Monthly Archives: Aug 2015

Sinquefield Cup 2015 – Round 7

It takes very little to change a fortune of a man. For Grischuk all it took was one good game.

In his own words, his started playing well 3 rounds ago, when he played Aronian. Even though he probably missed a win there, he must have felt good about that game. Then he beat Caruana and now he beat Carlsen, with black. A second first-timer for Grischuk (the first one was beating Anand), having never beaten Carlsen before. In a Najdorf Sicilian Carlsen tried to follow Li Ruifeng with the rare 9 Qd3, but Grischuk found a way to transpose to the normal lines. And there black had no problems, but this was known since the 90s, so I really don’t know what Carlsen was trying to get from the opening. Grischuk played solidly, for equality, and he got it. The game should have ended in a draw, but then Carlsen became careless, something that never happens to him. This cost him a pawn and then the game, even though he probably missed a way to save the game – but I don’t think he deserved to save the game, after playing like that before the time-control. The way Carlsen has played recently, he starts to feel as “one of the pack,” or as Botvinnik would have put it “a first among equals.” He needs to re-establish his superiority fast!

Another player who had a bad day was Nakamura. After demolishing So he played a very weak game against Aronian – wasting time in the opening, when he still should have been in his preparation, and then not putting up the stiffest resistance. A surprising drop of level by Nakamura. With this win Aronian is almost assured of winning the tournament!

The other games finished in a draw. Topalov and Giri were happy to shuffle around until move 30, each one with his own reasons (Topalov because he lost two in a row and Giri because he likes to draw with black). Caruana tried to improve on Vachier’s win against Adams from Biel, one month ago, but that lead to a closed, Spanish-like structure where black was in time to control both wings. Anand ran into some early trouble against So in the Spanish with 4 d3 (avoiding the Berlin), which is surprising, having in mind that he has prepared it and played is so extensively, but he managed to create first a mess and then a fortress (Anand is known for his ability to see and create fortresses from afar).

Two rounds to go and Aronian is the clear leader a point ahead of the pack consisting of Carlsen, Grischuk, Giri and Vachier. Two draws should nail it.


Sinquefield Cup 2015 – Round 6

As Kasparov once said, chess is the most brutal sport. What Nakamura did to So in the KID is a massacre, with a healthy dose of aggression and sadism. Add perhaps a touch of masochism on So’s part. Just enjoy the game:

Nakamura seems especially motivated when playing against his fellow Americans So (his first win ever against him) and Caruana, perhaps feeling they’re invading his turf. But American chess can only benefit from this kind of fierce rivalry and they are now at least on par with the other superteams like Russia, China, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Armenia and India.

The duel of the leaders, Aronian and Carlsen, ended in the carefully-played draw I predicted in the last report. Worth noting is that Aronian keeps playing 1 c4, avoiding at the same time both the Grunfeld and the opening advantage for white. The only time he played 1 d4 he demolished Caruana…

Giri put some pressure on Anand in the Slav but his advantage petered out when he needed to find a way how to make better use of his pair of bishops and passed d-pawn.

Vachier beat Topalov in the Berlin. A tricky guy this Frenchman, first he says he has “shitty” (his words) ideas against it (when actually he was referring to the Spanish with 4 d3, avoiding the Berlin) and then he goes on and enters the Berlin and beats Topalov in it! These guys should not be trusted! Topalov’s choice of the Berlin, instead of his usual Sicilian, can perhaps be attributed to his lack of energy, something he complained about before the rest day. What may have been confusing for Topalov was that in 1998 he obtained a great position against Svidler in a very similar position (without the move h3 and h6) and he underestimated the dangers (curiously enough, he also lost that game to Svidler). I also include that game in the comments.

Finally light at the end of the tunnel for Grischuk. He said he prepared 10 hours for his game against Caruana, and he was lucky Caruana decided to repeat the dubious (in my view) line in the QGD with 5 Bf4. Grischuk could demonstrate his preparation, and although objectively black was OK, the psychological pressure when playing against a well-prepared opponent who plays fast and the complexity of the position led to Caruana’s demise. What puzzled me, though, was that even though still in preparation Grischuk played moves that were not approved by the comp. That can mean several things: Grischuk’s hardware is much stronger than mine so at, let’s say, depth 45 white is OK (I very much doubt this version – my hardware is pretty good); Grischuk bluffed both in the game (knowing what he was risking) and in the comments about his prep (possible); Grischuk mixed things up and misplayed his prep (possible); Grischuk was lucky (possible). Grischuk can now look ahead with more optimism, while the loss was a cold shower for Caruana, coming immediately after his win in the previous round. A topsy-turvy showing for the American.


Sinquefield Cup 2015 – Round 5 – Li Ruifeng!

The Round 5 can easily be attributed to the player named Li Ruifeng. Never heard of the fellow, but to have two of your ideas (or at least rare lines that you have played) used in the same round of a supertournament is quite a feat!

One of the players to use Li’s idea was Aronian. In the well-known position of the Panov Attack in the Caro-Kann (they arrived at it via the English, another 1 c4 by Aronian to avoid Grischuk’s Grunfeld) he unleashed the rare 7 Bg5!? Grischuk reacted better than GM Roiz, who was beaten by Li in a masterpiece (you can see the game in the comments). After Aronian went a bit too far with his originality Grischuk could have punished him, but in his habitual time-trouble he allowed a drawing simplification.

Another player to use an idea of our hero Li was Anand. He played the rarely-played (but only in human games!) 9 Qd3 in the 6 Be2 Najdorf against Vachier. With 6 h3, 6 Be3 and 6 Bg5 all the rage, it is pleasant to see another line against the Najdorf. The Frenchman decided to simplify into an endgame, but these endgames tend to be more pleasant for white. And so it was, but I have the impression Anand could have been more precise – the way he played allowed “a stupid draw” (to quote the Frenchman, who must have been very happy with it!)

The other players probably still haven’t studied the games of Li, so they went their own ways. Topalov, for example, was following the way of Vachier, although the latter continued with his French and described his idea as “shitty.” What I found intriguing is that he didn’t use the expression “Excuse my French” when using the adjective. Without getting deep into the essence of Vachier’s idea, I’ll just state it did give Topalov an advantage, as it appears that Caruana didn’t know it. He was probably of the same opinion of the quality as the Frenchman. But as Topalov confessed, his felt he was tired and he missed the moment when his advantage was gone – in that moment he could have taken a draw by repetition. He didn’t take it and when the tide turned he couldn’t do anything against it. An important win for Caruana before the rest day!

The strangest game of the round was Nakamura-Giri. Nakamura was confidently blitzing out his preparation and then suddenly found himself in a bit of trouble. Not what you usually expect when you manage to get your prep in. (By the way, Nakamura improved on Yu Yangyi’s play, perhaps he’s related to Li Ruifeng?) Nakamura explained that he simply mixed up the rooks and played with the wrong one. After the mistake Giri had the initiative but I have the impression he wasn’t feeling comfortable with his king in the centre. Eventually Nakamura’s counterplay was enough for a draw.

The World Champion Carlsen won against So in a line of the English Attack in the Najdorf that was popular a long time ago. I found it amusing that they followed my 10-year (or so) analysis until move 18 and I was happy to find that my conclusions about the position were correct – white has an excellent compensation for the pawn. Carlsen won convincingly even though he missed faster wins. There are spots on the sun, but that doesn’t make it burns any less strongly.

After the rest day we have the duel of the leaders, the players who had a training camp together before the tournament – Carlsen and Aronian. My guess, a carefully-played draw.


Sinquefield Cup 2015 – Round 4

More exciting chess in Saint Louis in Round 4, one decisive game, but all the games brimming with quality and fight.

The winner of the day was Aronian who demolished So with black in a Nimzo-Indian. Another opening disaster for So, who fell victim to an idea by Leko. Sometimes I get the impression that on this level things look like a Big Brothe… and now it’s perhaps best to leave it to the readers which letter to use to finish the sentence, “l” or “r”. My point is that it seems that everybody has had relationships/relations/collaboration/something else, with everybody and you never know who’s going to hit whom and with whose idea. The game was a great attacking game by Aronian, who must be very pleased that finally he’s showing some good chess and results.

Another player who is struggling this year, but who still hasn’t found his stride, is Grischuk. He’s losing almost 40 rating points since the beginning of the year. He tried to catch Topalov in a Najdorf, but he suffered from what I know all too well – he didn’t remember his preparation precisely. And when that happens it’s difficult to control yourself not to try to remember. Grischuk failed to remember and practically forced a draw – not that he wanted to, but because he missed a simple move in the line that happened in the game. Trying to remember and trying to calculate almost never go well together.

The duels between the World Champion and the brave Giri are always more interesting before they start, mainly due to the latter’s twitterades. What happens in the games is almost always the same – at the first possible moment Giri tries to make a draw. And succeeds. Carlsen usually manages to surprise Giri in the opening, this time with the Sveshnikov Sicilian, but Giri is theoretically well-prepared so he quickly went for a harmless sideline and drew comfortably. At least this time he won’t boast about his wife knowing something that Carlsen doesn’t.

Caruana and Anand drew in the Moscow Variation in the Slav where things seemed balanced throughout. Anand complained of imprecisions creeping in in his calculations, so he should be satisfied with the result. I got the impression that Anand played too straight-forwardly for a draw, but luckily for him he didn’t get into troubles that can easily happen when playing for a draw in this manner.

The Frenchman (Vachier) and Nakamura drew a wild KID Saemisch where at one moment white could obtain a strong, possibly decisive attack. An exciting game, as the most KIDs are, that both players should be fine with. Draw, after all, and no matter what the Frenchman thinks, is an integral part of the game of chess and a well played game can often lead to a satisfying draw.


Sinquefield Cup 2015 – Round 3

Anand followed the advice of the (good) old Soviet school and made a draw after two losses. Actually the advice was to make a draw after the first loss, but better late than never. Topalov didn’t seem to mind, he played solid chess and the draw was rather uneventful.

Carlsen won a second game in a row against the big-mouthed Frenchman (Vachier). I’m sure he would have wanted a “stupid draw” against the World Champion, but those don’t come easy. He was close though, as Carlsen gave him some chances, the most obvious one being on move 25 when he could have got rid of the only white pawn on the queenside.

The other decisive game was So-Grischuk. It appeared that black won’t have problems drawing, but somehow he createad them himself. Plus the unavoidable time-trouble. A smooth game by So, who seemingly didn’t do much, but he played more precise than his opponent and took advantage of Grischuk’s mistakes.

The brave player to finally allow a Grunfeld was Nakamura in his game against Caruana. But it was black who introduced a novelty and got a great position. Perhaps they fear the Grunfeld for a reason? At one point black seemed to get the better chances, but in time-trouble Caruana decided to take the draw by transposing to a drawn endgame a pawn down. Like Anand, he remembered (or most probably was told by his coach and former Soviet player Chuchelov) the Soviet advice of drawing after losing.

Aronian and Giri drew in the English. More Grunfeld fear as Aronian went for 1 c4 and didn’t get much, except for a playable position, which is probably what he wanted in the first place. It seemed he was getting somewhere when he managed to double Giri’s f-pawns but then sent his rook to c4 and black consolidated. Analysis shows that it wasn’t easy to create something anyway.


Sinquefield Cup 2015 – Round 2

In the last New In Chess magazine there was an interview with Topalov after winning the Norway Chess. This is the quote that cleared it all up for me: “The worst that could happen to me here was last place. OK, that’s 15,000 dollars. I mean, is that bad?”

These are words of a man who has obtained fortune after having struggled at some point in his life – if the bad thing is getting more money, everything is really just awesome! And this gives him the freedom not to care, since he is secure and he can play with gusto and no pressure at all.

Topalov now is on 2/2 after beating Nakamura. Nakamura usually plays 1…e5 as response to Topalov’s 1 e4 even though he saved a draw in Norway a few months back and lost with it in the Zug Grand Prix in 2013 and in Saint Louis one year ago. He probably thinks it is the best way to curb Topalov’s aggression, but Topalov is not as one sided as people would like to think. After being aggressive and sacrificing a pawn for initiative he got the pawn back and transposed to a technically superior endgame which he went on to win without major problems. Excellent game for Topalov:

The drama of the day belonged to the two Cs – Caruana and Carlsen. The game was decided in extreme time-trouble when in an advantageous position Caruana just made the first move that came and lost immediately. With only 3 seconds left literally anything is possible, but it’s Caruana’s fault to allow himself to get so low on time. Not very good chess, but definitely great entertainment and excitement:

Obviously a relief for Carlsen, who doesn’t play so well, so any gift is more than welcome. And more misery for Caruana, who appears to have lost his stability, way too many losses lately for the usually solid American.

Grischuk beat Anand for the first time in his life (speaking of classical chess, of course). And he did it by repeating an opening from their blitz game in Norway, which started 1 d4 Nf6 2 Bf4. This certainly doesn’t look serious, does it? Anand wasn’t expecting it and he repeated the blitz game, which didn’t make much sense because certainly Grischuk had prepared an improvement (as he lost that blitz game). And soon enough Anand found himself in the same structure of the game 7 of his match against Gelfand (see the game in the comments). As back then, he lost again without much of a resistance. Bad play by Anand in the first two rounds, but he’s white against Topalov in Round 3, and usually he’s successful against him, so let’s see if his tournament turns around.

And you have to love the Frenchman (Vachier)! After his excellent win in Round 1, he proudly tweeted: “We are not here to make stupid draws!” Guess what he did in Round 2? Of course, a stupid draw against Aronian. Silence is golden, and not tweeting during tournament is priceless.

Giri and So drew an uneventful game. What was eventful was Giri’s cheeky tweet that even his wife knew of Topalov’s novelty 7…g5 from the game with Carlsen in Round 1. And as Karjakin correctly wondered, instead of inviting Aronian and similar folk, is Carlsen going to invite Guramishvili for his next training camp?


Sinquefield Cup 2015 – Round 1 – 5/5!

The second tournament of the Grand Chess Tour started with no less of a bang than the first one. All 5 games were decisive, quite a rare sight on this level.

Let’s start with the Carlsen. He lost to Topalov, with white, again. Topalov was Carlsen’s “customer” but two losses in a row with white against a customer speak volumes of one’s nerves. If the first loss was a bit unfortunate, then the second one was fully deserved. Instead of his usual water-squeezing Carlsen remembered his youth (!) and went for an irrational piece sacrifice. I am referring to his game with Topalov from Wijk 2012, where he also went berserk and sacrificed a lot of material, only that back then Topalov had more difficult problems to solve and failed to do so (you can see the game in the comments below). Today it was much easier for him. Strange chess from Carlsen, who by now should have recovered and regained his confidence and composure. He was complaining that he was blundering during the game, another bad sign, but sometimes these things go away once the player warms up. We will see if that will be the case with him.

The first game to finish was the game Aronian-Caruana. Just before the tournament Aronian was invited by Carlsen for a joint training camp and it seems it has done him a lot of good. He played confident chess and duly punished Caruana’s risky opening set-up. If Caruana wanted to play solid when choosing the QGD, then I don’t understand why he repeated the line from his game with Giri from Wijk this year, when it is obvious even to the untrained eye that black’s position is full of holes and weaknesses. Computers may be able to defend it, but once the human is forced to find the moves for himself, it becomes an impossible task. That is what happened in the game, which can serve as a scholarly example of how to exploit development advantage and a weak king.

If you still have the idea of Nakamura being a crazy katana-wielding samurai, you should banish that idea immediately. Nakamura has evolved and now he’s a dull, technical player. This change in style brought him stability and consistency and a steady 2800+ level. To play this kind of technical chess you need to be a superb calculator and we already know that Nakamura is one of those. So instead of trying to outplay his opponents in wild positions, where he can also go wrong and lose, he now plays dry and simple positions and there he tries to take advantage of their mistakes and his superior calculation skills. It is much less risky, as the worst that can happen to him is a draw. It is not really surprising though that Anand fell victim of this strategy – as Nakamura pointed out himself, at 45 Anand doesn’t have the same stamina (another important prerequisite for the good technical player) as his younger opponents. So sitting their hour after hour and solving all sorts of small problems is very unpleasant and eventually he succumbed. If this last sentence sounds like it was written before Anand’s match with Carlsen, that is another compliment for Nakamura!

It is difficult to write originally about Grischuk’s games. It’s always the same, thinking a lot, time-trouble, and then most probably a loss. The only difference in his game with Giri was that his position was also bad, as a result of a single mistake. From a Catalan the game transposed to the QID with 4 g3 and it is curious that Giri played this with black almost a year ago against Sargissian. Playing white this time Giri improved on Anand’s blitz game with Leko and won quickly.

So has a reputation of a well-prepared player, so it was surprising to see him lost with white in 15 moves against Vachier. I cannot see what he wanted to achieve in the opening, as the line he chose was known to be bad since the game Tatai-Karpov from 1977. Perhaps these young guys don’t check games older than themselves?


Carlsen KO

In view of the recently published opinion by World Champion Magnus Carlsen, where he suggests going back to the knock-out format for the World Championship cycle (you can read it in full here), I would like to share a few ideas that came to mind while reading it.

In a nutshell, I think it’s idiotic. To suggest something new I can understand, but to suggest something that has already been tried and condemned doesn’t make much sense. So probably there are deeper reasons behind his suggestion. One of the first ideas that came to mind was that this was actually clever. Just imagine if the KO was implemented: unless won by a Top-5 player, the respect for the new World Champion would be non-existent. Hence the world will not recognise it as such and would still consider Carlsen (who would still have the highest rating) as the best player in the world. So Carlsen will assure himself of never losing the title in a match. Additionally he will cement his legacy as the last of “The Legendary 16,” “The Great Champions,” “The True Giants” etc. Not bad, eh?

Another point is that if Carlsen is so much in favour of democratisation then why he doesn’t practice what he preaches and plays the World Cup? Of course he won’t, for understandable reasons. I will quiote him: “Kasparov told me many years ago not to play tournaments with amateur conditions, because then you will play amateur chess.” He was referring to the Olympiad, but a big KO event is not that much different. 

The World Championship match for me is the cherry on the top of elite chess. And I am eagerly awaiting it, even though it takes 2 years to get to it. I am very excited at the prospect of a great Candidates tournament and then I imagine what the winner of the Candidates and the Champion will prepare, what their strategies will be and so on. Carlsen proposes an annual knock-out as a World Championship, but that is a degradation of the highest title – the longer you wait for something, the rarer its occurrence, the higher its value. Somebody said that the World Champion in chess has the highest value in the eyes of the public of all the world champions in the world. Carlsen probably doesn’t feel it so he doesn’t mind the degradation. I wouldn’t want our beloved game and its king degraded. Young people usually do not care much about tradition, but chess is one of the rare sports which has managed to keep the process of finding out the best player more or less intact since 1886. Why meddle with something that has worked well for 129 years?

Carlsen is scheduled to play very soon, in St. Loius at the Sinquefield Cup, which starts on the 23rd of August. I’m looking forward to his great chess, I very much prefer it to his public statements.


It’s hot and I’m chilling out. Everyone’s on a vacation, but the summer circuit is in full swing, with opens in Spain and Greece being the most numerous. From the elite chess, things are slowly warming up with the Russian Superfinal as a prelude to the World Cup in Baku in September.

The British Championships ended with a victory for my team-mate and defending champion GM Jonathan “The Hawk” Hawkins, who beat our team-mate GM Keith Arkell in the last round to clinch the title. Our team Cheddleton is due to play in the European Club Cup in October, so it’s good to see the players in good form. Congrats to Jonathan, a successful defence of the title is more difficult than winning it for the first time!

Here’s some great opening preparation from Peter Svidler, who employed a weaker move to surprise his opponent – instead of following the engine’s first choice, which he already played before, he deviated with the engine’s second choice and that was all that was necessary to throw Motylev off balance – he went wrong immediately and had to play for a draw from that moment onwards! This just shows the importance of surprise in elite chess, where everybody seems to know everything.

I will end this post with the first verse of George Gershwin’s Summertime:

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy…

Hear the rest here.