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    Entries in 2016 London Chess Classic (9)

    Monday
    Jan022017

    An Interview with So Reviewing the London Chess Classic

    This is a fairly long interview with Wesley So, reviewing his recent success in the London Chess Classic. Definitely worth a look.

    Monday
    Dec192016

    2016 London Chess Classic: So Wins The Tournament

    The last round turned out to be an anti-climax. Wesley So drew quickly and easily with White against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and waited to see if Fabiano Caruana would catch him by winning with Black against Anish Giri. That never looked likely to happen, and it didn't: Giri drew for the ninth time in nine games, and So's +3 score (6-3) gave him clear first, to go along with his overall victory in the Grand Chess Tour. Caruana finished in clear second, and there was a three way tie for third, another half a point back. Two of the three were Viswanathan Anand and Vladimir Kramnik, who drew with each other, and the third was Hikaru Nakamura, who drew with Michael Adams.

    There was one decisive game on the day, as Levon Aronian not only failed to take advantage of a better position, but somehow lost the thread in an equal position after the time control to lose to Veselin Topalov. Topalov could have finished at -7, but instead pulled up to a -5 score, while Aronian finished at -1 rather than in the tie for third place.

    The last round games, without annotations, are here.

    Saturday
    Dec172016

    2016 London Chess Classic: The Leaders Draw; So Clinches Overall Grand Chess Tour Victory

    For Hikaru Nakamura to overtake Wesley So in the overall Grand Chess Tour standings, a lot of things would have had to go right for him in today's round and in the final round tomorrow, but having drawn his game with Levon Aronian and with So having held against Fabiano Caruana, that ship has sailed. So has won the overall tour and the accompanying $100,000 bonus. By drawing with Caruana, who was and still is the only player within half a point of him, he is in a great position to win the London Chess Classic as well.

    So and Aronian had the black pieces, and both were very well-prepared in the openings, equalizing fully and drawing easily. Two other games were drawn, but with more drama.

    Vladimir Kramnik gave 1.e4 another punt, something he's been doing a fair amount lately, and Anish Giri played the Najdorf. The last two rounds saw Black get blown away in the Delayed Poisoned Pawn variation, but Kramnik played 6.g3 and went for a purely positional approach. Giri did his best to spice the game up, even giving up a piece for a few pawns. The game finished peacefully, but not from a want of effort or because the game lacked interest.

    Maxime Vachier-Lagrave continued his streak of unsuccessful openings, this time against Michael Adams. Adams equalized with Black pretty easily in a 4.d3 Berlin, and event obtained the advantage. To hold, MVL wisely gave up a pawn to reach a rook and four pawns vs. rook and three pawns ending, with all the pawns on the same side.

    Finally, Veselin Topalov managed yet another loss; his present score is one out of eight. (Granted, that's still one point more than almost everyone reading this would score, but for Topalov it's a disaster - he has lost almost 27 rating points and has fallen out of the top 18 in the world for the first time in more than two decades.) Today's suffering came at the hands of his conquerer in their 2010 World Championship match, Viswanathan Anand. Anand was ready with a great new idea in a major line of the 5.Bf4 Queen's Gambit Declined: 12...b5! Soon White was in serious trouble, but as has happened more than once in the tournament, Anand let his advantage slip away. Fortunately for him, but not for his snakebitten opponent, White's position remained precarious, and Topalov made further errors and lost. (The games are here, unannotated except for Topalov-Anand. That game has enough analysis to make up for the other four, and then some.)

    Here are the last round pairings:

    • Aronian (4) - Topalov (1)
    • Anand (4.5) - Kramnik (4.5)
    • Giri (4) - Caruana (5)
    • So (5.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (3.5)
    • Adams (3.5) - Nakamura (4.5)

    Friday
    Dec162016

    2016 London Chess Classic, Round 7: Four Draws and a Spectacular Nakamura Win

    There was only one decisive game in round 7, but it was a very good one. After losing with Black in a Delayed Poisoned Pawn in round 6, Hikaru Nakamura decided to try things from the white side against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Like Fabiano Caruana the day before, he too was successful, winning a spectacular (though slightly imperfect) game.

    The other four games were drawn, three of them in the Queen's Gambit Declined with 5.Bf4. Two of them (So-Kramnik and Aronian-Anand) were short draws, of interest only to those concerned with making short, comfortable draws with Black. In the third game, Anish Giri managed to get a position where he could bother Veselin Topalov forever, and given Topalov's extremely bad form in the tournament the situation seemed exceptionally promising. Unfortunately for Giri, when Topalov did give him chances he didn't do anything with them, and eventually Giri stopped trying after 67 moves. That stopped the bleeding for Topalov, while giving Giri his seventh consecutive draw in the tournament.

    The fourth draw was an English Opening between Mickey Adams and Fabiano Caruana, a correct draw where Adams enjoyed a slight pull throughout. Caruana found an elegant way to eliminate his problems by sacrificing a pawn to reach a drawn opposite-colored bishop ending.

    (Today's games are here, with my annotations.)

    Caruana thus remains in second place, half a point behind So, and they play tomorrow with Caruana getting the white pieces. Nakamura is a further half a point behind, and will need everything to go right for him and wrong for So in the next two rounds if he is to have a chance of overtaking him in the overall standings for the Grand Chess Tour. Here are tomorrow's pairings:

    • Nakamura (4) - Aronian (3.5)
    • Vachier-Lagrave (3) - Adams (3)
    • Caruana (4.5) - So (5)
    • Kramnik (4) - Giri (3.5)
    • Topalov (1) - Anand (3.5)

    Friday
    Dec162016

    2016 London Chess Classic, Round 6: So Wins Again, Still Leads

    It's back to the good old days of rounds 1 and 2, as round 6 emulated its great predecessors in seeing three decisive games out of the five. Those decisive games were important ones for the leaderboard, too, especially Wesley So's win over Veselin Topalov, whose rating is diving faster than a submarine trying to avoid detection. So is at +3, and now rather than leading four players by just half a point he has opened up a larger lead against all but one of his pursuers - Fabiano Caruana.

    Topalov - So started out as an interesting game, but Topalov's odd 18th move immediately got him in serious trouble, and just nine moves later it was time to pack it in. Caruana's win over Hikaru Nakamura was a very different affair, an example of spectacular preparation by Caruana that landed on Nakamura like a ton of bricks. His subsequent play wasn't perfect, but it was good enough to reel in the full point, pushing Nakamura out of the tie for second and almost out of contention for overall victory in the Grand Chess Tour, which is nearly but not quite guaranteed to go to So.

    The third decisive game on the day kicked another second-placed player a full point behind Caruana when Levon Aronian lost to Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Vachier-Lagrave has had trouble in the opening all tournament long, and here too, with White, he was worse early on. Aronian missed a good chance for a serious edge, and in the leadup to the time control (but not in serious time trouble) made a series of serious errors leading to a speedy loss.

    The other games were drawn. Vladimir Kramnik got nothing on the white side of a Zukertort System against Mickey Adams, while drawing specialist Anish Giri had excellent winning chances with Black against Viswanathan Anand, but couldn't convert his advantage. (The games, with my notes, are here.)

    Here's what's coming up in round 7:

    • Aronian (3) - Anand (3)
    • Giri (3) - Topalov (.5)
    • So (4.5) - Kramnik (3.5)
    • Adams (2.5) - Caruana (4)
    • Nakamura (3) - Vachier-Lagrave (3)

    Wednesday
    Dec142016

    2016 London Chess Classic: So Still Leads After Five Rounds

    Heading into the tournament's only rest day, Wesley So still leads the London Chess Classic after three consecutive draws, but he is just half a point ahead of four pursuers: Hikaru Nakamura, Levon Aronian, Vladimir Kramnik, and Fabiano Caruana.

    Each of the first two rounds had three decisive results, while the last three rounds combined have added only three more decisive results to the tally. It's not for want of trying, however; several games nearly finished in a win before the defender escaped with a draw. Here's a quick recap of rounds 3-5.

    In round 3, Nakamura avenged his first round loss to So on his (Nakamura's) birthday by defeating Viswanathan Anand on his. Anand had a decent position out of the opening, but a series of strange tactical errors - by both players - brought both players to 50%. That was the only win of the round, but Veselin Topalov had chances to defeat Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. In the end MVL escaped with a draw, and while Topalov only received half a point from the game, it's the only half a point he has acquired in the whole tournament through round 5. Aronian, Caruana, and Anish Giri enjoyed advantages against So, Kramnik, and Michael Adams, respectively, but were probably never too close to winning.

    Nakamura was the only winner in round 4 as well, after Topalov went crazy with White trying to make something happen. The result was a practically lost position coming out of the opening, and while Topalov may have had a fleeting chance at a fortress with 44.Rxf3 (instead of the hopeless 44.Kxf3 chosen in the game) Rxe2+ 45.Rxe2 Qxe2+ 46.Rf2, the overall trend was very much against him, and Nakamura pulled to within half a point of the leader. Anand-Adams and Caruana-Aronian were stable draws, but So had excellent winning chances against Giri, winning a pawn in the ending, while Kramnik also forced Vachier-Lagrave to defend for a long time. Giri and MVL played excellent chess, and held the draws.

    In round 5 someone other than Nakamura won, but Topalov was again the victim. This time it was Adams who exploited the Bulgarian's bad form. Actually, "bad form" is a misnomer. Topalov just played very aggressively - too aggressively - and Adams played a great game to neutralize his opponent's dangerous but ultimately unsound attack. Adams's preparation was very deep, deep enough that although he had to work out the problems with Topalov's idea on his own, he knew that the engine didn't approve of his opponent's choice. That can be a big advantage: even if you don't know what's wrong with your opponent's choice, you know that something's wrong with it, and the task is just to work it out!

    Speaking of deep preparation, Giri and Anand both produced startling ideas in their games that let them both easily equalize and draw with Black. For Anand, it was 10...Bxa3!? vs. So, while for Giri it was the at-best-temporary exchange sac 12...b6 against Aronian. In the other two games there was more drama. Nakamura pushed hard against Kramnik, hoping for a third consecutive win and a share of the lead, but Kramnik's excellent defense saved the day. Vachier-Lagrave's situation against Caruana was more dire, but when Caruana played the flashy 24...Rd2 rather than the pedestrian - but stronger - 24...Nb4, he was able to escape. (Round 3-5 games here, but without annotations.)

    Wednesday is a rest day, and on Thursday play resumes with the following pairings:

    • Vachier-Lagrave (2) - Aronian (3)
    • Caruana (3) - Nakamura (3)
    • Kramnik (3) - Adams (2)
    • Topalov (.5) - So (3.5)
    • Anand (2.5) - Giri (2.5)

    Saturday
    Dec102016

    2016 London Chess Classic: Three More Wins, and So Leads and Surpasses 2800

    It was another exciting round, with three decisive games and not a single 1.e4 e5 snorefest.

    The game of the round was a thriller between Veselin Topalov and Fabiano Caruana, an Advance French that went back and forth a few times before Caruana turned the tables one last time with the brilliant 36...Re8. It has been rumored that if he - Caruana - manages a +4 score in the tournament that he will overtake Magnus Carlsen for the #1 spot on the rating list. That seems wrong, but he would at least get very close to him on the list. Right now he is within 14 points, the nearest anyone has been to Carlsen in a very long time.

    Another bit of big news on the rating list is that Wesley So has become the 12th player in history to achieve a FIDE rating of 2800, though for now it's only on the live list, where he is 2803.2. He defeated Mickey Adams to notch his second win of the tournament, and as a result he's in clear first. For Adams, it was his second straight defeat, and like yesterday he blundered at the end of the time control; a bit less egregiously in today's game, but not by much.

    The third winner was Viswanathan Anand, who was unafraid of Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and his Najdorf. With some nice preparation Anand came out of the opening with a serious advantage, and while he may not have prosecuted this advantage in the best possible way MVL's position was always difficult, and a blunder on move 29 sealed his fate.

    Anish Giri and Hikaru Nakamura played past the first time control, but it never looked too frightening for Black and a draw was always the likeliest result. Vladimir Kramnik and Levon Aronian also drew, but theirs was a wild affair before it settled down to a drawn ending.

    The games are here, and tomorrow's pairings look like this:

    • Aronian (1.5) - So (2)
    • Adams (0) - Giri (1)
    • Nakamura (.5) - Anand (1.5)
    • Vachier-Lagrave (.5) - Topalov (0)
    • Caruana (1.5) - Kramnik (1.5)

    Friday
    Dec092016

    2016 London Chess Classic, Round 1: So, Kramnik, and Aronian Win

    The London Chess Classic got off to an entertaining start in the first round, with three decisive games out of five and only one 1.e4 e5 opening. Part of what made the day entertaining was the presence of blunders - at least two of them. Hikaru Nakamura more or less lost his game with Wesley So, with White (and on his birthday), thanks to 13.Ne2?, while Mickey Adams blundered a piece to Levon Aronian, missing a simple two-move sequence when he played 33...Ka8. The day's other winner was Vladimir Kramnik, who beated arch-nemesis Veselin Topalov in a brisk 28-mover. Caruana - Anand and Vachier-Lagrave - Giri were drawn, and all five games can be replayed here (with notes to the decisive games).

    Round 2 Pairings:

     

    • Kramnik (1) - Aronian (1)
    • Topalov (0) - Caruana (.5)
    • Anand (.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (.5)
    • Giri (.5) - Nakamura (0)
    • So (1) - Adams (0)

     

    Tuesday
    Dec062016

    London Chess Classic Starts on Friday

    No blitz event for this one: they just show up and start playing, and the pairings are already out for the 2016 London Chess Classic. Here is what round 1 looks like, coming this Friday and starting at 4 p.m. local time (= 5 p.m. CET, noon ET):

    • Levon Aronian (2785) - Michael Adams (2748)
    • Hikaru Nakamura (2779) - Wesley So (2794)
    • Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (2804) - Anish Giri (2771)
    • Fabiano Caruana (2823) - Viswanathan Anand (2779)
    • Vladimir Kramnik (2809) - Veselin Topalov (2760)

    That last pairing looks like trouble, but maybe having them get their game out of the way will help them both have a normal tournament, especially if it's a draw. Anyway, it should be a great tournament, and hopefully there will be very few Ruys and Giuocos after the 1.e4 e5 overdose at the Carlsen-Karjakin match.

    Predictions?