What makes the London Chess Classic special?

by Sagar Shah
1/11/2016 – How do you make a chess festival special? How do you bring together all the resources, spark the interest of the entire chess community, ignite in thousands a passion for the game, and yet make the entire project financially feasible? Sagar Shah and Amruta Mokal were in London for the entire duration of the London Chess Classic and sent us thirteen reasons why this annual event is an example of one of the best planned chess festivals in the world.

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The 7th London Chess Classic, England's premier tournament, took place at its traditional venue of Kensington Olympia from Friday December 4th to Sunday December 13th. The main event, the strongest ever held in the UK, was a nine-round ten-player super tournament played at a rate of 40 moves in two hours, followed by the rest of the game in one hour, with a 30-second increment from move 41. The overall prize fund was $300,000, with the winner getting $75,000.

Sagar Shah and Amruta Mokal left home on the first of December to immerse in the world of elite chess. Their one-month sojourn consisted in covering two of the biggest events of 2015 – the London Chess Classic and the Qatar Masters, for the ChessBase newspage. Amruta was the photographer and provided us with some beautiful moments captured during every round of these events. Along with writing extensive and detailed reports Sagar was also playing in the London Classic FIDE Open and the Qatar Masters Open, trying to achieve his final GM norm – a task which he couldn't achieve. After his games, he and Amruta would often stay awake till 4 a.m. in the morning, finishing their reports and then getting ready for another brand new day! All this was tremendously hectic, but what they got in return was an incomparable experience of attending world class events and mingling with the best chess players that our generation has seen.

Thirteen reasons that make the London Chess Classic special!

By Sagar Shah and Amruta Mokal

On the surface the London Chess Classic 2015 looks like any other elite tournament. Top players like Magnus Carlsen, Vishy Anand, Hikaru Nakamura, Veselin Topalov, Anish Giri showcase some high class chess, and the entire chess world learns from their games. However for a person who was present at the playing venue for all of these ten days of the event I have to say that there is much more to the London Chess Classic than what meets the eye. The moment the doors of the elevator open on the third level of the Olympia Center in Kensington, London, you can see the entire floor buzzing with chess activities. This article pays a tribute to many of the individuals and special things that make the London Chess Classic what it is – a celebration of chess!

But before we get going, here is a small trivia. You have to identify the ten participants of the London Chess Classic whose eyes are displayed in the above picture and also find out the logic behind placing them in this specific order.

1. The huge audience and the chance to meet your idol

In the past grandmasters loved to play in Russia. The reason: crowds there understood chess really well, and they would in some ways motivate the players to showcase their best chess. The scenario was not so different in London. A huge number of chess-literate people turned up to watch the top players in action, and the organizers reciprocated by giving them a chance to not only see their chess idols up close but also to take pictures, selfies and autographs with them.

The jam packed auditorium where the chess fans savoured each and every move made by the top players

A distance of approximately ten metres separated the playing hall from the commentary room, and boy was it crowded! Tons of people learned from the analysis of the grandmaster commentators, and the elite players would pop in there after their games to share their analysis.

The players would usually be mobbed by a huge number of fans and followers

I do not know of many elite tournaments that give you an opportunity
to take pictures and autographs of your chess idols

2. Simuls and blitz with GMs

If you are greedy, and just meeting the grandmasters is not enough for you, the London Chess Classic gives you plenty of opportunities to play against titled opponents, and in fact face world famous players like John Nunn, Jon Speelman and Luke McShane. These three gave a simultaneous exhibition on three different days of the festival, and many chess enthusiasts, young and old, enrolled themselves for a lifetime opportunity to play against a GM.

At the top you can see John Nunn and Jon Speelman giving simuls, at the bottom
Luke Mcshane playing against 20 opponents and interacting with 11-year-old Leysaa Bin-Suhayl.

In case you don’t get a chance to play in the simul, you can match your wits against a grandmaster
in a blitz £5 charity game, like the little kid who is playing against John Nunn above.

3. School events and the chess atmosphere

More than 2,000 kids from different schools of London converged upon the Olympia Center from the 7th to the 11th of December to participate in chess events representing their schools. I am sure you can imagine how this chess atmosphere can really get the kids hooked onto the game of chess for a lifetime.

A great experience for these young kids who not only got to play their favourite game,
but also meet new people and make new friends from other schools

Everywhere you saw there was just chess, chess and chess. Some visitors were playing on giant sets, some were watching the elite games, and as you can see above, a two-year-old was learning how to move a pawn!

4. Organizers

Organizing an event like the London Chess Classic requires the blood, sweat and single-minded dedication from many people. In this limited space it is, of course, impossible to mention each and every person who played a role in the success of the tournament, but everyone who was assigned a job did it to perfection, and that is the reason why the festival was exceptionally good. One person who has worked his heart and soul out is definitely the tournament director Malcolm Pein. An excellent chess player himself, Malcolm is a strong International Master. He is Chief Executive of Chess in Schools and Communities which is a UK chess charity focusing on chess for youth, and runs the London Chess Center. Malcolm also writes a daily chess column in The Daily Telegraph newspaper and is the executive editor of CHESS Magazine. Talk about being a good manager!

The dream team: Operations director Tao Bhokanandh, tournament director Malcolm Pein,
one of the main reporters John Saunders and press officer Fiona Steil-Antoni

Some other people who played an important role for the smooth conduct of the tournament were Events and Conference manager Tereza Pribanova, the web team of Stephen Connor and Alexis Harakis and official photographer Ray Morris-Hill. I am sure I have missed out many people and I apologize for the same!

5. Commentators

The London Chess Classic 2015 brought together the best line-up of commentators for the audience present at the venue and also for those watching the livestreaming. The grandmasters analyzed the games without using a chess engine. While this reduces the accuracy of the variations, it gives the viewers a chance to watch the minds of these top GMs working, see the way they think. At the end of the day I think this is how chess commentary should be – understanding the difficult task faced by elite players when they think at the board and not bold, confident remarks made by the use of all-seeing computers.

Daniel King and Jan Gustaffson have definitely established themselves as the best in the business. There were also wise and calm men like GM Nigel Davies, and enthusiastic livewires like GM Chris Ward, Lawrence Trent and Jon Speelman.

One person who livened up the atmosphere at the playing venue was WGM Jennifer Shahade. She was reporting for the Grand Chess Tour and would interview the top players. She always had different sorts of questions, many times informal ones, which would lighten up the mood and bring out the best from the top players, who otherwise aren’t too talkative.

A short interview with the master of interviews!

6. Chess Stalls

Seeing a book or a DVD stand, or a food stall, is quite common at chess tournaments. However, at the London Chess Classic there were two stalls that were completely unique and you cannot find them at any other event. They were Nette Robinson’s chess art and the Purling chess sets. You can get more information from the official websites of Nette Robinson and Purling London.

Colm Mulligan, Operations Manager of Purling Chess Sets, and Nette Robinson with their respective art forms

7. London Chess Conference

This year’s London Chess Conference was bigger than ever with more than 120 participants from nearly thirty countries, spanning all continents. It was held nearby the London Chess Classic at the Hilton Olympia in Kensington on the 5th and 6th of December 2015. Some of the really well thought out topics included chess with refugees, chess and old people, chess in prisons, where to invest public money in chess, chess and mathematics, chess and football and others. The number of speeches and talks were so great that it was impossible to keep a track of all of them. But one thing is certain – attending this conference will surely give you new horizons and dimensions in which to perceive the game of chess. This unique meeting was rounded up by a Social Chess Entrepreneurship Bootcamp starting on 4th December and workshops on New Chess Research and Advanced Topics in Teacher Training on 7th December.

A selection of speakers for the chess conference

TDAH y ajedrez: rehabilitación cognitiva, a Spanish project that develops chess as an educational intervention for children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), has been voted as the clear winner of the Best Social Chess Project competition by the attendees of the Chess and Society conference.

TDAH y ajedrez project leader Luis Blasco de la Cruz (left) received the award and £500 from Malcolm Pein.

8. Closing dinner

The prestigious closing dinner like every year was held at the Simpson’s-in-the-Strand on 14th of December. Simpson’s is one of London's oldest traditional English restaurants, which was known as the Grand Cigar Divan when it opened in 1828. It developed from a smoking room to a coffee house, and finally achieved dual fame for its traditional English food, particularly roast meats and as the most important venue in Britain for chess in the nineteenth century – the Wimbledon of chess. Almost all the top players visited the restaurant, including Wilhelm Steinitz, Paul Morphy, Emanuel Lasker, Johannes Zukertort (who had a fatal stroke while playing there), and Siegbert Tarrasch. It was at Simpson's in 1851 that one of the world's great games, the famous "Immortal Game", was played between Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky.

The Simpson’s-in-the-Strand from the outside during the day

The room is set for the grand dinner

Levon Aronian makes a move on one of the guest tables as a part of the traditional multi-player simul

Magnus Carlsen with his trophies for winning the 7th London Chess Classic and inaugural Grand Chess Tour

Director of special projects at IP Group plc, a grandmaster, writer and a chess lover,
David Norwood, with his good friend Levon Aronian

For all those interested in king hunts must check out this game by David against Sean Marsh from 1992:

[Event "Walsall op"] [Site "Walsall"] [Date "1992.??.??"] [Round "1"] [White "Norwood, David"] [Black "Marsh, Sean"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C00"] [WhiteElo "2510"] [PlyCount "71"] [EventDate "1992.??.??"] [EventType "swiss"] [EventRounds "7"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1993.02.01"] 1. g3 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Bg2 e6 4. O-O Be7 5. d3 c5 6. Nbd2 Nc6 7. e4 b6 8. e5 Nd7 9. Re1 Qc7 10. Qe2 Bb7 11. h4 O-O-O 12. a3 h6 13. h5 Rdg8 14. c4 d4 15. b4 g6 16. bxc5 bxc5 17. hxg6 Rxg6 18. Rb1 h5 19. Ne4 h4 20. Bg5 Bf8 21. Nxh4 Rgg8 22. Nf3 Rh7 {And now the start of a phantastic combination:} 23. Nd6+ Bxd6 24. exd6 Qxd6 25. Bf4 Qe7 {[#]} 26. Rxb7 {The start of a deadly assault on the black king. Can you guess where it will be mated?} Kxb7 27. Qe4 f5 28. Qxc6+ Kxc6 29. Nxd4+ Kb6 30. Rb1+ Ka6 31. Bb7+ Ka5 32. Bd2+ Ka4 33. Bc6+ Kxa3 34. Bc1+ Ka2 35. Rb2+ Ka1 36. Nc2# {[%cal Ge8c8,Gc8b7,Gb7c6,Gc6b6,Gb6a6,Ga6a5, Ga5a4,Ga4a3,Ga3a2,Ga2a1] A remarkable king march, don't you agree?} 1-0

9. The Pro-Biz Cup

The Pro-Biz Cup was held on the 14th of December 2015. It brings the best business minds and the world’s leading grandmasters together in a fun knockout tournament to raise money for the UK charity, Chess in Schools and Communities (CSC). The businessmen bid for their favourite players and one who bids the highest gets the chance to team up with the grandmaster.

This year the team of Hikaru Nakamura and Josip Asik, CEO of Chess Informant,
won the event by beating Levon Aronian and Justin Baptie in the finals

The event was quite a private affair held in the Hilton Hotel with the top players giving some really wonderful tips to the successful entrepreneurs and businessmen. You can check the pictures and replay the games here.

10. British Knockout Championships

Top players of Britain, with the exception of Michael Adams and Nigel Short, took part in the inaugural British Knockout Championships. The eight players at the start included David Howell, Luke McShane, Nicholas Pert, Gawain Jones, Jonathon Rowson, Jonathon Hawkins, Daniel Howard Fernandez and Zhou Yang-Fan. Top seeded David Howell won the event and took home a hefty check of £20,000, by beating Nick Pert in the six-game final by a score of 4-2. Nick Pert, however, was surely the man of the event, as he knocked out two higher rated players, Jonathon Hawkins and Luke McShane, to bag the runners-up prize of £10,000.

David Howell holds the inaugural British Knockout championships trophy at the closing dinner

11. London Super Rapid

On the 12th and the 13th of December a ten-round Super Rapid with the time control of 25 minutes + 10 seconds increment was held. The first prize was quite a high sum of £2,500, which attracted a lot of strong players to the event.

Some of the world class GMs who played were: (top row) Rustam Kasimdzhanov, Matthew Sadler, Hrant Melkumyam, Tigran Gharamian; (bottom row): Gawain Jones, Jon Ludvig Hammer, Jon Speelman and Jonathon Rowson.

GM Luke McShane crushed the competition at the event and finished
with a score of 9.5/10 to win the tournament one point ahead of everyone else

Top final standings (after ten rounds)

Rk. SNo Title Name Rtg Pts.
1 12 GM Mcshane Luke J 2650 9.5
2 7 GM Melkumyan Hrant 2675 8.5
3 4 GM Lenderman Alex 2687 8.0
5 GM Hansen Eric 2680 8.0
10 GM Pert Nicholas 2657 8.0
13 GM Edouard Romain 2629 8.0
14 GM Hammer Jon Ludvig 2607 8.0
16 GM Grigoriants Sergey 2600 8.0
18 GM Jumabayev Rinat 2587 8.0
40 IM Eggleston David J 2432 8.0
45 GM Fodor Tamas Jr 2410 8.0
12 3 GM Howell David Wl 2687 7.5
11 GM Gharamian Tigran 2652 7.5
23 GM Cherniaev Alexander 2552 7.5
32 GM Arkell Keith Cc 2470 7.5
50 IM Fernandez Daniel H 2402 7.5
62 IM Gullaksen Eirik T 2350 7.5

12. Fide Open

Parallel to the elite event a strong FIDE Open consisting of 216 players from all around the world took place. The rating average of the tournament was 2125 and there were 27 grandmasters taking part, six of them having an Elo above 2600.

GM Benjamin Bok of Netherlands won the FIDE Open with an impressive score of 8.0/9, with a performance of 2771. He went back home richer by £5,000. Benjamin beat no less than four grandmaster opponents: Alexander Cherniaev, Keith Arkell, Eric Hansen and Alex Lenderman.

Top final standings (after nine rounds)

Rk. SNo Title Name Rtg Pts.
1 8 GM Bok Benjamin 2594 8.0
2 1 GM Postny Evgeny 2670 7.0
7 GM Jumabayev Rinat 2599 7.0
9 GM Hansen Eric 2577 7.0
10 GM Hawkins Jonathan 2569 7.0
13 GM Vakhidov Jahongir 2546 7.0
18 IM Sadzikowski Daniel 2506 7.0
8 2 GM Gharamian Tigran 2654 6.5
3 GM Melkumyan Hrant 2654 6.5
5 GM Lenderman Alex 2626 6.5
11 GM Dragun Kamil 2564 6.5
14 GM Baron Tal 2544 6.5
15 GM Hillarp Persson Tiger 2521 6.5
16 GM Vishnu Prasanna V 2514 6.5
17 IM Gledura Benjamin 2513 6.5
22 GM Fodor Tamas Jr 2492 6.5
29 IM Galyas Miklos 2465 6.5
34 GM Wells Peter K 2442 6.5
63 Nguyen Piotr 2329 6.5

13. The beautiful city of London

River Thames flows through the city of London and gives a serene feel to the city. In the background you can see the London Eye, which is a giant Ferris wheel that lends a spectacular view of the city. It is 135 meters high and has a diameter of 120 meters. The London Eye is the most popular tourist attraction in UK, with more than 3.75 million visitors annually.

Big Ben is the nickname for the Great Bell of the clock at the north end of the Palace of Westminster in London, and often extended to refer to the clock and the clock tower. The tower has become one of the most prominent symbols of the United Kingdom and is often in the establishing shot of films set in London.

Something you will just love in London are the huge, green, clean and beautiful parks.
Imagine walking in this serene atmosphere and unwinding after a hard game of chess!

A huge festival called Winter Wonderland was held at one of the biggest parks in London – the Hyde Park. Above you can see thousands of visitors enjoying a glass of beer in a place called Bavarian Village, inside the park, which gives you an authentic German experience.

If you plan to play in the London Chess Classic in 2016 make sure
that you keep at least two extra days in your schedule to enjoy this beautiful city

The above picture is the answer to our trivia question at the start of the article. The eyes on the left side are the players in the top row and the eyes on the right are the players in the bottom row. And we have arranged the players in the order of their age – the youngest 1994 born Anish Giri at the start and the oldest 1969 born Anand at the end.

All pictures, unless otherwise marked, by Amruta Mokal of ChessBase India


The games are being broadcast live on the official web site and on the chess server Playchess.com. If you are not a member you can download a free Playchess client there and get immediate access. You can also use ChessBase or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs.

Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India, the biggest chess news portal in the country. His YouTube channel has over a million subscribers, and to date close to a billion views. ChessBase India is the sole distributor of ChessBase products in India and seven adjoining countries, where the software is available at a 60% discount. compared to International prices.


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