Some Self Promotion … and Predictions Gone Wrong

These are relatively old news now, but I was planning to post them here, so I’ll stick with that. They are two similar articles, one published in the Kasargod daily Uttaradesha (the district in which my paternal grandparents live) and the other (the scanned image below) published in Havyaka Varthe, a Mangalore (a bigger city, a bit north of Kasargod) publication.

Interview in Uttaradesha

Interview in Havyaka Varthe

The interview was conducted by my uncle (Chandrashekhar Bhat) when I was in India in late November/early December 2013, maybe a week after the end of the Anand-Carlsen match.

As I’ve written here before, I said then that I thought Anand would likely skip the Candidates and largely retire from active play in 2014. I was definitely wrong about the Candidates, and for the moment, it looks like I’m wrong on the active play part too!

I’m hoping he does well in the soon-to-be-starting Candidates, but I still can’t say that I have high hopes … A middle of the pack finish is what I’d expect for now.

The Tale of the Tape

Yesterday I posted the game with some notes, today (after hours of uploading), I managed to get one of the videos onto YouTube.

Here it is, in all its hand-held glory (by the way, credit goes to my friend Dan Zaelit who took the video with my phone):

(youtube link is here)

There’s another version out there too (taken by my friend Ashraf), as well as shorter clips floating around on Facebook.

Looking at the video now, it’s interesting to see how expressive Magnus is during the game. It looks to me like he thought things would be simpler early on, but then became increasingly concerned as the game wore on until he was finally able to smile at the very end.

One other thing I realized from the bughouse and blitz games (and this was confirmed in between the two by his team), is that Magnus is ultra-competitive and hates losing even a casual game.

Apparently, he had lost a casual game against a computer a couple days prior and he was still sore about it at this event. Magnus overheard that little comment to me and shot a glare in our direction.

Anyway, this was a pretty memorable game and the dinner wasn’t bad afterwards either! I’ve met Karpov, Kasparov, and Anand (in that order), but of those 3, Anand is the only one who I’ve exchanged even more than just a couple words with, and I’ve never played a game against any of them.

Before Magnus then, the closest I came to playing a World Champion was a casual game against David Bronstein in the early 1990s (he was just under 70 years old, while I was about 9). Maybe at some point I’ll post that game, but it got ugly in a hurry. The Max Lange Attack doesn’t cut it against people of that class!

Moral and Not So Moral Victories

Amazingly, it’s been almost 3 weeks since World Champion Magnus Carlsen visited the Bay Area. I’ve been meaning to write about meeting and playing some chess with him, but somehow I hadn’t quite found the time until today.

I had seen Magnus before (for example in Mainz 2008), but we had never really met or spoken. The occasion this time was a dinner at Joe Lonsdale Jr’s house in Woodside (attended by about 30 people). When we shook hands, he shocked me immediately when he said that he reads this blog on occasion, although he admitted he used to read it more when I was playing regularly!

He also told me about how he first heard about me, after a game of mine against GM Wang Yue from China in 2002 showed up in New In Chess. It was a Bb5+ Sicilian where he remembered some nice tactical sequences I used, but also that I didn’t manage to win from a much better position. The game can be found on chessgames here and the sequence he described starts with 15.a5!, the point being that if 16…Re8, then 17.Nab5! will lead to the queen being trapped.

After chatting for a bit (and being floored by the fact that the World Champion was telling me about how he heard about me, not the other way around), we played a game of bughouse, but not against each other. We were partnered with players around 1500 or so, and while both of us were winning our games, I dominated my side a couple minutes sooner and so we beat Magnus and his partner. The only drama for me was when they would give up the ghost.

Soon after, I got to play Magnus a blitz game, 5 minutes per side. I got the white pieces and had to make my first real decision as early as move 5:

Bhat - Carlsen 1

(FEN: rn1qkb1r/p1pp1ppp/bp2pn2/8/2PP4/5NP1/PP2PP1P/RNBQKB1R w KQkq - 0 5)

Depending on the opponent, I’ve switched between 3.Nc3 allowing a Nimzo and 3.Nf3. And against the Queen’s Indian, I’ve played a bunch of moves in this position, but it’s been at least 1.5 years since I last looked at anything here. So naturally, instead of any one of the moves I’ve played before (5.Qa4, 5.Qb3, and 5.Qc2), I decided to play 5.b3.

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Time and Tide Wait for No Man

The Anand-Carlsen match is well in the books, and while I was in India for the tail end of the match, I didn’t have much internet time to be writing blog posts. With a couple weeks passing since I came back (Happy Festivus! Merry Christmas! Happy New Year, soon enough! yada yada yada …), these aren’t terribly timely, but I wanted to share a couple thoughts on the match and the aftermath.

I suspected after Game 6 in a Berlin that Anand’s strategy was to try and hold the balance for as long as he could (and maybe hope that Magnus would falter under psychological pressure), but it was only during the 8th game that I was certain of that. By playing the Berlin as Black in game 8 down 2 points, it finally became clear to me that Anand had planned for this match completely differently than I had expected.

While in the Kramnik and Topalov matches he made a conscious effort to target his opponent’s relative weaknesses (concrete play and strategic play at virtually any cost, respectively), he decided to work on his endurance and play in equal positions for this match – in other words, try to meet Magnus’s strength head-on in this one. That approach failed miserably this time.

Of course, when he did finally take the gloves off in Game 9, he lost thanks to yet another bad blunder in an objectively equal position, but that style of play was more of what I was expecting and that was the only time he got any advantage as White. So I’d like to say I was right, but if he was still going to make those kinds of blunders, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.

There’s some question about whether he’ll play in the Candidates in March 2014. In an interview with an Indian paper just after the match, I said I thought he’d retire from active play in 2014 (for now, he’s only got Zurich on the calendar in February 2014) and I’m sticking with that. He’s still talking a good game, but I think he’ll back out before the late-January deadline and give Caruana a way into the event.

As for why? I think there are a multitude of reasons, one of which is that he is a realist about his slide in form, so he doesn’t seem to have the requisite foolish pride to try and make one last run at it. And among the many other reasons, losing hurts. Real bad.

I’m currently reading Andre Agassi’s autobiography Open, and the first chapter (“The End”) is both amazing in itself and also extremely relatable for a professional chessplayer in many ways (maybe more on this later).

“Now that I’ve won a slam, I know something very few people on earth are permitted to know. A win doesn’t feel as good as a loss feels bad, and the good feeling doesn’t last as long as the bad. Not even close.”

Lisa, A Chess Novel

I haven’t blogged in a couple weeks as I had gone to India following the USCL Semifinal match. My original plans were to see some of the World Championship games in Chennai, but that didn’t quite materialize as planned.

Now that I’m back home, I might have more to say about that match soon, but in the meantime, I really should mention a novel written by GM Jesse Kraai: Lisa, A Chess Novel. It’s available on Amazon and there’s more about the author at his site.

As usual for me, I buy more books than I have time to read, so while it came out almost two months ago, I still haven’t finished it yet! Still, early reviews are good and it looks like an interesting read. Enjoy!

A Broken Record

After our win against LA last week, we faced Miami in the USCL Semifinals yesterday. With newly minted GM Daniel Naroditsky on Board 2, FM Yian Liou on 3, and soon to be NM Siddharth Banik on board 4, I was actually the “old man” of a talented team with hopes of winning it all. Unfortunately, we lost the match and dropped to 0-4 against the Sharks in the USCL Playoffs.

At this point, I have to ask – what is Miami doing in Western Conference anyway? Maybe they can swap with Philadelphia: at least they’re not right on the EASTERN coastline! I’m sure at least Dallas would vote for realignment at this point too …

My own game was the quickest of the match. Due to their better regular season record, Miami chose White on Boards 1 and 3, so I had Black versus GM Julio Becerra. There are a number of strong players in the league, but Becerra is by far the USCL leader in terms of wins. And with the white pieces in normal league games, he’s been incredibly strong – by my count, 21 wins, 18 draws, and only 1 loss for a 2698 FIDE performance rating against opposition with an average FIDE rating of 2507. His last loss in any tournament as White in my database was in 2011. All this is to say that while I would have liked to win, my primary goal was to at least hold the line as Black.

For the 4th time this year, I played the Winawer French, and for the second straight match, I played (or was allowed to play) the Poison Pawn Variation (full game here). This marks the 5th time I’ve played it, and amusingly, the 1st time I did was also against Becerra in the USCL (that game can be found here).

Becerra - Bhat 2013 1

(FEN: r1b1k1r1/ppq1np1Q/2n1p3/3pP3/5P2/P1p5/2P1N1PP/R1B1KB1R w KQq - 0 12)

Last week, Melik played the normal 12.Qd3 here and that is what Julio played against me back in 2008. This time though, he responded immediately with 12.Nxc3. It now seems like an obvious move, but this wasn’t always the case, and looking back at my notes for that 2008 game with Becerra, I had no mention of 12.Nxc3 in my preparation. In the past couple years though, Karjakin and Svidler have chosen it in serious games, so it has some pedigree now and I had looked at it in advance of the Melik game. I had not focused on it for Becerra though, as I had predicted some other lines from him.

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Float Like a Butterfly

Game 2 was also a draw, a few more moves compared to Game 1 but relatively quicker in real time. The Caro-Kann makes sense to me for Carlsen, as Anand’s generally direct style leads to a lot of draws against it, unlike say his record against various Sicilian lines or Closed Lopez lines where he’s got more room to work. Still, I don’t think Magnus is going to remain stationary (at least with the Capablanca Variation of the Caro) if Anand plays 1.e4 in Game 4. Apparently, Anand doesn’t particularly mind the Berlin and Magnus decided not to enter it either, both of which are real surprises to me. Either way, though, I still don’t think 1.e4 is the way to go for Anand in this match.

What was a bit disappointing for me was that Anand won a game in this line earlier in the year (against Ding Liren), but while he varied first with 14.0-0-0 (pretty much the only move ever played it seems, as opposed to the 14.Qe2 he played in that one game), he didn’t have anything new after that.

Anand - Carlsen Game 2 2013 1

(FEN: r4rk1/pp2bpp1/2p1p2p/3qP3/3PQ2P/2P5/PP1B2P1/2KR3R w - - 0 18)

The critical moment it seems – Anand considered 18.Qg4, but he went with the quiet 18.Qxd5 and a draw was agreed not too long afterwards with a repetition.

Frankly, the position after 18.Qg4 doesn’t seem all that dangerous for White. Magnus might have been cagey with his “I was planning to play 18…Kh7” instead of the established sequence of 18…f5 19.Qg6 Qxa2 20.Bxh6 Rf7. Established as in it was worked out to a draw in a recent correspondence game, which is good enough for me.

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From the Peanut Gallery

Well, that was interesting – a 16-move draw in the first game of the Championship match.

It was a Reti (an opening I suggested was quite likely, but frankly I didn’t expect it in Game 1) turned Fianchetto Grunfeld, but one that was quite harmless after the shockingly ignored 9…dxc4! 10.bxc4 Nb6 after the following position was reached:

Carlsen - Anand Game 1 2013

(FEN: r2q1rk1/pp1nppbp/2p2np1/3p1b2/2PP4/1PN2NP1/PB2PPBP/R2Q1RK1 b - - 0 9)

After the subsequent 11.c5 Nc4 12.Bc1 Nd5 13.Qb3 Na5 14.Qa3 Nc4 15.Qb3 the game was drawn with one more repetition:

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Anyway, back to prognosticating. I’ll go out on a limb and say: Anand will win the match (possibly in tiebreaks), he will use both 1.e4 and 1.d4 as white, and will largely use a Nimzo move order of 1…Nf6 and 2…e6 as Black against 1.d4.

– Vinay Bhat, before the Anand-Gelfand World Championship Match in 2012

Not a bad prediction, if I may say so myself. The Nimzo move order didn’t quite come true for much of the match, as he only played it twice as opposed to the Semi-Slav four times in the regular portion. However, Anand did win in tiebreaks, so that’s not so bad.

In that post, I also wrote “Either way, I think this [the Gelfand one] is the last World Championship that Anand can win, so if he has to pass the baton, I’d rather it go to one of those two (Carlsen or Aronian) than to anybody else.”

Some time has passed since then and Anand definitely has been making some improvements in late 2012 and through much of 2013, but I don’t think it’ll be enough to offset Magnus’s simply better form now. So my brain says +2 for Magnus (6.5 – 4.5, over in 11 games), and I have some worries that it’ll be a bit like the Kasparov – Kramnik match from 2000 in that Kasparov made no headway really and was never in the driver’s seat. In fact, Kasparov was somewhat lucky that the score only ended as +2 for Kramnik and didn’t even seem to be fighting in some of the games.

That said, I’ve always been an Anand fan and I’m hoping for a great match. I think there’s a pretty short list of people who – at the height of their powers – could play with Magnus when Magnus is in best form (or whatever 2870 buys you these days). Anand is one of them, and if he can get himself back into physical and mental shape, then who knows.

Some of my colleagues have been asking me more about chess recently  some even showing up to the USCL games at the Mechanics Institute which is just a few blocks from our office. One analogy that I tried to make was that this is a bit like LeBron and Kobe going at it one-on-one now, with Magnus as the younger, stronger, and better player, but Kobe as the aging and wounded “Lion in Winter” who can still put together a brilliant performance but can also turn in a real clunker from the field as well.

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Playoffs? Playoffs.

We’re already past the first round of the USCL playoffs, but as I haven’t written about any of our prior matches, I’ll have to fill in the back-story over the next few weeks. In the meantime, SF has advanced to the Semifinals!

Like in 2011, we were facing the LA Vibe, but unlike that year, we had draw odds in the match by virtue of winning the Pacific Division pretty handily. Our lineup was youth heavy with me as the elder statesman (!) on board 1 followed by GM Daniel Naroditsky, FM Yian Liou, and Siddharth Banik.

On Board 1, I had the black pieces versus GM Melik Khachiyan (follow link to play through the whole game). Melik and I have played a few times before, and in both games with the black pieces, I chose 1…e5 (one Ruy Lopez Exchange that was drawn and one Italian Game that I won). This time around though, I decided to mix it up with the French and even more so, with the 12…d4 version of the Winawer Poison Pawn.

Khachiyan - Bhat USCL 2013 1

(FEN: R1BK1B1R/PP1N1P2/4Qp1P/2P1p3/3P4/3p1n2/2pn1qpp/1r1k1b1r)

While I’ve long played the French against 1.e4, I didn’t start out playing the Winawer and this actually marks the 4th time that I’ve played the Poisoned Pawn Variation. I started with the 3.Nc3 Nf6 lines, switching over to mostly the Winawer starting in the mid-2000s. But after becoming a GM, I went back to 1…e5 (which I played before the French), albeit with the Lopez instead of the Petroff or other lines. All this is to say that when another annotator writes something like, “Vinay Bhat is a French, in particular, a Poisoned Pawn devotee” (when annotating 1 of the now 4 Poison Pawn games I’ve played), take it with a grain of salt.

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