Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The curious case of premature resignation!

Before I start writing and force your brain to wander in the direction that I want, I would like you to have a look at this position with an unprejudiced mind:

White to play.
What should be the result of the game?

Now that you have come to a definite conclusion about the assessment of the above position, let's begin!
Many people say that Facebook is a waste of time. I disagree. It can be distracting at times but there is a wealth of information available out there. Today morning as I woke up and checked my news feed, I saw the following post by my good friend, GM Thomas Luther:

After reading the first question that comes to your mind is," A famous author GM. who is he?"
Of course it would have been possible to find it through much more research but help was at hand in the comments section:

Ok! So one of the players was Markus Ragger. Now a 2650+ player like Ragger would usually play in a good tournament. And with the current events going on it could be either Pardubice or Politiken Cup. I quickly open Follow Chess app which broadcasts all the current on-going events.

And within a minute I had narrowed down to the final position of the Hillarp Persson - Ragger.

Tiger Hillarp Persson vs Markus Ragger in the fifth round of the Politiken Cup (picture by Sigfred Haubro)

Let's have a look at the position that I gave at the start of this article:

After Ragger's last move f5-f4, it was Tiger's move. And can you guess what he played?

He resigned the game! Now at first sight this does not look at all unusual. It seems as if Black is winning. Let me explain the winning plan in four simple steps.
  1. With White to move he will have to give up the g3 square. 
  2. Once the black king comes to g3, white king will be sitting passively on either the g1 or the f1 square. 
  3. Ragger can then push his pawn to f3 and after the pawn exchange...
  4. ...head to the queenside with his king and mop up the remaining pawns. 

Perfect plan isn't it? Just that there is a small problem! At the right moment White can simply push his pawn to a4. If black takes the pawn then he remains with two rook pawns and all that white king has to do is to reach c1 to draw. If to a4, Black doesn't take the pawn then after axb5 axb5, white king has to reach the b2 square after Black plays Kxb4. The following are the two drawing positions to be kept in mind.

With Kd1-c1, the king is already in the drawing zone and White has nothing to worry.

And here Kc2-b2 would take the opposition and the game would end in a draw.

The variations were simple, straight-forward and logical. There was nothing complicated and a player like Tiger Hillarp Persson (for whom I have great respect) should have known all of this. Or even if he didn't know he could have easily calculated it. So why did he go wrong is the question. 

Let's see an endgame position from one of my favourite books: Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual.

Minsk 1979
Black to play

This very famous endgame was easily won by Kasparov. Have a look at his technique:

There are two important moments in this endgame which need to be kept in mind:

First placing the king in optimum position and then pushing the a-pawn to gain more space. Dvoretsky calls this as "Widening the beachhead".

And then to take the pawn with the king so that the b-pawn can be used as a battering ram with b4-b3 in order to open up the king's route to the g3 pawn. 

Just to show you how common this theme really is, have a look at the last moves of the Classic, Cohn-Rubinstein.

Cohn - Rubinstein
St. Petersburg, 1909
After a fantastic endgame which is worthy of study by every student of the game, Rubinstein reached the above position. What do you think black should do?

Of course, you need not be asked twice! Rubinstein immediately decided to widen the beachhead with h4! and with g3 coming up, all the white pawns will fall.

Of course, Tiger Hillarp Persson being an author and a very strong GM should be very well acquainted with these games. When his opponent was going to widen the beachhead, with the move f4-f3 he could see his fate unfolding similar to that of Sveshnikov and Cohn. Rather than lose all his pawns, he decided to throw in the towel.
But a very important difference that he failed to consider was that unlike the other games there were only two pawns left on the other wing (Kasparov game had 4 and Rubinstein game had 3). Also the configuration of pawns were such that the a-pawn could always be sacrificed.

Tiger must have understood all of this with ease after the game was over but as he rightly said, "I am going to end up in many books now!"

Yes, Tiger you will end up in many books but thanks a lot for this useful endgame lesson.

At this point, the famous words of Savielly Tartakower come to mind: 

" No one has ever won a game by resigning!" 

Wise words indeed! 
And by the way I hope I have proved my point that Facebook is a useful tool for improving your game! :)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Vidit sizzles in Lake Sevan

India's number four and one of the most promising youngsters Vidit Gujrathi is back in Martuni, Armenia to defend his title at the Lake Sevan invitational round robin tournament. Last year Vidit started as the seventh seed and overcame a stiff challenge from the likes of Areschenko, Kuzubov, Fedoseev etc. to win the event. In 2015, he is the second seed and one of the favourites to claim the top honours. And he gave a huge boost to his campaign scoring a win against the top seed Vladislav Artemiev on 13th of July.

With a rating of 2643, Vidit gained five Elo for his win against Artemiev and is inching towards the 2650 mark.

Vladislav Artemiev is just 17 years old and is deemed as one of the most talented youngsters in the world. His positional and endgame skills have been praised quite a bit and his skills have been compared to the likes of Capablanca and Kramnik. Just a few days ago he won the Russian Higher League and qualified for the Russian Super League which will see him battling with the likes of Svidler, Grischuk, Nepo and other top Russian players. 

Vladislav Artemiev, 2660 

It's natural to be intimidated when you face such a strong upcoming player. But Vidit is no new-comer when it comes to facing high class opponents. Ever since he has broken into 2600 which was in Jan 2014, his rating has constantly been on the rise and currently he is ranked number four in India (behind Anand, Hari and Negi) and 124th in the World.

Vidit realised that he mustn't play a positional game against Artemiev because that's where the Russian's strengths lie. He decided to go for the Russian system against the Grunfeld (5.Qb3) which is considered to be an active opening. He unleashed some sort of a novelty (played only once before) on the 14th move which must have come as a surprise to his opponent. After that move he kept playing purposeful chess to increase his advantage. He did make a few errors in the middlegame but his position always remained more pleasant. In the end he crowned his victory with a queen sacrifice which instantly forced his opponent to resign the game! Let's have a look at the game!

The usual way to play in such positions is with 14.Rg1 but Vidit played 14. 0-0!?, a move that has only been played once before.

White to play and finish off the game in style!

Of course Qxg6! came crashing on the board and Artemiev could do nothing but to resign the game.

That's the level of focus you require if you want to beat a 2660 opponent! Vidit at the start of the game.

The game under progress

This is how things stand after two rounds

The Lake Sevan tournament is extremely strong and it will be interesting to follow the battles of this young boy from Nashik. You can find all the results of the tournament over here. Every game begins at 4.30 PM IST. You can see the games live on this website or if you have an android smart phone then you must download the follow chess app. You can download this wonderful app from here.

Vidit Gujrathi analyzes with the author of these lines in World Junior 2014 as IM Prathamesh Mokal looks on.

Before I take your leave I would like to show you just one position from the game of the Spaniard Anton Guijarro who is leading the tournament.
Anton Guijarro vs Salem Saleh.
What would you play as White?

A non creative player like me would go for moves like 7.Bb5+ or 7.d4 but not a talented young 20-year-old Spanish GM. Anton Guijarro went for 7.b4! in the style of wing gambit against the Sicilian or French! Salem refused the pawn and pushed ahead with 7...c4. But if he had taken 7...cxb4, White's compensation is quite apparent after 8.Bb2 as the bishop on f8 cannot really move!

David Anton Guijarro, 2626 
With such creative young players participating in this event, the viewers are in for a ball! And what's better, we have an Indian to cheer for! Go Vidit!

Further reading:
Lake Sevan 2014: Vidit Gujrathi triumphs
Interview with GM Vidit Gujrathi

Pictures from official website and Amruta Mokal
Check out Amruta's photography page

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Around the World in 80 days-Part II

As you all know from reading the first part of "Around the world in 80 days", Amruta and I embarked on a 80 day trip to play five tournaments and visit six different countries.
I left you in the first part at the Abu Dhabi airport on 15th of April after we had played the Dubai Open. Our next stop was going to be the land of champagne and the most romantic city in the world: Paris.

A flight from Abu Dhabi to Paris takes around 7 hours and 30 minutes

We reached Paris (Charles De Gaulle Airport) early in the morning at 7.45 AM. It was great that our flight wasn't delayed as we had to catch a TGV from the airport train station to Lorraine at 10.30 AM. 

Lorraine is a town on the eastern border of France and is around 350 kms from Paris

350 kms! Now that should atleast take three hours right? Not if you decide to travel by France's high speed train service called TGV! 

Train à Grand Vitesse (TGV), took us just one hour to cover those 350 kms!

Reaching two hours before the train departs meant that you could choose the seat you wanted!

350 kms/hr, that was really mind-boggling. At some point we could feel the air pressure in the ears just as if we were travelling in an airplane. 
The important point with regards to TGV is to book your ticket in advance, say two months or so. In that way you will save a lot of money as the prices are much cheaper when booked before-hand. You can book a TGV ticket is from their official website.

Idea! The best way to know whether the prices fluctuate a lot is through the following method. Suppose you are trying to book a ticket online on 1st of February for 15th of April and you see the cost as $100. Now you can put date of travel as 2nd of February instead of 15th April and check the prices. If the price of the ticket is say around $200, you will realize that the prices increase as the date of travel nears. But if it is $100 then you don't need to pre-book it. 

But why exactly were we travelling to Lorraine? We had decided to play in the Metz Open that was to be held from the 20-26th of April 2015. 

Metz is just 38 kms away from Lorraine

Idea! Just in case you are wondering, how are we able to find such tournaments? I would heartily recommend you to become a member of the Chess Mix website. In just US $25 you get the annual subscription and there are a lot of features available over there. But the thing that I find most useful is their online chess calendar which is all the time being updated with circulars and contacts of tournaments all over the world.

When you travel through TGV it's difficult to get a still image if you don't use the sports mode on your camera!

A bus from Gare Lorraine (Gare=station in french) would take us to Gare Metz in 30 minutes

An interesting incident which occurred when we were travelling by the bus was the following: A cyclist in front of the bus was going at his own merry speed. Now the driver could have honked and asked him to move away. But he did nothing of that sort and waited for the person to himself give way to the bus. When the cyclist realized that there was a bus behind him, he immediately moved to the side of the road to let the bus pass. The patience of that bus driver and the respect he had for the other person was something that stood out for me.

We reached Metz on the afternoon of 16th of April. The tournament was due to begin from the 20th. The organizers had agreed to give us accommodation from the 19th of April. So what to do for the intervening three days?

Idea! Staying in a hotel is the normal way to do things. But new and in my opinion better way is to "Airbnb". What am I talking about? Airbnb is a website for people to rent out lodging. It has over 1,000,000 listings in 34,000 cities and 190 countries. There are mainly two ways to book the apartments. You can either book an entire apartment or stay as some kind of a paying guest in one of the rooms of the host. The latter is the cheaper way to do things and I often prefer that because you get to stay in a house that is fully functional as people are already residing. Besides, you get to interact with the owners who often give you excellent tips about the new city.

For the city of Metz, we decided to rent a room in the house of Elodie and Sylvain. I would say that if you ever decide to visit Metz, then you must stay with these two individuals. They are wonderful hosts.

Do you see the red and yellow circular things in the picture. Those are home-made macaroons made by Elodie in order to welcome us. 

Now that's a grandmaster pose! Sylvain who loves chess got a few instructions from Amruta...

...while Elodie learnt how the pieces moved!

After some training, the team of Slyvain+Elodie were ready to take on an IM!

They were such kind hosts that they treated us to a french specialty called Crepes 

Of course we too returned the favour by making some Indian food.

Idea! The first and the most important thing for a chess player who travels to a new city is to locate the best and the cheapest super market in the nearby area. You must be comfortable with the variety as well as the prices because that's the place that will be supplying the resources to you for the next 10-15 days that you will be spending in the city.

Our hosts would urge us to go and see the city of Metz. But we were too tired after the Dubai Open and also from the fact that we had traveled for many hours and were now in a different time zone. We wanted to rest. Finally after a day and half of hibernation, we decided to go out from the house into the beautiful and sunny climate of Metz. What we saw, left us flabbergasted. Now I am going to lure you to this beautiful city with some of the impressions.

Blue water, green grass!

A serene lake where you can sit and meditate...

...or just feed the swans!

Not to forget the beautiful walking tracks near the river Moselle

What a joy it is to sip a hot coffee in the cold weather in one of these alleys

Yes. it's like a fairy land!

The famous Metz Cathedral

The city center

Sometimes instead of the dogs, it's the humans who fall in love with each other!

On 19th of April one day before the tournament we shifted to Hotel Les Messines which was provided to us by the organizers. We had to pay 100 euros (Rs. 7200/-) for the stay of eight days for both of us. The room was nice and compact and the best part was that it had a kitchen which meant we could cook our own food. Cooking your own food is often the best way to save money on such a long trip. A 12 inch Pizza costs nearly 10 euros. For lunch and dinner, assuming that two of us would eat two such pizzas it would cost us nearly 20 euros per day. (other food dishes are also similarly prized.) But instead if we cooked let's say vegetable khichdi and had accompaniments with it like curd, chips and juice, still it would add up to only 6-8 euros! So, if you are going on long Euro trip, instead of learning the latest trends in the Ragozin or Scheveningen it might be a good idea to learn how to cook rice! :)

The organizer of the event Salvatore Centonze (right) and his son Luigi were very nice people. Though Salvatore didn't understand English, he was very lively and enthusiastic. If you do decide to play in the Metz Open in future, here's his email id:

The tournament hall "Complex Sportif Saint Symphorien" was nice and spacious, absolutely no issues! It was around 20 minutes walk from our hotel "Les Messines"

The tournament was a pretty strong one. It has 38 players in all and 23 above 2300 Elo. So it was the perfect place to play strong opposition. This fact really helped Amruta as she gained 42 Elo points and also won the prize of the second best player under 2100.

A WIM norm, 42 Elo and a huge smile! :)

For me the tournament started off well. I managed to beat GM Nikita Maiorov (2565) with the black pieces in a very interesting game. With 3.0/4 I was in a pretty good position. But losses in round five to eventual tournament winner Onischuk, and in round seven and eight against Savchenko and Roser converted it into a pretty bad event. Finally I ended the tournament with -7 Elo. 

Though winning forty euros was nothing to be proud of, it does pay for your food expenses!

She had earned the pizza! :)

One of the best parts about playing in foreign land, as I have already mentioned, is meeting new people. Of course you make many friends with people who speak English. But chess transcends the boundary of language. The way you move your pieces on the 64 squared board is enough for you to make new friends. 
I met this man when he was animatedly analyzing one of his games with a few of his friends. He knew only French and my French vocabulary ends with words like "madame" and "monsieur." But from his constant use of the word "Cavalier", I understood that this man loves knights. I analyzed with him for a few minutes trying to prove that bishops can also be decent pieces! But he turned out to be a true knight-lover! The 20 minute analysis session ended, I was convinced that white was winning, he was sure that he could hold a draw, yet we parted as friends with a smile on our face! Till date, I do not know his name, nor about where he lives but I know that he loves the game of chess. That was enough to bind us! 

The thing that I found most impressive about Amruta, is that in spite of playing against such good opponents, she managed to take some excellent pictures at the tournament. This one is my favourite:

Chess is a serious game! It doesn't matter whether you are seven or seventy! :)

For more interesting pictures you can go to her facebook page and check out the Metz pictures.

The Metz Open ended on 26th of April. On the next day, immediately we left for the city of Lille in France for new adventures! But those stories will have to wait for part III. As of now, I leave you with few of my favourite positions from the Metz tournament.

Let's kick off with an easy one.

1. Sagar vs Alexis Tahay (2073) (Rd.1)

Dark clouds are gathering over my king. What should White play?

2. GM Andrey Vovk (2609) vs Sagar
A very interesting thing happened in my sixth round game against GM Andrey Vovk (2609). It was the afternoon round and I had almost no time to prepare for the game. So I went to the board and decided to play the French, an opening which I do not have great theoretical knowledge in. The first fifteen moves of the game went like this:

This is a highly theoretical position with 331 games played in the past. But the very surprising thing is that only two moves have been played by the white players. One is the highly positional 16.Ne2 and the other is what my opponent played. What is that other move?

3. Sagar vs Yacine Boukhris (2159)

The final one is a hard nut to crack. You need minimum 30 minutes to try and understand all the intricacies. So have a deep look and then compare it with my answer:

It's a tricky endgame with White to play and just like me in the game you do not know whether White is objectively winning or it's drawn.

1.Sagar-Tahay Alexis

Black's move 16...Nf3+ is in the air. But I had my reply prepared. White wins the game by a simple deflection: 16.c5! [ not16.hxg4 Nxc4!? (16...Nxg4!? 17.g3 Nxf2! 18.Rxf2 Qxg3+ 19.Kf1 Bh3+ 20.Ke1 Qg1+ 21.Nf1 Bg3 22.Nxd5 Bxf2+ 23.Kd2 Rfd8 with a slghtly better position for Black; The tempting 16...Nf3+?! is wrong due to 17.Nxf3 exf3 18.g3 fxe2 19.Qxe2 +/=) 17.g3 Nxe3 with a strong attack]

After 16.c5! If the queen takes the pawn, I can simply take on g4 but if instead 16...Qc7 then 17.Nxd5 finishes off the game.

2. GM Andrey Vovk (2609) vs Sagar

16.Ne2 is the main move here. But apart from that, White has an extremely tactical move that begins with 16.Bxh7!? When my opponent snatched this pawn I thought, I had just blundered and am losing the game. But turns out more than 80 games have been played here and Black is not worse after 16...Kxh7 17.Nxe6 Qf5 18. Nxf8 Qxf8.

The position is roughly around equal with Black having to play accurately to maintain the balance. I was able to do that and held the draw. But the important lesson that I learnt from this game is that sometimes not knowing the opening variations can put you under huge psychological pressure especially if your opponent is blitzing his moves at top speed. I would recommend not playing the sharp lines without studying them prior to the game. Even though I had a positive result in this game, recalling that moment when Vovk snapped off the h7 pawn still sends a shiver down my spine!

3. Sagar vs Yacine Boukhris (2159)

White to play.

The main idea here is to somehow blockade and win black kingside pawns. At the same time it is important to meet the black king running and reaching Kb4 by defending the a4 pawn with the bishop. So you have to play very carefully. You can play over all the analysis on the replayable board given below.

ChessBase report on Metz: Part I and Part II
pictures by Amruta Mokal