London R7: Chess is a Cruel Game

12/11/2011 – “For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.” Chess is a cruel game. Once you’ve been identified as off-form or otherwise not up to par, you can expect no mercy as your opponents target you. The tally of decisive games soared to 15 out of 28 as the three tail-enders were put to the sword once more. John Saunders reports.

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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 then 5) an 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.

Chess is a Cruel Game

Round seven report by John Saunders

Round 7: Saturday, December 10, 2011
Nigel Short 
0-1
Luke McShane 
Vladimir Kramnik 
1-0
David Howell 
Levon Aronian
½-½
Vishy Anand 
Magnus Carlsen
1-0
Michael Adams 
Hikaru Nakamura (bye) – assisting commentary

We’ve now reached Saturday and the last time someone other than Adams, Short and Howell suffered defeat was last Tuesday when the world champion memorably lost to Nakamura – even then two Englishmen bit the dust the same day. However, before we Brits are tempted to overindulge our favourite national pastime of self-loathing and whingeing, I should point out that the player currently in first place on tie-break is also English – GM Luke McShane, who is billed here as ‘the world’s strongest amateur player’ (although someone who visited the VIP room yesterday also has a claim to that title – Garry Kasparov).


Nigel Short, playing the King's Gambit in a Super-GM event


Luke McShane countering

Much of the attention in the commentary and VIP rooms was focused on the game between Nigel Short and Luke McShane, perhaps because Nigel decided to be romantic and offer his opponent a King’s Gambit. This bit of Victorian whimsy was toute la rage a century or so ago a few miles up the road at Simpson’s Divan but it faded from view during the Hypermodern and Soviet school eras that followed and is now rarely deployed in elite events. The modern view is that it is ‘wrong but romantic’. Nigel quite often wheels it out when in a ‘devil may care’ mood and he recently used it to beat Garry Kasparov in a blitz exhibition game.


Spectators in the VIP room following the games – can you spot the famous face?

One of the good things about the King’s Gambit is that battle is often engaged very quickly. It is also one of the bad things about it. It was probably just as well that the players couldn’t hear what the guests in the commentary room were saying about the game. The first guest was Viktor Korchnoi, who launched into a fascinating monologue on the opening, why it is not suited to elite tournament chess, how much he thought the players knew about it (not much, seemed to be his verdict) and then, perhaps regretting his harshness on the players’ opening capabilities, how much he liked them as people, even though they had the discourtesy to beat him over the board now and again.

After several minutes of this entertaining soliloquy, GM Dan King tried to reassert his authority as anchorman: “Mr Korchnoi, can I ask a question?” Came the answer - “no... no...”, uttered not in an angry way but with an air of incredulity that anyone should think it sensible to interrupt his stream of consciousness. Of course, Viktor Lvovich can be genuinely testy on occasions but he also has a wicked, teasing sense of humour and here he was just playing to the crowd. Dan was finally permitted to get a word in edgeways. With reference to the book which Korchnoi co-wrote with Zak on the King’s Gambit, many moons ago, he asked Viktor: “have you played the King’s Gambit very much?” “No... well... I played it a couple of times by mistake.” (laughter) “For me it is a good joke to play the King’s Gambit.”


The bye player today was Hikaru Nakamura and, following Viktor Korchnoi’s session, he joined the commentary team. The game had reached move 13 – quite an early stage in proceedings – when Hikaru arrived. Commentator Lawrence Trent asked him jokingly “who’s winning?” But Hikaru replied, in all seriousness, “Black”. Later Nigel Short was honest enough to concur with the American GM’s assessment. The opening gamble had not been a success. See the game notes for further comments by the GMs. Incidentally, Hikaru is a great commentator and I urge you to watch his session in the commentary room in its entirety. On a website near you...

Mickey Adams (above) is having a torrid time at Olympia. Today was his fourth loss in five games – surely unprecedented in his long and distinguished career, though black against Carlsen is always going to be a tough ask. However,

Magnus (above) was also quite dissatisfied with his general form, having been surprised in the opening. The thing to look for in this game is Magnus’s queen manoeuvres on the first and second ranks. It looked ugly (Magnus’s description) and Mickey’s position looked OK until around move 30 but when the white queen came to f1 suddenly Magnus’s position started to blossom. Mickey serious spoilt his position with 33...Ra3? and irrevocably with 35...Nc4??.


David Howell (above) didn’t seem to be doing too badly against Vladimir Kramnik’s Queen’s Gambit but he got into difficulties in the middlegame and fell for a neat intermezzo tactic on move 21. It wasn’t quite the end of the story but Vlad’s technique was as impressive as it was relentless.


Vlad enjoys playing in London and he looks to be back to his best form now.


Vishy Anand facing the "Levon System"

One of the games was a relatively sedate affair and finished before the other three. Aronian-Anand followed the game Aronian-Gelfand from the recent Tal Memorial tournament in Moscow, with Aronian’s trademark 7.Be2, which Vishy called “the Levon System” in the commentary room (to which Levon responded “if I don’t play my own system, who is going to play it?”).


"If I don’t play my own system, who is going to play it?” (Aronian)

Levon varied with 11 Nd4. He felt 17 Rd1 was a waste of time and became disillusioned with his position. A fair amount of material was hoovered off and then there was a repetition. A teeny bit disappointing for the big Saturday afternoon crowd but of course there was plenty of other action to enjoy.

Who is Going to Win?

Two rounds remain - who is going to win? Given his track record for winning elite events, it is hard to bet against Magnus Carlsen. However, what complicates his life here is the fact that he finishes with two Blacks, versus Anand and Short. Luke McShane, on the other hand, has two Whites - but the first is against the other leader Vlad Kramnik and then Vishy Anand. Opposition doesn’t get much tougher, of course. As well as the clash with Luke, Vlad Kramnik faces Levon Aronian with White in the final round. Hikaru Nakamura is a point adrift of the other three but he must still fancy his chances, with two Whites against the out of form Nigel Short and Mickey Adams. The 3-1-0 system helps to keep the tournament alive to the final round - it should an exciting denouement, with four players still having very good chances of overall victory.

FIDE Open

In the showdown between the leaders and top seeds, Abhijeet Gupta of India defeated Gawain Jones to move into the sole lead with 7/8. Four players are on 6½: Keith Arkell, Peter Wells, Sahaj Grover and Jovanka Houska. The latter needs a draw with IM Arghyadip Das in the final round to secure a GM norm and she will enjoy a groundswell of home support. Tom Weber of Luxembourg needs a draw for an IM norm, while Nicolas Croad of New Zealand needs a win to do the same.

FIDE Women’s Invitational

Two players are dominating the Women’s Invitational tournament. IM Dagne Ciuksyte of England and Guliskhan Nakhbayeva of Kazakhstan have 6½/8, two clear points ahead of the field. Both have TPRs above 2400.

Korchnoi Simul

Here’s another game from the Korchnoi simul on 9 December. The great man shows how a seemingly impenetrable pawn wall can be breached - not once, but twice.

About the author

John Saunders, an all-star defenseman in the Montreal junior leagues, played hockey at Western Michigan University from 1974–76... No, hang on, wrong Wikipedia entry. The John Saunders who is writing these reports attended the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe (1963-70), went on to Selwyn College, Cambridge, where he obtained a degree in Law and Classics. As a winner of domestic open tournaments he reached a peak Elo rating of 2255 (in January 1993). Subsequently John has since made a career from chess writing and journalism, first as editor of British Chess Magazine from 1999 to July 2010, then as acting editor of CHESS Magazine from September 2010, and by providing news coverage for BBC Ceefax. He has also written some instructive guides on the game, covering a broad range of levels of expertise.

All photos by Frederic Friedel


Standings after seven rounds (London scoring)

Standings after seven rounds (traditional scoring)

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


Links

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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