Tag Archives: Anand

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: http://youtu.be/g_6memS77L8?t=8m1s

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.

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 …

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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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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Revelations: Anand, Carlsen, Gelfand, Kasparov, and Kramnik

There was a nice 2-part interview with Gelfand about the World Championship match over at ChessVibes: part 1 is here and part 2 is here.

Here are a few things that I found interesting:

  • Kasparov offered to help Gelfand as his second! And Gelfand declined! Haha, there’s really nothing more to say about Kasparov at this point. He is what he is. As for Gelfand, he too is what he is and at least in that aspect, he commands more respect as a person in my view.
  • Gelfand’s second coach told him that to help remember what he should be playing, he should repeat the moves at an actual chess board, not just review them in a book (or on the screen). At some point, I realized this helped me remember my opening lines better, and I began traveling with a regular chess set, in addition to the usual professional second (the laptop). A lot of players were surprised/amused by this habit of replaying moves on an actual board, but it’s nice to know at least one other person has found it useful!

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The Aftermath

The tiebreaks featured some very interesting chess and also some bad mistakes. After the smoke cleared, Anand emerged victorious 2.5 – 1.5, retaining the Champion title for a another year or two.

After an exciting Semi-Slav draw in game 1, Anand finally broke through with the Rossolimo in game 2. Anand didn’t maintain his opening advantage, and then instead of bailing out into a pretty easily drawn R + P endgame, Gelfand continued pressing thinking he was better. What appeared on the board was a theoretically drawn endgame, but with no time, I think R + N + P is likely won in such a situation.

Game 3 was the low-point in terms of quality, although there was lots of excitement. Anand went into a …Bf5 Slav (the same opening of his ONLY career loss to Gelfand in a rapid game!) and misplayed it and was quickly much worse. Gelfand’s nerves probably betrayed him at this point, as he missed a couple easy wins in the middlegame and let Anand back in. Then Anand, playing on Gelfand’s time disadvantage, re-complicated a drawn endgame and found himself defending instead. A somewhat bizarre R + P finish ended in a draw, with Gelfand blowing a final win when he miscounted moves leading up to a possible Vancura Position.

Finally, in game 4, Anand only needed a draw as white to retain his title. However, he played the opening in insipid fashion, trying to exchange pieces off without making sure the exchanges were favorable (or at least neutral). As he said afterwards, his brain told him not to play that way, but he couldn’t stop his hand. There is one example that remains stuck in my head for this “Don’t Play for a Draw” mentality: Gurevich – Short, Interzonal 1990 where Mikhail Gurevich (Anand’s second/trainer right around that time!) needed a draw as white to qualify for the Candidates Matches. Short meanwhile needed a win. Gurevich played an Exchange French, did nothing, and was slowly outplayed in fine fashion. However, Gelfand may have been a little unsure of himself, and instead of simplying into a 2B vs B + N endgame, he chose to keep a pair of rooks on with the minor pieces, maybe to give himself more material to work with. However, Anand’s rook became a thorn in his side and Anand avoided his former second’s fate and held a draw.

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A Smorgasbord of Match Stats

Game 12 was a draw, although it wasn’t a boring draw I think. Anand’s positional pawn sac was met with a positional double-pawn sac to equalize – in fact, most everybody seemed to like Black’s position in the pawn-down endgame more. Anand again had a sizable time advantage when he offered the draw with 22.Bxe7, but like in game 11, I just don’t see what his plan to continue the game would be. He’s got weak pawns on a2 (because of the …a4 lever), d3, and h4 and Black’s rooks are the more active set.

GM Balogh on ChessBomb suggested 13.Qg3 (instead of 13.Qxd5) as an objectively better, but riskier, move. I don’t see the point, though, as after 13…Bxc4 14.bxc4 Qa5+ (14…Bb4+? 15.Ke2!) seems fine to me. Black isn’t in any danger in my view, all thanks to the brilliant 10…c4! double pawn-sac:

(FEN: r1bqkb1r/p4ppp/2p1p3/2p1p3/7P/1P1P4/P1PN1PP1/R1BQK2R b KQkq - 0 10)

And so the classical portion of the match ends in a 6-6 tie! This has happened before but all-but-one of the previous cases saw the sitting champion retain his title. In 2006, though, Kramnik beat Topalov in the rapid-chess tiebreaks 2.5-1.5.

Anand holds a huge career advantage over Gelfand in rapids – 8 wins, against 1 loss and 19 draws. Still, I don’t think this will be quite as much of a cakewalk as that would suggest. Opening preparation and nerves will be a bigger factor here than in a lot of those rapid games (from Melody Amber tournaments, etc), and thus far and more recently, I’d say Gelfand has had the edge in both areas. Gelfand has his openings in order, whereas Anand has more fundamental decisions to make as to what openings to play as white and black. One good thing about Anand’s play since his win in game 8 is that he’s been generally playing more quickly in the last 4 games.

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A Grab Bag: Game 11, Time Management, and Game 12

Game 11 was a draw, so that leaves one regular game for all the marbles tomorrow. If that one is a draw as well, they go to tiebreaks (4 games of G/25 + 10 sec/move, I believe). And if it’s still tied, they’ll end all the fun with an Armageddon game.

From my perspective, Game 11 featured a couple interesting moments:

  1. It was no surprise that they repeated a Rubinstein Nimzo, but Anand dusted off the ancient 8…Bd7 (it’s given in Gligoric’s book on the Nimzo as Bronstein’s Variation – amazingly, he spends 20 of 27 chapters on 4.e3 variations). I played the same 4.e3 Nimzo about 20 times (only switching to 4.Qc2 once) and I couldn’t remember seeing this move at all. Gelfand obviously couldn’t either, as he spent about 35 minutes trying to figure out what to do. Continue reading

Sad Face

Well, we have our first decisive game. The two players went into the 5…a6 Semi-Slav again, and Gelfand deviated with the expected 6.c5.  But Anand didn’t lose because of the opening (even though 10…c4 looks like a faster equalizer to me than 10…cxd4). He lost because he just played the middlegame poorly. I’m not sure he would avoided this result today even if he had switched openings.

Gelfand is now up 1 with 5 to play – can Anand break through with White? I think the idea that Anand was playing himself into form can be discounted now, but the gloves have to come off unless he wants to go down without a fight like Kasparov did in 2000.

Meanwhile, I’m walking around like this: