Sunday, November 29, 2009

Nakamura Beats Carlsen in Oslo Blitz Final

Less than two weeks ago, Magnus Carlsen won the World Blitz Championship at the Tal Memorial in Moscow. Yesterday he lost to Hikaru Nakamura, widely considered the best blitz player in the world (but who did not play in Moscow), in the final of the BNBank knockout blitz tournament in Oslo. So who's really the champ? Check out the Oslo Blitz page created by ChessBase to play over the games and watch them on video at the same time. And does blitz even matter? Read Bobby's Blitz Chess by Larry Parr (from the Internet Archives, which may be slow to load) for some historical perspective.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pseudo-Steinitz Two Knights French

There is a wonderful lecture series by GM Ronen Har-Zvi at ICC on what he calls the "Pseudo-Steinitz Variation of the French," where Black plays 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Ne4!? to mess up White's plans, with one continuation being 5.Nce2!? f6!? (see for example Nijboer - Kujif, Wijk aan Zee 1991). FM Steve Stoyko was apparently inspired by Har-Zvi's lecture enough to try the same idea against the Two Knights French after 1.e4 e6 2.Nf3 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Ne4!? 5.Ne2 f6!? (see diagram above). I have annotated Milonovic - Stoyko, Hamilton Quads 2009 (or download the PGN) to explore this idea, which turns out to be much more interesting for Black than the result of the game would indicate.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Paper Chess Set

Paper Chess by Kell Black would make the perfect holiday gift for a crafty chess-playing friend or teen. There have been a couple interviews (see "APSU Artist Releases Book of Paper Chess Pieces" and "APSU Professor Engineers Paper Chess Set for Ivy Press in England") with designer Black, an art professor at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee, who talks about how he fell in love with paper foldouts when he built a paper medieval village with his father at the age of five. The difficulty with chess (as Stean and Emms will tell you) is keeping it simple:
“Any designer, any artist, any musician will tell you it’s always easy to add stuff,” [Black] said. “What’s really hard is to take away, to make it as simple as possible. That’s the challenge and that’s what made it so fun.”
For those looking for more of a challenge, there is a nice instruction set available online for making a "Birdbase Chess Set" (PDF) by Joseph Wu, who has also produced a YouTube video showing you how he can make it in 30 seconds (so long as you speed up the video tape!)

Friday, November 20, 2009

NJKOs Fall and NY Knights Advance to Final

There is no joy in Jersey as the NJ Knockouts fell Wednesday night to their perennial rivals, the New York Knights, who have now been responsible for ending all three Knockouts seasons in the US Chess League. But with Kenilworth Chess Club champion Yaacov Norowitz playing for New York, our club will definitely be cheering on the Knights into their final match against the Miami Sharks (date to be announced).

I have annotated the games and posted them in a java replay page. You can also download my PGN file to do your own analysis.

Norowitz's win over Sean Finn on Board Four looked like a foregone conclusion early on, even before it ended in mate (see first diagram below for an easy puzzle). But the other games were sharply contested and, at least on Boards One and Two, could have gone either way. On Board One, GM Joel Benjamin struggled with time pressure in his game after GM Georgi Kacheishvili turned the tables on his "opening surprise" Fantasy Variation against the Caro-Kann (1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.f3!?) with the equally surprising 3...Qb6!? But Benjamin definitely had the advantage for most of the game and probably missed a winning blow at move thirty (see second diagram below for a challenge). On Board Two, IM Dean Ippolito also had the advantage out of the opening against GM Pascal Charbonneau in a wild line of the Rubinstein Variation against the Four Knights (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nc3 Nc6 4.Bb5 Nd4! 5.Bc4 Bc5!? 6.Nxe5 Qe7!) Ippolito sacrificed a piece for a dangerous attack, prompting Charbonneau to sacrifice his Queen for counterplay. Ippolito definitely missed at least one stronger continuation that would have gained a clear advantage for Black, but eventually Charbonneau used his initiative to gain a clear edge and even a material advantage. Though Ippolito missed a beautiful line that would have forced a draw by perpetual check (see last diagram below), he eventually got a draw anyway. Board Three saw Mackenzie Molner playing a wild line of the Najdorf that Matt Herman clearly knew better. Eventually, only Herman had any attacking chances, but with the win secure on Board Four he appears to have decided not to take any chances and to play for an easy draw, which Molner, short of time, eventually offered himself.

Norowitz - Finn
White to play and mate in two.

Benjamin - Kacheishvili
White to play and win.

Charbonneau - Ippolito
Black to play and force a draw.

So the Jersey boys only have themselves to blame for the loss, especially considering that they had draw odds. Better luck next year. And "Go Norowitz and the Knights!" Let's hope they don't have to play on the Sabbath!

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Carlsen Wins Tal Memorial Blitz

The World Blitz Championship at the Tal Memorial in Moscow has just concluded, with Magnus Carlsen first, Viswanathan Anand second, and Sergey Karjakin third. Carlsen dominated the field today and the three have led since yesterday. See the final table at ChessBase for full results.

The Tal Memorial Blitz event is for many the highlight of this wonderful tournament, which this year is among the strongest in history. Blitz has a visceral appeal that anyone can relate to with only a basic understanding of the game. Such events should receive wider publicity. Video is available online from the official site and was available live during the event. Numbering the days after the tournament's fortnight, you can see video of the blitz event on Day 16, Day 17, and Day 18. It is interesting to watch even when the board is not very visible (though I recommend playing over the games at the same time on Chessgames or with the PGN). ChessBase covered the action also in their reports: "World Blitz Championship Day One: Anand Leads," "Impressions from Day One in Moscow" (by Misha Savinov), "World Blitz Championship Day Two: Carlsen Takes Over," "Trials and Tribulations of a Blitz Player," "Carlsen Wins with Three-Point Margin," "World Blitz Championship: Pictorial Impressions," "World Blitz Championship: Close-Up Video Footage."

U.S. resident Alexandra Kosteniuk finished at the bottom of the field, but she had some very strong scalps along the way, including wins over the top finishers Anand and Carlsen. The reaction of the two greats to losing was a study in contrasts, with the World Champion resigning amicably and shaking hands (despite having a significant time advantage that might have caused Kosteniuk some trouble, though she was easily winning) and predicted future champ Carlsen simply jumping up from the table and stalking off to sip his orange juice. He knew he had let a strong attacking position slip in time pressure, but his behavior was hardly gallant.

You can see video of the Anand - Kosteniuk game online at YouTube. If I am able, I will try to post some games with analysis. I was especially interested in Kosteniuk's win over Carlsen and in Aronian's handling of the black side of the Spanish in several games.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Tal Memorial 2009 Webliography

The Tal Memorial concluded in Moscow with former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik winning with 6 out of 9 and Vassily Ivanchuk and Magnus Carlsen close behind with 5.5 out of 9. None of the top three finishers had any losses. Current World Champion Viswanathan Anand lost in the final round to Levon Aronian to drop to 5 out of 9, leaving him tied with Aronian for fourth and fifth. Carlsen was widely expected to do much better after his incredible performance in Nanjing (see Carlsen Wins to Finish Nanjing with 8/10 and Magnus Carlsen Dominates Nanjing), but he was suffering from the flu for the first half of the tournament (which prompted Ivanchuk to wear a mask during their game) and did not recover until the halfway point. However, after finishing with two wins he not only tied Ivanchuk for second but also gained enough rating points to edge out the temporarily inactive Veselin Topalov for the number one spot on the Live Ratings List, making him the youngest number one ever. You can download all games in PGN from a number of sources, including ChessBase and the official site, or view the games online at The official tournament site is only available in Russian. Kramnik and Carlsen's next tournament will be the London Chess Classic, December 8-15.

Round 9
Round 8
Round 7
Round 6
Round 5
Round 4
Round 3
Round 2
Round 1

Friday, November 13, 2009

NJKOs Advance to Final Four

The New Jersey Knockouts advanced to the final four of the US Chess League with their victory Monday night over Baltimore. Wins by the New York Knights (Monday over Boston), Miami Sharks (Wednesday over Seattle) and San Francisco Mechanics (Wednesday over Arizona) have made for an unpredictable final, since the Knockouts were the only team with the better record to advance. Miami's victory over Seattle was especially a surprise, with GM Julio Becerra not only beating GM Hikaru Nakamura but doing so in a record 12 moves!

I have analyzed the Knockouts victory over Baltimore and posted it online in a java replay article along with the PGN file to download.

The New Jersey - Baltimore match was very hard fought, but Baltimore had little chance against the best team in the League playing with draw odds (which meant that Baltimore had to win the match to advance). Nevertheless, Baltimore gave it their all and the games were very hard fought and complex (which is part of why I have not posted my analysis sooner!)

The game that interested me most was the Board One encounter between GM Joel Benjamin and GM Sergey Erenburg, which had lots of drama in all of its stages. Benjamin played the super-solid Spanish Four Knights (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bb5), which I have written about in these pages (see my Spanish Four Knights Bibliography and various articles). It's a great opening to choose when you are playing with draw odds as White. Erenburg played the increasingly popular 4...Bd6!? which has been discussed by a number of sources, including an article in SOS #1 by Jeroen Bosch titled "Sokolov's Surprise" (currently available online as a PDF download at the New in Chess website.) This line has turned into a "cold war" of sorts, with Black waiting for White to castle kingside before he castles himself to avoid a potentially dangerous g4-g5 attack. The waiting game continues with White playing h3 (to support a possible g4 advance) and a3 (to provide an escape square for the Bishop) and Black playing h6 (to prevent a pin by Bg5) and a6 (trying to gain the Bishop pair by either Bxc6 dxc6 or Ba4 b5 Bb3 Na5 etc.) Black has more useful waiting moves than White does, however, and so White generally castles before Black and the second player can equalize without much trouble (as discussed by Larry Kaufman in The Chess Advantage in Black and White). But if Black wants to avoid a drawish Four Knights game then he might need to think of another plan.

Some recent games have shown that Black can get away with castling right away, inviting White into the complications that follow g4 and often gaining good counterplay against White's king in the center. It's a double-edged continuation, but just the thing if you need to play for a win, so Erenburg naturally gave it a try. But he made a clear mistake after 5.d3 a6 6.Ba4 h6 7.a3 0-0!? 8.g4! Bc5 9.Rg1 d6 10.h3 Nh7 when White pushed forward with 11.g5 and he answered with 11...g6? (temporarily sacrificing a pawn) when probably 11...hxg5 or even 11...h5!? are better and lead to a balanced but complex struggle. After Erenburg's error, Benjamin had firm control of the initiative and great prospects of a kingside attack. However, just when the game began to look like it would be decided in the middlegame, Benjamin traded queens and headed for a slightly advantageous ending so that he could play for a win or draw without risk of losing. Erenburg fought hard and the ending became a very double-edged slugfest. Benjamin probably was never really at risk of losing, but both players were challenged to keep from getting in time trouble due to the complexity of the situation. Eventually Benjamin found a line that assured either a clear advantage or a draw by repetition (which by that point would have won the match.) Refusing to submit to the team loss, Erenburg chose a dangerous way to continue the game, after which Benjamin was able to force a win on the strength of a central passed pawn. This was quite an epic encounter and worth careful study.

Dean Ippolito's game on Board Two against Tegshsuren Enkhbat was a much more straightforward affair. The opening posed some problems for Black, but none for which Ippolito seemed unprepared. Displaying his command of elite opening theory, Ippolito demonstrated an important improvement on some previous high level games in a line of the Slav where White typically has some chances of making trouble for Black in the ending. But Ippolito played with excellent care and secured a draw by repetition in an equal Rook ending. It is possible that most of the game was covered in his preparation.

On Board Three, Mackenzie Molner took up the White side of a well-traveled and extremely double-edged line of the Sveshnikov Sicilian where Black gambits a pawn. His opponent, Shinsaku Uesugi, eventually got very strong counterplay that won back the pawn with advantage. However, rather than patiently building up his position, Uesugi went for premature breakthroughs (especially with 28...f4 and 37...e3) that ended up allowing lots of exchanges. When he exchanged Rooks in time pressure with 42...Ra7, the game petered out into a drawn bishops of opposite color ending, which essentially guaranteed a New Jersey match win.

Battsetseg - Finn
Black to play.

Bour Four had the brilliant expert Sean Finn playing WIM Tsagaan Battsetseg in a line of the Saemisch King's Indian that resembled a Benko Gambit. A clear ratings favorite, Battsetseg seemed to be playing to keep things under control and have a quiet game. But Finn would have none of that, offering up his b-pawn for queenside counterplay. Battsetseg declined the gambit but Finn got good play anyway. And when Battsetseg seemed to have him stymied, Finn channeled Boris Gulko to play a brilliant "GM Exchange sac" that changed the course of the game. Likely White could have maintained equality, but Battsetseg missed a neat tactic (see diagram above) that netted Finn a winning material advantage, which he promptly converted with the help of connected passed pawns. This was a brilliant game from start to finish and I expect Finn to have a master rating by next season.

Next week, New Jersey faces their arch-rival New York Knights, who have been responsible for ending New Jersey's previous two seasons. Let's hope there are plenty of donuts on hand -- and that the third time is the charm.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Chess-in-the-Schools President Profiled

Chess-in-the-Schools president Marley Kaplan is profiled in the Giving section of today's New York Times (see "Marley Kaplan Left the Banking World to Teach Chess to Schoolchildren" by Geraldine Fabrikant -- and be sure to check out the excellent "Chess for Change" photo gallery by Tom White). The article tells the story of how Kaplan left a lucrative banking career and turned the American Chess Foundation into Chess-in-the-Schools, "which now teaches 20,000 new children a year, with an annual budget of $3 million. Since 1986, it calculates, it has taught chess to 425,000 children on the theory that the game helps them develop basic analytical skills that lead to academic success." Hat tip: Jim West.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lewis Chessmen Dispute Back in News

"Doubts cast on Chessmen origins" is the title of a BBC World News story that reports on the continuing dispute between Britain and Scotland concerning the origins and ownership of the famous Lewis Chessmen, which were found on the Isle of Lewis but are now mostly kept in the British Museum (with only a few at the National Museum of Scotland.) According to an article to appear in the journal Medieval Archaeology by Dr. David Caldwell (of the National Museum of Scotland), it is most likely that the chessmen were passed down as a family heirloom by a rich cattle owner on the Isle of Lewis itself, which would justify the Isle's and Scotland's claim to them. We previously linked to the fanciful story "Stale Mate" by Allan Burnett (Herald Scotland, Feb 2 2008) which offered an involving reconstruction of what might be called "the merchant theory of origin," in which it is suggested that the pieces were stolen from a rich Scandinavian merchant while in harbor off Lewis, which would mean that Scotland has no original claim. Hat tip: the BCC Weblog.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Marshall's Italian Legacy of d7-d5

Frank James Marshall was known for his risky and uncompromising opening play, especially in the Open Games, where he often insisted on playing an early d7-d5 push as Black even if it meant playing a gambit. His legacy continues to interest players today, especially in the Marshall Gambit against the Spanish but also in an early d7-d5 advance against the Italian or Giuoco Piano, which players continue to try in various forms. Though the early d5 push in the Italian game is often frowned upon by theory, some recent games show that it is not as bad as they say and definitely creates many problems for White. We take as our example the game Garnelis - Brunello, World Junior Championship 2009 which opened 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d3 O-O 6.O-O d5! 7.exd5 Nxd5 8.Re1 (see diagram above) and continued like the famous game Leonhardt - Marshall, Barmen 1905 (which we examine in the notes). Due to White's pressure on the e-pawn, Black will have to sacrifice it. But he is able to induce weaknesses in White's camp (chiefly by 8...Bg4, inducing h3 and g4) that provide sufficient compensation. Sabino Brunello has played the d-pawn push many times before with success. His games (and those of at least one of his chessplaying siblings) feature in our analysis. You can examine the game and notes online or download the PGN to do your own analysis with a computer.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

"The Chess Mind" Relocates

There is a new address for "The Chess Mind" blog by FM Dennis Monokroussos at Change your bookmarks and your links. Long one of the best sites in the chess blogosphere, The Chess Mind continues to offer among the best chess content on the web, especially with its timely annotations of elite GM games (including games from the ongoing Tal Memorial). This is the second move for Dennis, and previous versions of his site exist at Dennis M's Chess Site and at the soon-to-be defunct Powerblogs. Let us hope he has found a permanent home, as he has in the hearts of all who love chess.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Fernandez - Stoyko, GSCL 2009

Fernandez - Stoyko, GSCL 2009
Black to play.

I have annotated the game Jose Fernandez - Steve Stoyko, Garden State Chess League 2009 (you can also download the PGN) played Tuesday in the match between West Orange and the Kenilworth Karpovs. Kenilworth won 2.5-1.5 to keep their perfect record at 2-0. See Kenilworth Karpovs Squeeze Orange by Ian Mangion at the Kenilworth Kibitzer blog for details. The Karpovs' first round match against the Kenilworth Korchnois is analyzed by John Moldovan at the Garden State Chess League Blog.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

NJKOs Close Winning Season with Loss to Queens

mate in threeGaspard - Shen, USCL 2009
White to play and win.

The New Jersey Knockouts finished their most successful season to date with a loss to Queens, 3-1. It may have been that Jersey just didn't need the win, while Queens wanted to at least finish above the bottom. After all, it turned out that the Knockouts did not even need to score a single point in their match to go into the post-season with the best record in the League (and the advantages in the playoffs that brings), because Chicago tied Seattle. Only if Seattle had won their match 4-0 and New Jersey lost 0-4 could Seattle have claimed the top spot. Though it was a bitter-sweet way to end a winning season, it got the job done.

I have posted my analysis of the games in a java replay page, or you can download the PGN.

The only win of the night came from young Arthur Shen on Board Four, who was fortunate that his opponent missed a forced mate (see diagram above) in time pressure and allowed Shen to make his extra material count in a very well-played ending. On Board Three, Andrew Ng had a promising attacking position against Elizabeth Vicary but let it all slip away with a painful calculation error in time pressure. On Board Two, Mackenzie Molner repeated a line of the Pirc he had used successfully in a past USCL game, but his opponent Lev Milman was well prepared and dominated the game from start to finish. And on Board One, GM Joel Benjamin had an interesting reversed Bird's Defense position out of the English but played a bit too recklessly and gave his opponent, GM Alex Stripunsky, just too much play on the e-file and it was all downhill from there.

It could have been that the change of venue (from Chapel Hill Academy to Dean of Chess Academy) had some effect. And I definitely don't see any donuts in the picture below.

The NJKOs at Dean of Chess Academy

Though New Jersey seemed to be in trouble for much of their match, they could have relaxed as soon as Chicago's FM Florin Felecan won his game with a remarkable flourish at the finish (see diagram below). After that, it would not even have mattered if Arthur Shen had gotten mated, and the players were able to joke about that kibitzing on ICC during the final moments of Arthur's game. Let's hope that they have such good luck in the playoffs.

calculation puzzleFelecan - Mikhailuk, USCL 2009
White to play and win.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

USCL Regular Season Ends Wednesday

The US Chess League wraps up its regular season Wednesday night with all teams playing, which means a full docket of seven matches on ICC (see the schedule for details). At the USCF website, Arun Sharma offers his "Week 9 US Chess League Recap," which also summarizes the playoff picture. The NJKOs can gain the best record in the League with a win or draw against the Queens Pioneers. Joseph Criscuolo of the New Jersey Knockouts Blog offers an overview in "Knockouts to Force Queens' Abdication":
The Knockouts will have a change of scenery for this match as they will be playing at the Dean of Chess Academy in Branchburg, New Jersey which is owned by the Knockouts' own Dean Ippolito. The Knockouts' regular site, Chapel Hill Academy, is closed this week. Because of the location change, the match begins at 8:00 PM Eastern on Wednesday, November [4th]. The time control has changed as well, [to] 75 minutes with 30 second increments. For the season finale Joel Benjamin, Mackenzie Molner, Andrew Ng, and Arthur Shen face off against Alex Stipunsky, Lev Milman, Elizabeth Vicary, and Fritz Gaspard.
As always, I will be analyzing the match and will continue following the team into the post-season.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Rainbow Five Game

One of the neater games to emerge from my Collaborative Writing Practices: Game Design course. To play, all you need is a good set of "rainbow" colored markers. If only they made a seven-colored mechanical pen...

Sunday, November 01, 2009

GM Josh Friedel Plays the Ulvestad

I have annotated two games with the Ulvestad Variation of the Two Knights Defense (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 b5). You can also download the PGN. The first is a game of GM Josh Friedel's from the recent Unive Open in Hoogeveen, the Netherlands (which was much more interesting than the closed "Crown" event there won by Tiviakov with the only win of the entire tournament); the second one is a game from Olaf Ulvestad himself (played just over 50 years before). In both White tried the most common move in amateur play, 6.Bxb5, keeping things in true Ulvestad territory rather than transposing to the Fritz Variation after 6.Bf1 Nd4 7.c3 Nxd5. And in both Black achieved a brilliant victory.

GM Friedel finished seventh out of 63 at Hoogeveen, which disappointed him (see "Josh Friedel on a Stylish Win but a Mediocre Result" at the USCF site). But he did deservedly win the brilliancy prize for Friedel - Migchiel de Jong, as he discussed at ChessVibes.

In the game Vedder -Friedel from the same tournament (which I annotate) it is interesting to see Friedel switch from the more standard 5...Na5 to back to the Fritz-Ulvestad since his loss to Nakamura in the final round of the US Championship (see my notes to Nakamura - Friedel, US Championship 2009). I hope that other GMs follow Friedel's lead, since the Fritz-Ulvestad is a fascinating line of which I'd like to see more in high level play. Katar has posted a nice video on it titled 2 Knights, Ulvestad at Chess.TV (which does not offer embedding, unfortunately). I previously posted a webliography devoted to the Two Knights Defense, Fritz-Ulvestad Variation but neglected to consider videos on the subject, such as Katar's or the one below by Matt Pullin from YouTube (which does allow embedding). Katar's is much more complete and very well done, so be sure to check it out.