Monthly Archives: Sep 2015

World Cup 2015 – Quarter Finals

The Russian-speaking players dominated the quarter finals and will play each other in the semis (Giri was born in St. Petersburg, in case you were wondering).

The biggest surprise for me was the way Nakamura was eliminated. He played without a spark and tried his newly-acquired technical style in a must-win situation in the second game against Eljanov, but he didn’t even come close. Eljanov continues on the form of his life – he has 8 wins and 3 draws in the classical games with a solid 3000+ performance. His game 1 win against Nakamura was a technical masterpiece in the Catalan. His 20th move bears striking resemblance to the classic game Capablanca-Lilienthal, Moscow 1936:

35 Nb7!

Eljanov’s 20 Nb7 wasn’t as decisive, but when Nakamura didn’t react in the most precise way it became decisive:

In the second game Nakamura’s technical try was lacking punch and Eljanov was comfortably through. I am sure things would have been different if Nakamura hadn’t secured his place in the Candidates!

Another player who didn’t need a tie-break was the talkative Dutchman Giri. There were times when the Petroff was as common as the Berlin is today, such as the early 80s and the late 90s-early 00s. Thanks to Kramnik’s efforts it became deeply analysed and complex and thus abandoned in favour of the slower-paced Berlin. So I am sure Vachier was surprised when Giri opted for the Petroff in the first game, instead of his usual Berlin or Najdorf. White got nothing, as it normally happens in the Petroff, and the draw was agreed. The second game saw another surprise from Giri, who went for Grischuk’s recipe to avoid the Grunfeld:

That was the end of the road for the Frenchman and an extra free day for the Dutchman.

The other two matches went into overtime. I correctly predicted that Karjakin will overcome Mamedyarov and that is what happened. The local player missed his chance in the first game when he had an advantage but let it slip. I was shocked to read that going to the first game Karjakin was convinced he was playing white, only to find out he was black upon arrival. A really lucky escape for the Russian, who didn’t allow any chances in the 10’+10” tie-breaks after they drew the 2 games at 25’+10”.

I wrote that I wanted to see Wei Yi progress and he was very close. A good friend of mine suggested an idea that I think may well be true – the Chinese players suffer from an inferiority complex when playing the legends. Wei Yi won a topsy-turvy tie-break against Vovk earlier in the tournament and he was close to doing that against Svidler, after escaping a lot of lost positions. But in the second 10’+10” game, when he finally got an advantage (playing 1 b3) he messed up and lost. Wei Yi is still young, only 16, and this is his breakthrough, so even if the above idea is correct, he will probably get rid of it once he starts playing the elite on a regular basis.

There is a free day before the semi-finals, a well-deserved rest for the players. Svidler-Giri and Karjakin-Eljanov. In spite of the form of his life I still cannot see Eljanov in the Candidates, so I’d go with Karjakin. As for Svidler-Giri, it is actually Svidler or Kramnik as Giri will qualify either by entering the final, in which case Kramnik will qualify by rating, or by rating, in which case Svidler will qualify by entering the final. What can I say, I’d still give Kramnik one more chance…


World Cup 2015 – Round 4

The air is getting thinner in Baku and the pressure rises. The tournament reached a point where practically every player is a favourite to win.

Svidler eliminated Topalov by 1.5-0.5. An idea ran through my mind when I saw Topalov crashing out, after confidently marching up to this point – perhaps he heard that if he makes it to the final he will secure Kramnik’s participation in the Candidates on the basis of rating? Topalov lost the first game (although he had chances to save it) and had his chances to win in the second, but he didn’t take them. Svidler’s run reminds me of his magnificent victory in the World Cup in 2011, but let’s not jinx the man.

Another player to confidently go through after 2 games was Nakamura who finally put Adams out of the misery of playing non-stop way too many games in way too few days. Nakamura didn’t seem affected by the official complaint by Nepomniachtchi and the warning he received as a result of it. As a reminder, Nepo basically complained of Nakamura’s dirty play in the tie-breaks (touching pieces and not moving them, castling with two hands) and the arbiters’ lack of intervention. Nakamura’s win in the first game is another technical win that the American has been scoring lately.

Mamedyarov is the only local player left, but he’s on fire! The way he dispatched Caruana is enviable, but I cannot understand why Caruana goes for these closed structures when they don’t seem to be in accordance with his style? This year in closed structures he lost to Aronian and Grischuk in the same line of the QGD in Saint Louis and he was losing to Meier in Dortmund (but luckily won). Caruana failed to make the maximum of his good preparation in the second game and he’s on his way home now.

Andreikin followed his strategy from the last World Cup – beat them in the tie-breaks. He made two short draws against Karjakin in the classical games, but if in the previous round it was him who took revenge this time it was his opponent who took revenge – Andreikin beat Karjakin in the tie-breaks in Tromso in 2013, but this time it was the other way round. In fact Andreikin could have easily won, had he not missed his chance in the first rapid game:

In the second game Karjakin didn’t give him any more chances.

Giri beat Wojtaszek after the latter missed his chance to level the score in the second game. In the duel of the Chinese it was the younger, Wei Yi, who emerged victorious, and his next match against Svidler should be a real test of character for him.

So the quarter-finals look like this: Svidler-Wei Yi (I’d like to see the Chinese advance), Giri-Vachier (a curious match-up, my money would be on Giri), Karjakin-Mamedyarov (I’d go with Karjakin) and Eljanov-Nakamura (incospicuously Eljanov has gone so far, but I think Nakamura will send him home).


World Cup 2015 – Round 3

Round 3 saw the crashing out of the Russians – Grischuk and Kramnik go home.

In retrospect, perhaps that is how it should be. After drawing 6 games in a row against the fantastic Atabayev, it was obvious that Grischuk’s form and confidence were far from the desired optimum. Yet the way he lost the first game to Eljanov does make it even harder for him – he was completely winning. Perhaps not so easy to see in time-trouble, but still I’d expect him to nail it. And then after the turn of events he missed several ways to put up stiffer resistance:

The second game was a desperate attempt to win with black which backfired, something seen countless times. The win in this match made Eljanov The Man – he has 6/6, winning all his matches 2-0! Crashing out from the World Cup rounds off a very bad period in Grischuk’s career – after the Petrosian Memorial in November last year, when he started with 3/3 and 4.5/5 and confidently crossed 2800, he hasn’t had a decent result! His rating came down very quickly and instead of qualifying for the Candidates via rating, as was expected at the beginning of the year, now he’s out of the cycle. Too bad, as I always like how he plays, the ideas he demonstrates, but he is his worst enemy with the eternal time-troubles.

Kramnik beat Andreikin in the final of the last World Cup in 2013, but this year’s revenge seems sweeter for the latter. Making it to the final secures a place in the Candidates, so the loss in 2013 wasn’t that important for Andreikin, but this year’s loss means Kramnik is definitely out. I don’t know whether it’s time to write an obituary for Kramnik’s career, but this loss definitely will shape things up for him. He placed big importance on qualifying here and now that he cannot do it anymore, I don’t think he has a lot of incentive of playing on. Just like Kasparov when he couldn’t play for the highest title, Kramnik also finds it difficult to motivate himself with the “usual” tournaments. The way he went out is similar to Grischuk’s – to make things even more unbearable, Kramnik was winning in the first game of the tie-break after Andreikin blundered an exchange in 1 move:

The resilience and resistance shown by Andreikin in this game is worth all the respect! Not many people can put up that kind of resistance after blundering an exchange in 1 move, and to make it even more heroic, he was playing one of the best technical players of all time! The second rapid game saw Kramnik sacrifice a pawn for which he didn’t get compensation and Andreikin was merciless. This win sets up another Russian blockbuster match-up between Andreikin and Karjakin, who continued his Chinese extermination by eliminating Yu Yangyi by 1.5-0.5.

The Russians are the not the only ones who play between themselves – the Chinese Wei Yi, who beat Areshchenko, and Ding Liren, who beat Guseinov, play against each other. In view of Lu Shanglei’s loss to Topalov, there is one Chinese player guaranteed to go through and he will play against the winner between Topalov and Svidler.

The crazy match of the round was Nepomniachtchi-Nakamura. It went all the way in the tie-breaks. This crazy match started calmly with 4 draws, but then all hell broke loose – 5 decisive games in a row! First Nepo came back in the 10’+10” games, then Nakamura in the 5’+3”. The match also had a peculiar development – after scoring his first win it seemed Nakamura was going to win the match, as he got completely winning in the second game. But then he blundered in 1 move and lost! This seemed to affect him and he lost the first game of the next 2 games! And now it came to the fore Nakamura’s ability to come back, something I have written about him not so long ago – he pulled himself together and won a good game, thus forcing the Armageddon. Now the tendency was again in his favour and he won, playing black. After the game Nepomniachtchi on Twitter expressed his “disgust” at Nakamura, who apparently made a castle with two hands, but as usual these things are solved during the game, not after it. If you are unhappy with something you react and complain immediately, because if you don’t then it gnaws at you and it prevents you from playing.

I must mention Giri’s impressive win against Leko. In a symmetrical Catalan position he very confidently outplayed Leko, a win that reminds me of his technical win against Topalov from the same structure. You can see that game in the comments and also the final part here. Is Giri the new Kramnik in the Catalan?

Round 4 is tomorrow, with Topalov-Svidler, Wei Yi-Ding Liren and Andreikin-Karjakin my favourites for interesting matches.


World Cup 2015 – Round 2

Round 2 in Baku saw most of the favourites go through. But their ways were different. And there were upsets.

There are too many games and matches to pay close attention to all, so I’ll write about those that made impression on me. Nakamura, for example, decided to draw quickly twice against Shankland and try his luck in the rapids. It is said that faster time controls favour the stronger player, but I’ve always suspected these “strategies” when you decide not to play. It just goes against the spirit of the game. But it did work for Nakamura who won the rapid 1.5-0.5.

For me the most striking episode in this round happened outside the board – in Twittersphere. Karjakin made an amazing comeback in the classical part of the match against Onischuk, beating him with white in the second game. The impressive part was that he played a slow game, fearlessly transposing to an endgame with opposite-coloured bishops.

Enter Carlsen. From the height of his abode he found some time to pay attention to the “common folk” and shower them with a bit of courtesy. So he tweeted: “@SergeyKaryakin shows how to win ob demand! #class #chessworldcup”. I guess “ob” is a spelling mistake, instead of “on.” Probably Carlsen was typing too fast out of excitement. And then Karjakin made an appaling mistake, which showed why he will never take Carlsen’s place. He tweeted back and if only he stopped after “thank you” everything would have been fine. But he continued and spoilt everything: “@MagnusCarlsen thank you Magnus! Well, I used your idea from the game against Alekseev, but still was not very impressed with my position ;)”. The need to say anything more than “thank you” is a sign of a need to explain yourself, feeling of discomfort that needs to be eased by the words you say (or, in this case, type). And that is a sign of lower stature. Even the not-so-subtle hint at the low quality of Carlsen’s idea goes against him here – he tries to belittle Carlsen, but again it’s the need to explain, to offend (in this case), to do anything really, that is the mark of a lower status. People with a high status are comfortable just being themselves, never having to explain anything to anyone, saying “thank you” when receiving praise is enough for them. And when you feel like you need to explain yourself you never get to become king. To his merit, though, Karjakin managed to win the 10’+10” games 2-0 and go through.

Areshchenko eliminating Aronian is a fresh blow for the Armenian, who after his superb triumph in St. Louis seemed to have put the misery of the last year and a half behind him. Now he’s out of the next year’s Candidates, and out of the World Championship cycle for the first time since 2004. A good moment to think things over and a fresh start. Aronian can still do it, as shown in St. Louis, but whether he can do it on a constant basis like he used to is another question.

A crazy match Adams-Laznicka, with 6 decisive games in a row followed by 2 draws and an Armageddon, won by Adams. By contrast, Fressinet and Nepomniachtchi drew 7 in a row and the first win decided the match in favour of the Russian. And of course the Chinese march on in the tie-breaks – Yu Yangyi beat Lysyj and Wei Yi eliminated Vovk.

In Round 3 last year’s U20 World Champion Lu Shanglei plays Topalov. A sensation in sight? Of the other matches I’d single out last year’s World Cup final Kramnik-Andreikin, Leko-Giri, Karjakin-Yu Yangyi (perhaps time for a revenge for the Chinese after Karjakin beat them single-handedly 4-0 earlier in the year?). Great stuff coming.


World Cup 2015 – Round 1

The first round of the World Cup is behind us and already there are some fascinating stories happening in Baku.

The main shocker is of course the elimination of former winner Boris Gelfand against IM Henriquez Villagra, rated 2511. What is amazing is that Gelfand first missed a win in the first game of the match by offering a draw in a winning position!

Then he was technically winning in the first rapid game, playing black, but failed to win. In the second rapid game, playing white, he got a better position, but Henriquez defended well and then Gelfand seemed to lose his patience and lashed out with an incorrect sacrifice, which was calmly refuted and this sent the Chilean IM to the second round. An incredible result!

Another player who suffered a lot from failure to win winning positions was Grischuk, who made 6 draws in a row against IM Yusup Atabayev, rated 2428. What were the odds for that?! Only in the 5’+3” blitz did Grischuk finally prevail, winning 2-0. But how is it possible not to win any of these, playing a player more than 300 points less than you? At least one?!

Game 1 of the match, technical, bishops, surely a win?!
Game 3, again bishops and all, and missing 16 Re6!
Game 4, a clear exchange up!
Game 5, strategically winning basically, and missing 24…Bc3!
Game 6, pure domination, now 31 Rc1! is best

OK, embarassing, but at least Grischuk still won the match.

Peter Leko won his match against Goganov thanks to his win in the first game. But I was very surprised to see Leko, needing a draw, play the Najdorf with black! He was lucky not to lose though, as he made a mistake in the middlegame. But since Leko’s preparation is legendary, it is worth noting the way he played in one of the most topical lines:

Round 2 already sees some tough pairings, so things are heating up in Baku. Should be fun to watch!


World Cup 2015 Starts

The first round is still underway, but nothing unusual so far. The favourites mostly won while I’ll be interested to see if Giri wins the rook endgame 2 vs 1 on one wing against FM Ssegwanyi, rated 2357, from Uganda.

There have been a lot of predictions before the tournament, but until now it didn’t interest me much who might win it. But today while browsing the results I noticed that almost all the Chinese players won their games! Only two players lost – Zhou Jianchao against Andreikin and Ni Hua against Mareco, but they will be white tomorrow. So I would dare to predict a Chinese winner of the World Cup! After the Olympiad and the World Team Championship, perhaps it’s time for an individual triumph as well? Or are the Chinese primarily team winners? We shall see.

From what I managed to see, a few curiosities – Kramnik played the QGD to beat Deisy Cori, rated 2419, so I suppose we will never ever see him play something sharper; Grischuk couldn’t win with white against IM Atabayev (2428) and neither could Gelfand against IM Henriquez Villagra (2511). There were two Sveshnikov Sicilians, played by Yu Yangyi (who won against Iordachescu) and Grachev (who drew with Motylev) – is it time for a comeback?

On a sidenote, according to my statistics, I crossed the 100 000 views of my blog. Not bad, I hope I am providing good-quality content and the readers are happy with what they read.


Ivory Vikings

Recently I came to know of a new book that should interest people interested in chess and history. The name of the book:

I have only read a bit so far, and may write a review later on, but it does speak a lot of King Magnus. Many of them actually. Here’s a little excerpt that speaks ominously of our present chess king (note the age of death and the time on the throne):

If the Lewis chessmen were carved in the last decades of the twelfth century,
two of the kings on our chessboard are Sverrir, who reigned from
1184 to 1202, and the king he deposed, Magnus V, who was crowned in
1164. Magnus V was killed in battle after twenty years on the throne: He
was then twenty-eight. Sverrir was twenty-four when he first claimed the
crown. Both are fantastic characters who challenge our assumptions of
kingship in the Middle Ages and of the limits of the Norwegian realm.
Neither spent much time in the city of Trondheim. Neither provided the
stable, wealthy royal courts we assume an ivory-carver would seek out.
Nor had the kings who preceded them.

You can read and download a larger version of the excerpt here.

I have always been fascinated by mythology and history (I really enjoyed reading Beowulf at University) and the book seems interesting so far. There’s a lot of fighting and harsh punishments, thus relating closely to our beloved game. Will keep you posted how it goes!


Sinquefield Cup 2015 – Round 9

As expected, Aronian won the event without much hassle in the last round. Playing black against Topalov he chose his favourte Ragozin again and then transposed to the Vienna. He showed excellent preparation and all his moves were the first choices of the engine. Definitely the best way to secure a draw!

Aronian finished last a few months back in Norway and now he finished clear first. It is my firm belief that the world of difference was made by the joint training camp with Carlsen – just hanging out with the World Champion fills the player with confidence and positive energy. Aronian is a player who heavily depends on his levels of self-confidence in order to play well, so perhaps now we will see a resurrection of the former number 2.

Anand and Carlsen were both tired of the pains and tribulation of the tournament so they conveniently entered the Berlin endgame where if white knows what he’s doing he can easily make a draw. The only thing worth noting is Carlsen’s peculiar move order:

While Anand’s start of 0/2 couldn’t really allow for a good tournament, he should be fairly happy with drawing all the remaining games, where he was his usual composed self. Carlsen’s tournament was far more dramatic and it seems the horror of that Round 1 loss to Topalov in Norway still haunts him. We are not used to see Carlsen so unstable, unable to win winning positions (the game with Nakamura) and spoiling normal positions (Grischuk). Botvinnik said that he could only play chess when he was calm inside. Carlsen isn’t at the moment and that is his main problem. The moment he regains his inner tranquility the self confidence will come back and all will be well again… maybe! The difference is that the chasing pack realised that they can actually bite and hurt him. Now they have confidence that they can be successful against him and this will make things harder for Carlsen. It will be interesting to see how things develop from here – the situation reminds me of the mid-90s when Kasparov was experiencing some sort of a crisis, but he reinvented himself and raised his level to destroy the competition again. Carlsen needs to do the same.

The duel of the Americans Caruana-So appeared to be heading to a win for the former Italian. They played the double fianchetto line of the English Opening (again! Caruana went 1 Nf3 to avoid the Grunfeld. He’s experimenting lately with moves other than his favourite 1 e4, probably trying to broaden his repertoire and get experience in these positions before the Candidates next year), and what today is a common idea, playing g4, back in 2003 it was new and I was very surprised by it when GM Pogorelov played it against me (see the game in the comments). Caruana obtained an advantage with a new move but then missed two clear chances to capitalise on it. The draw ends a disappointing tournament for both players. And while So can still claim to be inexperienced in this company, Caruana will certainly feel something is amiss and that he should be performing on a more stable level. This is a must for him if he is to mount a serious challenge in next year’s Candidates.

The draw between Vachier and Giri was a correct one and probably made both players happy. They maintained their +1 scores and shared 2nd place in the tournament. But things are different for these two players – after the Grand Chess Tour it’s unclear whether Vachier will keep on getting invitations for these elite events, while the future is certain for Giri – he’s there to stay. Kasparov questioned Giri’s ambitions, as I also have in my previous posts, and that is something that will determine whether he will make that jump to the Top 2 or 3 or just remain a solid Top 10. Things have gone really smoothly in Giri’s career (being well-taken care of from the very start, not having to fight for anything except on the board) and I am not sure he has it in himself to fight for the highest honours as if they were a matter of life and death. That is the only way how you become the best.

The last game to finish was the duel of the blitz-players Nakamura and Grischuk. In a 3 Bb5+ Sicilian things were set for a protracted struggle. Grischuk had a comfortable position in the middlegame, the comp even gave him an advantage, but over-thinking and time-trouble spoiled it all again for him, only this time it was after the first time control. The game got out of control at one point, after being won for Nakamura, but Grischuk missed his chance and went down all the same. Nakamura ends the tournament on a high, sharing 2nd and certainly feels as if he had won it – yesterday’s draw against Carlsen and today’s win should give him enough positive emotions for quite some time. What impresses me is that he is now quite capable of bouncing back from setbacks (that horrible loss to Aronian in Round 7), something that he wasn’t capable of before. He hasn’t had a bad tournament since last year’s Sinquefield Cup, when he finished dead last and has apparently risen his level. As for Grischuk, he will surely be very happy to have beaten both Anand and Carlsen, but on the other hand he will be bitter because he ended the tournament with a loss. But his wins here (the third one was against Caruana) show that perhaps his form is improving and that is vital for him on the eve of the World Cup in Baku which starts in less than 10 days. Baku is his only chance to make it to the Candidates, and, personally, I’d love to see him there!

The World Cup in Baku is next on the program and with all the world playing (except for Carlsen and Anand) it should provide for a lot of excitement. The knock-out is not my favourite format, but as a spectator I won’t say I’m not going to enjoy it!


Sinquefield Cup 2015 – Round 8

Sometimes drawing a won game is much worse than losing. This is particularly true when out of form, when a well-played and deserved win is vital to regain some (or all) self-confidence and belief.

What Carlsen didn’t win against Nakamura is difficult to describe. Things seemed to go his way in the easiest possible manner, starting again with Nakamura’s bad opening preparation (for a second day in a row!) and the type of position they got – an endgame with an almost decisive advantage for white. And then, in his own words, “a moment of insanity” robbed him of all the good work he’d done. Chess is cruel, one bad move can ruin everything with no second chances allowed. This draw is even worse for Carlsen than yesterday’s loss – normally when you play well you think you deserve to win, and when you don’t you feel like something that was rightfully yours was taken away. And that hurts like hell. This game, however, can have a huge impact on Nakamura’s psychological disposition when playing Carlsen – this kind of unexpected luck can sometimes turn things around and the “customer” can start playing without the usual burden of inevitability.

Aronian didn’t try too hard against Anand, but I think the reason for that was Anand’s superb preparation. In an English (again! Aronian is really persistent with 1 c4 in spite of getting nothing all the time. No wonder his white win came after 1 d4 and his two other wins were with black.) Anand went for an old line that was considered bad ever since the games Kasparov played in the 80s. But, with all due respect, Stockfish & Co. are better analysts than Team Kasparov from the 80s and Anand proved it. The draw also suits Aronian perfectly, as he maintains his one-point lead going to the last round.

The other games didn’t see much excitement. Vachier improved upon his loss to Carlsen from Round 3 and drew comfortably against Grischuk. So and Topalov chose a line in the Nimzo where the position is blocked and exchanged the heavy pieces along the a- and b-files to draw easily (in spite of the 50 moves they played). Giri improved on his blitz game with Vachier from 2013 and obtained a slight edge against Caruana’s Grunfeld (so it is possible!) but then wavered and was forced to save himself, which he did.

In the last round we see the unambitious Topalov take on Aronian (a draw), Anand-Carlsen (they can’t wait for the the tournament to end!), Nakamura-Grischuk (they can’t stand each other), Caruana-So (another American duel) and Vachier-Giri (draw).