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Sunday, 16 October 2011

Sao Paulo/Bilbao Wrapup

The Bilbao half of the tournament provided some interesting chess. Here again are the players in order of decreasing rating.

Magnus Carlsen
Magnus ended with +2 as I predicted at the halfway mark. Given the run of the tournament, it is hardly surprising that he then won the playoff against Ivanchuk who was unrecognizable as White.
To his competitors, Magnus sent a clear and dangerous message: In every game, Magnus was equal or better in the opening and middlegame. To achieve such a feat in a double round robin against Anand, Aronian, Ivanchuk and Nakamura is amazing. Neverthless, as in other tournaments, the Norwegian had a slow start and had to play himself into form. Perhaps all the physical and mental preparation cannot recreate the environment of a real game and he needs time to adjust. If so, he should follow Botvinnik's model- although the Soviet Patriarch was an infrequent tournament player he kept himself battle-ready with secret training matches under tournament conditions.
Best moment: The three wins against Ivanchuk

V. Anand
Anand's 50% was disappointing and less than the +1 predicted. In principle, everyone at Sao Paulo/Bilbao would have scored a respectable +2 by beating Vallejo twice and drawing with everyone else. Anand was the only one to achieve the first part of the program but this was cancelled by losses to Ivanchuk and Aronian. It is true that Anand is focusing on the title match against Gelfand next year but one still expects a World Champion to finish with a plus score.
Best moment: The Sao Paulo grind against Vallejo

Levon Aronian
The Armenian should have done better than 50%. Overly sharp play cost him a point against Ivanchuk while he was surprisingly outplayed in an endgame by Nakamura.
Best moment: The win against a dispirited Anand

Vassily Ivanchuk
Nerves got the better of him in Bilbao and he finished on +1 as predicted. Vassily should really have taken clear first but the pressure and no doubt tiredness from his busy schedule took their toll. Here he was largely reacting to his opponents rather than pressuring them. Still, he deservedly gained rating points and hopefully will inch towards 2800 in the future.
Best moment: The wins against Aronian and Nakamura

Hikaru Nakamura
The American finished on 50% but was on target for +1 until the self-inflicted loss on time against Vallejo. Overall a solid performance that reverses his recent form and proof that he can hold his own against the world elite. Perhaps the rumored lessons by Kasparov are working.
Best moment: The win against Aronian

Francisco Vallejo Pons
While the first half was a nightmare, back in Spain convincing wins against Ivanchuk and Nakamura showed that Paco earned his invitation. He finished with more wins than either Anand, Aronian or Nakamura.
Best moment: The wins against Ivanchuk and Nakamura

If we take Ivanchuk and Vallejo out of the tournament, here's how the crosstable would look like-

                    Na   Ar   Ca   An
Nakamura    x x   =1   ==   ==   3.5
Aronian        =0   xx    ==   =1   3
Carlsen        ==   ==    ==   xx   3
Anand          ==   =0    ==   xx   2.5

Interestingly, these four had only two decisive results among each other. Most of the decisive games were played by Ivanchuk (4 wins, 3 losses) and  Vallejo (3 wins, 6 losses) and I believe it's because these two were targeted by the rest. Vallejo obviously because he was the lowest rated competitor and Ivanchuk because anything can happen with him especially if he is in time pressure. So against Vallejo and Ivanchuk the rest were more aggressive and willing to reach riskier positions. But both players coped well and punished their opponents.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Sao Paulo/Bilbao at the Halfway Mark

The Sao Paulo half of the Grand Slam Masters has finished and this is a good time to take stock of the tournament before the tournament resumes in Bilbao. Here is a progress report on the players in order of descending rating.

Magnus Carlsen 
The world #1 is at 50%. Magnus is the greatest exponent of chess 'serve and volley'- he just keeps playing and setting practical problems for his opponents. Nowadays, Magnus faces two difficult challenges.
1) His uncompromising style requires 100% physical and mental fitness and concentration. Occasionally even Magnus falters and shows that he is only human. At Sao Paulo, he had some winning chances against Aronian before the game fizzled out in a draw. More tragically, he gave a textbook performance of outplaying an opponent as Black against Vallejo. However, at the critical moment he missed the win and soon after overlooked a tactic to lose a piece and the game.
2) Many players are now content just to hold a draw against Magnus.  In Sao Paulo, all his opponents played without any ambition. When a strong grandmaster is content with a draw, Magnus has to work extra hard to create winning chances.
Bilbao prediction: Magnus is still very much in the running and I predict he will finish on +2.

V. Anand
The world champion has already achieved so much in his long and illustrious career. Anand nowadays seems happy to just play the game and enjoy himself without worrying too much about the result. While this has freed him of psychological demons that plagued him in the past, it does mean that he isn't striving for the maximum. A draw is the typical outcome with either color but his keen sense of danger means he loses very rarely.  In Sao Paulo he had three Whites and all his opponents chose the Ruy Lopez. All three games should have been drawn but he overestimated the position against Ivanchuk. A grind against Vallejo led to 50% at the halfway mark.
Bilbao prediction: With three Blacks it will be difficult to score well and I predict Anand will finish on +1.

Levon Aronian
The likeable Armenian has steadily climbed the rating ladder to become the only player in the post-Kramnik/Topalov and pre-Carlsen generations to reach 2800. The Aronian of today plays sophisticated positional chess and is less reliant on the tactically messy complications of his younger days. He seems to have shrugged off the Candidates elimination and is back to his usual self. At Sao Paulo he scored the obligatory win against Vallejo but balanced this with a loss against Ivanchuk to be at 50%.
Bilbao prediction: Aronian to finish on +1.

Vassily Ivanchuk
Vassily is the most complex among the world elite, equally capable of beating or losing to anyone. In Sao Paulo he was the revelation of the tournament playing imaginative chess as always. In round 1, the rare 1.d4 e6 2.c4 Bb4+ (a Keres favourite) led to a precisely played draw against Nakamura. In round 2, he surprised Anand with the Schliemann Ruy Lopez. Perhaps he had prepared against this as White for his recent match with Radjabov at the World Cup and in typical Ivanchuk fashion decided to try it from the other side! At any rate, the decision worked like a charm as Anand avoided the critical lines and went astray in the middlegame. Then in round 3 Ivanchuk outplayed Vallejo with the English before the hair raising encounter against Aronian. This was undoubtedly the most entertaining game from Sao Paulo. Aronian's reckless play was convincingly refuted by Ivanchuk who then let his advantage slip in time pressure. However, just when the draw was likely, Aronian blitzed his moves in Ivanchuk's time shortage and blundered. In round 5 the fairytale performance unfortunately came to an end. Ivanchuk appeared surprised by Carlsen's choice of the French and played very passively and ultimately lost. To add insult to injury, he and his wife were robbed just outside the hotel when leaving for the airport. He was clearly deliberately targeted for winning the tournament- the robbers did not realize this was only the first half and had not collected any prize money. Let's hope he recovers from his tragic experience and sparkles in Spain.
Bilbao prediction: Nerves will continue to be a problem and Ivanchuk will finish on +1.

Hikaru Nakamura
The American #1 (or #2) began the year wonderfully with a fine win at Wijk aan Zee. Since then, he has struggled and had a series of patchy performances. Hopefully he has now sorted out his personal problems and is back to playing the position rather than trying too hard to win. In Sao Paulo, Nakamura was the star together with Ivanchuk. He was the only undefeated player and not only that was in no danger of losing any of his games. To achieve such a performance against Carlsen, Aronian and Anand, the three 2800s as well as Crown Prince Ivanchuk deserves the highest praise. The expected win against Vallejo has placed him at +1.
Bilbao prediction: A strong contender for first, and I predict he will finish on +2.

Francisco Vallejo Pons
Paco is in the unenviable position of being the invited local by the organizers. In the past, this has provided invaluable experience to players like Miguel Illescas at Linares and Loek van Wely at Wijk aan Zee. Nevertheless, it is difficult to play in an environment where everyone else considers you a punching bag and a victim that must be beaten.
Paco's performance in Sao Paulo suggests his form is poor. Everyone but Carlsen defeated him and Carlsen too was unlucky to convert a winning position into a loss. It is unlikely that the home ground advantage in Bilbao will prove to be significant and more misery can be predicted.
Bilbao prediction: More losses and a couple of draws.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Happy Birthday Melody Amber (Anand-Nakamura, Monte Carlo 2011)

The Dutch IT billionaire Joop van Oosterom is an avid chess fan and a world champion too at correspondence chess. To celebrate his daughter Melody Amber's birth he created the eponymous tournament that has run annually for twenty years. With nice appearance fees and no rating points at stake, the players can concentrate purely on chess. In the early years different formats were experimented with before settling on the current double round robin of blindfold and rapidplay.
This year's event, to be the last, featured 12 grandmasters who can be arranged like the pecking order at a medieval court. The inner circle of favorites are Anand, Carlsen, Aronian and Nakamura. World champion and #1 ranked V. Anand  is enjoying an Indian summer that proves chess life does not stop at 40. World #2 Magnus Carlsen impresses with his peculiar style of fighting chess which has sometimes backfired recently. The likeable Levon Aronian is now among the 2800 superelite while Hikaru Nakamura continues to improve and has added a dimension of solidity to his aggressive style.
Next are four Amber veterans who are feeling their age: Vassily Ivanchuk the crown prince seesaws between beautiful masterpieces and unrecognizable play. Boris Gelfand plays sharp openings but over time his drawing margin has increased while former world champions Vladimir Kramnik and Veselin Topalov are going through a lackluster patch.
Finally there are four players capable of beating anyone on a given day: Alexander Grischuk, Sergey Karjakin, Vugar Gashimov and Anish Giri. Nevertheless, their recnt form or lack of Amber experience suggests it unlikely they would be a contender.
The first week of play brought some surprises. Aronian broke away with a number of 'lucky' wins while Carlsen and Anand jockeyed for second. Nakamura, perhaps because of his newly serious attitude, was languishing near the bottom. Ivanchuk started disastrously but then defeated Anand and Carlsen in their matches. This year's Amber featured a larger than usual share of blunders in the blindfold games but this only added to the entertainment value.

 Nakamura-Carlsen, 44. Rc7?? Kd8??

 Karjakin-Gelfand, 36 Be4??

 Anand-Gelfand, 58. h5??

 Gashimov-Aronian, 30. f5??

 Topalov-Grischuk, 69... Ra1??

 Aronian-Gelfand, 28... Qc3??

The Anand-Nakamura minimatch ended in a tie. The American has now drawn all five encounters against the World Champion. In the rapid game Nakamura was under pressure as Black but held on to draw an endgame with rook against bishop and two pawns.

Anand, Viswanathan (2817) - Nakamura, Hikaru (2744) [C12]
Melody Amber rapidplay, Monte Carlo 2011
1. e4 
The young Anand was exclusively an 1.e4 player. Then he went through a 1.d4 phase, returned to 1.e4 and successfully trotted out 1.d4 again in his matches against Kramnik and Topalov. Lately he has preferred 1.d4 except when targeting specific opponents.
1... e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 
Anand is also a leading exponent of the Steinitz 4.e5 with both colors.
4... Bb4 
The McCutcheon variation that has never been as popular or considered as sound as 4... Be7 or 4... dxe4. Anand would have anticipated it as it is part of Nakamura's repertoire. On the flip side, maybe the McCutcheon is a good choice against the World Champion! In recent tries he has scored only 50% with draws against Radjabov, Morozevich and Shirov.
5. e5 h6 6. Bd2
Gashimov-Nakamura saw the sideline 6.Be3 with a sharp struggle ending in a win for Black.
6... Bxc3 7. bxc3 Ne4 8. Qg4 g6
An alternative is 8...Kf8 with the plan of ...c5-c4, ...b5-b4 against which Anand has produced model games against Ivanchuk and Korchnoi.
9. Bd3 Nxd2 10. Kxd2 c5
The appeal of this McCutcheon mainline lies in the unsafe position of both Kings allowing Black some counterpunches.Nevertheless, White has an enduring pull on the dark squares hence its unpopularity.

11. Nf3 Nc6 12. dxc5

Relatively rare but presumably Anand had a specific idea in mind.

12... Qa5 13. Qf4 Qxc5 14. Nd4 Bd7 15. Rhb1 

Apparently new. The game Minasian-Lputian, Armenian ch 1996 is typical of Black's counterplay: 15.Qf6 O-O 16.Nxc6 Bxc6 17.h4 Rac8 18.Bxg6 Be8 19.Bd3 Qxc3+ 20.Ke2 Bb5.

15... O-O-O 16. Rb5

16. Qxf7 Nxd4 17. cxd4 Qxd4 would be terrible for White.

16... Qe7 17. Rab1 b6 18. Nxc6 

The caveman like 18. Rxb6 axb6 19. Ba6+ Kc7 does not lead to anything. A better try is 18. Rxd5 exd5 19. Ba6+ Kb8 20. e6+ Ka8 21. exd7 Qe5 but White's compensation is inadequate.

18... Bxc6 19. R5b4 g5 

19... Qg5 20. Qxg5 hxg5 21. h3 d4 looks like another reasonable way to maintain the balance.

20. Qe3 Qc5 

Heading for an endgame rather than the sharp 20... f6. 

21. f4 gxf4 22. Rxf4

22. Qxc5 bxc5 23. Rxf4 might be a better try although
Black should still hold.

22... Rhg8 23. g3 Qxe3+ 24. Kxe3 Rg5 25. Rxf7

White has no time for 25. Kd4 f5 26. exf6 e5+

25... Rxe5+ 26. Kf4 Rh5 27. g4

A critical moment as the later endgame is not easy to win. Sharper was 27. h4 Rg8 (27... d4 28. Rxa7 b5 29. a4) 28. Rxa7 e5+ 29. Ke3 d4+ 30. Ke2 e4 31. Ba6+ Kb8 32. Re7 {when White appears to be winning.

27... Rxh2 28. Rxa7 Rd7 29. Ra6 Kc7 30. Kg3 Rd2 31. Rbxb6 Bb7 32. Rxb7+ Kxb7 33. Rxe6 

White risks little with the exchange sacrifice but can he win? Anand comes up with the plan of anchoring his Bishop with one pawn and pushing the other but Nakamura's precise defence achieves a well deserved draw.

33... Rc7 34. Rxh6 Rxc3 35. Kf4 Rf2+ 36. Ke5 Rg2 37. Rg6 Ra3 38. Kxd5 Rxa2 39. Be4 Re2 40. c4 Rad2+ 41. Ke5+ Kc7 42. Kf5 Rf2+ 43. Kg5 Rd4 44. Bd5 Kd7 45. Kh6 Re2 46. Rg7+ Kd6 47. g5 Re5 48. Rf7 Rh4+ 49. Kg6 Rg4 50. Rf5 Rg1 51. Kf6 Rxf5+ 52. Kxf5 Rf1+ 53. Kg6 Ke5 54. Kg7 Rf4 55. g6 Kf5 56. Bf7 Rd4 57. c5 Rd8 58. c6 Rc8 59. Bd5 Rc7+ 60. Kh6 Kf6 61. Kh5 Ra7 62. Bf7 Kg7 63. Kg5 Ra5+ 64. Kf4 Rc5 65. Be8 Rxc6 1/2-1/2

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Krushing a Kid (Krush-Melekhina, US Women's Championship 2010)

In the prewar years, there was a 'Vera Menchik Club' composed of males who had lost to  Vera, then the strongest female chessplayer. Later, Fischer claimed he could give women's world champion Nona Gaprindashvili Knight odds to which Tal replied, 'Fischer is Fischer, but a Knight is a Knight'. The situation today is quite different- while the top chessplayers ARE male with the exception of Judit Polgar, there are many strong female grandmasters whom only a fool would take for granted.
A good example is 26 year old American grandmaster Irina Krush. Members of her 'Krush Klub' would include Akobian, Akopian, Becerra Rivero, Caruana, Cheparinov, Dreev, Ehlvest, Gormally, Gulko, Ikkonikov, Kaidanov,  Korchnoi, Kudrin, McNab, Mikhalevsky, Nakamura, Nataf, Orlov, Sandipan, Serper, Shabalov, Thipsay, van der Wiel and Yudasin. This year Irina won the US women's championship for the third time. Part of her success was due to excellent opening preparation leading to a 100% score as White.

Krush, Irina (2465)- Melekhina, Alisa (2265) [E99]
US Women's Championship, St. Louis 2010

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 

The King's Indian Defense can arouse strong emotions. And why not? Black, a tempo behind, seemingly ignores his opponent and just does his own thing. Meanwhile, depending on his taste, White can play everywhere- center, Kingside, Queenside... Petrosian joked that he fed his family on points made beating the King's Indian although he played it himself too. As Larsen put it, 'When I say an opening is natural for a player I mean that he likes it and that he believes in it (which is not necessarily the same thing). I have never believed, or 'felt', that the King's Indian is a correct defense for Black, but I have often liked playing it.'
Indeed, Black's setup conceals tremendous dynamic potential as first demonstrated by Soviet grandmasters Boleslavsky, Bronstein and Geller as well as Gligoric and Najdorf in the '50s. Perhaps Korchnoi explains it best, 'The character of a person determines his chess style. Boring people play boring chess. Cheerful people value entertainment in chess. Striking personalities play brilliant chess... To play a solid opening aimed at equalising would be frankly tedious. But the King's Indian- this is an opening full of adventures!'
While many grandmasters nowadays include the King's Indian in their repertoire, only Teimour Radjabov plays it regularly at the top level. For a great philosophical discussion on the opening, see Hans Ree's essay 'In Praise of the King's Indian' in New in Chess magazine, 2007 #2.

5. Nf3 O-O 6. Be2 e5 7. O-O 

Perhaps the most logical. Against the right opponent at the right time, the Queenless middlegame after 7. dxe5 dxe5 8. Qxd8 Rxd8 can bear dividends. Petrosian, the master of prophylaxis and blockade, preferred the immediate 7. d5 while Gligoric and Reshevsky popularized 7. Be3.

7... Nc6 

Black in turn needs to make his choice. Besides the text, there are viable alternatives in 7... Nbd7, 7... Bg4 and 7... exd4. Another modern idea which Irina faced earlier in the tournament is 7... Na6. After 8. Be3 Ng4 9. Bg5 f6 10. Bc1 Kh8 11. h3 Nh6 12. a3 c6 13. dxe5 fxe5 14. Bg5 Qc7 15. b4 Nf7 16. Be3 Qe7 17. c5 White was better, Krush-Abrahamyan, USA ch w 2010.
8. d5 Ne7 

With the locked pawn chains, the strategy for both sides is crystal-clear: attack on the side where you have more space. White, a move ahead already has a pawn in his opponent's court and can be expected to make faster progress. But herein lies the secret of the King's Indian- the best White can do with his Queenside attack is win material. Meanwhile, Black's Kingside attack may be slower but it is deadlier as its objective is checkmate! Some people appropriately call this the 'Death Variation' as it requires extreme accuracy and the slightest mistake will be catastrophic. Both Fischer and Kasparov happily played it as Black and between them only lost two games (Kasparov, against Kamsky and Kramnik) at regular time controls.
9. Ne1 

In recent years, Taimanov's variation 9. b4 has become very popular, after Ivan Sokolov's discovery 9... Nh5 10. Re1 Nf4 11. Bf1 when White preserves his Bishop and the Rook is activated on the e-file.

9... Nd7 10. Be3 f5 11. f3 f4 12. Bf2 g5 

Korchnoi: 'What does Black's play in this variation remind me of? In the Second World War, the Germans, and then also the Russians, employed the following method of warfare: after getting drunk before a battle, silently, with their weapons at the ready, standing up straight and making no effort to conceal themselves, they would automatically advance towards the entrenched enemy. Frightening, wouldn't you agree? This was the so-called 'psychological attack'. But look at the board! Black is advancing his pawns away from his king, leaving it completely without protection. If the opponent does not flinch, if the attack will be repulsed, then the checkmating of the bare black king will begin.' 
The Yugoslav Chess Informant devised a set of opening codes with numbers 1-99 arranged in order of what they believed to be best play by both sides. This position is ECO code E99, i.e. the pinaccle to strive for after 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6!
13. Rc1 

The first grandmaster encounter to reach this position, Taimanov-Bronstein, USSR ch 1952 saw 13. Nd3 Rf6 intending Rh6 but  White's Queenside attack proved faster. Trifunovic and Gligoric improved with the idea of attacking with the pieces behind the pawns by 13... Nf6 14. c5 Ng6 15. cxd6 cxd6 16. Rc1 Rf7 and Black follows up with Bf8 and Rg7. This is now the most popular strategy and Bronstein's Rook lift is relatively uncommon.
Other ideas are possible for White as well. The ever inventive Korchnoi came up with 13. Nb5 a6 14. Na7 Rxa7 15. Bxa7 b6 16. b4 in Korchnoi-Hulak, Zagreb itz 1987. The White Bishop may be trapped but it is not easily captured and meanwhile White has a raging attack. Later, Korchnoi came to the conclusion that it was even stronger to preface Nb5 by 13. a4. Julio Boudy Bueno gives an excellent historical survey of the Death Variation in New in Chess Yearbook #15, 1990.

13... Ng6 

It is possible to prevent Nb5 by 13... a6 but it's unclear if Black can afford to expend a tempo like this. The alternative 13... Nf6 14. c5 allows White to continue his Queenside break without any sacrifices. Perhaps in this particular variation, Black's best is to revert to the Bronstein idea by 13... Rf6 when 14. c5 leads to sharp play.
14. Nb5

Special preparation by Irina! The most popular try is Kozul's idea 14. c5 Nxc5 (14... dxc5?! 15. b4) 15. b4 Na6 when White has speeded up his attack with a pawn sacrifice.

14... Nf6

Kicking the Knight by 14... a6?! allows the Korchnoi motif 15. Na7 while 14... b6 15. b4 only delays the inevitable c5.

15. c5 g4 

After 15... a6? 16. Na3 h5 17. Nc4 White is ready to exploit the dark square weaknesses on c7 and b6.

16. cxd6 cxd6 17. Nc7 

Amazingly the position after 16... cxd6 was repeated in the game Zhao-Robson played alongside in the US Junior Championship. Parker Zhao was a few moves behind and could have continued playing Irina's moves but felt it was unethical: 'If I'd won, it would be like Irina's win.' Obviously, Caissa punishes such noble sentiments. Although Parker would later play Nc7xa8 as does Irina, a series of inaccuracies led to his defeat:17. g3 h5 18. Ng2 h4 19. Nc7 (19. gxh4) 19... hxg3 20. hxg3 fxg3 21. Bxg3 Nf4 22. Bxf4 exf4 23. Nxa8 Nh7 24. fxg4 Ng5 25. Nxf4 (25. Qd3!) 25... Rxf4 26. Kg2 (26. Rxf4) 26... Rxe4 27. Bf3?? (27. Nc7) 27... Re3?? (27... Nxf3 28. Kxf3 Rd4-+) 28. Rc4?? (28. Nc7) 28... Bd7 29. Nc7 b5 30. Rc1 Qf6 (30... Bxb2) 31. Ne6 ?? (31. Rc3) 31... Nxf3 32. Nxg7 Nh4+ 33. Kg1 Qxg7 (33... Rg3+ mates) 34. Rc3 Rxc3 (34... Bxg4) 35. bxc3 Qxc3 0-1 Zhao-Robson, US ch j 2010.
The hapless Zhao,who'd led for much of the tournament, would go on to draw a won ending in the last round, allowing Sam Shankland and Ray Robson to catch up and force a playoff won by Shankland. Yes, Caissa can be a cruel taskmaster! Maybe Zhao is too young to remember the infamous Gothenburg Variation, where the Argentinians prepared an ultra-sharp line of the Sicilian Najdorf and sprung it on their three Russian opponents simultaneously at the Gothenburg Interzonal in 1955. The three games were exact copies but the Argentinians had overlooked a double piece sacrifice and all three went down in flames.

17... g3 

He or she that enters E99 must be prepared to face such positions without flinching! White to move and win...

18. Nxa8 Nh5 

Why Black players head for this position is a mystery, as White has scored heavily in praxis. It seems the Kingside threats are not strong enough to justify the sacrifice of a whole Rook.

19. Kh1 Qh4 20. Bg1 gxh2 21. Bf2 Ng3+ 22. Bxg3 fxg3 23. Nc7 Nf4 

A picturesque position with interlocking chains across five files. White's King is completely trapped in a box, but unfortunately Black can't open the box either and the game will be decided elsewhere. Instead, the further sacrifice 23... Bh3 24. gxh3 Qxh3 is stopped by 25. Rc2 Nf4 26.Bd3 defending the g2 square.

24. Ne6 Re8 25. Rc7

Even stronger was 25. Qa4 with the idea Qe7 26. Rc7.

25... Bf8 26. Nxf4 exf4 27. Qc2 Bh3 28. gxh3 Qxh3 29. Ng2 Qh6 30. Rxb7 a5 31. Rc1 Re5 32. Qc8 Qf6 33. Qg4+ Rg5 34. Qe6+ 1-0

Tournament website: 

Replay the game:


Saturday, 7 August 2010

Sting Like a Bee (Jaunooby-Baker, British Championship 2010)

The British Championship held at the University of Canterbury this year was a fantastic success for Michael Adams who only conceded 3 draws to finish with 9.5/11, a clear 1.5 points ahead of Nicholas Pert. Although Michael was more than 150 Elo points higher ranked than everyone, this can work both ways and create undue pressure to win every game but he performed the task effortlessly. The lopsided field was due to the absence of many British GMs- apparently titled players were offered £800 appearance fees conditional on turning in a good performance. This would just about give them some change provided they lived on rations  in the student dorms. But what did the GMs expect? Great Britain has a large number of GMs but is low on big names that attract sponsors. At Canterbury, among the nine GMs six turned in a  performance lower than their rating...
Rather than watch the GMs slug it out among each other for the price of a sandwich, it was more fun to look at the nether regions where the untitled players languish. Once in a while they bubble up only to be beaten but sometimes the dog bites the man and scores an upset. A case in point is Ali Reza Jaunooby rated 2155. He scored 6/11 for a 2292 performance with a nice scorecard against the titled players- GM Summerscale 2428 draw; IM R Pert 2460 loss; IM Houska 2433 loss; IM Baker 2307 win; FM Hawkins 2423 draw. Ali played sharp and optimistic chess- not always sound but entertaining nonetheless. Let us look at his miniature against Chris Baker- to beat an IM within 20 moves means that something must have gone very wrong.

Jaunooby, Ali (2155) - Baker, Chris (2307) [D02]
British Championship, Canterbury 2010
1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 c6 3. c3 Bf5 4. Nh4?!

Development by 4. Bf4 would be more normal. Watch this Knight though- it moves ever onwards and upwards and delivers the final shot.

4... Bxb1?!

Four moves in and already a TN! However, it is unlikely to attract followers. The databases have one example each with 4... Bg4, 4... Bg6 and 4... Bc8.

5. Rxb1 e5?! 

Not the way to earn pocket money! As usual, tactics favor the better developed side and Black should play the more restrained 5... e6.

6. Qb3?! 

Better was the simple 6. g3.

6... exd4?

Instead, 6... Nd7 7. g3 Qb6 would limit White's advantage. Now Ali lands a sucker punch and goes on to score a KO over his dazed opponent.

7. Qxb7 Nd7 8. Qxc6 dxc3 

White has a clear plus after 8... Ngf6 9. g3 Rb8 10. Bd2 (Less good is 10. cxd4 Qa5+ 11. Bd2 Bb4) or 8... Rc8 9. Qa6 Be7.

9. bxc3 Rc8 10. Qa6 Rxc3 11. g3 Qc7 

The ending after 11... Qc8 12. Qxc8+ Rxc8 13. Bg2 Ngf6 14. O-O is unattractive. The text has a tactic in mind but White rises to the challenge.

12. Bf4 Bb4

13. Kd1

Forced but good. Not 13. Bxc7?? Rc1# ,13. Rxb4?? Rc1+ 14. Bxc1 Qxc1#, 13.Bd2?? Rc1+ 14.Rxc1 Qxc1# or 13. f3? Ra3+ 14. Kd1 Qc5. Now Black is in big trouble.

13... Qc5 14. Nf5! Ba3 

It is difficult to offer Black advice as alternatives like 14... Ngf6 15. Qb7 a5 16. Rxb4 Qxb4 17. Qa8+ Nb8 18. Qxb8+ Kd7 19. Qd6+ Qxd6 20. Nxd6 or 14... Ne7 15. Nd6+ (but not 15. Bd6 Qxf2 16. Nxg7+ Kf8 17. Bxb4 Qd4+ 18. Ke1 Kxg7) 15... Kf8 16. Nb5 Rc4 17. a3 Bc3 18. e3 are also losing.

15. Nxg7+ 

White has a choice of wins- also good was 15. Nd6+ Ke7 16. Nb5 Qc6 17. Qa4 d4 18. Rg1.

15... Kf8

After 15... Kd8 16. Bd2 White has the strong threat of Bh3.

16. Nf5 Ne7

Going down in flames rather than prolong the torture by 16... Qc6 17. Qa5.

17. Qh6+ Ke8 18. Nd6+ Kd8 19. Nb7+ 1-0

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Thursday, 5 August 2010

Howell Commits a Howler (Howell-So, Biel 2010)

The Biel Young Grandmasters event this year featured a feast of interesting chess with ten chess prodigies (perhaps including future world champions) battling one another. Of course, these days prodigies would not get very far if they did not play like mature adults and not that many of the games were decisive....
Round 1 featured a game between the brightest hopes of their respective countries, English GM David Howell and Filipino GM Wesley So. David had a fine result last year when he was undefeated at the London Classic drawing Carlsen, Kramnik, Nakamura and Short among others while Wesley turned in a fine performance at the FIDE World Cup eliminating Ivanchuk and Kamsky in succession. The game itself was surprisingly onesided after David made a strange King move in the opening. Wesley's win entrenches the feeling that he is a difficult opponent for David, who has only scored two draws in their five encounters to date.
Early King walks are not always bad- sometimes they are necessary and even strong moves. For example, in the King's Gambit 1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 White's usual continuation is 3. Nf3. But Bobby Fischer was partial to 3. Bc4, when 3... Qh4+ (3... d5 is recommended) 4. Kf1 favors White who will develop rapidly while the Black Queen is misplaced. Meanwhile, few today like the variation 3. Nc3 Qh4+ 4. Ke2, a favorite of Steinitz and the young Keres, as praxis shows the King on e2 to be quite exposed.
Indeed, every possible White King move from its original square has its place in opening theory besides f1 and e2 above: King to d2 occurs in the mainline French McCutcheon after 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Bb4 5. e5 h6 6. Bd2 Bxc3 7. bxc3 Ne4 8. Qg4 g6/Kf8 9. Bd3 Nxd2 10. Kxd2; King to d1 in the Sicilian Alapin 1. e4 c5 2. c3 d5 3. exd5 Qxd5 4. d4 Nf6 5. Nf3 Bg4 6. dxc5 Qxd1+ 7. Kxd1 which Howell himself played against Negi later at Biel to score his only win; King to f2 in the f3 Nimzoindian 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. f3 d5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 0-0 7. cxd5 exd5 8. e3 Nh5 9. Qc2 Re8 10. g4 Nf4 11. h4 c5 12. Kf2.

Howell,David (2616) - So,Wesley (2674) [B13] 
Biel 2010

1. e4 c6

'The Caro-Kann? It is so difficult to tempt one's opponent into a risky attack with it.'-Botvinnik. Maybe, but if White really wants to draw it is difficult to avoid this outcome with any opening. Suffice to say that the Caro-Kann was the main defence for two of the greatest chessplayers ever, Kasparov (in his youth) and Karpov (in his later years).  It also featured significantly in the repertoire of world champions Capablanca, Botvinnik, Smyslov and Petrosian.

2. d4 d5 3. exd5 cxd5 4. Bd3

The Exchange Variation, least common of White's options against the Caro-Kann. Fischer scored a fine victory against Petrosian with it in the USSR v Rest of the World match, Belgrade 1970. Since Fischer was a highly principled player with a firm belief in 'chess truth', any opening he played must be taken seriously. Yet, maybe the truth against the Caro-Kann was elusive, or he considered it second-rate enough that White had more than one solution. Indeed, Fischer played everything against the Caro-Kann: the King's Indian Attack 2. d3 and the Two Knights 2. Nc3/3. Nf3 as well as 2. d4 followed by the Exchange Variation, Panov Attack or the mainlines with 3. Nc3. In fact, the only line he avoided was the now popular Advance Variation but the modern theory was only developed long after Fischer had quit playing chess.
Essentially, White is playing the QGD Exchange Variation 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. cxd5 exd5 with an extra tempo. This allows him to place the Bishops on f4 and d3, Knights on e5 and f3 strongpointing e5 with prospects for a Kingside attack- a setup that can be achieved  as Black in the QGD only if White is cooperative.
David's adoption of the Exchange Variation in this game comes as a surprise as he had exclusively played the Panov with 4. c4 before. Had he prepared a new idea, or did he want to avoid Wesley's preparation?

4... Nc6 5. c3 Nf6

Perhaps the most accurate move order is 5...Qc7 as Anand played against Illescas, making it difficult for White to develop the Bishop to f4.

6. Bf4

Only six days after the Howell game, the Exchange Variation was repeated in the last round encounter Ponomariov-Le Quang, Dortmund 2010. Ponomariov, leading the tournament a point ahead of Le, chose 6. h3 Qc7 (the books suggest 6... e5 with free piece development in return for an isolated QP) 7. Nf3  g6  8. O-O Bf5  9. Re1  Bxd3  10. Qxd3  Bg7  11. Nbd2  O-O and later drifted into an inferior middlegame before holding the draw.

6... Bg4 7. Qb3 Qc8 8. Nd2 e6 9. Ngf3 Be7 10. Kf1?!

Howell's TN, but was it actually intended or did he pick up the King and accidentally release it before placing it on g1?! The sequel does not indicate that the move was linked with a specific plan. Indeed, in this game White will play Ke1-f1-g1, Ph2-h4 and Rh1-h3 to try and coordinate his pieces-a total of four tempi when the normal 0-0 reaches the same result in one!

10... Bh5

A typical move in this variation- Black plays Bh5-g6 to neutralize the White Bishop. Browne-Larsen, San Antonio 1972 is a good illustration of the Kingside dangers Black faces otherwise.

11. Re1 a6

Instead of castling, Wesley starts his Queenside minority attack right away.

12. Qc2 b5 13. b4

A strategy seen in the QGD against White's minority attack- White fixes the pawn on b5, and steers his Knight towards the outpost on c5. However, here the idea does not work so well due to his arrested development.

13... Bg6 14. Bxg6

Naturally, the immediate 14. Nb3? fails to Nxb4.

14... hxg6 15. Qd3 a5!  16. a3

Black is already better and White has only a choice of evils: the text move or 16. Qxb5 axb4 17. Ne5 Qa6 or 16. a4 bxa4 17. b5 Na7 18. b6 Nc6.

16... axb4 17. axb4 Qb7 18. Nb3 O-O

Finally castling, but Herr Fritz prefers the sharper Ra3 here and on the next move. 

19. h4

Instead following his plan by 19. Nc5 fails to 19... Bxc5 20. bxc5 (or 20. dxc5 Ra2 21. h4 Ne4) 20... b4.

19... Ne4 20. Nfd2 Ra3 21. Rb1 

Both 21. Nxe4 dxe4 22. Qc2 f5 or 21. h5 g5 are unattractive.

21... Rfa8 22. Kg1

A variation that shows the consequence of Kf1 is 22. Nxe4 dxe4 23. Qxe4 Rxb3 24. Rxb3 Nxd4!

22... Nd8

Freeing the c-file and with ideas of rerouting the Knight but the simpler 22... Nf6 may be more accurate.

23. Rh3 Qc6 24. Na5?

There are two kinds of players: those who habitually get short of time and those who don't. David belongs in the first category and time pressure probably explains the scrappy play hereabouts. A better try was 24. Nxe4 dxe4 25. Qe3 which Fritz considers equal.

24... R8xa5!

Straightforward for a GM: he removes a key defensive piece, gets a pawn for the Exchange immediately and maintains the pressure against White's uncoordinated forces.

25. bxa5 Nxc3 26. Rb3 Ra1+ 27. Nb1

After 27. Kh2, 27... b4 follows as in the game but with even greater effect.

27... b4 28. Bd2 Na2 29. Re3? 

A time trouble collapse. After 29. Rb2 Qa4 30. a6 Nc6 the worst would be over for White and he would have good chances to hold.

29... Nc1 30. Bxc1 Qxc1+ 31. Kh2 Nc6 32. g3 Nxa5 0-1

The first round of a tournament is an important bellwether for a player and provides important clues of his form. Howell, as one of the lowest ranked participants, would be a clear target for the others and this game would have reinforced that impression. He would finish on -2, losing to Andreikin and Vachier-Lagrave before winning one against Negi.
So would go on to beat Rodshtein and lead the tournament in the early rounds, before calculation errors led to losses against Caruana and Giri. Overall, a disappointing performance:+2 against the weakest players and -2 against the rest. Still, with young and rapidly improving prodigies, we can expect greater things from both players in the future.

Links to David's and Weslsey's Facebook and web pages: 

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Coverage of the  tournament on Chessbase:

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