July 28, 2012 • Blog
It seems like it has been an absolute eternity since I last blogged. This has mainly been due to the fact that tweeting is a lot easier since it is far more senseless and a mere 140 characters! At the same time, I have also been enjoying life a lot in between tournaments spending most of my time in one of the best cities in the world.
Way, way back in 2005, I played in 38th Biel Chess Festival for the first time. I had many positive experiences, met many great people and thoroughly enjoyed exploring the great Swiss cities of Biel and Geneva. Little did I know that it would end up being seven years before I would be back.
Prior to coming to Biel, I spent two days in Zurich where I gave a simul at the magnificent Savoy Hotel. For those who aren’t aware, this was also the same location where the Kramnik-Aronian match was played this past March. While playing tournaments and competing is always something I will enjoy, having the opportunity to give lectures, simuls is far more rewarding. Having the opportunity to give back to chess fans, benefactors is what makes it all worth it at the end of the day.
From Zurich, I took the train with my long time second, Kris Littlejohn as well as my stepfather, Sunil Weeramantry to Biel. The train ride itself was pretty short as it lasted just over an hour, but traveling through the Swiss countryside gave me the opportunity to admire the very beautiful countryside. One day, I hope that I have the opportunity to spend several weeks traveling through Switzerland and exploring Zermatt and some of the other well known tourist destinations.
Just like in 2005, we are all staying at the same hotel, (name has changed) which brings back a lot of the familiarity. At the same time, it also reminds me how much has changed since then. As with most chess tournaments, the conditions here are very nice with wifi, free breakfast as well as a complete kitchen here in our suite.
The first round of the 45th Biel Chess Festival began on Monday, July 23rd. In this round, like in several recent events, I had the black pieces against the world number 1, Magnus Carlsen. It has been well documented that my results against Magnus have not been great, but there is nothing you can do but keep on trying! Magnus surprised me in the opening, and I was slightly worse in the middlegame after a couple of minor inaccuracies. Although I was significantly worse at some point, Magnus was unable to break through my defences we agreed to a draw right before time control on move 39 (0 wins, 1 draw, 0 losses).
In the second round, I had the white pieces against the young Dutch prodigy, Anish Giri who at only 18 is already amongst the top 25 players in the world. Anish and I have played several times, most recently in Wijk aan Zee in January and Reggio Emilia in December with a wide variety of results. In our first encounter here, Anish took the game out of the known theoretical paths in the openings. While this choice was slightly dubious, I could not find the right plan of attack. Anish’s ability to play solid moves kept him in the game despite a slightly worse position, and I threw away any winning chances right before time control. In fairness the evaluation of the position was not clear, and I very easily could have lost in the resulting double edged position. We agreed to a draw on move 41 right after time control (0 wins, 2 draws, 0 losses).
The third round featured a matchup with the number 1 ranked Chinese player, Wang Hao. Amongst top players, Wang Hao is one of the few whom I am not very familiar with having only played him on two previous occasions. The game quickly got very complicated when I chose the extremely sharp Polugaevsky Variation of the Sicilian Najdorf. We were both blitzing out our opening moves until the 15th move when I avoided the main line and chose something offbeat. My main reasoning behind this decision was to try and create complications while attempting to confuse my opponent. This turned out to be correct as I quickly obtained an advantage and kept up the pressure. Unfortunately, this required using massive amounts of time and just when victory was in sight, I could not find the knockout blow. To compound my problems, I made a horrendous blunder on move 26, completely overlooking a very thematic double sacrifice. I attempted to try and hang on, but Wang Hao showed no mercy and I eventually resigned on move 47 when I was down two pawns and their was no hope (0 wins, 2 draws, 1 loss).
One of the most difficult things about playing chess is that unlike sports, even when you lose a game, you almost always have to come back the next day and play again. This tournament proved to be no exception and in the 4th round, I had my second black in a row against Viorel Bologan. Due to the unfortunate circumstances regarding the withdrawal of Alexander Morozevich, the organizers were amazingly able to find a replacement on short notice. I attempted to surprise Viorel by playing the Queens Gambit Accepted opening. This seemed to work as Viorel did not respond with the most accurate moves and eventually made a positional rook sacrifice to imbalance the position. From this critical juncture of the game on move 20 until move 60, I was slightly better and attempting to break through and score my first victory. Perhaps due to the result of the previous day, I wound up pressing too hard, turning down draw after draw in an attempt to win and found myself, much to my horror, with a completely losing position. However, the clock ended up being my best friend as we were playing on our 30 second increment and eventually Viorel walked his king across the board only to get it caught in a mating net. I’m not particularly superstitious, but I felt that in some way, this evened out the luck from the previous rounds (1 win, 2 draws, 1 loss).
The fifth round marked the halfway point of the tournament, and completed the first cycle. I had white pieces against the 2nd lowest ranked player in the tournament, former French prodigy, Etienne Bacrot. Much to my surprise, Etienne chose to play the Kings Indian Defense for a third time despite suffering two brutal losses to Giri and Wang Hao earlier in the tournament. Unlike those games which turned into massive theoretical debates, I attempted to steer the game into quieter waters by playing the Petrosian System. Etienne would have no part of it and attempted to do a caveman pawn storm on the kingside and mate me. As with most Kings Indian positions, it is a question of whether white will break through on the queenside before black mates on the kingside. In this particular case, my queenside attack was much quicker, and I won without facing any really scary attacks (2 wins, 2 draws, 1 loss).
Coming off of two wins, I started the second half of the tournament by flipping colours and playing against Magnus Carlsen once again but with white this time. Magnus chose to play the Grunfeld Defence which came as a mild surprise to me. I attempted to play a quiet sideline to create some chances, but Magnus, very prudently chose to simplify the position and we agreed to a draw shortly thereafter (2 wins, 3 draws, 1 loss).
Thus, we have reached the rest day at long last. Currently, I sit in 3rd place with four rounds left. Although it will be an uphill battle if I am going to fight for first place, there are still plenty of games left, and I plan on trying my best.
April 30, 2012 • Blog
Greetings to everyone from Arvier, Italy on this final day of April in 2012 …GULP. I have not blogged in a very long time, and my apologies for not keeping the fans updated, but I generally prefer tweeting (@GMHikaru) instead of writing long posts about my many other interests (non-chess) on this blog.
Since the end of Wijk aan Zee on January 31st, I have more or less been in retirement or on a long vacation from chess depending on how one looks at it. As most people know, I have spent most of my free time since then in Vancouver, British Columbia during this long hiatus (big shout out to Canada!). However, chess fans need not fret, for I have also been studying chess with some of my friends and occasional seconds in preparation for the upcoming US Championship.
Originally during my break in British Columbia, I had no plans to play chess, but when I found out my good friends FM Jack Yoos and Jamin Gluckie were planning to play in the Grand Pacific Open in Victoria, I ended up getting roped in as the thought of combining chess and hanging out with friends on the island seemed like a good way to start my return and attempt to get sharp
while minimizing the risk. I won the tournament relatively easily winning all six of my games, but there were some close calls as I inevitably showed some rust and had a few problems namely against the BCCF (British Columbia Chess Federation) President, FM Roger Patterson who hung tough and only blundered near time control. Also deserving an honourable mention is WGM Nino Maisuradze who played extremely well and was probably holding equal until two imprecise moves in time pressure tilted the balance in my favour. Overall the tournament was very well run, and I can only express my gratitude and thanks to the the organizers and staff for the fabulous job. I look forward to returning to Victoria in July to give a simul and lecture during the Canadian Open.
I am also aware that certain people on other blogs felt the need to belittle me for playing a weekend tournament with masters and experts in an attempt at picking up rating points. While rating points do matter, this tournament was simply an opportunity for me to play chess, enjoy a weekend with friends and have the opportunity to give back to the British Columbia chess community. The countless kids and parents who wanted photographs or signatures is what ultimately matters most. Having the ability to make a difference in the lives of people and be an inspiration is what will comprise the lasting memories I have of chess long after I have quit.
About five or six months ago, a friend of mine who was living in Italy at the time mentioned the idea of playing in the Italian Team Championship, and put me in touch with a team. We quickly came to terms, and so I arrived here three days ago. Much to my surprise, I was quickly informed that I would be playing two games the following day starting at 8:45AM! Immediately, I knew this was going to spell trouble as I was slightly jetlagged! However, like any professional, I somehow found a way (Italian coffee, anyone?) to not be a total zombie walker for my first game against GM Alberto David from Luxembourg. Unfortunately for me, after playing a slightly unusual Dutch similar to a setup Magnus Carlsen has used on several occasions, I quickly got into trouble with several poor decisions during the middlegame. To his credit, Alberto kept up the pressure and eventually my position started to crumble completely and I was probably
losing. Nevertheless with both of us getting low on time, I was able to create complications and reach time control with pretty reasonable chances of drawing. Unlike the opening and middlegame, Alberto started going wrong and made two serious mistakes and this tipped the scales and I was able to collect the full point…phew. In my second round of the day against GM Emil Sutovsky, I had a dilemma as to whether I should attempt to use some of my preparation for the US Championship or just play something quiet. Perhaps drawing upon my inspiration from Vancouver, I decided to play 1.g3 in the style of Duncan Suttles. Eventually the game turned into a reverse Dutch, and around move 10, I simply felt like the position was completely equal and I did not want to risk anything. I offered a draw which Emil quickly accepted and I ran back to the hotel and face planted into the pillow for a few hours. Yesterday, I had black against GM Gawain Jones from England. Amazingly despite knowing Gawain for many years now, we still had only played once way, way, way, way back in the stone ages at the World Youth in Oropesa, Spain in 1998! Unfortunately for Gawain, he is having a bad tournament and had lost both of his two previous games from the day before. As such, Gawain took almost no risk and despite my creative play, he was able to simplify it into a pretty drawish middlegame. Seeing no real play, I decided to offer a draw which he duly accepted. While I would have liked to have had more opportunities to create play and calculate, it was not the worst result ever and I averted any major catastrophes.
In the meantime, I will continue preparing for the US Championship which begins in approximately a week.
December 29, 2011 • Blog
I know that it has been a long time since I added a proper blog, and with the new website up, now is as a good a time as any to start again.
In September while competing in the Kings vs. Queens event in St. Louis, I was approached by one of the players on the queens team, Martha Fierro who invited me to play in the 54th Reggio Emilia tournament. At the time, I did not immediately accept the invitation as I already was looking at a very busy schedule with the Tal Memorial, London Chess Classic and Wijk aan Zee coming up. However, I ultimately chose to play as you never know when there will or will not be tournaments to play in. A good example is Vladimir Kramnik who does not have another event to compete in until June or July.
Prior to playing here, the only previous experience I have had with chess in Italy was when, at the age of young age of 17 (so, so long ago), I competed in the 37th Chess Olympiad held in Turin. Playing on board three for the US team behind Kamsky and Onischuk, we would go on to finish in 3rd place and take home the bronze medal. With such positive and nostalgic memories of Italy, it is almost hard to not enjoy being back once again. I have not had the opportunity to explore the city, but it seems like a fairly small and quiet town with very good food.
Lest I forget, there has actually been some chess being played! So far, I have gotten off to a good start with a first round victory against Vitiugov followed by draws against Caruana and Morozevich. Currently, I am a 1/2 point behind Morozevich, but there are still seven rounds to go and everyone has a chance still.
December 28, 2011 • Blog
Hello and greetings from Italy on this fine Thursday morning. I would like to welcome everyone to my new website, and I look forward to adding more content in the forthcoming days as the tournament here in Reggio Emilia progresses.
October 30, 2011 • General
Good evening/morning to everyone on this pleasant Sunday before Halloween. I have long been contemplating writing another blog but it has been a very busy last month. However, I was having a conversation with Xuan Liu and we were both regretting not writing more blogs as these memories and experiences will not last forever. This really struck a chord and I shall attempt to recap everything which has happened over the past month and a half since I last checked in.
On September 20th, I left St. Louis and flew to Bilbao! As it turned out, the prices were substantially cheaper if I bought two separate tickets, (STL-BIO and BIO-GRU) so I had the opportunity to spend one day in Bilbao prior to flying to Sao Paulo, Brazil. This one day was fairly uneventful as it was hot summer weather and Kris Littlejohn (my second) and I chose instead to simply rest up and spend our time on the internet prior to the long flight to South America. On the following day we had the treat of flying on Singapore Airlines. Having heard a lot about this airline, it was truly an experience between the attractive flight attendants, the great food and the extremely comfortable seats. I can sufficiently say that having flown over 1,000,000 miles, it was the best airline by far.
Upon arriving in Sao Paulo on September 22nd, Kris and I were greeted by two very helpful South Americans (my apologies to them as I have forgotten their names) who escorted both Kris and I by taxi to the Hotel Melia Jardin Europa in the heart of downtown Sao Paulo. The taxi ride was an hour, so I had the opportunity to take in the scenery and it was amazing to see the economic differences throughout this massive metropolis. With the opening ceremony on the 25th and the first round on the 26th, this gave me ample time to relax, adjust to the time zone and finish my preparation for the tournament.
The opening ceremony was held at 11AM (odd time, I know) in the Ibapuera Park in Sao Paulo. Most opening ceremonies tend to be pretty standard, but not in this case! Upon arriving, we were immediately swarmed by a few dozen if not a hundred kids from Sao Paulo who asked for pictures and autographs. This was truly memorable and very humbling to know that so many people are following this great game of chess despite our lack of widespread media coverage. The rest of the opening ceremony was fairly standard with several speeches by the main sponsors and the drawing of lots. I was fortunate to draw number 1 which meant that I would start the tournament with double white’s against Ivanchuk and Anand.
Having played against Vasily Ivanchuk many times, I knew quite well that there was a very good chance we’d end up out of theory very early on in the game. Sure enough, this happened as we were out of theory by move 7! (Diagram 1)
The game was fairly complicated, but balanced throughout and we agreed to a draw on move 28 in a rook ending. All in all, a solid start with a draw and a chance to get my feet wet before taking any big risks.
In the second round and a second white, I faced the World Champion Vishy Anand. We had only played twice prior to this game in classical chess (London, Wijk aan Zee) with both games being drawn. Vishy surprised me early on by offering me the chance to go into the Anti-Moscow Gambit. At the board, I thought for a bit before deciding to go for it. I trusted that my preparation was good enough, and you do not have the opportunity to beat a World Champion every day! Vishy surprised me early on by choosing 9…Nbd7!? (Diagram 2)
This was first played in Kasimdzhanov-Gelfand in 2009, but there have not been many games since then. The middlegame was very complicated and pretty balanced until move 24. (Diagram 3)
Vishy played 24…Bxe5? (Had he chosen 24…Qc8 25.Qxb5 Qc7 the position should be a draw with correct play. I returned this gift with 25.Bxe5? During the game I saw 25.Bc6, but I completely hallucinated that on 25…Bd4 26.Bc7 won on the spot. After blowing this golden opportunity, the game ended in a draw at time control.
The third round featured a matchup against Armenian, Levon Aronian. In this game, I chose to play the fairly passive but solid Schlecter system of the Grunfeld. Having not come up with many better choices, I chose to play this as I felt inspired by seeing all the games Kamsky had won or drawn from miserable positions in this line. Despite giving up the bishop pair early, it seemed like Levon simply did not have much fighting spirit and we shuffled around for 20 moves before exchanging off all of the major pieces and agreeing to a draw.
Starting with two consecutive White’s is nice, but it also meant I would get double Blacks following that. This meant I would face Magnus Carlsen with black yet again. Having lost my last three games against Magnus with black, I knew this was a big opportunity to solidify my standing and also break this horrible streak. Keeping this in mind, I chose to play the very solid Queens Gambit Declined which seems to be very popular of late. Magnus chose to play 6.Bxf6 and we reached the critical position on move 19. (Diagram 4)
Magnus chose to play aggressively with 19.g4, but I equalized nicely with 19…Be6 20.f4 Qb6 21.Rd1 Bxe5 22.Qxe5 Re8. The rest of the game was pretty simple and we agreed to a draw at time control. Having drawn the four players above me and facing the tail ender Paco Vallejo with White in the fifth and final round of the Sao Paulo portion of the Grand Slam Final was pretty much according to plan.
Coming into my fifth round game against Paco Vallejo, we were on opposite trajectories. I had drawn all four of my games while Vallejo had lost three and gotten a miracle victory against Carlsen from a dead lost position. As such, I knew that if I was going to contend for first place, I would have to win this critical game. I chose to repeat the same English Opening like Ivanchuk has chosen earlier and much to my surprise, Vallejo chose to repeat the same line as in that game. I obtained a close to winning position by move 20 before allowing Vallejo to complicate matters by sacrificing a piece. Although the computers show the position to be completely winning, it is not quite so easy for us feeble humans under game conditions with pressure to avoid miscalculating. In a messy time scramble with complications, I was able to outplay Vallejo and eventually ground him down in a very long ending which he resigned on move 59. This meant that I ended the first half with 1 win, 4 draw and in clear second place behind Ivanchuk.
Before delving into the second half of the tournament, I would be remiss if I did not mention the unfortunate incident surrounding our departure from Sao Paulo and the entire event. Following the 5th round, there was a brief closing ceremony at the hotel where we were all given money for a cab. Although I think that the incident involving the robbery of Ivanchuk was simply a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, I do think that organizers for such a prestigious event should handle the transportation in a better way.
As I mentioned before, the Ivanchuk incident in Sao Paulo certainly changed the dynamics of the event. Having arrived safely in Bilbao, I was shocked when Kris alerted me to the news, and I promptly contacted the organizers offering to postpone our game an extra day so that there would be the possibility of Ivanchuk’s wife being able to arrive and/or also giving him a chance to recover. Ivanchuk chose to decline the offer and play resumed on October 6th in Bilbao, Spain.
Having had three full days to recover from jet lag and prepare prior to this game, I felt like I would be in very good shape. Unfortunately, after spending the better part of 2 ½ days preparing for the game Kris and I found a significant hole in our preparation and I decided at the last minute to play the Sicilian Kan instead. Much like our first round game in Sao Paulo, we were out of theory by move 7 once again. The middlegame was very imbalanced and we both made several mistakes. After being under significant pressure, I missed a draw on move 22. (Diagram 5)
I played 22…h6? instead of 22…Qb6! 23.Bxd5 Nexd5 24.g4 Rac8 25.gxf6 Nxf6 26.Qf2 Ng4! 27.Qh4 Nf6. The second opportunity I had was on move 30. (Diagram 6)
In the massive time scramble I played 30…Kg8? whereas 30…Rxd3 31.cxd3 Qxc3 31.Bb4 Qxd3 would have been highly unclear. After 31.Bd6, I played on for a few more moves, but to no avail and I suffered my first loss of the Grand Slam Final. This was a tough defeat to deal with, but chess is about converting opportunities and I blew mine while Ivanchuk did not in this game.
This is the first blog on the Grand Slam Final. Stay tuned for the second and final blog on the tournament shortly.