Monthly Archives: Jan 2016

Wijk aan Zee 2016 – The Third Free Day

Only two rounds between the free days as the organisers decided to give the players time to recuperate after the trip to Utrecht for Round 10. In the last several years it has been fashionable to turn back the years in Wijk and imagine we’re witnessing the 1938 AVRO tournament. A chessplayer’s regime is a very subtle thing and even a smallest disturbance can throw a player off his rhythm and cause disbalance. And getting up earlier, travelling for an hour or so and loitering in the playing hall for an hour and a half before the game is definitely not your exemplary regime. I am quite sure Kasparov, known for his strict regime, would never have played in such a tournament.

In Round 9 Carlsen increased his lead by beating his former second and regular customer Adams. In some way their styles are similar, but Carlsen’s class being higher, Adams doesn’t really stand a chance and the horrible score he has against Carlsen (especially with black) clearly confirms the fact. Add to this his bad form and you have the following:

The game of the round, perhaps even the tournament, was Wei Yi’s first win. He brutalised Navara in a tour de force.

Fantastic performance by the young Chinese. They say that a long series of draws ends with a loss. Wei Yi had 8 draws before this one and only the best can keep their high level for long enough to strike when an opportunity arises. The others cannot and they lose a game. For me this stability is proof that the Chinese finally produced an elite player worthy of a shot at the title.

But then came the trip to Utrecht and Wei Yi suffered his first defeat. He got into some deep preparation by Caruana in the Open Spanish and his time-trouble didn’t help matters either. So the kid has still much to learn, but he’s on a good track.

The trip to Utrecht turned out to be quite a picnic for Adams. After suffering so much in Wijk aan Zee he was probably very happy to leave that place. Playing black he destroyed Candidate Karjakin in 31 moves (although white could have resigned earlier).

A very one-sided game that shows what can happen when you go berserk and only want to attack, attack, attack. Karjakin may have been lulled into over-confidence in view of Adams’ bad form and his excellent score against him (3.5-0.5), but their last game was in 2009 and Adams can still play chess even if out of form.

And of course, I have to mention the game everyone was expecting with trepidation. The mighty four-lettered Dutchman against the World Champion. Perhaps the opponents of a future World Championship match. The ferocious fighters who will define our era. Meh.

Carlsen was at least honest when he said he was ashamed how he played the opening and the game, but I don’t see why he should be ashamed of that. To play you need an opponent who also wants to play, and especially at this level if white wants to steer the game towards a draw, very little can be done to prevent it. And draw with black is usually OK when playing strong opponents. And Giri knows it, just that in the last sentence he forgets to insert the words “with black.”

Three more rounds to go in Wijk (all of them there, bad news for Adams!) and Carlsen leads by half a point ahead of Caruana. The winner will be one of these two. You can bet on that.


Wijk aan Zee 2016 – The Second Free Day

Sometimes I think I should start betting. Especially when I make correct predictions – I did write that Carlsen can start winning at any moment!

And so he did. What was striking though, was the character of all his victories. Namely, his opponents reeked of fear! I will try to show this in the comments to the games below.

Van Wely is a valiant guy. Carlsen used the Grunfeld to beat him last year, when van Wely bravely chose the Fianchetto Variation. This year he went for the solid system with Bf4.

But I suppose it’s fine for van Wely. I think in some 10 more years playing in Wijk he will learn.

Then came the “The Professor.” Usually a collected guy with profound understanding, he got a solid and fire-proof position out of the opening. Then he started thinking and gave Carlsen attacking chances in 2 moves. Trying to delve deep and “see all there is” (another result of nerves, not trusting intuition and trying to play it safe) he missed an uncommon exchange.

At the beginning of the tournament, while he was still making draws, Tomashevsky said that he was enjoying the tournament. This is a guarantee for failure. How can you enjoy a tournament when in order to be successful you have to fight for your life, be motivated, be full of energy and ready to destroy everybody? The only moment to enjoy a tournament is afterwards. Then you can enjoy the fruits of your hard work, but during a tournament it is war and there is no joy there. Remember what Spassky said before going to Reykjavik – he was going to a “celebration.” We all know how that went. I’m afraid Tomashevsky won’t improve his results if he enjoys it too much, although I’m sure he won’t be repeating the same words if asked again now, when he’s on -2.

And then came Eljanov. His fear came in the guise of a loss of objectivity. He did say afterwards that he was overestimating his position during the game. The extremes of loss of objectivity, overestimation and underestimation, strive either to mask the fear with bravery or augment it with attempts to be as certain as possible in your calculations. It is worth noting that Carlsen used the same strategy as in his game against Navara – he played a solid opening and then sharpened things with a move like …g5!

The three wins were followed by a tame draw with Karjakin and Carlsen found himself in the sole lead on the second free day in Wijk.

The other Dutchman, Giri, managed to win two games and is now on +1. It is admirable that he overcame the bad start (when he could have lost several times) to come to a plus score. Playing badly and not losing (and even sometimes winning) is a sign of world class. Maybe he does share more than the number of letters in their surnames with his great Dutch predecessor? (No, it’s not Timman!)

Caruana was going strongly and shared first with Carlsen until he messed up with Navara. But I am still not convinced – he failed to pose problems to Hou Yifan with white, he didn’t win a winning rook endgame against Giri and he misjudged the position against Navara. He is still wobbly in my mind.

If several years ago somebody predicted that in the 2016 edition of Wijk the biggest number of players would be from China, he would have got excellent odds. And the Chinese are doing great – Hou Yifan should have won more games, Wei Yi is calmly drawing everything, while Ding Liren was leading until he ran into Caruana’s preparation. They are definitely not worse than the rest so, a bit later perhaps than in the real world, the Chinese are here to stay.

Have you noticed that the Berlin featured in only one game in Wijk (in the very exciting game Adams-Eljanov, miraculously saved by Adams)? That doesn’t mean that its influence is gone though, as Nimzowitsch in My System said: the threat is stronger than its execution. Still the effect was the same, or worse, in my opinion, as the resulting positions were more sterile than in the Berlin!

I started this post talking about odds. What are the odds of the Berlin not featuring at all in the rest of the tournament? Whatever they may be, I’d bet against it.


Wijk aan Zee 2016 – The First Free Day

My last post ended with the question about the Chinese prodigy Wei Yi. The answer is that the kid is made of solid stuff.

Playing the World Champion for the first time with all the media pressure and build-up before that cannot possibly be easy. Perhaps they have special psychological training in China, not to notice these things. After all, the 16-year old doesn’t seem to be impressed by too many things.

Wei Yi (source: internet)

Carlsen chose the Marshall Attack, which is the modern way to play for a draw when not playing the Berlin. The Chinese was well-prepared and in fact put some pressure on Carlsen.

So Wei Yi didn’t have much problems in his first game against Carlsen. Quite a promising sign for him.

A spectacular attack was played by Navara against Giri. Just imagine what I would have written had Giri lost again!!

A lot of the talk so far was of the following position from the game Mamedyarov-Eljanov:

38 c5?? Qb1 0-1

How is it possible to blunder in such a way? Well, from experience I can say that anything is possible in a game of chess. Literally. This is just one of those rarest of cases where an elite player blunders a rook in one (Svidler’s recent blunder against Karjakin in the final of the World Cup in Baku was at least in a rapid game – see the details here). Losing instead of winning is the harshest punishment you can get in chess.

Naturally, when you receive such a gift you are elated. Needless to say Eljanov won in the next round as well! Who did he beat? Who else if not the Dutchman with the longest Wijk standing!

The challenger for the Women World Championship title (how absurd can it get?) Hou Yifan beat Navara in a beautiful game, I particularly liked the slow, improving moves like 29 f5 and 34 Nc1. Here you have the same mechanism but in reverse: Navara failed to win a won game against Giri and he was swiftly punished in the next round. Chess is unforgiving!

I would like to note that after the shock of the game against Eljanov, Mamedyarov easily drew with Carlsen with black. He has lost quite a few games lately against Carlsen, but he managed to steady his nerves and patiently play a solid position to a dull draw. Great result for him which should give him confidence for the rest of the event. Carlsen keeps drawing his games, but he can start winning at any moment.

The leader after 4 rounds is Caruana with 3/4. He has been somewhat in the shadow lately, but playing closed openings (not very successfully, if you ask me!) and not showing his preparation for the Candidates is not easy. He’s leading thanks to his fighting qualities and he almost beat Giri (just imagine what I would have written had Giri lost again!)

The next round has two especially interesting pairings: Wei Yi-Giri and van Wely-Carlsen. Giri doesn’t remember playing people younger than him and the Wijk resident van Wely will surely try to beat Carlsen. Should be fun.


Wijk aan Zee 2016 Starts

The main chess event in January is the Wijk aan Zee traditional tournament. Three players, Giri, Caruana and Karjakin have their minds set on the Candidates in March, so their play will be aimed at concealing their best novelties and varying their approach.

The main sensation of the tournament already happened in the first round. Giri lost! How could that happen? It took a So and a non-standard English structure to disrupt Giri’s well-patterned decision-making process.

The other American, Caruana, also started the tournament with a win. A determined 1 e4 player with a heavily theoretical opening repertoire, he opened with 1 Nf3 against Eljanov and played a topical line in the rarely-played Vienna. Ever since he qualified for the Candidates Caruana has been experimenting with closed openings, so expect him to use them in the Candidates in March.

The World Champion used an interesting strategy against Navara – he played a solid opening, the QGD, but then spiced things up with a move like …g5. The solidity of the QGD made sure he wasn’t running unnecessary risks, and with the audacity of a move like …g5 he tried to play for a win. Before the tournament Carlsen spoke of the necessity to find the balance between trying to play for a win and running unnecessary risks. This game perhaps shows his solution – play solid openings and spice them up with sharper moves.

Round 2 saw all games drawn, with the main attention drawn to the derby Carlsen-Caruana. The first move of the game 1 g3 (read the related Botvinnik story in the comments) was definitely surprising and the character of the game reminded me of the wonderful game Carlsen won in Zurich in 2014 against the same opponent. Things could have been the same, but Carlsen wasn’t very precise when Caruana committed some inaccuracies.

The surprise of the round was van Wely’s use of the Dragon to draw with Karjakin. It doesn’t bode well for Karjakin to draw in 20 moves against the Dutchman, whom he has beaten numerous times. I have always envied the Dutch chess players. Ever since Euwe the Dutch have developed a strong chess culture and have done everything they could to support their players. First Timman (whom Dolmatov called “an amateur” in his recent interview, indicating that only because of the constant practice against the world’s best did Timman maintain his high ranking), then van Wely, now Giri and other youngsters. They got (and are getting) so many opportunities to play with the world’s best, that it’s really surprising that they achieve so little. Take van Wely for example – the first time he played in Wijk was in 1992, he has played Kasparov, Kramnik, Anand and everybody else so many times for the last 20+ years and yet his best was to barely cross 2700 (2714 in 2001 and 2701 in 2013) and his results against the mentioned three players are better not mentioned (almost 50 losses in all formats and only 7 wins, none against Kasparov). Perhaps Giri will repeat Euwe’s feat? They do share the same number of letters of the surname…

Worth noting was also Mamedyarov’s use of the following opening to easily get a good position:

Tomorrow’s round sees the game Wei Yi-Carlsen. Many predict this may be one of the future matches for the crown. Let’s see what the Chinese prodigy is made of.


Keres Memorial – ACP Open 2016

It is possible not to like Paul Keres? Whenever his name is mentioned I recall one of my favourite books, the book on the 1959 Candidates tournament by Gligoric and Ragozin, and his loss in Round 1 to Fischer, after sacrificing a queen in the Najdorf. But also his smooth win against Gligoric in a Nimzo and his last-ditch attempt to catch Tal by beating him with black in the Tarrasch. Later on, when I studied his games, I saw that he liked to play with the IQP and played those positions very successfully both with white and black.

Perhaps inevitably, the feeling of sadness also accompanies his name. This calm, elegant gentleman (as my father described him to me – he saw Keres during the Skopje Olympiad in 1972 and got him to sign the above-mentioned book – see the photograph below) always finished second when it mattered most. When I got to know Estonia and Estonians, in 1999 when I played the group stage of the European Club Cup in Paide and also visited Tallinn, I understood Keres better – these people know how to take blows of Fate and never say a word about it, never complain. They suffer, of course, but they take it with grace. And that is what Keres is to me, the ultimate stoic among the chess players.

The autograph in blue ink is from the Skopje Olympiad in 1972 (click to enlarge)

To mark the centenary of his birth (Keres was born on the 7th of January 1916) his country organised a strong rapid event in Tallinn. The event was also an ACP open and part of the ACP Tour 2016. ACP boosted the prize-fund by 5000 euros and this made the tournament even more attractive for the players, especially as the organisers provided conditions for the ACP Premium members. To honour the great player FIDE decided to make 2016 the year of Paul Keres. Keres was the only chess player to have his face on a bank note, I even have one myself, the Estonian 5 krooni. Now in the Eurozone, the Estonians wanted to do the same and a commemorative coin of 2 Euros has been released. I cannot wait to get one, but it will be a difficult one to find in the whole Europe!

The event attracted some very strong players – Svidler, Gelfand, Eljanov, Motylev, Howell, Georgiev Kiril, to name but a few. In rapid anything is possible, so for example Gelfand lost to Krupenski in Round, missing a nice tactic.

The tournament was won by Igor Kovalenko (incidentally, he was ranked number 2, since the rapid ratings were used). I first noticed him during the Olympiad in Tromso when he beat Short in a convincing manner. What caught my attention was the intensity that he radiated. So I wasn’t surprised (although I was!) when some time later I read an interview where he said that he was a devoted Christian and he believed that God helps him in chess and gives him energy. This information somehow fit in perfectly with the image of him in my mind.

Kovalenko (source: internet)

The first place was decided in the penultimate round when Kovalenko beat Svidler with white. He improved upon the game Radjabov-Svidler and either Svidler couldn’t recall his prep or he didn’t manage to find his way. Here’s the game with light comments (as commenting on rapid games is a bit too harsh on the players):

I was very happy with the good result of my Cheddleton team mate David Howell. He was even leading after the second day, but unfortunately lost to Svidler in Round 9. His was the move of the tournament, from his game against Jumabayev:

20 Rc6!

At the end Howell shared 2nd place together with Gelfand and Ganguly. You can see the complete final standings here.

David earned his second place in the last round when he beat Sutovsky with black. What is curious about this game is that they followed an analysis of mine from 2011! And what was even more curious for me is that these analyses are still holding! Take a look:

The rapid wasn’t a common time control back in the days when Keres was playing, but I am sure he would have approved of the exciting chess on show in Tallinn. Congratulations to the winners and the organisers and I hope to see more events of this kind in 2016.


Генерален секретар на АШП

Новата година започна на многу позитивна нота. Асоцијацијата на шаховски професионалци (АШП) имаше избори во периодот од 28 ноември до 13 декември 2015 година и на истите јас бев избран за нов Генерален секретар.

Детали од гласањето можете да погледнете тука (на англиски).
Се надевам дека на оваа важна функција ќе можам да придонесам за подобрување на условите во шахот не само во светот туку и во Македонија. Македонија никогаш немала свој претставник на толку висока функција и тоа отвора многу можности. Соработката со шаховските работници и јавност е пресудна за позитивни промени и се надевам истата да биде плодотворна и долгорочна.
Среќни празници!

General Secretary of ACP

The new year started on quite a positive note for me. At the General Elections of the Association of Chess Professionals, which took place between 28 November and 13 December 2015 I was elected a General Secretary of the ACP!

You can find the summary of the General Assembly here. This was actually my first assignment!

I hope I can do a good job and help the chess world become a better place.