February 23, 2011 • General
Greetings to everyone on this blustery and oddly cold day (fabulous 21 car pile up on Interstate 64) here in Saint Louis! I haven’t blogged in the better part of a week, so it seemed like high time to give y’all an update.
After returning home from Memphis yesterday afternoon, I did a short interview for Chesstalk with IM John Watson on the Internet Chess Club. I am not completely sure when it will be on, but I suspect that it should be sometime in the near future. After a relaxing evening full of watching hockey, (I was able to watch the Canucks, Blues and Rangers thanks to NHL GameCenter Live)I woke up this morning and saw an email from GM Dorian Rogozenko inviting me to the Kings Tournament in Bazna, Romania! Without second though, I accepted, and I now have a very acceptable second half of the year with Bazna, Dortmund, Bilbao Grand Slam Final and London all confirmed.
Alas, I am now going to take a nice long siesta in true Spanish tradition! I will attach a few links for those who are interested in the news stories I did this past week in Memphis, Tennessee!
February 16, 2011 • General
Greetings to the world from Memphis, Tennessee on this fine Wednesday evening! I have not blogged in a bit and as I have some free time right now, I thought I would add a blog entry about what has been happening in this crazy chess life which I lead!
Coming off of my victory in Wijk aan Zee, I spent several days back home in New York with my parents who deserve more recognition than anyone else for all of their tremendous support over the years. Many times, my stepfather, Sunil Weeramantry has made comments such as “I hope you become a GM before I die”, or “I hope I get to see you play in Monaco.” After winning such a strong tournament, I can only hope to fulfill the one last unachievable goal in his lifetime of becoming World Champion! So, once again, I can never do them justice, but I will always say thanks for everything!
After arriving back in Saint Louis, I came back to the unfortunate reality that there was a lot of work to be done as I had to annotate games for New In Chess and Europe Echecs. There were also several interviews I did for 64, Chessbase and The New York Times. Most readers will probably notice there is a glaring lack of American publications listed above. It is simply a fact that American chess still has a long ways to go before it starts garnering widespread media attention. However, I hope that as I continue to go forward and chase the ultimate my goal things will eventually change. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t, but it is something that us American chessplayers can certainly hope for.
I have also been involved in the organizational aspect of my speech&simul at Washington University in Saint Louis which will be happening on February 26th which is being made possible by the Washington University Chess Club in association with the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. This is certainly an exciting event and I look forward to it.
Before I get to all the excitement of this week, I thought that now would be an opportune time to discuss my withdrawal from the 2011 US Chess Championship. I first competed in the US Championship way back in 2003, and I have had some of my most memorable moments and experiences during these very special and prestigious events. Going forwards towards my goal of becoming World Champion, it simply does not make sense to take a step backwards and compete in events which do not help me towards accomplishing this goal. I wish GMs Kamsky, Onischuk and Shulman the best of luck in the upcoming tournament which will once again be held in Saint Louis.
This past Monday evening, I got in my lovely 1998 Honda Accord (120,000 miles and still going strong) and drove down to Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis has always had a very special place in my heart as some of my best friends and contacts live here. It has always been very relaxing to have a few drinks on Beale Street (I would recommend Silky’s, BB King’s) and catch some good jazz music or take in a show at the Orpheum. However, unlike past trips, this week has been something special as I received the key to the city to Memphis yesterday down at city hall. After this, I proceeded down to the Peabody Hotel to have a cocktail while taking in the world famous Peabody Duck March. Amidst all of this hoopla, I went down to the FedEx Forum to catch a basketball game between the Memphis Grizzlies (Why can’t they move back to Vancouver??) and the Philadelphia 76ers. I have nothing else planned over the next two days, so I will probably spend some time enjoying downtime and studying a little chess! On Friday, I am giving a simul at city hall against the council members and perhaps the mayor will even show up! Saturday promises to be quite busy as I will be appearing on the Saturday morning news with Kontji Anthony on WMCTV 5. On Sunday, I am making an appearance at UMemphis for a local chess event. A very busy week, but promoting chess is very important!
To paraphrase a very famous Gandhi quote, Be the change you want to see in the chess world!
That is all for now, but I hope everyone enjoys the blog and the few pictures I am attaching below. There will be a bigger report on www.uschess.org once all the great promotional activities of this week have concluded.
A nice folder!
A nice piece of paper which makes me feel like I am doing something important with chess!
The key to the city. A true honor!
February 08, 2011 • General
Hello once again to everyone out there. I wish I had more time to blog, but I am completely swamped with game annotations (NIC, Europe Echecs) and interviews (Chessbase, 64) right now!
However, I will be giving a simul and a likely speech at Washington University here in Saint Louis on February 26th! Stay tuned for more details!
In completely non chess matters, I would also like to give a big shout out to my mother who celebrated her 51st birthday yesterday! For all the support I have received over the years, I am eternally grateful. Cheers!!
February 05, 2011 • General
Hello! After spending the past four days mainly resting, I am finally feeling quite a bit better. Apparently waking up at 6:30AM on a Saturday morning to endless snow in Saint Louis seems to be commonplace so now seems like an opportune time to drink some tea or cider and eat soup! Of course, it is also high time to write a blog for all the fans out there who have been waiting! YOU MUST GIVE THE FANS WHAT THEY WANT!
Last time I left everyone hanging after my painful 4th round game against rising Dutch junior, GM Anish Giri. Coming off of this draw I had 3/4 and was leading the tournament. However, the tournament had really only just begun for me, and I did not even entertain thoughts of winning at this point.
In the 5th round, I had White against former Fide World Champion, GM Ruslan Ponomariov. In recent years, Ruslan seems to have become fairly inactive as he plays mainly league events and the occasional round robin. Nevertheless, he is still an extremely solid player and always a dangerous opponent. The opening was a bit of a surprise as Ruslan chose an obscure variation in the 4.Nf3 Nimzo-Indian and went for an obscure variation early in the game with 10…Be7!?
Instead of playing a standard hedgehog, I got a bit too ambitious and went for the initiative right away. Ruslan defended very accurately and I soon found myself in a complete mess and in time pressure. Luckily, I was able to complicate things just enough before time control to give myself some chances as we reached time control. Strangely, Ruslan offered me a draw shortly thereafter. I used a bit of time considering my options and I did not see anything conclusive so I took his draw. The commentators were critical of Ruslan offering a draw, but according to the computers I have a forced repetition in hand and can force a draw anyway. A close one!
Before I summarize this game, I must say that in any tournament there comes a point when you stop thinking you are capable of winning and starting to believe. For me, this was the critical game as I really started believing it was possible to win after this victory. The game in question was against the Dutch GM Erwin l’Ami. Erwin is a very solid player, but lacks a certain killer instinct which is why he suffered in this tournament. I threw out a big surprise in the 4.Qc2 Nimzo-Indian when I chose to play the pawn sac variation 6…b5!?
Erwin and I followed traditional theory and the position was completely equal when I offered a peaceful draw on move 15.
Much to my surprise, Erwin turned it down! Erwin incorrectly thought that he had small winning chances with no losing chances. This hinged upon his belief that he could keep the bishop pair in a queenless middlegame. However, the cost was a little bit too great as one of his bishops got shut out of the game and I took the initiative on the queenside. Eventually, Erwin cracked under the pressure and blundered right before time control and I brought him the full point!
The 7th round saw me face another Dutch GM in Jan Smeets. This game had a completely different tone than any of the others as it was all about payback. Smeets has always been a very talented junior and had a phenomenal win in the first round against GM Alexei Shirov. Much was being made about the fabulous preparation by his second, German GM Jan Gustafsson. In 2009, I lost one of my worst games ever against Gustafsson in 22 moves with White in the Austrian League. In this specific game, my second Kris Littlejohn and I spent all night coming up with some fresh ideas in the Botvinnik variation of the Slav. The preparation we did paid off as Smeets walked right into the preparation and I obtained a very pleasant advantage right off the bat. At one point, I missed several very computerish winning continuations, but I was still able to simplify into a technically winning ending. I did not slip up and converted. Winning this game gave me an incredibly satisfying feeling as I took the lead in the tournament by beating Smeets and destroying the myth of Gustafsson being a theoretical genius.
The 8th round saw me facing Norwegian superstar Magnus Carlsen with Black. Some days you just have this bad feeling from the outset. I don’t know if its intuition, heightened perspective or randomness, but it was there from the start. Things did not improve as I played the Najdorf and blundered with 8…0-0 instead of 8…Be6. Magnus correctly responded with the very strong 9.g4!
Things went downhill in a hurry from there as I was unable to find a sufficient plan with a counterattack on the queenside. Magnus came up with a very simple and straightforward attack on the kingside. This led to a typical opposite wing castling Sicilian and my position fell apart and I resigned. Not a good game by any measure, but I still remained tied for first with Anand and headed into another rest day.
After a much needed rest day, I came back in the 9th round with White against my co-leader, World Champion Vishy Anand. I played another 3.Nc3, 4.Nf3 Nimzo-Indian but Vishy surprised me very early on when he chose the variation with 4…b6 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bh4 g5!? 7.Bg3 Ne4.
I was familiar with the basic ideas as I had seen the Kasparov-Timman games from the 80s. However, I went astray with 13.h4? This error led to a significant amount of suffering for me in the middlegame after the strong reply 13…Qf6!
However, I played very solidly and never let Vishy obtain any serious winning chances. The game ended peacefully at time control when we reached a theoretically drawn rook and pawn ending. Still tied for the lead!
In the 10th round I had White against French GM, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Maxime, was one of the surprises of the tournament as he was incredibly and was very steady from start to finish. Our game followed his earlier victory against Alexei Shirov as we hammered out the first 12 moves in a Grunfeld. I deviated from his game with 13.Bg5!?
This idea was first tried out in Gelfand-Kamsky, and I figured it would keep Maxime off balance and out of his comfort zone. The critical position occurred when he played 17…Rf7? Allowing 18.exf5!
After this mistake his position began falling apart very quickly as he had a knight out of play and a wide open king. After a couple of precise moves, I exploited this advantage and converted the victory without any major complications. I thought that I would move into clear first place, but Vishy showed why he is the reigning world champion by defeating Alexei Shirov in a very complicated tactical battle.
The 11th round featured my third battle against an opponent who was younger than me! In this game, I had to play the rising Russian star, Ian “Ctrl+V” Nepomniachtchi with Black. Ian and I had many great internet encounters on the Internet Chess Club, but we had not played over the board until now. In the style of the 12th World Champion, Anatoly Karpov, I played the Caro-Kann. Ian opted for the highly topical advance variation with 5.h4. The only time I faced this prior was against another Russian GM, Peter Svidler. Like every other game I play against Svidler, I got completely destroyed and so it certainly was not one of my fondest memories with this opening! Nevertheless, I came to this game better prepared and came up with a novelty in 7…Bg4!?
which was an idea by Karpov. We reached a relatively calm middlegame position, but Ian wanted more and created a very dynamic position by sacrificing a pawn! The position completely exploded with major complications and was not clear at all until Ian made a fatal blunder with 24.Qxg7? which allowed the very strong reply 24…Rh7!
After this, the result was never in doubt and Ian conceded shortly after we reached time control. With this spectacular victory, I took the clear lead heading into the final two rounds.
The 12th round featured a matchup with the 14th World Champion, Vladimir Kramnik. There really is not a whole lot to say about this game as we followed the game Smeets-Kramnik from earlier in the tournament and drew quickly. Kris and I spent a lot of time looking at various options and we concluded that based on the tournament situation and the risk involved, there would be better opportunities to take chances than at this moment. The draw also put tremendous pressure on my competitors as both Aronian and Anand were in serious trouble against both l’Ami and Giri respectively. The ended up drawing, which meant that I was a half point up on Anand and a full point up on Aronian heading into the final round!
The last round of this extremely long tournament saw me facing Chinese GM, Wang Hao. It seemed like Wang never really got going in this tournament but he did have a very nice win over GM Grischuk in the 5th round. Our game was weird from the get go. I surprised Wang by playing the Benoni! This choice was probably not the best objectively, but I wanted to play something double edged and keep tension just in case Anand managed to stir up something serious against Ctrl+V. As it turned out, my decision worked and failed at the same time! I reached a complicated middlegame and offered a draw because I was very unsure if the looming complications would favor me or backfire completely. Wang Hao used a good 20 minutes before accepting my draw offer, but he did nevertheless! This meant I was guaranteed at least a share of first place. After doing the customary interviews and walking back to the Hotel Zeeduin, I got on my computer and watched the Anand game with great excitement. When I saw the words “Game Drawn,” I simply could not contain my excitement! Winning such a prestigious tournament has always been one of my dreams and regardless of whatever I accomplish in my career here onwards, I will always have my place in history!!
In conclusion, I would once again, like to thank Jeroen van den Berg for inviting me to this tournament in 2005 as it led to this long journey towards the top. I also cannot express my gratitude and appreciation to the amazing Dutch spectators and journalists who give the tournament such a special atmosphere. One of my best memories from the event was when I headed into the playing hall for my game against Smeets and as a guy was parking, he yelled out, “kick ass!!” It is moments like this which make playing chess so much fun and so rewarding! Last but not least, I’d also like to thank my second, Kris Littlejohn once again for all the great work we have done together. We have shown that it is possible to get to the top with a different approach and that there is no one correct method!
I hope everyone enjoyed the blog!
February 02, 2011 • General
Hello once again to everyone out there! I know everyone is anxiously awaiting my thoughts and recap on the 2011 Tata Steel Chess Tournament, but I have come down with a rather serious cold/flu and spent much of the last two days in bed.
However, for all the fans out there I do have some good news as I have been invited to the Dortmund supertournament this upcoming July! This double round robin will feature Kramnik, Ponomariov as well as three other top grandmasters!