Have engines led us to lose respect for elite GMs?

by Sagar Shah
9/25/2019 – Alexander Grischuk and Ding Liren sat opposite each other in the fifth round of the World Cup 2019. The game was followed with great excitement by chess players all across the world. In their first game, after 13 moves, Grischuk made a move that led the engines to give an evaluation of nearly -3 points. Online kibitzers went wild, criticizing the players. IM SAGAR SHAH reflects on whether this is an unfortunate trend. | Photo: FIDE

Power Play 24: A repertoire for black against the Catalan Power Play 24: A repertoire for black against the Catalan

On this DVD Grandmaster Daniel King offers you a repertoire for Black against the Catalan, based around maintaining the rock of a pawn on d5. Keeping central control ultimately gives Black good chances to launch an attack against the enemy king.

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Examining Grischuk vs Ding

The fifth round of the World Cup 2019 saw an explosive match-up. Alexander Grischuk was pitted against Ding Liren. While Ding Liren's rating (2811) shows that he is the stronger player as compared to Grischuk (2759), the Russian GM is known to do well in knock out events and in general is an extremely deep player. Everyone who knows Grischuk well, knows that he comes regularly under time pressure because he likes to think about his moves and options in great depth. Ding Liren on the other hand is a pragmatic player who manages his time well.

Something very interesting happened in the first game of the match. 13 moves had been played in a well known line of the Catalan and this is the position that was reached:

 

After Ding Liren played 13...c8, Grischuk thought for a long time in this position. He was clearly worried about Black's move ...h4. Hence, a move like ♘c3 or b3 was not what he wanted to go for. At the same time a move like h3 would be met with ...h4 with immense complications. The move that Grischuk chose was... 

 

14.f3 attacking the c6 pawn. 

The kibitzers who were watching the games online immediately started to comment on social media about what a big blunder Grischuk had made. On social media as well as in live commentary one could see the viewers and the kibitzers saying things like these top players aren't as good as their ratings suggest, they always keep making blunders and so on.

Engine evaluation after 14...♝d5

A look at the engines show that after the move 14...♝d5 Black is completely winning! An evaluation of -2.91 at the depth of 41! This is akin to being a piece up!

 

Yet, after nearly seven minutes of thought Ding Liren didn't go for 14...♝d5 but instead played the surprising move 14...b6 giving up an exchange and hoping for the light squared bishop to compensate for the missing exchange.

"Let's Check" says the position is around equal

How did a strong player like Ding Liren make a miss like this one? | Photo: FIDE

Mistakes can be classified in two categories — there are simple blunders and there are variations so deep that even the top players are unable to calculate them. This one clearly falls in the second category. Let me explain as to what I mean by this.

 

Let's say Ding Liren plays the move 14...♝d5:

 

Grischuk has no option but to snap it off. If he moves the queen, ...h4 comes with extra power and White is in huge trouble. So, after 15...cxd5 16.♕xd5 Black has a powerful continuation.

 

16...♛f5! Ding Liren of course saw this in his calculations. Now it is extremely important for White to play actively with 17.f3. In case he doesn't do so, Black simply continues with ...h4 and his attack continues.

 

If the knight moves back, then White can check on c6, simply develop his pieces and gets a completely acceptable position. Here Black has a strong move.

 

17...♛c2! This continues to the attack on h2 and also threatens the c1 bishop which is undefended. Let's assume that White now plays 18.♘bd2, then after ♛d1+ the position is lost because ♔g2 is met with ♛e2 and instead of g2, ♘f1 is no longer possible as the queen on d5 is hanging. Hence, White must first play...

 

18.♕c6+ Giving this check ensures that later the knight can move from d2 to f1.

 

Once again we reach an important position where Black has an important decision to make. What would you play?


Power Play 14 - Test Your Tactics

On this DVD Grandmaster Daniel King:
● demonstrates typical tactical patterns
● shows how strong players use their tactical awareness
● puts your tactical abilities to the test — but this is a test with a difference. Although the emphasis is on tactics, there are also positions that require a strategic solution. You don’t know what’s coming next...


 

Black has to play 20...♞xh2! Note that beginning with 20...♜h6 is bad because of ♕e4 ♞xh2 ♛h4+ followed by taking on h2. Hence, first ...♞xh2 is accurate.

 

White takes on h2 with his king and now capturing the knight on f1 leads to a forced draw after e6! There is a mate threatened on d7 and in case the pawn is taken then the knight jumps to e5. Black would do well to give a perpetual to the white king. But instead of taking on f1. Black has a strong move in the above position. Can you find it?


Grischuk thought really hard to understand the intricacies of the position | Photo: FIDE


 

The final key move 21...♜h6 is what solidifies Black's advantage. Next up is ♛xf1 and Black is winning! White's final attempt is ♘d6 when after 22.♛e2+ ♔g1 23.♝xd6 exd6 24.♜xd6

 

The final position is winning for Black.

So many pitfalls, so many complicated variations and so many ideas had to be seen if Black had to go for this winning line. Of course, for the viewers armed with an engine, this is really not a problem. But for the players who have to figure out everything on the board, without even knowing what the evaluation of the position is, this is extremely difficult.


IM Sagar Shah explains the possibilities | Video: Sagar Shah

Interview with Grischuk and Ding Liren after the game | Video: FIDE

 

India's top GM Surya Sekhar Ganguly understood the depth of the position and tweeted about the same.

Perhaps after all the analysis, we as viewers and kibitzers would not be as brutal to say that Grischuk made an easy blunder with 14.♕f3 or that Ding Liren missed a simple win after 14...♝d5.

Harikrishna's breakfast challenge

I would like to recount one incident from my experience here. I was playing at the Qatar Masters Open 2015. It was the second round and Harikrishna was pitted with the black pieces against Nino Batsiashvili. The Georgian top women's player had already pulled off a big upset in round one by drawing against Magnus Carlsen. Harikrishna, being her second round opponent, decided to play risky chess to create winning chances. They reached this position:

 

The opening had not gone so well for Hari. He had played 11...f4 and was waiting for his opponent's move

 

Batsiashvili went wrong with the move 12.f5. Hari simply took on f5 and after 13.xf5 continued with 13...d7!

 

The queen on d7 attacks the knight. Playing g4 would mean that the knight on f4 is strong and also moves like 0-0-0 and h5 become possible. By now Harikrishna was out of the woods, and he went on to win the game.

 

After analysing the game, I met Harikrishna the next day at breakfast. I told him: "Weren't you lucky yesterday? After 12.♗e4! (instead of ♗f5) you would have been in deep trouble, right?" I had checked the move with the computer and hence was confident about the same. Hari replied: "What if I just played 0-0?"

 

I was puzzled. The computer did not show this move in the first three options for Black and hence I had not analysed it. It surely looked like an interesting move. Black threatens f5 and White has to now play very energetically.

 

Later I checked the position once again carefully and realized that White has to give up the g2 pawn with 13.♘f5 and after 13...♝xf5 14.♗xf5 ♞xg2+ 15.♔f1 ♞f4, White goes 16.♘e2 and has a clear advantage:

 

I couldn't find this when Harikrishna asked me at the breakfast table!

Here's the full game:

 

The nasty Nimzowisch Defence

Its primary focus is a version of the Pirc Defence after 1.e4 Nc6 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 Nf6 4.Nc3 g6 where Black has avoided the sharpest variations, at the small cost of some flexibility, since his knight is already committed to c6.Christian Bauer will also reco


From this experience I learnt one important thing. Yes, these top players go wrong many times. But it is never really a very simple oversight by them. Most of the times they have looked deep and missed something which is not very obvious. We as viewers should always try to look deeper because when these top players sit on the board and play chess, they are giving it their all.

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Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He is also a chartered accountant. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India website, the biggest chess news outlet in the country.

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