7th London chess classic ; round 5

Share the joy

Aronian vs Carlsen smiling at 1.Nh3!?As usual we started with some children making moves for the grandmasters. This time the children in question had travelled all the way from Gloucestershire. That’s around 200 kilometres due west of London for those readers unfamiliar with our green and pleasant land, and our adherence to Imperial units of measurement. They brought with them some innovative opening ideas. The little boy from Slimbridge Primary School deputed to make Levon Aronian’s move against Magnus Carlsen unfurled 1.Nh3!? which was extremely welcome with us photographers as it made the players smile for the camera.

John Saunders reports:

The clash of two of the leaders, Vachier-Lagrave and Giri, was bloodless and the first game to finish, around two hours into the round. It was a Berlin Defence and drawn in 33 moves. The main point of interest was the move 19…Nd4, which must have been computer analysis. It was a prepared improvement on the game Adams-Kramnik, played – no prizes for guessing where – yes, at the Classic last year. Thereafter the only piquant point was the presence of passed pawns on the same file (as if they had somehow overtaken one other). However, the resultant position was lifeless and a repetition duly followed. The Athenian oracle was typically withering: “I have gone on strike: I refuse to commentate on [MVL v Giri] as a point of principle.” A colleague in the press room thought that the players’ priority might have been watching the evenings’ Champions League matches. I just hope neither of them was a Manchester United supporter. Aronian vs Carlsen
Aronian-Carlsen was drawn after around three hours’ play. It started life as an English Three Knights, quickly reaching a position which will also be familiar to c3 Sicilian and Caro-Kann players, with White having hanging pawns on c3 and d4. Those of us who have essayed the white side (the writer includes himself) may be familiar with the pattern whereby any advantage White has in the middlegame gradually erodes and turns to disadvantage as an endgame position develops. Gratifyingly, this doesn’t just happen to us hapless woodpushers, as Levon Aronian’s position also seemed to worsen between move 20 and 30. However, not so much that he was in any significant danger of losing. Soon what remained was a drawn rook and pawn endgame, and a truce was signed. Thus these two giants of the game go into the rest day with the identical score of five games, five draws. A little disappointing, to say the least.

The other three games proceeded beyond the time control at move 40 and had much of interest to the spectators. Mickey Adams’s Ruy Lopez was met by Nakamura’s Berlin Defence (boo!) to which Mickey replied 4.d3 (which I think of as the ‘Even More Boring Variation’ against the Berlin). The players exited the book but then Mickey must have had a sudden rush of blood to the head and played h2-h4, h4-h5 and h5-h6 in the space of four moves. On Twitter Nigel Short exclaimed “Whoa!” and awarded the original thrust 10.h4 a pair of exclamation marks (though he might have been kidding). Nakamura, probably awe-struck, sidestepped the pawn advance and played g7-g6 after the white pawn came to h6. There didn’t seem to be any accompanying onslaught from Adams’s other pieces and the pawn was left stranded on h6, waiting to be engulfed by Black’s army. This duly occurred and White was left a pawn down in an otherwise unremarkable middlegame.
Adams vs NakamuraSo, once again, the English super-GM’s job was to defend a dodgy position, and this time he was a pawn down. But, to be fair, things weren’t quite as bad as they might have appeared and Mickey went into the line with his eyes at least partially open. Black’s queenside pawn structure with the trademark Berlin doubled c-pawns didn’t do Nakamura any favours when it came to trying to win with his extra pawn. Not for the first time in this tournament, stout defence trumped an apparent advantage, and Nakamura couldn’t make any impression on the Adams rearguard. Computers don’t find fault with Nakamura’s attempts to win so we are left to conclude that it was another success for solid defensive play. I’m going to suggest to our tournament director (you are reading this, aren’t you, Malcolm?) that we play the theme music to The Great Escape when Mickey next walks onto the stage to take his place at the board. I would nickname him ‘Houdini’ but that soubriquet has already been used for an analysis engine. Five draws from five games may not be so great if you’re a 2800+ rated world champion but it sounds a whole lot better when you are the  lowest rated competitor in the shark pool and have already styled yourself the underdog. Caruana-Grischuk was another Berlin with the even more boring 4.d3. However, Caruana improved on Mickey Adams’s treatment of the line by not launching a pawn down the board and seeing it disappear. He too underlined the same structural disadvantage of the Berlin pawn structure as he created a typical position where White has a virtual pawn advantage (four versus three on the kingside, while Black has four, but including two doubled pawns, on the queenside, with little prospect of undoubling them). This might not have been so damaging for Black were it not for the fact that he was, as always, so profligate with his thinking time. Caruana gradually improved his position to the point where he was winning but, unaccountably, under no particular time pressure, let a fairly obvious winning line go begging. Caruana vs Grischuk

The final game of the round, and the one decisive encounter, was Anand-Topalov. The Bulgarian has now been marked out as the whipping boy of the tournament and he can of course expect no mercy. “It’s nothing personal,” as the Mafioso said in The Godfather, just before launching a murderous attack on Don Corleone, “just business.” First of all, Topalov deserves credit for playing 1…c5 on move one. OK, Veselin has committed the Berlin sin himself a few times in the past but not here, so far. But he committed a much worse win by going very passive and allowing Vishy to establish a good knight versus bad bishop endgame. The rest of the game resembled a typical Carlsen squeeze, except that it was Vishy playing the part of Torquemada. It wasn’t a flawless win, by any means, but highly educational for us spectators and inspirational for Vishy himself. For Topalov it would have been abject misery. He started the tournament as the Grand Chess Tour leader, but now he is the only player in the line-up with a negative score – and a gruesome minus three at that. You can’t help feeling for the guy. As Nigel Short remarked on Twitter the other day, “if you are in bad form at Wimbledon, you just get knocked out. If you’re in bad form at #LondonChess you can be humiliated day after day.”

Round 5

  1. Anand V. Topalov

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.h3 e5 7.Nde2 h5 8.Bg5 Be6 9.Bxf6 Qxf6 10.Nd5 Qd8 11.Qd3 Anand played 11.Nec3 here in a couple of non-classical games in Berlin recently but probably didn’t want to see what the Topalov team had prepared against that. 11…g6 Now we are in uncharted water. 12.0‑0‑0 Nd7 13.Kb1 Rc8 14.Nec3 Rc5 15.Be2 b5 16.a3 Nb6 17.g4 hxg4 18.Nxb6 Qxb6 19.hxg4 Rxh1 20.Rxh1 Bg7 21.Qe3 Qb7 22.Rd1 Qc7 23.g5 Qc6 24.Rg1 (diagram) 24…Qd7 Commentators Jan Gustafsson and Daniel King were critical of this move and recommended instead 24…a5 with at least a semblance of queenside counterplay. Unaccountably, Topalov goes passive. 25.Qg3 Rc8 26.Bg4 Forcing off the bishops, after which White is going to have a powerful post for his knight on d5, and Black’s dark-squared bishop will have only a twilight existence. 26…Bxg4 27.Qxg4 Qxg4 28.Rxg4 Bf8 29.Nd5 Black isn’t necessarily bound to lose from this position but he is in for a tough defence. 29…Be7 30.c3 Rc6 31.Kc2 Kd7 32.Kb3 Bd8 33.a4 Rc5 34.axb5 Rxb5+ 35.Ka2 a5 36.b4 axb4 37.cxb4 Rb7 38.Kb3 Rb8 39.Rg1 Rb7 40.Rg3 Rb8 41.Rg1 Rb7 (diagram) How is White to break through? I suspect many of us amateur players might be minded to give this up as a draw somewhere around here since there is no obvious way to continue and the white rook is tied to the defence of the g5–pawn… 42.Ra1! … except that it isn’t! Not in Vishy’s view, anyway. This, for many of us, would be a light bulb moment (if our light ever switched on at all). The dominating knight and White’s general positional advantages are so powerful that it is worth surrendering the g-pawn and continuing to probe Black’s position a pawn down. Not many of us would have the confidence and judgement to pursue such a strategy. 42…Bxg5 43.Kc4 Bd8 44.f3 f5 45.Rh1 Note that Black’s rook has no scope while white’s rook has a free pass to access all areas of the board. 45…Ra7 isn’t on as White has a deadly skewer. 45…fxe4 46.fxe4 g5 Every fibre of my being rebels at this move as it hems in the bishop behind a pawn of its own colour. But in truth there is little better. If 46…Kc8 47.Rh8 Ra7 48.Rg8 forces 48…g5 anyway and the torture continues. 47.b5 Rb8 48.Rh7+ Ke6 49.Kb4! Zugzwang. Rook moves allow the b-pawn to advance. 49…g4 Because the g-pawn is still on the board, Black has no stalemate cheapoes such as 49…Ba5+ 50.Kxa5 Rxb5+, etc, so he’s better off without it. 50.Rg7 g3 51.Rxg3 Rb7 Rook moves sideways along the rank allow b6, after which the win is easy, while 51…Kf7 52.Ra3 Rb7 53.Ra8 Rd7 and again 54.b6 wins quite easily. 52.Rg6+ Kd7 After 52…Kf7 53.Rxd6 Be7 54.Nxe7 Kxe7 55.Rh6 is an easily won rook and pawn endgame. 53.Rg7+ Kc8 54.Rg8 Kd7 After 54…Ra7 White continues 55.b6 Ra1 56.b7+ with a simple win as Black cannot eliminate White’s last pawn. 55.Kc4 Rb8 56.Rg7+ Ke6 After 56…Kc8 White has 57.Ne7+! Bxe7 58.Rxe7 Rb6 59.Kb4 Kd8 60.Rh7 Kc8 61.Ka5 Rb7 62.Rxb7 Kxb7 63.Kb4 with a won king and pawn endgame. 57.Kb4 (diagram) We’re back at the same position as after White’s 50th move but now the stalemate trick comes back into play. 57…Ba5+! 58.Kc4? Anand blinks. Grischuk, sitting alongside the commentators, said, “he doesn’t want to win!”, meaning that Vishy was enjoying himself too much to want to finish the game just yet. But I’m inclined to think it was a simple miscalculation. Instead 58.Kxa5! Rxb5+ 59.Ka4 Ra5+ 60.Kb3 Ra3+ 61.Kc4 and, whichever rook check Black plays, White replies with a knight move, thus giving the black king a square on f6 and defusing the stalemate tactic. 58…Bd8 Not much option than to go back: 58…Re8 59.Rc7! and the b-pawn marches forward. 59.Rg8 Rc8+ 60.Kd3 Rb8 61.Rh8 Kd7 62.Rh7+ (diagram) 62…Ke6? Black is relying on his unsound stalemate defence to work a second time. 62…Kc8! looks like it should draw: 63.Kc4 Ra8 64.Rh8 Ra4+ 65.Nb4 Kd7 63.Kc4 Rc8+ 64.Kb4 Rc1 Perhaps a bit surprising that Black didn’t play 64…Rb8 65.Rg7 Ba5+ again but maybe he’d seen the flaw by now and expected Vishy not to be fooled a second time. Anyway, this is the best try. 65.b6 Rb1+ 66.Ka5 Bxb6+ There’s nothing better now. 67.Nxb6 The knight, posted on d5 for 38 moves, has finally completed a successful mission. 67…Ra1+ 68.Kb5 Rb1+ 69.Kc6 Rc1+ 70.Kb7 Rb1 71.Kc7 Rc1+ 72.Kd8 Re1 73.Rh4 Kf6 74.Rg4 1‑0 An only move  (otherwise Black’s king would drive the rook away from the defence of the pawn on e4) but a pretty simple one to find. On seeing it Topalov resigned immediately
Anand vs Topalov
Wednesday is the rest day and the players will need it, particularly the unlucky Topalov. Let’s hope they come back breathing fire and positivity on Thursday.


The situation in the FIDE Open reminds me of a London traffic jam. There are now ten players piled up on 5/6: Evgeny Postny (ISR), Erik Blomqvist (SWE), Alex Lenderman (USA), Tamas Fodor (HUN), John Bartholomew (USA), Benjamin Bok (NED), Eric Hansen (CAN), David Martins (POR), Crg Krishna (IND) (pictured below), Prasanna Vishnu (IND). Sopiko Guramishvili, the wife of Anish Giri (pictured, left, with Giri’s coach Vladimir Tukmakov), is amongst those on 4½, with a current TPR of 2495.

The fifth game of the six-game match between David Howell and Nick Pert ended in a draw, so Nick Pert now has the unenviable task of beating Howell with Black if he is to take the match into overtime.

Round 6 is scheduled for Thursday 10 December 2015 at 16.00. (Note that Wednesday 9 December is a rest day in the Classic schedule.)

More of my photos from round five are available here: https://flic.kr/s/aHskpJM1JT

John Saunders

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