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

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Evil-Doer: Half a Century with Viktor Korchnoi: A Review

“The “Evil-Doer”, as the Soviet chess players now called Korchnoi, had turned chess into a matter of state urgency. The Soviet leadership received real time accounts of the world title matches as though they were dispatches from the front in time of war.”

It is difficult for anyone not living when Viktor Korchnoi

defected to understand what his leaving the “Mother country” meant to the Chess world at that time.

“…in taking a one-man stance against the hulking Soviet monster, he gained the entire world’s attention and imprinted his name in the history of the game forever. Just as a poet in Russia was much more than a writer, a grandmaster in the Soviet Union was much more than a chess player.”

“Chess’s next wave of popularity was exclusively down to Viktor Korchnoi. He represented quite a melting pot: the conflict between two opposing systems, the international tension caused by that very Cold War, and his personal drama, with the Soviet authorities refusing to allow his family to leave for the West. News of this standoff made chess front-page news again, and it was even the subject of the madly popular musical Chess, which ran for years in London and New York.”

Thus the stage is set by the author, GM Genna Sosonko in his magnificent new book, Evil-Doer: Half a Century with Viktor Korchnoi.

“Almost half a century later, it is not easy to appreciate what such a decision by Korchnoi meant for a Soviet citizen, and how incredibly hard it was to make that final leap to freedom.”

Sosonko emigrated from the Soviet Union before Korchnoi, but he left after receiving permission from the monolithic State; Korchnoi defected, thus earning the opprobrium and enmity of not only the Soviet authorities, but also of the citizens of Russia. Korchnoi was considered a renegade; a traitor.

The following paragraphs explain the author’s aim in writing the book:

“There was a time when Sigmund Freud

dissuaded the writer Stephan Zweig

Stefan Zweig in seinem Salzburger Domizil am Kapuzinerberg. 1931. Photographie von Trude Fleischmann. [ Rechtehinweis: picture alliance/IMAGNO ]

from attempting to compile the former’s biography: “Whoever becomes a biographer forces himself to tell lies, conceal facts, commit fraud, embellish the truth and even mask their lack of understanding – it’s impossible to achieve the truth in a biography, and even if it were possible, that truth would be useless and you could do nothing with it.”

“I have to agree with the father of psychoanalysis and I have not attempted to write Korchnoi’s biography as such. Rather, this is a collection of memories, or to be more precise still: a collection of explanatory notes and interpretations of incomprehensible or misunderstood events from the complex life of a man whom I knew for nearly half a century, and alongside whom I spent in total many months – indeed years. I want to believe that these recollections will not only uncover the motives behind his controversial actions, but will also shed light on his approach to the game, his personality and behavior in everyday life. In any event, a portrayal of Korchnoi must obviously highlight the most important feature of his life – his dedication to chess – which grew into an obsession.”

“When he turned seventy, he asked me to write the foreword to his collected games. Naturally, I hardly imbued my text written for his big occasion with “plain speaking.”

“Yet, in the book you are now holding, I have attempted to do just that: in my reflections on this great player, I wanted to display him, as the English say, warts and all.”

The author has achieved his goal. It must have been painful at times to write so openly and honestly about someone with whom one spent so much time, and about someone for whom he obviously had so much affection, but Sosonko has done a masterful job in this outstanding work of art. I lived during the era of which the author writes, but did not play Chess seriously until 1970. Therefore I learned much from the early, pre-1970, period of Viktor the Terrible. Even though I have read extensively about the Chess world much of what I read in this book shed light on some of the dark spots.

“This is how Canadian grandmaster Kevin Spraggett

described a conversation with (Boris) Spassky:

He began to list Korchnoi’s many qualities:

…Killer Instinct (nobody can even compare with Viktor’s ‘gift’)

…Phenomenal capacity to work (both on the board and off the board)

…Iron nerves (even with seconds left on the clock)

…Ability to calculate (maybe only Fischer was better in this department)

…Tenacity and perseverance in defense (unmatched by anyone)

…The ability to counterattack (unrivaled in chess history)”…Impeccable technique (flawless, even better than Capa’s)

…Capacity to concentrate (unreal)

…Impervious to distractions during the game

…Brilliant understanding of strategy

…Superb tactician (only a few in history can compare with Viktor)

…Possessing the most profound opening preparation of any GM of his generation

…Subtle psychologist

…Super-human will to win (matched only by Fischer)

…Deep knowledge of all of his adversaries

…Enormous energy and self-discipline

Then Boris stopped, and just looked at me, begging me to ask the question that needed to be asked…I asked: “But, Boris, what does Viktor lack to become world champion?” Boris’s answer floored me: “He has no chess talent!”

And then Spassky roared with laughter…(https://kevinspraggettonchess.wordpress.com/author/kevinspraggettonchess/page/366/)

Viktor Korchoi was what is popularly known as a “late bloomer.” He may have had little, or no, talent for Chess, but no Grandmaster ever out worked the Evil Doer. He rose to the rarefied heights attained by strong determination, and an indomitable will to win.

“Korchnoi was born in Leningrad into a Jewish family on 23 March 1931. Lev Korchnoi (Viktor’s father) was killed at the very beginning of Russia’s involvement in World War II, and Rosa Abramova (his mother) took Vitya’s upbringing upon herself. The little boy lived through the Blockade of Leningrad, the death of many nearest and dearest, cold and hunger, and at one point was hospitalized with dystrophy.”

“Graham Greene

claimed that a difficult childhood was a priceless gift for a writer, while Soviet grandmaster Alexander Tolush

asserted that you needed to be poor, hungry and angry to be good at chess. There is no doubt that being brought up without his father and his tough childhood contributed to Korchnoi’s difficult personality, and were the reasons for complexes that it took him many years to shed.”

Viktor overcame the obstacles in his path to challenge for the World Chess Championship, becoming the second best Chess player in the world.

“If he noticed somebody voluntarily choosing a passive or quite unpromising opening line, he would shake his head: “What can we say here? X had a difficult childhood, a difficult childhood.” He would repeat this at a training session of the Dutch team prior to the Haifa Olympiad (1976) when we were analyzing some opening of Polugaevsky’s. This expression caught on, and became part of Dutch chess folklore for many years: what, did you have a difficult childhood or something?”

“Vladimir Tukmakov,

who worked with Korchnoi in the early 1990’s, was also amazed at the famous veteran’s energy and emotional state:

The several days that we spent analyzing together during his candidates quarter-final again(st) Gyula Sax

(Wijk-aan-Zee 1991) enabled me to understand him much better than the ten or so games that we had played against each other until then. Korchnoi was spewing out ideas like a fountain. Sometimes we would spend almost an entire day on chess, yet like a child he would then continue to play around with the chess pieces, trying out various positions.

Vasily Ivanchuk

also noticed this quality:

Sometimes you ask somebody to look at a position and they refuse – “I’m not interested, I don’t play that line.” Well, you would never hear such words from Viktor Lvovich. He would analyze any position, attempting to grasp it and suggesting ideas. For example, we would look at a position where we needed to find a way for black to equalize or for white to gain an advantage. When it looked like we had found it, everything seemed to work, and we had checked the variations, I would have stopped there. Yet Korchnoi always tried to penetrate the position more deeply, and to see if there was another way.

Jan Timman,

who had composed studies since he was young (http://www.arves.org/arves/index.php/en/halloffame/264-timman-jan), recalled: Viktor, unlike many colleagues, always took an interest in my compositions, and we would often spend hours analyzing together.”

Now the players no longer analyze, they head for the nearest computer for the answer.

“Korchnoi was sixteen when he managed to draw a game against Estonian master Ivo Nei

after escaping from the jaws of defeat. “This was the first time that I felt pleasure from a difficult, tiresome defense! But if, in my youth, the desire to defend was driven by mischief, a love for risk, then in the subsequent years defense became my serious, practical and psychological weapon. I enjoy drawing my opponent forward, allowing him the taste of attack during which he might get carried away, drop his guard, sacrifice some material. I often exploit those episodes to launch a counterattack, and that’s when the real battle begins,” Korchnoi said at the start of the 1960’s. He concluded: “Masters of defense have contributed no less to chess history than masters with an attacking style!”

“Only Korchnoi can capture that pawn!” became a widely-used cliche to describe position where any sane chess player would not even consider accepting a sacrifice.

“Shall we ‘Korchnoi’ a bit?” I had heard masters and even grandmasters suggest this during analysis back tn the Soviet Union, when they considered capturing material that appeared particularly dangerous to accept.

Journalists of course lapped up the Leningrad grandmaster’s attitude to the game: “A man of courage who chose defense as his weapon!”…”Korchnoi captured the poisoned pawn and chalked up another win!”…”After the Leningrader accepted everything thrown at him in sacrifice, his opponent found himself without a mating attack and raised the white flag.” Phrases like these were often found in tournament reports.

“At the end of his life, Francois Mauriac wrote” “I’m not brave enough to revise my technique, as Verdi did after Wagner appeared.”

“Well, Korchnoi did have enough bravery. Middle aged, he decided to review his approach to the game, to become broader minded, to throw off his focus on material, to learn to play positions with the initiative, with sacrifices and with material imbalances. He managed to do this in the prime of a successful career. Only professionals are capable of appreciating the gigantic effort that Korchnoi made.”

“He said one day: “You know, I have a son in Ukraine, he’s 32 years old. Recently, he wrote to me that he had just realized that he had lived half his life. Well, at that age I suddenly realized that I didn’t know how to play chess!
Even though that’s when I won the national championship for the second time! I suppose you need a great deal of talent to win the championship of the Soviet Union without knowing many of the laws of chess! After all, all sorts of things have been written about me! I’m a great defender, that my play resembles Dostoevsky and all sorts of nonsense. Yet I couldn’t have played any differently, I didn’t know how to! So I started to work. I analyzed thousands of games. I mastered the most important skill of all – to wield the initiative!”

“Yet, after changing his style, he retained his won, original way of looking at the game. Korchnoi’s deliberations about chess were always to the point, yet unexpected.”

I end the review here. I could continue, going on and on, ad infinitum. I have attempted to convey the tenor of the book to the reader to the best of my ability. You, the reader, will decide if I managed to impart a glimmer of what this marvelous book contains.

A personal note: While reading a book to review I never write in the book; any book. To do so would be to deface the book. A book is sacrosanct. I place paper in the book, and then reread the pages containing the inserted slips of paper. It is almost like reading it twice. I agonized on what to include, which caused much anguish after deciding to exclude parts for the review. While rereading parts of the book I cogitated on how to begin the review. This, too, caused much anguish. There is so much contained in the book that I could write other, totally different, reviews, using none of the above.

I have read every book written by the author, one of the very best writer’s on the Royal game, not to mention his many articles. My admiration for Genna Sosonko is unbounded. This work is his pièce de résistance.