London Classic: Peace at all costs

by Alex Yermolinsky
12/5/2017 – The bad news is that after three rounds, it has been 100% draws. Caruana even tweeted tongue-in-cheek, "We're thinking of renaming it to the Anish Giri Cup." The good news is that some players are clearly trying their best to break the fast. Aronian did everything he could, sacrificing material helter-skelter against Karjakin. When he was dead lost... he offered a draw. Report and analysis by GM Alex Yermolinsky. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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No laughing matter

Five more draws, would you believe it? No wonder some of the players want to rename the event to an Anish Giri Cup. Anish himself joined in the laughs by refusing to “validate” the tournament.  A witty quip, you guys seem to be doing quite OK without me, was his response.

Laughs are good, but the facts remain. As much as some commentators may fluff it, there's a sense of doom settling over the future of our beloved game. How do we get across to an average sports fan, when 100% of games are drawn? How far can we go while tinkering with the rules?

A fan doesn't miss a chance to capture footage of her chess heroes | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Stalemate counting as a win would turn upside down the entire endgame theory. By shrinking the margins of error, the reformers may inadvertently cause players to take less risk, not more.

Chess960? Weird configurations of the pieces produce more symmetrical structures (because alternatives are unknown and therefore too risky to try with Black), where the main objective for the participants is to get back to “normal” positions.

Yesterday I threw in an idea of randomizing openings by computer choice. Say, a hundred balls are thrown in the hopper, ten of each for major openings, such as the Ruy Lopez or the Nimzo, with a sprinkling of wild ones, representing the Budapest, the Trompowsky and such. Let the chips fall where they may.

All the same, there were some rather unusual opening choices today, but the results came out the same.

Nepomniachtchi and Caruana look around to see if there is any interesting chess going on in round three | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Nepomniatchi-Caruana was a reversed Pirc, Nakamura-So was a rare English/Sicilian line, and Adams-MVL saw the white rook come out to a3 in the early going. All fizzled out quickly. We won't be deceived by a long game between Michael and Maxime, a 4 vs. 3 rook endgame with the pawns on the same side of the board, since it is as drawish as they come and pretty boring to watch.

The two games I'd like to take a deeper look at had a similar motif of White playing his knight to a3 in the opening.

A knight on the rim is…right?

A school kid is invited to make the opening move on the board with two World Champions | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Carlsen's choice in the Catalan is quite well-known. Anand himself successfully used the same idea in his match with Topalov. White does get some pressure for the sacrificed pawn, but Vishy was prepared to deal with it.

One advantage of being a player no longer in the bloom of youth as Anand is that you have decades of theory and home preparation to fall back upon | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Magnus Carlsen 1/2-1/2 Vishy Anand (Annotated by GM Alex Yermolinsky)

[Event "9th London Chess Classic 2017"] [Site "London"] [Date "2017.12.04"] [Round "3"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "E04"] [WhiteElo "2874"] [BlackElo "2770"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [PlyCount "62"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. g3 d5 4. Bg2 dxc4 5. Nf3 c5 {Anand likes straighforward lines in his preparation to play with the black pieces.} 6. O-O Nc6 7. Na3 $5 ( {A similar version of the same idea is} 7. Ne5 Bd7 8. Na3 cxd4 9. Naxc4 Bc5) ({ while, of course,} 7. Qa4 {remains White's top choice.}) 7... cxd4 8. Nxc4 Bc5 9. b3 $5 (9. a3 a5 10. Bd2 O-O 11. Rc1 a4 12. Nce5 {Artemiev-Zvjaginsev, 2015}) (9. Qc2 O-O 10. Nce5 {Nakamura-Kaidanov, 2012}) 9... Qe7 {[#]} 10. Nfe5 { It seems Carlsen wasn't sure about his preparation.} ({A logical follow-up has to be} 10. Bb2 e5 11. b4 $1 {where Black's best may be} Nxb4 (11... Bxb4 12. Nfxe5 Nxe5 13. Nxe5 Bc3 14. Bxc3 dxc3 15. Qa4+ Nd7 16. Nc4 {quickly rounding up the c3-pawn and keeping some edge due to the vastly superior bishop.}) 12. Nfxe5 O-O 13. a3 Na6 {White then gets his pawn back and plays on.} 14. Bxd4 Bxd4 15. Qxd4 Rd8 16. Qf4 {etc.}) 10... Nxe5 11. Nxe5 {In such positions the key issue is to prevent Black from connecting his pawns.} Nd7 $1 {Vishy cuts throught the chase. The issue of a strong white knight has to be addressed immediately.} (11... O-O 12. Bb2 Rd8 13. Rc1 Rb8 14. Qc2 Bb6 15. Rfd1 Nd7 16. Nc4 $1 {turned out to be better for White in Melkumian-Grachev, World Cup 2017. }) 12. Bf4 O-O (12... g5 $2 13. Nxd7 Bxd7 14. Bxb7 $16) 13. Rc1 Rd8 {[#]} ({ More direct was} 13... f6 14. Nxd7 Bxd7 15. Bxb7 Rae8 16. Qd3 Kh8) 14. Nd3 $6 { Magnus takes it a bit too far.} ({Perhaps he was not entirely satisfied with White's chances after} 14. Nxd7 Rxd7 (14... Bxd7 15. Bxb7 e5 {is enterprising.} ) 15. Rc4 e5 16. Qc2 exf4 17. Rxc5 Rd8 {Nevertheless, it was the way to go.}) 14... Bb6 15. Bc7 Re8 16. Qc2 e5 {Black has accomplished his goal, and now it's up to White not to get worse.} 17. Rfd1 Nf8 18. a4 Bg4 19. Bxb6 axb6 20. h3 Rac8 21. Qd2 {[#] Here we have it: Black is a clean pawn up.} Be6 $2 { One can only feel disappointment seeing the Former World Champ settling for a draw.} (21... Bh5 22. Rc4 f6 23. Rdc1 Rxc4 24. bxc4 Bf7 $15) 22. Nxe5 Rxc1 23. Rxc1 Bxb3 24. Nf3 Bxa4 25. Nxd4 Ne6 26. Nf5 Qf6 27. Ne3 Qd4 28. Qa2 Nc5 29. Rc4 Bb3 30. Rxd4 Bxa2 31. Rb4 Re6 1/2-1/2

Strategy University Vol. 5: Winning Methods of great Players

Using ideas and games of great masters from the past, the famous Ukrainian trainer GM Adrian Mikhalchishin deals with various themes.

Aronian's Na3 also was not a novelty. I guess the idea was to drag Karjakin kicking and screaming into a Stonewall setup, which Levon succeeded at. I think he realized White had a much worse version of it compared to the regular lines of the Dutch, but it didn't discourage Levon from trying his hardest. First he sacrificed his c4-pawn then offered another. Sergey stayed within the parameters of his solid game plan and despite a shortage of time was in a position to capitalize on Levon's risky play.

Levon Aronian 1/2-1/2 Sergey Karjakin (Annotated by GM Alex Yermolinsky)

[Event "9th London Chess Classic 2017"] [Site "London"] [Date "2017.12.04"] [Round "3"] [White "Aronian, Levon"] [Black "Karjakin, Sergey"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "E11"] [WhiteElo "2805"] [BlackElo "2782"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [PlyCount "65"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. g3 Bb4+ 4. Bd2 Be7 5. Bg2 d5 6. Nf3 O-O 7. O-O Nbd7 { Black has been solid in this line, which resembles the Closed Catalan, only with the white bishop misplaced on d2.} 8. Na3 $5 {Aronian always seeks a new path. The development of the knight to the edge of the board takes care of the c4-pawn and allows White to get his major pieces out.} c6 9. Rc1 Ne4 10. Be3 f5 {Sergey took a bit of time here. Normally he's not a big fan of the Stonewall formation.} ({Levon already had an occasion to showcase his positional skills in this line:} 10... Bxa3 11. bxa3 Nd6 12. c5 Nc4 13. Rxc4 $1 dxc4 14. Qc2 { Aronian-Giri, Tata Steel 2017.}) (10... b6 {is supposed to be met with} 11. cxd5 cxd5 {but White didn't get so much out the c-file in Gozzoli-Meier, 2017:} 12. Bf4 Ba6 13. Bc7 Qe8 14. Ne1 Bxa3 15. bxa3 Qe7) 11. Rc2 a5 {Sergey wanted to stop White's expansion on the Q-side.} ({Alternatively he could have invited it:} 11... Bf6 12. b4 Qe7 13. c5 {counting on the counterplay with} b6 $1) 12. Qc1 Bf6 13. Rd1 g5 {[#]} 14. Nb1 (14. Ne5 $5 {is what White always wants to do in the Stonewall. It's not really a pawn sacrifice here, as} Nxe5 ( 14... Qe7 $5) 15. dxe5 Bxe5 16. f3 {gets it back. The position after} Nd6 ( 16... f4 {is very risky:} 17. fxe4 fxe3 18. cxd5) 17. Bxg5 Bf6 18. Bxf6 Qxf6 19. e3 {is slightly better for White, who will try to get a hold of the dark squares, such as in} Bd7 20. c5 Nf7 21. f4 e5 22. Nc4) 14... Rf7 15. Nc3 Rg7 16. Ne1 {Aronian continues to maneuver.} ({A standard method in such positions is} 16. Nxe4 fxe4 17. Nd2 {to prepare f2-f3.} ({or} 17. Ne1 {with the same idea, although in that case Black can try the surprising} b5 $5 18. cxb5 cxb5 19. f3 Bb7) {I think Levon was concerned with the future of his knight after} 17... Rf7 (17... a4 $5) 18. f3 exf3 19. exf3 a4 {but then White can try the direct} 20. f4 $5 gxf4 21. gxf4) 16... Nd6 17. b3 ({Another surprising line that didn't see the light of day was} 17. c5 $5 Nc4 (17... Nf7 $11 {may have been the reason Aronian didn't want to close the position.}) 18. Bxg5 Bxg5 19. f4 Be7 20. b3 b5 21. bxc4 bxc4 $13) 17... dxc4 18. Na4 ({After} 18. bxc4 Nxc4 19. Ne4 Nxe3 20. Nxf6+ Qxf6 21. Qxe3 {White has enough compensation, but Black counters with} e5 {before White can clamp down on that square.}) 18... cxb3 19. axb3 Nb5 20. Nd3 $5 {One cannot accuse Levon Aronian of not trying. The second pawn is offered.} Qe8 {Sergey thought better of that.} ({Both} 20... Nxd4 21. Bxd4 Bxd4 22. Rcd2 Qe7) ({and to the lesser extent} 20... Bxd4 21. Bxd4 Nxd4 22. Rb2 Qe7 23. e3 Nb5 24. Rbd2 {were playable.}) 21. Ne5 f4 22. gxf4 gxf4 23. Bxf4 Nxd4 24. Rxd4 Nxe5 25. Rd1 Qg6 26. Bg3 h5 {[#] At first glance, White's situation looks critical. However, both players realized that the threat of h5-h4 was only good to win a piece, not to checkmate the white king.} 27. Nb6 Rb8 28. Rcd2 Nf7 ({Here is a line to illustrate the point.} 28... h4 29. Rd8+ Bxd8 30. Rxd8+ Kh7 31. Nxc8 hxg3 32. hxg3 Qf6 33. Be4+ Ng6 34. Qd2 {White is only down the exchange with a solidly protected king, which cannot be said about his black counterpart.}) 29. Qc5 $5 {Aronian insists on "losing" a piece. } ({He could have played} 29. Qc2 {to take care of the problem on the g-file.} Qxc2 30. Rxc2 e5 31. Nxc8 Rxc8 32. h4 {White has compensation, but hardly more. }) 29... e5 {Again, Karjakin says thanks, but no thanks.} (29... h4 30. Nc4 hxg3 31. hxg3 b6 {otherwise it's hard to save Rb8 from the attack by the white queen.} 32. Qxc6 Ba6 33. Qxe6 Kh8 34. Rd7 Bxc4 35. Qxc4 {is objecively about equal, but it's harder to play for Black, particularly when low on time.}) 30. Qc4 Kh8 31. h4 $6 {After the game Levon expressed his regret for letting the formerly 'bad' bishop on c8 live.} ({Indeed,} 31. Nxc8 Rxc8 32. h4 {was a better choice.}) 31... Bf5 32. Nd7 Rbg8 33. Kh1 $2 {[#] with this move Aronian offered a draw. By his own admission, Levon "cheated" a bit, as no such offers should remain part of chess competition.} (33. Nxf6 Qxf6 34. Qc3 Rg4 {already slightly favors Black, who aims to have a go at the white king, e.g} 35. Qxa5 $2 Rxh4 $1 36. Bxh4 Qxh4 $19) ({In the game continuation} 33. Kh1 $2 {Black had a large, if not outright decisive advantage. Karjakin said he didn't see} Be7 $1 {saving the bishop and preparing the shot on h4.} 34. e3 (34. e4 Bxd7 35. Rxd7 Bxh4 {as the 4th rank is now blocked.}) 34... e4 $1 35. Rg1 Bd6 $19) 1/2-1/2

The Dutch Stonewall - A fighting repertoire against 1.d4

In the Dutch Stonewall Black from the very first move fights for the initiative. Let Erwin l'Ami take you on a fascinating journey to the depth and attractions of this unique opening. At the end you will be rewarded with a new repertoire against 1.d4!

Sergey Karjakin learns he was had | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Sergey Karjakin and Levon Aronian explain what happened to Maurice Ashley | Saint Louis Chess Club on YouTube

Both games could have been wins for Black or at least should have gone on for much longer than they did. While I can listen to some explanations for Vishy's and Sergey's decisions, it's their mindset of being satisfied with a draw with Black that's to blame.

The London Classic is an invitational tournament, as all top events are. Invitations are based on ratings. Making draws keeps ratings intact. You draw the conclusions.

Well, we are down to a six-round event now. Time for the players to start winning games, and that's the only thing that would make me shut up with all that gloom and doom talk.

Round three 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


Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Carlsen Magnus 1,5 0,0
  Aronian Levon 1,5 0,0
  Caruana Fabiano 1,5 0,0
  Vachier-Lagrave Maxime 1,5 0,0
  So Wesley 1,5 0,0
  Anand Viswanathan 1,5 0,0
  Nakamura Hikaru 1,5 0,0
  Karjakin Sergey 1,5 0,0
  Nepomniachtchi Ian 1,5 0,0
  Adams Michael 1,5 0,0

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.