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.


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!)

Midweek Myriad: Mind games

You may have noticed from the last post that Sports Myriad has a new contributor from across the pond. Carrie Dunn was part of the legendary crew of Guardian minute-by-minute and over-by-over commentators, though she’s more charitable to Americans than most of them. She’ll write about a lot of sports — darts, cricket, women’s sports — that I’ve wanted to cover at Sports Myriad but haven’t had much of a chance to cover because I’m just not quite as plugged into those sports as I am elsewhere.

We’re also expecting a rugby preview from another contributor soon.

All of which means you should be adding Sports Myriad to your RSS readers if you haven’t already.

A couple of items of interest so far this week, starting with games played with the head rather than hands or feet:

Chess: Vishy Anand has retained the world title, but the man to watch is 19-year-old Norwegian grandmaster Magnus Carlsen. He is already No. 1 on FIDE’s rating list and is gaining on Garry Kasparov’s all-time high. NYT blogger Dylan Loeb McClain tells us he wins with creativity rather than encyclopedic knowledge of familiar openings. And he already has some celebrity appeal, joining Liv Tyler for some sort of fashion shoot this week.

Another youngster, 22-year-old Czech grandmaster Viktor Laznicka won the World Open, a top U.S. event. Lubomir Kavalek takes us through a wide-open game Laznicka won with black.

Poker: Daniel Alaei won the pot-limit Omaha world title for his third World Series of Poker bracelet. (Not this year — only Frank Kassela, who win Player of the Year honors unless one of his pursuers can reach the November Nine, has two bracelets this summer.)

Pros and semi-pros (Kassela is considered semi-pro) have won most of the events this year, but one of the last event winners before the Main Event is a Dutch physicist named Marcel Vonk. Good week for the Netherlands.

Day 1A of the Main Event (the tournament is so large that players start on four different days — 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D) featured Chris Moneymaker, the amateur who helped launch the poker boom with his unlikely Main Event win a few years ago, and cross-country skier Petter Northug, perhaps the only World Series of Poker participant whom I saw in a press conference tent in Whistler this year.

My former USA TODAY colleague Gary Mihoces has landed in Vegas and tells us Ray Romano has busted out. He also has details on Phil Hellmuth’s planned MMA-style entrance, featuring Wanderlei Silva, King Mo and the man himself, Bruce Buffer.

ESPN has a video interview with one of its own, former baseball pitcher Orel Hershiser, who comes up with some clever analogies between baseball and poker:

Cycling: One day after the cobblestones rattled Lance Armstrong and others, we had a much less eventful day at the Tour de France and the usual first-week sprint finish.

Soccer: Hey, there’s a game on.