London Classic: Nakamura misses win against Carlsen

by Alex Yermolinsky
12/9/2017 – What a fun round it was. Round six may not have had many wins, but it was not short of excitement. The big game was between Hikaru Nakamura and Magnus Carlsen, with the American completely winning all the way until move 59 when he missed his chance. Aronian continues to play with no inhibitions, though drew against So, while Nepomniachtchi beat Adams. Report and analysis by GM Alex Yermolinsky. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Chess Endgames 14 - The golden guidelines of endgame play Chess Endgames 14 - The golden guidelines of endgame play

Rules of thumb are the key to everything when you are having to set the correct course in a complex endgame. In this final DVD of his series on the endgame, our endgame specialist introduces you to the most important of these rules of thumb.


Round six

The leader, Fabiano Caruana, had Black against Vachier-Lagrave, and surprised his opponent with the Petroff. The game followed an old trail from Svidler-Ivanchuk, Morelia/Linares 2007. I wonder if Maxime was aware of that. If he was, it's OK. Maxime certainly has tried his hardest in 2017, and he has reason to be disappointed with missing the Candidates. Time to finish this tournament with a solid 50% result, cash in the $50,000 2nd place Grand Chess Tour prize, and go home to rest and recharge the batteries.

Fabiano Caruana has seized the lead. Will he continue his run? | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Anand-Karjakin had a promising start with a sharp English, but Vishy saw something unpleasant in the lines following Sergey's novelty on move 12, and decided to wrap up the game with repetition.

Anand talks with Maurice Ashley | Source: Saint Louis Chess Club on YouTube

The former world champion also had some interesting comments on the recent AlphaZero news:

"Oviously this four hour thing is not too relevant — though it's a nice punchline — but it's obviously very powerful hardware, so it's equal to my laptop sitting for a couple of decades. I think the more relevant thing is that it figured everything out from scratch and that is scary and promising if you look at it...I would like to think that it should be a little bit harder. It feels annoying that you can work things out with just the rules of chess that quickly."

The other three games went full tilt, and offered a lot of enjoyment to the spectators.

Wesley So must have prepared for this line of the Ruy Lopez, as Aronian plays it all the time. What Wesley didn't count on was Levon's extremely aggressive response. Levon is playing like he's having a a good time in London, which bodes well for his chances at the big show in Berlin in the spring.

Levon Aronian has been unleashed in the London Classic, and in spite of the lack of wins, his play has been denuded of any inhibitions | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Wesley So ½ - ½ Levon Aronian (annotated by GM Alex Yermolinsky)

[Event "9th London Chess Classic 2017"] [Site "London"] [Date "2017.12.08"] [Round "6"] [White "So, Wesley"] [Black "Aronian, Levon"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C88"] [WhiteElo "2788"] [BlackElo "2805"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [PlyCount "76"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 O-O 8. a4 b4 9. d4 d6 10. dxe5 dxe5 {Levon has been relying on this capture} ({instead of } 10... Nxe5 {ever since he lost to Nakamura in the Sinquefield Cup 2013. There's a different opinion, though. Ding Liren recently won a nice game against Inarkiev in the FIDE Grand Prix in Palma, and there have been efforts from Carlsen and Svidler to uphold this line.}) 11. Nbd2 Bc5 12. a5 Be6 $5 { The newest idea.} ({Levon twice tried} 12... Ng4) ({While others, including Caruana, Tomashevsky and Svidler, preferred the restrained} 12... h6) 13. Bxe6 {Surprisingly this was never played before, at least not in high profile games. } ({Dominguez-Aronian, St. Louis Blitz 2017 saw} 13. Qe2 Qe7 14. Bc4 Nd4 15. Nxd4 Bxd4 16. Nb3 ({White doesn't get anywhere after} 16. Bxa6 Qc5) 16... Rfd8 17. Nxd4 Bxc4 18. Nf5 Qe6 19. Qf3 Ne8) 13... fxe6 14. Qe2 {[#] It seems like White is about to take all the commanding squares, but Black has active counterplay.} Ng4 $5 15. Rf1 Bxf2+ ({Another option was} 15... Nd4 {but Levon must have seen the good reply} 16. Qc4 $1 (16. Nxd4 Rxf2 $1 17. Rxf2 Qxd4 { is Black's main idea.}) 16... Qd6 17. h3 {Now Black has to go all the way.} Nxf3+ (17... Nf6 18. c3 bxc3 19. bxc3 Nxf3+ 20. Nxf3 $16) 18. Nxf3 Nxf2 19. Rxf2 Qd1+ 20. Qf1 Qxc2 {he seems to be getting enough pawns, but} 21. Qe1 Bxf2+ 22. Qxf2 Qxe4 23. Be3 $14 {allows White to keep enough material on the board, which is critical for success in battles between two minor pieces and a rook.}) 16. Rxf2 Nd4 17. Qc4 $2 {Wesley chooses the wrong square for his queen.} ({ Black would be under the pressure to prove his compensation after the correct} 17. Qd3 Nxf2 18. Kxf2) 17... Nxf2 18. Kxf2 {[#]} Qh4+ ({In turn, Levon misses the best move} 18... Qg5 $1 {The only way for White to untangle would be} 19. Kg1 {but then Black gets his material back:} Rxf3 20. Nxf3 Nxf3+ 21. Kh1 Qh5 { The knight is taboo, as} 22. Qxe6+ Kh8 23. gxf3 {loses to} Qxf3+ 24. Kg1 Qd1+ 25. Kg2 Qe2+ 26. Kg1 Qe1+ 27. Kg2 Rf8) 19. Kg1 Qg4 ({Possibly} 19... Qf4 { was better.}) 20. h3 $6 {Again, Wesley So is not precise with his calculations. } (20. Qd3 Rad8 21. h3 {would bring Black's attack to its end.} Nxf3+ ({Else,} 21... Qg3 22. Nxd4 Qe1+ 23. Kh2 Rxd4 24. Qg3 Qxg3+ 25. Kxg3 Rfd8 26. Nf1 Rxe4 27. Be3 Rc4 28. Rc1 Rd5 29. Nd2 Rc6 30. b3 Rxa5 31. Nc4 {holds the black rooks activity in check.}) 22. Nxf3 Rxd3 23. hxg4 Rd1+ 24. Kf2 {There's a question whether White can win this, but he'll have his chances.}) 20... Qg3 21. Qd3 Rxf3 $1 {Aronian was not going to miss that. The following is forced.} 22. Nxf3 Rf8 23. Nxd4 Qe1+ 24. Kh2 Rf1 25. Qxf1 Qxf1 26. Nf3 c5 {[#] On paper White has enough for a queen, and his king is safe, but the pin on the back rank holds him down.} 27. b3 $6 {Wesley decides to address this issue, even at the cost of some pawns.} ({Objectively, White is safe after} 27. c3 b3 28. c4 Qd1 29. Nxe5 h6 $11 {but it's impossible to play this position for a win.}) 27... Qd1 28. Bb2 Qxc2 29. Bxe5 Qxb3 30. Rf1 h6 $2 {Aronian shows too much respect for White's non-existent threats.} (30... Qc2 $1 {would have kept White from activating his rook.} 31. Kg3 (31. Ng5 h6 $19) 31... c4 32. Rf2 Qxe4 33. Rd2 Qg6+ 34. Kf2 Qe8 {leaving Black with decent chances of victory.}) 31. Rf2 $1 { Just at the last moment Wesley's rook breaks out in the open.} c4 32. Rd2 c3 33. Rd8+ Kf7 34. Rc8 Qb1 35. Rc7+ Ke8 36. Rc8+ Kf7 37. Rc7+ Ke8 38. Rc8+ Kf7 ({ No escape for the king, as seen from} 38... Kd7 39. Rc7+ Kd8 40. Nd4 Qxe4 41. Nxe6+ Ke8 42. Nxg7+) 1/2-1/2

Nepo finally lit the scoreboard with the game nobody expected him to win. Maybe that's the ticket to successful play in elite tournaments: sit tight and wait for your chance. Ian is learning this the hard way, as his stints in top tournaments are coming to an end for now. One has to be rated way higher than 2750 to get invitations to premier events. At 27 years of age, Nepo still has time for another rating push.

Ian Nepomniachtchi showed once more his ability to surprise as he won a game few had any expectations about | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Mickey Adams is an old warrior, who simply never quits. Last year at the London Classic he was able to draw all of his games. Not this time though, but there are still three rounds left, and I root for Mickey to win!

Michael Adams 0 - 1 Ian Nepomniachtchi (annotated by GM Alex Yermolinsky)

[Event "9th London Chess Classic 2017"] [Site "London"] [Date "2017.12.08"] [Round "6"] [White "Adams, Michael"] [Black "Nepomniachtchi, Ian"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B90"] [WhiteElo "2715"] [BlackElo "2729"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "nR6/r4pkp/4p1p1/3p4/5P2/2P4P/1P2B1P1/6K1 w - - 0 33"] [PlyCount "106"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] {[#] White kept a slight edge he obtained in the opening until Adams somewhat impatiently pushed his passed pawn forward.} 33. b4 Nc7 34. b5 Ra8 $1 {Nepo handles his defensive task with precision.} (34... Ra2 35. b6 Na6 36. Bxa6 Rxa6 37. g4 $16) 35. Rb7 (35. Rxa8 Nxa8 36. Kf2 Kf6 37. Ke3 Ke7 38. Kd4 Kd6 39. c4 dxc4 40. Bxc4 Nb6 {is impossible for White to win.}) 35... Ne8 {The knight is about to escape.} 36. c4 $2 {There must have been some mistake in Mickey's calculations.} ({Still, a draw was well within White's reach:} 36. b6 Ra1+ 37. Kf2 Nd6 38. Rd7 Ne4+ 39. Ke3 Rb1 40. Bd3 Rxb6 41. Bxe4 dxe4 42. Kxe4) 36... Nd6 {It's all forced now.} 37. Rc7 dxc4 38. Bxc4 Ra1+ 39. Kf2 Rc1 40. b6 Nxc4 41. b7 Rb1 42. Rxc4 Rxb7 {[#] Adams had already pulled off a similar escape earlier in the tournament against Vachier-Lagrave. The rook endgame with 4 vs. 3 on the same side of the board is drawn under most circumstances, but in this case the white f-pawn is sticking out, which gives Black a chance.} 43. Ra4 h6 $1 {Nepo hits on the right plan immediately.} 44. Ra5 Rb2+ 45. Kf3 Rb3+ 46. Kf2 Rd3 47. h4 {Mickey is aiming to trade as many pawns as possible, which is a sound strategy.} (47. Rb5 Rd5 48. Rb7 g5 49. fxg5 hxg5 {looks more dangerous for White. Indeed, if Black is allowed to advance his pawns to f4 and e3 he will win easily, which means White has to act now.} 50. g4 $1 Rd3 51. Kg2 { The only realistic way for Black to make progress would be to play} Kg6 52. Re7 Rd6 53. Kf3 f5 54. gxf5+ exf5 {[#] reaching the position similar to the one in the game continuation.}) 47... Rd5 48. Ra7 g5 49. hxg5 hxg5 50. fxg5 ({One last alternative was to stay put with} 50. g3 g4 51. Rb7 Rd2+ 52. Kg1 { Instinctively, experienced players don't like to see their king cut off on the back rank. There may follow} Kg6 53. Ra7 f6 54. Ra5 Rd5 55. Ra6 Kf5 56. Kf2 Rd2+ 57. Kf1 e5 58. fxe5 fxe5 {and White must defend with} 59. Ra4 Rd4 60. Ra8 Ke4 61. Ke2 Rb4 62. Ra2 {[#] The same position happened in S.B. Hansen-Leko from Istanbul Olympiad 2012, and Black won.}) 50... Rxg5 51. g3 Kg6 52. Kf3 Rf5+ 53. Kg2 Rb5 54. Re7 e5 55. Kf2 f6 56. Re8 Kf5 57. Rf8 {Keeping the rook in enemy camp to attack from behind is a proven defensive technique.} Rb3 58. Kg2 Rb2+ 59. Kf3 Rb3+ 60. Kg2 Ke6 61. Kf2 Ra3 62. Re8+ Kf5 63. Rf8 Ra7 64. Kf3 Rg7 65. Re8 Kg5 66. Re6 $6 ({There was no reason for Adams to reject} 66. g4 Kg6 67. Ra8 Rb7 68. Rg8+ Kf7 69. Ra8 Rb3+ 70. Kf2 {aside of a superstitious fear of having his king separated from the pawn.}) 66... Rg8 67. Re7 Kf5 68. Rh7 Ra8 69. Rh5+ Kg6 70. Rh4 $2 ({Last call for} 70. g4 $11 {similar to Serper-Emelin, 1995 with colors reversed.}) 70... f5 71. Rb4 Kg5 {[#] Now the white rook is too late to check the black king away.} 72. Rb7 (72. Kg2 Ra2+ 73. Kh3 Kf6 74. Rb6+ Ke7 75. Rc6 e4 76. Rb6 Rf2 77. Ra6 e3 $19) 72... e4+ $1 73. Ke3 Ra3+ 74. Kf2 Ra2+ 75. Ke3 Kg4 $19 76. Rg7+ Kh3 $1 {Now we can see the difference compared with the position from the note to White's 47th move. With the pawns shifted one file toward the center the Black king can sneak in along the h-file.} 77. Rg5 Ra3+ 78. Kf2 (78. Kd4 e3 79. Rxf5 Kxg3) 78... Rf3+ 79. Ke1 Kg2 80. Ke2 Rf2+ 81. Ke3 (81. Ke1 e3) 81... Kf1 $1 82. g4 {One last attempt but it falls way short.} Rf3+ 83. Kd4 e3 84. Rxf5 Rxf5 85. Kxe3 Rf8 {An excellent technical display from Yan, who seems to be settling down finally toward the end of his unsuccessful 2017 campaign.} 0-1

Chess Endgames 8 - Practical Rook Endgames

Rook endings are amongst the most frequently encountered endgames there are, and so your training effort will be quickly repaid in the form of half and full points. Knowing even a few rules of thumb and key methods makes life a great deal easier and provides a guiding light even in complex positions. This DVD focuses on the important themes which are to be found in common rook endings.

Michael Adams is a tireless warrior, always game for a good battle | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Happy 30th Birthday to Hikaru Nakamura! What would be a better way to celebrate than a win over the World Champion, Hikaru's old nemesis, Magnus Carlsen. It almost happened.

It was a thrilling battle in which Hikaru Nakamura nearly made it one step closer to rebalancing their score | Photo: Lennart Ootes

A fascinating battle it was from the opening to the middlegame, and I wish I had the time to analyze this game in depth. The parameters of this report only allow me to focus on the final stage.

Hikaru Nakamura ½ - ½ Magnus Carlsen (annotated by GM Alex Yermolinsky)

[Event "9th London Chess Classic 2017"] [Site "London"] [Date "2017.12.08"] [Round "6"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C45"] [WhiteElo "2781"] [BlackElo "2837"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [PlyCount "145"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nxc6 bxc6 6. e5 Qe7 7. Qe2 Nd5 8. h4 Bb7 9. c4 Nb6 10. Rh3 Qe6 11. f4 O-O-O 12. a4 d5 13. a5 Nxc4 14. b3 Bb4+ 15. Kf2 Nxa5 16. Bd2 c5 17. Rxa5 Bxa5 18. Bxa5 Qf5 19. Nc3 Qxf4+ 20. Kg1 Rhe8 21. Nb5 a6 22. Rf3 Qxe5 23. Qxe5 Rxe5 24. Bxc7 Ree8 25. Bxd8 Rxd8 26. Na3 Rd7 27. Bd3 Kd8 28. Bxh7 g6 29. h5 gxh5 30. Rf6 Ke7 31. Rb6 Rc7 32. Nc2 a5 33. Ne3 c4 34. Bc2 Bc6 35. bxc4 dxc4 36. Ra6 a4 37. Bxa4 Be4 38. Ra5 Ke6 39. Rxh5 c3 40. Bb3+ Kd6 41. Bc2 Bxc2 42. Nxc2 Ke6 43. Kf2 f5 {[#]} 44. Rh3 {Hikaru's choice shows his desire to stabilize the situation.} ({He had a direct plan of bringing his king up, but there were many tactics to calculate.} 44. Ke3 $1 { is a very human move, in reply to which} Kf6 {is the toughest defense.} (44... Rc8 45. Nd4+ Kd7 46. Rh7+ Kd6 47. Kd3 $1 f4 (47... Rg8 48. Nxf5+ Ke5 49. Ne3) 48. Rh6+ $1 Ke5 49. Re6+ Kd5 {and finally,} 50. Rg6 $1 {[#] puts Black in Zugzwang.} Ke5 (50... Rc7 51. Rg5+ Kd6 52. Nb5+) 51. Nc6+ Kf5 52. Ne7+) 45. Kd4 Rc8 $1 (45... Rg7 {gets turned away by} 46. Ne3 f4 47. Nd5+ Kf7 48. Nxf4 $18) ( 45... f4 $5 {is a try, but the black king can never support the pawn, so White should be able to navigate his way to a win after} 46. Ke4 Rc4+ (46... Rg7 47. Rf5+ Ke6 48. Nd4+ Ke7 49. Kf3 Rg3+ 50. Kf2 Rd3 51. Ne2 $18) 47. Kf3 Kg6 48. Rh4 $1 Kg5 49. g3 $18) 46. Rh6+ (46. Rh3 Rg8 47. Ne1 c2 48. Rc3 Re8 49. Nxc2 Re2 $11) 46... Kg5 47. Rh3 {[#] the c3-pawn drops, and it has to over now, right?} f4 {Well, not quite.} (47... Kg4 48. Ne3+ Kg5 49. Rg3+ Kh5 50. Nc2 {is an important step forward, as the black king is now cut off on the h-file.}) 48. Rxc3 {We're making progress now, but there's still a lot of work to be done.} Rd8+ 49. Ke4 Kg4 50. Nd4 (50. Rf3 Rh8 $3 {is surprisingly a draw.}) 50... Re8+ 51. Kd5 Rd8+ 52. Ke5 Ra8 {I must admit I don't see a forced win here. Nevertheless, I would have gone for this position, hoping to find a solution over the board.}) ({There was also a rather mechanical plan of rounding up the c-pawn:} 44. Rh1 Ke5 45. Rc1 f4 $1 (45... Ke4 46. Na3 $1 Rc5 47. Nb1 c2 48. Na3 {aiming for a pawn ending:} Kd3 (48... Rc3 49. Nxc2 Kf4 {would have been nice for Black if it wasn't for knight forks:} 50. Ne1 $18) 49. Rxc2 Rxc2+ 50. Nxc2 Kxc2 51. Ke3 $18) 46. Na3 Rc5 47. Nb1 c2 {[#] Look out!} 48. Nd2 {is the only way to win.} ({Not} 48. Na3 {because Black has the amazing resource} f3 $3 49. gxf3 Rc3 50. Nxc2 Kf6 {staying away from the forks and keeping White tied up.}) 48... Rc8 49. Nf3+ Ke4 50. Ne1 $18 {Remember this position, it represents White ultimate goal in this entire endgame.}) 44... Ke5 45. Rd3 Kf4 46. Rd4+ Kg5 47. Kf3 Rc8 48. Ra4 Rc7 49. Ra8 Kf6 50. Ra6+ Kg5 {Carlsen's defensive plan is taking shape. He avoids playing his pawn to f4, while keeping his king ready for counterattack should White attempt to move his king to the Q-side. Hikaru has to regroup.} 51. Nd4 $3 {[#]} Rc4 $1 ({Magnus avoids a devilish trap:} 51... c2 $2 {loses to a mating attack!} 52. Ne6+ Kh4 (52... Kh5 53. Nf4+ Kg5 54. Rg6+ Kh4 55. g3#) 53. g3+ Kh3 54. Nf4+ Kh2 55. Rh6+ Kg1 56. Ne2+ Kf1 57. Rh1# {The knight, as an extra piece, still has its limitations when it comes to playing on both sides of the board. It's strength, however, is in tactical motifs.}) 52. Ne6+ ({A good chance to get on the winning track was} 52. Ne2 $1 c2 53. Ra1 Kf6 54. Rc1 Kg5 55. Kf2 Kg4 {and now the final knight transfer:} 56. Ng1 Kf4 57. Nf3 Rc8 58. Ne1 $18) 52... Kf6 53. Nf4+ Ke5 54. Nd3+ Kd5 55. Ra2 (55. Ra5+ Kd4 56. Nf4 {was an idea, as} c2 57. Ne2+ Kd3 58. Rd5+ { ends in mate. This and similar lines illustrate the difficulty of playing such endgames. One has to calculate variations all the time!}) 55... Kd4 56. Nc1 c2 57. Ra5 Rc3+ 58. Kf4 Rc8 59. Rxf5 $2 {A tragic miss.} (59. Ra3 $1 Rc5 60. Rd3+ Kc4 61. Re3 Rc7 62. Kxf5 {would have clinched it for Nakamura.}) 59... Re8 60. Rf7 (60. Ra5 Re1 61. Ra1 Rd1 62. g4 Kc3 63. g5 Kb2 $11) 60... Re1 {Black will attack the knight that cannot leave the c-pawn unattended.} 61. Rd7+ Kc3 62. Rc7+ Kd2 63. Nb3+ Kd3 64. Nc5+ Kd4 65. Nb3+ Kd3 66. Nc5+ Kd4 67. Nb3+ Kd3 68. g4 Rf1+ 69. Kg5 Rb1 70. Nc5+ Ke3 71. Nb3 Kd3 72. Nc5+ Ke3 73. Nb3 1/2-1/2

Chess Endgames 9 - Rook and Minor Piece

Endings with rook and minor piece against rook and minor piece occur very frequently, even more often than rook endings, yet there's not much literature on them. This endgame DVD fills this gap. The four different material constellations rook and knight vs rook and knight, rooks and opposite coloured (and same coloured ) bishops and rook and bishop vs rook and knight are dealt with. In view of the different material constellations Karsten Mueller explains many guidelines like e.g. "With knights even a small initiative weighs heavily".

Here were the World Champion's thoughts after the game. He is clearly suffering from a cold here in chilly London.

Magnus Carlsen gives his take on the ending | Source: Saint Louis Chess Club on YouTube

A wider look at the boradcast setup, as Magnus Carlsen goes over his game with Maurice Ashley | Photo: Macauley Peterson

We can see now that Magnus Carlsen dodged a major bullet today. While it might inspire him to try his hardest in the remaining rounds, one has to wonder why Carlsen cannot translate his dominating performances in rapid and blitz events into similar results in classical chess.

Hikaru's enterprising play in London hasn't been rewarded with wins yet. Yes, chess can be very cruel at times.

Round six commentary

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


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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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