London chess classic; round 2

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Grischuk vs TopalovALL DRAWS… … in today’s second round. That makes the scores Giri 1½/2; Grischuk, Vachier-Lagrave, Caruana, Anand, Adams, Aronian, Carlsen, Nakamura 1; Topalov ½. Most of the games were well contested, but elite, classical chess gravitates towards a drawn result and there’s no point getting hung up about it. One of the dangers of a stellar field is that the players can play excessively well. It happens in other sports, too. I’m sure we can think of major football finals which have ended 0-0 and gone to penalties, because the two sides have defended too well, or big cricket matches where neither side can bowl the other out. John Saunders reports: HOME THOUGHTS FROM ABROAD Before considering the games, there’s one thing different about this year’s Classic. We’re missing Nigel Short. England’s larger than life grandmaster is a bit poorly at the moment, having had to pull out of the British Knock-Out Championship (where his replacement, Nick Pert, has taken full advantage of the unexpected opportunity). We wish Nigel a swift recovery. We also miss his shafts of wit in the commentary room and elsewhere. For example, who could forget his ingenuity when borrowing Boris Becker’s walking stick to use as a pointer when giving an impromptu lecture at the display board in the VIP room a few years back? Not many people would have had the chutzpah to ask, but the famous tennis star, visiting the tournament after sustaining an injury to his leg, didn’t mind a bit. It gives you an insight into Nigel’s ingenious turn of mind, and leads you to think that anyone who makes such a request of a Wimbledon champion can be expected to have the creativity and confidence to make that amazing king walk (minus crutch) to checkmate Jan Timman all those years ago. It was Tilburg 1991 if you’re minded to look it up. Foyer

Nigel’s pining for us, too. He’s following progress back home in Greece and supplying some feedback via Twitter. His first missive was “Gutted at not being at #londonchess. Watching the demigods from my study.” I’ll interpolate some of Nigel’s other pithy Twitter comments into the summaries of games.


Giri – Adams was the first game to finish, around two hours into the session. “I wasn’t too happy – but then suddenly it was a draw” was Mickey Adams’ succinct post-game comment. The game opened with a Classical Nimzo-Indian (4.Qc2). After 16 moves, White had used less than five minutes while Black had already thought for three quarters of an hour. Black had a cramped position, with a hemmed-in light-squared bishop and a hole on b6. But then… nothing. White had a bit of a think (though he had only used 37 minutes by the time the game ended) and decided he couldn’t make progress. Anish Giri puts me in mind of the Hogwart’s motto: “draco dormiens nunquam titillandus,” or, in English, “never tickle a sleeping dragon.” He enjoys being provoked to violence, as in the round one game, but seems less inclined to initiate chessboard mayhem himself.

Topalov vs GrischukTopalov – Grischuk was a Berlin/London Defence. Nigel Short again: “When I see the Berlin, I almost become happy that I am no longer a top player.” I tend to agree with his scepticism, whilst recalling that yesterday’s Berlin game between Grischuk-Nakamura, though drawn, was pretty good value. 12…Bd7 was the first unfamiliar move. Later 18.b3 by Topalov looked a little strange and Grischuk took the initiative with Black. However, it always looked on the cards that the game would be left with pawns only on one side of the board and the game petered out to a draw. If the likes of Messrs Grischuk and Topalov cannot stir up a storm with the Berlin, it does rather support Nigel’s case. Aronian vs Anand

Aronian-Anand featured an offbeat line of the Nimzo – 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Bb4 5.Bd2!? According to my database, the first person to try this was Alekhine at a simul in Greenock in 1923 – and he lost. Well, serves him right for indulging in such pusillanimity. The bishop looks all wrong on such a tame square. Except for the fact that, when I looked through the game in question, Alekhine was all over his opponent like a cheap suit, and only lost because of a ridiculous blunder. So maybe it’s OK after all. Aronian was probably less interested in a 90-year-old game from a Scottish simul and more influenced by the fact that he himself had lost a game to it against Nakamura in Saint Louis last year. The game transposed to something resembling Nimzo-Indian orthodoxy. Grandmaster opinion in the VIP room indicated that White had an edge in the early middle game but that it evaporated quite quickly after the queens were exchanged. Once Black’s knight was established on e4 for the second time (on move 28), the repetition of moves was an odds-on bet. as English number one, Hugh Alexander, expressed a broadly similar opinion. “If God played God in the Benoni, I think White would win; at the lower levels, however, Black has excellent practical chances.” Those practical chances were certainly in evidence in this game, as White made a mess of the opening.


Round 2

  1. Nakamura M. VachierLagrave

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.e3 Bg7 4.c4 00 5.Be2 c5 6.d5 d6 7.Nc3 e6 8.00 exd5 9.cxd5 Na6 10.Nd2 Rb8 11.e4 Reaching a Benoni position where White’s has expended two tempi getting his e-pawn to e4, which doesn’t fill one with confidence. 11…Re8 12.f3 Nh5 Nigel Short predicted this: “12…Nh5!? (and mate) now looks promising for Black.” 13.f4 Nf6!? Cunningly trading two tempi for White’s own two lost tempi in order to reach a known Benoni position which is better for Black, but which usually occurs after Black’s move 11. 14.Kh1 Nc7 15.a4 a6 16.a5 Bd7 17.Bf3 Nb5 18.e5 Two database games have proceeded 18.Nxb5 and two have gone 18.e5, but the results have been 0‑1 in all four cases. Superficially, it’s not obvious why White doesn’t continue with something like 18.Re1, trying to prop up the various weaknesses as they occur but Black’s long-term prospects are not promising. 18…dxe5 19.fxe5 Rxe5 20.Nc4 Rf5! If Black heads home with his extra pawn, White gets some counterplay: 20…Re8 21.Bf4 and Black is obliged to sacrifice the exchange. The text is much more potent. 21.Ne2 

Finally diverging from Ufimtsev-Tal, Spartakiade 1967, which continued 21.Ne3 Rf4 22.Ne2 Rh4 23.g3 Re4! 24.Bxe4 Nxe4 25.Nf4 Nd4 26.Kg2 Qe7 27.Re1 h5 28.Ra3 Re8 29.Ne2? Bh3+! 30.Kxh3 Ng5+ 0‑1 because it’s mate. 21…Rxf3!? Julian Hodgson was straining at the leash to see Black play this. Black’s compensation for the exchange is very promising. Later, however, when shown 21…Ng4!?, he regretted not playing that instead. Even so, that would have required calculating some tricky computer-ish lines. 22.gxf3 Bh3 23.Re1 Qxd5 24.Nf4 24.Qxd5 Nxd5 25.Nf4 Nxf4 26.Bxf4 looks possible for White, though Black has ample compensation for the exchange. 24…Qxd1 25.Rxd1 Bd7 26.Be3 Bc6 27.Kg2 Re8 The engine indicates 27…Nd4! 28.Bxd4 cxd4 and now 29.Rxd4 Nh5 30.Rad1 Bxd4 31.Rxd4 Nxf4+ 32.Rxf4 Rd8 with a healthy extra pawn. 28.Kf2 Here the engine advocates 28.Bxc5 and is happy to defend 28…g5 29.Nd3 g4 30.Nce5 gxf3+ 31.Kg1, etc. A human player might worry about Black’s potential minor piece activity, as well as the two pawns’ compensation for the exchange. 28…g5 29.Nd3 g4 30.Nde5 Bd5 31.Rg1 h5 32.h3 

32…Bxc4 A good example of how chess engines can calculate the (humanly) incalculable. Houdini finds the counter-intuitive 32…gxf3! 33.Bh6 Ne4+ 34.Ke3 Kh7! 35.Bxg7 f2 36.Rg2 Nd4, getting ready to win the piece

Carlsen vs Caruana

Carlsen – Caruana was another Berlin. Nigel was withering: “Can someone please wake me up if anything happens in the @MagnusCarlsen – @FabianoCaruana game?” including the players’ Twitter addresses to ensure they would become aware of his scorn. The players proceeded down a well-worn super-GM path to an innocuous-looking position on move 20 with a symmetrical pawn structure and a dwindling array of material on the board. Of course, you never know with Magnus: his speciality lies in finding an oasis in a positional desert. Once his passed pawn came to d6, you started to wonder. Could he be headed for one of his trademark long grinds? I did my own straw poll of the GMs in the VIP room. Around move 30, I asked John Nunn what he thought and he opined that White had an advantage. A move or two later I asked Chris Ward and he thought there was nothing significant for White. Nigel Short put it very well on Twitter: “I know the engines say equal, but I always get a bit nervous when my opponent has a passed pawn on the 6th.” Had the 140-character restriction not prevented a longer comment, I imagine he might have added, “especially when the opponent is Magnus Carlsen”. But the dangerous criminal passed pawn on d6 found itself securely locked up in the Caruana penitentiary and there was to be no spectacular Carlsen jailbreak. Instead, the American came up with a witty finish, giving up a rook to force perpetual check.


Nakamura – Vachier-Lagrave was the last, and best, hope of a decisive result. It started with a Benoni. This time the Athenian oracle proved more trenchant than the enigmatic Delphic equivalent. More pithy than Pythian, you might say: “When deciding upon a crap opening, choose one with an upside – like the Benoni.” I believe Nigel Short’s predecessor back with 36…Nf5+. The human would have to calculate all the horrid little sub-variations and move-order tricks, and also go on to calculate what happens after 37.Nb6 Nc2+, etc, as the complications do not end there. And then, even if the human had calculated that far, make a decision as to whether to trust all the calculations made. One little mistake in calculation and the game could be lost. It’s just too much, too far, for the human brain. 33.Nxc4 Nd5 Black’s advantage has largely evaporated and the any advantage starts to migrate in the direction of White and his two rooks. However, it’s only very slight. 34.fxg4 Nxe3 35.Nxe3 Bxb2 36.Rae1 Bc3 37.Re2 Bd4 38.Kf3 Nc3 39.Ree1 Ne4 40.gxh5+ Kh7 41.Rg2 Nd6 42.Ree2 Re5 43.Nc2 Rxh5 44.Nxd4 cxd4 45.Rg4 Rxa5 46.Rxd4 Nf5 47.Rb4 b5 48.Kf4 Nh6 49.Ke5 Ra3 50.h4 Rg3 51.Ra2 Rg6 52.Rb1 Re6+ 53.Kf4 Rf6+ 54.Ke4 Re6+ 55.Kf4 Rf6+ 56.Ke4 Re6+ ½‑½


Other events


David Howell defeated Nick Pert in the second game of their six-game match so leads by 1½-½ in the battle for the British Knock-Out Championship and the £20,000 winner’s cheque. It came down to a tricky rook and pawn endgame which looked drawn for much of its course but turned round towards the end.


In the FIDE Open, ten players have reached 3/3: Mads Andersen (DEN), Evgeny Postny (ISR), Mark Hebden (ENG), Eric Hansen (CAN), Sagar Shah (IND), Jahongir Vakhidov (UZB), Crg Krishna (IND), Keith Arkell (ENG), Mishra Swayams (IND) and John Bartholomew (USA). In round two French GM Romain Edouard was downed by 16-year-old V. Ap Karthik of India.


Round 3 is scheduled for Sunday 6 December 2015 at 14.00.

More of my photos from round two are available here:

John Saunders

London Chess Classic Reporter (@johnchess)

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