London Classic: Punditry in round one

12/4/2011 – Half the fun of chess is predicting the outcome. Quite a few armchair pundits had predicted that Kramnik-Nakamura, Aronian-McShane, Adams-Anand would be draws, but that the top seed Magnus Carlsen would beat the bottom seed David Howell. If you had placed your money that way... you would have won. We bring you analysis by John Saunders of the two most interesting games.

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London Chess Classic 2011

The 2011 London Chess Classic is taking place in the Olympia Conference Centre from Saturday, December 3rd until Monday, December 12th, starting at 14:00h London time each day (final round 12:00h). Time controls are classical forty moves in two hours, then twenty moves in one hour and thirty minutes for the rest of the game. A win is counted as three points, a draw as one, and a loss zero. Tiebreaks: 1) number of wins, 2) number of wins with black, 3) result of the individual game between the tied players. In the unlikely event that there is still a tie then: 4) 2 x 15'+2" games, and if necessary 5) Armageddon game: 6'+2" vs 5'+2" with draw odds for black. If there is a tie involving more than two players then the Rapid games will be conducted as a double round all play all. The total prize fund is €160,000 before tax.

Round one – Spassky or Johnson?

Report and commentary by John Saunders

Round 1: Saturday, December 3, 2011
Vladimir Kramnik
½ ½
Hikaru Nakamura
Levon Aronian
½ ½
Luke McShane 
Magnus Carlsen
1-0
David Howell 
Michael Adams
½ ½
Vishy Anand 
Nigel Short (bye) – assisting commentary

The title of this report was inspired by Nigel Short’s quip in the commentary room. He happened to be speaking with his brother on the phone and told him that he was due to be playing Boris at the London Classic. His brother replied “Spassky or Johnson?” Good guess – but in fact it was a third famous Boris that Nigel was facing.

Our readers won’t need to be told who Boris Spassky is, but the non-Brits among you might need to be informed that Boris Johnson is our very colourful Mayor of London, who likes to waffle about wiff-waff. No, he doesn’t have a speech impediment, that’s an antique term for table tennis that he reintroduced to confuse people at an Olympic Games presentation some time ago. I’ve a feeling that the world may get to know our Mayor quite well during the 2012 London Olympics.

This year there are nine players in the London Chess Classic line-up. Even people with the most tenuous grasp of arithmetic will have worked out that “two into nine doesn’t go” and that one player therefore has to sit out each round. Except that they don’t – they are obliged to join the commentary team for the day. Nigel Short had the bye in the first and was the first to be co-opted onto the commentary team. Not only that, he was required to play a game of chess against the special guest, former Wimbledon champion Boris Becker. Of course, we are only a few miles up the road from the place where Boris first hurled himself round the court as an unseeded 17-year-old in 1985 and improbably won the title. I won’t dwell on the Short-Becker encounter - mainly because I couldn’t get near it for the hordes of spectators ringing the board, but I think we can take it that Nigel won because it wasn’t long before he was back in the VIP room looking quite happy, while Boris was nowhere to be seen.

Let’s have a look at some play. Half the fun of chess is playing at being a pundit. Quite a few armchair pundits on Internet forums had predicted that three of the games – Kramnik-Nakamura, Aronian-McShane, Adams-Anand – would be draws, and that the top seed Magnus Carlsen would beat the bottom seed David Howell, based on Carlsen’s recent good form in the Tal Memorial tournament in Moscow and David Howell’s poor form in the European Team Championship. If you had placed your money that way... you would have won. Big-time chess doesn’t always go with the form book or rating list, but today it most certainly did. So no Becker-style surprises so far.


Tennis star Boris Becker serving for Magnus in his game against David Howell


The winner in round one: Magnus Carlsen


Magnus Carlsen-David Howell, London Chess Classic 2011, Round 1 postgame analysis


Andrew Martin's Game of the Day: Round one Carlsen vs Howell

Vlad Kramnik and Hikaru Nakamura had a long, theoretical game in the Catalan, which featured known moves beyond move 20. Vlad complained that his opponent had surprised him with something he (Hikaru) hadn’t played before, springing a line on him which he hadn’t studied for a year. Life is so unfair sometimes. Still, the Russian did engineer an edge but a queenless middlegame ensued which the American held solidly.

Mickey Adams had white against Vishy Anand, who drew nine straight games in Moscow (hence most of the pundits going for that result). The players followed the line they played against each other last year and again the theory went beyond move 20. Magnus Carlsen later commented that Anand might have been better at some point thereafter. But soon the rooks came off and a drawn queen ending ensued. Commentator Daniel King cheekily reminded the world champion that he had now drawn ten games in a row and that a win counts for three points in London. Vishy was not at all put out and his reply was self-deprecating: “even if they had been using a 9-1-0 scoring system in Moscow, I would probably still have drawn all my games.”

Getting back to punditry, of course a few people thought that the in-form Aronian might well beat the largely inactive McShane. However, the other thing to take into account is Luke McShane’s form at Olympia. And he only lives down the road so he can enjoy the comforts of home, which must be a psychological advantage. However, inactivity seemed to play a part as the Londoner took ages over some fairly innocuous looking moves just out of the opening. The commentators didn’t give much for his chances, particularly the gap in time between the players ballooned to something approaching an hour, but Luke is one tough hombre...


Schedule and results

Round 1: Saturday, December 3, 2011
Vladimir Kramnik
½ ½
Hikaru Nakamura
Levon Aronian
½ ½
Luke McShane 
Magnus Carlsen
1-0
David Howell 
Michael Adams
½ ½
Vishy Anand 
Nigel Short (bye) – assisting commentary
Round 2: Sunday, December 4, 2011
David Howell
  Michael Adams 
Luke McShane
  Magnus Carlsen
Hikaru Nakamura
  Levon Aronian
Nigel Short
  Vladimir Kramnik 
Vishy Anand (bye) – assisting commentary
Round 3: Monsay, December 5, 2011
Levon Aronian
  Nigel Short 
Magnus Carlsen
  Hikaru Nakamura
Michael Adams
  Luke McShane 
Vishy Anand
  David Howell 
Vladimir Kramnik (bye) – assisting commentary
Round 4: Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Magnus Carlsen
  Vladimir Kramnik 
Michael Adams
  Nigel Short 
Vishy Anand
  Hikaru Nakamura
David Howell
  Luke McShane 
Levon Aronian (bye) – assisting commentary
Wednesday, December 7, 2011 Rest day
Round 5: Thursday, December 8, 2011
Hikaru Nakamura
  David Howell 
Nigel Short
  Vishy Anand 
Vladimir Kramnik
  Michael Adams 
Levon Aronian
  Magnus Carlsen
Luke McShane (bye) – assisting commentary
Round 6: Friday, December 9, 2011
Michael Adams
  Levon Aronian
Vishy Anand
  Vladimir Kramnik 
David Howell
  Nigel Short 
Luke McShane
  Hikaru Nakamura
Magnus Carlsen (bye) – assisting commentary
Round 7: Saturday, December 10, 2011
Nigel Short 
  Luke McShane 
Vladimir Kramnik 
  David Howell 
Levon Aronian
  Vishy Anand 
Magnus Carlsen
  Michael Adams 
Hikaru Nakamura (bye) – assisting commentary
Round 8: Sunday, December 11, 2011
Vishy Anand
  Magnus Carlsen
David Howell
  Levon Aronian
Luke McShane
  Vladimir Kramnik 
Hikaru Nakamura
  Nigel Short 
Michael Adams (bye) – assisting commentary
Round 9: Monday, December 12, 2011
Luke McShane
  Vishy Anand 
Hikaru Nakamura
  Michael Adams 
Nigel Short
  Magnus Carlsen
Vladimir Kramnik
  Levon Aronian
David Howell (bye) – assisting commentary

All games start at 2 p.m. or 14:00h British time = 15:00h CET, 17:00h Moscow, 7:30 p.m. Chennai, 22:00h Beijing, 01:00 a.m. Melbourne, 03:00 a.m. Auckland (sorry Murray!), 6 a.m. San José, 9 a.m. New York. You can check your location here. Naturally the games will be covered live on the official web site (below) and on Playchess. Stand by for further details on Saturday. The games of the final round start two hours earlier.


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The games are being broadcast live on the official web site and on the chess server Playchess.com. If you are not a member you can download a free Playchess client and get immediate access. Or you can get our latest Fritz 13 program, which includes six months free premium membership to Playchess.

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