Tag Archives: Benasque

Crossed the t’s, dotted the i’s

Although I made my 3rd GM norm last year in Balaguer, I did not have the 2500 FIDE rating to go along with it to complete the GM title. After that tournament, I was at 2484, and in my next two tournaments (the American Open and then the US Championship Qualifier), I managed to lose 1 rating point, so I went into Benasque at 2483.

During the tournament, I didn’t know how to exactly calculate the FIDE rating changes, as they have relatively recently gone from using a performance rating method to a game-by-game measure for rating changes. The only calculator available on the FIDE website does the rating change by performance rating.

It turns out there is a rating table on the FIDE website, at: http://www.fide.com/info/handbook?id=75&view=article that gives more exact values. Using this table, you can come very close to the exact rating changes that FIDE calculates.

The steps are pretty simple:

(0) Get your current FIDE rating and K-factor.

(1) Calculate the rating difference between your opponent’s rating and you, capped at 350 or -350

(2) Look in the One-Way table (under 10.1a) for the expected winning percentage (W_e) for your opponent based on the closest rating differential in the table.

(3) If you won the game, take W_e * K-factor.

If you drew the game, take W_e * K-factor.

If you lost the game, -1 * (1 – W_e) * K-factor.

This provides the game-by-game change, and essentially matches up with the exact changes for a whole tournament. Thus, for Benasque, after my draw with GM Gupta in the last round, this formula predicts my post-tournament rating would be 2499.6.

As the final crosstable shows, though, the actual change will be 16.9 points, so my post-tournament rating will be 2499.9. So after 10 games, the formula is off by 0.3 points.

Anyways, as FIDE rounds ratings up after 0.5, the 2499.9 gets rounded to 2500 and so I hit the rating threshold required to complete the GM title. It should be official in the next rating list (October 2008).

For what it’s worth, I also made a GM norm in Benasque with a 10-round performance rating of about 2622. Of course I don’t need the GM norm certificate, but since they prepared it, I took it along with me. I had made the norm after 9 games actually, as noted on Ajedrez ND.


On Breaking Ties and Making Offers that Can be Refused

Benasque is an odd tournament in its tiebreak system. While most open tournaments avoid head-to-head playoffs (it’s simply not practical to have a 20-player round-robin for 3rd prize and so on), there is no general agreement amongst tournament organizers about how to break ties.

In the US, they generally get around this by simply aggregating the monies for the tied places and then dividing it equally. Thus, if 5 players tie for first, and the prizes go down from $5000 to $4000 to $3000 and so on, they each get $3000 for their effort.

However, this does not seem all that equitable to me, as it’s quite possible for players to play very different fields to get to the same score. The player who starts out on fire will likely have played all his closest competitors, while someone who loses the first game and comes from behind will likely have played weaker opposition (because they are playing opponents with 0/1, 1/2, and so on).

Many European tournaments eschew pooling money together for a group of tied players and instead assign mathematical tiebreak scores to each player to differentiate those in the same score group. The usual metric is the sum of the opponent’s scores (often a trimmed version, with the high and low scores tossed out). There can also be conditions to calculate an opponent’s score in case the player withdrew from the tournament before finishing.

Benasque does something extra strange, though, in that the tiebreak order is determined by a lottery. Thus, they have a group of 3 tiebreak metrics (sum of opponents’ scores, performance rating, and number of wins), and then essentially randomly determine which one serves as the first tiebreaker and so on.

This also seems unfair to me. The idea that number of wins, in an open tournament, could serve as a primary tiebreaker is ridiculous. For players who lost their first game, they almost necessarily player a weaker field and so can put up many wins to reach the same score as someone who won early and then faced tougher opposition and drew. Thus, for example, after the last round, Players A and B both had 7.5/10. Player A had faced a field with an average rating of 2373 and Player B had faced a field with an average rating of 2174 FIDE. Player A had a higher sum of the opponents’ scores, 45 to 38.5. However, because Player B had lost two games against lower rated players, he continued to play down in all his games and won 7 games. Thus, in the number of wins tiebreaker, he led Player A by a tally of 7 to 6.

Does this seem fair? Admittedly, it is not easy to beat lower rated players, but I would think you’d want to reward a stronger performance (as reflected by the rating or scores of the opposing field).

In a round-robin, using the number of wins as a tiebreaker makes more sense since everybody plays everyone else. Wins generally equal more exciting chess, and from a sponsorship point of view, it makes sense to reward that fighting spirit. In an open tournament though, it makes no sense to me as a primary tiebreaker.

The idea of using a lottery system to choose the first tiebreak is an interesting one though. I think the motivation is so that it makes it more difficult to “fix” the results in the last round, as without knowing which tiebreak will be first, you will be less likely to offer money for someone to lose. I wouldn’t particularly mind if the lottery was only between opponents’ scores and performance rating, with number of wins as the third tiebreak regardless as this seems to strike some balance between preserving the integrity of the tournament and providing a more meaningful separator amongst tied players.

This has special implications for Benasque because of the practice of buying games in the last round. Rumors swirled last year when GM Felix Levin beat GM Azer Mirzoev in the last round to finish on 8/10, and then took first place on the fixed tiebreaks with GM Tamaz Gelashvili of Georgia (the Republic, that is). I don’t have definite proof that Levin bought the game, but I have it on good information that he referred to Mirzoev as a “chess prostitute” after the game. Gelashvili seemingly won his game fair and square, but because Levin won and beat him on tiebreaks, he left with 2nd place and 1000 less Euros than he would have otherwise.

This year, I know an offer was made to my roommate prior to the last round. GM Levan Aroshidze was playing GM Rashad Babaev of Azerbaijan. After the pairings went up the previous night, I received a visit at our hotel room from Mirzoev who was asking about whether Levan was around. While Levan wasn’t, I knew immediately why Mirzoev had come calling. Levan walked in maybe 20 minutes later and said that Babaev had been waiting in the lobby and an offer was made – if either player wanted to “win” the game without it being a real struggle. A win by either player would take them to 8/10 and possibly a tie for first (but even if not first place, at least more money), along with a few extra rating points for the win.

Aroshidze’s response was quite good – he essentially flipped him the bird and told him he’d see him at the board the next morning. Despite having the black pieces, Aroshidze proceeded to beat Babaev and finish on an honest 8/10. Given the tournament tiebreak system, number of wins popped out as the first tiebreak, and with 7 wins (he started the tournament one-round late), he was the leader amongst the 8-point scoregroup and so finished in 2nd place.

Having an actual tiebreak system (unlike in the US) would seem to help dissuade cheating, since the money is not guaranteed. You may know how your opponent’s are doing up through round 9, but you can’t know in advance how they’ll do in round 10, and even more importantly, you don’t even know which tiebreak is going to be in place after the end of the tournament. The organizers are clearly thinking about this problem, but I think it would be bring a seemingly more equitable outcome if the tiebreak choices were tweaked slightly.

Update: Somebody pointed out that an opinion piece about the Benasque tiebreak system was written at: http://www.ajedreznd.com/2008/nvictorias.htm (the author essentially agrees that number of wins is a poor first tiebreak)

The Home Stretch in Benasque: Rounds 8-10

Round 8: Black vs. GM Felix Levin (2564, Germany). A very short draw – Levin surprised me with the Exchange Slav, and smelling a rat, I responded with a surprise of my own with 5…Qb6. As he said after the game, he had prepared this line thinking I would repeat the way I played against GM Sergey Krivoshey in 2006. But as Krivoshey achieved a slightly better position there, I wasn’t going to repeat that, and knowing he pretty much never played this line of the Slav, I decided it was safe to go with a surprise of my own.

After I played 8…Nh5, maybe Black even has a minute pull. However, he offered a draw with 9.Be5 which I saw no reason to decline. The position was essentially equal, and an easy draw with Black against a GM was not so bad.

The game can be replayed here.

Round 9: White vs. GM Rasul Ibrahimov (2537, Azerbaijan). A long fight which ended in a draw. The opening was a Nimzo-Indian, and while I prepared for that, I had not expected the line he played. He paused for a bit after I played 3.Nc3 (I also play 3.Nf3 there), and I have a feeling he made a switch on-the-fly with his normal opening repertoire. Having played the Nimzo for years and years, he was able to do so without too many troubles.

Despite this, I thought the opening resolved itself in my favor. As Karpov might say, I had an “insignificant advantage” over the traditional IQP structures there. But I struggled to find the right plan, and while I burned my time away, my position also drifted a bit. However, down on the clock about 3 minutes to 30 minutes, I started playing forcefully again and essentially forced an exchange of queens that liquidated my isolated queen pawn. The endgame was then a simple draw, although he insisted on playing it out for a few moves before returning my draw offer.

The game can be replayed here.

Round 10: White vs. GM Abhijeet Gupta (2551, India). To end the tournament, I finished with a tough draw against my good friend known as “Bhaiyu”.

Unfortunately, Benasque has the last round at 9 AM. I don’t get that decision – every other round starts at 4 PM and the prize ceremony is scheduled for 5 PM. Given that even the regular afternoon bus leaves from Benasque at 3 PM, there would have been plenty of time to make the bus ride even if the round started at 10 AM.

In any case, the early start changes things dramatically – preparation time goes down (I saw my pairing around 11 PM, prepared for about an hour, and then went to sleep) and my sleep schedule was completely thrown off. Thus, I turned to a cup of coffee to get me started in the morning. The barman gave me a knowing laugh when I ordered a “cafe solo” instead of my usual tea.

The game itself was an interesting one. I had prepared a long opening line in the Grunfeld, but was very hasty in my analysis and I didn’t spend enough time with the position, trusting the computer’s evaluation. I only began to realize this at the board when I saw he could just start pushing his h-pawn. Needless to say, that is precisely what he did. I made a series of only moves, but then we had a bit of a comedy of errors (despite thinking our play was pretty good after the game).

Both of us thought 25…g4, 26.Rc4, and 32.Rc1 were the correct moves, but in fact there was one better alternative at each move (25…Nh5!, 26.Qxb7!, and 32.Rd7!). Unfortunately for me, the last one with Rd7 would have given me a huge advantage, and despite seeing the move, I somehow blitzed out Rc1. After that, the draw is forced (although, to be honest, he could have taken the draw on the previous move with 31…Rd1+.

The game can be replayed here.

Thus, I finished on 7.5/10, good enough for 15th place on tiebreaks. There were many players on 7/9 who drew, and then a whole host of players on 6.5/9 who won. Given the size of the field, 10 rounds is simply not enough to produce enough variation in the scores.

GM Julio Granda Zuniga won in the last round to clinch clear first with 8.5/10. That makes it two years running (the only years I’ve played in Benasque) that I have lost a winning game to the tournament winner. Last year, GM Felix Levin won it all and beat me from a thoroughly horrible position. This year, Granda pulled off the same feat.

Last year, an author chose my loss to Levin as the only tournament game in the writeup for the Spanish national paper (El Pais). Let’s see if my loss to Granda is chosen this year.

Festival de Ajedrez de Benasque 2008: Rounds 4-7

Round 4: Black vs. GM Julio Granda Zuniga (Peru, 2599). My annual game with Granda – I had played him in Balaguer in 2006 and in Sort in 2007, both wins for me. This was an extremely disappointing game, and while Granda put up some resistance, the blame rests squarely with me for not winning this game.

The game can be replayed here.

The opening was a disaster for me, not so much because of the position, but because of the time I spent in playing the moves. I was not happy with my piece placement (for example, the dark-squared bishop might be better on e7 than on d6) and I burned up a lot of clock time trying to find a viable plan. In the end, I settled on 10…Ra8-c8 and 11…c6-c5, but my position looked dicey. However, all was well in reality, and when Granda excitedly banged out 14.e3-e4 and then 15.Ne5-g6, he thought he was winning. However, the exchange sacrifice completely turned the tables and soon I was better. I then whipped up a huge attack, but with only 1 minute on the clock, I was unable to find a knockout blow. And instead of bailing out with one of many perpetual checks, I kept trying and trying, only to find out I was in a lost position after some time.

The most prosaic win was 28…Nxd3 29.Qxh5 Qf6, when White is completely lost. However, playing for checkmate as I did, I would have needed to find 33…Be2!! in a minute to win the game. Of course the computer sees it right away, but we took a good amount of time later to find this. All in all, a disappointing game as this was one I let slip away.

Round 5: White vs T. Abhay (India, 2263). Like many Indian players, Abhay had virtually no games in the database. Of course, it wouldn’t have mattered because while I had jetlag problems in previous days and was not sleeping very well in general, I slept soundly before this game. Too soundly in fact.

I went to sleep at around 1 AM after doing some reading (Vikram Chandra’s 900-page tome Sacred Games), and then woke up to find the clock saying it was 3:15 PM. For a second, I thought it was a joke and I turned on my laptop to check the time there. Of course, the confirmation came and I rushed to shower and eat something before the 4 PM round. My roommate had let me sleep for a while, but when he got back from his own late lunch, he was relieved to find he didn’t have to wake me up.

The game itself was not particularly interesting – after 10…f6, Black was clearly worse. Black should have settled for a more normal position with 10…0-0, but the opposite-side castling only spelled his doom. My attack would arrive first on the queenside, and I later broke through in the center and then on the kingside.

The game can be replayed here.

Round 6: Black vs. IM Silvia Collas (France, 2370). Originally an Italian citizen, I think Silvia changed her locale and affiliation to France after marrying Didier Collas. This was a rather easy game as well, despite it being my first attempt at playing the Slav Defense. I didn’t know what to expect at all, as she plays 1.e4, 1.d4, and 1.c4, but I did expect her to play some sidelines of whatever the opening was. Thus, in the 6.Ne5 Nbd7 7.Nxc4 Nb6 Slav, she opted for the rare 8.Ne3. However, she then played rather insipidly with 9.g3 instead of 9.a5 (although neither move is especially dangerous for Black).

After that, 16…Nc8! was the move she overlooked, as Black will then execute a nice reorganization of his pieces with the knight on d6. She took the free pawn on b7, but Black’s compensation is without doubt and in fact, Black stands better in short order. The exchange sacrifice with 23…Nf5! only sealed the deal, and after that, it was “a matter of technique.”

The game can be replayed here.

Round 7: White vs. GM Vladimir Burmakin (Russia, 2625). One of my finest positional efforts in a while, and I might dare compare my play to Kramnik’s until almost the end of the game. The opening was a Schlechter Slav, a relatively passive system for Black. However, Burmakin played 6…Nbd7 which slightly misplaces the knight and I took proper advantage with 7.cxd5! and 8.Qb3!, putting pressure on the b7- and d5-pawns.

From there, it was all very smooth – with 14.Nc4 and 18.Qa2 being standout moves. There was a small hiccup on move 31, with Bb2 – this move is likely still winning, but a more “Kramnikian” sequence might have been 31.h3 Qc6 32.Qa3, with the bishop going to a1 and the queen to b2 to set up the powerful battery on the long diagonal. In any case, Black blundered with 32…h4? (instead of 32…f6, which continues to put up a good fight) and gets hit with a mating attack immediately.

The game can be replayed here.

Welcome to Benasque

I arrived in Benasque last Wednesday afternoon, having taken the 7:30 AM bus from Barcelona. The only excitement was when I switched buses in Barbastro and explained to the ticket office that we (myself and a group of 4 from Israel and Hungary) needed to get to Benasque on that bus. I was the only one who had an official ticket, getting the last seat officially available from the ticket machine. They gave in, overbooking the original bus, but bringing up a van to take some people along the same route until there were enough open seats on the bus.

Benasque is in the province of Huesca, nestled into the foot of the Pyrenees. Unlike Barcelona, Catalan is not really spoken here – Spanish, with a dash of Patues, is the local language. In the winter months, Benasque gets more traffic as a place to ski. In the summer, there are still some tourists, but the focus is on hiking.

By now, the tournament has started, and here is a quick rundown of my first few games.

Round 1: White vs. Jorge Requena Munguira (Spain, 1958 FIDE). Not an especially difficult game, as the opening resolved itself clearly in my favor, and I executed very cleanly to put the game away in 26 moves. The opening would have been considered more normal had the white bishop been on g5 instead of f4. In the comparable positions with the bishop on f4, the Cambridge Springs-plan of …Qa5 and …Bb4 employed by my opponent lacks any bite and just misplaces his pieces. Still, it was good to get off to a nice start. The game can be replayed here.

I’m seeded #38 (but played on board 37, because my roommate, GM Levan Aroshidze from Georgia, had to take a first round bye as he was late arriving from Turkey). I roomed with Levan back in Sort last year, the first tourney of my summer 2007 chess trip.

Round 2: Black vs. Jonathan Tan (Netherlands, 2129). A challenge, largely due to my foggy head. I hadn’t slept well, as even now, I am still trying to adjust to the time difference. The opening was a surprise for both of us, as I am still learning the Ruy Lopez and he has started learning the White side of it. He played the Central Attack Variation (9.d4 instead of 9.h3) and with my memory failing me, I implemented a rarely seen, but seemingly known, plan.

The game can be replayed here.

I outplayed my young opponent in the positional maneuvering phase until I faltered with 27…Nh5?, which threw away most of the advantage right away. I had planned the more prosaic 27…Nfd7, but changed my mind at the end. In any case, I then got into serious trouble, and after a series of mutual oversights (backward moves are difficult, and in this case 33.Rxf7+! would have won, as the rook on a2 would be hanging at the end), turned the tables. Instead of defending, I was attacking, and I then put the game away quickly.

After some first-round no-shows, here are some quick tournament statistics by my count:

— 34 GMs

— 30 players above 2500 FIDE

— 74 players above 2400 FIDE

— 495 total players

Round 3: White vs. Eduardo Desanjose Candalija (Spain, 2310). An amusing pairing, as I was born in San Jose. I’m not sure if he is legally blind, but rather than playing in the normal playing area, our board was in the blind players’ row at the entrance to the tournament hall. This made for somewhat unpleasant playing conditions – not only were the moves announced on some of the other boards (so that both players knew what had been played), but there was lots of foot traffic and talking by the entrance.

The game can be replayed here.

The game started off poorly for me, as I faced a line of the Meran with which I wasn’t really familiar. I played it a little too inventively, and had to beat a hasty retreat with 15.Be3. However, I then compounded the issue by essentially eschewing relative equality with 16.f3 (in some variations, nominally White will end up a pawn, but in an opposite-colored bishop endgame) and my position became clearly worse. To add to my problems, I was down about 40 minutes on the clock.

However, he struggled to find a constructive plan and I managed to reorganize my pieces quite well and began to come out of my shell. My advantage was centered around his horrible bishop on b7, and in order to activate it, he had to sacrifice a pawn. The ensuing endgame was not a trivial win for me, but my opponent made it much easier by playing it like a middlegame, running his h-pawn down the board. He then resigned somewhat prematurely when he realized he was likely to lose the h-pawn. I likely would have played on from his position, although it was almost certainly lost.