The seventh London Chess Classic – bigger and even stronger than its six predecessors – got under way on Friday 4 December 2015 with some tense chess, and just the one decisive result, as Anish Giri of the Netherlands recovered from a dubious position to defeat Veselin Topalov and snatch an early lead.John Saunders reports: It is hard to believe that the Classic has only been around for six years as it is now established as the finale of the year’s elite chess tournament circuit. And it’s as much about beginnings as ends: in its first incarnation in 2009, Magnus Carlsen exploited the opportunity to move to the top of the rating list for the first time. He clearly likes playing in London as he has won three of the four London Classics in which he has competed, as well as winning the London Candidates in 2013 on his way to wrestling the world championship from Vishy Anand. It’s great to have him back in 2015.
You’ll be aware that the format of the London Classic rarely stays the same from one year to the next. We like to ring the changes almost as often as Big Ben chimes. So this year, as an innovation, we’re only awarding one point for a win and a mere half-point for a draw. What’s that you say? That’s how you score tournaments in your own countries? OK, fair enough, so it’s not really an innovation, then. For once we are falling into line with the rest of the world (but don’t expect us to start driving on the right any time soon). The point, of course, is that we are no longer alone: the Classic now forms an integral part of the Grand Chess Tour, with the Norway Chess tournament in Stavanger, played last June, and the Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis, played in September, and the players bring their scores from those events to be totted up to decide who wins the overall tour prizes.
The London Classic has the honour to be the final leg of the tour and there are still several players in with a chance of taking the $75,000 Grand Chess Tour first prize. At the start of the London leg, the ‘leader in the clubhouse’ (as they say in golf) is Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria with 17 Grand Tour points, ahead of Hikaru Nakamura 16, Levon Aronian 15, Magnus Carlsen 14, Anish Giri 13, Vishy Anand 12, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 12, etc. With 13 points Grand Tour still available for the player who finishes an outright first in London, you can probably see that all is still to play for, at least for the top six or seven players in the current table.
Round one was a typically tense and cagey affair. After two hours’ play, the Stockfish computer supplied with the snazzy live board displays on the website showed that every board was as close to even as it gets: pretty well +0.00 on every board. We have to bear in mind two things: one, this is the first London Classic of nine rounds, so players are going to have to conserve their energy, and, two, the sheer strength in depth of the line-up. I tried to average the ratings of the ten players but I got a nose-bleed just doing the arithmetic: I’m not good with heights. I think it was 2785. Just think about that for a moment: Bobby Fischer’s peak rating is the average rating of ten players at the 2015 London Classic. That thought is so mind-blowing I’m going to have to lie down for a while to come to terms with it. Finally, we had our first result when Vachier-Lagrave versus Carlsen ended with a perpetual check. The players scooted through the opening fairly briskly until move 16, when Carlsen, playing Black had a 13-minute think before innovating with 16…Qc8. By move 20, White had used 49 minutes to Black’s 58. However, the position was a little lifeless: Carlsen didn’t think too long before allowing a line which would result in perpetual check. As London policemen like to say at minor street incidents, “nothing to see ‘ere, move along now, please, ladies and gentlemen!”
We move on to Anand-Adams. Over the years Mickey has had quite a tough time against the genial Indian world champion, and thoughts of Marshall Attacks against Vishy’s Ruy Lopez are floating into my mind. But not this time as Vishy pushed his c-pawn forward two squares on the first turn, as some of you may recall that Bronstein and Carlsen both did as a courteous gesture to the host nation in tournaments many decades apart. Nothing very startling occurred in the opening, with Vishy’s 12.Qd2 being new but not earth-shattering. Minor pieces were hoovered off and a repetition amongst queens and rooks ended hostilities.
Grischuk-Nakamura began with a Berlin Defence. Some of you may recall that Vishy Anand suggested to commentator Nigel Short after last year’s final round that this line should be renamed “the London”. I was all for it, bearing in mind that it was Vlad Kramnik’s championing of the line at his 2000 world championship match in London with Kasparov that really put the defence on the map.
On our map, that is, and not a German one. We could perhaps refine the name and call it the ‘London Wall’. There is such a structure, by the way, built by the Romans two thousand years ago, and that is more than can be said for the Berlin Wall, an unpopular edifice which only lasted a few decades before being pulled down. I submit, therefore, that our ancient city wall is a better metaphor for what is a highly resilient chess defence.
- Grischuk – H.Nakamura
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0‑0 Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 9.h3 Ke8 10.Nc3 Be6 11.g4 Ne7 12.Nd4 Bd7 13.Kh2 Unusual. 13.f4 has been played by Karjakin, and 13.Re1 by Caruana. 13…c5 14.Ndb5 Forcing the king to move, but ultimately condemning the knight to a twilight existence on the edge of the board. 14…Kd8 15.Be3 a6 16.Na3 b6 17.Ne4 h5 18.Kg3 hxg4 19.hxg4 Bc6 This bishop now exerts great influence on the game. Around here, GM commentator in the VIP room Julian Hodgson attempted to defend the e4 knight by playing Na3–c3 and looked mildly affronted when the Hiarcs Chess Explorer software he was using immediately flipped the knight back to a3. This may or may not be connected to the fact that they serve a particularly nice claret in the VIP room. 20.Ng5 Ke8 Slightly annoying to have to move the king back whence it came but the watchword of the Berlin/London Wall is patience. 21.f4 f5 22.Rad1 Another move designed to soften up White’s light squares, perhaps with a view to establishing the knight on f5. After 22.exf6 gxf6 23.Nf3, Black has a pleasant position, with the option of putting his king on f7 or, perhaps better, lining up the rook against the vulnerable g4–pawn. If 22.Ne6 then 22…Kf7 and the c7–pawn cannot be taken as the knight would be trapped, and 23.Ng5+ Kg6 increases Black’s pressure on the kingside. 22…g6 23.Ne6? White opens the door to an instinctive, and highly dangerous, exchange for pawn sacrifice by the American. Grischuk used about half his remaining 30 minutes on this move. 23…fxg4! Nakamura took 8 minutes of his own remaining half-hour thinking time on this move. 24.Nxc7+ Kf7 Black is threatening …Nf5+, when, for example, Kxg4 is answered, not by Nxe3+ forking everything in sight (though that obviously wins too), but by Rh4+ and Be7 mate. 25.e6+ Kg8! 26.Kxg4 There’s no time for 26.Nxa8 because of the forcing sequence 26…Nf5+ 27.Kf2 Rh2+ 28.Ke1 Nxe3 29.Rd8 and Black calmly unsheaths his bishop with 29…Kg7, lining up Be7 and Bh4+. 26…Ra7 26…Rc8! is a more precise, winning move, according to the software, but there are some mind-numbing sub-variations that even human super-GMs would be unlikely to fathom. 27.Rd7! The only move to continue the fight. Black cannot take as the resultant pawn on d7 would give White full compensation. Both players were down to their last ten minutes to make the time control at move 40 or so by now. 27…Nf5 27…Bxd7 28.exd7 Nc6 29.Nd5 b5 30.Rd1 and again the d7–pawn is indirectly defended via the knight check on f6. 28.Bf2 Nh6+ 29.Kg3 Nf5+ 30.Kg4 Be7 31.Rfd1 Nh6+ 32.Kg3 Nf5+ 33.Kg4 33…Nh6+? Having used six of his seven and a half remaining minutes, Nakamura decides to opt for the repetition. Houdini suggests 33…Rh5 threatening a swift mate with …Nh6+, …Bh4+ and then …Bxf2. However, perhaps Black was worried by 34.Rxe7 Nxe7 35.Rd8+ Kh7 36.Rd7!? Bxd7 37.exd7 Nc6 38.Ne6 Rd5 39.Nc4, which is not quite over. Even so, it is surprising that he didn’t decide to go for it. 34.Kg3 Rh7 35.Nc4 Nf5+ 36.Kg4 Nh6+ 37.Kg3 Nf5+ 38.Kg4 Nh6+ ½‑½
Which brings us to the game of the day, Topalov-Giri. Former FIDE world champion Veselin Topalov was making his debut at the London Classic and, with his addition to the list, the tournament can claim to have hosted all the current great names of the game. It’s hard to think of anyone who has provided more entertainment to chess spectators since Kasparov retired, whom he had the honour to play (and defeat) in the former world champion’s final game of classical chess. I must confess that the opening didn’t seem to promise a Topalov tour de force but, sure enough, it soon caught fire when Topalov sacrificed a central pawn to get his pieces firing. Anish Giri chose to give the pawn back. His position still looked a bit fishy but he had at least defused some of the tactical threats. At move 25, had Topalov been allowed to call over to the world champion and said “hey, Magnus, do you want to come and take over my position?”, one feels it would have been very bad news for Giri. It looked like a typical Carlsen torture chamber. But suddenly fortunes changed and Topalov looked ill at ease. In time trouble he walked into a glorious tactic and Anish blew him away. All credit to both players who played half a great game each (if you know what I mean).
- Topalov – A. Giri
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.g3 c6 4.Bg2 d5 5.Qa4 Is it a Catalan? A Grunfeld? Frankly, I haven’t a clue, but this hybrid system seems to have quite a following amongst the super-GMs. Before long you can bet the woodshifters down your local club will be playing it, too, though they won’t really know why they’re doing it. 5…Nfd7 Gelfand has played this so it must be good stuff (or, in the stilted language of the chess world, ‘principled’). 6.cxd5 Other super-GMs reaching this position have opted to drop the queen back to c2 or b3 rather than resolve the pawn situation in the centre. 6…Nb6 7.Qd1 cxd5
One of those positions you see in puzzle sections in chess magazines, inviting you to deduce the opening sequence which led up to it. I’m quite sure Fred Reinfeld would have castigated both players for too many moves by the queen and knight in the opening. 8.Nc3 Nc6 9.e3 Bg7 10.Nge2 0‑0 11.0‑0 Re8 Another grandmaster encounter, Roiz-Wagner, from the Dresden Open earlier this year, continued 11…e6 but Giri has higher aspirations for his light-squared bishop. 12.b3 e5 13.dxe5 Nxe5 14.h3 14.Nd4 would have prevented Black’s next move but allowed 14…Bg4. Having said which, 15.Qd2 looks like it gives White a slight edge. 14…Bf5 15.Nd4 Bd3 16.Re1 Ba6 The bishop controls the d3–square from this unusual post, which is Black’s intended compensation for the pressure on his isolated d5–pawn. 17.Qd2 Nd3 18.Rd1 Bxd4 19.exd4 Qf6 20.a4!? Topalov didn’t get where he is today without incurring risks. What had seemed a fairly innocuous position a few moves ago is starting to get sharp. 20…Qxd4!? 21.a5 At first sight White seems to be winning a piece with 21.Bf1 but of course it’s not that simple. The irrelevant looking 21…Nd7! is Black’s salvation: 22.Bxd3 Bxd3 23.Qxd3 (The point of 21…Nd7 is now demonstrated if White throws in the intermezzo move 23.Bb2 as 23…Ne5! defends the bishop and simultaneously threatens …Nf3+. Both players must have seen that back at move 20.) 23…Re1+! 24.Kg2 Rxd1 25.Qxd1 Qxc3 regains the material, leaving a roughly equal position. 21…Nd7 22.Ra4 If winning a piece on d3 was plan A, this must be plan B – re-routing the rook to the kingside and giving mate. This red-blooded approach is one of the reasons why the great Bulgarian player is so popular with chess spectators. 22…Qe5 23.Nxd5 Nxc1?! GM Julian Hodgson was disappointed with this, wanting to see a more complex fight with 23…N7c5 24.Rh4. An interesting point here, incidentally, is what happens after 24…Nxb3. It’s tempting to play 25.Qh6 on auto-pilot but then Black simply drops his queen back to g7 and there is no threat. Instead, 25.Qg5! is devastating, when it gradually dawns on you that the really dangerous piece in this position is White’s knight on d5, threatening a deadly check on f6 and also a fork on c7 in some variations. For example, 25…Re6 26.Qh6! Qg7 27.Qxg7+ Kxg7 28.Bh6+ Kg8 29.Nc7, etc. 24.Rxc1 Nf6 25.Nc7 After this Topalov was down to his last 15 minutes. 25.Nxf6+!? Qxf6 26.Rf4 Qe5 27.Bd5 looks like the start of a long Carlsen-style torture session. Maybe that was a better option. 25…Rad8 26.Qf4 g5 27.Qb4 Qb2 28.Raa1 Re2 29.Qc5 h6 30.Nxa6 bxa6 31.Rab1 Qd2 32.Bf3 Topalov was now down to 2 minutes. Giri, with 11 minutes left, played his next move very quickly. 32…Ne4!
33.Qxa7?? 33.Bxe4 was the only safe continuation. After 33…Rxe4 34.Rd1 Qxd1+ 35.Rxd1 Rxd1+ 36.Kg2 Re6 37.Qxa7 a draw seems the most likely result. 33…Nxf2! 34.Bxe2 Nxh3+ 35.Kf1 35.Kh2 is unplayable because of 35…Qxe2+ 36.Kxh3 Rd2! with a forced mate. 35…Qd5! 36.Bh5 Perhaps Topalov had imagined he could escape with 36.Ke1 but then 36…Qh1+ 37.Bf1 Qf3! and there’s nothing to be done, e.g. 38.Rb2 Qxg3+ 39.Rf2 Re8+ 40.Be2 Nf4 41.Rc2 Qg1+ 42.Kd2 Rxe2+!, etc. 36…Qh1+ 37.Ke2 Qg2+ 38.Ke1 Re8+ 39.Kd1 Nf2+ 40.Kc2 Ne4+ 40…Ne4+ 41.Kd3 Qd2+ 42.Kc4 Rc8+ and mate next move. 0‑1
The final game to finish was Caruana-Aronian. Though long and hard-fought, it never quite tickled the fancy of the commentators, probably because it was more of a technical struggle. One for Ruy Lopez aficionados, perhaps: forgive me for passing over it in silence.
As well as the Classic itself, we have a very strong open tournament, and the final of the inaugural British Knock-Out Championship. The latter is being contested by English number two David Howell and the surprise qualifier for the final, English number eight Nick Pert, who knocked out Luke McShane on his way to the final. The first game of their six-game match ended in a draw in only 15 moves. So enough said about that for now.
Round one of the open had a sprinkling of creditable results for underdogs as the sub-2200s confronted the GMs. Alex Lenderman, Sergey Grigoriants and Benjamin Bok were held to draws by Rhys Cumming (England), Daniel van Heirzeele (Belgium) and Stephen Moran (Ireland) respectively, so well done to the latter three. The big surprise, however, was veteran English amateur Roger de Coverly (who’s even older than me – yes, that old) beating GM Peter Wells. Roger has been around forever. I recall he was a member of the opposition team in what was only my second competitive game of chess when our schools met in 1967. These days he’s better known as the most prolific poster of comments on the English Chess Forum – 13,270 comments posted in something over seven years. That’s an average of about six published comments a day. Even I’m not that verbose, but it obviously hasn’t done his chess any harm. It was a very impressive win – a textbook example of how a sub-2200 player should play against a GM – so I’d advise you seek it out from the PGN download available on our website.
Scores: 1 Giri 1/1; 2-8 Grischuk, Vachier-Lagrave, Caruana, Anand, Adams, Aronian, Carlsen, Nakamura ½; 10 Topalov 0.
Round 2 is scheduled for Saturday 5 December 2015 at 16.00.
More photos take by me are available here: https://flic.kr/s/aHskn1h789
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