The London Chess Classic closes in style

by Sabrina Chevannes
12/23/2016 – After an exciting ten days of chess, it almost feels like an anti-climax when the London Chess Classic ends, as there’s no standard prizegiving for the players. What many don’t realise is that there is an official dinner after the event for some special guests. Take a sneak peek into what goes on at the private dinner…

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The London Chess Classic closes in style

Pictures: Lennart Ootes

As mentioned in my previous article, the London Chess Classic is all about the charity behind it – Chess in Schools and Communities. The proceeds for the event help provide inner city schools with free chess equipment and teaching. Like any charity, they rely on donations to continue the work they do. The London Chess Classic final dinner is where CSC get to sum up everything they have achieved during the year and give people the opportunity to donate to this worthy cause.

Guests of the dinner include all the Classic participants, along with England’s top players. Then, those who have supported CSC and are active in helping promote chess to the less privileged in England, are also invited to this prestigious event.

Luke McShane is the chess advisor on his table

Myself with British Knockout runner-up David Howell (Photo: Ray Morris-Hill)

Guests put on their best attire and head down to Simpsons-in-the-Strand, an iconic London venue which also boasts chess history.

The evening starts off with a champagne reception and a bit of light-hearted blitz amongst the players…at least that’s how it starts out! But, when you put 50,000 ELO points in one room, it can only mean trouble!  

The Classic players are all relaxed after their long event is over and they often please some of their fans by facing them in a game or two. Some retired English GMs come out of the woodwork especially for this event, as playing against the world elite over a glass or two is something they just don’t want to miss!

Levon Aronian welcomes a familiar face… Grandmaster Dave Norwood

The dinner is always of high quality at Simpsons and the wine is always free-flowing, which definitely helps! However, the main attraction of the evening, is the tandem simul given by the Classic 10. There are usually 17-20 tables of guests, all with a chess board and a chess “expert” on their table. The Classic 10 take it in turn to make a move on each board, mixing up their styles of play and having fun on each table. Of course, some Grandmasters take it a lot more seriously than others and do not give the guests any chances whatsoever.

Maxime was one of the more ruthless opponents!

This year, an absolutely lovely twist to the dinner simul was that some juniors from CSC’s first ever school in the program, got to start off the simul for the GMs. Six talented youngsters from Ravenscroft Primary School in Newham confidently strolled through the function room at Simpsons-in-the-Strand, not intimidated by all the big names in the room. They were also not afraid who they were taking on as opponents!

I have generally been the chess “expert” on the table every year, and my record has been pretty good so far! In fact, my student turned down a draw against Magnus Carlsen in a previous year, because he was so happy with the position. Okay, we drew approximately 10 moves later, but it was a fine show of confidence from him!

This year, the dynamics of my table were a little bit more interesting, with Jeremy Hodgson (brother of former British Champion, Julian Hodgson) disagreeing with most of my suggestions, whilst Lotis Key (mother of Wesley So), sat back quietly and watched us argue!

At some point, Jeremy played a move I really did not like and Levon Aronian tried to convince me that it was the “best move on the board”. From my experience with Lev, he likes to troll; I did not trust him one bit. So, I offered to place a bet! The terms were that our position would be completely lost within 8 moves after that move had been played and Levon could not play any more moves for the GMs in case he tried to sabotage the bet. We shook on it and agreed a friendly price of £20.

After about 5 moves, Levon wanted to back out of the bet, but I was having none of it! It turned out the GMs were losing on some of the other boards and wanted to make up for it on our board! They were playing no nonsense chess and in exactly 8 moves later, our table resigned to the GMs. I couldn’t be happier! OK… I was a traitor and took pleasure in watching our team lose, but a bet is a bet! Levon reluctantly conceded but conveniently didn’t have any cash, but instead offered to settle by card! (Cheeky!)


Another really nice feature of the evening is the silent auction, where guests can bid on some exciting items, some of which are extremely rare pieces. Even the players get involved with the auction – I remember seeing Hikaru’s name, as the top bidder on a signed shirt by a sporting legend. Of course, all proceeds of this auction go towards Chess in Schools and Communities.

Of course, the evening is also just a way to celebrate the successes of the tournament, and to once again congratulate Wesley So on a stellar performance as the winner of both the London Chess Classic and Grand Chess Tour 2016.

Born in 1986 in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham, England, Sabrina now lives in London where she is managing director of the London Academy of Chess and Education. With over 300 members of the academy, she has one of the largest following of students in the UK. Sabrina is a Women International Master and an active chess player.


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