The first round is complete and the field has been narrowed to 64 grandmasters, so it is time to make my predictions. Already a handful of big names have departed, including Joel Lautier, who was Kramnik's second in the match with Kasparov. For those of you who have been following the Alex phenomena, 18 of the 100 players had some variation of Alex for their first name (Alex, Alexander, Alexey, etc.). 5 of these were eliminated in the first round, including 3 in all-Alex match-ups (Chernin over Utnasunov, Ivanov over Federov, and Galkin over Wohl). All 5 US players advanced to round 2, and at least one will move on to round 3 as Ivanov and Serper square off in round 2. Now for my fearless predictions:
Because of the FIDE pairing method the top bracket is considerably stronger than the bottom. Defending champion Alexander Khalifman faces an uphill struggle to reach the semis with Anand, Leko, Krasenkow and Short also in his bracket. Most people are picking Anand as the favorite on his home turf. I'm going to go against the grain and pick Leko. dark horse in this bracket is Khalifman. In bracket two we have Adams, Svidler, and Topalov. I'll go with Adams, with van Wely as my dark horse. Morozevich and Ivanchuk are the stars of bracket 3, and I think this is the most likely place for a "tourist" to emerge. I'll go with Morozevich as my official pick, but I'll be rooting for longshot Gregory Serper to be the stunning semi-finalist (he's beaten me twice this year, so he must be playing some fantastic chess 8-). Finally, bracket 4 with Alexei Shirov and Boris Gelfand. I've got to go with the people's champion, Shirov, with Evegeny Bareev as my outside shot.
The field of 100 is ready to start the annual(?) FIDE knockout tournament tomorrow in New Dehli. Most of the big names are playing, but there are once again several huge exceptions. Kramnik, Kasparov, Karpov, Judit Polgar, and Seirawan are all absent for various reasons. The US players will try to improve on their dismal showing in Las Vegas where they all lost their first matches. The 5 US players are Gulko, Yermolinsky, Benjamin, Serper, and A. Ivanov. The first 3 are paired down in the first round, while Ivanov must face the tough GM Federov. The pairing system is a bit unusual in that the players are matched like they would be in a Swiss System with the top player playing the top player of the bottom half instead of the NCAA way where the top player would play the bottom player. This is a tough break for Ivanov since his rating of 2567 places him just below the cut facing a world class GM, while Serper at 2574 is just above the cut and gets a 2400 rated IM. I'm going to hold off on predictions until the field reduces to 64 and we can hopefully see some kind of bracket.
I've added my two games this year with Dimitry Gurevich to the GM games section. The first one, from Chicago, probably deserves some deeper analysis, especially between moves 25 and 29 when he sacrificed a piece.
I made the annual trek to Kings Island last weekend for Bill Goichberg's event. It didn't seem quite as well attended as in years past, but the open section was still fairly strong with 5 GMs. I won the first round and had an interesting opening struggle as White against US Cadet Champion Mark Geist in round 2: 1.d4 e6 2.c4 f5 3.g4!? I've tried this line a few times with success and don't think it is as bad as its reputation. 3...fxg4 4.Bf4!? My latest try. I had tried 4.e4 against Randy Pals with success in 1993 after 4...Qh4 5.Bf4. But in 1997, he got a very good position with 4...e5. 4.h3 is best met by 4...g3. 4...Nf6 5.h3 g3 6.Bxg3 Bb4+ 7.Nc3 Ne4 8.Qd3 d5 It is probably better to play 8...Nxg3 with an unbalanced position. 9.Be5 Qh4 10.Nf3!
This move got the attention of spectators around my board. After 10...Qxf2+ 11.Kd1 Black's queen is in a precarious position. 11...0-0 12.Kc2 threatening Rh2 looks good for White, so Black would probably have to try 11...Ng3, but White looks OK after 12.Bxg3 (12. Rg1!? is a crazy idea that I haven't had time to analyze) 12...Qxg3 13.Rg1. The zwischenzug 10...dxc4? loses to 11.Qe3 winning a piece. After some thought he backed off with 10...Qe7, but after 11.Rg1 Rg8 12.Nd2 I was much better and went on to win.
This win got me up into the top boards where I stayed for the rest of the tournament. In Round 3, I had the White pieces against Emory Tate. This game wasn't as hair-raising as some of our other encounters, but was a tough struggle nevertheless. I thought I might have had a slight pull in a B vs. N ending, but was running a bit short of time and may have made some inaccuracies. We finally reached the following position after my 45th move
After long thought, he went for 45...Nd3+!? 46.Bxd3 If it wasn't the end of a long day, I probably would have gone for 45.Ke2 instead. However, I still have a nagging feeling that I missed something in the pawn ending 46...cxd3 47.Ke1 I don't think White can do without this move either now or on the next move e.g., 47.b3 Kf5 48.a3 (48.Ke1!) 48...Ke4 49.b4 axb4 50.axb4 d4! 51.exd4 Kxd4 52.b5 (52.Ke1 Kc3! -+) 52...Kc3 53.b6 d2 54.b7 d1Q 55.b8Q with a theoretical draw but one that can be difficult to show in practice. 47...Kf5 48.b3 On 48.a4, Black does not take the pawn, but instead plays back 48...Ke5 when White looks to be in trouble. 49.b3 Ke4 50.Kd2 d4 51.exd4 Kxd4 and Black penetrates the queenside. 48.Kd2 Kxg5 49.a4 Kf5 50.b4 axb4 51.a5 Ke4! also looks good for Black. 48...Kxg5 49.a3 Kf5 50.b4 axb4 51.axb4 Ke5 51...g5 52.Kd2 Ke4? would be a mistake 53.b5 g4 54.b6 g3 55.b7 d4 (55...g2 56.b8Q g1Q 57.Qf4#) 55.exd4 g2 56.b8Q g1Q 57.Qe5+ Kf3 58.Qf5+ followed by Qg6+ and Qxg1 winning. 52.Kd2 g5 53.Kxd3 Kd6 54.e4 dxe4+ 1/2-1/2
I had some tough pairings on Sunday. It was a painful lesson in why you should work at analyzing your own games. I faced 2 GMs that I had already played this year, Gurevich and Serper. If you've been paying attention to my GM games section you've noticed that I haven't posted those games yet. The reason is that I haven't spent much time on them. So of course I got the same colors and the same openings against both players! I had looked only briefly at both games and had very small improvements in the openings. I got a reasonable position with Black against Gurevich, but then may have paniced a bit and went into an inferior ending that I managed to hold with some active play after he missed an interesting winning attempt. The game with Serper was worse. I played an idea that I had thought about during our US Open game, but hadn't really examined closely. It probably wasn't too bad, but I did not follow up correctly and got a wretched middle game position, which he converted pretty easily. I'll try to get all 4 of my games against those 2 players posted this weekend.
I've been playing some on the US Chess Live server lately. It seems to be a great deal for USCF members. For no additional fee you get full access to the server. This includes tournaments for prizes (gift certificates to the US Chess store), lectures by top US players (e.g., Michael Rhode analyzed the K-K match each night and Shabalov has provided nightly analysis from the Olympiad), and the popular banter chess where two GMs square off and whisper their thoughts to the audience while the game is in progress. There is a small ad bar in the lower corner, but I don't find it distracting, and I'm all for keeping the service free.
I tried the blitz tournament last Friday night. I was ranked something like 4th out of over 70 players. It was a bit too fast for my taste at 3 0. Plus, it has been a long time since I have played regularly on the internet. I blundered horribly in the first game dropping my queen while up the exchange and finally getting mated when we each had under 5 seconds. I bounced back and won my next 5 straight, but could only pull off a draw in the last round on Board 1 and finished out of the money 4th. Needless to say at that speed most of the games were blunder filled. Still, they seem to have 3 or 4 tournaments a week with various time controls, so there should be something for everyone's taste. Check it out if you haven't already.
It's official. Vladimir Kramnik is the new king of the chess world. After 15 years, the reign of Garry Kasparov is over. With draws in games 14 and 15, Kramnik closed out one of the most remarkable matches in chess history. Despite his obituary already being written (London bookmakers stopped taking money on Kramnik to win the match) Kasparov did not go down quietly in the final two games. In game 14, Kramnik threw out a slight suprise on move one, opening with his old favorite 1.Nf3. I thought that he would stick with 1.d4 since Kasparov had struggled so much against it. However, since dodging a bullet in game 12, Kramnik seemed content to draw out the match. Kasparov played strongly in the middle game, and Kramnik perhaps panicked with the pawn sacrifice c5 giving up a pawn to try for drawing chances in a rook ending. Kasparov ended up with 4 vs. 3 all on the same side of the board. A theoretcial draw, but sometimes difficult in practice. Recall Kasparov lost this ending in a quick chess game to Piket earlier in the year. Also, Kramnik's pawn formation was not the ideal f2-g3-h4, but instead f3-g3-h4 which kept his king cut off on the back rank. The debate as to whether or not the players traded blunders near the end has already begun. A real heartbreaker for Kasparov, as he also admitted in the press conference. Game 15 could have been a real thriller with practically all the chips on the table if Kasparov could have won this game.[Event "Braingames WCC"]
Game 15 was fairly quiet. Kasparov finally shelved 1.e4 in favor of the Catalan. He achieved some pressure, but Kramnik didn't let it grow out of control, and he finally surrendered the draw and the title at move 38. The King is Dead. Long Live the King.[Event "Braingames WCC"]
So what comes next? In the press conference Kramnik was asked about reconciliation with FIDE (I've seen some interviews with FIDE officials stating that they might breach the subject), but he toed the party line saying that he was committed to Braingames (which, however, has not ruled out reconciliation, so we can keep our fingers crossed). A very subdued Garry Kasparov admitted he had been outprepared in the match. He vowed to continue to show his strength in tournament play starting in Wijk aan Zee. In a bit of irony, he said he was waiting for Braingames to tell him what to do to qualify for another shot at the title. Somewhere, Alexei Shirov must have been smiling