London Classic: Nepomniachtchi joins lead

by Alex Yermolinsky
12/10/2017 – The tournament is now in full swing, and the thrilling battles in round seven show it. Magnus Carlsen had the strangest game, finding himself dead lost after 13 moves with his queen stuck in enemy territory. Somehow he cast his voodoo spell and turned it around to a win. Karjakin decided to test MVL's Najdorf and was to regret it, while Nepomniachtchi scored his second win, over Anand this time. Report and analysis by GM Alex Yermolinsky. | Photo: Pascal Simon

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Round seven

The dry spell of 15 draws in the first three rounds is a distant memory now. Blood is flowing on the chessboard, and you, my fellow corrida fans, must be deliriously happy now.

We begin again with Magnus Carlsen, who faced Mickey Adams today. The stats between the two reflect a huge edge for the World Champion, +10-1=7. It is domination of this degree that helped propel Carlsen to the World #1 position four or five years prior to his official coronation in 2013. He'd simply destroyed the old guard, and similar scores were notched against Gelfand, and eventually Kramnik and Anand as well.

Bird's eye view of the playing hall | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Things are not that easy for Magnus anymore. Whatever his reasons might be, he's just not winning classical tournaments the way he used to. The five draws at the start of this event, and then yesterday's game with Hikaru he should have lost, can hardly put fear in the hearts of Carlsen's opposition.

Adams certainly didn't look intimidated by Carlsen's novelty/blunder in an off-beat Bird Opening. Having carefully checked his lines, Mickey sacrificed a knight with the idea of trapping Magnus's queen in the middle.


Unfortunately, the execution was off for the English Grandmaster today. The game drifted to an endgame where Carlsen regained his strength. Still, it took further mistakes from Adams to lose this rather ridiculous game.

Magnus Carlsen 1 - 0 Michael Adams (annotated by GM Alex Yermolinsky)

[Event "9th London Chess Classic 2017"] [Site "London"] [Date "2017.12.09"] [Round "7"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "Adams, Michael"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A03"] [WhiteElo "2837"] [BlackElo "2715"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [PlyCount "115"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. f4 {Magnus has played the Bird before, but stil his choice smacks of desperation - win at any cost!} d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. g3 g6 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. O-O O-O 6. d3 c5 7. c3 Nc6 8. Na3 Re8 9. Nh4 b6 ({White was prepared to meet} 9... e5 { with} 10. f5) 10. e4 dxe4 11. Qa4 $2 {[#] This looks like an over-the-board novelty.} ({Previously seen was} 11. dxe4 Qxd1 12. Rxd1 e5) 11... Qxd3 $3 { A brilliant refutation!} (11... Bd7 12. dxe4 Qc8 13. Qc2 Bh3 14. e5 $14 { is what Magnus had his eyes on.}) 12. Qxc6 ({White cannot bail out with repetition after} 12. Rd1 Qe2 13. Rd2 (13. Bf1 Qg4) 13... Qe3+ 14. Rf2 Qe1+ 15. Rf1 Qe2 16. Rf2 {because Black then has} Qa6 $1 {and} 17. Qxc6 Bd7 18. Qc7 Rac8 19. Qe5 Bc6 {is winning, similar to a variation that could (and should) have happened in the game.}) 12... Bd7 13. Qc7 Ng4 $2 {Mickey's shot is way off the mark.} ({He needed to invite the white queen to nestle in the middle of the board.} 13... Rec8 $1 14. Qe5 Bc6 {[#] There's no escape for the lady, as seen from} 15. Re1 (15. Qxe7 Re8 16. Qc7 Rac8 17. Qxa7 Nd5 {followed by Re7, Rc7 or Ra8.}) 15... Qd7 16. h3 {played to give support to the g4-square should Black go after the queen right away, but} h6 $1 {shuts the cage, and White has to shed tons of material,} 17. Nxg6 fxg6 18. f5 gxf5 {leading to a hopeless position.}) 14. Re1 Bd4+ ({Still, Black had} 14... Rac8 $1 15. Qxa7 Bd4+ 16. cxd4 Qxd4+ 17. Be3 Nxe3 {Now with the white queen out of play Black would have had promising middlegame play, such as} 18. Kh1 Ng4 19. h3 Nf2+ 20. Kh2 e5 $1 { going after the stray Nh4.}) 15. cxd4 Qxd4+ 16. Be3 Nxe3 17. Qe5 $1 {This one saves the bacon.} f5 $2 {[#] Another blunder.} ({Both} 17... Nxg2+ 18. Qxd4 cxd4 19. Nxg2 f5 20. Red1 d3 21. Nc4 $14) ({and particularly} 17... Bc6 $1 { would have kept Black in the game.}) 18. Bh3 $2 {Shockingly Magnus immediately returns the favor.} ({Both players missed} 18. Nf3 $1 {which would force a transition to a choice of near winning endgames for White.} exf3 19. Bxf3 { Under the circumstances the most resilient is} Nc2+ (19... Qxe5 20. fxe5 f4 21. gxf4 Nf5 {is not the end of Black's problems, as next comes} 22. e6 $1) 20. Qxd4 Nxd4 21. Bxa8 Rxa8 22. Rxe7 Rd8 23. Kf2 $16 {Surely Magnus is the guy to bet on in such situations.}) 18... Nc2+ 19. Qxd4 Nxd4 20. Rxe4 $5 {This goes to show how unhappy Carlsen was with his position.} fxe4 21. Bxd7 Red8 22. Ba4 e5 23. Re1 exf4 24. gxf4 a6 25. Bd1 b5 26. Nb1 {[#] All forced up to this point. Black has to be fine here, maybe even a bit better.} Nf5 $2 {It all started to go wrong from here. I don't like the idea behind this move, which did nothing but play into Carlsen's hand.} ({Instead of stabilizing the position, Mickey would have been much better off keeping it sharp.} 26... e3 27. Nc3 Re8 $17 {answers the call. Given Magnus's struggles with tactics in this game, same as yesterday against Hikaru, playing like this would have been the right decision from the psychological point of view as well.}) 27. Nxf5 gxf5 28. Kf2 Kf7 ({Perhaps,} 28... Rd3 29. Be2 Rh3 30. Kg2 Rh6 {would have been a bit more annoying for White.}) 29. Be2 Rd6 30. h4 $1 {Carlsen is in his element! Restricting the opponent's counterplay is always a high priority in his play.} c4 31. a4 Rc8 $6 (31... Kf6 32. Na3 Rb8 33. axb5 axb5) 32. axb5 axb5 33. Na3 Rd5 34. Rc1 Rdc5 35. Nc2 Ra8 36. Ne3 {[#] The engines show all zeroes, but the tide of the game has certainly turned in Carlsen's favor.} Rac8 $2 { It is not clear to me what Adams was playing for at this stage.} ({Shedding a pawn with} 36... Ra2 37. b3 Rb2 38. bxc4 bxc4 39. Nxc4 Kf6 $11 {cannot be viewed as a winning attempt, but the activity of the black rooks pretty much eliminates any danger of losing.}) 37. h5 Ke6 38. h6 Kf6 39. Ra1 b4 40. Ra6+ Ke7 41. Ra7+ Kf6 42. Ke1 b3 $2 {I cannot explain this, and I doubt Mickey can either.} (42... c3 43. bxc3 bxc3 44. Kd1 Rb8 {makes a passer and opens up the b-file. What's not to like?}) 43. Rb7 Ke6 44. Rb6+ Ke7 45. Rb4 R8c6 46. Bxc4 Rxh6 47. Rxb3 $16 Kd8 $1 {A good move.} (47... Rh2 48. Rb7+ Kd8 49. b4 { looks dangerous for Black.}) 48. Rb8+ $2 {I think after all the success he had in Rapid and Blitz Magnus struggles a bit with his decision-making in classical chess. His play seems mainly intuition-driven, to the point of being impulsive; the ideas are there, but they're not backed up by precise calculation.} (48. Ra3 Rh2 49. b4 Rc6 50. b5 Rg6 51. Be2 {was better.}) 48... Kc7 49. Rf8 Rh3 50. Nd5+ Kb7 51. Rf7+ {[#]} Kb8 $2 {Oh, Mickey, you break my heart. The king should never be cut off like this in the endgame.} (51... Kc6 52. Rf6+ Kb7 53. b3 Ra5 54. Rf7+ Kc6 $1 {Always back in the middle!} 55. Rxf5 Ra1+ 56. Kf2 Ra2+ 57. Kg1 Rb2 {There's enough counterplay here to force a draw, I suppose.}) 52. b3 Rh2 ({Now} 52... Ra5 {meets with} 53. Nb4 {and it's the black king that is likely to be mated.}) 53. Nb4 $18 Kc8 54. Na6 Rc6 55. Rf8+ Kb7 56. Bd5 Kxa6 57. Bxc6 Kb6 58. Bd7 1-0

Enter 1.f4, Bird's Opening!

There seems very little room to create new opening ideas in 2010 and the creative competitor must work hard to find new approaches which help to win games. Enter 1.f4, Bird’s Opening! 1.f4 has hardly been given comprehensive coverage in the textbooks and on this new ChessBase DVD, International Master and Senior FIDE Trainer Andrew Martin examines this ‘last frontier’ of sound and original opening play.


Magnus Carlsen with Maurice Ashley | Source: Saint Louis Chess Club on YouTube

This is how the World Champion got 1½ out of 2 totally lost games. It's a bad sign for the opposition, because no one can expect Carlsen to continue to play badly. Nevertheless, Magnus needs to stop blundering, because his next opponent, Nepo, may not be in such a forgiving mood.

Ian got some lucky wind in his sails after scoring an unexpected endgame victory over Adams yesterday, and today he seized the moment to build up on it. An unusual opening against Anand didn't give him a big advantage, but Nepo kept on pushing forward.

Ian Nepomniachtchi 1 - 0 Vishy Anand (annotated by GM Alex Yermolinsky)

[Event "9th London Chess Classic 2017"] [Site "London"] [Date "2017.12.09"] [Round "7"] [White "Nepomniachtchi, Ian"] [Black "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A17"] [WhiteElo "2729"] [BlackElo "2782"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [PlyCount "73"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. e3 a6 {This move is very useful in the Queens Gambit Accepted,} 5. b3 $1 {but not so much here!} Bd6 ({Perhaps, Anand didn't want to play with an isolated pawn after} 5... c5 6. cxd5 exd5 7. d4 Nc6) 6. Bb2 O-O 7. g4 $5 {A novelty in this particular position, although his idea is widely used in various openings in this day and age.} Nxg4 (7... dxc4 8. g5 Nfd7 9. bxc4 e5 {is worth a look.}) 8. Rg1 f5 9. cxd5 e5 {[#] An interesting structure.} 10. h3 Nf6 11. Ng5 $1 {Without further ado Nepo gets down to business.} Qe7 12. Qf3 Kh8 (12... e4 13. Qg2) 13. Ne6 Bxe6 14. dxe6 Qxe6 (14... Nc6 15. Qxf5 Nd8 16. Bd3 {looks good for White who will dominate the light squares.}) 15. Qxb7 Nbd7 16. Bc4 Qe7 17. Qg2 Nb6 18. Be2 a5 19. Bb5 $1 { A necessary precaution against a5-a4.} Rad8 20. Qg5 g6 21. Qh6 Ng8 22. Qg5 Nf6 23. Rd1 e4 24. Qh6 Rg8 25. Ne2 Be5 26. Bxe5 Qxe5 27. Nf4 g5 $1 {A great pawn sac. So far, Anand matches Nepo blow by blow.} 28. Rxg5 Rxg5 29. Qxg5 Rg8 30. Qh6 {[#]} Rg7 $2 ({It's hard to tell what Vishy didn't like about the logical} 30... Rg1+ 31. Bf1 Nbd7 32. Ne2 Rg6 {Black definetely has compensation for a pawn and he welcomes} 33. Qf4 {as in the line} Nd5 34. Qxe5+ Nxe5 {White can avoid smothered mate with} 35. Nd4 {but not a perpetual after} c5 36. Nxf5 Nf3+ 37. Ke2 Ng1+) 31. Bc4 $1 Nxc4 32. bxc4 Qb2 33. Ke2 a4 34. Ne6 Rf7 {[#]} 35. Nf4 $5 {A very mature decision. If only Nepo played like this from the beginning of the year, he would have never been out of top 10.} ({Contrary to what I thought while watching this game live} 35. Nd8 Rg7 36. Rg1 $5 {does not win by force,as Black has a defense:} Ng4 $1 (36... Rxg1 $4 37. Qf8+ {with Nf7 mate to follow is kind of cute.}) 37. hxg4 Qc2 {The threat of perpatual check forces White to part with his extra knight. Best is} 38. f4 $1 Qd3+ 39. Ke1 Qxd8 40. Qe6 {and White is still substantially better.}) 35... Rg7 36. a3 $1 { This quiet move speaks loudly about the difficulties Black is facing.} Ne8 $2 { Anand collapses immediately.} (36... Qb6 37. Qh4 ({Evaluation numbers aside, I'll leave crazy stuff such as} 37. d3 Qb2+ 38. Rd2 Qc3 39. Ne6 Rf7 40. dxe4 Qxc4+ 41. Kf3 {to Alpha Zero and her ilk. Thanks, but no thanks, we humans don't play chess this way.}) 37... Qb2 38. Nd5 Nxd5 39. Qd8+ Rg8 40. Qxd5 Qxa3 41. Qd4+ Rg7 42. Rb1 {This is something I can relate to. White keeps his edge without going overboard with tactics.}) 37. Qc6 {Another pawn is lost, and Vishy felt he'd had enough.} 1-0

Anand seems to be losing his way in unbalanced positions, which was never an issue in his younger days. One can worry how much is left in the tank for the former World Champion.

Winning Structures by GM Adrian Mikhalchishin

Great players always had and still have more than just broad theoretical knowledge. Every of them has some favourite methods, which simply help to score more points. The greatest even have favourite pawn structures! And they immediately exploited the knowledge of others - Alekhine invented some interesting structures, which were copied by his opponent in that game (Rubinstein), and later exploited by Botvinnik and then by Kramnik!


Another winner today was Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who gradually outplayed the struggling Sergey Karjakin on the black side of the Najdorf. The game didn't feature any fireworks and was eerily similar to Sergey's earlier loss to Caruana. While Sergey's tournament is in tatters, it is not too late for MVL to pick up speed, as he needs to finish four GCT points better than Carlsen to double his winnings from this year's cycle.

What does the lion do when his prey insists on entering his den? Sit back and sip some tea. If you are going to challenge MVL on the Najdorf, especially one of the sharpest lines, you had better be well-prepared! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Fabiano Caruana couldn't get much going against Wesley So's Ruy Lopez today. It only took two days for his one point lead to evaporate. Fabiano is now tied with Ian, and both Maxime and Magnus are hot on their heels with just two rounds to go.

It could have been more, but Aronian and Nakamura drew an interesting game today. Despite having no wins to their credit both players deserve praise for their fighting spirit.

In conclusion I'd like to make a few comments about the “correct” and “incorrect” spelling on some players names. We often have this issue with guys and girls from India and China. Usually, it's about first/last name confusion. Eventually, it gets resolved by a consistent use of one form over the other. Nobody cares if Anand is the first or the last name, the bearer is known as Vishy Anand, and this is how his name is going to be written in the annals of chess history.

On the other hand, Russian names are often misspelled due to a clerical error. Some dimwit wrote my first name as “Aleksey” despite my efforts to correct her. Of course, it should have been “Alexey”, as in Shirov or Dreev.

Nepo's is the most egregious case I have ever encountered. Who put all those consonants in there, creating an impossible jumble out of a sound that is traditionally written as “sch”, such as with Grischuk and Onischuk? Try Nepomniaschi to better approximate the correct pronunciation of his name. Secondly, Ian is a common British name, which is pronounced completely differently. Nepo himself took some steps to rectifying the situation by using “Yan” in his Twitter account.

Perhaps, FIDE could take some steps to acknowledge the player's rights to see their names listed the way they like it, regardless of how it's written in their passports.

[Editor's note: For numerous technical and editorial reasons, we generally follow the official spellings from FIDE as a standard. It is, however, possible to update one's name in the FIDE database.]

Round seven 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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