Monthly Archives: March 2013

Oh, the humanity!


Those of you following the Candidates will know that Round 12 was a day of high drama as the leaders swapped places. Carlsen lost his first game of the tournament, and that too, to a tail-ender in Ivanchuk. Meanwhile, Aronian continued his slide, falling to Kramnik as white.

That combination (and Kramnik’s current 4.5/5 run), means that Vlad takes a half-point lead with two games to play. Tomorrow, it’s Kramnik – Gelfand and Radjabov – Carlsen; on Monday, it’s Ivanchuk – Kramnik and Carlsen – Svidler.  It’ll be very interesting to see how Magnus responds and whether Kramnik continues his run.

I have a lot of thoughts on how things stand right now … so as the king said, I’ll begin at the beginning, but then I’ll go on till I pass the end of this event.

First, I should say that I was hoping to see Anand go up against some of the young blood in Carlsen or Aronian. While I think Kramnik’s chess level might never have been higher (his middlegame play has definitely improved since his 2008 loss to Anand, and his opening preparation is as deep but broader than in his 2000 win against Kasparov), I’ve already seen an Anand – Kramnik match. But chess-wise, it’s hard to argue with Kramnik. 

Continue reading


Makogonov’s Rule

In an earlier post (Who Are You Rooting For?), I mentioned the Carlsen-Radjabov game from round 7, in which Radjabov missed a clear win with a bishop redirection from d6 to a5.

There are lots of examples of improving such a poorly placed piece, but there were a couple that sprang to mind right away. I’m not saying I’d have seen …Bc7-a5 in advance, but I’d hope that having these in my head would have helped.

Knaak - Geller 1982

(FEN: 2r2nk1/pp2r1pn/1q2bp2/3p3P/3P4/2NB1PQ1/PP2NK2/1R5R w - - 0 22)

I didn’t remember who played this game, but I remember that this position was the first quiz problem from Dvoretsky and Yusupov’s “Positional Play” book. (Turns out it was Knaak – Geller, from Moscow in 1982.)

Continue reading

Who Are You Rooting For?

Stories have a way of writing themselves. As an example, I give you two games from the 7th round, Gelfand-Kramnik and Carlsen-Radjabov.

I’ll start with the Gelfand-Kramnik game. Here’s the position after Kramnik’s 18…Nf6-e8.

Gelfand - Kramnik Candidates 1

(FEN: rq2n1k1/1b3ppp/pp1bp3/8/3PN3/3B1NP1/PP2QP1P/2R3K1 w - - 0 19)

ChessVibes’s writeup has the following: “For a moment Kramnik was in big trouble, but he escaped with a draw when his opponent Boris Gelfand of Israel refrained from playing actively on move 19.”

That’s true – White can win with the very nice 19.Neg5! g6 20.Nxf7! Kxf7 21.Ng5+ Kf6 22.Qxe6+ Kxg5 23.Qh3!! (the only  move to win). Of course, White’s work is not yet done, for example 23…Kf6 24.Qxh7 Bb4 (covering e1, freeing the Qb8 to come into the game), he should find 25.Rc2!, winning.

Continue reading

Thoughts After One Trip Through the Lineup

The Candidates Tournament in London has just completed the first set of rounds. It’s been a very interesting event so far, although with a lot more bizarre time management than I remember from previous events similar to this one (e.g., San Luis 2005 and Mexico City 2007, although both were officially title events).

The games themselves have – almost without fail – been interesting. The one completely uninteresting game that comes to mind was the Round 7 game between Ivanchuk and Svidler. That’s not to say every game has been interesting throughout, just that there were interesting moments in those other games.

At the halfway point, Carlsen and Aronian are ahead of the pack on +3 (5/7). Nobody else even has a plus score, while the elder statesmen among the group (Ivanchuk and Gelfand) are on -2 (2.5/7).

I think it’s pretty clear that Carlsen or Aronian will win this event. A Topalov-like run (6.5/7 in one half, 3.5/7 with all draws in the other) is still theoretically possible for Kramnik, but it’s just a a theoretical possibility. And given that unlike the 2005 and 2007 double-RRs, a good portion of this field appears to be in poor form (relative to even their normal results/rating), I expect Carlsen and Aronian to win some games in the 2nd half as well.

I wouldn’t quite count missing something like in this poor form:

Aronian - Gelfand Candidates

Continue reading

Big Fish, Little Fish

Big Fish Little Fish

Only 1 day and change before the Candidates begins!

There’s been some talk about whether having no clearly overmatched players helps or hurts Magnus (or the others). While guys like Gelfand and Svidler are clearly much lower rated, it’s a very different thing to play them versus playing a mere mortal of a 2600 GM.

My own suspicion was that it would bring the field slightly closer together, as the conventional wisdom is that Magnus beats those guys on-demand. He’d play some offbeat opening line, get a random position, and slowly go to work. Looking at the numbers though, that’s partly true, but that’s not really what sets him apart. However, two other things first …

First, Giri’s comment about Magnus having 80% chances to win this. It’s true he’s been pretty dominant in his recent events, but from Tata Steel 2011 through Tata Steel 2013, he didn’t win 80% of those events (and most of those weren’t as strong as the Candidates will be). As far as I can tell, he’s played at:

  • Tata 2011 (3rd behind Naka and Anand);
  • Bazna 2011 (tied for first with Karjakin);
  • Biel 2011 (clear first);  
  • Bilbao 2011 (clear first);
  • Tal Memorial 2011 (tied for first with Aronian);
  • London 2011 (3rd behind Kramnik and Nakamura);
  • Tata 2012 (2nd behind Aronian);
  • Tal Memorial 2012 (clear first);
  • Biel 2012 (2nd behind Wang Hao);
  • Bilbao 2012 (tied for first with Caruana);
  • London 2012 (clear first); and,
  • Tata 2012 (clear first)

Obviously it’s an impressive run (and better than anybody else’s run at the same time), but that’s 12 tournaments with 5 clear 1sts, 3 shared 1sts, and 4 others. So even counting ties, that’s “only” 2/3 of his events.

Continue reading

The Upcoming Candidates Tournament

The tournament I think everybody’s been looking forward to this year will start pretty soon. Information can be found all over the place, although as I’m partial to Wikipedia, I’ll link to their entry.

ChessBase has published some nice profiles of some players already: (1) Peter Svidler, (2) Vassily Ivanchuk, and (3) Alexander Grischuk. I’m not sure how they’ll get to everybody before the tournament actually starts on Friday, March 15th, but maybe they’ll start double-posting entries this coming week.

These profiles are nice both because they show the full head-to-head history,  but also because they remove those pesky rapid and blitz games that pop up in the simplest of database searches. That’s especially unimportant here I think, given that any rapid tiebreak is only if there’s a tie for first and a bunch of other mathematical tiebreaks come out even.

Continue reading

All About Draws

“The phenomenon of draws in chess I think is a completely different topic than what occurred with the 3-move fixed game.”

The above comment in my last post about the 3-move Eljanov-So draw prompted this post.

I haven’t heard from any credible source that this 3-move draw was pre-arranged. The ChessVibes article collecting quotes and statements from various people about regular draws and quick draws makes no such claim; nor does the tournament report that first broadcast the draw’s length to the reading public. My points were mostly about short draws in general.

I’d imagine that if it were actually pre-arranged, they’d play a few more moves knowing the draw was in hand. In such a situation, I might offer a draw on move 3 precisely because I didn’t know in advance that my opponent wanted the same result. And to support that, I’ll say that 2 of my 4 pre-arranged draws made it over 10 moves, and one of them was even over 20 moves.

For comparison sake, in what turned out to be my last GM norm, I offered a draw to my opponent on move 5. I had no idea where he stood, and that’s why I wanted to get it out of the way before things got too serious in a middlegame (we’d tie for first with a draw, I’d get my final norm; the randomness of open-tournament tiebreaks would determine who actually got 1st prize). He declined though, indicating to me that I really had to focus. And then a dozen moves or so later, when he stood marginally worse, he offered a draw, and I happily accepted.

Continue reading

Quick Draws (or why Ian Rogers is partly wrong?!)

I didn’t really follow the Reykjavik Open this year, but I saw what seemed to be the organizer’s writeup on a few sites (Chessbase, Chessvibes, etc). Soon after those articles went up, I also saw a question from Wesley So on Facebook as to whether what he did was so wrong to warrant the skewering. (He took a 3-move draw as Black against GM Pavel Eljanov to secure a tie for first; one other player ended up joining them on the podium thanks a final-round win; the draw also took So to 2700 FIDE)

I wasn’t inclined to say anything about this – in the grand scheme of things, those articles will be forgotten pretty quickly I imagine. But after reading something over at the USCF site by Ian Rogers, I was kind of annoyed. I don’t even have any particular beef with Rogers, or whoever wrote the Reykjavik article for the other sites. I think it’s all just fluff that most people seem to lap up without thinking about.

After detailing the 3-move draw, Rogers writes: “However the spectators, both at the Harpa tournament hall and online felt ripped off. Bobby Fischer was probably turning in his grave.”

Continue reading

The Hearing is Continued!

Unfortunately, I seem to be making a habit of having these posts begin with a “I haven’t blogged in a while” note. But once again, I’ll try and get back off the wagon (or is it on the wagon?).

As a much longer aside, the inspiration from the title comes from Ostap Bender, the star of Ilf and Petrov’s The Twelve Chairs. There is actually a chess connection with that book, with a few chess remarks sprinkled in before the Interplanetary Chess Tournament episode.

I think I first heard of the book after taking a class in 19th century Russian Literature at UC Berkeley; the natural follow-up was the 20th century class, and while I don’t think this was on the syllabus, I was digging around to find some good books. Unfortunately, I couldn’t seem to find it anywhere – not on Amazon, Addall (a formerly great way to find used books), the campus library, and the old stalwarts in Berkeley of Cody’s or Moe’s. I only got the book after asking around at Moe’s, when one of the staff overheard my question about it – he seemed to be the only one there who knew of it. Anyway, he said he had read it a few times already, and he’d give me the book for free!

I’ve read it a few times since then, and each time, I learn a little more about the book, picking up on some more subtle cues and hints that managed to dupe the censors into letting it get published. It’s since been well surpassed in critical acclaim by the proper release of Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, but I can’t say I really get that book. So it goes.

Continue reading