Category : Tournaments

Carlsen-Caruana, WCh 2018 – Game 3

A rather unconvincing showing by both players.

Caruana deviated from Game 1 and chose the rare 6 0-0 in the Rossolimo (I’m afraid we won’t be seeing an Open Sicilian any time soon). The omission of h3 introduces many subtleties in the upcoming middlegame as a lot depends on the plan Black chooses.

Carlsen also chose a rare move, 6…Qc7, as the queen is often not placed here in the Rossolimo structures. After some natural moves were made it transpired that White had the more comfortable position. As Grischuk put it, he had a good version of the Anti-Berlin (and I joked on Twitter that everything in modern theory is about the Anti-Berlin, even the Sicilian!).

Caruana decided to keep control and not grab the c5-pawn and on move 10 it seems that Carlsen miscalculated something because after the exchange on f3 and b4 White had the obvious pressure on the queenside. But then it was Caruana’s turn to commit an inaccuracy – he even called his 15th move a blackout.

Even though he still kept chances to maintain some pressure, it seems that Caruana immediately switched to playing for a draw and this premature change of direction shifted the momentum to Carlsen.

Momentum is extremely important in chess, often more important than the objective evaluation of the position. All top players sense the momentum and its changes and I would even go as far as to say that Carlsen, together with Karpov before him, are the best “momentum” players, easily switching to playing for a win after they had felt that they are not in danger anymore.

Carlsen did start to apply pressure, but luckily for Caruana the position was too simple for him to go wrong. Perhaps it was possible for Carlsen to be even more precise in the endgame, but I doubt that would have altered the final result.

A disappointing game for Caruana, who easily misplayed his opening advantage, and for Carlsen, whose opening preparation wasn’t up to the task.

The first and this game got me thinking about whether the choice of the Rossolimo is the best suited one for Caruana. In the maneuvering positions that arise it appears that Carlsen feels more comfortable, at least for the time being. A mistake in the strategy (allowing to end up in positions that are better suited for the opponent) can cost Caruana dearly. As a comparison, I’d remind you of Tal’s choice of the Advance Variation in the Caro-Kann in his return match against Botvinnik. Tal was well-prepared and was obtaining decent positions after the opening, but the character of the positions was more in Botvinnik’s style and he managed to outplay Tal in the ensuing middlegames. Are we going to witness something similar in London?

Here’s Game 3 with detailed analysis.

CONTINUE READING

Carlsen-Caruana, WCh 2018 – Game 2

The players keep surprising me.

In my Preview I argued that Carlsen would play 1 e4 because after it the preparation can successfully be narrowed down. The point is that after 1 d4 Black has more satisfactory defences than after 1 e4 (where basically on this level there is only 1…e5 and 1…c5).

And in spite of that logic Carlsen went 1 d4 today. I have noted that Carlsen is a very theoretical player in World Championship matches and with this choice he showed that he was fully prepared for everything – the Slav, Semi-Slav, Semi-Tarrasch, Ragozin, QGA, Vienna and the opening we got – the QGD.

It was exciting for me to follow the opening phase of the game after having made a complete repertoire for Black based on it for the site Chessable. You can check this repertoire clicking the image on the right, just above my yellow newsletter subscription box. (Alternatively you can check my posts on the QGD on this search page.)

And I wasn’t disappointed. Caruana played the extremely rare 10…Rd8 instead of the very popular 10…Re8 (the move I also recommended in my analysis). This was a huge surprise for Carlsen who immediately started spending a lot of time. Usually people don’t look for alternatives in positions where everything seems to be going well and this makes Caruana’s introduction (and preparation!) even more impressive.

I am convinced that Caruana was in his preparation well after move 20. Stellar preparation, especially if you take into account that Carlsen wasn’t always choosing the most testing moves.

The most exciting moment in the game arose on move 17 when Carlsen could have sacrificed a piece for what looked like a promising attack. The analysis shows that the complications should lead to a draw, but the lines are amazing and quite complex. Perhaps it wasn’t surprising that Carlsen declined the offer and decided to steer the game towards a draw. Even though he was on the worse end of an equal position, he didn’t have trouble holding it.

So what do we have after 2 games? Both players showed their fantastic preparation with Black and in both games White was suffering. Such is the importance of an opening surprise, with the aim to take the opponent into one’s own territory and preferably a line he hasn’t analysed very deeply.

However, with more information becoming available with every game played I expect White to be able to determine the boundaries of the opponent’s Black repertoire for the match and then pose more problems. It won’t be easy though as it is obvious both are superbly prepared with Black. Just remember how Karjakin failed to pose a single problem with White throughout the whole match in 2016.

Contrary to my predictions the players switched the first move – Caruana went 1 e4 and Carlsen went 1 d4. Will it remain so? I am really looking forward to Game 3 to see whether the Sicilian was a one-off surprise by Carlsen or a mainstay defence. Game 4 will also indicate the same for Carlsen’s 1 d4.

Here’s Game 2 with detailed analysis.

CONTINUE READING

Carlsen-Caruana, WCh 2018 – Game 1

What a start of the match!

I never expected Carlsen to be that aggressive from the get-go. In fact, I never imagined he could play something other than 1…e5. It was quite a shock for me to see the Sicilian! Is this a match strategy to be more aggressive with Black? The next games will give the answer.

I immediately wondered what Sicilian he had prepared, but Caruana was quick to play the Rossolimo. My guess would be the Sveshnikov, a variation he regularly played almost 10 years ago. It has a good theoretical reputation and even Anand (who had Peter Heine Nielsen as his second back then!) couldn’t do anything against it when Gelfand chose it as his mainstay defence in their match in 2012.

Another thing about the opening is whether this is a one-off thing or we will see the Sicilian on a more regular basis? I’ve written more than once that Carlsen has the habit of playing one-off openings in his World Championship matches – against Anand in 2013 it was the Caro-Kann and against Karjakin in 2016 it was the Trompowsky. I am very curious to find and I am rooting for the latter option! It’s been quite a while since we’ve seen open Sicilians in a World Championship match (we have to go back to Kasparov-Anand for that! The odd outing of the Kan in the second Carlsen-Anand match does not really count.)

Carlsen’s choice of the sub-line in the Rossolimo was also very deeply thought through. He went for a line with long-term prospects for Black – he had the bishop pair and the perspective to push the pawns on the kingside. The drawback was that White had a quick development, but he was taking into account the surprise factor and as a result of it the inability of Caruana to play in the most precise way. This small “gamble” paid off handsomely and Carlsen immediately got a wonderful position on the board and a huge time advantage on the clock. In a way, this choice was similar to his choice in their game from 2015, when he also went for the long-term prospect of a kingside attack (even though there it was more risky as he completely abandoned the queenside).

He then proceeded in a forceful manner and even though he may have been hasty on move 21 his energetical play brought him a winning position. And then something happened and he became hesitant. He started missing wins and as it usually happens eventually he let it slip completely. Of course, credit also goes to Caruana for his tenacious defence, but this time it was all in Carlsen’s hands. The best Carlsen could do was to liquidate to a drawn endgame that he played for 3 hours, without creating anything substantial.

A curious start of the match and an unnerving reminder for Carlsen of his missed chances against Karjakin. If you don’t score your chances, you concede. For Caruana this was an opening catastrophe – to end up worse and with a huge time deficit after 15 moves is definitely not how you want to start the match.

So neither would be happy, but I suppose the happier will be Caruana – after all he did save a lost game. And he was suffering from start to finish but he didn’t succumb. Resilience will definitely be a key factor in this match.

Tomorrow is the second game and I am very curious to see both players’ strategies with colours reversed.

Here’s the game with detailed analysis.

CONTINUE READING

Carlsen-Caruana, WCh 2018: A Preview

This match will probably be called a classic, no matter which way it goes and how it goes.

The previous match was between childhood rivals, but one was afraid of the other, and the fearful tried to dry it out. This match won’t be like that. This time there is no fear.

The challenger is younger than the Champion. Historically speaking, and having in mind the “classical” lineage (where the Champion is the one who beat the previous Champion in a match) Botvinnik drew Smyslov in 1954, Petrosian defeated Spassky in 1966, Kasparov defended his title twice against younger challengers – against Short in 1993 and Anand in 1995 and Anand did the same against Topalov in 2010. Not a very frequent event in chess history, an older champion to emerge victorious against a younger challenger.

An aspect that I see as very important in this match is the possible tie-break. In case of a 6-6 tie, a rapid tie-break will follow. This may have huge influence on the match strategy of both players, if we take into account that Carlsen is clearly superior in rapid and blitz time controls to Caruana. Caruana surely has done some preparation for this scenario, but I’d still see Carlsen as the clear favourite in rapid and blitz.

This means that it may be Carlsen who won’t mind drawing the match. Not necessarily playing for a draw (I sincerely doubt he’d go down that road), but generally playing with the knowledge and confidence that a 6-6 is in his favour. This can put pressure on Caruana not to let the match go to tie-breaks, but only if he’s not confident enough for that phase. But I have the impression he will be.

What distinguishes this match from all the previous Carlsen matches is that Caruana feels confident when playing Carlsen. He has shown he can beat him and will openly play to win. I don’t expect him to change his usual style for the match – mostly because his style is uncomfortable for Carlsen.

Caruana’s approach of concrete opening preparation, aimed at obtaining advantage (as opposed to Carlsen’s “just to get a game” – more on this below), followed by forceful play based on very precise calculation is one that should pose Carlsen problems. It is in a way similar to Kasparov’s approach against Karpov’s. Karjakin also had that kind of opening preparation prior to the match with Carlsen, but in the match he modified it in order to obtain safe positions and draw the games. Caruana will not change like Karjakin and I expect him to go for the most critical lines and also to unveil new theoretical paths.

I also expect Carlsen to continue to do what he usually does, only on a higher level, both theoretically and practically. I have noticed that Carlsen is in fact a very theoretical player in World Championship matches, as opposed to tournaments. He will also introduce his own ideas and I won’t be surprised if they are of a forcing character (remember the 8th game from the match in Sochi or the 6th game from the match in New York, both times drawing effortlessly thanks to his excellent preparation).

In terms of general match strategy and play I expect both players to do what they do best with no changes in style and approach a-la Kramnik against Kasparov. A typical clash of two styles and one that should produce fascinating struggles. Please bear in mind that I expect fascinating struggles, even though this may mean that the majority of the games end in draws – it is the substance that will make the excitement.

Concerning the openings, usually the World Championship matches pick up the latest developments and then build on them. So a quick glance at what the best players have been playing lately should give an idea what openings we will see. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be any surprises, but generally the matches follow the trends.

The major question is what Caruana will opt for on move 1. Only 1 e4, only 1 d4 or a mix of both (with 1 c4 also being an option). This will largely determine the array of openings we will be seeing. Against 1 e4 Carlsen will stick to 1…e5, both the Berlin and Marshall (as in the match with Karjakin) have proven to be 100% reliable. The Giuoco Piano is also a very probable option, with many ideas being discovered in the last several years it is still a fertile ground for further developments.

Against 1 d4 Carlsen has more choice – he prepared the Slav against Karjakin, while he can play pretty much everything (QGD and Nimzo, to name just the most solid ones), including the Grunfeld (against Anand in Sochi). Lately in tournaments he toyed with the King’s Indian, but I doubt we will see it. It is difficult to sense what opening he will prepare for this match.

With Carlsen as White, I expect to see 1 e4 more. I also expect to see Carlsen start the match with something he won’t play afterwards – in Chennai he essayed the Caro-Kann in Game 1, never to return to it in the remainder of the match, and in New York it was the Trompowsky. Against 1 e4 Caruana will also most likely stick to 1…e5 and the question is how much he will depend on the Petroff.

The Petroff served Caruana beyond expectations and Capablanca taught that one should always play the openings that bring good results. So probably the Petroff will feature in London, but how often and what will Carlsen have to show against it?

In their last encounter Carlsen came up with a fresh idea and convincingly outplayed Caruana. Then he hesitated and missed the win. Here’s the game with the comments I published in the September edition of the British Chess Magazine.

Normally people prepare two openings for Black in these matches, one is the main defence and the other one is the back-up. The question is then, if the Petroff stays, what will be Caruana’s back-up?

A relatively recent (starting with Wijk aan Zee this year) development in Carlsen’s opening approach was his increased use of the main lines – he’s played the English Attack against the Taimanov, the Yugoslav Attack against the Dragon, and even the most aggressive 6 Bg5 against the Najdorf. Previously I wrote that I see this development as a way to prepare and pose theoretical problems in the match. Personally I would be delighted to see both players slugging it out in the most topical variations!

To conclude, I am expecting a great match! When two players who are confident in themselves and go out to beat the other guy meet, the result can only be a ferocious fight. And this time I see no favourites.

CONTINUE READING

Isle Of Man 2018

The open of Isle of Man cannot be stronger than it already is. Last year it had Carlsen and Caruana and everybody else, while this year it “only” had everybody else.

Apart from the appearance fees, I can see only one reason why the elite players would play an open event. That reason is the absence of pressure on them to win. We all know that a win in an open depends on many factors, luck not being among the less important ones, so even the public doesn’t expect the absolute favourite to win. So the elite players take it easy, not caring so much whether they win the tournament or not, though definitely caring about their rating points.

Last year I wrote of Kramnik’s nightmare on the Isle. It was a typical case of a player not being able to motivate himself to beat an almost 400-point weaker player. I perfectly know the feeling, you are expected to win, but you don’t want to play the game, because you get nothing from it, neither creatively nor materially. The win is a meagre 1 raing point (or less) and a loss is such a disaster you don’t even want to contemplate it.

The following position is from Kramnik’s second-round game.

Ah, finally, I thought, Kramnik is doing his magic of positionally dominating an opponent, showing infinite difference in class and understanding. White can barely move here, probably should just resign and marvel at Kramnik’s artistic superiority.

Now comes the shocker – in the position above, Kramnik was playing with White!

He was being stuffed by IM and WGM Alina Kashlinskaya, modestly rated at 2447.

Kramnik would never allow himself to be humilated like this against a fellow elite player. So why did he allow it to happen against Kashlinskaya? (And he was also lost in Round 1 against Indian GM Sundararajan Kidambi, rated 2445.)

The answer is what I wrote above – he couldn’t motivate himself, he didn’t care enough in order to play at full capacity. Luckily for him, he “showed infinite difference in class” and “confidently” drew.

When Kramnik started playing opponents with higher rating his level also rose and he confidently beat L’Ami (2639) and Shirov (2636). The latter is a curious case of a former elite player who dropped considerably, but Kramnik definitely needed no extra motivation to play against him.

OK, enough of Kramnik and his motivation. Here is one of the most exciting games of late, not only from the tournament, but also generally:

The tournament was very interesting because of the fact that we saw only 1 (!) game between the top 10 players – in the last round Grischuk beat Vachier. And seeing the less common pairings of elite players against “lesser” GMs, where the “lesser” ones were more often than not on the brink of winning, is a novel experience after witnessing so many elite all-play-alls.

Chess is fun after all.

CONTINUE READING

European Club Cup 2018

It’s been hectic, chaotic, exhausting yet curiously rewarding time since the Olympiad finished.

In the few days between the Olympiad and the European Club Cup I thought I would rest, but life thought otherwise. So going to Porto Carras I was already tired. My job was not to play, but to coach and help my Italian women team of Caissa Italia Pentole Agnelli to reach the summit of Europe.

We really had a great team, comprised of top players: Valentina Gunina, world’s number 9, Elisabeth Paehtz, world’s number 10, Stavroula Tsolakidou, a triple World Champion (U14, U16 and U18) and one of the brightest young talents, Olga Zimina, reigning Italian champion and Marina Brunello, reigning Italian vice-champion and fresh from winning the gold medal on her board at the Batumi Olympiad.

The atmosphere in the team was one that was envied by all present in Porto Carras. We were always together, supporting each other, making sure everybody was comfortable and laughing and having a great time. Some Facebook photos easily confirm this.

Unfortunately there was one factor that we couldn’t control and that cost us dearly. That factor was fatigue. All the players were crucial for their teams in Batumi and played a lot of games there – Lisa played all 11, Valentina, Stavroula, Olga and Marina played 10. There were no easy matches in Porto Carras (we underestimated this fact in the beginning!) and the inner resilience that is required for a team to do well in a tough tournament was lacking because there was no energy for it – the girls were simply out of steam by the time they arrived in Greece.

Already the first match showed the problems we were facing. Playing against the weaker on paper but highly motivated team from St. Petersburg we were lucky to draw the match. The following game on Board 1 was one of the craziest I’ve witnessed in person. The comments below are my impressions while watching the game standing behind Valentina. I leave it to the reader to decide whether to switch an engine on or not.

When the tournament starts with a game like this, there are only two options – either everything will go your way or it won’t. Unfortunately for us, it was the latter.

Even though we won the next two matches against weaker opposition (one of these teams was our second Caissa Italia team) it was clear that the girls were not playing well. There were blunders galore and an apparent lack of energy. This showed in the 4th round when we faced the leaders Monte Carlo.

A win would have assured us of a qualification for the semi-finals (the women’s tournament was played not as a normal Swiss but rather a system of two all-play-all groups with the first two of each group qualifying for the semi-finals). We approached the match seriously and prepared well. I was happy to see our preparation on all four boards, especially on Board 1 where Valentina managed to catch Anna Muzychuk in a forced line in the Exchange Slav.

But then things started to go down. Olga obtained a drawn endgame on Board 3 against Monika Socko (that was the plan) but slowly drifted into problems and lost it. The mess Lisa created on Board 2 against Cramling was going to be decided in time-trouble and it didn’t go our way. Valentina faced an incredible resourcefulness by Muzychuk and failed to capitalise on the best chance, eventually drawing. On Board 4 Marina started to take over little by little only to blunder an exchange. The final result: 0.5-3.5.

We didn’t deserve such a loss, but quite unexpectedly we were given a second chance. The team from St. Petersburg drew against the weaker team of Maribor and now if we won against Odlar Yurdu from Azerbaijan we would still qualify!

I made sure we didn’t repeat the mistakes from Round 1 when we underestimated opponents who were slightly lower rated than us. We again prepared well. I thought we would take this chance.

And again things started so well. We got our preparation in on all 4 boards and I was content. Alas, this was only for history to repeat itself. Soon after leaving preparation Stavroula on Board 3 sank into thought and quickly messed up a perfectly good position. Not much later on Board 4 Marina misplayed a fantastic position and ended up a clear pawn down in a hopeless endgame. Lisa was pressing in an Exchange Slav with White while Valentina grabbed a pawn and I was hoping she would soon start playing for a win. A faint chance for a 2-2 appeared, only to be brutally squashed when Valentina blundered and lost. Lisa bravely fought on and won, but the match was lost 1-3.

This loss really took out everything out of me. Fatigue was there for all of us, but the hope of qualifying kept me going. Now with it gone I was flat.

Things didn’t get easier though. In the first match for 5-8 place we faced the tough club of Kyiv. If only we could win one match against strong opposition…

It wasn’t meant to be. On Board 3 we had the same scenario as with Monte Carlo – with White Olga obtained an equal endgame, which under normal conditions she would easily draw, but devoid of energy she lost. Lisa went for a complex endgame against Zhukova on Board 2 and was outplayed, but when things got tactical she started finding resources and saved the game. On Board 1 Valentina got the other Muzychuk sister, Maria, into her preparation, but she slightly misplayed it and the position was equal. Then she started to do what she does best – creating tactical threats and Maria started to err. And then, instead of simply either forcing a perpetual check or taking the sacrificed pawn with continuous attack, Valentina went for the attack immediately, missing that the king can run away from the kingside and hide in the centre. After that there was no attack and the extra pawn for Black decided the game. At least on Board 4 we got a consolation as Stavroula played a good game, first absorbing White’s pressure in a Najdorf and then winning in the endgame. We lost 1.5-2.5.

The final match was against the weak team of Beer Sheva. We were outrating them by almost 400 rating points on Boards 3 and 4. So what happened? We lost on Board 4 with White in 16 moves when Marina blundered her queen. 0-1 after merely an hour of play. Stavroula on Board 3 won a good game, a type of game we wanted to see more often, showing a difference in class and winning easily. Valentina misplayed the Caro-Kann on Board 1 and was happy to draw, while Lisa was an exchange up in a complex position she managed to transform to a winning one. But then she allowed unnecessary counterplay and Black had a draw, which she luckily for us (finally!) missed. We won: 2.5-1.5.

True to our atmosphere we had a great party afterwards, but it was clear that this result was a disappointment. It’s a pity that all players were out of shape and tired and even though other players also played at the Olympiad the fatigue seemed to affect us the most. As a coach and captain in almost all the matches I learned quite a lot. I understood what a team really needs in order to win a competition as tough as the ECC – I am not sure the word resilience is the one that best describes it, but what I mean by it is that the grit, the fighting spirit, the inner toughness of each player and the team as a whole is the main characteristic that leads the team to the top of the pedestal.

We are a “new” team – this was the first time we played together. Now we know each other so much better and we all learned from what happened in Porto Carras. In spite of all the efforts I really enjoyed working with all the girls. I also thank them for everything they did, because I know they did the best they could under the circumstances. I also thank Yuri Garrett and Gianvittorio “Il Direttore” Perico for putting together such a great team and allowing us an opportunity to go for glory.

Since our sponsor Pentole Agnelli is a cookware company, to which we are all indebted to as it was them who made our expedition possible, I think that we can safely say that we will be back next year with some nasty surprises cooked up beforehand. And if we somehow manage to win, I can guarantee the party afterwards will be an unforgettable one!

CONTINUE READING

Batumi Impressions

I am finally back home after a gruelling 14h-trip. Another sleepless night filled with bus rides and a flight. It reminded me of those times when I was tournament-hopping with no end in sight, just that this time it was no fun at all.

The results of the Olympiad are already known, the Macedonian teams didn’t do so well and for this I blame the pre-game travel of some 40 minutes. It is impossible to play well throughout the whole distance of such a demanding tournament as an Olympiad if your energy is drained before each game by a road trip and traffic jam. From what I’ve been told in Khanty it will be better.

Here I would like to share my view of the Olympiad as a whole and also of the most impressive (for me) event there – the FIDE General Assembly.

This was a first Olympiad where I wasn’t a player. This allowed me to see things from the outside – when I play I am completely focused on my own regime, preparation and play so I deliberately block out everything that it outside of my primary focus. Now things were different.

By different I mean the social aspect. The busiest place in the playing venue was the so-called EXPO, where there were several stands: of the both presidential candidates, of the 2022 Minsk Olympiad (they didn’t have an opponent so it will be organised there) and of the ECU presidential candidate Azmaiparashvili (who also didn’t have an opponent and was elected again). An hour into the round the EXPO was bustling with all sorts of people (both Dvorkovich and Makropoulos were there almost every day) and if you needed somebody you could be certain that he or she would be there. In the informal atmosphere that ruled the place it was very easy to approach anybody (including the candidates) and start a conversation.

In spite of living some 30km from Batumi, I also managed to see a lot of people in the city. This meant quite a few extra taxi rides from my hotel in Kobuleti to Batumi, but it was worth it. In the wake of the FIDE elections meeting people was even more interesting. I talked to several high-level officers in FIDE and some very rich and powerful people and learned a lot in the process.

A very important place to be were the parties organised by the candidates. I went to both and just by observing who’s talking to whom and their body language I could see a lot. The most telling moment for me happened during the organiser’s party which also doubled as Makropoulos’s. At one point there were speeches and I could clearly see both candidates standing relatively close to each other. In that moment I realised that Makro was losing – he was uneasy while Dvorkovich was calm, in spite of the speeches being angled to favour Makro. He was even given a chance to talk and he turned it into a propaganda for his campaign, but even that didn’t help. He was nervous.

The main event was the General Assembly. It started at 9am and it ended at some time after 6pm when the winner of the elections was announced. During the assembly I was amazed to see how well-oiled Makropoulos’s team was. Whenever a negative comment from the delegates was aired, he would either cut it down or turn it to his favour. Very often a member of his team would add something that would make the accuser inadequate and would bolster Makro’s image. There were also several comments that were aimed at showing the Makro team in better light. At times he would just not discuss the question and that would be it. It was clear that the experienced politician was controlling everything from his chairman position.

The speeches of the three candidates were very telling. Dvorkovich spoke first and even though he stammered a few times he basically elaborated his future plans. He received a big applause. Short spoke second. He attacked FIDE and Makro and ended with a withdrawal of his candidacy and endorsing Dvorkovich. And then came Makro. I remember that Kasparov said that he was wrong to talk first in Tromso in 2014 because when he finished Ilyumzhinov came out and said he’d give 20 million USD to chess, mocking Kasparov’s figure of 10. This was met with laughter and approval and Kasparov felt that this was the final straw convincing him that he had lost. So I thought this was Makro’s last chance to try to sway things in his favour.

But Makro didn’t take it. His speech was weak, a mixture of attacks on his opponents and mentions of his past glory. Nothing about the future. He also lacked energy while speaking. It was clear to me that he already knew it was over. He received a meek applause.

The lobbying part that took place outside the hall was a separate show to observe. The voting had barely started (185 countries had to vote and it took around 2h to finish. It goes in alphabetical order and while waiting the delegates go outside the hall for a drink or snack) and the delegates were already discussing and negotiating, all of them already knowing the final results. Deals were made literally every minute.

The final result wasn’t a surprise for anybody. There was a wild ovation when it was read aloud and it did feel as if people were really eager for this change to happen. There was an air of hope present and I saw a lot of happy smiles.

When I finally left the Sheraton Hotel and took a taxi back to my hotel I felt completely drained. It was a first time that I felt such fatigue, as if all my energy had been squeezed out of me. Later I realised that this shouldn’t have surprised me. In a hall full of people from the whole planet engaged in historical elections the energy is easily zapped. Politics is a high-energy endeavour.

Dvorkovich won. He brings change and he brings hope. After decades of the same thing the world needed this. So the start is promising. The next 4 years will quickly pass and Minsk will hold the next elections. At least now I know how they will look like.

CONTINUE READING

Bad In Batumi

In fact Kobuleti, if I have to be more exact.

I also have never heard of it before. Now I will spend the next 12 days here, being part of the Olympiad that takes place in Batumi, some 30km from here.

The only good thing about Kobuleti is the 5-star hotel we’re staying in. Even though at the very beginning we said we preferred less stellar accomodation in exchange for being actually in the city where the games are played. It wasn’t meant to be.

So what does this mean? Let me give you a backward timeline. The games start at 3pm. The trip from the hotel to the playing hall takes 45 minutes, if there is no traffic (often there is). The scheduled transport from the hotel leaves at 1.30pm. Lunch finishes at 1pm and starts at 11.30am. The board pairings are supposed to come out at 10am, but today they didn’t (they came out after 11am) and we will see what happens tomorrow. I will leave you do the math of how much time is left for preparation and rest.

The entrance to the playing hall is the players’ worst nightmare. Only 3 (!!!) entrances for each hall. Again, do your own math how many people have to go through those entrances and the frame scanners behind them. Just for a comparison sake, the USA team spent 50 (no typo, fifty) minutes waiting in the sun before entering the playing hall in Round 1.

Yes, Round 1 is the Olympiad’s worst. They told me today it was better. But what does better mean? It simply means that in order to let the people in faster, the whole idea of security checks loses its purpose because the only way to do it is to check less thoroughly. One player told me that when they asked her what she had in the bag (because it sent the scanner off) she told them she had some coins and without even checking the bag they let her in. I am sure this wasn’t the only case. There’s your “tight” security.

There was even more mess before Round 1, when people were supposed to pick up their accreditation cards. Instead of distributing these to the hotels where the players were staying (a very good practice we saw in Baku) they opened a small, 10m2 room for this purpose. There are 185 countries participating. The queues were so long that some people were waiting for more than 3 hours to get into that room.

For us the main problem is the travel. It reminds me of the famous opens in Cappelle la Grande. Staying in Dunkirk, playing in Cappelle, bus rides between the two. Not very professional, to say the least, but the wine was unlimited and free, so no surprise they were one of the most popular opens. Wines aside (though the Georgian ones are pretty good), it is simply not fair to place some teams at a disadvantage. While the majority arrive to the playing hall in 10 to 15 minutes, it takes us 45. The same is for going back after the game. It just isn’t fair.

Of course we will fight, we always fight. Perhaps especially hard when it is against the odds. Yet the bitterness is already here. For me this Olympiad won’t feel like the celebration I have always considered it to be.

CONTINUE READING

Dubov’s Ideas

Daniil Dubov is one of the more original thinkers in modern chess. If you look at it at face value it is very easy to be original, just do something nobody has done before. The trick is to be original and good at the same time.

Dubov is one of the rare breed of very talented and strong young players who is also quite original. I am primarily speaking of his opening ideas, who cannot but catch your attention.

In my newsletter (use the friendly yellow box on the right to subscribe if you wish) I already noted some of his new ideas in the Grunfeld (he is a Grunfeld player with Black) and here I would like to draw your attention to his latest novelties. Currently he is playing the Russian Superfinal (just finished today), where in spite of the good start and leading the tournament he lost the rhythm and dropped to a minus score in the end. Curiously enough, he first won 2 games with Black before losing the next 3 with the same colour.

I am sure he will learn to deal with the pressure of being a leader, but in the meantime we can look at and perhaps pick up some of his ideas from the tournament.

In Round 2 Dubov introduced a true novelty on move 8 (it hasn’t even been played in games between computers or online!):

Even though he didn’t win the game this looks like an interesting way to steer the game clear of the usual paths. Black can probably neutralise this novelty, but that is difficult to do during the game as a GM as strong as Oparin failed to do so.

In Round 5 Dubov played a shocker (at least for me) on move 6!

Objectively speaking, Vitiugov reacted very well to Dubov’s 6 Nd2 and obtained a good position. But perhaps White’s play can be improved upon?

In Round 7 playing White against Fedoseev, Dubov continued in similar vein with the already-established aggressive treatment in the trendy …a6 lines in the QGD. Only this time the move e4 turned out to be a new one.

It is my impression that these lines with …a6 in the QGD work better when the White knight is already on f3!

Dubov’s ideas are very interesting and exciting, sometimes even shocking, so I always make sure to take a look at this games, wherever he plays. I would suggest doing the same if you are looking for ways to spice up your opening play, you won’t regret it!

CONTINUE READING

Sinquefield Cup 2018 – A Threesome

The Sinquefield Cup finished a few days ago and I would like to share some impressions I got from the tournament.

The crucial moment of the whole tournament was the game Carlsen-Caruana. The game lived up to the expectations and it followed a scenario where Carlsen managed to outplay Caruana, but failed to nail the game when it was within his reach.

If you take all their classical games from this year (Wijk aan Zee, Grenke, Stavanger and Saint Louis) you can notice that in all of them Carlsen had the advantage – he was constantly outplaying Caruana, but he only managed to win one, in Stavanger. This is both good news and bad news for Carlsen. The good news is that he manages to outplay Caruana on a more constant basis, but the bad news is that he wins very rarely. He was doing the same in his match with Karjakin, obtaining winning positions and failing to win, and I’m sure we all remember where that got him. As for Caruana, it is quite clear that he will have to raise his level even more if he wants to be equal in that match, but at least he can take a positive from this last game that he managed to save a lost position.

Another characteristic is that Caruana won his games showing fruitful opening ideas and then capitalising on them. Carlsen won his games in long, “completely drawn” endgames. It has been a while since Carlsen won a game in this manner, but I am pretty sure that this won’t work in London. He needs to find other ways to win games and his adoption of mainstream theory in his last tournaments looks promising in that direction. Even in the above game he introduced a fresh opening idea!

Nakamura continues to be awful in classical chess. Shared last place with 3 losses and no wins and even more shockingly a drop out of the top 10 (of which I have already written on this blog) is a big concern for the American player. He is still dominant at faster time controls, but in classical he seems to have lost the patience. The way he lost to Carlsen in the last round is shameful. I really doubt it that he will find motivation to get back on track, but I also hope he proves me wrong.

Karjakin was similarly horrible. Just plain, no opening ideas, no spark, no motivation. He lost a Berlin endgame to Aronian and a “dead drawn” endgame to Carlsen before losing to Caruana after falling into an unpleasant position. Both Karjakin and Nakamura know that they will never become a World Champion and they are both financially secure for life – what motivation do they have?

The tournament ended in a farce. The regulations stated that there should be tie-break between two players, but since there were three and their tie-breakers were all equal, the odd man out had to be determined by drawing of lots. The players protested, but that’s what the regulations stated. Still, the organisers decided not to follow their own regulations and proclaimed all three, Caruana, Carlsen and Aronian, as winners.

This is ridiculous. Why are they writing regulations if they don’t plan to follow them? If they are so bad, why not take some time to write better ones? This is very similar to the Candidates tournament – back in 2013 in London everybody agreed that the first place shouldn’t be decided by a Sonneborn-Berger or whatever, but rather by a rapid tie-break match, yet the same regulations have remained in place for all the subsequent tournaments. Sometimes I get the impression these organisers are really lazy sods who hope that the tricky situations never occur. And to make it worse, that’s what most of the time happens!

There was still a tie-break in the end, for a place in the GCT Final Four in London in December. Caruana easily dispatched of So 1.5-0.5, securing the spot. I am firmly convinced that So’s loss was a result of his miserable last round game against that same Caruana. The previous day he boldly stated that he must go all in for a win in order to secure qualification for London, yet when the game came he chickened out with the queen exchange in the Petroff and a boring draw. This failure to stir up the spirit to fight for the prize is not a sign of strong character. When you don’t take your chances somebody else will, and that is what Caruana did in the tie-break. So is a great player, but his character seems to be still “under construction.”

The next big tournament is the Olympiad, where I will also be present, only this time not as a player. Too bad, but then again being there “where the action is” is still something that excites me.

CONTINUE READING
1 2 3 4 31