Guess Who’s Back? Back Again

“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Your blogger-in-hiding hopes to make a return over the next few weeks, partly to write about the upcoming Anand – Carlsen match, but also because I’ve been playing a few games again in the US Chess League!

For now though, I refer you to the following:

I heard about this video from Dennis Monokroussos’s blog (The Chess Mind) and the stretch he refers to in that entry is pretty amazing to watch. Start around 8 minutes in and you’ll see Karpov fidgeting a bit, but pretty calmly resigning and losing the Championship Match in 1987.

I’ve definitely reacted worse to some losses, but maybe given the adjournment break and some time to consider the sizable audience watching, I might have not completely embarrassed myself in his shoes. But not only does Karpov shake hands and sign the scoresheets, he calmly puts his pen in his jacket pocket and starts analyzing the endgame with Kasparov!

Gelfand’s no slouch in the upstanding-citizen department, but when he lost to Anand in the Championship tiebreaks last year, he shook hands, said a few words of congratulations, and then got up and left. No hanging around to figure out where he might have gone wrong or to look at some alternatives. Pretty normal if you ask me, but Karpov reacts like he’s just lost a casual weekend game.

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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Picking up the Pieces

“Cause Jacob’s golden ladder
Gets slippery at the top
And many a happy-go-lucky saint
Has made that long, long drop”

– Jesse Winchester, Step by Step

For whatever reason, those lyrics popped into my head for the finish of the Candidates Tournament. (The full song can be heard here, it really doesn’t have anything to do with this, but that snippet seemed vaguely appropriate.)

[Another aside – I originally started writing this last week, but didn’t get around to finishing it. Instead of shelving a half-done entry like I’ve done so many times, I’ll just force this one out the door.]

If you’re reading this, you probably know how the tournament ended – Carlsen and Kramnik both lost in shocking fashion, and due to the precedence of certain mathematical tiebreaks, Carlsen automatically advanced to the title match with Anand.

As I’ve written here before, I was hoping Carlsen or Aronian would win the tournament. And this was easily the most exciting tournament I’ve ever watched (the only other chess event that compares for me was the rapid playoff between Anand and Gelfand). The quality of play in this Candidates was spotty, but the drama was off the charts (and maybe each likely leads to the other?!). But given how Carlsen ended up qualifying, I’m somewhat disappointed by the whole thing.

Anand’s interview (published at Indian Express), one that has been making the rounds now on some major chess sites, puts it well – it’s fair, as the rules were laid out in advance and everybody knew them, but it’s less than ideal. There are definitely some who confuse those two – the fact the tiebreaks were written down, agreed to, and followed makes it fair in a legal sense, but that doesn’t mean the chosen tiebreaks were good. And I imagine that whenever the next similar event takes place, that part will get a little more attention and be modified.

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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. 

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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.)

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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.

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