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.

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The Najdorf in Black and White: A Review

Because of having played the Najdorf system during my formative years in the last century I was interested in learning about GM Bryan Smith’s new book on the opening (https://mongoosepress.com/the-najdorf-in-black-and-white/).

I met Bryan

at the 2009 Kentucky Open where he took first place by a half point. There were myriad problems with the tournament, directed by Alan Priest, which included no electricity for the lighting in the first couple of rounds, so it was played in semi-darkness, which seemed to not bother Mr. Priest. After developing a splitting headache, due to the poor lighting, and losing a game, I withdrew from the tournament, but returned the following day to spectate. While Bryan was waiting on the last round games to finish a conversation developed. Bryan is a quite, taciturn young man, the kind of fellow who lets his moves do his talking. I learned he was from Anchorage Alaska, and he is now the first-ever Grandmaster from Alaska. My home state of Georgia has yet to produce a home-grown GM. I recall asking Bryan why he decided to travel to Louisville in lieu of playing in one of the other, larger, tournaments in his area. He answered in a way that said he would rather be a big fish in a small pond that weekend rather than being a smaller fish in a much larger pond. “Better odds of taking home money?” I asked, and he produced a grin. We talked for some time and I transcribed what was recalled of the conversation later that day, but never used it, much to my regret. Bryan graciously answered my questions so what I recall was an enjoyable afternoon conversation with one of the nicest GM’s with whom I have conversed.

I have replayed many Nadjorf games since moving on to playing other openings, but have not devoted time studying the Nadjorf system with the intensity shown earlier when playing the system. For some time I have wanted a book to read on the system in order to compare the way the system is played now as opposed to how it was played last century, but the books are usually dense and voluminous, with a heavy emphasis on variations. Some of the books could be used as a doorstop. When my review copy, published by Mongoose Press (https://mongoosepress.com/), arrived I was pleasantly surprised to see it was only a small volume of 162 pages. The book is heavy on words, and ideas, rather than being yet another “data-dump.” Some have written books like the magnificent Zurich International Chess Tournament 1953,

by David Bronstein,

et al, cannot be published today because words, conveying ideas, are predominate. This book proves those writers wrong. Most of the variations included are short enough one does not need a board with which to visualize them. One of the players from my early days told me he liked to read a Chess book without using a board. There are enough diagrams for one to utilize this book in that way, which is exactly how I read the book. Then I read it again using a board and pieces because it is that good.

The book begins with an Introduction: The Cadillac of Openings.

“With this book, I present a collection of games played in the Najdorf Sicilian. The purpose of this book is not to be exhaustive – that would require at least ten times the content, and even then it would not encompass a fraction of the analysis and relevant games played in the Najdorf. This book also does not suggest a repertoire for either White or Black – although players can glean some ideas, since I have generally picked games played in the lines I favor. I think it is dishonest for a writer to try to portray an opening in only a positive light: ultimately, even the most objective writers of repertoire books have to massage the facts and minimize the problems of an opening – and every opening has them.

The purpose of this book, rather, is to show how to play the Najdorf, with White or Black, through archetypal games. I believe that by studying the games in this book, one can develop a solid general sense of the different types of game resulting from the Najdorf as played in the twenty-first century. It is my hope that readers will also gain some degree of enjoyment or entertainment from the games, which have been selected not only on their instructional merits, but also for their aesthetic value.”

The book will be judged by the criteria chosen by the author. The question is whether Bryan delivered on his promise. The answer is a resounding “Yes!” In Baseball terms this book is like hitting a walk-off grand slam home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of the seventh game of the World Series!

Bryan continues the introduction. “Having a lifelong opening that one knows inside and out like one’s own house is a major advantage to a chess player. It means that the player can always rely on reaching position that he understands in general terms and knows something about. Perhaps more importantly, though, it gives confidence.”

Reading the above caused me to reflect upon my early days playing the Najdorf. I have never felt as confident playing any opening as I did when playing the Najdorf system. Why did I stop playing the Najdorf system? Bryan continues the introduction, “A sufficiently rich opening will provide immunity against the winds of theory – if one variation is refuted, another can be found, so long as the opening is built on proper principles. I believe the Najdorf can be such an opening. Some may imagine that is is a theoretical labyrinth, suitable only for those with an incredible memory and a willingness to play twenty or more moves of known theory before beginning the game. It is true that there are certain lines in the Najdorf where this is the norm – for instance, the Poisoned Pawn Variation (6.Bg5 e6 7,f4 Qb6). However, the reader will see in this book that these variations can be sidestepped, and that it is indeed possible to play the Najdorf “by the light of nature,” with experience providing a guide. Most of the games I have chosen feature ways of avoiding these quagmires. Despite its sharpness, the Najdorf is an opening built on solid positional principles. It is basically a positional opening.”

When first beginning the Chess road the Dragon variation was very popular. Once a strong player advocated against purchasing a book on the Dragon because “It is written in disappearing ink.” He said that because the theory was changing so fast by the time you read the book, much of it had been refuted. The same could have been said about the Najdorf system. I also recall reading something about there being players who knew the Najdorf, but did not know Chess. I was one of those people, because like others, I knew the Najdorf, but not Chess. After leaving Chess for Backgammon, upon my return to Chess I simply did not have time to keep abreast of the constantly changing theory of the Najdorf system, so decided to learn, and play, other openings. Yet what I learned about Bobby Fischer’s favorite opening has stuck with me, while the other openings never infused me with the confidence felt when playing the Najdorf system.

After the introduction, and before the first chapter, one finds, The Development Of the Najdorf Sicilian, a seven page historical perspective of the Najdorf system. It begins, “The Najdorf can trace its origins to the nineteenth-century German master Louis Paulsen.

Paulsen was an innovator of defense. In an era when 1.e4 e5 was the dominant opening and direct attacking play was the main method of winning, Paulsen understood the concept of asymmetrical play and counterattack. His openings and positional play were often a full century ahead of their time.”

Louis Paulsen was one of the most interesting, and underappreciated, players from the early days of the nineteenth century. Paulsen’s ideas influenced the development of the Royal game greatly. I played openings such as the C26 Vienna, Paulsen-Mieses variation, for example.

Bryan gives a game between Lewis Isaacs and Abraham Kupchick played at Bradley Beach in 1928, writing, “A forgotten 1928 game from a tournament in the U. S. might be the first use of the “real” Najdorf.”

Lewis Isaacs vs Abraham Kupchik

Bradley Beach 1928

ECO: B92 Sicilian, Najdorf, Opovcensky variation

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be2 b5 7. Bf3 e5 8. Nb3 Bb7 9. O-O Nbd7 10. Bg5 Be7 11. Re1 O-O 12. Rc1 Nb6 13. Na5 Rb8 14. Nxb7 Rxb7 15. b3 Rc7 16. Qd3 Nbd7 17. Be3 Nc5 18. Qd1 Qa8 19. Bg5 Ncd7 20. Nb1 h6 21. Bd2 Rfc8 22. Ba5 Rc6 23. g3 Nc5 24. Nc3 Bd8 25. Bxd8 Rxd8 26. Nd5 Nxd5 27. Qxd5 Qc8 28. Red1 Ne6 29. Bg4 Rc5 30. Qd2 Rc3 31. Re1 Qc5 32. Re3 Rxe3 33. fxe3 Ng5 34. Qd3 d5 35. exd5 Rxd5 36. Qe2 Qc3 37. h4 Rd2 38. Qe1 Ne4 39. Bf5 Nf2 40. Bd3 Nxd3 41. cxd3 Qxd3 42. Rc8+ Kh7 43. Rc1 f5 44. a4 b4 45. g4 Re2 0-1

He culminates the chapter with, “Despite the opening’s great popularity and constant use at the top level for many decades, the Najdorf remains mysterious and has its unexplored areas, with the new ideas waiting to be born. Its attraction for the chess professional today is easy to understand, since it is an opening where it is possible to play for a win with Black, while it is also unquestionably sound. Although positionally and tactically very sharp, the Najdorf player still controls his own fate.”

Chapter one is titled, Va Banque: 6.Bg5. After 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 the author advocates Qc7. I never played any move other than 7…Be7 because, well, you know, that is the move played by Bobby Fischer. After studying the games, and positions, I came to understand why the author would advocate the move Qc7 for those taking their first Najdorf steps. The amount of material in the main line can be daunting for a neophyte. The fourth game of the chapter is one in which the author had white against Hristos Banikas at Retymnon in 2009. After the obligatory first five moves of the Najdorf Bryan played 6 Bg5, which was answered with Nbd7. “An old and new move – it was played frequently in the 1950s and again in the 2010s – and not so much in-between.” After 7 f4 we have Qc7.

The other chapters are:

2) The Classicist’s Preference: 6 Be2
3) Add Some English: 6 Be3
4) In Morphy’s Style: 6 Bc4
5) White to Play and Win: 6 h3
6) Systematic: g3
7) Healthy Aggression: 6 f4
8) Action-Reaction: 6 a4
9) Odds and Ends

To illustrate what I mean by the use of words, in lieu of variations, to explain what is happening on both sides of the board, look at the position from Game 11: Zaven Andriasian-Ian Nepomniachtchi, played at the 2010 Aeroflot Open in Moscow. After 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be3 e5 7. Nf3

The reader finds, “The retreat of the knight to f3 rather than b3 changes nothing in the structure (at least not right away), but the choice of this square has a dramatic effect on the course of the game. In contrast to 7. Nb3, putting the knight on f3 leads to much quieter, more positional play, where White tries t dominate the d5 square. And why is this? Whereas 7.Nb3 allows for White to play f2-f3 with queen-side castling and a king-side pawn storm, after 7,Nf3 this is not possible. White will almost certainly castle king-side. In the meantime, b3 is left free as a retreat square for the bishop from c4. Consequently, rather than opposite-side castling and mutual attacks, you get a more positional struggle.”

Another fine example is from Game 14, Nigel Short

vs Garry Kasparov,

PCA World Championship, game 8, London 1993: 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bc4 e6 7. Bb3 Nbd7 8. f4 Nc5 9. e5 dxe5 10. fxe5 Nfd7 11. Bf4 b5

“In this way, Black places the bishop on its best diagonal (the long diagonal) before White can prevent it by Qd1-f3. Such a position might look good for White on the surface-the e5-pawn confers some space advantage and White has rapid development, plus the f-file is open and the white pieces are placed in threatening-looking positions. But such is the poison of the Sicilian. Black too has his advantages, and they tend to be more long-lasting. The bishop which will come to b7 will be very well placed. The advanced e5-pawn is not only a strength, but a weakness. And most importantly, Black has a well placed knight on c5 and a substantial advantage in space on the queen-side – the advance…b5-b4 is constantly looming over White, and the b3-bishop, if not activated in some dramatic fashion, could turn out to be a complete dud.”

One can turn to almost any page and find nuggets of wisdom such as the above illustrating the aims of BOTH SIDES! If one wishes to play the Najdorf system, or play against it, this is the book for you.

The author has dug deep, unearthing this game, found in the notes to Game 24, Judit Polgar

vs Dariusz Swiercz,

which I was unable to locate in any database. Bryan writes, “6…e6 is likely to be met by 7.g4, which looks like a fairly promising line for White – although 7…Nc6 is another possibility for Black to look into. Instead, the originator of 6.Qf3, American master Andrew Karklins, liked to continue with 7.b3. His record against grandmasters with this line was not very good, but he did have one major scalp:

Andrew Karklins

vs Peter Svidler,

World Open 1995

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6.Qf3 e6 7. b3 Qb6 8. Nde2 Qc7 9. Bb2 b5 10. a3 Bb7 11. g4 d5 12. exd5 Nxd5 13.
Bg2 Nd7 14. O-O Bd6 15. Qh3 Nxc3 16. Nxc3 Be5 17. Bxb7 Qxb7 18. Rad1 O-O 19.Qe3 Bb8 20. Ne4 Ne5 21. Bxe5 Bxe5 22. Nc5 Qc7 23. f4 Bf6 24. Rd7 Qb6 25. Rfd1 Rfd8 26. b4 a5 27. Qf3 axb4 28. axb4 Kf8 29. Kg2 Rdc8 30. R1d6 Qb8 31. Qd3 1-0

This book achieves its aim, hitting the target with a bullseye!

Magnus Carlsen Superman

The World Human Chess Champion, Magnus Carlsen, did not win the recently completed London Chess Classic. Although he may have lost a battle he won the war by taking the Grand Chess Tour.

One of the headlines at the Chessbase website during the tournament proclaimed, London Chess Classic: Magnus on tilt. (https://en.chessbase.com/post/london-chess-classic-round-8)

The article, by Macauley Peterson, began:

“Round 8 saw a startling blunder from the World Champion whose frustration following the game was palpable.”

Later we fans of the Royal Game read this:

Round 8

“For the first few hours of Sunday’s games, it looked like we could be heading for another day of peaceful results. Adams vs Aronian and Vachier-Lagrave vs Anand both ended in early draws, and the remaining games were level. Suddenly, a shock blunder from World Champion Magnus Carlsen flashed up on the screens, a variation which lead to Ian Nepomniachtchi being up a piece, and easily winning. Carlsen resigned just four moves later.

After the game, a visibly frustrated World Champion stepped into the live webcast interview zone for a contractually obligated webcast standup with Grand Chess Tour commentator GM Maurice Ashley.

These occur in the same conference room in which a live audience enjoys commentary during the round, and around 150 people were crowded into the room to hear from Carlsen.”

Whoa! Let us stop right here and consider what we have just read…

“…a visibly frustrated World Champion stepped into the live webcast interview zone for a contractually obligated webcast standup…” I believe the word “interview” should be inserted after “standup.”

Why would anyone in their right mind put something in any contract, in any game or sport, forcing a player who has just lost to be interviewed by anyone BEFORE THEY HAVE HAD A CHANCE TO DECOMPRESS?! This is incomprehensible, and the sanity of those responsible for forcing anyone to sign a contract that requires the person to be interviewed before having a chance to compose themselves must be questioned.

The article continues:

“A few moments before they were to go on air, Ashley casually reached over to adjust the collar on Carlsen’s sport coat, which had become turned outward awkwardly. Magnus reacted by violently throwing his arms up in the air, silently but forcefully saying “don’t touch me”, and striking Ashley in the process. Maurice was, naturally, taken aback but just seconds later he received the queue that he was live.”

Maurice is a GM, and a pro, not only when it comes to playing Chess, but also when it gets down to interviewing tightly wound Chess players. Since he played the Royal game at the highest level he knows the emotions it can, and does, evoke first hand. Maurice was the first one to ‘fergettaboutit.’

I recall a time during a tournament when a young fellow playing in his first tournament lost control of his emotions and, shall we say, “flared-up.” His mother was aghast, and appalled, saying, “Now you will never be able to come here again.” Since I had given lessons at the school the boy attended I stepped in saying, “Ma’am, that’s not the way it works around here. By the next time your son comes here everyone will have forgotten what happened today.” The mother gave me the strangest look before asking, “Are you just saying that to make me feel better?” I assured her I was not and then someone else interjected, telling her, with a large grin on his face, that I was indeed telling her the truth. Chess people, to their credit, are about the most forgiving people one will ever know.

There followed:

Magnus was clearly in no mood to chat:

“I missed everything. There’s not much else to say. I think I failed to predict a single of his moves, and then, well, you saw what happened.”

“It will be interesting to see if Magnus will recover tomorrow. When asked for his thoughts on the last round pairing he replied, “I don’t care at all. “Black against Levon Aronian will be no easy task, with that attitude.”

The excellent annotation of the game Magnus lost to Ian Nepomniachtchi

on Chessbase is by GM by Tiger Hillarp-Persson,

who has also annotated games of Go on his blog (https://tiger.bagofcats.net/). After move 29 Tiger writes, “There were probably a few who thought Magnus would win at this stage…”

Magnus begins going wrong at move 30. He then gives a line and writes, “White is dominating. It is quite out of character for Carlsen to miss something like this. It seems like he wasn’t able to think clearly today.”

Before Magnus plays his 33rd move Tiger writes, “Now White’s pieces are all in the wrong places.”

After White’s 34th move Tiger writes, “Here Carlsen seems to lose his will to fight. Now one mistake follows another.”

Those are very STRONG WORDS! Human World Chess Champions, with the exception of Garry Kasparov when losing to Deep Blue,

do not lose their will to fight!

Yuri Averbakh,

Russian GM, and author, in a 1997 article in New in Chess magazine, the best Chess magazine of ALL TIME, placed chess players into 6 categories; Killers; Fighters; Sportsmen; Gamblers; Artists; and Explorers. Although he listed only Kasparov and Bronstein

as “Fighters,” the World Chess Champion best known for being a “Fighter” was Emanuel Lasker.

I would put current human World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen in the class with Lasker as a “Fighter.”

In an interview at the Chess24 website his opponent in the game, Ian Nepomniachtchi,


had this to say, “To be fair, Magnus had a bad cold during the second half of the tournament and therefore wasn’t in his very best form.”

Nepo is extremely gracious while explaining why Magnus “…seemed to lose his will to fight.” When one is under the weather it is extremely difficult to think clearly, especially as the game goes on and fatigue begins to dominate. Imagine what history would have recorded if Bobby Fischer had not caught a cold after the first few games against former World Chess Champion Tigran Petrosian.

This was a topic of conversation during a meal with Petrosian, Paul Keres,

and future World Chess Champion Anatoly Karpov,

at a restaurant in San Antonio, the Golden Egg, during the Church’s Fried Chicken tournament in 1972.

Interviewer Colin McGourty asked Nepo this question:

“It seems as though he’s stopped dominating as he did a few years ago. Is that the case?

A few years ago the level he was demonstrating was out of this world, particularly when he wasn’t yet World Champion, plus at times good patches in his career alternated with even better ones. Gradually, though, people have got used to him, and when you’ve already achieved it all, when over the course of a few years you’ve been better than everyone, it gets tougher to motivate yourself. That doesn’t just apply to sport, after all. Magnus has a great deal of interests outside of chess, but even his relatively unsuccessful periods are much more successful than for many of his rivals. Even in what generally wasn’t the tournament of his life he beat Aronian with Black in the final round and finished third i.e. he performed very decently.”

https://chess24.com/en/read/news/nepomniachtchi-on-london-carlsen-and-alphazero

There you have it. “Even in what generally wasn’t the tournament of his life he beat Aronian with Black in the final round and finished third i.e. he performed very decently.”

Levon had the year of his life in 2017. He had the White pieces in the last round against a weakened World Champion. He could have ended the year in style with a victory. This from Chessbase:

The Magnus bounce

“The World Champion, after a troubling performance yesterday, appeared once more to be on the brink of defeat with the black pieces against Levon Aronian. Carlsen was considerably worse in the middlegame, but it took just a couple of inaccuracies from Aronian for the World Champion to completely turn the tables. He went on to win, despite knowing that a draw would be enough to clinch first place in the Grand Chess Tour standings.

In fact, Aronian offered Carlsen a draw, right after the time control, which Magnus refused, as he was already much better in the position. It was the 11th time in 17 tries that Carlsen came back with a win immediately following a loss, since 2015.” (https://en.chessbase.com/post/london-chess-classic-2017-carlsen-wins-grand-chess-tour)

Many years ago IM Boris Kogan told me the measure of a Chess player is how he responds to a loss. Many in the same condition would have been happy to settle for a draw in the last round. Some would have made it a quick draw. Not Magnus!
Magnus Carlsen is a worthy World Champion. My admiration for our World Champion has grown immensely.

Consider this headline from the official tournament website:

Round 8 – Carlsen Car Crash at the Classic

11.12.17 – John Saunders reports: The eighth round of the 9th London Chess Classic was played on Sunday 10 December 2017 at the Olympia Conference Centre. The round featured just the one decisive game, which was a disastrous loss for Carlsen, as the result of two terrible blunders.
http://www.londonchessclassic.com/downloads/reports17/2017-12-10%20LCC%20Round%208.pdf

As bad as that is, it could have been much worse. Even when completely well Magnus has sometimes gotten into trouble early in the game, especially when playing an opening some consider “offbeat.” Every true human World Chess Champion, one who beat the previous title holder in a match, was a trend setter who was emulated by other players of all ranks and abilities. Simply because Magnus opened with the Bird against Mickey Adams

in round seven other players may now begin opening games with 1 f4. It is true that Magnus got into trouble in the opening of that game, but his opponent was unable to take advantage of it and Magnus FOUGHT his way out of trouble. (see the excellent article, including annotations to The Bird game, by Alex Yermolinsky at Chessbase: https://en.chessbase.com/post/london-classic-nepomniachtchi-joins-lead)

As Macauley Peterson

wrote, “Black against Levon Aronian will be no easy task…” That is Black in the LAST ROUND against the player who this year has stolen Magnus Carlsen’s thunder. An obviously under the weather Magnus had Black versus a man who believes he should be the human World Chess Champion. If there were no FIDE (we can only dream…) and things were like they were before World War II, Levon Aronian would have absolutely no trouble whatsoever finding backers for a match with Magnus Carlsen. The outcome of the game could have psychological ramifications for some time to come.

Levon held an advantage through 34 moves, but let it slip with an ill-advised pawn push on his 35th move.


Position before 35. b6

The game ws then even. The player who fought best would win the game. That player was Magnus ‘The Fighter’ Carlsen. The loss must have shattered Levon Aronian’s psyche; there is no other way to put it. Levon had White against a weakened World Champion yet he did not even manage to make a draw. That fact has to be devastating to Aronian. Oh well, Levon has a pretty wife…

Bird is the Word

The Bird opening is a rare bird in top level chess tournaments. Decades ago in a tournament in Atlanta word got around quickly when four players, including the AW, opened the game with 1 f4. What made it so interesting is that all four of us were seated in a row. It was not planned. The ornithologically inclined Adam Cavaney, who earned his NM title by playing the Bird, and nothing but the Bird, at the House of Pain because knows the Bird is the word, “Papa-ooma-mow-mow, papa-ooma-mow-mow
Ooma-mow-mow, papa-ooma-mow-mow”, was one of the four, but the names of the other escapes me. Anyone reading this down in Cajun country please mention this to Adam and ask him to leave a comment, if he happens to recall the tournament, and the names, of the guilty.

Nepomniachtchi, Ian (2714) – Karjakin, Sergey (2770)
67th ch-RUS 2014 Kazan RUS (2), 2014.11.29

1.f4 d5 2.Nf3 (Most often played, but Stockfish plays 2 c4, while Komodo prefers e3) g6 (Stockfish plays this, which holds White to only 40%, but Komodo plays 2…Bf5, against which White has scored 58%) 3.g3 (3 e3 has been the most often played, scoring only 39%, while the move in the game has scored 44%. Houdini plays 3 c4, which has scored 51%) Bg7 4.Bg2 c6 (SF plays 4…c5) 5.Nc3 (SF & the Dragon both play 5 0-0, which has scored only 41% in practice. The game move has scored 56%!) Nh6 (SF goes with 5 Nf6) 6.d3 (SF & Houdini 0-0) d4 (SF & Houey) 7.Ne4 Nd7 8.c3 (Cesar Becx [2295] vs Ole Jakobsen [2400] Politikin Cup 1987, reached this position after 1 f4 d5 2 Nf3 g6 3 g3 Bg7 4 Bg2 c6 5 d3 Nd7 6 Nc3 d4 7 Ne4 Nh6 when White played 8 e3 dxe3 9. c3 Ng4 10. h3 Nf2 11. Nxf2 exf2+ 12. Kxf2 Nc5 13. Bf1 Bf5 14. d4 Ne4+ 15. Kg2 Qd7 16. Be3 f6 17. Bd3 Nd6 18. Bxf5 gxf5 19. Qd3 e6 20. Rad1 O-O-O, with White winning in 53) Nf5 9.cxd4 Nxd4 10.Nxd4 Bxd4 11.e3 Bg7 12.d4 O-O 13.O-O Nb6 14.Nc5 Nd5 15.Qa4 Nc7 16.Rf2 Ne6 17.Nd3 Bd7 18.Qa3 Nc7 19.Nc5 Nb5 20.Qa4 Rb8 21.Bd2 b6 22.Nxd7 Qxd7 23.Rc1 Rfc8 24.b4 Nxd4 25.exd4 Bxd4 26.Bc3 Be3 27.Re1 Qd3 28.Be5 Ra8 29.Qb3 Bxf2+ 30.Kxf2 Qxb3 31.axb3 b5 32.Bd4 a5 33.bxa5 Rxa5 34.Rxe7 c5 35.Bf6 Ra2+ 36.Kf3 c4 37.Bh3 Rf8 38.bxc4 bxc4 39.Rc7 Rxh2 40.Bf1 1-0

GM Vladimir Kramnik is playing in the Qatar Masters and GM Kevin Spraggett (http://kevinspraggettonchess.wordpress.com/2014/11/27/how-do-you-spell-your-name/) has this to say:
“Now here is something that I can relate to, having been brought up in OPEN tournaments. This was Kramnik’s first OPEN tournament in 20-years or so…at the Qatar Masters taking place right now. LIFE in the opens is VERY different from the relaxed (not to say incestuous) atmosphere of the SUPER tournaments where each opponent KNOWS each other SO WELL! For example, when Kramnik finally played Anand for the World Championship back in 2008 (?) both players had ALREADY played each other more than 100 times! The only thing being decided in that World match was a WORLD RECORD for having played each other so many times!!”

The day after Nepo stunned Kajakin with the Bird, Vlad the Impaler saw his opponent flip him the Bird!

Vovk, Andrey (2640) – Kramnik, Vladimir (2760)
Qatar Masters Open 2014 Doha QAT (5.4), 2014.11.30

1.f4 d5 2.Nf3 Bg4 3.e3 (Houdini & Komodo play this, but the “last word,” Stockfish, plays 3 Ne5) Nd7 (SF & Houey play 3…e6, which shows White scoring 55%. Komodo plays Nf6, holding White to 50%, but the game move shows White only scoring 36%! Looks like the top GM’s are doing their homework) 4.Be2 (The engines prefer asking the question with 4 h3) Ngf6 (Komodo’s move; Houey plays e6, while SF plays c6) 5.Ne5 (Houdini 5 b3; Komodo simply castles) Bxe2 6.Qxe2 g6 (Engines prefer e6) 7.Nc3 Bg7 (Houdini plays this, but Komodo would produce the TN 7…c6, if given the chance. Which begs the question, “Can a computer program be known for first playing a TN, or do we humans have to wait until another human plays the brand new move?)
8.Qb5 (8. d4 a6 9. g4 c6 10. b3 Qa5 11. Bd2 Qc7 12. O-O-O b5 13. h4
h5 14. g5 Ng8 15. e4 e6 16. Rhe1 Qd6 17. Nxc6 Qxc6 18. exd5 Qd6 19. dxe6 fxe6
20. Qe4 O-O-O 21. Qxg6 Bxd4 22. Rxe6 Qa3+ 23. Kb1 Nb8 24. Re8 Ne7 25. Qe6+ Nd7
26. Rxe7 Qc5 27. Ne4 Qa3 28. Bc1 1-0, Marlos de Almedia [2160] vs Marceley Martins Mariano [2046] Goiania Open, 2010)
Rb8 9.Nxd7 Qxd7 10.Qxd7+ Kxd7 11.d3 b5 12.a3 c5 13.e4 dxe4 14.dxe4 Kc6 15.Bd2 b4 16.axb4 cxb4 17.Nd5 Nxd5 18.exd5+ Kxd5 19.Rxa7 Bxb2 20.Ke2 Rhc8 21.Kd3 Bf6 22.Rb1 Rd8 23.Ke2 Ke6 24.Ra6+ Kf5 25.Kf3 g5 26.g4+ Kg6 27.Rxb4 Rbc8 28.Be3 gxf4 29.Rxf4 e6 30.Ra5 Rc3 31.Rc5 Rxc5 32.Bxc5 Rc8 33.Bf2 Rc3+ 34.Kg2 Rxc2 35.Kg1 Be5 36.Rf3 f6 37.h3 h5 38.gxh5+ Kxh5 39.Rd3 Bf4 40.Kg2 e5 41.Ra3 f5 42.Kf1 e4 43.Ra5 Kg5 44.Ra3 Bc7 45.Rb3 Bd6 46.Rb5 Kf4 47.Rb3 Bc5 0-1

I Am a Hou YiFAN!

When I began playing chess seriously what now seems like a lifetime ago the French defense gave me trouble. The defense also gave Bobby Fischer trouble; the loss to Edmar Mednis comes to mind. I experimented with all the “tried and true” variations, but did not feel comfortable with any of them. then Branko Vujakovic, an exchange student in Atlanta from Yugoslavia, and a strong player, showed me the variation, 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 e5 c5 4 Nf3 Nc6 5 Bd3!? White usually plays 5 c3, or even 4 c3. the idea is to sac a pawn for development after 5…cxd4 6 0-0. Although it has been called the Milner-Barry, it actually has no name, as far as I can ascertain. NiC has it listed under “C02,” while http://www.365chess also has it as “C02, advance, Nimzovich system.” I liked the variation because it was little known. Because of that I was able to score several knock-outs, including one over Roger Sample, may he R.I.P. The game was played in a tournament in the Great State of Tennessee. We both smoked cigarettes then and Roger suggested we play in his hotel room so we could smoke, and I wholeheartedly agreed. The TD allowed us to do so, with the proviso that, “If there any problems you are on your own as to how to settle it. I just want to know the outcome.” I sacked a Knight on f7 and attacked Roger like a wild man, winning the game. When I saw Roger decades later he said, “I still have Knightmares about your move.” I also recall being on the road with Branko somewhere, sometime, and playing the variation against an expert (with my being a class “D” player). I played like Branko had taught me, advancing my h-pawn, opening up his castled position. Someone my opponent knew was standing, looking at the position, when my opponent looked up and plaintively said, “Would you look at that. Hardly out of the opening and I’m busted…”
My chess “bible” was “Chess Openings: Theory and Practice” by I.A. Horowitz. This particular opening was listed under “UNUSUAL VARIATIONS.” I found that appealing. A variation from Alekhine-Euwe from Nottingham, 1936 is mentioned in the notes, but there was one full game:
Igor Bondarevsky v Mikhail Botvinnik
Absolute Championship Leningrad/Moscow 1941
Round: 2 Score: 0-1
ECO: C02 French, advance, Nimzovich system
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. Nf3 Nc6 5. Bd3 cxd4 6. O-O Bc5 7. a3 Nge7 8. Nbd2 Ng6 9. Nb3 Bb6 10. Re1 Bd7 11. g3 f6 12. Bxg6+ hxg6 13. Qd3 Kf7 14. h4 Qg8 15. Bd2 Qh7 16. Bb4 g5 17. Qxh7 Rxh7 18. exf6 gxf6 19. hxg5 e5 20. gxf6 Kxf6 21. Bd6 Re8 22. Nh4 Rg8 23. Kh2 Bf5 24. Re2 d3 25. Rd2 dxc2 26. f4 Be3 27. Bxe5+ Nxe5 28. fxe5+ Ke7 29. Rf1 c1=Q 0-1
This loss did not deter me from essaying the Nimzovich system. But my opponents began to study the opening and I needed to find another variation with which I was comfortable. “Seek and you shall find.” I sought, and found, the answer in “Theory and Practice.” You will not be surprised to learn I “discovered” the variation once again in the “UNUSUAL VARIATIONS” section. This is the only complete game with my new variation contained in T&P:
Mikhail Chigorin – Hermann Von Gottschall
Barmewi, 1905
1. e4 e6 2. Qe2 c5 3. f4 Nc6 4. Nf3 Be7 5. Nc3 d5 6. d3 d4 7. Nd1 Nf6 8. g3 b5 9. Bg2 Ba6 10. O-O Rc8 11. b3 c4 12. Ne1 cxd3 13. cxd3 O-O 14. Bd2 Qb6 15. Nf2 Nb4 16. Qd1 Bb7 17. a3 Nc6 18. g4 a5 19. g5 Nd7 20. Ng4 b4 21. a4 Nc5 22. Rf3 f5 23. gxf6 Bxf6 24. Rh3 Bd8 25. Rc1 Rc7 26. Rh5 Nb8 27. Ne5 Nbd7 28. Nc4 Qa6 29. Rb1 Nf6 30. Rh3 Ncd7 31. Nf3 Qa7 32. Qe2 Nc5 33. Nfe5 Ncd7 34. Kh1 Nxe5 35. fxe5 Ne8 36. Rg1 Rcf7 37. Qh5 g6 38. Bf3 Rg7 39. Qg4 Bc8 40. Bh6 Qe7 41. Be2 Bc7 42. Bxg7 Qxg7 43. Qg5 Bd7 44. Rhg3 Rf7 45. h4 Kh8 46. h5 gxh5 47. Bxh5 Qxg5 48. Rxg5 Rf8 49. Bf7 1-0
I was hooked. Who was Mikhail Chigorin? I tried to discover as much as possible about the player, and it was not easy “back in the day.” It took months, YEARS, to find all I could about the man responsible for 2 Qe2. Who would play such a move? What would GM Reuben Fine, PhD, say about a player who moves the Queen to e2 leaving the King in her rear? I managed to locate the games of the famous match between Siegbert Tarrasch and Chigorin in which the move Qe2 was played eleven times by the latter, scoring six wins, two draws, with three losses. 365Chess shows an astounding FIFTY games played by Chigorin with 2 Qe2 (http://www.365chess.com/search_result.php?search=1&m=3&n=118&ms=e4.e6.Qe2&wid=158099). For this Mikhail had twenty five wins, ten draws, and fifteen losses.
After reading the above you may have an idea of how elated I was upon discovering Hou Yifan essayed Qe2 against Harika at the recently completed Lopata Women’s Grand Prix. It is rare to see a game with the early Quees move by such a strong player.
Hou Yifan – Dronavalli Harika
Lopota WGP 2014 Lopota GEO , Rd 8 2014.06.27
1.e4 e6 2.Qe2 c5 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.g3 d6 5.Bg2 g6 6.O-O Bg7 7.c3 e5 8.a4 Nge7 9.Na3 O-O 10.Nc4 h6 11.d3 Be6 12.Bd2 Re8 13.h3 b6 14.Rfe1 Qd7 15.b4 cxb4 16.cxb4 d5 17.exd5 Bxd5 18.Nfxe5 Nxe5 19.Nxe5 Qb7 20.f4 Nf5 21.Qf2 Nd4 22.Rac1 Rad8 23.Bc3 Qa8 24.b5 Nb3 25.Rc2 Nc5 26.Bb4 Bxe5 27.Bxc5 Bxg2 28.Rxe5 Rxe5 29.fxe5 Bxh3 30.Bd6 Qd5 31.Qe3 Re8 32.Re2 Bg4 33.Qe4 Qxe4 34.Rxe4 Bf5 35.Rc4 Bxd3 36.Rc7 Ra8 37.Kf2 Bf5 38.Ke3 Be6 39.Kd4 g5 40.Rb7 h5 41.Rb8+ Rxb8 42.Bxb8 h4 43.gxh4 gxh4 44.Ke3 Bb3 45.Bxa7 Bxa4 46.Bxb6 Bxb5 47.Kf4 Bd7 48.Bd8 h3 49.Kg3 Be6 50.Bf6 Bf5 51.Bd8 Be6 52.Bf6 Bf5 53.Bd8 ½-½
8 a4 appears to be a TN. While researching the opening on http://www.365chess.com and http://database.chessbase.com/js/apps/onlinedb/ I found two games in which GM Kevin Spraggett, the man responsible for the best chess blog, “Spraggett on Chess” (http://kevinspraggettonchess.wordpress.com/) had to face 2 Qe2.
Lawrence A Day v Kevin Spraggett
C00 Toronto Summer op 2000
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. Qe2 Nc6 4. g3 d6 5. Bg2 g6 6. O-O Bg7 7. c3 e5 8. a3 Nge7 9. b4 O-O 10. Bb2 b6 11. Rd1 Qc7 12. d3 h6 13. Nbd2 Bb7 14. Nc4 Rad8 15. b5 Nb8 16. a4 d5 17. exd5 Nxd5 18. Re1 Rfe8 19. Qc2 Nd7 20. Qb3 N7f6 21. Nfxe5 Nh5 22. d4 Re6 23. Nc6 Rxe1+ 24. Rxe1 Bxc6 25. bxc6 cxd4 26. cxd4 Qxc6 27. Ne5 Qe6 28. Rc1 Ndf4 29. Qxe6 Nxe6 30. Nc6 Rd7 31. Ne5 Rd8 32. Nc6 Rd7 33. Ne5 1/2-1/2
Igor Ivanov v Kevin Spraggett
C00 Montreal m 1981
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. Qe2 Nc6 4. g3 d6 5. Bg2 g6 6. O-O Bg7 7. c3 e5 8. b4 cxb4 9. cxb4 Nxb4 10. Nc3 Ne7 11. Rb1 Nbc6 12. Ba3 O-O 13. Nb5 Bg4 14. Nxd6 b6 15. Qc4 h6 16. h3 Be6 17. Qc2 Qd7 18. Kh2 Rfb8 19. Rfe1 Nc8 20. Nb5 a6 21. Nc3 b5 22. Nd5 N8e7 23. Rec1 Rb7 24. Qc5 Rab8 25. Bb2 Kh7 26. Nxe7 Nxe7 27. Bxe5 Rc8 28. Qe3 Bxa2 29. Rxc8 Qxc8 30. Ra1 Be6 31. Bxg7 Kxg7 32. d4 Rb8 33. d5 Bd7 34. Qd4+ Kh7 35. Qf6 Qf8 36. Rxa6 Ng8 37. Qf4 b4 38. Ra7 1-0
Jaan Ehlvest – Robert Huebner
C00 Rubinstein mem 32nd 1995
1. e4 e6 2. Qe2 c5 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. g3 g6 5. Bg2 Bg7 6. O-O d6 7. c3 e5 8. d3 Nge7 9. Nh4 O-O 10. f4 f5 11. Nd2 exf4 12. gxf4 Kh8 13. Ndf3 Be6 14. Ng5 1/2-1/2
Ian Nepomniachtchi (2704) v David Navarra (2722)
Event: 28th European Club Cup
Site: Eilat ISR Date: 10/12/2012
Round: 2
ECO: B40 Sicilian defence
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. Qe2 Nc6 4. g3 d6 5. Bg2 g6 6. O-O Bg7 7. c3 e5 8. Na3 Nge7 9. Nc2 O-O 10. Rd1 Qb6 11. b3 Be6 12. Bb2 c4 13. Ng5 cxb3 14. Ne3 bxa2 15. Nxe6 fxe6 16. Ba3 Qb3 17. Bxd6 Rfd8 18. Bxe7 Nxe7 19. Qc4 Qxc4 20. Nxc4 b5 21. Ne3 a5 22. Rxa2 b4 23. Rda1 b3 24. Rxa5 Rxa5 25. Rxa5 b2 26. Rb5 Rxd2 27. Bf1 Nc6 28. Nc4 Rc2 29. Rxb2 Rxc3 30. Bh3 Nd4 31. Rb8+ Kf7 32. Rb7+ Kf8 33. Bf1 Nf3+ 34. Kg2 Ne1+ 35. Kh3 h5 36. Rb1 Nf3 37. Kg2 Ng5 38. Rb8+ Ke7 39. Rb7+ Kf8 40. Nd6 h4 41. h3 Kg8 42. Be2 hxg3 43. h4 Bf8 44. Rb8 Nf7 45. Nxf7 Kxf7 46. fxg3 Rc2 47. Kf3 Bc5 48. Rb7+ Kf6 49. Bb5 Rf2+ 50. Kg4 Rb2 51. Bc6 Rxb7 1/2-1/2
Igor Glek (2575) v Stephen Brady (2320)
Event: EU-Cup 21st
Site: Saint Vincent Date: 09/20/2005
Round: 3 Score: 1-0
ECO: C00 French, Chigorin variation
1. e4 e6 2. Qe2 c5 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. g3 d6 5. Bg2 g6 6. c3 Bg7 7. h4 h5 8. d3 Bd7 9. Na3 Nh6 10. Nc4 Qc7 11. a4 Ng4 12. Ng5 Bh6 13. O-O Nge5 14. Ne3 f6 15. Nh3 Ne7 16. d4 Nf7 17. f4 cxd4 18. cxd4 Rc8 19. Bd2 Qb6 20. Bc3 Bg7 21. f5 gxf5 22. Nf4 Bh6 23. exf5 e5 24. Ned5 Nxd5 25. Nxd5 Qd8 26. dxe5 dxe5 27. Kh2 Bf8 28. Nf4 Be7 29. Ng6 1-0
I discovered Stoltz played Qe2 eleven times, winning four, losing five, with two draws. (http://www.365chess.com/search_result.php?submit_search=1&eco=C00&wid=154632#)
Goesta Stoltz – Mikhail Botvinnik
Staunton mem 1946
1. e4 e6 2. Qe2 c5 3. g3 Nc6 4. Bg2 Nge7 5. Nc3 g6 6. d3 Bg7 7. Be3 d5 8. exd5 Nd4 9. Qd2 exd5 10. Nce2 h6 11. Qc1 Bf5 12. c3 Nxe2 13. Nxe2 d4 14. Bd2 Bxd3 15. Bxb7 O-O 16. Bf3 g5 17. O-O Ng6 18. Re1 Ne5 19. Bg2 Ba6 20. Qd1 Nd3 21. Qa4 Qf6 22. f4 Rae8 23. Bc6 Nxe1 24. Bxe8 Nf3+ 25. Kf2 Nxd2 26. Bc6 Bxe2 27. Kxe2 dxc3 28. bxc3 Qxc3 29. Rd1 Rd8 30. Be4 gxf4 31. gxf4 Qh3 32. Rg1 Qh5+ 33. Ke3 Qh3+ 34. Ke2 Qxh2+ 35. Rg2 Qh5+ 36. Ke3 Qh3+ 37. Ke2 Qe6 0-1
White may not win every game, but every game will be interesting!