My Chess960 debut

Chess 960

Every year in September, the Saint-Louis Chess Club organizes a « Champions Showdown ». For the 2018 edition, they had put together a very special program, with five parallel rapid and blitz matches of Chess 960 (the arrangement of pieces on the players’ first ranks is selected randomly). Continue reading “My Chess960 debut”

Devilish lizard!

Mvl-Komodo

On Wednesday, September 5, I took up a new challenge, against Komodo Monte Carlo, which uses auto-learning methods similar to those of Alpha Zero. To make things more even, chess.com which was running this online event, had cooked the following program; five blitz games with white against levels 16-20 of Komodo, then six rapid odds games, against the premium Monte Carlo version.
The match was broadcast live and all along, I shared my thoughts with viewers…
Of course, I didn’t expect an easy evening! Even against odds, there’s always a margin to make mistakes. This is especially true against a machine, which for sure is going to offer huge resistance.

The five blitz games could easily be considered as warm ups against « classical » versions of Komodo. not running on the most powerful processors, except for level 20. Komodo being programmed to make instant moves at levels 16 to 19, I could take benefit of his unavoidable lack of depth in several games. I won the blitz match 4-1, losing a game in an overwhelming position, but ultimately winning an inferior one after a bug led Komodo to a loss on time!

 Mvl-Komodo, Game 6; Maxime was not sure he could save this position, but the machine lost on time!

Mvl-Komodo, Game 6; Maxime was not sure he could save this position, but the machine lost on time!

In odds chess, it was not the same story! Komodo Monte Carlo, as he was programmed, would certainly display a stratospheric level, coupled with some kind of intelligence, for instance leading him to avoid exchanges.
I began the match by losing two games…

Mvl-Komodo, Odds 1.
Mvl-Komodo, Odds 1.

First I was too optimistic with white, a tempo up and f7 pawn missing; then I was unsuccessful in salvaging the Rook endgame, but it was really tricky.

Mvl-Komodo, Odds 1; the activity of black’s King makes white’s life difficult.
MMvl-Komodo, Odds 1; the activity of black’s King makes white’s life difficult.

In the second game, I knew the task would be arduous, even if my Queen was supposed to be stronger than his R+N; pratical difficulties here are huge.

Komodo-Mvl, Odds 2.
Komodo-Mvl, Odds 2.

As moreover, I made one bad decision after another, I logically went down…

I scored my first half-point in Game 3, but it was a disapointment anyway, as I thought I would be huge favourite to win, with white missing both his g2 and f2 pawns!

Komodo-Mvl, Odds 3.
Komodo-Mvl, Odds 3.

Komodo showed his very special resilience in this game, and never ceased to pose problems, until he reached the following ending;

Komodo-Mvl, Odds 3. Komodo always withstands the pressure!
Komodo-Mvl, Odds 3. Komodo always withstands the pressure!

After 39…g4? 40.Rc1!, Komodo won c7 and got enough counterplay to draw the game. I should have preferred 39…Bd7 to keep winning chances.

The fourth game is in my opinion the most impressive one, with Komodo missing the Ng1 for a mere f7 pawn.

Komodo-Mvl, Odds 4.
Komodo-Mvl, Odds 4.

Despite the material disadvantage, Komodo always found counterplay, often surprising as if it was coming out of nowhere, by the way ! I wanted to avoid repetitions to demonstrate the power of material, but I ended up making too many second-rate moves, which cost me dearly.

With only one draw and three losses in odds chess, I needed to recover in the last two games.

Komodo-Mvl, Handicap 5.
Komodo-Mvl, Handicap 5.

Being the exchange and a pawn up, I could force events very early.

Komodo-Mvl, Handicap 5.
Komodo-Mvl, Handicap 5.

White’s last move 4.g3? is not very accurate. After the good sequence 4…Bg4 5.Bg2 Qe6+! 6.Kf1 Bh3, the exchange of the white-squared Bishops helped me a lot. Despite a few scares that are unavoidable against the comp, I could continue my process of exchanging pieces, and converted without too much trouble.

And last but not least, the « Knightmare », with 7 Knights against Q+2R+2B, an insane position to play! I decided to fianchetto both my Bishops as quickly as possible, in order to limit the Knights access to the central squares.

Komodo-Mvl, Odds 6.
Komodo-Mvl, Odds 6.

Finally, I did rather well against the Knight’s infernal saraband, with an ultimate draw that is impossible to analyse!

Komodo-Mvl, Odds 6.
Komodo-Mvl, Odds 6.
The barrier erected by White’s Knights is impressive!
A nice picture to round off this funny match, that Komodo won 4-2…

The LizardIn the first version of the Mvl-Komodo match, organizers had planned much more blitz games, and only three odds games, as was done a few weeks earlier, when Komodo faced Nakamura for its first real challenge. But the usefulness of having a Top player fight against lower versions of Komodo was not obvious. Moreover, it would have been a pity to spoil the viewers of three further odds games, and especially of the devilish « Knightmare »!

Maxime’s games :

Official site: https://www.chess.com/news/view/vachier-lagrave-comments-while-playing-komodo

9 draws and a ticket to London

Classement GCT 2018 (Visuel GCT).

It’s the first time in my life that I end up a tournament with all my games drawn! Certainly, this is not such a bad result in a field like the Sinquefield one, and my overall score remains decent. Furthermore, the main goal of qualifying for the 2018 Grand Chess Tour finals is reached. Yet, some sense of unfinished business lingers, as I never was in real danger, while I missed a few good opportunities elsewhere.
Continue reading “9 draws and a ticket to London”

Saint-Louis Classic, so tight

Cérémonie d’ouverture : vous ne verrez pas si souvent Maxime avec une cravate ! (Photo: GCT).

Five draws out of five games for Maxime, in a very fierce tournament where noone has taken a clear lead (five players tied at +1). This is how the Classic Saint-Louis tournament stands halfway, just before Thursday’s rest day, which might well see some players doing battle in another context, ie. a basketball court…

Maxime and Aronian busy talking with a beer drinker, after the Opening Ceremony (Photo: GCT).
Maxime and Aronian busy talking with a beer drinker, after the Opening Ceremony (Photo: GCT).

On the whole, Maxime’s games have been rather short, with a lot of theoretical debates, especially in his two black games, where after only a few minutes play, a very specific Najdorf line was reached…

Anand-Mvl and Grischuk-Mvl after 15.Bd3.
Anand-Mvl and Grischuk-Mvl after 15.Bd3.

At the end of the previous year, during the FIDE Grand Prix in Mallorca, Maxime played 15…h5 against Giri (in french) (1/2, 31). A few days ago, in the Saint-Louis Rapid, he preferred 15…d5 against Caruana (1/2, 51). But when facing Anand in the second round of the Classic tournament, he once again played cat-and-mouse, deviating with 15…Nxd3+ (1/2, 37)! Finally, round 4, he came back to his first love 15…h5 against Grischuk (1/2, 25).
Four draws with black at this level, from the diagrammed position ; Maxime’s Najdorf is a tough nut to crack! Anyone else for the challenge?

Player’s arrival (Photo: GCT).
Player’s arrival (Photo: GCT).

With white, Maxime was also involved in theoretical battles; the first one against So’s Berlin Wall, when he couldn’t take any advantage. And another one against Caruana’s Petroff, whose solidity is impressive since the American first decided to add it to his repertoire, at the end of 2016 (btw, the stem game was against Maxime!).
Both players expressed afterwards the feeling that white had got a slight but insidious pressure, despite the apparent symetry of the position.

Mvl-Caruana, Round 5; white’s edge is microscopic.
Mvl-Caruana, Round 5; white’s edge is microscopic.

Anyway, very serious and precise play from Caruana allowed him to keep the equilibrium all along.

Beginning of the tournament, in front of the World Champion (Photo: GCT).
Beginning of the tournament, in front of the World Champion (Photo: GCT).

Eventually, the only game which went outside the trodden paths was the one against Carlsen, at the very beginning of the tournament. After five mere moves, both players had succeeded in getting a new position from the Sicilian Defence !

Mvl-Carlsen, Ronde 1; a baroque opening.
Mvl-Carlsen, Ronde 1; a baroque opening.

Despite the weakening of his light squares after 5…h6 6.h5 g5 7.Nh2!, followed by Nf1-e3, Carlsen never really seemed in trouble in that game. What would have been said though, if an amateur had played this way with black!
The game finally concluded on a logic draw, Maxime’s Rooks being worth the World Champion’s Queen and pawn.

The players still have four rounds to break the tie, while for the time being, the four players qualified for the 2018 Grand Chess Tour Final in London are Nakamura, Aronian, Maxime and Mamedyarov.

When play resumes for round 6, on Friday August 23 at 1pm (Saint-Louis time), Maxime will be black against Mamedyarov, the top player against whom he has the worst stats…

Concentrated… (Photo: GCT).
Concentrated… (Photo: GCT).

Saint LouisThe Saint-Louis Chess Club is proud to present itself as the anchor’s point of American chess resurgence. And the fact is, that under the leadership of local billionaire Rex Sinquefield, considerable resources have been invested to create a pleasant and appealing place in the heart of Saint-Louis. But also to attract the best players and the best youngsters, without forgetting the scholastic part, throughout the town’s schools.

There’s also a « Hall of Fame » inside the club, that honours the best players in History and which is open to visitors, as well as a variety of exhibitions on chess themes.

Saint-Louis, Missouri, « the Mecca of chess », the Americans say…

Maxime’s games (rounds 1-5) :

Official site : https://grandchesstour.org/2018-grand-chess-tour/2018-sinquefield-cup