London chess classic; 3 round

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Carlsen vs Anand - and the little girl, Anum Sheikh, presses the clock too!At the start of every round at the London Classic we always have at least one special guest on stage to make the first move for one or more of the super-GMs. Sometimes it’s a sponsor or a celebrity but more often than not it is one of the many children learning to play the game courtesy of the Chess in Schools and Communities charity. Children make great ‘honorary movers’ because you can never be quite sure what they are going to do! Today was a delightful example as Anum Sheikh, the self-confident little girl deputed to make Vishy Anand’s first move against Magnus Carlsen, not only plonked down the right move, 1.e4, but also helpfully pressed the 15th world champion’s clock for him. Never seen that done before: the CSC clearly teach them well. A lovely moment which dispelled the tension and was greeted with smiles all round. It obviously influenced the other players too, as that was the opening move chosen in all five games. Anum Sheikh is a smart girl: she’ll go far. John Saunders reports: Topalov vs Vachier-LagraveRound 3 featured just one decisive game, as Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France defeated Veselin Topalov, who has thus lost the only two decisive games of the tournament so far. Scores: 1-2 Giri, Vachier-Lagrave 2/3, 3-9 Adams, Aronian, Anand, Carlsen, Caruana, Grischuk, Nakamura 1½, 10 Topalov ½. However, despite unpromising opening choices made on all five boards, it was an absorbing round of chess in which there might well have been more decisive results had all the chances offered been taken.

Following our quotations from the Athenian oracle quoted yesterday, we turn today to another favourite amongst oracular voices on Twitter. @GingerGM, or Simon Williams, as he’s better known, was unimpressed when he logged in to follow play in the third round: “I excitedly just tuned into #londonchess had a quick look at the positions, quickly turned off – #bloodyberlin”. We feel your pain, Simon. There were no fewer than three Berlins, plus another Ruy Lopez without 3…Nf6 and a Sicilian. He later added the comment: “In some ways I am happy that I am not a world-class chess player. Can keep playing interesting openings, without ever

learning the Berlin [smiley face].” Yes, it did look a bit dull to start with but it soon got very interesting.

Levon AronianThere was another bit of onstage amusement before battle started. Mickey Adams came on stage to find his name card placed alongside the black pieces for his coming battle against Levon Aronian. You can imagine the English number one’s bemusement, particularly as he had already had Black in rounds one and two! Was there perhaps some bizarre Grand Chess Tour rule that the wild card was assigned Black in every game? No – the board/table had been set up incorrectly. Oops. The tournament director did his Lord Sugar impression, pointing a dismissive finger at a rueful Chief Arbiter, and after this bit of comic by-play Mickey was put in charge of the white bits. That said, he didn’t look to be entirely in command of them in the early stages of the game, but he weathered the storm. OK, it wasn’t exactly Storm Desmond blowing from the Armenian side of the board (a reference to the weather system that’s been battering the northerly parts of our country these past few days), more of a brisk breeze. But Levon did seem to have much the more active position for a while. Mickey, however, is a cool head in a crisis and the white bishop’s nagging pressure against the a6-pawn made it hard for Black to exploit his positional edge. Vachier-Lagrave – Topalov was not a Berlin (hurrah!) but a line of the Sicilian, which my software of choice (Hiarcs Chess Explorer) dubs the Adams Attack (an ironic soubriquet, that, given Mickey’s grovellish position on the adjacent board). White’s opening didn’t look particularly incisive, but a long series of exchanges in the early middlegame brought about a position where material was level and White had a passed pawn on the queenside, with a queen and rook each. Surprisingly the passed pawn itself didn’t prove to be the decisive factor so much as Vachier-Lagrave’s deft manoeuvre to occupy the b-file with his queen and rook. Suddenly, from nowhere, the game was over. Topalov looked in poor form in this game, making a number of questionable decisions from move 21 onwards. Let’s hope he finds his best form soon as he’s such an entertaining player when he’s at the top of his game. Kudos, though, to Vachier-Lagrave, whose sudden switch of focus, from lumping the a-pawn downfield to threatening mate via open file, rank and diagonal, was highly impressive. Team Carlsen in the VIP Room: father Henrik Carlsen, second Peter Heine Nielsen

Round 3

VachierLagrave V. Topalov 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.h3 e5 7.Nde2 h5 To prevent White’s intended g2–g4, instead of which he is obliged to move the g-pawn one square only. 8.g3 Nbd7 9.Bg2 b5 10.Nd5 Nxd5 11.Qxd5 Rb8 Julian Hodgson, in the VIP room, suggested 11…Qc7, with the point that 12.Qxa8 loses to 12…Nb6. The general consensus, however, was that Topalov was sufficiently tactically astute not to fall for a two-move combo. 11…Nb6 is a decent alternative, after which White has nothing special. 12.Be3 Be7 13.Qd2 Nf6 14.00 Various personages in the VIP room wanted to look at 14.0‑0‑0!? but GM John Nunn felt this was highly dubious. 14…00 15.Kh2 Bb7 16.Nc3 Rc8 17.a4 b4 18.Nd5 Nxd5 19.exd5 a5 20.Qe2 Bg5 Not necessarily wrong but 20…Qd7!? 21.Qxh5 f5! is an interesting alternative, e.g. 22.Qe2 e4 23.Rfd1 Bf6 24.Bd4 Bxd4 25.Rxd4 Qe7 and Black should have no difficulty in regaining the pawn given White’s various weaknesses. 20…h4 was another feasible option, when Black is doing fine. 21.Bxg5 Qxg5 22.h4  22…Qf6?! This looks an illogical choice of square. Sooner or later Black is going to want to play 22…Qe7 anyway, to help defend the queenside and maybe think about …f7–f5, so he should play it immediately. 23.Qb5 Had Black’s queen retreated to e7 on the previous move, Black could now have played …Rc5 to shoo the white queen away. 23…Qe7 24.Qxa5 Rxc2 25.Rac1 Instructive: White prefers to challenge the c2 rook, rather than play 25.Qxb4 and allow Black to strengthen his grip on the c-file with 25…Qc7, after which he would have good prospects of regaining the sacrificed pawn. Hell hath no fury like Topalov with more active pieces. 25…Rxb2 26.Rb1 Ra2 27.Qxb4 Ba6 28.Qb3 Bxf1 Dubious. Exchanging off the bishops costs Black a useful potential blockader of the a-pawn and defender of an entry square on b7. 28…Rd2 29.Qxa2 Bxg2 30.Kxg2 Ra8? Topalov goes on the defensive, but soon than was necessary: 30…e4! immediately offers counter-chances, maybe exchanging a pair of pawns on e3 and opening up the white king to a few checks. 31.a5 e4 32.Rb3 f5 Black would like to start some counterplay with 32…Qe5, forcing White to defend the d-pawn but, unfortunately for him, it doesn’t achieve its objective. Simply 33.a6! when 33…Qxd5?? loses to the crude cheapo 34.Rb8+ – which would not have been the case had the black rook still been on f8. 33.Qd2 33…Qc7? Another poor move from Black who has failed to spot White’s coming threat. Instead 33…Qf7! achieves the dual purpose of tying a white piece to the defence of the d5–pawn and staying in the vicinity of the g7–pawn to stop snap mating threats. Which the move played signally fails to do… 34.Qb2! A wonderful wrong-footing move from the Frenchman. He cheerfully abandons what had previously seemed like the all-important passed pawn on a5 in order to exploit the geometry of the position. Suddenly the only thing that matters is the triangle formed by the lines b2–b7, b7–g7 and b2–g7. More simply, the threat is Rb7 followed by Qxg7 mate. What to do? 34…Rxa5? Topalov fails the test. Instead, 34…Qxa5! 35.Rb7 Qa1 (Only move) 36.Rxg7+ Kf8 37.Qxa1 Rxa1 38.Rg5 is Black’s only chance, though White still has pretty good winning chances. 35.Rb7 Ra2 36.Qb5! Rxf2+ A forlorn attempt at perpetual. Instead 36…Qc1 37.Qe8+ Kh7 38.Qxh5+ Qh6 39.Qxf5+ Qg6 40.Qe6 should be good enough to win. 37.Kxf2 Qc2+ 38.Qe2 1‑0

Fabiano Caruana

  1. The all-American clash between Caruana and Nakamura started with a Berlin, proceeding into a theoretical sideline as early as move 6. Nakamura’s queenside play starting with 15…b4 was dubious and he found himself obliged to surrender a pawn a few moves later, though Caruana’s isolated d-pawn and backward b2-pawn were by way of compensation. Caruana may have been considered to be winning for much of the middlegame, and remained a pawn up to the end, but never looked like converting as his pawns remained weak and couldn’t be usefully advanced.  Caruana vs NakamuraGrischuk – Giri meandered down a main line of the Berlin until Grischuk went into a long think over his 20th move. He revealed later that he was already familiar with some of the resultant endgame(!) positions but needed time to recall some of the side variations. In the end he took 1 hour 3 minutes before coming back to life and pushing 20.f4. The software was so confused by the delay that, when he did move, it only registered the stopping of the clock and not the move itself, perhaps in disbelief that he should have moved at all. This proved to be a turning point but an unexpected one: you might expect the player who had used so much time to spoil his position but in fact it was Black’s game which began to subside alarmingly. I suppose ultra-long thinks by the opponent can discombobulate a player and make them forget whatever it was they were planning when they last moved. Rather like Anand versus Carlsen, Giri suddenly became indecisive, moved his knight around and incomprehensibly buried it on g7. Grischuk’s position suddenly looked very strong, but with the downside that he only had a few minutes left to negotiate about 15 moves. That said, he is the world blitz champion and has allegedly only once lost on time, despite being a notorious time trouble addict. But he showed himself to be human, missing a strong thrust (27.f5!) and a couple more shots in the run-up to the time control, by which time Giri’s rook had jumped out and secured sufficient counterplay to draw. Anish Giri’s unbeaten run in the Grand Chess Tour and his lead in the tournament thus remain intact.Alexander GrischukAnand – Carlsen didn’t look very propitious for Black for much of the course of the game, as Anand maintained a typical Berlin nagging edge. John Nunn felt that White was a lot better until 

    about move 25, based on having good chances to get a strong pawn formation on the kingside. At that point the GMs in the VIP room were advocating 25.Bh4, retaining a significant advantage. They also thought 26.Kf3 was sub-optimal. But instead Vishy seemed to drift and Carlsen seized his chance, first to neutralise White’s kingside play and then reroute his knight to a powerful post on c4. The Athenian oracle (Nigel Short) had already predicted something of the sort: “Optically [Vishy] stands well against [Magnus], but he has no clear plan of improvement.” We’ve all been there: a supposedly good position but what to do next. So often this presages a turnaround in fortunes and that was the case here.


    A bit of indecisive king shuffling by Vishy and suddenly Magnus jumped out, the tables were turned and it was Black calling the shots. But Magnus couldn’t find a way to convert his advantage either, although we have to give due credit to Vishy for adapting so well to the change in fortune. Undaunted, he switched over to rugged defence and Magnus couldn’t find a way through. Carlsen was understandably disappointed at not converting – “it was a bit embarrassing for both of us” – but I think the game was better than that, at least in terms of the resilience shown by both players when they were under the cosh.


    Other events


    Evgeny Postny of Israel is now leader on his own in the FIDE Open, with a perfect 4/4. His victims have included the English GM Aaron Summerscale and the Dutch GM Benjamin Bok. The next four boards all ended in draws. Further down the list, on board 13, there was a win for English IM John Cox against the formidable Swedish GM Tiger Hillarp Persson. Meanwhile, another English amateur player, Marcus Osborne, downed his second IM in the space of four rounds.


    The Weekend Classic ended in a win for the Greek IM Georgios Mastrokoukos who scored a perfect 5/5, followed by six Brits on 4, amongst them veteran IM Mike Basman. On the train home I chatted with GM Matthew Sadler whose eagle eye had lighted on a game Mike Basman was playing in this event. Matthew whipped out his mobile phone and sent me an email with a partial score showing how this game might have proceeded. I give this little snippet here, partly for the fun of sharing the typical Basmaniac opening, and partly for the ingenuity 

    of Matthew’s idea (although the pettifogging computer thinks it has answers to a couple of his moves – let’s not worry about that)…


    1. Moreby – M. Basman

    1.e4 h6 2.d4 g5 3.h4 g4 4.Qxg4 d5 5.Qf3 dxe4 6.Qxe4 Nf6 7.Qd3 Nc6 8.c3 Rg8 9.Nf3 Be6 10.Bf4 Qd5 11.Nbd2 Rg4 12.Bh2 0–0–0 13.Ne5  Mike Basman eventually won a long game after 13…Rxh4 but Matthew was attracted to 13…Nb4!? 14.cxb4 Rxd4 15.Qc3 Ne4 16.Nxe4 Rd1+ 17.Ke2 Qxe4+ 18.Qe3 R8d2 mate.


    Howell vs Pert


    The third match game of the British Knock-Out Championship final between David Howell and Nick Pert was held on Sunday afternoon. Nick Pert, a point down, had White and eventually won a pawn, but only in liquidating to an opposite pawn endgame. It was still tricky but Howell held effectively to maintain his one-point lead going into the second half of the match.

    Round 4 is scheduled for Monday 7 December 2015 at 16.00.

    More of my photos from round three are available here:

    John Saunders

    London Chess Classic Reporter (@johnchess)

    Who is going to win the tournament in your opinion? Please share with us in the comments.

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