Speed Kills

An article, Do We Still Need Classical Chess? by GM Gregory Serper, was published on Chess.com a few days ago. The Grandmaster begins with this statement: The classical format of our beloved game is under attack.

Fact is, the classical format has been under attack for many years. Consider this article published much earlier this decade, Slow Chess Should Die a Fast Death – Part 2
This was published November 5, 2015, by IM Greg Shahade on his blog (https://gregshahade.wordpress.com/2015/11/05/slow-chess-should-die-a-fast-death-part-2/).
Greg wrote, “Wow. Part 1 of this blog was by far the most controversial thing I’ve written. The blog received hundreds of comments on multiple websites, for instance reddit and chess.com.
There was lots of positive feedback and also lots of violently aggressive negative feedback. I can’t imagine that I’d get more hatred from some of these people than if I kidnapped their child. Multiple people even made it clear that I must have wrote the blog because I was so jaded due to some slow chess game that I lost in the past or that I had some deep, dark emotional problems that were finally manifesting themselves in my blog.
One person, a complete stranger, was seemingly so offended by the article, that at 4:17 AM they posted a tweet on my Twitter feed that simply said “@GregShahade Jackass”
What’s the truth? I love chess but I also live in the real world and realize that 5-6 hour chess games are an impractical use of resources and time.”

GM Serper writes: “People are complaining about boring games that lead to an abundance of draws in super-GM tournaments. They are trying to change everything: the scoring system (three points for a win, one point for a draw), the time control and even the traditional tournament format.
One of the latest attempts was made in the recent Norway Chess super-tournament in Stavanger. To put it mildly, the result failed to impress.
Not only were there a lot of draws; some of them were true “gems.” Look at this:

Alexander Grischuk (2775) vs. Wesley So (2754)
1/2-1/2 Norway Chess Stavanger NOR 5 Jun 2019 Round: 2.5 ECO: C67

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. O-O Nxe4 5. d4 Nd6 6. dxe5 Nxb5 7. a4 Nbd4 8. Nxd4 d5 9. exd6 Nxd4 10. Qxd4 Qxd6 11. Qe4+ Qe6 12. Qd4 Qd6 13. Qe4+ Qe6 14. Qd4 Qd6 15. Qe4+ Qe6 ½-½

These triple repetition games can be stopped simply by adopting the Go rule, Ko, which prevents repeating the position endlessly. In the above game, for instance, Grischuk would have been unable to play 13 Qe4+ and would, therefore, have had to make a different move.

Serper poses the question, “Can we blame the players for a short draw that didn’t produce a single new move?”

YES, we can, and I will! The so-called “game” is BULLSHIT! No one other than the players are responsible for stinking up the tournament hall.

Serper follows up with, “They quickly figured out that rather than play for four hours, they can make a quick draw and decide the outcome in a fraction of that time. Some people would call it efficiency and some might call it cynicism.”

I call it blasphemy against Cassia.

The GM continues, “I’ve shared my opinion on the subject many times. I laugh when some people claim that classical chess is dead from “draw death.” Somehow, Magnus Carlsen’s opponents in the recent super-tournaments didn’t get the memo and that’s why they couldn’t hold the world champion to a draw frequently.”

Magnus Carlsen plays to WIN, which is why he is the human World Champion.

Serper continues, “Now let’s talk about boring chess vs. exciting chess.
The recent match between Benjamin Gledura and Awonder Liang was indeed very interesting to watch. Blunders are unavoidable in blitz and this is a major part of the entertainment.”

I derive absolutely no pleasure from watching the best human Chess players alive produce a festival of blunders. As I have written previously on this blog, Chess is NOT Backgammon! To play Chess well requires TIME to COGITATE! Backgammon can, and is played at a fast pace because it is a much simpler game than Chess.

The GM then shows a game after writing, “Nevertheless, when I watched the finish of the following game I could almost hear some people asking: “Are they really grandmasters?”

Exactly. Some people may enjoy watching Chess GMs play what GM Yasser Seirawan called, “Howlers,” followed by more howlers, but I am not one of them.

After presenting the ridiculous “game” Serper then writes, “This is precisely why blitz was strictly forbidden when I was a student of the famous Botvinnik-Kasparov school. The Patriarch believed that blitz hurt your chess. I even asked him if he ever played blitz himself. Botvinnik looked surprised by such a stupid question and paused for a moment. Indeed, what kind of a chess player would never play blitz?
“Of course I’ve played blitz,” he finally answered. “Once. On a train.”

GM Serper then compares the games Benjamin Gledura played with different time controls, before writing, “On one side we have a lot of excitement (and of course blunders!) in his blitz games. On the other side we have an extremely well-played and instructive game in a regular time control.
Many people will probably call this endgame boring. So, do we still need classical chess?

My reply is, Hell Yeah! Without classical there is no Chess.

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Good Old Friends and the Buddy-Buddy Draw at the Moscow Grand Prix

Although I have intentionally not followed the ongoing Moscow Grand Prix event my old friend the legendary Georgia Ironman has followed it because it did begin with a couple of games of what is now called “classical” Chess before devolving into what is called “rapid Chess” before devolving further into “speed” Chess. Frankly, I could care less about which player is best at faster time controls. The only thing that matters is who is best at a classical time control. Say what you will about Magnus Carlsen but the fact is that he could not beat either Sergey Karjakin or Fabiano Caruana at classical Chess, something to keep in mind when talking about the best Chess player of all time.

In an article at Chessbase by Antonio Pereira recently, dated 5/18/2019, it is written: “Ian Nepomniachtchi, Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Radek Wojtaszek won with the white pieces at the start of the FIDE Grand Prix in Moscow, which means Levon Aronian, Wesley So and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov will need to push for a win on Saturday if they want to survive the first round. Three match-ups ended with quick draws, while Peter Svidler and Anish Giri accepted the draws offered by Nikita Vitiugov and Daniil Dubov in games that could have easily kept going.”

The article continues:

“Better than losing and worse than winning”

“A lot of criticism followed the 2011 Candidates Tournament in Kazan, in which the knock-out format led to some players openly using a safe-first strategy by signing quick draws in the classical games and putting all on the line in the tie-breaks. In order to discourage the players from using this strategy, the organizers are awarding an extra point in the Grand Prix overall standings for those who eliminate their opponents needing only two games. In the first game of the opening round in Moscow, four out of eight encounters ended peacefully after no more than 23 moves.”

The so-called “strategy” of the organizers had absolutely no effect on the players who continue to agree to short draws with impunity whenever and wherever they want, regardless of what organizers or fans want to see from them. Are the players aware their “inaction” is killing the Royal game? Do they care?

Exhibit one:

Teimour Radjabov (AZE)

vs Hikaru Nakamura (USA)

Moscow Grand Prix 2019 round 01

1. Nf3 Nf6 2. g3 d5 3. Bg2 e6 4. c4 Be7 5. O-O O-O 6. d4 dxc4 7. Qc2 b5 8. a4 b4 9. Nbd2 Bb7 10. Nxc4 c5 11. dxc5 Be4 12. Qd1 ½-½

Sergey Karjakin (RUS) – Alexander Grischuk (RUS)

Moscow Grand Prix 2019 round 01

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 c6 5. e3 Nbd7 6. a4 Bd6 7. a5 O-O 8. Be2 e5 9. cxd5 cxd5 10. dxe5 Nxe5 11. O-O Bc7 12. Qb3 Nc6 13. a6 bxa6 14. Qa4 ½-½

The article continues:

“It must be added that Nikita Vitiugov had what seemed like a considerable advantage against Peter Svidler when he surprisingly offered a draw.

Both contenders are part of the Mednyi Vsadnik team from Saint Petersburg, which won the last two editions of the Russian Team Championship and are the current European champions. Vitiugov has also worked for Svidler as a second more than once. The long-time friends talked about how unfortunate it was for them to be paired up immediately in round one, although Svidler confessed that, “[he] somehow had a feeling that [they] would play at least one [match], and particularly in Moscow”.


Good old friends from Saint Petersburg | Photo: World Chess

“Regarding the position shown in the diagram, Peter recounted how he was thinking about 18.f4 being a move that would leave him worse on the board. So, when the move was accompanied by a draw offer, he thought, “yeah, that’s a good deal!” And the point was split then and there.

To accept the draw was a good match strategy? Peter wittily added:

“As for match strategy, I envy people who have strategies of any kind. I don’t have any. I thought I was worse and then I was offered a draw, so I took it.”
https://en.chessbase.com/post/moscow-grand-prix-2019-r1-d1


http://www.espn.com/espnw/news-commentary/slideshow/13596920/13-major-showdowns-serena-venus-williams

The Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, have had to play each other many times during their storied tennis careers, and each and every time there has been a winner because offering a draw is not in the tennis rule book. What is it doing in the Chess rule book?

Chess organizers better wake up because Chess is in a battle with the game of Go and if the trend continues, like the Highlander, there will be only one left standing.

Game One World Chess Human Chess Championship Commentary

There is a massive amount of analysis on the games of the 2018 World Human Chess Championship which you will not find here. What you will find are comments about the commentary delivered by some of the announcers during the first game played yesterday.

I began watching the commentary of Peter Svidler

because Yaz, Maurice, and Jen only appeared a couple of hours into the match. The wife of GM Anish Giri, Sopiko Guramishvili,

was sitting beside Peter. GM Alexander Grischuk

was included via a box which was probably via Skype. When the show began Sopiko giggled often, which was disconcerting. When Grischuk appeared she, thankfully, sat there silently as the two GMs analysed. I have always enjoyed Svidler’s commentary. Some of the wrap up videos he has produced after commenting on games all day are truly amazing. Unfortunately for Sopiko, in a live broadcast one either adds to or detracts from the broadcast. She was included only because of political correctness as she is a woman and many people involved with Chess deem it necessary to include a woman, any woman, in a futile attempt to attract more women to the game.

After turning them off I waited until the “A” team appeared. GMs Yasser Seriwan

and Maurice Asheley

did not disappoint. Once again NM Jennifer Shahade

joined Yasser to deliver a female perspective. The men wore normal clothing while Jennifer wore something with a strategic split along the top which looked like someone had taken a knife and slashed the top part of her clothing. This allowed a small amount of her ample cleavage to be shown in an attempt, one assumes, at attracting more male viewers. Have you ever noticed a man wearing anything similar? In the year of the “Me Too” movement it may have been better for the only female on the broadcast to have worn something more business like and less revealing. Can you imagine Yasser or Maurice wearing a top with an open rip in order to reveal part of their breast area? Me neither…

This was heard on the broadcast: “Magnus said he did not have the energy now at 28 that he had when he won the WCC.”

The human body replaces each and every cell every seven years. This is the year in which Magnus will replace his cells. I wonder if that may have something to do with his comment? I have been researching Major League Baseball players and age recently and one thing learned thus far is that a players peak year, once thought to be thirty, is now thought to be twenty eight. The highest amount of time on the disabled list is between ages twenty nine and thirty. I cannot help but wonder if there is also a correlation between the brain and body as far as ageing goes…

Magnus beat the hell out of a dead horse for 115 moves yesterday in a futile attempt to squeeze blood out of a turnip. His attempt failed and it is possible the attempt may come back to haunt him as he could be the one weakened, not his younger opponent. Once again Magnus had a winning game he did not win. The same thing has occurred against Fabiano in their recent encounters, but Caruana has held firm, just as Sergei Karjakin did against Magnus in the last match for the World Human Chess Championship. Has Magnus, the ultimate grinder, lost his grinding machine driving wheel?

During the critical part of the game Garry Kasparov

appeared on the program as a “special” guest via Skype. As Kasparov droning on and on I thought about a quote about Bob Dylan found in the book, Another Side of Bob Dylan: A Personal History on the Road and off the Tracks by Victor Maymudes.

A party was being planned and someone mentioned inviting Bob Dylan. “Don’t do that,” someone said, “Bob sucks all the air out of the room.” Kasparov sucked all the life out of the broadcast so I had to mute the sound and head over to the ChessBomb until Garry finally exited the stage.

As Magnus continued squeezing the turnip the talk turned to the format of the World Human Chess Championship. There was total agreement speed Chess should not be used to decide a WHCC but the gang seemed to like the idea of what is now called “rapid” Chess being used after “classical” games to decide a WHCC. There is currently a tournament, the Tata Steel India Rapid, being touted as the, “The first super tournament on Indian soil.” (https://en.chessbase.com/post/the-first-super-tournament-on-indian-soil-begins)

I loathe and detest any kind of tiebreak, especially for a World Champioship match. To become World Human Champion a player should beat the title holder in a classical time control. Period. If the challenger cannot beat the champ then what is the purpose of playing a match? If the challenger can only tie with the champion then the champion should remain Champion. Ask David Bronstein.

The future of Chess has arrived, I am sad to report. It was inevitable because of rampant cheating. The Royal game will live or die with rapid. I cannot wait to hear Peter Svidler attempt to explain what is going on in a half dozen rapid games being played at the same time. The calm and relaxed Yasser who usually goes with a slow flow will be forced to pick up the pace considerably in the way a Major League Baseball announcer must adjust to the frenzied pace of a National Basketball Association game. Yasser is not getting any younger and it is often difficult to teach an old dog new tricks. The highly intense Maurice, on the other hand, may be able to adapt quite well. Give Jennifer a low cut blouse and with her smile she will do quite nicely at any pace.

Stinking It Up At The Sinquefield Cup

The trio of announcers at the Sinquefield Cup were effusive during every round, especially during the final round. They did the best they could to put lipstick on a pig

but in the final analysis it was still a stinking pig. The gang mentioned the high percentage of draws and GM Yasser Seirawan said something like, “We haven’t noticed because of the quality of the draws.” Forty five games were played during the tournament with only eight of them ending decisively, which is 17.7%. There were nine rounds so the average was less than one win per round.

The announcers for MLBaseball teams are called “homers” for a reason. They are paid by the ball club so it is in their interest to put lipstick on their particular pig.

I am uncertain about who pays the announcers at the Sinquefield Cup, but it is more than a little obvious they want to continue being paid. It is in their interest to put as much lipstick on the Chess pig as possible. Because of this they lack objectivity. I am not being paid by anyone so can be objective. The tournament was B-O-R-I-N-G. To their credit, the announcing team of Yaz, Maurice, and Jen did the best they could to inject some excitement into the moribund tournament. The excitement certainly did not come from the players. The pigs were in full force and there was some reeking Chess played at what I have come to consider the Stinkfield Cup.

Hikaru Nakamura lost the last round game to World Human Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen


Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

by first needlessly allowing Magnus a protected passed pawn. Later he exacerbated an already tenuous position by jettisoning a pawn for absolutely nothing, and was deservedly ground down by the ultimate grinder.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave managed to turn what should have been a win into a draw against Sergey Karjakin because he did not know how to play the endgame.

Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana played what was arguably the most boring game of the tournament in the last round and, guess what, it ended in a draw. Watching lipstick being put on a pig was better than watching the “game.” Here is what two Chess fans posted on the ChessBomb chat at the game:

Abraxas79: So will drop out of sight soon. Will be playing open tournaments with Kamsky
eddiemac: was being interviewed and said he be in a chess960 tourney in a few weeks. Should be more exciting than this dreary tourney.
(https://www.chessbomb.com/arena/2018-sinquefield-cup/09-So_Wesley-Caruana_Fabiano)

The 71st Russian Chess Championship began less than a week ago with twelve players competing. After four rounds twenty four games have been played and seven of them have ended decisively. That is 29%. Not great, but much better than the paltry 18% of the Stinkfield Cup. At least there has been a decisive game in each of the four rounds of the Russian Championship. In the third round three games were decisive. Three of the rounds of the Stinkfield Cup finished without any decisive games.

Yaz can talk all he wants about “…the quality of the draws,” but the fact remains the games ended in yet another draw. There is not enough lipstick Yaz can smear to obviate the fact that pigs were stinking it up at the Sinquefield Cup. Chess fans want winners. Potential Chess fans do not understand the proliferation of draws; they want to see a WINNER.

The last round game causing much excitement was the game between Levon Aronian and Alexander Grischuk. Levon unsoundly sacrificed a rook on f7 and the game was all for Grischuk’s taking, but he had previously spent almost three quarters of an hour on one move which left him short of time. Still, I cannot imagine Bobby Fischer losing the game with the black pieces after 18 Rxf7 no matter how little time he had left. Give Bobby two or three minutes, maybe only one, and he would have won the game. Seriously, give Bobby only the thirty seconds added and he would have won that game!

“The Herceg Novi blitz event was the speed tournament of the 20th century. It had four world champions competing, and Bobby not only finished 4½ points ahead of Tal in second place, he also obliterated the Soviet contingent, 8½-1½, whitewashing Tal, Tigran Petrosian and Vasily Smyslov, six-zip; breaking even with Viktor Korchnoi; and defeating David Bronstein with a win and draw.” (http://www.thechessdrum.net/blog/2012/03/16/bobbys-blitz-chess/)

This was with a time limit of only FIVE minutes for the whole game! When I hear people talking about how strong are today’s Grandmasters and how the players of the 20th century would not stand a chance against the current top players I laugh. In his prime Bobby would have OBLITERATED these posers no matter the time control. Bobby played each and every game to WIN.

Because I played the Bird opening often, but not as many as the Atlanta player who became a NM using it exclusively, Adam Cavaney, who became an attorney and moved to New Orleans before hurricane Katrina, I paid close attention to the following game.

Let us review the aforementioned game between Alexander Grischuk and Wesley So from the penultimate round:

Alexander Grischuk vs Wesley So


Photo: V. Saravanan

Sinquefield Cup 2018 round 08

1. f4 Nf6 2. Nf3 b6 3. b3 Bb7 4. e3 g6 5. Bb2 Bg7 6. g3 O-O 7. Bg2 c5 8. c4 d5 9. O-O Nc6 10. Qe2 Rc8 11. d3 d4 12. exd4 Nxd4 13. Nxd4 Bxg2 14. Kxg2 cxd4 15. Na3 Nd7 16. Nc2 Nc5 17. f5 Qd7 18. g4 b5 19. Ba3 a5 20. Bxc5 Rxc5 21. Rae1 bxc4 22. bxc4 gxf5 23. gxf5 Rxf5 24. Rxf5 Qxf5 25. Qf3 Qg5+ 26. Kh1 Kh8 27. Rg1 Qh6 28. Qd5 Qd2 29. Nxd4 Qxa2 30. Qe4 Qb2 31. Nf5 Be5 32. Rg2 Qc1+ 33. Rg1 Qb2 34. Rg2 Qc1+ 35. Rg1 Qb2 36. Rg2 1/2-1/2

An analogous position after 7…c5 was reached by a different move order in this game:

David Bronstein (2585)

v Vladimir Tukmakov (2560)

Event: URS-ch40
Site: Baku Date: 11/23/1972
Round: 6
ECO: A01 Nimzovich-Larsen attack, symmetrical variation

1. b3 b6 2. Bb2 Bb7 3. e3 Nf6 4. f4 g6 5. Nf3 Bg7 6. g3 O-O 7. Bg2 c5 8. O-O Nc6 9. a4 d6 10. Na3 a6 11. Qe2 Rb8 12. d3 Ba8 13. c4 e6 14. Rfd1 Qe7 15. e4 Nd7 16. Bxg7 Kxg7 17. Nc2 e5 1/2-1/2
(https://www.365chess.com/game.php?back=1&gid=2419289&m=15)

After 13 moves this position appeared on the board:

I was certain Grischuk would play 14 Qxg2. He took with the King. In the old BC (before computer) days if one disagreed with a move a GM played we would defer to the GMs move because, well, you know, he was a Grandmaster. Still, with my limited understanding of the Royal game, my thinking was that now that the white squared bishop has left the board, what better piece to take it’s place than the Queen? Stockfish agrees.

This position was reached after 16 moves:

While Grischuk was thinking I thought he would first play 17 Ne1 followed by 18 Nf3, considerably improving the position of the woeful knight. After the game the Stockfish program at the ChessBomb made me feel like I knew something about how to play the Bird as it gives this variation as equal: 17. Ne1 e6 18. Nf3 Qd7 19. Kg1 Rfd8 20. Ba3 Qb7 21. Rae1 Bf8 22. Bb2 Bg7 23. Ba3. The clanking digital monster also shows 17 Ba3 as equal. The move Grishuk played, 17 f5, is not shown as one of the top four moves. His choice gives the advantage to black.

This position was reached after 22 moves:

SF shows 23. Qxe7 Qc6+ as best, but Grischuk played 23 gxf5. It is easy to see black has an increased advantage. After a few more moves were played we reach this position after white played 25 Qf3:

Wesley So could have simply dropped his queen back to e7 with a by now large advantage. IM Boris Kogan said, “Chess is simple. He attack, you defend. You attack, he defend. My retort was, “Maybe for you, Boris.” Wesley played 25…Qg5+, which still left him with an advantage. I was thinking, “Patzer sees a check and gives a check.”

We move along until his position was reached after 28 Qd5:

The two best moves according to SF are 28…Qf4 and/or Qb6. So played the fourth best move, 28…Qd2.

After 29…Qxa2 we come to this position:

30 Nc6 is the best move. Grischuk played the second best move, 30 Qe4.

Bobby Fischer

spoke of “critical positions.” This is one of them.

Wesley had far more time than his opponent at this point. I was therefore shocked when he took very little time to play 30…Qb2. I will admit the moved played was my first choice, but then I am not a GM. Faced with the same position Wesley So had on the board I would have probably played 30…Qb2. I followed the games at Mark Crowther’s wonderful site, The Week in Chess (http://theweekinchess.com/), because it has no engine analysis. After the game was concluded I went to the ChessBomb to see StockFish had given the move 30…Qf2 as much superior to the move played in the game. Initially flummoxed, I wondered if Wesley had taken more time, which would have meant more time for me to cogitate, would I have seen the much better 30…Qf2? Honesty compels me to think not, as 30…Qb2 attacks the knight and makes way for the passed a-pawn. What’s not to like? SF only gives 30…Qf2 followed by 31 Nc6, so I had to “dig deep” to understand the efficacy of moving the queen to f2. Fortunately for this old grasshopper there was understanding. Later I watched some of the coverage by Yaz, Maurice, and Jen. Maurice showed the engine they were using gave it as best. This begs the question, which engine were they using? I have yet to hear a name used for the “engine.” There are many “engines,” so why do they not inform we Chess fans which “engine” they utilize?

After 30…Qb2 Grischuk played 31 Nf5 (SF says Nf3 is a little better) and this position was reached:

I was thinking Wesley would play 31…Bf6, later learning SF shows it best. As a matter of fact, it is the only move to retain an advantage. Wesley So played the second choice of SF, 31…Be5, and the game sputtered to a draw, a fitting conclusion to a poorly played game by both players. So much for Yasser’s comment about “…quality of the draws.”

This is what Chess fans who chat at the ChessBomb thought about the ending of the game:

CunningPlan: I suspect draw agreed
dondiegodelavega: WTF???
BadHabitMarco: this cant have happened
rfa: yup draw
poppy_dove: BUG
dondiegodelavega: moving to twitter
CunningPlan: Maybe So missed Kxg1
jim: mdr
jim: Qxg1 wow
Frank200: hahahaha somebody was trolling
LarsBrobakken: no takebacks!
CunningPlan: So is a dirty rotten cheat
CunningPlan: Oh So. What a cop out.
rfa: 🙂
BadHabitMarco: devine intervention
Vladacval: phhhooogh
BadHabitMarco: divine
Vladacval: nice save!
jim: So touched accidentally the rook
poppy_dove: draw
dondiegodelavega: what a pussy!
CunningPlan: Grischuk deliberately dropped an eyelash on it to tempt So to brush it off
CunningPlan: Oldest trick in the book
CunningPlan: I’ve won many a game that way
BadHabitMarco: he was like “did you see that the felt was missing under my rook?”
https://www.chessbomb.com/arena/2018-sinquefield-cup/08-Grischuk_Alexander-So_Wesley

Fabulous Fabiano!

Fabiano Caruana

asserted his dominance early in the Candidates tournament, proving his mettle by winning his last two games following a loss to the last challenger for the crown, Sergei Karjakin.

IM Boris Kogan said, “The measure of a Chess player is how he plays after a defeat.” Caruana learned from his first candidates appearance, where he arguably played the best Chess. Unfortunately he had problems converting winning positions. This time he took advantage of better positions, converting them into wins.

The tournament was marred by the inclusion of former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik,

who did not qualify for a spot in the field, but was given some kind of “free-pass.” This is fine for other tournaments where fans wish to see one of their local heroes battle the best. For a chance to face the World Champion it is unthinkable. Kramnik took the place of a more deserving player. Chess has become a young man’s game and Vladimir is over forty. When a player turns thirty in China they no longer compete, but must move on to coaching.

The tournament was also marred by several egregious blunders which altered the natural progression of events. In round seven Karjakin was languishing in last place when he faced Wesley So.

This position was reached:

Wesley blundered horribly when playing 35…Ke8? 35…Rc7 would have left the position even.

In round ten, against Vladimir Kramnik, Levon Aronian

had this position in front of him:

Because of the discovered check Levon must play 36…Rg7. He played 36…Qc7, resigning after 37 Ne8+.

In round thirteen Alexander Grischuk

sat behind the black pieces against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov:

The knight is under attack but 34… Nf5 keeps the game level. Grischuk played the unbelievable 34…Nxb5, which lost on the spot, although several more moves were played.

The multi-verse theory is everything that can happen does happen. Imagine we are in a universe where those three losing moves were not played, and each game ended in a draw. The final standings would have been much more in line with how the players performed:

Caruana 9

Karjackin 7 1/2
Mamedyarov 7 1/2
Ding 7 1/2
Grischuk 7
So 6 1/2

Kramnik 5 1/2
Aronian 5

Exchange Ding and Aronian and the final standings would look like about what one would figure going into the event.

“Is it just me or is Ding one of the success stories of the candidates. Thus far unbeaten, likely to learn hugely from the whole experience, if he isn’t amongst the favourites for the next edition I’ll be amazed.”
— Daniel Gormally (@elgransenor1) March 27, 2018 (https://en.chessbase.com/post/candidates-2018-berlin-round-14)

As for Levon Aronian there were those who worried his dismal play at Gibraltar foreshadowed rough seas ahead. For example, consider what GM Kevin Spraggett

wrote on his blog before the event began:

Round 1 of Candidates Tournament

by kevinspraggettonchess · Published March 10, 2018

The Candidates Tournament is the unique event that will decide who will be the challenger for the World Championship match (against Carlsen), later this year. As such, all the players will be especially careful not to risk anything unnecessary at the beginning.

Being a double round event, I suspect that most of the players who have a real chance to win will wait until the second half before they make their play for winning. But, of course, everything depends on circumstances, and should a player start to run away with the tournament in the first half, then the others will have to react.

Up until now I have not written much about the chances of the players. I don’t see anyone particularly better than the others, though of course the Armenian star Levon Aronian has had the best results in the past year.

But form is more important than results! It is very difficult to maintain top form for more than 3 months at a time, let alone an entire year. Though Aronian emerged on top in Gibraltar last month, his play showed signs of fatigue.

Otherwise I would have chosen Aronian as the favourite in Berlin.

http://www.spraggettonchess.com/round-1-of-candidates-tournament/

I contemplated writing about the first round of Gibraltar, but the excellent coverage at the tournament website caused me to eschew a post. From the website:

“There was a remarkable success for two Hungarian sisters in round one. Not in itself an unprecedented event in top-level chess but what was unusual was that they were not named Polgar. Anita

Tradewise Gibraltar Chess, Masters, Rd 1, 23 January 2018

and Ticia Gara

Tradewise Gibraltar Chess, Masters, Rd 1, 23 January 2018

faced formidable opposition in the shape of Levon Aronian,

Tradewise Gibraltar Chess, Masters, Rd 1, 23 January 2018

top seed and arguably the most in-form chess player of last year, and celebrated super-GM Nigel Short.

Levon and Nigel have achieved a lot of successes in the Gibraltar tournament in their time and they haven’t got where they are today by conceding draws to players in the mid-2300 rating range but they could make little impression on the Hungarian sisters. Indeed, Levon might have done worse had Anita made more of her chances when we went astray in the middlegame. Nigel had the upper hand against Ticia but it came down to an opposite-coloured bishop endgame and he could make no headway.” (https://www.gibchess.com/round-1-2018).

Playing over the games of Aronian had caused thoughts similar to those of GM Spraggett. The complete collapse of Aronian brings to mind something known to Baseball as the “yips.” There have been pitchers, and position players, who have lost the ability to throw the baseball. It has come to be known as “Steve Blass disease.” Steve was a very good pitcher, good enough to win game seven of the 1971 World Series with a complete game 2-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles. He pitched well again the following year, but “lost it” in 1973. New York Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch or Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Steve Sax both developed problems throwing the ball to the first baseman. New York Mets catcher Mackey Sasser, after a collision at home plate with Jim Pressley of the Atlanta Braves, developed problems in returning the ball to the pitcher. Jon Lester, a well known pitcher who helped the Cubs win it all in 2016, has had a problem throwing to first base, so he simply stopped throwing. Arguably, the most famous example occurred with St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Rick Ankiel, who, unfortunately, contracted the “yips” during the 2000 National League Division Series. In the first game Rick issued six bases on balls and threw five wild pitches. He was never the same, but was good enough to go to the minor leagues and return to MLB as an outfielder, one with a strong arm. I would urge anyone interested to read the book, The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed My Life, by Rick Ankiel.

A friend, Ron Sargent, a Vietnam veteran, was an extremely talented pool player. Word on the street was Ron could have been a world class player. That ended when he took a bullet to the head in ‘Nam. After numerous operations Ron managed to live a full life, which included marrying his high school sweet heart later in life, even though he had no feeling in one side of his face. Ron said, “Anyone can run a table, but it’s a totally different story when the cash is on the table and that little lump of shit gets caught in your throat.”

Some players, like baseball player Billy Martin,

thrive under pressure. In several World Series, he rose to the occasion when the pressure was at its zenith; others do not. This is not the first time Levon Aronian has under performed under pressure. It is quite possible Levon has a case of the “yips.” At his age and with his consistently poor results on the big stage, this could be the end of Aronian as a world class Chess player. No MLB player has ever over come the “yips.” Although it could be possible for Levon to “dig deep,” and find a solution to his “yips” problem, the odds are against it happening, because he will forever be plagued by “self-doubt.” In an interview with Ralph Ginzburg published in Harper’s magazine when Bobby Fischer

was eighteen, when asked to name the crucial ingredients needed to become one of the best Chess players, Bobby said, “A strong memory, concentration, imagination, and a strong will.” Obviously, one of these key ingredients is missing in the armory of Levon Aronian.

I will print part of an email sent to Kevin after reading his post:

Kevin,

I would not wager on the four players who participated in the Tal Memorial rapid/blitz, Grischuk; Karjakin; Kramnik; and Mamedyarov.

Ding a Ling and So so will battle for last.

That leaves Aronian and Caruana. The former has had a fantastic year, but his last tournament looks as though he has run outta steam. Then there is past under performing in these events…

Which leaves Fabulous Fabiano.

I do not say this because he is an American, but from a objective process of elimination.

Michael

My thoughts elicited this response from Michael Mulford, aka “Mulfish”:

“What’s the rationale for ruling out the four Tal Memorial players?”

Part of my response:

“My feeling is that the speed tournament took something outta those players…Bobby would NEVER have done that! A player needs to be FRESH AS A DAISY going into a grueling 14 round tournament!

It is a travesty that Kramnik is in the tournament! MVL should be there! He is old and will fade in the second half…

Mamed is the most unpredictable. He coulda lost today, but hung tuff! He has played well recently, elevating his game considerably, but Fabby is the most talented player…”

Because of playing much faster games in the event it is difficult to prognosticate the coming match for the human World Chess Championship. Caruana is no match for Carlsen in speed games, so he must win the match in the longer games, which is what I expect will happen.

When Should One Resign?

“The late resignation is, arguably, an even greater scourge. Early in our careers we are taught that it is impolite to play on in completely lost positions. Most people grasp the concept well enough, although obviously weaker players tend to be slower in appreciating their abject plight. The key point here though is the hopelessness: there is nothing reprehensible at all in continuing a bad or even lost position if the tiniest glimmer of light still flickers. Chess is a fight, after all. But when that hope is extinguished,, and nothing but irksome drudgery remains, the decent thing to do is resign and not waste everyone’s time. Do not, under any circumstances, sit there for ages, as Hikaru Nakamura did against Fabiano Caruana

earlier this year, petulantly wallowing in self-pity and not moving. That is ungentlemanly.” – Nigel Short New In Chess magazine 2017/8

Nakamura

seems to have earned the opprobrium of his peers during the course of his career. Consider this exchange in an interview of Levon Aronian

by Mark Grigoryan:

“In one of your interviews you said that: “When you play against a normal person, a normal chess player, then during the game you have normal relations. But if your opponent tries to unsettle you, behaves “unsportingly”, then naturally that creates a certain “baggage” that has an impact.” What kind of tricks have been used against you?

It’s happened many times. One Israeli player (not a leading one) drank tea during the game and squeezed a teabag with his fingers, then made his moves (laughs). During the game Alexander Grischuk,

who was nearby, came up to me and said: “Levon, it seems you’ll win the game, but will you be able to come up with something so you don’t have to shake his hand?”

It varies. Even when playing against top players it happens that they try to take back a move. For example, Nakamura and Carlsen. In both cases I called an arbiter. They continued to deny it, but the arbiters confirmed what I said. They also knew that there were devices recording it on video and, ultimately, they admitted I was right.”

https://chess24.com/en/read/news/levon-aronian-we-should-be-like-wolves

“Then, a disaster. Nakamura reached out his hand and gripped his king. Suddenly, his hand trembled and he yanked it backwards.”

America’s #2 Chess Player Just Messed Up Big-Time

“He touched the king! He touched the king!” Gasped the official commentators, grandmasters Evgeny Miroshnichenko and Alexandra Kosteniuk.

“He needs to move it!”

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/zach-young/americas-2-chess-player-m_b_9491644.html

The World Human Chess Champion has also been afflicted with the malady:

http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1487930

Magnus Carlsen loses by touch move rule || Chess Clip # 110

Top chess players (Carlsen, Nakamura.) made terrible touch move mistakes (part 1)

The Hebrew Hammer

Before the start of the Petrosian Memorial the Legendary Georgia Ironman picked Boris Gelfand to win. I scoffed. In the previous tournament, the FIDE Grand Prix in Tashkent, GM Gelfand tied for last place without winning a game. This came on the heels of the first stage of the 2014-2015 FIDE Grand Prix in Baku, Azerbaijan, where he tied for first place with Fabiano Caruana. With only a few days separating the tournaments, Tim said the players were being bussed around the former Soviet heartland like a circus troop. As can be seen from the play, the players obviously need a break for rest, but something as simple as that is apparently anathema to the FIDE leadership. Kirsan and the ET’s do not play, so why would they know anything about a chess player needing rest?

Decades ago Mad Dog Gordan had a collection of baseball cards that consisted of Jewish players. He called them the “Hammering Hebe’s.” Tim calls Boris Gelfand, the “Hebrew Hammer.” I can assure you this is a terrific sign of respect from the LGI! I, too, have a great deal of respect for the Hammer, but not enough to predict an obviously exhausted Gelfand to win the tournament named after the legendary Tigran Petrosian.

The Hebrew Hammer beat Peter Leko in the final round of the Petrosian Memorial today to finish tied for third place at +1, along with Levon Aronian, who also won his last round game. Alexander Grischuk finished first in an impressive performance, while Vladimir Kramnik came second, showing the good form that has eluded him recently.

Boris Gelfand did not win the tournament, but I was wrong to scoff at Tim’s suggestion that he would win. Never discount the Hebrew Hammer!