If more than one competitor in a tournament plays the same sequence of moves in the same round, it might be coincidence, but sometimes it is intentional, as Worldchess’s columnist explains.
Copying plays a big role in chess. People learn how to play openings by studying what the best players do and emulating their moves. Chess has too many possibilities and is too complicated for anyoneto work out all the plans on his own.
When we look at games played in the 1800s, it is sometimes with a degree of horror because all the brilliant tactics are interwoven with moves that violate some of the principles that we take for granted. But that’s only to be expected. It took the labor of many great players over many generations to discover what we now know.
Using the ideas of players from other eras is more common than copying the moves of contemporaries, but there are exceptions. A classic and humorous example occurred during the 1955 Interzonal in Gothenburg, Sweden. Three Argentine players prepared a new line of the Najdorf Sicilian and played it simultaneously in Round 14 against three Soviet players. The result? USSR 3, Argentina 0.
Something similar happened in Round 9 of the current Tata Steel Chess tournament in Wijk aan Zee, the Netherlands. In tandem, the games between Wei Yi and David Navara, and Fabiano Caruana and Sergey Karjakin were in sync through White’s 10th move. White’s 9th move had only been played once before, and White’s 10th move was a novelty. (There’s more about the games in Sam Shankland’s report on Round 9.) Was it coincidence that the same new move was played on the same day in the place? There were immediately rumors suggesting that Wei Yi and Caruana must be working together.
That is not impossible – in 2015 it came out that Magnus Carlsen, the World Champion, had played training sessions with two of his biggest rivals, Levon Aronian and Vladimir Kramnik – but it does seem unlikely. There are numerous examples of simultaneous discoveries in the history of math, science, and technology (e.g. the simultaneous discovery of calculus by Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz), so something considerably less momentous, like a new move sequence in chess being employed at the same time by two players, is well within the realm of possibility.
There’s a more mischievous sort of synchronous copying that can be used in team matches – or even in a simultaneous exhibition against grandmasters as was done by Derren Brown in England in the following demonstration.
The trick – for simplicity, let’s say it’s a two-board match – is to have the weaker team emulate the moves of the stronger team. If the stronger team comprises two grandmasters, one playing White and the other Black, and the weaker team has two international masters then the international masters merely have to match the moves of the grandmaster on the other board playing the same color. In effect, the grandmasters end up playing each other. Unless they deliberately create a mutual time trouble situation in which the international masters no longer have the time to match the moves of the grandmasters, the weaker team is guaranteed a 1-1 tie if they carry out the strategy from start to finish.
In “Chess to Enjoy,” by Andy Soltis, he claims – without specific identifying details – that such a tactic was tried in a Yugoslavian club match, and after failed protests by the stronger side they resorted to the mutual time trouble strategy. Soltis tells another story, possibly apocryphal, of two amateurs “independently” challenging then-world champion Alexander Alekhine to correspondence games at money odds. When Alekhine realized that they were engaged in the copycat strategy, he made an apparent blunder in one game to get the overeager amateurs to diverge in the hopes of winning both games. He succeeded, and they lost both games.
There once was a team match, in the German Bundesliga in 2003, in which two of the boards were identical through move 14 with each team having white in one of the games. It wasn’t part of the weaker team’s pre-game strategy to engage in synchronous copying, but at a crucial moment one of the players decided to wait to see what the stronger player on the other team chose. As it turned out, the strongest player involved chose to break the symmetry, albeit at some risk to himself, and it paid off. Here are those games.
1. e4c52. Nf3Nc63. d4cxd44. Nxd4Nf65. Nc3e56. Ndb5d67. Bg5a68. Na3b59. Bxf6gxf610. Nd5f511. Bd3Be612. c3Bg713. Qh5O-O14. O-Of4From Shirov's book *Fire on Board, Part II: 1997-2004*, pp. 158-9: "Something
extremely funny happened at this point. While I was thinking, I noticed that
the same position had appeared in the game Anand-McShane played on the top
board! It was also visibly clear that Luke McShane was not in hurry with his
move, as he possibly trusted my preparation more than his own. (At least it
seemed that way to me during the game, because at some point our eyes crossed
and Luke started laughing.) That gave me very mixed feelings. I had decided to
employ this particular line because I'd analysed the game Anand-Kramnik, Cap
D'Agde 2003, played a month earlier, and had a possible improvement in mind.
But my plan was to try it against Hracek that day and not yet against Vishy
himself! Besides, if the games continued along the same path, Vishy and I
would only score one point in total and I was afraid that the team managers
would expect more from the top two boards. Nevertheless I had no choice but to
play the planned move...[and once he executed 14...f4] almost immediately Luke
did the same against Anand." And here is McShane's comment, from ChessBase
Magazine 99: "I couldn't help smirking when I glanced over at the second board
of the match, where Zbynek Hracek was playing White for my team against Alexei
Shirov and reached the same position! Zbynek chose 15.Rfd1, but Vishy decided
to surprise me." 15. Rfd1
( 15. Nc2was not considered especially strong, but
Anand played it to make Shirov's task easier - both at the board and
psychologically. Here's Anand (from New in Chess Magazine 2004/4, p. 54):
"From all the giggling on the second board, I realized that all four of us
(Shirov and Hracek as well) knew we had reached same position! Now I was faced
with the prospect of playing against my team mate (Alexey). Of course, Zbynek
or Luke could deviate, but who knew when? Luckily, I had briefly glanced at an
alternative to 15.Rfd1. After some agonizing, I decided to play it." Anand's
generosity helped McShane get a good position from the opening, but the
stronger player eventually proved his superiority. Before seeing how, here's
Shirov again: "However, after some reflection he played 15.Nc2!? [maybe ?! is
more like it, and that's how Anand himself punctuated it] which seems rather
risky, but at least the games were no longer going in the same direction! I
should say that I was truly impressed how Anand went for the team's interests,
as he would possibly play 15.Rfd1 in different circumstances" (Fire on Board
II, p. 159). 15... f5!16. Ncb4Nxb417. Nxb4a5!18. exf5Bf719. Qh3Qf6Black is already at least equal, and in the database he enjoys a huge plus
score from here. 20. Nc2Rab8?!21. g3Bh6?!22. a4!White is better. 22... b423. cxb4d5?24. Bb5Rfc825. Ne1e4?!26. bxa5!f327. a6Bg728. Rb1h529. b4Rc730. Kh1!Qg531. Bd3!!A terrific move. If Black takes it, his dreams of kingside counterplay
come to an immediate end. Meanwhile, White clears the way for the b-pawn,
which in tandem with the a-pawns will cost Black serious material very soon. 31... exd332. b5d233. Nxf3Qh634. Qh4?A serious error that
went unpunished. ...Qb6?35. Nxd2White is winning again, but in mutual time trouble further
errors are on the way. ...Rc236. Rbd1?Re837. f6Bxf638. a5!This great
move keeps the advantage. 38... Bxh4?39. axb6Bd840. b7Bb641. Rc1Bg642. Rce11-0 (42) Anand,V
(2766)-McShane,L (2619) Germany 2003 ... )
15... Rb816. Nc2Qd717. h3f5This was Shirov's improvement over the aforementioned Anand-Kramnik game.
Initially the computer thinks Kramnik got it right, but eventually changes its
18. Ndb4Nxb419. Nxb4a520. exf5Bxf521. Nc6Rbe822. Bxb5Qc7Kudos to Shirov: the engines finally
agree with him. The position is complicated and the chances are equal. 23. Nxa5Rb8!All this was part of Shirov's prep, and now he has the advantage.
White has two extra pawns, but his pieces do not coordinate while Black's are
a picture of harmony. 24. Bc4+Kh825. b4Bg626. Qg4e4The immediate
( 26... f3!is even stronger. )
( 27. Bd5! )
27... f328. Bd5Bh629. Nc4?
( 29. g3Bxc130. Rxc1Rxb431. Nc6Rb632. Nd4favors Black, but is
far from hopeless for White. )
29... fxg2!Preferring the initiative and
the attack to cashing in with 29...Bxc1. Black is winning. 30. Qh4Qa731. Kxg2Bxc1
( 31... Qg7! )
32. Rxc1Rf333. Ne3Rbf834. Rc2Qg735. Qg5h636. Qg4R8f437. Qc8+Kh738. Qb7Bf7+39. Ng4Bxd540. Qxd5Rxh3!Impressive
preparation, and Shirov's play continued to be excellent eve after his
preparation came to an end.
Dennis Monokroussos is a FIDE master who has written about chess on his blog “The Chess Mind,” since 2005. He has been teaching chess for almost 20 years and for the last 10 years has been making instructional chess videos, which can be found at ChessLecture.com. Between 1995 and 2006, he taught philosophy, including a four-year stint at the University of Notre Dame.
FIDE and World Chess announces today that the 2018 World Chess Championship Match will take place in London in November 2018. The world’s most prestigious chess tournament is to be the climax of a season of high-profile activity to extend the sport’s appeal among global audiences – and make 2018 the Year of Chess in the UK.
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After a draw against Ian Nepomniachtchi, Teimur Rajabov won the tournament. One of the strongest players, Rajabov had not won a major tournament lately, but has shown phenomenal form in Geneva and managed to overpower some of top world’s players