February 08, 2010 • General
Greetings to everyone around the world. Fortunately, it is sunny outside and most of us in the United States have recovered from SUPER SUNDAY! I know most people here probably would prefer chess to football (including Dave the webmaster, who is a Colts fan!) but I found the game to be extremely exciting. Having grown up in New York, I always was impressed by Sean Payton’s ability as the defensive coordinator for the Giants. Overall, I felt that New Orleans won due to the many interesting and simply brilliant decisions including the onside kick to start the second half. Although I was pulling for Peyton Manning and the Colts due to the people I know in Indy, New Orleans was simply the better team last night. Alas, another football season has come and gone, but there’s always next year for my Titans! Now back to chess…
Round 6: Ivanchuk-Nakamura
In the sixth round, I kept facing strong players as I was Black against GM Vasily Ivanchuk from Ukraine. Of the modern day players, I think my style most resembles his in that we are the two players who play just about any opening depending on which side of the bed we wake up on! At the same time, he is also one of the few players who can beat anyone which makes him dangerous. Having beaten Vasily in the rapid finals of Cap D’Agde in 2008, I knew that he’d be angling for revenge this time around. Therefore, I decided to play the Slav against his 1.d4 (a minor surprise!).
This was really the first surprise of the game as I have played the fairly obscure 12…0-0-0. In other top encounters, 12…Be6 was preferred. During the game, I was feeling fairly confident as I had reached this position in my analysis prior to the game. At the board, though, I began thinking to myself what if he plays 13.a5? My suspicions were confirmed shortly afterwards when he played it! Fortunately, it was not hard for me to come up with the right plan as there aren’t a whole lot of logical moves. As such, I was able to force a repitition after 13…Nc5 14.Qe1 Nb3 15.Ra4 Nc5 16.Ra1 Nb3 leading to a draw. During the tournament, there were many people who asked how could I take a quick draw as it runs contrary to my style. The answer is quite simple in that if either Vasily or I chose to play on, we’d be worse. Sometimes, being practical and taking quick draws makes sense. Obviously, I had the foresight to do that here, but not against Karjakin when it mattered, D’oh!
Round 7: Nakamura-Shirov
After the draw with Ivanchuk, I was on a very respectable 4/6 while Shirov was blazing on 5.5/6 and in the clear lead by a half point. Although neither Kris nor I came into the tournament with expectations of me winning, we decided that I should definitely go all out for glory in this game. Since I went into the game with this mindset I decided to play 1.e4 as I felt Shirov would create complications no matter which opening I chose. Despite the fact I felt Alexei made a mistake in choosing the sicilian against me, I still must respect his decision to stay true to his style despite the tournament situation. The opening was very much a seesaw battle as I felt after 15 moves I was simply better. To his credit, it was around this time that Alexei used a lot of time and came up with the right idea of exchanging his dark square bishop. Over the course of the next few moves I got careless giving away any advantage I had. The key point occurred in the following position after 19.Bf3.
In this position, I was not quite sure about the evaluation. However, I correctly judged that Alexei would go for a tactical solution in the position. In chess, there are certain positions where intuitively you feel like there has to be a way to win material. As it turns out, Black is probably better after the simple 19…Rd8, but Alexei like myself spent most of his time trying to come up with something tactical which was incorrect. After 19…Nh3 20.Kh1 Nxf2 21.Rxf2 Qxe3 22.Bxb7 I think Alexei overlooked 22…Qxf2 23.Qxd6 with a crushing threat of Bc6 mate. Once this key opportunity was missed, the position became difficult to play for Black. Although any computer program would probably draw (beat us weak humans) it without too much trouble, it was still incredibly unpleasant to play. This coupled with Alexei’s impending time pressure proved to be too much as in the time pressure, he cracked and I won! Although it was not fate to win the tournament, I knew that after this win that this event was a success regardless of how I ended.
Round 8: Kramnik-Nakamura
In the eighth round, I got Black against the 14th World Champion, Vladimir Kramnik. Coming off such a high following the previous round, I knew this would be an extremely difficult task. However, as a good friend said once before, you play the games since the underdog can come out ahead. Thanks to a certain girl, I took the French Canadien phrase, “C’est de la biere” (It’s a beer which basically means it’s a piece of cake) and simply tried to relax and enjoy the game. There are some days when we all just play badly. This day proved to be one of these as it got off to a bad start when I switched my opening choice at the last minute and decided to play the Dutch. In the game, we went into the Leningrad and Vladimir played the interesting 8.Rb1 line. Pretty much immediately I went off the beaten path as I started pushing pawns like a total patzer. Eventually we reached the first of two key positions after 19.Bxe3.
In this position, I calculated 19…Qe7 and thought it made the most sense only to have a finger fehler and play 19…Nxd4. In reality, the move I played was correct but it screwed with my mind. Normally this is not a problem, but almost immediately after I played Nxd4, I started thinking, “hmm, wait, why did I not go Qe7??” After 20.Qc1 White would had a big advantage, but when you have lingering doubts during a game, it can affect you adversely. After a series of more or less forced moves we reached the second and final chance I had to save the game.
In this position, Vladimir had just played 23.Rxd5. During the game, I only considered playing either 23….Bf5 or 23…Be6. As it turns out, our silicon friend thinks I am probably fine if I trade on g3 and then follow it up with Be6. However, during the game I fully intended to play Bf5 only to then start considering Be6. For some bizarre reason, I calculated 23…Be6 24.Rxd4 Qxd4 25.Nxf4 as a variation. Then, once I played 23…Be6 I immediately spotted the obvious 24.Nxf4. After this secondary blunder, the game was beyond hope and I duly lost.
This certainly was not a positive development as far as the tournament was concerned. On the positive side, it was only after the second blunder that I was losing. Nevertheless, I played badly and got punished. Alas, I only join the likes of people such as Kasparov who have gotten crushed by Kramnik. Being in such good company cannot be something to complain about!
Round 9: Nakamura-Karjakin
In the ninth round, I had White against former child prodigy, Sergey Karjakin formerly of Ukraine and now playing for Russia.Sergey and I are certainly no strangers as we have played several times in the past. Before I discuss the game, I would just like to point out that despite my sometimes controversial style and comments in the past, I have not intentionally insulted someone in public. In many ways, I found Sergey’s comments on chesspro to be incredibly disgusting and insulting. One can only hope that people grow up much like I have since my younger days.
In this game, I chose to play 1.d4 as I was coming off a brutal loss and wanted to play a bit safer. Sergey surprised me almost from the start by choosing the Nimzo Indian over his preferred Slav. The opening was a bit unusual in that I had two doubled pawns on the c file. However, the diagonals certainly made up for it.
In this important position, we had repeated with 17.Ba7 Ra8 18.Be3 Rb8. Much like in my game against Ivanchuk, I had a serious decision to make here. Should I take a relatively quick draw and get ready for the following round or try to press on. Here, I thought for some time and decided to play despite the messy position and not having a lot of time. Although this was objectively fine since the position was not any worse for me, from a general standpoint it was simply wrong. The rest of the game, I did not play particularly inspiringly, and I eventually overpressed in time pressure making a horrible blunder. There really was not much positive news from this game as I once again just did not play very accurately. However, with four rounds still left, I felt that it would be possible to put up a solid plus score if i returned to form. The one big drawback at this point was that during this game, I started feeling a bit tired and hallucinating during this and the subsequent games. Alas, when you play two major tournaments back to back eventually all the energy being spent will catch up.
Stay tuned for the third and final installment from north of the border!
February 06, 2010 • General
Hello once again to everyone out there in the blogosphere. Before I dive right into talking about Wijk, I would like to clear up a certain rumour from the online world. I am not playing in Aeroflot, nor did I ever seriously consider it. Any suggestions to the contrary are simply not true. Now that this is out of the way, onto the tournament recap!
Round 1: Smeets-Nakamura
In the first round, I had Black against Dutch GM Jan Smeets. Like quite a few other European GMs, I have seen him at several tournaments over the past few years but not had the opportunity to play. Overall, Jan seems to be a very solid player with a pretty good general knowledge of openings. In our game, he surprised me by playing the 6.Bg5 variation against the Najdorf. As fate would have it, the tournament seemed to be a referendum on whether the Bg5 variation is good for White or not. I picked a mild sideline which surprised Jan, and he played a tame variation.
The following was the position after 14.Nd5. Oddly enough, our silicon friends seem to think 14…Nxd5 was simply better for me, but I thought White had a solid positional advantage after 15.exd5 followed by eventually putting a knight on e4. When I chose to avoid this variation, the position eventually fizzled out and it was a fairly standard draw. Overall, I felt that coming off of the tournament in Turkey this was a great start to the tournament with a solid draw as Black. Onto round 2!
Round 2: Nakamura-van Wely
In the second round I had White against another Dutch man albeit it, one who is a bit older and stronger! Shockingly Loek was playing in Wijk for a 19th! straight year. The last time we played in Amsterdam, I was White in a Najdorf, but blundered in a completely winning position and he was able to escape with a draw. This time around, we played another Najdorf although I decided to play the 6.Bg5 variation against him. Unfortunately for Loek, I was very well prepared and he walked right into my preparation.
This is the position after 15.Nd5. Unlike the game against Smeets, the knight on d5 is actually an intentional piece sacrifice. Prior to the game, I had prepared this variation with Kris and we concluded that the position might be holdable for Black, but it would be extremely unpleasant for a human to play. As it turned out, our assessment was correct since Loek went wrong almost immediately and simply got blown off the board. It was after this second round game that I realized I would at least have a chance of putting together a good showing in the tournament.
Round 3: Short-Nakamura
In the third round, I faced another familiar opponent in Nigel Short. Having faced Nigel only the month before in the London Chess Classic, I had become fairly familiar with his style. During the tournament in London, Kris and I both lamented having White against Nigel and not Black as we felt Nigel was significantly more solid with Black than White. This time around, I decided to surprise everyone by playing the Classical Sicilian. Having played it in Turkey during the World Team Championship, I felt like giving it a whirl! Nigel deviated from prep very early on by choosing to play the Boleslavskij variation. At which point the following critical position arose.
This critical position occurred after 13…Bg4. Strangely enough, this was the third straight game of mine featuring a knight on d5, and it certainly wasn’t the last either! Here, Nigel went badly astray with 14.c4. This move isn’t necessarily awful, but after 14…Nxd5 15.exd5 Nb8, I had absolutely no problems as well as having an easier position to play. After the game, Nigel seemed to think 14.Nxe7 Qxe7 15.c4 gave White an advantage, but subsequent analysis shows that there is no advantage at all after 15…Nd7 due to Nc5-e6-d4 ideas later on. Although Nigel probably could have maintained the equilibrium and drawn, a few minor errors in a row doomed his position and I pounced on them to win my second game in a row. More than the great start, I was pleased by my calculation and accuracy in playing the best moves. From the first three games, I very rarely deviated from the Rybka suggestions in any given position.
Round 4: Anand-Nakamura
In the fourth round, I faced my first major test as I had Black against the current World Champion, Viswanathan Anand. Many people have asked me if I felt nervous before the game. Having played against Carlsen and Kramnik in London certainly helped me as this felt like just another game. I think that once you play against anyone who is top five, you inevitably realize that it is just a name and they are still “only human.” As such, I did not feel nervous at all and enjoyed the moment instead! Regardless of what happens, I can certainly tell my children in the future that I played a World Champion! That in itself, is more than enough!
The game itself started off as a Leningrad Dutch. Recently, I have started playing the Dutch frequently as it is an opening which is unbalanced and gives both sides chances. I also felt that as Vishy is not a native d4 player, something off the beaten path would yield me better chances. The opening was fairly tame, as I avoided several chances to go for serious complications. Eventually we reached the moment of truth.
In this position, the obvious trump for White is the better pawn structure with only one potential weakness in the pawn on a3. During the game, I actually felt mildly nervous as I had overlooked 19.Rac1 Nb5 20.Rxc6! after which White is close to winning. However, during the game I noticed the nice safety moves 19…Nf7 contending for and eventually preparing to play e5. Vishy chose a much less testing continuation in the more natural 19.Ne5 after 19…Bxe5 20.dxe5 I had the nice tactical shot in 20…Qa5! after which the position is almost completely dead equal. This led to a draw shortly there afterwards. Once again, I went in there with a goal and held my own with Black.
Round 5: Nakamura-Carlsen
In the fifth round I was White against another opponent who has become a bit too familiar. Having played Magnus so many times recently, (Norway,London) I have become extremely familiar with his style. This time around, I decided to deviate early and play the exchange Ruy Lopez. I felt this was simply a practical choice as I avoided any deep analysis by Magnus or Garry. In many ways, when I play against people such as Magnus, I try to play simple chess and just outplay them instead of playing a different game called memorization.
In the game itself, my plan worked out nearly perfectly as Magnus lashed out with the dubious 10..b5 which was a novelty. After this error I certainly had some initiative although, much to his credit, Magnus was able to alleviate the pressure and simplify into an ending where he had three pawns for a piece. During the game, I felt I did not miss any clear wins, although the following position is where many people thought I had winning chances.
In this position, I chose to play 47.Ne6. Many people seemed to be of the impression that 47.h4 was winning, but upon further analysis 47…b2 48.Nf5! g5! 49.Rxf6 Ke8 50.Rb6 gxh4 51.Kxh4 Kd7 followed by b1 leads to a simplification and a draw. After the game, I was rather disappointed that I could not win but sometimes chess is simply a draw.
Stay tuned for Part II shortly! Have a great Superbowl weekend, everyone!
February 01, 2010 • General
Greetings to everyone out there once again! Since I am spending much of the next 24 hours traveling, I will not be able add a blog until I am back in the US. Having said that, I hope everyone enjoyed the games, and I look forward to recapping all the exciting action over the past month!