Fabiano takes London Chess Classic & Magnus wins the Grand Chess Tour Print
Monday, 11 December 2017 09:43
LONDON CHESS CLASSIC, ROUND 9
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FABIANO TAKES THE TOURNAMENT AND MAGNUS WINS THE TOUR

John Saunders reports: The ninth and final round of the 9th London Chess Classic, played on Monday 11 December 2017 at the Olympia Conference Centre, concluded with two of the players lifting trophies. Fabiano Caruana needed a tie-breaker against Ian Nepomniachtchi to win the first prize in the tournament itself, while Magnus Carlsen clinched the first prize in the overall Grand Chess Tour. A pulsating final day’s play saw three decisive games as the gruelling event took its toll in errors but the fans were also treated to a display of top-notch technique.

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Malcolm Pein presents Fabiano Caruana with the Classic trophy, while Magnus Carlsen holds the Grand Chess Tour trophy (photos Lennart Ootes)

As things stood overnight, Ian Nepomniachtchi was half a point clear of Fabiano Caruana in the running for the first prize in the tournament. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, a further half point back, also had an interest in the trophy but would have to win with Black against the leader to finish level with him and hope that Caruana would do no better than draw for a three-way tie. The Grand Prix leader board was more complicated with Carlsen leading and Vachier-Lagrave and various permutations of their results and those of others determining the destination of the year’s big-money prizes.

The first issue to be resolved (or at least partially resolved) came with a quick-ish draw between Nepo and MVL. It lasted just 17 moves and resulted in a repetition but still had an element of interest when Nepo played 9.Ndb5 followed by a pawn sacrifice. It was probably all planned in advance by White as it occurred in a pet line of MVL’s. The basis of the plan was to open up the d-file against the black queen, and also exploit a pin on a knight, and it was hard to see how Black was expected to continue without running the risk of having a much worse position.

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Nepomniachtchi and Vachier-Lagrave: almost as many letters in their surnames as moves in their game (photo John Saunders)

No better exploitation of his positional advantages was available to White than the repetition, which had probably been his game plan (“I’m not really happy with what I did today... and I think no-one really liked it, me neither” said Nepo with a rueful smile at the post-game interview). So the game was over in just 35 minutes. That cut MVL out of the running for first prize in the tournament and meant that Nepo would have to wait to see how Caruana fared with White against Adams.

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Mickey Adams was doing well against Fabiano Caruana but finally lost (photo John Saunders)

In fact, Nepo had to wait another 5+ hours to see whether he would have to play a tie-breaker as Caruana-Adams went the distance. It was, as soccer commentators like to say, “a game of two halves”. An imbalanced middlegame seemed to favour Adams around move 30-33, with Caruana admitting later that he had been prepared to repeat position in lieu of anything better to do. But some inaccuracies from the Englishman (Adams himself thought 33...Ra5 could have been a key mistake) saw his position disintegrate markedly and by the time control it had resolved itself into a queen and rook endgame with Caruana having an extra pawn. Mickey may have been able to do better in the endgame but in practice the defence was tough and Fabi relentless. Beating Mickey Adams is never easy and this was a fine way for the US player to conclude his tournament. England’s number one said of his own performance, “I gave away too many early Christmas presents.”

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Carlsen was back to his resourceful best against Aronian (photo John Saunders)

The other major issue was the outcome of the Grand Chess Tour and here much depended on the outcome of Aronian versus Carlsen. They say that a common military mistake made by generals is to fight a war based on their experiences of a previous campaign. There was an element of this about Aronian’s play against Carlsen. After a cagy start, in which neither of them was willing to commit to mainstream theory, the Armenian super-GM gained a small positional edge but pushed his luck a little too far, perhaps too conscious of Carlsen’s dismal showing in round eight effort and too trusting in Carlsen’s comment after that game about having ‘zero interest’ in their current encounter. Unluckily for Aronian, the Monday Carlsen, cold or no cold, was a very different proposition from that of the day before. He may still have been suffering from the head cold but, as opening morphed into middlegame, it became clear that he was back at full functionality on the chessboard. Aronian gave up a piece for pawns and an attack but he was thwarted at every turn by some relentlessly accurate, active defence from the world champion.

London Classic, Round 9, 11.12.2017
White: Levon Aronian
Black: Magnus Carlsen
QP Opening A40
1.d4 e6 2.Nf3 c5 3.g3 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Qb6 Both players are complicit in avoiding mainstream theory here and it would be hard to put a name to this unsystematic system. Let’s call it the ‘Opening with No Name’. That said, quite a few other theory-dodgers have been this way before. 5.Bg2 Bc5 6.e3 I notice that English IM Richard Bates has three games on the white side in this position on the database, while GM Nigel Short has three times had the black side, including one against each other. How about the Bates-Short opening? 6...d5 7.Qg4 Bf8 8.0 0 Nf6 9.Qe2 e5 New territory. 9...Bd7 was played in a game in 2013. 10.Qb5+ Bd7 Black is relatively happy to have doubled pawns on the b-file than tolerate a white knight causing trouble on b5 after a queen exchange. 11.Qxb6 axb6 12.Nb3 Nc6 13.Bd2 Bd6 14.Nc3 Ne7 15.a4 0 0 16.Nb5 Bxb5 17.axb5 (diagram)

LCCR9 5Quite a few engines started to prefer White hereabouts but perhaps that was because they usually prefer bishops to knights. 17...Rac8 18.Bc3 h5 19.Rfd1 Perhaps the engines were right up to a point, since White has some pressure against the black centre, and scope to invade via a7. But it doesn’t look like enough to worry Carlsen on a good day. 19...Rfd8 20.Nd2 h4 21.Nf3 21.gxh4 would give White an inconsequential extra pawn on the side of the board, and also invite the possibility of 21...d4!? 22.exd4 exd4 23.Bxd4 Bxh2+ 24.Kxh2 Rxd4 which looks unclear. 21...hxg3 22.hxg3 e4 23.Ng5 23.Nd4 looks a more patient option, though it is still hard to see how White could seek to exploit his slight positional edge. 23...Ng6 24.Ra7 Rb8 25.Bd4 Bc5 26.Bxc5 26.c4 immediately looks like a useful option, when Black can try to stay active with 26...Bxd4 27.Rxd4 Rdc8!? allowing 28.cxd5 Rc1+ 29.Bf1 Ne5 which looks quite tricky. It would be hard to predict how two such inventive players would handle such a line. 26...bxc5 27.c4 Ne7 (diagram)



LCCR9 6It’s clear that Black’s big pawn centre is being undermined by the c-pawn and subsequent attacks on the e4-pawn should the d5-pawn move or disappear. Lesser Black players would be in danger of crumbling but Carlsen comes up with an active plan and doesn’t become too worried about maintaining a material balance. 28.cxd5 Nc8 29.Ra4 Nb6 30.Ra3 Nc4 31.Rc3 Nd6 Setting up a classic Nimzowitschian blockade but it is only a temporary solution and needs to be followed up with great accuracy. 32.Rxc5 I suspect most players foreseeing this position a few moves before would have concluded that they would be two pawns down with only sketchy counterplay on the horizon, but Carlsen calculates that it is a bit better than that. 32...Ra8 33.Bh3 Chatting in the VIP room, Jon Speelman quickly identified the slight flaw in this plan as exemplified by Carlsen’s accurate reply. 33...Re8 This threatens Re5 and the knight on g5 has had its retreat square on h3 taken away by the bishop. 34.Rc7 White continues with the aggression. 34.Bf1 is also logical, though it involves moving the same piece twice in succession in different directions. 34...Kf8 (diagram) 35.b6? Perhaps 35.Bf1 was obligatory now, since White’s coming sacrificial attack proves too speculative and meets with some vintage Carlsen defence. 35...Re5 Now White has to sacrifice his knight one way or another since it cannot be defended. 36.Ne6+ 36.f4? avoids losing the knight but after 36...exf3 37.Nxf3 Rxe3 leaves White’s position severely weakened. 36.Nxf7 Nxf7 37.Rxb7 Nd8 38.Rc7 Rxd5 39.Rxd5 Nxd5 40.Rc4 Nxb6 41.Rxe4 and Black has a piece for three pawns, and probably the better chances of winning. 36...fxe6 37.dxe6 Nfe8 Black’s position is precarious but it hangs together. As is often the problem with sacrificing material, you have to hit hard and early to exploit a sacrifice and now White’s plan keeps running into snags. Consequently Black gradually takes the upper hand. 38.Rd7 Raa5 39.b4?! A waste of tempo in an increasingly problematic position. 39.R1xd6 Nxd6 40.Rxd6 Rad5 exchanges off White’s remaining rook and probably favours Black in the endgame. 39...Rad5 40.Ra1 Rb5! A simple move to mop up the weak white pawns. White can’t generate enough counterplay to counter this plan and his position starts crumbling. 41.Ra8 Rxb6 42.Bg4 Rd5 An accurate move, preparing the ground for Rxb4 and then a possible double rook assault on the white king. 43.Kg2 White could defend the b4-pawn with 43.Ra4 but then 43...Rc6 and Black proceeds with his counterattack against the king, having first lured the white rook to a passive post. 43...Rxb4 44.Ra1 Rbb5 44...Rb2 seems to work well but the text is an equally good counter to White swinging his a1 rook over to the kingside. After 44...Rb2 45.Rh1 Kg8 46.Bh5 Rf5! wins as it defends an invasion on f7 as well as setting up an unstoppable attack on the f2–pawn. 45.Be2 45.Rh1 would force 45...Kg8 but the king move would stop White’s plans in their tracks as 44...Rbb5 had prevented the possibility of bringing the bishop into the attack via h5. 45...Rb2 46.Bg4 46.Rh1 Kg8 47.Bh5 Rf5 wins for Black as in the note after Black’s 44th move. 46...Rdd2 47.Kh3 If White goes passive with 47.Rf1 the win becomes quite simple with 47...Nf6, etc. 47...Rxf2 48.Kh4 Rh2+ 49.Bh3 g5+ 50.Kh5 50.Kg4 Nf6+ 51.Kxg5 Nxd7 and the rook is perfectly edible since 52.exd7 Nf7+ and the d7–pawn is not dangerous. 50...Rxh3+ 51.Kg6 Rf2 This involves giving back some material but Black already has a sufficiency to win. 52.e7+ Kg8 53.Rxd6 Rh7 0 1 The previous day had seen a glut of Carlsen blunders but it would have had to be a very bad day indeed for him to fall for 53...Nxd6?? 54.Ra8+ with mate to follow in two moves. After seeing Carlsen’s accurate reply, Aronian could find no further cheapo chances and resigned.

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Vishy Anand’s birthday coincided with Wesley So’s return to form (photo John Saunders)

Round nine coincided with Vishy Anand’s 48th birthday but it proved an unlucky one at the chessboard. Perhaps a birthday becomes something of a burden to an active professional chess player in their 40s as it provides an unwelcome excuse for writers, pundits and wiseacres in general to hint that maybe it’s time for the old boy to retire. Losing a game on the same day can make the chorus of unsolicited retirement advice all the louder. So I’ll try to buck the trend by expressing the hope that Vishy carries on playing indefinitely and wishing that we see him at the Classic again next year. However, though not Vishy’s finest hour, the game itself is worth seeing as it showcased Wesley So at his best. Good to see him back on song.

London Classic, Round 9, 11.12.2017
White: Viswanathan Anand
Black: Wesley So
Giuoco Piano C50
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.0 0 Nf6 5.d3 0 0 6.a4 h6 7.c3 a5 8.Nbd2 d6 9.h3 Be6 10.Re1 Bxc4 11.Nxc4 Re8 12.Be3 Bxe3 13.Nxe3 Qd7 14.Qb3 Ne7 Black has equalised with some ease. The b7-pawn is taboo and Black intends to gain space with d5. 15.Nc4 Ng6 16.Rad1 b6 17.Qc2 Getting ready to advance d4 but Black gets in first. 17...d5! 18.exd5 Maybe 18.d4!? anyway, as 18...dxc4 19.dxe5 Qe6 20.exf6 Qxf6 should be equal. 18...Qxd5 Now White has to deal with the weakness of his d3-pawn. 19.b3 Rad8 20.d4 This looks OK at first sight but White is slightly on the defensive after the exchanges. 20...exd4 21.Rxd4 Rxe1+ 22.Nxe1 Qa8 23.Rxd8+ Qxd8 24.Qd3 Qe7 25.Nc2 Nf4 Black has a clear initiative and White must reply carefully. 26.Qd2 N6d5 (diagram) 27.Kf1?

LCCR9 9There is a tactical response to this move. 27.Kh2 Qg5 28.g3 Ne6 29.N2e3 Nxe3 30.Nxe3 Qf6 is still a bit tricky for White but he should hold with best play. 27...Nxc3! 28.N4e3? A second successive blunder. 28.Qxc3 Qe2+ 29.Kg1 Qd1+ 30.Kh2 (30.Qe1 Qxc2 gives Black a solid advantage) 30...Ne2 31.Qe1 Qxc2 is a bit depressing for White. However, 28.Nxb6!? cxb6 29.Qxc3 Qe2+ 30.Kg1 may be better, one of the differences being that now White has the possibility in some lines of Qc8+ and Qf5+ with perpetual check. But Wesley had alternatives to 28...cxb6 in mind as well, so it could have got quite complicated. 28...Ne4! 29.Qd4 c5! 30.Qd1 30.Nf5? loses to 30...Ng3+! 31.fxg3 Qe2+ and mates; 30.Nd5 and again 30...Ng3+! is lethal 30...Qf6 30...Qh4 is still stronger: 31.g3 Qxh3+ 32.Kg1 Nc3! is the end. But the text is also very strong and demands accuracy from White. 31.Ng4 31.Qd7, threatening Qe8+ and Qxe4, keeps up a fighting defence but the text quickly succumbs. 31...Qc3 32.Nce3 h5 33.Nh2 Qb2 0 1 To prevent mate, White must lose at least a second pawn.

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Sergey Karjakin pressed Hikaru Nakamura but the US player made his ninth draw out of nine (photo John Saunders)

Nakamura completed a sweep of nine draws in the tournament with his game against Sergey Karjakin and commentator Maurice Ashley suggested he should expect some Twitter banter from Anish Giri who has been known to tease rivals who emulate his own pacific tendencies. Hikaru took this with a smile and expressed positive thoughts about his play in London. He thought his game with Sergey was the only one where he was in some trouble during the course of the tournament though it didn’t prove terminal. Sergey had welcomed Hikaru’s 15...g5 after which he had gained an edge but he had not ultimately seen a good way to exploit it. “I was worse but I don’t think I was ever losing,” commented Hikaru.

THE PLAY-OFF

“After six hours of playing against Mickey, I was too tired to feel any pressure,” was Fabiano Caruana’s insightful comment after winning a four-game blitz play-off against Ian Nepomniachtchi. He had had only 30 minutes’ respite after a long endgame before returning to the board for two 10m+5s rapid/blitzes, and then two more games at 5m+3s, compared to Nepomniachtchi’s luxurious 5+ hours’ rest after the briefest of classical games but it underlines the paradoxical psychology that often plays out in such situations. It is not always the tired, harassed competitor who succumbs, and there is such a thing as being too relaxed for a key encounter. Remember Fabi’s comment, readers, the next time you play off for the London Chess Classic title, or perhaps, more realistically, your local club championship.

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Fabiano Caruana and Ian Nepomniachtchi shake hands before the tie-break (photo John Saunders)

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Nepomniachtchi - Caruana, 3rd play-off game

As always with play in rapids and blitzes, it was a roller coaster ride, with the clock situations being as important as the positions on the board. The two rapid mode games were drawn after a particularly seesaw struggle in the first game and less so the second. That was followed by blitz games, with both going beyond 60 moves. Nepomniachtchi lost a piece inside 14 moves in the 1st of the blitz games but somehow drew when Caruana (Black) slipped up right at the end. 64...Nd3? 64...Kd5 would win here. 65.f5+! Ke5 66.g5 fxg5+ 67.Kxg5 Nf4 ½ ½

Missing that win might have proved a psychological hammer blow for Caruana but he took it in his stride and came back to win the next game and with it the London Classic title. Congratulations to him!

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Caruana - Nepomniachtchi, 4th Play-Off Game

Here are the final few moves of the last game. Both players were close to playing on the three-second increment now so it was very tense. 60...e3!? A good try for complications. 61.Qe7+ Kb5 62.Qb7+ Rb6 63.Rxd5+ 63.Qxd5+?? would have been a costly error after 63...Qxd5 64.Rxd5+ Kc4! when 65.Rd1 e2 66.Re1 Kd3 would have drawn, and maybe not even that in some lines. 63...Kc4 This position also looks hair-raising but Caruana found the only winning move in the position... 64.Qf7!! exf2+ 64...e2 65.Rd6+ Kc3 66.Qf3+ wins. 65.Kxf2 Qb2+ 66.Rd2+ 1 0 Answering check with check – and winning a very big cheque.

That's it for this year, folks. Hope you've enjoyed the tournament and will be back with us for the new-look 2018 London Chess Classic.




LONDON CHESS CLASSIC, ROUND 8
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CARLSEN CAR CRASH AT THE CLASSIC

John Saunders reports: The eighth round of the 9th London Chess Classic was played on Sunday 10 December 2017 at the Olympia Conference Centre. The round featured just the one decisive game, which was a disastrous loss for Carlsen, as the result of two terrible blunders. This gifted the sole leadership and a third consecutive win to Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia. Going into Monday’s last round Nepomniachtchi leads with 5½, followed by Caruana on 5, Vachier-Lagrave 4½, Carlsen, Nakamura, Aronian, So 4, Karjakin, Anand, Adams 3.

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The fateful game of the round which ruined Carlsen’s chances and catapulted Nepomniachtchi into the sole lead (photo John Saunders)

Carlsen arrived a tad late for his game but, other than the fact that he was still suffering from the cold that has afflicted him for much of the tournament, there were no other clues that he was about to hit the buffers. His opening was insipid but there’s no news there as he often settles for innocuous looking variations which avoid complex theory and allow him to test an opponent over the long distance.

By move 29 things started to look very promising for Carlsen as Nepomniachtchi had rather underestimated White’s plan, and the champion might have gained an advantage had he found a couple of computer suggestions that shouldn’t have been beyond him. Instead he homed in on his opponent’s a-pawn, a plan which was only good enough for equality. Then, unaccountably, he pushed his c-pawn forward to c5 only to see his opponent snap it off, revealing that Carlsen had missed a fairly trivial queen attack on a rook on a1 along the long diagonal which meant that the pawn’s defender was pinned. Suddenly Carlsen was a bit worse but he failed to refocus and made an infinitely worse blunder, 36.Qc6, an intended intermezzo trick that failed to a trivial refutation, and a move that a much lesser player would have been embarrassed to have played.

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"Please God, make Magnus blunder!" Nepomniachtchi's miracle was duly granted (photo Lennart Ootes)

The watching audience was dumbfounded. Carlsen stumbled on for a handful of moves, but his compensation for the lost piece was zip and he had to resign. How to explain, not one, but two, if not three, clear tactical oversights in the same game by one of the greatest players of all time? I suppose the head cold was part of the explanation but that’s surely not the whole of it. Carlsen’s own comments after the game to Maurice Ashley were roundly self-critical but otherwise unrevealing: “I missed everything – there’s not much else to say. I failed to predict a single one of his moves... (dismissively) you saw what happened.” Maurice Ashley asked him about the first blunder, 33.c5 – “just a mistake?” “Yeah. I just put the pawn en prise, I didn’t see that he could take it until after I played it.” Maurice asked him about the next game: “I don’t care at all... yeah... I have zero thoughts about the next game.”

Nepomniachtchi, asked about the game, generously alluded to Carlsen’s state of health. He hadn’t expected to be able to play for a win having had little experience of the Exchange Slav, and he admitted he had underestimated Carlsen’s play between moves 24 and 29 when White had briefly taken control. If we are to take his comments at face value, he too seems not to have realised the seriousness of Carlsen’s errors in the game immediately, hard though this might be to believe. Perhaps both were tired after a gruelling event, though eight rounds hardly compares with the length of tournament that their great predecessors of yesteryear had to slog through. The poor play of both players remains an enigma but it will be the sheer magnitude of Magnus’s blunders that will be debated and remembered.

London Classic, Round 8, 10.12.2017
White: Magnus Carlsen
Black: Ian Nepomniachtchi
Exchange Slav D13
The world champion wasn’t present in the room as the tournament director made his introductions to the stage and only arrived as the arbiter was about to start play. 1.Nf3 c5 2.c3 “Magnus Carlsen is likely to be the first world champion to play 1.Nf3 c5 2.c3 with White.” (GM Mikhail Golubev’s comment on Carlsen’s insipid opening choice) 2...d5 3.d4 cxd4 4.cxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 Nf6 6.Bf4 Nh5 7.Bd2 Nf6 8.e3 e6 9.Bd3 Bd6 10.e4 dxe4 11.Nxe4 Be7 12.0 0 0 0 Unsurprisingly the game has transposed into a line of the Exchange Slav which has been played before.. 13.Qc2 h6 14.Rad1 Bd7 15.a3 Rc8 16.Nc3 16.Qb1 was played in a game in 2012 and ended in a draw. 16...a6 17.Qc1 Re8 18.Rfe1 Bf8 19.Bf4 b5 20.Qd2 b4 21.axb4 Nxb4 22.Ne5 Nxd3 23.Qxd3 (diagram) 23...a5? “Of course, this was a mistake. It just gives away a tempo.” (Nepomniachtchi) 23...Bc6!? is an interesting alternative: if 24.Qxa6 Ba8 and Black has some positional compensation for the pawn. 24.Qf3 “Of course, I saw Qf3 but I couldn’t have expected it to be so devastating.” (Nepomniachtchi) 24...Bb4 25.Re3 Nepomniachtchi thought 25.Bg3 would be “very unpleasant for me... and here I might be ready to play 25...g5 at some point,” though not immediately as 26.Ne4!! would win instantly. 25...Bxc3 26.bxc3 Ba4 27.Ra1 27.Rc1, to stop Black redeploying his light-squared bishop on the b1 h7 diagonal, would have been better. 27...Bc2 28.h3 Bf5 29.g4 Nepomniachtchi acknowledged in his interview that he “got into trouble” around here. 29...Bh7 30.c4 30.g5! would have given Black something to think about. If 30...Nd5?! 31.Nxf7! is hard to meet. 30...Nd7 Black decides not to risk 30...Qxd4 31.Rd1 Qb2 32.Bxh6!?, which probably favours White. 31.Nc6?! As Nepomniachtchi came to realise, 31.c5! might be good now as 31...Nxe5 (instead Black intended 31...Nf6 with the idea of Nd5, but admitted it might be “double-edged”) 32.Bxe5 leaves Black under pressure. 31...Qf6 32.Nxa5 Nb6 (diagram) Now the calamity starts to unfold, like a car crash in slow motion. It may be that Carlsen had not come to terms with the fact that there is nothing in the position for him and that it is simply level. 33.c5? Rxc5 34.dxc5? Nepomniachtchi didn’t think of 33.c5 as an outright blunder during the game, when he was more focused on survival, thinking that White could play 34.Qb7 Rc2 35.Bg3 but, even as he looked at it on Maurice Ashley’s demo screen, seemed to come round to the view that it was actually tricky for White. But recapturing on c5 surely makes it worse. 34...Qxa1+ 35.Kh2 Qxa5 36.Qc6?? Of course White has to recapture with 36.cxb6 Qxb6 when White is a pawn down, but with reasonable chances of holding, given that the pawns are all on the one side and the bishops of opposite colour. Just as previously Carlsen has not come to terms with the decline in his position, leading to this ghastly blunder. Nepomniachtchi said he did not see the refutation of Qc6 immediately, but when it occurred to him, “I was not disappointed.” 36...Qa4! The looseness of White’s bishop on f4 is Black’s trump card here, with the result that White has no time to complete the recapture of the knight. 37.Qxa4 Nxa4 38.c6 Nb6 39.c7 f6 40.Rb3 Nc8 0 1

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Caruana and Nakamura start their game (photo John Saunders)

Draws have predominated amongst Nakamura-Caruana games and that was the result of this encounter, after a weighty slab of Nimzo-Indian theory was trotted out. 21...Ba6 was the first new move. It required some careful calculation as it allowed White to create an advanced passed c-pawn but one imagines that the whole line have been sifted and refined in the Caruana laboratory. After exchanges, it came down to a drawn rook and pawn endgame.

Vachier-Lagrave opened with a Giuoco Piano against Vishy Anand. At least it wasn’t pianissimo though one might be tempted to dub it a trifle sonnolento. It flickered briefly into life when MVL traded his bishop for a knight but then a repetition occurred and it was over.

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MVL-Vishy: piano ma non troppo (photo John Saunders)

So-Karjakin was the last game to finish, a Bogo-Indian/Catalan lasting 56 moves, but never quite caught fire. It followed Giri-Karjakin, Bilbao Masters 2016, for 21 moves until So varied from Giri’s play with 22.axb6. So gained a pawn on move 44 but Black’s compensation was in the shape of a passed pawn of his own and that he used as a lever to regain the pawn, leading to a fairly lifeless minor piece endgame.

Adams-Aronian was done and dusted within an hour. The opening was a Berlin, the first move new to the database was 17.Ne5 (other options have scored 100% draws on the database) and a repetition occurred at move 27. Nothing much else to say about it.

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Masked avenger: Eduardo Iturrizaga, Super Blitz champion (photo John Saunders)

With the British Knock-Out Championship and London FIDE Open finishing the day before, the main hall was given over to the Super Blitz Open, a vast, bewildering extravaganza of fast chess involving all levels of players from super-GMs down to tyros. It was composed of 27 preliminary groups of up to 16 players, from which 54 winners and runners-up emerged to go forward to a knock-out phase. The eventual winner was the Venezuelan GM Eduardo Iturrizaga who beat England’s David Howell in the final. The latter thus had the melancholy distinction of becoming a beaten knock-out finalist for the second time in two days, though it wasn’t all bad luck for him as he did ruefully admit to the press room that he had struggled to draw one of his games in his preliminary group against a player rated 1608 (take a bow, Cem Ozturan of Turkey). Semi-finalists were GMs Jon Speelman (England) and Alexander Motylev (Russia), and quarter-finalists Daniel Fridman (Germany), Jean-Pierre Le Roux, Jean-Noel Riff (both France) and Gawain Jones (England).

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Daniel Fridman and Jon Speelman contest a Super Blitz quarter-final (photo John Saunders)

What impressed me most about the Super Blitz tournament was the industry and energy of the team of arbiters who controlled it, and I take this opportunity of saluting this splendid, unsung group of men and women for their unstinting work on behalf of the congress as a whole.

The ninth and last round of the London Classic is on Monday 11 December 2017, starting at the earlier time of 12.00 UK time.




LONDON CHESS CLASSIC, ROUND 7
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THE NEPO MAN CATCHES UP WITH FABI

John Saunders reports: The seventh round of the 9th London Chess Classic was played on Saturday 9 December 2017 at the Olympia Conference Centre. It featured as many decisive games as rounds one to six put together – three – as some players stirred themselves from their earlier torpor, while others started to tire as a result of the relentless attrition typical of elite chess. By the end of the round the leadership had doubled, with Ian Nepomniachtchi winning to level with Fabiano Caruana on 4½/7, and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Magnus Carlsen both won to reach 4 and stay in touch with the leaders. At the other end of the table, Mickey Adams, Vishy Anand and Sergey Karjakin are now cut adrift on 2½, a whole point behind the middle markers Levon Aronian, Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura who have 3½.

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In the end it looked like tiredness got the better of Vishy Anand vs Ian Nepomniachtchi (photo John Saunders)

Points in this tournament are rather like London buses. You wait all day for one to come along and suddenly three come along at once. A round or two back we were starting to get slightly worried that the 2017 London Classic might be about to break a record that nobody wants: the fewest decisive games in a ten-player tournament. That said, we weren’t quite sure who held the record, as chess records tend to be fairly scanty and uncorroborated, but, with six decisive games now played, we can be sure it won’t be this tournament as there is a record of at least one tournament which had a miserly three decisive results out of 45. That was a 1999 tournament in Moscow. It had a terrific list of competitors, all big name players, including Spassky, Smyslov and Larsen, but ones whose heyday had been the 1950s and 1960s rather than the last decade of the 20th century. There was a certain irony in the fact that it was held in honour of Tigran Petrosian, given that he wasn’t averse to a handshake or nine himself.

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Caruana-So was the least lively of the round 7 games (photo John Saunders)

Returning to 2017, there were signs that the older players were starting to struggle. Vishy Anand came up against a forceful g2-g4 thrust in the opening from Nepomniachtchi which made him work almost from the beginning of the game rather than draw upon the riches of his prodigious memory banks. The game was only really lost right at the end, with one signally bad move played. Without that, one could imagine one of the younger super-GMs, particularly Carlsen, digging in and maybe getting away with a draw. Nepo was self-deprecatory, positively Svidleresque, in the Ashley interview, but it sounded like he was being forceful and trying to win, whereas Vishy seemed pessimistic and unsure about the specifics of this game. Is he getting worn down by the constant round of super-GM competitions? He didn’t say so but he must be getting tired after more than a quarter of a century of facing the world’s elite on a regular basis.

London Classic, Round 7, 09.12.2017
White: Ian Nepomniachtchi
Black: Viswanathan Anand
English A17
1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.e3 a6 5.b3 Bd6 6.Bb2 0 0 7.g4!? A new move, according to databases. But one of my colleagues in the press room laughed at this as he thinks it features in the repertoire of the Dutch IM and openings iconoclast Manuel Bosboom. The idea is familiar from the Anti-Slav where White also gambits a g-pawn to open a file against the castled kingside and maybe gain a tempo or two. 7...Nxg4 8.Rg1 f5 9.cxd5 e5 10.h3 Nf6 11.Ng5 Qe7 12.Qf3 Kh8 13.Ne6 “After Kh8, I just blundered like a complete moron and went Ne6” (Nepomniachtchi). But engines recommend the same move. 13...Bxe6 14.dxe6 Qxe6 15.Qxb7 After 15.Bc4 Nepo originally thought Black had to play 15...Qc8 when 16.Qg2 was his intention, but in fact Black would play 15...Qd7 when Black is fine and if 16.Qxb7? Nc6! wins for Black. 15...Nbd7 16.Bc4 Nepo regretted the text - “basically this loses a tempo” and thought he should have played 16.Qg2 16...Qe7 17.Qg2 Nb6 18.Be2 a5 19.Bb5 Here Nepo wanted to play 19.Qg5 but Black simply reply 19...a4 without worrying about the f5–pawn since 20.Qxf5 a3 21.Bc1 e4 forces White back on the defensive. 19...Rad8 “With hindsight this move turns out not to be too great. I think I should have played 19...e4 and 20...Be5” (Anand) 20.Qg5 g6 21.Qh6 Ng8 22.Qg5 Nf6 Vishy wondered later whether he should have played 22...Qxg5 23.Rxg5 and then simply 23...Nf6 rather than over-finessing. However, Nepo demurred and thought going into an endgame was “so much worse for Black.” 23.Rd1 Nepo could have gone for a repetition but was conscious of having made too many draws already. 23.Qh6 23...e4 Now Black is vulnerable along the long diagonal and to tactics based on it. 24.Qh6 Rg8 If 24...Be5 Nepo pointed out that White can play 25.Rxg6 since 25...Ng8? runs into 26.Re6! which wins quite attractively: 26...Qf7 27.Qxf8! Rxf8 28.Rxe5 when White’s powerful pressure along the long diagonal is decisive. 25.Ne2 Be5 26.Bxe5 Qxe5 (diagram) 27.Nf4! g5

LCCR7 2Vishy didn’t fancy taking the bait with 27...Qxb5 28.Nxg6+ Rxg6 29.Rxg6 Rg8 30.Rxg8+ Nxg8 and now he thought 31.Qe6 would be unpleasant for him. So now he will be a pawn down. 28.Rxg5 Rxg5 29.Qxg5 Rg8 30.Qh6 Rg7?! “30...Rg7 is a bit sad but I realised that I don’t have a move here.” (Vishy). After 30...Nbd5 White has 31.Bc4 wins. After 30...Nfd5 Vishy thought 31.Rc1 was good but also 31.Qe6 (which engines prefer). But Nepo thought Vishy should have played 30...Rg1+ to make the white bishop passive after 31.Bf1 Nbd7 “and I believe it should be equal.” (Nepo) 31.Bc4 Nxc4 32.bxc4 Qb2 33.Ke2 a4 34.Ne6 Rf7 35.Nf4 Rg7 36.a3 Ne8? The game is still not over after 36...Qb6, though White has forceful tries such as 37.Rb1!? Qxb1 38.Qxf6 h6 39.Qxh6+ Kg8 40.Qe6+ Rf7 41.Qe8+ Rf8 42.Qg6+ Kh8 and there is still work to do. 37.Qc6 1 0 Simply winning a second pawn after 37...Nd6 38.Qxa4 and Black has no viable counterplay.

LCCR7 3Vishy wasn’t the only player looking worn down in round 7. Mickey Adams had also lost on the previous day and in round 7 he faced Magnus Carlsen with Black. Adams’ head-to-head against the world champion is not favourable, and he might have expected the worst. He might not have expected 1.f4, however. Bird’s opening; as it is called, doesn’t enjoy a great reputation at this level and seemed an odd choice. Hikaru Nakamura pulled a face when he looked across at Carlsen’s board and saw 1.f4 played (see photo). Carlsen was once again wearing a sort of dark cravat/scarf round his neck, perhaps to combat the cold he was suffering, and his play was that of someone distinctly under the weather for the early part of the game when Adams grabbed the initiative.

It was a flawed game, with both players missing chances to gain a big advantage, if not win almost immediately, but eventually Adams wobbled a bit and allowed Carlsen to gain control of the position, after which the world champion did what he does best, namely outplay an opponent over the long distance. Like Vishy, he might have had chances of saving himself until near the end but became despondent and caved in.

London Classic, Round 7, 09.12.2017
White: Magnus Carlsen
Black: Mickey Adams
Bird’s Opening A03
1.f4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.0 0 0 0 6.d3 c5 7.c3 Nc6 8.Na3 Re8 9.Nh4 b6 10.e4 dxe4 11.Qa4 There is a game on the database which continues 11.dxe4 Qxd1 12.Rxd1 e5 13.Nb5 Bg4 14.Rd6 but it can’t have been part of Carlsen’s game plan to allow a queen exchange so early in proceedings. 11...Qxd3! Adams felt he had no option other than to be bold here. 12.Qxc6 Bd7 13.Qc7 (diagram) 13...Ng4 Quite good but here computers advocate 13...Rec8 14.Qe5 and now the quiet move 14...Bc6! when White’s queen is going to be trapped in the middle of the board. If 15.Re1 (15.Qxe7 Re8 16.Qc7 Rac8 17.Qxa7 Nd5! rounds up the queen) 15...Qd7 and engines feel obliged to save the queen by throwing in 16.Nxg6 hxg6, giving the piece back, and then 17.Qg5 but the queen is still locked out of the game and Black close to winning. 14.Re1 Bd4+ 14...Rac8 15.Qxa7 and now 15...Bd4+ 16.cxd4 Qxd4+ 17.Be3 Nxe3 18.Kh1 Ng4 19.h3 Nf2+ 20.Kh2 e5 could be good for Black. 15.cxd4 Qxd4+ 16.Be3 Nxe3 17.Qe5 f5? 18.Bh3? Adams missed it on his previous move but then noticed 18.Nf3! exf3 19.Bxf3 Qxe5 20.fxe5 and White has a material advantage: a piece for two pawns. 18...Nc2+ 19.Qxd4 Nxd4 20.Rxe4 A bold, almost desperate, stroke from Carlsen but it doesn’t change the assessment of the position unduly. Black is a shade better. 20...fxe4 21.Bxd7 Red8 22.Ba4 e5 23.Re1 exf4 24.gxf4 a6 25.Bd1 25.Rxe4 b5 26.Bd1 Re8 favours Black. 25...b5 26.Nb1 Nf5?! Black’s play becomes too static after fixing his pawn structure and White gradually gets on top. Instead 26...e3!? maintains active play. If 27.Rxe3?? Nf5! and White can’t handle all the threats. 27.Nxf5 gxf5 28.Kf2 Kf7 29.Be2 Rd6 30.h4 c4 31.a4 Rc8 32.axb5 axb5 33.Na3 Rd5 34.Rc1 Rdc5 35.Nc2 Ra8 36.Ne3 Rac8 37.h5 Ke6 38.h6 Kf6 39.Ra1 b4 40.Ra6+ Ke7 41.Ra7+ Kf6 42.Ke1 b3 42...c3 may be better. The position is probably about equal here. 43.Rb7 Ke6 44.Rb6+ Ke7 45.Rb4 R8c6 46.Bxc4 Rxh6 47.Rxb3 Kd8 48.Rb8+ Kc7 49.Rf8 Rh3 50.Nd5+ Kb7 51.Rf7+ (diagram) 51...Kb8? After 51...Kc6 Black should probably survive but the long attritional process finally got to the English GM. 52.b3 Rh2 52...Rh5 53.Nb4! much as in the game. 53.Nb4! Kc8 Rooks move lose to a knight fork, while 53...Rc8 is even worse after 54.Na6+ Ka8 55.Bd5+ and mate next move. 54.Na6! Rc6 If 54...Ra5 the black king is whisked along the back rank conveyor belt to his doom: 55.Be6+ Kd8 56.Rd7+ Ke8 57.Nc7+ Kf8 58.Rf7+ Kg8 59.Rxf5+ winning a rook. 55.Rf8+ Kb7 55...Kd7 56.Nb8+ wins (but not 56.Bb5? Ke7!=) 56.Bd5 Kxa6 57.Bxc6 Kb6 58.Bd7 1 0

LCCR7 6
Carlsen is still under the weather but he had the stamina to outplay Adams (photo John Saunders)

“I’m not pleased with my level of play in this tournament – it’s been awful – but I think I have been fighting quite well and that’s what got me the full point today” was Carlsen’s comment after the game. He was particularly annoyed with his calculation – he characterised not properly analysing the move 18.Nf3 as “insane” but was at least pleased with his fighting qualities, which had of course been strongly in evidence in his rearguard action the day before against Nakamura.

LCCR7 7
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave gradually outplayed Sergey Karjakin (photo John Saunders)

Third in the unaccustomed cluster of decisive encounters was Karjakin versus Vachier-Lagrave. The two are both contemporaries but whereas MVL fights as hard as Carlsen, Karjakin looked rather limp in this game, being gradually outplayed and ground down by Vachier-Lagrave in a Poisoned Pawn variation of the Najdorf, and resigned as soon as a lost endgame appeared on the board. From the Frenchman’s standpoint this was a fine win showing impeccable Sicilian middlegame technique. Karjakin seemed curiously low-key and accepting of his defeat at the post-game interview, not showing the almost palpable pain that players such as Nakamura and Carlsen sometimes display on such occasions. Karjakin, Adams and Anand suddenly find themselves adrift at -2 and must demonstrate some stamina and resourcefulness soon or else expect to be made to suffer in the last two rounds by opponents sensing they are on a down swing or out of shape.

Leader Fabiano Caruana’s game against Wesley So was the only game of the round which resembled the games of the early rounds in its shortness and result. It was a Ruy Lopez, not a Berlin and more resembling a Marshall but without a pawn sac. Pieces and pawns gradually disappeared from the board and neither player succeeded in making an impression on the other.


LCCR7 8
Levon Aronian did his best to spoil Hikaru Nakamura’s 30th birthday but it was drawn (photo John Saunders)

Aronian and Nakamura celebrated the latter’s birthday by resorting to a line which is nearly ten years older than the US star, as played by Korchnoi and Karpov in Baguio City in 1978. It was a QGD in which Black plays the temporary sacrifice 12...Nd4 to put the cat amongst the pigeons. Its surprise value has long since dissipated and it has been subsumed into a large wedge of theory. Nakamura diverged from book with the retreat 17...Qd8, rather than 17...Qa6 with which Inarkiev lost to Aronian at the Palma FIDE Grand Prix only last month. Aronian pressed for the initiative for some while but it gradually fizzled out.

LCCR7 9
The final tie-break game between Luke McShane and David Howell (photo John Saunders)

The British Knock-Out Championship came to an exciting conclusion on Saturday. After the classical games, David Howell had led with two wins to one, with one draw, which was scored as 5 points to McShane's 3. That made things just that little bit harder for McShane as the four rapid games on the Saturday reverted to the conventional 1-½-0 scoring, so that he would have to win two games just to get level in the match. He won the 5th game, so was halfway there, and the 6th game ended in a draw. He levelled the overall match score in game 7 and the 8th was drawn.

This meant that Howell and McShane went to a mini-tie-break of two 10 minutes plus two-second increment games. In the first there was an unusual mishap in the opening as David Howell spilt water on the board. But there was no crying over spilt water as arbiter Lara Barnes stepped in to stop the clock and mop up the liquid. No penalty was imposed and the game continued. Luke McShane went on to win this and the final 10m+2s game, thus becoming the British Knock-Out Champion, and with it a cheque for £19,500, while David Howell had to settle for £10,500. A great result for McShane, whose opportunities to play chess are limited by his professional work commitments, but a disappointment for David Howell who had to be satisfied with the runner-up prize for the second successive year.

The London Open reached its conclusion on Saturday, being a triumph for Armenia with Hrant Melkumyan and Gabriel Sargissian (who beat Jonathan Hawkins), sharing first place with Frenchman Sebastian Mazé. The three of them all scored 7½/9. Six players scored 7 while four English GMs, Hawkins, Jones, Gormally and Wells were amongst those on 6½.

Round 8 of the London Classic is on Sunday 10 December, starting at 14.00 UK time.





LONDON CHESS CLASSIC, ROUND 5
www.londonchessclassic.com


SUPER FABI GOES BALLISTIC, OTHERS LOSE THEIR FOCUS...

John Saunders reports: The fifth round of the 9th London Chess Classic, played on Wednesday 6 December 2017 at the Olympia Conference Centre, saw US number one Fabiano Caruana forge clear of the field by a point after winning his second game in a row, this time against ex-world champion Vishy Anand.

LCCR5
Tournament leader Fabiano Caruana talks to Maurice Ashley in the studio (photo Lennart Ootes)

It’s starting to look like a one-man tournament. Caruana has won two games, the other nine competitors not one between them. We’ve only just passed the mid-point of the tournament, of course, so it could all go wrong for him yet but it would require a sea change in the pacific nature of the tournament for this to happen. Minds are starting to go back to Fabi’s wonder tournament, the Sinquefield Cup of 2014 when he scored an incredible 8½/10 to finish a Grand Canyon in points ahead of Carlsen, Topalov, Aronian, Vachier-Lagrave and Nakamura. That amounted to a tournament performance rating of 3103 which is so off the scale for these things that it doesn’t even register on the brain as a feasible Elo number. Only super-computers usually scale those heights. For Fabi to replicate that achievement he would have to win all his remaining games in London. But he won’t be worrying about the margin of victory so much as finishing first. He needs to keep his mind on his game and I won’t jinx his tournament any further with more effusive comments.

LCCR5 1
Fabiano Caruana and Vishy Anand shake hands before their round five game (photo Lennart Ootes)

Caruana’s win against Vishy Anand follows. The Indian star had the good grace to visit the commentary room and answer a few questions but he was understandably disappointed with his play towards the end of the game. It was another triumph for Fabiano’s positive, confident play from what looked a fairly innocuous opening, creating a position that was imbalanced and just sharp enough to induce a few errors when the pressure built up.

London Classic, Round 5, 06.12.2017
White: Fabiano Caruana
Black: Viswanathan Anand
Ruy Lopez C65
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 The Berlin Wall goes up. Which reminds me, in March 2018 eight candidates will assemble in Berlin to decide the challenger to Magnus Carlsen’s world title, but Vishy Anand will not be one of them. Four of the Candidates – Karjakin, Aronian, Caruana and So – are in the current London line-up. 4.d3 This way of avoiding the Berlin endgame is starting to become the more fashionable treatment against the Berlin though 4.0 0 still heavily outnumbers it on the database. 4...Bc5 5.Nc3 At an adjacent board 5.Bg5 was being played by Carlsen against Wesley So. 5...0 0 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.h3 Nd7 8.Be3 Bd6 9.Ne2 9.Qd2 c5 10.0 0 Nb8 11.Nh2 Nc6 was the continuation in Adams-Caruana at the Gashimov Memorial tournament in Shamkir in 2015 and ended in a fairly uneventful draw. 9...Re8 9...c5 10.Ng3 has been played for White by So and Karjakin. 10.g4!?

LCCR5 2Aggressive intent from Caruana, though it could be said to weaken kingside squares and make it impossible to castle on that side. No matter: White intends to castle on the other side. 10...Nc5 11.Ng3 Ne6 12.Nf5 Engines tend to favour Black but this may be because they value bishops above knights rather more than is strictly logical. 12...c5 13.h4 (diagram) GM Simon Williams is not on commentary duty at the Classic, busy playing his own chess in the open tournament, but I can easily imagine him getting animated at the sight of this h-pawn being launched down the board. And rightly so – it’s good, brave chess from Caruana. 13...a5 14.h5 There goes ‘Harry’ - I’m starting to channel my own internal GingerGM. It feels good. 14...Ra6 The rook keeps a wary eye on what’s happening on the other side of the board. 15.Qd2 Nd4 16.Rh3 Bf8 17.0 0 0 Be6 18.Kb1 f6 I’ve a feeling that most amateurs, including me, would be thinking “he’s attacking me on the kingside so I ought to be countering on the queenside and play 18...b5 or perhaps 18...a4. Anand prefers to make a precautionary move on the kingside, though it might also be viewed as a target for White’s pawn front to chip at. These are all difficult positional decisions which engines can’t necessarily help you with. But perhaps the scary new AI chess engine AlphaZero could, given the odd ten minutes or so to think about it. 19.c3 Nxf3 20.Rxf3 c4 21.Qc2 Watching this in real time, with benefit of silicon, I favoured 21.d4 but after 21...exd4 22.Bxd4 c5 23.Be3 Qxd2 24.Rxd2 a4 and White has nothing special. The e4–pawn looks a bit vulnerable. 21...cxd3 22.Rxd3 Qc8 23.g5 White forces open the g-file, which proves to be highly advantageous later, though it perhaps shouldn’t have been had Black played better. 23...fxg5 24.Bxg5 Bf7 25.h6 White is determined to open up the g-file for future operations. He’s playing with great self-confidence, perhaps buoyed up by his win of the previous day. 25...gxh6 26.Bc1 The equation is simply: White has given up a pawn but it is only doubled and on the edge of the board. His king is reasonably safe but his opponent’s potentially vulnerable, though not at this exact moment in time. It looks like a good value sac but will need accurate following up. 26...Qe6 Black has counterplay and here he forces a weakening of White’s queenside pawn structure. 27.b3 a4 28.c4 axb3 29.axb3

LCCR5 3Now Black has engineered a dangerous open file for his rooks for himself, so the position is delicately balanced, with all three results still possible. 29...Qc6 30.Rg3+ Kh8 31.Rd1 b5 (diagram) 32.c5 Instead 32.Bb2 is the engine’s favourite and, after 32...bxc4, the surprising 33.Rd8!? when I’ll leave the reader to work out the various tactics available should Black be unwise enough to capture anything. But Black can continue blithely with 33...Ra5 when the computer register +0.00 and equality. 32...b4?! Anand thought for six of his remaining 24 minutes on this but both players thought it was the start of the slide for Black. 32...Qxc5 33.Qxc5 Bxc5 34.Rd7 Bg6 35.Bxh6 Bf8 is nothing special for White. “After 32...b4 all my moves were blunders,” said a despondent Vishy. 33.Bb2 Bg6? 33...Ra5 is the only way to go, though White again has the scary 34.Rd8! when Black must play 34...Qxc5 35.Rxe8 Qxc2+ 36.Kxc2 Bxe8 37.f4 Bg6 38.fxe5 which is maybe not as bad as it looks. 34.Rd5 After this, Black is probably just lost because the threats to e5. 34...Qb5 If 34...Bxf5? 35.Rxe5! is devastating. 35.Rg1 c6 35...Bg7 36.Nxg7 Kxg7 37.f4! is a winner. 36.Rxe5 Rxe5 37.Bxe5+ Kg8 38.Bd4 38.Bb2, preparing to get the queen to d8 via d2, is more conclusive.

LCCR5 438...Kf7 39.Nh4 1 0 (diagram) Caruana was surprised by Anand’s resignation at this point but it is clear that White should win fairly quickly as Black can’t really prevent inroads into his kingside in a move or two.

That turned out to be the game of the round. Often the likeliest contender for this unofficial title is identifiable quite early in proceedings but in round five the best tip for the title would have been Aronian-Vachier-Lagrave which was quite lively and favoured the Frenchman for much of its course. He gave up two pawns for a dangerous counter-attack but nothing concrete or convincing emerged and he settled for a repetition when his winning chances appeared to have ebbed away.


LCCR5 6
Levon Aronian vs Maxime Vachier-Lagrave looked good for the Frenchman but he couldn’t land the coup de grâce (photo Lennart Ootes)

We witnessed our first Magnus grind of the tournament as the world champion attempted to apply thumbscrews to Wesley So but last year’s Classic winner hung in there and drew. The opening was a Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defence, as previously mentioned in the notes above and soon became a game of manoeuvre. But Magnus’s opponents seem more confident of keeping him at bay when he attempts to torture them and Wesley avoided all the snares set for him in a long game of 68 moves.

LCCR5 7
Carlsen ground away at So but the US player’s defences held (photo Lennart Ootes)

The two Russians, Nepomniachtchi and Karjakin, played a Classical Nimzo-Indian which only deviated from known moves on move 16 in a broadly symmetrical, lifeless sort of position. Adams-Nakamura was a Dragon Sicilian and slightly more enterprising, featuring an early ...d5 and following a Caruana-Nakamura game from 2015 for about 14 moves, and known lines till about move 20, by which time a fairly solid position had emerged. The draw was agreed on move 32.

Scores after Round 5: Caruana 3½, Adams, Aronian, Carlsen, Nakamura, Nepomniachtchi, So, Vachier-Lagrave 2½, Anand, Karjakin 2.

Wednesday was a rest day in the British KO Championship, in which David Howell holds a lead over Luke McShane, having drawn the first game and won the second. They resume on Thursday when the Classicists are enjoying their own day of rest.

The two players on 5/5 overnight in the London FIDE Open, Hrant Melkumyan (Armenia) and Jahongir Vakhidov (Uzbekistan) drew their sixth round game and have now been caught on 5½/6 by Jonathan Hawkins of England who beat Matthieu Cornette of France.

Thursday 7 December is a REST DAY in the London Classic elite event: other festival competitions continue at the venue. Round six of the London Classic takes place on Friday 8 December at 16.00 UK time.


LCCR5 8
Star poker player Liv Boeree paid a visit to the tournament and told Maurice Ashley about her love for chess (photo Lennart Ootes)



LONDON CHESS CLASSIC, ROUND 4

FABIANO CARUANA LEADS THE ANISH GIRI CUP

John Saunders reports: The fourth round of the 9th London Chess Classic was played on Tuesday 5 December 2017 at the Olympia Conference Centre, West London. And finally we have a decisive result, at the 20th time of asking. Better late than never. For the first time it’s worth showing a crosstable.

LCC-2017 CROSS TABLE AFTER R4


LCCR4This time we’ll take the last game to finish at the top of the report, for no other reason than it was the decisive game: Fabiano Caruana’s win with Black against Sergey Karjakin. After 19 straight draws it came as a gift of the gods to a languishing chess world (as was alleged to have been said of the invention of the Evans Gambit).

I’m wondering if a bit of off-board banter might have helped motivate the winner of this game. The previous day Anish Giri had tweeted “LOL @london_chess” – if this was a reference to the notable absence of decisive games in the Classic, you might adjudge this a case of the pot calling the kettle black. I, of course, could not comment. Anyway, a little while later Fabiano Caruana took it upon himself to reply: “we’re thinking of renaming it to the Anish Giri Cup”. I’m not sure Fabiano was the originator of this joke, which had been retailed round Olympia by word of mouth for a while before Fabiano posted it, but I’m not going to reveal the name of the person whom I think did dream it up. Anish came back: “Leave jokes to me, stay focused there brother. Tomorrow another black. Be solid. Stay true to yourself. Repeat your files. We don’t want any accidents.” Fabiano’s move: “True! Wouldn't want an accident like against Van Foreest.” That’s a cheeky reference to a game from the recent Dutch Rapidplay Championship in which Anish was (as we say in London) done up like a kipper by 18-year-old GM Jorden van Foreest. Anish: “Below the belt”, and the banter continued awhile.



LCCR4 1
Fabiano Caruana out-prepped Sergey Karjakin in the day’s key game (photo John Saunders)

Maybe the mock advice dished out by Anish did Fabiano some good. It might have encouraged him to do the opposite, because he could hardly have been accused of ‘staying solid’. Joking apart, this game was a triumph for preparation and creative play by Caruana which caught his opponent on the hop.

Karjakin, taken by surprise, seemed indecisive and made a number of sub-optimal moves. Maybe his fleeting opportunity at the end of the previous game was playing on his mind. He hinted at that after the game. But first the game...



London Classic Round 4, 05.12.2017
White: Sergey Karjakin
Black: Fabiano Caruana
Sicilian Taimanov B48
1.e4 c5 The Sicilian is a good way to show his disdain for Giri’s mocking advice to ‘stay solid’. 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 Qc7 6.Be3 a6 7.Qf3 This became trendy about four years ago as super-GMs sought ways to avoid the main highways of theory. Karjakin has played it before and so has Caruana. 7...Ne5 8.Qg3 b5 8...h5 immediately, to harass the queen or support a knight on g4, is more popular, when 9.f3 b5 10.0 0 0 d6 11.f4 Ng4 12.e5 dxe5 13.fxe5 Nxe3 14.Qxe3 Bd7 was Karjakin-Giri, Tashkent FIDE Grand Prix 2014, which White won. 9.0 0 0 Nf6 10.f4 Neg4 11.Bg1 h5 12.e5 b4 Black is obliged to counter with this as otherwise his knight would need to retreat to g8. 13.Na4 Nd5 13...Qa5?! might look tempting but then 14.exf6 Qxa4 15.fxg7 Bxg7 16.h3 Qxa2 17.hxg4 Qa1+ 18.Kd2 Qxb2 19.Ke2 and Black is unlikely to get enough compensation for the sacrificed piece. 14.Nb3 “This doesn’t really work out for White,” said a well-prepared Caruana after the game. 14...Bb7 15.Nac5 (diagram) 15...Bc6!?

LCCR4 2Leaving the known universe and posing White a few questions. Not insoluble ones but it contributed to running Karjakin’s clock down, while Caruana had been playing very quickly to here. 15...Rc8 16.Bd3 a5 17.Kb1 Bc6 18.Na6 Qd8 19.Nd4 a4 was played in a blitz game between Nepomniachtchi and Wang Yue in Beijing in 2014 and ended in a draw. 16.Ne4 White has a lot of options. If 16.Nxa6 Qc8 17.Nac5 Rxa2 and it is probably a bit better for Black. 16.Bxa6? d6! 17.exd6 Bxd6 and Black is close to winning with the threats to take on f4 and powerfully-placed bishops. 16.h3 Nh6 and the knight comes to f5; 16.Bd3 allows Black to make progress on the queenside with 16...a5 16...f5 17.h3? From here things started to get problematic for White. In fact, he loses a pawn by force. Karjakin admitted he didn’t know what to do here, but 17.exf6 gxf6 18.h3 Qxf4+ 19.Qxf4 Nxf4 looks reasonably OK for White and at least is better than the move played. 17...h4 18.Qe1 Not 18.Qf3 Nde3! when ...Nxd1 and ...Bxe4 are the twin threats. 18...fxe4 19.hxg4 Nxf4 The e5–pawn goes too. 20.Rxh4 20.Bd4 Be7 holds the h-pawn and gets ready for Bg5. 20...Rxh4 21.Qxh4 Qxe5 22.Bd4 Ng6! 23.Qh3 23.Bxe5 Nxh4 leaves Black with a healthy extra pawn. 23...Qg5+ 24.Kb1 Bd5 25.Bg1 “A terrible move but already I didn’t think I could have compensation.” (Karjakin) 25...Be7 26.g3? Weakening the f3 square, which Black is quick to exploit. Karjakin failed to live up to his ‘Minister of Defence’ nickname, earned against Carlsen, in this game. 26...Ne5 27.Be2 Nf3 28.Bxf3 Giving up bishop for knight and straightening out Black’s doubled pawns doesn’t look promising. Maybe parking the bishop away from the knight’s influence with 28.Bb6 was better, though Black can continue with 28...a5 since White can hardly take on a5. 28...exf3 29.Bd4 Kf7 30.Nc1 d6 It is just a matter of shuffling his central pawns forward to support the f3–pawn for Black. White has little by way of an active plan. 31.Nd3 e5 32.Bf2 Be6 33.Nxb4 e4 34.Qh1 Rc8 35.Nxa6 (diagram)

LCCR4 3Curiously, White goes a pawn ahead after this but a more important factor in the position is the dominance of Black’s central pawns, not to mention the strong position of his other pieces. 35...Qa5 Though White now has a mini-combination to save the greedy knight, it involves exchanging queens, thus facilitating Black’s task. 36.Qh5+ Qxh5 37.gxh5 Bg5 38.Re1 After 38.Rxd6 White would be two pawns up but then 38...e3 and Black’s two connected passed pawns each two squares from queening, plus an immediate threat to a piece, adds up to about a queen’s worth of value. 38...Bc4 39.Nb4 Re8 40.Re3 A forlorn attempt to blockade the pawns. White was probably just focused on making the time control. 40...Bxe3 41.Bxe3 Re5 42.g4 Rg5 0-1 Seeing as Black is simply barrelling his way through White’s defences, ignoring White’s empty threats, it is a good moment to resign.

Karjakin, always graceful in defeat, commented wistfully, “yesterday I could have been clear first. Now I am clear last." Caruana was obviously well booked up and mentioned after the game that he had intended to play it against Nepo the previous day but faced 1.Nf3 instead of 1.e4. It was a great result for the new sole tournament leader, especially since he has had three Blacks in four games so far, and can look forward to a majority of his games with the shiny white lumps from now on.

The first game to finish was Anand-Aronian, just after two hours' play and 31 moves played (that’s seven out of twenty games finishing in exactly 31 moves now, incidentally). The opening was a Ruy Lopez (or Spanish, if you prefer). It wasn’t quite the same as the line Aronian played with Black in his first two games, but had more of a Marshall Gambit flavour. It had some interesting moments, with Black obtaining satisfactory positional compensation for a pawn but gradually subsided to the usual result.


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Wesley So tried a reversed Benkö Gambit but Mickey Adams defended stoutly (photo John Saunders)

So-Adams was another 31-move draw. It started life as a Réti or rather a reversed Benkö Gambit with an extra tempo. It looked fairly enterprising on Wesley’s part but Mickey neutralised his aggression, gave the pawn back and halved out quite comfortably.

Nakamura-Nepo was a Sicilian Najdorf with g3, which followed the course of Carlsen-Nakamura, from Bilbao 2016, which Hikaru won with Black – a happy memory as this was his first win against the champ in a classical game, but as he admitted after this game, Magnus was better in the early part of that game so he thought he would try it for White. He enjoyed a space advantage out of the opening and controlled the c-file for a while but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Russian.

LCCR4 5The world champion seemed in some danger of losing his game to MVL for a while. Carlsen defended a d3 Giuoco Piano but felt obliged to give up a pawn to free his game. Computer concurred with his idea and didn’t think he stood too badly but he still had to work a little to hold the draw. A draw with Black wasn’t a bad result for him as it also kept one of his rivals for the Grand Chess Tour at bay, but, as Yasser Seirawan observed, you could still sense Carlsen’s frustration at the draw traffic jam.





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Calamity for Luke McShane in his match with David Howell (photo John Saunders)

The second game of the British KO Championship was won by David Howell after an unexpected twist at the end of a long game when Luke McShane, with the exchange for two pawns in a tricky endgame which he might well have held with best play, walked into a gruesome knight fork which cost him a whole rook. That means that, under the classical game scoring system being used (2-1-0), Howell now leads the classical component of the match by 3-1 with two more classical games to go before they play four rapid games scored in the usual 1-½-0 manner.

The leaders of the London FIDE Open are now Hrant Melkumyan (Armenia) and Jahongir Vakhidov (Uzbekistan) with 5/5 and they will meet in round six. Melkumyan ended the remarkable winning streak of 13-year-old Nihal Sarin, while Vakhidov defeated home favourite and reigning British champion Gawain Jones. In joint third place currently are former British Champion Jonathan Hawkins (England), Matthieu Cornette (France) and Alexander Donchenko (Germany) on 4½.

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Hrant Melkumyan ended Nihal Sarin’s run of wins in round five of the Open (photo John Saunders)

Round five of the London Classic takes place on Wednesday 6 December at 16.00 UK time.



www.londonchessclassic.com


LONDON CHESS CLASSIC, ROUND 3

FIFTEEN DRAWS AND WHAT DO YOU GET?

John Saunders reports: The third round of the 9th London Chess Classic was played on Monday 4 December 2017 at the Olympia Conference Centre, West London, and ended with the same five results as the previous two rounds – five draws. They were hard fought, with several players going out on a limb with pawn sacrifices, but the defence held in every case. The final game to finish was tantalisingly close to a decisive result, had the player in question fathomed out a difficult computer idea.

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Nakamura-So: the two US players set the tone for the day - hard chess but resolute defence (photos John Saunders)

Nakamura-So was the first game to finish, just short of two hours into the round. The opening was a Symmetrical English in which Black played the bold but unusual 10...d5 in lieu of the risk-averse but popular 10...d6. A lot of exchanges ensued, coming down to heavy pieces, opposite-coloured bishops and pawns, but with Nakamura having one extra pawn. Perhaps he had played for this advantage – his approach to all his games has been typically positive and enterprising – but there turned out to be no obvious way to exploit it as Black could blockade the extra pawn and even secure more scope for his pieces. Before long Wesley So was able to reach material equality and the game ended in a draw.

Nepomniachtchi vs Caruana was the next game to finish. It started life as a Reversed King's Indian, or King's Indian Attack, if you prefer. The Russian's pawn structure looked a bit fishy, leaving Black to control the d4-square but it didn't seem to affect the outcome of the game. In return White had the two bishops. As with so many games in this tournament, there was a show of expert swordsmanship but it was evident that they were too good a match for each other’s skill. On move 31 the draw was agreed.

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Carlsen-Anand: a pawn sacrificed but again the defence held (photo John Saunders)

Carlsen-Anand was a Catalan, with the world champion ceding a pawn to his great predecessor in a known line where White endeavours to secure more space and development in return for the material. It is curious and paradoxical how often in the stratospheric encounters of super-tournaments that the tangible advantage of an extra pawn can count for so little when a seemingly trivial difference between the players, e.g. a slight misplacement of a piece, can count for so much. Top players have learnt much from the rugged defence often put up by computers when facing a material disadvantage. In the same way Carlsen seemed quite blasé about his material deficit but concentrated his energies on improving his position in other ways. Anand was still a pawn up at the moment when they agreed a draw but by then it was obvious that the extra pawn conferred no winning chances since it was doubled, isolated and kept firmly under surveillance by the Norwegian army. Another draw in 31 moves (which seems to be the favourite quantity of moves for the cessation of hostilities in this tournament).

Adams-Vachier-Lagrave was much longer in terms of moves played (58) but actually shorter in duration than the last game to finish (which we will come to presently). That tells us that they played at some speed, but that was because the last phase of the game was fairly routine fare. Adams was a pawn down but it was a fairly standard rook and (not many) pawns endgame with the pawns all on the same side of the board. Even we lesser mortals readily understand why these endgames are usually drawn by GMs, even if we cannot always replicate their technique when called upon to do the same ourselves. The opening was a Bb5 Sicilian and followed quite an interesting course without ever catching fire.

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Adams-Vachier-Lagrave: 58 moves before entente cordiale reached (photo John Saunders)

Clear winner for best game of the day was Aronian-Karjakin. In one sense it was probably also the worst game of the day if only because it featured a blunder on the final move. However, the blunder was accompanied by a master stroke – a draw offer – which was accepted.

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Sergey Karjakin and Levon Aronian enjoyed an animated post-mortem on the stage (photo John Saunders)

London Classic, Round 3, 04.12.2017
White: Levon Aronian
Black: Sergey Karjakin
Bogo-Indian/Catalan A40
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 Bb4+ 4.Bd2 A Bogo-Indian - in my view the most infelicitous of all the names of chess openings, but that is no criticism of its soundness. Or is it a Catalan? 4...Be7 5.Bg2 d5 6.Nf3 0 0 7.0 0 Nbd7 8.Na3 This lurch to the edge of the board would, I’m feel sure, bring down the condemnation of all right-thinking players were it played by anyone other than Aronian, or perhaps Carlsen. But when Levon (I’m tempted to dub him ‘the wily Armenian’ but that cliché belongs in perpetuity to Tigran Petrosian) plays it, we have to take it seriously. Maybe not too seriously, as Aronian was in puckish mood when talking to Maurice Ashley after the game, hinting that he was chancing his arm or being generally provocative. 8...c6 9.Rc1 Ne4 10.Be3 f5 Actually, I was being a little puckish myself in the previous note since Aronian had played all this before in a notable win against Anish Giri at Wijk aan Zee earlier this year. That game had continued 10...Bxa3 11.bxa3 Nd6 12.c5 Nc4 13.Rxc4 dxc4 14.Qc2 h6 and White soon gave up the exchange for some attacking play which was good enough to sink the peace-loving Dutchman. Incidentally, this reminds me that Anish Giri was moved to make a laconic comment about this tournament on Twitter today. It read “LOL @london_chess”. I imagine he is happy because he is witnessing tangible progress towards his goal of eliminating the decisive result from competition chess. 11.Rc2 a5 (diagram)

LCCR3 5It is fair to say that the grandmaster VIPs in the VIP Room were dumbfounded by Aronian’s strategy in this game. More than that, they were scathing. Commentator Julian Hodgson’s voice goes falsetto when he is unconvinced by someone’s play and I think he was close to hitting top C when disparaging White’s ramshackle arrangement on the queenside. One lone voice in the auditorium, arbiter (but, I hope he will forgive me for emphasising this, not a grandmaster) David Sedgwick thought Aronian might be preparing to deploy the queen along the first rank, plumping for c1. “c1?” said an incredulous Julian Hodgson to the assembled audience in the room, and the debate continued... time passes... 12.Qc1 At this point I bore witness to one of the most remarkable things I have ever seen at a chess congress - the sight of the sedate, gentlemanly, almost Churchillian, figure of David Sedgwick punching the air in triumph several times like a gladiator and displaying more physical vigour packed into a few seconds than I have seen from him in total over the course of the 45 years that I have known him. Can the fact that David recently became chess champion of the Gambia have changed his personality? 12...Bf6 13.Rd1 g5 At this point we should break off and acknowledge that both players were genuinely going for it in this game and must be exonerated of the blanket criticism that tends to be levelled at players involved in tournament that feature rather too many draws. This is a genuine struggle. 14.Nb1 Rf7 15.Nc3 I’m quite sure that if I’d played this Na3–b1 c3 stuff during my team chess career, I would have been mercilessly ragged by my team-mates for years afterwards. But I suppose the argument is that the position is closed, therefore this kind of Fabian strategy is feasible. But don’t try it at home, children. 15...Rg7 16.Ne1 Nd6 17.b3 dxc4 18.Na4!? Here we go again - a super-GM casts away a pawn for no reason that is immediately apparent to anyone rated below 2700. It was actually quite a remarkable round for pawn sacrifices, and just a bit unfortunate that none of them was good enough to net a full point. 18...cxb3 19.axb3 Straining one’s grey matter more than is comfortable, the idea seems to be that the pressure along the c-file and the h1 a8 diagonal is such that Black is unlikely to be able to advance his b-pawn. The whole queenside is thus stymied so White has considerable positional pressure for the pawn. 19...Nb5 20.Nd3!? Aronian offers a second pawn to an opponent who is renowned for his defensive abilities. 20...Qe8 If Black is tempted to take on d4, he has to reckon on considerable pressure down the d-file and associated tactical tricks after, say, 20...Bxd4 21.Ndc5, etc. It’s all a bit nebulous but Aronian thrives on this sort of messiness. 21.Ne5 f4! Black wants to open the g-file to secure counterplay. 21...Nxe5 22.dxe5 Bxe5 23.Bxg5 gives White too much play, while; 21...Bxe5 22.dxe5 Nxe5 23.Rcd2!? could be even worse. 22.gxf4 gxf4 23.Bxf4 Nxd4! 24.Rxd4 Nxe5 Black threatens 25...Nf3+ winning the exchange so White must lose a tempo with the d4–rook. 25.Rd1 Qg6 26.Bg3 h5 27.Nb6 Rb8 28.Rcd2 Nf7! The b8–rook is safe from capture as Black has the threat of ...Qxg2 mate. 28...h4 29.Rd8+ Bxd8 30.Rxd8+ Kh7 31.Nxc8 is a brief flurry of excitement but which boils down to equality. 29.Qc5 This is incredibly risky. Better to play 29.Qb1 or 29.Qc2 to get the queens off and relieve the pressure along the g-file. 29...e5 After 29...h4 it looks as though White is obliged to play 30.Qxa5 hxg3 31.hxg3 and rely on rounding up the stranded b8–rook. Or else simply keep the rook and bishop tied up in perpetuity. 30.Qc4 Kh8 30...h4? 31.Rd8+ Bxd8 (if 31...Kh7 32.Rxc8 Rxc8 and now 33.Be4! is the very sharp point) 32.Rxd8+ Kh7 33.Qxh4+ extinguishing Black’s kingside play and getting ready to snaffle the c8–bishop. 31.h4 Bf5 32.Nd7 Rbg8 33.Kh1?? (diagram) ½ ½

LCCR3 6The watching world suddenly became excited when their computers registered a big blunder by White, with 33...Be7! being the computer’s killer move. That said, this response is not at all obvious to humans, and neither player saw it over the board. What the watching audience didn’t know immediately was that the king move was accompanied by a draw offer, which Karjakin, in time trouble, accepted. White had to try 33.Nxf6 Qxf6 34.Qc5 though he’s still under some pressure.

The fact that the first three rounds have produced fifteen draws and no decisive results has of course become the chief talking point of the tournament, and led to wild talk of the death of chess, introduction of ‘Fischerrandom’ chess, etc, but this could simply be a phase that chess happens to be going through at the moment. Chess has been in these troughs during several earlier eras of the game when draws started to proliferate but the advent of exciting young players such as Tal, Fischer, Kasparov, Carlsen, etc, has usually swept away the cobwebs. Before long the same transition is likely to happen again when the new generation of young Chinese and Indian players comes to maturity. I attended this year’s Gibraltar and Isle of Man tournaments and didn’t hear anything about draws killing the game. I discussed this with a much-respected chess journalist the other day and he put the problem down to the innate conservatism of chess players, and not just amongst the elite. As a group we’re not good at accepting change, but some sort of shake-up in the format of tournaments may be necessary as elite chess is getting a little bit too cosy and too much of a closed shop.

The first game of the British KO Chess Championship final between David Howell and Luke McShane ended in a draw. Meanwhile the London FIDE Open now has three leaders on a maximum 4/4: GM Hrant Melkumyan (Armenia), GM Jahongir Vakhidov (Uzbekistan) and the remarkable 13-year-old IM from India, Nihal Sarin. He will surely be one of the next generation of players who will help inject a bit of life into chess at top.

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Nihal Sarin: star of India’s chess future (photo John Saunders)

Round four of the London Classic takes place on Tuesday 5 December at 16.00 UK time.

www.londonchessclassic.com



LONDON CHESS CLASSIC, ROUND 2

WINTER DRAWS ON

John Saunders reports: The second round of the 9th London Chess Classic saw the tournament migrate back to its familiar home at the Olympia Conference Centre, West London, after the brief dalliance with Google’s London HQ in Pancras Square. Round three takes place on Monday 4 December, but at the changed time of 16.00 London time.

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“We meet again, Mr Karjakin!” The 2016 world championship opponents renew their rivalry. (Photo John Saunders)

As Maurice Ashley put it, quoting an earlier US sports commentator, "it was déjà vu all over again." First to finish were Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin who concluded hostilities on move 30. The first movement of the oeuvre was Giuoco Piano, the second pianissimo, the third molto doloroso and the fourth whatever the Italian is for non-existent. The score of this game may be examined on our website but is one for devoted chessologists only. I don't propose to do much more than hum the main theme. Contradicting what Emperor Joseph said in the film Amadeus, I felt there were not enough notes. Understandable, perhaps, that Carlsen and Karjakin should be sick of staring across the board at their opponent's coat of many sponsors’ colours. I'll confine myself to one second-hand comment: super-GM emeritus Jon Speelman, watching from the VIP Room, thought 21.f4 might have given White a little something. He was speaking without benefit of silicon, as he always does, but the engines agreed with him. The idea was to open up the e-file for White's rooks. It’s still unlikely to have done too much damage to the Carlsen camp but it was a tad more enterprising than the line Karjakin played. Carlsen's comments at the end suggested he was toying with the idea of a grind but he decided it wasn't worth it and bailed out.

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Levon Aronian has got two Blacks out of the way in the first two rounds (photo John Saunders)

Actually, now I come to think of it, Maurice's 'déjà vu' comment was made to Levon Aronian, and with rather more relevance. Aronian has had black in his first two games and he went down the very same line at Olympia against Fabiano Caruana as he had done at Google two days previously against Nepomniachtchi. He really should be more careful with his diet as this double helping of stodge could lead to him becoming overweight. However, Aronian has gained more than his rivals from the pacific start to the tournament since both his draws have been with Black and were relatively pain-free. He started the tournament as one of the players disadvantaged by having an extra Black but he can now tell himself that the tournament starts afresh from round three and he’s become one of the lucky ones who can look forward to an extra White.

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So-Nepomniachtchi was not so boring (photo John Saunders)

So-Nepomniachtchi lasted fewer moves (27) but provided a little more entertainment. An offbeat but vaguely thematic line of the King's Indian was played with the US player hurling his kingside pawns down the board like he had been feasting on GingerGM videos (they’re kingside-licking good). The super-GMs in the VIP Room didn't think much of his 15...Nb6, where the horse had rather a restricted circuit to canter round, preferring to throw in 15...b5 first and engineer a bit of room to manoeuvre. Again the silicon concurred. Maurice Ashley told us he'd sneaked a look at a computer and it much preferred So's position. That may have been because engines tend to overrate the power of bishops against knights. But whatever edge White may or may not have enjoyed never materialised. Wesley So may also have been concerned about his somewhat denuded king position, leading him to favour a convenient repetition idea which presented itself. He’s in the opposite camp to Aronian, starting with two draws with White, he now has to look forward to a majority of games with Black.

The final two games of the round both lasted more than 40 moves but the pundits were predicting draws for them well before the end, some perhaps as early as move 3 in Anand-Adams when the English player a Berlin Defence to the Lopez. Anand chose the 4.d3 line which had a regular work-out during November’s Saint Louis Champions rapid games involving Caruana and Grischuk, as well as a couple where Wesley So played White. Black’s 12th move was the first not previously played. Material was gradually exchanged, the pawn structures remained balanced and the game moved serenely to its close. Nothing to see here, move along now.

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World champions enjoy the privilege of having their country’s High Commissioner to move the pieces for them (photo John Saunders)

Vachier-Lagrave versus Nakamura was my game of the day, although it too was drawn. Anyone who plays the Dragon deserves some sort of medal, if only for memorising the shed-loads of theory you need to avert an early catastrophe for Black. And perhaps White. What would I know? I write this rather glibly as someone who knows nothing of the theory for either colour as I was always too craven to risk such a bloodthirsty opening. Consequently you may sense me stumbling blindly through the following annotations, but at least I have my cyber-Labrador to guide me.

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Here be dragons: Hikaru and MVL put on an impressive show of aggression (photo John Saunders)

It all looks very impressive. Nakamura ends up a pawn down but it was not enough to lose him the game. This is something super-GMs do a lot; they go into lines with their eyes open where they know they are going to be a small amount of material down but in the sure and certain knowledge that (a) it is not a theoretical loss and (b) their technique is up to the task of holding. It is something to sit back and admire, but at the same time resolving never to be so rash as to try it in your own games.

9th London Classic, Round 2, 03.12.2017
White: Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
Black: Hikaru Nakamura
Sicilian Dragon B78
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0 0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.Bc4 Bd7 10.h4 h5 11.Bb3 Rc8 12.0 0 0 Ne5 13.Bg5 Rc5 14.Kb1 Re8 Most of us are familiar with the theory until about here, if only from playing through many published games which feature it. Games
featuring the Dragon are the last refuge of a chess writer desperate for interesting material. Here Black usually plays 14...b5, having prepared for it by playing 13...Rc5 but it is not obligatory. 14...b5 15.g4 White must prise the kingside open if his attack is to get started.

LCCR2 515...hxg4 16.f4 Nc4 17.Qd3 (diagram) Here Black instantly... did nothing. He carried on doing nothing for 53 minutes. Such long grandmasterly thinks often intrigue us amateurs, and this one also puzzled the watching GMs, such as Julian Hodgson and Jon Speelman. One could speculate why but I don’t suppose we could find an answer. And asking the player after the game would be likely to receive an evasive answer since we are still in the book and he might not want to reveal too much. 17...Na5 17...Qc8 has been played more often, with Black scoring remarkably well after 18.Bxf6 Bxf6 19.h5 g5 20.fxg5 Bxg5, etc, when White’s h5–pawn is more a hindrance than a help to him in pursuing his attacking plans along the file which it blocks. But perhaps Nakamura felt he was being drawn into a trap and was looking deeply into the position to find an improvement for White which his opponent might have worked on in his laboratory. Answers on a postcard. Personally, my gut feeling is that White might have been planning something like 18.h5 rather than surrendering the g5–bishop in order to get in h4–h5, which doesn’t open up the h-file anyway. 18.Bxf6 Now we are into the unknown. White plays the same move that has hitherto been deployed against 17...Qc8. 18...exf6 After 18...Bxf6 19.e5!? starts to look menacing. 19.Bd5 With the pawns now doubled on the f-file, White now senses it is a good moment to preserve his light-squared bishop, which eyes f7 and doesn’t have to worry about an e7–e6 rebuff any more. 19...Nc6 Engines favour the tricky move 19...f5!? 20.exf5 Bc6 21.Bxc6 Nxc6 22.Nxc6 bxc6 23.fxg6 when engines aren’t concerned about Black’s slightly fragile-looking kingside. 20.Nxc6 bxc6 21.Bxf7+!? The game gets tactical. If 21.Bb3 Qe7 22.Qxd6 Qxd6 23.Rxd6 Be6 Black has no particular worries. 21...Kxf7 22.Qxd6 The queen forks rook and bishop so White must at least regain his piece. 22...Rxc3!? Black retaliates with his own tactic. 23.Qxd7+ Qxd7 24.Rxd7+ Ke6 25.Rxg7 Rf3 26.Rxg6 Rxf4 27.Rg1 Rxe4 28.R6xg4 Rxg4 29.Rxg4 White has won a pawn but it transpires that it is not enough to win. Black had to be aware of that some eight or nine moves previously. 29...f5 30.Ra4 Rg8 31.b3 Rg4 Another mini-tactic, exploiting the fact that a rook exchange is impossible as the resultant g-pawn would queen. 32.Rxa7 f4 Setting a little trick which wouldn’t snare many GMs but might unseat a less exalted player.

LCCR2 633.Kc1 33.Rh7?? would defend the h-pawn but lose the game since, after 33...f3, White would once again be unable to prevent the pawn queening. 33...f3 34.Kd2 Black’s last move was another mini-cheapo: 34.Kd1?? Rg1+ 35.Kd2 f2 and the f-pawn goes through. 34...Rxh4 35.Ra8 Rh2+ 36.Kd3 Kf5 37.a4 Kg4 38.a5 Rh1 39.Rg8+ Kf4 40.Rf8+ Kg3 41.Rg8+ Kf4 42.Rf8+ Kg3 43.b4 f2 44.Kd4 44.Ke2 Re1+ also draws. 44...f1Q 45.Rxf1 Rxf1 46.Kc5 Rc1 (diagram) 47.Kxc6 ½ ½ 47.c4 Kf3 48.a6 Ke4 49.a7 Ra1 50.Kb6 Kd4 also holds for Black. After 47.Kxc6 Rxc2+ 48.Kb7 Kf4 49.b5 looks a bit scary for Black but he can hold: 49...Ra2 50.a6 Ke5 51.a7 Kd5 52.b6 Kc5 53.Kc7 Ra1 when it starts dawning on us that White cannot make progress.

Most of the decisive action of the day was shoehorned into a brief but pulsating period in the afternoon when there was a double Armageddon finish in the semi-finals of the British Knock-Out Championship. Both matches followed a similar course, with Luke McShane - Nigel Short and David Howell - Matthew Sadler featuring draws in both classical and then both play-off games. Maybe it’s something they’re putting in the drinks in the VIP Room. The next stage of both matches was a single Armageddon game, with White having 6 minutes to Black’s 4, with 2 second increments, but only from move 61 onwards. The snag in one of the games proved to be getting to move 61 and indeed, knowing if and when you had got there since the clocks didn’t have counters.

LCCR2 7 LCCR2 8
British KO Chess Championships, featuring Matthew Sadler, David Howell, Luke McShane and Nigel Short (photos Lennart Ootes)

Luke McShane and David Howell were the players with White and 6 minutes against Nigel Short and Matthew Sadler with Black and 4 minutes respectively. The onus was on White to win, of course, but both managed to do so after many adventures and much feverish clock-bashing. The spectacle drew quite a crowd. Even in the Book of Revelations there was only one Armageddon – at Olympia we got two. I should add that these games were played in fairly close proximity to the top boards of the Open, and these players were sucked into the melodrama, choosing to leave their boards to wait until the biblical double feature had run its course.

It would be cruel and inhumane to expose these great players to universal ridicule by showing some of the idiocies perpetrated during these games so, naturally, that’s exactly what I am going to do. For instance, this bit of madness, which I should tell you actually happened in a rapid game prior to Armageddon but was equally time-affected. Luke missed two mating opportunities which might have saved him the Armageddon finish.

British KO Championship Semi-Final, Play-Off Game 2
Luke McShane - Nigel Short
LCCR2 9

Here, with nanoseconds left on his clock, Luke McShane played 42.Qc6+, missing 42.Rf6+ Kxe5 43.Qe7 mate. 42...Kxe5 43.Re1+ This time he missed 43.Qf6+ Ke4 44.Qf4+ Kd3 45.Rd1+ Ke2 46.Qd2 mate. 43...Kf5 44.Qxd5+ Kg6 and the game ended in a draw after 88 moves.

I now feel bad about showing you that and must atone for it by giving this rather neat tactic from McShane’s Armageddon win.
British KO Championship, Armageddon Decider
Luke McShane - Nigel Short
LCCR2 10
Here Black had flung his kingside pawns forwards but now his rook is going to find itself in big trouble: 19.Bh7! Suddenly the g4–rook finds itself without a safe square now that g8 has been covered by the bishop. Nigel Short tried 19...Nd7 20.Nh2 Rg6 21.Bxg6 fxg6 22.Nf4 but his position was a ruin and he never recovered ... 1 0

The KO Championship now proceeds to a final with a unique format. David Howell will have White against Luke McShane in the first of four standardplay (Classical) games. These are scored 2 points for a win, 1 for a draw and 0 for a loss. The games are played Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, with Wednesday being a rest day. Then, on Saturday, the match continues with a four-game rapidplay match scored in the conventional 1-½-0 manner, with McShane now starting with White in the first game. The scores of all the games, standardplay and rapidplay, are then totted up to decide the winner, in other ways the standardplay games count double. All eight games will be played regardless of one player already having enough points to win the match.

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LONDON CHESS CLASSIC, ROUND 1


ALL QUIET ON THE GOOGLE FRONT

John Saunders reports: The first round of the 9th London Chess Classic, played at Google’s London HQ in Pancras Square, saw all five games drawn. The tournament now takes an early rest day, allowing the tournament to migrate its equipment to the more familiar setting of the Olympia Conference Centre in Kensington in time for round two which takes place on Sunday 3 December at 14.00 London time.

It was a little disappointing that Google’s state-of-the-art City venue could not have been rewarded with some more exciting headlines for its generosity in hosting the opening round of the Classic but that is often the way with our game when played at its most stratospheric level. The same thing happened in round three of August’s Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis, which featured nine of the ten players who now line up in London. It wasn’t for the want of trying, at least on a couple of the boards. Look closer and you’ll find the latter stages of one of them was a humdinger.

Making the ceremonial first move was Demis Hassabis, co-founder of host company DeepMind, which is now the AI wing of Google. He chose 1.c4 for Magnus Carlsen, though the world champion was later to retract it and substitute 1.d4. Also present for the formalities was Garry Kasparov, who, like Demis Hassabis, had taken part in the previous day’s Pro-Biz Cup and was having difficulties tearing himself away from such a prestigious chess event. He stayed most of the day and even assisted Daniel King and Lawrence Trent in the commentary room.

The game between Wesley So and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was the first to finish. The US player opted for a sort of unambitious English/Double Fianchetto system in which the queens came off early and the pawn structure more or less symmetrical. The game soon petered out to a draw.

Nepomniachtchi versus Aronian took longer in time but lasted fewer moves (28 – not a breach of the 30-move rule as it involved a repetition). This was a Ruy Lopez which followed the recent game MVL-Aronian from the third round of their FIDE World Cup semi-final, until move 17 when the Armenian diverged from his earlier effort which he had lost. He later explained that “generally I like playing something that brought me unhappiness in the past because I want to rehabilitate the openings." That said, we have to remember that this loss hadn’t really brought him too much unhappiness since he bounced back to win the match and the tournament. The draw with Black against the young Russian won’t have affected his chances in the Grand Chess Tour, especially since the two rivals above him, Carlsen and MVL, also drew. Nepomniachtchi, making his British debut as a player (though he seconded for Carlsen here in 2012, so we are told) opted for a draw in a position in which he might have held an infinitesimal advantage of the type that Carlsen might try to nurse during a long grind but others understandably decide is unwinnable.

Adams-Karjakin ended on move 30 by which time the position reached featured a rook and two knights apiece plus symmetrical pawns. Adams opened with a patriotic 1.c4 and the game transposed into something resembling a Queen’s Gambit Accepted. It took leave of the book on move 17, departing from play in a game won by the rising Indian super-GM Vidit against Batchuluun earlier in 2017. Adams was self-deprecating and we’ll leave him with the last word: “I am happy to get on the scoreboard but it wasn't so impressive.”

That left us with two games but these provided some quality entertainment even if they did not result in blood being spilt. A couple of cagey moves, one by Carlsen (7.Be2) and one by Caruana (8...b6) enabled the players to escape the strictures of theory very early in proceedings. The game never quite caught fire but it had some merit along the way.


London Classic 9th London (1.1), 01.12.2017
Magnus Carlsen - Fabiano Caruana
Queen’s Gambit Accepted D27
1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.e3 Nf6 4.Bxc4 e6 5.Nf3 c5 6.0 0 a6 7.Be2 It seems a bit strange to play a second move with this bishop without being forced to do so, and it has not found general favour in this line. Aronian also played it, at the last Sinquefield Cup in August, but he went on to lose to Caruana. Curiously, Garry Kasparov also played it once, but only in a simul. 7...Nbd7 8.Nc3 b6 8...b5 has featured a quite a number of games between top-level players but this takes the game out of theory. 9.e4 cxd4 10.Nxd4 Bb7 11.Be3 Bc5 Snatching the pawn with 11...Nxe4 doesn’t lead to instant refutation but nevertheless Black would be seriously behind in development after 12.Nxe4 Bxe4 13.Bf3 Bxf3 14.Qxf3 Bc5 15.Rad1 0 0 16.b4!, etc. 12.f3 0 0 13.Qe1 Rc8 14.Qf2 b5 15.Rac1 Qe7 16.a4 bxa4 17.Nxa4 Bd6 18.Nb3 One of those positions where you sense that White is starting to get a grip without being able to pinpoint where Black could be said to have gone wrong. That said, Black is still a long way from being at a serious disadvantage. 18...Bc6 19.Nc3 Rb8 20.Na5 Ba8 21.Nc4 After 21.Bxa6 Black has a small tactic to regain the pawn: 21...Bxh2+ 22.Kxh2 Qd6+ 23.Kg1 Qxa6, etc. 21...Bc5 22.Rfd1 Rfc8 23.Na4 Bxe3 24.Qxe3 Qb4 25.Qa3 h6 After 25...Qxa3 26.Nxa3 Caruana would have to reckon with the long-term effects of Carlsenic poisoning of his position. With the world champion, you are never very far away from being on the wrong side of one of his speciality grids in which he seems able to conjure something out of not very much. 26.Kf1 The computer is superficially attracted to 26.Ncb6 Qxa3 27.Rxc8+ Rxc8 28.bxa3 Nxb6 29.Nxb6 Rb8 30.Nxa8 Rxa8 31.Rc1 but that doesn’t look particularly ‘grindworthy’ from a Carlsen perspective. He would need more material to work with. 26...g5 27.Rc3 a5 28.Qxb4 28.Qa1!? was a suggestion of Kasparov’s in the commentary room. It sounded as though he didn’t fully embrace it as a move but it was more an attempt to understand what Carlsen’s idea might be. The actual move played came as a surprise. 28...axb4 28...Rxb4 29.Ra1 puts pressure on the a5–pawn. 29.Rcc1 Kf8 30.Na5 Ke7 31.Kf2 Rxc1 32.Rxc1 (diagram)

LCCR1Around here in the commentary room, Malcolm Pein punted 32...Ne8. “No, no,” countered Kasparov, typically looking to go forward and dismissing a move that committed a third knight to the edge of the board. Commentators King and Trent chimed in with the former world champion’s opinion. At this point the tournament director, being a busy man, had to leave on other business and it was a minute or so after he departed that Caruana played... 32...Ne8 ... to a chorus of rueful laughter from the three commentators. “Just as well Malcolm wasn’t here - how he would have gloated!” exclaimed one of them (identity concealed to ensure his ongoing employment status). Actually, I then popped out of the room to see if I could locate Malcolm and bring him back for a well-merited gloat but sadly he was nowhere to be found. 33.Ke3 Nd6 White has a nominal edge but the Pein plan seems to work well enough. 34.Nc5 Rc8 35.Nab3 f5 36.Nxd7 Rxc1 37.Nxc1 Kxd7 38.Nd3 fxe4 39.fxe4 Ke7 40.e5 Nf5+ 41.Kf2 Nd4 42.Bd1 b3 43.Nb4 Black’s b-pawn looks vulnerable but he can counter any threats against it by menacing the e5–pawn, e.g. 43.g3 Bd5 44.Ke3 Nc6 45.Kd2 Bc4, etc. 43...Bd5 44.g3 Bc4 45.Ke3 Nf5+ 46.Ke4 Kd7 47.g4 Ne7 48.Kd4 Bf1 49.Bxb3 Be2 50.h3 Bf1 51.Nd3 Nc6+ 52.Kc5!? Rather a witty way to conclude the game. At first sight the world champion seems to have left a piece en prise but he has it all worked out. 52...Bxd3 53.Ba4 Be4 54.Kb6 Bd5 ½ ½ Though White cannot regain his piece by force, Black can never relieve the siege on the c6–knight and is left with no way of making progress.

The game of the day was Nakamura-Anand. It didn’t look as though it would provide as much entertainment as it did for about three quarters of its course but when Nakamura rashly/boldly (select the adverb of your choice) started to launch his kingside pawns down the board in order to expose the enemy king, things started to hot up. It is debatable whether it was an objectively justified plan since Black was able to grab a pawn and hang on to it, but it required some precise play from Anand to see him through the complications. In particular, his brinksmanship in stopping the white king from moving away from the h-file to reveal a deadly mate from the h1-rook was a wonder to behold. No decisive games, then, but by the powers vested in me by the tournament I hereby confer honorary decisive game status on this splendid tussle. Well played, Hikaru and Vishy.


London Classic 9th London (Round 1), 01.12.2017
Hikaru Nakamura -
Viswanathan Anand
Reversed Grünfeld A05
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 d5 3.Bg2 c5 4.0 0 g6 5.d4 cxd4 6.Nxd4 Bg7 7.Nb3 Nc6 8.Nc3 e6 9.e4 d4 9...Nxe4 10.Nxe4 dxe4 11.Qxd8+ Kxd8 12.Bxe4 was played in Oparin-Esserman in Gibraltar in February, and ended in a draw. 10.Na4 0 0 11.c3 dxc3 12.Nxc3 e5 Symmetrical but for the fact that White’s kingside knight has made a couple more moves than its Black counterpart, though without necessarily being able to claim that it is better located. 13.Be3 Bg4 14.f3 Be6 15.Nc5 Qe7 16.Nxe6 Qxe6 17.Qd2 Rfd8 18.Qf2 Bf8 19.h3 At first sight this doesn’t look to be doing the light-squared bishop any favours but White has an ambitious plan for the kingside which is not immediately obvious to ordinary mortals. 19...Bb4 20.Rac1 Rd3 21.Rfd1 Rad8 22.Rxd3 Rxd3 23.Bf1 Rd8 24.a3 Be7 25.g4 Kg7 26.Kh2 h6 27.h4 Nd4 28.g5 Quite a risky plan as Black can regroup to attack the residual pawn on g5. But White is looking for counterplay in the shape of a direct attack on the black king. 28...hxg5 29.hxg5 Nh7 30.Bh3 One upside of the bold White plan is that the light-squared bishop can find activity again. 30...Qb3 31.f4 Nc6 Black must retreat in order to exchange on f4 and make the g5–pawn vulnerable to attack. 32.Nd5 32.Rg1 may be safer but Black still can try 32...exf4 33.Bxf4 Bxa3 when it looks like he can get away with the pawn capture. 32...exf4 33.Bxf4 Bxg5 After 33...Nxg5 34.Rc3 Qd1!?, the tactics get a bit tricky: 35.Nxe7 Nxe4 36.Qg2, etc, is just one possibility that would require analysis.

LCCR1 134.Bxg5 Nxg5 35.Qf6+ Kh6 (diagram) The situation looks a trifle precarious for the black king but there seems to be no way to exploit its predicament. 36.Bg2 The computer finds a neat line which would probably be beyond the analytical powers of a human: 36.Rc3! Qxb2+ 37.Bg2 Ne5! 38.Rh3+! (38.Qxd8? Ng4+ leads to mate; 38.Qxe5? Nf3+ is a delicious fork/pin winning the queen) 38...Nxh3 39.Qh4+ Kg7 40.Qf6+ with a beautifully geometric perpetual check pattern. 36...Nh7! Otherwise the white rook comes to h1 and delivers mate or huge material loss down the h-file. 37.Qxf7 Rf8 38.Qc7 Qxb2 39.Rh1 Qf2 Another only move: Black must stop the white king discovering a check along the h-file. 40.Kh3 Renewing the threat but it may not be best. Instead 40.Rf1 Qh4+ 41.Kg1 Rxf1+ 42.Kxf1 should lead to a draw. 40...Rf7 Giving the king a safe square on g7, attacking the queen and protecting the b7–pawn. White also has to worry about the threat of Ng5+ when his own king is suddenly in danger of being mated. 41.Qg3 Qb2 Given the vulnerability of both kings, computers start conjuring weird tactics out of the air. One such is 41...Ng5+ 42.Kg4+ Kg7 43.Qh2 and now 43...Nh3! 44.Kxh3 (44.Qxh3?? Ne5+ 45.Kg5 Qd2+ 46.Kh4 Rf4+! leads to mate) 44...Kg8! teeing up ...Rh7+, when White has to play 45.Qg3! Rh7+ 46.Kg4 Ne5+ 47.Qxe5 Qxg2+ and a draw ensues.

LCCR1 242.Ne3 Nf6 43.Bf3 Kh7 44.Nf5!? (diagram) ½ ½ If Black takes the bait with 44...gxf5? 45.Rh2!, the queen has to be given up for the rook since he can’t allow Kg2 with mate. However, after 45...Qxh2+ 46.Kxh2 fxe4 Black should still survive.

Meanwhile, at a hotel to the west of London, there commenced another high-level chess event: the British Knock-Out Championship. This is an eight-player competition featuring seven of Britain’s top GMs plus a qualifier from the 4NCL Congress held some weeks ago in Coventry. The qualifier was IM Alan Merry, who found himself facing the 2016 British Knock-Out Champion Nigel Short who, back in the mists of time, had knocked the likes of Karpov and Timman out of the World Championship Candidates’ competition when it too was played on a knock-out basis. A daunting prospect for the young man and he was duly put to the sword by former world championship runner-up to the tune of 2-0. At least, that’s what the scoreboard would have one believe but a closer examination of the moves shows that at least one golden opportunity for Merry went begging.

British KO Ch London (1.1), 01.12.2017
Nigel Short - Alan Merry
Torre Attack A48
LCCR1 31.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Bg5 Bg7 4.Nbd2 d5 5.e3 0 0 6.c3 b6 7.Bd3 c5 8.b4 Nbd7 9.0 0 Bb7 10.Qb1 c4 11.Bc2 b5 12.a4 a6 13.Re1 Re8 14.e4 dxe4 15.Nxe4 Nb6 16.Bxf6 exf6 17.a5 Nd5 18.Nc5 Bc6 19.Be4 (diagram left) 19...Rxe4!? An enterprising exchange for pawn sacrifice. 20.Qxe4 Nxb4 21.Qb1 Nd5 22.Qc1 h5 23.Kh1 Kh7 24.Ng1 It is difficult to see how White is supposed to unravel his pieces. 24...Bh6 25.Qc2 Nf4 26.f3 Ra7 27.Qf2 Nd5 28.Ra3 This rook has rather a demeaning role as custodian of the a5 and c3 pawns. 28...f5 29.h4 Re7 30.Re2 Bc1! Loosening the white pawn structure with what should have been deadly effect. 31.Ra1 Be3 32.Qe1 (diagram right) 32...Bf4?? Now was the time to strike with 32...b4! when 33.cxb4 c3 34.Nh3 Bb5 and Black is having all the fun. 33.Rxe7 Nxe7 34.Nh3 Bh6 35.Nxa6 Black’s advantage has withered on the vine and now White is in command. 35...f4 36.Nb4 Ba8 37.a6 Nf5 38.a7 Nxh4 39.Qe5 Nxf3!? A good cheapo try but White doesn’t have to capture. 40.Qb8! 40.gxf3?? Qh4! would turn the tables. 40...Qh4 41.Qxa8 Ng5 42.Qc8 f3 43.a8Q 1 0


LCCR1 4Merry reached a very decent position in the return game but it too was marred by a serious blunder which allowed a deadly pin.

Jonathan Rowson’s ring rust told on him in his first encounter with Matthew Sadler and a vigorous kingside pawn advance soon scored the point. In the return game Rowson was unable to make any impression on the English player and a draw was good enough to steer Sadler through to the semi-finals.

In the semis Matthew Sadler will meet David Howell who beat Jonathan Hawkins by a similar score. In the first game queens were exchanged early but nevertheless Howell managed to engineer dangerous queenside play against the enemy king. An exchange sacrifice bore fruit in the shape of a trapped knight and Hawkins’ position was overrun. Like Rowson he was unable to conjure up enough play in the return game for more than a draw.

Last but not least was Gawain Jones versus Luke McShane. The first game was drawn as McShane held with Black but the second game was a titanic affair of 125 moves, 93 of which consisted of an opposite bishop ending in which McShane had two extra pawns. Gruelling stuff, and a hard way to go out for Gawain Jones. For Luke McShane it was sweet revenge for losing the 2017 British (non-KO) Championship play-off to Jones. He will meet Nigel Short in the semi-finals, which start on Saturday.

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