Apr 27, 2010

World Championship: Anand Bounces Back in Round 2 (Anand 1 : Topalov 1)

So, Anand bounced back in game 2, and the way he did so should be worrisome to Topalov. Anand avoided Topalov's home preparation and then outplayed him from what was probably a sligtly inferior position. The move to pay attention to is 15.Qa3. At bottom, it's just two games and too early for a lot of generalization.

On another note, do you find Topalov's unilateral decision to invoke the Sofia Rule in this match annoying? I confess that I do. The Sofia Rule requires draw offers to go through the arbiter, with granting based only upon repetition, perpetual, or theoretically drawn positions. I like the fighting spirit, but there are other ways to accomplish the end rather than by imposing a condition without agreement. The gesture strikes me as clumsy. It will be interesting to see how his decision plays out. I doubt that Anand will be intimidated. In fact, it might be more intimidating to have one's draw offers declined at the board.

Apr 25, 2010

World Championship: Anand Hits Canvas in Round 1 (Anand 0 : Topalov 1)

Anand lost badly in round 1 on the black side of a Gruenfeld, and I anxiously await his next response to 1.d4.  In the overview I undertook in December, I noted (airily I'll concede) that Anand had to go back to the drawing board against 1.d4.  He had previously been tossed around in the Queens Indian by Topalov.  I question the Gruenfeld at this level and particularly against Topalov.  As a CC player, my experience with the Gruenfeld is that in all its forms, it's an amazing amount of work, and the lines for Black often walk a razor's edge. "Work" in this context means computer analysis.  I'm of the mind that Topalov currently has no peer in the use of computers, and the Gruenfeld is accordingly a questionable choice.  As many have said, Anand appears to have lost game 1 at home.  Having said all that, many will suggest that had Anand played 23...Bd7 rather than 23...Kf7??, Black would have been fine.  Fair enough, but it's easy to fall off a razor's edge. 

Apr 21, 2010

FIDE Elections: Russia Reported to Support Ilyumzhinov

ChessVibes reports that Russia will support incumbent Ilyumzhinov for President of the FIDE in the upcoming election.  Russian support is of great importance in any given year, but particularly so when both of the candidates are Russian.  The other candidate is of course former World Champion Karpov, whom the USCF has endorsed.

World Championship: Take Another Moment to Remember Smyslov

World Championship matches are the supreme form of chess in almost every way.  The quality of play is usually worthy of the event's name; every match has its own off-the-board drama; the opening preparation, for example, is intriguing in a way that is missing in even the Super GM tournaments; and seemingly tangential events--like the mere identity of the contenders' seconds--can make for big news. 

The intensity of a World Championship is simply unequaled by every other form of the game...as it should be.  And this year's Championship is likely to be no exception. 

As the first game of the World Championship nears, may I suggest that you take one more moment to remember a past World Champion--Vasily Vasilyevich Smyslov--who passed away recently. 

There are few better ways to do so than by reading Tim Harding's piece at ChessCafe.com.

World Championship: First Game Will Be Saturday

The opening ceremony for the World Championship will be held today.  The first round, however, has been delayed one day until Saturday due to Europe's air transportation crisis and Anand's resulting late arrival in Sofia. Georgios Makropoulos, Deputy President of the FIDE, stated there was an impasse in resolving a dispute over the start time of the match.  This dispute likely involved a tension between Anand asking for three days and the Bulgarians offering none.  Makropoulos decided to delay the first round one day, which seems the easy and best decision. 

Go to Chessdom for a full report and a large number of photos. 

Apr 20, 2010

World Championship: Patience Required

See Chessdom for a more full report.

FIDE Deputy President Georgios Makropoulos:

"What happened is known to everybody. The volcano in Iceland erupted, a lot of airports are having problems, a lot of flights are cancelled. Sofia is also one of those airports that partly has problem. We have late arrivals not only with Anand, but also of officials of FIDE for the Presidential board and for the match – the second arbiter is not here, the members of the appeals committee are not here as well, we do not know yet exactly when they are going to arrive. We are giving instructions and helping everyone with how to move and what transportation to take if airports are closed. For example, to fly to either Thessaloniki or Istanbul and drive from there. We are not sure if the FIDE President himself will arrive.

Two days ago we received a letter from Viswanathan Anand, asking a postponement of three days because he cannot arrive on time. Now, it is clear that here we’re facing a force majeure situation. Of course, based on the agreement we have signed, all sides should do their best here to solve this problem, FIDE, the organizers, Anand should also try to come up with other transportation. He is actually on his way by car, as far as I know. From what I know they have already left to Sofia, so we are expecting them probably Tuesday early in the morning or in the afternoon."  (Emphasis added.)

All need to be respectful of the operative contracts and of the prospect that delay will cost the organizers' substantial money.  Nevertheless, the organizers' initial written response was inartfully crafted and seemed to fly (when nothing else would) in the face of some rather harsh reality.  A little up front grace would have gone a long way.

Apr 19, 2010

USCF Special Election: Candidate's 3rd and Final Statement

Below is my third and final USCF Special Election Candidate's Statement, scheduled for publication in the June issue of Chess Life

At the heart of the USCF is a great game. Nothing I or you do off the chessboard—and that includes participating in governance of the USCF—is going to change that. Put simply, the organization has a superb product, one that I spend a peculiar amount of time thinking about (according to some dear to me), especially since I’m not a professional and I derive none of my income from chess. Most of my time is spent thinking about such things as whether Black is busted in the Poisoned Pawn variation of the Najdorf and similar problems. I play a lot chess. Since early 2007, I’ve completed approximately 225 correspondence games in the USCF and ICCF, and I’ve played in OTB tournaments in Ohio, California, Florida, Connecticut, and New York. I am the 2009 Absolute co-champion. Beyond playing the game, I would like to help present the Federation in the best possible light to others who play the game, who might play the game, or who simply see the game as deserving of support. My goal is simple—get more people to play and enjoy chess under the best possible circumstances.

Governance of the USCF is critical to this goal. At present we govern and operate the USCF with an Executive Director, a professional staff, seven Executive Board members, more than 100 delegates, and countless volunteers. As is obvious, I’m running for one of the seven seats on the Executive Board. It is a volunteer position. My qualifications are straightforward. I’ve run large organizations in the Army as an officer, including in combat; I am a lawyer engaged in complex civil litigation every day on large cases, including representing Not For Profit organizations that you would recognize; I manage large budgets on cases where annual expenses substantially exceed the annual revenues of the USCF; and I believe in the game.

One of the central features of governance of the Federation at present is the concept of “one member, one vote” (OMOV). What that means is that USCF members (over sixteen) elect the seven Executive Board members. I support OMOV. Members have a voice in running the Federation because of OMOV. If you’re reading this, you’ve likely received a ballot. Please inform yourself and vote.

Regarding service on the Executive Board, my only interest is in advancing the game. My only affiliation with any other members of the USCF, or any of its present or past leaders, is in connection with the play of the game or with specific ideas and positions with which I agree. The best ideas and policy positions must be measured purely against what’s good for chess and what’s good for those members of the Federation who play, teach, learn, organize, and direct chess. In the end, we have to put aside any differences we may have and go forward maintaining and growing a healthy organization whose members enjoy the game. I’m not suggesting that’s always easy.

Please see my blog at http://graysonebc.blogspot.com/ for more.

World Championship: Match Delayed?

For reasons unknown, Iceland is attempting to delay the start of the World Championship match between Anand and Topalov scheduled to start on Wednesday.  The country is spewing vast amounts of volcanic ash over most of Europe and has managed to bring the airlines to a standstill with the help of Europe's transportation authorities.  Anand is reportedly still some substantial distance from Sofia, and he's not likely to be flying there in the next day or two.  One can imagine the difficulties of trying to find alternative transportation at such a time, but the word is that he's trying.  Anand has invoked the force majeure provision of his contract (clauses that provide performance relief in the event of natural disasters), asking for a three day delay.  The organizers aren't too keen on the prospect (see below).  We should all be looking forward to hearing from Topalov's team, if we haven't already. 

Apr 17, 2010

Sicilian 101: Dodging the Najdorf Mainlines

Black steers clear of the mainlines by playing 6...Nbd7 instead of 6...e6.  The resulting positions require care by Black, as he's cramped and under-developed.  While there are likely better ways to duck theory, Black accomplishes his goal, if that was it, as the game enters virgin territory as early as move 8 in one of the most heavily analyzed of variations. 

Apr 16, 2010

Semi-Slav 101: 6.a3

White plays 6.a3 and avoids the more beaten paths of the Semi-Slav.  White scores below average (47%) in this line, but the line is largely untested at top levels.  It's principal proponent is Epishin who has scored 6/7 with it.  Note that the ChessBase opening classification text inserted at the beginning of the game score identifies the opening as "Black avoids the Meran," but it is clearly White who is taking the game out of the Meran.  This seems to be a function of ChessBase's opening classification system; it's nondescriptive in this instance. 

Apr 15, 2010

Caro-Kann 101: Classical

What to do against 1.e4 c6?  The Classical variation of the Caro-Kann is the line players of 1.e4 come back to when other tries against the Caro-Kann require rehab, and it's the logical first try.  The moves below through White's 10th have been played several thousand times.  These moves are overwhelmingly the main line of the Classical variation.  While there may be minor variations along the way, the heavy duty theory starts at Black's 10th: 10...Ngf6 (below), 10...e6 (the major choice), and 10...Qc7.  In the game below, White takes the King to the queenside, which is a result of one of the more important choices to be made in the main line. 


Apr 13, 2010

Sicilian 101: Najdorf Poisoned Pawn

The Najdorf Poisoned Pawn is one of the great openings in chess.  If for no other reason, love it because Fischer and Kasparov did.  8.Qd3 followed by f5 is not new; it's been around for about 50 years.  But it's become fashionable of late.  Compare these lines with 8.Qd2 followed by the e5 push, which was supposed to sound the death knell for Black...but didn't.  And both Black and White can lament the opening of  a new deep branch of theory in the Poisoned Pawn--the opening is already rarely seen anywhere (in a recognizable form) but at very high levels. 

Sveshnikov 101: Four Knights

The Four Knights more often than not is nothing more than the long route to the Sveshnikov.  Earlier games under the label of "Sveshnikov" below explain some of the reasons Black may choose this route.  White, however, isn't obligated to enter a Svesh and one way to avoid it is to play 6.Nxc6.  The Knight exchange isn't particularly ambitious, but it allows White to steer the game into positions he may know better. 

USCF Endorses Karpov

The USCF has endorsed the ticket of Karpov and Conn for FIDE leadership in the upcoming election.  The U.S. is one of, at last count, 158 voting member countries. 

Karpov is a former World Champion, and Russian, dominating the game between Fischer and Kasparov.  Conn is a U.S. citizen and an international lawyer with strong ties to Moscow.  He is fluent in Russian.

They face off against Ilyumzhinov, the current FIDE President, who is also President of the Republic of Kalmykia of the Russian Federation, and his deputy, Makropoulos, who runs the day-to-day affairs of the FIDE. 

Apr 11, 2010

Sicilian 101: The Kalshnikov IV

In the below game, White plays 6.c4, which is the prime alternative to 6.Nc3.  As a result, the game is more positional in nature.  By playing 6.c4, White obtains a bind on the position by controlling d5 and b5, and in exchange for this bind, White accepts a permanent weakness at d4, where Black will attempt to post a minor piece.  The Kalashnikov has been essayed by more than a few Super GMs over the years; its most recognizable adherents are Shirov and Radjabov. 

Sicilian 101: The Kalashnikov III

White has a major choice to make at move 6.  Either 6.Nc3 or 6.c4.  So far the games have included only 6.Nc3, which is the more "tactical" choice, as well as the choice that leaves open a transposition to the Sveshnikov.  We include a third game including 6.Nc3 before turning to 6.c4 next game.  The below game illustrates another clear way by which Black can steer away from the Sveshnikov: omit or defer pushing the pawn to b5.

Apr 10, 2010

Sicilian 101: The Kalashnikov II

As mentioned in the earlier Kalashnikov post, Black can decline the transposition to the Sveshnikov by playing 8...Nge7.  The below game provides an example.  The resulting positions in this game, however, aren't about whether Black can generate sufficient counterplay, but rather about whether he can stop the connected queenside passers.  It's not a pleasant basis on which to play a game. 

Apr 5, 2010

Sicilian 101: The Kalashnikov

If you've ever been drawn at all to the Sveshnikov, you've likely taken a look at the Kalashnikov (pushing the pawn to e5 even earlier) and perhaps even the Lowenthal.  Again, for those wanting to avoid the most deeply analyzed of the open Sicilian lines, these are both possibilities.  I think it's fair to say that Kalashnikov theory is less than 20% of the Sveshnikov's.  The below game provides an introduction.  Note that it's rather easy to transpose to the Sveshnikov in many games, but as White you should be prepared for Black to resist the transposition, and as Black, the reasons for taking this route to the Sveshnikov are few.  When White plays 6.Nc3, it at least sets up the possibility of a transposition to the Sveshnikov.  Black will often resist the transposition by developing the Knight to e7 instead of f6, keeping the game in lines independent of the Sveshnikov.  White, however, also has a major choice that will put the game into independent lines; see 6.c4 in the Kalashnikov IV post above.

Apr 2, 2010

Chess Life: July 20, 1956

Fischer at 13 bookended at the other end of the crosstable by none other than our venerable correspondence chess director, Alex Dunne.

Apr 1, 2010

Classical Sicilian: Richter-Rauzer

Looking for a mainline Sicilian variation to provide a break from the Najdorf, but you don't really want to dive off into the Sveshnikov or a Dragon variation?  There are still a few options remaining, one of which is the Classical Sicilian, marked by 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6.  (Note that the Classical can reached by a number of move orders, including through 2...d6.)  In the basic position after 5...d6, White has tried a lot of moves, but 90% of games will include either 6.Bg5 (Richter-Rauzer), 6.Bc4 (Sozin), or Be2 (the Classical, proper).  In the following game, White plays the Richter-Rauzer, which comprises more than one-half of all Classical Sicilians, making it a good place to start.  The first 12 moves have been played in a number of previous games.  After 12...b4, White has an apparent space advantage, but no easy way to crack the center open.  Black is slightly cramped but has enough queenside play to get himself untangled, and Black has the Bishop pair.  If White is slow, Black will steal away the initiative on the queenside, which is a large part of the appeal of the opening.  Note that Black often doesn't need to rush to castle because of his strong center, and the saved tempo can make a large difference in an unbalanced game like the Richter-Rauzer. White takes the game into new territory with 13.Na4, a move that deserves a closer look.  The game here is not lost on 13.Na4, but likely rather by White's inaccurate play at move 30.