London Classic: A rest before the rest day

by Alex Yermolinsky
12/2/2017 – The London Chess Classic is the last event in the Grand Chess Tour and is also the last of the classical tournaments with the world's elite this year. The roster is mouthwatering for all fans, with Carlsen, Aronian, Caruana, So, and more. The opening round was a bit slow to gain traction and while there were chances for a couple of decisive results, it was all draws in the end. Round two is on Sunday. Report and analysis by GM Alex Yermolinsky | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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What's at stake

The last stage of the 2017 Grand Chess Tour is the London Classic. The nine participants are joined by England's own Michael Adams to complete a field of 10 players, who will face each other in slow time control games.

Let's see where they stand at the start.

Standings heading into London | Source:

Carlsen is leading the race with 34 GCT points, Vachier-Lagrave is second with 31, and Aronian is in third with 25 points. As stated in the regulations, a clear winner of an individual event takes home 13 points. If MVL manages to do this, then Carlsen would have to finish second to equal him at 44 points apiece. Otherwise, it is hard to see Maxime making up the difference, since no one can count on Magnus doing too badly in London.

Levon Aronian is third in the overall standings | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Aronian's situation is more precarious. As of now he gets nothing from the overall standings, because there are only two prizes for the overall top scorers. He has mathematical chances of taking first, but the more practical chance is for him to take second, if he wins London outright. Winning this tournament and getting 13 points would put some pressure on MVL, who, then would need to finish no lower than 4th. Can Levon do this? His track record in 2017 certainly does not exclude such a possibility.

A slow start

As expected, the tournament got off to a fairly slow start. All five games were drawn. This didn't prevent a generous turnout of stars and fans to see the greats. In the audience for example one could see Garry Kasparov seated next to Demis Hassabis, founder of Deep Mind, the AI company bought by Google and that produced Alpha Go. Demis Hassabis is more than just a celebrity intellectual who had the privilege of delivering the opening move as shown. He was once a chess prodigy of the highest order, no.2 in the world under 14, just losing to Judit Polgar. He later founded a PC game company, writing and producing PC games, left that to go to college and get a PhD in Neurophysics, and finally founded Deep Mind.

Garry Kasparov, Demis Hassabis, Magnus Carlsen

(Left) Garry Kasparov chatting with Demis Hassabis | (Right) Magnus Carlsen shakes Fabiano Caruana | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Carlsen's effort against Caruana came short, albeit at some moments he did make Fabiano sweat. Caruana famously made headlines in the Isle of Man Open this year when he beat Kramnik in the opening round. This time he was nearly the headline on the wrong side of that tale.

Magnus Carlsen 1/2-1/2 Fabiano Caruana (Annotated by GM Alex Yermolinsky)

[Event "9th London Chess Classic 2017"] [Site "London"] [Date "2017.12.01"] [Round "1"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "Caruana, Fabiano"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D27"] [WhiteElo "2837"] [BlackElo "2799"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [PlyCount "108"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 dxc4 {Caruana successfully relied on the Queens Gambit Accepted in his match with Grischuk in the Champions Showdown, St. Louis 2017.} 3. e3 { The quietest line. White makes sure to get his pawn back.} ({Alexander focused on} 3. e4) 3... Nf6 4. Bxc4 e6 5. Nf3 c5 6. O-O a6 7. Be2 $5 {Typical Magnus. This move is way down the list of White's options.} Nbd7 {Caruana is careful to sidestep Carlsen's preparation.} (7... cxd4 8. exd4 Nc6 9. Nc3 Be7 10. Be3 { was seen in Aronian-Caruana, Sinquefield Cup 2017. While the position of Be2 doesn't lend a hand to White's usual attacking ambition on the K-side, he can choose a different plan. Fabiano reacted quickly} Ng4 $5 ({not allowing White to expand after} 10... O-O 11. Ne5) 11. Bf4 Nf6 {defended a slightly worse position very successfully, and later took advantage of Levon's blunder. The whole affair took 110 moves!}) 8. Nc3 {[#]} b6 $5 (8... b5 {seems obvious, but therein lies the point of Carlsen's idea.} 9. e4 b4 10. e5 bxc3 11. exf6 Nxf6 ( {Much worse is} 11... cxb2 $6 12. fxg7 bxa1=Q $2 13. gxh8=Q {Same as in the similar position of the Meran Variation, the four queens on the board make the weak black king the decisive factor in the battle.}) 12. bxc3 {With his bishop on e2, instead of d3, White is much better suited for subsequent play with Ne5 and Bf3.}) 9. e4 cxd4 10. Nxd4 Bb7 11. Be3 $5 {Still in Magnus's preparation. Now he offers a pawn sac.} ({The immediate} 11. f3 {would have pointed Black into the right direction:} Qb8 $1 12. Be3 Bd6 13. g3 h5 $5) 11... Bc5 {With this move Caruana accepts a slightly worse position.} ({One wonders about} 11... Nxe4 12. Nxe4 Bxe4 13. Bf3 Bxf3 14. Qxf3 Bc5 {Clearly, White has some play, but is it enough to claim an advantage? Practical testing is awaited.}) 12. f3 $14 {[#] There are many classical examples, some from Kramnik's games, of White benefiting from his g2-f3-e4 pawn chain. Black's Nf6 and Bb7 are restricted.} O-O 13. Qe1 ({The more direct} 13. Qd2 Rc8 14. Na4 Be7 15. b4 b5 16. Nb2 {would leave Black searching for a suitable square for his queen, while a2-a4 won't be long in coming.}) 13... Rc8 14. Qf2 b5 15. Rac1 Qe7 { Now possible, as Bc5 can retreat along the other diagonal.} 16. a4 ({I figure Kramnik would have preferred} 16. Nb3 Bxe3 17. Qxe3 {eyeing that a5-square.}) 16... bxa4 17. Nxa4 Bd6 $6 {A surprising choice.} (17... Ba7 {was safe, as} 18. Nf5 $2 exf5 19. Bxa7 fxe4 {loses a pawn for White.}) 18. Nb3 Bc6 19. Nc3 Rb8 20. Na5 Ba8 21. Nc4 Bc5 22. Rfd1 Rfc8 23. Na4 $6 {True to his style of play, Magnus seeks some clarification, but taking his knight to the edge of the board cost him a big chunk of his advantage.} ({The logical choice would have been} 23. Ra1 {to hit the weak pawn. White can also have plans for a central expansion, such as in} Bxe3 24. Qxe3 Nc5 25. Nd6 Rc6 26. e5 Nfd7 27. f4) 23... Bxe3 24. Qxe3 Qb4 $1 {A timely activity to interfere with White's plans.} 25. Qa3 {This was expected from Magnus Carlsen.} (25. Nc3) 25... h6 {[#]} 26. Kf1 ( {White could have accomplished more simplification with the help of a little tactic} 26. Ncb6 $5 Qxa3 27. Rxc8+ Rxc8 28. bxa3 Nxb6 29. Nxb6 Rb8 30. Nxa8 Rxa8 31. Rc1 $14) 26... g5 27. Rc3 a5 28. Qxb4 axb4 {A welcome pawn structure change if you're a Caruana fan. Still, White is a little better, and Magnus is Magnus.} 29. Rcc1 Kf8 30. Na5 Ke7 31. Kf2 Rxc1 32. Rxc1 Ne8 33. Ke3 Nd6 34. Nc5 Rc8 35. Nab3 f5 $6 (35... Ne5 {would have prevented White from trading rooks, which he needs to accomplish if he's serious about hitting that b4-pawn.}) 36. Nxd7 Rxc1 37. Nxc1 Kxd7 38. Nd3 $6 ({It is surprising to see Carlsen neglecting a chance to win a clean pawn after} 38. Bd3 fxe4 39. fxe4 {and there's no stopping the threat of Na2. Truth be told, White would still be a long ways from winning the game.} e5 40. Na2 Kc7 41. Nxb4 Kb6) 38... fxe4 39. fxe4 Ke7 40. e5 ({Another option was} 40. Bf3 g4 41. Bxg4 Bxe4 42. Bf3 Bxd3 43. Kxd3 e5 $14) 40... Nf5+ 41. Kf2 Nd4 42. Bd1 b3 43. Nb4 Bd5 44. g3 (44. Nxd5+ exd5 45. Ke3 Nf5+ 46. Kd3 Ke6 47. Bxb3 Kxe5 {An outside passer is always useful in B vs N endgames, but here Black is well centralized and therefore should hold.}) 44... Bc4 45. Ke3 Nf5+ 46. Ke4 $6 ({More promising seemed} 46. Kd2 Kd7 47. Bf3 Kc7 48. Kc3) 46... Kd7 47. g4 {This pawn will be a target for Black's counterplay.} Ne7 48. Kd4 Bf1 49. Bxb3 Be2 50. h3 Bf1 51. Nd3 Nc6+ 52. Kc5 $5 {A fancy way to reach a draw that seemed inevitable anyhow.} Bxd3 53. Ba4 Be4 54. Kb6 Bd5 {Of course Black cannot unpin, but he can wait for the White pawn to come to b5, and then his knight can move away.} 1/2-1/2

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Fabiano Caruana interviewed by Maurice Ashley | Source: Saint Louis Chess Club on YouTube

An unconvincing handling of the endgame from Carlsen, who is a notoriously slow starter. I have a feeling people won't be able to escape as easily as Caruana did today later in the tournament, once Magnus hits his stride.

Providing the live commentary on-site were GM Daniel King and IM Lawrence Trent | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Garry Kasparov also made an appearance on the show with a school child, explaining the peaceful calming nature of chess | Photo: Lennart Ootes

In the other interesting game today it was Black who had all the chances.

Hikaru Nakamura 1/2-1/2 Vishy Anand (Annotated by GM Alex Yermolinsky)

[Event "9th London Chess Classic 2017"] [Site "London"] [Date "2017.12.01"] [Round "1"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A08"] [WhiteElo "2781"] [BlackElo "2782"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [PlyCount "87"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. Nf3 Nf6 2. g3 {Hikaru wanted a big fight, so he aimed to avoid theory.} d5 3. Bg2 c5 4. O-O g6 $5 {On the black side of the Reti Vishy likes to fianchetto his bishop once he gets his pawns to the center.} 5. d4 $5 { Suddenly, it's White who's playing the Grunfeld!} cxd4 6. Nxd4 Bg7 7. Nb3 ({ Book says} 7. c4 O-O 8. cxd5 Nxd5 9. Nc3 Nxc3 10. bxc3 {The Chinese GM Li Chao defended the black side of this at least four times in recent practice.}) 7... Nc6 8. Nc3 e6 9. e4 d4 10. Na4 O-O 11. c3 dxc3 ({It would have been too ambitious for Anand to pretend he was White and continue with} 11... e5 12. cxd4 exd4 {since the extra tempo can be put into a good use, say by playing} 13. Re1) 12. Nxc3 e5 13. Be3 $14 Bg4 14. f3 Be6 15. Nc5 Qe7 16. Nxe6 Qxe6 17. Qd2 {[#] White appears to be slightly better thanks to the bishop pair.} Rfd8 18. Qf2 Bf8 19. h3 Bb4 20. Rac1 Rd3 ({Vishy turned down Hikaru's pawn offer,} 20... Bxc3 21. Rxc3 Qxa2 {likely because he was concerned about} 22. Bg5 Qe6 23. f4 {but then} exf4 24. gxf4 (24. Qxf4 Nh5) 24... Nxe4 25. Bxe4 Qxe4 26. Bxd8 Rxd8 {appears to be playable for Black.}) 21. Rfd1 Rad8 22. Rxd3 Rxd3 23. Bf1 Rd8 24. a3 Be7 {[#] Skillful display by Nakamura. White controls all the key squares while avoiding massive exchanges.} 25. g4 $6 {Oh, I don't know about this. The weakening of the dark squares may come back to bite White.} ( 25. Kh2 a6 26. Nd5 $1 Nxd5 27. Bc4 {and White plays on without any risk.}) 25... Kg7 26. Kh2 h6 27. h4 (27. Nb5 a6 28. Bc4 Qc8 29. Nc3 Nh7 {and now we can see how ...Bg5 becomes an issue.}) 27... Nd4 $1 {In the approach to the time control Anand begins to bother Nakamura with tactical play.} 28. g5 hxg5 29. hxg5 Nh7 30. Bh3 Qb3 31. f4 Nc6 $1 {White's position is grossly overextended. Something is going to give.} 32. Nd5 (32. Rg1 exf4 33. Bxf4 Bxa3) 32... exf4 33. Bxf4 {[#]} Bxg5 $2 {This decision likely cost Anand a nice win in the opening round.} ({Keeping the Be7 on to protect f6 was a must.} 33... Nxg5 $1 {Soon some other trades will be forced and Black will get to keep his extra pawn, e.g.} 34. Rc3 Qd1 35. Qg2 Nxh3 36. Rxh3 Rh8 37. Rxh8 Kxh8 38. Nxe7 Nxe7 39. Be5+ Kg8 40. Bc3 Nc6 41. Qf2 Qg4 42. Qf6 Kf8 $17) 34. Bxg5 Nxg5 35. Qf6+ Kh6 36. Bg2 Nh7 37. Qxf7 Rf8 38. Qc7 Qxb2 39. Rh1 Qf2 40. Kh3 Rf7 41. Qg3 {[#] The time control has been made, and White will soon be looking at a tough defensive task in an endgame down a pawn.} Qb2 $6 {All of a sudden Vishy moved his queen away.} (41... Kg7 42. Qxf2 Rxf2 43. Rb1 Rf7 44. Kg3 Ne5 {was expected.}) 42. Ne3 $1 {It is amazing how quick Hikaru was to pounce on that error.} Nf6 $6 ({Still,} 42... Qd4 43. Rd1 Ng5+ 44. Kh2 Nf3+ 45. Bxf3 Qxe3 46. Bg2 Qxg3+ 47. Kxg3 $15 {was there.}) 43. Bf3 {Suddenly it's the black king that's in danger.} Kh7 44. Nf5 ({Draw was agreed based on the forced line} 44. Nf5 Qxa3 45. Kg2+ Nh5 46. Qg5 Qb2+ 47. Kg1 Qb6+ 48. Kg2 {and Black must keep on checking.}) 1/2-1/2

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It was all Anand's show in his game with Hikary Nakamura, which bodes well for the Indian's many fans.

Hikaru Nakamura and Vishy Anand discuss their game briefly after the draw | Photo: Lennart Ootes

The schedule calls for an early rest day tomorrow. We'll see how the players do in an eight-round tournament that begins Sunday.

Round 1 Commentary

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

All games



Yermo is enjoying his fifties. Lives in South Dakota, 600 miles way from the nearest grandmaster. Between his chess work online he plays snooker and spends time outdoors - happy as a clam.


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