Raising the curtain

Richard Rapport beat Norwegian youngster Aryan Tari in round 1. Photo: Siamak TariRichard Rapport beat Norwegian youngster Aryan Tari in round 1. Photo: Siamak Tari

We’re in the middle of the summer, which means things are starting to heat up in the chess world. Matt & Patt’s columnist takes a look at recent events.

by GM Jonathan Tisdall

I don’t remember the summer as being a quiet time for chess – but that is because I tend to think like a spoiled spectator these days. For those in the stratosphere designated by the 2700 watch list, the start of the season seems to have an air of holiday about it, while it is a time of explosive activity for mortal players in more mortal events. But I tend to want to watch the heavyweights play.

One of the few big stars in action recently made a significant leap up the charts in a rather mysterious event, the made for TV but not yet televised Checkmate TV show, which is modelled on the format of the classic BBC Master Game.

Richard Rapport: Photo: Checkmate-Show

Richard Rapport: Photo: Checkmate-Show

Matt & Patt engine Tarjei Svensen somehow even managed to find some game scores from the tournament, no mean feat considering they have been keeping them quiet with a goal of a more dramatic broadcast – though the program does not yet appear to have a distributor.

The second edition of Checkmate TV was won by Hungarian youngster Richard ‘The Rocket’ Rapport, who built on his recent victory in an exhibition match against David Navara with a majestic 8/9, ahead of Rodshtein and Short, a result which catapulted him up to 17th in the world.

Rapport is one of the more entertaining players at the moment, and I look forward to his presumably improved invitation list and future over-the-board fisticuffs with the world elite.

How serious is this?

Magnus Carlsen convinced by winning in Leuven. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour

Magnus Carlsen convinced by winning in Leuven. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour

The Grand Chess Tour continued on from Paris to Leuven, Belgium, and was another rapid and blitz rather than ‘classical’ chess event. Day one gave the impression we were watching a bizarro version of the first GCT event. Runaway Paris leaders Nakamura and Carlsen bumbled through the first day of the rapid, and ‘new’ face Anand was playing like a youngster.

Hikaru Nakamura managed to beat Magnus Carlsen for once. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour

Hikaru Nakamura managed to beat Magnus Carlsen for once. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour

The Nakamura-Carlsen ‘clash’ on the fifth and final round of day one summed everything up. Magnus had 2/4 coming into this, and Naka an incredible 0.5/4. This happened:

Well. What can you say? Except, cue Hulk Magnus. The next day he said ‘Smash!’ to Topalov, Giri, Anand and Kramnik. Suddenly he looked like he was in a class of his own again. Can he find a way to harness this extreme top form and turn it on without needing to be slapped awake first? On day two he looked like this:

Carlsen’s 4/4 on day two was enough to win the Rapid section outright. In the blitz he increased his overall lead as his form steadily increased, and a second-day burst of 4.5/5 in rounds 11-15 clinched victory three rounds before the end. Steadiness proved to be the most valuable trait, as most players wobbled occasionally.

Meanwhile, in Eastern Europe…

It has been fascinating to watch Karjakin lately, as he has taken the opportunity to keep a reasonably high profile during Carlsen’s adventures on the Grand Chess Tour.

Is this some kind of contest?

Sergey Karjakin. Photo: David Llada (http://www.davidllada.com/)

Sergey Karjakin. Photo: David Llada

The challenger was not to be outdone by Carlsen’s exploits at the Grand Chess Tour’s rapid and blitz starter event, and decided to keep warmed up with a bit of high-speed chess himself.

Karjakin appeared at the Eurasian Blitz Chess Cup, an extremely powerful event. He finished fifth, though was fighting for first until the very end, when perennial rival Peter Svidler thwarted him. Here is a rather vicious victory against the eventual tournament winner:

But more than just keeping warm in chess terms, the challenger was keeping his social media channels humming.

After his ‘OK’ result at the Gashimov memorial where his pal (and second) Shak Mamedyarov won, we saw this:

Then a shout out to Svidler (@polborta) who kept him out of first place:

From left: Karjakin, Svidler, Nepomniachtchi and Potkin, apparently straight from some 3D entertainment.

This Twitter sequence helps revive one of my favorite chess hobbies, spot the seconds. As mentioned before, we know Karjakin’s public seconds, and that ex-Carlsen assistant Vladimir Potkin is now Sergey’s trainer. But as I wondered earlier, is Carlsen chum Ian Nepomniachtchi anything more than Karjakin’s new clubmate?

Chess24’s excellent Colin McGourty had a tremendous report on Karjakin news thanks only partly to his handy language skills. His translation of Karjakin speaking to Russian newspaper Sport-Express is a must read, and here the challenger mentions the work he is doing and how he feels. Karjakin even seems to say that he won’t divulge anything other than his core team is Dokhoian, Motylev and Potkin … before going on to call Mamedyarov his second.

Karjakin seemed very open, and came out with this revealing mind games quote:

In Bilbao we’ll both try to find out something about each other that we can then use to our advantage. And I suspect neither of us will play our main variations we’re preparing for the November match.

And how serious is this?

Magnus Carlsen dominated in the internet match with Tigran Petrosian. Photo: Yerazik Khachatourian

Magnus Carlsen dominated in the internet match with Tigran Petrosian. Photo: Yerazik Khachatourian

Since the GCT, the champ’s over the board activities have continued in the same vein: another blitz performance that had sensors detecting paranormal intelligence.

I have compared Carlsen at his most magisterial in faster time controls to the jaw-dropping dominance Fischer enjoyed in his prime, but after figuratively splattering (21-4) the new Tigran Petrosian all over the wall and screen for chess.com, the Norwegian world champion’s strength hints at the promise of some kind of evolutionary leap into the 3000 Elo-zone that currently separates man and machine.

Nevertheless, with the world’s other top blitz sharks still in the chess.com event (Grischuk, Vachier-Lagrave and Nakamura) Magnus will have plenty of work to do to emerge the eventual winner, and Grischuk recently upended him at the ICC’s major lightning event.

While by and large Carlsen has been either impressive or majestic in his recent events, they have all, in the end, not been the kind of serious chess needed to defend the world title. I wonder if these results might even distract a bit, by contributing more of a potentially dangerous sense of essential invincibility than real training for the big event…

This must be serious?

But the major fun is about to start at last, while we wait for the continually promised news of signed player and venue contracts for the title duel. We will soon get a dress rehearsal for November’s match between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin. The Bilbao supertournament starting July 13th, will give the title rivals two shots at each other in slow games.

This guarantees drama. It also very likely will guarantee disinformation, misdirection, vague probing and best of all … plenty of food for speculation.

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