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    Entries in 2012 London Chess Classic (11)

    Friday
    Dec212012

    Kramnik On His London Tournament

    While he didn't win the 2012 London Chess Classic, Vladimir Kramnik had an excellent tournament, going +4, taking clear second and moving back into second on the rating list. In this video interview, he discusses his performance, Magnus Carlsen and his chances in the upcoming Candidates matches. Worth a few minutes of your time.

    HT: monster_with_no_name

    Monday
    Dec102012

    Carlsen Wins London Chess Classic

    Alas, there wasn't much drama in the final round of the 2012 London Chess Classic, at least in respect to the race for first. Vladimir Kramnik needed to defeat Michael Adams with the black pieces to have a chance of catching Magnus Carlsen and forcing an Armageddon playoff, but there wasn't much he could do. Adams played the ultra-solid 5.Re1 variation against Kramnik's Berlin, and although 14...c6! gave Black some slight hopes for an edge Adams threw water on all the sticks before they could make a fire. After 25.a5 it was clear that there was little to be done, and once the rooks came off a few moves later there was nothing left but to engineer a repetition to placate the arbiters for the Sofia rules.

    That draw guaranteed that Carlsen would take clear first (at least on the 3-1-0 system; a loss would offer Kramnik the consolation of tying on traditional scoring), Kramnik clear second and Adams at least shared third. Carlsen obtained some winning chances against Viswanathan Anand when the latter played 22...Rd7, inadvertently cutting off the knight's natural retreat. His position was completely fine before that, and while it was probably objectively fine afterwards as well his knight was rather uncomfortable after 23.b4 Nd3 24.Reb1. Anand decided to sac a pawn to extract it, and the resulting position after 30 moves looked like something out of a 4.f3 Nimzo-Indian. Black remained a pawn down, but with active pieces, good blockading knights, and two White weaknesses to eye on a3 and c3.

    There was a critical position after Carlsen's 46.Kd1 where Anand thought for around 45 minutes before making his move. Black has many choices there - many tempting choices, at that - but Anand felt that his pieces were all where they should be, and so it was appropriate to temporize with 46...Kd8. The engine disapproves, preferring several other moves including 46...Rxf3 and 46...Ra1+. The problem with Anand's move - again, in the engine's view, though the point is entirely logical - is 47.Kc1, aiming to push the rook off the a-file with Kb2 and then play for mate with Ra4. Black's best bet is 47...Ne6 48.Kb2 Rxf3 49.Ra4 Nc7, but after 50.Raa7 White threatens to win Black's knight - e.g. 50...Rxg3 51.Rb8+ Ke7 52.Nd5+ Kd6 53.Rd8+ Kc5 54.Nxc7 with a likely win. 50...Rd3 stops that idea, as Black would have 54...Rxd8 at the end of the previous variation, but that loses to 51.Rb8+ Ke7 52.Nd5+ Kd6 53.Nb4. Fortunately for Anand, Carlsen didn't spot this idea, and after that Black's activity sufficed for a draw.

    There was one decisive game, and that was Nakamura's win against Luke McShane. Nakamura was always somewhat better, but it wasn't a winning advantage (or generally even close to one) until the last move of the game. Instead of the obvious, natural and correct 32...Bc6 (with equality) McShane played the gross blunder 32...Kg7??, and had to resign after 33.Qxe5, when he's down a piece for nothing. That's what exhaustion and time trouble will do to you! As for Nakamura, the win elevated him into a tie for third with Adams.

    Last in the recap but first to finish was Judit Polgar's game with Levon Aronian. Polgar decided to check Aronian's homework in a Marshall Gambit, and the result was an easy draw for Black, possibly all worked out beforehand. The players followed the game Shirov-Tomashevsky, Saratov 2011 through Black's 22nd move, and then instead of Shirov's 23.Rg4+ Kh8 24.a4 Polgar played 23.a4 immediately. In fact the position is completely drawn either way, so I don't think that 23.a4 was any sort of special preparation; nor do I believe that she simply wanted to put an end to the tournament. My suspicion is rather that she was surprised by 14...Qf6, as Aronian had played 14...Qh4 seven(!) times back in 2008 (including once against her) and twice more back in 2005.

    Gawain Jones had the final bye. (The bye-bye bye.)

    By way of a broader picture: Carlsen won this tournament for the third time in its four years, with only Kramnik interrupting his reign last year with a similar +4 score. As all chess players not living in a cave know by now, Carlsen has broken Garry Kasparov's all-time rating record of 2851, setting a new mark of 2861.4, which will be rounded down to 2861 come January, when it's official. Kramnik had a fantastic tournament as well, and played the cleanest chess of anyone in the tournament. His rating will go up to 2810 when the next official list comes out, breaking his previous all-time record by a point. It also puts him in second place on the list, ahead of Aronian, who had an awful tournament by his exalted standards. Kramnik reported feeling very happy about his form, and felt that if he could maintain his current level while fixing some little things in time for the Candidates in March, he'd have very good chances there.

    Adams had a very good tournament as well, and it could have been even better. He got a half-point gift against Anand (reverting to traditional scoring), but could easily have scored another point or even point and a half against Carlsen and McShane. In any event, he showed signs of regaining the form that made him a top five player in the late '90s through the first half of the '00s. For Nakamura too it was a success as he played well, picked up nine rating points and got back into the top 10.

    Neither Anand (one win, one loss, and some shaky draws) nor Aronian (one win, two losses) will feel good about this tournament, though for Aronian the psychological situation is better. For Anand it was yet one more poor result, while for Aronian it was a lousy start with two losses, after which he stabilized.

    Polgar (+1 -4) looked rusty, as she often does these days, while Jones (-5) just had to take to his lumps in his first super-tournament. McShane's result (+1 -5) was surprisingly bad, however, as although he was an underdog by rating he had played very well in previous editions of the Classic.

    Final Results (on 3-1-0 scoring; the "real" score follows)

    1. Carlsen 18/24 (6.5/8 [five wins, three draws])
    2. Kramnik 16 (6 [four wins, four draws])
    3-4. Adams, Nakamura 13 (5 [both won three, lost 1 and drew 4])
    5. Anand 9 (4)
    6. Aronian 8 (3.5)
    7. Polgar 6 (2.5)
    8. McShane 5 (2)
    9. Jones 3 (1.5)

    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

    Sunday
    Dec092012

    London Chess Classic, Round 7: Four Draws

    It was a bit of tough luck for Michael Adams in round 7 of the London Chess Classic, as he missed a golden opportunity to move into second place, still in striking range of Magnus Carlsen. After successfully torturing Luke McShane for hours, Adams went for the breakthrough in a heavy piece endgame, only to miss winning opportunities in the second and third sessions.

    The other three games were all "proper" draws; that is, they transpired without either player having any serious winning chances. The most important and dramatic of the draws was that between Hikaru Nakamura and Magnus Carlsen. Nakamura played a delayed c3 Sicilian that went straight from the opening into the endgame after 16.Ra2. Carlsen went on a long exchanging combination, but both Vladimir Kramnik (who was off in this round) and Levon Aronian (briefly commenting during his own post-game commentary session) opined that Carlsen should have refrained from 22...Bxf3. Carlsen seemed to agree after a few moments' thought, that it might have given him better chances to play for something other than a draw. In the game continuation, it turned out that Carlsen had missed Nakamura's 26.Qe8, after which the only winning chances, slim though they were, belonged to Nakamura. Nevertheless, Carlsen managed to find the necessary moves to hold the draw without too much trouble.

    Viswanathan Anand managed to neutralize Polgar's 6.Bc4 anti-Najdorf system with relative ease, and they split the point after just 32 moves. That was one move longer than Gawain Jones - Levon Aronian, which repeated the Anti-Gruenfeld line that led to Jones' speedy defeat against Anand two rounds ago. This time Jones was better prepared, but Aronian's improvement on move 16 over a Hammer-Erdos game let him keep the balance.

    There are two rounds left, and the pairings for the penultimate round look like this (player scores [on the 3-1-0 system] are given in parentheses, along with the number of rounds played):

    • Anand (7/6) - Nakamura (9/6)
    • McShane (5/6) - Polgar (2/6)
    • Aronian (6/6) - Adams (11/6)
    • Kramnik (12/6) - Jones (3/7)
    • Carlsen (17/7) - bye + commentary

    Friday
    Dec072012

    London Chess Classic, Round 6: Carlsen, Adams and McShane Win

    Today's games at the London Chess Classic finished in two shifts. The "quick" games finished just after the first time control, while the last ones went about another hour and a half before concluding.

    The first game to finish was the only one whose result seemed likely early on, and that was Magnus Carlsen's victory over Judit Polgar. Carlsen - like everyone this round except Levon Aronian - opened with 1.c4, and Polgar played a slightly irregular Hedgehog. Generally Black has knights on d7 and f6 in that system, but Polgar wound up with knights on d7 and g6, and that latter knight proved a problem. In general Carlsen seemed to have a better idea of what to do, and he grabbed space all over the board without ever allowing Black to create any of the typical pawn breaks (...b5, ...d5, sometimes ...e5) in reply. White was already very comfortable after 30.Nf2, and Carlsen opined that Polgar's 30...Bg5 only made her situation worse. Black was able to temporarily grab a pawn, but White's pieces infiltrated with decisive effect via the f-file. Right after the time control Carlsen doubled his rooks on the 7th rank, and needed just a little accuracy to finish the job.

    Carlsen's score is a gaudy 5.5/6 (or 16/18 on the 3-1-0 scoring system in play here), his TPR is over 3100 and his unofficial rating is a gaudy 2863.6. Better still, his closest rival in the tournament, Vladimir Kramnik, only managed a draw with Levon Aronian, so he leads Kramnik by 4 points with two games to go.

    Perhaps his closest challenger will turn out to be Mickey Adams, who trails Carlsen by 6 points but has an extra game to play. Adams suffered a painful and slightly unlucky loss to Carlsen yesterday, and with Black against world champion Viswanathan Anand it looked like it might be double trouble. Anand may not have played very well this year, but he has a huge plus score against Adams and probably got a boost of confidence with a clean and overwhelming victory yesterday. The game was a very good one for the first 40 moves, with a rough balance between Anand's light squared control and Adams' bishop pair. The normal 41st move would have been 41.Rxe5, when 41...Qd2 would likely lead to a drawn rook ending after 42.Qxd2 Rxd2 43.Bc4 Bxc4 44.bxc4 Rc2. Instead, Anand played 41.Bc4??, losing the house after 41...Qd1+. It took Adams something like 15 minutes to play the move, during which time Anand must have been going crazy alternating between hope and despair while trying to maintain a poker face. Adams finally played it, though, and Anand resigned after 42.Qh6 Bh3+, as 43.Kxh3 Qh1 or 43.Kh2 Rxf2+ 44.Kh3 Qh1 is checkmate. Other tries weren't any better: 42.Bxe6 Ra1 43.Bxf7+ Kg7 leaves White just as helpless.

    On to the second pair of games. Kramnik seemed slightly worse in a Berlin endgame against Aronian, but contrary to Aronian's initial impression during the game (as well as that of the commentators), it was only slightly and not seriously worse. And not for long, either: Aronian reported missing 25...f6, and after that it was Kramnik who was for choice. On move 34, Kramnik needed to cover his back rank and did so with 34...Kd7, but afterwards the players agreed that 34...Bg6 would have been much better, and would have given Black serious winning chances, especially with Aronian's time trouble. Even so Kramnik was better through the end, but with Black's c-pawn safely blockaded after 42.Nc3 Aronian wasn't in any real danger, even if Kramnik could have improved a little here and there.

    Finally, Luke McShane finally got a win in this year's tournament, with White over bottom seed Gawain Jones. Jones was doing well, but his exchange sacrifice may have been too optimistic. After 30.g4 White's pieces were breaking in, and although there were some technical problems to solve McShane was up to the task. (Of course, he was helped along by the combination of 41...b5 and 43...Qd2. Maybe Jones missed White's h4 idea [48.h4], keeping the second extra piece.)

    Round 7 Pairings (with scores and the number of games played in parentheses):

    • Jones (2/6) - Aronian (5/5)
    • Adams (10/5) - McShane (4/5)
    • Polgar (1/5) - Anand (6/5)
    • Nakamura (8/5) - Carlsen (16/6)
    • Kramnik (12/6) - bye + commentary

    Friday
    Dec072012

    London Chess Classic, Round 5: All Four Favorites Win

    I don't know if the players at the London Chess Classic needed the Sofia rules to begin with, but if so they're working like gangbusters. Every round the games are long and hard-fought, and the overall number of draws has been relatively small. In round 5, as in round 1, all four games had a winner, and this time all four favorites won.

    The biggest game was between the leaders by percentage, Michael Adams and Magnus Carlsen. Carlsen goofed in the opening with 13...d5, missing 14.cxb4! (Carlsen should have swapped on c3 first, and only then played ...d5.) The world's #1 had to defend for a long time, and with a bit of help from Adams managed to more or less equalize. Adams is only very rarely in time trouble, but he ran a little short of time near the end of the control, and it cost him. 38.Re3 was objectively alright but introduced a transformation of the pawn structure that could lead White into trouble, and two moves later - on the final move of the time control - trouble found him. 40.e4? was a major error, allowing Carlsen to reach a queen ending with an extra pawn and great winning chances, and as usual he cashed them in. That puts Carlsen to 4.5/5 (or rather, 13/15 on the tournament's 3-1-0 scoring system). Even more notably, it kicked his rating up to an almost absurd, video game-like 2860.5. The gap between Carlsen and the rest of the chess world is getting so large politicians may try to tax his rating to level the playing field and redistribute his points.

    But don't feel too sorry for his closest pursuers, as they went forward as well. Vladimir Kramnik had a relatively easy time of things against Luke McShane, sacrificing an exchange for a terrific bind. Soon it turned into a raging attack, and it was remarkable that McShane managed to somehow avoid mate as his king raced safely from h6 to b8, and in time trouble, too. Unfortunately for him, his position remained lost, and after White's 49th move McShane resigned, five(!) pawns in arrears.

    Viswanathan Anand completed the clean sweep of the English contingent, defeating Gawain Jones pretty easily on the black side of a 3.f3 Gruenfeld. Jones' opening choice was somewhere between perplexing and suicidal, as he went into an extremely sharp line played in game three of the Anand-Gelfand match - and without being properly prepared. Maybe he thought Anand wouldn't take over Gelfand's side of the opening, but he did. Jones's 14th move varied from the Anand-Gelfand game, but doesn't seem to have been preparation, as he spent more than 20 minutes on it. Anand sacrificed a pawn, and soon Jones completely lost the tactical thread. Anand was winning as early as move 18, and the remainder was a massacre. For those of you keeping track at home, that brings Anand's 2012 win total in classical games to three - one fewer than Carlsen has in this tournament alone.

    Finally, Hikaru Nakamura got his second win of the event, at Judit Polgar's expense. Polgar didn't achieve anything on the white side of a Neo-Archangelsk Ruy, and was then outplayed in the middlegame into the ending. Maybe Polgar could have held after the time control, but she buckled under the pressure and fell under a decisive mating attack. The win keeps Nakamura in the hunt for a high place, while Polgar's tournament has gone as badly as Carlsen's has gone well: he has only given up one draw, and that's all that she has to her account. And as they play in the next round, one way or another their inverse symmetry will continue. Speaking of the next round...

    Round 6 Pairings (Scores and the number of games played are in parentheses):

    • Carlsen (13/5) - Polgar (1/4)
    • Anand (6/4) - Adams (7/4)
    • McShane (1/4) - Jones (2/5)
    • Aronian (4/4) - Kramnik (11/5)
    • Nakamura (8/5) - Bye + commentary

    Wednesday
    Dec052012

    London Chess Classic, Round 4: Carlsen Wins, Leads, Sets The (Unofficial) Record

    Today (Wednesday) was a rest day at the London Chess Classic, but in Tuesday's action the world's #1 and 2 players won their games.

    Magnus Carlsen won a very complicated game against Gawain Jones that went from tense to mess after Jones' sacrifice of his queen for just two pieces. (You can get some idea of the complexity from the players' post-game news conference - see the link below.) Jones' biggest problem is that he had already burned most of his time by that point, and the queen sac only increased the game's level of difficulty rather than diminishing it. Jones soon allowed Carlsen to break the bind enough to create his own play, and the young Norwegian moved to 3.5/4 (or rather, 10/12 on the event's 3-1-0 scoring) and a live rating of 2857.4, passing Garry Kasparov's unofficial record of 2856. If Carlsen can maintain this rating to the end of the event, he will of course also pass Kasparov's official peak of 2851.

    The second decisive game of the day saw Levon Aronian finally get into the tournament with a win. Luke McShane seemed to miss Aronian's 21...e4 (he didn't necessarily miss it on move 21, but at some earlier point he must have), after which Black enjoyed a big advantage. On the way to victory, Aronian's 32...Rd6?? necessitated winning the game all over again, but he coped with the task and won a game with (very) imbalanced material.

    Vladimir Kramnik came into the game as Carlsen's co-leader, but he had to neutralize Viswanathan Anand's significant space advantage in a "Declined" Berlin with 4.d3 followed by 5.Bxc6. It looked unpleasant, but there were even moments when he could have pushed for the advantage as well. The final position is rather amusing, and offers a rare instance where any of us could draw with either color against a 2800-level player from a position with 26 pieces and even material.

    Finally, an interesting middlegame turned into an ending where Hikaru Nakamura had two bishops against Michael Adams' bishop and knight, with both sides having an additional four pawns. By move 50 the players were down to one pawn apiece, with no passers, but Nakamura kept trying before acknowledging that his winning chances in the famous endgame of king against king were limited at best.

    You can find some nice video coverage of at least two of the games here, with the primary focus being on Carlsen-Jones.

    On to the pairings for Thursday's round 5 (player's totals are given in parentheses, along with the number of games played):

    • Kramnik (8/4) - McShane (1/3)
    • Jones (2/4) - Anand (3/3)
    • Adams (7/3) - Carlsen (10/4)
    • Polgar (1/3) - Nakamura (5/4)
    • Aronian (4/4) - bye + commentary

    Monday
    Dec032012

    London Chess Classic, Round 3: Kramnik-Carlsen A Tough Draw; Three Players on +2

    Only one of today's quartet of games was decisive in round 3 of the London Chess Classic, but all the games were wars. This is especially true of the marquee match between Vladimir Kramnik - now .1 of a point behind Levon Aronian on the live rating list - and world #1 Magnus Carlsen. Carlsen botched the opening on the black side of an English, and his reward was a weak, isolated b-pawn that Kramnik eventually won. Carlsen defended spectacularly well, however, and at one moment he had practically managed to stalemate White's forces - especially the hapless bishop on a1. Kramnik managed to keep posing problems, but Carlsen's very active pieces enabled him to save the draw.

    It's almost shocking that a game between the world's #2 and the world champion could be almost an afterthought, but Aronian's poor form in the tournament and Viswanathan Anand's poor form since 2010 or so had that effect. Aronian had suffered more than once against Kramnik on the black side of the Exchange Slav, so he may have taken the old adage "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" to heart. Unfortunately, he forgot his prep and wound up a pawn down for practically nothing. Fortunately for his tournament, he defended well and avoided a third consecutive loss, thanks in part to Anand's mistaken 28...Qf6 (according to both players in the post-game press conference). He remained a pawn down to the end, but that end came in a rook ending that was dead drawn.

    Another long game that wound up drawn was Gawain Jones - Hikaru Nakamura. A sharp Russian System Gruenfeld transmogrified into a bishop vs. knight ending, with Nakamura's knight being the more useful minor piece. Jones had to defend that ending for more than 50 moves, but he did it.

    Finally, the one decisive game was Michael Adams' win over Judit Polgar in an unusual King's Indian Attack. Polgar clearly wasn't well-prepared for the line (not surprisingly, as it was a real sideline) and didn't manage to cope with the problems, and by move 20 she was already lost or nearly so. A few moves later he won a pawn, and Polgar's few tactical tricks failed to pan out. Adams thus closes to within a point (on 3-1-0 scoring) of the leaders, Kramnik and Carlsen, but he has played a game less; like them, he won his first two games. That's good both for the sake of tournament drama and for the sake of the locals - it's more interesting when the home players aren't there for fodder.

    There's one more round before the universal rest day, and here are the pairings for round 4 (with the players' scores followed by the number of games played):

    • Nakamura (4/3) - Adams (6/2)
    • Carlsen (7/3) - Jones (2/3)
    • Anand (2/2) - Kramnik (7/3)
    • McShane (1/2) - Aronian (1/3)
    • Polgar (1/3) - Bye + commentary

    Monday
    Dec032012

    London Chess Classic, Round 2: Carlsen, Kramnik Win Again, Break Rating Barriers

    Nothing is official until the tournament is over, but the unofficial news after round 2 of the 4th London Chess Classic deserves notice. With his win over Levon Aronian, Magnus Carlsen has (unofficially) pushed his rating to 2855.7, breaking Garry Kasparov's all-time rating record of 2851 and equalling (when rounded up) Kasparov's retroactively calculated unofficial peak of 2856. In the process of winning, he has also pushed his lead over Aronian to a whopping 51 points on the live rating list.

    His partner in the lead is Vladimir Kramnik, who defeated Hikaru Nakamura with the black pieces. He too accomplished something noteworthy in pushing his rating back over 2800. He has also moved close to the number two spot on the rating list - the next extra half-point he gets relative to Aronian will do the trick.

    Now for a brief recap of the games: Aronian sacrificed a pawn in the opening against Carlsen but seemed to misplay it, after which Carlsen, with White, had very good winning chances. Aronian dug in very well and at one point may have even been better, but when he failed to react properly to Carlsen's pawn advances on the kingside the tables turned again, and White won with a nice breakthrough combination in the end.

    Against Nakamura's unusual Scotch with 6.Qe2, Kramnik seemed to come out of the opening in very good shape, and in due course won a pawn. It took a lot of work for him to convert the advantage in a queen ending, but he was up to the task and brought home the full point.

    Viswanathan Anand had the white pieces against Luke McShane, but he was soon much worse. Only dogged defense and a bit of luck enabled him to escape.

    Finally, Judit Polgar enjoyed a material advantage against Gawain Jones on the white side of a Sicilian Dragon, but Jones somehow managed to keep just enough counterplay to prevent Polgar from consolidating. After yet another long, hard fight, they too agreed to a draw.

    Round 3 Pairings, with scores (3-1-0 system) in parenthesis:

    • Aronian (0) - Anand (1)
    • Kramnik (6) - Carlsen (6) (The Big Game!)
    • Jones (1) - Nakamura (3)
    • Adams (3) - Polgar (1)
    • McShane - Bye (+ commentary)

    Saturday
    Dec012012

    London Chess Classic, Round 1: Four Decisive Games; Carlsen (Unofficially) Equals Kasparov's Rating Record

    Four games, four winners - that's what chess fans like to see, and the 4th London Chess Classic delivered. Two of the games were grind 'em outs: Magnus Carlsen won the kind of game everyone now expects of him, and Michael Adams likewise kept putting pressure on his opponent until he finally collapsed. In both cases the winners had Black: Carlsen against Luke McShane, Adams against Gawain Jones. In Carlsen's case he had to absorb some pressure first, but between his excellent defense and McShane's customary time trouble, he was able to start testing his opponent in the second time control. McShane didn't pass the test. As a result, Carlsen's rating is now 2851.2 on the Live Chess Rating list, which puts him in an unofficial tie with Garry Kasparov's peak rating. (According to Mark Crowther's report on round 1, Kasparov once had an unofficial rating of 2856 - at least if we use the live ratings method retroactively - so let's not make too big a deal about whether he has "really" broken Kasparov's mark until the tournament is over.)

    Meanwhile, the other two boards bore a different character. Levon Aronian lost with the white pieces against Hikaru Nakamura in a sharp English Opening. Nakamura seemed more familiar with the opening, at least judging by the time used, and was at least slightly better most of the way. Only slightly, though, until Aronian played 26.Rd2??, which immediately cost him serious material after 26...b6; the point being that 27.Nxa6 walks into 27...Bb3, winning the knight on a4. Aronian pitched the exchange for a pawn instead, but with his offside knights his position was lost. Some blunders at the end sped up his demise, but it was inevitable in any case.

    Finally, Vladimir Kramnik defeated one of his usual customers, Judit Polgar, and in the process was the only player to so much as score with the white pieces in the first round. Polgar offered a dubious piece sac with 11...d5. Perhaps it would succeed against most players, but Kramnik isn't any less tactically gifted than Polgar, and he's a fine defender too. He took the material and was making substantial progress through his 25th move. Work remained until 25...Qe7?, after which it became a mopping-up operation for Kramnik.

    Anand had the bye, so like the round's losers he has no points so far; the winners all have three points, as the tournament uses the 3-1-0 scoring system. Here are the pairings for round 2, with player scores in parentheses:

    • Polgar (0) - Jones (0)
    • Nakamura (3) - Kramnik (3)
    • Carlsen (3) - Aronian (0)
    • Anand (0) - McShane (0)
    • Adams (3) - Bye (plus commentary)