The [Rating] Battle Rages On

After more than holding his own during the classical portion of the World Championship match against Carlsen, Caruana suffered a beatdown in the rapid tiebreaks.  He lost three in a row, thereby allowing Carlsen to secure the World Champion title yet again.  Going into the match, many people believed that if Caruana was to win the match, he’d have to do it in the classical portion as he’s never been one of the top players in rapid and blitz time controls.  This was proven when Carlsen, one of the best rapid and blitz players in the world, convincingly beat Caruana.

However, other than the title of World Champion, the main focus of the match was on the classical ratings of Carlsen and Caruana.  Prior to the match, only three points separated the two – Carlsen was at 2835.0 and Caruana was 2832.0.  But, after drawing all twelve games of the classical section, neither player’s rating changed.  Caruana had the chance to change that narrative at the London Chess Classic, the tiebreaker tournament for the Grand Chess Tour between Caruana, Nakamura, Aronian, and MVL.  Yet, through his first three classical games – two against Nakamura and one against Aronian – he’s drawn all of them, actually losing 3.3 points according to 2700chess.com.  Meanwhile, he’s continued to struggle in rapid and blitz games, going 0.5/2 in rapid games and 1/4 in blitz games.

More likely than not, Caruana is frustrated with his recent performance in quicker time controls, so we’ll have to see how he fares the rest of this tournament.  He still has two more rapid and four more blitz games to potentially right the ship.  But, Caruana only has one more classical game left in this tournament in Aronian, and even if he wins, he’ll still be a couple points short of Carlsen’s mark.  This means that we’ll have to wait until at least the next major tournament, likely the Tata Steel Masters in late January of 2019, for more action on that rating front.  Until then, Carlsen remains at the top of the rating lists.

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U16 Olympiad: the Second Half & Final Thoughts

Before the rest day, everything was good. We had miraculously defeated the top seed Uzbekistan and were tied for first with 9/10 match points. The day after the rest day, however, was absolutely brutal. I mean really brutal.

In the morning, we played Ukraine. After some adventures on the lower boards, the score was 1.5-1.5. Yours truly, after being marginally better for the entire game, lost control over the position and overreacted by blundering in an endgame that was, in reality, a fairly easy draw.

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When you lose this kind of position with white…

It was a setback, but we were still tied for 4th. Then we got to play Iran. I lost perhaps the worst game I’ve played this year. Pretty quickly after my defeat, things went downhill on the other boards too. Long story short, we got crushed 3.5-0.5.

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Before the start of round 7 against Iran. Unfortunately, this mood didn’t last very long…

 

 

We had lost 2 matches in one day. To top it off, I personally had lost 3 games in a row, which is rare and never fun. Looking at the standings at the evening team meeting, we thought we’d get an easy pairing next round. Instead, we got Armenia, which was the 6th seed. Talk about a bad end of a horrible day.

That was the final nail in our coffin when it came to our medal chances. I managed not to lose a 4th game in a row (yay!)—I actually had very good winning chances, but I didn’t play it the best way, and it ended in a draw. Board 2 was also a draw (after some wild adventures), but we unfortunately lost on both boards 3 and 4 and lost the match 3-1.

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An accurate summary of the second half of the tournament…

In the last round, we got to play Hungary. We won the match 3-1. I finally won a game, despite blowing a very large advantage and even getting worse in the process.

Overall, we finished 10th. Uzbekistan didn’t let their loss to us stop them from winning the rest of their matches and deservedly winning gold. India won silver, and the massively underrated Chinese team won bronze. Our board 2 IM Hans Niemann finished with 7.5/9 and won a bronze medal for board 2—a medal which he forgot in his hotel room 12 hours later. Looking back at the final crosstable, we ended up playing 5 out of the 7 top teams, beating the overall winners, drawing the 4th place team, and losing to the 5th, 6th, and 7th teams.

Olymp Final Standings

Despite not playing as well as I had hoped to, I believe I still contributed to the team by facing tough opposition on the first board and helping with my teammates’ preparation. It’s hard to put in words what this tournament meant to me. Just spending a week doing chess, chess, and more chess (with a little bit of schoolwork spiced in) was fun. I got to meet so many people from around the globe, some of them the very best in my age group. Sorry American tournaments, but this is really hard to beat this experience. I really wish I could go next year, but unfortunately I’ll be too old.

Big thanks to my teammates and team coach GM Kudrin!

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Before the closing ceremony. No longer in matching uniforms, back to individual tournaments…

Now I’m back home and have settled back down to boring normal life (yeah, I had too much fun there for my own good). It’s time to relax and enjoy the upcoming holiday season—and study some chess of course. Time to regroup!

U16 Olympiad: Free Day after the Storm

The tournament goes on. The smog is gone, the food continues to be good, and we’ve settled into a routine. The English in the hotel continues to provide entertainment. Some of the food translations really give Google Translate a run for its money…

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Who knew ovens tasted so good? I already had a chicken oven, a turkey oven, lamb frying, and many more delicacies that I had never even heard of.

The chess got even more unpredictable than the translations. We scored a massive upset against Uzbekistan, winning 2.5-1.5. At the end of that match, we were leading 2-1, and I was defending an unpleasant endgame, but I held, and we won the match. The following match with Belarus ended in a 2-2 tie after some serious drama. I’m surprised no spectators had heart attacks while watching this match… Yours truly contributed by gambling in a drawn endgame when the team didn’t look so good. Then everything turned 180 degrees, my game included

Today is a rest day. We went for an excursion of Konya. We visited a mosque/museum and a butterfly garden, and in the process we bought souvenirs, trashed talked, socialized with other teams, and just had a good time.

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Not bad!

Tomorrow we’re back to business, another double round day. We’re tied for first with Belarus, and we get to play Ukraine. Onward!

Fingers crossed. Wish us luck.

U16 Olympiad: Hanging in There

The US team arrived in Konya, Turkey, 2 days ago for the U16 Olympiad, and we’ve been quite busy since. The first evening we managed to sneak in an exciting dance performance, courtesy of the organizers. The hotel is nice (except for slow elevators, but taking the stairs provides us with some exercise). The food is good, and the playing hall is literally right next door, so there’s no need to deal with buses. That sure helps relax the schedule. As for jet lag and the smog that hit us and Konya today, well… they’re not as good, but hopefully tomorrow there won’t be any trace of either.

Enough weather, time for chess. We’ve made it through the first three matches and have won them all. Today we survived the first of the two double round days. Currently, I’m at 3 draws (the games were actually much more exciting than the result suggests).

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The Round 1 Scoreboard
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The start of round 1

Tomorrow, we are playing the #1 team, Uzbekistan. Wish us luck!

Onward! Here’s the official website if you want to follow. I’ll be back, internet-permitting.

Connecting the Dots

I learned sequentially, now I try to zig and zag in unknown circles.

In chess, there are openings, middle games, and endgames. For a new player, each phase of the game feels like a complete different culture from the other.

Openings then Endgame

Part of the reason grandmasters understand the game better than I do is that they know how to connect the dots between different concepts.

For example, the queen’s gambit accepted (QGA) is a well-known opening. Many players play this opening, and they put in time to study the move orders or different variations.

The top players use a different approach: they study endgames that arise out of QGA. They ask themselves which pieces should be traded, or how to manage the pawn structure.

After going through this process, they come back to the opening, check variations with computers, and maybe then new ideas or concepts will be born.

Slow Chess to Blitz

There are debates on how much does blitz help slower games. The answer is not straightforward, but the idea is to improve calculation and intuition skills.

When play blitz, there are no time to think, the instant reaction and fast judgement of positions will provide valuable patterns to our minds.

By going thru blitz sessions, we subconsciously connect information that we have used or learned from slower games.


Next time you see two unrelated topics, remember maybe there will be dots to be connected.

Ups and Downs for Carlsen and Caruana Through Six

With six out of twelve classical games in the books, Carlsen and Caruana remain tied at three points apiece.  Each game thus far has been a draw, but that doesn’t mean that the games haven’t been engaging.  In fact, the first and sixth games have probably had the most action, but as promised, I will take a look at each of the six games and attempt to pull the most important learning points from each.  So, without further ado, let’s get to it.

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Carlsen – Caruana: One of the most anticipated World Championship matches ever

 

Game 1: Caruana – Carlsen, FIDE World Championship (1), 2018

This game started out in a Rossolimo where Carlsen, as Black, tried to take control of the dark squares in typical Sicilian fashion.  Not to be outdone this early, Caruana tried to break through the f-file and doubled his rooks early in an attempt to agitate Black’s uncastled king.  Carlsen, however, simply castled queenside, and suddenly it was Black who had a solid and attacking position.  Carlsen sacrificed a pawn to open the g-file against White’s king, but Caruana held his own until move 34 when Carlsen faltered with 34. … h5 instead of the much stronger 35. … Qe5!, which also served to set up a crushing 36 … Rg3.  Even then, Carlsen still had a significant advantage until the time control move, when he played 40. … Bxc3 and lost most of the advantage.  Despite Black still being objectively slightly better, Caruana was able to hold the ensuing endgame.  The lesson to be learned from this game is to always keep an eye on all parts of the board – it was something Carlsen forgot about on the crucial 34th move, where he was likely too fixated on the kingside and missed that infiltrating with the Queen through e5-c3-b2 and setting up a crushing Rg3 was basically game over with all of White’s pieces on the right half of the board.

Game 2: Carlsen – Caruana, FIDE World Championship (2), 2018

This game started out in a Queen’s Gambit Declined, but the moment of truth came much earlier.  For his 10th move, Caruana blitzed out the novelty 10. … Rd8 as opposed to the known moves 10. … Re8 (see Korchnoi 1-0 Karpov, 1978) and 10. … Be7.  As evidenced by Carlsen’s answer to a reporter asking what he thought of the move – “Oh, [expletive], mainly” – he was clearly taken aback and settled into a long think.  At this point, he had the option of grabbing the bull by the horns and playing 11. Nd2, but knowing that this would likely take him straight into Caruana’s preparation, he avoided the line and played the “tamer” 11. Be2.  The only other critical point after this move was on move 17 when Carlsen had the chance to try the intriguing 17. Nxf7!?, but once again, he settled for the less-aggressive route with 17. Bf3 and the game soon fizzled out into a drawn endgame where White’s doubled f-pawns actually made the 4v3 defense easier.  This game showed us the importance of opening preparation, as it only took ten moves to reach a crossroads for Magnus, and after that point, it was Caruana in the driver’s seat.

Game 3: Caruana – Carlsen, FIDE World Championship (3), 2018

Just like in Game 1, Caruana opted for a Rossolimo to counter Carlsen’s Sicilian, but instead of following the horrific path the first game went down, Caruana played 6. 0-0.  A couple moves later, Carlsen confidently offered a pawn sacrifice with 9. 0-0 after only 35 seconds of thought, but Caruana kept the status quo with 10. Nbd2.  The first critical point came on move 15 when Caruana rather hastily played 15. Bd2, allowing Carlsen to continue contesting the open a-file with 15. … Raa8!.  Rather, had Caruana played 15. Rxa5 Qxa5 16. Bd2 Qc7 17. Qa1!, he would have firmly been in the driver’s seat with avenues for pressure along the open a-file and the fixated Black e5 pawn.  Instead, the game turned to an endgame where Caruana was slightly worse, but the game once again fizzled into a draw.  Twice already, Caruana’s attempt to win as White didn’t go as planned, and it was interesting to note at the time that each of the three games ended with the player playing Black pressing for the potential win.

Game 4: Carlsen – Caruana, FIDE World Championship (4), 2018

In a game where Carlsen opened with the English, the most interesting aspect was arguably not related to the game at all.  To be fair, the only somewhat-critical point was on the 15th move, when Carlsen had the opportunity to break with 15. b5, but after settling for the less-exciting 15. Re1, the game turned into a relatively-quick draw in only 34 moves, shorter than any of the games up until this point.  However, as previously mentioned, the most intriguing part of the round was related to some off-the-board drama.  A promo video for Caruana was posted by the St. Louis Chess Club, but it was taken down soon after it revealed a brief shot of Caruana’s ChessBase files which seemed to show quite a few opening ideas and analyzed games.  Some keen viewers on Twitter wondered if the video was uploaded as a distraction attempt to goad Carlsen into going down an irrelevant rabbit hole, but whether this is the case is unknown.  When asked about the video in the postgame conference, Carlsen mentioned he’d take a look at the video, which evidently seemed to make Caruana uncomfortable.  Anyway, on to Game 5…

Game 5: Caruana – Carlsen, FIDE World Championship (5), 2018

The game once again played into a Rossolimo, but Caruana stuck to the pattern of deviating first by playing 4. 0-0 instead of 4. Bxc6 and then plunging forward with 6. b4, an aggressive-looking gambit.  Despite from longer thinks from Carlsen, however, it seemed like he knew what he was doing.  After 11. … Ne7, the players reached the first critical position, where Caruana eschewed theory (12. cxd6 Qxd6 13. d4) and gambled with the forcing 12. Qe2, but Carlsen found the only move with 12. … b4.  A few moves later, with the queens off, Black was in a comfortable position, while Caruana seemed a bit annoyed with his position during a 30+ minute think on move 19.  After precise play from both sides, the game ended as a draw on move 34 once again.  The most noteworthy point from this game was Fabiano’s early aggressiveness; evidently, he was trying to play for a win from the start, but Carlsen’s knowledge of the sideline helped him to a draw.  Meanwhile, Carlsen’s “refutation” of the opening gave him a solid chance of pushing for a win, but once again, he let the opportunity slip.

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Carlsen’s facial expression after Caruana’s 6. b4!? tells you everything

Game 6: Carlsen – Caruana, FIDE World Championship (6), 2018

In the first game that Carlsen opted for 1. e4, he was met with the Petroff from Caruana, which has garnered quite the attention this year.  Indeed, Caruana has revitalized the Petroff as Black after essaying the opening in several tournaments so far.  On top of that, Caruana has destroyed the notion that Black plays the Petroff in order to draw, as he has had major success with the opening, including two wins against Vladimir Kramnik and Alexander Grischuk in the Candidates Tournament back in March.  As for this game, the players sidestepped several variations that had been played before and quickly ventured into new territory that was visually fascinating as much as it was vexing.  Specifically, after 7. … Nd4, the players traded queens with a sequence that looks like it could have appeared on a board in a scholastic tournament: 8. Nxe7 Nxe2 9. Nd5 Nd4.  Then followed even more “dance” moves by the knights, and it’s interesting to note that by the 10th move, ten knight moves in a row had already been played.

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Peculiar preparation in the Petroff made for an interesting opening

However, despite the peculiar and exciting opening, the reality was that the ensuing position was rather dull until Caruana broke with 21. … c5!.  Following some shaky play from Magnus, Caruana found himself with a slight advantage.  Just after time control, Caruana had put Carlsen in a bit of a bind, and seeing no alternatives, Carlsen went for a piece sacrifice for three pawns with 43. Bf3!? in order to mitigate Black’s imminent threat of pushing the d-pawn and delivering a discovered check.  A miscalculation meant that Carlsen would only net two pawns for the piece since he seemed to have missed Caruana’s idea with 48. … Ba3 and picking off a queenside pawn with an eventual Nc3.  However, as expected, Carlsen put up a tough resistance, and he found a nice resource on move 58 with 58. a5!?, which sacrificed the lone queenside pawn, distracting Black’s pieces just enough to allow White to set up what looked to be a fortress after 64. h5.  After 67. Kg6, the engines seemed to momentarily call a forced mate-in-36, but with only ten minutes on Caruana’s clock, it was probably impossible from a human standpoint for him to find it.  Indeed, Caruana didn’t see the mating line, and while he could have arguably made Carlsen suffer more, Caruana went for a draw soon after.

Overall, despite the scoreboard showing six draws, the gameplay has been more than exciting, with each player coming very close to losing at some point – Caruana in the first game, and Carlsen in the sixth.  An interesting theme we’ve seen so far is that Black has had most of the pressing chances, which is ironic considering most high-level players outwardly prefer White.  This is especially true of Caruana, who, in three chances as White, has been stymied quite badly.  Going forward, we should see Caruana experimenting with lines other than the Rossolimo variation of the Sicilian.  Additionally, since Carlsen is significantly stronger in the tiebreak formats of rapid and blitz, we should continue to see aggressive openings from Caruana, which should make the games rather fun.  We can also expect to see Caruana continuing to respond to 1. e4 from Magnus with the Petroff, which has served the challenger well.  It’ll be interesting to see which player draws first blood, since, at this point, it may determine the entire match.  But, of course, only time will tell.

The timing of my schedule lines up well with this match, so I’ll be able to provide an analysis of the second half of match next time.  As always, thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time!

 

What’s Cooking for Thanksgiving? Turkey!

My Thanksgiving/early December schedule usually consists of going to Philadelphia for the National Chess Congress and then playing the Marshall Chess Club Championship. Come to think of it, I’ve done it for the past 4 (!) years. Those tournaments are both FIDE rated and usually attract plenty of GMs and other strong players. My adventures playing in them have ranged from drawing GM Gata Kamsky at the National Chess Congress to battling snowstorms while trying to get to the Marshall. This year, however, will be different. I’ll be playing the World U16 Olympiad in Konya, Turkey.

Go to Turkey. Represent the US. Play chess for eight days with a rest day in the middle (which is almost unheard of in the US). All in one go. On top of that, since I’ll be too old to play next year, this is literally a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. What’s not to like about it? Sorry, American circuit, but I’ll pass this year …

Out of the 44 teams registered so far, we’re ranked 8th. I’ll still be in the US on Thanksgiving (being in Turkey on Thanksgiving would be so thematic), but I’ll be flying to Turkey the next day. I’ll get settled in on Saturday, November 24th, and the fun will begin the next day.

Just like the regular Olympiad, the U16 Olympiad is a team tournament, where teams consist of 5 players, 4 of which play each round. The tournament has 9 rounds played over 8 days, with a rest day (never had one of those in the US!) and two double round days. The US’s lineup is:

  • Me
  • Hans Niemann
  • Wesley Wang
  • Josiah Stearman
  • Akshita Gorti
  • GM Sergey Kudrin (coach)

Believe it or not, I’ve actually played my teammates 14 times in total and the coach 12 times! Now we’ll be on the same side…

This isn’t the first time I’m going to play abroad, and I have no intention of it being the last time either. This kind of tournament is a brand new experience for me (the US Amateur Team East and this really aren’t comparable).

Time and internet permitting, I’ll keep you updated on how it’s going. Stay posted here at Chess^Summit! The fun begins on November 25th

Wish us luck!