November 29, 2010 • General
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! I hope that everyone had a festive and enjoyable weekend. Unfotunately, I did not have the chance to partake in the festivities as I left for Norway on Thanksgiving to participate for the 2nd straight year in the BN Bank Blitz. After accepting the conditions immediately to participate, I was extremely disappointed to see that the field did not have either of Norway’s top two players in GM Magnus Carlsen and GM John Ludvig Hammer. Nevertheless there was still a respectable presence with GMs Agdestein, Johannessen and Lahno also competing.
The event itself was broken down into two groups of six players. Most of the other players won various qualifiers around the country of Norway. Also worthy of mention was John Kristian Royset who was also the Backgammon world champion in 2003. I cruised through the qualifier with a perfect 10/10. GM Lahno was the other player who qualified from my group. In the other group, the top two seeds GMs Agdestein and Johannessen advanced. This meant that the two semifinal matches were Agdestein-Lahno and myself against Johannessen. In my match, I decided to play the Dutch with both colors and it worked extremely well as I won 3-0. The other semifinal match between Lahno and Agdestein was very up and down as either player could have won. In the end, Agdestein had the better end of the luck and prevailed 2.5-1.5 in a tough match. This result meant that I would face Agdestein in the final.
After starting off with 13 wins in 13 games, I knew something was bound to go wrong in the final for two reasons. For starters, as I learned from the World Blitz Championship, at some point you get tired and cannot continuously play well. The other huge issue is that as I had a perfect score up to this, point I was starting to have these ridiculous notions of finishing the event with in style with absolute perfection.
The match got off to an incredibly bad start as I tossed away a drawish ending by being a bit too ambitious. However, I recovered nicely and won games two and three. This gave me a one point lead and White in the final game of the match. This game is incredibly hard to explain as I simply went brain dead during two crucial points in the game. I still had some chances to draw the resulting endgame, but Simen kept creating problems and I eventually cracked under the pressure. The shocking loss setup an armageddon game in which I had White against Simen. I received an extra minute while he had draw odds. After a very choppy opening and middlegame, I tricked Simen in the complications and achieved a winning position. Simen could have probably fought on, but he ended up flagging. Although I did not win in the smooth non stressful situation I would have liked, the victory still counts.
That’s all for now as I have to get ready for the upcoming appearances by 13th World Champion, Garry Kasparov as well as the lecture and simul by Nigel Short here at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis!
November 24, 2010 • General
There seem to be diverging views in the world today on whether people who are in roles of importance (I’m not dumb enough to think I’m a celebrity!) should give people insight into their life via sites such Myspace, Twitter or Facebook. Either it is all publicity or cheapening, but there seems to be no middle ground these days. Countless people have asked me what exactly I do at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis or what my specific role is. I will try to shed some light into what an average day at the club is like.
As I am not an official employee but a contractor, I am not required to be at the club at 9AM like the full time staff (the club is NOT officially open http://saintlouischessclub.org/about-us). However, I generally show up relatively early around 10-11AM. Usually, I will spend an hour or two hanging out and discussing various upcoming projects/plans on anything related to chess. The afternoons tend to become significantly more hectic as I was in 2 ½ hours of meetings just two days ago on US Championships planning and another interesting tournament idea which will be releasing news about shortly. Once the club opens at 3PM, I usually chat briefly with the locals who drop by the club almost every day (A big shout out to Dale)! Sometimes as was the case yesterday, people from out of town come by the club. I had the great pleasure of meeting several amateur chessplayers from Kentucky and Seattle, while signing various boards and cards. Seeing and talking to these people who follow your every tournament is truly inspirational and gives me motivation to continue my quest towards becoming World Champion. I will also give the rare fan a treat and play a few games of blitz. The other really fun activity which happens from time to time is when schools take a field trip to the CCSCSL. A few weeks ago, a local group of home schooled kids who play chess came by which gave them all an opportunity to play against GM Ben Finegold and myself in a tandem simul. Between all these exciting activities, there is almost never a dull day at the club!
For more info:
As a sidenote, 13th World Champion Garry Kasparov will be at the club on November 29 from 4-5PM while this is going to be followed up by a Nigel Short lecture&simul starting at 6PM. I should be on hand at the club during these hours as well, so I recommend to anyone in the general area to come on by!
That’s all for now as I need to get in my morning workout and pack (lightest packing job ever) for my short weekend trip to Oslo, Norway. Hopefully, I’ll see some friendly faces at the club today as people start arriving (I had lunch with Nigel yesterday) for the 2010 Thanksgiving Open which begins on Friday.
For more info: http://saintlouischessclub.org/content/2010-thanksgiving-open
Once again, thanks for all the support and have a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!
November 23, 2010 • General
Greetings to everyone in the blogosphere! I would like to express my apologies to all the fans and spectators alike who have been awaiting a blog for a very long time now. Unfortunately, between my ridiculous tournament schedule and some Firefox/Internet Explorer issues, I simply haven’t been able to churn out anything. However, that is about to change!
Before delving into my thoughts and experiences during the Tal Memorial and World Blitz Championship, I would like to cover several other topics/tournaments which occurred prior to this.
During this past season, I competed in the US Chess League for the Saint Louis Archbishops. While I appreciate the efforts of Greg Shahade to try and create a league system here in the US, it has become clear to me that this is counterproductive to my long term goals in chess and I am retiring effective immediately from the US Chess League. That being said, I would like to express my congratulations to the New England Nor’Easters and especially team manager David Vigorito on a job well done.
Another tournament I played in was the 39th Chess Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk. Normally, this event in itself would be deserving of an entire blog entry, but as I attempted this and lost 2 hours of my life when it got eaten up in the ether, I will keep my remarks fairly brief! After much criticism from chess journalists and websites about the venue and hotels, everything turned out to be just fine which turned out to be a relief. However, this is where my positivity ends.
Having played in 3 Olympiads now, one of the best parts is the social aspect of catching up and remembering all the good times from past tournaments where everyone played. Unfortunately, the layout of the hotels was such that it was rather hard to get around if one did not speak Russian (I don’t trust taxis in Russia). With this limited mobility, it greatly diminished my ability to catch up with many people and thus turned the event into a serious chess tournament (I have enough of these already!) which is alright, but not what I was hoping for.
On the chess front, it was an uphill battle from the start as I got sick early on. Nevertheless, I fought through this and had the 2nd highest performance on board 1 through round 6 before a tragic loss against GM Wojtaszek coupled with a horrendous game against Wang Hao cost me any chance of turning in a great performance. However, I managed to hold down the fort and drew the rest of my games which was a decent result. I felt that the reduction from 2 reserve players to 1 hurt us tremendously as GM Yury Shulman and GM Alex Onischuk seemed worn down by the end of the tournament. Overall, a tie for 5th was a completely acceptable result, but as I had won bronze medals in my only 2 prior Olympiads, it certainly was an empty feeling to not be up there on the podium this time around. I would also like to thank our team captain, John Donaldson who was invaluable in so many ways.
Cap D’Agde Rapids
Prior to playing in Moscow, I had the chance to return to Cap D’Agde after a 2 year hiatus to try and defend my title which I won 2 years ago by beating GM Vasily Ivanchuk in the final. In many ways this tournament was nostalgic as I won it during a high point when I was much happier with my life. Overall, the event was superbly run and I had no qualms in this regard. As for the games, most of the event went smoothly for me as I cruised through the qualifier and the quarterfinal match against GM John Ludvig Hammer. However, I faced a lot of adversity in the semifinal when I blew a winning position against the up and coming Vietnamese junior, GM Le Quang Liem and lost the 1st game of the match. Fortunately, I was able to trick him in the 2nd game and went on to win the blitz tiebreaker convincingly. This led to another showdown against GM Vasily Ivanchuk. The match itself was rather stupid as I blew an easy draw in the 1st game and then played like a clown in the 2nd game which gave Vasily the title. However, I felt in many ways that the behavior of the fans with loud cheering and chanting for Ivanchuk as opposed to anything even remotely close for me was a blatant show of disrespect. We are playing chess after all, not football! Alas, such is life and I was able to get this experience out of my head rather quickly as I headed to the Motherland!
Prior to this tournament, I was concerned for many reasons. First, I was the only participant who did not bring along a second. Second, having been in Moscow on two other occasions, I did not have a very high opinion of the city. Last, but not least was the obvious fact that I would be playing a tournament significantly stronger than anything I had ever played in. As such, my goal going in was to try and not lose any games! This is rather ironic considering how unsatisfied I am with my end result!
I got off to a good start with a solid draw against GM Mamedyarov followed by a very technical win against GM Eljanov in round 2. The only really shaky game was in round 3 when I badly misplayed the Berlin Defence in the Ruy Lopez with Black. However, even now after looking at it with Rybka, it still is rather unclear if there ever was a clear cut win in any of the various rook endings. Having started off with 2/3 was as good as I could have expected considering the opposition and extra Black.
In the 4th round I faced a familiar opponent in the 14th World Champion, GM Vladimir Kramnik. Were it not for the Karjakin-Kramnik game later on in the tournament, this almost certainly would have gone down as the most exciting. We played a standard Petroff and somehow it turned into a complete tactical melee with opposite side castling. Although I was objectively winning at some point during the game, (not at the end with correct play) it was incredibly complex for any human and just shows how incredibly strong computers have become. After this draw, I came very close to another win when I outplayed GM Alexei “Fire on The Board” Shirov in another Berlin Defence. However, after pressing for 6 hours I could not find anything concrete and the game ended in a draw. The 6th round was the most disappoint overall as Wang Hao sidestepped my preparation and found a new and annoying in the French Steinitz. As neither of us felt comfortable with the position, a repetition occurred and left on 3.5/6. I decided after this game that I needed to take it up a notch and go for more in the final 3 rounds.
In the 7th round I had Black against GM Levon Aronian who has gone a sudden rise and is now the number 2 player in the world. I decided to play the Kings Indian (same as when we played in Turkey this past January) and he responded with the fianchetto variation. Although Levon had some chances in the middlegame, it never quite materialized and the game ended peacefully in a draw. I had White against another familiar opponent in GM Boris Gelfand whom I played in the Olympiad and NH Tournament. Unfortunately for Boris, he had a bad tournament was not on form, but I am sure he’ll be back soon enough. This time around, Boris avoided another theoretical discussion in the Moscow and we played a relatively quiet line in the Cambridge-Springs Defence. Although I had a small advantage in the middle game, it was never anything tangible and with correct play, Boris equalized which led to another draw. The last round featured a matchup against Russian GM Alexander Grischuk. Like in Turkey, I trotted out my Dutch Defense to which Grischuk responded by playing a quiet sideline with the double fianchetto. The game was more or less balanced until he got too aggressive in the time scramble which left me with a winning position at time control. However, much to his credit, Grischuk put up a surprisingly annoying defence and I essentially had to start over from scratch to obtain another winning position as we headed into the 3rd time control. After obtaining a winning position once again, I made a horrible hallucination.
I played 84…Qf3?? (84…Qe1 wins) forgetting that after 85.Nxe5 Bxe5 86.Qxe5 Qh1 87.Kg4 h5 does not work since White can simply take the pawn with 88.Qxh5. There are no other ideas and after a repetition the game ended in a draw. This left me on 5/9 and a half point out of first place.
If someone had told me before the tournament I’d finish on +1 with no losses, I would have been ecstatic. However, having blown at least 1 if not 2 wins, I am incredibly disappointed with the end result. It will certainly be a long time before I forget the Grischuk game, but as a chess professional, I have to move forward and focus on the upcoming London Chess Classic.
World Blitz Championship
Following this long classical event was the World Blitz Championship. Having been snubbed the past two years, I finally was given the opportunity to participate. Despite being known for my blitz prowess largely due to my following on the Internet Chess Club, I had somewhat more tempered expectations as I have not played blitz seriously in a long time. Feeling nerves and the pressure from everyone to perform, I started out in the worst possible manner with losses against GMs Carlsen,Kramnik and Vachier Lagrave. After this start, I managed to get back into it but never had a serious chance of winning. A tie for 4th was a decent result in the end, but it highlighted the massive differences between a long 3 day blitz tournament and playing 20-30 games against the same opponent on ICC. The other huge difference is the amount of inaccuracies which occur (I can think of 6 wins I blew!) over the course of a 14 round day. However, I am still satisfied with the experience and plan on doing better next year!