7th London chess classic; 8th round

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Aronian, Vachier-LagraveRound eight and we were back to the standard 1:4 ratio of decisive games to draws. But very good quality draws, let it be said. The one winner was Anish Giri, who inflicted a second successive defeat on the unlucky Hikaru Nakamura. Scores with one round to go are: 1-2 Anish Giri (NED), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (FRA) 5/8, 3-5 Levon Aronian (ARM), Magnus Carlsen (NOR), Alexander Grischuk (RUS) 4½, 6-7 Mickey Adams (ENG), Fabiano Caruana (USA) 4, 8 Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 3½, 9 Vishy Anand (IND) 3, 10 Veselin Topalov (BUL) 2. As regards the Grand Chess Tour standings: the estimates going into the final round are Giri 24, Vachier-Lagrave 23, Aronian 22, Carlsen 21, etc. These can of course change quite drastically depending on results.

John Saunders reports:

There was quite a light-hearted mood amongst the younger players today as they assembled for Round eight of the Classic in the front row of the stalls and waited to be summoned by the tournament director to their seats on the stage. Magnus Carlsen, who had been six minutes late for his round seven game against Nakamura, and a bit grumpy generally, seemed a different person. He entered into the spirit of Levon Aronian’s banter with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and was clearly amused at what Levon was saying to Maxime. Which I overheard… “I was really impressed by your Bg5, Bf4 idea yesterday – what impressed me was how awful it was!” Yes, you heard it here first, the super-GMs like to tease each other before games. There was another grandmaster wind-up after one of the games in the commentary room. Telling the audience of the opening phase of his game with Grischuk, Levon Aronian said that “it was a line we both analysed.” Grischuk, with mock incredulity: “you analysed it?” and a few moments later, “well, it wasn’t the best analysis of yours.” Said, and greeted, with a smile.

Levon and Anish seem to be the principal teases amongst this particular batch of superstars, as you can probably guess from their cheeky comments at commentary sessions, but the other players take this good-natured razzing in good part. It helps to dissipate the tension of the moment. It is reminiscent of the chat between footballers of opposing teams waiting in the tunnel before they take the field. Topalov looks less than amused at the moment, though he too has a lovely, dry sense of humour when he’s in the mood, but it’s easy to understand that he’s probably just longing to be on a plane out of London right now.

Giri vs Vachier-Lagrave

Tournament leader MVL opened with a Ruy Lopez, to which Mickey Adams responded with the Breyer. You thought I was going to write another name beginning with “B” there, didn’t you? But we didn’t have any of those in this round. This was a typically cagey Spanish, all theory to move 23, and thereafter focusing on a small area of activity on the queenside. A couple of pawns and a knight were exchanged before the players opted for a repetition and adjourned to the commentary room, where the commentators pressed them into service to talk about the other games.

Grischuk vs Aronian

Grischuk-Aronian was a pleasing fight which ebbed and flowed and ended with some more banter and joshing in the commentary room, as we’ve already seen.


Round 8

  1. Grischuk L. Aronian

1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 e6 4.0‑0 Be7 5.c4 0‑0 6.b3 b6 7.Bb2 Bb7 8.cxd5 Nxd5 9.d4 Nd7 10.Re1 N5f6 11.Nc3 c5 11…Bb4 12.Qc2 Bxc3 13.Qxc3 Be4 14.Red1 Qc8 15.Bf1 was a game between Grischuk and Kramnik at the World Blitz earlier this year, which ended in a draw. 12.e4 cxd4 13.Nxd4 Bc5 14.Re2 Qb8 15.Rd2 a6 “Maybe this is too much,” said Levon later, regretting his plan to expand on the queenside. “Expand slowly with Ra7, Qa8,” said Sacha, with a wry grin on his face. Chris Ward explained, diplomatically, that they had liked White here. To which Levon responded, “I also liked White!” 16.Qe2 Ra7 17.Re1 Ne5 18.Kh1 Qa8 19.f4 Ng6 20.Nc2   Levon had underestimated this move. There is a threat of Na4. “Did you feel a bit silly with your pieces in this position?”, asked Chris Ward. “Yes!” admitted Levon. 20…Rd8 21.Red1 Grischuk suggested 21.Rxd8+ Qxd8 22.e5 but Aronian planned (After 22.Rd1 Qa8 23.e5? Black has 23…Ng4! 24.Ne4 Bxe4 25.Bxe4 Qxe4+!, etc) 22…Bxg2+ 23.Qxg2 Ne8 and wasn’t too worried about the passivity of his position. 21…Rxd2 22.Rxd2 h5 23.Qd1? “A blunder. I missed Ng4.” (Grischuk) 23…Ng4 24.Qe1 Bc6 25.h3 Nf6 26.b4 Bf8 27.Qe3 Rd7 28.Rxd7 Nxd7 29.a3 h4 30.Nd4 Bb7 31.f5 exf5 32.Nxf5 Nde5 33.Nd5 Grischuk thought he should have played 33.Bc1 here, anticipating the knight fork. 33…Nc4 34.Qd4 Nxb2 35.Qxb2 hxg3?! As Grischuk’s time started to run perilously low: Aronian remarked, in the same facetious tone as before, “I was trying to flag Sacha here, I have to confess… I got too excited.” 36.Nh6+ gxh6 36…Kh7!? 37.Nxf7 Qc8 38.Ng5+ was one of the lines the

players looked at after the game. White is perhaps better. 37.Nf6+ Kh8 38.Nh5+ Kg8 39.Nf6+ Kh8 40.Nh5+ Kg8 ½‑½

Giri vs Nakamura

Anish Giri moved up to share the lead with Vachier-Lagrave by defeating a disconsolate Nakamura. The game started with what looked like a King’s Indian Attack but Giri has given it a new twist, modelling it on a sedate line of the Grünfeld which he had reversed for use by White. It’s hardly the most aggressive opening line but it seemed to catch Nakamura in what cricket commentator Geoffrey Boycott calls “the corridor of uncertainty”. Having been ground down in a long game by the world champion the evening before, he may not have been at his best today. Even so he had a reasonably good game before he simplified unnecessarily and allowed Giri’s light-squared bishop to pitch camp in the heart of his position. Time trouble did not help either.


Round 8

  1. Giri H. Nakamura

1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 e6 4.0‑0 Be7 5.d3 0‑0 6.Nbd2 c5 7.e4 This looks like, and indeed is, a King’s Indian Attack, as analysed in Ray Keene’s book Flank Openings many moons ago, but Giri has a different idea in mind. 7…Nc6 8.Re1 Qc7 9.Qe2 b5 10.a4 In the KIA White would be looking to close the centre with e4–e5. 10…b4 11.exd5 exd5 Giri compared this to a reversed Grünfeld, which he plays with both colours. 12.Nb3 “Probably White has good chances to equalise this position,” was a throwaway comment from Giri hereabouts, perhaps still thinking of it as a reversed Grünfeld. 12…Re8 13.Bf4 Qb6 14.a5 Qb5 15.Qd2 Be6 16.a6 Bf8 17.Ne5 Nxe5 18.Bxe5 Nd7 19.Bf4 Qb6 19…Rac8 20.c3 Giri thought the text was a mistake and that he should have played 20.c4 here. Then 20…bxc3 21.bxc3 when the knight is inviolate because the queen would be trapped. 21…Bd6 20…Rac8 21.Qc2 After 21.cxb4 the move 21…c4!? is tricky. 21…d4 22.Nd2 h6 23.h4 dxc3 Giri thought it “ridiculous to take twice on c3.” He thought Black was fine here. Giri expected something like 23…Bd6 24.Bxd6 Qxd6 25.Bb7, which is still level. 24.bxc3 bxc3 Giri was more concerned about something like 24…b3 25.Qb2 c4, which he felt was unclear. 25.Qxc3 Nf6 26.Nc4 Qd8 27.Bb7 Nakamura felt he may have underestimated this. 27…Nd5 28.Qd2 Nxf4 29.Qxf4 Qxd3 After 29…Rc7 Giri thought 30.Bd5!? probably didn’t work, though it looks nice. He planned 30.Na5 with a solid set-up. 30.Ne5 Qd6 After 30…Qd4 Giri intended 31.Qxd4 cxd4 32.Nc6!? rather than taking the exchange. 31.Rad1 Qc7 Giri expected 31…Qb6 as taking the exchange is nothing special: 32.Bxc8 Rxc8 and the position is roughly equal. 32.Nc6 Giri liked the fact that he had so many possibilities which contributed to Black’s time trouble woes, e.g. 32.Rd7!? Qa5 (Not 32…Bxd7?? 33.Qxf7+ wins for White) 33.Rc1 f6 32…Qxc6?! Giri, in the commentary room, thought Black might play 32…Qb6 but the computer finds 33.Bxc8 Rxc8 34.Rxe6!! fxe6 35.Ne5 and White wins. Black perhaps has to settle for 32…Qxf4 33.gxf4 Rxc6 34.Bxc6 Rb8 35.Bd5, though White looks good in the long run. 33.Bxc6 Rxc6 34.Qa4 Rec8 34…Rcc8 35.Rc1 and now, for example, 35…c4 allows 36.Rxc4!, winning. 35.Rd8! A very nice move to destabilise Black’s set-up. 35…c4 36.Rxc8 Rxc8 

37.Rxe6! fxe6 38.Qd7 Rc5 39.Qxe6+ Kh7 40.Qf7 Bd6 41.h5 Rg5 The commentators, supplemented by Vachier-Lagrave and Adams, tried to shield the a7–pawn with 41…Bc7, but when Grischuk came into the commentary room, he supplied the refutation, consisting of a mazy series of queen checks, thus: 42.Qg6+! Kg8 43.Qe8+ Kh7 44.Qe4+ Kg8 45.Qa8+, followed by 46.Qxa7, and White wins 42.Kg2 c3 43.f4 1‑0 When the rook moves off the g-file, White has Qg6+ and Qxd6.

Caruana vs Anand

The remaining games featured long endgames which went in favour of the two defenders. Caruana emerged from the middlegame with a slight positional advantage but Anand found quite an intriguing way to liquidate down to an endgame, going a pawn down, but presumably with sufficient endgame knowledge and self-confidence to play it through to a draw. Definitely not one to try at home until you’ve become a GM, or, better still, won the first of your five world titles. Vishy made it all look routine, though he made out it was all a bit of an accident. Worth playing through the download and figuring it out for yourself.


Finally, Topalov-Carlsen: given the world champion’s morale-boosting win of the previous day, and Topalov’s generally dismal showing, it was expected that Black would be making the running here. That proved to be the case. The game began with a Semi-Tarrasch, main line, finally exiting the known universe on move 16. Topalov was fine until move 21 and then a series of lacklustre moves, including a few exchanges, left him with slightly the worse of an ending with queen, rook, knight and four pawns each. The sort of thing which a player of Topalov’s calibre would draw in his sleep… except against the relentless Carlsen. The queens came off and still the Norwegian pressed. On move 38 a pair of pawns were exchanged, and at this point Carlsen dug in for the long haul, gradually tightening his grip on the Topalov position, with his trumps being his better-placed king and his opponent’s vulnerable e5 pawn. It took him a lot of patient manoeuvring but finally Carlsen established his knight on f4, and used this as a bridgehead to improve his position incrementally. Finally, on move 97, Carlsen had to concede the draw.

Carlsen was quite good-humoured about it but nevertheless felt that the strictures of the 50-move rule were “ridiculous” in circumstances where he had been making legitimate efforts to win, and arguably achieving his objective, bit by bit. However much one sympathises with his argument, rules are rules, and they have to be accepted. As indeed he did, with good grace. Topalov, meanwhile, had been oblivious to Carlsen’s 50-move problem. “Couldn’t you have bluffed him?” was commentator Chris Ward’s mischievous suggestion. Carlsen just smiled: “maybe!


Round 9 is scheduled for Sunday 13 December 2015 at 14.00. Pairings: Anand-Giri, Adams-Caruana, Aronian-Vachier-Lagrave, Carlsen-Grischuk and Nakamura-Topalov. Don’t miss it!

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