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    Entries in 2013 London Chess Classic (6)

    Sunday
    Dec152013

    Nakamura Wins London Chess Classic

    It wasn't pretty, but when you win, who cares? Hikaru Nakamura won the rapid event that was this year's London Chess Classic, defeating Boris Gelfand 1.5-.5 in the final after defeating Vladimir Kramnik by the same score in the semis.

    Starting with the semi-finals, Nakamura drew his first game with Kramnik pretty easily with the black pieces, but in game two Kramnik had what was probably some excellent preparation and obtained an advantage. Kramnik's strategy of meeting the 7.a3 line against the Tarrasch with 7...g6, heading for a Gruenfeld, was pretty sensible, and 16...Nb4! was an excellent trick that got White into some trouble. Nakamura sacrificed the exchange for a pawn and began a long and unpleasant defense. After 41...h6, with the idea of ...f5, it looked like Kramnik was finally going to win the d-pawn and convert his advantage into a full point. Nakamura played the tricky 42.d7, and now Kramnik avoided one trick but fell into another.

    The obvious error is 42...Kxd7?, which allows 43.Bxh6! If Black doesn't take the bishop White will probably draw anyway, and if he does then 44.Nxf6+ Ke6 45.Nxd5 Kxd5 46.Kf3 followed by 47.Kg4, 48.f4 and 49.h5 swaps off Black's last pawn to force the draw. The right move was 42...Bf8!, whose point becomes obvious after Kramnik's choice, which was 42...Kf7?: 43.Nc5! The pawn is protected and the knight is immune, and that's why the bishop needed to be on f8. Kramnik played 43...Bf8 now, but it's too late: 44.Ba5! Be7 45.Bb6! and Nakamura probably had a fortress.

    Kramnik tried to break through in a mostly non-committal way for a while, but after 59...Kg6 60.Bb6 Bxg5 61.Ne6! (with the simple but important point that 61...Rxd7?? allows the winning fork 62.Nf8+) the position was messy and White was no longer worse. Kramnik quickly - and wrongly - played 61...Rd3+, and after 62.Ke4 was clearly upset by what had happened. He had to sac his bishop for Nakamura's d-pawn, and though Nakamura now had the upper hand the position was still drawish. As anyone who has played much tournament chess knows, however, a slightly worse position after one has been better for a long time feels like a disaster, and it's very hard to stop sliding. Sure enough, Kramnik's 64...Re7+ was poor, and after 65.Ne5+ he uncorked 65...Kf6??, only to resign after a few moments of horror when Nakamura played 66.Bd8. Ouch.

    Gelfand's semi-final win against Michael Adams came with considerably less drama. Gelfand had White in their first game, but was if anything slightly worse until Adams blundered an exchange with 24...Nd7, missing the surprising double attack resulting from 25.0-0-0! Black had to surrender the exchange, and while the subsequent play was by no means perfect Gelfand's win was the normal result. In the rematch Gelfand wound up with a big advantage in a 6.Be3 Ng4 Najdorf, but for simplicity's sake returned first one and then the second of his extra pawns to achieve a trivially drawn endgame.

    In the final Nakamura had White in game 1 and played the very risky but semi-sound 11.Nxf7 in a Russian System Gruenfeld. Black was forced to surrender the exchange, but obtained a massive initiative in return. The key moment came on move 17, when Gelfand played 17...Ne4. While perhaps not a mistake, it allowed Nakamura to swap a pair of knights and then play f3, making his king a good deal safer than it had been. Perhaps the position was still objectively equal, but the resulting position was one where it would be more challenging for Black to keep proving sufficient compensation. Instead, 17...Nce6 would have kept the tension and some advantage for Black.

    The next important moment was on move 22, when Gelfand played 22...Qf6, apparently under the assumption that his c-pawn was indigestible. This was a mistake, and he should have played something like 22...Rd7 instead, covering it. With a pawn for the exchange and very active pieces Black would have maintained equal chances. After 22...Qf6 23.Rxc7 Ne6 (possibly another inaccuracy) 24.Rd7 White was a clean exchange ahead, and with accurate defense Nakamura neutralized Gelfand's initiative and won the game.

    Game two was a good fight in an Averbakh King's Indian. Gelfand was close to getting something substantial for a while, but Nakamura maintained enough activity to avoid serious trouble. The need to avoid a logical draw forced Gelfand to overpress a bit, and then he wound up in some trouble of his own. To his credit, he stayed mentally tough and held the draw in a worse rook endgame, but of course that wasn't enough to save the match.

    Another very good result for Gelfand, but the best result was obviously the champion's. Nakamura went through the entire event undefeated, going +5 =7 overall. He's #3 in the world for a reason!

    Sunday
    Dec152013

    London Chess Classic Quarterfinals: Nakamura, Kramnik, Gelfand and Adams Advance

    Despite Magnus Carlsen's success in the world championship, the semi-finals of the London Chess Classic aren't exactly looking like the changing of the guard. One relative youngster, Hikaru Nakamura (age 26 as of last Monday) did his job, beating Nigel Short with Black and smoothly achieving a dull draw with White to reach the semi-finals.

    He'll face the other triumphal "youth", 38-year-old Vladimir Kramnik, who defeated fellow ex-champion Viswanathan Anand (44 years old a couple of days ago) by also winning his black game. Kramnik had the white pieces in the first game, but got nothing after Anand's precise 18...Qd8! In the second game, Anand misplayed the opening in a way that was reminiscent of the famous old game Rotlewi-Rubinstein, Lodz 1907. In that game Rotlewi managed to throw away two tempi in a symmetrical position before going on an ill-fated attack and losing to one of the most spectacular combinations in chess history. In today's game, Anand managed to lose "just" one tempo in a very similar position, and his decision to go for an attack was similarly mistaken. Kramnik won a nice game, his first rapid win over Anand in more than a decade.

    The other matches went to 10' + 10" tiebreaks. First Michael Adams and then Peter Svidler won convincingly with the white pieces in the regular games, but Svidler self-destructed in both of the faster games. Adams won the playoff 2-0 in a total of 50 moves. Fabiano Caruana looked very impressive in the qualification stage, while Boris Gelfand had been solid but by no means dominant. Caruana was pressing in the regular games, with a completely winning position in the first (with a big time advantage to boot) and a serious (but not winning) advantage in the second. Somehow Gelfand held on and drew both games, and in the quicker games the tables were turned. Gelfand had some pressure with Black in the first game, but nothing serious until Caruana's 28.Rd2?? Gelfand found 28...Nc4, and that was that. In the second game Caruana stumbled into a situation where he'd have to accept a horrible position to avoid an immediate draw; to his credit, he did so and not only managed to survive but to build up some pressure on his opponent as well. As usual, Gelfand fought well, and soon Caruana was faced with the same dilemma again: allow an immediate draw or take a big risk. Again he took the risk, but this time it was fatal, and Gelfand wrapped up the point.

    Both the semi-finals (Nakamura-Kramnik and Adams-Gelfand) and the finals will be tomorrow, with the semis starting an hour earlier than usual, at 1 p.m. local time/8 a.m. ET.

    Friday
    Dec132013

    Quarterfinals Set at the London Chess Classic

    The preliminary sections are over at the London Chess Classic, and the quarterfinalists are set. While there were upsets in individual games, all the favorites advanced - generally convincingly - and while the level of play hasn't been fantastic overall one can still hope for more now that it's down to the cream of the crop.

    In group A, Viswanathan Anand drew his first game while Michael Adams beat Luke McShane. That left them tied for first, and that's how they remained after their draw. (Adams was probably losing, but held on grimly and saved half a point.) They needed to draw lots to determine the nominal winner, which was Anand; he gets to face the runner-up in the B-group, while Adams gets the B-group's winner.

    So who was who in Group B? Peter Svidler won it, while Vladimir Kramnik came in second. The only slight drama of the final round came in this group. After Kramnik drew his final game, Matthew Sadler could have caught him with a win against Svidler; had he done so, they would have had a playoff tomorrow. Sadler was well-prepared and had an interesting novelty, but a few accurate moves by Svidler were enough to achieve a draw.

    In group C Hikaru Nakamura and Boris Gelfand coasted in, unchallenged. They drew in the first session and had already clinched first and second. In the late game Nakamura drew with a little effort against Judit Polgar, but Gelfand lost to Gawain Jones and thus finished second in the group.

    In group D it was a landslide, a massacre, a one-horse race - pick your cliche. Aside from one shaky draw yesterday against David Howell, Fabiano Caruana ran the table and won the remaining games. (And he didn't just win them; he generally crushed his opponents.) Nigel Short won three games in a row - both games yesterday and the first game today - which was enough to guarantee qualification before his last-round game with Caruana, which he lost. Caruana thus plays Gelfand and Nakamura gets to play Short.

    To recap, tomorrow's quarter-final matchups are as follows, with the first-named player having White in the first game:

    Kramnik - Anand, Adams - Svidler (the first two sessions)

    Caruana - Gelfand, Short - Nakamura (the latter session)

    Predictions for the round? I'm going to say Anand, Svidler, Caruana, and Nakamura. Kramnik hasn't looked good here and has done poorly against Anand for the past six years or so; Adams-Svidler is a toss-up but I've got to pick someone; Caruana has been dominating and Nakamura is just too strong for Short.

    Thursday
    Dec122013

    London Chess Classic, Day 2

    The executive summary of today's action at the London Chess Classic: the favorites are well on their way to qualifying, while the two qualifiers are making a good case for invitation-only participants next time around.

    In group A, both Viswanathan Anand and Michael Adams won both their games and have practically guaranteed their qualification for Saturday's quarterfinals. Anand has 10 points (3-1-0 scoring) and Adams has 8, with Luke McShane still having an outside chance with 4. Qualifier Andrei Istratescu has 0.

    In group B things are a bit tighter. Vladimir Kramnik had a perfect score after the first day, but only added a single point to his total today, drawing with Matthew Sadler and losing to Peter Svidler. Kramnik and Svidler (who also beat Jonathan Rowson) have 7 points; Sadler beat Rowson to reach 5 and Rowson has 3.

    In group C Boris Gelfand drew first with Hikaru Nakamura and then Judit Polgar to reach 8 points (he won both his games the first day); he is joined there by Nakamura, who defeated Gawain Jones. Polgar has 4 points and still has a chance, while Jones's 1 point total already leaves him eliminated from contention.

    Fabiano Caruana is the class of group D, though he had a scare in the day's first game, against David Howell. He had to defend for a long time to save the draw, but then crushed the faltering Emil Sutovsky in the second game to reach a total of 10 points. (Sutovsky, the other qualifier, has the same score as Istratescu: 0.) Nigel Short bounced back from yesterday's poor results and odd openings with a couple of wins, and now he's in second in the group with 7 points. Howell has 5 points and still has a chance, but his loss to Short today means it's out of his hands.

    Overall, the level of play was higher or at least more consistent today. Maybe the players were a bit rusty or at least weren't in the right rhythm for rapid chess, and have now started to acclimate themselves. Hopefully the trend will continue, and the final day of preliminary action will see some good chess as players fight to reach the quarterfinals.

    Thursday
    Dec122013

    London Chess Classic, Day 1

    Day one of the London Chess Classic was a treat for fans of schadenfreude; those who prefer to see good chess may have another opinion.

    In the first session, Viswanathan Anand blundered against Luke McShane and was quickly in trouble; that turned into "dead" lost after 22 moves. Result? He won. Michael Adams beat Andrei Istratescu relatively cleanly, but Vladimir Kramnik also had something of a "charity" win against Peter Svidler. (Incidentally, that game featured the Arctic Defense - 1.Nf3 g6 2.e4 Nf6!?/?!, which Magnus Carlsen used against Adams 2-3 years ago, if I recall correctly. He got a slightly worse but playable position, but eventually lost.) The game went normally for a while, with the evaluation fluctuating between slightly better for White and equal, but at some point Kramnik missed something and was soon lost. No matter: Svidler played imprecisely, allowing Kramnik to escape, and then 54...Kg6?? blundered the bishop and the game. Finally, Matthew Sadler was winning against Jonathan Rowson, but he too was unable to maintain the advantage and eventually lost. In sum: four decisive results, with three of the winners coming back from lost positions.

    In the second session, Boris Gelfand beat Judit Polgar - cleanly - and likewise for Fabiano Caruana against Emil Sutovsky. Sutovsky is a very creative player who loves tactical complications, but Caruana outcalculated him and won convincingly. Gawain Jones and Hikaru Nakamura drew their game after a long fight, with both sides missing winning opportunities. Essentially it was a matter of Nakamura trying to turn a drawish position into something more, and while he did have one chance to win he also gave Jones a couple of chances to collect a full point as well. As for the game between Nigel Short and David Howell, there too both players had chances to win. For Short, it was just a flicker of an opportunity, while Howell had a serious advantage for between a third and a half of the game. There too, however, the game finished in a draw.

    In session three, Anand pressed with White against Adams, but the latter defended well and it ended in a correct draw. Likewise in Svidler-Sadler: something went slightly wrong for Svidler in the early middlegame, so he went for an attack that proved good for an exciting perpetual but not more. Kramnik beat Rowson convincingly, but it wasn't as convincing as Kramnik thought until Rowson played 24...Ncxa4(?). McShane had a pull against Istratescu, but it didn't become serious until after 25...f3(?); after that Black was lost. McShane didn't play perfectly, but he did well enough and was completely winning by the time Istratescu blundered into a mate in two.

    In the final session of the day, more strange reversals occurred. Polgar had a big, maybe winning advantage against Nakamura, but let him slip away. 28.Rc1? was a serious error, and soon it was only Nakamura who could play for the win. Polgar's position remained tenable for a long time, but eternal defense is hard for everyone - especially with rapid time limits - and she finally broke. Howell-Sutovsky was a salutary warning to everyone who plays against his opponent's time trouble. Howell was down to the increments (10 seconds per move) while Sutovsky had five or six minutes left, but rather than accede to a draw once Howell had reached a pretty safe position Sutovsky kept on pushing, only to blunder (35...Kh8? got the ball rolling, though further inaccuracies were to follow) and lose. Gelfand defeated Jones pretty cleanly, while Short lost a one-sided game that began with 1.b4 and soon saw g4 as well. Caruana let Short make all the weaknesses he wanted, and in due course slaughtered him with his counterattack.

    Scoring summary: In group A, Anand and Adams lead with 1.5/2 - or rather, 4 points, as the London Chess Classic is continuing their tradition of using the 3-1-0 scoring system. In group B, Kramnik has 6 points; Rowson(!) is in second with 3. Gelfand leads group C with 6 points, whlie Nakamura is in the second qualifying spot for now with 4. Finally, Caruana has 6 points to lead group D, while Howell is in second with 4.

    Wednesday
    Dec112013

    The London Chess Classic's Main Event Starts Today (Wednesday)

    This year's London Chess Classic has a radically new format. Instead of a single round-robin of classical chess, this year's creation is a multi-stage rapid event. There are four four-player groups, and within each there will be a double round-robin taking place from Wednesday through Friday. The top two from each group proceed to Saturday's quarter-finals, and the semi-finals and finals will take place on Sunday.

    Here is the composition of each of the four groups:

    Group A:

     

    • Luke McShane
    • Viswanathan Anand
    • Adrian Istratescu (by qualification)
    • Michael Adams

     

    Group B:

     

    • Vladimir Kramnik
    • Peter Svidler
    • Jonathan Rowson
    • Matthew Sadler

     

    Group C:

     

    • Boris Gelfand
    • Judit Polgar
    • Gawain Jones
    • Hikaru Nakamura

     

    Group D:

     

    • Nigel Short
    • David Howell
    • Fabiano Caruana
    • Emil Sutovsky (by qualification)

     

    The expected qualifiers from groups B and D seem fairly obvious, but in both groups A and C three players would seem to have very good chances. The world's #1 - the world champion! - and #2 players are missing, but a good chunk of the world elite is here. Play begins at 2 p.m. local time/9 a.m. ET.