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.


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:


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.


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.


“Jane, you ignorant slut.”

In the event you are too young to recall the now immortal words from the title of this post, they were uttered with disdain by Dan Akyroyd to Jane Curtain on the Saturday Night Live program decades ago as a skit that was a take-off on the “60 Minutes” segment “Point/Counterpoint” between “conservative” James J. Kilpatrick and “liberal” Shana Alexander. I thought of it as left-shoe, right shoe; the ol’ two step, double shuffle. What the two commentators gave was two differing views of the establishment. When Dan spoke those words to Jane it was so unexpected one was so taken aback that it took a few moments before the laughter began.
I am currently enrolled in a study at Emory University. When being questioned by the Doctor with a PhD I mentioned that I had participated in similar studies at Georgia Tech by a young fellow working on his PhD, Zach Hambrick, who was now at a University up north I thought was Minnesota. “I know Zach,” he said, “but he is at Michigan State.” He got a kick out of the fact that Zach would schedule my appointment at the Psychology department, which was across from Chandler field, the baseball diamond, so I could walk over after finishing and watch a game.
Yesterday as I was perusing the Daily Chess News Links July 1, 2014 on the Chess Cafe website (http://blog.chesscafe.com/?m=201407) I noticed the penultimate link, “10,000 hours to genius theory questioned,” and clicked on. The article dated 30 June 2014 is by Jane Bainbridge. It begins, “The research was led by David Hambrick and looked at studies of chess players that provided information on people’s highest ability level achieved along with their history of practice. They found that between 2005 and 2012 six studies had been done, involving more than 1000 players internationally in total.”
Could it be the young man I knew as Zach? Yes, indeed, I discovered it was none other than Zach! Jane continues, “On average, the amount of deliberate practice accounted for 34% of variance in chess ability, which although an impressive proportion, was insufficient to explain why some players achieved greatness and others didn’t. And there was a huge range in the deliberate practice completed by players of different standards. One study, looking purely at grandmasters found the range of practice they’d invested was between 832 and 24,284 hours. Looking at players who achieved only intermediate level, 13% of them had completed more practice than the average amount invested by the grandmasters.” (http://www.research-live.com/news/10000-hours-to-genius-theory-questioned/4011897.article)
Further research revealed a debate on “The Creativity Post” between Zach and author David Shenk, known to the chess world for his book, “The Immortal Game” called “superb” by the Wall Street Journal (I concur). I read the post by Zach, “Intelligence Matters for Success, Like it or Not” (http://www.creativitypost.com/psychology/debate/intelligence_matters_for_success_like_it_or_not) first. Who is Zach Hambrick? “David Z. (Zach) Hambrick is Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Michigan State University. Dr. Hambrick’s research focuses on individual differences in basic cognitive abilities and capacities and their role in skilled performance. Dr. Hambrick received his Ph.D. from the Georgia Institute of Technology (2000). His work has appeared in Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, Cognitive Psychology, and Memory & Cognition, among other scholarly journals. Dr. Hambrick was the 2000 recipient of the James McKeen Cattell Award for Best Dissertation in Psychology from the New York Academy of Sciences, and is a consulting editor for Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. His research has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research.” http://www.creativitypost.com/psychology/debate/intelligence_matters_for_success_like_it_or_not#sthash.unEtiCg5.dpuf
Zach writes, “How do people become great at what they do? What separates the best from the rest in music, science, art, sports, and so on? This question has been a topic of intense debate in psychology for as long as psychology has been a field. Francis Galton surveyed genealogical records of hundreds of scientists, artists, musicians, writers and other eminent individuals and discovered that they tended to be biologically related. Galton therefore concluded that “genius” is hereditary. The debate rages on.”
“The deliberate practice view has attracted a great deal of attention in the scientific community, and beyond. In his bestselling book “Outliers,” for example, the writer Malcolm Gladwell describes 10,000 hours as the “magic number” of greatness. At the same time, a vast and venerable literature documents the importance of basic abilities for success in a wide variety of complex tasks.”
Included in his post is a link to a New York Times Op-Ed “Sorry, Strivers. Talent Matters, by David Z. Hambrick and Elizabeth J. Meinz” dated November 19, 2011. They began the article with a question, “HOW do people acquire high levels of skill in science, business, music, the arts and sports? This has long been a topic of intense debate in psychology.
Research in recent decades has shown that a big part of the answer is simply practice — and a lot of it. In a pioneering study, the Florida State University psychologist K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues asked violin students at a music academy to estimate the amount of time they had devoted to practice since they started playing. By age 20, the students whom the faculty nominated as the “best” players had accumulated an average of over 10,000 hours, compared with just under 8,000 hours for the “good” players and not even 5,000 hours for the least skilled.
Those findings have been enthusiastically championed, perhaps because of their meritocratic appeal: what seems to separate the great from the merely good is hard work, not intellectual ability. Summing up Mr. Ericsson’s research in his book “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell observes that practice isn’t “the thing you do once you’re good” but “the thing you do that makes you good.” He adds that intellectual ability — the trait that an I.Q. score reflects — turns out not to be that important. “Once someone has reached an I.Q. of somewhere around 120,” he writes, “having additional I.Q. points doesn’t seem to translate into any measureable real-world advantage.”
David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, restates this idea in his book “The Social Animal,” while Geoff Colvin, in his book “Talent Is Overrated,” adds that “I.Q. is a decent predictor of performance on an unfamiliar task, but once a person has been at a job for a few years, I.Q. predicts little or nothing about performance.”
But this isn’t quite the story that science tells. Research has shown that intellectual ability matters for success in many fields — and not just up to a point.”
They point out how research has shown “…that “working memory capacity,” a core component of intellectual ability, predicts success in a wide variety of complex activities.”
They conclude their refutation of Malcom Gladwell, and those who follow his convoluted and discredited theory with, ” It would be nice if intellectual ability and the capacities that underlie it were important for success only up to a point. In fact, it would be nice if they weren’t important at all, because research shows that those factors are highly stable across an individual’s life span. But wishing doesn’t make it so.
None of this is to deny the power of practice. Nor is it to say that it’s impossible for a person with an average I.Q. to, say, earn a Ph.D. in physics. It’s just unlikely, relatively speaking. Sometimes the story that science tells us isn’t the story we want to hear.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/20/opinion/sunday/sorry-strivers-talent-matters.html?_r=2&)
I next read, “Response to Zach Hambrick” by David Schenk. His post begins, “Thanks for the opportunity to join this discussion. In order to point the way to the fullest possible answer of “How do people become great at what they do?” I suggest that we first need to pull back and ask a few even more basic questions, such as:
– Where do abilities come from?
– What is intelligence?
– What is innate?
– What does “heritable” mean?
I’m obviously not going to tackle all of these giant topics right now.”
Well, why not?! I will let you read what Mr. Schenk has to say (http://www.creativitypost.com/psychology/debate/response_to_zach_hambrick).
I would, though, like to add the last paragraph written by David:
“But there’s also something very beautiful in the science I see — including Ericsson’s wonderful work. It is this: with the exception of people born with severe defects, most every human being has, at the moment of conception, an extraordinary potential. We are biologically designed to adapt to our circumstances. People become great at what they do when they have some sort of very deep and constant need to be great.”
I would like to focus on the last sentence. I played baseball for a decade, from the ages of ten to eighteen. I had a “very deep and constant need to be great.” I spent far more than 10,000 hours practicing and playing the game of baseball. I had everything required to play baseball except size and strength. I was good enough to have been offered a contract by both the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets to play minor league baseball, but the scout for the Cards told me, “You are good enough to play at double A, but will probably ride the pine at triple A, but you could have a job in baseball such as coach or manager, or maybe be a scout.” The part that stuck with me was “ride the pine.” I had never sat on the bench and the prospect did not sound appealing to me, so I stopped playing baseball.
I cannot help but think of the book “Moneyball,” which was made into a movie, and the General Manager of the Oakland A’s, Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt. Billy had been an outstanding baseball player, one who “had all the tools.” Yet he did not make it to “The Show.” He tells the story of facing a flame throwing pitcher whom he did not want to face again. On the other hand, his teammate, Lenny Dykstra, nicknamed “Nails,” grabbed a bat saying, “Let me at ’em. I’ll hit that expletive deleted!” Lenny, a much smaller man than Billy, made “The Show,” and had some very good seasons, even if it took “the juice” to do it. Like Pete Rose, Lenny has had a difficult time out of baseball, and last I heard was in prison.
Pete Rose did not have all the tools, but he had a burning desire to play baseball. His nickname was “Charley Hustle.” I tried my best to emulate his “all-out” style of play. Pete holds the MLB record for most hits, lifetime. There have been many MLB players with more talent, but none with more base-hits. Then there was Eddie Stanky, a player about whom the infamous Leo Durocher said, “He can’t hit; he can’t throw; and he cannot run. All he can do is beat you.”
“People become great at what they do when they have some sort of very deep and constant need to be great.” Does that not sound like Bobby Fischer?
There was a young man upon whom the Legendary Georgia Ironman hung the moniker, “Little Hayseed,” because he wore a straw hat. “Hayseed” came into the tournament world with a low rating and won money in every section until he made it to class “A,” where he found the going tough. Then he stopped playing. Xiao Cheng began at a young age, becoming a NM and won the Georgia State Championship. Then he was not seen for some time, until one night he came to the House of Pain. I asked him why he had stopped playing chess and he was honest enough to inform me that he gave it up because he did not like losing. Stephan Muhammad was a strong Senior Master who also won the Georgia State Championship. He lost five games at the 6TH NORTH AMERICAN FIDE in Chicago in November of 2007, then played in three tournaments in Atlanta, and that was the end of the tournament road for him. He was a Life Master who topped out at 2468, but then went into a nosedive (http://main.uschess.org/datapage/ratings_graph.php?memid=12355370).
I have often wondered if players such as these played because they loved winning, not playing. Marshall Jaffe, may he R.I.P., was a Senior who played at the Atlanta Chess Center in one of the lower sections. I noticed Marshall always used most of his time and once complimented him for it. “It takes me longer to make my bad moves,” he said. Then he added, grinning, “I just love to play the game.”
Is that not why the game is played? I have enjoyed a hard fought loss more than some “walkovers” I have played. The thing about chess is that it used to be that one could always find someone to battle of about the same strength. Until, that is, what is now called the “youth movement.” Most of the players who “just loved to play the game” have found other pursuits, to the detriment of chess. We cannot all be winners, but chess is the loser when people stop playing.