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Mind = Blown

I’ll be playing again in the US Chess League this fall, and partly because I want to avoid the debacle that was my play last year, and partly because I have some time now, I cracked open a chess book again. (It’s really mostly because I want to try and do better, but having time also helps.)

I had bought How Karpov Wins a few years back from Moe’s Books in Berkeley for $6. Towards the end of my time on the fellowship, I began studying the games in this book, but I didn’t make it too far.

Now, about 3 years since I last seriously studied, I decided to try again with the book. The games aren’t annotated too deeply, eschewing most variations for pretty general remarks, many of which add nothing in my view. As an example, here’s a game between Estevez and Karpov from 1972 (full game is here, if you want):

Estevez - Karpov 1

White didn’t do too much in the opening and Mednis lets the position go by without any remarks. But playing through the game, I was wondering, can’t Black just play 13…d5 here? I thought maybe there’s something between the Rc1 and Qc7, but there are simply too many pieces in the way. The computer agrees as well, giving …d5 as objectively best with clear equality.

Instead, Karpov played 13…Bd7 and maneuvered behind his pawns for a while. It’s not hard to note …d5 as an option, and Mednis could even have worked it into his pre-built narrative because Karpov avoided straight equalizers on a couple occasions to keep more pieces on the board. Objectively, that shouldn’t have worked out as by move 25 or so, he was much worse, but his weaker opponent didn’t quite handle the position properly and he escaped to rough equality.

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Interviews, Now and Then

I don’t remember reading quite as many interviews with Anand before, but over the past few years, there seem to have been a number of excellent ones – he seems to be more willing to engage with the media and actually say something rather than speak in simple platitudes. Here’s the latest one with The Indian Express.

A couple points that have been mentioned or brought up here were noted in that interview as well: the unusual number of losses with white, Carlsen’s different approach to the opening (as opposed to being “weak” in the opening), and, of course, the general trend of more decisive results when he struggled to do anything but draw for the previous year.

There was also a video interview with Nakamura I saw over at ChessVibes (for anybody else who watched this, was the music between every question/answer kind of annoying for you too?). There was less new stuff here in my view, except for maybe him saying his emotions are both a strength and a weakness for him.

The real highlight of the interviews I recently read was an old one from 1976 about Walter Browne in Sports Illustrated (!). This is a pretty long article, 10 pages in the browser with a lot of content to it.

“I’ve got the talent,” says Browne. “All I need to do is persevere. And I will, because I’m concentrating all my energies on becoming world champion. I have this fantastic discipline to study chess six, eight, 10 hours a day, this drive to win at all costs short of physical violence. I got this aggression that never quits, this feeling of terrific power. I feel this big hot thing like the sun inside me. I’m not bragging. I really feel as if I can beat anybody at anything!”

I’ve played Browne a couple times in slow games (outrated heavily in both games) and once in a rapid game (drawn, when both of us were in general retirement), but I can’t say I’ve talked to him that much. However, reading this article, our postmortem about that last rapid game makes a lot of sense!

The quick profiles of Grefe and Peters, two people I played a few times apiece in the ’90s were also very interesting – actually, I took a few lessons around then from Peters, working on specific openings and endgames. I never met the other 3 players of the 20-something crowd from that US Championship (Rogoff, Tarjan, and Commons).

There’s a lot of other good stuff in the interview, two highlights of which I’ll call out here:

“Tell your Ostrich [a computer chess program at the time, beaten by Browne in a simul] to read Nimzovich,” he sniffed, referring to the father of the hypermodern school of chess.)

“There are perhaps a dozen players who make a living out of chess, few of whom eat very well. Our goal is to make it two dozen, all of whom eat very well.”

You don’t seem to see interviews like this about chess players any more, especially not in magazines like Sports Illustrated …

Picking up the Pieces

It’s been a bad few weeks for me as a fan – in chess, Anand was worked over by the younger generation in Norway, the Spurs lost to the Heat in the NBA finals, the Giants have been in a big tailspin in baseball, and Federer was eliminated in the 2nd round in Wimbledon! If nothing else, I guess I should find some younger people to root for …

Chess-wise, Anand’s 2013 has definitely been better than 2012 thus far – while his overall results weren’t amazing, he started winning some games again and playing generally more interesting/combative chess this year. However, Norway continued a strange trend for him in a few areas.

After losing quickly against Carlsen (where he played incredibly passively), he had the white pieces against Nakamura. I had already called the loss the day before, but I still was a bit surprised to see the 0-1 the next day – between two losses as white to Caruana and Nakamura in the Lopez there, he’s now lost more games in the Ruy Lopez this year than he did in the previous two decades combined! (And while Anand has largely played 1.d4 starting with this Kramnik match in 2008, he’s played a huge majority of his games with 1.e4) This reversion to 2012 form doesn’t bode particularly well for the the title match in November.

Quite literally, here are his classical losses in the Lopez since the ’90s:

That’s it. Meanwhile, in 2013, Caruana has beaten him a couple times, Nakamura a couple times, Adams … there are all sorts of localized results that are bizarre like this.

For example, I found out during the Tal Memorial that Nakamura and Caruana are the only two active players with plus scores versus both Anand and Kramnik. Actually, given that Kasparov had a -1 score overall versus Kramnik, I’m not sure if anybody else in history has plus scores versus both of them. Maybe I’ll look into this at some point …

Meanwhile, Carlsen came close to winning yet another super-tournament, but he also showed he’s human again by losing a strange game to Caruana, a continuation from the Candidates tournament in London. That’s one thing Anand can hope for come November …

Alternatively … he could hope to get in touch with Gelfand’s people for whatever he’s doing these days. Before 2013, I think the last time that Gelfand won a round-robin event with multiple top-5 players was in the 1990s. This year, though, shared first at the Alekhine Memorial and now clear first at the Tal Memorial! (He also tied for first in a Grand Prix event last year, but most of the very top are skipping those events.)

If anything, he seems to be the exception that proves the rule that “chess is a young man’s game” these days – I’m skeptical of what GM Jacob Aagaard wrote over that Quality Chess blog ( Looking at, everybody in their mid-30s on up is still capable of an amazing run (Kramnik’s and Svidler’s results in the 2013 Candidates; Anand in Wijk aan Zee 2013; Adams at the start of Zurich 2013; Topalov in one Grand Prix event; Kamsky for much of the latest Grand Prix event; even Ivanchuk’s star shone brightly for a couple rounds in the Candidates) – but most can’t sustain it for an entire event and consecutive top-flight results are few and far between.

This is probably Anand’s best hope for the title match – hope for a good run of 6+ games to start the match and then hope Carlsen’s nerves start to kick in more and more. He can probably do himself some favors with better opening choices (I don’t really believe he’ll play some of the openings he’s been playing a lot of recently), but opening preparation alone isn’t going to make things competitive.

Ah well, I’m still hoping the Giants can turn their season around.

Three Random, Possibly Interesting, Positions

I was just playing through some games from the US Championship (Kamsky currently leads with 5/6; Onischuk and Ramirez are half a point back with 3 to play), and there were 3 positions from today that looked quite interesting.

(1) Robson – Shulman

Robson - Shulman US Champ 2013

This came from an Exchange French Winawer, which unlike the normal Exchange Variation, actually has some venom. From what I remember of the opening theory, if Black just tries to play some normal moves, White might well get a tiny pull. But Shulman played it quite strangely, neglecting his king’s safety to bring his Queen out to f6 and then exchange light-squared bishops. But what should White do here?

Robson played the very strong, and very unnatural looking (at least to me), 9.cxd3!. It’s a very concrete move, taking full advantage of Black’s king’s position. It’s hard to believe at first, but Black is already lost!

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Musings on a Chess Style: A Winner Just Wins

“His deep, infiltrating style, subtle positional feeling, and extraordinary persistence, practicality, and flexibility rapidly raised him to the very summit of chess … [He] was not a researcher in the openings and he did not work so much on chess, but he was very skillful at selecting and absorbing new ideas, and then making brilliant use of them in practice …”

There was an interesting discussion in the comments of my last post, brought about by the question (from a certain Unshod fellow): “What do you think of the increasingly repeated claim that Carlsen wins by being more consistent, and a tougher fighter, but brings no new chess ‘ideas’?” There was a short discussion there, but basically, I wanted to take that discussion out of the comments because it deserves its own post I think.

First things first, my general response to the question …

As I said in those comments, I think it’s too much to say he has brought no new chess ideas forward, but I do think his style has taken a clear turn over the past few years towards the “more consistent, tougher fighter” approach. (As a very rough measure, you can see how his average game length has simply gotten longer over the past couple years, moving up from about 40 moves to 49 per game.)

Now for the actual details …

His goal is simply to win games. How can you win games at that level? Every game starts with the opening phase, so in a way, you can think of a continuum with two extremes. On the one hand, you can do only the minimum amount of opening work (this extreme can’t be to absolutely ignore the opening, as then you’ll simply never get close to the top to begin with), try to get a normal position, and make more good moves than your opponent. If you blunder (or even slightly err) less often, you might be able to accumulate enough advantages to win. At the other end of the spectrum, you work through a repertoire as deeply as you can, to essentially claim an advantage as often as possible. Despite starting the middlegame ahead, you still need to play good moves, but you might be able to get by with a few more small mistakes and still have enough to win.

His chessic contribution seems to be that he’s been the first top player in the last few years to fully make this move to the former – it’s a more practical style, eschewing the deep opening study and innovations that characterized every top player from Kasparov on. However, he was not the first to start moving in this direction.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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Not Yet Another Rocky Training Montage

Once again, I haven’t blogged for a while, but recently I’ve actually been spending more time on chess than normal. Why? The USCL season starts the first week of September and then I have the Imre Konig Memorial towards the end of September. It’s also now been about 2 years since I last played a tournament game …

I’ve been playing over some annotated GM games and double-checking some opening lines. While doing that, I came across a sequence that looked pretty incredible to me:

(FEN: r3k2r/pp6/2p2pp1/2b1n1p1/Pq2Q2P/4N1P1/1P1RPP2/2KN3R w kq - 0 23)

This is from a game earlier this summer between IM Ashwin Jayaram and GM Tigran Petrosian, where Petrosian just played 22…Qb4. Before realizing something was afoot, I had already breezed through the next few moves, so it’s hard to say what I would have done here myself. But 23.hxg5! makes a nice impression either way. It’s not hard to see ahead to 23…Qxe4 24.Rxh8+ Bf8.

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Here and There

I haven’t blogged for over a month now, missing the end of the Tal Memorial (which Carlsen won) and the non-existent Bazna King’s tournament (which looks to be canceled, although the official word is “postponed”).

The annual Dortmund tournament is underway though, and the field has been opened up for once to include a number of players outside the traditional elite. So far though, things are generally falling in rating order with the 2700+ players in the top half, and the 2600 players in the bottom half.

Still, there was a pretty amazing game played in round 2 between Jan Gustafsson and Vladimir Kramnik, where Kramnik played the King’s Indian Defense with a rather deep idea in mind.

In the following position, Kramnik introduced a novelty with 13…a5!?:

(FEN: rnbqr1k1/pp3pbp/6p1/3p4/3NP3/4BP2/PP2B1PP/2RQ1RK1 b - - 0 13)

I’m not totally sure what the idea is if White doesn’t play like Gustafsson did with 14.Qb3, but I’m sure there’s something.

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