January 31, 2011 • General
As today has been a very long day with multiple flights, I probably will not be posting a blog recap of Wijk aan Zee for another day or two. Once again, thanks to everyone out there for the many, many positive compliments. It is truly the fans who inspire me and give me the motivation to continue playing chess as well as I possibly can!!
January 19, 2011 • General
Greetings from sunny (DID I REALLY JUST SAY THAT??) Wijk aan Zee. After four tough rounds of chess, we finally reached our first rest day. What can I say about Wijk aan Zee that has not already been said. The organization and conditions continue to remain flawless despite the various name and company changes during its illustrious 73 year history. Without further ado, here is my recap of the tournament thus far! I hope everyone enjoys it!
In the 1st round, I had White against Alexander Grischuk. This match served as a grudge match after our recent encounters in the Tal Memorial and World Blitz Championship. After his escape in the classical tournament, I got too overconfident and was soundly beaten in our mini match during the World Blitz Championship. Therefore, I resolved to give it my all to try and return the favor this time. In the game itself, we played the Ragozin variation of the Queens Gambit Declined. The game seemed fairly balanced until I started attacking on the kingside with 15.f3 and 16.g4!? Alexander did not handle the complications well and prematurely sacrificed a piece 18…Bxg4. After some accurate defense, I achieved a completely winning position only to make it more complicated when I played 32.Ke2? not 32.Ke4. Nevertheless, in our time scramble, I was able to simplify into a winning endgame with a knight for three pawns. A huge win regardless of when it occurred. Although nothing will completely erase the debacle in Moscow, this game served as a bit of a consolation for that.
In the 2nd round, I had Black against current number 2 in the world, Levon Aronian. Much to the surprise of most commentators, I chose to play the Dutch because we are in Holland after all! I really cannot think of a better way to honor the Dutch people for their hospitality! The game itself was surprisingly dull as I chose a minor sideline with 7…Nc6 and 8…Na5 in the Leningrad variation. Levon was unable to achieve anything tangible and the game was drawn after 15 moves. No doubt many of my fans were disappointed that I took such a quick draw, but with Black it is hard to expect more against such a strong player.
The 3rd round featured a classic rematch with Alexei Shirov from last year here in the 7th round of the tournament. Last year, Alexei got off to a red hot start with five straight wins! Unfortunately, after his loss to me, the wheels completely came off and he failed to finish at the top. This time around, we dueled in the Arkhangel variation of the Ruy Lopez instead of the Sicilian Sveshnikov. After reaching a middlegame up a pawn and probably significantly better, I became rather lazy and allowed some completely unnecessary counterplay. Right around time control the position was close to equal until Alexei blundered with 39…Ree8 and 40…Re5. This allowed me to come up with a very nice resource in 41.Nd2! After this clever knight manoeuvre I obtained a small advantage in the endgame. Alexei probably had one last chance to salvage a draw with 52…Ra4 instead or Ra3. After this costly oversight, I converted the endgame for a second win and clear first place after three rounds!
The 4th round featured a matchup with rising Dutch star Anish Giri. In the 3rd round, Anish shocked the world when he crushed Magnus Carlsen with Black in a mere 22 moves! After a relatively bizarre set of transpositions we ended up in a Nimzo/Queens Indian hybrid. Eventually we transposed into the Aronian-Karjakin game from Moscow this past November. However, I came up with an improvement in 12…d6 and 13…Qa5. Oddly enough, I had looked at this variation recently, but I then had a complete brain freeze and miscalculated 14…Be6 and chose 14…Rd8 instead. After this one disastrous move, I suffered for the rest of the game. I suspect Anish missed something in the middlegame as I think it should have been winning at some point. We reached a classic rook and pawn ending where I had to suffer for 20 moves before salvaging a draw. This challenging draw left me on 3/4 and tied for first place with the current World Champion, Viswanathan Anand heading into the rest day.
It is hard to ask for a better start, but there are still 9 more rounds of booby traps and bombs which I must navigate before I can claim a victory. Tomorrow I have White against former Fide World Champion, Ruslan Ponomariov and hopefully it will be another day of exciting if not bloody day of chess here in Wijk aan Zee!
Wijk aan Zee
December 29, 2010 • General
Hello everyone! After completely forgetting about chess over the past two weeks, I realized that I had forgotten to complete my recap of the London Chess Classic! Alas, I cannot leave the fans hanging; they deserve better than that!
Picking up where I left off after the 5th round win against GM Nigel Short, I faced GM Luke McShane who had by far and away, the most remarkable tournament of anyone. In our game, the opening was a standard English, but I got the upper hand quite early, and was extremely close to winning when I blundered horribly in time pressure and let him off the hook and the game ended peacefully in a draw. This left me in a very tough position as I would need a last round win coupled with a lot of luck in order to win the tournament.
In the 7th and final round, I had White against GM Michael Adams. After a standard Marshall Gambit, I came up with an interesting idea over the board which was working out quite well. However, for reasons unbeknownst to me, I rushed it too much in the middlegame and wound up in a slightly worse endgame even though I was up a pawn. Nevertheless, I defended precisely and the game petered out into another draw. Oh well!
Overall, a tie for 4th was satisfactory, but, much like Moscow, I felt I missed one very critical opportunity by not beating McShane. However, if I can keep playing at this level, it is just a matter of time before I start converting these chances.
I would once again, like to express my gratitude to the sponsors as well as the organizer, Malcolm Pein for putting together a splendid event of the highest order. Hopefully this event will continue for many more years and raise the profile of chess both in the United Kingdom as well as the rest of the world.
That is all for now as it is time to go explore this lovely city of Santa Monica! Time to relax, enjoy some great cuisine and wine, as well as celebrate the upcoming new year! I will be back to the grind in preparation for Wijk aan Zee soon enough!
Santa Monica, CA
December 13, 2010 • General
Greetings to everyone once again from the warm confines of my hotel room here at Hilton London Olympia! After five tough rounds of competitive chess, we have finally arrived at a rest day. Therefore, I figured it would be an opportune time to recap my tournament this far.
Coming off of a fairly disastrous tournament last year in which I finished last due to the highly questionable football scoring system, I knew that I had to improve upon that performance or at least give myself better chances. I came here in significantly better spirits this year than last for many reasons, but immediately things started going downhill at the opening ceremony and drawing of lots when I did not even get to choose a number and ended up with five! I knew this was not a good number since it meant I would start off the tournament with two blacks, but I was in for more of a shock when I found out I would get black against Anand, Kramnik and Carlsen in the first four rounds! Certainly not the start to the tournament that I was looking forward to!
Playing the World Champion, Viswanathan Anand is always a good experience since he’s considered by many to be the 2nd greatest player over the last 20 years behind a certain chessplayer named Kasparov. Much like my strategy in Moscow, but due to the very unfortunate pairings, I knew that the best chances I had were to play solid chess against the top three players and try to win a game here or there against the four Brits. I played the Berlin Wall against Anand’s Spanish and soon found myself in trouble after playing 20…Bd6 instead of 20…Bf6 would probably would have led to a relatively easy draw. However, after reaching a same color bishop ending (the first of three so far this tournament) down a pawn, I felt I defended incredibly well and managed to hold the draw. No doubt there are plenty of endgame experts who have already analyzed it as a win, but in practice during a tournament game, I am not surprised Anand could not find a precise plan to achieve the right position.
Continuing with my trend of ridiculous pairings, I got black against the previous World Champion, Vladimir Kramnik. After having not played in many elite events, I have become very familiar with Kramnik and seem to do battle with him in nearly every tournament I’ve played this year. In many ways, I enjoy playing Kramnik more than any other top player since we seem to have really exciting and interesting games every time. This time was a bit different as Kramnik chose to avoid mainline theory and preferred quieter sidelines. The position was relatively balanced until Kramnik went for 12.Qd2 which allowed 12…g5! Even now, I am still fairly confused as to what was actually going on. My best guess is that Kramnik couldn’t find a way to gain an advantage with other moves and decided to bait me and see if I would go for it or not. As it turns out, this simply wins a piece and I was very close to winning until I went badly astray and made a few serious inaccuracies during time pressure. This led to a position which was probably drawn at time control, but a subsequent blunder was one too many by my esteemed opponent and I converted with flawless technique. After this great victory, I was on 1.5/2 which was far better than anything I could have hoped for.
In round three I had white against David Howell. Recently, David has more or less stopped playing professionally as he is currently attending university. However, he is a very resilient player as his unbelievable third place finish in the London Chess Classic last year showed. This game was and probably will be the only one where I end up in preparation from start to finish. Prior to the round, Kris and I had concluded that in most variations of the fianchetto Grunfeld, White should have a small advantage. Unfortunately, David found the only variation in which we had not found anything concrete. Despite using up all his time, David found the right continuations at all the critical junctures in the game and was able to set up a nice fortress which I could not break through. This left me on 2/3 or 5 points according to football scoring system.
In the fourth round, I faced the last of the three-headed monster as I was black against Magnus Carlsen. Having survived my first two blacks in the tournament, I knew this would be an uphill battle as there is generally a tendency to suffer a letdown right before the danger has passed. Out of the opening which was an English, I was roughly equal throughout the middlegame, but several serious inaccuracies with time pressure looming cost me dearly as I ended up in a worse endgame. Perhaps I could have put up more resistance, but I would have probably just ended up suffering for a few more hours without the result being in doubt! Who wants to do that when you can go lose and eat some delicious Thai food at Blue Lagoon! After this loss, I was still on 2/4 and 5 points.
One of the great things about getting all the big guys out of the way at the start is that everyone else becomes a little bit less scary. In the fifth round I had white against Nigel Short. Nigel seems to be suffering the effects of age as he has now had two horrible results in a row both in Saint Louis and here in the London Chess Classic. Going into the game, I knew Nigel was going to try something which I certainly was not prepared for, and this prediction was certainly correct! Nigel chose a sideline within the Marshall Gambit. Although I had vaguely studied the variation a few years ago, I could not remember most of it and decided to just figure it out at the board! Fortunately, the line is so dubious that with a few precise moves, I ended up with a completely winning position after 20 moves! Nigel tried to simplify into an endgame, but it was hopeless and this victory put me back in the hunt for first place! 3/5 and 8 points with two huge rounds to go!
Tomorrow I will play McShane and then Adams in round seven. Hopefully I can do some damage in these final two rounds!
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!