London Chess Classic: Magnus on tilt

by Macauley Peterson
12/11/2017 – Round 8 saw a startling blunder from the World Champion whose frustration following the game was palpable. We have analysis of that critical game by GM Tiger Hillarp-Persson. Ian Nepomniachtchi now leads the tournament alone, half a point ahead of Fabiano Caruana, who drew his game. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is in third. | Photo: Pascal Simon

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Round 8

For the first few hours of Sunday's games, it looked like we could be heading for another day of peaceful results. Adams vs Aronian and Vachier-Lagrave vs Anand both ended in early draws, and the remaining games were level. Suddenly, a shock blunder from World Champion Magnus Carlsen flashed up on the screens, a variation which lead to Ian Nepomniachtchi being up a piece, and easily winning. Carlsen resigned just four moves later.

After the game, a visibly frustrated World Champion stepped into the live webcast interview zone for a contractually obligated webcast standup with Grand Chess Tour commentator GM Maurice Ashley. These occur in the same conference room in which a live audience enjoys commentary during the round, and around 150 people were crowded into the room to hear from Carlsen.

A few moments before they were to go on air, Ashley casually reached over to adjust the collar on Carlsen's sport coat, which had become turned outward awkwardly. Magnus reacted by violently throwing his arms up in the air, silently but forcefully saying "don't touch me", and striking Ashley in the process. Maurice was, naturally, taken aback but just seconds later he received the queue that he was live.

Magnus was clearly in no mood to chat:

"I missed everything. There's not much else to say. I think I failed to predict a single of his moves, and then, well, you saw what happened."

Carlsen's brief explanation of his game Source: Saint Louis Chess Club on YouTube

It will be interesting to see if Magnus will recover tomorrow. When asked for his thoughts on the last round pairing he replied, "I don't care at all." Black against Levon Aronian will be no easy task, with that attitude.

Magnus Carlsen 0-1 Ian Nepomniachtchi (annotated by Tiger Hillarp-Persson)

No need to fear the Slav Exchange Variation

The Slav is a magnificent opening, but for many players there is one little blot on its escutcheon - that is the Exchange Variation. Not only does Black apparently have no prospects of obtaining the full point, but since he has an extra tempo White may well make attempts to win the game. But if you know what you are doing, you can easily do two things as Black: equalise and break the symmetry.


Standings after Round 8

Round 8 crosstable

Click or tap to expand

As you can see, Ian Nepomniachtchi is the new clear leader of the tournament. He downplayed Magnus' blunder, chalking it up to his health.

"Clearly Magnus is a little bit sick and surely this disrupts his play. It's hard when you have a sore throat and so on — I know from my experience that you cannot show your best level when you are also fighting some illness instead of fighting your opponent."

Ian Nepomniachtchi and Magnus Carlsen

Nepomniachtchi and Carlsen, who's now back to an even score | Photo: Pascal Simon

Nepomniachtchi had not beaten Carlsen in a classical game since the 2011 Tata Steel Tournament. Both of their previous encounters this year were drawn.

While the game was still in progress, Fabiano Caruana made an insightful comment on Nepomniachtchi's style:

"Ian plays very quickly and sometimes it doesn't work out for him, but especially sometimes when he's in form it just works out amazingly well and when they get into the time trouble phase his opponent is the only one in time trouble and it seemed to also work in this game."

Caruana slips to second place after a draw with fellow American Hikaru Nakamura, who turned 30 years old on Saturday. The pair followed a well-trodden path in the Queen's Indian Defence, including the game Navara vs. Caruana, Tata Steel Chess 2016, which Fabiano lost. He deviated with 21...Ba6:


Previously 21...f6 was played. Nakamura sunk into a nearly 25 minute think before pushing 22.c6. Caruana immediately responded with 22...Rbc8 23.Rd7 Rfd8, fully equalising.

Hikaru Nakamura

Nakamura looks to end his 2017 on a high note on Monday, if he can | Photo: Pascal Simon

After the game Nakamura said, "I didn't have any major chances, but sometimes that's how it goes." He's drawn all eight of his games here in London.

Nakamura talks with Ashley after Round 8 Source: Saint Louis Chess Club on YouTube

A strategic weapon against 1.d4: The Queen's Indian Defense

The Queen's Indian Defense is one of the most solid and rich openings against 1.d4. Together with the Nimzo-Indian and the Catalan it forms the so called "Classical Setup", which any player should know.

Victor Bologan has enjoyed the advantages of the Queen’s Indian defense for many years in open and in top tournament. He says: “The soul of the opening, the most important piece, is course the bishop on b7. Please remember this and keep it active.” Every chess enthusiast, from beginner to high level player, can profit from this DVD. Enrich your chess vocabulary, be open to new ideas: play the Queen’s Indian!


Caruana said he was ready for a sharp game, "but he played a line in which I basically have to go for a very dull ending where I'm slightly worse."

Wesley So followed the lead of Anish Giri in a line Giri played against Sergey Karjakin in Bilbao, 2016, through move 21...Bc6:


You can play through the moves on the live diagram!

In that game, Giri played 22.Ba6 and black was at least equal after 22...bxa5 23.Qc2 Bb7 24.Rxa5 Bxa6 25.Rxa6. Instead So, who had played very quickly up until this point, opted for 22.axb6, prompting Karjakin to exchange 22...Nxc3 after 8 minutes of thought. This surprised So, who pondered his move for 15 minutes before recapturing with the queen. After a queen exchange five moves later, White has some minimal pressure in the endgame, but Karjakin defended smoothly. I expect an early draw from Wesley with black against Anand in the final round, but Karjakin vs. Nakamura could be interesting.

Wesley So

So remains with Nakamura on 50% | Photo: Pascal Simon

A strategic weapon against 1.d4: The Queen's Indian Defense

The Queen's Indian Defense is one of the most solid and rich openings against 1.d4. Together with the Nimzo-Indian and the Catalan it forms the so called "Classical Setup", which any player should know.

Victor Bologan has enjoyed the advantages of the Queen’s Indian defense for many years in open and in top tournament. He says: “The soul of the opening, the most important piece, is course the bishop on b7. Please remember this and keep it active.” Every chess enthusiast, from beginner to high level player, can profit from this DVD. Enrich your chess vocabulary, be open to new ideas: play the Queen’s Indian!


One final bit of news came in the middle of today's round, as the organisers of the Grand Chess Tour announced in a press conference that all four venues would return in 2018, but London's contribution to the tour will be a four-player knockout semi-final and final to be held over six days in mid-December, roughly two weeks after the conclusion of the 2018 World Championship, which is also set for London.

Games of Round 8


Full commentary webcast

Commentary by GM Yasser Seirawan, WGM Jennifer Shahade and GM Cristian Chirila, with GM Maurice Ashley reporting from London | Source: Saint Louis Chess Club on YouTube

LCC banner



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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bobbyh64 bobbyh64 12/13/2017 02:55
Is there video footage of this “don’t touch me” altercation?
Gregory Bradley Gregory Bradley 12/12/2017 11:07
The world champion should display the grace of Anand and the calm of Adams ... Magnus has good examples around him already so he has no excuse. This is why people should admonish him for his pouty poo poo behavior. I do not want chess to enter another era of pouty, tyrant-babies who kill the ability of chess fans to see the realm of possibility tomorrow. I want to see chess fly high not low ..... Maurice Ashley is a national treasure to chess and all it stands for.
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 12/12/2017 09:38
@ chessdrummer : I think that we quite agree. Just to make things more clear, when, myself, I discussed Ashley's results, it was only his PAST results, to show that he quite deserves to be respected as a chessplayer.
chessdrummer chessdrummer 12/12/2017 08:40
Frankly, if the interviewee has a upturned collar or something in his nose, the interviewer should tell him. I probably would not have adjusted his collar for him, but I remember when Maurice interviewed me, he motioned for me to remove my press pass and other things... non-verbally. I have seen him do that with others prior to going live. It's no big deal. Of course, Magnus was simply upset and in a poor mood as he often is when he loses. To start discussing ratings and titles is a bit wayward here. How is it relevant? It is well-known that Maurice essentially retired from professional chess in the early 2000s.
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 12/12/2017 04:15
As for me, I'm quite for respecting M. Ashley (to become a grandmaster, he must have some point have reached a 2500+ rating, and played at least 2 tournaments - for the norms... - at a 2600+ level, and it isn't so easy as that to obtain such results), and much more still for respecting M. Carlsen (much more, because, for Carlsen, we aren't discussing a 2500+ rating and 2600+ performances, but rather 2800+ ratings - and even 2850+ ratings... - and 2900+ performances - results that I don't think every chess player can quite attain...).
jpmoldovan jpmoldovan 12/12/2017 03:08
1. Carlsen is a sour-puss & sore loser. Impossible to root for. Never saw any other chess player act that way in post-game interviews. Don't want to do it? Walk away & pay whatever fine is imposed. 2. Ashley is, as an earlier poster stated, indeed a buffoon. His schtick of bluster, hype & bullshit makes the coverage hard to watch.
A7fecd1676b88 A7fecd1676b88 12/12/2017 01:25
@offpister -- Maurice has a title of Grandmaster. So? The title is now rather common, and Maurice's 2440 rating in this day of inflation is not so good.. His analysis is seldom useful, and his behavior is buffoon like, as you may verify by looking at some youtube video. He apparently tried to touch Magnus. Pure buffoon. No class. Magnus acted properly.
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 12/12/2017 12:13
@ offpister : To elaborate slightly : if it necessary to show some respect to Ashley as a grandmaster (and, personally, I agree on this), it is obviously much more necessary to be respectful toward Carlsen as a World Champion and a World n° 1. And to speak of "Magnus' child-like behaviour" isn't respectful. You could criticize him without being disrespectful. Or you could also affirm, for example, that "respect in a thing of the past, and that it is stupid to speak of respect in 2017". But to affirm that it is necessary to respect Ashley while not giving any respect to Carlsen is illogical.
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 12/12/2017 12:08
@ offpister : You aren't coherent in your last post, in my opinion. Yes, Ashley is a grandmaster, and to be a grandmaster is quite respectable, but Carlsen is much more than that, a World Champion and a World n° 1, and a particularly dominating (purely objectively) World n° 1, furthermore.

So, yes, Carlsen isn't always "quite nice", but, one more time, his "main job" is to create high-level games, and he does it very successfully, so perhaps you could begin yourself by giving Carlsen the respect he deserves in view of his play, his results, and his titles...
offpister offpister 12/12/2017 09:08
@A7fecd#####. Calling Maurice Ashley a buffoon and condoning Magnus' child-like behaviour is despicable. Whether you like Maurice or not calling a grandmaster a buffoon given the stupidity of most of your comments shows you are a narrow minded person.
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 12/12/2017 02:02
@ malfa : Very good comparison ! I knew this story about Toscanini and Richard Strauss, but it didn't at all come to my mind about the present discussion... I like very much R. Strauss's music, but it really seems indeed, by all that I know, that, as a human being, he really wasn't very nice at all !!
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 12/11/2017 09:36
@ michael allard and A7fecd1676b88 :

As for me, I would follow the following guidelines, for the choice of a time control for classical games :

- No adjournments (because then, chess isn't anymore completely a confrontation between two players - a team, and, more importantly, engines will directly intervene in the final result).

- The longest possible time control without an adjournment (for a play of the highest quality).

- But not too long games either, because the players could end up being tired, and there could thus be a loss in playing quality.

- An increment (30 s. suits me well), to ensure a minimal quality to each move of the games. (For classical games, I would prefer an increment to a delay, because the increment permit to gain thinking time for the following moves when the increment's time isn't entirely used for a given move ; this is necessarily better for the quality of play, and thus, in my opinion, should be favored for classical games.)

My general idea is in fact to keep chess games a pure confrontation between two players (without any direct help of a team or of engines during the games), while trying to attain the highest possible playing level.

I rather consider that the present-day's World Championship time control (100 minutes for the first 40 moves, 50 minutes for the next 20 moves, and 15 minutes for the rest of the game, this with a 30 seconds per move increment starting from the first move) is rather satisfying : for 60 moves, this gives 6 h. of play, and for 90 moves 7 h. of play ; for me, a longer period of consecutive play could have a negative effect on the playing level, so I think that this time control isn't too far from being optimal.
A7fecd1676b88 A7fecd1676b88 12/11/2017 04:02
@Michael Allard -- agreed...inflation of chess ratings comes to mind also....Having said that, the problem of adjournments has to be solved if you want old style time controls.
michael allard michael allard 12/11/2017 03:07
The quality of contemporary GM chess is on an ever increasing down turn ever since the revision of "classical" time controls. This tournament is a case in point. Not only are Carlsen, Adams, Anand, Nakamura, and Aronian missing obvious tactical shots, end game play is currently at its worst. Let's get classical time controls back to those in place before the first Fischer-Spassky match and stop this 40 in 100 with sudden death in 60 and 30 second delays from the first move.
A7fecd1676b88 A7fecd1676b88 12/11/2017 02:52
Magnus' behavior was fine.
Nimzo said "Why must I lose to this idiot".
Were he alive today, he could say "Why must I be interviewed by this idiot."

Ashley is more often that not a mouthpiece that adds little value to the broadcasts. A buffoon.
Magic_Knight Magic_Knight 12/11/2017 02:40
You guys shouldn't be getting on Magnus' case for being upset after a loss. If you are then you've clearly don't know the likes of Kasparov, Fischer, Alekhine, etc.

I'm personally more concerned & curious why Maurice would even have tried to put his hands on Magnus (as benign as it might have seemed) after his tragic loss yesterday. If you ask me, I think Maurice may be purposely testing the waters or probing Magnus. There's simply no way anyone can convince me that Maurice is clueless to how volatile a person Magnus is after he loses. Maurice definitely knows first hand after their prior interview drama.
dysanfel dysanfel 12/11/2017 02:27
This is the second time Carlsen has abused Ashley. First verbally, and this time physically. Is Magnus going to stab him next time? If I were Ashley I would knock Carlsen out if he did this again, on camera.
ex0 ex0 12/11/2017 12:46
IMO Carlsen just wanted to win a game against Nepo finally. He's -4 against Nepo and has never won a game.. and of course, he also wanted to win the tourney but to make such a blunder against Nepo someone who he's never beaten, that must get under his skin really bad. However, that doesn't excuse his behaviour at all. He has no respect for Maurice or for the tournament to say "he doesn't care at all" and acting like a spoilt brat. But then again, we all knew he acts like this from the other time he threw his pen and all his other tantrums.
daftarche daftarche 12/11/2017 12:44
why did maurice allow himself to touch somebody without his permission? just tell him to make his shirt right and let it go.
malfa malfa 12/11/2017 12:44
Sorry, of course I meant "Toscanini".
malfa malfa 12/11/2017 12:43
Generally it would be highly desirable, in any field, that geniuses be also moral examples, but this is not necessarily the case and it simply demands too much from them; as the great conductor Arturo Toscanisìni once said of Richard Strauss, "I take off my hat in the presence of the musician, but I put it back on my head in the presence of the man."
hserusk hserusk 12/11/2017 12:13
Where's this "touch scene" everyone's chinwagging about?
mcplayerus mcplayerus 12/11/2017 12:00
Give him a break guys!! He didn't say anything inappropriate at all.
I wouldn't like for sure to be touched by other people.
I don't understand why you call him 'not a nice guy' ? Just because he had one second when he was irritated and told somebody not to touch him ??? Bloody hell! What do you expect from him?? To hug the commentator before the interview ??!!
I think what he did is great! This shows how much he cares.
If some people don't like him two minutes after he has just lost a game then they should just avoid him those two minutes, I think it's not a too big a compromise from somebody who served you hundreds of amazing games and changed the chess world in the last few years.
Gregory Bradley Gregory Bradley 12/11/2017 11:36
Soooo, is this what we're supposed to endure each time the world champion looses a game? is it possible that Nepomniachtchi played chess that was just as dynamic? His resistance to Magnus is what chess fans are looking for and demand. BUT, as a chess fan I also want sane, rational, balanced human beings who simply know this is a game, WHY, does Magnus have to act like some public pouty baby, this is not a re-tooling of nuclear war talks bleeding over into salt 2 treaty conversations!! This is simply a game called chess. What took place between Magnus and GM Maurice Ashley was shameful at best .... Magnus should apologize immediately!!

Hey, Magnus Carlsen, not sure if you were aware ... when you loose a game you don't have to be a bleeping classless JERK!!

... sorry for yelling ... (smile)

All the best

Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 12/11/2017 11:20
@ zahmadov : I don't mean that Tigran Levonovich Petrosian has a bad reputation, as for his character, by the way... I simply don't know anything about his character...
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 12/11/2017 11:06
@ zahmadov : I fully agree that, when a champion is also a nice person, like Anand or Kramnik, it is quite the "cherry on the cake"... But, nonetheless, in my opinion, each champion having its own style, the games from Anand or Kramnik don't "replace" the games by Fischer or Kasparov, for example... And, even if Fischer and Kasparov, for example, weren't always very nice persons, they created many beautiful games... so I wouldn't deprive myself of all these games !

"I remember Short calling Petrosyan "a shephard"." I am quite surprised by this... Did he meant Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian (the World Champion) or Tigran Levonovich Petrosian (the present-days Grandmaster) ? Because, to the best of my belief, as a human being, Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian had quite a positive reputation !...
KOTLD KOTLD 12/11/2017 10:49
Capablanca never acted like that.
Mr TambourineMan Mr TambourineMan 12/11/2017 10:48
Why is it so hard to just answer simple questions without drama?
goeland goeland 12/11/2017 09:08
Its normal Carlsen is in a bad mood after his blunder and you should not touch him, even casually without asking first.
Thats basic stuff. 12/11/2017 09:05
The "blunder" and the champions's illness in this case aside:

Nepomniachtchi has never lost a classical game against Carlsen. Their head-to-head record, excluding draws is 4-0(!!) in Ian's favour.

Somehow Ian's style of play must just be really difficult for Magnus to cope with. If only he played as well against all other top players as he does against Magnus, so he could get himself into a Candidates tournament and win it, Ian is one of the few players I could actually see beating Magnus in a 12-game match.
Derek880 Derek880 12/11/2017 08:58
Maurice is simply being a commentator and interviewer, which is what he's supposed to do. To claim that he gets on Carlsen's nerves makes it seems as if Carlsen deserves some sort of diva treatment. Maybe Carlsen has the problem in that he simply doesn't like Maurice. If that's the case, then HE is the one with the problem and he needs to get over himself. There's a point when being an anus is simply being an anus, and people need to stop making excuses for people that are like that.
xrosstheh xrosstheh 12/11/2017 08:57
Something tells me that Magnus is more pissed at him having the Cold/Flu/Sore Throat than anything else.. I think he so wanted to win this tournament.. And we all know what happens when Magnus isn't in a good mood.... I applaud him for not using it as an excuse, but to be honest,.. Its hard to play against fellow GM's when you are not at 100%
zahmadov zahmadov 12/11/2017 08:23
@Petrarlsen. Sure, I knew that such a comment would follow. But then, such players also discredit each other by verbally attacking each others, which does not bring any respect to the chess world - Fischer calling Kasparov lier, Topalov talking bad about Kramnik etc. Also, such players are remembered with less respect by others - I remember Short calling Petrosyan "a shephard".
I fully get your point though, but want also to add that we have World Champions like Kramnik and Anand, who are not only great players, but also great personalities. Wouldn't it be great if next year we see a world champion like Mamedyarov or Aronian? World Champions should finally understand that chess fans value not only their play, but also their personality.
North to Infinity North to Infinity 12/11/2017 07:35
Only a brat answers "I don't care about the next game". He's a world champion in chess skills but certainly not in character. That said, it might be good to switch Yasser with Maurice, with Yasser interviewing and analyzing games with players and Maurice sitting in the studio where he doesn't get into anyone's nerves. Yasser can smile off any player's bad mood.
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 12/11/2017 07:33
@ Zahmadov : "A true chess player is the one who behaves even when he loses."

I don't agree.

Fischer, Kasparov and Topalov, for example, weren't always "very nice", as chessplayers, but, nonetheless, there were very great players.

For me, what counts most is the quality of the play of a given player. I prefer someone "not nice at all" who is a genius to a "very nice" but uninteresting and less gifted player.

Obviously, if someone is gifted AND is "very nice", all is for the best, but this doesn't occurs all the time...
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 12/11/2017 07:25
@ A7fecd1676b88 : "It was old Burn, veteran British master of the ’90s, who was heard to remark plaintively towards the end of his long life that he had never had the satisfaction of beating a perfectly healthy opponent."

The (so very slight...) difference being that it was Burn's opponents who used as an excuse their health, whether it was Nepomniachtchi himself who used this argument to explain why Carlsen lost to him...

And if your brain is really at 100 % of its possibilities even when you are sick, and even for a 6 h game against a strong player, then you are quite lucky, but not everyone is like that...
YourNextOpponent YourNextOpponent 12/11/2017 07:21
So now the interviewer should avoid Carlsen if he's in a bad mood? Why should he cater to Carlsen at all?
zahmadov zahmadov 12/11/2017 06:09
A true chess player is the one who behaves even when he loses. Exactly, for this reason I and many others do not like the World Champion very much. Hope he will be replaced next year.
tom_70 tom_70 12/11/2017 06:08
We've all been there. Who hasn't wanted to punch a hole through a wall after a game losing blunder?? You would think another chessplayer, like GM Ashley, who instinctively know this. My wife knows to avoid me like the plague for at least 10 minutes after I lose an online game.
Magic_Knight Magic_Knight 12/11/2017 05:37
I mean, in fairness Maurice has a history of getting under Magnus' skin commentating post-mortem in past tournaments (was it just earlier this year or maybe last?). I know it was a "casual adjustment" but what in the world was Maurice thinking when he did that?? Maurice (of all people) should know by now the magnitude of Magnus' temperament when he I am highly surprised by the fact that he would have the audacity to do that. That is, unless Maurice was again trying to incite some sort of drama with Magnus again.