What a strange and exciting round at the Norway Chess tournament! After four rounds Sergey Karjakin was very close to being the runaway winner, and by round 6 it seemed that the contest was between him and Magnus Carlsen, with the other eight players relegated to a secondary tournament of their own. Not any more! Coming into round 8, the penultimate round, Karjakin had 5.5 points, Carlsen 5 and no one else had more than 4. At that point it seemed almost impossible that someone else could win the tournament, but now it seems well within the realm of possibility.
The first game to finish was the round’s only draw. Topalov-Aronian was a Karpov Variation Nimzo-Indian that saw Topalov come up with a good new plan with 21.Be3 (rather than 21.Ba3, which had been played before) and then 23.a4 and 24.a5. This put a little pressure on Black, but Aronian’s decision to sac a pawn for play enabled him to hold without undue difficulty.
The shortest decisive game in terms of moves was Nakamura-Radjabov, which was won by the American; the logical result, given the trend through the middlegame up to around move 33, but then strange things happened. The game grew increasingly wild, with Nakamura trying to give mate while Radjabov sought to crash through the center. Whether due to the complicated nature of the position or from an attempt to play on Radjabov’s severe time pressure (or some mixture of the two) Nakamura started to err (34.Nf5! would have kept a winning, or very nearly winning advantage), and had Radjabov played 36…Bxc4 he would have been on top. When he played 38…Bxc4 two moves later, however, it was the wrong time, and Nakamura was winning again – this time for good.
Taking a few more moves but (I think) finishing slightly sooner than Nakamura-Radjabov was Anand-Hammer. The game was very messy early on, with even the world champion admitting that he was both at sea and missing various tactical possibilities. Nevertheless, he kept his head together, and while Hammer may have missed some small chances, Anand took advantage when a big one came his way. 20…Rd8 was a serious mistake, and 21.Nxf7! was a crusher. With the win, Anand got to 5 points, tying him with Carlsen’s score before the round.
As it turned out, that was also Carlsen’s score after the round. He lost to Wang Hao in the same way that he usually beats people: he keeps on playing, and then an equal position gradually turns into a slightly better position, which turns into a pawn up, which turns into a win. Carlsen flirted with an edge with the white pieces, but after 23 moves the position was simply equal. Here Carlsen played the double-edged 24.Nd6. It’s a good move, and an ambitious one too, but the danger is that the knight is too committed, and can’t get out. That’s what ended up happening. Carlsen played 29.c5 to cement it, and after an inevitable …Bxd6 cxd6 the pawn would likely drop, as it finally did on move 34. Even after losing the pawn, Carlsen probably should have drawn the ensuing rook ending. Wang Hao suggested that 52.f4 would have drawn, and the engine “claims” that 56.h5 would draw and that 64.Kf2 was White’s last chance to defend. After 64.Kg2? d3, it was definitely over, thanks to the nice tactical trick that finished the game. Carlsen had missed and Wang Hao had foreseen the cute 79…g3+!, which wins the queen: 80.Kxg3 Qg1+ followed by 81…Qh1+ and 82…Qxh8.
This meant that Karjakin could have won the tournament with a win against Peter Svidler, or at least guaranteed himself a tie for first overall (with the guarantee of nothing worse than a blitz playoff in case someone caught him) with a draw. Svidler had prepared the line he chose with White for some time, but only spotted the idea with 9…d5 that morning. He was unhappy, as he felt that it killed the line, but as it hadn’t been played he consoled himself that Karjakin wouldn’t know it. Sure enough, Karjakin had found it too and played it, and had he followed up with 11…Nd6, Svidler felt he would have nothing, that Karjakin’s approach would have killed the line for White.
11…Nxd2 was no disaster though, but it allowed Svidler to sharpen the position and soon obtain a serious advantage. Both sides made errors (Svidler’s 20.Qh5? instead of 20.Qg4; Karjakin’s 30…Qb6? rather than 30…dxc4 [Svidler's explanation is that Karjakin intended 30...Qb6 31.cxd5 Bd2, only to realize a move too late that 32.Re7 (or even 32.Bxh7+ Nxh7 33.Re7) wins on the spot.]), but the general flow was in Svidler’s favor. When the time control was made Svidler only had two bishops for a rook and two pawns, but what bishops! Practically speaking, Karjakin’s situation was extremely difficult, and the bishops finally swallowed him alive. Objectively, he could have held with 47…Ra8 or the bolder 47…Rc2, and a move later he still might have been able to save the game with 48…d3. (48…d3 49.Qg6 a3 50.Bxh6 Qe7 51.Bd2 Qxe6! 52.Bxc3 d2 53.Bxd2 a2 54.Bc3 a1Q 55.Bxa1 [what a rapacious bishop!] 55…Qe1+ 56.Kg2 Qxa1, with a likely draw.) It’s one thing to work things out moving pieces or (especially) with an engine, but at the board Black’s plight is nearly hopeless, and the decisive error was 48…a3. Svidler finished in style, the key move being 53.Kh3! (Without that, it may still be drawn.)
There’s one round left, and for those of you want to see it live, be forewarned that it starts three hours earlier than usual. Here are the last round pairings (scores are in parentheses):
- Aronian (4.5) – Carlsen (5)
- Wang Hao (3.5) – Anand (5)
- Hammer (1.5) – Nakamura (4.5)
- Radjabov (2.5) – Svidler (4.5)
- Karjakin (5.5) – Topalov (3.5)
Just think: if Aronian draws or wins, Anand draws, Nakamura and Svidler win and Karjakin loses we can have a five-man blitz playoff! Half the field is still in the running for first place, with three players having an especially good shot at it. Still, Karjakin has the best chances, both because he leads and because he has White. Will he do it? We’ll see starting in five hours.
On Saturday, I snapped these photos during the grand prix tournament at Chess Mates.
Here is a nice article by Garry Kasparov, extolling the virtue of chess as a way to aid education, especially in the developing world. Phiona Mutesi features prominently in the article, and hers is an inspirational story. Worth a read, especially if you haven’t heard of her.
The European Individual Chess Championship finished in a big tie for first, with Alexander Moiseenko, Evgeny Alekseev, Evgeny Romanov, Alexander Beliavsky, Constantin Lupulescu, Francisco Vallejo Pons, Sergei Movsesian, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Alexey Dreev and Hrant Melkumyan all finishing with 8/11. As usual, the title was awarded based on tiebreaks, and Moiseenko was declared the European Champion.
The Women’s Grand Prix event in Geneva, Switzerland was a success for Bela Khotenashvili, who – like the European Championship winners – scored 8/11. Anna Muzychuk finished second, half a point behind, while Tatiana Kosintseva and Nana Dzagnidze were a further point behind. Former women’s champion Hou Yifan beat Khotenashvili in their individual game, but otherwise had little to feel happy about, finishing tied for 8th-9th with just five points.
I’ve been letting the Norway Chess reports slide, as I’ve been trying to catch up on work while also moving along in the back-and-leg saga. About the latter: I had a second cortisone shot on Monday and started physical therapy today. Fun! The pain is more or less gone, but some numbness remains in my foot (and could last another six months to a year) and my body still has a lot of self-repair to do. Of course, it’s also very important that I not just get through the current episode, but go on to do what I can to avoid suffering this same fate (or worse) next year, or the year after that, etc.
Back to chess. Between the last rest day, after round 3, and this one, four rounds have gone by. Sergey Karjakin was 3-0 while Magnus Carlsen was 3-for-3 as well – but three draws rather than three wins. Karjakin started the next block by defeating Levon Aronian – impressively, and with the black pieces to boot! – while Carlsen drew again. In round 5 they met, and with Karjakin having White and an eight-game winning streak (counting the blitz, and including a win there over Carlsen) it looked like a fantastic opportunity for him to practically put the tournament on ice.
Things started terrifically for Karjakin, and he obtained a significant edge against Carlsen’s Breyer, winding up with an extra pawn. Around move 29 though, it started to fall apart. If Karjakin had played 29.Bb5, looking to round up the c-pawn, Carlsen would have been in trouble. Instead, 29.Bc2 looked to consolidate behind the e-pawn, but the main result was to give Black a free hand to develop his counterplay. After 36 moves Carlsen had regained his pawn and enjoyed some initiative, but the game was still up in the air. Unfortunately for Karjakin, he erred on moves 37 and 39 (and move 40 too, but by then it was already too late), and by the time he made the time control the game was as good as over.
The win brought Carlsen to within a point of Karjakin, and with a grind-’em-out victory over poor Teimour Radjabov (who was defeated by him in similar style in the penultimate round of the Candidates) he closed to within half a point. That wasn’t such bad news for Karjakin though, as it meant he drew with Black against world champ Viswanathan Anand – and he did so only with great effort. That he held was both impressive and important, demonstrating both mental toughness and probably giving his confidence a boost.
He was able to build on that in round 7, defeating Hikaru Nakamura on the white side of a 6.Bg5 Najdorf. Carlsen remained “on” as well, defeating his countryman Jon Ludwig Hammer with Black. (About Hammer: he started the event 0-3, but drew with Black against Veselin Topalov in round 4 and beat Wang Hao in round 5. He lost in rounds 6 and 7 though.) Today (Thursday) was a rest day; the penultimate round starts Friday. Here are the pairings, with scores in parentheses:
- Carlsen (5) – Wang Hao (2.5)
- Topalov (3) – Aronian (4)
- Anand (4) – Hammer (1.5)
- Nakamura (3.5) – Radjabov (2.5)
- Svidler (3.5) – Karjakin (5.5)
Dr. Gerhard Roth has written an Android app, called ChessOcr, that does optical character recognition (OCR) on chess figures.
It uses the camera in an Android device to convert a picture of a chess figure in a book or magazine into a fen string, basically doing OCR on the figure, which can be transferred easily to a chess app.
Alejandro Ramirez had a great tournament and gave Gata Kamsky a run for his money, but in the end experience prevailed as Kamsky won the U.S. Championship by finally defeating his opponent, in the Armageddon game. Before that they played a pair of 25-minute games, and while Kamsky was better in each he simply couldn’t put his opponent away. Ramirez proved himself an adept defender, as indeed he also did in their classical game in round 8.
After the draws, it was time for the Armageddon game, and as you may recall from previous U.S. Championships they do things with a twist there. As usual, the player getting Black receives draw odds, meaning that if the game finishes in a draw he wins the playoff. The twist comes in how they determine who gets what color. The player with White, whoever it ends up being, gets 45 minutes (plus a 5-second increment after every move; Black also gets the 5-second increment). But who gets Black and how much time Black will have is determined by a bidding process: both players secretly write down how much time they would be willing to have to play with the black pieces, and the low bidder gets his wish. Kamsky bid 20 minutes, and Ramirez, simulating ESP, bid 19 minutes and 45 seconds. (I suppose if he really had ESP he’d have gone for 19 minutes and 59 seconds, but the point was that it was a clever bid.)
In the rapid games Ramirez handled the concrete play quite well, and was able to move quickly in those situations. In the Armageddon game, Kamsky tried a different tack, basically holding the position, avoiding exchanges and trying to gently suffocate the black pieces. This proved very effective, as Ramirez lacked the time to keep solving the more vague problems being posed. Eventually Ramirez fell very short of time, and then the moment was right for Kamsky to initiate concrete play. Without enough time to work out the problems, Ramirez lost ground, lost material, and finally lost the game. Still, it was a great performance, and in addition to $20,000 and a bunch of rating points, he clearly earned Kamsky’s respect, too.
As for Kamsky, he netted $30,000 and his fourth U.S. Championship title. Intriguingly, he was rather subdued after winning, and expressed himself as somewhat disappointed that one of the young guns didn’t win. He still seems intent on retiring once he turns 40, and wants to see the future of U.S. chess in good hands. It seems to me that things are going in the right direction, but it will be a pity for American chess (though of course, not necessarily for Kamsky himself) if he really does follow through with his planned retirement. Anyway, congratulations to him, to Alejandro Ramirez, and to Irina Krush for picking up her 5th women’s championship the day before.
FIDE master Erez Klein passed away on April 24th.
Round Three: Benko Gambit
Erez Klein (USCF 1905) – Robert Seltzer (USCF 2045), Boston MA 8/30/1987
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.Nf3 Bb7 5.a4 bxc4 6.Nc3 g6 7.e4 d6 8.Bxc4 Bg7 9.O-O O-O 10.Bf4 Nbd7
11.a5 Ng4 12.a6 Bc8 13.Bb5 Rb8 14.Qe2 Qb6 15.Rfb1 Nge5 16.Nd2 f5 17.exf5 Rxf5 18.Be3 Qd8 19.f4 Nf7 20.g4 Bxc3 21.gxf5 Bg7 22.fxg6 hxg6 23.Bd3 Nf6 24.Bxg6 Nh6 25.Qg2 Nfg4 26.Nf1 Qb6 27.Qe4 Bxa6 28.Qxe7 Nxe3 29.Nxe3 c4 30.Kh1 Bb7 31.Rg1 Kh8
32.Be8 Qd4 33.Rg5 Qf6 34.Qe4 Qf8 35.Ba4 Ba8 36.Bc2 Qg8 37.Rxg7 Qxg7 38.Rg1 Qxg1+ 39.Kxg1 Rg8+ 40.Kf2 Rg7 41.Qe8+ Rg8 42.Qe7 Rg7 43.Qf8+, Black resigns.
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Tied with GM Sam Shankland and ahead of eight other grandmasters, IM-elect Yaacov Norowitz [pictured] of New Jersey finished the U.S. Championship
with an even score of 2-2-5.