London R9: Vlad All Over

12/13/2011 – If you ever need someone to save your life by getting a draw with the white pieces, Vladimir Kramnik would be most people’s first choice. He was solidity personified against Levon Aronian, rapidly liquidating to a level bishop ending in the final round of the London Chess Classic. That gave him the point he needed to take the trophy. Final annotated report by John Saunders.

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London Chess Classic 2011

The 2011 London Chess Classic took place in the Olympia Conference Centre from Saturday, December 3rd until Monday, December 12th. Time controls were classical forty moves in two hours, then twenty moves in one hour and thirty minutes for the rest of the game. A win 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. The total prize fund is €160,000 before tax.

Vlad All Over

Round nine report by John Saunders

Round 9: Monday, December 12, 2011
Luke McShane
½-½
Vishy Anand 
Hikaru Nakamura
1-0
Michael Adams 
Nigel Short
½-½
Magnus Carlsen
Vladimir Kramnik
½-½
Levon Aronian
David Howell (bye) – assisting commentary

Many congratulations to Vladimir Kramnik of Russia, who has won the third London Chess Classic. If you needed someone to save your life by getting a draw with white, Kramnik would be most people’s first choice. He was solidity personified against Levon Aronian, rapidly liquidating to a level bishop ending. That gave him the point he needed to take the trophy.

Magnus Carlsen could still have shared the money (though not the trophy) with Vlad had he won with black against Nigel Short in their now traditional last round encounter but he had rather worst of things. The game started with the Giuoco Pianissimo – ‘very quiet game’ – which most of us learn when we are beginners. “I haven’t played this since I was about eight,” said Nigel. “I haven’t scored with White in this event and I decided to play something incredibly boring. Magnus tried to inject some excitement into [the game] – but the excitement was all for White.” Nigel managed a picturesque d4-d5 thrust, which was a very useful pawn sacrifice, and the resultant activity saw him go from a pawn down to a pawn up. He was close to winning at one stage and Magnus admitted he “played a horrible series of moves” to get himself into difficulties.

However, it turned out to be what chess writers like to call a ‘symbolic advantage’ only. Nigel was a pawn up, but with all the pawns on one side of the board, and the world number one defending stoutly, his winning chances abated. He indulged in the ritual torture that all GMs practise against each other in such positions (it is part of the unwritten grandmaster’s code – your opponent tortures you when he or she gets the chance, so you are honour bound to do the same back to them). But it was unlikely to bear fruit against the world’s top rated player and a draw was the result.


The first move in McShane-Anand was executed by Yasmin Qureshi, the British-Pakistani
Labour Party Member of Parliament for Bolton – the town Nigel Short hails from

Luke McShane faced the world champion Vishy Anand with White. Vishy played the Caro-Kann and the play was fairly balanced. A repetition led to early peace terms.


Hikaru Nakamura in his final game in London

The game of the day was Hikaru Nakamura versus Mickey Adams and was earmarked as such from the moment that Hikaru played the King’s Gambit. As with the previous outing in the tournament for this museum piece of an opening (when Nigel Short played it against Luke McShane), initial exuberance soon gave way to caution and tentativeness as Hikaru tucked his king away on h1 and allowed a c4 counter-thrust. A pleasantly piratical game ensued, with White launching a pawn assault on the queenside as Mickey Adams pointed his bishops at the white kingside.

Watching in the VIP room was a fascinating experience as the super-GMs who had finished their games were joined by Garry Kasparov (above) and other former greats of the game.


Commentators in the VIP room: GM Julian Hodgson and...


...GM Stuart Conquest, both always excruciatingly entertaining

GMs Julian Hodgson and Stuart Conquest were the commentators there but for once they were heavily outgunned by the audience. Black seemed to hold sway for much of the game but eventually the great pendulum swung in White’s direction. Garry Kasparov it was who first spotted the change in wind direction: “38 Rfe1 and now it looks better for White.” A blunder followed and White duly triumphed, taking Hikaru Nakamura to clear second in the table and condemning poor Mickey Adams to last place. Credit to both players, though, for providing the last round audience with a feast of chess entertainment.

So that’s the third London Chess Classic over and done with. The end of a chess tournament is always a melancholic affair, as the organisers pack up the equipment and take down score tables, the winners lug home their trophies, the unsuccessful slink away to lick their wounds, and old chess friends part company for the dreary-seeming ‘real world’.

Just as I myself was getting ready to leave for home, I saw something I had never seen before on such occasions: a young man sitting playing a guitar on a bench just outside the commentary room. And playing quite beautifully, too. I love playing the guitar but I cannot play like this talented young man. I stood and listened to him giving this impromptu concert, all on his own outside the now deserted commentary room. Presently, Nigel Short happened to be passing and he too, as a guitar aficionado, stopped and marvelled at the music coming from the young man’s unusual eight-stringed instrument. “Fantastic!” exclaimed the grandmaster.


Alf Lundberg's guitarre has eight strings, with an extra A-string above and below the usual six

The young man was Alf Wilhelm Lundberg, from Norway, and you too can listen to some of his music at his website. I asked him what he was doing there. He told me he happened to be in England and had stopped by to see his famous compatriot Magnus Carlsen, but he had missed him – the world number one had already departed. He’s a chessplayer too, incidentally. Norway – great chessplayers and great guitarists. Sounds like my sort of country.

On that note, I must close. Dear reader, I hope I have been able to bring to life some of the thrills, incidents and excitement of a wonderful tournament for you. It has been a great privilege to write for you. I wish you all the compliments of the season - may Caïssa go with you in 2012 and may your errors not be of the double question mark variety.


Final standings (London scoring)

Final standings (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
½-½
Magnus Carlsen
David Howell
½-½
Levon Aronian
Luke McShane
0-1
Vladimir Kramnik 
Hikaru Nakamura
½-½
Nigel Short 
Michael Adams (bye) – assisting commentary
Round 9: Monday, December 12, 2011
Luke McShane
½-½
Vishy Anand 
Hikaru Nakamura
1-0
Michael Adams 
Nigel Short
½-½
Magnus Carlsen
Vladimir Kramnik
½-½
Levon Aronian
David Howell (bye) – assisting commentary

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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