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    Entries in 2017 London Chess Classic (10)

    Sunday
    Dec102017

    2017 London Chess Classic, Round 8: Nepo Beats Carlsen, Takes the Clear Lead with a Round to Go

    Magnus Carlsen had enjoyed excellent fortune in the last two rounds, getting a lot of luck (while also defending resiliently) to turn two lost positions into a draw and a win. But this time his luck run out, and even went in reverse. This time he had a large, possibly winning advantage against Ian Nepomniachtchi, and this happened at (at least) two points in the game. One thing Nepo did well was to move fast, and Carlsen got into mild time trouble. That doesn't fully explain the series of errors he committed, however, culminating in a blunder on move 36 that left him a piece down for nothing. There was no Santa Claus in store for him this time, and he resigned after move 40.

    The other four games were drawn, so Nepomniachtchi now leads the tournament, half a point ahead of Fabiano Caruana. In the overall Grand Chess Tour standings, it seems that Carlsen's slim lead over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave would hold up if all tomorrow's games were drawn, but any further positive progress by MVL or further regress by Carlsen would give the Frenchman tour victory.

    Here are today's games (I've annotated Carlsen-Nepomniachtchi), and here are the pairings for the final round today/tomorrow (Monday):

    • Nepomniachtchi (5.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (4.5)
    • Anand (3) - So (4)
    • Karjakin (3) - Nakamura (4)
    • Caruana (5) - Adams (3)
    • Aronian (4) - Carlsen (4)

    Sunday
    Dec102017

    2017 London Chess Classic, Round 7: Lots of Blood

    In round 7 three of the five games saw a winner, doubling the total of wins through the entire tournament.

    One of the players whose game finished in a draw was Fabiano Caruana's. He started the round in clear first with a +2 score and the white pieces against Wesley So. So was better prepared in a 5.d3 Bc5 Ruy and equalized easily, drawing in just 30 moves. (If anything, So was a little better near the end.)

    Caruana maintained the lead, but thanks to Ian Nepomniachtchi's win over Viswanathan Anand it's a shared lead. Nepo played an experimental opening hoping for a chance to fight, and he got it. His play wasn't perfect, but he handled the unusual situation much better than Anand did, and won an impressive game.

    While Caruana and Nepomniachtchi are the front-runners in this tournament, Magnus Carlsen and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave are the leaders in the overall Grand Chess Tour standings. Both drew their first six games, and both won in round 7. For Carlsen this required some luck early on, as Michael Adams was winning in the opening (with Black against the Bird) and was better in the ending as well. But while Carlsen's initial salvation in the game was a matter of luck, he simply outplayed Adams in the ending. First he stabilized the situation, then he equalized, and then he managed to obtain some counterplay that wound up winning the game.

    As for MVL, he won a nice game with Black in the Najdorf against Sergey Karjakin. He had suffered some defeats in the Delayed Poisoned Pawn in the last year or two, but this time he was well-prepared, neutralized White's attacking ideas, and eventually exploited the weaknesses left behind in the wake of White's aggression. He, like Carlsen, is half a point behind the leaders.

    Finally, good preparation helped Levon Aronian gain the upper hand against Hikaru Nakamura, but he was unable to convert it into a win. (Or even to cause Nakamura as many problems as Aronian felt his early advantage merited.)

    The games, with my comments, are here; the pairings for the penultimate round follow:

    • Carlsen (4) - Nepomniachtchi (4.5)
    • Adams (2.5) - Aronian (3.5)
    • Nakamura (3.5) - Caruana (4.5)
    • So (3.5) - Karjakin (2.5)
    • Vachier-Lagrave (4.5) - Anand (2.5)

    Friday
    Dec082017

    2017 London Chess Classic, Round 6: Five Interesting Games, and a Tale of Two Endings

    Round 6 of the London Chess Classic maintained its usual allotment of draws - there were four more today out of the five games - but all five were interesting in their own way.

    The outwardly least interesting game was arguably the most important one going into the round: Maxime Vachier-Lagrave vs. Fabiano Caruana. For Vachier-Lagrave, a win was important if he hoped to overtake Magnus Carlsen in the overall Grand Chess Tour standings, and a win would also have put him into a first-place tie with Caruana in the tournament itself. Unfortunately for MVL, Caruana's preparation was superlative: everything through move 22 was prepared by Caruana, and White's 23rd move was a less-dangerous version of the idea he was ready for. Caruana held with ease, and even entertained some slight hopes of obtaining an advantage. Those hopes weren't realized, as Vachier-Lagrave correctly played it safe and steered the game to a draw.

    The shortest game by number of moves was Viswanathan Anand's game with Sergey Karjakin. Like Caruana, Karjakin was well-prepared. His 12...Qa6! is an important new idea in the Flohr-Mikenas system of the English that may mark the end of the line for White's approach. That said, Karjakin was imprecise on moves 15 and/or 16, and Anand missed a chance to play on, as he confessed during the post-game interview.

    Wesley So and Levon Aronian drew their game as well, but unlike the two games mentioned above this one was wild. Aronian took a serious risk with his plan of 14...Ng4 followed by 15...Bxf2+, and neither side proved fully able to handle the complications. First So could have been clearly better, and later Aronian was as well - and maybe even winning. Missing his chance, So finished the game very accurately and drew by repetition.

    The two remaining games were marathons. Michael Adams' game with Ian Nepomniachtchi seemed headed for a routine endgame draw, but then he decided to repeat his policy from round 3 against Vachier-Lagrave. In both games he sacrificed a pawn to reach an objectively drawn ending with a rook and three pawns against his opponent's rook and four pawns, with all the pawns on the kingside. Against MVL he succeeded in holding the ending; against Nepo, he didn't. (The pawn structure was different in the two games, but both were objectively drawn.) Nepomniachtchi blamed Adams' plan of putting the rook on the h-file, and while he could have gotten away with it, there's no doubt that it made it very easy for Adams to lose. While I agree with Nepomniachtchi's diagnosis, I'd offer another one: Adams' failure to play g4.

    Finally, Hikaru Nakamura and Magnus Carlsen had a war, and it followed the sad Murphy's Law script that has characterized so many of Nakamura's heartbreaks against the Norwegian. Nakamura played a fascinating opening, outplayed Carlsen, and achieved a winning ending. And yet, somehow, Carlsen held the game. He shouldn't have, and Nakamura had loads of time to work everything out, but somehow...he just couldn't manage it. Two highligh two general suggestions about the ending: allowing Black's pawn to c2 was dubious, and the move that gave away the win for good was 59.Rxf5. The game was full of content, but I'll leave it to all of you (and other sites) to analyze it.

    I have analyzed the other four games, however, and all five can be replayed here. Meanwhile, here are the pairings for round 7; I would be very surprised if Carlsen doesn't parlay his good fortune today and the white pieces tomorrow into a win over Adams, who is both the lowest-rated player in the event and probably the most discouraged, along with Nakamura, after his unnecessary loss to Nepo.

    • Nepomniachtchi (3.5) - Anand (2.5)
    • Karjakin (2.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (3)
    • Caruana (4) - So (3)
    • Aronian (3) - Nakamura (3)
    • Carlsen (3) - Adams (2.5)

    Wednesday
    Dec062017

    2017 London Chess Classic, Round 5: More Draws, and Caruana Wins Again

    Fabiano Caruana enjoyed some good fortune on the way to defeating Viswanathan Anand and taking a full point lead over the rest of the field, but he cashed in on his opportunity while Magnus Carlsen failed to take home the full point against Wesley So. It's conceivable that the round could have finished with Carlsen and Anand tied for first on +1 ahead of a big group on 50%; instead, Caruana is +2, Anand and Sergey Karjakin are -1, and the other seven players are on 50%.

    As usual, three games finished in approximately 30 moves - today it was Levon Aronian and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Ian Nepomniachtchi and Karjakin, and Michael Adams and Hikaru Nakamura who had the short games. This doesn't necessarily indicate a lack of effort, but the games of the round were clearly the two mentioned in the first paragraph.

    The games, with some comments to Caruana-Anand and Carlsen-So, are here.

    Thursday is a rest day; on Friday, action will resume. Here are the pairings for round 6:

    • Adams (2.5) - Nepomniachtchi (2.5)
    • Nakamura (2.5) - Carlsen (2.5)
    • So (2.5) - Aronian (2.5)
    • Vachier-Lagrave (2.5) - Caruana (3.5)
    • Anand (2) - Karjakin (2)

    Tuesday
    Dec052017

    2017 London Chess Classic, Round 4: Caruana Spoils Everything, Falls Out of the Last Place Tie...UPDATED

    It was too good to last. After 19 consecutive draws, Fabiano Caruana ruined everything by winning the last game of the round, with Black, against Sergey Karjakin. He showed some great preparation (though Jan-Krzysztof Duda gets the finder's fee for being the first to play 8...b5) and played an all-around excellent game. Unfortunately, while Karjakin showed the right spirit yesterday by accepting Levon Aronian's draw offer, despite having a winning advantage, Caruana didn't repay the favor. May he be punished with many more wins in the rest of the tournament.

    Everyone else deserves to be commended for doing their part. Aronian played a quasi-Marshall Gambit against Viswanathan Anand, and Anand immediately fled from danger by returning the pawn to create a drawish position. Hikaru Nakamura may have had a slight edge against Ian Nepomniachtchi, but the latter defended well (he was particularly pleased with his 11...Re8). Nakamura's 23.f4 dissipated his advantage (it was a slightly weakening move that should have been kept in abeyance), and Nepo's fortress held. Wesley So played a reversed Benko Gambit against Michael Adams, and while he eventually managed to equalize (with White) he got no further.

    While the three games mentioned in the last paragraph were all drawn in around 30 moves, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Magnus Carlsen was less balanced. MVL pressed on the white side of a Giuoco Piano for a long time, and Carlsen's pawn sac to obtain the bishop pair wasn't working out for a while. The key moments were moves 28 and 29. White had to find some way of organizing his knights to give them stable squares and to neutralize Black's bishops. It looks like 28.Nfd4 was the best way to achieve that, but Vachier-Lagrave's 28.Nb4 followed by 29.Nd3 didn't do the job. In the post-game interview he said that he had seen the position after 33.Nc5 Bc8, which arose naturally if not by force after 28.Nb4. He assumed that he'd have something there, but once it arose he realized that there was nothing, and at that point it was time to pull the plug and ensure the draw.

    [Side question about Carlsen. In the post-game interviews with Magnus Carlsen it's hard to tell whether he's unhappy about the draws or about having to interact with Maurice Ashley. Carlsen is generally a pretty lousy interviewee unless he has just won or things are going well, but he seems to be expressing disgust, even revulsion in his self-presentation. I remember he and Ashley had a very uncomfortable interview at one point - I think back in 2016 - but I also thought they had gotten past that. Magnus-watchers, what do you think? Whatever it is, it would be good for him to learn to present himself in a more human way: Ashley is just doing his job, and he's a rich man because of chess fans, not in spite of them.]

    The games will come later; for now, here are the tomorrow's pairings for round 5: 

    • Nepomniachtchi (2) - Karjakin (1.5)
    • Caruana (2.5) - Anand (2)
    • Aronian (2) - Vachier-Lagrave (2)
    • Carlsen (2) - So (2)
    • Adams (2) - Nakamura (2)

    Nepomniachtchi and Anand haven't played yet, so it's not too late to fix it: Karjakin can beat Nepo, Anand can beat Caruana, and then in round 7 Nepo can beat Anand. The tournament's ultimate perfection has been spoiled, but that's the next best thing.

    UPDATE: The games are here, with some comments to Vachier-Lagrave vs. Carlsen and Karjakin-Caruana.

    Monday
    Dec042017

    2017 London Chess Classic, Round 3: The Perfect Tournament Continues; UPDATED: Games Included

    The desperate battle for a universally shared last place finish wages on, and so far, so good. Five more draws are on the books, making it a glorious 15 for 15. Who needs checkers ("draughts" for those of you across the pond)?--we chess players know how to draw.

    There were some wobbles: Viswanathan Anand had an advantage with Black against Magnus Carlsen, Mickey Adams had to struggle a little (but not too much) in a pawn-down rook ending against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and Levon Aronian got into genuine trouble (like Carlsen and Adams, he too had White) against Sergey Karjakin. Fortunately, Aronian accompanied a losing mistake with a draw offer, and short of time Karjakin was unable to find the winning idea and split the point. (Games later tonight.)

    Congratulations to the players on a job well done. Tomorrow's drawing opportunities look like this: 

    • Nakamura - Nepomniachtchi
    • So - Adams
    • Vachier-Lagrave - Carlsen
    • Anand - Aronian
    • Karjakin - Caruana

    UPDATE: The games, with my brief comments to three of them, are here.

     

    Sunday
    Dec032017

    2017 London Chess Classic, Round 2: The Fight for Last Place Continues Unabated

    Once again the fight for futility finishes with five draws in five games, leaving all ten participants mired in last place. Only 35 more draws to go - the end is in sight!

    Today's headline game was a world championship rematch: Sergey Karjakin vs. Magnus Carlsen. Carlsen chose an aggressive idea against Karjakin's Italian when he played 9...g5, but the star move was 16...Be6!, which looks idiotic at first glance but is in fact a fine move that equalizes the game. Karjakin had an edge at different points in the game, but never anything too serious.

    In other games, the player with White did enjoy serious chances, if only for a moment. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was surprised with a Dragon from Hikaru Nakamura, and while MVL's reply won't make a Dragon (player) wanna retire, man, he was awarded a nice opportunity when Nakamura played 19...Nc6 rather than 19...f5. The positional 20.Ndb5 looks great for White, even if he's a pawn down. Instead, Vachier-Lagrave went for a pawn-up rook ending with a sequence starting 20.Nxc6 bxc6 21.Bxf7+, but all rook endings are drawn - including this one. It also seems that Wesley So had a couple of moments where his advantage against Ian Nepomniachtchi was pretty serious, but So evidently disagreed (at least about the second moment) and the players drew with a speedy repetition.

    Fabiano Caruana's game with Levon Aronian was also a quick draw. Caruana tested Aronian in the 6.d3 Ruy, and while Aronian had some difficulties against Vachier-Lagrave in their World Cup match a few months ago, Aronian was entirely ready this time around and drew with ease.

    Finally, Viswanathan Anand enjoyed the more outwardly attractive position against Michael Adams, but there was no way to convert it into anything serious. The game went 48 moves, the longest of the round (one move longer than MVL-Nakamura and considerably longer than the other three games), but it too finished peacefully.

    Games here, with my comments. Tomorrow's pairings are:

    • Nepomniachtchi-Caruana
    • Aronian - Karjakin
    • Carlsen - Anand
    • Adams - Vachier-Lagrave
    • Nakamura - So

    Sunday
    Dec032017

    2017 London Chess Classic, Round 1: Everyone Tied for Last

    Or first, depending on how you want to look at it. All five games were drawn, but not all the draws were created equal.

    In the headline game between Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana, the champion had the upper hand throughout. Repeatedly he would outplay Caruana and obtain the advantage, but then he'd commit an inaccuracy and Caruana would equalize or draw nearer to equality. Finally, Carlsen made one inaccuracy too many, and Caruana was able to escape with a draw.

    Hikaru Nakamura and Viswanathan Anand had an even more volatile contest. Nakamura had an edge in the opening that increased in the middlegame thanks to the bishop pair, but the Elmer Fudd plan to blow Anand away with 25.g4, 27.h4, and 28.g5 backfired badly. Anand took over and had serious winning chances in a crazy middlegame, but after mutual errors the game resulted in an exciting draw.

    The other three games - Nepomniachtchi - Aronian, So - Vachier-Lagrave, and Adams - Karjakin - were short, "warm-up" draws.

    Saturday was a rest day, odd as that might seem after just one round. Play resumes Sunday (today for most readers), with the following pairings:

    • So - Nepomniachtchi
    • Vachier-Lagrave - Nakamura
    • Anand - Adams
    • Karjakin - Carlsen
    • Caruana - Aronian

    First round games here (with my comments to Carlsen-Caruana and Anand-Nakamura).

    Thursday
    Nov302017

    Team Nepo Wins London Pro-Biz Cup

    From a quick look at the games it seems that the (strong) amateurs held up their end pretty well, though of course not infallibly. In the end, the team of Ian Nepomniachtchi & Rajko Vujatovic won with 2.5/3, ahead of three teams that finished with two points apiece: Garry Kasparov & Terry Chapman, Hikaru Nakamura & Lee Green, and Dave Norwood & Ali Mortazavi. (There were eight teams overall.)

    More here and here.

    Thursday
    Nov302017

    London Chess Classic Starts Friday

    These are the first round pairings for the final leg of the 2017 Grand Chess Tour: 

    • Ian Nepomniachtchi (2732) - Levon Aronian (2801)
    • Magnus Carlsen (2837) - Fabiano Caruana (2799)
    • Michael Adams (2721) - Sergey Karjakin (2760)
    • Hikaru Nakamura (2780) - Viswanathan Anand (2782)
    • Wesley So (2788) - Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (2796) 

    In the overall standings Carlsen is in first, Vachier-Lagrave is in second and Aronian is in a relatively distant third. Aronian's chances of coming in first overall are very slim, but if Vachier-Lagrave comes in clear first he's guaranteed of a rapid playoff against Carlsen if the latter comes in clear second, while anything less would give him overall victory. Obviously, if Carlsen wins the tournament or even ties for first, he's guaranteed of victory for the 2017 Tour.

    The play will start Friday at 3 p.m. CET (= 9 a.m. ET), but before that - on Thursday - there's a bit of a dog-and-pony show with the "Pro-Biz" consultation event starting at 12:30 p.m. CET (=6:30 a.m. ET). It's a 20'+5" tandem event with teams composed of GMs (all super-GMs, except for David Norwood) and amateurs - some, or maybe all of whom, are quite strong.

    Finally, the British Knockout Championship will be held concurrently with the London Chess Classic; like the LCC it will run from December 1-9.

    Tournament website here. Predictions? I'll choose a mild dark horse and say Aronian.