Monthly Archives: Oct 2016

Karpov and Old Age

There is no need to introduce Karpov. It is probably the only name, together with Kasparov’s, that people far from chess can still recognise.

I would like to touch upon the subject of playing on after certain age. Karpov recently played in two events and played one Bundesliga game in between.

At the beginning of October in Murmansk there was a match between Karpov and Timman. Karpov has beaten Timman throughout their careers mercilessly. The Candidates final in 1990 (6.5-2.5) and their World Championship match in 1993 (12.5-8.5) showed Karpov’s dominance. Timman always seemed to have problems playing Karpov and the match in Murmansk looked to be one more match victory for Karpov – even though both players are past their prime (both were born in 1951) I thought that Timman being Karpov’s “customer” will play the decisive role.

Karpov is very busy nowadays, among other things he is also a member of the Russian Parliament. He never quit chess officially, but he plays very rarely and doesn’t prepare or work on chess at all. Unlike Kasparov, who after officially retiring in 2005 kept working on chess and preserved his strength, as shown in his rare outings, Karpov just loves the process of playing and cannot seem to resist the urge to sit at the board from time to time for an official game or two.

Timman is more active than Karpov, he plays often, writes for New In Chess and composes studies. I am sure he prepared for the match in Murmansk.

The course of the match showed the dangers of relying only on one’s talent even if that talent is enormous. Karpov was rusty and lack of training and practice cost him the match – in the only decisive game Karpov blundered badly:

In the last game of the match Karpov couldn’t do anything with black and he lost the match – for the first time in his life he lost to Timman in an official match.

I don’t know how it feels for such a great champion to fall so low and lose games like the one above. Spassky once said that he realised it was time to stop when he looked at his old games and saw how strong he was, while his last games had been very bad and he just couldn’t play on his usual level anymore. The realisation that you cannot do the same things you used to do before is probably one of the major disappointments of old age.

After the match Karpov played in the Bundesliga against GM Kempinski. Karpov always needed time to warm up and the match with Timman at least served that purpose. The game was a vintage Karpov win.

The game was decided by an elementary blunder by Kempinski, Karpov’s merit was in keeping the pressure.

One of the tournaments Karpov plays every year is the rapid tournament that bears his name, played in Cap d’Agde, France. It’s a rapid tournament where 4 male and 4 female players play a double-round-robin and then the first 4 players play matches of two games (with tie-breakers if needed), a semi-final and then a final. Karpov won his own tournament in 2012, but has found the going tougher ever since.

He started with a win over GM Sebag and a loss to Bacrot. In Round 3 he faced the lowest rated player, WGM Sabrina Vega, rated 2414.

I have always felt uneasy witnessing great champions tarnish their reputation with ugly losses like this one.

Karpov seemed to pick up the pace after this loss and went on to score 9.5/14 and finish one point behind Bacrot, who scored 10.5/14. It seemed that he finally got his form back and could look with optimism to the semi-final against GM Edouard, who scored two full points less.

The semi-final turned out to be one-sided. The result between a great and unprepared champion against a young and heavily prepared GM was 0-2.

In game 1, playing with black Karpov lost a pawn on move 14 and went on to lose. Game 2 was the most telling.

A very painful (not to say humiliating) defeat with white in a must-win situation. Again, my feeling of uneasiness seeing Karpov play and lose like this was difficult to conceal.

The game with Kempinski showed that Karpov is still capable of an occasional glimpse of his former glory. But let us not forget that it was played against a 2600-rated player and Karpov’s own rating is somewhere in this range, meaning that his current strength is approximately of a 2600-rated player.

Chess has changed dramatically since Karpov’s heyday, the young players calculate like machines and are prepared excellently: the computers raised the level of human calculation and their help in the preparation process cannot be overstated. Karpov was never a very hard worker off the board (unlike Kasparov) as he relied on his playing strength and talent. With age the talent remains, but the strength diminishes, primarily because of the imprecise calculations. Karpov was famous for his precise calculation of short lines but that is not the case anymore, as the increased number of blunders in his games show. Chess is a concrete game and if you cannot calculate well you simply don’t play well.

I have learned a lot from Karpov’s games and I always admired him for his fighting abilities. Seeing him lose games because of elementary blunders makes me a bit sad. Karpov’s legacy is eternal, but his present-day games will not make it to his future best games collections.


Cheddleton Conquers Europe

This year I will again be part of Cheddleton’s team for our European campaign, the prestigious European Club Cup.

The Cup takes place in Novi Sad, Serbia, from 5-13 November. This is the official site and you can see the participating teams here.

Last year the Cup was held in my native Skopje and it was Cheddleton’s first outing in Europe. The result for the team was very promising. We were in contention for a Top 10 finish, but we narrowly lost our last two matches. I always say that it is better to be in contention and fail than not to be in contention at all! The tournament also marked my return to the competition, my first after 2008, and it was a fantastic come-back with 5.5/7 and the best overall score on Board 4 in the whole tournament!

This year we are stronger and even more motivated. You can see our line-up with the captain proudly leading the field! In order to promote and help our campaign, Fiona, our strongest player GM David Howell and a couple of other players (IM Vlad Hamitevici and the (in)famous Ginger GM (Simon Williams)) decided to make it massive – a full 12-hour live stream! To quote Fiona “the stream will consist of both a lot of chess and a lot of nonsense, so make sure you subscribe to my channel now and tune in later for a game or some banter!” You can subscribe to “Fionchetta” and follow the show for as long as you can stand good (and not always English) humour, some chess and great fun! The show starts at 3PM CET today, so I hope this post reaches you in time.

It is always a great pleasure to spend time with the guys (and the lady) and I hope we manage to improve on our result from last year. It should be fantastic!


The Magic of Mikhail Tal

I had the idea to write about Mikhail Tal for quite some time but I never found the time. What opened the richness of Tal’s play to me was Dvoretsky’s Secrets of Chess Tactics and in view of the famous coach’s recent passing perhaps this is a good time to write about Tal.

Tal was never my hero. Of course, I knew his games, but I was always more drawn to Capablanca for example, being fascinated by the ease and smoothness of his play. But then came Dvoretsky’s book. What I am about to describe took place in the mid-90s, when I first got to read Dvoretsky’s book. The second part of the book, called Attack and Defence features analyses of games of such attacking greats like Alekhine and Tal. The appetizer was the game Alekhine-Junge from Prague 1942, which introduced me to the concept of “slow attack” and the difficulties the defender faces in such situations. But the real shocker were Tal’s games. In the comments below I will give my own understanding of the games at that time while I will also quote Dvoretsky.

The first game was featured under the subtitle “Science Fiction!” and it did live up to the name of the subtitle!

A true eye-opener for me! I thought for a long time trying to understand what happened in this game. My “hows” and “whys” eventually led me to realise one very important truth about chess – it is possible to play like this. Tal’s talent and skills aside, it is possible to incorporate some of these elements into one’s game. Risk, pressure, aggression, both psychological and on the board, all these can work! There is no need to feel constrained in the positional dogma and always play by the rules. Yes, balance is required as this type of play can often backfire, but for me the most important lesson was that after realising this I felt liberated, I could let my fantasy roam free while I could still curb it, if necessary, with the “positional dogma”.

The second Tal game from the book was no less impressive. It is from the same year, 1965, and from the same Candidates cycle, when Tal made it to the final where he lost to Spassky. The game was played in a moment when Larsen was leading by one point.

A similar scenario to the Portisch game and another elite player succumbs quickly after Tal applied his trademark pressure. These two games consolidated my newly-discovered truth about the possible ways to play chess and with it came the inner freedom I felt – there was no need always to play the “positional” move, sometimes it was possible to play what one wanted to play and it could work perfectly. I grasped the true impact Tal had on the understanding of chess as a whole, he showed that chess can be played in a different way and successfully too. These insights significantly broadened my horizons and even though I didn’t start sacrificing in every game I felt that I became a better player at this mysterious game called chess.


Tal Memorial 2016 – Round 9

In my Round 1 report I wrote that getting a “luxury” in the beginning of a tournament is the perfect start and Nepomniachtchi went on to prove that he also had the perfect finish.

Needing a draw to secure shared first Nepo was obviously nervous playing black against Gelfand. It showed in the decisions he took in the game – first a solid and symmetrical opening, instead of his usual dynamic Grunfeld-type positions, then unsure treatment of the comfortable IQP position that arose. As Anand proved against Tomashevsky in Round 6 these positions have a very high safety margin. But things were going downhill for him because his play was timid and then suddenly Gelfand’s poor form came to the rescue. On more than one occasion he missed very promising options and eventually allowed Nepomniachtchi to draw. A nervy game!

Saving a lost game always feels like a win and Nepomniachtchi was even awarded a win in the tournament when Giri failed to win a winning position against Li Chao (too many words starting with “w” in this sentence!). This would have forced a tie-break between them. I wrote on several occasions that Li Chao’s white openings were odd, and again around 10 he was fighting for equality (and again in the Nimzo!). He failed and by move 15 was worse. And then after the time-control this happened:

Anand and Aronian drew a calm game in the Giuoco Piano (this is obviously the elite’s new favourite opening) and Tomashevsky and Svidler did the same in the London System.

Mamedyarov managed to beat Kramnik’s QGD and catch him on 50%. Like against Nepomniachtchi in Round 3 I couldn’t understand how it was possible for Kramnik to lose that position! And the answer is: by playing for a win and losing objectivity.

Kramnik’s attempts to play like Carlsen and try to win in every game are commendable, but these games when he oversteps the limit of acceptable risk are happening more and more to him. Only in this tournament he lost two. Against weaker players (like against Buhmann in Dortmund this year) it goes unpunished, but against the elite he gets punished more often than not. Something to think about for Big Vlad.

And so the youth won in Moscow, the youngest players ended up 1st and 2nd, followed by the perennial Anand and Aronian. Anand especially is impressive with his solidity, he probably cannot win tournaments like this one anymore, but he is still up there on the top.

The winner finally got his “lucky” break. Nepomniachtchi was considered a talent at least on par with Carlsen and was probably even better than him at one point while they were playing in the youth championships. But a complex character and unstable psychologically, for many years he was consistently failing to fulfill his potential. And now he finally won something big. Where will that lead him? Probably to at least a couple of invitation to big events and then we will see whether he will establish himself as a regular Top 10 player or will suffer the fate of many who quickly entered and then just as quickly exited the coveted club.


Tal Memorial 2016 – Round 8

All drawn again in Moscow and apart from Kramnik’s titanic efforts to win the other games were relatively controlled affairs.

I didn’t understand most part of the game Aronian-Li Chao. Starting from the opening and then middlegame I found it baffling why they were rejecting natural moves in favour of weird ones. But once the rook endgame was reached things started to make sense. It was a beautiful example of active defence by Li Chao.

Nepomniachtchi’s choice to play the English (hence the answer to the question that ended my previous post is “no”) against Anand was surprising taking into account that a draw was a very good result for him. Was he entertaining thoughts of actually beating Anand? Things went off the beaten track rather quickly and it appeared to me that at various points both players were better!

And another “no” as an answer to my question from my previous post – in spite of trying for more than 100 moves Kramnik couldn’t realise his extra pawn against Tomashevsky. A disappointment for him as he was a pawn up starting from move 24!

Giri played the popular Giuoco Piano against Mamedyarov but this time black was better prepared than in his game against Nepomniachtchi.

Gelfand improved upon his game against Anand and drew easily against Svidler.

The last round tomorrow starts earlier and it looks that a draw against Gelfand with black should suffice for Nepomniachtchi to win the tournament as I doubt it that Giri will beat Li Chao with black. But Li Chao’s openings were rather obscure with white, so perhaps there is a chance…?!


Tal Memorial 2016 – Round 7

A surprisingly quiet day in Moscow after the rest day. For the first time we had 5 draws. They got us used to bloodshed!

Gelfand finally stopped the bleeding by playing the Catalan against his former helper Tomashevsky. In the Closed System and trench warfare for 26 moves they found a threefold repetition.
Giri became a father yesterday so today he tried not to spoil his first day of fatherhood by playing solid stuff against Kramnik’s QGD (so there it was, the QGD, Giri decided not to test the Hedgehog for a 4th time, so he wisely went 1 d4). For 14 moves they followed Kramnik’s game from the Olympiad against Nakamura and as in that game Kramnik didn’t have the slightest problem to hold the draw in the simplified IQP position. From the point of view of modern theory it is notable that Kramnik’s use of the old move 7…Nbd7 (instead of the Tartakower line 7…b6 or the Lasker line 7…Ne4) just adds problems to the white players how to crack the QGD – all three offer black excellent, and most importantly equal, play. These problems have forced white players to look for ideas in the 5 Bf4 line, which currently is more promising for white than 5 Bg5, although there black is also solid as a rock.
Aronian was a guest in a Russian TV show together with Kramnik and I suspect they may have exchanged some opening ideas during the commercials. Against Mamedyarov he also went for the QGD, but Mamedyarov was more ambitious than Giri and went 5 Bf4 only to allow Aronian show us what I meant when I said that black was solid as a rock there as well. For 16 moves they followed the 4th match game Anand-Kramnik from 2008 (fruitful commercials?) and then Aronian played the known improvement to sterilise the position completely.
Li Chao continued with his off-beat white openings, today he went for the already-forgotten Nadanian variation in the Grunfeld (6 Na4, after the starting 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 d5 4 Nf3 Bg7 5 cd Nd5). They blitzed out theory until move 16, but by that time it was obvious the position would simplify to a draw quickly. They played until move 50 only because they were forced to do so by the Sofia rules.
The most interesting game was Anand-Svidler. In an Anti-Marshall line Anand obtained the usual next-to-nothing white has in these lines and got some chances when Svidler started to drift a bit. Svidler has never beaten Anand in classical chess and has beaten him only twice ever (both times in rapid, in 2000 and 2002). Perhaps the accepted draw in a completely winning position in Dos Hermanas in 1999 was the start of all the suffering for him? Today he was also on the brink of yet another loss, but it seems Anand miscalculated when given the chance.

Will Kramnik beat Tomashevsky tomorrow with white? And will Nepo venture the Scotch against Anand? My answer to both questions: maybe.


Tal Memorial 2016 – Round 6

Four more decisive games in Round 6 in Moscow. I am glad I don’t get to hear or read complaints about the dullness of the tournament in spite of all the same players playing each other over and over again…

Gelfand lost a fifth game in a row. Against Kramnik today he again remained faithful to his principled approach and went for his beloved Najdorf. To my great surprise (and I believe not only mine) Kramnik went for the sharpest lines with 6 Bg5, something he has never played before. It must be said that the second stint of playing 1 e4 goes much better for Kramnik – more than 10 years ago when he tried to play regularly 1 e4 his results weren’t stellar in spite of his great preparation. Going into the deep Najdorf territory he must have counted on Gelfand’s devotion to his preferred lines and Gelfand didn’t disappoint him – he went for his usual choice of 6…e6 7 f4 Nbd7 and Kramnik could show his preparation, which ended around move 25, when the position was already winning for him! Gelfand’s problem was that he didn’t expect this line to happen so he didn’t refresh his memory of the line and basically lost without a fight. It cannot possibly get worse for Gelfand and I actually expect him not to lose another game until the end of the tournament.

As if not trusting his own luck and merit, Giri lost rather easily today. Aronian surprised him with a rare setup in the English and Giri didn’t manage to find an adequate plan. It’s surprising how quickly black’s position fell apart.

Svidler beat Li Chao, after the latter treated the opening in a very sub-standard fashion. Generally speaking, except for his game against Gelfand, Li Chao’s openings aren’t to the usual standard of these players – his white games against Anand and Tomashevsky in the Nimzo were very bad from the point of view of the opening and today he went astray as early as move 7!

Nepomniachtchi is back in the lead after playing a fine game in his trademark style to beat Mamedyarov. In the Giuoco Piano (not what you would expect of Nepo) he still found a way to sharpen things up by sacrificing a pawn for initiative. Defence was anything but easy and Mamedyarov didn’t manage to cope.

A very good game by Nepomniachtchi, who is on the brink of the greatest success of his career. Three rounds still to go and he has Anand, Li Chao and Gelfand to play so everything is in his hands!

The only draw of the day was Tomashevsky-Anand. In a QGD white obtained an endgame with an IQP but today the technique of defence of these positions is so advanced that making a draw is an easy task.

Tomorrow is a rest day and in Round 7 we have Giri-Kramnik with two days of wondering whether Kramnik’s 4th black in the tournament will also be a 4th Hedgehog for him.


Tal Memorial 2016 – Round 5

It seems we’re back to square one, or as if the tournament just started. Only 1 decisive game in Round 5 and it was again Gelfand who lost.

A fourth loss in a row for the former World Championship challenger, who today lost to the very same person he challenged in 2012. Anand improved upon Gelfand’s recent games against Inarkiev (15 Ne4 instead of 15 Nb3 as played by Inarkiev in two games of their recent match) and after following the main line according to the computer black found himself facing a dilemma – either to enter a slightly inferior position with opposite-coloured bishops or to bank on the bishop pair and possible compensation for the pawn deficit. Always trying to play principled chess Gelfand went for the latter, but under the circumstances that didn’t seem to be the best (or at least most practical) decision.

The game is a very good illustration of a couple of points: Anand’s opening preparation, which takes into account Gelfand’s principled stance to trust and repeat his openings and the dangers of being too rigid in one’s approach (Gelfand became the great player that he is thanks to his principled approach and maximalism, but when in bad form it is more practical to be flexible and try to limit the damage).

Speaking of being principled, Kramnik played his third Hedgehog in Moscow (in as many black games). Aronian varied from the previous two games and went 7 Re1, another popular move for white (apart from 7 d4, as chosen by both Svidler and Nepo). While studying the opening phase of all these games I realised that these lines have recently been played quite a lot by the former Russian champion GM Lysyj. A very good theoretician and a person worth following what he does in the opening!

The derby of the round between Giri and Nepomniachtchi didn’t live up to the expectations (for those of you who had them!) The ever-practical Giri chose a line in the Grunfeld that assured him against any possible risk but that meant that a well-prepared Nepo would draw rather easily, which is what happened. The 67 moves played shouldn’t deceive you, they reached a theoretically drawn rook endgame on move 36, after 23 moves of theory.

Mamedyarov choice of 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Bg5 against Svidler led to some unorthodox positions where both players tried to win (and they both had their chances). As it usually happens in such situations the game petered out (pun intended) to an endgame with opposite-coloured bishops.

Like against Anand, Li Chao again treated the Nimzo in an unconvincing fashion (as if he didn’t prepare for it at all!) – 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 Nc3 Bb4 4 Nf3 b6 5 Bd2. Black had no problems and Tomashevsky drew easily.

Tomorrow’s round sees a meeting of old friends Kramnik and Gelfand. With Kramnik’s aggression and Gelfand’s bad form will we see a fifth loss in a row for Gelfand?


Tal Memorial 2016 – Round 4

Well, they almost made it 4 in Round 4! Blame it on Tomashevsky!

After obtaining nothing from the opening (a Slav) against Mamedyarov he then suddenly found himself in what seemed a technicallly won position with two pieces against a rook. And then he failed to win it. Technique, it’s nerves, Alekhine said. Calm nerves mean good technique. And under normal conditions Tomashevsky is a very good technician. But playing in such an event is not a normal situation for him and it shows in the quality of his play.

Nepomniachtchi had a chance in one moment to get a winning position against Aronian, but he overestimated his opponent’s chances.

Kramnik beat Anand by playing 1 e4. That has never happened before. As usual he went his own way in the ever popular Giuoco Piano by playing a line that was considered to be OK for black. Nowadays everybody (Anand included) plays the plans with a4 and Be3, but Kramnik went for an older variety. I have analysed these lines quite a lot and was surprised to see Anand go for 14…Bc5, which although a typical maneuver it entails a loss of time (my own explorations showed that the best moves seem to be 14…Nd7 or 14…Qd6). But it must have been part of Anand’s preparation because he had already lost a game from that same position by playing 14…Qd7 against Giri in the Stavanger blitz in 2015. Or he mixed things up?

A beautiful win by Kramnik, which brings both players on 50%.

Giri won a third game in a row. “A miracle” as said by himself, is an appropriate description. I love Giri’s self-deprecating comments, but let’s not forget he’s a very strong player and any strong player can have a great run of results. Against Svidler he got the upper hand quickly after white missed a cute tactic.

Svidler had his chances to salvage the draw but he missed them, giving Giri a flying start of 3.5/4 and a sole lead in the tournament.

Gelfand’s nightmare continued as he lost a third game in a row, this time after falling into Li Chao’s Grunfeld preparation.

Today’s round sees the the youngest players (and leaders meet). Will Giri be stopped? I think so. With a draw.