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    « Carlsen Wins London Chess Classic | Main | London Chess Classic, Round 7: Four Draws »
    Monday
    Dec102012

    London Chess Classic, Round 8: Kramnik Keeps in Striking Distance

    There's one round left in the 2012 London Chess Classic, and while Magnus Carlsen continues to lead after his bye round, he hasn't clinched first place. Vladimir Kramnik defeated Gawain Jones pretty smoothly after tricking his opponent with his opening choice. Kramnik played 1.Nf3 c5 2.b3, which had the effect of chasing Jones away from his normal openings. Soon Kramnik returned the game to more conventional channels, but not ones his opponent was familiar with. After the game, Kramnik opined that Black's hanging pawns didn't work so well with the knight on c6, and as a result White had very pleasant pressure against those pawns. Kramnik's exchange "sac" (for two pawns, so it isn't really a sacrifice) was very effective, and while there may have been various minor improvements for both sides the trend was always in Kramnik's favor, and he won with a minimum of fuss.

    As a result, Kramnik stayed within striking range of Carlsen, and if he (Kramnik) wins tomorrow and Carlsen draws, they will have a one-game blitz Armageddon playoff for the title. It isn't impossible that this could happen, but it's long odds as Kramnik has Black against Michael Adams in the final round, while Carlsen has White against Viswanathan Anand.

    Speaking first of Adams, he drew in this round, but from a position of strength. Levon Aronian had White but got nothing from the opening (a King's Indian Attack, a favorite of Aronian's back in his youth, and something he occasionally trots out in blitz), and after dropping a pawn on move 30 he had to work hard to save the game. He finally achieved his task in an opposite-colored bishop ending after 82 moves.

    Anand also drew, but with the White pieces, against Hikaru Nakamura. Nakamura celebrated his 25th birthday on Sunday, but early on he was in some trouble. One line Anand proposed after the game - a line Nakamura didn't contest - went 32.Raf1 Rxe2 33.Rf7 Rb3+ 34.Kh2 Rbb2 35.Rxd7 Rxg2+ 36.Kh3 Rh2+ 37.Kg3 Rbg2+ 38.Kf3 e4+ 39.Kf4 Rxh4. Anand saw this during the game and thought Black was okay, now that the rook on h4 covers any Nf6+, Rh7# ideas, but then when showing this line he realized that 40.Nf6+ Kh8 41.Kg5 (typically with ideas like Kg6-f7 and Rd8) would have won. His assessment of the final position is right, and his analysis is plausible; plausible, but not completely forced. Black can improve with 33...Re1! when he's worse but certainly not lost after 34.Rxf8+ Nxf8 35.Rxe1 Ne6.

    Near the end of the time control, trying to blitz Nakamura, who was a little short of time, Anand went for an exchanging combination resulting in a materially and positionally imbalanced ending. At the end of the sequence after Black's 38th move Anand had two rooks and three passed pawns (two gs and one h) against Nakamura's rook, bishop, knight and two passed pawns (on the a- and b-files). Initially, it was Anand who had the best chances there: 40.Rxa3 may have been winning, and likewise 44.Kg4 or 44.Rb6. Instead, 44.g6 gave away some of the advantage and 46.h5 the rest of it (though 46.Rxb4 Kxg6 seems very hard to win). The mistakes kept going from Anand, and on move 47.h6+ was absolutely forced. Instead, he played 47.Kf5, and now it was Nakamura who was winning. Many of the variations are terribly hard to find without a computer, and all the more so with very limited thinking time after four hours' work near the end of a very tough tournament. One win, for instance, begins with the somewhat abstract 48...Bg3!! This blocks White's rearmost g-pawn, and if White continues with 49.Kg5, Black must not play 49...Ne6+, as 50.Kg4 followed by 51.Rxb3 will spell his doom. Instead, there's 49...Bf4+!!, which is not only the only winning move, it's the only non-losing move. Both captures walk into lethal knight forks, while 50.Kf5 Bd2 is allegedly winning as well.

    Nakamura was given another chance, but it slipped when he played 50...b2 rather than 50...a3. Still, he kept some advantage there too, and after still another Anand slip he had his last chance on move 57. 57...Qa4+ 58.Ke5 Qc6! (which he missed or underestimated during the game) prevents White's rook from scurrying off to safety, and Black should win there. After 57...Qe1+ Anand could keep his rook and create a fortress, and the draw was agreed shortly thereafter.

    Luke McShane's score in the tournament wasn't fantastic, but just about all of his games in the tournament, even when he lost, had been hard battles. Further, he was ahead of Judit Polgar and had the white pieces against her, so there were grounds for his fans to feel some optimism. They were quickly dashed, however, as he chose a poor plan against unusual anti-English concept with a kingside fianchetto (normal), ...Nc6 (normal) and ...b6 (not normal at all in conjunction with the other parts). Kramnik suggested a plan with e3 and d4 against this, and Polgar mentioned that in passing too. McShane suggested another typical plan - a3/Rb1/b4 - as also better than what he did. What he did choose was both slow and unthreatening, and Polgar grabbed space and the initiative. Finally, McShane misassessed the position after 18...Nc3 in his earlier calculations, but once he got there it was clear that his position was "rotten" (his word). Worse in the center and the queenside, his king was soon endangered as well. (One plan mentioned by Polgar was ...Qd6, ...e6, ...Bd8-c7, aiming at h2; and there were back rank difficulties as well.) White's position soon collapsed under the pressure, and Polgar achieved her first win of the tournament.

    Here's what we have to look forward to in the final round, which starts two hours earlier than usual. (12:00 local time, 7 a.m. ET.)

    Final Round Pairings (with player scores in parentheses):

    • Adams (12) - Kramnik (15)
    • Polgar (5) - Aronian (7)
    • Nakamura (10) - McShane (5)
    • Carlsen (17) - Anand (8)
    • Jones (3) has the final bye, and will assist with the live commentary

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