Monthly Archives: Apr 2015

Chess Legends

“We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out.” – Winston Churchill

Here are a few parallels that came to mind while watching the latest Kasparov-Short bludgeoning.

When Fischer returned to chess 20 years after his retirement in 1992 he played his “client” Spassky, who was rated among the Top 100 at the time (approximately). The result – public swooning for a Fischer return. Obviously Kasparov (who was probably jealous of  the record-breaking prize fund) was one of the loudest critics of the legends’ outdated and untheoretical rubbish openings, way of playing, and suggested Fischer should have picked someone his own size.

Kasparov picked Short 10 years after his retirement (and also a bit earlier, in another exhibition in 2011), a great “client” of his, whom he demolished in their World Championship match in 1993 and continued to stomp ever since. The result – oohs and aahs of the chess public begging for a Kasparov return.The openings – outdated and rubbish (Short even went for 1 e4 c5 2 Nc3 Nc6 3 Nge2, the move-order played almost all the time in the Fischer-Spassky rematch!). The way of playing – Short was beyond atrocious, as if serving the sole purpose to show how great Kasparov is even in retirement. Perhaps Kasparov should have picked someone his own size? But of course not, just like Fischer, Kasparov picked someone he knew inside out and risked very little.

At the press conference before the bludgeoning, the Grand Chess Tour was announced. The same 9 players (Carlsen, Caruana, Grischuk, Topalov, Anand, Aronian, Giri, Nakamura and Vachier) (+1 wild card for each tournament) will play in 3 already established tournaments (Norway Chess, Sinquefield Cup in St. Loius and London Classic) for an even higher prize find. As the saying goes, the rich are getting richer… I still think that having the same players play among themselves again and again is not the most interesting thing, but the elite has always been a closed circle. I will be curious to see how Grischuk fares so that is something to look forward to.

Gashimov Memorial 2015 – Round 9

It ended as expected – Carlsen won. Another magnificent tournament victory for Carlsen, the result 7/9 is almost a guaranteed win in an open tournament, while scoring it in a tournament of this level shows that a calm and focused Carlsen is in a league of his own.

Playing Mamedov with white, Carlsen went for the same tempo-losing line in the Slav that brought him a nice win against Nakamura one year ago at the same event. It did the trick again, but only after Mamedov blundered badly before the time control.

Note that the move 1 Nf3 is getting more and more popular – as I wrote in the comments to Caruana-Anand, anything Kramnik does in the opening is destinied to become popular!

The other game that was decisive for the podium was Caruana-Anand. After 1 Nf3 (what else!) d5 Anand went for the QGD set-up, instead of his preferred 2…g6, which he used to a good effect against Carlsen in Chennai in 2013. The Reti appeared on the board and Anand chose a line that was recently used by the Russian champion Lysyj (that guy knows what he’s doing in the openings). Later on Anand skillfully used his knights (a skill of his noted by Kramnik) to parry any danger.

Excellent showing by Anand, after this tournament he’s back to number two on the rating list and crossing 2800 again. In my Round 1 report I wrote that the game against Carlsen might haunt Anand – in the end it did turn out to be crucial for final victory! Caruana on the other hand can also be happy, as he turned a -1 to a +1 and finished shared 3rd (with So). After some underwhelming performances this should give him a confidence boost.

Mamedyarov and Adams drew from the Tartakower line in the QGD after white didn’t even try to pose problems.

The Frenchman (Vachier) got some nice preparation in against So’s Caro-Kann, but failed to capitalise on it as black defended well. He had some chances, but it was a tournament the Frenchman would prefer not to remember, as his play was rather plain. So finished shared 3rd with Caruana and this continues the string of positive results for him as he firmly establishes himself as a Top 10 player.

The torture of the day was Giri-Kramnik. I don’t know why Giri likes to play the Catalan against Mr Catalan himself, this is their fourth Catalan (plus he has a negative score)! Obviously you cannot hope to win in the Catalan against Kramnik, no matter how close you come. And Giri did come close (after being worse at some point) and it would have heaped immense misery on Kramnik had he managed to win – instead he heaped the same misery on himself, as not winning a long game after you’ve managed to squeeze it out of nothing is no less painful than losing a last-round game. As it turned out, a miserable end of a miserable tournament for both players, if only a bit less so for Kramnik.

So Shamkir ended to confirm what we already knew. Carlsen is the dominant force by far and no serious candidates are visible at the moment. But in our modern world things change very quickly, so a too-relaxed Carlsen coupled with a highly-motivated (take your pick) Caruana, So, Anand, Kramnik, Giri, Grischuk, even Nakamura, on a new level could provide a mouth-watering match next year.


Gashimov Memorial 2015 – Round 8

Three more white wins in Shamkir today. And, counting yesterday’s round as well, three exchange sacrifices by two former World Champions!

I really enjoy it when Anand is disproving me! Yesterday I wrote that he cannot outplay the younger generation from equal positions, but today he did just that against Mamedyarov. Anand is well-known to pick up modern ideas very quickly, and today he used the 7 Ne2 line in the Four Knights recently used by the Chinese prodigy Wei Yi (who beat Melkumyan with it just 3 days ago at the World Team Championship). He obtained a great position after another positional exchange sacrifice (he sacrificed an exchange yesteday against Adams) and even though he wasn’t precise he did maintain the pressure and the terrifying look of his central pawns. In time-trouble Mamedyarov succumbed:

The third exchange sacrifice was executed by the long-castled Kramnik. A smooth win for him – I suppose after three losses in a row you just don’t care anymore and play much better. Kramnik again chose the Reti and surprisingly enough got an advantage from it. The Frenchman (Vachier) was kind enough to be impatient and speed up his own demise.

The third win was achieved by Adams against Giri. Giri showed ambition (something he rarely does) by playing the Sicilian against Adams. Adams chose the quiet 6 g3 against the Najdorf and Giri opted for the Scheveningen with 6…e6. The game showed that Adams understands these positions much better than Giri – he massacred black’s kingside as the following position shows:

Mamedov drew Caruana in an interesting Spanish (the same Yates Variation that Mamedov used against Adams in Round 5) that ended with perpetual check. Like yesterday against Mamedyarov, everything seemed forced from one moment onwards. It has been a good tournament for Mamedov, who managed to hold his own against the elite, and had he not gone for his beloved Maroczy against So, he may well have had 50% score at this stage. Tomorrow’s game with Carlsen will be tough, but he can look forward to it after well-played 8 rounds, which showed that the 100-150 Elo difference between Mamedov and the rest is anything but convincing.

So and Carlsen also drew, Carlsen didn’t have problems in the English so he drew comfortably. Tomorrow he is white against Mamedov and even though a draw should suffice for clear first (it’s difficult to imagine Anand beating Caruana with black) I am sure he will try to win and end in style.


Gashimov Memorial 2015 – Round 7

No draw! That’s the answer to my question yesterday whether Carlsen-Kramnik would end in a draw. Instead we got a long castle by Kramnik, his first one ever.

Playing Carlsen is never easy, but playing him after two losses in a row, when the confidence is low, is as tough as it can get. To make things worse, Kramnik even lost the opening battle as he fell in some nice Carlsen preparation – not the usual sight when these two are playing – the usual sight is the reverse with Kramnik showing his superior preparation. It seemed as if Kramnik didn’t have a chance, but he did, he even saw it, but miscalculated. It’s easy to dismiss these losses to bad form, but I’m sure Kramnik knows better – he started the tournament quite well, playing good chess, winning a nice game against Adams and having no problems. “Bad form” is just a disguise for the public, deeper problems lie underneath. Kramnik needs to do what Botvinnik called “self-programming”. Botvinnik referred to this term as a change to one’s usual playing style, habits, repertoire and everthing else that is needed in order to accomodate the weakened calculational ability and stamina. Botvinnik also noted that very few players possess this ability to reprogram themselves, but I think that Kramnik is one of them. Whether he does that is another matter.

Today Anand did what I thought he could barely do anymore – he outplayed an elite player from an objectively equal position. But that elite player is Adams, a player of his generation and one that he knows all too well! (I still maintain that he cannot do that against the younger generation). This however doesn’t diminish Anand’s wonderful achievement, a great game and a sole second place is a great tournament for the former World Champion.

Caruana beat So in the Nimzo, a line that So probably wasn’t expecting, as his response wasn’t the best one. But the opening wasn’t to blame, it was So’s erroneous evaluation later on in the game that cost him the point. This is Caruana’s second win in a row and from -1 now he’s on +1. Should be a great confidence booster for him! So is also on +1, but this is his second loss and tomorrow he’s playing Carlsen with white.

I was surprised to see Mamedov go for the ultra-sharp Anti-Moscow Gambit against Mamedyarov. Mamedov tries to take it easy in the opening and even when he tried the Slav against Giri in Round 2 he went for the most solid lines. It’s unclear what he wanted as he went for a dubious line and had Mamedyarov been more precise on move 21, he would have regretted his choice.

The Frenchman (Vachier) and the Dutchman (Giri) played a correct Ragozin where white’s structural advantage was compensated with black’s activity. The draw wasn’t surprising at all. Both players are on -1 and both need to play Kramnik. They will be happy to draw with him as well.


Gashimov Memorial 2015 – Round 6

Kramnik lost again today, with white against Caruana. Kramnik still believes he can fight on the young guys’ turf, after all infinite confidence is the mark of World Champions. But it is becoming increasingly frequent that he fails to do so – similarly to Anand, he cannot seem to sustain longer games full of tension and his calculations are not as precise as before. In 2014 he lost 3 games at the Norway Chess (two in a row in the last two rounds, against Karjakin, from another favourable position, and Grischuk, trying to force a win when there wasn’t one), 2 games in Dortmund (against Meier, a disgraceful game, and in the last round to Ponomariov, from a drawn Berlin with 5 Re1), 2 games in a row at the Olympiad (against Kasimdzhanov and Vallejo – his first loss to him ever, after going va-banque for no reason). Today he blundered from a favourable position. Anand’s solution to the problem is extremely powerful opening preparation that either kills the game off (especially with black, more on this below) or gives him something to play for with white (unless he wants to draw with white, which he sometimes does, and succeeds without fail). Kramnik’s black preparation is indeed aimed to killing off the game, but with white his ambition shows and against the younger generation this tells – today’s game is proof that even from favourable positions, which are tense and demanding, he can sometimes blunder and lose.

The other games were drawn. Carlsen’s petite provocations when playing Giri never fail to evoke a smile on my face – 1…e6, tempting Giri to the French?! In Wijk this year he tried 1…g6. But Giri is a firm character – never succumbing to provocations! Today he stomped solidly to a draw without fail. He wasn’t distracted even by the favourable chance on move 13.

Incidentally, this “incidental” chance allowed by Carlsen (the normal move was of course 11…bc6) reminds me of another “incidental” chance he allowed Caruana in Wijk this year:

Even Carlsen’s second, P.H. Nielsen noted in his comments for New In Chess that this was wrong. Is Carlsen getting sloppy in the opening sometimes?
Anand is content to draw with black, no matter who he plays. He didn’t show an iota of ambition playing the tournament outsider Mamedov. The solid Caro-Kann, aimed to kill of the game, coupled with Mamedov’s even more solid line, led to the draw they both wanted.
The English player (Adams) won a pawn in the Symmetrical English against the Frenchman (Vachier) but the opposite-coloured bishops helped the latter to hold the draw without problems.
It seemed that So was getting the better of Mamedyarov in the Slav, but he missed his best chance on move 26:

So Carlsen keeps the lead and tomorrow is white against the wounded Kramnik. A draw?


Gashimov Memorial 2015 – Round 5

A great round today in Shamkir! Three decisive games, all won by white.

Anand won against the leader So in a way in which he usually wins lately – poweful opening preparation gave him an attacking position and when So couldn’t navigate the complications Anand achieved a winning endgame. This time (unlike in Round 1 against Carlsen) he won without problems. The game is noteworthy because Anand’s aggressive novelty 10 Ng5 invites irrational complications (the analysis tries to shed some light on these) – something Anand was prepared for while So wasn’t. In modern chess, the better prepared player almost always wins.

Carlsen won in his trademark style, just like a shot in the head from behind. Vachier never stood a chance when he forsook his strength (good theoretical preparation) and went in for original play (the game started 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 g3 b5). Carlsen simply plays better chess! The following sequence was cute, a nice pawn sacrifice in order to achieve white-square domination:

The final position is also worth a diagram:

Mate is inevitable

Mamedyarov beat Kramnik for the first time in his life. Kramnik’s choice of the Semi-Tarrasch reminds me of my own experiences with the defence. I always liked the simplified position with smooth development in the main line (after 5 cd Nd5 6 e4) but in practice I always struggled to contain white’s centre and kingside activity. The defence served me well on several important occasions, but I was never comfortable during the games. Kramnik started using the Semi-Tarrasch at the Candidates in London in 2013, famously to beat Aronian in Round 12, but his score when his opponents chose the main line (like today) is one draw and two losses (against the same Aronian one month after the Candidates at the Alekhine Memorial and today). He was doing fine for most of the game, but in time-trouble he missed his saving chance:

It is becoming apparent that Kramnik cannot withstand the tension as before and cannot expect to go undefeated in these tournaments. This means that he needs more wins, but they are also hard to come by. I am curious to see what he does at the World Cup, as it is his only chance to qualify for the Candidates – the Candidates without Kramnik would feel incomplete!

Mamedov drew Adams in the Yates Variation in the Spanish. Black (Adams) couldn’t hope for much once everything was exchanged in the centre.

Caruana should have beaten Giri, but the latter is becoming a tough nut to crack. In a very tactical position, with a lot of calculation involved, it was Caruana who couldn’t calculate the win (which was there). Calculation is also Caruana’s strength, but this example shows once again what I was writing when commenting on the game Anand-Giri from Round 3 – the modern chess defence is all about not allowing blunders and hanging in there as long as possible. This makes things very difficult for the attacker and even such a superb calculator as Caruana couldn’t crack Giri.

Tomorrow is a rest day and Round 6 sees the game Giri-Carlsen, Giri being the only player of the elite who has a positive score against Carlsen and the only player that Carlsen hasn’t managed to beat.


Gashimov Memorial 2015 – Round 4

Today’s round saw So emerge as the sole leader in Shamkir. I already wrote about Mamedov’s vulnerability when playing with black – in Round 2 he was smart to go for the Slav against Giri (instead of his usual KID) and he achieved a great position, but today he was too predictable with his usual Maroczy and went down unceremoniously. I was surprised by this, as I expected him to play something with a better reputation, especially as I think that Khalifman is there to help him (Khalifman is the coach of the Azerbaijan’s national team). The game is a good example of how a player with a higher class wins without too much fuss.

The remaining games were drawn. For the uninitiated the most interesting must have been Kramnik-Anand. I must disappoint them however, by pointing out that this was another non-game between the former World Champions. The game was similar to their game from the London Classic last year – a lot of theory and a draw in many moves. In London they went for the ultra-sharp Botvinnik Slav, here they went for the popular 5 g3 line in the Slav that Kramnik used to beat Giri in Qatar. This was a good chance for Anand to show his preparation, which he duly did, refuting white’s sacrificial play and obtaining a draw without having to think over the board. Impressive preparation and practically a rest day for both (Kramnik undoubtedly knew about all this as well).

Adams managed to hold Carlsen with white. I know how this sounds, but it’s true – immediately after the opening, a Steinitz Deferred Spanish, black was the one trying to play for more. Today Adams was more composed and didn’t blunder so a draw was a fair result. Carlsen said he was satisfied with how things were going, with 3/4 and 3 black games from those 4, he has everything to play for.

Giri and Mamedyarov drew from a quiet Slav while Vachier and Caruana from a quiet Grunfeld. The quiet Grunfeld, a bit of an oxymoron, arose after white went for the somewhat forgotten 5 Na4 in the opening.

Looks like fun at first sight, but after 5…e5 6 de Nc6 7 a3 Ne5 8 e4 Nb6 9. Qd8 Kd8 the quiet Grunfeld arose.

On a sidenote, at the World Team Championships, the Russian teams have not won a match (neither the women nor the men’s team) and the men’s team is dead last with two lost matches. A rare sight of the table indeed.


Gashimov Memorial 2015 – Round 3

The duel between Caruana and Carlsen, one that many believe should be the next World Championship match, is always one that captures the attention of the chess public. Today’s game didn’t disappoint either, if only for the decisive result.

It is good to see Carlsen trying to play with black even against his closest competitors (instead of just trying to neutralise them). After his success against Anand in Baden-Baden (the Grenke tournament) he again went for the Stonewall Dutch. It seems that this opening suits his game plan well – it is an opening where early simplifications are impossible, the centre is closed and a complex strategic battle lies ahead. In situations like this Carlsen feels at home, irrelevant of the colour of his pieces. This was apparent in today’s game as well, as already on move 18 he was the one pressing! The game was objectively equal though and one would expect Caruana to hold it rather easily. But in his own words, he “drifted” and then he was lost! Things happen so fast when Carlsen plays.

In my article for the Chess Informator 123 (Too Much of a Good Thing) I said that Anand finds it more and more difficult to outplay the world elite, unless he gets an overwhelming advantage out of the opening (but even that didn’t suffice against Carlsen in Round 1). Today was another example of that – he outplayed Giri in a Caro-Kann and obtained a position with the initiative and prospects of an attack, only to fail to overcome Giri’s resilient defence. The new generation, brought up with strong engines, defend in a very tactical way, not allowing any miscalculations, thus making the attacker’s task very difficult – it takes a lot of energy and inventiveness to overcome this kind of defence (if you want to try it out yourself, try playing out a winning position against an engine). However, I am pretty convinced that Anand of several years ago would have destroyed black no matter who and how he was playing. Two missed wins in 3 rounds seems too much, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Anand is punished for his missed chances.

So beat Adams in what was a complicated middlegame arising from the Carlsbad structure in the QGD. The player who is invited in the last moment is usually the winner or the tail ender. Adams was invited to Shamkir as a last-minute replacement for Radjabov, who had to withdraw due to personal reasons. As things stand, Adams will not be the winner of this tournament, but his opponent may well be. So is showing that he can play great chess even without writing self-motivational notes on various pieces of paper.

Mamedov and Kramnik drew in an expected way, with many games being drawn similarly in the 5 Re1 line in the Berlin. Kramnik certainly knew that this would happen once he played 1…e5. But he’s played that even against Debashis (2485) in Qatar, so he obviously doesn’t mind drawing with black.

Mamedyarov and Vachier drew in a Grunfeld that led to a position with a fixed centre. Black took over control of the c-file so he didn’t have problems in spite of the passive bishop on e6.

Tomorrow’s round brings us exciting pairings like Kramnik-Anand and Adams-Carlsen (Adams was Carlsen’s second in Sochi) while So has a chance to win again as he’s white against the outsider Mamedov (who is doing very well so far).


Gashimov Memorial 2015 – Round 2

Round 2 in Shamkir saw the players getting used to the atmosphere and playing at their usual level (except maybe for Mamedyarov, more on this below).

Kramnik played So for the first time in his life. He went for a quiet line again, opening with 1 Nf3, 2 g3, 3 Bg2 just like against Adams yesterday. So chose the move-order made popular by Anand in the first match against Carlsen, namely 1…d5 and 2…g6, intending Bg7 and e5. The game could have transposed to the Fianchetto Grunfeld had white played 6 c4, but again Kramnik avoided theory. I have the impression he’s saving some preparation for the World Cup and he’s playing with the “old baggage” (as Botvinnik used to say) from the last two years, when he introduced the Reti and the slow set-ups with white’s fianchetto. The game itself was correctly played and drawn, a good result for So, drawing with Kramnik with black, who also shows that he has no nerves – after the scandal at the US Championship he is 3.5/4, today’s game being the only draw.

Mamedyarov finds it difficult to play at home, especially against Carlsen. Last year he lost both games, today he lost badly again, practically immediately in the opening. Sometimes it’s difficult to explain why people play like that against Carlsen…

In the game Vachier-Anand black employed the rare 7…Bf5 in the Ragozin, a move played two months ago by his second Gajewski at the European Individual Championship. The game was balanced throughout and ended in a draw.

Adams and Caruana drew an uneventful Spanish with 4 d3, worth noting was the typical maneuver 9…c5 with Nd7-b8-c6-d4:

9…c5! with Nb8-c6-d4 to come

I wrote yesterday about Mamedov’s vulnerability when playing with black, as his usual choices of the Maroczy against 1 e4 and the KID against 1 d4 beg to be crushed in this company. He was wise to introduce some changes and today we saw him play the solid Slav against Giri. Giri didn’t get anything out of the opening and tried to squeeze water from stone. In this he only risked to be worse and was never even close to creating chances to win. Another good result for Mamedov (and not so good one for Giri).


Gashimov Memorial 2015 – Round 1

I will continue with part two of my experience with cheating after the Gashimov Memorial, which started today.

Another super-tournament with the world’s elite taking part, and this time I hope things will be very interesting, as the heroes had some time to rest before the tournament. Round 1 saw two decisive games, both won by white.

Kramnik played his usual Catalan against Adams and got his usual tiny and annoying edge. Adams usually knows how to deal with this kind of problems, but today he failed to do so. He committed several inaccuracies and one big mistake on move 30 and that was it. An uncharacteristic game for the level these guys are on.

So beat Giri in the duel of the players with the shortest names. The game was also short and it was amusing that after playing 1…g6 the Bf8 got to g7 on move 12 after going to b4-e7-d6-f8 and finally to g7, but then immediately to f6 to be exchanged. You shouldn’t move too many times with one piece in the opening, this probably sounds familiar from some old books. And the punishment was just like in the old books.

The rest of the games were drawn, but the main one of those was the duel of the the World Champion and his predecessor. Carlsen went for the Marshall, a surprising choice as he usually avoid heavy theory, but the surprise worked and he got a good position. And then he blundered. Not a common sight to see him do that. Anand was winning, but was it psychology or something else he failed to win. It could have been a dream start for Anand, but now this game may turn out to be the game that will haunt him until the end of the tournament. Again not a characteristic game for this level.

Mamedyarov was pressing Caruana in a very rare line in the Grunfeld, but couldn’t quite nail him. The game was the last to finish as it featured the R+B vs R endgame, which Caruana held comfortably.

Mamedov and Vachier drew an uneventful game in the 3 Bb5+ line in the Sicilian, a result that must please Mamedov, as he made his first half a point and slowly can make himself comfortable in the company of the elite. As the obvious outsider, it will be interesting how the other players will play against Mamedov and how much risk they will be willing to take against him. His repertoire as white is solid (Sicilians with Bb5, the Alapin and the Giuoco Piano being his typical choices), but with black he can be pressed as the KID and the Maroczy are not the most solid of openings. Tomorrow he is black against the theoretical Giri, so we will quickly find out.

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