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    Entries in 2015 London Chess Classic (13)

    Sunday
    Dec132015

    Grand Chess Tour Tiebreaks: A System Than Which None Lesser Can Be Conceived

    Having concluded my reporting on the proceedings, it's time to vent some spleen. Before doing so, it's important to note that nothing I will now say is intended to blame Magnus Carlsen or to deny that he was a deserving winner of the London Chess Classic. (I certainly don't think he's the deserving winner of the Tour, but again, that's not his fault.)

    I've already noted the unfairness of the playoff procedure which forced Anish Giri and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave to engage each other for around three or four hours (including breaks between games) while Carlsen could rest, nap and/or prepare for his tired challenger. For that matter, I don't understand why it should have been a two-stage event. Using the Sonneborn-Berger tiebreak makes sense in a Swiss system event, where players face different opponents; in a round-robin it seems to me without value. Fine, player A beat player C while player B beat player D, where A and C finished in a tie while C outscored D by half a point. Why not criticize A for his relative incompetence in failing to beat D? And what if A beat C because C was fighting for first place and had to take undue risks? Also, maybe A had White against C while B had Black against both C and D. Why is A's performance more noteworthy? Still further: suppose A is higher-rated than B. Then B had a higher TPR than A; again, why isn't that the first criterion? It has the further benefit of not making A's and B's tiebreakers dependent on how C and D perform against players E through J.

    So those are two ways - one more particular, one more general - in which Carlsen was (greatly) benefited and Giri and Vachier-Lagrave were harmed by the tiebreak system in the London Chess Classic. Next, let's recap the way Giri and MVL were punished by the Grand Chess Tour's tiebreak system in the Sinquefield Cup while Carlsen was rewarded. That tournament was won by Levon Aronian, and after that there was a four-way tie for second between Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura, Vachier-Lagrave and Giri (in tiebreak order). Rather than splitting the points for second through fifth places, the points were allocated as if each player had outscored those below him. As a result Carlsen obtained 10 Tour points, Nakamura 8, Vachier-Lagrave 7 and Giri only 6. As was widely noted at the time, the upshot was that Giri, who was undefeated and +3 in the first two Tour events (the first event was the Norway Chess tournament back in May), was behind Carlsen, whose cumulative score was -1. What a crock.

    Finally, Vachier-Lagrave got ripped off in his own special way by the Tour and its absurd policies. The London Chess Classic wasn't just important in its own right or even in its own right and for its implications for this year's Tour; it also had implications for next year's Tour invitees. So, you may ask, who gets to play in next year's Tour? The answer is that the top three finishers from this year's Tour, plus the next six players based on the average of their monthly ratings from February through December of this year, with their live post-tournament rating counting as another "month" to average. (As this year, so too next year will include a tenth wildcard spot for each tournament, decided by the organizers.) They are: 

    • Magnus Carlsen
    • Anish Giri
    • Levon Aronian
    • Vladimir Kramnik
    • Hikaru Nakamura
    • Fabiano Caruana
    • Viswanathan Anand
    • Veselin Topalov
    • Wesley So

    The first three were Tour qualifiers, the last six made it by rating. Carlsen finished with 26 Tour points, Giri with 23, and Aronian with 22. Vachier-Lagrave finished with 21 points, and before you say "hard luck, he just had to win rather than take second", here's some information for you: he took third. That's right: he beat Giri in the playoff and nevertheless took third in the tournament, behind him. (Incidentally, it wouldn't have mattered to Giri if their places were reversed, because Giri still would have qualified by rating, bumping Wesley So off the list.) So Vachier-Lagrave finished tied or better with Carlsen in all three tournaments (not counting the playoff), but somehow finished fourth and off of the 2016 Tour.

    There's enough steer manure here to fertilize a small country. FIDE has been guilty of incompetent and unfair practices over the years, but I don't think they've ever managed to pack so many brain-dead and unjust policies within such a small space in their entire history, and that's really saying something. Well done, Grand Chess Tour. Well done.

    Sunday
    Dec132015

    London Chess Classic, Playoff Final: Carlsen Defeats Vachier-Lagrave to Win London and the Grand Chess Tour

    And then there were two. The champion's title at the London Chess Classic would be decided in a two-game rapid match (with an Armaggedon blitz game to follow, if necessary) between Magnus Carlsen and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. This final match would also decide overall victory in the Grand Chess Tour - but only if Carlsen won. If Vachier-Lagrave were to win, then they would finish the Tour in a tie and would (incredibly) have to play another rapid match on Monday to decide that title.

    Unfortunately, there wasn't a lot of drama in the match, but there was one critical moment. Carlsen easily outplayed Vachier-Lagrave in game one, but only up to a point. Carlsen squandered a huge advantage, and Vachier-Lagrave was on the verge of saving the game. Carlsen did a nice job of posing a few last problems for his opponent, and MVL finally stumbled on the last hurdle. The sequence 51...h2! 52.Re2 Ra1! 53.Rxh2 Ra8! 54.Re2 Rh8+ saves the game with a nice series of rook moves (alas, the next move isn't ...Rh1). Black's rook has sufficient distance and White's pawn hasn't crossed the Rubicon, and the try 55.Kg5 Rg8+ 56.Kf4 Rf8+ 57.Kg3 Rg8 58.Re4 it's crucial that Black has 58...Ke5!, not allowing White's king to march back up the board with the g-pawn safely protected. Vachier-Lagrave missed this, and Carlsen went on to win a few moves later.

    The second game was an anti-climax. Vachier-Lagrave got nothing from the opening and was clearly worse early in the middlegame. The only question was whether Carlsen would win, and the answer was a kind of yes-and-no: he built his advantage into a decisive one, but allowed his opponent to save some face with a charity repetition at the end. (The games, with my notes, are here.)

    As mentioned above, victory in the tournament also gave Carlsen victory in the first edition of the Grand Chess Tour and a cool $75,000 bonus. Deservedly so? Stay tuned for another post, which will address the Tour's absurd tiebreak system.

    Sunday
    Dec132015

    London Chess Classic, Playoff Semi-Final: Vachier-Lagrave Defeats Giri

    And then there were three. A fair playoff would have been something like a double round-robin with Magnus Carlsen, Anish Giri and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, but very little about the organization of the Grand Chess Tour has had much to do with fairness. Therefore Carlsen got to sit back, relax and prepare a little while (and be guaranteed at least second place in the London Chess Classic) Giri and Vachier-Lagrave bashed heads over a three hour period for the right to play him. The unfairness, of course, isn't because it was Carlsen, who had the privilege of waiting because of his better Sonneborn-Berger score; it would have been an absurd privilege no matter who was the recipient.

    Giri went undefeated in all three events of the Tour, a pretty remarkable performance, and his solid play continued in the first of the two rapid games in the playoff. Giri essayed the Berlin (the semi-official opening of the tournament) and won a remarkably clean game (for a rapid time control), blockading White's kingside majority and convincingly demonstrating the superiority of his light-squared bishop to MVL's knight.

    All Giri needed was to draw with the white pieces, and unfortunately for him that's how he played in game 2. There are three classic psychological mistakes practically everyone makes at some point in their lives, and some people never seem to learn the lesson: (1) rushing in the opponent's time trouble; (2) assuming a winning position will automatically result in a win; (3) playing for a draw when one needs/wants a draw. Giri committed the third error, in spades. Rather than playing the position and making the best moves, Giri repeatedly called off the dogs whenever he could grab an advantage, trying cynically to make the position dull and achieve a draw. Vachier-Lagrave kept scrapping, never allowing the position to completely resolve itself, and Giri's situation grew worse and worse. In the end, the game was decided by time trouble, with the evaluation fluctuating between a serious advantage for MVL and a draw for Giri. Up until the last move, Giri could have survived - 59.Rh7 is still a draw, but 59.Rh8?? blundered a piece to the elementary 59...Rxe5. (Of course, it's elementary when one isn't running out of time, exhausted by a long day at the end of a tough tournament and in a press-filled situation.)

    That forced Armaggedon, and Vachier-Lagrave took the option to have Black in the last game. (White gets six minutes, Black 5 + draw odds, with no increments until after move 60, when the players get three seconds per move.) The level of play wasn't very high in this game, with both players surely exhausted by then, but MVL remained in control most of the way and won after Giri declined a charity repetition in a dead lost position.

    The games, with my comments are here; stay tuned for a post on the Carlsen vs. Vachier-Lagrave final.

    Sunday
    Dec132015

    London Chess Classic, Round 9: Carlsen Beats Grischuk To Tie For First

    The London Chess Classic has just finished, but rather than post about the tiebreaks too I'll divide the material into two (or maybe three) posts. Let's start with the final round, which saw Anish Giri and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave enter tied for first, with Magnus Carlsen, Alexander Grischuk and Levon Aronian half a point behind. The last round pairings were just about ideal, with Aronian paired with Vachier-Lagrave and Carlsen paired with Grischuk; only Giri (with Black against Anand) wasn't facing someone with a direct stake in the race for first.

    Giri equalized with ease against Anand in a well-worn line of the Berlin. Anand only innovated on move 27, and the players started to repeat moves several moves later. Aronian played with more motivation against MVL, but the result was the same: a comfortable draw for Black, which like Giri-Anand finished after 33 moves.

    Carlsen-Grischuk was much more interesting. The players revisited a sharp line of the Moscow Variation of the Sicilian, with Grischuk repeating 7...g5, used successfully by Topalov against Carlsen in round 1 of the Sinquefield Cup. Carlsen improved and obtained an advantage, and things were proceeding smoothly for him until around move 27. Errors on moves 27, 28 and especially move 30 gave Grischuk not only sufficient counterplay for a draw, but even a chance to win the game outright and reach the playoff. To win (or at least to obtain a decisive advantage; there was still some work that needed to be done to collect the full point) he needed to spot 30...Rxg4. With more time on the clock there's little doubt that he would have played this; instead 30...fxe6 allowed Carlsen to retain equal chances. Unfortunately for Grischuk, but fortunately for Carlsen (who seems to have an almost infinite supply of good luck), Black missed (or rejected) an easy draw on move 31, and then erred on moves 32 and 34 to lose the game before the time control. Carlsen thus tied for first, and qualified for a playoff involving Giri and MVL - more on that in a later post.

    Wrapping things up with the other players, Michael Adams and Fabiano Caruana drew in a Ruy (not a Berlin) that was very well played by both sides, and that meant that they both finished with nine draws in nine games. Finally, Hikaru Nakamura and Veselin Topalov drew in a Berlin, putting an end to what was a disappointing tournament for both players, as they came into the London Chess Classic second and first in the overall Tour standings.

    We'll get to the events of the tiebreakers next; but here were the (unfinished) standings after round 9:

     

    • 1-3. Carlsen, Giri, Vachier-Lagrave 5.5
    • 4. Aronian 5
    • 5-7. Grischuk, Caruana, Adams 4.5
    • 8. Nakamura 4
    • 9. Anand 3.5
    • 10. Topalov 2.5

     

    The games, with my comments, are here.

    Saturday
    Dec122015

    London Chess Classic, Round 8: Giri Wins, Catches Vachier-Lagrave With One Round Remaining

    The race for tournament victory at the London Chess Classic, and overall victory in the Grand Chess Tour, remains very much up in the air with a round to go. Coming into the round Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was the sole leader, half a point ahead of four players. A precarious lead, and it didn't survive the round as Anish Giri managed to catch him by defeating Hikaru Nakamura. Nakamura was doing well in the first half of the game, but after 24...bxc3 Giri obtained an advantage that he steadily increased with excellent play straight through the end of the game.

    MVL had White against Michael Adams, but the unbreakable Englishman (eight draws!) held without any serious difficulties. The other three games were drawn as well, with adventures in every case. Levon Aronian was first clearly worse with Black against Alexander Grischuk, and then clearly better with a big time advantage to boot. Unfortunately for Aronian, he got careless in that nearly ideal situation, and his 35...hxg3?(?) allowed 36.Nh6+! with equality and, after 36...gxh6, an immediate draw by perpetual.

    Fabiano Caruana found an interesting new idea for White against Viswanathan Anand's pet line 10...Bd6 in the Open Catalan, and when Anand blinked White obtained a slight but enduring edge. Anand hasn't played very well the past few rounds, but today he was his usual outstanding self, defending very well and achieving a draw by elegant means.

    Finally, the game between Veselin Topalov and Magnus Carlsen was most curious and led to talk of changing the rules of chess! Carlsen played a most Carlsen-like game, and outplayed Topalov to reach an advantageous ending with each side having a rook, a knight and three kingside pawns. After Topalov's 39th move the pawns were fixed, with Carlsen enjoying the winning chances thanks to White's weak pawn on e5. Black was soon able to win the e-pawn at his leisure, but at the cost of trading the knights, which would result in an easily drawn R+3 vs. R+2 ending. So Carlsen had to try to immobilize and discoordinate White's pieces, create a second weakness and activate his own king. He was achieving all of those goals, but alas - there was a problem: the 50-move rule! The game was north of move 80, and while Carlsen was making progress Topalov's progress towards an automatic draw on move 89 was even speedier. Carlsen was compelled on move 84 to cash in, winning the e-pawn while allowing a trade of knights, and although White's king was slightly cut off from his pawns there was no way for Black to exploit it, and the game was drawn. (A fine defensive effort by Topalov, it should be noted, especially so given his otherwise disastrous play in the tournament.)

    Should the 50-move rule be modified for cases like this? It's hard to see how it could reasonably be done. The exceptions are very rare and practically impossible to specify in advance. The only even remotely plausible mechanism that comes to mind is to have a strong arbiter or a players' committee make a determination, but there are numerous problems with such an idea, including the introduction of an inappropriately high degree of subjectivity in what is as close as possible to an objective, merit-based game or sport.

    Anyway, the games (with my notes) are here, and these are the pairings for tomorrow's final round:

     

    • Anand (3) - Giri (5)
    • Adams (4) - Caruana (4)
    • Aronian (4.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (5)
    • Carlsen (4.5) - Grischuk (4.5)
    • Nakamura (3.5) - Topalov (2)

     

    Saturday
    Dec122015

    London Chess Classic, Round 7: Three Wins and No Berlins

    It took a while, but in round 7 of the London Chess Classic the drawing glut finally abated, and three games finished with a winner. Up to this point in the tournament only five games had been decisive, with Veselin Topalov losing three and Viswanathan Anand losing two. The bad news for their fans is that they constituted two of the day's three victims, losing to Levon Aronian (very badly) and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (thanks mainly to a one-move blunder). The third victim was Hikaru Nakamura, who lost to Magnus Carlsen for the 12th(!) time in classical chess without a single win to his credit. (He has of course drawn plenty of games with Carlsen, and beaten him at faster time controls.)

    The day's other games saw well-played draws between Fabiano Caruana and Anish Giri and between Michael Adams and Alexander Grischuk. All of the games, with my annotations, can be replayed here.

    Vachier-Lagrave is the sole leader with two rounds to go, while Grischuk, Aronian, Carlsen and Giri are just half a point behind and Caruana, Adams and Nakamura are just another half a point back. 80% of the field is still in the running for first place! Here are the pairings for round 8:

     

    • Giri (4) - Nakamura (3.5)
    • Topalov (1.5) - Carlsen (4)
    • Grischuk (4) - Aronian (4)
    • Vachier-Lagrave (4.5) - Adams (3.5)
    • Caruana (3.5) - Anand (2.5)

     

    An aside: on the Live Rating list it's a bit like old times: Carlsen is in first (of course), but Kramnik is in second and Aronian has fought all the way back to third, and is one win from taking over the #2 spot. Aronian's selection as the wildcard for next year's Candidates' is a great choice, but it's a pity Kramnik won't be participating as well.

    Friday
    Dec112015

    London Chess Classic, Round 6: Grischuk Beats Anand, Plus Four More Draws

    Once again, a round that offers the tournament in microcosm: four draws in five games, the Berlin shows up again, a winning position is squandered and things go wrong for Veselin Topalov. (The latter two points refer to the same game.)

    The one decisive game in round 6 of the London Chess Classic saw Alexander Grischuk outplay and defeat Viswanathan Anand. Grischuk played the (relatively) untheoretical 1.c4 e5 2.d3, and in the improvisational game that followed Grischuk outplayed his great opponent, though not without a serious slip in the endgame. Overall though, it was a well-deserved victory, and Grischuk moved into a tie for first place.

    The games Nakamura-Aronian, Vachier-Lagrave vs. Caruana and Giri-Carlsen were all well-behaved draws, and in each case it was clear early on that those games would almost certainly come to a peaceful end. The draw between Topalov and Michael Adams was another story. Adams equalized out of the opening, but from moves 27-32 made a series of inaccuracies culminating in a bit of a blunder that cost him the exchange. Almost everything that could go wrong for Topalov in the tournament has gone wrong for him, and his 38.Re1?? (with a small extra assist to 40.Rxc6) allowed Adams to escape. (Games here, with my comments.)

    With three rounds to go there are four players tied for first: Grischuk, Vachier-Lagrave, Nakamura and Giri, with Caruana, Adams, Aronian and Carlsen just half a point behind. Here are the pairings for round 7:

    • Caruana (3) - Giri (3.5)
    • Anand (2.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (3.5)
    • Adams (3) - Grischuk (3.5)
    • Aronian (3) - Topalov (1.5)
    • Carlsen (3) - Nakamura (3.5)

    Tuesday
    Dec082015

    London Chess Classic, Round 5: Four Draws and Anand Wins

    Four patterns are ongoing at the London Chess Classic: lots of Berlins (three this round, 10 overall), many draws (four this round), blown opportunities (most notably Fabiano Caruana again failing to win a better, actually completely winning, position against Alexander Grischuk - who also continued his pattern of getting in terrible time trouble and erring therein), and Veselin Topalov playing badly (he lost his third game of the event, this one to Viswanathan Anand). The games, with my reasonably thorough notes, are here.

    The standings are rather remarkable: three players share first on +1, six players are half a point behind, and only one player is underwater (Topalov with -3). Tomorrow is a rest day, and then these are the pairings for round 6, on Thursday:

     

    • Giri (3) - Carlsen (2.5)
    • Nakamura (3) - Aronian (2.5)
    • Topalov (1) - Adams (2.5)
    • Grischuk (2.5) - Anand (2.5)
    • Vachier-Lagrave (3) - Caruana (2.5)

     

    Tuesday
    Dec082015

    London Chess Classic, Round 4: Four Draws and a Nakamura Win

    Decisive results aren't exactly falling like leaves in autumn, but it's not for want of effort at the London Chess Classic. Magnus Carlsen tried until move 78 to beat Michael Adams, and Veselin Topalov went to move 83 trying to defeat Fabiano Caruana, but the defense held in both cases. Alexander Grischuk and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave "only" went to move 43, but their game was a thriller, with both sides playing very accurately in a game that was complicated from start to finish. For Grischuk it was especially impressive, as he had to wend his way through a difficult position in severe time trouble. The fourth draw was fairly short, between Anish Giri and Levon Aronian, but it had its interesting moments early on before it flickered out.

    The fifth game had a winner - the third win in the tournament. Hikaru Nakamura came into today's game with Viswanathan Anand with a 5-1 score against him in decisive classical games, and now it's 6-1. Nakamura steered the game towards a Catalan sideline, which Anand met with an interesting pawn sacrifice. Black's compensation was at least nearly sufficient, but that and the general complexion of the game changed after Anand's 24...Qa4?!, sidelining the queen. Anand hoped that the queen would prove active here; unfortunately for him, it was anything but. The queen was stuck, and after 30...g6 31.h5 g5 Black's weakened kingside allowed Nakamura to transfer his knight from a3 to f5, resulting in a speedy win. (The games can be replayed here, with my notes to several of them.)

    Nakamura thus joins Giri and Vachier-Lagrave in the lead with a +1 score. Topalov lost to the latter two and remains alone in the cellar, half a point behind Anand and a full point behind the four players who are on 50%. Here are the pairings for round 5:

    • Vachier-Lagrave (2.5) - Giri (2.5)
    • Caruana (2) - Grischuk (2)
    • Anand (1.5) - Topalov (1)
    • Adams (2) - Nakamura (2.5)
    • Aronian (2) - Carlsen (2)

    Monday
    Dec072015

    London Chess Classic, Round 3: Many Missed Opportunities

    Round 3 of the London Chess Classic managed to produce one decisive result - bringing the tournament total to two (out of 15) - and once again the victim was Veselin Topalov. Topalov was Black in a 6.h3 Najdorf against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and came out of the opening in good shape, but an inaccuracy on move 22 followed by a series of second-best moves in time trouble led to his coming a-cropper. Topalov came into the tournament leading the Grand Chess Tour, but in clear last place his chances of overall victory aren't looking very good right now.

    MVL is now tied for first with Anish Giri (who beat Topalov in round 1); they have 2/3 while everyone else (aside from Topalov) is on 50%. That could have easily been different, as three of the four drawn games saw one or even both of the players in trouble. Giri, for instance, was in huge trouble against Alexander Grischuk with Black in a Berlin (one of three Berlins on the day) endgame, but thanks to Grischuk's characteristically poor time management Giri found a nice way of getting counterplay (33...a3!) and escaped with a draw.

    Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura also contested a Berlin, but an "Anti-Berlin" with 4.d3. Nakamura played the opening unsuccessfully and was soon down a pawn for nothing. Caruana's subsequent play was extremely passive, however, and although he maintained fair-to-good winning chances almost up to the time control, he let Nakamura slip away.

    The pairing of the world champions saw another Berlin endgame. Viswanathan Anand had White and a very pleasant edge, having safely managed to achieve the h3/g4/f4/e5 pawn wave. Missing 28...g5 from a ways back allowed Magnus Carlsen to equalize, and then 34.Re3? instead of repeating and taking a draw left him in big trouble. Luckily for Anand, Carlsen's last move of the time control, 40...Rh8?, was a serious error. Anand played perfectly in the second time control and scraped out a draw.

    The last draw wasn't a Berlin (but don't feel too bad - at least it was still a Ruy), and it didn't see either player get into serious trouble either. Michael Adams played an 8.a4 Anti-Marshall against Levon Aronian, and the players followed some previous games for a long time. By the time that stopped around move 25 it was Aronian who was a touch better, but with accurate play Adams held without much sweat. (The games, with my comments, are here.)

    The pairings for round 4 look like this:

    • Giri (2) - Aronian (1.5)
    • Carlsen (1.5) - Adams (1.5)
    • Nakamura (1.5) - Anand (1.5)
    • Topalov (.5) - Caruana (1.5)
    • Grischuk (1.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (2)