An unexamined life is not worth living.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Topalov beats Kamsky

Gata Kamsky had great winning chances in the 7th game of the match, but Topalov skilfully complicated the position which proved very effective against Kamsky’s habit of getting into time trouble. So Topalov goes through to face Anand after winning this match 4.5 – 2.5. Even though some might say that 8 games for a match like this is not long enough, it was still a very entertaining event to follow. I enjoyed following the live broadcast on ICC’s chess FM during the last game, and if you speak Russian I also strongly recommend watching Sergei Shipov’s great video commentary of each game.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Kamsky - Topalov, It's 2-2!! Go Gata, Go!

Gata Kamsky just tied the match against Veselin Topalov. Fischer said that playing the Spanish opening is like "milking a cow", but it seems it's not that simple if you are playing the #1 rated player. Game 4 seems like a great positional accomplishment by Gata Kamsky! If you were following his matches against Kramnik and Anand from the mid 90-s - you'd remember that he was extremely dangerous in matches (he came back after having -2 against Anand in one of those candidates matches), so I was really hoping for something like this. His comeback to chess after a lot of years of absense is very inspiring, so I am definitely cheering for Kamsky in this match.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Strategic mistake, Koons-Jiganchine, 2006

By playing 10..Bf2? I made a strategic mistake and decided to win material instead of finishing my development. I rather naively missed the fact that my remaining pieces would be hard to develop, and White king will be in no danger at all. It was much better to simply exchange the queens.

11. Kxf2 Qh4+ 12. g3 Qxc4 13. Qd6

compensation for the pawn is terrific. I was later extremely lucky to save the game.

Bishop endgame (Wright-Jiganchine, 1999)

10 years ago I lost an instructive endgame to a BC chess master Stephen Wright:

Black has a passed pawn on c5, so it may seem he is playing with an extra pawn, but that is just an illusion. He is in fact worse since his king is always tied down to the a6 pawn. I exchanged pawns on g4 which was a mistake, and since White got a passed pawn on the kingside, I quickly went down. For all these years since then I thought that by playing f7-f6 or f7-f5 I could have held this position. Now I realized that things are not so simple. Not to bore you with crazy analysis, please have a look at this possible position and tell me if my general reasoning is way off:

Black has to keep king on b7 or a7 to protect a6, and bishop on f7 to cover c4 and protect h5. When the Black king is on a7, White can play Bc4 and take over the diagonal (pawn endgame is bad for black). There is probably a way for White to break through this 'fortress'. f5 is an additional weakness that the black bishop can be forced to defend. I think White wins here

Book review: Kasparov: How His Predecessors Misled Him About Chess

I've got myself a copy of Kasparov: How His Predecessors Misled Him About Chess. Since I have a copy of all the seven recent Kasparov's volumes, I could not resist getting something that builds up on Kasparov's work. This book is a collection of games by world champions with references to similar themes in Kasparov's own games. It is written in a pretty entertaining style, the tone being appropriately a parody on Kasparov's tone in his "Predecessors" volumes.

The correlation between Kasparov and his predecessors' games in some examples seemed pretty obvious, but others were a bit more of the type "Alekhine played the Slav, and look, here Kasparov plays the Slav too", or "Capablanca executed a bishop sacrifice on h7, and here is a similar one played by Junior against Garry". The ones I was more interested were the endgames that Karpov drew or won, and then ones with similar material where Garry either lost or failed to win. The idea that Kasparov might have known about Karpov's games and drew wrong conclusions from them actually seems not that far fetched. It also allows to compare the skills of two players, since opening knowledge (which improves among all players as time goes) here is not relevant.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Las Vegas - gambling vs. games (and Khalifman)

I just got back from a short trip to Las Vegas. Among other things I was impressed by how many people are actually glued to the slot machines. The atmosphere reminded me of chess tournaments (in a sense that people are stuck to their chairs for days), but obviously a lot more people are into slot machines than into French defense. In some ways, you'd think chess would be a lot more appealing to folks who want to kill time, but perhaps the amount of effort and dedication required is too much. Even if you win some cash in an open chess tournament, that happens only once per trip. Perhaps it is as simple as the fact that 99.99% of people care about money a lot more than about any pawn structure nuances. Below is the picture of Caesar's Palace hotel where Alexander Khalifman won his FIDE Champion title in 1999. Apparently at the time, nobody in town knew about the event going on, and if they did, they probably would not care.
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Khalifman, incidentally is an awesome chess player, often underestimated because he won his title without beating Kasparov, however as it often happens - lesser (compared to Kasparov) players can have a lot of very instructive games in their collection. I have a copy of Khalifman: Life and Games in Russian, and each game seems to contain a sacrifice that would win a beauty prize in a major tournament. His opening repertoir is sharp and extensive, so you'd find an instructive example from any major opening. It's too bad that his playing strength declined since the period of 1999-2000.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Assessing a position (without a computer!?)

Watching another great video from chessvibes, I was amused to hear how even a top GM (Movsesian) is careful to not assess a position without adding something along the lines of "I of course have not checked this position with the computer". Instead he prefers to say "this felt very comfortable during the game".

If GM's don't fully trust their own judgement -what can mere mortals like myself then say about a position - in a dynamic position the chances of me being wrong are likely more than 50%... But then of course there is a difference between knowing the 'truth' and just playing good moves.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

'Chess is Cool' is actually kind of cool

I must admit I have gotten quite addicted to different tech related podcasts - those turn boring exercising activities (biking or running) into real fun, and make you feel productive. I finally checked out Alexandra Kosteniuk's Chess is cool podcasts, and was pleased with the few episodes that I listened to. They provide some reasonable chess tips and the host shares some of the stories of her preparation for tournaments. So if you are a chess player, and listen to podcasts, you've got to check out her show (click on the logo). I think chess podcasts can be quite useful and entertaining, especially if they are done in dialogue/interview style.

On a personal note, I've met Alexandra Kosteniuk over the chess board when I was as old as she is on this photo (Petrosian's chess club in Moscow), and I recall in that previous life I even had a positive score against her! I did not have as much determination though ...

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