London Classic: Gukesh and Adams start with wins

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
12/2/2023 – Dommaraju Gukesh and Michael Adams got off to winning starts at the 13th edition of the London Chess Classic. Gukesh defeated Mateusz Bartel’s French Defence, while Adams showcased his positional virtuosity playing white against Amin Tabatabaei. Both Gukesh and Adams will play black in the second round, against Nikita Vitiugov and Hans Niemann respectively. | Photo: Abhyudaya Ram

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Positional mastery

A couple of storylines enhance the allure of the London Chess Classic this year. Besides featuring an attractive lineup with a mix of young and experienced players, the event sees Gukesh fighting to improve his chances to reach the Candidates via the FIDE Circuit, while it also includes the inimitable Hans Niemann among the participants — Niemann made his way to London right after crushing the field at the Tournament of Peace in Zagreb.

The range of the grandmasters’ ratings at the event goes from 2631 to 2720, with 14-year-old IM Shreyas Royal (rated 2438) getting a chance to face strong opposition in the already traditional English event.

Two players grabbed full points on opening day. Gukesh made the most of Mateusz Bartel’s questionable handling of the French Defence, while Michael Adams showcased his positional mastery once Amin Tabatabaei impatiently pushed the g-pawn that stood in front of his king.

As wittily as ever, Anish Giri shared a post on X referring to Gukesh’s win over Bartel:

How to lose in three easy steps.

  1. Play the French
  2. Don’t buy Anish Giri’s French course.
  3. Put a horse on b6.

And, indeed, Bartel’s knight jump on move 10 turned out to be a long-standing mistake.

In previous games, Black had tried mostly 10...a6 (or 10...b6, once), preparing to get counterplay on the queenside. In this game, Bartel saw his opponent getting a strong initiative in the centre and on the kingisde while his knight remained inactive — and, more importantly, blocked a potential pawn storm on the queenside.

Only on move 25 did the knight return to d7. By that point, though, White already had a clear positional advantage.

25...Nd7, one of many ill-fated (playable) alternatives, allows 26.Nb5, with a discovered attack against the d5-pawn and a direct attack against the a7-pawn.

After 26...Qc6 27.Nxa7, Gukesh only needed to show proper technique to convert his advantage into a win. Bartel resigned the game in the following position.

Black’s knight is not on the board any more, and there are no tricks left for Black to keep the game going. A good-humoured Bartel replied to Giri’s aforementioned post:

Life is not about result, it’s about an adventure. Though, this time it was not especially entertaining.

Dommaraju Gukesh

Gukesh at the ChessBase India studio back in March | Photo: Abhyudaya Ram

Adams, on his part, obtained the kind of positional edge that allowed him to showcase his deep positional understanding throughout his prominent career.

Tabatabaei’s 14...g5 got him a very strong outpost on f4, but it also wasted a tempo which could have been used to improve the coordination of Black’s pieces in the centre (via 14...Nd7 or even 14...Ng6, for example).

During his rise to the top of the chess elite, Adams was nicknamed ‘spider-man’, due to his ability to subtly ‘weave’ his pieces around the weakened spots in opponents’ camps. The multiple British champion again demonstrated this ability on Friday, as he accumulated positional trumps while carefully improving his pieces until leaving his rival out of chances to hit back.

White is only a pawn up here, but he also has a vastly superior setup.

The game continued with 34...h5 35.Nf3 g4 36.hxg4 hxg4 37.e5, and Black is forced to enter the (losing) queen endgame.

Once the knights left the board, Adams needed nine more moves to force his opponent to throw in the towel.

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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.