The French do it for MVL

by Sabrina Chevannes
12/17/2016 – We have been truly blessed with some exciting chess this year, with decisive results all over the shop in the main event. Whilst Giri may still be sticking to his solid draws, most are using Topalov as a punching bag. However, today was all about Hikaru Nakamura’s moment of fame as he destroyed the Najdorf expert in the same line he lost to yesterday. Mehr...

Photos: Lennart Ootes and Sabrina Chevannes

It’s all anyone can talk about in the chess circles; will the Najdorf ever be played again at the top level? After the remarkable queen sacrifice that Fabiano unleashed on Nakamura’s Najdorf yesterday and MVL’s loss yesterday, there are talks that no-one will dare play this line at the top again.

Hikaru confesses that he “stole” (he then corrected himself and said “borrowed”) the line from Maxime, who is known to be one of the best Najdorf players in the world. However, it seemed that Fabiano’s prep was probably a little bit more sound and engines are simply not as scared in positions like that. So, yesterday, Hikaru thought he would be on the prettier end of the position. The same sort of motif came again with that white knight just landing on f5, in a rather daring fashion. Then, the move that the fans loved…35.Rg6+!

We all know how the game went and that poor look of disappointment on Maxime’s face. However, being the patriotic gentleman and good friend he is, he was still able to congratulate and celebrate his teammates’ victory in the Fide Open.

In an incredible turn of events, the Fide Open, which was being dominated by Aravindh Chithambaram from India, for almost the entire event, was won by Sebastien Maze and Etienne Bacrot from France. Despite being 9th seed in the tournament, it looked as though Sebastien’s chances were over fairly early on. After dropping a draw in round 3, the had a bit of an accident in the 4th round against Keith Arkell, whom he has a 150 point rating advantage over.

I don’t know what he had to eat/drink on the weekend, but it must have instilled something in him, because he then went on a brutal rampage, where every opponent simply became his victim. Tearing apart 1 FM, 2 IMs and 2 GMs, including Aravindh, Sebastien finished the tournament with 5 wins out of 5.

Etienne was always going to be a favourite, as the 2nd seed, as well as once being a top 10 player. His finish was a lot less dramatic, but not losing a single game in a tournament this strong, facing 6 GMs and performing at 2755, is still a result to be proud of. Needless to say the £6000+ prize money that he picks up must also help J Stay tuned for my interview with Etienne shortly!

Yesterday also saw the close of the British Knockout Championships, which was really heating up. After two solid draws and a repetition on move 11, there was chatter that this was going to be another Carlsen-Karjakin style match. However, round 4 saw the first decisive result; David decided to sacrifice a pawn on move 14, but never seemed to recover it or got enough compensation. Nigel made progress bit by bit to bring home the full point.

However, it was David’s turn to be white in the 5th round and things started off quite calm with a double fianchetto opening from David. Things seemed harmless enough, until suddenly Nigel found his queen being trapped. Needless to say, Nigel was not happy, considering this was the shortest game they’d had, bar their 11 move draw. Plus, Nigel had thrown away his advantage in this battle. All was set for what looked like another playoff.

Game 6 started with Nigel taking the white pieces and playing the English for the 3rd time! Usually in match situations, there is a lot of psychology behind the opening choices, but Nigel didn’t even bother to deviate! That’s got to play more tricks on the mind than usual! A lot of English chess fans were watching online and commenting on David’s “interesting” pawn structure!

 

 

The engines didn’t seem to mind it for a little while, but I presume that practically, it was just too difficult to defend. Then, there came a crucial moment where it seemed David just miscalculated.

 

With David not having much time to think about his moves here, he did not play the necessary 30…Rxe2+ and instead just captured back on e7, going an exchange down. With the activity that Nigel maintained after this combination, he showed impressive endgame technique to gain himself the title of British Knockout Champion 2016.

Stay tuned for my interview with Nigel too.

Meanwhile, it was the last day of the kids’ activities but I think it was the staff who had the most fun! They took the opportunity to dress up as a chess king and queen and engaged in fake battles. The kids were highly entertained.

They also found Maurice Ashley to be a big hit. His big American personality and talent with a microphone went a long way and the children followed him everywhere, feeling like they were celebrities themselves.

Several thousand children have attended Olympia over the last week or so and all left with big smiles on their faces. How many tournaments give them the opportunity to meet their chess heroes, play on the stage with them and compete in a tournament with hundreds of other kids for great prizes… all on the same day! Just another reason why the London Chess Classic is a big success.


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