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:


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

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

March 2018 Tactical Training: Part 2

Congratulations to Caruana for winning the Candidates Tournament 2018! In the meantime...

Have fun! (:

Friday, March 23, 2018

Candidates Tournament 2018 Highlights: Part 1

The Candidates Tournament 2018 is proving to be one hell of a ride, with decisive games played in almost every round. At the time of writing, Fabio Caruana is in the lead after Round 11, with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov close behind. But early in the tournament, many exciting battles were already fought, and I will look at 3 highlighted games today.

Our first game is the encounter between Alexander Grischuk and Wesley So in Round 2. Both players, who had lost their first round, were seeking to make a comeback. With a simple rook lift, Grischuk won a full piece after a vigorous kingside attack, but was already low on time and gave So the chance to complicate matters. Nevertheless, the Russian defended well under time pressure to maintain his advantage and brought home the full point.

I seem to be giving Kramnik a lot of attention in my recent articles, but that is because he has been playing some really great games lately. In Round 3, he won a brilliancy against Aronian using his favourite Berlin Defense. The move of the day was his ugly yet logical looking 7… Rg8!?

Position after 7… Rg8!?

Once of my chess buddies was watching the game live, and upon seeing this move he exclaimed: “Is this really Kramnik?” Rg8 definitely isn’t something we see every day from a positional player like Vlad!

The idea here is that Black wants to push g4-g5, playing against the hook on h3 and opening up the kingside. Aronian tried to counterattack in the centre, but this backfired and allowed Kramnik’s forces to crash through on the kingside:

Note: At the time of writing, Kramnik had just won his second game against Aronian in Round 10, after suffering a series of losses in the middle rounds.

Unfortunately, Vlad’s good streak wasn’t going to last. In the next round, he played a dramatic game against Fabio Caruana, and made the final blunder under time pressure. Of course, credit must be given to Caruana who found two brilliant moves that saved the game for him.

The game can be divided into three key positions:

Position after 22… gxh3

We join in at this part of the game, where Caruana had just captured on h3. Rather than the obvious recapture, which would have led to a better position for Black, Kramnik chose to undermine the enemy knight’s position with 23. c5, leading to a whole slew of complications.

Soon, both sides had their own passed pawns racing down the board, which led to the next position:

Position after 28. Bxc6

It seems that White has the upper hand: His d6 passer is supported with everything it needs, while Black’s b2 counterpart is frozen and on the verge of being snapped off. However, Caruana found the stunning saver 28… Rad8!!, bringing his last piece into the game, and playing against White’s weakened back rank to stop the enemy pawn.

With this the advantage swung back and forth between both sides, with even more passed pawns advancing on opposite wings. Eventually we reach another position where White had regained the upper hand:

Position after 47. Rg8

Here Kramnik thought the game was over: The bishop cannot move without hanging the rook, thus it must be captured and let White’s pawn promote. Except that the bishop CAN move, and Caruana’s next find must have stunned Kramnik: 47… Bf6!!

And it turns out that the Black rook is invincible due to the mate threats on a1. Although White still retained a slight advantage after that, the strain of playing such sharp lines after so long was beginning to tell on both players. It was Kramnik who made the last blunder with just seconds left on his clock:

That moment when you realized you messed up

We have only looked at the first few rounds and so much hype has already occurred. With three rounds left to go, who will emerge as the contender to the world title?

To be continued…


Saturday, March 17, 2018

March 2018 Tactical Training: Part 1

No rest for the weary! NSI is over but the training continues... relax, these puzzles should be simple enough (:

Have fun!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Stuff that non chess players say

After a particularly disastrous midterm test, I need to find a way to run away from my problems. Tactics Trainer would have been the usual way, but today I realized that I haven’t been written an article for quite some time.

Instead of the usual game analysis, I’ve decided to share some stuff that have been told to me by my non chess-playing friends. I’m not talking about that kid who boasts of becoming a GM and gets destroyed in 20 moves. I’m referring to the genuine non-players: Those who have never touched a board before, and refer to the knight as the “horsey”.

"What did you just call me again!?"

Ready for some cringe?

1. How many moves can you see ahead?

I don’t know where this idea came from, but somehow it has stuck in the mind of non-players as the defining factor of chess ability. So I’m supposed to be able to see 3, 5, 10 moves ahead? How many can Carlsen see? 20?

The following article pretty much sums up what is wrong with this idea. Yes, chess is a game of calculation, but it’s impossible to calculate every single line “N number of moves ahead”; everyone knows how the number of variations increase exponentially after the first few moves. Only computers have the capability to brute-force all of that.

And even the best brute-force algorithm got bested by AlphaZero

Then what are chess players seeing? We don’t actually see individual moves. What we see are patterns, like strategic, tactical, or opening/endgame motifs. And we use this to calculate candidate moves, aka selected variations that we feel are the best.

To answer our dear non-player friend’s question, no I’m not Stockfish, I can only see one move ahead. That’s why I keep blundering pieces, right?

2. Just capture the other guy’s queen! Once you eat it he will lose.

It seems that non-players have an unusual affection for the only female piece on the board, just because she can go places that other pieces can only dream of. How lovely it would be if I could win a game just by trading queens.

Qxd8 checkmate!

Sadly, queenless middlegames are a real thing, and the importance letting the rest of your pieces cooperate with one another cannot be understated.

3. So you are a Grandmaster?

Oh, how I wish I were one. But sadly, Singapore saw its only GM switch federations back to China not long ago. So I’m sorry to disappoint but no, I’m not a GM. Although I am the GM-equivalent of throwing away won games.

4. After a long and tiring day, you still want to drain your mental energy by playing chess?

Hey, you haven’t found out the therapeutic effects of playing repeated blitz/bullet and getting high after that.

Because blitz is like drugs, you know. It feels good, and you keep coming back for more… until you’ve dug a hole so deep you can’t come out.

We have blitz

5. Don’t you just join the chess club to slack?

After wondering why I choose to drain my energy in chess, you ask whether I’m slackin’? Hmm.

Try joining a full day 7-round rapid tournament and tell me how it feels after that.

6. Chess is boring.

Refer to Point 4. Unless you play the French exchange, in which case that’s your own fault.

Image from Chess Memes on Facebook

7. Only nerds play chess.

What a horrible misconception! Chess is played by a wide variety of people Well actually… I must admit this is true. Maybe that’s why all my friends in the chess club are single XD.

Promoting the latest nerd fashions with Carlsen's new glasses

What other ridiculous things have you heard from non chessplayers?