London Classic: Aronian close, but classical games all drawn

by Macauley Peterson
12/12/2018 – Those who fear the "draw death" of classical chess gained a bit more ammunition today after both semifinal games ended drawn. In light of the 12 draws in the World Championship, four more in London so far is a bit disappointing. The game between Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana ended quickly and without even a hint of fireworks. Levon Aronian (pictured) surprised Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the opening and got an advantage, but could not exploit it. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

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All tied heading to rapid and blitz

Day 2 of the classical games at the 10th London Chess Classic is in the books and both semifinal matches remain all square at 6 points for each player after a second pair of draws. Draw offers are not allowed in the Grand Chess Tour except in the case of a clearly theoretically drawn position, but the players reached dead endgames and repeated moves in just the third hour of play (the Americans were done in an hour). So, no excuse for the children who came to watch them to shirk on their homework assignments for tomorrow!

The strategy in both games seemed to be not to take excessive risks when a single win is worth 6 points, and instead rest up for a long day of rapid and blitz tomorrow. There are two rapid games (worth 4 points each) and four blitz games (worth 2 points each) on the agenda. These would have been played regardless of the result of today's games — it's not a tiebreak day, like the World Cup (or the recent Women's World Championship) knockout tournaments. So, at least we're in for some Thursday action!

Hikaru Nakamura vs Fabiano Caruana

Even the live commentators Jen Shahade and Yasser Seirawan agreed this one was a "snoozefest". Nakamura was just fine with going toe-to-toe in rapid and blitz against Caruana. He said it was not his intention, but was nevertheless satisfied with making a simple draw with White — it took less than an hour in all! "Rapid is different and I like my chances."

Nakamura played 1.e4 and Caruana defended with his favourite Petroff. Nakamura followed well-known predecessors but consistently refrained from any opportunity to sharpen the game and after numerous exchanges, and 33 moves, the players shook hands. Nakamura still had 1 hour and 31 minutes on the clock at the end, while Caruana's clock read 1 hour and 14 minutes.

"Fabiano has basically proven that the Petroff again is completely fine", said Nakamura after the game.

Caruana put the onus on Nakamura to mix things up: "It's not really my job to create excitement with Black is can play the Sicilian, you can play anything, and White can steer the game towards equality", he said immediately after the game on the live webcast. "I'm happy I didn't have to suffer today."



Levon Aronian vs Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

Much more exciting and interesting was the game between Aronian and Vachier-Lagrave. The Armenian made the first big surprise in the opening. After 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 Nf6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nb4 6.Bc4 Nd3+ 7.Ke2 Nf4 8.Kf1 Ne6:


Aronian quickly uncorked 9.d4!?, exactly the move that Black actually aimed to prevent. Vachier-Lagrave thought for nearly 24 minutes before taking 9...cxd4 10.Bxe6 Bxe6 11.Nxd4 and now, 'MVL' avoided the complexities of 11...Bc4+, opting instead to tread lightly with 11...Nc6 12.Nxe6 Qxd1+ 13.Nxd1 fxe6 for a slightly worse position and a long-suffering defence.


This strategy paid off, however, and although the Frenchman stood with his back to the wall, Aronian could not make use of his chances. After the game, he was particularly hard on himself for missing the idea of 28.Rc2, which he called "embarrassing".


The point is that after 28.Rc2 Kxe6 29.b3 White will win back the knight but prevent Black's rook from penetrating on the c-file as occurred in the game after 28.Ra1 Kxe6 29.Rxa2 Rc8.

Aronian played Ra1 in just 15 seconds prompting harsh criticism from GM Cristian Chirila on the live webcast for not using his time more.


Aronian and MVL

Standings after game 2


Live commentary webcast

GM Yasser Seirawan, WGM Jennifer Shahade, GM Cristian Chirila and GM Alejandro Ramirez

Johannes Fischer contributed to this story


Macauley served as the Editor in Chief of ChessBase News from July 2017 to March 2020. He is the producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast, and was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.


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