Sunday, November 29, 2020

Published on April 4, 2014

In the 1960s, Lee Kuan Yew made a compact with the citizens of the new city-state of Singapore. He would ensure the rice bowls were full. In return, citizens would not litter, ask for free speech, or protest an electoral system designed to favour the incumbent. Mr Lee, and his son, delivered on the promise. Singapore is, by any material standard, First World.

It is impossible to transfer Singapore's model of micro-management to larger nations. However, politicians in many East Asian countries have tried to establish similar compacts. The largest experiment was Deng Xiaoping's reboot of China in the late 1970s.

Deng was clear that the Communist Party would stay in charge. But it would cease to be communist in all but name. It would encourage citizens to get rich. China is a big place and not easy to govern.

The Tiananmen Square incident in 1989 was not a great advertisement for Deng's vision. There have been countless industrial protests, Tibetan self-immolations, large-scale corruption in the party, extreme rural-urban inequality, show trials, and so on. But, despite the hiccups, one-party "market communism" has also, by and large, delivered in material terms.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under Narendra Modi is offering a rather different bargain to India's electorate. Mr Modi claims to have delivered very fast economic growth and created excellent infrastructure and great employment opportunities in his home state. The election campaign says he can replicate that model across India.

In return for economic growth, India's cultural agenda will be set or influenced by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Going by the past experiences of 1998-2004 and the tone and tenor of this campaign, school and college syllabi will be vetted. "Insulting" books, art and movies will be banned, by violent means if the courts are unwilling to pass orders.

Beef eaters will have their diet interfered with. The free mixing of men and women at Navratri, Ganesh Chaturthi, Durga Puja and Holi will continue, as indeed it should. But courting couples will continue to be beaten up on Valentine's Day. Homosexuals and drug users will be treated as criminals, unless they are Naga sadhus, who are exempted from adhering to those sections of the Indian Penal Code. Diwali gambling will be encouraged as a religious rite. But betting on cricket will be forbidden.

The threat of violence to enforce this agenda will be the iron fist in the velvet glove. However, as in 2002, it is also implied that the violence can be efficiently targeted with pinpoint precision. Property belonging to the "right community" (pun intended) will not be damaged.

The RSS cannot push this agenda too hard. Its brand of hardline Hindutva is espoused by a small, vociferous minority and it makes lots of people within the BJP itself uneasy. In its best-ever performances, the BJP won 25 per cent of the vote in 1998 and 1999. The most favourable polls suggest it could win 31 or 32 per cent in 2014. Over 80 per cent of Indians are Hindus. Ergo, the BJP is a minority party desperately claiming to represent a majority.

Can Mr Modi deliver on the economic aspects? Sadly, no. Gujarat was a well-run state before he came to power. It continues to be a high performer with some lacunae in human development indicators. India is much less homogeneous than China and even less easily governed. The Gujarat model, warts and all, cannot be scaled up to fit the rest of the union - especially if the BJP must deal with regional satraps demanding their pound of flesh at both central and state level.

In Gandhinagar, Gujarat, the chief minister can summon his ministers and civil servants and tell them what to do. The prime minister of India cannot do that to his Cabinet colleagues or to chief ministers of the states of the Union.

Hence, the BJP cannot deliver on either end of its compact. The hardliner pining for a Hindutva raj will be disappointed. So will the voter who is hoping for miracles in terms of economic growth.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Carlsen Vs Caruana Game 2 , 2018

White: Carlsen Vs Black: Caruana,  Game drawn , 49 moves.
Game 2 turned out to be much less dramatic than Game 1 but it had some interesting points. Caruana surprised with his choice of defence when he opted for 6.-- c5. He surprised again by playing something that's generally considered unplayable on move 10.
 Diagram after 10 Rd1

Instead of the comparatively staid 10 Rd1, White can mix things up even more by castling queenside with 10 O-O-O, leading to violent attacks and counter-attacks. That queenside castling looks, and is, highly dangerous because both sides will launch pawn storms. Plus, the centre is likely to open up, which means rapid piece transfers from one flank to another are very possible.
After 10. Rd1, black needs to open up the c8 bishop. That leads to jockeying for -- e5.  This line is famous, or notorious, for the stem game, Game 21,  in the Karpov Korchnoi match of 1978. That tactical genius, Mikhail Tal, found a vicious piece sacrifice while working on Karpov's team . Korchnoi refused to take the piece and finally won a crazy, complex fight. The sacrifice is  now generally considered sound but not a winning option.  
That went 10. Rd1 Re8 11. Nd2 e5 12. Bg5 Nd4!!?  13. Qb1 Bf5 14. Bd3 e4 ? when 15. Bf1! probably wins outright. Korchnoi  played 15. Bc2 Nxc2 16. Qxc2 Qa6 17. Bxf6 Qxf6 18. Nb3 Bd6 19. Rxd5 (1-0, 60 moves).  Subsequently black has tried 14.-- Bxd3 15. Qxd3 Ne4!? which is supposedly balanced. There's plenty of not-so-hidden insanity in that position.

Carlsen played a very non-committal response, 11. Be2  to Caruana's "novelty" 10. Rd8. This is not really a novelty - it used to be written off as a bad move but it's been played before, and white is supposed to get an edge with 11. Nd2.  Nigel Short said he always thought Rd8 was just unplayable and he's a long-term connoisseur of this line, which he played in his Candidates match against Speelmann back in the 80s. What idea did Caruana have?
That Kt d2 regroup is the normal move, against the normal 10. -- Re8 - and Re8 is supposedly better than Rd8 because it supports the push e5.  Incidentally, black would be happy if white was provoked into playing (for example ) 11. b4? Nxb4 12. axb4 Bxb4 13. Rc1 Ne4 which has been known to happen in amateur games.  11 Nd2 sets up threats of Nb3 and of b4 perhaps.
Anyway, Carlsen chose to grovel as he called it with Be2. Presumably the Don has found an idea that works against 11. Nd2 in the Rd8 line. We'll probably get to see it, since white can't really avoid these QGD variations, if he's going to play Bf4 instead of Bg5.  But Carlsen will go back and his team will take a long, hard look at this position before he plays Nd2.
Ducking a battle meant Carlsen was now on his own and he took a lot of time. He must have found a line that Caruana had studied since the challenger reeled off his moves almost without pausing for thought. 

Diagram After 16. -- Nxd5
On  move 17, we came to another major cross-road. Carlsen had already spent an hour, while Caruana had spent just 5 minutes. White can try 17. Nxf7!? Kxf7 18. Bxd6 Rxd6 19. Bh5+ Kg8 20. e4 when black can stabilise with 20.-- Bd7 21. exd5 Qxa4 . Or he can try the very unclear 20.-- Nf4 21. Rxd6 Qxh5 22. Rd8+ Kf7 23. Rfd1 e5! - here black will forget about his Ra8 and let it go in many lines playing things like 24. Qb3+ Be6! 25. Qxb7+ Kg6 and try to deliver mate with the formidable combination of B+N +Q against an undefended kingside. The engines say it's equal.
Magnus pulled the emergency brake as Hammer put it by playing 17. Bf3 instead. After that, it's a question of bailing out to a drawn rook ending, which he duly accomplished without much fuss. Maybe black can keep something with 22.-- b6 . In the final position, white just plays Ra4-b4, a4, etc. unless black plays Kf3 when he checks with Ra3+. If black tries to penetrate with Ra6/b6 - a1, white puts his king on g2, and Ra7, f7, e7, etc. to hold the draw. 

Verdict: Moral victory for Caruana, drawing easily with black. But this line is very likely to come up again. Carlsen will repeat 1 d4, and he's likely to face 6--c5. A repeat could be a serious test of the line and we'll learn about Caruana's idea (or ideas). 

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Carlsen Vs Caruana London Game 1

Title Match  2018
Game #1
There are lucky escapes, and there are incredibly, mindbogglingly, superlatively  fortunate escapes. Fabiano Caruana had one of the latter in the first game. By move 30, it was obvious that black had a serious edge, with the bishop pair, and excellent chances of exploiting an exposed king. By move 35, black was totally winning.
The machines indicated that there were multiple ways to take the full point. What's more, the advantage was stable. It wasn't one of those dynamic situations where a tactical shot arises suddenly out of the blue and disappears equally quickly if it's not exploited.  
Black held all the trumps. He could push and probe, until he found a way to slide in, via the weak long dark diagonal (a1-h8), or via the g-file. Every black piece was poised for an assault with the Bishop unchallengeable on the diagonal, the Rook positioned perfectly on the g-file, and the Queen ready to switch between g-file and the diagonal, as any opportunity arose.   
White was defending from move to move, trying to counter specific threats. Eventually, if black played normally, white would be too stretched to defend the weak pawns on h3,a2, c2, and protect his king, which was a big, fat target in mid-board. It was an objectively lost position and to add to his woes, Fabiano was down to less than a minute on the clock. Carlsen had 20-odd minutes and he had conducted the game impeccably to create those winning chances.
But somehow the world champion failed to put it away. Somewhere on the road to the time control, Carlsen blew his chances. They reached move 40, with black still holding an edge but the win had evaporated.  Caruana gratefully forced an exchange of queens and then defended perfectly for the next 70-odd moves to split the point.
 This epic could help define the match. We learnt several things. One is that Carlsen retains the ability to almost effortlessly create winning chances from roughly equal positions. Another is that Carlsen continues to be plagued by nerves when it comes to converting. For some reason, and nerves is pretty much the best explanation one can find for this, his pluperfect technique has disappeared in the last year or two. This was the second time in the recent past (Altibox being the first)  that Caruana escaped with a draw, after conceding a stable advantage to the Norwegian.
On his part, Fabiano displayed ice-cold pragmatism, strong nerves and the ability to keep defending without committing any outright blunders in an inferior position. He also showed perfect technique, once he saw the road to a draw and it really wasn't quite as easy as it looked.  
But Caruana needs to be very worried about his opening repertoire if he's going to concede equality so very early with white. He also needs to be concerned about being outplayed so comprehensively in a quiet position, which both know very well.
Caruana's choice of 1.e4 was no surprise really since he's a king pawn player by preference. Carlsen's Sicilian was mildly surprising, and must have been prepared for this match. Caruana picked a Rossolimo with BB5 rather than heading for an open scrap with d4. He's played this quite often,. including against Carlsen so again, no surprise.
Sicilian Rossolimos are quiet lines that supposedly give white a small, stable advantage, while blunting black's chances of creating sharp, messy counterplay.  But by move 12 or so, this position looked potentially advantageous for black!
(diagram)  After move 10.

In this position, black has the bishop pair and a grip on d4. He also has a clear plan if white does nothing. Black will look for Ne6-d4 , double major pieces (Qd6/ Rd8) on the d-file,  and start pushing pawns on the queenside. An exchange on d4 will leave black with straightforward play. He would capture with either cd4 or Rxd4 depending on circumstances and continue pushing queenside pawns. If white tries to evict the Kt with Ne2/ c3, the weak d3 pawn will come under pressure.
So white decides to lash out with f4, following up with g4, trying to raise hell on the kingside before he's smothered on the queenside. Carlsen responded beautifully. He castled queenside and pushed g5 and then sacrificed his f-pawn to open the kingside. This cool, active defence from black leads to a situation where white has weaknesses in front of his king. He's forced to evacuate with Kg1-f2-e2.
After 33--- Qg5!, it's just lost. The h-pawn push will force the Kt to a passive position, unblocking the g-file and then, it's party time.

Diagram, after move 33- Qg5
Now, Black has chances of penetrating along the 1-h8 diagonal - if Qb2 comes in for instance, the king position will fall apart. He also has chances of suddenly getting Rg3, with rampant passed pawns and a squash. Or, Rg1 may come, with an attack on the back two ranks. Plus, black can start pushing his queenside pawns to blast the queenside open. White has nothing to compensate for all of this, and he had less than a minute on the clock by now.
On the next four/five moves, Carlsen missed literally a half-dozen wins, maybe more. One or more of these attacking themes was always working. He had 36.-- Qg7 (threat Qb2); he had 38. -- Rg3!  39. Nxg3 hxg3 40. Rg2 Qa1!;  he had 39. --b5! with b4 to come; he had 40-- Qg1 (repeating) 41. Nf1 b5! or even 40.--Qg3!?.   
But Carlsen seemed unwilling to calculate, or commit to a final assault, while Caruana was just surviving on 30 second increment/ move. Carlsen finally released the pressure on move 40, when he took Bxc3? 

Diagram after 41. -- Bd4
On move 42 , Caruana exchanged queens and then proceeded to play perfectly to hold an ending where Carlsen kept trying until move 115. White's defensive idea of e5-e6-e7 push, combined with Kt swinging to f5 and the b4 break, requires both good calculation and technical understanding. The rook ending is ultimately trivially drawn even though black keeps an extra pawn.
So it's even-steven and back to the drawing board for both players, I guess. Caruana has to shore up his opening preparation and his middlegame transition plans. Carlsen has to overcome whatever psychological blocks prevented him from finishing off a game where he achieved such an overwhelming advantage. Which is easier?

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Candidates Round #13

This was an intense round with three high-octane draws and one inconsequential win. Tailender Nakamura beat tailender Topalov to pull himself back to 50 per cent. But that mattered a lot less than the three draws played out by Caruana, Karjakin and Anand, A win by any member of this troika would have altered the last round dynamics.

Caruana-Svidler played a sizzler and Caruana finally flubbed a well-known technical win, albeit one that is notoriously difficult. if he had converted that position, the American would have pulled ahead.

As it happened, that 100-move-plus draw might have set things up for Karjakin, who would also have the solo lead if he beat Aronian. Only, Karjakin was under massive pressure and barely survived through another 100-mover, where he defended with his customary coolth (if one may borrow a word coined by the late Sir Terry Pratchett).

Those two games went on for a very long time. All four players looked utterly physically exhausted by the end. The draws meant that the Karjakin-Caruana clash in Rd 14 would be critical.

Meanwhile, Anand-Giri was drawn in "only" 50-odd moves but it was also an exciting game. Giri got adventurous and sacrificed a piece against Anand. It was hard to make sense of what was going on, But that also burnt out into a draw. If Anand had put this one away, he would have tied Caruana and Karjakin and had everything to play for in the last round. But with the benefit of hindsight, Anand never looked like winning.  

Let's look at the games in ascending order of complexity and importance.

This was out of a Queens Gambit Declined. Black looks much better with his dominant rooks and his well-placed Kt c4. But is he really? That white Bishop is an absolute  boss, protecting g2 and controlling h7,g6. White should activate immediately with 33. Ra1! - Now neither pawn can be taken without allowing an immediate draw 33.- Nxe5 34. Ra8+ Kf7 35. Ra7+ or 33.-- Rxb4  34. Ra8+ etc.  Black can play on with 33. Ra1 Rd8 of course but then he has nothing much with 34. Ra7 Rxb4 35. Rg3 g5 36. Bh7+ Kh8 37. Bc2 generating dangerous counterplay

Topalov was not in time trouble (he very rarely is). Nor are these variations hard to calculate. It is an indicator of his very poor form (and probably, lack of motivation by this stage) that he played  33.Rg3 Re2 34.Ra1 Nxe5 35.Ra8+ Kf7 36.Bh7 g5 37.Bg8+ Kf6 38.Rf8+ Kg7 39.Re8 Ng6 40.Bxe6 Nf4 (0–1). If 41. Bd7 Rxe8 42. Bxe8 Ne2+ kills it

Anand-Giri looked nice and equal in the diagram.
On normal moves like 24. -- Qc5 25. Bd3, it should just burn out. Instead, Giri tried the amazing 24.-- Bxf2+!?
After the more or less forced sequence 24. Bxf2+ 25.Kxf2 Qb6+ 26.Kf1 Nh5 27.g4 fxg3 28.Bd3 Rxe1+ 29.Rxe1 Nf4 30.Nd4 g6 31.Be4 Qf6 it's hard to tell who is better, if indeed anybody is. Anand returned the exchange on e1 and then sacrificed his entire queenside to pile onto f7. If Giri doesn't take the perpetual towards the end, Ng4-h6 is a potent threat from white's side. Also black must beware of white marching Kh6. But of course, Giri took the perpetual.

This game pretty much finished Anand's challenge in the event. Of course, when Anand's game ended, Aronian was pressing against Karjakin and Caruana-Svidler was unclear. But both Caruana and Karjakin would have to lose to give Anand a reasonable chance in Rd 14.

Aronian had built a nice edge out of an English Opening


 Crazy  tactics start at this point. Both players assessed the normal 25, -- c6 26. Rxb5 cxb5 27. Nd6 s good for white. The engines agree that this is a little superior for white. 
The actual play went 25.-- Nxa3?! 26.c6! Qe7 27.Qa2 bxc6 28.Rxc6 Bf7 29.Rc5! This hits Nd5 and cuts off the Queen's defence of the Kt-a3. It triggers the next tactical flurry. Black went with 29.-- Nxe3!? 30.Qxa3 Rxb2 31.Qxb2 Nxg2 32.Kxg2 a3 33.Qb7 Qd8 34.Qxc7 Qxc7 35.Rxc7 Bd5 36.Rc5 a2 37.Bc3 Bg8 38.Ba1 Rb8 39.Ra5 Rb1 40.Bc3 Rd1 and somehow black is still hanging on. Aronian must have thought he was winning. He tried all sorts of reshuffles and complicated piece placements over the next umpteen moves. But Karjakin just kept finding good defensive resources.

Caruana - Svidler was more up and down.

Black has generated serious pressure in the centre. He seems better because the Qd5 has more influence than Qa4. But the last move 34.. - Rae8 misses a cute little tactic. White played 35.dxe5 Nxe5 36.Nxe5 Rxe5 37.Bxf4! and now the apparently excellent 37. -- Rxe4? 38. Rxd5 Rxe1+ Kh2 39. Nxf4 is refuted by an X-ray 37. -- Rxe4? 38. Qxe8+!  and the white queen's placement suddenly makes sense. So Svidler had to play 37.-- Qb5 38.Qxb5 Rxb5 39.Bd6 Kh8 40.g4 Nf6 41.Nxf6 Rxe1+ 42.Rxe1 Bxf6 43.Re8+ Kg7 44. Bb4 Re5 45. Rc8 and white is better because he can target the queenside pawns.  But this is by no means easy to win.

Caruana  soldiered on to reach this position 

White is two pawns up but even this is probably not winning. The pure rook endgame with bishop and rook is technically drawn (though people have been known to lose it). Black keeps his rook on the h-file (as distant as possible) and rook goes to h1 and starts checking from the first rank, or the h-file  if white tries to walk in with his king. It's impossible to make progress against good defence.

The pure bishop endgame would also be drawn because the a8 queening square cannot be controlled, Black just sacrifices his bishop for the c-pawn at some stage and sits on a8 with his king. White will deliver stalemate.

So white has the job of keeping both pieces on and trying to finagle something. Black played for another known technical draw with 63.Kd3 Rh5 64.c5 Kb7 65.Rg6 Bxa5 66.Bxa5 Rxc5 and the R+B Vs Rook ending is drawn. Note that the 50-move rule has kicked in with the last capture on 66.

People, meaning a genius called Andre Danican Philidor started looking at this material set up in the 18th century. It's drawn with correct play from most situations and Philidor found several of the most critical set ups. Computer analysis gives us an exact countdown of any given set up. All five piece positions have long since been solved.

There is also the 50-move rule. This favours the defender because quite often, forced wins go over 50. For a while, this material used to be played out with a special extension to 75 moves because of that factor. But it's long since reverted to 50-moves.  

In practice, White will always push the black king to the edge of the board and guard checks against his own king by interposing bishop. But black has a choice of squares to step to with his king. Judicious retreat will hold the draw. He must also keep his rook active of course and there are also stalemate defences in some situations.

Despite centuries of study and complete solutions, this is an incredibly hard position to play, Offhand, I can recall several superGMs, such as Grischuk, Ulf Andersen and Jan Timman who have played this out and made serious errors. We can add Svidler and Caruana to that list.

Svidler has just made a terrible error with 102-.. Ka5-a4?. Instead 102.--Ka6 103. Rb1 Rc8! holds the draw because the white king can't get  "mating opposition" with Kc6. For that matter, 102. -- Rg8 or 102. Re8 holds the draw.

After 103.Kc4! Rh4+ 104.Bd4 Rh5 white could win with the Philidor method which is outlined in in any standard textbook such as Basic Chess Endings.

He can  play 105. Rb2 Rh3 (to stop Ra2#) 106. Bg3! (prevents Rh4+ and causes zugzwang) Rf3.  Pulling the rook away from the edge of the board is vital. Now white plays 107. Bc5! Rf4+ 108. Bd4 Rf3 109. Rb4+! Ka5 110 Rb7 and mates due to f6 control. (This is one reason why Rf3 needs to be forced).

Or 109. Rb4+ Ka3 110. Rb7 Ka2 111. Rb2+! Ka3 112. Re2 (Bc5+ is the deadly threat) Ka4 113. Be3! (Another reason to force Rf3) Ka3 114. Bd6+! Ka4 115. Ra2+ Ra3 116, Rxa3# In both cases, mates is within the 50-move limit.

Instead Caruana frittered the big chance away with 105.Bf2 Rg5 106.Rh7 Rg4+ 107.Bd4 Rg5 108.Rh8 Rb5 109.Ra8+ Ra5 110.Rb8 Rh5 111.Bf6 Ka5 112.Bc3+ Ka6 113.Bd4 Rh6 114.Be3 Re6 115.Rb3 Rc6+ 116.Kd5 Draw.

 So it all boiled down to the last round.