Nakamura and chess960

It was quite surprising to watch Nakamura scoring just one draw out of four games. Obviously it had something to do with his opponent Aronjan, but they are currently just 13 Elo points apart in classical chess, while Nakamura is the favorite in shorter time controls.

My best explantion is this: Nakamura is the champion of pattern recognition which shows for instance in Puzzle Rush. He is lacking a chess education and was basically trained like a AlphaZero by playing blitz on the internet. In 960 there are no patterns, at least not in the early stage of the game. That seems to put him at a massive disadvantage. Once the positions start to look familiar, they are already lost. Ok, small samplesize. I could be wrong.

Note: It’s the exact opposite with Svidler. Svidler calculates concrete variations like a classical engine. He doesn’t need patterns.

It’s better to be lucky than good

MVL constantly seems to forget theory in this tournament, but not always to his disadvantage. He got away with it against Karjakin and now he even manages to score the full point with black against Nepo, who produces high variance for a reason.

Btw, am I the only one who has a problem with Rabiega’s commentary at chess24? He certainly calculates better than the average FM, but he acts like he is totally clueless about modern theory. This feels kinda familiar to me, because I remember such guys from the Oberliga. Well, this is probably typical for a veteran west-german GM, because there was no chess education. They just played chess in clubs and in tournaments. 100% learning by doing. Last night they mentioned Christopher Lutz, who made an impact on the german scene with his strong engine preparation. The funny thing is that Rabiega connects his decline with his time-out from chess. He missed a few easy engine-victories, but what he missed most is the bus. His approach to chess is simply outdated.

In the old days in order to become a strong player you had to have the talent and you had to be critical towards published theory. Then came the engines and all of a sudden everyone had access to the “truth”. Clearly the “truth” back then was relative to the strength of the engines, but it was clearly better than the Fake News that you got from published theory. Veterans who were too slow to make the transition got killed over the board. Nowadays everyone is working with strong engines, so you got to do your homework before you are even allowed to show your talent. The key is not to know what everyone knows, but to know what nobody else knows. It’s similar to Leko’s approach and slightly paranoid.


Chessbomb is a very nice plattform because you get the moves in colors. Blue means very close to the computer top candidate, red means a massive deviation (= blunder). Here is a game that is blue from the start to the very end. The question remains how deep the preparation went for both sides, especially since none if this was forced. Carlsen goes for lines that leave many options.

18 games, 17 draws

Obviously I should be happy because this shows once again that chess is a draw, even though it’s not always forced. On the other hand this tournament is a strong argument for inviting a few underdogs to make it interesting for the crowd. I am not exactly a fan of Rapport or Topalov, but you need a few players who play for three results. Unfortunately Van Wely retired, because he was a fighter.

Snoozefest in the making

This year there is no real target in the lineup, so there won’t be many decisive games. Since Nakamura became rock solid, Nepo is pretty much the only random factor left. He can beat everyone and lose to everyone, but his fequency of decisive results is significantly higher than any one in the field. To prove this theory he already dropped half a point to Anand with white. To be fair, Anand played a nice game.

The Driving Force behind Success

Thank god this Horror Show is over. Carlsen, who clearly has anger issues when things are not going well, decided to roll out the trash. He beat Karjakin with the Sämisch-Nimzo and even managed to draw Aronian with it after a few adventures. He lost with the Jänisch to Caruana and with the Cochrane-Gambit to Yu. In one way it was a sign of frustration, in another way he didn’t give away any information either.

Was this unprofessional or not worthy for a World Champion, who is supposed to respect the game? I am pretty sure that Carlsen doesn’t care. This is the way he plays, he simply doesn’t care. The driving force behind his success is that he is the worst loser in the World. Before him it was Kasparov, and before Kasparov it was Fischer. Hating to lose is the biggest motivator possible. It forced all of these guys to put more energy in their game than everyone else. I don’t think that this is bad, it’s exactly what makes World Champions. Nice guys finish last, and part of the reason is that they take losing too lightly. I believe that this is also a good lesson for life. Don’t be too easy on yourself!

The struggles continue

The first day of the Blitz obviously went horrible for MC, but maybe we can take away some insights.

Karjakin doesn’t lose often with 1.e4, but when he does, it happens quite often in the French. Nevertheless it’s pretty weird that Carlsen went for the endgame-variation, because it only requires basic knowledge from white in order to secure a safe advantage. Karjakin probably surprised him with the AlphaZero-move h4.

Against Yu he played the Bd7-Sicilian and transposed to a slightly better version of the Dragon than with the regular moveorder. Nevertheless the resulting position is pretty bad and once again his opponent converted his advantage like a machine.

Finally there was this…

Such tournaments are tough because once you fall back you don’t really want to use your valuable novelties to catch up. I assume Carlsen just decided to play some crap in order to get over with it. At least there was some respect left, otherwise he could have tried the infamous Bongcloud.

Who dares doesn’t always win

Karjakin beat Carlsen in a masterpiece. Yes, he did. What really happened was this: This time Carlsen gave up too much rope and Karjakin just played a perfect game. Such things will happen from time to time if you play with fire like Carlsen. It’s not a reason to panic, it’s just the downside of playing bad openings on purpose.

Nevertheless the game must have put Carlsen on tilt, because he basically went berserk against Mamedyarov. On the other hand the result shows that he could afford this “calculated risk” against this specific opponent. Shak is less of an machine than Sergey.

It is not enough to be good player

…you also need to play well.

That’s the famous by Tarrasch quote that applies to Carlsen as well. Even the best strategy cannot work out if you make tactical blunders. Although it has to be said that Carlsen usually plays mainlines against Caruana, so their game was somewhat different.

In the next game Carlsen was clearly better and simply blundered.

Carlsen’s Approach

Here is a game that I would call prototypical for Carlsen’s approach to chess. He is willing to make a slight concession to obtain a playable position where he has no weaknesses and there are no forced lines. It’s like playing a gambit where he gives his opponents a slight advantage without a fight. In this case it was the bishop pair in a static rather closed position. Here is the trick: In order to preserve his bishops Rapport makes consolidating moves which gives Carlsen the freedom to grab space and to outplay him.

With the white pieces it’s a different story. Here it seems that Carlsen got inspired a lot by Leela aka AlphaZero as of late.

Play it safe!