November 18, 2008 • General
Good day to everyone out there. In typical fashion, I do not blog directly on days when I am playing anymore as it distracts me from the massive amounts of work which everyone is starting to put into their preparation. Repeating my standard form from the last olympiad, I chose to sit out the first round when we played Iceland. The team scraped by with a 2.5-1.5 victory as Yury Shulman got himself into time pressure and blundered badly against GM Danielsen. However, due to the change in format from game points to match points, this does not particularly matter. It is worth noting that if the format was match points last olympiad we would have won silver not bronze. In round two, we played a very solid Greek team which had Papaioannou,Kotronias,Halkias,Mastrovasilios. This match was definitely a huge disappoint for us as Gata missed a win on board 1 while I blew a huge advantage on board 2. Alex solidly won on board 3, but Var was unable to hold with Black on board 4 so the match resulted in a 2-2 tie instead of a 3-1 victory. In round 3 we played a very weak South African team and won 3.5-.5. Although both Yury and I were in some trouble at some point. This led to a very big showdown against Azerbaijan in round 4. Gata played a very solid game with Black against Radjabov’s queenless Grunfeld and slowly outplayed him. In fact, Gata was clearly winning right before time control when he blundered horribly with Kxe6?? allowing d5!. This resulted in a very tragic loss which definitely swung the match out of our favour. I played an interesting pawn sac in a Grunfeld which occurred in the game Vitiugov-Morozevich from a few months ago. Mamedyarov misplayed it by going Bg7 and Nbd7, however, instead of simply playing on the queenside with an a4-a5 plan at some point, I went badly astray with Ne5 and Bb5. After this is was all downhill and I lost a difficult endgame after a very long struggle. Alex was also in a very unpleasant situation, but he dug in and managed to scrape out a draw. Yury had prepared something very special preparation for Guseinov and got a completely winning position only to blow it in time pressure which resulted in a draw. We then played Hong Kong and won 4-0.
So at the break we currently have 3.5/5 in matches. Of course, there is still plenty of time left to put together a nice streak, but it will not be easy as we probably have very margin of error if we want to medal. Tomorrow we will be playing Cuba which isn’t a bad team as they have Dominguez and Bruzon on their top two boards. Hopefully we can win this match, but its time for everyone to come out of their rut and play well. So far everyone is pretty unsatisfied with their result except for Onischuk. With this first half mess behind us, we will definitely try to make a medal push.
Last night was the annual Bermuda Party. I’ve only had the fortune (misfortune!?) of having been only to the infamous one in 2006 where Aronian and Gormally had a good old fashioned chess boxing match. This time around, the party was held in a much larger disco club where everyone seemed to show up. Since I pretty much hung around the Canadian team and was not busy chasing girls, I do not particularly have a whole lot to mention about any particular gossip. However, just like everyone else, we all had a good time. My dance moves have certainly improved probably due to a course I had in college and just my general ability to just enjoy myself a lot more these days. Most of us got fairly drunk, but that seems to happen fairly often to many people at these chess tournaments. The only negative thing I will say straight up about the party is that I saw plenty of people chasing when they certainly are married or have girlfriends back in their native lands. There were several times when Dina&I did a few cheers to avoiding any of this unfaithful carousing. When I left with the Canadians at 3 AM, there was still a lot of partying going on, so I’m not sure when it actually ended. I know it was definitely going until 5 AM but probably even later.
Today most of us (Canadians) were hung over which meant it took an extra 2 hours before we went on a tour directed by the lovely German girl Alice. We saw many monuments and statues which greatly reminded me of my trip to Vienna just a few weeks ago. The only general complaint which I have about Dresden is the biting cold which seems to be pretty standard just about every day now. Other than that, I cannot complain except about the internet here at the Hotel Maritim which seems to progressively getting slower and slower every day. Therefore, I can only hope that this blog actually ends up posting instead of freezing out. That’s all for now. Go USA, Canada!
November 03, 2008 • General
Since I was in a rush to finish the prior blog as I had to rush off to the airport, I will attempt to add a little bit more about the event. Looking back on the event now that I’ve had a day of rest&relaxation, I’d like to point out to everyone (primarily Mig) that Ivanchuk did in fact offer me a draw before I went Rc2 in the second rapid game. What I have noticed is that most people have failed to recognize is that once we reached that endgame, I was not playing for a draw and blitz tiebreaks. That was obviously my original gameplan, however the situation was very much of a low risk high reward case where I would have had to make a disastrous blunder in order to lose. So the comments I have which suggest that somehow Ivanchuk was only drifting towards blitz are quite erroneous. Another story which I must comment on are the appauling remarks which Anatoly Karpov made in an interview on the last day in Cap D’Agde. Although I have a great deal of respect for Karpov and his chess abilities, I think that perhaps he needs to re-evaluate the Russian school of chess as I think saying that Caruana has a better understanding of chess than Carlsen is quite absurd to say the least. One other key point which I would like to make is that I was also highly disappointed in the manner of which Conquest and Vachier-Lagrave completely misunderstood my ending against Ivanchuk in game 1. To put it simply, at no point there is white “completely winning” as Vachier-Lagrave rather arrogantly commented. In fact, based on the body language of Ivanchuk, it was quite clear that he also felt I was the one pressing for a win in the endgame. All in all, I feel that the better player won in the final match.
For now, I will be in Paris for a few days before I head off to Austria to play in the Austrian League on November 7,8,9. After this, I will head to the Olympiad in Dresden which begins on November 12th if I remember correctly. Currently, I would very much liken myself to my beloved Tennessee Titans in the sense that they are currently 8-0 (NFL) and the best team, yet they consistently get no respect or press coverage for their solid wins. I think the exact same can be said of my chess. Everyone says Ivanchuk blew the match and I didn’t win it. If that is how it goes, so be it. Since this seems to be my little period of talking about sports, I’d also like to take a page out of the Curt Schilling book and say that nothing feels better than being able to shut up all the naysayers. Last, but not least, as the US election is now only two days away, I would encourage anyone who wishes to see the US return to prestige and preeminence vote for Obama. Perhaps the US will be ok under McCain, but I do not have very much optimism.
November 02, 2008 • General
Hello to everyone! Although I had many opportunities to blog throughout the event here in Cap D’Agde, for the most part I was focused on playing my best chess which is why I did not blog. So without further ado, I will try and recap all the great moments throughout the tournament for me this year.
In the qualifiers, I was put in the group with Carlsen, Radjabov, Karpov, Kosteniuk, Hou, Feller and Skripchenko. Originally I thought that being in this group was rather unfavourable as I had to face both Carlsen and Radjabov as opposed to simply Ivanchuk had I been in the other group. In the first round I was paired against GM Radjabov. In the past he has made some rather disparaging remarks about Armenians, as well as other grandmasters. It is rather interesting to note that when I acted in this manner on ICC in years past, people would get really upset whereas it seems when Radjabov just does it publicly, it is ok? Is there a double standard here…anyone? In our game which seems to have gotten garbled in the transmission, we played a very sharp Kings Indian (I was white) and in the tactical melee that ensued, I simply panicked and let my nerves get the best of me. According to analysis I did afterwards I was at least equal if not better. Having not played in two months, it probably was the wrong idea to go for the sharpest type of position that is possible, but I made the choice and it didn’t quite work out. After this, I had a relatively win against Feller before I was paired against Magnus the following morning. In this game, much like a few later games, I got a roughly equal position and slowly proceeded to outplay Magnus. Near the end of the game, I was very close to winning but due to a huge time deficit which I had gotten myself into, I was only able to draw. After this, it was more or less smooth sailing for me as I won the rest of my games without too much trouble. The highlight was definitely beating Karpov with black in a Leningrad Dutch in the very last round.
In the quarterfinals I was paired against the up and coming French GM Vachier-Lagrave. Perhaps because it was the start of the match format or just pure nerves, I did not play very inspiring chess. In both of the rapid games, I was significantly worse but was able to salvage two draws. In the blitz, Maxime had the misfortune of walking into some very deep preparation I had done on the Benko prior to the tournament. After getting crushed in a disgusting matter in game 1, he was not able to recover and I moved on to the semifnals. I then had to face legendary grandmaster and former World Champion Anatoly Karpov. In this tough match, we played two very standard rapid games with neither side really achieving much in the way of an advantage. However, once again, I proved my blitz skills as I was able to eliminate him 2-0. This left me with a match against GM Vassily Ivanchuk who is currently number three in the world. Going into this match, I knew I would not be the favourite, so my goal was quite simply to play solid and get into the blitz tiebreaks. Although I knew I had chances at rapid, I figured that at blitz I would have very close to even chances. In the first game we played a fairly standard Open Ruy which I had all prepared up until Rc5. According to my analysis with Rybka Rc6 was slightly better. However, the game then simplified into an ending which was objectively equal. However, Ivanchuk who didn’t want to draw with white started pressing and got himself into some trouble. Fortunately, for his sake, he was able to find a solid outpost with the neat g3-Ng2-f4 manouver and draw. In the second game, I once again played in a very solid manner as my goal was to stick with the game plan. In the middlegame he inexplicably started going wrong when he chose Bc5 over the simple Bxg2 Kxg2 Qxd4 Bxd4 Rfc8 after which it should be a standard draw. Slowly but surely I think proceeded to outplay him with the good knight against bad bishop. All in all, a fabulous result which I am quite happy with. At the start of the tournament I figured I would simply try to play my best chess and hope for a good result. In the end, winning is obviously the best result and I’m very happy about.
I would also like to point out a few mentions of thanks. First, I’d like to thank both Bachar Kouatly and Robert Fontaine for their grateful assistance to both my father and me through this past week as well as their kind words and actions. I would also like to thank my second back in the US, Kris, without whom this result would not have been possible. I know he put it many long nights preparing me for my matches against Ivanchuk and Karpov, so I would be remiss if I did not say thanks. Last but not least, I would like to thank my great girlfriend Laura who provided me with great support and encouragement from afar. So thank you to everyone who helped me and hopefully when I come back in two years I will be able to repeat my success.