The London Chess Classic starts Tuesday

by Macauley Peterson
12/11/2018 – There was not much of a breather for Fabiano Caruana after his defeat in the tiebreak at the World Championship. He is back in London joining Hikaru Nakamura, Levon Aronian and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave as the four players qualified for the London Chess Classic, the final leg of the 2018 Grand Chess Tour, from December 11th to 17th. Can Caruana regain his mojo in rapid chess against Nakamura? Meanwhile, the top four players in England fight for the British Knockout Championship in a parallel semifinal and final.

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Is Caruana still motivated?

Fabiano Caruana said after Game 12 of the match that he "doesn't care about the money", but there's a lavish prize fund at stake in London all the same, with USD $120,000 awaiting the winner. Moreover, there's a chance for him to take the top Elo-rating spot away from his rival Magnus Carlsen, who claimed a few years ago that being World Number 1 means as much to him or more than being World Champion. So perhaps that is enough motivation all by itself! Thirteen players in total started the GCT, but only the top four qualified for the tournament in London. Carlsen played only in the Sinquefield Cup, so he was never in the running for the GCT title this time around.

The players

Alongside Caruana are Hikaru Nakamura, Levon Aronian and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave comprising the "final four" at the London Chess Classic. Caruana secured his place at the Sinquefield Cup after a tie-break against Wesley So.

Photos: LondonChessClassic.com

Standings of the Grand Chess Tour (before London)

Four stages of the Grand Chess Tour 2018 have already been completed: Rapid / blitz tournaments in Leuven, Paris and Saint Louis, and the classical Sinquefield Cup, also in Saint Louis. That yielded the following table:

Caruana beat So in a rapid playoff

The rules

This year's "Classic" uses a completely new format, first announced exactly one year ago: the four players compete in a semi-final, then the two winners will then go to the final, while the losers play in a match for third place. In the semi-finals, the leader of the Grand Chess Tour meets fourth place in the standings and second place plays third. The draw for colours took place at the Players Meeting on the evening of Sunday, December 9th. Thus, the pairings (as seen above) after the drawing of lots are:

  • Caruana vs Nakamura
  • Vachier-Lagrave vs Aronian

In each case, the first named player will have White in Classic Game 1 and will have Black in Rapid Game 1 and in Blitz Games 1 and 3.

First, two games of classical chess are played with six points awarded for a win and three points for a draw. This is followed by two rapid games in which there are four points for a win and two points for a draw. Finally, there are four blitz games, with two points for a win and one point for a draw. In total 28 points will be awarded in the three disciplines and so 15 are sufficient to win mini-match. All games will be played. In the unlikely event that the match is tied, a single sudden-death ('Armageddon') game will determine the winner.

So, there is actually a scenario in which Caruana could win the classical chess portion of the match against Nakamura, thereby becoming World Number 1, but then suffer a similarly disastrous rapid result as in the World Championship against Carlsen and then go on to lose the blitz and not reach the final!

The time controls are as follows (NB: delay, not increment is in use!):

  • Classical: 100 min / 40 moves, 60 mins for the rest of the game, plus 30 second delay from the 1st move
  • Rapid: 25 min. / Game, plus 10 sec. delay
  • Blitz: 5 min. / Game, plus 3 sec. delay

Complete LCC regulations (PDF)

The prize fund

The London Chess Classic prizes (in order of place)

  1. USD $120,000
  2. $80,000
  3. $60,000
  4. $40,000

For some perspective, Caruana earned roughly USD $410,000 from the prize fund of his match with Carlsen (after FIDE's 20% deduction but before any federal or state taxes).

The schedule (all times in UTC)

  • Tuesday, December 11th, 14:00: Semifinals Game 1
  • Wednesday, December 12, 14:00: Semifinals Game 2
  • Thursday, December 13, 14:00: Semifinals Rapid & Blitz
  • Friday, December 14th: Rest day
  • Saturday, December 15, 14:00: Final Game 1
  • Sunday, December 16, 14:00: Final Game 2
  • Monday, 17th December, 14:00: Final Rapid & Blitz

The first three days are held at the London headquarters of Google DeepMind. The final games will take place at the traditional home of the London Chess Classic at the Olympia Conference Centre.

Demis Hassibis, Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana

At DeepMind HQ in 2017, Demis Hassibis made the first move for Carlsen against Caruana, just days before the AlphaZero news broke

Live games and commentary

As usual, ChessBase will carry the live games and the official commentary which will be available in English with GM Yasser Seirawan, WGM Jennifer Shahade, GM Maurice Ashley, GM Cristian Chirila and GM Alejandro Ramirez (on-site in London), but also in Russian with GM Peter Svidler and GM Evgenij Miroshnichenko.


British Knockout Championship

England's Olympiad squad — Michael Adams, David Howell, Gawain Jones and Luke McShane — all advanced through a tough quarterfinal stage to qualify for the British KO Championship semifinals.

Michael Adams defeated Simon Williams in the second classical game after the "Ginger GM" went for a speculative piece sacrifice in the Najdorf. 

 

White has a promising position and Williams decided not to just sit idly by while Adams closed in, but 17...Nxb2 was too much of an investment, after 18.Kxb2 d5 19.Nd4 (incidentally 18...Qc5 is parried by Nd4 as well) White holds all the trumps. 

Luke McShane turned an active rook on the seventh in an otherwise equal ending into a full point in his second classical game with White against Jonathan Hawkins. By the time he swapped off the rooks into a pure bishop ending, it was resignable for Black:

 

Try your bishop endgame skills against the engine

Ten moves earlier with an extra pair of rooks Black was holding but after 34.Rg8+ Rxg8 35.Bxg8, McShane's active king will force the win of a pawn.

Gawain Jones won his first game against IM Alan Merry after a complicated middlegame fight, while David Howell needed a rapid playoff to overcome IM Ravi Haria, after being on the ropes in the first classical game: 

 

The pawn race after 48...h2 29.a7 50.h1(Q) a8(Q), was still winning for Black, but Haria missed a chance to avoid 20 moves of grief by not opting for 48...Rg1! when 49.f5 Ra1 collects the pawn with a fairly routine endgame win. Howell instead held on by the skin of his teeth for a draw.

In the rapid tiebreak, it was one-way traffic as Howell took both games with relative ease. 

 

White would be close to equal after 26...Qb4 27.Qc3, but Howell found the strong intermezzo 26...Nd5! Now the white queen is forced to leave the defence of the b3-pawn. After 27.Qd2 Qxb3 he tried to grab the pawn back with 28.Rxc6 but that ended badly after 28...Rfb8, White is losing more material.

Play resumes on Tuesday at 11:00 UTC. The pairings for the semifinals yields:

  • McShane vs Adams
  • Howell vs Jones

The first named player has White in Game 1 and will have Black in Rapid Game 1 and in Blitz Games 1 and 3.


All British Knockout Championship games

 

During the quarterfinal matches | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Klaus Besenthal contributed to this story

Correction: Vachier-Lagrave actually drew to play white in the first game, not black.​

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Macauley is Editor in Chief of ChessBase News in Hamburg, Germany, and producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast. He was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.
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lagerstein lagerstein 12/11/2018 04:38
bring back Basman, chess is such a yawn lately
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