The FIDE World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk has lightened its field to 64. 62 unlucky losers went all the way to Siberia for a few hours of chess and are now headed home. Except for a few of the local wildcards, who are already home. (Not 64, since Akopian and Wang Hao never made the trip.) The top favorites went through without much drama. The biggest upset on the Elo chart was young American Sam Shankland taking out Peter Leko, who had fallen far from his decade in or near the top 10 before taking a lot of time off. After two bad results at Dortmund and the Olympiad the former world championship challenger hadn’t played in nearly a year before he popped up for Hungary at the World Teams last month, where he turned in a creditable +2 result. He predictably dominated his game with white against Shankland, who was as surprised as anyone that his tough defense turned into a win when Leko’s nerves fell apart. It happens, but Leko has only himself to blame for playing the Benoni to try to win the second game. There’s no good way to play for a win with black against a strong opponent, but playing an opening that’s so much against his style was too desperate by half. Black was practically busted by move 22 and Shankland was happy to cede the draw a few moves later instead of playing on for the full point.
Most of the top seeds went through without too much fanfare. Kamsky had his hands full with the unheralded Brazilian IM di Berardino, who came second in his national championship. Kamsky crushed him with ease in the first game with white, but the Brazilian showed considerable moxie to come back and beat his 260-point superior to force tiebreaks. Kamsky got nothing with white but went to work on di Berardino’s IQP in the second game and then won with a little tactic. With Fier taking out Wang Yue, it was and admirable performance from the new Brazilian generation. While we’re in the region, Felgaer of Argentina flirted with infamy for a moment in tiebreaks against 2009 World Cup surprise Malakhov. The Argentine had rook, knight, and an a-pawn versus Black’s rook and the only danger in the position was stalemate. Which, after tangoing by several mates in six and seven in increment time, is exactly what Felgaer managed to do. But fate took pity on him and in the second game Malakhov, already under pressure, dropped his queen in just 25 moves.
It was a near wipeout for the Chinese, who came in with nine players, more than anyone other than Russia, and are already down to two. (Unless, as the Ugra live games page has it today, Bu Xiangzhi is now playing for Russia.) Sebastian “Finger” Feller is still with us, unfortunately, after beating Iordachescu in the tiebreaks. No word on whether or not his cheating co-conspirators are also in Khanty-Mansiysk. Or maybe FIDE has hired them.
Things heat up now, with no match a sure thing. We are guaranteed a few underdogs in the third rounds since a a few upset winners are meeting. Gupta beat Mamedov and now meets Shankland. The Ukrainian teenager Zherebukh beat his countryman Eljanov in tiebreaks and faces Felgaer. But attention will be on the top boards, where some tasty matchups like Karjakin-So and Alekseev-Ivanchuk are just about to bet underway. Two former KO winners, Kasimdzhanov and Kamsky meet.
Hurricane Irene won’t hit New York until Sunday afternoon but I figured I should get this thread up now just in case. I’m on the highest ground in Brooklyn so I’m not terribly worried, though a power outage would be annoying. Two days trapped inside with kids aged one and three is scarier than a hurricane, so I hope it passes quickly.
Round one kicks off on Sunday in the ever-yaktastic Khanty-Mansiysk. Play starts at 5am NY time, which is when the aforementioned one-year-old wakes up anyway, so there’s that. 128 players in the field, cut in half every three days. Both finalists and the third place finisher get spots in the next candidates event. Many of the world’s top players are there, but I reiterate that I’m a little surprised at how many top-tenners are giving it a miss. Either they believe something we don’t know about the road to the world championship or the cycle and title are more thoroughly debased than I thought. To clarify, with the caveat that such clarifications are often rendered meaningless by the ever-shifting sands of Kirsan’s FIDE misrule, there are eight candidate spots. Three from this KO event, the loser of the Anand-Gelfand match, three rating spots (avg. of July 11 and Jan 12 lists, though I could see these changing), and, ridiculously, a wildcard.
All this is to say that with Carlsen, Kramnik, Aronian, Nakamura, and Topalov not playing in the KO, only four of them can get in by rating and the wildcard. I’m sure they all have different reasons for not playing, but it seems notable that at least one will be missing. The top seeds in Khanty-Mansiysk are Karjakin, Mamedyarov, Ivanchuk, and Ponomariov. Karjakin was a semifinalist at the last KO in 2009 and Ponomariov was a finalist; both were beaten by Gelfand. Other top contenders are Svidler, Grischuk, Radjabov, Gashimov, and former KO winner Kamsky. There are usually at least two “outsiders” in the quarters in these things. Last time Malakhov and Jakovenko were there, although since both were top 20 it’s hard to call them outsiders. (“Very strong Russians who don’t get invites” maybe.) Then there are veterans who have dropped down the rating list, like Leko, Morozevich, Adams, Polgar, and Shirov and energetic youngsters like Caruana, So, and Nepomniachtchi.
But the KO system is ruthless and a look at the brackets shows quickly that only a few of your favorites have a real chance at a deep run, which I define as making it to the quarters. As designed, the middle brackets are tough, with, for example, Svidler and Kamsky in the same group fighting for a spot in the quarters. Meanwhile, top seed Karjakin can’t hit anyone before the final eight higher rated than Dominguez at #16. Having crowd faves Grischuk, Shirov, and Moro in the same eighth is a little tragic. And Vitiugov is there with them and he’s been playing incredibly solidly for months.
So, upset picks for the first round? How high will you go? An upset on the top 20 boards is exceedingly rare since they went to 1 vs 128 pairings. Still, there are a few inconsistent types up there this time. Navara and Wang Hao have shown the capacity for very bad days, but a few hundred points is a lot to make up, especially since it takes two games to do the trick. Anand and Leko have both lost on the very first day only to come back the next and destroy their opponents and win the rapids. (Touzane! Kobese! Both in Moscow, 2001. The post-game picture I took of the delirious Touzane with Tkachiev is a treasure.) And of course the ever-upsettable Ivanchuk is an exception. He’s lost his first match several times and also made it to the final.
I tried to get Jan Gustafsson to go out on a limb with some picks but, jetlagged from his return from a brutal Goichberg event in NYC he said he barely knew who was playing. (He missed qualification himself by two places.) We agreed that Giri’s absence and Feller’s presence say a great deal about the state of the chess world and the federations that seem to do little more than stagger from blunder to blunder. Let’s hope the games in Khanty-Mansiysk pass without incident.
At least I’m sure to get the first day in before the hurricane hits. As long as our food supply and Dora episodes hold out we’ll be all right.
For anyone rushing out to copyright that moniker in order to sell commemorative mugs, mouse pads, and teddy bears with Peter Svidler’s face on them, any American chess fan can tell you that the title is already taken. Walter Browne won six US titles from 1974-83, even more impressive than it looks since that span included only seven events. Peter Svidler just won his amazing sixth Russian title, his first since 2008 and 17 years since his first in 1994. Since Russia went solo in 1992, only one other player has won more than once, Morozevich in 1998 and 2007. In 2004 the championship was supercharged into a superfinal, a round-robin that mixed qualifiers with the heavyweights who often chickened out of the big opens.
The 2011 edition was perhaps the strongest yet, if also the smallest. All of Russia’s top stars were there, plus qualifiers Timofeev and Galkin. Kramnik turned up for just the second time, joined by Grischuk, Morozevich, Svidler, Nepomniachtchi, and new Russian number one Sergey Karjakin. No insult to Jakovenko or Vitiugov, who are currently rated higher than Moro and Nepo, but there’s no doubt the latter two are the marquee names. The sporadically retired Morozevich actually dropped below 2700 on the last list and is ready to add over 40 points on the next one after his results in the Russian Ch and Biel. Great to have him back.
So a short sprint it would be, just seven rounds with one rest day. +2 was looking good for a share of first in such a tough field. But instead of conservative play we got a real firefight with under 50% of games drawn. No one escaped without a loss, though Timofeev and Galkin were knocked around as Elo expected, both going winless. Svidler started fast out of the gate, beating Kramnik in the first round when Big Vlad couldn’t keep the fires burning after an enterprising piece sac. Then after two draws Svidler won three games in a row to lock up the title. The final table looks closer than it was due to Svidler’s loss to Morozevich in the final round. Clinching the Russian championship with a round to spare is no small feat, especially in an event of just seven rounds. Svidler played a lot of excellent defense, twice winning with counterattacks. When he got the chance to go on the offensive he was just as impressive, outplaying Galkin and Nepomniachtchi with powerful efforts. It was a particularly sweet win for him since it came right on the heels of his mediocre showing for Russia at the World Teams.
Kramnik continues to impress with his aggressive play, not to say devil-may-care. After losing the Anand match Kramnik started sacrificing pawns in the opening on a regular basis and now he’s chucking pieces around like a Spaniard heaving tomatoes during the Tomatina. Of course such risks don’t always pay off, although Kramnik’s other loss came in his beloved Berlin, to Karjakin, who just beat Kramnik’s Petroff a few months ago. Kramnik compensated with three wins to tie for 3-5th with Karjakin and Grischuk. He also pulled off his “I want to win with black so I will play the Pirc and you will think you can beat me but you will lose because I am Kramnik and you are not” trick against Galkin in the final round. He first did this against Smeets at Wijk aan Zee last year, though it didn’t work out against Naiditsch at Dortmund 2010, when the lower-rated player did beat him. There were many other wonderful games in Moscow, a real Russian feast.
Next up, the FIDE World Cup in, where else, Khanty-Mansiysk. Round one is on Sunday the 28th. As I mentioned here before, the number of top players not participating guarantees that at least one or two top-tenners won’t be in the next world championship cycle, assuming FIDE actually sticks to its own rules. Nakamura qualified by rating but just tweeted he’s off to Vancouver for two weeks. I hope he’s preparing for the Bilbao Grand Slam Final, which is at the end of September. Aronian, Carlsen, Topalov, and Kramnik are also absent. I’ll start a separate thread for this one tomorrow, have to get our upset picks in! (Leko-Shankland, hmmm…)
[Apologies to John Lennon.] Can I tell you how much I’m not looking forward to doing a new install and moving all the content over? MySQL or not, it’s going to be a nightmare. This is what I see every time I log in here:
“You’ve written 2,112 entries with 94,334 comments.”
Only a few hundred of those comments are from the recent spam deluge, when Movable Type’s filters finally lost the battle against the bots. Looks like Disqus or Captcha’s are in our future, my friends, or some other form of login for comments. A little annoying, and we’ll also be missing out on all these great offers for knockoff Nike shoes and whatever else the spambots are hawking these days. Plus, add a few thousand to that number because there was a crash around 4 years ago and I had to add back the comments from the html pages, pasting them into the bodies of a few month’s worth of articles. So the database doesn’t count them.
Starting over should include various new features as well. There are lots of cool things out there these days. Up and down user votes for comments so top picks can appear under the post on the homepage, for example. I’d also like to finally get some other bloggers in here to liven up the joint. For features, as opposed to my haphazard ramblings. Things like Q&A sessions, rating commentary, listicles, link roundups from other chess sites, etc. I’m sure we could put together a list of interesting questions for the Q&A. My original hope for this site was to crowdsource half of the content, but getting that sort of thing rolling takes time I haven’t had in a long time.
Small children do tend to take up a lot of time, I’ve found. They are now three and fifteen months old. But for the past 18 months it’s not been them as much as what my wife calls our third child, The Manuscript. (Also known around the house as “The Fucking Manuscript.”) This is the book I’ve been writing for the author trio of Garry Kasparov, Max Levchin, and Peter Thiel on the financial crisis and the technological stagnation of the US and global economy. It started out as a manifesto on innovation and our publisher, WW Norton, convinced us to be more ambitious and to expand the scope to history, economics, politics, and social factors. It’s been a huge amount of research and work, plus wrangling three very smart, very busy people for input. Kasparov has politics internationally and in Russia, plus speeches, articles, and various other things. Levchin is into vc and tech investing of all sorts (Yelp!, for example) and for a day job he recently became a VP at Google after they bought his company, Slide. Thiel wears even more hats, from investing early in Facebook to running a hedge fund and being active in libertarian politics. Both speak at conferences around the world on what seems like a constant basis. (Sadly, I never got to rendezvous at Aspen or Davos.) Levchin and Thiel were both PayPal founders.
But the FM now has a real name, The Blueprint and a real cover. Pre-order now. International rights have already been sold in seven or eight languages. It is now in the hands of the copyeditors and when it comes back there will only be some charts and a few other graphics to add, plus a few updates on the topical items (debt ceiling showdown, a few others). There will still be book-related things like putting together magazine articles and excerpts, but for the most part my weekly existence just gained around 80 hours of time compared to the last year. Whew.
Since this entire post is so meta, I’ll won’t bother inserting any token chess tidbits. I’ll just post a new one. I’ll get to work on the new install this weekend as soon as I figure out what it is I’m going to be installing.
Hebden Bridge Chess Club will host the September Chess Improvement Carnival! Submit your posts here by September 1, and the Carnival should go up sometime on the fourth. Thanks, Hebden Bridge Chess for keeping this going!
That leaves two more spaces for hosting this year, before I close up shop and pass on the baton, or just close up this experiment. If you want to host in October or November,
Thanks to Takchess, who has spared us the brown acid (see incredible footage below, go to 9:26) and given us something to smile about in the eighth chess carnival!If interested in hosting a future carnival, email me at bluedevil dot knight at yahoo.Don’t take the brown acid!!!And one of the greatest performances…