Dortmund

I hadn’t played for a while before the event, but had done some prep at home and played a few successful training games. The tournament wasn’t a disaster but was rather frustrating, as it seemed a long list of missed opportunities, but some of them weren’t easy to spot, at least for me! I have reviewed some key misses below.

In my first game with Naiditsch I made a very casual move in the opening and after fortunately surviving this later missed good chances.

I managed to surprise Kramnik in the opening the next day with the Tromp, but things went downhill from there. I salvaged a lucky half point later on, the long game meant that we both missed the start of the Football World Cup Final. It’s easy to see that Germany has a very successful football team the celebrations would have been much wilder in England!

Round 3 was a fairly solid draw with Peter Leko, the next day was the worst as I missed many chances against Ponomariov.

The next day was deja vu again as once more I squandered an edge.

After so many missed opportunities it was no surprise I was punished with a defeat against Caruana. He played very well as he did throughout the event but I wasn’t happy with my play or clock handling.

At least a win in the last round finished on a high note.

Telford Simul and Lecture

Francis Best and Michael Bukojemski did a fine job, creating a chess filled day beginning with a blitz tournament before I began my lecture. The original proposal was that I would show my games with Andreikin and Caruana from last year’s Dortmund event, but I was a bit concerned that 2 Berlin variations where the queens disappeared from the board on move 8 might not appeal to all, especially as I had annotated the Caruana game elsewhere. So instead I showed my games against Dzagnidze from Gibraltar 2013 which I always liked, in addition to the Andreikin one. Four of the players for the live DGT boards were selected from the blitz results, with the final one selected by lot. I randomly selected Francis Best who played a solid draw.

After an excellent lunch the simul began, often you aren’t sure about the strength of your opponents but here they were helpfully arranged in grading order and each player also had a place card with their name and playing strength displayed. I scored quite well against the stronger opposition in some reasonable quality games a couple of which I had lightly annotated below but a corridor of woe in the middle boards where I dropped a piece in one game and ran into difficulties in others impacted my score. In the end I finished with 33.5/36 in around 4hrs 10min.

Many thanks to for their excellent organisation, which meant it was an enjoyable day for all.

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Hitching a Ride

I made my Bundesliga debut this season in the March weekend. My teammates had been doing excellent work in my absence and we have a perfect record heading into the final weekend. On Sunday morning I played Luke McShane again, we seem to have played quite often recently despite his work commitments. It was another long and difficult game although this time I managed to convert my advantage albeit in rather unconvincing style. The lengthy encounter meant that although I avoided timetrouble at the board it was looming at the airport, but Luke sportingly arranged for me to hitch a lift with his team, some of the variations below were discussed on the journey.

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Cave Dining

Gibraltar is always noteable for the special events put together during the tournament, a spectacular highlight this year was the visit to St. Michael’s Cave after the first round, I had visited the caves before but sightseeing on a wet day with the water dripping though the cracks couldn’t compare to the dinner hosted by Brian Callaghan with music, lighting and drinks. A very memorable occasion.
Although as usual I enjoyed my stay, at the board my play could have been better: despite remaining undefeated, I could easily have lost 4 of my games. After a convincing win in round two against Mohamad Al Sayed (this worked out better for my opponent who gradually overtook me to end on 7.5), I got involved in a very random but extremely complicated game with Alexandr Fier, to my great surprise this error strewn encounter won the best game prize. I suppose this is very much a matter of opinion as my games that I considered worthy of such prizes were always roundly rejected by the judges. Assessing the wreckage with the computer later I realised that in spite of my relative optimism during the game I was lucky to acquire half a point. The next day was worse as I blundered away a very pleasant edge versus Aleksandr Lenderman and the game completely turned and I was again very fortunate not to lose. The next couple of games went better and I reached a promising 5/6.
For no clear reason, I was then dealt a double White and a less than ideal upfloat to Vassily Ivanchuk and a solid draw killed my momentum. I was again fortunate to make two draws in my next games although I did initially get a promising game against Baskaran Adhiban in the penultimate round. In my last game I was paired with the Chinese super kid Wei Yi. Somewhat bizarrely he chose a forced drawing line straight from the opening in impressively cynical style for a 14 year old.
Most things about the Gibraltar event are excellent but a continual flaw has been the playoff system in the event that three players tie for first. It is clear in this eventuality, the fairest option is an all play all between the three players, if necessary with a quicker time limit. John Saunders in his report suggested that this injustice was less important as the Swiss system is intrinsically imperfect. However the pairing system is designed to be as fair as is possible and so should the playoff system which was not the case this time.

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Castling Calamity at Classic

The London Classic began with some exhibition games: the Pro Am event in the morning was won by Matthew Sadler and Daniel Lindner from Barclays. As it coincided with the very welcome BarcIaycard sponsorship deal with Chess in Schools and Communities this seemed appropriate. This tremendous achievement was a fitting reward for the work Malcolm Pein and others have done with the charity.
I was originally going to be playing with Edgar Davids in the celebrity event but he arrived a little too late to play. It was nice to meet him however, and he is clearly a keen player who attended the tournament on a few other occasions. Instead I played with 2 school children Jamie and Lily against Lethal Bizzle and Hikaru. They came out on top in an eventful game, and Lethal celebrated with a victory rap!
The more serious fare began the next day, the tournament switched format to a group/KO rapidplay system this year, this worked well but I missed the classical tournament. Perhaps it is too much to hope both could take place in the same year.
I was drawn in a tough group , and started with 2 Black games, but this worked out well as I played well to win the all important first game with Andrei Istratescu, and managed to hold Vishy Anand in the second despite being under pressure on the board and the clock. The next day my encounter Luke McShane was clearly going to be key to qualification, the game was a bit of a rollercoaster.

In the evening session I managed to sneak a key win from a drawish position:

This meant I needed a draw to qualify in the return game with Luke, and after getting a nice opening and big clock lead, I managed to avoid too much danger. I got a bonus couple of points when Luke lost on time trying to avoid a repetition in a worse position. My last game was a dead rubber as both qualifiers were already decided, strangely only 1 group had live qualification issues at this stage. I tried the English for the first time in a while but couldn’t remember anything and got a rotten game. I somehow salvaged a draw with a piece less when my pawns started edging forward.
If Vishy had converted I would have played Peter Svidler, the tie meant a drawing of lots to decide the winner of our group and a pairing with Peter anyway! I guess it was inevitable.
I won the first game after Peter missed a good opportunity in the opening.

In the second I played inaccurately early on and my weak pawns gradually dropped off. That meant we were back for a tiebreak, in the first game where I had minimal pressure with White, Peter dropped a pawn and the game after his first major think. In the second his opening went horribly wrong and I progressed.
In the first game with Boris Gelfand things were going well until I made a rather serious error, perhaps

The return game was a bit of a debacle as things went wrong early on and I had no winning chances.

Hoogoveen

Until Bilbao I don’t think I had played a 4 player double round event in my life, but less than a week later I was starting a second.The traditional Univé tournament in Hoogoveen was very welcoming, a impressive mix of old and new, one nice touch was the traditional wooden old style demonstration boards in the tournament hall.

I was happy to claw back to a 50% score after an unimpressive start, some interesting variations remained in the shadows in my last round game.

European Team

The European Team Championship competition was held in a pleasant hotel in the centre of Warsaw, the organisers made a good job of airport transfers, providing reliable internet access and decent meals and playing conditions. The chess side of things was less smoothly run, it was hard to ascertain the point of metal detectors at the entrance of the playing hall when the players were reminded to turn off their mobile phones before the game. As usual zero tolerance created problems as the lifts became log jammed shortly before the games.

Luke McShane had taken time off work for the event so we had a good team out but things didn’t quite work for us. Just as at the last European Team, we took on Greece in round 2, unfortunately our performance isn’t improving as we lost by an even heavier 3-1 this time. History continued to repeat as the next day we, for no obvious reason other than the inadequacies of the pairing system, we faced the strongest other team on the score group, Russia. I butchered an easy win against Grischuk but the 2-2 draw still wasn’t bad and after a couple of wins we were in good shape heading into the free day.

Disappointingly we finished with 4 consecutive tied matches, I’ve mentioned some key moments in my own games from rounds 6, 7 and 9. The last round coincided with my birthday: this wasn’t a positive alignment last time this occured whilst on England duty, against Caruana at the Dresden Olympiad, as I lost a fine position. At least this time I eventually salvaged half a point, although my play was no more convincing.

Many thanks to all those who generously supported the team.


Bilbao Bonus

I enjoyed my first visit to Bilbao, a beautiful city with excellent views and great food. We took the opportunity to check out the Guggenheim Museum before catching our flight home.
The tournament was intense with six games in a row at the challenging time limit of 40 moves in 90 minutes with no increment. I was satisfied with my result, but my final score was rather flattering as I won both games with Maxime Vachier Lagrave, the first would have been drawn but his last second elapsed whilst he was making his 40th move. In the second I spent the whole game trying to prevent my position falling apart, but after the dust had settled on some timetrouble confusion I was suddenly winning.

Simul at Bickleigh on Exe Primary School


I visited Bickleigh on Exe Primary School last week for an informal chat with the pupils of the chess club and to give a simul. A very eager and well behaved group of children, and I hope this will inspire them to even more success in the future! Congratulations to all and especially to Maddy Cotton for playing the best game.

P.S Many thanks for the beautifully illustrated letters I received from the children afterwards. Much appreciated!

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From the Arctic Circle

The World Cup was held in a small hotel near Tromso airport: given the eye watering prices in Norway it was suggested to me by a FIDE official that the room rates would have been excessive in the better hotels in the centre where the Olympiad will be sited, although this seemed to be contradicted by the amounts journalists were paying to stay there. The local organisers and staff were helpful, but the big problem was the food which was not good at all in the hotel, and with only a few shopping centre eating spots as other options nearby, the culinary situation was undesirable. I was one of the players who suffered with an unpleasant stomach bug which meant I was often forced to skip meals before the games. Of course playing whilst sick is an inevitable occurrence for any professional player but it was annoying at such a big event.

The chess organisation could have been better, the only announcement of note at the player’s meeting was that each individual tiebreak match would begin their second game 10 minutes after the finish of the first as at the previous Cup. This was then abruptly reversed in an announcement just before the clocks were started for the first tiebreak. The airport style security checks before entering the playing hall were also unwelcome, especially in combination with the absurd zero tolerance. The checks were in any case of dubious efficiency as journalists were often not checked and could mix freely with the players inside. If FIDE want to genuinely combat computer cheating, the key first move is to introduce some serious penalties rather than the pathetic ‘punishments’ that have been handed down to those that have been caught so far. A minimum ban of 5 years with the possibility of fines in addition to the loss of prize money and the stripping of all FIDE titles would be a good start.

I wasn’t thrilled to be paired with an underrated Chinese player Wan Yunguo in the first round, and disappointingly missed a chance to press in the first game. After playing well for a while I made an odd oversight:

The second game was also drawn and we headed to tiebreaks. I was initially doing well, then in trouble in the first game before it finished in a draw, but I won the second straight out of the opening, my preparation being one positive in the event.

In round 2 I had a pleasant edge in the first game against Yuriy Kryvoruchko but missed endgame chances although given the short time control it was an easy error to make.

In the second game I had good prep again and we agreed an early draw. I was also pressing in the third game but my opponent resisted typically robustly and I couldn’t convert. Several commentaries suggested I was outplayed in the next game (Chess Today was an honourable exception). I can only imagine they didn’t actually look at the game as in fact I just self destructed in a comfortable position due to a very bad error which is still rather painful.

There has been a lot of talk about how much luck is required in this event,it seems to be popular to consider the KO format particularly random, but I’ve never really found this to be the case in any of the matches I played. You decide your own destiny by how you react in the critical moments for better or worse. It is true that some matches are extremely close and the loser can reasonably feel unfortunate but this applies to very few games.

It was rather depressing for me to have to head back so early, but I have been impressed by the inspired pairing of Susan Polgar and Lawrence Trent in the commentary room whilst watching at home. However there frequently seems to be a problem with the clock times which don’t display accurately.

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