Tata Steel: Once more with feeling (and a good camera)

2/5/2011 – John Nunn is not just a mathematician, chess player, analyst, author, publisher and, of late, a roving astronomer. He has also taken up photography in a serious way. John visited Wijk with his Canon 7D camera and sent us a selection of pictures – which we give you in normal and higher resolution. He has also written wonderfully detailed instructions for ambitious chess photographers.

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This event took place from January 14th to 30th, 2011 in the traditional De Moriaan Center in Wijk aan Zee. There were three Grandmaster Groups, with 14 players each and each competitor playing against every other. The rate of play was 100 minutes for 40 moves, then 50 minutes for 20 moves and finally 15 minutes for the rest of the game, with a 30 seconds/move increment starting with the first move of the game.

Wijk 2011 photographic impressions

By John Nunn

After my retirement from over-the-board chess, I needed a new hobby and, as readers of ChessBase must surely be aware by now, I decided to take up astronomy. However, after a few years peering through my telescope, I decided to go one step further and see if I could manage astrophotography. This is probably best done using specialised CCD imagers which are very sensitive, but I decided not to go down this route since such imagers are expensive and cannot be used for normal photographic purposes.

I therefore decided to buy a DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) camera which could be used for terrestrial photography but could also be adapted for astronomical use. After some thought I settled on the Canon 40D. However, my knowledge of photography was virtually non-existent and there was quite a learning curve involved in using the 40D both on Earth and in space. After a year with the 40D I had a much clearer idea of what I really wanted and when Canon introduced the 7D I bought myself one as a Christmas present (the usual method of excusing expenditure on “boy’s toys”). I have been using the 7D ever since and have taken plenty of pictures using it both with and without a telescope.

When I started photography, it hadn’t really been my intention to take pictures of chess players, but if I was going to a tournament anyway I took my camera and, rather to my own surprise, found chess photography quite interesting. At first I was disappointed by the results, but as my experience grew I became happier with the photos, although I am still by no means an expert, and I am certainly far away from professional photographers such as Fred Lucas.

ChessBase asked me to take some pictures while I was at Wijk aan Zee and afterwards to explain something about how they were made, so here is a small selection. They were all taken with the combination of a Canon 7D, a Canon 24-105mm f4 L lens and a Canon 580EX II flash. At chess tournaments, photography is generally allowed only for the first five minutes of each round, so you have to be quick and be prepared to get in a scrum with a couple of dozen other photographers for your shots. Later it may be possible to catch some of the players in the analysis room, when you can take a bit more care, but sadly some players prefer to avoid post-mortems, which is a shame not only for photographers but also for members of the press hoping for an insight into the games.

I almost always use a flash for chess photography. It’s possible to do without if you have a very fast lens or are prepared to use a high ISO setting, but I find a flash produces more reliable results. The main problem with a flash is that if it directly targeted at the player’s face, there are no shadows and the light is reflected straight back at the camera, resulted in a washed-out appearance. It’s better, therefore, to reflect the light of a convenient surface (usually the ceiling) so that it strikes the player’s face at an angle, producing a far more natural appearance. If no convenient surface is available, I use a small diffuser to spread the light. Both these techniques reduce the effective power of the flash, which is why you often need a more powerful flash than you might expect. The 580 EX II is pretty powerful for a shoe-mounted flash and performs well.


Four GMs, one photographer: Garry Kasparov, Jon Speelman, Genna Sosonko and
John Nunn with his Canon 7D at the London Chess Classic last December

These days cameras offer all sorts of automatic features and Canon cameras have the ‘green box’ setting, which basically means that you point the camera and press the button, with everything being handled by the camera. Unfortunately, this generally produces less than ideal results. If you take a picture like this, you will probably find that the camera has focused on the player’s left ear and has judged the exposure based on the dim recesses of the tournament hall rather than the player’s face. Since the time available for chess photography in the playing hall is so limited, it’s essential to make the most of what is available and reduce the number of dud shots. I do this by making all the settings manually. A little experimentation before the start of the round gives a good idea of the correct settings and these can easily be fine-tuned after the first couple of shots.

With a flash, the exposure time isn’t especially important, but the aperture is critical. A wide aperture will reduce the depth of field, thus tending to blur the background (generally desirable in portraits) but introducing the danger that parts of the player’s head may not be in focus. If you want a sharper background, you can go for a narrower aperture, but then you will need to increase the ISO setting to compensate. This introduces more noise into the picture, although the 7D is quite tolerant in this respect and produces respectable images at ISO 800 or even ISO 1600. In any case, much noise can be removed later with software, although this process has limitations.

As regards focusing, the Canon offers a huge range of auto-focus settings. Perhaps it’s just my ignorance of the functions available, but I prefer to auto-focus using only the centre spot, when at least you can be confident of the result. With portraits, focussing on the eyes is safest, since when looking at a portrait the viewer’s attention is drawn first of all to the subject’s eyes. It’s easy to focus on the player’s eyes and then recompose to frame the shot as desired.

While the technical side of taking a photograph is important, choosing a good opportunity is a key factor. With chess photography, it’s sometimes hard to come up with anything different. As readers of ChessBase will know, there are a huge number of chess photos which consist of two players sitting on opposite sides of a chessboard. While these may make satisfactory news photos, it’s nice (if not always possible) to come up without something a little different. This is difficult with some players who rarely show much variety of expression or appearance. With these players, you could substitute a photo from the previous year’s tournament and it’s likely that nobody would notice. On the other hand, some players provide more interesting subjects. I especially like the first of the Magnus Carlsen pictures below, which was taken as he was sitting in his chair waiting for his last-round game to start. The serene contemplative look makes a nice contrast with his new wild hair style.

You can view a higher-resolution version of the pictures below by clicking on them.

Before we begin here is the final standing (after 13 rounds) of Group A, with proper statistics:

The above table, generated by ChessBase 11, shows the rating, performance and, in the final column, the gain or loss of rating points for each player. Note that Hikaru Nakamura has gained a whopping 23 points from this tournament, jumping in the world rankings from tenth to seventh, just a point or two behind numbers six and five. In this kind of form the US grandmaster is heading straight for the 2800 club.


Hikaru Nakamura, now firmly in the top ten in the world rankings

Rank Name rating change games events born
01
Anand 2816.6
+6.6
13
1
1969
02
Carlsen 2814.9
+0.9
13
1
1990
03
Aronian 2807.8
+2.8
13
1
1982
04
Kramnik 2785.4
+1.4
13
1
1975
05
Karjakin 2776.0
0
0
0
1990
06
Topalov 2775.0
0
0
0
1975
07
Nakamura 2773.9
+22.9
13
1
1987
08
Mamedyarov 2772.0
0
0
0
1985
09
Ivanchuk 2767.5
+3.5
16
2
1969
10
Grischuk 2746.7
-26.3
13
1
1983
11
Gashimov 2745.8
+9.8
9
1
1986
12
Radjabov 2744.0
0
0
0
1987
13
Ponomariov 2743.2
-0.8
13
1
1983
14
Wang Yue 2734.0
0
0
0
1987
15
Gelfand 2733.0
0
0
0
1968
16
Adams 2730.4
+7.4
14
3
1971
17
Kamsky 2730.0
0
0
0
1974
18
Svidler 2729.5
-0.5
5
1
1976
19
Nepomniachtchi   2729.4
-3.6
13
1
1990
20
Wang Hao 2727.7
-3.3
13
1
1989

The provisional live rankings, which are calculated after every round of major tournaments by Hans Arild Runde, show what the rankings would be if FIDE published them tomorrow.


World Champion Viswanathan Anand

Anand has taken over the world's number one ranking. With a typical fighting finish Magnus Carlsen has kept within striking distance, overtaking Armenian GM Levon Aronian, who in the course of the Tata Steel tournament had briefly moved to second place. In spite of a "disappointing" performance Vladimir Kramnik has held his fourth place and in fact gained a point.


Magnus Carlsen before the start of a game...


... and tousle-head after winning a nice one in Wijk

In his chess blog Magnus wrote: "8.0/13 points is not bad, it brought me shared first three years ago. Combined with victories against both the winner Nakamura and former World Champion Kramnik, I cannot be dissatisfied with the tournament. This time I came shared third as Nakamura and Anand deservedly took sole first and sole second with 9.0 and 8.5 points. Congratulations to both! The Tata Steel Chess tournament, former Corus, as always a well organized and pleasant event, and I hope to be back in the not too distant future. Travelling back to Norway today, followed by a week vacation in the sun and then New York Fashion next."

Anish Giri, born of Russian/Nepalese parents, living in Holland, is currenty, at the tender age of sixteen, his country's top grandmaster. He is still over 100 points below Magnus Carlsen, but is much closer on a strength-to-age scale. Sander van Noort sent us the following diagram with the latest ratings of the top junior players plotted against the age at which they reached them. The chart updates the one recently produced by Garrett Kingman by including the latest results from Tata.

"The evolution of Giri is still impressive, comparable with Carlsen," Sander writes. "I noticed that many players initially stop improving their rating when they reach 2650-2700. However, take a look at the tournament achievements from Giri in Corus 2010 and Tata 2011. In 2010 Giri had a rating of 2588 and won the B-group scoring 9/13 and a TPR of 2773. In 2011 Giri had a rating of 2686 and scored 6.5/13 in the A-group with a TPR of 2744. Most people would evaluate a 50% score against the world's best players rated 2700-2800+ as being much more impressive than an good plus-score against players rated 2600-2700, but according to Eleo calculations it is not. When players reach a 2650-2700 rating, they start to play much more frequently against 2700+ players, which might explain their rating stagnation. At 16 Anish is poised to cross the 2700 mark. Fischer did this when he was 25. Even considering a possible Elo rating inflation, in comparison with the current young generation that is really old."


Bekijk de video in andere formaten.

Anish Giri on Dutch TV: jump forward to 41 minutes to see the chess segment on this news and entertainment show. Around minute 48 Hans Böhm analyses the missed win against Anand. Don't be alarmed if it sounds weird: he is speaking Dutch, which is what they all do in Holland. Anish's first language is Russian, second English, third Dutch, and he speaks a smattering of Nepalese and Japanese.

Some players have learnt to fend off pesky photographers, the most common technique being the "head buried in hands" method. However, Group C winner Daniele Vocaturo has taken it one stage further by using the advanced "cap and hands" strategy.


Here's what he looks like without all the protection

Ilya Nyzhnyk, who finished second in Group C, has at the age of 14 already mastered the "head buried in hands" approach, but John managed to catch him off guard in the post-mortem.

McShane and Navara finished joint first in Group B, with McShane winning on tie-break. However, the organisers agreed to let both players participate in next year's A group.

David Navara finished joint first in Group B. Although he sometimes appears quiet, he’s actually very friendly. His game explanations in the press room were well worth watching.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is one of the young French GMs who have led a resurgence of chess in that country. He finished on a creditable ‘+2’ in the A-group and won a nice game against Nepomniachi.

Erwin l'Ami had a challenging time and finished on 4.5/13 in Group A, but remained cheerful until the very end. At least he could celebrate his wife’s success in the study solving tournament (report to follow)!

Alexander Grischuk will probably wish to forget this tournament as soon as possible. But he’s a talented player and hopefully will bounce back soon.



Europe Echecs at the closing ceremony


Produced by GM Robert Fontaine for Europe Echecs

Links

The games are being broadcast live on the official web site and on the chess server Playchess.com. If you are not a member you can download the free PGN reader ChessBase Light, which gives you immediate access. You can also use the program to read, replay and analyse PGN games. New and enhanced: CB Light 2009!


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