Monthly Archives: Sep 2016

Tal Memorial 2016 – Round 3

So we had 3 decisive games in Round 3, just like we had 2 in Round 2 and 1 in Round 1. But I would almost certainly bet against 4 in Round 4!

To answer my question from the last post, no, Nepomniachtchi didn’t dare play the Scotch against Kramnik. Instead he took advantage of Kramnik’s infinite self-confidence – if Kramnik prepares an opening, or variation, he’s so confident in his preparation (and rightly so) that he doesn’t fear the opponent’s preparation and doesn’t mind at all repeating the line. So Nepomniachtchi went 1 c4 and, predictably, Kramnik again went for the Hedgehog he used against Svidler in Round 1. Both players were well-prepared and this led to an equal endgame. As I see it, Nepomniachtchi wasn’t against a draw if black found it, but he kept the safe and more active position if black didn’t. I don’t know why Kramnik didn’t choose to draw when he could – there were many moments to do this – and then he found himself in trouble. After Nepomniachtchi’s inaccuracy he could have saved himself, but blundered instead! A very strange game for Kramnik and a second win for Nepo, who now leads with 2.5/3!

Giri joined Nepomniachtchi in the lead after grinding down Tomashevsky from a sterile position in the London System. Under Carlsen’s influence the players have learned how to play long and boring games until the end (and not offer nor accept draws in sterile positions) and it pays dividends. What I liked in this game was the atypical solution to the problem of the IQP that arose after the time-control and Giri’s excellent technique afterwards.

The shortest win belongs to Mamedyarov, who destroyed Gelfand. My wishes for Gelfand’s coming back to form will have to wait – today he was again sluggish with the time management, but Mamedyarov played a brilliant attacking game nevertheless. After Gelfand beat Mamedyarov in the Candidates match in 2011 things seem to have turned around for the Azeri, who hasn’t lost a game to Gelfand since then.

The two drawn games were controlled affairs. Li Chao played a line in the Nimzo that I studied in great depth some years ago, but he played badly and ended up worse against Anand. His active counterplay secured him a draw though, even though perhaps Anand could have been more precise in posing problems.

Aronian and Svidler went deep into the Grunfeld woods and Aronian’s novelty on move 19 didn’t change the evaluation that black is OK. Good play by both players led to a repetition on move 41.

The youngest players lead the field after 3 rounds. They both needed this – Nepo’s always been regarded as one “with potential,” which he always seemed unable to fulfill, while Giri’s crisis after the Candidates lasted for too long. Will they manage to fight their demons and keep afloat?

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Tal Memorial 2016 – Round 2

If Round 1 had 1 decisive game, Round 2 had 2.

The winner of the blitz Mamedyarov played the popular 12…ed in the Zaitsev Variation of the Spanish against Anand. He got a good position from the opening but after Anand’s innovation, deviating from the game Giri-Svidler from the World Cup in Baku 2015, Mamedyarov blindly copied Svidler’s play and this led him to a position where he was forced to sacrifice a piece for insufficient compensation. Anand’s realisation was impeccable.

Gelfand didn’t get many invitations is the last year or so and I eagerly awaited his return, knowing how hard-working and motivated he is. But rust is a difficult thing to shake off, beating Inarkiev in a match is not the same as playing elite players on a daily basis. Today against Giri he got a solid position with white and then started to spend masses of time. That wouldn’t have been bad if the time spent produced good moves, but it didn’t. A very odd game by Gelfand, I hope he shakes off the rust and comes back in the remaining rounds.

From the drawn games worth noting is that Kramnik’s 1 e4 was met by Li Chao’s Petroff Defence, a Kramnik favourite in the late 1990s. The tiny edge white got from the opening wasn’t enough for more than a draw, but Kramnik tried his best to pull off a Carlsen and grinded on for 60 moves.

Nepomniachtchi tried the Grunfeld against Svidler. Sometimes it’s foolish to play what your opponent knows best, but sometimes it is not. The latter case applies when you also know a lot. And that is what happened, two connoisseurs of the Grunfeld making a good theoretical draw on move 22, probably both content that their favourite opening showed its redeeming features once again.

Tomashevsky was very wise to make a quick draw with white against Aronian. After yesterday’s loss it was vital for him to get on the scoreboard. Aronian didn’t seem to mind, his opening choice of the Lasker Defence in the QGD clearly demonstrated that he was fine with a draw.

From tomorrow’s games I am particularly interested whether Nepo will essay the Scotch against Kramnik. If he does it should be an interesting theoretical duel.

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Tal Memorial 2016 – Round 1

One of the strongest tournaments of the year started yesterday with the newly-established tradition to use blitz in order to determine the drawing of lots. Mamedyarov won the blitz convincingly, 7.5/9, and together with Aronian, Nepomniachtchi, Svidler and Giri got the right to choose an extra white game.

The classical part started today. There was only one decisive game, Nepomniachtchi beat Tomashevsky in 23 moves. Usually these things don’t happen too often, especially not if you play the opening you always play, like Nepo’s Scotch, when the opponent will be thoroughly prepared. It is certain that Tomashevsky mixed things up over the board.

Such an easy win in such a difficult tournament is a luxury few can have, Nepomniachtchi couldn’t have wished for a better start. As for Tomashevsky, this fine player has repeatedly shown that playing under pressure is not his forte – the last Olympiad and all the attention of the first round clearly demonstrate he still hasn’t been able to overcome this issue.

Mamedyarov had a great blitz tournament but today couldn’t do much against Li Chao’s Grunfeld.

Aronian and Gelfand played a line in the English where white is slightly better but with modern computer preparation these lines are as good as a safe draw with black – the computer holds this slightly inferior endgames easily so the only thing required of the human is good memorisation. Gelfand had no problem with that.

Anand equalised nicely with black against Giri in the QGD with 4…Nbd7 but then played passively and allowed white an easy game against his pawn weaknesses. His class was enough though to hold that unpleasant endgame.

The titanic battle of the round was Svidler-Kramnik. When was the last time Kramnik played the Hedgehog with black? After checking the database I actually remembered the game Lautier-Kramnik from 2000, a very nice game that I used as a basis of my Hedgehog repertoire back in the day. I’ve also included this game in the comments. The game was full of ups and downs for both sides and it is probably fair that it ended in a draw as nobody deserved to lose. Note Kramnik’s excellent defensive maneuver 42…Rh6! and 43…Rh5!

Today I read the sad news that Mark Dvoretsky had died. The world’s best coach, according to many. I never met him personally, but I’ve spent countless hours (and weeks, and months, and years) studying his books and solving the exercises. It is perhaps more precise to call that work suffering, because it was only on the rarest occasions that I managed to solve them correctly – there would always be something that I had missed or overlooked. A source of endless frustration for me, I dreaded the look of those exercises, but I well knew that I had to try and try and try again if I wanted to improve. Eventually I did and for that I am thankful to Mark Dvoretsky. His legacy will continue to shape the next generations and his methods will live on because they produce results. He never managed to produce a World Champion, but both Kasparov (as a very young player) and Carlsen are known to have worked with him. His name will always be associated with the highest quality of chess coaching and the standards he set, both for books and coaching, will be very difficult to equal.

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Chessable, Or the Power of Repetition

Repetitio est mater studiorum.

I never really studied while I was at school. Why? Because I had a simple system, taught to me by my father at the very start of my school years. It’s elementary really, but it does take a bit of discipline. It consisted of the following:

1. While in class, pay total attention to the professor and the lesson. No distractions.
2. When you get home the first thing you do is read the lesson from the textbook. Once should be enough if you paid attention in class.
3. Before the next class of that same subject, read the lesson once again.

And that was it. I don’t know how my father knew of this system but it worked wonders for me, leaving me a lot of free time for chess. I applied the same system at University and it worked like charm again, I finished University in record time.

The Chessable website has created something similar to the above. The main focus of the site is openings and their memorisation. One of the co-founders is IM John Bartholomew and he is mainly in charge of the chess-related material, even though they have others on board too, I noticed GM Leitao’s Najdorf repertoire, for example.

So how does it work? After signing up, which is free (there is also a paid pro membership), you get access to various repertoires (called “books”). Some of them are free, others need to be bought (the most expensive was $9.99). It seems it’s still the early stages of the site so for the time being there aren’t many of them. I checked several of the free ones and here comes the repetition part: you are looking at a chessboard and you read explanations in words on the side. Then moves are made on the board and then you’re asked to make the same moves for the side you’re studying the repertoire, repetitio in the purest form. You get points every time you get a move right. This starts slowly, you are asked to repeat the moves after move 1 or 2, then it goes deeper, but not much. The maximum depth I got was around 7-8 moves, probably the paid repertoires are developed in greater depth and detail. The repetition session doesn’t last long, around 1 minute or less in my case, but the site does remind you that “learning chess requires practice every day.” Here I see the main merit of the site and the idea – you are encouraged to repeat what you have learned every day. Repetitio est mater studiorum. You also get “rubies” (which can be used for various purchases on the site) and points to further encourage you to follow through.

Coincidentally, I have a student (rated around 2000) who is using Chessable to study openings and he is quite satisfied with the service. As I see it the site is intended and aimed at exactly this level of players, rated up to 2000 or perhaps a bit higher, who want to practice and learn their openings well. Even though at present there is no wide choice, I expect the site to grow and add more openings. Who knows, maybe I even give it a try and publish my own repertoire there?

I think the site is worth giving a try, especially if you’re not very good in the opening and want to learn one or two (or more!). For starters you can try the free versions and then decide if the whole system works for you. In any case, don’t forget to practice every day!

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Goldchess on Anand-Gelfand,WCh 2012

Often in my glorious past of heavy partying I would meet confident girls (I love those!) in bars or discotheques and after a few drinks the topic of chess would inevitably come up. Frequently I would get a “I will beat you easily,” or “We should play a game, I’m very good, I beat my sister once when we were 10” to which I would laugh and engage in teasing and further flirting.

Pleasant memories as they may be, these conversations made me think. People who do not have a precise idea what playing professional chess constitues think the game is easy to play and anybody can beat anybody. They are right on the former, playing the game is easy, playing it well is hard and difficult to achieve. They do not grasp the vastness of the gap that exists between professionals and amateurs or novices and the only way for them to understand it is to try and play a professional (in my case a few girls tried, but what followed next is for another type of blog).

Goldchess conducted a very interesting experiment that tried to show the difference between the professionals and the amateurs. To make it even more contrasting, they decided to take the games from the World Championship match between Anand and Gelfand from 2012 and give it to their readers to play out against their computer (rated around 1800). So what we got is the highest level of chess pitted against the level of the regular guy. Here are several examples of what happened:

What we saw here is that the computer really didn’t understand what was important in the position, while the human first improved on Gelfand’s play (impressive!) and then went to win, but not without a hiccup on move 33.

The match was very rich from a theoretical perspective. Several openings were tested, the Slav, the Grunfeld, the Nimzo and the Rossolimo Sicilian. Here’re a few examples from the Slav:

These games show that on the lower levels it is possible to win any kind of position, whether that be a completely symmetrical and equal or a dead-drawn endgame. The better player has a great chance of winning even there.

Amateurs (and not only they, I know a lot of GMs who do that constantly!) love to play for tricks. This is not a bad thing per se, bear in mind that once the great Victor Korchnoi accused Anand of playing “only for tricks!” Take a look at the following example which worked fabulously:

The Grunfeld was Gelfand’s main weapon against 1 d4 and it came as a surprise to Anand. It appeared on the board in the very first game of the match and Anand went for a sideline but it didn’t pose black any problems. Did our players manage to pose problems? Let’s have a look:

We can conclude that play is definitely more exciting when there are more errors. And this goes for every level, even the play of the strong GMs is more exciting and less good than the play of the world championship contenders. Goldchess brought the games of the best players to their readers and let them have fun with them. From what we saw, the plan worked perfectly.

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(Anti-)Cheating in Baku

This is a very important topic that deserves a separate post, that’s why I didn’t include it in my round up, so I will share my views and experiences from Baku here.

The well-documented incident involving Nigel Short (who was asked to be checked while his game was still in progress)showed the main problem we have nowadays with arbiters and enforcing security laws. One of the FIDE Rules says that the arbiter is there to prevent any disturbances that may affect the player during the game. This has gone awfully astray in the last several years and now we have a situation when the arbiter seems to be there only to disturb the player during the game! See the Short interview above for the most recent example. Giving more power to incompetent people is the fastest recipe for disaster and unfortunately the chess train seems to heading in that direction full speed.

The fact that FIDE wants to have security checks during the game implies that it doesn’t trust the security checks before the game begins. And so much importance is placed on those airport-type scans before the game! Let me describe how things looked in Baku. Before entering the playing hall there were security people checking your accreditation and they made sure the players had their green cards (with the word “Player” written on them) that were a proof that the player is playing that day (every team had only 4 green cards and they were given to the players who played on the day). Next there were the aiport scanners. Just like in airports they would often make sounds even if you didn’t have anything on you. I travel a lot and I know what I need to do and I always go through without anything metallic on me – yet the scanners often go off and this prompts a manual search. In Baku there was an additional search with a hand-held scanner. I have spoken to airport-security people and they have told me that scanners often go off at random intervals, even if the person has nothing on them. The point is to keep people alert and to do random checks just in case. I assume the same was in Baku. So I would be checked with the hand-held scanner and then I would be asked a very intelligent question: “Have you brought a phone with you?” Now, after two scans with two types of scanners and nothing discovered, I wonder what answer they expected. After my polite “No” I would be allowed to proceed to the playing hall.

Having gone through this procedure for 11 days in a row I can assure you that, just like in airports, this “security” is one big smokescreen. It is completely inefficient and wouldn’t prevent a cheater in any way. One day I even tested this – before going through the scanner I took off my jacket and left it on the table next to the scanner. I went through the scanner, I took my jacket (which was left unchecked) and continued to the playing hall. How’s that for security?

During the 10 days on which I played I witnessed several serious security breaches. I heard a phone ring 5 (!) times in the playing hall while the games were in progress. I suppose people weren’t as polite and honest as me when they were asked whether they had brought their phones (or the scanners were just a ruse?). But the worst case was on one of the first days when I went to the toilet – in the corridor before the toilet there was a woman visitor who was talking on her phone! On my way out of the toilet that same woman was typing on her phone! And I keep reading that security in Baku was tight and serious!

In Round 3 the teams of Japan and Turkmenistan played. On board 4 GM Odeev (2401) had black against Tang Tang, rated 2108. He was obliterated. You can check the game yourselves with an engine if you wish – white’s play was on a very high level and even though he missed one or two stronger moves it proved enough to kill the GM. And then in the following position, after white’s 41st move, the game ended, but now with the result you would expect:

0-1, Tang Tang-Odeev

And no, white didn’t lose on time either. What happened was that white’s player was searched and an iPhone and an iPad were found on him. How on Earth could a player sneak through not one, but two electronic devices after all the apparently (but only apparently) strict security? Are you still thinking security was good in Baku? This story was published on the Russian site Chess News, one or two days after the game but it seems to have disappeared since (at least I didn’t manage to find it). If you manage to find it please let me know as I would like to give the link here.

Cheating is a serious issue in modern chess, but the way it is fought is sloppy and ineffective. In such a big event like an Olympiad the organisers tried to show to the world that they are doing their best and that the players can rest assured that they play in a safe environment. It is not for nothing that I compared the Baku security with airport security – it is there only to make people feel safe, not to actually make them safe. Any intelligent cheater can easily go through such “security” and make fool of everybody by having it his own way. Smokescreen security and molesting the players while they play is not the solution. It achieves nothing and upsets the players. Unfortunately, as things stand with FIDE, I don’t expect things to improve. We will be getting more smokescreen and more player molesting while at the same time the public will be informed how “everything was done to prevent cheating.” When you read such a thing next time, don’t believe it.

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Baku Olympiad 2016 – Rounds 10&11

I couldn’t write last night as I was supposed to play in the last round, played in the morning, so I had to rest and prepare.

Our best match was yesterday when we beat the heavy favourites Egypt. It started all too well in the openings, on board 1 Pancevski with white chose a drawish line against GM Amin (2661) in the Spanish and this proved an excellent choice. Black was tempted to try for more and overlooked something in the process, leaving him in a probably lost endgame a pawn down with a rook and opposite-coloured bishops. The final combination of our player is very nice, even the computer doesn’t understand at first that white’s pawn is unstoppable.

I had already finished by that time, an easy draw on board 2 with black against GM Adly, the World Champion Under 20 from 2007. I was surprised by his choice of a drawish line, his idea was to obtain a risk-free slight initiative, but I outcalculated him and it was me instead who got the advantage. But then I didn’t play too well and eventually it was drawn (even though I should have continued in the final position!).

On board 3 Lazov with white got a good position in the Rossolimo Sicilian but in time trouble messed things up.

On board 4 Nikolovski with black was simply the better player than Hesham (2419) and won a good game in a Benoni.

All in all an excellent match and a good run of two wins in a row.

Due to reasons unknown to me, the organisers and FIDE decided to eliminate the second rest day, which was always before the last round. A very unfortunate decision because the last round started at 11am today while the board pairings were made available last night at midnight. So when do you get to rest and prepare?

In the last round we were paired against Bosnia. A stronger team than us, but one that was beatable, or so we felt.

On board 1 Nedev was suffering as black against GM Predojevic but suffered successfully and drew.

On board 2 disaster struck. Pancevski was lost on move 15 with white against GM Kadric. He must have missed something relatively simple, otherwise it’s difficult to explain such a rapid loss.

On board 3 I was black against GM Dizdarevic and I made another easy draw, just like yesterday.

We should have equalised the match on board 4. The game was equal for a long time and then suddenly Nikolovski got a winning position. And it was a technically winning position, a rook and two pawns versus a knight with two pawns, on the same wing. But technique failed him and he could only draw, and so we lost the match by the minimal margin. It’s a pity, as a drawn match would have equalled our score from Tromso 2014 when we played with a much stronger team.

Generally speaking our team did better than expected. We ended up sharing 58th-75th place (67th on tie-break, while our starting rank was 65th), but the fact that we were in a chance to achieve excellent result with a positive outcome in the last round (and we were so close!) is worth a lot and shows our potential.

Nedev on board 1 had 4/9 with a slight rating minus. Board 1 is always the most difficult board and this time he was better than in Tromso. A surprising fact is that all his 3 losses were with white!

On board 2 Pancevski was doing great until the last round. His final score of 5.5/10 doesn’t reflect his importance for the team. His most valuable win was against Egypt when he beat a much stronger opponent.

I had the best score in the whole team, 7/10, on board 3. I lost only 1 game (against Mamedov (2666)) and won 5. My game was mostly stable and my head was working well. I felt good to play for my national team and the surrounding and conditions were motivating for me to do my best. I enjoy playing Olympiads, playing side by side with the world’s best players is stimulating and it tends to bring the best in me.

Our youngsters, Lazov on board 4 (5/8) and Nikolovski as reserve (3/7) did better than I expected. Their main problem was the inexperience (like in the last round when Nikolovski couldn’t win a won position) and also lack of professional attitude and preparation. I hope they learn from this and improve significantly because they got this chance only because they’re young. Now they need to prove that they also deserve a place on the team because they are strong.

After I finished my last game I spent some time watching the games on the top boards. I positioned myself between the boards where Carlsen and Kramnik were playing, some 3-4 meters from both. And I observed them. I found it very difficult to look at Carlsen for a longer period of time. The amount of energy that emanates from him is incredible. Or perhaps the word aura is more precise. Something very strong and powerful irradiates from him and mind you, I was standing 3-4 meters from him. I tried to imagine how it would be to sit against him for hours on and play when he would make all these precise and strong moves. It would have felt as if he wanted to push me away. In that moment I understood Taimanov and Larsen when they were playing Fischer. “A wall coming at you” was how Taimanov put it.

Looking at Kramnik was different. There was also a lot of energy coming from him, but of a different kind. Less aggressive, yet imposing in its own way. I played diagonally from Kramnik in Tromso 2014 (when I was on board 2 playing Svidler and he was on board 1 playing Nedev) and it didn’t feel threatening. Strong, confident, imposing, but not threatening like Carlsen.

The Olympiad was won by USA. A very deserved victory won in the tightest of races with Ukraine, who came second, both teams with 20 match points our of possible 22. USA had two drawn matches while Ukraine lost one (to USA) and won 10 (!). USA had the better tie-break and won the gold. Bronze went to the Russians, who again failed to win an Olympiad, but frankly speaking, they didn’t stand a chance against the amazing teams that finished ahead of them.

USA had the superstar trio of Caruana, Nakamura and So and they did the job marvellously. When Fischer was playing for the USA at the Olympiads they won silver twice, in Leipzig 1960 and Havana 1966, but they couldn’t dream of challenging the Soviet Union. Fischer was more or less the only elite player on the team back then; now they have 3 elite players and it also happened that all of them played an excellent tournament. On board 4 they had Shankland who apart from the last round loss (which didn’t affect the score) also had a great tournament.

The Ukranians were also impressive. To win 10 matches and not win an Olympiad is probably a first-ever, but they can take pride in their run. Their engine was the reserve, GM Volokitin, who scored 8.5/9, an incredible result (he beat Grischuk with black in Round 4). The other players performed well too, Eljanov for example, won in rounds 10 and 11!

Russia won bronze, probably slightly disappointed (and even more frustrated to prolong their run of 14 years without an Olympiad gold – now their next chance is in 2018, when it will be 16 years! Their last gold was in Bled 2002, Kasparov’s last Olympiad.) Kramnik was incredible on board 2 with 6.5/8 and Nepomniachtchi was their powerhorse with his initial 7/7; alas, after losing to So he only managed 2 draws. Questions can be raised why Svidler didn’t play, but there’s no guarantee that things would have been better.

Of the others, Carlsen managed to lift his Norwegians and they shared 4th (5th on tie-break, a great result for them). With 7.5/10 he lost some rating points but he was a true leader and surely motivated his compatriots. Just imagine if Hammer on board 2 had a better tournament, instead of a dismal 4.5/11 with no wins.

To conclude, a few personal observations. This was the best Olympiad I’ve been to (compared to Dresden 2008 and Tromso 2014) – the organisation, the playing venue, the accomodation. Yet the tendency I notice with FIDE to give more power to the officials is worrying. Take for example the idiotic rule that every player must inform the arbiter when he/she wants to go to use the toilet. First, it’s impossible to implement (what if I’m walking around and then I want to go to the toilet, shall I run to my match arbiter on the other side of the hall and only then go to the toilet?) and second, and more important, it’s humiliating. I never reported anything (I often go to the toilet during games as I drink a lot of water) and nobody noticed. Another annoying moment I had was with the accreditation passes. I personally hate to have anything dangling around my neck, so I kept my pass in the pocket of my jacket. Yet every time a security official would see me without it they would pester me (one even got physical and pulled me by the arm!) to put it around my neck. It wasn’t enough for them that I showed it, I had to have it around my neck, just like everybody else! Well, I didn’t comply, and by the end of the tournament they knew me and didn’t bother me anymore. Individuality is never welcome with narrow-minded officials! I already described our scandal with the arbiters and the impression of most players was that the vast majority of the arbiters were incompetent. They hide when they should enforce the rules, yet are first to molest you with hand-held scanning devices during the game (never happened to me, thank goodness, but I saw people scanned in the corridors of the hall) or demand toilet-visits reporting. FIDE should really educate its arbiters, but for some reason I think that’s not going to happen.

Our flight home is at 2.30am, the bus for the aiport leaves the hotel at midnight and this probably means that I’ll have to skip the closing ceremony tonight. This is unfortunate, as I also missed the opening ceremony, but what to do. It was great to be in Baku for two weeks and to play my best Olympiad so far. Congratulations to all the winners and see you all in Batumi 2018!

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Baku Olympiad 2016 – Round 9

A very good match for us today, a comfortable win of 3.5-0.5 against Kosovo. We controlled the match from start to finish and never risked anything.

We were quickly winning on board 4, Nikolovski was winning after the opening, more or less, although the realisation took time and in fact he was the last to finish!

On board 1 Nedev had things under control with black in a KID against FM Saraci and they simplified to a draw.

I obtained an advantage after the opening against FM Ermeni and generally played a good game. I made a few imprecisions, but he didn’t capitalise on them and I won after displaying some elementary technique in the endgame. It was a sweet revenge for the missed win against the same opponent at the ECC in Skopje last year!

Board 3 was a messy game, but Lazov kept it cool and won in mutual time-trouble. If only we had the majority of the matches like this!

On the top boards USA beat Norway (Caruana-Carlsen draw, another Scandinavian from the World Champion, like in Tromso, but Caruana was more careful this time) and Russia beat the hosts winning both their games with white (Kramnik played 1 e4 against Radjabov and Grischuk played my favourite move in the French Winawer, 7 a4, against Naiditsch). Ukraina beat India and are shared first with USA. Tomorrow it’s Georgia-USA (Jobava has the best performance on board 1!), Czech Republic-Ukraine and India-Russia. We play Egypt, who have two over-2600 GMs on boards 1 and 2.

I’ll keep it short again, I need time to get some preparation done and rest.

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Baku Olympiad 2016 – Round 8

What a day and match. It was almost a reprise of our match with Tajikistan, but this time we managed not to lose.

It started “as expected” when on board 1 Nedev blundered in a normal position and lost in less than 2 hours against GM Salem.

On board 2 the game was strategically complex (as they usually are when Pancevski is playing) so we had no worries there.

On board 3 I had an overwhelming advantage both on the board and on the clock thanks to my preparation, but then I forgot how to continue and things turned around before I could blink.

A miracle how I managed to save this game. But by the time I was thinking whether to continue or take the draw there was a commotion on the board next to me, on board 4. I got up and I quickly realised that our player, Lazov, had won on time, since white hadn’t made move 40, but since the clock had already added the additional 30 minutes (which it does when move 40 has been played) the arbiter decided to let them continue the game, even though our player demanded a win on time! It was such an obvious case, only 39 moves were made and there was no doubt about it. I was shocked and outraged at the complete ignorance of the match arbiter. I was too disturbed to continue and took the draw. Then I decided to take matters in my hands and even though the match arbiter said they should continue I (together with our captain IM Mitkov) went to the sector arbiter, the famous Russian arbiter Alexander Bakh, and demanded an explanation. Initially he was in favour of the decision taken by the match arbiter, but that was just nonsense and I would take none of it. After my persistant and logical demand to award a win to our player he decided to take the matter to the tournament director, also an International Arbiter, Takis Nikolopoulos. He quickly decided the obvious, which was to award the win to Lazov. Bakh agreed and they also summoned the Chief Arbiter of the Olympiad, Faik Gasanov. He approved of the decision and we were finally awarded a win on board 4. The remaning game on board 2 was eventually drawn and we saved the match. So I can perhaps get 1.5 points out of 2 for this match!

The top board saw two wins by the black players and a 2-2 tie in the derby Russia-USA. A score that still keeps both teams in contention, yet a slightly more favourable for the Americans as they remain one point ahead of the Russians. After his 7/7 Nepomniachtchi lost with white to So and Robson managed to lose in the most drawish line of the anti-Berlin to Grischuk. Nerves, what else.

It’s been a very demanding day, both physically and mentally (running around the playing hall to various arbiters and arguing took its toll) so I’ll rest now. The fatigue accumulates, I’m playing every day and my insomnia is getting worse with each passing day. We play Kosovo tomorrow, another tough match ahead. On the top boards things are really heating up, for example Azerbaijan play Russia and whoever loses is out of contention. Speaking of contention, the Chinese can no longer defend their title, they lost to Hungary and have only 10 match points. Carlsen’s Norway managed to climb up to board 2 and they face USA, Caruana-Carlsen should be a great match-up!

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Baku Olympiad 2016 – Round 7

You cannot argue with a 4-0 win. A second of that kind for us in Baku, the guys from Mozambique were much lower rated than us and didn’t put up much resistance.

Since our match was easy, I’ll focus more on the top boards. USA beat India 3.5-0.5 and lead the tournament, a surprisingly big win on a top board in the later stages of the Olympiad. This victory will be a huge boost for the USA, who still have to play their main opposition – Russia, China, Azerbaijan, to name but a few.

Russia also keeps stomping, they beat the Czech Republic 3.5-0.5. A surprising quick loss for Navara on board 1 against Karjakin, things started to go down rapidly for him from move 14.

Karjakin is having a very good tournament actually, +4 on board 1 and without risking losses. Quite in contrast with Carlsen, who is having a topsy-turvy tournament, being lost on a few occasions and only his win today against GM Solak brought him on +3.

The star in the Russian team is Nepomniachtchi. With an amazing 7/7 score he’s the driving force in the team. The teams who have won Olympiads have always had a lower board that brought many points and it was clear from the start that this role in the Russian team was reserved for Nepomniachtchi (that’s why they took him, and not Svidler, for example). His style is well suited for killing lesser opponents and that’s what he’s been doing so far. He’s been fantastic and I’m curious how long he keeps it up!

The Dutch were at the top of the world when they destroyed the English 3.5-0.5 in Round 4, but today they were busted by the Latvians 3-1. Amazingly, the Latvians won both their games with black, the other two being drawn (Shirov-Giri on board 1 was an exact repetition of Ganguly-Vachier from 2013. A friend of mine finely put it when he said that there is no draw that Giri doesn’t know!)

The home team were lucky today, they were on the brink of losing to Croatia but they turned it all around and won 3.5-0.5. Take a look at this turnaround:

The English finally played a great match against world-class opposition. They beat the current Olympic champions, the Chinese, by 3-1. Two wins by Adams and Short (against Wang Yue and Li Chao respectively) and two draws by Howell and McShane (against Ding Liren and Yu Yangyi respectively). Have a look what Adams managed to win:

Tomorrow’s day brings the clash of the titans – Russia plays USA. You cannot ask for more, even if there are 3 more rounds to play after tomorrow, I cannot escape the feeling that the winner of this one will emerge as the huge favourite to win it. And in case of Russia, if they lose they can say goodbye to their title aspirations. Should be great!

The Macedonian team plays United Arab Emirates, who have GM Salem (rated 2628) on board 1 and then they have players rated around 2300 from boards 2 to 4, one of them IM and two FMs. It looks like a stronger team than Tajikistan, so it will be tough.

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