Dec 31, 2009

World Rankings: January 2010

Congrats to Magnus Carlsen, the official World's # 1, and the youngest to ever hold the position.

See ChessBase for a full report on the Men's and Women's top 100.

Rank Name Title Country Rating Games B-Year
1 Carlsen, Magnus g NOR 2810 16 1990
2 Topalov, Veselin g BUL 2805 4 1975
3 Anand, Viswanathan g IND 2790 9 1969
4 Kramnik, Vladimir g RUS 2788 16 1975
5 Aronian, Levon g ARM 2781 17 1982
6 Gelfand, Boris g ISR 2761 25 1968
7 Gashimov, Vugar g AZE 2759 21 1986
8 Ivanchuk, Vassily g UKR 2749 13 1969
9 Wang, Yue g CHN 2749 8 1987
10 Svidler, Peter g RUS 2744 27 1976

Nakamura 28
Kamsky 40
Onishchuk 58
Seirawan 90

Kosteniuk 8
Zatonskih 30
Krush 37
Goletiani 97

Semi-Slav 101: Reynolds Variation

The Reynolds variation arises after White pushes to d5 rather than e5. It is one of the main lines arising out of the modern Meran move order (8...Bb7), but is often reached via the Classical Semi-Slav order, too (8...a6). Don't feel sorry for Kyle Morrison. Although he's the victim of a minature here where he gives away about 400 Elos, he will later take the scalps of two near 2400s in this tournament: David Cummings and Emory Tate.

Magnus Carlsen: Time Article

More good publicity for chess and Magnus.

Semi-Slav 101: The Classical Meran (8...a6)

The Semi-Slav has a reputation for solidity, but at the same time it leads to a lot of sharp positions. The sharpest positions arise out of the Botvinnik variation, which comes after White plays 5.Bg5 (1.d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 e6 5. Bg5) and then Black immediately plays 5...dxc4. As for sharpness and complexity, the positions are about a 9.5 on a scale of 10. Next comes the Anti-Moscow Gambit. Instead of 5...dxc4 (as in the Botvinnik), Black plays h6, and White, then instead of 6.Bxf6 (the Moscow variation), plays the bishop back to h4. The variation usually continues 6...dxc4 7.e4 g5 8.Bg3 b5. These positions are only slightly less sharp than the Botvinnik (noting that the Anti-Moscow can lead to the Botvinnik). Sharpness isn't limited to the Bg5 variations of the Semi-Slav.

Should White play e3 before developing the dark-squared bishop, the most likely positions arising are those of the Meran. The opening's name comes from Merano, Italy, where a significant international tournament was held in 1924. Gruenfeld won the tournament winning 9, drawing 3, and losing 1. His lone loss was with the white pieces to Rubinstein, who, right, played the Meran. Gruenfeld then turned around and played the Meran against Rudolf Spielmann, handing him one of only two losses suffered in the tournament. Gruenfeld, Spielmann, and Rubinstein finished 1, 2, 3. Despite the opening's name, there are at least 6 earlier instances involving the "Meran," going back to 1906, and involving such names as Schlechter, Capablanca, and Euwe.

The Meran begins 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.e3 Nbd7 6.Bd3 dxc4 7.Bxc4 b5 8.Bd3 Note that an early theme of the Meran is that of achieving a gain of tempo on the dxc4 exchange. Black almost always waits for the light-squared bishop to move before initiating the exchange.

Now we reach a critical crossroads. The current Meran fashion calls for 8...Bb7. This is the only move considered by Vigorito in Play the Semi-Slav, which is fair in a repertoire book. The other move, which has enjoyed a mild resurgence due to Anand's playing it against Kramnik in the 2008 W.Ch., is 8...a6. Glenn Flear, in starting out: slav and semi-slav, refers to 8...a6 as the Old Meran. In The Meran Semi-Slav, Reinaldo Vera calls this the Classical Meran, a name I prefer since it says a little less about the future status of the opening. And Mathew Sadler, in The Semi-Slav, calls it the Old Main Line, which is accurate at least at present. In any event, after 8...a6, White plays one of three moves: 9.e4, far and away the most popular, 9.O-O, which has not served White well statistically, and 9.a4, which will deserve a closer look later. In the below games, we'll focus on 9.e4. Black will reply quickly with 9...c5 (alternatives being 9...b4 and 9...Bb7, which are simply too slow and have not scored well). Now White has two moves: 10.e5 and 10.d5, both of which are viable. We'll come back to d5 later.

This game illustrates some of the hazards of White not getting his king tucked away.

Dec 29, 2009

French 101: Rubinstein--8.Be3

The rap against the Rubinstein has usually been that Black is playing for a draw. It's not that simple.

Caro-Kann 101: The Short Variation (Advance)

Back to the Caro-Kann Advance and 5...Nd7. Take a close look at moves 6-10 in contrast to G26 below. This time Svidler is on the black side. Morozevich's move, 9...h5, is worth a closer look, although it didn't work out for Svidler here. Sjugirov's 10.g3 is the novelty in this game.

USCF Special Election 2010: What the USCF Should Be Doing

I posted the below on the USCF Issues forum earlier today. My comments are somewhat out of context, as I generally don't want to post comments by others made on that restricted site here on this open site. The core content of my comments comes through nevertheless. I encourage anyone who has an interest in the election process to sign into the USCF Issues forum and have a read. You need only be a USCF member.

I feel compelled to interject, somewhat off topic. I'm pleased to have Bill Goichberg's support. I'd also be pleased to have the support of Joe Lux and Harry Payne. As for slates, I'm about as independent as they come. I have no connection to USCF politics, or more generally, chess politics, other than jumping in during the process last year to voice my opinion about the last election. Should this experience work out, both in terms of the election and the year of service, I will also plan to run in the next election. The only agenda I have is the game. Foremost to all of the below is a stable and capable EB. If that comes without me, I'll be just fine and so will chess.

1. Rank & file tournament experience.
2. Rating system.
3. Growth (members and chess knowledge).
4. Philanthropic support. (501(c)(3)?)
5. National chess information.
6. Infrastructure for professional support: players, teachers, directors/organizers.

Harry, I wasn't sure about your statement above. Please know that "Grayson" whom you've said you're supporting, and "Gary Walters," whom Bill G. has said he is supporting, are one in the same. Grayson is a handle that Gary Walters (me) has used on various chess sites for a long time; however, I would put out the caution that there are "Graysons" that aren't Gary Walters.

Dec 27, 2009

USCF Executive Board 2010 Election: Mike Nietman Will Run

The following was posted by Mike Nietman and Bill Goichberg on the USCF Issues forum today:

Mike Nietman wrote:

I am announcing today that I am a candidate for the Executive Board in the 2010 election. As the long time Wisconsin Chess Association President, USCF Delegate and Scholastic Council Co-Chair, I believe I have the experience to serve the EB well. Leadership and integrity are what is needed to lead the USCF out of its current crises. That alone will lead to great opportunities including sponsorships.

Shortly I will forward my nomination papers to the office. I look forward to the race. Good luck to all that choose to run but I hope I can earn your support!

Thank you,

Mike Nietman

Bill Goichberg replied to the post:

Mike is a well qualified candidate, and I intend to support his candidacy, as well as that of Gary Walters, for the two available seats on the Executive Board.

Bill Goichberg

I have heard nothing but good about Mike Nietman, and I'm pleased to have Bill's support.

Caro-Kann 101: The Short Variation--5...c5

This game presents the other big idea against the Short variation of the Advance Caro-Kann: 5...c5. (We saw 5...Nd7 three posts down.)

Returning to a Slow Slav and Wit

This game refers back to the post below Chess Improvement: A Slow Slav and Wit; it provides some insights into the Slow Slav and provides an opportunity to work on calculation and evaluation. The positions that arise are difficult and require a consistently accurate assessment.

Semi-Slav 101: Bg4 vs. the Slow Slav

In the Slow Slav White delays Nc3 and invites Black to play other than the usual Semi-Slav lines, principally by allowing development of the black light-squared bishop outside the pawn chain. Black can develop the bishop before playing e6 because there's no need to fear the exchange at d5 as when there's a knight at c3. (Note that Black also plays 4...a6 against the Slow Slav.) Black nevertheless will most often attempt to steer the game back into the more usual Meran or Qc2 lines with 4...e6, and now the only significant independent line involves White developing the knight to d2 instead of c3. So long as Black is familiar with the lines, there's not much reason for concern. In sum, the common moves against the Slow Slav are 4...e6, 4...Bf5, 4...Bg4, and 4...a6.

If Black, however, wants to try to take advantage of White's slow system, he will play 4...Bf5 or 4...Bg4. For an illustration as to why they're possible against the Slow Slav but not against the more usual Semi-Slav games, see, e.g., Walters-Poole in the second game below. Respecting the two bishop moves, Black chooses whether to interfere with White's development of the light-squared bishop to its usual d3 square (Bf5), or whether to harass the f3 knight and threaten to damage White's kingside (Bg4).

Black cannot play 4...Bf5 against mainline development.

Dec 26, 2009

Caro-Kann 101: The Short Variation (Advance)

The Short variation of the Advance Caro-Kann has probably never been more popular than now. Black is barely holding his own statistically; however, this try by Svidler is not going to set Black back much.

Open Sicilian: Richter Rauzer

There's no substitute for playing the Open Sicilian if you're White. There are a number of plausible anti-Sicilians, but none offer the opportunity to score the full point offered by taking on the mass of theory. When playing the open Sicilian, it's possible to land in a classical Sicilian by many routes, including 2...d6, 2...e6, or 2...Nc6. If you do, consider the Richter Rauzer.

The ICC bots are a good way to test your openings when it's difficult to find an opponent.

One Correspondence Player's Space

Here's a view of one ICCF player's space. Two computers straddle a down-sized tournament set. On the wall is some inspiration: In the photos playing chess are Bob Dylan, John Wayne, Fischer vs. Reshevsky, Fischer, and Gorky vs. Lenin. Two bookshelves are just off to the left containing about 160 books, most published in the past four years. The computers are loaded with ChessBase 10 and a little over 5 million games with Mega 2010 and Correspondence 2009 ChessBase databases. The wall chessboard is a recent addition.

Magnus Carlsen: Time Interview

Click here to some nice publicity for the game.

Dec 23, 2009

Women's Chess Titles: Reprise

Alexandra has posted below in the comments section regarding women's titles. I've pasted it here for convenience's sake. Let me say first that I'm a fan, and I'm flattered that she's visited this blog. More importantly, she has posted thoughtfully and long on the subject of women's titles on her own blog as shown below. If you have any interest in this subject, please read her comments. I believe that we are in agreement, although she's more certain.

Alexandra Kosteniuk said...
Hi Gary!

You may want to have a look at my long article on this issue at

Best chess wishes to you!

Chess Improvement: A Slow Slav and Wit

I'm sharing two positions here from the same game. The game is against a bot on the ICC. The rating of this bot ranges from about 1750 - 1950 in ICC Elo. I try to play at least one or two such games every week, as I just don't have many OTB experiences otherwise. You may ask why a bot, and it's a good question. I find that about 1 in several of my long ICC games gets interrupted by life, and the bots are far more forgiving than a human player when I run out of the room not to return. In any event, the first is a known position that arises out of the Slow Slav. The moves are: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 Bf5 5.cxd5 cxd5 6.Qb3 Qc7 7.Nc3 e6 8.Bd2 Nc6 9.Bb5 Be7 10.Ne5 O-O 11.Rc1 [diagram] Stop now, and from Black's perspective (mine), take a look at the positions arising after 11...Nxe5. Calculate and evaluate the positions that arise. What do you think?

Did you play 11...Nxe5 12.Nxd5 Qxc1+ 13.Bxc1 Nxd5 14.dxe5 ? Now if you could choose, which side of the game would you take, and is it a close call? Stop now and take a look. Actually, this is very close to winning, if not winning, for Black. I'll circle back around in a few days to add some narrative analysis. If you care to, you can do the same in the meantime, and we can compare notes so to speak, then. And by the way, without silicon assistance, what's Black's next move after 14.dxe5?

The last position is from the end of the same game. I show it for entirely different reasons. It's White to move. Analyze the position.

Okay, so you've probably noted that it's lights out for White. I've managed to outplay the bot to this point, but not by so much as it might appear. As bots are apt to do, rather than resign, he sacs his queen to delay the inevitable. But the point I want to make here, is that at the time the bot made the queen sac, about 30 seconds after my last move, I was still analyzing White making luft by pushing the h pawn. I had not noticed that Rxg2 was mate, which almost assuredly means that I not included it in my analysis of the prior move, or the move before that, etc. I find this oversight perplexing to put it politely. What to do about such oversights? More later.

Chess Improvement: Why There?

I've been haunted a bit lately by thinking of a Nigel Short comment in, I believe, a recent New In Chess article. I do not recall the particulars (which may be symptomatic of my affliction), but he was essentially responding to a flurry of moves in an opening variation. His comment was to the effect "stop, stop, if I don't know why the pieces go where they go, I won't remember the moves." I cannot tell you how much time I've spent racing through thousands of variations over the years. Have to many variations, so little time. Today, I remember the smallest fraction of those variations. I believe if measured, it would be substantially less than 1% of the total. One of my resolutions for the new year will be to radically change my opening study, with an eye toward understanding why a piece goes where it goes. When facing the French, I sometimes put the knight on c3, sometimes on d2, and sometimes I just play the bishop to d3. I have reasons for these choices, but when explained out loud, they are simply too vague. I'll do better in the new year.

Dec 18, 2009

World Championship (2): Assessment at 25,000 feet

Overall statistics:

I have 88 games between Anand and Topalov in my Mega 2009 (updated with all but CBM 133). This number includes fast time controls and blindfold. White has won 31% of the games and Black 14%. Anand has scored 48.5 out of the 88 games. Topalov has scored 39.5 of 88. All percentages hereafter are from the white perspective.

The players have met by my count 49 times in classical chess, splitting the score down the middle. That goes also for the last 11 games played since the beginning of 2008, each with 2 wins.

Anand has had white in 25 of the 49 classic games. He’s scored 58.3% in 24 games beginning 1.e4, and he‘s won 1 of 1 with 1.Nf3. Topalov has had white 24 times in the classic games. He’s played 1.e4 15 times (scoring 53.3%), 1.d4 8 times (75%), and 1.Nf3 once (50%).

High Level Opening breakdown:

Anand as White. Topalov has answered 1.e4 with 1...c5 17 times, with 1...e5 6 times, and with 1...c6 once.

Respecting the 17 Sicilians, Topalov has played 2...d6 15 times, 2...e6 once, and 2...Nc6 once. Of those Sicilians with 2...d6, 15 have been Najdorfs (61.5%), and 2 Dragons (25%). Against the Najdorfs, Anand has played 8 English Attacks (75%), 3 Classics (6.Be2)(33.3%), and 2 6.f3s (50%). Against the English Attack, Topalov has played 6...e5 (83.3%), 6...e6 (66.7%), and 6...Ng4 (75%).

All of the six 1...e5s have led to the Ruy Lopez (66.6%), with two of those being Berlins (50%).

Topalov as White. Anand has answered 15 1.e4s with eight 1...e5s, four 1...c5s, two 1...c6s, and an 1...e6. Three of the 1...e5s have been Petroffs (33%) and the others classical Ruys (40%).

Against the Sicilian, Topalov has played everything but the English Attack: one 6.Be2, one Bg5, one f3, and one Bc4. He won all of these games save the 6.Be2 game, which was drawn.

Anand has played only 1...Nf6 against the six 1.d4s. Four of these have been Queen’s Indians (83.6%), and two Nimzos (50%, both drawn). Topalov scored 75% against the Caro-Kanns, and won against the French in a Burns variation.

Conclusions: None.

Okay, but not taking this too seriously, Topalov should play the Dragon, and not get into the English Attack against Anand, or he should play the Berlin. Anand should avoid the Sicilian, or consider other than the Najdorf, or play the Petroff against 1.e4. He should go back to the drawing board against 1.d4.

World Championship (1): Beginning the Preview

I'll begin here a preview that is going to go into some depth and over a number of posts between now and the match. I'm a fan of the big chess match, and we have few of them these days. Chess, according to me, was never better than in the matches leading to and including the World Championship in Reykjavik. Matches have not only the interest of the game at hand, but there's a psychological element that is sharply heightened as the players come out to face each other day after day. Who, for example, will go to the bathroom too often? There's also a greater anticipation concerning opening selection and the appearance of novelties.

Will the players continue a theoretical "discussion" begun years ago and played out over many games since, or will one or both of them build a new repertoire, either in whole or in part? How will the players respond when the match score is no longer level?

One of the things I note about World Championship matches is that there's often a feeling of doubt about whether the players are really the best two players in the world. Anand just turned 40, and Topalov is going to be 35 in March. Poets, theoretical physicists, and chess players are on the downhill after 30, aren't they? Anand, Ivanchuk, and Short, among others, may have something to say here. And of course neither Anand nor Topalov is likely to be the world's highest rated player at the time of the match. The new number one, who's less than half the age of Anand, is a giant shoe waiting to drop somewhere. In addition, Anand demolished Kramnik in the last match, but Kramnik has dominated Topalov, about to the same extent that Anand has dominated Topalov (but this is considering all games, including fast time controls and blindfold). That's not exciting. (The only player who's ever had Anand's number is Kasparov.)

Having said all that, I don't think there's a better matchup for the World Championship than Anand and Topalov in 2010. We have the 2nd and 3rd rated players meeting, and the 4th rated was defeated by Anand just last year. I'm a fan of the kid from Norway, but we're all going to have to wait a bit for him. I also have doubts about whether Carlsen would defeat either of these players in a match in 2010.

Finally, remember that even if the chess all goes to hell in a hand basket, we'll still have Silvio. Mark your calendars for April 21.

Dec 15, 2009

London Chess Classic: A Barn Burner

Carlsen and Kramnik went one-two at the London Chess Classic as expected. Magnus missed a win and then had to scramble to hold the game against Short. There was plenty of drama over the final few minutes, and when the smoke cleared there were only a pair of Kings left standing. The game can be seen at Chessdom. Howell was impressive as he didn't lose a game and finished above .500 even though he was seeded last. The tournament scoreboard wasn't kind to McShane, but you have to like his fight, and it was just a disappointing tournament for Nakamura and Short, who were the only two to not win a game.

1GMCarlsen, MagnusNOR2801 1½½1½½113
7GMMcShane, Luke JENG26150 ½100107
8GMHowell, David W LENG2597½½ ½1½½½9
3GMNakamura, HikaruUSA2715½0½ ½½½½6
6GMNi, HuaCHN2665010½ ½½06
5GMAdams, MichaelENG2698½1½½½ ½½9
4GMShort, Nigel DENG2707½0½½½½ 05
2GMKramnik, VladimirRUS277201½½1½1 12