Monthly Archives: Jun 2015

Norway Chess 2015 – Round 9

The tournament ended as expected, Topalov winning it comfortably. Anand didn’t show much ambition and Topalov chose a safe drawing line in the Ragozin (already seen in Ivanchuk-Carlsen, Wijk 2015), thus ending the intrigue very early. An understandable decision by both – Anand didn’t want to ruin his tournament by risking and losing in the last round, while Topalov was happy to secure clear first.

Carlsen started the tournament with a shock and finished it with a shock. Just when it seemed that he can swim back to 50% he played atrociously and lost to his second Hammer. His bad opening showed his desire to get his opponent off the well-trodden paths with the hope to outplay him later on. But as Petrosian said, it is easier to win a game from an equal position than from a bad one. Carlsen’s burning desire to win didn’t go well with his bad play – when the desire and the quality of the moves are not in sync, the results are disappointing. A tough period for the World Champion, ending on a minus score is a record he’ll probably want to forget about.

Vachier and Grischuk followed the Ragozin from Vachier-Aronian in Round 1, only this time Grischuk refreshed his memory of the lines and went for the superior 11…Qf6. They followed an obscure online game until move 18, but by that time the position was equal and subsequent play didn’t change the verdict.

Caruana and Giri played the Open Spanish, a rare guest at this level (or at any level, for that matter – I can only remember GM Korneev who used it as his only weapon against 1 e4 in the 90s and 00s, but he only played opens). They followed a correspondence game until move 22 when Caruana deviated, but black was fine by that point. Caruana even got into some trouble, but Giri quickly let him off the hook, hence a draw. I was wrong about Caruana (and right about Nakamura) doing well in this tournament, perhaps a question of energy or oversaturation, but he will be back. His next tournament starts in a few days, in Dortmund, so we will see if he suffers from either.

Aronian’s shared last place is a new low for the former number 2. Today (another English Opening!) he didn’t manage to keep things under control against Nakamura and was quickly dispatched, being lost with white on move 20. It was a typical game when off form – Aronian is an ambitious player and went for an ambitious setup, but being ambitious when not in form (like Carlsen) always leads to disappointment. Taking his form in consideration perhaps he should have gone for something simpler, but it’s always easier to be wise after the fact (I know this from personal experience!) He then spent masses of time in order to keep Nakamura’s counterplay at bay, failed, and was quickly lost. A massive meltdown for Aronian, who played his last 11 moves a-tempo, he must have been disgusted with himself, not only in this game, but in the tournament as a whole.

Norway Chess ended with surprise winners – the oldest participants were the most convincing ones. I still think that this is rather an exception primarily because of Carlsen’s result. I expect the young cohorts to be back very soon, but before that happens, we should acknowledge one more time how strong Topalov and Anand are.


Norway Chess 2015 – Round 8

After the peaceful Round 7 today we got back to the usual level of decisive games. Three wins for white setting up the perfect showdown for the last round when the leader Topalov plays second-placed Anand in the game to decide the winner!

Out-of-form Carlsen beat out-of-form Aronian. If Carlsen beats Hammer tomorrow then he can at least say that he finished on a high note, but Aronian is a different story. His play is pretty horrible and he doesn’t seem to know how to resolve this problem. Take a look at the uncharacteristic mistakes he committed in today’s game:

Giri showed magnificent technique to beat Topalov. Topalov has life-long problems when facing the Catalan with black – first he suffered against Kramnik in 2006 then against Anand in 2010 (losing both matches). Giri is a pragmatic guy so he chose the Catalan and obtained exactly the right type of position against Topalov – small edge in a symmetrical position. The way he exploited this advantage is exemplary:

Anand beat Hammer in yet another English Opening in this tournament. It is curious that when playing Hammer with white everybody chose to play 1 c4 or 1 Nf3 (Caruana). And the score Hammer has against 1 c4 is three losses (Nakamura, Grischuk, Anand) and 1 draw (against Aronian). It is apparent that they thought it is in the English that they can hope to outplay him – probably a compliment on his preparation against 1 d4 and 1 e4 – after all he is Carlsen’s second. Anand won because he is the better player, the game showed distinct difference in class.

Grischuk and Caruana drew in the fianchetto Grunfeld, Grischuk choosing the popular line with 6 Qb3 and getting nothing out of it. Both preferred to play solid and the draw was a natural outcome.

Nakamura should be kicking himself for failing to beat the Frenchman (Vachier). He played very well until he was a clear pawn up in a technically winning position. Then he started to play way too fast, spending maximum 2 minutes on some moves and mere seconds on the others. Understandably, he let the win slip. This is uncharacteristic for the new pragmatic Nakamura, who enjoys squeezing out wins out of nothing – this should have been easy for him, perhaps he also thought so and played without the required attention.

The last round tomorrow sees the oldest participants playing for 1st place. In the last game of their match in 2010 Topalov was also white, but then he didn’t want a draw and lost. The big difference is that tomorrow he won’t mind drawing, and I have the feeling that Anand won’t mind either.


Norway Chess 2015 – Round 7

It had to happen, at least once, that all the games from the round are drawn. This of course favours the players leading the tournament.

Carlsen tried to shock Vachier by playing a very rare and very risky line. He probably succeeded, but the Frenchman kept his cool and found a repetition on move 14. A game notable only for Carlsen’s audacity in the opening.

Topalov decided to play it as dry as possible against Caruana and the latter didn’t seem to mind, chosing the most solid line against Topalov’s fianchetto in the Grunfeld. The game ended in the expected draw, even though there were a few moments of slight excitement. This draw only helps Topalov as it brings him closer to the finish line.

Aronian is traditionally an unpleasant opponent for Anand, but this time Anand got it spot on with the opening. In the English Opening they followed game 4 of the match in Seville between Kasparov and Karpov. The line was considered bad for black, based on that game (plus the later one Kasparov-Ivanchuk, 1988) but nowadays computers show no fear. White got nothing and the repetition followed shortly.

Another English Opening was seen in Nakamura-Grischuk. Ever since his match with Aronian in 2011, Grischuk has been very solid in the English, always choosing the Symmetrical line with either the Botvinnik setup with e5 or the Fischer line with e6, depending on the move orders. Nakamura forced him into the Botvinnik setup, but that was all he could boast. Black was comfortable throughout and the draw was the natural outcome.

Some days ago Hammer said he felt he could beat Giri. Giri undoubtedly saw Hammer as an easy point. Thus the game started 1 Nf3 g6, Giri allowing a transposition to the Pirc, something that he rarely plays. Hammer obliged and by move 14 he had a plesant edge in an endgame, as Giri must have cursed his choice. But Giri is no slouch, as I have said on several occasions, and confidently held the draw. This result probably made them very happy, as Hammer proudly said he was “creating chances” and Giri because he’s generally a happy guy.

Two more rounds to go and tomorrow’s derby is between the players on a minus score – Carlsen and Aronian.


Norway Chess 2015 – Round 6

I really like the French expression laissez-faire. The first time I read it was in Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise, a wonderful book with an atmosphere that captured my imagination during my studies.

But the characters in Scott Fitzgerald’s novel didn’t play chess and laissez-faire is not a suitable philosophy for it. We know that Vachier is French; however, not all that is French is good for chess. Today Anand showed that when left to do what he likes, he’s lethal. An easy game for the former World Champion and an excellent tournament so far for him – one more thing for him is to navigate his bete noire Aronian tomorrow with black.

Topalov won again and he probably thinks he’s in San Luis. Today he dispatched Grischuk, who even though probably surprised him with the 4 f3 in the Nimzo, still didn’t manage to get something out of the opening. He did manage to spend a lot of time though. The game was decided early on, when the white knights found themselves very confused.

A horrible game for Grischuk, who cannot seem to find his stride after confidently crossing 2800 some months ago.

Giri and Aronian drew a theoretical game in the Vienna, deeply analysed and well-rehearsed before the game by both (obviously not between themselves!). Take a look:

Caruana finds it difficult sometimes to beat the outsiders. In Shamkir he couldn’t beat Mamedov, in Baden-Baden he couldn’t beat Baramidze, in Wijk he couldn’t beat Hou Yifan and even lost to Wojtaszek. Today he couldn’t beat Hammer with white, even though he had his chances. It is difficult to know the reason for this, but he is lucky that he’s not playing in many tournaments where there are clear outsiders.

Carlsen tried his best for 95 moves but couldn’t beat Nakamura. The reason was the opening – the Lasker Variation in the QGD where even his legendary problem-causing style couldn’t do much against the confident Nakamura. Carlsen is shaken in this tournament, playing without his usual infinite self-confidence, while Nakamura has shown progress when it comes to his psychology. He is more composed and the qualification to the Candidates gave him the much-needed confirmation that he really is a World Championship candidate. Today, with such psychological distribution of the forces, Carlsen never stood a chance to achieve more than a draw.

The intrigue in the tournament in the remaning 3 rounds is not about the winner anymore. It is whether Carlsen will get to 50%. I cannot recall a World Champion finishing on a minus score during his reign, but it may be that I am forgetting something, in which case please use the comments to let me know.


Norway Chess 2015 – Round 5

The rest day did the players a lot of good. Well, at least to some of them, the ones that won today!

One player that really rides his luck is Topalov. In a very complex and demanding game with a lot of mistakes from both sides, the following easily drawn position was reached. And then Hammer did an over-the-board (!!!) pre-move and this is what happened:

I think the reason for this is Hammer’s over-confidence – he did say that he felt confident after last year’s baptism of fire in the same event, so this year he was playing faster and was more self-assured. He was probably so convinced that the game would end within minutes, and he was right, but not with the result he expected. Even for the most obvious moves Fischer was taking 20-30 seconds (as described in the book Russians vs Fischer by Plisetski and Voronkov) but Hammer probably didn’t read this book.

The other wins were also decided by huge blunders. Aronian beat Caruana when the latter, after successfully defending an unpleasant position with an IQP, misjudged the knight endgame:

Carlsen scored his first win and he has to thank Grischuk’s time management for that. Grischuk had no problems for most of the game, but then as he was getting short of time small problems on the board also started to appear. Then he simply didn’t have the time to solve them efficiently. Carlsen won in his trademark style, getting nothing out of the opening and then creating problems for his opponent in a position where others would agree to make a draw.

The other two games were correctly drawn. Vachier and Giri went down the well-known drawing lines of the Semi-Slav, known for ages and made popular after the match Anand-Gelfand, while Nakamura played an innocuous line in the Nimzo against Anand, known from the game Carlsen-Kramnik, Moscow 2012. Nakamura has evolved into a very pragmatic and dry player, often playing lines that offer nothing (or sometimes even drawing lines) and then tries to imitate Carlsen and pose problems to his opponents. Sometimes it works for him, like in the game with Caruana from Round 3, but sometimes it doesn’t, like today. Thanks to this approach his results and consistency improved considerably, so now he’s comfortably above 2800 on the rating list. It will be curious to see how far this approach takes him, as I am convinced that he will also use it in next year’s Candidates.

And speaking of Nakamura, tomorrow he’s black against Carlsen. Just as a reminder, their lifetime record stands at 11-0 in Carlsen’s favour. Should be interesting.


Norway Chess 2015 – Round 4

Well, who would have thought…? Not me guessing 1 e4 in Anand-Carlsen, but the course of the game and the final result! The game reminded me of Anand’s very smooth win against Carlsen in Linares in 2007, probably because of the similarities of the attack with f4-f5. I include this game in the comments so you can judge for yourselves.

It is quite obvious that no matter how strong Carlsen may be psychologically, he couldn’t really get over the unfortunate first round. In his own words, he is misjudging positions and blundering, and we know that Carlsen is a very precise player with impeccable positional understanding – the only explanation is nerves, loss of inner peace and self-confidence. The free day tomorrow is salt on his gaping wounds, so he has more to endure. Tough times for the World Champion.

Some people have a delicate sense of justice. When they feel that they have received something undeservedly, they subconsciously try to give it back, as if trying to excuse themselves. Topalov is not one of those people. In Elista in 2006 when he got that win by forfeit against Kramnik in game 5, he smiled and went on to win games 8 and 9, almost winning the match. In Stavanger he beat Carlsen, his bete noire, it doesn’t matter how, and now he’s flying high – today he beat Aronian in a good positional style. Aronian has only himself to blame for playing passively and listlessly and not putting up the stiffest resistance – he blundered on move 37. The Ragozin is a fine opening, but like with Fischer before him, it has mainly brought him trouble.

Grischuk beat Hammer by playing the English. The popularity of the opening is ever increasing! Grischuk even managed to spice things up by putting a knight on the rim as early as move 7. In the notes I give my thoughts on the effects the computers have on the ways of thinking of the modern GMs.

Giri and Nakamura drew a game where Giri tried to improve on the recent Shankland-Sevian game from Wijk, undoubtedly knowing that the improvement is only theoretical – with normal play black didn’t have problems achieving the draw.

Nowadays the elite players almost exclusively play the 6 h3 line against the Najdorf. Black has many good systems against it and the main reason for its popularity is that it is still less explored than the other sixth moves. It won’t be long before fashion changes again and another move 6 comes to the fore (but that probably won’t be 6 Rg1). Caruana tried 6 h3 against Vachier, but black got a good position and was never really in trouble, easily drawing the endgame with opposite-coloured bishops.

Tomorrow is a rest day and the second half promises to be even more exciting than the first!


Norway Chess 2015 – Round 3

When I read Giri’s words yesterday, saying that Carlsen will be furious and that he will take his chances, I immediately sensed fear. Giri is proud of his plus score against Carlsen, having beaten him with black in an odd Grunfeld back in 2011, but focusing too much on Carlsen shows that Giri is genuinely afraid of him. But fear helps some people – it concentrates the mind and the thought of a loss triggers the self-preservation instinct. Then they play the only moves to avoid defeat. (I know this from personal experience. In my junior years I had a rival who had worse results than me, who was very afraid when playing me, yet he always managed to beat me!) Giri seems to belong to that group.

The opening of the game confirmed my view, as Giri went for a solid set-up, not crossing the sixth rank, setting up the bunker and waiting for an assault. But then it seemed he lost his patience. Instead of keeping tight he transposed to a very bad Spanish with 16…e5 and was strategically lost. Carlsen was confidently moping up until he first missed a direct (if difficult to find) win, and then spoilt it all with a rash sacrifice. Another uncharacteristic performance by Carlsen, but also all credit to Giri, who fought very hard when pressed to the wall.

Topalov beat the Frenchman (Vachier) with black in the main line of the Meran (something we rarely see these days thanks to the popularity of 8…Bd6) after white miscalculated seriously on move 22. The game finished 6 moves later. Only the Frenchman himself can explain what happened to him.

The other games were drawn. Aronian couldn’t beat Hammer with white in the English. He’s complaining of his openings, but he didn’t play much recently, so he had quite some time to work on them. How things go for him show that he didn’t. It’s interesting to note that out of 15 games played so far, 1 c4 (or 1 Nf3 followed by 2 c4) has been played in 6 – it is a growing trend to play the English and try to avoid the heavy theory.

Nakamura was another player who adopted 1 Nf3 and 2 c4 today, against his recently inaugurated compatriot Caruana. Nakamura made some dodgy statements prior to the game, questioning Caruana’s decision to change federations and move from the Italian to the US federation. But the opening of the game didn’t really show any hostility – they reached a drawish looking position and then some maneuvering followed. It was all going toward a draw when something happened to Caruana and he commited strange mistakes in a rook endgame. A classical case of unprovoked (unless those words really touched him!) hara-kiri. Now the result between these two in the past 5 years stands at 5-1 to Nakamura (with many draws)

Anand and Grischuk went where not many have dared to venture in the years after the Anand-Gelfand match – the main line of the Sveshnikov Sicilian (everybody is a 3 Bb5 addict nowadays). This is a recent addition to Grischuk’s repertoire, but it seems he only uses it against Dominguez (beating him once and drawing once). Anand was prepared though and inserted the subtlety 17 h4 before advancing 18 b5.

Tomorrow we have the big game Anand-Carlsen. In Baden-Baden Carlsen kick-started his tournament by beating Anand with black with the Dutch Stonewall, while in Shamkir in April this year was close to losing after blundering badly in the Marshall. What to expect tomorrow? 1 e4 I think.


Norway Chess 2015 – Rounds 1&2

The Stavanger tournament sees the start of the so-called Grand Chess Tour, with the same 9 players playing each other three times this year (plus a local wild-card each time). The tournament got off to an incredulous start, quite unexpected for me.

The first unexpected thing were the openings chosen by Nakamura and Grischuk – they actually repeated the openings they chose the previous day in the blitz! Both their opponents were well-prepared, but the results were different.

I was surprised Nakamura said he was surprised Hammer was prepared – come on, you played the same b3 idea the previous day, the guy is a professional, what did you expect?!

I expect both Nakamura and Caruana to do well in this and the upcoming tournaments – they did a tremendous job at the Grand Prix, qualifying for the Candidates, so now they will play with gusto and renewed elan.

The Frenchman with the complicated name beat the Armenian with a straightforward name. As it turned out Aronian didn’t refresh his memory of the extremely complicated Ragozin line that happened in the game. And relying on your brain only is not an option for these guys anymore (at least in the openings) – Aronian messed up and was quckly lost, even though he played on for a long time.

Caruana introduced a very interesting novelty in the Ruy Lopez with d3, sacrificing a pawn for activity. Anand was careful and the game was quietly drawn.

6…bc6!? instead of the usual 6…dc6

Naturally, the shock of the day was Carlsen’s loss to Topalov. The last time this happened was in 2008, in a similarly named tournament, the Grand Slam Final in Bilbao. Since then Topalov has been one of Carlsen’s main customers. It all seemed that the tradition will be upheld as Carlsen managed to create something out of the nothing he got in the opening. For many hours he was pressing and even a player like Topalov could’t hold the balance – that should tell you something of Carlsen’s strength. And then unprofessionalism struck! You won’t hear this term used with anything that has to do with Carlsen, but I think not getting acquainted with the time control of the tournament you play in is in fact sheer unprofessionalism – failure of your manager to do that for you, on anyone else from your entourage, that’s unforgivable. In a winning position Carlsen lost on time, expecting additional time after move 60. Carlsen was late for the round, which is a very cool thing to do, Fischer was doing that all the time, Kasparov too, (and luckily there are no FIDE hidden cameras nor officials to end the games for zero tolerance) but as it happened the arbiter announced the new time control before the round. Sometimes it pays to be punctual. Instead of a well-deserved point Carlsen got a well-deserved zero.

That game must have still been on his mind today when he played Caruana. The position they reached on move 17 has been played in some computer games and Caruana criticized Carlsen’s 17…Rg8, which has also been played. The whole game reminded me of another Berlin Caruana won against Carlsen, last year in Shamkir, where it also appeared that he outplayed Carlsen with apparent ease.

Carlsen with 0/2 is a rare sight and great news for the tournament – with 7 rounds left he has no time to waste.

The other games were drawn. Worth noticing is Anand’s idea in the Reti against Giri, an idea Giri used against Kramnik in 2011. I also used the same idea in 2012 – in all the games black didn’t have any problems in the opening.

Tomorrow Carlsen plays Giri with white, the only player from the elite he still hasn’t managed to beat in a classical game – he even has a negative score against him! Giri will of course go for the bunkerest of the bunkers, will that save him from the raging Carlsen?


French Teams 2015 – Top 12 – Rounds 10 & 11

It was hectic the last few days so there was no time to reflect on what happened in the last 2 rounds.

As I wrote earlier, the tournament is demanding physically and mistakes due to fatigue were expected. So it was not a surprise for me to see three (!) 2700+ players lose in Round 10.

Naiditsch lost with white to Sebag, his 4th loss in the tournament, 3 of which were with white. A dismal -3 result for him, but as a consolation he won the French title with his team of Bischwiller.

Even more surprising was So’s loss with white against Fedorchuk. Fedorchuk is a tough player, winner of many open tournaments, but to beat So with black in 31 moves by mating him is quite a feat! So unexpectedly (but perhaps not so much, in view of the possible fatigue) broke down in 2 moves:

The third 2700+ victim was Navara. More strange stuff from the big guns, as he also committed an uncharacteristic blunder.

In Round 10 Grasse finally managed to win the second match, with a well-planned strategy the night before – we put our more solid players Llanes and Szabo on the upper boards, and our more successful players Michiels and Apicella on the lower boards. It paid off handsomely, as we drew on the upper boards and won on the lower.This was the only chance to keep us in contention, but not all things depended on us.

The last round was exciting only for the teams fighting to avoid relegation – Grasse, Metz and Vandoeuvre, with the latter two playing between themselves. For Grasse the ideal scenario was Metz to beat Vandoeuvre and victory over Evry.

We had the same strategy as in the previous round, the only difference being putting Szabo on 7, expecting him to play their female player IM Milliet. We had Michiels and Apicella in the middle, trying to win the match there, while avoiding losses elsewhere (with the exception of our last board, where we were heavily outrated). This was the first match where I served as a captain and it was a very interesting experience, as I tried to concentrate and feel every position and understand how the match was going. I also had one eye on the match Metz-Vandoeuvre.

It started well, with a draw on board 3 between GMs Relange and Llanes. We were black there, so it was a good start. The other games, for quite some time, were balanced. In the meantime Riazantsev of Metz blundered badly and lost to Solodovnichenko. While our match was balanced (but always having in mind that we will lose on board 8) Vandoeuvre was finishing the job themselves – Iordachescu lost to Donchenko on board 1 and Fiona Steil-Antoni (who was having a great tournament) beat Benmesbah (rated 100 points more than her) on 8. With the draw on board 4 Vandoeuvre needed only 1 more draw to secure a drawn match and avoid relegation.

Meanwhile in our match something completely unexpected happened. One of the arbiters approached and informed me that the game Moussard-Apicella is actually irregular – the white player had played 1 game more than the number of legally allowed games one player can play in one season for a club. Hence not only we win the game, but also the team loses one point, hence 2 points in our favour! But by that time things had gone badly for us – Dorfman lost a solid position to Fedorchuk (mostly due to fatigue, he also lost in the penultimate round) and the expected loss on board 8 was a matter of minutes. Szabo couldn’t do anything against Milliet and Michiels even though tried until the very end (his game was the last one to finish in the whole tournament!) he couldn’t beat GM Fargere. Eventually the match officially finished in a tie, 1-1 with 6 draws although we actually lost 2 games and won none! Not to feel altogether bad, Vandoeuvre made the necessary draw and secured their stay in the Top 12, thus making the result of our match irrelevant. Yet I cannot escape the feeling had the arbiters told us about the irregularity at the beginning of the match, things would have been different – a different match strategy was possible and an additional pressure on Vandoeuvre would have been apparent.

Truth be told, I think that we didn’t really deserve to save ourselves – we lost the direct match to Vandoeuvre and we missed a lot of opportunities. So next year back to Nationale 1 and a fight to win it and return to Top 12.

The final ceremony was well-organised, with the French national anthem played when the champions Bischwiller went on stage. The food was excellent, the wine was equisite and the French were at their best making yourself feel at home. For now it’s au revoir Top 12 and hope to see you again in 2017!


French Teams 2015 – Top 12 – Almost Over

Yesterday we expectedly lost to Clichy, so now we have to win our two remaining matches, but even that does not guarantee us escape from relegation.

The tournament is approaching its finish and the people are getting tired. It’s very rare today to play more than 9 rounds, so more of the following can be expected:

A shocking finish for Fiona, who is having a great tournament and undoubtedly helped her team remain in the Top 12 for another year.
Bischwiller is slowly but surely winning its matches and one more win will seal the title for them. A great result for their leader, Giri, who is on 7/9.
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