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Do you notice lately that all the openings are starting to look the same? On the kingside it is either the Berlin (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6) the Petroff (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6) or the Giuoco Piano (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5). On the queenside we usually get the Queen’s Gambit Declined (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3), the Catalan (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2) or various forms of the London System (1.d4 and 2.Bf4) or Torre-Trompowsky (1.d4 and 2.Bg5).
The 2019 Grand Chess Tour is a series of tournaments (two classical and five rapid/blitz events) where each participant is given GCT (Grand Chess Tour) points depending on how they finish in the individual events. The top 4 players will then go to the London Finals with its very big prizes.
The Tata Steel Rapid and Chess Tournament (Kolkata, India) was the penultimate event of the 2019 Grand Chess Tour. The reigning world chess champion Magnus Carlsen dominated this event from start to finish, scoring 2.5/3 a day in the first three days (the Rapid portion) and then 6.5/9 followed by 5.5/9 in the final two days (Blitz portion). His 27 out of 36 pts is also the best performance ever in these Rapid/Blitz events.
In Bucharest Wesley started very poorly. As you know earlier this month Wesley was crowned the 1st World Champion in Fischer Random chess, a variation of chess where you shuffle the pieces on the first rank before start of play. The point of this exercise of course is to remove the whole body of chess opening theory from the competition. On the one hand it can now be claimed that Wesley is the best pure chess player in the world, on the other hand Wesley would need an adjustment period before going back to classical chess, and it showed in this tournament.
Here in Batumi it was interesting to see the changes taking place within the various team rosters. We start with almost no change in the English squad (the 47-year-old Michael Adams has been representing England since 1989, 38-years old Luke McShane played for England in the 2002 Bled Olympiad, interned at Goldman Sachs in 2006 and retired from chess in 2007 to become a trader. He is just recently coming back to chess) to France’s 12-year-old Marc Maurizzi.
Wesley So is the first official World Fischer Random Chess Champion of the world -- and he did this in the most impressive way possible, by defeating Magnus Carlsen, world champion in classical and blitz chess, also former world champion in rapid. In other words Carlsen is or was world champion in all time controls in chess and this Fischer Random version is the only form that eludes him. As Magnus puts it: “Whenever there are titles to be had, I wanna have them. That’s my general mindset (smiles).”
Jeffery Xiong is one of the new heroes of American chess. In September 2015, at the age of 14, he was awarded the title of International Grandmaster by the World Chess Federation (FIDE). He followed this up by winning the US Junior Championship the following year. In September, Xiong played in the FIDE World Cup. Although he was seeded no. 31st he made it to the quarter-finals (final 8) by upsetting Anish Giri and Jan-Krzysztof Duda.
The former Deputy Prime Minister of Russia in Dmitry Medvedev’s cabinet from 2012-2018, Arkady Dvorkovich, is a chess enthusiast. He must have inherited this from his father, Vladimir, who was an international chess arbiter. When Dvorkovich was elected president of FIDE in October 2018 he instituted several changes, and one of these was the tie-up with the Isle of Man organizers to establish the FIDE Grand Swiss. Starting this year the winner of the Isle of Man Open was to be seeded into the Candidates tournament, the event which will determine the challenger to the world championship.
The FIDE Grand Swiss tournament is currently ongoing. The annual Isle of Man Open has been elevated in status by FIDE. After a huge infusion of prize money it is now called the “Grand Swiss,” and FIDE’s contribution is that there is a bonus -- whoever wins here gets a qualification spot in the 2020 Candidates’ Tournament.
Flashback to the 1979 Philippine National Chess Championships. This was 40 years ago and at that time we were still indisputably the no. 1 chess country in Asia. The rise of China and India as world chess powers was still many years in the future. Regional rival Vietnam on the other hand had just been reunited and the country as a while was still politically and economically isolated from the rest of the world and there was no indication of organized chess at any level. To sum it up, in 1979 there were only two International Grandmasters in Asia and both of them were from the Philippines.
Have you heard about the game AlphaZero? Nine years ago Demis Hassabis, a very strong chess player who used to be ranked as the no. 2 junior in England, founded a company called DeepMind Technologies in London with the idea of establishing a neural network that mimics the short-term memory of the human brain.
Teimour Radjabov defeated Ding Liren 6-4 in the finals to win the 2019 World Cup. He had to survive a grueling 25-day event with games everyday and only two one-day breaks. Round about the 15th day of competition the participants were already complaining about exhaustion and this was only the halfway point!
Teimour Radjabov, a 32-year-old Azeri Grandmaster, scored the biggest win of his life by beating top seed Ding Liren in tiebreaks to win the 2019 FIDE World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk and bring home the top prize of $110,000 (P5.6 million). This was a surprise on several levels, first because Radjabov is semi-retired, second because at the beginning of this event he had revealed his plan to completely give up chess, and third because in previous tournaments he had shown a disinclination to fight, frequently agreeing to draws without any real chess being played.
The 21-year-old Grandmaster (GM) from Poland, Jan-Krzysztof Duda and his even younger rival from the United States, 18-year-old GM Jeffery Xiong, played the most exciting match in the FIDE World Cup in this 4th round. They exchanged wins in the classical, rapid (25+10) and fast rapid (10+10) without a single draw. It was only in the blitz (5+3) that Xiong finally prevailed. By that time, we were very sad that one of the two had to go home as the chess they played was the stuff that made you want to stay up all night.
There are 16 players left standing in the 2019 FIDE World Cup. What is interesting about this Final 16 is that three of the players (Peter Svidler, Nikita Vitiugov and Kirill Alekseenko) are from St. Petersburg, and are members of the same chess club “Mednyi Vsadnik” from the former Leningrad. This, combined with the fact that another one of the Final 16 Leinier Dominguez, formerly Cuba but now representing the USA, is also a member of that club, means that 25% of all the qualifiers are “Mednyi Vsadnik” players. No wonder they are the current European and Russian club champions!
Was it the time control? I don’t think so. There was no extra time given after the first 40 moves, after which instead of an increment they only had a time delay, 30 seconds allowance before your clock starts -- if you execute your move before the 30 seconds is exhausted this is not added to your time. This rule does not give the players enough thinking time come the endgame, and the players HAD to go into the endgame as no draw offers were allowed. This caused many players to blunder, a prime example being Wesley So losing to Nepomniachtchi despite being the aggressor in the middlegame and early endgame. As the game wore on and they reached the 100th move Wesley was just exhausted from continuously needing to make his move before 30 seconds and collapsed.
Magnus Carlsen and Ding Liren both won two games each and drew nine to tie for first in the 7th Sinquefield Cup tournament held in its headquarters at the Saint Louis Chess Club in Saint Louis, Missouri. According to the rules the tie had to be broken via two-game matches.
Together with the start of the Russian SuperFinals their Federation also announced that the Russian Ministry of Education has now decided to make chess a compulsory subject throughout Russia. In April this year, chess lessons were introduced in 18,000 Russian schools, almost half of all general education schools in Russia. Starting Sept. 1, all Russian first graders will study chess for at least 33 hours per year. Chess replaces the third period of physical education class.
GM Evgeny Tomashevsky, nicknamed “The Professor,” won the Championship for a second time with an undefeated 3 wins and 8 draws, 7.0/11, half a point ahead of his pursuers Vitiugov, Matlakov and Inarkiev. Tomashevsky was in the leading group for most of the tournament but it was only in the final round, when he defeated tournament revelation Kiril Alekseenko in a tremendous battle, that he managed to grab the solo lead.
Aronian won all of his three games in the first day of the Rapid/Blitz and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave did the same in the second day. From then on it was the two of them fighting for the lead. In the blitz portion the two Chinese GMs Ding Liren and Yu Yangyi came forth to battle for the lead but when the smoke of battle had cleared, Aronian had built enough of a lead in the Rapid portion to finish half a point ahead of the second-placers. The Armenian no. 1 won the USD$13,500 first prize and he did that despite losing the first and last game on the final day.
There was a no prize-sharing policy in place. If, for example, two players tied for first place normally each of them will receive $37,500 ($50,000 1st place plus $25,000 2nd place then divided by two). In Hunan whoever finishes first after tie-breaks are applied receives the 50,000.
The Grand Chess Tour is comprised of five rapid/blitz tournaments and two classical (Croatia which took place last June and Sinquefield Cup which starts August 15) events. The twelve full tour participants will play in both classical events as well as in three of the five rapid/blitz tournaments.
The French GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (or “MVL”) made full use of his homecourt advantage and won the Paris Rapid/Blitz Tournament, part of the 2019 Grand Chess Tour. Let me clear something up. The tournament I wrote about last week, the Riga Grand Prix, was part of the FIDE Grand Prix which in turn is one of the qualifying events to the world championship.
2019 FIDE Grand Prix series consists of four knockout tournaments, each with 16 players who are paired into 8 mini-matches. The mini-matches consist of two games of classical chess, with a time control of 90 minutes for the 1st 40 moves then 30 minutes to the end of the game, with a 30-second increment from move 1. If the match is tied two 25+10 rapid games are played. If still tied, there are two slow rapid (10+10) games, then two 5-minute blitz games with 3 seconds increment. Finally, if the two players are still tied, a single Armageddon game is played, where White has 5 minutes to Black’s 4 (with a 2-second increment from move 61) but Black wins the match with a draw.
The first round of the Riga Grand Prix began last July 12th. Sixteen players competed in a knockout tournament. Each round consists of two games of classical chess, with a time control of 90 minutes for the first 40 moves then 30 minutes to the end of the game, with a 30-second increment from move 1. If the match is tied two 25+10 rapid games are played. If still tied, there are two slow rapid (10+10) games, then two 5-minute blitz games with three seconds increment. Finally, if the two players are still tied, a single Armageddon game is played, where White has five minutes to Black’s four (with a two-second increment from move 61) but Black wins the match with a draw.
Magnus Carlsen put on a great performance to win the Croatia leg of the 2019 Grand Chess Tour and Wesley So did very well himself to finish a strong second, but they were not the only ones playing some good chess. Today I will show you the game Caruana versus Nakamura, which was very interesting to me since it featured the Baguio Variation, played in game 21 of the Karpov versus Korchnoi world championship match in 1978 held in the Baguio Convention Center.
After winning the Croatia leg of the Grand Chess Tour, Magnus Carlsen’s rating is at 2882 which ties the highest-ever rating he (or anyone else in the world for that matter) has ever achieved. He won the world title from Vishy Anand in 2013 and retained it in 2014. He was also the world champion in rapid and blitz, the first player to simultaneously hold all these titles.
Magnus Carlsen has just won his eighth consecutive tournament with an overpowering 5-win 6-draw result in the Zagreb leg of the 2019 Grand Chess Tour. The moving spirit behind this event is former World Champion Garry Kasparov. As you may know Kasparov tried to run for President of Russia in 2008 against Vladimir Putin but failure to find a sufficiently large rental space to assemble the number of supporters that is legally required to endorse such a candidacy forced him to withdraw. Kasparov blamed “official obstruction” for the lack of available space.