26 January 2008

Carlsen back on top

At this moment, Aronian's one pawn advantage looks insufficient for the win and the other games in the Corus A group have finished. Most astounding was Magnus Carlsen's win over Kramnik with Black! It looks like the teenager has an excellent chance to win this year.

Update: 10:33am PST Aronian-Ivanchuk 1/2-1/2
Yesterday I doubted; today I believe. Carlsen caught Aronian.

25 January 2008

Aronian moves into lead

Four of the seven games in the Corus A group were decisive today!

As Black, World Champion Vishwanathan Anand defeated tournament leader and wunderkind Magnus Carlsen, while Levon Aronian won with White against the top Dutch player, Loek Van Wely. Also winning with Black: Teimour Radjabov and Pavel Elijanov. With two rounds to go Aronian moves into first place.

Carlsen still faces Radjabov and Kramnik. It is hard to imagine that he will catch Aronian, but today demonstrated that at least half of the field still has a chance to emerge on top.

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23 January 2008

Things Run Together

Chess and Politics

In the morning’s chess classes, I found myself telling some youth about certain reprehensible gestures that arose in chess competition. The word reprehensible states mildly my view of the behavior of Veselin Topalov’s manager Silvio Danailov during the World Championship Reunification match in Elista in 2006, and consequently towards Topalov himself. Since Toiletgate, as someone dubbed it, my preference has been to ignore Topalov, which seemed to create only minor inconveniences due to his less than optimal play.

Yesterday, he forced me to take notice. Topalov played a terrific game against Vladimir Kramnik, and every loss by the world’s top player merits attention. Finding the last move of the game served as an appropriately challenging problem for my beginning and intermediate students, while the middlegame complexities following the knight sacrifice offers plenty of material to challenge advanced students.

As I mentioned in my piece on Fischer last week, disregard of a player’s games because I abhor some aspect of his behavior can stand in the way of my own chess progress. I made the error of avoiding 1.e4 for a few years because Fischer favored it—I opt not to play it for better reasons today. Likewise, avoiding Topalov’s games because he needs some behavior modification—or at least the sense to fire his manager—cuts me away from some beautiful chess. Topalov is an exciting player.

Units of Knowledge

Politics creeping into chess is one thing, but the serendipity of today’s lunchtime reading is quite another. A brief statement on a history blog—Historiann: History and sexual politics—where I also had posted some comments caught my attention at breakfast. Monocle Man took issue with the term meme.

meme Richard Dawkins’s 1976 coinage, on the analogy to gene (with a little aid from mime and mimic), for a cultural copying unit, such as the word or melody that is mimicked by others.
William H. Calvin and Derek Bickerton, Lingua ex Machina, end matter

Meme: an idea, project, statement or even a question that is posted by one blog and responded to by other blogs. Although the term encompasses much of the natural flow of communication in the Blogosphere, there are active bloggers and blog sites that are dedicated to the creation of memes on a regular basis.
Blogjargon,” frEdSCAPEs 0.1

Memes, self reproducing mental information structures analogous to genes in biology, can be seen as the basis for an explanatory model of cultural and psychological behaviour. Their properties and effects are evolutionary conditioned and ultimately seeks to promote their replication.
Henrik Bjarneskans, Bjarne Grønnevik and Anders Sandberg, “The Lifecycle of Memes

At lunch I was reading Jorge Luis Borges: Selected Non-Fictions, in particular the 1927 essay “An Investigation of the Word.” This essay does not employ the term meme, which was invented a half-century later. Yet, the sentence Borges interrogates from Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote seems to have taken on a life of its own in several languages.

En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero recordar
In a place in La Mancha, whose name I do not wish to recall
As quoted in Borges, Selected Non-Fictions, 32.

Borges’s essay anticipates and intervenes into subsequent conversations regarding post-structuralism, but serendipity connects it to this chess blog (and brushes together again two works I usually keep separate—my history notebook and my chess ramblings):

How many units of thought does language include? It is not possible to answer this question. For the chess player, the locutions “queen’s gambit,” pawn to king’s four,” knight to king’s three check,” are unities; for the beginner, they are phrases he gradually comprehends.
Borges, Selected Non-Fictions, 36.

One wonders if the notion that a player is required to say “check” when attacking the opponent’s king might be considered a meme. Although I do not teach this myth, I hear it repeated by those I’ve taught, as if the fiction replicates itself. I heard it again today in a classroom and let it pass without comment.

22 January 2008

Eventful Days

Death of a Legend

Bobby Fischer died at 64 (an "evocative age," according to the Wall Street Journal). He was buried in Iceland in a small ceremony. Iceland, Garry Kasparov reminds us, was "the site of his greatest triumph." I offered some personal reminiscences Friday.

Echoes of Elista

Toiletgate has not ended as we learned when Ivan Cheparinov refused to shake hands with Nigel Short, was forfeited, apologized, and then lost when the game was played.

The official website for the Corus tournament tells us that Kramnik and Topalov did not shake hands, but had one offered, the other would have been obliged.

Also Veselin Topalov had prepared well for his game with Vladimir Kramnik today, deviating from Kramnik-Anand, Mexico City 2007 with a novelty 12.Nxf7! (Cheparinov, Topalov's second, is credited with the discovery)

Black to move
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Kramnik might take some comfort from the knowledge that tournament leader Magnus Carlsen also lost today.

18 January 2008

Bobby Fischer 1943-2008

Robert J. "Bobby" Fischer was a singularly historic chess player. He remains an icon of unsurpassed chess skill and of the social awkwardness that often afflicts anyone with a single-minded pursuit of a single objective. He died yesterday in Iceland.

When he became a Grandmaster at age 15 in 1958, he was the youngest to achieve that title—a record that stood until 1991 when Judit Polgar achieved the title slightly more than one month younger than Fischer had been. The age of achievement of becoming the youngest Grandmaster ever has fallen frequently in recent years as noted at ChessBase News.

Fischer's battle with Boris Spassky for the World Chess Championship became a minor skirmish in the four-decade long Cold War—a lone American individualist taking on the chess machine of the Soviet Union and winning, winning despite an abysmal start that included a forfeited game due to squabbles about noise and lighting.

After becoming World Champion, Fischer stopped playing tournaments. In 1975, negotiations broke down regarding terms for his title defense and he was stripped of his title, thus facilitating his claim, and that of many of his fans, that he remained the champion. In 1992 he played a rematch with Spassky, winning decisively. His political difficulties with the United States government grew worse because this match violated U.S. economic sanctions against Yugoslavia, where the match was played.

I became serious about chess while the negotiations for Fischer’s title defense against Anatoly Karpov were falling apart. Living outside a small town in the eastern New Mexico desert, and lacking a solid internet connection in 1975, the news came in bits and pieces. Nevertheless, even on the Llano Estacado we knew about some of Fischer’s demands—enough that I would have cringed then, as I did this morning, to read that he refused to defend his title. Fischer demanded a match of potentially unlimited duration, played until one player won ten games. The Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE) offered a compromise limiting the match to thirty-six games. Then, in March 1975, FIDE accepted Fischer’s demand, but was unwilling to concede his related demand that the challenger had to win by two games—a nine to nine tie would result in victory for the champion. Fischer refused to budge, so in April 1975 FIDE declared Anatoly Karpov the new champion.

As a budding chess player in 1975, I challenged a friend to a long match to see who might prevail. Thinking we understood Fischer’s argument, we decided to play the best of twenty-one games (of course, at our level of play draws were rare, so that part of the issue was obscure to us). We were evenly matched at the beginning, but I started reading chess books and learning a little bit about tactics. By the twenty-first game, I was well ahead. This success generated an enthusiasm for chess that continues to grow. Fischer’s notoriety contributed to my interest, but his legacy would change.

Fischer played 1.e4 almost exclusively with the White pieces, and I recall hearing him say, “There is only one first move for White” (the statement might be apocryphal). When this hubris combined with my horror to learn of some of his political and cultural views, I decided to play 1.d4 or anything else that Fischer didn’t play. Eventually, such anti-Fischer attitudes harmed the quality of my play. In time, I learned to appreciate his chess while remaining distant from his politics.

In recognition of Fischer’s achievement, I offer two positions from his games.

Position from Fischer—Euwe 1960, White to move

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Position from Fischer—Benko 1963, White to move

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Edit: MSNBC might continue editing their story on Fischer throughout the day, but it still erroneously claims "Fischer lost his world title in 1975 after refusing to defend it against Anatoly Karpov," although the article is much expanded over what I read several hours ago.

16 January 2008

Kramnik Wins

It's the English, not the Catalan, but at least it has some of the features of Kramnik's old repertoire:

Kramnik,V (2799) - Eljanov,P (2692) [A16]
Corus A Wijk aan Zee NED (4), 15.01.2008

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Qa4+ Bd7 5.Qb3 dxc4 6.Qxc4 c5 7.g3 Nc6 8.Bg2 Qb6 9.0-0 Qb4 10.Qxb4 cxb4 11.Nb5 Rc8 12.b3 e5 13.Bb2 Be7 14.d4 e4 15.Ne5 Be6 16.d5 Bxd5 17.Bh3 Be6 18.Bxe6 fxe6 19.Rfc1 0-0 20.Nxc6 Rxc6 21.Rxc6 bxc6 22.Nxa7 c5 23.Nc6 Nd5 24.a4 bxa3 25.Rxa3 Rc8 26.Ra6 Bf8 27.e3 Nc7 28.Ra7 Nd5 29.Ne5 Rb8 30.Nd7 Rxb3 31.Ba3 Be7 32.Bxc5 Bxc5 33.Nxc5 Rb1+ 34.Kg2 Rb2 35.Ra3 Nf6 36.Ra8+ Kf7 37.Ra7+ Ke8 38.Ra6 Ng4 39.Nxe4 Nxe3+ 40.Kf3 Nd5 41.Rxe6+ Kf8 42.Rd6 Ne7 43.Rd8+ Kg7 44.Rd7 Kf8 45.Nf6 h5 46.Ra7 Rb5 47.Ke4 Rb4+ 48.Ke3 Rb5 49.Ne4 Re5 50.f3 Rb5 51.h3 Nd5+ 52.Kd4 Ne7 53.Ra6 Rf5 54.Ke3 Nd5+ 55.Kf2 Ne7 56.Ra8+ Kg7 57.Ra7 Kf8 58.Rb7 Ra5 59.g4 hxg4 60.hxg4 Rd5 61.Kg3 Ra5 62.Kh4 Re5 63.Nf6 Kf7 64.f4 Ra5 65.Nd7 g5+ 66.fxg5 Ke6 67.Kh5 Rd5 68.Nf8+ 1-0

14 January 2008

Kramnik's New Repertoire

Vladimir Kramnik has not played the Catalan at Wijk aan Zee yet. Is he changing his opening repertoire in preparation for his match against Anand?

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03 January 2008

Research and Improvement

There are many ways to improve. From time to time I play through games in Chess Informant in the effort to expand my knowledge and understanding. Today I'm playing through one of the games nominated as one of the best in Informant 94. Thirty games from 94 are listed in Informant 95 as the nominees. The game I'm examining this morning is number 27 on the list, as it received no votes from the distinguished jurors. Nevertheless, Rytshagov - Lugovoi, Jyvaskyla 2005 has merits as a terrific and instructive struggle.

The position prior to White's thirteenth move appears in seven games in the Chessbase online database, which does not include this game for some reason.

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Here, Rytshagov played 13.Nf5!?

This move, acccording to the Chessbase database was previously played in Sulskis - Izoria, Ohrid 2001. That game, and the current one both continued

13...exf5 14.Nd5 Qb7 15.exf5 Nde5, and then diverge.

Here Sulskis played 16.f4, but Rytshagov played 16.f6.

It appears that 13.Nf5 has been played only twice, and that White won both games. Yet, the idea behind this sacrifice may show up in other positions. Perhaps it merits further research. First, however, it seems important to make the effort to understand the purpose behind the sacrifice.