Aug 15, 2013, 10:40 AM |

The round of 64 got underway at the World Cup, and once again there were few upsets: only one, to be precise, if for an upset we require the lower-rated player to win. In fact, the pattern on the first 11 boards was predictable and amusing: if the higher-rated player had Black the game was drawn, and if he had White he won. Those winners were Fabiano Caruana, Alexander Grischuk, Hikaru Nakamura, Gata Kamsky and Leinier Dominguez.

From boards 12-15 there was a different story. The favorites didn't win with White, and the one upset took place on board 15 where Julio Granda Zuniga, undeterred by having to play all the way through the Armageddon game yesterday, defeated Peter Leko all the same. There was almost an upset on board 12, too, as Aleksey Dreev missed out on an excellent chance to defeat Wang Hao - and with the black pieces. In fact, he might have been winning in the final position, but his best chance was the beautiful 46...f5!! Taking the pawn allows Black to win the knight on d2, and the main tactical point is that 47.Rbxd3 (either rook, really) 47...Re2+ 48.Kf3 Rf2 is mate, and 48.Kf1 Rf2+ followed by 49...Rc1+/# isn't any better.

Another missed chance came on board 16. Alexander Morozevich won, and one must say that it was mostly deserved, as he dominated the chances for a long time. However, we all know that we don't get any points on the scoretable for games that we dominated but lost, and on move 35 Rafael Leitao had his chance to steal the game. Morozevich's careless 35.Qb4?? allowed the fairly simple shot 35...Ng3+!, when the best White can do is 36.hxg3 Qh6+ 37.Kg1 Be3+ 38.Rf2 Bxf2+ 39.Kxf2 Qf6+ 40.Kg1 Qxa1, and that's not saying very much at all. All the moves are forcing and ...Ng3+ is a move one would expect a good club player to find, let alone a strong and experienced GM like Leitao. Even in time trouble I'd expect him to find that - it's an obvious move and the follow-up is so forcing that it's very easy to work it out.

So what happened? My guess is that ...Ng3+ had been impossible for so long that Leitao's mental "suspector" was no longer attuned to such an idea. What I mean by a "suspector" is nothing literal, of course. When we see tactical possibilities, we're generally attuned to it by familiar features of a position or by typical series of moves. In other words, when certain conditions are right we suspect that certain motifs will be available, and to start to look for and calculate them. By contrast, when a pattern is extracted from its usual settings it's easy to miss, and all the more so when it becomes possible not after one's own move, but the opponent's.

Anish Giri was the next player (going in board order) to win, defeating Li Chao. Today was another bad day for the Chinese contingent as Yu Yangyi also lost and Wang Hao survived by a thread against Dreev, as already noted. Only Wei Yi can feel good about his performance, as he defended nicely and cleanly with Black against Alexei Shirov. Back to Giri: one funny aspect of his game is that although it was one of the longest in terms of moves, it was one of the first games to finish and the first one with a decisive result.

Other winners: Vassily Ivanchuk (who defeated Ray Robson; the Americans went 2-2 on the day as Alexander Onischuk also lost [vs. Dominguez]), Anton Korobov, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Evgeny Tomashevsky. About Vachier-Lagrave's game: he was utterly busted against Isan Reynaldo Ortiz Suarez, who had defeated Judit Polgar in round 1. Ortiz Suarez was up the exchange and had made the time control, and needed just a bit of accuracy to handle Black's mass of central pawns. Unfortunately for him, he let things get completely out of control, and what would have been a very well-deserved victory speedily turned into a loss.

In sum, there were 12 winners from the 32 games, and all but two (Ivanchuk and Vachier-Lagrave) won with White.

2013 World Cup: Round 1, Day 3 (Tiebreaks)

Round 1 of a World Cup ought to be low in drama, with the heavy favorites pummeling their mismatched victims on their way to the money rounds, but the gap between the best and the rest is shrinking. Several 2700s are out, while several more suffered a terrible scare. In board order, here's what happened in tiebreaks featuring 2700s.

Gata Kamsky - Lou Yiping. Despite outrating his opponent by a considerable margin (more than 250 points), Kamsky had a terrible time finishing Yiping. Both of the g/25s were drawn before Kamsky finally broke through in the first of the g/10s. The second was drawn, and Kamsky advances to play Aleksandr Shimanov.

Peter Svidler - Anna Ushenina. Svidler bounced back from yesterday's blunder to win smoothly with White in game 3, but game 4 was a war. Ushenina was very well prepared in the opening and enjoyed a pleasant advantage in the middlegame. It was difficult to keep Svidler's pieces bottled up, and the fantastic 30...Rxf3! completely randomized the position. Both players were incredibly accurate until Svidler's 37...Ng5?, which could have lost had Ushenina found 38.Rc4 Qf3 39.Ne7+! The latter is the key move, and the problem is that whichever way the king goes there will be a devastating rook check in reply. Ushenina missed this, and afterwards she was lost, especially after an outright blunder on move 40.

Michael Adams - Wan Yunguo. Another strong, young, underrated and unknown Chinese player gave an experienced and accomplished 2700 all he could handle. Adams was losing in the first game, drawing by a hair. Had Wan played 34.Qh3 he would have won, but after 34.Qf3 d3! 35.Qxe2 dxe2 36.Re1 Na4! 37.Rxe2 Bd4+ 38.Kb1 Nc3+ 39.Kc2 Nxe2 40.Kxd3 fxg4! Adams reached a drawn opposite-colored bishop ending. That last resource had to be seen well in advance, and part of the challenge was to see and prefer that (in advance) to 40...Nf4+ 41.Kxd4 Nxg6. That keeps the extra piece but gives White a winning ending after 42.gxf5. In the rematch there was no drama at all. Wan blundered with 11...Qc7 (11...Qe4 and 11...Qc5 were satisfactory), and after 12.Nxe6 he was quickly bludgeoned to death.

Alexander Morozevich - Bator Sambuev. Morozevich finished his comeback successfully, winning the first tiebreak game convincingly with Black and then drawing with White.

Teimour Radjabov - Jorge Cori. This match was a tragedy for the young Peruvian GM. In the first game he did a great job to defeat his prestigious rival, winning on the white side of a Bayonet King's Indian. In game two Radjabov had the initiative throughout, but Cori was okay until he played 34...Rd7?! 35.Qh5+ Neg6? 36.Rd4 Qe7?, which lost the game just two moves later: 37.Bxg6+ Nxg6 38.Rg4. The tragedy was what happened next. Apparently Cori doesn't speak English, or doesn't it speak it well, and apparently heard the time for the next round as 6:50 rather than 6:15. He realized at a certain point from the flow of pedestrian traffic that the round was starting sooner rather than later and rushed to his board, but it was too late. FIDE's "zero tolerance" rule was in effect, and getting to his board two minutes after the start time was one minute and fifty-nine seconds too late. He was forfeited. He played game two and drew with Black and then filed a protest about the first game. His protest was rejected, and so he was out.

Dmitry Andreikin - Darini Pouria. Andreikin won game one with Black and drew the rematch with White to advance.

Anton Korobov - Vasif Durarbayli. The favored Korobov blanked his opponent 2-0.

Evgeny Alekseev - Baskaran Adhiban. The favorites above all survived, with varying levels of difficulty, but in this case Alekseev didn't. In the g/25s both men won their white games, first Adhiban and then his opponent. In the 10-minute games there were a pair of draws, with Adhiban taking a quick draw with the white pieces in the first game before suffering a while in the second. The match turned in the first of the 5-minute games. (More precisely, 5'+3" games. In fact, all of the rapid and blitz games, pre-Armageddon, the players have increments: it's 25'+10", 10'+10" and 5'+3".) Alekseev was winning nicely, everything was smooth, and he even had a mate in four at one point with 52.Bd6 followed by 53.Kg5, 54.Kf6 and 55.g7/Bxe7#. Despite missing this he was still winning until two moves before the end, and in any case he still enjoyed the more pleasant side of a draw at the end. Any reasonable move drew, but only if the move is executed before there are all zeros on the clock. He failed to do so and lost on time. He didn't manage to recover, and went down fairly easily in the next game as well.

Evgeny Tomashevsky - Alejandro Ramirez. This was an exciting match, and the favorite only managed to win in the Armageddon game. The players drew the 25-minute games, and from there on they exchanged victories. Tomashevsky won the first 10-minute game with Black in convincing fashion, but then Ramirez set the board on fire in a Benko Gambit and game two and crushed his higher-rated opponent. In game 7 Ramirez won even more easily with White, in just 24 moves, but couldn't hold with Black in the rematch. (Considering how successful he was with the Benko - an opening that shouldn't have been a surprise to Tomashevsky, as Ramirez has played it many times and recorded a couple of ChessBase DVDs on the opening - I was surprised he didn't use it the rest of the match.) Finally, Tomashevsky won with White in the Armageddon game, thanks to Ramirez's blunder 21...Ne6??, missing 22.Nxe4 dxe4 23.Nf5! Instead, 21...Nxc3 would have maintained a very playable position.

Alexander Riazantsev - Ruben Felgaer. The lower-rated Felgaer pulled through, winning the first game/10 with Black; the other three games were drawn.

Radoslaw Wojtaszek - Alexandr Fier. Another upset, as Viswanathan Anand's erstwhile second discovered that he had nothing to fear but Fier himself. Fier won in crushing style in game 1 and drew with Black in game two.

That finishes the summary of the 2700s, but I'll also mention the battle between Alexei Shirov (who is just below 2700 and was well above that benchmark for many years) and former women's world champion Hou Yifan (who will play a title match against Anna Ushenina next month). Hou outplayed Shirov in impressive fashion in game one, which offered a nice demonstration of the power of an outside pawn majority. Game 2 was a spectacular and mostly well-played win by Shirov, though with some errors on his part. The end was very appealing, though: 24.Nxf6+! Rxf6 and now not 25.Qxf6??, which loses to 25...Qxg3+, but 25.Rh1!, diverting the queen so that after 25...Qxh1 26.Qxf6 there's no more ...Qxg3 desperado. In the first g/10, Hou was doing perfectly well with Black, but 34...Rf6+ 35.Ke2 Qa3?? was terrible. (Trading queens on either move 34 or 35 would have rendered an inferior but defensible ending.) After 36.Qc3 the rook was in a fatal pin, and Hou's only accomplishment from that point was to reach a position where the rook would be lost on due to an attractive zugzwang. The next game was complicated, but Shirov managed to defend and leave Hou the choice between a perpetual and a lost position. Hou lost on time trying to find a decent way to play on.

Round 2 starts tomorrow - back to classical chess. Here are the pairings involving U.S. players:


  • Nakamura - Safarli
  • Kamsky - Shimanov
  • Onischuk - Dominguez
  • Robson - Ivanchuk (eek!)



2013 World Cup: Round 1, Day 2

There were more upsets than there were yesterday at the World Cup, and while none of the big favorites are out there were some scares, and some of the top players are headed for tiebreaks.

Alexander Morozevich was the only 2700 to lose on Sunday, and he avenged himself with a win in the second game against Bator Sambuev. More than making up for that, however, were a number of other losses in the 2700 cadre today. The biggest loss was Peter Svidler's loss to women's world champion Anna Ushenina. The position was equal but lively when Svidler miscalculated with 28...Rxf2??; he simply missed that after 29.Qxe6+ Kg7 Ushenina had 30.Qd7+. The point is that after king moves White can take the queen, as rook discoveries are met by 32.Qxd4. Instead, 28...Bxf2+ maintained equality. He won their first game, so they will go to tiebreaks.

One other 2700 lost today, and he's out of the tournament. Ian Nepomniachtchi lost to 14-year-old Chinese GM Wei Yi, and unlike the Svidler game this didn't involve Christmas wrapping paper. The youngster outplayed his opponent in the middlegame and ending to win - and with the black pieces at that. He looks like he's going places.

No other 2700s lost, but many of them had to sweat. Levon Aronian and Vladimir Kramnik had an easy time of things, but Fabiano Caruana only drew his second game against his 2332-rated opponent, and he had to work for it with White! (He won the first game, so he advanced.) Alexander Grischuk beat a 2341, but he was in trouble for some time before pulling it out. Sergey Karjakin only drew, and Hikaru Nakamura should have drawn as well. He played a nearly stone-cold dead draw for a long time, and it finally paid off. Boris Gelfand was at death's door for a long time against Ziaur Rahman, but after a very long defense he pulled it out and drew by the skin of his teeth, in 103 moves.

All of the favorites mentioned in the last paragraph won their matches, but plenty of strong 2700s did not. (That sounds like a pleonastic phrase, but I'm referring to players who are or recently were part of the super-tournament circuit.) Gata Kamsky drew twice with young Chinese IM (!!) Lou Yiping, Teimour Radjabov drew twice with Jorge Cori, likewise for Dmitry Andreikin and Darini Pouria, Michael Adams and Chinese IM Wan Yunguo, Alexei Shirov and Hou Yifan, the Chinese teenager and former women's world champion. Anyone noticing a pattern here?

Moving on to the U.S. players: As already noted, Nakamura won his match; he'll play the winner of tomorrow's tiebreak between Eltaj Safarli and Bassem Amin. Kamsky will be in tiebreaks, but Alexander Onischuk and Ray Robson have advanced. Onischuk held the draw with Black against Eduardo Iturrizaga, while Robson beat Andrei Volokitin a second time, with Black. Very impressive. Both will have a tough time next round: Onischuk plays Leinier Dominguez, while Robson is really walking into the lion's den with Vassily Ivanchuk on deck.

Unfortunately, the impressive results for the U.S. team finished there. Larry Christiansen played a great first part of the game with Laurent Fressinet to achieve a won position, but miscalculated something when he played 27...Rxf2? Instead, 27...cxb2 28.Rab1 and only then 28...Rxf2! would have won and forced tiebreaks. Christiansen still managed a draw, but it wasn't enough. Gregory Kaidanov likewise only managed a draw in a must-win situation against Alexander Areschenko, while Alexander Shabalov and Conrad Holt both went down by 2-0 scores, against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Nikita Vitiugov, respectively.

One other match I'll take note of saw Judit Polgar lose to Cuban GM Isan Reynaldo Ortiz Suarez (revenge for her somewhat lucky World Cup win over Leinier Dominguez a couple of years ago?). Polgar had several serious winning opportunities, but she failed to convert them and is out of the competition.

28 of the 63 matches (there were 64 scheduled, but Alexander Moiseenko advanced by forfeit) will go into tiebreaks tomorrow, which work like this. (The same format will hold for all seven rounds.)

First, there will be two rapid games (25' + 10"). If it's still tied, then there will be two 10' + 10" games. If that doesn't do the trick there will be a pair of blitz games (5' + 3"), and if that doesn't work it goes to an Armageddon game. White will have five minutes, Black four, and there will be no increment until move 61, when the players will get an additional three seconds per move. Black gets draw odds in the Armageddon game, so White must win that game to win the round.

2013 World Cup: Round 1, Day 1

Given the 1 vs. 128, 2 vs. 127...64 vs. 65 pairings formula FIDE uses for the World Cup, significant upsets are relatively unlikely. In fact, only one of the 38 players rated over 2700 lost, and that was 16th seed Alexander Morozevich, who lost with Black to 2524-rated Canadian GM Bator Sambuev. Morozevich was in good shape in a complicated position, but a serious error late in the game turned the tables.

A bit below the 2700 mark there were some notable upsets though. Judit Polgar (2696) lost to Isan Reynaldo Ortiz Suarez, Vladimir Akopian (2691) lost to Ngoc Truong Son Nguyen, and Andrei Volokitin (2688) lost to a player with only two names - Ray Robson of the U.S.A.

Transitioning to the other American results, Nakamura won pretty easily against his opponent, rated more than 300 points below him, but two boards down Gata Kamsky only managed a draw (albeit with Black) against Lou Yiping. Alexander Onischuk defeated Eduardo Iturrizaga, and in a semi-upset Alejandro Ramirez drew with the 2700+ rated Evgeny Tomashevsky, though with White.

That was the good news for the U.S.; now for the bad news. The four other Americans all lost to 2700+ rated opposition: Larry Christiansen, Gregory Kaidanov, Alexander Shabalov and Conrad Holt lost to Laurent Fressinet, Alexander Areshchenko, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Nikita Vitiugov, respectively.

With 64 games to choose from there were plenty deserving careful attention, but the interests of brevity I'll note just three, which you can replay here. Two have been mentioned already: Morozevich's upset loss and Robson's impressive win, in which he built on good preparation with a very nice combination. The third game I'll note is the young Russian star Daniil Dubov's win over Sergey Fedorchuk, which ended with a spectacular mating combination.

Just a reminder: day 2 continues the first round, as the players switch colors and do it all over again. All players who are ahead after day 2 get the next day off; those who are tied play rapid (and if necessary, blitz) tiebreaks to decide who advances to the next round. Full results here, or more conveniently, here.

The FIDE World Cup Starts Sunday

Now this is a majestic event! The 2013 FIDE World Cup starts Sunday in Tromso, Norway, and is a 7-round, 128-player knockout event featuring every player in the top 30 except for Viswanathan Anand, Magnus Carlsen, Veselin Topalov and Ding Liren. (The first three aren't playing because they've already punched their tickets to the next Candidates event or better; the latter, I know not why.) The top two finishers are guaranteed spots into the 2014 Candidates, and although Levon Aronian and Vladimir Kramnik are probably going to qualify for that event by rating (available to the two highest-rated players who haven't qualified by other means), FIDE made it a precondition that rating qualifiers would have to play in either the Grand Prix cycle (which Aronian and Kramnik skipped) or the World Cup.

The festivities begin on Sunday at 3 p.m. local time (= 1 p.m. GMT/9 a.m. ET), and you can find a useful pairing chart here. Rounds 1-6 take a maximum of three days. Days 1 and 2 are classical games, with the players switching colors on the second day. If it's tied after two games, day 3 will see rapid and (if necessary) blitz tiebreaks to determine a winner, culminating if necessary in an Armageddon game. In round 7, the final match will be a best-of-four game classical match.

As a service to my countrymen, here are the U.S. participants, along with their seeding, pairing, and both players' ratings:

(6) Hikaru Nakamura (2772) vs. Deysi Cori (2434)
(8) Gata Kamsky (2741) vs. Lou Yiping (2484)
(55) Alexander Onischuk (2667)  vs. Eduardo Iturrizaga (2660)
(83) Ray Robson (2623) vs. Andrei Volokitin (2688)
(95) Larry Christiansen (2584) vs. Laurent Fressinet (2708)
(97) Alejandro Ramirez (2588) vs. Evgeny Tomashevsky (2706)
(99) Gregory Kaidanov (2574) vs. Alexander Areshchenko (2709)
(106) Alexander Shabalov (2546) vs. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (2719)
(112) Conrad Holt (2539) vs. Nikita Vitiugov (2719)

Readers: Any predictions for the whole event? For first-round upsets? For your country's representatives, wherever you're from?

Igor Kurnosov, 1985-2013

The very strong young Russian grandmaster Igor Kurnosov died this morning in Chelyabinsk, as he and another pedestrian were struck by a young driver. Kurnosov was quite a talented player, consistently rated in the mid-2600s and occasionally in the upper 2600s, but it's a great pity for anyone so young to lose their life. More about Kurnosov here, here, here, here and here.

Yet Another Cheating Scandal

We've covered a disappointingly large number of cheating scandals over the years, and there is little reason to think the availability of such stories will diminish in the foreseeable future. Here's a story with something new - at least new to me: IM Jens Kotainy was thrown out in the eighth round of the open event in Dortmund that ran concurrently with the super-tournament won by Michael Adams. Kotainy's score at the time was 7/7, and his IPR was a staggering 3200. If he did it*, he isn't the sharpest tool in the shed. The method seems to have been "morselike vibrations" from his cell phone. Apparently he had been under suspicion even from earlier tournaments; shockingly, playing 3200-level chess and having his cell phone regularly buzzing drew further attention.

Fortunately - if he did it - he was so blatant he might as well have been wearing a scarlet "C" on his chest with an arrow terminating at his pocket, pointing to a drawing of a cell phone with motion lines. Unfortunately, others will surely follow, and won't be as blatant. I don't know if tournament directors and arbiters will ever have the willingness to simply forbid all electronic devices at open tournaments, but until they do it's a mortal lock that the cheating problem will continue to grow.

More here, here and here.

HT: Ken Regan


* Like everyone else, he's entitled to a legal presumption of innocence, and he has so far maintained his innocence.

Dortmund 2013: Adams Wins, Kramnik Second

Vladimir Kramnik always seems to play well in Dortmund, an annual super-tournament he has won ten times (four times sharing first) over a span from 1995 to 2011. Michael Adams did win it once, sharing first with Kramnik, but that was all the way back in 1998. When we left off last time, they were sharing first with 4/5 going into the rest day, with the rest of the field already well in the rear view mirror.

They kept up their torrid pace in round 6, both men winning quickly. Kramnik won a remarkable attacking game against Daniel Fridman, while Arkadij Naiditsch's attempts to attack Adams quickly backfired. Round 7 was the deciding round. Adams won again, defeating Igor Khenkin with ease, while Kramnik lost to Dmtiry Andreikin for the second time in a month. Kramnik bounced back with an extremely hard-fought victory over Fabiano Caruana, who had a really awful tournament. Caruana defended like a lion and was on the verge of a draw, but made a simple error at what was probably the last moment requiring an even slightly subtle decision, and lost. (After 6+ hours and 75 moves of a very complicated game at the end of a tournament, even "simple" positions aren't always so easy to play.) Adams drew very comfortably against Georg Meier, and so with one round left he was half a point ahead of Kramnik.

The good news is that they were paired in the last round; the bad news (for those looking for drama) was that Kramnik had the black pieces. Kramnik played the Sicilian in hopes of stirring things up, but Adams played a c3 Sicilian (on move 3, after 2.Nf3 g6), and found a neat line that quickly forced Kramnik to take a repetition.

Adams thus took clear first with a great score of 7 out of 9, with Kramnik half a point behind. Adams' TPR was 2925, and moved his rating to a career high 2761 (rounding up), putting him at #11 in the world. (Not a career high.) Kramnik's successful tournament netted 10 rating points, undoing much of the damage suffered in the Tal Memorial and putting him back into third place on the live list with a 2794 rating.

To varying degrees of depth, I've annotated both players' games from round 6-9 - have a look. Meanwhile, for completeness' sake and to acknowledge the existence of the rest of the field, here are the final standings:

1. Adams 7 (of 9)
2. Kramnik 6.5
3-4. Leko, Naiditsch 4.5
5-8. Andreikin, Meier, Caruana, Wang Hao 4
9. Khenkin 3.5
10. Fridman 3

Kingpin, Again Up And Running

Perhaps the most sporadically chess magazine in all of history, Kingpin is up and running again, on a new website. Some recent articles are available, along with some golden oldies. Worth a look.

Kramnik Interview: "Intellectual Effort Gives Me Enormous Pleasure"

Here's a long and interesting interview with Vladimir Kramnik that is enjoyable in most every respect but one: he, like Gata Kamsky, renewed the "threat" to retire from chess at 40. (He's 38 now.) Why not keep going as long as you can seriously compete for the world championship, enjoy it and have the strength to keep up the lifestyle? Oh well. I wonder what would happen if he won the next Candidates event and then defeated Carlsen. Would he retire even then?

Anyway, the rest is enjoyable, and if you're not a Kramnik fan you might enjoy that part too.

HT: Jaideep