"It happens to the best...": Jon Speelman's Agony Column #33

by Jonathan Speelman
12/21/2016 – Every chess tournament has its share of errors, mistakes, blunders, no matter whether amateurs or the world's best players try their skills. Jon Speelman takes a look at agonizing moments from the London Chess Classic.

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Jon Speelman's Agony Column #33

Over the past fortnight, I’ve spent most of my days at the London Chess Classic which, in addition to some wonderful chess, has produced Agony aplenty. Some was suffered by the big guys playing in the Classic itself but the Open tournament and the rapidplay on the final weekend were also more than adequate media.

As an aside, I’ve also had the joy this week of my desktop computer blowing up and before writing this had a cheery couple of hours fighting to migrate backed up emails to my laptop before I noticed that the directory being used was not ...\local\... where there was helpfully a dummy installation but  ...\roaming\... – hence the disappearing messages.

In any case, I’m now going to give a few examples of “Agony in Kensington Olympia”. Chess is a terrifically hard game even for the very best players and absolutely no slur is intended. I’ve always thought that it’s a near miracle whenever anybody plays a half decent game and I’m including a couple of examples of my own idiocy from the rapidplay.

We start though briefly with Hikaru Nakamura in round 1 on his 29th Birthday.

[Event "8th London Classic 2016"] [Site "London ENG"] [Date "2016.12.09"] [Round "1.1"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "So, Wesley"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D85"] [WhiteElo "2779"] [BlackElo "2794"] [Annotator "Speelman,Jonathan"] [PlyCount "58"] [EventDate "2016.12.09"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. e4 Nxc3 6. bxc3 Bg7 7. Be3 c5 8. Rc1 O-O 9. Qd2 e5 10. d5 Nd7 11. c4 f5 12. Bg5 Nf6 {[#]} 13. Ne2 $2 {There are days even for the best players in the world where things go wrong. Here Hikaru somehow got confused or misremembered and played this move which gives Black an immediate advantage.} Nxe4 14. Bxd8 Nxd2 15. Be7 Rf7 16. Bxc5 Nxf1 17. Rxf1 b6 18. Bb4 Ba6 19. f4 Rc8 20. fxe5 Bxe5 21. Rf3 Bxc4 (21... Rxc4 {was cleaner - self-pinning the bishop was unnecessary.}) 22. Re3 Bg7 23. Nf4 Rd7 24. a4 Bh6 25. g3 {[#]} Bxf4 $1 {Quite rightly going for the simple option even though it looks as though his king might become exposed.} 26. gxf4 Rxd5 27. Re7 Rd4 $1 28. Bd2 Kf8 29. Bb4 Re8 {White now loses the f-pawn too since if} (29... Re8 30. Re4+ Kf7 31. Rxe8 Kxe8 32. Bd2 $2 Re4+ {wins even more material.}) 0-1

At the end of an exhausting tournament, Fabiano Caruana risked a long evening of Agony with a careless move but lived to tell the tale:

[Event "8th London Classic 2016"] [Site "London ENG"] [Date "2016.12.18"] [Round "9.3"] [White "Giri, Anish"] [Black "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D27"] [WhiteElo "2771"] [BlackElo "2823"] [Annotator "Speelman,Jonathan"] [PlyCount "116"] [EventDate "2016.12.09"] 1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. c4 dxc4 4. e3 e6 5. Bxc4 c5 6. O-O a6 7. b3 cxd4 8. Nxd4 Bd7 9. Bb2 Nc6 10. Nf3 Be7 11. Nbd2 O-O 12. Rc1 Rc8 13. Qe2 Nb4 14. a3 b5 15. axb4 bxc4 16. Nxc4 Bxb4 17. Ra1 Bb5 18. Nd4 Bxc4 19. bxc4 a5 20. Rfc1 Nd7 21. Nb3 Qg5 22. c5 Nxc5 23. Nxa5 Ne4 24. Nc6 Bc5 25. Nd4 Bxd4 26. Bxd4 Rxc1+ 27. Rxc1 {[#] After soaking up a certain amount of pressure, Caruana presumably would have been delighted to shake hands and finish the tournament. I guess Giri would have continued for a bit after 27...h6 say but without much hope. But no doubt partly due to tiredness Caruana played a weakening move after which he might have been tortured for ages.} e5 $2 (27... h6) 28. Bb2 Rd8 29. Rd1 $5 (29. Qc2 Nf6 (29... Qf5 30. f3 Nd6 31. Qc7) 30. Qc5 Qh5 31. h3 Re8 32. Qb5 h6 33. Rc5 Rd8 34. Bxe5 Rd1+ 35. Kh2 Ng4+ 36. Kg3 Nxe5 37. Rxe5 {and Black should presumably have good chances of getting to the drawn but mildly unpleasant R+3 v R+4}) 29... Rxd1+ 30. Qxd1 h5 31. Qd3 Nf6 32. h3 e4 33. Qd8+ Kh7 34. Qe7 Qg6 35. Bxf6 gxf6 {[#] Black has to defend an unpleasant queen ending but succeeded in the end.} 36. Qc5 Kg7 37. Qd5 f5 38. Qe5+ Qf6 39. Qg3+ Kh7 40. Kh2 Qe7 41. Qf4 Kg6 42. Kg3 Qd8 43. Qe5 Qg5+ 44. Kh2 Qd8 45. Qg3+ Kh7 46. Qf4 Kg6 47. Qe5 Qd2 48. Qg3+ Kh6 49. Qf4+ Kg6 50. Qg3+ Kh6 51. Qh4 Qd6+ 52. Qf4+ Qxf4+ 53. exf4 Kg6 54. Kg1 Kg7 55. Kf1 Kf6 56. Ke2 Ke6 57. Kd2 Kd6 58. Ke2 Ke6 1/2-1/2

We continue with two examples of my play from the Rapdiplay (admittedly the only two games I lost).

[Event "London Classic Superrapid"] [Site "London ENG"] [Date "2016.12.17"] [Round "3.21"] [White "Speelman, Jon S"] [Black "Stephan, Axel"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D90"] [WhiteElo "2526"] [BlackElo "2239"] [Annotator "Speelman,Jonathan"] [PlyCount "76"] [EventDate "2016.12.17"] [EventType "rapid"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 g6 3. c4 Bg7 4. Nc3 d5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. Bd2 Nb6 7. e3 O-O 8. Rc1 N8d7 9. e4 c5 10. d5 Nf6 11. Be3 Nbd7 12. h3 e5 13. dxe6 (13. Nd2) 13... fxe6 14. Qb3 Qe7 15. Be2 Kh8 16. O-O Nh5 17. Nb5 Nf4 18. Bxf4 Rxf4 19. Nc7 Rb8 20. Nxe6 Rxe4 21. Neg5 Rf4 {The opening has gone very badly for Black and he was fairly lucky to have 21...Rf4 (In my preliminary calculations I'd missed this and thought that I was totally winning.) I now had to choose between Rfe1, Rce1 and Bc4.} 22. Bc4 ({with an engine it takes seconds to see that White should win after} 22. Rfe1 {and for example.} Ne5 (22... b5 23. Bxb5 Qf6 24. Qd3) 23. Bb5 Nxf3+ 24. Nxf3 Qc7 25. Re8+ Rf8 26. Rce1 Bf5 27. R8e7 Qd6 28. Ng5) 22... b5 {[#]} 23. Rfe1 $4 {Gross idiocy - I thought that it didn't matter which rook I put on e1 but of course now bxc4 wins a piece} (23. Rce1 Qf8 ( 23... bxc4 24. Qxb8 {and Qxe1 isn't check}) 24. Bd5 c4 25. Qe3 Nb6 26. Bc6 { is better for White but Black is fighting.}) 23... bxc4 24. Qd1 Qf6 25. Re8+ Nf8 26. Ne6 Bxe6 27. Rxb8 Bxh3 28. Qd8 Qxd8 29. Rxd8 Bxb2 30. Rxc4 Rxc4 31. Rxf8+ Kg7 32. Rb8 Rc1+ (32... Rg4) (32... Rb4 33. Rxb4 cxb4 34. gxh3 a5 { was simplest}) 33. Kh2 Rc2 34. Kxh3 Rxf2 35. Rb7+ Kf6 36. Rxh7 c4 37. Rxa7 $2 c3 38. Rc7 c2 {[#] Somehow I'd convinced myself that Ne1 would now hit the rook. Since it palpably doesn't I resigned.} 0-1

By the final round, after nine previous ones in two days, everybody is tired and the last thing you want to do is to play a  very strong young player who knows his openings. In any case, I played pretty dreadfully against David Howell and was particularly disgusted with the move in the diagram.

[Event "London Classic Superrapid"] [Site "London ENG"] [Date "2016.12.18"] [Round "10.6"] [White "Speelman, Jon S"] [Black "Howell, David W L"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A48"] [WhiteElo "2526"] [BlackElo "2644"] [Annotator "Speelman,Jonathan"] [PlyCount "64"] [EventDate "2016.12.17"] [EventType "rapid"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 g6 3. Bg5 Bg7 4. Nbd2 O-O 5. c3 d6 6. e3 h6 7. Bh4 c5 8. Bd3 cxd4 9. exd4 Nh5 10. O-O Nf4 11. Bc2 Nc6 12. Re1 Qc7 13. Nf1 e5 14. Bg3 Nh5 15. Ne3 Nxg3 16. hxg3 exd4 17. cxd4 Qb6 18. Nc4 $6 (18. Bb3 $1 {was best with a reasonable game.}) 18... Qd8 {[#]} 19. d5 $4 {Utter positional suicide. The g7 bishop becomes a monster and my bishop little more than a passenger.} (19. Ne3 d5 {Black has the advantage but White can still play.}) 19... Na5 20. Nfd2 Nxc4 21. Nxc4 b5 22. Nd2 Bb7 $1 (22... Bxb2 23. Rb1 Bc3 24. Rxb5 Ba6 25. Rb3 Qa5 { was messy. I hadn't realised that} 26. Rxc3 (26. Re3 Bxd2 27. Ra3 {is another way to fight and perhaps even better}) 26... Qxc3 27. Ne4 {puts up a fight.}) 23. Ne4 Rc8 24. Rb1 Re8 25. Bb3 a5 26. a4 b4 27. Qd3 Rc7 28. g4 $2 (28. Nd2 Rxe1+ 29. Rxe1 {was grim but had to be played.}) 28... Rce7 29. Re3 Bc8 30. Bd1 h5 31. gxh5 Rxe4 32. Rxe4 Rxe4 {and it was a relief to resign!} 0-1

Valentina Gunina played fantastically in the Rapidplay and was a more than worthy winner. In the final round Luke McShane blundered against her in a winning position but kept on fighting. She could easily have wilted but kept her nerve very impressively.

[Event "London Classic Superrapid"] [Site "London ENG"] [Date "2016.12.18"] [Round "10.1"] [White "Gunina, Valentina"] [Black "McShane, Luke J"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "E91"] [WhiteElo "2525"] [BlackElo "2652"] [Annotator "Speelman,Jonathan"] [PlyCount "117"] [EventDate "2016.12.17"] [EventType "rapid"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Nf3 O-O 6. Be2 c5 7. O-O Re8 8. Bg5 cxd4 9. Nxd4 Nc6 10. Nc2 b6 11. Qd2 Bb7 12. f3 Rc8 13. Rac1 Ne5 14. b3 Ned7 15. Rfd1 a6 16. Nd4 Qc7 17. Bf1 Qb8 18. Bh6 Bh8 19. Nd5 e6 20. Nc3 Rcd8 21. Qg5 d5 22. cxd5 exd5 23. exd5 Re5 24. Qg3 Nxd5 25. Ne4 b5 26. Nc6 Bxc6 27. Rxc6 Ne7 28. Rxa6 Nf5 29. Qh3 Nc5 30. Rxd8+ Qxd8 31. Rc6 Nxe4 32. fxe4 Rxe4 33. Qd3 {[#] } Rd4 (33... Qd4+ $1 34. Kh1 Nxh6 {would have won on the spot}) 34. Qc2 Rd1 $4 35. Qxd1 Bd4+ 36. Kh1 Nxh6 37. Bxb5 Qh4 38. Rc8+ Kg7 39. Bd7 Be5 40. Qg1 $1 f5 41. Rc4 Ng4 42. g3 Qe7 43. Bc6 Bf6 44. Bf3 Ne5 45. Rc3 Qd6 46. Qd1 Qb6 47. Qc1 g5 48. Rc7+ Kg6 49. Bc6 Qf2 50. Qd1 Ng4 51. Be8+ Kh6 52. Rc2 Bd4 53. h3 (53. Bh5 {was my first thought} Qe3 54. Bxg4 fxg4 {and Black can fight unless White finds} 55. h3 $1) 53... Qxg3 54. hxg4 Bf2 $2 (54... Be5 {would still have made her work for the win though of course engines, unfazed by all the checks,find some including} 55. Qd5 $1 {right in the middle of the board, stopping the perpetual and threatening mate} (55. Rc6+ $2 Kg7 56. Qd7+ Kh8 {and apparently White can still draw.}) 55... Qh3+ 56. Kg1 Qg3+ (56... Qxg4+ 57. Kf1 Qh3+ 58. Ke2 Bf6 59. Qf3) 57. Kf1 Bf6 58. Qxf5) 55. Rxf2 Qxf2 56. Qd6+ Kg7 57. Qe7+ Kg8 58. Qf7+ Kh8 59. Qf8# 1-0

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Jonathan Speelman, born in 1956, studied mathematics but became a professional chess player in 1977. He was a member of the English Olympic team from 1980–2006 and three times British Champion. He played twice in Candidates Tournaments, reaching the semi-final in 1989. He twice seconded a World Championship challenger: Nigel Short and then Viswanathan Anand against Garry Kasparov in London 1993 and New York 1995.
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