Monthly Archives: Jul 2016

Goldchess – Quest for Beauty

Chess is a beautiful game and that is why we love it. Beauty in chess can take many forms – as I have grown in strength and understanding I find beauty in little moves like h3 or a3 or Carlsen’s endgame technique. But even for me beauty in chess is first and foremost associated with sacrifices and mating attacks.
The idea behind the Goldchess project is to promote beauty in chess in its most widely accepted form, but things do not stop here – there is a very 21st century sweet detail. Apart from delivering a crushing checkmate, what would be the greatest pleasure for any modern chess player? I think, without a doubt, that would be beating a computer! But we all know that this is practically impossible! So where is the catch?
The founders of Goldchess found a solution and their concept is the following. You get to play a computer (called CEEC, which stands for Chess Elite Educational Computer), whose strength is between 1800-1900, from a position where you are given a task. The tasks are something like “White to play and deliver mated on move 24 with a queen from e8” so it’s not that easy to beat the machine! You have to download the CEEC (for free, of course) as its interface is also used for saving and submitting solutions. See here for detailed instructions on how to play.
It is not only beauty that is attractive with Goldchess, there is also quite a lot of cash flying around. The weekly problems can net you $200 while the monthly puzzles can make you richer for several thousand dollars! There are different conditions for different puzzles – sometimes you need to be fastest, sometimes you need to be lucky (to be drawn from the pool of people who have submitted the correct solution) and sometimes you have to beat the author and deliver the mate one move earlier (in which case the prize may become 10 times bigger)!
The best part of the whole idea is that it’s free and you can “cheat” by taking moves back and trying various lines and options against the computer – as long as you eventually solve the task it doesn’t matter how many times you have tried. And in order to play for the really big money there is a licence that can be bought for only $25 and you can fight for the total prize fund of $25,000 – 5 problems with prizes of $5,000 each. Similarly lush, Goldchess has a World Cup with a first prize of $10,000, it is open for registration as you read this and it will take place in 2017.
Here I have grouped the links where you can find more information about the specifics.

Goldchess Zero – no fee required and for amateurs only, $50 weekly prize, the fastest to submit the solution wins.

Independent Chess Department – the fastest one to solve the problem wins (time is measured by the CEEC), weekly puzzles.

Information on the prizes – range from $50 to $50,000. You can also check the list of winners and see the amounts they have won.

Goldchess Express – the latest introduction.

World Cup – with first prize of $10,000 it is definitely worth attending!
It is notable that the whole project is under the patronage of GM Aleksander Mista, triple World Champion in team problem solving. In my opinion this is a very exciting project and I invite you to give it a try. For starters, here’s the position for the month of August (worth $200) to whet your appetite (since for the detailed instructions you will have to visit the official site tomorrow after 5pm CET):

White to play


Bilbao Masters 2016 – Carlsen Wins (Who Else?)

My tournament in Paleochora finished today and it turned out to be the worst result in my professional career. In spite of feeling great and playing well I ended up with a hefty rating loss. Something is definitely amiss!

In the meantime the Bilbao Masters finished with the expected victory of the World Champion. It always amazes me how the other players fade away in his presence and limit themselves to the roles of bystanders.

In the last post I criticised the players for their cynical play but things continued unchanged. Except for Carlsen, who was trying and playing his games, the other players were just happy to make draws. The only exception was Giri, who, in his own words, was in a bad shape – he also wanted to make draws, but due to his bad shape his level was dropping when the tension was rising. Here’s what he managed to lose to So in Round 8:

In Round 8 we had the second game of the mini-match Carlsen-Karjakin. One would think that in view of the resounding loss in the first game Karjakin would at least try to pose some problems playing white. But one would think that only if one doesn’t know Karjakin. No, he was just happy to make a draw with white, yet even that turned out to be problematic, had Carlsen been more vigilant! There are easier ways to make a draw with white – my guess is that Karjakin went to the game with the intention to play, but once the game got under way he changed his mind and started to look for ways to draw. Both players miscalculated, admittedly the lines when black traps white’s queen weren’t that simple:

So what can this mini-match tell us about the upcoming match later this year? Not much I’m afraid. While Carlsen is his usual self Karjakin is hopelessly lost in his own idea of
“the challenger” and thinks only about the match, the preparation, which lines to hide etc. while at the same time forgetting that the game of chess is won by playing. If you don’t play and only want to draw you cannot win. In older times, after the results of the Bilbao Masters the public would have lost interest in the upcoming match (think Alekhine finishing on a minus score in New York 1927 while Capablanca winning in dominant fashion – even though he had already secured the match Alekhine knew he had to come at least second in order the match to take place! And so he did.). I still expect Karjakin to put up a good fight in the match, yet his play and behaviour after the Candidates has been disappointing.

There was another “first” in Bilbao, the first one being Nakamura’s maiden victory against Carlsen. The second “first” was Carlsen’s maiden victory against Giri. It secured his victory in the tournament with a round to spare and spared us of the unending Twitter feeds of Giri’s “dominance” over the World Champion. The game itself was a determined Carlsen performance against an out-of-form Giri – he again faltered under pressure in time trouble.

Carlsen won all his matches 1.5-0.5 and lost one with the same score to Nakamura. Nakamura seemed content to cruise after his first round win over Carlsen and that’s what he did. He finished second without a worry in the world. He was the only other player, together with Carlsen, on a plus score.

So and Wei Yi finished on 50%. Both beat Giri to compensate for their losses to Carlsen. So is already well-established in the elite, while this is an encouraging result for the young Chinese who showed no inferiority in any of his games.

Karjakin and Giri finished on a minus score. I already said what I think of Karjakin’s play and attitude, but I think he will not change it any time soon. He has the Olympiad to play for the Russian team and there I also expect him to be extremely solid. Giri finished last. A rare occurrence, but when in bad form anything you do will only come back to hurt you (I should know!). He will be back, just how and when it remains to be seen.

The Olympiad is a month away and I will use the month of August to prepare and get ready for this difficult yet exciting event. Some repertoire work and new ideas are needed for both white and black. Time to work!


Bilbao Masters 2016 – Cynical Chess

I reached Paleochora safely and even had a swim this morning. It always feels great to come back to this place of peace and beauty.
In the meantime two rounds were played in Bilbao. What amazed me most was the type of cynical (you can call it practical or pragmatical if you wish, although to my mind these two cases deserve the harsher attribute) chess played by Giri and Karjakin.
Let’s start with Giri’s game against the World Champion. Never shy of self-promotion, bravado and emphasis on his plus score against Carlsen on social media, over the board Giri is a personification of a scared rabbit. At the first glance of surprise in the opening (that is the most important issue – fear!) he starts chopping wood and runs for the draw. Take a look at the following typical decision:

White to play

Giri was surprised in the opening and played conservatively, so now black is fine. But white has a space advantage and can try to put some pressure with a move like 13 Na4. Against anybody else I am sure Giri would have tried it. And against Carlsen? He boldly went for the simplifying 13 Ne5, basically a draw offer (on move 13. With white. No shame.). Now taking on e2 followed by massive exchanges after taking on c6, d1, e7 and d1 again, leads to a draw. But Carlsen wants to play (and not draw in 13 moves) and that’s why we respect him so much. He took on e5 and then went Ng6. Then we have another typical decision for Giri – when a piece can be taken, take it! Off to chopping that knight, who cares about pair of bishops! Objectively black is OK after 15 Bf3 c5, but pair of bishops must account for something – after taking on g6 black is even more OK! Offer trade, take, offer trade, take, that was Giri’s plan from then on and it should come as no surprise that he drifted to an almost lost position. The fact that he didn’t lose only shows that he is a strong player once his back has been put against the wall. He didn’t succumb and that is what very few manage against Carlsen. But the way he played the game until that point is a disgrace. Most probably Giri has ambitions to become World Champion, but with the attitude shown here it will never happen. He will either change (like Leko did when he managed to qualify to play Kramnik) or will remain forever known as The Drawmaster. (A thought has just occurred – is it a coincidence that Leko, Giri and draw all have 4 letters?)
Moving on to the game Karjakin-Nakamura we have a similar situation. White is surprised in the opening and immediately forces a draw. Pragmatic, surely. Shameful, definitely. But the core of the matter is that these players do not care about public opinion or whether they look like scared rabbits and have no self-respect. The play for a result and the main objective is not to lose. At first sight of danger they play it safe. So that’s what Karjakin did. On that level of play and preparation it is fairly easy to make a draw (especially with white), either thanks to opening knowledge or excellent technique of playing sound moves that lead to draw. Karjakin has the perennial excuses of “I showed everything at the Candidates, now I can do whatever I please” and “I need to hide my preparation” but not playing has always been detrimental to future successes. The pattern of surprise-fear-draw can become ingrained in the player’s subconscious and if let alone can become impossible to change.

Giri wasn’t punished against Carlsen, but even though justice is sometimes slow it always arrives. He lost to Wei Yi in the next round, a game he would normally draw being awaken in the middle of the night by a bunch of screaming kids wearing Carlsen masks. Fear is never rewarded, only courage is.
Dortmund finished with the Frenchman Vachier dominating the field and winning with a round to spare, with 5.5/7. This propelled him to the number 2 spot on the live rating list, but as people have noted, this spot seems to be rather volatile – Aronian, Caruana, Nakamura, Kramnik, Topalov, Anand, all have been there and yet nobody managed to make it permanent the way Carlsen did with the number 1 spot. Let’s see what the Frenchman does with it.
In Salobrena my student Angel Luis Cubas Cabrera managed to finish on a high by winning the last round game and sharing 6th place overall with 6.5/9. A great result especially taking into account that he was in contention and played on the top boards all the time. We will work to improve and better that score next year in the under-16 tournament!
My tournament starts today, so most probably I won’t be writing a lot in the next days. It’s time for me to concentrate on my own game and preparations. I hope it goes well!

Bilbao Masters 2016 – Carlsen!

Lose or win, the World Champion always makes the headlines. There were only wins after his historic first round loss to Nakamura, he first dispatched of Chinese prodigy Wei Yi and then of his challenger Karjakin.

In both games what was telling was the sheer force that Carlsen displayed. Power and strength were emanating from his moves. Against Wei Yi he went for the Modern Defence, not something he employs when playing Kramnik or Anand – this was a clear statement of his ambition and will to win even with black. In his own words, he was forced to play more sharply because of his loss the previous day. He outplayed Wei Yi in a very tactical endgame, in spite of the Chinese’s admirable resistance.

Of course, the games that will receive the most attention in Bilbao will be the games between Carlsen and Karjakin. In the first one Karjakin lost in a way that people usually lose to Carlsen – he just outplays them from positions that offer next to nothing. It never ceases to amaze me how he does it.

Perhaps it is not so bad for Karjakin to lose like this before the match – now he will know what to avoid and not to do. On the other hand, this gives Carlsen a big boost of confidence for the match. And of course they have the second game coming when Karjakin will be white.

The other two games somehow seem to fade away compared to Carlsen’s games. Nakamura made no progress against Wei Yi’s Semi-Tarrasch and Giri had little success against So’s Giuoco Piano, although he did make an interesting long-term pawn sacrifice, but then had to fight for a draw (no problem for him there). A note on Nakamura – after his win against Carlsen he seems to have withdrawn in solid lack of ambition. A theoretical draw against So with black and achieving nothing with white against Wei Yi. I am curious to see if this continues for the rest of the tournament.

In Dortmund Kramnik continues to use 1 e4. And this time against Caruana, who can play pretty much anything against it. Perhaps this means that Kramnik has done more profound work on 1 e4 and will play it against everybody and not only against people who play 1…e5. Caruana chose the Paulsen, but Kramnik still got a nice positional pull out of the opening. This transposed to a favourable endgame and it seems he missed his best chance on move 40.

White to move

Here Kramnik played 40 b4, allowing 40…Rc8 with counterplay. It was better to prevent this by 40 Rc3! and only then take on a6.

But the main story in Dortmind is The Frenchman, who keeps marching and leads by a full point with 4/5. He beat Najer in a game where the only thing he did was to remember his theory better. The game is an excellent demonstration how games can be won and lost when you enter heavily analysed lines.

The moral of the story: memorise everything or avoid such lines, there is no middle ground here.

In Salobrena my student Angel Luis entered a rocky patch – he lost in Round 6, bounced back strongly in Round 7, grinding a win from an equal endgame, but then he lost again in Round 8. This was very unfortunate, but it was a psychologically difficult situation. It was the second round of the day (his endgame grind took him almost 80 moves and 4 hours) and he played his best friend, whom he has always beaten in the past. The over-confidence mixed with lack of control and prophylactic thinking (he threw himself forward in a position where he had to be more careful) led to disaster. Still, if he wins in the last round he will probably finish shared 5th, not bad at all.

My next destination is Paleochora, the open I play every summer. It starts on the 20th, so I basically go home, change suitcases and go to Crete. Summertime!


Bilbao Masters 2016 Starts

The Bilbao Masters has all the ingredients of a great tournament: the World Champion, his contender and young stars Nakamura, Giri, Wei Yi and So. And the start didn’t disappoint, in fact we witnessed a sort of miracle – after 11 years and 12 losses in classical chess, Nakamura managed to beat Carlsen for the first time in his life. With black.

The game was a somewhat typical of a first round game for Carlsen – he couldn’t get going and even though he got a nice advantage he still managed to spoil it very quickly.

The other two games Karjakin-So and Giri-Wei Yi weren’t as interesting, at least from a sporting point of view. Again I expect Karjakin to be extra-cautious and draw everything, while it will be curious to see Wei Yi’s debut in such a company. There is much talk of Carlsen and Karjakin hiding their best opening ideas and keeping them for the match and this is true. It is also true that they might play in somewhat different style or play some openings just to lead the opponent on a wrong track. It is worth having all this in mind as the tournament progresses.

In Dortmund things go at slow pace, Vachier (who crossed 2800 on the live rating list) leads with 3/4, followed by Dominguez on 2.5/4 and a bunch of players including Kramnik and Caruana on 50%. The gem was Kramnik’s first white game against Buhmann. Play through the game and enjoy.

By far the most amazingly unbelievable game I have seen in ages!

Meanwhile in Salobrena, my student Angel Luis is doing quite well. With 4.5/5 he’s in shared second and today in Round 6 he plays on board 2 against one of the highest rated players in the field.

Here’s his nice win in Round 5. Apart from a blip in the opening, when he forgot the exact move order, it was smooth sailing.


Spanish Championships U14 2016 (+Dortmund)

Immediately after my holidays I boarded a plane to Rome and then to Malaga to go to the Spanish Championships Under 14 in Salobrena. Not the most famous of places, Salobrena is some 90km east of Malaga and is on the coast, even though the hotel where the tournament takes place is not. But the view from the hotel… well, judge for yourself (remember to click on the image to enlarge).

A view from the terrace of the hotel to the left

A view from the terrace to the right
A view directly below
A medieval tower in the middle of the hotel!

All the nice scenery aside, I am here to help my student Angel Luis Cubas Cabrera from the Canary Islands. He’s ranked 18th on the initial ranking list (you can see the full list here) but he’s much better than what his rating shows. I hope this tournament propels him upwards! Here’s a photo of us in front of the tower:

The tournament started today and in the first round he won easily. It’s a difficult schedule to play actually, with two rounds today, followed by a single round tomorrow and then again a double-round day the day after tomorrow. This schedule of 2-1-2-1-2-1 is exhausting especially as the tournament advances and fatigue accumulates. I will keep you updated how things develop.

On the world scene there are quite a few things going on. Dortmund, Danzhou, Chengdu, where the Women’s Grand Prix is staged. The Dortmund tournament started with yet another loss for Caruana with white in the Najdorf. Caruana is the defending champion, but in Round 1 he lost the plot against Vachier. The Frenchman has firmly established himself as one of the best Najdorf practitioners in modern times.

A free day in Dortmund today, with Vachier and Ponomariov leading with 1.5/2. Kramnik drew two blacks and is white against outsider Buhmann in Round 3.


On a Holiday

A holiday has always been a rarity in my life as a professional. This has mostly been the case because the summers have the best tournaments and if you plan it well, you can spend months playing without stopping. I still remember the years when I was playing in Spain for months on.

This year is somewhat different because of the Chess Olympiad. I am always very serious when it comes to events of this scale as I like to be prepared. This means good planning of rest, work and play. So now for me is rest time. This will be followed by playing, again one of my most favourite tournaments, the Paleochora tournament in Crete (you can see the starting list here) and then the whole August will be devoted to preparation for the Olympiad. Hope it all works out well!

Room with a view (click to enlarge)