificed a pawn for murky compensation and he found it. The comp suggests several improvements for black (who was a pawn up) but from a human perspective it looked like a good game by both sides and a well-played draw.

Giri and Ivanchuk should have ended many hours before they did. Ivanchuk turned out to be better prepared in the opening (a small miracle in itself, when Giri is one of the players), where Giri decided to use the same line Kramnik used to annihilate him in Qatar (the Semi-Slav with 5 g3). Ivanchuk managed to keep the pawn white sacrifices in this line and on move 22 he could have cemented his advantage:

22…Qc6! keeps everything under control

But he played 22…Rac8 instead and after 23 Bf1 white returned the pawn. It should have been a draw soon afterwards, but in a queen endgame Ivanchuk slackened and lost a pawn. They transposed to a 2 vs 1 on one wing and with further imprecise play Ivanchuk even got himself in a lost position. But the winning plan was difficult to find and in spite of trying Giri didn’t find it. The draw was agreed on move 102.

We finally have a familiar situation with Carlsen leading the tournament, together with Ivanchuk, who hasn’t had a good result for quite some time. I’m all for the veteran and I hope he manages to keep it up, even though it’s next to impossible to keep up with Carlsen once he starts winning his games.


Wijk aan Zee 2015 – Round 6

The World Champion makes it 3/3 and beats his principled rival Caruana with black. Two of those 3 wins have been with black. Sometimes it pays to play the Sicilian!

Yesterday I predicted that in view of his insecure play Caruana would opt for something more solid against Carlsen and indeed he did opt for solidity – instead of an Open Sicilian he went 3 Bb5. Carlsen’s reaction was a bit odd, as it seemed that he mixed up the move-order – instead of the usual 8…0-0 he went for 8…e5, allowing 9 Ne5. I’m still not sure whether this was a bluff, a very deep prep (unlikely, as my analysis below shows), or a genuine mix-up.

A very good game by Carlsen, who reminded us that he can also play sharp and exciting chess, bluff and attack when necessary and play the Sicilian as well! And speaking of the Sicilian, I think it was a very subtle psychological choice, to put extra pressure on Caruana by showing aggressive intentions from the start, in a situation when Caruana lost the previous day and probably wanted to play it safe.

Van Wely and Aronian drew from a Trompowsky. It’s funny how some players cannot play boring chess even when they want to!

It cannot get more boring that this, can it?

The final position

The difference in the diagrams speaks for the way the game went.

Jobava lost again, today against So, who pointed out that today’s win was his first tournament win when he has played 1…e5 against 1 e4! Jobava keeps repeating the same mistakes and it’s a pity we won’t be seeing him again in super-tournaments after a shameful result like this one in Wijk, as he’s truly a very exciting player to watch, provided he’s on good form. Today he played a rare idea in a well-known position in the Giuoco Piano and that’s the only positive thing that can be said about his play:

7 Bd5!?

Ivanchuk couldn’t beat Saric, who defended very well in a Slav. A good result for Saric and not so good for Ivanchuk, who must have wanted to increase his lead playing white against one of the outsiders.

Hou Yifan used a rare idea in the Fianchetto Dragon against Wojtaszek in order to achieve a safe position which was quickly equal and later drawn.

9 e5!?

Radjabov and Giri played a spectacular Sicilian with a double-rook sacrifice from Radjabov to force a perpetual. It would have been great if it didn’t smell of home-preparation.

Vachier and Ding Liren played a Caro Kann with the latter blitzing out moves that the computer didn’t approve of. It had its effect when Vachier played a weaker move and black got a good position. But then he started to play badly and eventually lost. A strange game, I have the impression Ding got scared by his early successes – yesterday he gave Ivanchuk a draw and today he played very nervously.

Tomorrow’s pairings see Carlsen play Hou Yifan with white. Will he make it 4/4?


Wijk aan Zee 2015 – Round 5

The last time Aronian beat Carlsen in a classical game was in 2009. Since then Carlsen won 5 games and today he made it 6.

There is a certain feel of despondency surrounding Aronian after the last two Candidates tournaments. After the last one he really started to play badly and even fell below 2800 and lost the second place in the world rankings. Today’s game was also a bleak affair for him, as Carlsen simply steamrolled him.

After the verbal altercations at their press conference in Tashkent, the duels between Giri and Jobava will have a special flair. Today’s game was marred by a bad blunder by Jobava, who still cannot find his stride in this tournament. Like I’ve said before, I think this is due to his over-optimism and insistence on originality while neglecting objectivity.

The leaders Ding Liren and Ivanchuk were the first to finish and it was surprising Ding Liren accepted a threefold repetition in the end – his position was safe and he could play on without any risk. Perhaps he just wanted to draw before the game and when he saw a chance didn’t hesitate to take it.

The triple-named Frenchman (Vachier) didn’t show anything against van Wely’s Scheveningen and was quickly worse. He was lucky he could simplify to a position where all the pawns were on the kingside and draw.

A second win in the Dutch for the Polish player and Anand’s second Wojtaszek. His first win in the Dutch was against world’s number 1 and today he beat world’s number 2, Caruana. It seems Caruana thought it a good idea to repeat an opening in which his opponent beat the World Champion a few days ago. Surely he had his reasons, but as the game went it was clear that black had zero chances to win and quite a lot of chances to suffer. Which he did. I have never understood this popularity of the Dutch, white has so many ways to combat it and most of these ways are good, and more importantly, very solid.

So and Hou Yifan played an exciting Ragozin where at first it seemed white was better, then black and then white again. Eventually it was drawn. Probably a disappointment for both, but more for So, who got his preparation in but couldn’t make it count. If So wants to establish himself firmly as a world champion candidate, he must score against lower rated opponents on a constant basis.

Saric lost against Radjabov in the Spanish with 4 d3, in a position which seemed rather simple he made an inaccuracy which let the initiative to black.

Instead of 17 cb ab 18 a4, Saric went 17 a4?! and after 17…bc it was easier to attack white’s weak pawns

After 5 rounds Ivanchuk still leads with 4/5 and in shared second we have Ding Liren and Wojtaszek. The sharks are on shared 4th – Carlsen and Caruana (who meet tomorrow) together with So and Giri. I don’t expect much of tomorrow’s derby – Caruana didn’t play well today, while Carlsen did, so I reckon he will play something solid and aim not to lose. Perhaps a Berlin endgame?

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