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!