7th London chess classic; 7th round

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Aronian, Vachier-Lagrave, CarlsenWell, that round was a bit more like it! The London Classic came to life in round seven at Olympia, with three decisive results, some pulsating play on all the boards and a tense, cliff-hanging endgame which went on long into the evening. After seven of the nine rounds the situation is now as follows: 1 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 4½, 2-5 Levon Aronian, Magnus Carlsen, Anish Giri, Alexander Grischuk 4, 6-8 Mickey Adams, Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura 3½, 9 Vishy Anand 2½, 10 Veselin Topalov 1½.

John Saunders reports:

The first game to finish (in just a little under three hours) was Aronian-Topalov, with the Bulgarian going down to another disappointing defeat. Topalov has hinted at retirement more than once in the past few months, and perhaps, psychologically, he has already retired in his mind and it is having a negative effect on his game. He started the tournament leading the Grand Chess Tour but he can forget any ambition he had of winning the first prize there. The opening was a Symmetrical English, with a weird (but known) line in which the black knight hops around the board in a loop to e6 via d5, b4, d3 and f4. But Topalov’s queen was soon out of play and an injudicious exchange on g5 left him helpless.

Nakamura, Anand, Adams, Giri, Caruana

Round 7

  1. Aronian V. Topalov

1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nb4 6.Bc4 Nd3+ 7.Ke2 Nf4+ 8.Kf1 Ne6 A very weird opening for Black, who has moved his knight six times in eight moves. By way of compensation he has prevented the enemy king from castling and stopped White getting in d2–d4. Back in the 1940s, the first move tried by the earlier practitioners of this slightly bizarre line was 9.Ne5 here, but these days people usually prefer the text move. 9.b4!? cxb4 10.Nd5 g6 11.d4 The line 11.Bb2 Bg7 12.Bxg7 Nxg7 13.Nxb4 0‑0 14.d4 Bg4 was tried and found wanting for White in some games in the early 1980s. 11.a3 Bg7 12.Rb1 Nc5 13.Qc2 Nc6 14.Nxb4 0‑0 15.Nxc6 bxc6 16.d3 was OK for Black in Sveshnikov-Arnason, Sochi 1980. 11…Bg7 12.Be3 Nc6 13.Rc1 Bd7 Aronian thought 13…0‑0 was more precise. “It’s the same as the game but with a healthier king.” 14.Qd2  14…Qa5?! Aronian considered this a serious error as the queen is out of play here. Perhaps 14…0‑0 or 14…Rc8 is indicated. 15.h4 Rc8? Both players thought after the game that 15…b3 was the only move, giving back the pawn and exchanging the queens. 16.Bb3! White slams the door  on the b4–b3 escape route. 16…Qb5+ 17.Kg1 h6 Aronian thought Black should play 17…h5 and then castle, not worrying about an exchange sac on c6 followed by Nxe7+. 18.Kh2 g5 19.Rhd1 Kf8 After 19…g4 White can play 20.Ne5 Nxe5 21.Rxc8+ Bxc8 22.dxe5 Bxe5+ 23.g3 and White has good piece play for the two pawns sacrificed. 20.Kg1 Aronian felt Topalov had underestimated the white king’s long march to get ‘castled’. White is now very comfortably placed. 20…Rd8 21.hxg5 hxg5 22.Bxg5 Nxg5? This facilitates the white attack. “After taking on g5, I thought he was completely lost.” (Aronian) 22…Be8 tightens the defences. 23.Qxg5 Bh6 24.Qh4 Bg7 25.Qf4 Bh6 26.Ng5 Bxg5 27.Qxg5 1‑0  A curious position: Topalov resigned and computer engines concur with his assessment of the position, giving it in the region of +3.80 in favour of White. Yet the material is level and it is not immediately obvious how White wins. Aronian summarised it succinctly: “Black can resign because he cannot get the queen into play. The difference is, I have a queen and he has something that used to be a queen!” Let’s investigate: 27…Re8 (27…Rg8 28.Qh6+ Ke8? 29.Nc7 mate) 28.Bc4 Qa5 29.Rd3 and now it’s a lot clearer how close to the end Black’s position is.


Adams-Grischuk was the next game to finish, after around 3½ hours. It started with a Najdorf Sicilian, and ended in a draw in 29 moves. Around move 20 it threatened to get very interesting but then fizzled out to a repetition not many moves later.


Anand-Vachier-Lagrave was also a Najdorf Sicilian, of a different line to the Adams-Grischuk, though there were similarities, with the c3 knight coming to d5. Fleetingly, White had a chance to get on top in this game but Vishy missed it in the middlegame complications and he quickly succumbed. Thereafter MVL was relentless, first winning material and then rather cheekily setting up a flashy finish. It shouldn’t happen to a chap on his 46th birthday and, judging from the look on his face as he exited the auditorium, it would rather take more than a cake and a few balloons to console the great world champion in what remained of his evening.


Round 7

  1. Anand M. VachierLagrave

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be2 e5 7.Nb3 Be7 8.Be3 Be6 9.Nd5 9.Qd3 Nc6 10.a3 d5 11.exd5 Nxd5 12.Nxd5 Qxd5 13.0‑0‑0 Qxd3 14.Bxd3 was the game the two players played in Saint Louis this year, which ended in a draw. 9…Nbd7 10.Qd3 0‑0 Here Gelfand chose 10…Bxd5 against Anand in a rapidplay game in Zurich last year. That too was drawn. 11.c4 Carlsen played 11.0‑0 against Grischuk in Saint Louis but went on to lose. 11…b5 12.Nd2 Most games which have reached this position have proceeded 12.cxb5 axb5 13.0‑0 Bxd5  14.exd5 Nb6 and now either 15.Bxb6 or 15.Qxb5, with a level position. 12…Nc5 13.Bxc5 dxc5 14.b3 Bxd5 15.cxd5 15.exd5 e4! is tricky as Black can get threats on the open e-file and long diagonal if White takes the pawn. 15…Ne8 16.00 Nd6 Setting up a classic blockade on the passed d5–pawn. 17.a4 Bg5 18.Nf3 Bf4 19.axb5 The onsite commentators were impressed by Vachier-Lagrave’s Bg5–f4 plan. One point is that 19.g3 is answered by 19…f5! when 20.gxf4 fxe4 regains the material and causes damage to the white kingside pawn structure. 19…f5!? A very bold, counterattacking plan. 20.Nd2 Qg5  21.Rad1? Can White play 21.Nc4 here? Houdini certainly thinks so: 21…fxe4 22.Qh3 Nxb5 and now 23.Nb6!, threatening the rook, then Nd7 forking rook and c5–pawn, and also making way for the bishop to come to c4. So maybe Black’s Qg5 had been a bit too bold. 21…axb5 22.exf5 Ra3 23.Ne4 23.Qc2 looks safer: 23…Bxd2 24.Rxd2 Rxb3 25.h4 Qf4 26.Qxb3 Qxd2 27.Bxb5 is about equal. 23…c4 24.Qc2? This turns out to be a blunder. Instead 24.Qb1 Qh6 25.g3 Rxb3 26.Qc2, despite the loss of tempo involved in having to move the queen twice, is better than the deadly pin on the b1‑h7 diagonal. 24…Qxf5 25.Qb2 Maybe Anand had thought he could prop his position up with 25.Bf3 Rxb3 26.Qe2 but now 26…Rxf3! is a shattering blow: 27.gxf3 Qh3 28.Ng3 Nf5! and White is going to be mated. 25…Rxb3 26.Qxb3 cxb3 27.Nxd6 Qg6 28.Nxb5 e4 White is without hope. He could resign now. 29.d6 b2 30.Nd4 Qxd6 31.Bc4+ Kh8 32.Ne6 Bxh2+ 33.Kh1 Rxf2! Surprising, in a way, that Black should not liquidate to a simpler win, rather than playing this flashy finish and risking a flaw in his analysis, but such is the self-confidence of youth. 34.Ng5 If I were Vishy I would have played 34.Rxd6 hoping for 34…Rxf1+?? 35.Kxh2! h6 36.Ba2! but then I don’t get to play people as strong as MVL (who would have found 34…Bd6, winning). 34…Bg3! 01  The final position is worth a diagram. Black’s calm final move sets up a back rank mate scenario which is just a bit more potent than White’s.

Julian Hodgson in the VIP Room became animated when he saw that Caruana-Giri started with his beloved Tromp. The opening would have alarmed players unfamiliar with Tromp strategy as it involved Black giving up a pawn, which became a monster passed pawn on c6. Except that, in reality, it wasn’t too monstrous as it lacked support from its colleagues, and a far-sighted GM would realise that its days were numbered. Again, many Black players might have worried about the white rooks dominating the open files in the middlegame but Giri seemed to have everything under control. Soon all the major pieces disappeared from the board, as did all the queenside pawns, and a drawn position reached.


By contrast with Caruana-Giri’s Tromp, the Exchange Slav of Carlsen-Nakamura elicited a few groans from the watching spectators. The Exchange Slav is right up there with the Berlin Wall when it comes to turgid openings. However, any snap judgements on what sort of game we were about to see proved to be very, very wrong. This was to be Carlsen at his majestic best, against his favourite whipping boy. The world champion is a veritable chess alchemist, capable of turning base metal into gold. That said, just before the end of the lengthy torture session, there was a golden opportunity for Nakamura to save himself.


Round 7

M.Carlsen H.Nakamura

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 Bg4 5.h3 Bh5 6.cxd5 “Oh no, an Exchange Slav!” most of us must have been thinking when we saw this. But at the same time we’ve all seen what Magnus can do with a dry as dust position when he’s on his game. It’s just that he hasn’t really been on his game for quite a time now. 6…cxd5 7.Nc3 e6 8.g4 Bg6 9.Ne5 Nfd7 10.Nxg6 hxg6 11.Bg2 Nc6 12.e4 dxe4 13.Nxe4 Bb4+ 14.Nc3 Nb6 15.0‑0 0‑0 15…Nxd4!? 16.Bxb7 Rxh3 is playable but perhaps a little risky for Black. 16.d5 exd5 17.Nxd5 Bc5 18.Nc3 Bd4 19.Qf3 Qf6 20.Qxf6 Bxf6 I expect many people were beginning to write this off as a draw. 21.Bf4 Rad8 22.Rad1 Bxc3 Giving up his remaining bishop for a knight is risky. But only with the ebenfit of hindsight: on the board at the time, it looked fine. 23.bxc3 Na4 24.c4 Nc3 25.Rd2 Rxd2 26.Bxd2 Ne2+ 27.Kh2 Rd8 28.Be3 Nc3 29.a3 Rd3 30.Rc1 Nd1 31.Be4 Rd7 32.Bc5 Nb2 33.Rc2 Na4 34.Be3 Nb6 35.c5 Nd5 36.Rd2 Nf6 37.Rxd7 Nxd7  So there we have the basic tableau for the endgame. Two bishops for two knights is an advantage, but only if there is some vulnerability in the black defences. If there is, it is not visible here to us lesser mortals. 38.Kg3 Kf8 39.f4 Nf6 40.Bf3 Ke7 41.f5 gxf5 42.gxf5 Kd7 43.Kf4 Ne8 44.Kg5 Ke7 45.Bf4 a6 “Unnecessary” (Carlsen) 46.h4 Kf8 47.Bg3 Nf6 48.Bd6+ Ke8 49.Kf4 Nd7 50.Bg2 Kd8 51.Kg5 Ke8 52.h5 Now the outline of the Carlsen plan is becoming clear: he’s going to swap his h-pawn for Black’s g-pawn and get his king to g7 to pressure the f7–pawn. But then surely the black knights can defend and also conjure up a few threats themselves? It still doesn’t look like a winning plan. 52…Nf6 53.h6 Nh7+ 54.Kh5 Nf6+ 55.Kg5 Nh7+ A repetition… “draw?” 56.Kh4 “Not yet, my friend.” 56…gxh6 57.Kh5 Nf6+ 58.Kxh6 Ng4+ 59.Kg7 Nd4 60.Be4 Not 60.Bxb7? Nxf5+ 61.Kh7 Nxd6 62.cxd6 Kd7 63.Bxa6 Kxd6 with a simple draw. 60…Nf2 61.Bb1 The only move to make progress. He must retain the f-pawn, of course. 61…Ng4 62.Bf4 f6 Possibly a mistake. Magnus thought so, anyway. But it was getting very hard to find moves and the agony was writ large on Hikaru’s face as he struggled to find a defence. 63.Be4 Nf2 64.Bb1 Ng4 65.Be4 Nf2 66.Bxb7! Nd3! Hikaru finds the best defence. 66…Nxf5+ 67.Kxf6 Nd4 68.c6 Nxc6 69.Bxc6+ Kd8 70.Ke6 Nd3 71.Bd6 wins. 67.Kxf6! (diagram) Carlsen turns on the afterburners, with just two minutes (plus 30 second increments) left to think. He gives up the piece to clear the forward path of the f-pawn and also paralyze the two knights. But he would also have to reckon with a myriad other possibilities. 67…Nxf4 67…Nxc5 68.Bd5! is very difficult to meet for Black. 68.Ke5 Nfe2 69.f6 a5 70.a4 Kf7 71.Bd5+ 71…Kf8? In the commentary room a cheer went up from a posse of watching Norwegians as Nakamura chose the wrong move. After 71…Kg6! it is by no means clear that Carlsen can win. A tragedy for Hikaru as he has defended incredibly well to here. Now analysis engines were telling us that Magnus had only one way to win. But he would he find it? 72.Ke4!! He would. 72.Kd6? is a mistake as it frees the e2–knight from its defensive duties and allows 72…Nc3!; 72.c6 Nxc6+ 73.Bxc6 Kf7 74.Bd5+ Ke8 and White can’t win. 72…Nc2 72…Ke8 73.Ke3 completes the job of paralyzing the knights: 73…Kf8 74.Bc4 Ke8 75.Bxe2 Ne6 76.Bh5+ Kd8 77.c6 wins. 73.c6 Nc3+ 74.Ke5 Nxa4 75.Bb3! A very sweet move to win back a piece. 75…Nb6 76.Bxc2 a4 77.c7 Kf7 78.Bxa4 1‑0


A remarkable game, albeit with a few blemishes. The game finished around 11pm. With two rounds to go, it will no doubt have boosted Magnus Carlsen’s morale and make him a tough opponent for anyone in the final two rounds at the weekend. But the tournament and Grand Chess Tour leader is Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and he is going to be hard to stop in his current form.


London FIDE Open


The nine-round FIDE Open concluded on Friday with an emphatic victory for Dutch GM Benjamin Bok, who won his final game with Black against the formidable US grandmaster Alex Lenderman.


Bok had started the event as the eighth highest rated player. He conceded draws only to Evgeny Postny in round five, and, remarkably, 2127-rated Stephen Moran of Ireland in the first round. Perhaps the turning point in Bok’s tournament was his somewhat fortuitous win against Keith Arkell in round six:



London Open, Round 6

London FIDE Open, final scores: 1 Benjamin Bok (NED) 8/9, 2-7 Evgeny Postny (ISR), Rinat Jumabayev (KAZ), Eric Hansen (CAN), Jonathan Hawkins (ENG), Jahongir Vakhidov (UZB), Daniel Sadzikowski (POL). IM norms were achieved by V Ap Karthik (IND) and David Pires Tavares Martins (POR).

Round 8 is scheduled for Saturday 12 December 2015 at 14.00. (Note, we revert to 14.00 start at the weekend)

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