Best chess writing: 2014

I was paying attention when Fabiano Caruana tore through the star-studded field at the Sinquefeld Cup (including world champion Magnus Carlsen), but no, it wasn’t exactly viral.

So I agree with the premise of this Slate piece, and I highly recommend it for passages like this:

There are a few things you should probably know about FIDE—or the Federation Internationale des Echecs, if you’re feeling continental. FIDE is, by all accounts, comically corrupt, in the vein of other fishy global sporting bodies like FIFA and the IOC. Its Russian president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who has hunkered in office for nearly two decades now, was once abducted by a group of space aliens dressed in yellow costumes who transported him to a faraway star. Though I am relying here on Ilyumzhinov’s personal attestations, I have no reason to doubt him, as this is something about which he has spoken quite extensively. He is of the firm belief that chess was invented by extraterrestrials, and further “insists that there is ‘some kind of code’ in chess, evidence for which he finds in the fact that there are 64 squares on the chessboard and 64 codons in human DNA.”

Kudos, Seth Stevenson.

 

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I’m back – what’d I miss?

My hand is out of a splint after three weeks, though my typing speed is still diminished by a bit of tape on my two still-aching fingers. I may need to put my goalkeeping career on hold for a while.

I’m also relatively not sick. I have no idea how I’ve had waves of sinus and throat problems through the most mild summer of my lifetime, but a doctor has assured me she’ll figure it out. I got back from vacation to find Northern Virginia had become a sauna to start September, and after leading a couple of youth soccer practices in Venusian conditions last night and walking a couple of miles this morning, I actually feel better. Go figure.

Enough complaining. I’m back, and it’s time to give a quick update on the blog, my writing priorities over the next few months, and what happened in the sports world while I was healing.

The blog: Expect more links and fewer 1,000-word pieces. I want to keep sharing Olympic sports news, but I’m going to do that more efficiently. No more Monday Myriad (in part because my youth soccer practices are on Mondays), so this will be the last “roundup” post for a while. My analysis will more commonly be on …

The podcast: Hoping to do another one this week, depending on my guest’s schedule.

Medal projections: By next year, I hope Olympic sports news will be in the context of my medal projections. I’ll be working on that, along with …

Enduring Spirit epilogue: The tentative plan is to re-release the book (electronically only) with the epilogue added. I’ll also release the epilogue separately at a low, low price, so if you already bought the book, you won’t be shelling out another six bucks. I’m going to do a few postseason interviews, so don’t expect this right away.

Single-Digit Soccer: This project keeps gathering momentum. I’m planning to speak and gather input at the NSCAA convention in January, and I hope to finish it by next summer.

Other than that, I’ll still be writing at OZY, a site you should check out even if you never read anything I write. And you may still see an MMA book I finished a while back.

So what happened while I was out? In no particular order:

Badminton World Championships: South Korea wins men’s doubles, China won three other events, and the women’s singles went to … Spain? First time for everything, and this is a terrific photo:

Judo World Championships: Olympic champion Kayla Harrison was the only U.S. medalist, taking bronze.

Rowing World Championships: Britain won 10 medals, New Zealand won nine, Australia and Germany eight each, and the USA won seven. The World Championships include a lot of non-Olympic events, so don’t use this for medal projections. These championships included some para-rowing events, which accounted for one U.S. medal. The sole U.S. gold went to, as always, the mighty women’s eight.

World Equestrian Games: The sole U.S. medals so far are in the non-Olympic discipline of reining. Britain, Germany and the Netherlands are cleaning up. Olympic quota spots (earned by the country, not the athlete) are available in dressage, eventing and show jumping.

Also, Ollie Williams (the man behind Frontier Sports) looks at the Olympic prospects of horseball. Yes, horseball. They compare it to a mix of rugby and basketball, but I think it’s a mix of polo and quidditch.

Triathlon, World Series grand final: Gwen Jorgensen didn’t need a great finish to clinch the world championship. She did it anyway. Too early to declare her athlete of the year?

Swimming, Pan-Pacific Games: Phelps, Ledecky and company have it easy compared to Haley Anderson, who won open-water gold after a jellyfish sting, a race postponement and a race relocation. 

Track and field, Diamond League finals: Half of the events wrapped for the season at the Weltklasse Zurich over the weekend; the rest finish up Friday in Brussels. Check the Monday Morning Run for a recap that includes fellow Dukie Shannon Rowbury diving along with U.S. teammate Jenny Simpson as the latter took the women’s 1,500 title in style.

Today’s Frontier Sports wrap has a couple of track and field links (along with helpful links on badminton and much more), including “the often-told, never-dull tale of how (Brianne Theisen-Eaton) almost impaled (Ashton Eaton) with a javelin.”

Overall Diamond League winners include Simpson, Michael Tinsley (USA, 400 hurdles), Christian Taylor (USA, triple jump, took title away from teammate Will Claye at final), Lashawn Merritt (USA, 400 meters, Kirani James wasn’t at the final), Reese Hoffa (USA, shot put), Veronica Campbell-Brown (Jamaica, 100), Dawn Harper-Nelson (USA, 100 hurdles — Americans won every Diamond League race), Tiana Bartoletta (USA, long jump) and Valerie Evans (New Zealand, shot put, swept).

Women’s soccer, NWSL final: I got back from vacation to see this, and I’m glad I did. It was a compelling final, and while Seattle would’ve been a worthy champion in every sense, Kansas City deserved it. The Lauren Holiday-to-Amy Rodriguez combo is as potent as anything you’ll see in soccer.

Kansas City now holds the top-division U.S./Canada titles in men’s soccer (Sporting KC, MLS), women’s soccer (FCKC), and men’s indoor soccer (Missouri Comets, coached by FCKC’s Vlatko Andonovski). The latter won the last MISL title before most of that league leapt to the MASL.

The league also announced it would play a full schedule next summer with a break for the World Cup, which means international players will miss a considerable number of games. The big worry: The season will spill into September, bad news for those counting on international loans or fall coaching jobs to supplement the league’s small paychecks. But the league didn’t have a lot of good options, and now they’re poised to ride a World Cup wave if one materializes again.

Basketball World Cup: Senegal over Croatia is the big upset so far, while France, Brazil and Serbia have created a logjam for second behind Spain in Group A. The USA is cruising through an easy group.

Men’s volleyball World Championships: Many people are watching.

The USA won a thrilling five-setter and lost an epic to Iran in early group play.

Modern pentathlon World Championships: Underway with relays.

MMA: The UFC 177 pay-per-view card had already been hit by a rash of injuries. Then one of the UFC’s most heralded recent signings, Olympic wrestling gold medalist Henry Cejudo, had a “medical issue” while trying to make weight. Then former bantamweight champion Renan Barao, set for a rematch against new champ T.J. Dillashaw, also couldn’t make weight. Joe Soto got the Seth Petruzelli-style bump from the undercard to the main event. Unlike Petruzelli against Kimbo Slice, Soto couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity.

So the most noteworthy things about the card, apart from Cejudo and Barao’s weight-cutting issues, were:

1. Bethe Correia taking out another of Ronda Rousey’s buddies, veteran Shayna Baszler. Now Rousey wants a piece of Correia, who’ll be happy to oblige.

2. Dana White launching an unholy rip of the media. Some days, I miss covering this sport — this would’ve been fun.

Overseas in ONE FC — I’m absolutely biased toward Kamal Shalorus, who works in our wonderful local dojo and is as nice as he could be. Glad to see him get a title shot, but Shinya Aoki was always going to be a tough matchup, and Aoki indeed kept the belt.

Chess: World champ Magnus Carlsen and top U.S. player Hikaru Nakamura are at the Sinquefield Cup, but Italy’s Fabiano Caruana has left them in the dust, beating Carlsen, Nakamura and the other three to go a perfect 5-for-5 halfway through the double round-robin.

And we’re a month away from Millionaire Chess. Ignore the monetary losses and enjoy.

Cycling: Vuelta a Espana in brief — Nairo Quintana fell, Alberto Contador took the lead.

Video games: A terrific glitch in Madden ’15 — a 14-inch-tall linebacker:

Coming up: Bloody Elbow is looking at the upcoming wrestling World Championships.

Glad to be back!

Monday Myriad, Aug. 4: Flip and fight

Starting with a few bits of news:

– Both U.S. teams won their first matches at the 2014 Chess Olympiad, then faltered today against high seeds. The U.S. open team lost 2.5-1.5 to the Netherlands, while the U.S. women lost 3-1 to China. Only eight rounds to go.

– The U.S. women’s volleyball team had a disappointing 1-2 start in the monthlong World Grand Prix, righting the ship against Japan.

– Nothing else happened.

Seriously. It’s a slow week. Thank goodness two UFC fighters decided to throw down … at the press conference. That’s actually kind of rare for the UFC.

The week in tweets and videos …

Top THIS, Vegas …

Wiping the floor: Simone Biles won the Secret Classic, thanks in part to this:

Close finish: You’d expect a margin of 0.27 seconds in a 100-meter race, but 10,000 meters?

Weekly reminder of global press protocols (or lack thereof): 

Best prep for climate change: Hey, just make biathlon a summer sport.

Most dangerous PR position: UFC’s Dave Sholler had the unfortunate task of attempting to keep Jon Jones off Daniel Cormier.

One more reason to visit Barcelona 

You’rrrrre … um … out?: This isn’t supposed to happen in beach volleyball.

Monday Myriad, March 31: Figure this

We’re in that lull with winter sports wrapping up and not many summer sports in full swing yet. Good news for those of us who want to follow our teams in college basketball … oh … hey, cricket’s on!

Best and worst of the week …

Best good news/bad news: Nick Zaccardi summed up the USA’s performance in the World Figure Skating Championships:

No Americans won medals in any discipline at the World Championships for the first time since 1994. But the U.S. earned three spots for women’s, men’s and ice dance at the 2015 World Championships, a feat it hadn’t accomplished since 2008, and put three women in the top eight for the first time since 2006, the last time a U.S. woman won an Olympic or World Championships medal.

So they’re on the right track. As opposed to short track or long track. (Sorry.)

Best rugby comeback: Uruguay kept baiting the USA into bad penalties. Everything was sloppy and messy, and Uruguay had a 13-3 lead. Then the Eagles did their best impression of a steamroller in the second half and romped into the World Cup with a 32-13 win in Atlanta.

Best chess comeback: Vishy Anand handed over the world chess championship to Magnus Carlsen. That was it, right? The generational change? Not quite. Anand convincingly won the double round-robin candidates’ tournament, cruising past three higher-ranked opponents to get a rematch.

Best chess analysis: I feel so much smarter after watching this.

Best chess prospect:

Best gender-desegregation notes: 

https://twitter.com/livefierce/status/450433809969086465

Team USA wrapRowing World Cup, USA-Canada women’s boxing, U.S. Under-18 women’s hockey, gymnastics, and a lot of U.S. championships.

At Ozy.com: Magnus Carlsen, hoops freshmen, curling

If you haven’t checked out Ozy.com yet, please do. It’s a terrific site capturing the next wave of what’s important, what’s interesting and what’s cool.

And I’m not just saying that because they’ve given me the opportunity to write three terrific pieces:

Magnus Carlsen, the new face of chess (written before he won the world title)

College basketball’s big freshmen: Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Andrew Wiggins

Curling: From the Olympics to Arizona, it’s catching on. Can the USA harness that interest and build better teams?

The medal projections here at SportsMyriad are ongoing. Freestyle skiing just takes a while.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Diskerud vs. Carlsen: Analysis

Give Mix Diskerud credit for challenging the best chess player of this or possibly any age, Magnus Carlsen. Here’s the video and a quick analysis:

Diskerud is given 7 minutes to play. Carlsen has 1. Even for a grandmaster, that’s not much time.

And Diskerud tries to take advantage of that with some passive play and counterattacking. Maybe that’s what we should expect from a Norwegian/American soccer player, though Jurgen Klinsmann might not approve.

Still, such tactics could work over the chessboard in a situation like this. So Diskerud’s tentative early move of a3 (the pawn all the way to the left up one square) could work … if he defends intelligently. He can make things complicated for Carlsen so that the soon-to-be world champion may run out of time.

Alas, he does not. He fails to castle, leaving his king vulnerable in the center. And then he inexplicably plays Rh3, giving up his rook.

He also musters little of a counterattack other than Bh6, which is nothing but a one-move annoyance that leaves Carlsen’s rook on a better square, anyway.

Diskerud does one more thing that plays into Carlsen’s hands. His hand hovers over the piece he plans to move, and then he moves and slowly touches the clock. His slow hands and telegraphed moves essentially give Carlsen more time. If Diskerud kept his hand on his chin, then quickly whipped his hand over the board to move and hit the clock, Carlsen wouldn’t be able to think about his response until his own clock was running.

All that said — it’s Magnus Carlsen. He’s going to win.

So when does Carlsen face Diskerud on the soccer field?

(Programming note: Yes, I’ve done very little on the blog while working on the Washington Spirit book. I may do more quick hits like this, but really, until the book is done, don’t expect much. Then it’s 2014 projection time!)

No Monday Myriad this week

Check the Twitter feed to get up to speed on world championships in speedskating and women’s curling. Maybe X Games Tignes as well.

Then here are a couple of things you should be / could be following this week:

– Soccer: U.S. men at Mexico, 10:30 p.m. ET Tuesday, ESPN. No pressure.

– Chess: Candidates’ Tournament. Winner plays Vishy Anand for the world championship this fall. Is it Magnus Carlsen’s time already? Standings/webcasts/etc.

And keep an eye out for NWSL preseason news.

What is a sport? Chess? Figure skating? Modern dance?

Via Susan Polgar’s blog and featuring her Webster University chess team:

Based on a dictionary definition, the filmmakers boil it down to three aspects:

1. Athleticism

2. Skill

3. Competition

Chess fits the last two with ease. The “athleticism” argument is weaker. They argue that it’s draining — elite players lose weight in world championship competition.

But is that essential?

Other Olympic sports have all three elements. Figure skating is perhaps the most questionable, with the “competition” aspect only coming into the mix through judging that is still partially subjective.

Modern dance, like figure skating, requires athleticism and skill. Just watch Pilobolus sometime. But it’s not competitive, and no one’s seriously lobbying for it to be in the Olympics.

So we could say the Olympics require all three. The media, on the other hand, do not. ESPN televises poker and spelling bees. SI used to cover chess, along with many European sports departments. At USA TODAY, we used to cover the Westminster Dog Show through sports.

The media, though, don’t need to be exclusive. ESPN has a lot of hours to fill, and most Myriad readers would likely vote for chess, poker, dogs and quiz bowls instead of Skip Bayless yelling at people.

Does the “chess as a sport” movement go beyond that? There’s a practical reason we won’t see chess in the Olympics. Chess players can argue for months about their playing conditions. They’re not likely to hang out with the hard-partying swimmers in the Athletes Village.

And the Olympics don’t want to get bigger right now, even if the facility needs are cheap. Hosting is already far too expensive.

So is it a sport? Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter.

Monday Myriad: Old Norway, overcome with joy

From the chessboard to the cross-country ski trails, Norway had a very good weekend.

Tora Berger was a mild surprise. She’s one of the world’s best biathletes, with a handful of Olympic and World Championship gold medals to prove it. But biathletes typically don’t win three races in the same weekend, which is exactly what she did in neighboring Sweden.

Marit Bjoergen, on the other hand, does this sort of thing on occasion. She won most of the cross-country skiing events contested the 2010 Olympics and 2011 World Championships. She, like Berger, took the natural hat trick this weekend.

But for epic all-time greatness, the big Norwegian winner is Magnus Carlsen, who can now stake a claim to being The Best Chess Player of All Time, at least unofficially. By rating, he has now slightly surpassed Garry Kasparov‘s record rating of 2851. Not bad for a guy who just turned 22. (If you like to dive into the methodology, start at this roundup of various attempts to rate the best ever, then call Nate Silver.)

Also, Aksel Lund Svindal leads the men’s Alpine World Cup standings over the USA’s Ted Ligety. He won it in 2007 and 2009. Seems like he’s been around forever, but he won’t turn 30 until later this month.

Here’s what else happened over the weekend while we were mourning Georgia’s SEC loss and watching Beckham’s back-to-back …

ALPINE SKIING

Women’s World Cup, Lake Louise, Alberta: Lindsey Vonn — the same Lindsey Vonn whose general health was in serious question a couple of weeks ago — won a downhill. And another one. And then a super-G. Vonn is the first skier to win three races at the same venue in two different seasons.

Here she is:

If you’d prefer to see her scramble out of trouble, check this one:

And more U.S. women were in the mix — Stacey Cook was second in each downhill, Julia Mancuso was second in the super-G, and the USA had six of the top 20 in the second downhill (Vonn, Cook, Mancuso 9th, Alice McKennis 11th, Laurenne Ross 18th, Leanne Smith 20th).

The USA has four women in the World Cup top 10: Vonn 3rd, Cook 5th, Mancuso t-6th, Mikaela Shiffrin 10th.

Men’s World Cup, Beaver Creek, Colo.: Ted Ligety joked after Saturday’s super-G:

Isn’t the wooden spoon typically last place, not fourth? In any case, he can quit fretting about it now: He won Sunday’s giant slalom so convincingly that his rivals called him “unbeatable” in the event.

The speed events were much better for the Italians than the Americans: Christof Innerhofer won the downhill, and Matteo Marsaglia won the super-G.

CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING

World Cup, Kuusamo, Finland: Unique format this weekend — a three-race mini-tour with a sprint, a short freestyle (5k women/10k men) and a classical pursuit (10k/15k). Maret Bjoergen took away the need for any math by winning all three events on the women’s side.

Among Americans — Kikkan Randall has suddenly flipped from contending in the sprints to contending in the distance races, finishing second in the freestyle and holding on for fifth overall despite being knocked out in the sprint semifinals. Ida Sargent also made the sprint semis and took 18th overall. The others were all in the top 24: Liz Stephen 17th, Holly Brooks 22nd, Jessie Diggins 24th.

In the men’s event — yet another Norwegian? Yes, it was Petter Northug taking the overall. Only three of the six Americans finished the last event. Noah Hoffman had the only top-20, finishing 19th in the freestyle.

SKI JUMPING 

World Cup, Kuusamo, Finland: No Americans made the trip. Germany won the team event and the individual (Severin Freund).

NORDIC COMBINED

World Cup, Kuusamo, Finland: France’s Jason Lamy Chappuis, while American Bryan Fletcher kept up a string of promising performances with a 14th-place finish.

SPEEDSKATING

World Cup, Astana, Kazakhstan. Shani Davis was the only U.S. skater competing, and his win in the 1,500 meters broke up a Dutch men’s sweep. Jorrit Bergsman won the 10,000; the Netherlands won the team pursuit.

Canadian women had two wins — the team pursuit and Christine Nesbitt in the 1,500. The Czech Republic’s Martina Sablikova won the 5,000.

SHORT-TRACK SPEEDSKATING 

World Cup, Nagoya, Japan: Not a great weekend for U.S. women — none made a final, and Jessica Smith‘s seventh-place finish in the 1,500 was the top result.

A but better for the men: J.R. Celski (2nd, 1,000 and 7th, 1,500) and Travis Jayner (3rd, 500) made finals. Jeff Simon made a pair of semifinals.

BIATHLON

World Cup, Oestersund, Sweden: Jean Philippe Le Guellec is the first Canadian man to win a World Cup event, shooting cleanly to win the sprint. For the Americans, Tim Burke showed some signs of snapping into form, finishing 18th in the sprint and 15th in the pursuit. Susan Dunklee was the only U.S. woman to qualify for the pursuit, finishing 39th.

Tora Berger (see above) won all three women’s events; France’s Martin Fourcade won the men’s individual and pursuit.

LUGE

World Cup, Koenigssee, Germany: The host country swept the men’s podium, with Chris Mazdzer 16th and Taylor Morris 22nd. And they took four of the top five places in the women’s race, interrupted only by Canada’s Alex Gough in third. American women finished in pairs: Erin Hamlin and Emily Sweeney 11th/12th, Kate Hansen/Julia Clukey 20th/21st.

And in the doubles, it was … Germany, 1-2. Matthew Mortensen/Preston Griffall finished 11th; Jake Hyrns/Andrew Sherk 17th.

CYCLING

Cyclocross World Cup, Roubaix, France: It’s all about Katie Compton, who came back on the last lap for her third win of the World Cup season.

GYMNASTICS

World Cup, Stuttgart, Germany: Elizabeth Price, an alternate for the 2012 Olympic team, won the all-aroundDanell Leyva had the highest score on horizontal bar and placed fifth in the all-around.

WEIGHTLIFTING

American Open, Palm Springs, Calif.: This was held. Not sure what’s up with results.

MMA

Bellator: Andrey Koreshkov, whose name sounds like a former Yes keyboardist but isn’t, remained unbeaten in winning the welterweight tournament final over Lyman Good. And we welcome Kala Hose back to … what? Knocked out in 22 seconds by Doug Marshall?

BAMMAAlex Reid — to my knowledge, the only MMA fighter to fare better on Celebrity Big Brother than on The Ultimate Fighter — is back with a win.

KSW: UFC veterans Kendall Grove and Rodney Wallace traveled to Poland and lost. Grove at least lost to a strong opponent — Mamed Khalidov, the highest-ranked middleweight outside the UFC and Strikeforce.

Cage Contender: TUF alum Martin Stapleton won an old-school, one-night tournament that would never be allowed in the USA today.

RUGBY

Sevens World Series, Dubai: Samoa beat New Zealand 26-15 in the final. The USA beat Spain and put up good fights against France and South Africa but was oddly blown out by Canada.

Friendly: One of England’s “great victories in their history,” the BBC’s Tom Fordyce says, as New Zealand fell 38-21.

JUDO

Grand Slam, Tokyo: Didn’t see any Americans in the top eight.