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San Sebastián 09 r6: Leaders Take a Pass

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Leader Nakamura took a DIY rest day in San Sebastian after running out to an incredible 4.5/5 start. He played a forced drawing line of the Najdorf against one of his two closest pursuers, Ruslan Ponomariov. They played just 14 moves without ever exiting theory, leaving Nakamura in clear first by a point with three rounds to go. (Play can continue if White wants, but there is also a forced repetition they didn't bother to play out.) Today's non-game was no doubt disappointing for fans of Nakamura and of chess in general, but as in most of these cases there are endless arguments for why such a draw makes perfect sporting sense for both the players. (Svidler, who is tied with Ponomariov a point behind of Nakamura, also used the white pieces to draw in just 12 moves against Vallejo, which makes less sense to me.) This is why, as I say for the 1000th time, Sofia rules or something similar are needed.

Of course even Sofia rules wouldn't prevent the repetition draw line Nakamura played today. You can't force a player to lose and there are many well-known drawing lines like this one they can use instead of playing. If doing that becomes a pattern of behavior, subverting the intent if not the letter of the rules, then the only defense is to stop inviting those players. But I think we are quite far from that and the Sofia rules have proven largely successful. (The average length of the draws at MTel is usually over 40 moves. Dortmund was 32. Dortmund also had ten draws of 25 or fewer moves; MTel had zero.) And of course this is far from the case with someone like Nakamura, whose combative attitude is well known. The bottom line is that players are smart enough to use the rules to their advantage, so if this is really going to be considered a problem and a solution is wanted, legislation will be needed.

FYI, Nakamura used some of his extra free time to add another detailed and insightful entry on the event to his blog, so definite compensation there! Hey, there's an idea for an organizer. Anyone who plays a short draw has to write an update for the official website or something like that.

The crosstable remains quite unbalanced, with three undefeated players at the top and San Segundo and Karpov taking most of the damage at the bottom. Both lost again today, Karpov's loss with white to Movsesian being particularly painful. He played very well in a sharp position and it looked like the veteran might score his first win of the event. Kasparov sounded cheerful about this possibility for his old rival, Garry gaining no joy from watching his great predecessor bashed around by kids who couldn't carry Karpov's stamp collection back in the day. Speaking of those kids, Kasparov did have praise for Nakamura's will to win in every game, if not today's obviously. (Regular readers know Garry rarely casually compliments chess quality and is more interested in effort and attitude. I've actually been a little surprised with his interest in Nakamura and San Sebastian since he usually only has words for the top ten. My guess is that Nakamura's recent surge has put him back on the radar.)

Back in Karpov-Movsesian, White must have been completely winning after his 30.Rh6! Killing the black attack with 31.Bd2 would have just about wrapped it up. But it was not to be and Karpov made a few small slips and then a few big ones to get blown out of the water once he was in increment time. That gave Movsesian his first win of the event, a stat that is itself something of a surprise for the sharply-inclined Slovakian representative. Back when this event was announced Movsesian was the top seed, but his fall from the top ten has been steep and he'll lose more points here unless he does very well in the final three rounds. He may even have an impact on the tournament since he has yet to face Nakamura, which happens in the eighth round.

Kasimjanov also scored his first victory, slowly outplaying Granda in a tactical melee. Granda isn't doing well, but he never backs down from a chance to complicate. Here he pinned his hopes on an advanced pair of pawns only to be surprised when Kasimjanov snapped one of them off the board. Black resigns because White gets his piece back by playing a rook to the c-file after the knight exchanges, x-raying the bishop on c7. Vachier-Lagrave returned to a positive score with a very attractive king walk up the board against San Segundo. The beauty of the idea is illustrated if White takes the c-pawn with 27..Rxc3 28.Kd4 Ra3 29.Kc5 and White dominates the queenside. I'm not sure if San Segundo flagged or not, as the final position is tough for Black but not readily resignable.

With three rounds to play Nakamura has black against a choppy but always-dangerous Granda. The rest of round 7: Ponomariov-Vachier-Lagrave, San Segundo-Svidler, Movsesian-Kasimjanov, Vallejo-Karpov. If you're calculating Nakamura's chances of coasting home, note that Svidler and Ponomariov face off in the 9th round. It's hard to imagine anyone catching him unless he loses a game.


"Sofia rules or something similar are needed" [followed by complaining about short draws in Dortmund]
I looked through all the draws from Dortmund, 22 of them. I would say only in three cases the players could/should have played on - funny that two involve Jakovenko, who was generally praised for playing the most fighting chess:
Kramnik-Jakovenko (psychology leading to a sudden draw)
Bacrot-Leko (the only complete joke, compared to several ones in San Sebastian).

In two other cases (Kramnik-Leko, Carlsen-Leko), Sofia rules probably would have forced the players to continue, exchange some more pieces, without putting the outcome in doubt. In several other cases, Olympiad rules (no draw before move 30) would have forced the players to make just a few more meaningless moves.

So what could "something similar" (in the quote by Mig) be? Ban certain openings [but even Kramnik's 'current' Petroff lead to exciting play]? Ban certain players whose style is too solid? Like it or not, Kramnik, Leko (and Bacrot) are part of the world top. And they can also play exciting chess (if not in every single game) - as Kramnik has shown in Dortmund, and even Leko at earlier occasions (e.g. Nalchik GP).

Since we have a serious topic, why take refuge in straw-man arguments? "Gee Mig, do you want them to eliminate stalemate or set the players' hair on fire in the last time control?"

I was simply answering the usual question about what to do when players play an early repetition since that is technically allowed under the Sofia rules. I said there was nothing to be done other than for tournaments who want to see real fighting chess to stop inviting players who intentionally subvert the rules by playing quick repetitions. But I doubt this would be necessary since the players so far have responded well to the expectation of the organizers not to play non-games.

The main reason so much of Dortmund was excruciating would not have been solved by Sofia rules. Many of the draws came from the players heading into rapid and harmless liquidation to avoid any risk, or bailing out at the first sign of danger in openings that have little bite to begin with. Obviously this is about the players you invite, not only the rules you are using. 25-move draws don't come about by accident even if they have swapped down to bare kings by then. Games like Bacrot-Naiditsch are horrific by any standard, but "legally" no crime has been committed. They simply played a well-known drawing line without ever intending to play chess. San Segundo-Movsesian (12 moves, one capture) is barely more of a problem from that perspective.

As for five games being incomplete by your definition, and I would add Leko-Naiditsch and possibly Leko-Jakovenko, that's a minimum of 20% of all the games played. It's a start!

As has been proven to my satisfaction, the Sofia rules aren't about laying down a draconian law. They are about showing the players the organizers take short draws seriously. The players depend on the organizers and generally try to please them and to do what is expected. Without such an indication we have what we see in San Sebastian with players feeling free to take an unscheduled off day whenever they like.

In the last two years in Sofia and in the Nanjing and Bilbao tournaments with the same system, there were almost no short draws. Of 120 games, one draw of 25 and one of 22 (a swapfest). Two from 120! That means the players do respond to the spirit of the rules, since obviously they could play the Nakamura-Ponomariov repetition if they liked. And unless we're going to actually change the rules of the game (or the rating formula), which I'm not in favor of, the spirit is what we need to work on.

Mig, It's more about players than about the rules in Sofia/Nanjing/Bilbao. The crowd there was mostly of Topa/Chucky/Carlsen/Aronian variety, all of whom are actually playing to win as opposed to playing not to lose. As you you yourself noted, Dortmund would hardly be more interesting if you play it by Sofia rules.

Nakamura has mitigating circumstances, but what he did is actually no better than Bacrot-Najditsch or Bacrot-Leko.

The players matter most, but you can easily see that the even same players play fewer short draws in those "Sofia" events than in events without Sofia rules. The players aren't dumb; they exploit the rules or would be at a competitive disadvantage. Just to take a convenient example because he played in all those 2008 events, Ivanchuk had just one mini-draw from the three, and that was a swapfest with almost nothing left on the board. But at Corus, Aerosvit, and the Tal Memorial in the same year he had ten. A fairly random example I wouldn't take to court, but it seems pretty indicative to me after covering all these events closely for a few years.

I DO think Dortmund would be more interesting under the Sofia rules. As I said, it's the spirit of the thing that seems to matter to the players. And it's contagious. This is why the culture change can actually happen, but it will take time. Meanwhile, the rules help. By banning the draw offer you get that 20% of joke games played out and you also see if the attitude and desires of the organizers, once made clear and explicit, have an effect on the players. So far that's the case. Taking the draw offer off the menu seems to have a psychological effect beyond the practical one of longer draws.

I don't let Nakamura off the hook any more than the rest. The point is that it shouldn't be up to the players since they almost always have mitigating circumstances.

It is about organizers too , Dortmud is one of the few shelters left for those who wants to play only 3 games each tournament .
Sofia rules aren´t perfect , but they are pretty good when supported by the right invitations.
Can someone imagine what would be the scene now if Danailov(Mtel) wouldn´t come up with those rules?
We would be facing 85% percent of draws and hearing Kramnik , Leko and such telling us that ¨draw is the most logical result¨ , ¨the painter just paints ¨ and stuff.
Lets thx Danailov & Co for a great improvement.

Any Tournament would be better under the Sofia rules ,
What would be the scene today if those rules weren´t implemented?
We would be looking at a 85% percent of draws and hearing Kramnik and Leko telling us ¨draw is the most natural result for a game¨ , ¨a painter just paints ¨ , and stuff.
Sofia rules have been a great progress to chess , we should thank Danailov(Mtel) for that.

opps sorry for doble (triple posting).

"a little surprised with [Gary's] interest in Nakamura and San Sebastian since he usually only has words for the top ten. My guess is that Nakamura's recent surge has put him back on the radar."

My guess is that they are online rivals.

"25-move draws don't come about by accident even if they have swapped down to bare kings by then"

I guess it's not possible in 25 moves, but certainly good question to Tim Krabbé: shortest legal swapdown to kings?

"Draw is the most logical result": I know GMs believe so, but anybody ever put up a good argument for this? It seems to be valid in the current 2500-2800 strength level but why would it be necessarily true at much higher, closer-to-tablebase strength levels? If anything, recent tablebase discoveries point away from the "logical draw" paradigm (wins in positions previously thought drawn).

Maybe the current top guys would shed some complacency if their paradigm shifted on this, and their playing level would actually rise to new heights!

Well, maybe it's not about complacency but attitude. Imagine the psychological difference it would make if top GM's sat down at the table not with the intention of "try hard to avoid the inevitable draw", but rather "try hard to find the inevitable win"!

Maybe the solution is not a rule, but just the organizer making you clearly know what he wants. That's what happened in Linares in its early years (not now, of course). Rentero wasn't maybe an angel, but he made the best tournament out of nothing. He would send open letters to the press attacking peaceful players (Spassky and so on) and if Linares became the "Wimbledon of chess" was exactly because of that. He made it really clear to the players he wanted them to fight, and that they wouldn't be invited back if they started their GM draws. Maybe it's hard to do nowadays, but it has been by far the best recipe for a succesful tournament.

"(Play can continue if White wants, but there is also a forced repetition they didn't bother to play out.)"

Can someone post the three-fold repetition starting from the draw ending? Thanks.

"Maybe the solution is not a rule, but just the organizer making you clearly know what he wants."

Agreed (though the rule wouldn't do too much harm either). The Chesspro summary of Dortmund also had the organiser of the Tal Memorial saying that Leko "wouldn't get away with that" (his quick draws) in Moscow. I don't know if that means he's a confirmed participant!?

The solution is already in place (or at least started to happen) , the Sofia rules will be spreaded and perfected in time , they are proof that the event take the fight seriously.
That´s the reason of the GS succes ,all events can guarantee a real fight to the audience .
Those who don´t do that will have the same poor response that Dortmud had , and will decrease their popularity over time.
The game is about playing it until the end happens , not ending it before the play occurs.

I don't know if a rule can help that much. Sure, it does something, but, as has been seen already, it doesn't guarantee anything. Organization is what is called for. I can't imagine a tennis or golf player who doesn't play. They have strong players associations who care about their members and market them: ACP (or whatever could work) should make an ethic code and be able to call a player's attention if he/she doesn't fight. But all of this is impossible in chess, so all is left up to the organizers to get strong enough and find creative ways to make players earn their money. Meybe they're afraid players won't come back if they go too strong with their demands. Up to them, but I hardly could blame Corus for not inviting back Leko, Kramnik or whoever it is IF he doesn't fight. Anyway, i don't expect things to change a lot in the close future.

¨ Sure, it does something, but, as has been seen already, it doesn't guarantee anything. ¨

Please back up that phrase , facts seems to show the oposite ...
Sofia rules are indeed the guarantee of a fighting tournament ,it is only matter of time before they became the standar rules for every tournament.

I know reality finds it hard to reach you, Manu, but anyway, I may answer you. http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1544945 They have sofia rules at sofia, do they? And i didn't say it didn't do anything. Just that i believe it to be insufficient.Not that i find that especial game that bad, and would I be the organizer, i wouldn't say anything. But I think that even M-tel is still far from what Linares what, in terms of competitivity.

One game?! is that all you find? Is that your way of proving your point?
You must be joking.
Try again , but don´t miss the point this time , compare the tournaments using Sofia rules (Sofia , Nanjin , Bilbao , etc) against those who dont use them .
Gee, even Svidler is find with the rules , why can´t you ?

ANd another thing Alez , i understand that you are still mad about that football problem you had but saying that reality find it hard to reach me and at the same time missing the big picture is just sad.
Please point which of the facts i stated are wrong , if you cannot do that maybe it is you who should be doing the reality check .

Oh boy, you can't even read some text. Maybe I should type it in spanish, so you could understand. I did say it worked, but not as much as i would like it. Did you understand that I still consider M-tel not getting close to what Linares was (in combativity, let's not even talk as a tournament itself). But it's like talking to a wall. I'm not here to discuss with a troll, but to try to discuss friendly with reasonable people. And it's you the one who keeps going back to a football post in which the whole site told you basically to drop it. As I already said, reality can't even try to argue with your brilliant mind.

Or in another words , your claims about reality are just insults with no back up on the subject we just discussed.

Well... Although I do not agree with Manu on the soccer/football post as well as most chess-related issues, I do agree with Mig, and him, and perhaps a few others here on the Sofia rule.

In brief, the Sofia rule can only do good, no harm. It may not do "enough" good in some tourneys, but it would certainly make other tourneys more interesting (eg, the 1st half of Dortmund, especially, Kramnik-Jakovenko).

If the Sofia rule

- can only make things better (or, at least, not worse) than no-anti-SHORT-draw-rule-at-all, and

- is easy to impose, then

why not impose it ?

It is always the same with you , the minute you lose a discussion , the minute you start insulting and calling me troll.
But yet you keep coming back for more , strange.

the above is @ Alez

Even manu would agree that the Sofia rules are no "guarantee" of a fighting game or a fighting tournament, despite his directly contrary assertion. A single counter-example suffices to disprove his "guarantee" claim, of course.

But you're dealing with a very excitable young man who:
a) does not take particular care with his writing and thinking,
b) routinely exaggerates,
c) expects you to respond to what he means, not what he says, and
d) delights in juvenile snarkiness; even if you and he agree on an issue as you and he appear to agree that the Sofia rules encourage fighting chess.

I don't know where and when i did insult you, Manu, and don't know what makes you think i'm coming for more. On the other, hand, you seem to enjoy to attack any post i do, for reasons beyond my understanding. While I'm trying to talk with everyone, you only focus on some parts of my posts. I call you troll when you troll, as simple as it seems. When I agree with you, i say it, if I had something to add to the discussion in place. You seem to have quite peculiar views on discussions and who wins (if there's something to win, you must be very proud of your scalps on the net) but i won't debate them.
On another side:
I never said I was against sofia rule: just pointed out that it was possible for players to play around it and that it would be better to have the organizer directly saying it to the player, even if this one is not to be invited back to the tournament, saying i think the way Rentero was doing with Linares would be a good one, in absence of real organization and a chess players' association with real concerns about the matter.

" I don't know where and when i did insult you, Manu, "
Ok , some of your nice comments:

" Oh boy, you can't even read some text."
" I'm not here to discuss with a troll, but to try to discuss friendly with reasonable people."

" On the other, hand, you seem to enjoy to attack any post i do, for reasons beyond my understanding. "

Anyone can read this very thread and find out that it was you answering my comments when i wasn't talking to you .
There are more examples , but it would be useless ...

Greg , like i said , i believe that Sofia rules are a pretty reliable guarantee of a fighting tournament.
Right or wrong that's what i stated and i 'll stick with that.
On the other hand i find your description of myself very sweet , i hope is not coming from any of your sessions.

That's what you meant, and Alez probably agrees.

But what you said was:

"That´s the reason of the GS success, all events can guarantee a real fight to the audience."
"Sofia rules are indeed the guarantee of a fighting tournament..."

You can arguably fault Alez for taking you too literally. But distorting and disowning statements you made earlier in the same thread...?

You are really a poor person greg, there is no incoherence on what i wrote , ¨distorting and disowning¨ , yeah ,sure , that is what you are trying to do .
Another attempt to parade your personal frustration on this threads , pathetic freak.

"Karpov's stamp collection"

My understanding is that Karpov's collection is among the largest and best chess stamp collections in the entire world.

It would be quite heavy to lug around, youth or not.

I dare to disagree that Sofia rules have "nothing but advantages". There are positions which are completely even and devoid of perspectives for either player, yet not quite "dead drawn enough" for the players to approach the arbiter. For example:
- queens, rooks and four pawns on the same wing (of course unless one player has a mating attack)
- completely blocked pawn chains. In this case, should a coin throw decide which player has to sacrifice a piece for two or three pawns to increase the probability of a decisive result?

I also disagree that draws in 40 or more moves are necessarily more interesting than shorter ones. Such games could result from the above situations when the players finally found a move repetition (or if the 50 move rule eventually applies). Actually, when I see such games (after they are finished, and in the first instance just seeing the number of moves played) I am inclined to play through them expecting "true fighting chess". But at the end I will be more disappointed with such games than with 25-move draws (which I might have ignored to start with). OK, as a weak player I might miss deep subtleties: one or both players actually trying to find hidden resources in the position, whereas my impression would be "they played on pro forma because they had to".

So, in conclusion: (Unwritten) "Rentero rules" are absolutely fine. They may be an improvement for Dortmund, they certainly would be an improvement for San Sebastian. Taking the tournament as a whole, it had lots of non-games. The relatively low drawing percentage (50% after round 6) results from one player (Nakamura) pushing hard and showing excellent form, one player (Karpov) completely out of form, much more so than Bacrot and Naiditsch in Dortmund, and up to three players (Granda, San Segundo, Karpov again) being clearly lower-rated than the rest.

But Sofia rules have both advantages and disadvantages ... .

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