Grandmaster Mark Hebden Wins Kilkenny 2014

This year’s event was overshadowed by the sad passing of long time Kilkenny CC stalwart Sean (John) Bradley just shortly before the annual weekend chess festival, of which he was so much a part of.

I did not know Sean very well myself, only ever having played him once in 1993, appropriately enough at the Kilkenny congress. That game I can still recall well as being perhaps very revealing of the character of Sean. Because in that one game he showed his chess knowledge, culture and genuine enthusiasm and also modesty.

He was clearly an admirer of, and influenced by Boris Spassky as he played the same variation of the Richter Rauzer that had been used to good effect against Fischer in their famous 1972 ” Match of the century”.

Sean played the first sixteen moves flawlessly and the position was finely balanced until he went for a tactical shot which had a very good idea behind it and was playable until he made an error, which after the game, he explained was based on a miscalculation that spoiled an otherwise neat idea. I can still recall his genuine enthusiasm for chess and manifest modesty. The game is below -click on diagram to view.

Daly - Bradley Kilkenny 93 White to play

Daly – Bradley Kilkenny 93 White to play

Sean was a real gentleman and I last seen and spoke with Sean briefly at the last round of the Armstrong Cup earlier this year. My last recollection was again of Sean being true to his nature, and having some kind words to offer, being his usual friendly self. He will be badly missed.

A couple of articles in the Kilkenny People Newspaper just before the 38th Kilkenny congress is testament to the regard and affection felt for Sean from far and wide.

Kilkenny People Announcement November 7

Kilkenny People Announcement November 24

This year’s event went ahead with over 200 participants and although I did not play myself I will try give some impressions on the purely chess side of things, as with the live games and modern media being what they are, with text’s, emails and social media plus personal contacts available, it is possible to get some decent information and perspective about how some chess games went. Even without actually being present.

I had considered playing myself but the thought of a whole weekend of chess, plus my foul mood following my ridiculous Armstrong game on the Wednesday left me not keen enough to want to play chess for a whole weekend. Also I sort of feel that I have to earn the right to give up a whole weekend for chess.

If I had won my Armstrong game or perhaps even made a draw then I could sort of reward myself, or justify going away for a weekend of chess. However as I had instead thrown away a nice win, I sort of felt so annoyed with myself that I decided I did not deserve to go away for the weekend.

To get an idea of why I would have been so annoyed with myself, check out the position below and click on the diagram to view the game and see why I would not be keen to play another game of chess for a little while. The game now has notes.

Collins - Daly Armstrong Cup 2014/2015 Black to play

Collins – Daly Armstrong Cup 2014/2015 Black to play

In any event, this years Kilkenny tournament was deservedly won by GM Mark Hebden, with second place going to GM Sebastian Maze outright. Third place was shared between a group that included Bogdan Lalic, Sam Collins, Alex Baburin and Bram Van Dijk

For my impressions of some of the games played start with O Cinneide – Collins from round 2

2014 Kilkenny Chess Masters – Round 2 – O Cinneide – Collins

In this series of posts I will concentrate on some games from the 2014 Kilkenny Masters section and give some impressions and notes on some of the chess games played or and things I noticed. There were a few interesting games well worth looking at and plenty of twists and turns too. But I will start with the first game that caught my attention, which was the round two clash between Mel O Cinneide and Sam Collins

The first thing to note about this game was that it was a very unusual opening which left both players on their own very soon into the game. As Sam is well known to be a very hard worker and generally very well prepared player it is no surprise that he was following a game played by GM David Navara who also played 3…g5, after 1 Nf3 d5 2 c4 d4 3 b4. However play deviated straight away and both players were soon on their own and had to navigate the muddy waters after 3…g5 from then onwards.

OCinneide - Collins Kilkenny 2014

OCinneide – Collins Kilkenny 2014 Position after 3…G5

The effect of playing a move like 3…g5 can be very strong and it is almost a given that if Sam was willing to play it then surely it’s can’t be bad? Well it is not bad at all, but not especially good either, at least not objectively. However from a practical point of view it is excellent. It gains space on the Kingside, prepare to put the bishop on g7 to support the d pawn and forces White out of his comfort zone instantly.

The first question is why can’t White just take the pawn? Well he can, but then after e7-e5 Black gains more time to develop and secure his already pleasant spatial advantage in the center. So at first White puts the bishop on b2 with tempo and only then takes. But after 4 Bb2 Bg7 5 Nxg5 e7-e5 White went wrong with the weak move 6 Nf3, after which Black was able to then play 6…e4 with further tempo gain to increase his space advantage and disrupt the White development. Black can be said to be comfortable as a result.

After a few more natural enough moves 7. Ng1 Nh6 8. g3?! O-O[8… a5!? was also interesting] 9. Bg2 Re8 10. Nh3 Nc6 11.Qb3?! a5! 12. b5 a4 13. Qd1 Ne5. (some of which I feel may not have been best from White) we have the curious position below.

O Cinneide - Collins Kilkenny 2014. Position after 14 Qc1

O Cinneide – Collins Kilkenny 2014. Position after 14 Qc1


So what are we to make of how things have gone? Well for the small price of a pawn Black has two central pawns on the fifth rank. very active pieces almost all developed, meanwhile White is under developed, cramped and probably already lost. So after Black played 14…Nf3 and White played 15 Kf1 Black now had a great chance to play a beautiful move 15 …Ng4 which would give us the position below.
O Cinneide - Collins Kilkenny 2014. Position after possible alternate move 15...Ng4

O Cinneide – Collins Kilkenny 2014. Position after possible alternate move 15…Ng4

It is not easy to see such a move I guess but not very hard either and I would expect there is a good chance that Sam would have played this if he was in better form maybe? The critical lines can be seen by clicking on the diagram and viewing the notes. What was played by Black was still fine and after 15 …Nh4 there was a bit of a comical series of mutual errors.

Firstly White played 16 gxh4 (Nf4 was better) when Black should have played 16…Qxh4 but instead played 16…Bxh3 17 Bxh3 Qh4 18 Bg2 e3 19 Qe1 When we had the critical position below.

O Cinneide - Collins  Kilkenny 2014. Position after 19 Qe1

O Cinneide – Collins Kilkenny 2014. Position after 19 Qe1


Black has failed to play the most accurate moves at some critical moments but he is still doing fine. He plays the correct and natural move 19…a3 20. Nxa3 White is just about hanging on but Black should be able to cash in now. Instead he blunders and is just lost! 20… d3??

Astounding and very much similar to my own game against Sam just a few days before when I also blundered into a lost position on move 30.

Black should have played [20… exd2! 21. Qxd2 Ng4 22. Qf4 Be5 23. Qf3 d3 Was the way to go. 24. Rb1 Bxb2 25. Rxb2 Rxa3 26. exd3 Qg5!]

21. fxe3 Qxe1 22.Rxe1 Bxb2 23. Nb1 And all of a sudden Black is lost. The rest as they is say, is just technique. White was under a lot of time pressure however, so his play has to be applauded. A few inaccuracies but nothing that put White in any danger on the board of not winning. 23… dxe2 24. Kxe2 Rxa2?[24… Reb8!] 25. Bxb7 Nf5 26. Kf3? c5?? Odd to say the least 27. bxc6 Bf6 28. c7 Nd6 29. Bd5 Ra7 30. d4 Rxc7 31. Nd2 Kf8 32. c5 Nf5 33. Ne4 Bh4 34.Re2 Bd8 35. Ra1 Rce7 36. Kf4 Ng7 37. Nf6 Bc7 38. Kf3 Rd8 39. Nxh7 Kg8 40. Nf6 Kf8 41. e4 Ne6 42. Bxe6 fxe6 43. Ke3 Rb8 44. e5 Rf7 45. Rg2 Ke7 46. Ra7 Rb3 47. Ke4

O Cinneide - Collins Kilkenny 2014

O Cinneide – Collins Kilkenny 2014 – 1-0

For more of my impressions of some of the games played see Mark Hebden – Phillip Short from round 2

2014 Kilkenny Chess Masters – Round 2 – Hebden – Short

This game featured Phillip Short comfortably obtain an equal position and then outplay White to have a slight advantage for most of the game. But at the cost of time and after being a bit better and or comfortably equal for so many moves he got into time trouble and went wrong at a critical moment and gradually found himself in a difficult and then soon after lost endgame.

The critical moment in the game is from the diagram below.

Hebden - Short - Kilkenny 2014 position after 35 Rd1

Hebden – Short – Kilkenny 2014 position after 35 Rd1

Carlsen – Anand 2014 World Chess Championships Game 10

So Carlsen went back to the Grunfeld and Anand went for the interesting 5 Qb3 variation and then soon after we had the sharp …Na6 line

Anand - Carlsen Game 10

Anand – Carlsen Game 10

A curious choice by Carlsen which seems to suggest he is up for a fight today and happy with a complex game. If I had to make a prediction I would say that I think he will win today [usually a draw is by far the most likely result of course]. The reason being that I think his prep will be good enough to see a dynamically equal position and both players will at some point be left on their own and when it gets too tense I think it more likely that Anand will falter.

The position below is very complex indeed.

Anand - Carlsen Game 10 Position before Black now played ...Bf5

Anand – Carlsen Game 10 Position before Black now played …Bf5

After…Bf5 14 Rad1 One of the seconds of Anand had previously played a game with this line as White but lost.
Previous game
So presumably they know this line well enough and anyway Black was the first to deviate by playing 14…Ne4 instead of 14…Qb6

Carlsen – Anand 2014 World Chess Championships Game 9

Another Berlin in the Lopez. Who cares? Boring game [relatively speaking of course]. It is not that the Berlin can’t lead to rich and interesting play, it is just at this level it really is very boring and this short draw only underscores this. The final position is just equal and if White was to push for more he could easily end up worse.

A good result for Anand which will boost his confidence again. It is by no means over yet and I think Carlsen is ready to pounce if he gets half a chance. Anand has real chances now, and a win really would and could potentially cause panic for Carlsen.

Carlsen – Anand 2014 World Chess Championships Game 8

So Anand held on easily enough in game seven and is only one win away from leveling the match. Can he do it, and what is the outlook for the match now generally? Well I have to admit that at the outset I was of the view that Carslsen would pretty much destroy Anand and win the match by an even bigger margin than the last match they played. This, though flying in the face of perceived conventional wisdom, was because although it was true that Ananad has had a good time on the chess board since he lost his crown and very impressively won the candidates tournament that earned him the right to play Carlsen in this match I think an objective and clinical look at his games will not reveal that he was exactly a player on fire.

Rather it seemed to me that Anand was still in “Match Mode” and was just going to be very hard to beat and very focused on that while being motivated enough to be still good enough to take his chances when offered, and so this is more or less how he won the candidates tournament so deservedly but not quite so impressively as we might at first think. In the contest of him having lost such a bruising match with Carlsen his candidates tournament win was very impressive and even inspiring, but from a purely chess point of view not earth shattering.

So therefore while I expected to see a far more stable and determined Anand with renewed self confidence and belief I also felt that if he got dealt a couple of blows from Carlsen this might all start to unravel and he would again be fragile [relatively speaking of course]. So many people seem to forget or are n aware of the famous Kasparov – Anand match in 1995 when the first eight games were all drawn. Then it was even Anand who got the first win in game nine only to lose four out of the next five games and draw the match out with four more draws. Point being that was Anand at the same age as Carlsen is now! So no excuses about age issues can be mentioned.

Si it seems to me that Anand has certain potential vulnerabilities against exceptional players and for his part I thin that Carlsen will have been bruised and somewhat frustrated by his own performances of late, though here too some people seem to forget that his results were not actually bad, just below par for his standards. So I figure that Carlsen would be very eager and hungry to prove to himself and the world that eh was till clearly “The Best” and would be very determined to impose himself on Anand and win in some style or show a certain dominance.

Considering all these things I felt sure that on balance Anand was in for a beating, the like of which he would never forget. Not that I wanted that as if it turned out that he somehow managed not to lose and instead win the match then that had a fantastic narrative and inspiring story. Especially considering that he is a player of my own generation and we actually played in the World Junior same year back in Baguio all those years ago. He won it in a year that saw an incredibly strong field.

Daly having a laugh with newly crowned World Junior Champion Anand in Baguio City, The Phillipines 1987

Daly having a laugh with newly crowned World Junior Champion Anand in Baguio City, The Phillipines 1987

So if Anand did manage to win this match with Carlsen I would indeed find it inspiring to see a man in his 40s defeat a man in his 20s. However I am really be happy to see the best player win and I simply think that is Carlsen. The combination of youth, energy, brilliance and hunger being too much. At the start of the match that was very much confirmed for me, but when Anand struck back straight away I almost had doubts, even though that game was mainly just preparation and not so much a pure reflection of his chess prowess or outplaying Carlsem.

However after a few more games I began to think that Anand was very much back in the match but then he had this tragic loss where he fell apart after missing a golden opportunity to most likely win after Carlsen blundered in game 6. Then yesterday he showed his best qualities with an impressive defense and well deserved draw. Now I am not at all so sure of how the match will go, and Anand is still in with a chance.

So back to today’s game. A QGD Bf4 line in which it seems Carlsen was the first to deviate or bring the game more into his preparation. Firstly it is good to see that he has gone fr an active game and the game looks interesting and complex already.

Anand - Carlsen Game 8 Position after 10...Be7

Anand – Carlsen Game 8 Position after 10…Be7

Blacks last move seems to be a novelty and the move Bg5 played by White was not the most popular either, likewise 9…Re8 was also not the main line. The way the game has gone since, it seems that it is all still in preparation for Carlsen and he has no difficulty.

After a few more natural moves we reached the position below which looks interesting and complex. But that did not last long and the game quickly fizzled out into a very boring and drawn sort of position.

Anand - Carlsen Position after 17...Rad8

Anand – Carlsen Position after 17…Rad8

This is probably the least exciting or interesting game and is sure to be a draw. A clean success for Carlsen and a slight frustration for Anand. The position below is just before the mass exchanges that leave it hard to see how the game can continue much further.

Anand - Carlsen Game 8

Anand – Carlsen Game 8

There is so little left of interest in this position that I will leave with the position below as I can’t see anything but a draw and imagine there might be a draw very soon. Nothing else really to do here?

Anand - Carlsen Game 8

Anand – Carlsen Game 8

Carlsen – Anand 2014 World Chess Championships Game 7

Well I came a bit late to this game, to the position at move 24 to be exact, and to be honest I am already quite bored with this game. I find it rather depressing to see the Berlin on the board and both players follow theory for so many moves with no great sign of anything interesting.

Carlsen - Anand Game 7 Position after 23...Be6

Carlsen – Anand Game 7 Position after 23…Be6

After 24 g4 Nd6 25 Rh7 Nf7 I think the position is still very sterile and White has no appreciable advantage. I expect a draw is surely the only logical result. Very disappointing game really. It turns out that the position after 23…Be6 has been played before but 24 g4 seems to be a new move but nothing very special.

After 26 Ne3 Kd8 27 Nf5 c5 28 Ng3 Anand played Ne5 which is funny considering that in the last game 26…Nxe5 was a big move that he did not play. However in this game 28…Ne5 seems one of the weaker moves available to Black and he may have given Carlsen a chance to obtain a workable advantage.

Carlsen - Anand Game 7 Position after 28...Ne5

Carlsen – Anand Game 7 Position after 28…Ne5

One variation of interest is 29. Rh8 Rg8 30. Bxe5 fxe5 31. Rh5 Rf8 32. Ke3 Bd5 33. Ne4 Bxe4 34. Kxe4 Rf4 35. Ke3 Rb4 36 Rxe5 Rxb2 37 Rxc5 When we have the position below.

Carlsen - Anand Game 7 possible variation.

Carlsen – Anand Game 7 possible variation.


If the game does go this way then White does have an advantage. Probably still a draw with best play but not easy to play. Svidler is suggesting that after 30. Bxe5 fxe5 31. Rh5 Black can give up his Bishop on g4 but after 31…Bxg4 32 Fxg4 Rxg4 White has 33 c3 which seems to be close to winning for White, though not easy to play.

Well, well, well Anand has gone for it and followed the line suggested by Svidler. But Carlsen did not play 33 c3 and moved very quickly with 33 Rxe5 instead. Maybe this is just as good or better but White seems to have real chances of winning now.

After 33 Rxe5 b6 34 Ne4 Rh4 35 Ke2 Rh6 36 b3 Kd7 things have become very clear. Black is just trying to draw and White is the only player with chances to win. If I had to bet I would say Carlsen will win but I don’t see how. Anand will probably crack at some point but his experience could insure he gets a draw.

Carslen - Anand Game 7 Position after 36...Kd7

Carslen – Anand Game 7 Position after 36…Kd7


So after a lot of pushing wood we reached the position below, which I still don’t see any good plan for White.
Carlsen - Anand Game 7 Black to play

Carlsen – Anand Game 7 Black to play

Anand has defended well and this is an easy draw at the end. A big result for him which keeps his chances very much alive.

Carlsen – Anand 2014 World Chess Championships Game 6

So what to expect today as Carlsen has the first of two White’s in a row. He must be pretty eager to stamp his mark on things right about now. It has looked really good for him after the first two games but he has not looked his best since then. He will know that if he fails to win at least one of the next two games then this will hand the momentum back to Anand.

So what will his approach be to the game today? Which first move will he play? My guess is that he won’t play 1 e4 today. Why? Well perhaps the Anand team will assume that he will have done work to prepare against the Sicilian (Anand might then switch back to 1..e5) so they would be surprised by him not playing 1 e4. Then Carlsen could have something prepared with either 1 d4 or just want to get a game with 1 c4.

My guess is that Carlsen will play 1 c4 but I really would not bet on it either. If he does play 1 e4 and Anand does play the Sicilian then I do think he has to take on Anand in a main line variation and he could just get the breakthrough he needs now. I also think that if Carlsen does play 1 e4 then Anand should play 1…e5 as I think it will annoy or frustrate Carslen a little, cause a bit of confusion or doubt and most likely be the most safe and sound way to insure a draw, which would increase pressure on Carlsen and may cause Carlsen to make some rash choices?

The scenario in which the match stays level with each round is not in my view a 50-50 situation for the players. With every round that goes by in which Anand simply avoids losing, there is a small increase of an edge in favor of Anand. He now he even has the confidence to actually pounce if Carlsen falters. This potentially changes the dynamics of the contest greatly, but Carlsen is a very astute and self aware player too, so he may well just be patient and then torture Anand in at least one of the next two games. Either way, I have the feeling we might be in for a great game today.

So it is a Sicilian after all. But sadly not really! Anand plays the Paulsen/Kan variation and Carlsen plays 5 c4 which when I was growing up, was understood to be a weak line, as in, it allowed Black an equal game very easily and quickly. The reason being that Black can play 5…Nf6 6 Nc3 Bb4 and White usually then plays 7 Bd3 Black responds with Nc6 and White plays 8 Nxc6 and after 8…dxc6

A well known position soon occurs [after 9. e5 Nd7 10. f4 Nc5 11. Bc2 Bxc3 12. bxc3 Qxd1 13. Kxd1] which is worth looking at briefly.

Carlsen - Anand Game 6 Alternative possible Paulsen variation endgame

Carlsen – Anand Game 6 Alternative possible Paulsen variation endgame

This endgame is basically an easy draw for Black and one of the reasons why I used to avoid playing the Paulsen/Kan was because of this very variation which becomes a sterile position with no winning chances.

However Carlsen avoided this main line of the 5 c4 variation by playing 7 Qd3 but I don’t think this changes much really. Black plays in the same manner and after a few logical moves, Nc6 8. Nxc6 dxc6 9. Qxd8 Kxd8 10. e5 Nd7 11. Bf4 Bxc3 12. bxc3 Kc7 when we have a very similar endgame with the difference being that White has the option to castle and he has not played his pawn to f4 which preserves more scope for his black squared Bishop. But nevertheless I think this is an easy position for Black to play.

Carlsen - Anand Game 6 White to play

Carlsen – Anand Game 6 White to play


Already I would predict a draw and judge that Carlsen has wasted a game with the White pieces. This line, even with the 7 Qd3 twist is an insipid variation and not a good choice even practically. A bad day again for Carlsen and another disappointment from a chess point of view.

Apparently Peter Svidler thinks differently and suggests that White has some edge and Black has not yet obtained an equal position, but I just don’t agree. I think this is an easy position for Anand to play and White is just blowing hot air with no real chance to start a fire. The first sign of something that might be called a critical position occurred after 13. h4 b6 14. h5 h6 15. O-O-O Bb7 16. Rd3 c5 17. Rg3 Rag8 18. Bd3 Nf8 19. Be3 g6 20. hxg6 Nxg6 21. Rh5 Bc6

Carlsen - Anand Game 6 Position after 21...Bc6

Carlsen – Anand Game 6 Position after 21…Bc6


22 Bc2 Kb7 23 Rg4 has then been played but I don’t see any progress for White. I am amused that after 23…a5 24 Bd1 Svidler still feels that White is making some progress but I can’t see it at all. 24…Rd8 and 25 Bc2 was played so is Carlsen offering a draw? Presumably Black will play 25…Rdg8 and it is back over to Carlsen to find something.

Yes it is back over to Magnus to find a way to keep chances for White. Astounding! Carlsen just blundered! After 26 Kd2? Anand could and should have played 26…Nxe5 but instead he played 26…a5-a4 and now after 27 Ke2 a4-a3 28 f2-f3 and Anand is deep in thought reflecting on what he just missed as he surely must have realized it.

One has to fear for Anand now as although the position is fine for Black I also don’t like this plan of pushing the pawn to a3 either and he must be in turmoil. He probably should just remind himself that it could have been him that blundered and he would have lost, so at least as he has not blundered he has no reason to feel he can not get a draw. Anand has instead been a bit rattled and played 28…Rd8 which seems a bit rash and we now do have a critical position.

Carlsen - Anand Game 6 Position after 28...Rd8

Carlsen – Anand Game 6 Position after 28…Rd8

29 Ke1 Rd7 30 Bc1 is the reason I did not like pushing the a pawn, as now it can be attacked. Black defended with 30…Ra8 but Anand is under pressure now. A few moves have been played 31. Ke2 Ba4 32. Be4 Bc6 33. Bxg6 fxg6 34. Rxg6 Ba4 and this looks like a total collapse from Anand. 35 Rxe6 Rd1 36 Bxa3

Carlsen - Anand Game 6 Position after 36 Ba3

Carlsen – Anand Game 6 Position after 36 Ba3

A few moves later 36…Ra1 37. Ke3 Bc2 38. Re7 and Anand had to resign. A sad and unlucky loss. He seemed to have been badly affected by the missed chance he had and played poorly thereafter.

Carlsen – Anand 2014 World Chess Championships Game 5

So the match is all square after four rounds and most likely the edge goes to Anand at this stage. Despite the two players saying that everything was all even between them. This hardly seems credible really. Anand has managed to come back straight away after a very painful loss and difficult first game struggle, and then get a win against Carslen for the first time since 2010 and the first ever in their two matches so far. This has got to give Anand a boost, and his confidence must be growing now.

However it needed to, as the first two games were simply not impressive and he was being outplayed relatively easily. Now things have changed and this huge win has saved him from what could have been a downward spiral of unstoppable proportions. Now that he has struck back, he then consolidated further with a pretty comfortable but well earned draw in game four, but what now?

Well that is the key question, while I don’t think Anand can, or will, win this match, there is now a window of opportunity for Anand. All he need do is keeping holding Carlsen at bay with Black and try put real pressure on him as White. If he can do that for another 4 games then there is even the chance of him causing a huge upset and causing a crisis within Carlsen himself.

On the other hand, one of the great strengths of the world champion is that he is very objective and self critical so with that kind of self awareness I think it likely that he will simply address the problems he has, fix them and then go back to dominating Anand. Today I think we will see another 1D4 from Anand and probably an offer of a Nimzo Indian which Anand will again decline and Carlsen might well play a Queens Indian. Hard to tell really but it is vital that Carslen not lose, and this fact alone could put huge pressure on him.

He may well just be content to make an easy draw, which would be a very sound plan, as he gets two White’s in a row after this game. I think the match at the moment is surprisingly well balanced and while I think Anand has a slight edge overall he almost has to win to keep that edge. A loss and he is again in potentially serious trouble and a draw will give the edge back to Carlsen who could then build on this and create a new momentum in his favor. If I had to predict, I would say it will be a draw today.

So my guess was right! A Queens Indian but with the twist that Carlsen is the first to deviate with a slight surprise. His move 7…c6 is not played so much and I suspect that we will be more in Carlsen’s preparation today. I am thinking that Carlsen will draw pretty easily today now.

Anand - Carlsen Game 5 position after 7...c6

Anand – Carlsen Game 5 position after 7…c6

So after some thought Anand played the most natural looking 8 e4 and then after 8…d5 9 exd5 which seems a bit odd or at least less common than 9 cxd5, black replied with 9…cxd5 10 Ne5 0-0 11 0-0 Nc6 and we already have what I think is a critical moment in the game. I simply do not like this for White and feel it is already equal and pretty sterile at that. Seems a little strange the way Anand has played this. I think this is heading for a draw already. White has got nothing from the opening and does not even look like he tried for much.

Anand - Carlsen Game 5 Position after 11...Nc6

Anand – Carlsen Game 5 Position after 11…Nc6

Yes an odd game from Anand as this looks like it will fizzle out into a very sterile position which offers few chances for either side really. After 12 cxd5 Nxe5 we seen the funny in-between move 13 d6 which was countered by the simple and calm 13…Nc6.
There follows 14 dxe7 Qxe7 and after 15 Bg5 h6 white tried 16 d5 and Black just played 16…Na5 and then Anand thought for a while before playing the perfectly safe 17 Bxf6 Qxf6 and we are left with Anand again having a think about how to proceed further as his opening advantage hopes dissipate further.

Anand - Carlsen Game 5 Position after 17...Qxf6

Anand – Carlsen Game 5 Position after 17…Qxf6

No surprise then that Anand took on e6 but this just confirms that he has nothing from the opening and the game is headed towards a draw. This is a small victory for Calsen, not so much just because he got a draw with Black easily but because of the message he is sending. Namely that he can out prepare Anand and diffuse any threats or hopes Anand might have for an opening edge if he wants. Carlsen was bitten once but not again! Now Anand will have to face Carlsen as Black twice in a row which will be a tough test.

This games is all but over. In fact Carlsen played the most natural 18…Qxe6 which according to the engine is the weaker of the possible replies. It seems 18…Bxg2 was the simplest way for Black to play, based on the idea that after 19 exf7 check 19…Qxf7 20 Kxg2 Nc4! Gives black more than enough counter-player for the pawn to be equal. Carlsen played the human move which I think is still fine, as after 19 Re1 Qf6 I still don’t see any real threats or way to an advantage for White. I assume 20 Bxb7 Nxb7 will follow but how then to proceed?

Anand - Carlsen game 5 Position after the variation 20 Bxb7 Nb7

Anand – Carlsen game 5 Position after the variation 20 Bxb7 Nb7

So this line surely would have seen Carlsen secure a draw as Black using less than 15 minutes on the clock? That would be a minor victory. This game would not be of any further interest really and the only thing hard to figure out is how do they actually end the game and make the draw?

Instead Anand played 20 Nd5! which actually does force Black to be careful. Carlsen still plays it safe and solid by taking on d5 with 20…Bxd5 Then I assume 21 Bxd5 Rad8 22 Qf3 When I still don’t see any real problems for Black. Best then might be 22…Qxf3 23 Bxf3 Nc4! 24 b3 Nd2 25 Bg2 Rd7

Wow! Carlsen has just played 22…Qxb2 and now after 23 Rad1 I think we have a game again. Black will now come under pressure and have to play really well to defend the position. This game just came alive!

Anand - Carlsen Game 5 Position after 23 Rad1

Anand – Carlsen Game 5 Position after 23 Rad1

Carlsen has now played 23…Qf6 (23…Rd7 was an option? – one line being 24 Qf5 Rc7 25 Be4 G6 26 Qf4 Rfc8 27 Qxh6 Qf6, though it is easy to understand why Black would be nervous of this variation.) and the ending after 24 Qxf6 gxf6 25 Re7 Kg7 26 Ra7 Nc6 looks like Black might well be able to hold it.

Critical moment was perhaps back at move 26 when White could have improved with either 26 Kg2 or 26 Rc7 both of which seem to keep the pressure up on Black.

Anand -Carlsen Game 5 White to play

Anand -Carlsen Game 5 White to play

Instead what was played was 26 Ra7 Nc6 27 Rb7 Nb4 28 Bb3 Rxd1 29 Bxd1 Nxa2 30 Rxb6 Nc3 31 Bf3 f5 32 Kg2 Rd8 33 Rc6 Ne4 34 Bxe4 fxe4 and the rest was trivial. Overall this was a pretty boring game, at least compared to the games so far.

A great result for Carlsen as I thought he was almost in a bit of trouble. Anand may come to regret not pushing a bit more on move 26. Now Carlsen has White twice which will be a big chance for Carlsen. The impression from the press conference afterwards was that Anand was content enough to know he is playing well enough to cause Carlsen problems and if he had a few more games like the one today an odd win would not be at all surprising.

For Carlsen it appeared he is mindful that he has his work cut out and is determined to go for it now that he has those two White’s in a row. I sense a hint of frustration and he may even be putting himself under pressure with a strong desire and expectation of being able to push ahead with a win from one of the next two games.

The match is still very much a contest and already Anand is doing better than I had thought would be the case. With each round that goes by that he can stay on level terms his chances start to increase.

Carlsen – Anand 2014 World Chess Championships Game 4

A lot of interest in this game and how Carlsen would react to his first loss to Anand since 2010, I think. Well as I missed a fair bit of the live broadcast I will just give some impressions of the game from this round. In the first instance I thought the choice of 1…c5 by Anand was perfectly well timed. It really did put it up to Carlsen and declared that he was confident enough to want to play for a win.

Carlsen – Anand 2014 World Chess Championships Game 3

Great anticipation for this third game already. Even so early in the match this feels like a potentially critical game. Certainly could be critical for Anand who is now under great pressure indeed. So what will his approach be today? Will he try mix things ups and go for a complex game, or will he just play it safe and just try for a small slow advantage?

My guess is that Anand will play 1d4 and we will possibly see Carlsen change opening and play something else other than a Grunfeld. Yes so indeed it has come to pass. Black went for a Nimzo Indian but after 3 Nf3 Black went back into a Queens Gambit Declined and Anand has gone for the Bf4 variation which I think indicates that Anand is in the mood to try play for a win. This seems especially true in the case of the c4-c5 variation.

Anand - Carlsen game 3

Anand – Carlsen game 3


However they have moved very quickly and already as of just 12:06 they have ten moves played. Given the speed they are playing my guess is that Anand has prepared something specific and it will be interesting to see how things unfold now. This seems to be indeed the case as after a few more moves, which seem like they have been played before, we see Carlsen being the first to have a big think.

I don’t understand the position very well as I am not very familiar with this variation. The first critical moment has come with 17 Ng5 which looks amazing, yet this has all been played before! One assumes that it is unknown to Carlsen that they are following the game Aronian – Adams from last year in Bilbao which was a draw, and Black responded by now playing 17…Ndf6. I would guess Carlsen will also play this move, but it is a very complex and unusual opening. Perhaps worth noting that Black cannot take twice on g5 because White can then play his Knight into d6 attacking the queen and the c pawn moves forward.

Anand- Carlsen game 3 position after 17 Ng5

Anand- Carlsen game 3 position after 17 Ng5

Yes indeed Carlsen has played the same move that Adams played and I guess it will be for Anand to show us where he intends to improve on the play by Aronian. Anand has not moved immediately but that could be because he might want to conceal the fact that Carlsen has walked into his preparation. Or perhaps this was the end point for his preparation? It will become clear very soon.

So Anand still follows the same path of Aronian by taking on e4 and then after Nxe4 he plays 19 f3, to which Adams now responded by playing 19…Ra5. That game is worth checking out as I suspect Anand has some improvement ready. But we will see who is the first to deviate and that might be very revealing.

Yes Carlsen also followed what Adams played by playing …Ra5 but Anand is the first to deviate and I am sure this is part of his preparation, which on this occasion has worked out well. White has a slight advantage now and Carlsen will have to be at his best to hold this position. No reason to think he will not be able to hold yet though. He is doing the right thing by taking his time and working out the best plan. Unlike the first game of the match I think White actually does have an advantage here today.

Carlsen took on a3 which I think was not the best and we have this very curious position below which I am sure Anand will have had on the board before in his home preparation. This is looking like a great chance to win for Anand as 20…bxa3 seems like a mistake to me and instead 20…dxe4 was much safer.

Anand - Carlsen game 3 position after 23. exd5

Anand – Carlsen game 3 position after 23. exd5

If I had to make prediction now I would say Carlsen is going to lose today! That would be a real sensation which would truly ignite this match. Carlsen took on d5 with his rook on move 23 after which I assume Anand will play 24 Qxb6 and then the position is very hard for Black to defend. This is a real test and if he does manage to draw then I think it will be another blow to Anand and put huge pressure on him going into the game tomorrow. Still I like the position for White and will be very curious and impressed to see how Carlsen holds on in this game.

He played 24…Qd7 which seems odd to me as after 25 Qa6 I think that with best play Black is just lost! I am going to take a break now (14:15) and be back around 15:00 I will not be shocked if the game is either over or Carlsen is just about hanging on.

Anand - Carlsen game 3, Position if White play 25 Qa6 Rc8 26 Rb1!

Anand – Carlsen game 3, Position if White play 25 Qa6 Rc8 26 Rb1!

Well, what with traffic and the weather today here in Dublin I did not make it back [16:40] until long after the game was over. Not at all surprised by the result so much as the way the game actually went. Carlsen more or less simply collapsed.

But before getting into that, let me dispense with the diagram above which is what might have happened rather than what did happen. If White had reached that position then I think it is a pretty hopeless position for Black, but instead of 25…Rc8, in response to the very strong 25 Qa6 which was better than what Anand played Black should play 25… Qc8 with better chances to hold on.

As it happens Anand played it safe with 25 0-0 and risked no longer having a winning advantage, but still managed to increase his advantage and pile on more pressure, which resulted in Carlsen losing his way and then just collapsing.

After 25 0-0 black played Rc8 which was fine now, as if White then played Qa6 Black has …Rb5 which offers good chances to defend. Instead Anand played the stronger move 26 Rc6 which keeps White well on top. The choice by Carlsen to then lash out with 26…g5 must have been born of frustration and the realization that this was a very difficult position to defend indeed.

He was no doubt regretting his opening choice today and felt under pressure when he was running low on the clock too. Anand did not play the very strong 27 Be5 but still opted for safe and calm waters with 27 Bg3 which paid off after 27…Bb4 was met with the fine move 28 Ra1 that then saw Carlsen just buckle under the pressure and blunder with 28…Ba5, after which there was no way back and the rest was, as is often said, just technique.

Anand - Carlsen game 3 Position just before Black made the fatal mistake 28...Ba5?

Anand – Carlsen game 3 Position just before Black made the fatal mistake 28…Ba5?


In the above position Black is much worse but he may not be lost and now 28…g4 gave the best chance to hang on and keep things uncertain. In the game White has it all his own way after 29 Qa6. 29…Bc7 is tantamount to resignation as there are no good lines for Black after 30 Qc4. The remaining four moves were ignominious for Black 30…e5 31 Be5 Rxe5 32 de5 Qe7 33 e6 Kf8 34…Resigns

So to conclude. What to make of this result and game in the context of the match overall? Well it is great for the match and Anand especially, He will take great encouragement from this huge win, and regardless of what score he losses the match by (for I think he will lose this match anyway) he will always have today to look back on and enjoy. It just might give him the sort of self belief he needs.

However an objective view might suggest that this was really just a bump in the road and Anand has really little or no chance to win the match but just a great chance to win more fans throughout the world, by at least coming out fighting and showing that he is able to inflict a defeat on Carlsen after all. While it is indeed refreshing to see even a great player like Carlsen caught out in opening preparation, which as it happen extended to 24 moves, ultimately anybody can have a bad day.

2014 Armstrong Cup Blues

The Armstrong Cup is without doubt a venerable and curious competition. One which I have participated in many times over the years. There is a detailed review of the Armstrong Cup by the current ICU Vice Chairman and former Irish Olympiad player Paul Cassidy which gives plenty of insight into the nature and background of the Armstrong Cup at http://www.leinsterchess.com/ArmstrongReview2013.pdf which is well worth a look.

This year I got off to a particularly bad start which was both frustrating, and a bit of a blow to me. My chess has always been prone to being up and then down, in varying degrees, but as one get’s older, and even more jaded, the down’s seem to increase. But still there are almost always lessons to be learned or interesting aspects to losses.

Since the Olympiad in Tromso, in which I was enjoying my chess so much, I have not been playing well really, and simply not “in the chess zone” so after a very poor performance in the City Of Dublin I then played rising star David Fitzsimons of Elm Mount with Black. This was a fine game by David but also a pretty lame effort by me. The days of not doing serious prep for an opponent like David are long gone.

Previously I had managed to outplay David with Black the last time we played in the 2014 Irish Championships, but to no avail. As although I was a fraction better at one point, the game ended up with a dead drawn position, until, that is, I went a bit crazy and instead of settling for a draw played on a couple of moves too many, blundered very stupidly and lost.

Since then I had forgotten the variation we played, failed to do any prep for our Armstrong game and found myself in a variation that is very double-edged and even risky in practical play. At a critical moment I took a huge chance trying to frustrate the attacking ambitions for White within the position, but it backfired after David improved on previous theory with a fine thematic piece sacrifice typical of what often occurs in the Sicilian which essentially wins on the spot.

The two key positions from the game are below: Fitzsimons – Daly Armstrong Round 3

To castle or not tocastle

To castle or not to castle


The first critical moment came when I decided to try delaying castling for one more move and took the risk of trying to make a central break first before castling. This turns out to be a fatal choice and Black should now have played castling now regardless. The resulting position is very unclear and offers chances for both sides. Instead after I played 13…e6-e5 White played the expected 14 Nd5 Nxd5 15 exd5 and after 15…0-0 we had the position below. The position is not new but David plays a very natural and strong new move.

White to play and gain winning advantage

White to play and gain a winning advantage

White now played Nf5! which I think wins on the spot, as I can see no good way for Black to react. A very strange state of affairs, but that is sometimes the price to be paid for playing the Sicilian. When it goes wrong it is usually very bad indeed. The rest of the game is amusing if nothing else. So my first game in the Armstrong is a complete disaster. Well at least there is something learned about a variation that needs total accuracy.

My second game in the Armstrong was a very different affair and a game I could be very annoyed and disappointed with myself for botching up so badly. Basically the opening went fine and we reached a complex middle game which should equal on paper but in practice gives White good chances to play for an advantage. But Black just sacrificed a piece and was soon just lost. The first critical moment was from the position below.

Daly - McPhillips Armstrong Cup 2014 Black to move

Daly – McPhillips Armstrong Cup 2014 Black to move


Just seven moves later White had established that Black did not have enough compensation and we had the position below. Only for White then to blunder and throw away the advantage completely. Click on the diagram to see how the game developed.
Daly - McPhillips Armstrong 2014 White to move

Daly – McPhillips Armstrong 2014 White to move


The game took yet another turn and after White over-pressed trying to win, a combination of time pressure and inaccurate play resulted in a difficult position that should have been still drawn but was not easy to defend.
Daly - McPhillips Armstrong 2014 Black to move

Daly – McPhillips Armstrong 2014 Black to move

After Black plays …Ke7 White could have held the position by playing Qb2. Click on the diagram to see how the game went and some of the notes.

Carlsen – Anand 2014 World Chess Championships Game 2

So game two features another Berlin “declined” which is something of a disappointment relatively speaking. A curious choice by Anand and yet more evidence of the solid reputation of the Berlin variation against the Lopez. So much so that Carlsen declines to go into the main line and instead plays the quite 4 d3, which is what I played myself when I faced the Berlin against Stephen Brady in the 2011 Irish Championships.

A game which, in a must win situation, I lost after getting outplayed in the opening, and then after getting a very bad endgame missed a couple of clear draws. My approach was rather aimless and far less logical than what Carlsen has played.

The choice of Carlsen to take on c6 on move 7 seems to be a typical Carlsen approach. He is playing for a safe edge with no risk and after a few more moves the position was transformed to an unusual situation in which the position looks very equal and unexciting. However I think this is actually deceptive and from practical play White has real chances to test Black a bit and Anand will have to be very careful to avoid giving Carlsen some chance for real pressure.

Black to move Carlsen - Anand Game 2

Black to move Carlsen – Anand Game 2

I like this idea of Ra3 and after Black played 14…Nf8 there followed an exchange on e5 and a few very straight forward moves which on move 20 offered an interesting option of Bh6!? A move which neither of the commentary team mentioned. Probably because it looks like it might only draw.

Black to play

Black to play

But there are some very odd variations possible. One line sees White have several pawns for a rook. For example after 20 Bh6 if Black takes on h6 then 21 Rxg6 hxg6 22 Qxg6 Kf8 23 Qxf6 Qf7 24 Qxh6 Ke8 25 Qh8 and White’s next move is Qxe5 which is a very odd position that I think is a slight advantage to White!

White to play Carlsen - Anand

White to play Carlsen – Anand

As interesting as that line is, Carlsen instead played the perfectly logical 20 h4 which seems to have prompted Anand to go badly wrong and decide to take on f5 and then after this, allow a further exchange after 21…Nf4 22 Bxf4 exf4 23 Rc3 when White has a clear advantage. It is really quite amazing that Anand has gone for this as it seems to play right into the hands of Carlsen who now has another endgame in which he has all the chances and Black has to just try hang on.

Black to play in big trouble

Black to play in big trouble

Even if the position is not a win for White with best play I feel very confident in saying White willl most likely win this game, and thus the match massacre that I fear will occur in this match will be underway in earnest. Even after a few sub par moves from Carlsen the position did not show any sign of hope for Black. A key position below had a nice variation which Anand must have seen and avoided.

Black to play in a very bad position.

Black to play in a very bad position.


In the above position it is curious to note what can happen if Black plays 31…Qxf5, which was initially suggested by Peter Svidler, but then later discarded after his colleague pointed out the winning line, White can play 32 Rxb4 cxb4 33 Qc4 Kh8 34 Qf7 Rg8 35 Re8 wins Instead Black played 31…Qd6 and after 32 Qf3 Rxe4 33 Qxe4 f3 34 g3 Black blundered badly with 34…h5 and after 35 Qb7 it was over.

The position was surely lost anyway and it was a very well deserved and comprehensive win by Carlsem. I think Anand is going to suffer a lot in this match.

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