Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Carlsen on top of chess Olympus

NORWEGIAN Magnus Carlsen, who turned 19 on 30th November, won the London Chess Classic held at the Olympia Conference Centre from 8-16 December. The Category 18 event with an average rating of 2696 is a single-round robin contest using the Bilbao scoring system of 3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw and 0 for a loss.

During the seventh and final round, all three of the winless Englishmen attempted to score their first win but only two succeeded. Michael Adams prevailed over compatriot Luke McShane while David Howell defeated China’s Ni Hua to share 3-4 places with Adams. Current number one English player Nigel Short tried all his might to score a win against Carlsen but the latter also has the same determination. The two finally halved the point when Short was about to pluck Carlsen's remaining pawn in the queen yet pawnless ending.

Earlier former world champion Vladimir Kramnik of Russia halved the point with Hikaru Nakamura of the USA to wind up with 12 points, one point behind the winner Carlsen. Nakamura and Short were unable to win a game, with the former losing one game while the latter suffered two losses.

In addition to the tournament victory, Carlsen is now absolutely certain to top the next FIDE Rating list which will come out on 1st January 2009. He is now the youngest player ever to achieve that feat and also the first player from a western nation to reach the top since Bobby Fischer in the 1970s.

He aims to become the world chess champion and shows his determination by engaging the services of Gary Kasparov, the former world champion (1985-2000) and number one player for twenty years (1985-2005).

That he would become the world chess champion is never doubted. The only question that remains to be answered is when?

Gelfand’s experience prevails in 2009 World Chess Cup

ISRAEL's Boris Gelfand became the 2009 World Cup champion by beating Ruslan Ponomariov of Ukraine in the playoff games on Monday, 12 December.

That the fight for the title would be tightly contested was predicted by The Chess Connoisseur in its previous post. The first four games of the playoff were rapid games where Gelfand took the lead by winning the second game. But Ponomariov, with his back to the wall, won the last rapid game to tie the match again.

There followed another playoff, this time a series of twin-blitz chess (5 minutes per player per game) and Gelfand once again took the lead by beating Ponomariov in the first game when he managed to trap Ponomariov’s queen in 21 moves. Ponomariov rallied again, winning the second game.

The second pair of blitz games ensued where again Gelfand won the third blitz game. In the fourth blitz skirmish Ponomariov finally ran out of reserves, losing the game and the match, 7 points to 5.

Gelfand was the top seed in the 128-player event. At 41, he was also the oldest, but that did not deter him in the long tournament. Afterward, in an interview published on the tournament’s website, Gelfand pointed out that he had come to the World Cup after competing in the Tal Memorial and the World Blitz Championship that followed it. Altogether, he said he had played more than a month of top-level chess, but he added, “Now I will relax, make up for lost sleep, walk with my daughter. So I will be back to ‘normal’ life.”

This was the second time that Ponomariov, 26, was runner-up in the World Cup. He lost in the final in 2005 to Levon Aronian of Armenia. Still, he came in as the 7th seed, so he performed above his pre-tournament rank.

Our toast and congratulations to both gentlemen together with the wish for a good and much needed rest.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Youth and experience clash in World Cup final


THE saying ‘when the going gets tough, the tough gets going’ holds true again in the completion of the cast for the finals of the 2009 World Chess Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk.

Israel super GM Boris Gelfand (2758, seed 1st) will be contesting the World Cup title with former FIDE World Chess Champion (2001-2003) – Ukraine's super GM Ruslan Ponomariov (2739, seed 7th).

Their trek to the top of the ladder could hardly be described with anything but tough. Gelfand has to beat in Round 4 the current world junior champion and French champion, Maxine Vachier-Lagrave (2718, seed 17th) in the second blitz tiebreak after the regulation two classical games, the four rapid tiebreak games and the first blitz tiebreak game all ended in draws. In Round 5 he saw off Russia's Dmitry Jakovenko (2736, seed 9th) with the score of 3.5–1.5. In Round 6, he displayed his excellent form by shutting out, 2–0, Ponomariov’s countryman and former second, Sergey Karjakin (2723, seed 12th), to notch the first finals berth.

Ponomariov needed a tiebreak to subdue France's Etienne Bacrot (2700, seed 23rd), 3.5–2.5, and advanced to the round of eight – the quarterfinals. He then disposed the current European champion, Vugar Gashimov (2758, seed 2nd) of Azerbaijan, 3.5–1.5. In the semifinals, he faced off with Russia's Vladimir Malakhov (2706, seed 22nd) who in the previous round sent home his compatriot, Peter Svidler (2754, seed 3rd) who he defeated, 1.5–0.5. Prior to the Ponomariov–Malakhov meeting, the latter a former European vice-champion, has the best rapid tiebreak record of 8.5 points out of 9 games.

The Ponomariov–Malakhov tussle went into the rapid tiebreak after they drew their two classical regulation games. True to form, Malakhov, won the first tiebreak game to improve his rapid-format record to 9.5 points out of 10 games. That's an incredible 95 percent performance at the top level by any standard. However, as Chaucer said “all good things must come to an end,” Malakhov's stupendous rapid record reached its pinnacle and has nowhere to go but down. His rival, Ponomariov, showed other remarkable traits such as resilience and toughness, which overcame his rival’s early lead and stamped his own class by winning the next 3 games and the match, 4–2, to notch the remaining finals berth.

The four–game finals match between Gelfand and Ponomariov is a classic experience-against-youth encounter. Ponomariov is not new to this situation as he has won the 2001 FIDE World Championship, the predecessor of the current event, against his rival’s contemporary and his countryman Vassily Ivanchuk to become the youngest ever world chess champion. Gelfand, despite being a perennial world chess contender, has only reached this very height for the first time. The onus would be on him to prove that he can overcome the challenge of his young protagonist. His results against strong youngsters from rounds 4 to 6 indicate that he would be up to this task.

Expect a very tough contest between these two equally deserving finalists.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Young amazons trip chess legends

Photo: Official website

A NOVEL chess match between four chess legends, all former world championship candidates, and four young lady players took place from 28th November to 5th December at the Cristal Palace hotel in Marianzke Lazne.

Chess legends—Viktor Korchnoi (78 years old), Jan Timman (58), Robert Huebner (61), and Vlastimil Hort (65)—competed with young woman grandmasters—Humpy Koneru (22), Anna Muzychuk (19), Katerina Lahno (20), and Jana Jackova (27)—in a double-round Scheveningen contest dubbed as ‘Snowdrops and Old-hands’ Czech Coal Chess Match 2009.

The rate of play was 90 minutes for 40 moves with additional 30 minutes to the end of the game and 30 seconds added for each completed move starting from the first move. The tournament was organized by Prague Chess Society—a civic association.

The youngsters won the match by the narrowest of margin, 16½ to 15½. The ladies went off to a fast start in the first round, winning 3 matches and drawing one, to take a lead of 3 points at the halfway mark.

The first two matches in the second round were drawn as it appeared that the ladies were coasting along and maintained their three-point lead. The seasoned chess celebrities won the last two matches, both by slimmest of margin of one point, but were not enough to overcome the ladies early big lead.

The best performance was registered by India’s Koneru (rated 2603) with 5½ points out of 8. The only blot in her escutcheon was a last round loss to the ‘evergreen’ Korchnoi. She drew with Huebner (two draws) and Korchnoi (split wins), beat Timman (1½-½) and Hort (2-0). The shutout victory over Hort gave the amazons the marginal point for the match victory. A single draw would have resulted into a tied match.

Slovenia’s Muzychuk (2532) turned in a plus one score (4 ½); Ukraine’s Lahno (2499) registered an even score (4); while Czech’s Jackova (2388) had a minus three score (2½) but scored her lone win over Viktor, the Terrible.

The performances of the veterans were more or less even. The Netherlands’ Timman (2591) was top with a plus one score (4½), Germany’s Huebner (2603) had an even score (4), whereas Switzerland’s Korchnoi (2567) and host country Czech’s Hort (2494) both turned in a minus score (3½). Korchnoi was the lone victor (no pun intended) against Koneru.

The event was graced by another chess legend, the former world chess champion Boris Spassky (1969-1972).


Malakhov’s best in rapid chess

Photo: Official website
WESLEY So’s exit from the 2009 World Cup via a lopsided score of 1-4 against Russia’s Vladimir Malakhov could be attributed to his ‘inexperience’ and ‘internal weakness’ spotted by Russian GM Sergey Shipov.

The Filipino, who was once quoted by foreign journalists in Khanty-Mansiysk that he prefers to play in rapid tiebreaks, could “not oversee that Malakhov feels completely at home in rapid.” But Wesley overlooked that Malakhov has the best record in rapid tiebreak games.

A little bit of retrospection would confirm that Malakhov was likely to beat, and he did beat, So (3-0!) in the rapid tiebreak games.

Consider the fact: Malakhov has a stupendous record in the rapid tiebreak.

After a draw in the first game of Round 2, he won the next two against Israel's Ilia Smirin (2662, seed 43rd) and advanced to the third round.

In Round 3, he won three straight games against Ukraine's Pavel Eljanov (2729, seed 11th) and advanced to the fourth round.

In Round 4, as it is now history, he won three straight games against the 2009 World Cup rising star Wesley So.

That’s 8.5 points out of 9 games in rapid format! This is the one phenomenal and outstanding performance in the 2009 World Cup.

In the meantime, Malakhov needed no tiebreak against Peter Svidler as he won the mini-match, 1.5-0.5. (Svidler probably thought Malakhov is unbeatable in rapid and went just one game down in the classical format that saw him off from playing rapid games with his in-form rival.)

As of this posting, Malakhov is contesting one of the finals berth against former FIDE World Champion Ruslan Ponomariov of Ukraine.

The young ones’ run comes to end

THE truism “all good things must come to an end,” attributed to Chaucer (1374), was once again spot on in Round 4 of the 2009 World Chess Cup when the triumvirate of future chess stars all went down in flames.

The Philippines’ Wesley So, Italy’s Fabiano Caruana and France’s Maxine Vachier-Lagrave all went down in defeat against their respective rivals in the fourth round (round of 16) of the 2009 World Chess Cup.

Caruana (rating 2652 and seed 50th) lost to Vugar Gashimov (2758, seed 2nd) of Azerbaijan, 1.5-3.5. The 17-year-old Caruana, who played against GM Vugar Gashimov of Azerbaijan, could not stand up the extra class performance of his opponent (although he had winning position in the second game of the match) and could not control the situation after his first defeat in the rapid game.

Earlier, Fabiano defeated Lazaro Bruzon of Cuba (2619, seed 79th), 1.5-0.5, in Round 1; in the next round, Fabiano eliminated the current Cuban number one and last year's world blitz champion, 15th seed Leinier Dominguez (2719) with the score of 4-2 from twin victories both with the black pieces in the rapid tiebreak. In Round 3, he showed the door to former Russian champion Evgeny Alekseev (2715, seed 18th), 3.5-2.5, with the lone victory from their rapid tiebreak encounter.

The 19-year-old Vachier-Lagrave (rated 2718, seed 17th) is this year's world junior champion—the title he earned from the event that preceded the World Cup. He disposed China's Yu Shaoteng (2529, seed 112th), with the score of 1.5-0.5 in Round 1; then pipped Germany's George Meier (2653, seed 48th) in the fourth rapid tiebreak game to win the match, 3.5-2.5, in Round 2. Maxine made mincemeat of another Chinese in Round 3, beating Yu Yangyi (2527, seed 113th), 1.5-0.5, that ended the latter's surprising advance. In Round 4 he had a brilliant match against top seed GM Boris Gelfand of Israel, but could not cope with him in the blitz game after their two-game classical and four-game rapid tiebreak matches all ended in draws.

So, 16, rated 2640 and seeded 59th, shut out Azerbaijan's Gadir Guseinov (2625, seed 70th) in the rapid tiebreak after they split their two classical games with a score of 4-1 and advanced to the second round.

A sensational upset was scored by Wesley when he defeated Ukraine's Vasily Ivanchuk (2739, seed 7th) in the first game and drew the second game that kicked the latter out of the World Cup. The loss to a relatively unknown and weaker player caused Ivanchuk to declare, in a fit of frustration and disappointment, his retirement from professional chess.

Fortunately for the chess fans, he retracted his retirement declaration and apologized to his fans, three days later. This he only did after Round 3, when So similarly disposed of the defending World Cup champion, the American Gata Kamsky (2695, seed 27th), with a similar score of 1.5-0.5.

Wesley's twin victories over two chess titans, Ivanchuk and Kamsky, sent shock waves in the global chess community and easily ‘overshadowed’ the similarly fine performances of Caruana and Vachier-Lagrave.

So, dubbed by the foreign chess media here as the “biggest sensation in the tournament,” lost all his three rapid tiebreak matches to GM Vladimir Malakhov of Russia in their fourth round showdown and bowed out of contention at the Khanty-Mansiysk Center of Arts.

The 16-year-old Filipino, whose strong positional games during the prestigious, 128-player competition earned him comparison with former world champion Anatoly Karpov, failed to shake off the older and more experienced Malakhov in the first two classical games.

It was a divergence from his stints at the previous rounds, where he stunned former world championship finalist GM Vassily Ivanchuk of Ukraine and defending champion GM Gata Kamsky of the US both in two games.

Slowed down by two hard-fought draws in their classical games, So was forced to battle it out with the 22nd-seeded Malakhov (Elo 2706) in the rapid tiebreak stage. But the Filipino, who was once quoted by foreign journalists here that he prefers to play in rapid tiebreaks, could “not oversee that Malakhov feels completely at home in rapid.”

The final score: 4-1 for Malakhov.

The event is now on its semifinal round (round of four) featuring Israel’s Boris Gelfand against Ukraine’s Sergey Karjakin and Ruslan Ponomariov, also of Ukraine, against Wesley So’s conqueror –Vladimir Malakhov!