October 1 is the deadline for submitting to the October Chess Improvement Carnival. Mark Weeks is hosting, and has the announcement here.
It’s beginning to look like Peter Svidler prepared for Khanty-Mansiysk by reading the works of Stokely Carmichael because he’s all about Black Power, baby! Check out this line of the Russian champ’s games with the dark pieces.
Note that those last four in a row are classical wins. Insane and amazing. Kasparov had five black wins in a row at Linares, 1999 (Ivanchuk, Adams, Topalov, Svidler (!), Anand) and the fact that I remember that at all shows the rarefied ground Svidler is treading on here. He was helped in his latest effort by Alexander Grischuk’s typically self-destructive time management — a term that shouldn’t really be used with Grischuk. It’s like referring to Enron’s financial management or my own calorie management. We often see Ivanchuk do this, too, and occasionally Kamsky, leaving themselves so little time on the clock that it’s virtually irrelevant what they do on the board. Grischuk was down to a minute with 14 moves to play in a sharp position, as close to hopeless as could be imagined, especially against a phenomenally accurate player like Svidler. 24..Na4 is a wonderful move. So paradoxical and patient, moving away from the action.
Tension doing what it does to the human brain, the chess in these events is rarely what you come for. Yesterday’s spectacular Svidler combo against Kamsky is now the only KO game I can remember, give or take. But they do delivery drama in spades. The ups and downs of the tiebreaks bring thrills and spills and it’s the rare game that is won start to finish. Only three of eight fourth round matches were decided without the extra day of play.
The quarterfinals: Polgar-Svidler, Ponomariov-Gashimov, Ivanchuk-Radjabov, Navara-Grischuk. Pono knocked Gashimov out in the quarters in 2009 in tiebreaks.
Radjabov seems to have found his stroke in Khanty-Mansiysk and has yet to go to tiebreaks. He took out the solid Jakovenko to move into the quarters. Radjabov works hard and has one of the most dynamic repertoires around with the black pieces. He’s turned over plenty of mossy stones in recent years, bringing the King’s Indian and ..f5 Ruy Lopez to prominence. But with white he has had floundered, resulting in the highest draw rate among the elite. He wins just 28% of his white games, compared to the top-20 average of around 40%. There’s no way to explain it, but he may have struck gold by employing his dynamic gifts in the amorphous English and Reti systems instead of boring himself with small theoretical advantages. His wins over Negi and Jakovenko in K-M were classic triumphs of maneuvering and confusion. It reminds me of how Nakamura went to Canada and added a dose of Duncan Suttles to his bag of tricks. Avoiding theory and relying on creativity, energy, and strength can be impressive, though it can also be construed (and misconstrued) as a cop-out for not working hard. This clearly isn’t Radjabov’s issue since he puts in a lot of time on his black openings.
Svidler also went through without tiebreaks in the match of the round. He beat 2007 World Cup winner Kamsky in a Ruy Lopez in their first game. In the second the newly-crowned Russian champion uncorked one of the best combinations you’ll see, the gorgeous 26..Re2!! deflection rook sac. As I’m sure everyone figured out eventually, 27.Qxe2 loses to the Marshallesque 27..Qg3! The deflection was necessary because otherwise the knight could come back to c6 to block the bishop. An extraordinary and lovely combination. Very sad to see Kamsky out already. The vagaries of the KO guarantee this will happen regardless of who is on form, one of its serious drawbacks. The only other match to avoid tiebreaks was our Ukrainian Cinderella Zherebukh finally turning back into a pumpkin against Navara in two lopsided games.
Polgar might have gone through the tiebreaks faster had she not decided an in impromptu opening experiment against Dominguez. But just reaching tiebreaks at all was an achievement for Polgar, requiring as it did a win with black on demand after the Cuban won the first game nicely. B+R vs R is tough even at the GM level and even with time on the clock. It took her a while, but she eventually brought home the tying win. To further add to the melodrama, the position actually repeated three times; Dominguez could have claimed a draw before playing 107.Rh2. But of course recognizing that and having the sang froid to claim while on nothing but increment for so long is impossible to imagine. White won the first four tiebreak games, and I’m pretty sure Polgar won’t be playing the Scandinavian again any time soon. Instead of her usual Sicilian, which brought her victory in the classical, she decided to surprise Dominguez with 1..d5 twice, and lost both times from unattractive positions. Then she went back to the Sicilian in the blitz and won.
Ponomariov also needed to win with black to stay alive, against Dominguez’s countryman Bruzon. After drawing the two classical games, they swapped wins twice. Ponomariov’s must-win with black was a tribute to his nerves and his technique. Nielsen’s valiant run ended against Gashimov after four tiebreak games. European champ Potkin also fell to Elo’s blade at last, losing to his countryman Grischuk’s King’s Indian. Those positions are often ugly for black for a while, and Grischuk doesn’t have a lot of experience with the KID, but he turned the tables impressively in the second tiebreak game to take the match. Ivanchuk outplayed Bu in both tiebreak games, winning both in under 30 moves.
On now to the Matches that Matter. Three of the four semifinalists get invites to the candidates matches. No rest for the weary. Ponomariov has played 20 games in Khanty-Mansiysk. His opponent Gashimov, twelve. Radjabov has played the minimum of eight while Ivanchuk has needed tiebreaks in his last two matches. Polgar is the lowest rated player left, at 2701 on the latest list. Underrated a bit, I’d say! Navara is a few points above her. The other six are Usual Suspects, regular visitors to the top ten all. Enjoy the show.
The last time Judit Polgar made a deep run in a FIDE World Cup / FIDE KO Championship we were still in the 20th century. She cruised to the fifth round in Las Vegas, where she lost to eventual winner Alexander Khalifman’s amazing run of form. Other than that trip, she has usually underperformed these events, losing early to underdogs Almasi and Milov. The 2004 and 2007 events corresponded with the arrival of her two children and in 2009, at the last World Cup, she lost to another eventual winner, Gelfand, in the third round. Now she’s into the sweet 16 once more and clearly in good form, though it will take more time to see if she can fulfill a 2007 interview statement that she could work her way back into the top 10.
We know what Sergey Karjakin would say about it. In their first game, the top seed had his Berlin Wall torn up by Polgar faster than you could sing “Winds of Change” in a German accent. The Berlin is generally popular these days, but it is also trotted out as a sort of antidote to aggressive attackers like Polgar (and, famously, Kasparov). That may just be a myth since her performance rating against the stodgy queenless position is higher than her actual rating and she beat Topalov’s Berlin last year. Karjakin must have been encouraged by the 15-move non-game she played against his Berlin at the Olympiad last year, but he wasn’t so lucky this time. I don’t know enough about Berlin theory to comment on Karjakin’s nominal novelty 12..Bb7. All these positions look the same to me and they all make me want to kill myself. The minute shuffling of the minor pieces, the mincing steps of the queenside pawns, it’s a horrific business.
Maybe it’s as simple as Kasparov’s jest in the latest New In Chess regarding Karjakin’s (!) recent win over Kramnik’s Berlin in the Russian Ch: wait until e6 is covered three times and then play e6! Polgar did play this now-typical sac, pioneered by Kasparov against Kramnik at Astana, 2001. But this time it was for clear purposes, or clearance purposes, allowing her bishop to get behind the lines on the queenside. This all seemed far too simple, but Polgar took her extra pawn and marched it down the board as easy as you please, undeterred by the opposite-colored bishops Karjakin may have been relying on to save his bacon. Their second game was another Ruy Lopez, no Berlin from Polgar, a long theoretical line that was seen in, wait for it, Polgar-Carlsen, Biel 2007. 26.Qe1 was probably White’s last best chance at an advantage. After that passed, Black held steadily and the top seed of the World Cup was out. Polgar will face Dominguez for a trip to the quarters. If she beats the Cuban there’s no way she can make it to St. Louis in time for the “Kings vs Queens” event she is scheduled to headline with Nakamura and Karpov.
Second-seeded Ivanchuk also lost in the first game of the round, with white to Sutovsky. This set up some drama for the return game, especially when Sutovsky decided that the best defense was a maniacally sacrificial opening against Ivanchuk’s Pirc. The old “the best way to play for a draw is to play for a win” was taken a bit too far in this case, methinks. The Israeli GM did have his chances, but he faltered in the complications and Ivanchuk did not. Chucky duly won both rapid games to escape elimination. The strangest match may have been the highlight duel between Morozevich and Grischuk. Grischuk beat Moro’s French in the first game and in the second, after 12 uninspired theoretical moves, Morozevich tested his opponent’s hearing by offering a draw. Incredible. Sure the position is dull, but queens are on the board, why not play some chess when the alternative is heading home? Are the delights of Khanty-Mansiysk so tempting? Grischuk now faces another countryman, Potkin, who eliminated another strong Russian, Vitiugov. Ivanchuk meets Bu Xiangzhi.
David Navara made news in his match with Moiseenko with a touch-move kerfuffle in their second game that has made news only because of Navara’s decision to offer his opponent a draw in a winning position as compensation. This exchange has been hailed as the greatest act of sportsmanship since Lance Armstrong agreed to ride the Tour de France with one testicle. From the reported details, and without seeing a video of the touch-move, this seems more than a little overblown. It sounds like Navara clearly accidentally touched the king next to the bishop he wanted to move, an obvious case of j’adoube. For Moiseenko to make a serious case over such a touch would be bizarre. Navara went on to outplay his opponent over a long game and, only then, with the win at hand in Q v R, did he offer a draw since he was wracked with guilt over the touch-move incident. Having done nothing wrong, Navara punished himself by giving up a well-earned half-point that would have put him through to the next round. Anyone who has met Navara, or even read his commentary, knows that the Czech lad is a tender soul, reserved and humble to a degree that makes you wonder if he will replicate Akiba Rubinstein’s habit of moving and then sitting in the corner so as not to disturb his opponent. (As with so much about the players of yore, Donaldson and Minev’s words should be taken to heart. “Most stories concerning Rubinstein are at best half truths, which have become so embellished over time that they bear little resemblance to what actually transpired.”) I’m not going to completely rain on the sportsmanship parade, but Navara would have done nothing wrong to take the point and every player I’ve spoken with so far agrees. Anyway, tempest, teapot, and Navara went through after four tiebreaks to meet Zherebukh.
Most of the first tiebreak games were won by black, paving an easy road for Ivanchuk, Kamsky, Ponomariov, Nielsen, Bruzon and Potkin. Svidler won with first with white against Caruana, holding on to a pawn with superlative accuracy. Kamsky played an inspired exchange sac in the first tiebreaker against Nepomniachtchi. It ended up in a drawn rook endgame that, like so many drawn rook endgames in these KO cauldrons, was lost with a beginner mistake. Defend from the side until you can’t, only then switch to behind the pawn. Of course Nepo knows that, but as we’ve seen many times, these events melt the brain. Dominguez went all the way to the armageddon game after a set of curiously short draws in the blitz. With white the Cuban demolished Lysyj to move into a match with Polgar. Our tournament dark horse was officially anointed this round, 18-year-old Ukrainian Yaroslav Zherebukh. He eliminated Mamedyarov in tiebreaks, first winning a Najdorf Sicilian with white in good style and then holding the return game. Zherebukh’s 4th-round match with Navara is a slight step up from his recent events, which include failing to move on in the Ukrainian championship semifinal and a Lvov scholastic blitz tournament.
To recap, here’s the sweet 16: Polgar-Dominguez, Svidler-Kamsky, Ponomariov-Bruzon, Gashimov-Nielsen, Bu-Ivanchuk, Radjabov-Jakovenko, Zherebukh-Navara, Grischuk-Potkin. Kamsky-Svidler would make for a worthy final match, a shame one of them will go out so early.
The ninth monthly carnival is up over at Hebden Bridge Chess Club. Thanks, Hebden Bridge for hosting twice this year.
October edition will be hosted by blogger celebrity Mark Weeks over at Chess for All Ages. You can submit your content here.
But it’s not so great for chess. Rapids are often fun, the lack of time and impact on the rating list allow the players to take creative liberties they might otherwise shy away from. But mostly it’s a simple equation of less time to think resulting in inferior moves. Rapid is probably at its best in casual events like the Botvinnik Memorial show that just completed in Moscow. Its worst aspects come out when pressure is added, such as at the World Cup in Moscow. The idea, often touted by Kirsan and others despite decades of evidence to the contrary, that rapid chess is the sponsor-friendly savior of the chess world needed to be buried long ago. FIDE has been trotting out these giant KO circuses since 1997 and their host sites have become increasingly distanced from the real world of commercial sponsorship. Instead of learning, FIDE seems to be saying that if we just cannibalize the sport more, that if we just remove more of what makes chess special, it will become a big deal like tennis or poker.
This, of course, is moronic in both directions. One, chess isn’t going to be a big mass-market hit no matter how stupid they try to make it. Two, dumbing down an intellectual pastime to make it more “exciting” is a catastrophe. You push away the people you should be attracting, those who are interested in associating their city, company, or brand with the world’s premier mind sport. And you will still never attract a significant number of the mainstream sports fans who have no interest in mind sports. No matter how much Kirsan and his pals try to destroy it, the image of chess is too strong for that. So we may as well make the best of it and go with our strengths. Plus, the huge scholastic push going on worldwide will continue to raise all boats, if slowly.
So, there was some rapid chess in Moscow with the four top-rated players in the world. World champ Anand, whose legendary rapid prowess has taken some blows lately, took clear first place with 4.5/6, though few of the games were gems fit for a crown. To be fair, according to the event description the players were interrupted during the games to talk to the audience about the position. This would be bad enough in classical, but in rapid it’s akin to stopping the 200m race after 100m to ask questions of the runners and then starting them off again. “So Mr. Bolt, how do you think the race is shaping up so far?” “Well, pant pant, I got out of the blocks well, pant pant, and was really ready to turn on the jets when, pant pant, I had to stop and talk to you.” Of course that’s not realistic. Usain Bolt wouldn’t be breathing hard after just 100m. But you get my drift, and it was pretty clear the players at the Botvinnik Memorial were in the same boat.
They did play with the great deal of verve and imagination, it’s just that such creativity should be tested in the fires of accuracy to make for great chess, and accuracy requires concentration. Aronian’s win over Carlsen today involved two speculative exchange sacs and wonderfully sustained pressure on the white position. Great stuff, maybe even brilliant. But had Carlsen played 28.f4, with e5 and f5 to follow, Aronian’s plan might have looked quite a bit less brilliant. That was just the start of Mr. Carlsen’s Very Bad Day, the first of three losses to go with one on the first day to put the world #1 into a winless last place with 1.5/6. Ouch. The frustrated Carlsen went from bad to worse when he tried to shake Kramnik with 1.Nf3 b5!?. He only succeeded in frustrating his own development and Big Vlad rolled through the black position like a Soviet tank through Czechoslovakia in 1968. I enjoyed the calm rook lift 13.Re3 against Black’s unprotected kingside, even though the computer ruins things by pointing out 13.Qa4 won material. 13..Bxc3 14.Bxd7! Nc5 15.Bxc8 Nxa4 16.Bxb7 Rb8 17.bxc3 Rxb7 18.Be7 picks off the exchange. Ta-dah! Not a line that would pass a Turing test, to be sure.
Aronian has had a surprising amount of success bamboozling Anand in tactical assaults in the past, but it didn’t work today. Vishy handled everything the Armenian could throw at his king and after a few mutual inaccuracies, collected his second full point from him. Aronian had a last chance to keep things going when Anand blundered with 33.Kf1 instead of the 33.g4. Black had the cool 33..Qxh5 and either a very unbalanced 2R vs Q comes up or the wild fight continues. Carlsen tried desperately to get a win for pride against Anand’s Berlin in the final round but only managed to collect his third bagel for the day. In contrast, Aronian did manage to get a little back in the last round against Kramnik. Aronian was at his active best, temporarily giving up a central pawn for development and pulling a pretty king walk across the board in the four-rook endgame. Nice. The win also allowed Aronian to pull even with Kramnik in the standing, leaving both on an even 3/6 score.
Speaking of rapid brilliancies, I missed Bacrot’s cavalcade of sacs against Filippov in the tiebreaks yesterday. White’s position was already pretty dubious, but Bacrot toss at least three pieces during fireworks that lasted 15 moves, starting with 22..Rxe2. Great fun, unless you’re Filippov.
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I rather forgot this was starting so soon, my bad. Six rounds of double round-robin rapid in Moscow to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Mikhail Botvinnik. Anand, Carlsen, Kramnik, Aronian! The first day hardly lived up to the quality of that list of names, it must be said. Blunders abounded, with Carlsen missing wins against Anand (probably) and Aronian (surely). Nice to see Kramnik continuing his new habit of sacrificing pieces, this time against Carlsen, though it ended in draw. I thought Kramnik was headed for a typically Kramnikian win over Aronian with a tempoing bishop in the endgame, but it ended in a draw quickly. Isn’t 47.Bf1 headed for zugzwang rather quickly? 47.Kd7 48.Bh3+ Ke7 e4 and the knight has to move and the b-pawn looks tough to stop. (Damn computer isn’t as impressed, however, so maybe we’ll have to trust this Kramnik guy.) The world champion was the only one to score a victory, a nice piece of work against Aronian. The second half of the event is Saturday. It’s a weird event in that the games are paused so the players can give commentary to the crowd. I’m pretty sure Botvinnik wouldn’t have approved! But what the hey, he didn’t much approve of the dissolution of the USSR either, so he wasn’t exactly infallible.
Fun to have the four top-rated players on the new FIDE list facing off. A pity it isn’t at least four rounds. All the players except Kramnik will join Ivanchuk, Nakamura, and Vallejo in the Grand Slam Masters Final starting on the 26th.
And then you’re eliminated. I’m writing this as I fire up an appropriately atrocious and bombastic cinematic accompaniment, The Expendables. (What’s up with Jet Li slumming with this crowd?) Every third day in Khanty-Mansiysk, with metronomic reliability, the field is chopped in half. The only real interest in these KOs before the quarterfinals start pairing top players and deciding world championship candidates spots are the upsets. Nerves fray, time controls accelerate, and a single slip sends you packing. It makes for enjoyable theater, though using these chaotic messes for world championships was always ridiculous. Using one to determine a few candidates isn’t nearly as bad, though it’s harsh that there is no second chance other than rating. The Grand Prix was that alternative, but apart from some bright chess, it was an organizational and commercial failure with cancelled and relocated events.
The fact that the winners of these KO events are almost always among the top seeds mitigates many strikes against them. Swiss, round-robin, KO, rapid, or blitz, the highest rated players rise to the top, and we got a vivid demonstration of that today. We should distinguish between real upsets and the technical ones between closely matched players. Current standings aside, Polgar beating Movsesian is hardly an upset when she’s been rated higher than him for most of the past fifteen years. But stalwarts like Adams and Shirov going out indicates a little more, perhaps, that age can’t be ignored forever and that their low seeding were not undeserved. Former top tenners will always have the potential to surprise, of course, no matter how far down the list they fall. Generally though, Elo rules. The last two World Cup winners, Kamsky and Gelfand, were veterans. Gelfand was the oldest contender in the field and also the top seed. (Local invitee Obodchuk was in his 50s and was eliminated by… Gelfand in the first round.)
Calling Bruzon’s defeat of Vallejo-Pons, Bu’s of Vachier-Lagrave or Parligras taking out Almasi upsets abuses the term a bit. These were all close matches that were virtual toss-ups when things moved to rapids. Of the Frenchman we’ve been expecting more for the past year or two, but he’s on a steady plateau and young enough to still have a big move into the top 10 in him. I’d never heard of Mircea Parligras of Romania before, and he must have done something right to move up to a career rating high after 30 and now to take out the steady Almasi without tiebreaks.
For the most part though, to get back to the title brought into chess vogue by Jen Shahade, the higher-rated players made math look fun. Old chess culture beat new chess culture in the only matches to go to a second set of speed games. Svidler took out Nguyen and Ponomariov finally beat Ni Hua in a very strange match. The Chinese had a winning theoretical R vs B endgame with rook pawns in their second rapid game but couldn’t put it away, allowing a 114-move draw. As far as I remember my Keres, the only way for the stronger side to win these positions is to keep the enemy king on the same side of the board as the pawn so you can use fork threats. Maybe tablebases know better these days. The brain melts in these matches playing on increment. This, to me, is the other big strike against KOs. The chess tends to be horrible. Then in the next game Ponomariov loaded up for a cliche Bxh7+ sac against Ni Hua’s French only not to play it when the opportunity arose. He won anyway in 25 moves when Black blundered and then held the second game only when Ni Hua missed a winning shot. 37.Rf4! is an unusual tactical them, an attraction tactic that wins a piece or the exchange with an easy win. Very hard to see that the knight can suddenly be a dominating octopus. The French again showed its dark, masochistic side in the Svidler match win over Nguyen.
We shouldn’t ignore the top guys who went through relatively smoothly. The upset hero of the last World Cup, teen Wesley So of the Philippines, couldn’t hang with the confident top seed Karjakin in rapids. Pretty finishing move there. Ivanchuk’s redoubtable technique ground down Alekseev, who was a tough second-round pairing. Morozevich, who does things with the French that would make Baudelaire blush, sweated little against Fier. Grischuk went to tiebreaks against Feller but had no trouble there. Nice to see the back of Feller, whose infamous cheating exploits at the Olympiad must be on the mind of every opponent he faces. Kamsky outplayed Kasimdzhanov in good style in another tough pairing. Avoiding rapids against the wily Uzbekistani was a worthwhile achievement. Taking a pass with white in the first game hoping for rapids can pay off, but Kamsky didn’t return the favor. The inconsistent Le Quang Liem showed his power side, taking a novel opening approach into a superior endgame and grinding down Grachev, who is no slouch. Playing ..Bf5 before the usual ..Nb4 keeps the white queen off b1 and a quick e4 is dubious for White in most of these lines, with ..Bg4 and the usual Grunfeld pressure on the expanded center. That said, Black was doing okay in the deep main line too from what I can tell.
Kasparov complimented Radjabov’s handling of Negi in their first game. It’s refreshing to see Radjabov playing with such brio with white. The Indian seemed to be putting up decent resistance to White’s knights and a-file invasion in their first game but eventually the pressure was too much and he threw the game away in one atrocious move. Negi’s countryman Harikrishna tried an interesting piece sac against Jakovenko, but the Russian showed calm and class defusing the tactics reaching a pawn-up endgame. Vitiugov and Korobov dueled in the ever-crazy Semi-Slav Anti-Moscow and Korobov’s prep came up badly lacking. They followed Anand-Shirov from this year’s Leon event, which also came out well for White. European champ Potkin (not the mouth-harp luthier) was very impressive in beating Shirov in a slashing game with white. Wojtaszek missed a chance to win with black in his first game with Jobava. 27..Nxf1 wins, as both 28.Nxe8 and 28.Nxh5 lose to 28..Rc1! 29.Nxf6+ Qxf6! 30.Qxf6 Nd2+ 31.Kf2 Ne4+ gets the queen back. Instead the Polish #1 lost with white in the second game with the Georgian. Two rooks are usually more than a match for a queen, but not when the lady is accompanied by two knights and your king is open.
The heavyweights are circling as the round of 32 begins. Those who have avoided tiebreaks start to see some benefits from their extra rest days. Grischuk-Morozevich is the unfortunately early meeting between two of the favorites. Asian fans are hardly a bloc, but seeing two of their small remaining number meeting is a bit of a shame. The last Indian player, Gupta, faces the last of the original nine Chinese players, Bu Xiangzhi. 10 of the 32 are Russian and only four of them face off. The Big Three from Azerbaijan are all still going strong as well. Zherebukh of Ukraine, who just turned 18, is the youngest player left in the field. His countryman Ivanchuk is the oldest at 42. Note that the top three finishers make it to the candidates, not just the winner.