Monday May 20, 2013
It was a busy week in the world of chess, as the U.S Championships were winding down and the Norway Chess tournament had many of the world's top players in action as well. As I mentioned last week, Irina Krush won the U.S. Women's title outright, but the overall Championship was down to a playoff between perennial contender Gata Kamsky and the surprising Alejandro Ramirez. The playoff consisted of two rapid games, and Kamsky had the better of the play in both instances. But after being unable to reach a winning position with the white pieces, Kamsky was then surprised to see Ramirez find a stalemate tactic that allowed him to once again escape with a draw in the second rapid game, meaning we still didn't have a winner.
The tournament then came down to an Armageddon game in which one player would take White and need to score a win in order to win the tournament, while the other player would have Black with draw odds. In order to determine the colors, the players essentially bid for Black (and the draw odds) by secretly writing how little time they'd be willing to take as Black against a White player with 45 minutes. Kamsky bid 20 minutes, but Ramirez bid 19:45, giving him the black pieces with a significant time disadvantage. In the end, that may have proved decisive, as Ramirez was down to his increment by the end of the game. Kamsky eventually found himself up three pawns, and despite the best defensive efforts of Ramirez, that proved to be enough to score a win. For more details on the games in the playoff match, check out this report with photos from ChessBase!
Meanwhile, an even bigger event was taking place in Norway, where most of the world's elite met to battle for the Norway Chess title. Sergey Karjakin got out to a blistering fast start, winning his first four games to open up a lead on the field. Not surprisingly, hometown hero Magnus Carlsen was one of the contenders who struck back, beating Karjakin in their individual match to give himself a real chance to catch the leader. But a late loss by Carlsen (to Wang Hao) left him just short at the end, as Karjakin won the tournament with a 6/9 score -- a half-point ahead of Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura. World Champion Viswanathan Anand was on hand as well (he finished with a solid 5/9 score), but there were no real fireworks in the Anand-Carlsen encounter, which ended in a draw. It would be a surprise to see any spectacular games between them before the World Championship match, as both sides will likely save their best preparation for that encounter.
Monday May 13, 2013
Heading into the U.S. Women's Championship, almost everyone was certain that the competition would come down to a two-horse race between Irina Krush and Anna Zatonskih. In the end, those two did end up 1-2 in the standings, though a third player -- Tatev Abrahamyan -- proved to be an important part of the mix as well. Krush hadn't truly sealed up her victory until she scored a decisive win over Abrahamyan in the 8th round, which -- combined with her earlier victory over Zatonskih -- put her virtually out of reach. A safe draw in the 9th and final round brought Krush's score to 8/9, which was enough to hold off Zatonskih by a half-point.
Meanwhile, the overall U.S. Championship couldn't be decided in regulation, as both Gata Kamsky and Alejandro Ramirez finished with 6.5/9 scores, necessitating a tiebreaker. Kamsky had held the lead for the entire tournament, but a last round victory by Ramirez over Larry Christiansen was enough to pull him into a tie for the lead. That means the two will meet today at noon local time in order to decide a winner. This year's playoff will consist of two rapid games, with an Armageddon winner-take-all game if the rapid games can't settle the tie. You can watch the playoff live at the tournament's official site. Kamsky is sure to be the favorite, but anything is possible in such a short match.
Monday May 6, 2013
The United States Chess Championships are underway, and after three rounds of play, Gata Kamsky leads with a perfect 3/3 score. Perhaps more surprising than Kamsky's success (he's the clear favorite with Hikaru Nakamura not participating this year) are the two players tied for second place with 2.5 points each: GM Conrad Holt and FM John Daniel Bryant, both of whom are near the bottom of the ratings list for the 24 player field. Nearly as unlikely is the trio of players currently tied for last with 0.5 points: grandmasters Alexander Ivanov, Ray Robson and Marc Tyler Arnold. Of course, with six rounds remaining, there's still plenty of time for the standings to change, and Kamsky has a long way to go before he can dream of winning the $64,000 bonus -- known as the Fischer prize -- for a perfect 9/9 score.
The U.S. Women's Chess Championships are being held simultaneously, and are also currently led by one of the pre-tournament favorites. IM Irina Krush has scored a perfect 3/3 to take an early lead, just ahead of WGM Tatev Abrahamyan. But Krush's biggest game likely came in Round 3, when she faced off with the other favorite, Anna Zatonskih, with the black pieces. Krush won the game, putting her a full point ahead of her rival and in prime position to secure the 2013 championship, provided Abrahamyan or another competitor doesn't go on a surprising run of wins to turn the tournament into a race. As the Women's Championship is a ten-player round-robin, everyone will have their shot at Krush before the tournament ends, though it will be a mild upset if any of the remaining players scores a win against her.
The U.S. Chess Championships are ongoing through May 12, with the additional possibility of tiebreakers on May 13. $180,000 in prize money is up for grabs (not counting the $64,000 bonus) in the overall championship, with another $65,000 in prizes guaranteed for the Women's Championship. If you want to follow the tournament, live coverage is provided through the official site.
Monday May 6, 2013
There was a bit of a whirlwind series of events this week related to exactly where the next World Chess Championship match would be held. For weeks now, it had been assumed that Chennai, India would host the match, as they announced that FIDE had awarded them the hosting duties for the contest between World Champion Viswanathan Anand and his Norwegian challenger, Magnus Carlsen. This was perceived as a small advantage for the reigning champion, who grew up in Chennai.
Not everyone was so happy about this, though. While neither Carlsen nor the Norwegian Chess Federation objected to Chennai hosting the event -- they were previously expected to host the 2012 World Championship, and had hoped to get the chance to host this year's match after missing out on that one -- they did have problems with what was perceived to be a no-bid process that ran contrary to FIDE policies. Simultaneously, a bid was submitted by the city of Paris to host the match. The Paris bid offered more than $1 million more in total budget (mostly in additional prize money for the competitors), which the Norweigian Chess Federation highlighted in their letter to FIDE.
Whether it was in response to the Norwegian protest or not, FIDE and the All-India Chess Federation formally signed the contracts for the upcoming match in Baku, Azerbaijan at the FIDE Presidential Board Meeting. So, despite a couple days worth of drama, it appears that the next world Championship will take place in Chennai this November. Given that the complaints were more about process than the location, you might hear some grumblings about this from Norway (or possibly even Carlsen's camp), but I wouldn't expect this to threaten the match itself, particularly given the healthy relationship between Carlsen and Anand.