Sunday, May 20, 2018

Return of the Old Guard: QCD SG Chess League 2018 Round 4

Today we shall look at another of my games from the QCD SG Chess League 2018. Now in its second year, the League is unlike most of the single day, rapid tournaments that were once commonplace in Singapore. Instead, it is a team event held over the course of several months, with games held on Friday evenings. Perfect for chess-playing adults who want a place to destress after their work.

The playing hall after Round 3 (Photo courtesy of Ong Yujing)

Oh, and did I mention that you need to be above 20 to participate in the event? That’s what makes it even more appealing: No screaming kids running around the place, or haranguing the arbiters over the touch-move rules. Such a nice, quiet environment to play in, which makes me regret not having signed up for the 2017 edition.

Return to the abyss, little ones

Round 4 was held last Friday, and it was a series of well fought games for my team despite suffering a loss. Incidentally, I was paired against one of my ex-seniors, who was also an NUSH alumni. The last time we faced off under tournament conditions (if my memory doesn’t fail me) was during a team event at PJC in 2010.

Well, old comrades we may be, but that doesn’t make the subsequent clash any less intense:

What can we learn from this game?

  1. Sometimes, it is good to just maintain the tension instead of releasing it so early, especially if you have the advantage. The pawn exchange on move 15 gave Black an opportunity to free up his cramped position.
  2. In my bid to break the stalemate, I ended up opening the position and gave the enemy bishop pair free reign. It is a simple strategic mistake which we should learn from: The two bishops are king of the open battlefield!
  3. When in time trouble, it is best to keep things simple instead of playing so aggressively; 31. Qa5 was simply asking for trouble.

I end off with an anecdote: After the game, my opponent told me that I had become a much better player compared to when we faced off 8 years ago.

My reply? “Yeah I train quite a bit, but the only difference it makes is that I take a longer time to lose!”

Definitely, I am still making poor decisions in time trouble even after all these years of competitive chess. It’s something for me to work on, which shows how the learning never stops!


Saturday, May 12, 2018

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Candidates Tournament 2018 Highlights: Part 3

We finish off our Candidates Tournament series by looking at the last few rounds. If the earlier games were dramatic, then the last few rounds were reaching fever pitch, as more blood was shed in desperate efforts to score those final, valuable wins.

Round 12 saw the tournament being blown wide open as Sergey Karjakin defeated Fabio Caruana to catch him in first place. This was also an incredible comeback for the former, who started poorly with 2.5/7 in the first half of the tournament.

An amazing comeback by Karjakin

Watch how Karjakin deals Caruana his first defeat in this tournament with the nice exchange sacrifice 17. Bxd5:

The same round saw another decisive game: Ding Liren scored his first win in the tournament against Shakriyar Mamedyarov, using an unstoppable queenside pawn majority:

Ding wins his first game in the tournament

With the tournament blown open in Round 12, four contenders had good chances to earn the challenger rights: Caruana, Karjakin, Ding Liren and Mamedyarov. Even Kramnik had a theoretical, albeit low, chance. The final two rounds were gearing up to be hotly contested fights.

Eventually, it was Caruana who emerged victorious from the mess, beating Alexander Grischuk in the final round to win the tournament by a full point:

With that, we round up our coverage of one of the most thrilling chess events in 2018. Congratulations to Caruana for earning his right to the World Chess Championship 2018, and here’s to more exciting games between Carlsen and Caruana in November!

History has been written, and will continue to keep doing so

Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:

All photos by Maria Emelianova/

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Candidates Tournament 2018 Highlights: Part 2

It’s been nearly a month since the Candidates ended. Even as I write this, many of the players from the Candidates are fighting in either the US Championships or Shamkir Chess 2018. So I will try to catch up on the backlog of games!

After his defeat by Kramnik in Round 3, Aronian bounced back to win a fine game against Karjakin in the next game. In Round 5, he had an excellent chance to score a second consecutive victory, but a couple of mistakes allowed his opponent, Alexander Grischuk, to escape with a draw.

A draw, but a dramatic game nonetheless:

Poor Aronian would suffer in subsequent rounds, including a tough loss against Wesley So in Round 6. The following struggle saw a pawn sacrifice by So, creating pawn weaknesses and bad piece coordination in the enemy camp that culminated in a fine win by the American:

Suffering alongside Aronian was the oldest player in the field, Vladimir Kramnik. In the same round, the Russian suffered a “hallucination” in his game against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov:

Position after 37. Kf4

In his earlier calculations, Kramnik had wrongly thought that the rook on c7 was on c8. Thus, although he would lose the h4 pawn, he could still win it back after 37... Bc7 38. Rxh4 Rf8+. Except that the rook was not on c8!

"Eyes, you do me wrong today"

With this victory, Mamedyarov, who had been in excellent performance recently, moved up to join Caruana in first place. The Candidates Tournament certainly been producing more than enough exciting games for us!

All that remains is to see whether Caruana and Mamedyarov could maintain their lead for the rest of the tournament, or whether some dramatic upset in the last few rounds would turn the tide…

To be continued…

Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Donald Trump vs Kim Jong Un: Match of the Century?

We know how much Trump loves stirring things up. But at rare times it could be something good, such as his recent groundbreaking acceptance of an offer to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un (if successful, this will be the first time a US president has met face-to-face with a North Korean Leader).

Now, it seems, Donald is also aiming to be the first American president to participate in a chess match. Reliable sources have discovered that he has issued a chess challenge to Kim, which will take place during their summit if the latter accepts. Trump has proposed a format similar to the current World Championship: A 12 round match, with the winner being the first to reach 6.5 points. Alongside Carlsen vs Caruana at the end of this year, this is set to become one of the most followed chess events of the year, or possibly even the century.

A prediction of stunning accuracy, except for the fact that both don't think

When asked on why he issued such an unexpected challenge, Trump was quick to point to the acumen gained from his previous business ventures:

“I will beat him, definitely. I have the best chess skills around over here. Nobody has beaten me in a match for as long as I remember. You’ve got to be tactical, you know. It’s like doing business, you need to know the secrets and strategies to get the advantage. And I’ve seen successes in my businesses before, loads and loads of it, it’s going to help a lot for this. Kim, he only knows how to build missiles. He can’t do business. He’s going to lose all his games.”

 Trump also heaped praise on American chess:

“We’ve got the best Grand Chess Masters around here. It used to be Russia. But they all left when Putin rigged his elections. Now America’s at the top. And we’ll win the next World Championship, you know. I can sense it.”

"So you're placing your bets on me this November?"

It’s funny how much Donald flatters the US has having the best GMs, when in 2016 he lamented that there were no Grandmasters in the US. Did some large scale migration of chess players from Russia take place within the last two years? But we digress.

Public Reaction

As usual, Trump supporters have reacted to this news with the hype and frenzy that we get from, well, typical Trump supporters. And there are many chess fans who will be more than willing to follow the results. After years of staring at Berlin Walls, Queen’s Gambits and other standard GM openings from the top level, who wouldn’t want a refreshing look at some new ideas from the non-professionals? After all, it’s been a long time since the Trompowsky was last played in a high-level match, and Trump seems all set to renew his namesake opening!

More likely he will revive the Berlin Wall as the Mexican Wall

However, other experts are less idealistic. A GM—who declined to be named—warned that if accepted, the match could become the ugliest event in all of chess history. “We would have disputes over the touch-move rules, illegal moves, arguments over whether the clock is broken down. I can even foresee requests to scan the toilets for cheating devices. You name it, they’ll do it. I don’t want to see a match where the players squabble like children, and that’s what Trump and Kim are going to do.”

Nevertheless, the response across the world has been generally enthusiastic. Agon Ltd has offered to sponsor the match, possibly to redeem themselves after a disastrous run in the Candidates 2018. However, with Trump’s immense wealth—as immense as his ego—that would probably not be necessary.

Trump’s seconds

With America’s “Big Three” – Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So and Fabio Caruana—forming the core of the US chess elite, there are no shortage of chess masters who have the potential to help Trump in this match. However, Donald has declined assistance from the Big Three, stating that he prefers to keep the identities of his seconds as “classified information”.

“We don’t want those North Korean thugs to know who’s on my side, don’t we? But I assure you these seconds of mine, they are very, very talented, they can beat anybody in less than 5 moves. Kim’s not even going to know what’s coming for him. He just wouldn’t know.”

Since Donald refuses to release his seconds’ identities like how he refused to release his tax returns, we’ll let him be. Anyway, the Big Three probably aren’t very interested in helping him. Caruana is fighting in the Grenke Chess Classic, and after that he will be preparing for his match against Carlsen. As for Nakamura and So, they’ll be busy helping their fellow countryman prepare for the upcoming World Title match.

North Korean Response

So far, the response from the North Korean side has been relatively muted. A North Korean spokesman replied that Kim is “seriously considering” Trump’s offer, but has yet to make a decision. However, in the dictator’s recent visit to China, Chinese Premier Xi Jinping encouraged him to accept the challenge, and offered assistance in the form of Chinese grandmaster seconds. This means that if Jong Un participates in the match, the core of China’s chess elite—Ding Liren, Wei Yi, Hou Yifan, and many others—could very well be providing him with much-needed assistance.

Discussing on who will act as Kim's seconds

There are also rumours that North Korea has engaged Chinese priests to invoke the spirit of Bobby Fischer, in the hope that he would return to act as Kim’s second. Given Fischer’s passionate hatred for his home country, he definitely would be more than willing to help (if he somehow returns), and the North Korean side will get a great boost if these efforts are successful.

"Make it quick, will you? I'm busy playing blitz with God"

Match of the Century?

So, could this be the match that everyone is awaiting? After years of sabre-rattling with words, military force and economic means, could politicians finally return to the old ways of settling disputes with a fair-and-square duel? Sadly, this doesn’t seem to be the case, and even if Donald Trump gets to play his match with Kim Jong Un, he will end up blundering his games similar to what happened in Chess Camp 2017.

After all, politicians are politicians. Have a Happy April Fools, and please don’t believe a word of what I’ve said just now.

Please no

Everything else from my own imagination