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.

magnus-after-b4
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.

carlsen-caruana-start
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!

 

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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!

World Championship- Recap Rounds 1 & 2

The World Championship is now underway in London. It has been years since the world #1 and #2 have met in a world title match which is exactly what we have now. 26-year-old super Grandmaster Fabiano Caruana is challenging 27-year-old 3-time defending world champion Magnus Carlsen in a best of 12 chess match. If they are tied after 12 games then the match will head to tiebreaks. But that’s enough about the real specifics about the match. If you’d like to learn more about the details of the match, please read the excellent article written by Vishal earlier this week. Instead, this article will serve as a quick look and overview at what has happened over and off the board in the match so far.  

The Games

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Photo Taken From Chess.com; Mike Klein

Despite the fact that both games have been drawn so far, there is much more behind these peaceful seeming results. For example, surprisingly for both games, this match, black has been the one with the edge pushing. For the first game, Magnus, repeating the opening he used to defeat Caruana in a game 2015-the accelerated dragon, came very close to opening the match with a win. However, after outplaying Caruana and gaining an arguably winning position, Carlsen committed a few inaccuracies and was forced to settle with a draw. This was not in vain, however, as he made Caruana struggle for 115 moves which was almost a record-setting game for the longest game in a world championship match. One would think that after this grueling endeavor from Carlsen that he would have had the psychological advantage going into the next game but this was not the case. The tables turned! In the second game, it was Caruana, after playing a close to novelty move in a queens gambit declined who was slightly pressuring Carlsen with black. Carlsen was able to deal with being out prepared with relative ease but it will be interesting to see how this trade of blows affects the psychology of both players for the remainder of the match.  

The Organizers

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Photo Used From https://twitter.com/NoJokeChris

Another big factor concerning this match is the people who are running it. These world championships are extremely popular and are the perfect opportunity to attract new lovers of this great game. However, from what I have seen from Twitter, chess news, and other media, things are not looking pleasant. For instance, according to Mike Kleine from chess.com, people purchasing tickets for the already high price of 70 dollars were given very low viewing time of the players which will only deter people from wanting to visit the match live and experience this match from their own perspectives. Additionally, the online viewing with this match is skewed. People have complained about the high glitchiness of the website and the difficulty of tracking the games progress. This laborious process of simply trying to view a chess game will definitely prevent chess from attracting new fans and it is up to the world chess organization to fix these problems and do their best to promote chess as a professional game. If they are incapable of doing this then they should at least point interested users to sites where they can actually view games such as chess24.com, lichess.org, and chess.com where it is very simple and easy to access and look at the games from this great match.

Overall I am very excited about this match. Fabiano Caruana has proven himself time and time again as a high caliber world class player but he is playing the proclaimed best of the best, Magnus Carlsen. How will he against Carlsen for the rest of the match? What Drama can the world chess organization further cause? Be sure to stay tuned!

 

NM Pursuit #2: Training in a Time Crunch

As an amateur player with various dedications outside of chess, I have found it of utmost importance to make the most of my time in front of the board. While it may seem difficult to make serious progress with under an hour of spare time a day, here are a couple of guidelines that I have been following that have allowed me to make consistent improvements to my game.

  1. Intensity over volume! While it can certainly still be beneficial to spend hours passively reading over pages and pages of chess material online or from books, this type of low-intensity learning is not particularly efficient. In fact, I find that I get more out of an hour of intense calculation exercises where I am fully focused and am forced to actively struggle with new ideas, than I do from three hours of watching grandmaster commentary.
  2. Review old material! I described my chess note card method in an earlier post, and it is a method that I am starting to employ regularly once again as I make my push for 2200. The basic idea behind the note card method that it is much more efficient to actively review old material to ensure 100% retention than it is to go over more new material but forget half of that which was studied previously.
  3. Memorize names of specific games! While it might sound a bit overkill to look at a position from a game you have studied before and to be able to say “Ah, this is M. Krasenkow – A. Yusupov, Essen 2002” followed by the exact moves that were played, memorizing the details of specific games is, in my opinion, one of the most effective ways to anchor new knowledge. Knowing the names of specific games familiarizes your mind with the games at a deeper level, such that it is more ready to pull ideas from them when the opportunity arises. I also enjoy this method because it gives me a sense of accomplishment at the end of every day, knowing that I at least have twelve fresh positions from different master games (of which I know the exact names) firmly anchored in my mind.

Progress Update

This past week was blemished by a fever which I caught on Friday, but on Monday-Thursday I was able to follow through with my planned training. I also analyzed tournament games during the previous weekend and had a lesson with my coach, as I had committed to in the new training plan outlined in my last blog.

Progress #3

I will be playing a tournament in San Antonio this coming weekend and look forward to reporting on my games and experiences at the event. Until next time!

Chaos and Uncertainty

This position looks unclear. Every experienced chess players have heard that phrase at least a few times in their career.

Like many other things in life, chess is a complicated game. There are different approaches to different situations.

But that is what makes the game fun and interesting. By constantly looking at a convoluted puzzle, we will subconsciously find new ideas over time.

Four-time U.S. Champion Hikaru Nakamura is someone who loves to create complex positions out of nowhere and then constantly cause new problems for his opponents until they lose the thread.

I was watching the game Holt – Nakamura at the 2015 U.S. championship. Computers kept saying white’s position was much better, but by looking at Conrad’s body language, he never felt that way.

Rather it was Naka, who continued to show his confidence. Even though objectively he had a worse position, he kept putting more pressure and later on, Conrad blundered in time trouble.

Get used to the un-comfort zone – Make decisions to take chances

When I was playing, I often would search for clear paths, rather than to complicate the positions. I had the habit of looking for familiar patterns, and make decisions based on what I already knew.

I looked at the position objectively too often. I would forget that my opponent sitting across me is having just as many trouble accessing the position.

Now I know if I play chess again, I will be searching for chaos and unclear positions.

We tend to avoid chaos, but sometimes we should embrace uncertainties. That’s where the opportunities are.

Learn to dance in the rain. Thrive in chaos.

The Calm Before the Storm (World Championship 2018)

Hi all, I’m back!  I took a short break for the past couple weeks in order to finalize my Early Action college applications and get those in.  But, now that the November 1st deadline has passed and I’m done with those (phew, what a relief!), I can get back to writing.  So, without further ado, let’s get to the actual article.

It’s only a few days from one of the most anticipated World Championship matches in the Carlsen era.  On one hand, we have the reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen, who has successfully defended his title for the last two encounters.  On the other hand, we have Fabiano Caruana, the current second-highest rated player in the world and World Champion hopeful.  For the first time, the Carlsen’s challenger is actually younger than him – Carlsen is 27 years old, while Caruana is 26.  This brings a new aspect to the match that hasn’t been seen yet:  Caruana’s rating and age are comparable to Carlsen, whereas it’s always been one or the other with the previous two challengers in Anand and Karjakin.  This makes for a very compelling match on paper.  But, before getting too far into the match itself, let’s see how these players got here.

The Road to London

First, we have reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen.  There honestly isn’t much that has to be said about him except, he’s good.  Very good.  In his most recent tournament, European Club Cup, he had a +1 score with one win and five draws.  Overall, he’s played much less than Caruana since the match was set, so he’s likely going to be very prepared for the upcoming matchup.

Next, we have Caruana.  He punched his ticket to challenge Carlsen because he won the Candidates tournament back in March.  Typically, when a player is going to be the World Championship challenger, they don’t play that much until the match because they want to stay home and prepare.  However, Caruana hasn’t stuck to that strategy all that much, instead playing in most of the big tournaments.  It hasn’t been a bad decision at all, though, since he’s played well in each of these events and goes into the match only three (!) rating points behind Carlsen and his playing stamina up to par.

What to Look for

It seems like these players are going to play for different narratives in this match.  Carlsen, in his typical style, will probably go for solid openings as Black and try to steer the game towards the endgame if possible, since no one in today’s game is better than him in that phase; as White, at least early in the match, we will probably see Carlsen going for more rewarding possibilities, but if he is up near the end of the match, he will probably switch to more solid openings there as well.  Caruana, on the other hand, will probably push for more in the middle stages in all of his games as White since it is in his interest to avoid the endgame if he won’t have at least something to play for in that phase; meanwhile as Black, we might see Caruana a bit more aggressive than Carlsen in the end.  However, the flow of the match is what will be the greatest factor in determining how the players play as the match goes on.

Recent Games

The most recent game between Carlsen and Caruana was at the Sinquefield Cup, where they drew a relatively tame game.  Likely, neither player wanted to exhaust one of their prepared opening lines so that they could save it for the match.  However, in the head-to-head match before that, Carlsen won against Caruana at the Altibox Norway tournament earlier in the year; in that game, Carlsen reached an advantageous endgame where he ground down Caruana.  I’ve attached this game below.

Carlsen – Caruana, Altibox Norway, 2018

This is the kind of game that Carlsen will likely aim for in the upcoming match.  Meanwhile, Caruana will strike early and often, hoping to replicate games like this recent attacking gem from the World Chess Olympiad.

Caruana – Anand, World Chess Olympiad, 2018

No matter the case, this match will be one of the most exciting, action-packed matches to date, and I know I’ll be keeping up with every game.

Looking ahead, I’ll finally be playing in my first tournament in months since I finally have some time.  Next time around, I’ll either be updating you guys on games from the World Championship or share some games from that upcoming tournament of mine.  As always, thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time!

More Fall Adventures

After my recent rough streak, my luck finally turned this weekend at the Eastern Chess Congress in Princeton, NJ.

First rounds are generally rocky affairs for me (and others). This one fortunately followed the principle that higher rated players always find a way…

Girsh

In heavy time trouble, my opponent blitzed out 36.Nxe2? running into 36… Re8! winning the e3-pawn. 36.Kxe2! was completely fine for white. Even that endgame down the e3-pawn is not very dangerous for white, but I was able to consolidate and win.

In round 2 against Peter Boris (2046 USCF), everything was going according to plan, until, when faced with too many choices for my own good, I went greedy.

Boris 1

White’s position is fantastic here. He has the bishop pair, a powerful knight anchored on b5, and very active pieces all around. And black’s c8-bishop isn’t even developed yet. What more could I want after only 20 moves? But what to do now? There are so many good options such as 21.Rad1, 21.Nd6, 21.Qg3, etc. After any one of those moves white is borderline winning. Instead, I went for 21.Qd6?! which was met with 21… Ne6!. 22.Qxb6?? would lose the queen to 22… Ra6!, so to justify my previous move, I played 22.Bxe6?! Bxe6 23.Qxb6 Nh4

Boris 2

White has won a pawn, but his king is getting drafty. Black is even threatening Nxg2 in this position! I decided to pull my queen back to civilization with 24.Qd6. The queens were traded after 24… Rfd8 25.Qf4 Qxf4 26.Bxf4

Boris 3

Though white is still better here, it’s a far cry what it was before. Though I still went on to win this time, the moral of the story is clear. Greed isn’t always good!

In round 3, I got to play up against GM Fidel Corrales (2595 USCF). My pro tip for this kind of situation is not to lose, and unfortunately I didn’t follow my own advice.

Corrales

After going for a shaky/outright disastrous idea out of the opening, I managed to stabilize the position to this endgame. This looks like a textbook good knight vs. bad bishop endgame, but black has the c-file. To “liberate” my bishop, I played 26… Rc4?!. Though it’s nice to revive that bishop, black is still worse after 27.Rxc4 dxc4 28.Rg3 g6 29.Re3. White’s big advantage is that he has clear plans to solidify and improve his position, white black doesn’t. Long story short, after a few more errors, I went down.

Instead of that, I should’ve swallowed my pride and traded all the rooks with 26… Rxc3 27.Rxc3 Rc8. Yes, I know it looks ugly and that white is on top, but with some accurate play from black (i.e. going …f6), white shouldn’t be able to get through.

After winning round 4 and taking a bye in round 5, GM Corrales went on to win clear first! For me, this loss was not pleasant at all, especially in a short 5-round tournament. I made the best of things and managed to beat two 2200+ opponents in the last two rounds.

Xiexin
White to play and win!
Ardito
Bust white’s ambitious play.

By scoring 4/5, I gained 3 measly rating points. Though you won’t see me obsessing about rating anytime soon, it’s annoying that I need 4/5 to maintain my rating, which has been the theme in almost all 5-round tournaments I have played this year. The pros are that you can experiment with openings more freely in these kinds of tournaments, and you do gain experience after all. The cons are that you have to score heavily.

There are unfortunately only that many tournaments on this side of the pond that have strong fields, not to mention norm chances, and most of those are clustered during the summer. Well, life as a big cat is tough :(.

Well, it’s nice to have a decent tournament after a rough streak. Onward!

Answers: In the first puzzle, 18.Bb4! wins. After 18… Re8 19.Ng5, black can’t defend f7. He could pitch a pawn with 18… c5 or give up the exchange, but he’s lost either way.
In the second puzzle, 13… Ne7! simply wins. 14.Qb5+ is met with c6, and after 14.Bb5+ Kf8, white is just down too much material.