London Classic: Caruana breaks the deadlock

by Albert Silver
12/6/2017 – A win! A win was scored! Let us all dance, rejoice and make merry! For those who have followed this very disappointing start to an all-star lineup, such words are not hyperbole in any way or form. 19 draws and one decisive game represents a 95% draw rate after all. Sergey Karjakin fell to Fabiano Caruana when he found himself in unknown territory, and the latter, sensing weakness, pounced in a game annotated by GM Tiger Hillarp-Persson. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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The end of the drought

To be completely fair, this absurd streak of draws was not purely a case of Chamberlain chess by all the participants. Consider the wild game that played out between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Hikaru Nakamura, who went all-out in a mainline Sicilian Dragon, with fire-breathing bishops and all. It may have concluded in a split point, but no one will begrudge them the result in view of the effort that went into it. Likewise, Levon Aronian really did go all-out in round three against Sergey Karjakin, playing the role of the chicken crossing a busy highway to see if he reached the other side in one piece. Material was spurned and by all means he should have lost the game.

Levon Aronian may be counting his lucky stars for that peaceful end, and the fans and players were certainly delighted to see such undaunted fighting spirit, but it is his opponent, Sergey Karjakin, who had to really question his decision. Naturally, at the end of the game, he explained that he had missed the Be7 move given by engines that would win it outright, and no one is questioning him on this, or criticizing him for the oversight. It happens. The question is, why accept a draw regardless? He wasn’t in danger, the game was far from resolved in any way or form, and frankly, at least 2-3 of the next alternate moves would still have left black with a nice advantage to work. This too was dismissed as of no consequence, since a draw with black was a fine result. This argument is quite flawed, and is especially dangerous if the player actually believed it.

Developing the initiative

Dynamic play is what makes your chess effective and most importantly fun! Timur Gareyev shows severeal examples which aspects are important to remember when seizing for the initiative!

A draw with black is fine

The reason is that yes, by conventional thinking, without any position on the board to weigh in, a draw with black is a solid result. This argument works before the game starts, but not after. Once the game is underway, the only factor that should weigh in is the actual position on the board. If he is worse, and is offered a chance to draw, then of course it is a reasonable decision. Alternately, if the position has been sucked dry of all the marrow from it, then again a draw is understandable. However, if the position is full of life, and the battle has yet to be resolved, then drawing is frankly a very sorry state of affairs.

This might seem like the former Challenger is being singled out here, but not so. This question of ‘a draw with Black is fine’ being a justification to draw any game with black regardless of the position is a common phenomenon that has been voiced by numerous other players. I'm sure I'm not alone in saying that if I missed a chance to win a game and drew, I’d be mighty annoyed I had missed a chance to win! And would not claim to be happy since I had been black. 

Round four

The game that everyone was watching closest was not in fact the one that broke the streak, but the game between the two players leading the Grand Chess Tour overall standings:  Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Magnus Carlsen. A win by the Frenchman would have seriously jeopardized Carlsen’s desire to win it all, and he actually had good chances of doing just that. A poor opening for Black in an Italian Game left the World Champion down a pawn, with some slight but insufficient compensation. Precisely after resolving his development issues, with the means to go for more, White buckled and started a retreat instead of an assault.

MVL will definitely be left feeling he could have gotten more | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 1/2-1/2 Magnus Carlsen

[Event "9th London Chess Classic 2017"] [Site "London"] [Date "2017.12.05"] [Round "4"] [White "Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime"] [Black "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C54"] [WhiteElo "2789"] [BlackElo "2837"] [Annotator "A. Silver"] [PlyCount "84"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [SourceTitle ""] [Source "ChessBase"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. c3 Nf6 5. d3 d6 6. O-O O-O 7. Re1 Ne7 {5} 8. d4 Bb6 9. a4 $146 {[#]} (9. h3 Ng6 10. Bd3 h6 11. Be3 c6 12. Nbd2 Bc7 13. c4 Nh5 14. Bf1 Nhf4 15. Qb3 {1/2-1/2 (88) Sethuraman,S (2658)-Sevian,S (2589) Stockholm 2016}) 9... c6 10. dxe5 Ng4 11. Rf1 dxe5 12. Qxd8 Bxd8 13. h3 Nf6 14. Nxe5 Nxe4 15. Re1 Nd6 16. Bb3 Re8 17. Nf3 Nd5 18. Rd1 Ne4 19. Bxd5 cxd5 20. Rxd5 Be6 21. Re5 Nf6 {White has emerged from the opening battle with an extra pawn, but making something of it is very unclear. Black's powerful pair of bishops alone ensure at least partial compensation and the underveloped white pieces don't help either.} 22. Re1 Bc7 23. Na3 a6 24. Nc2 Nd5 25. c4 Nf4 26. Bxf4 Bxf4 27. b3 Rad8 28. Rad1 Kf8 29. Nb4 {White had done an excellent job of securing his material advantage, completing his development, and restraining the light-squared bishop somewhat. It is here that he may have missed his chance to achieve more.} ({Better was} 29. Nfd4 Bd7 30. Rxe8+ Kxe8 (30... Rxe8 31. Kf1) 31. Kf1 Bd6 32. Ne3 Bc5 33. Ndc2 a5 34. Ke2 Bc6 35. Rxd8+ Kxd8 36. Kd3 g6 37. Nd4 $16 {and White's extra pawn is starting to really hurt.}) 29... Bc7 {[#] Threatening ...Ba5.} 30. Nd3 $2 {This move is incomprehensible. Nb4 was with the clear idea of Nd5, so why wilt now and play the very passive Nd3? This is the equivalent of giving up on trying to play for more. A pity!} (30. Nd5 $14 Bxd5 31. Rxe8+ (31. Rxd5 Rxe1+ 32. Nxe1 Rxd5 $11) 31... Kxe8 32. cxd5) 30... Bf5 31. Rxe8+ Kxe8 32. Re1+ Kf8 33. Nc5 Bc8 $1 34. Kf1 Ba5 35. Re3 Rd1+ 36. Ke2 Rb1 $1 37. Ne4 Rb2+ 38. Kf1 Bf5 39. Nd6 Rb1+ 40. Ke2 Rb2+ 41. Kf1 Rb1+ 42. Ke2 Rb2+ 1/2-1/2

A pity the game was unresolved this way. Whether a case of nerves or something else is hard to say, but it was a missed opportunity.

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

Attacking with the Italian Game and the Ruy Lopez

The purpose of this DVD is to teach players how to conduct the attack on the black king using different methods. Although the Italian Game and the Ruy Lopez are mostly positional openings, it is very often possible to make use of attacking methods of play

The next biggest game of the day was without question the one. You know the game we speak of. The moment we had all been waiting for with bated breath! Drum roll…

The reaction of the fans from the first win

We leave you in the sure hands of GM Tiger Hillarp-Persson who sent his annotations with the words, “I'm very happy there was a non-symmetrical win today!”

Sergey Karjakin 0-1 Fabiano Caruana (Annotated by GM Tiger Hillarp-Persson)

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

A good win for Fabiano Caruana who will sleep with a grin on his face as the sole leader, and only player to break the deadlock.

Vishy Anand has shown good fighting spirit, and above all, good chess | Photo: Lennart Ootes

The other games were not without spunk, and while Wesley So gave up a pawn in a sort of reversed Benko, only to recover it with massive exchanges, Hikaru Nakamura got a nice edge against Ian Nepomniachtchi in a 6.g3 Najdorf. In the post-game interview he expressed regret at his treatment of the position, feeling he had missed a chance to build and make more from it. Levon Aronian, playing black, somehow found a way to gambit his pawn in Marshall style in spite of Vishy Anand’s choice of the Anti-Marshall. Anand was ready for it all the same, but was unable to neutralize Black’s excellent activity and a draw was agreed on move 30.

Round four 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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Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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