General Dec 7, 2016 | 10:08 AMby Colin McGourty

8th London Chess Classic preview

The 2016 London Chess Classic starts Friday and features all of the world’s Top 10 apart from Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin. The explosive first round will see the biggest grudge match in chess – Kramnik-Topalov – while we also get the key match-up for the 2016 Grand Chess Tour as a whole. Hikaru Nakamura has White against leader Wesley So and is the only person who can stop Wesley from taking the $100,000 overall first prize. We round up all the action ahead.

Four of the clashes this Friday | photos: official website

The 8th edition of the London Chess Classic is taking place in the Olympia Conference Centre in London from Friday 9th to Sunday 18th December, and despite the absence of the World Champion the 9-round event is even stronger than in 2015. The pairings are a reverse of the Sinquefield Cup pairings, and can already be seen in full below:

As a means of previewing the action, let’s look at what awaits us at 16:00 UK time (17:00 CET) on Friday!

Nakamura vs. So

We recently saw Magnus Carlsen play some of the biggest games of his life on his birthday. Friday’s encounter with Wesley So may not be quite so crucial for Hikaru Nakamura, but he turns 29 on a day when not only US bragging rights are at stake but first place in the 2016 Grand Chess Tour. 

The current standings look as follows:

ParisLeuvenSt. LouisLondonPointsPrize money
 Wesley So7101330$120,000
 Magnus Carlsen101323$68,500
 Levon Aronian687.7521.75$66,250
Hikaru Nakamura1344.521.5$62,750
 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave854.517.5$40,250
 Fabiano Caruana367.7516.75$58,750
 Viswanathan Anand77.7514.75$51,250
 Veselin Topalov217.7510.75$51,250
 Anish Giri52.518.5$30,000
 Vladimir Kramnik42.56.5$15,000
 Ding Liren33$15,000
 Peter Svidler22$15,000
 Laurent Fressinet11$7,500
Mickey Adams

Wesley So’s 1st place in St. Louis, 2nd in Leuven and 4th in Paris have already given him 30 points. With a player’s best three results counting and Magnus only playing the rapid tournaments, it turns out that the only player who can still catch Wesley is Hikaru, who could replace his 4 points in Leuven with 13 in London to climb to 30.5 points. To do that he needs to finish in sole first place – and even then So could still spoil things by finishing 3rd or above and making himself uncatchable.

If Wesley finished last in London he'd still be favourite to win the Grand Chess Tour after his triumph in the Sinquefield Cup

At stake is $100,000 for first place in the Grand Chess Tour (compared to the $75,000 first prize for winning the London Chess Classic), while the GCT runner-up picks up $50,000. Hikaru is far from guaranteed that consolation prize, since he needs to finish at least joint first - and win the tiebreak - to make sure no-one can catch him. The players with the highest potential scores are: So (36), Nakamura (30.5), Aronian (28.75), Anand (27.75), Caruana (26.75) and MVL (26). In short, there’s a lot to fight for!

MVL vs. Giri

While, at least so far, we’ve heard no surprises when it comes to Sergey Karjakin’s seconds (Dokhoian, Potkin, Motylev and Mamedyarov are all familiar faces), Magnus Carlsen’s team was a shocker! Apart from stalwart Peter Heine-Nielsen and Laurent Fressinet, who helped during the Sochi match against Vishy Anand, the team for New York included new faces: Nils Grandelius, Sam Shankland, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Jan Gustafsson. The latter’s alter-ego has the dirt on the secret Norwegian World Championship camp:

The most shocking name there (sorry, Jan!) has to be Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, since it’s a big surprise to see the world no. 4 and an obvious potential contender for the crown helping out the World Champion. Magnus had previously worked (briefly, as far as we know) with Vladimir Kramnik and Levon Aronian, but this is a new level.

The London Chess Classic will be the first chance to see if Maxime has taken some useful tips from the experience for himself. His first round opponent, meanwhile, is Magnus’ erstwhile nemesis, Anish Giri, who was impressed with the preparation of Team Carlsen…

…but not always a big fan of Magnus’ choices (such as the decision to “skip” Game 12):

We also can’t help but add some gratuitous art appreciation:

For Giri the 2016 Grand Chess Tour has been one to forget (after being the “moral” winner in 2015), but he’ll be hoping to end the year in which he became a father on a high.

Kramnik vs. Topalov

This is the match-up that needs no introduction. It may be ten years since the “Toiletgate” World Championship match in Elista in 2006, but Veselin Topalov and his manager Silvio Danailov have never ceased their unfounded accusations that Vladimir Kramnik cheated. The players refuse to shake hands and hold each other in contempt, and in hindsight their joint post-game discussion during Norway Chess didn’t represent any mellowing of relations:

In fact, you might say it prepared the way for Leicester's football triumph, Brexit, Trump winning the US election and the collapse of western civilisation as we knew it...

In pure chess terms Kramnik leads with 17 classical wins to 11 over their careers, with the player with the white pieces tending to come out on top. On the other hand, normal chess logic is thrown out the window before these clashes, and all the decisive games between them in 2016 were black wins (in the Norway, Paris and Leuven blitz and rapid). I'd hazard the prediction that if Kramnik wins he'll have a good London Chess Classic but if he loses he'll have a bad one, while Topalov is more stable after both victories and defeats.

Caruana vs. Anand

It’s hard to imagine this clash as Board 1 vs. Board 3, but that was how the players lined up for Baden-Baden in the German Chess League last weekend, with MVL sandwiched in between them. They both scored 1.5/2, though it was mildly disappointing for Fabiano Caruana, who spoiled the 3.6 rating points he gained from beating Evgeny Tomashevsky in 115 moves by losing 3.9 points when he drew against the talented young Swiss player Nico Georgiadis, in a game he could even have lost. Why the emphasis on small rating changes? Well, after Carlsen shed rating points against Karjakin the year-end no. 1 spot was potentially only a Caruana winning streak away:

The live Top 10 before the tournament starts | image: 2700chess

It still is, theoretically, but that Bundesliga slip-up makes it very unlikely. For both players, meanwhile, an unremarkable Grand Chess Tour could still be made to look very respectable by a good result in London.

Aronian vs. Adams

Adams has played in all seven London Chess Classics so far, with a highest finish of third, while Aronian has played in three, with a best finish of fourth last year | photo: official website 

Curiously, perhaps, these players have only met 17 times in classical games, with Aronian leading 3:1 in wins, although the last decisive result was a win for Adams in the 2015 European Team Championship. Mickey Adams is the wild card and will be looking to improve on the results scored by Fressinet (10th), Svidler (9th) and Ding Liren (8th) in previous Grand Chess Tour events this year. Levon, meanwhile, is the player best-placed to challenge Nakamura for 2nd place in the overall Grand Chess Tour.   

British Knockout Championship and more

The London Chess Classic is always a celebration of chess, with a seemingly endless string of events, from the Pro-Biz Cup (where businessmen can bid to play alongside the likes of Kramnik and Anand), to simuls by Jon Speelman and John Nunn, free events all week for children and numerous tournaments. The most interesting is perhaps the British Knockout Chess Championship, which makes up for the fact that it’s no longer possible to invite multiple local players to compete in the main London Chess Classic.

The eight players in the 2016 British Knockout Championship | images: official website 

The 8-player knockout has a very healthy £20,000 first prize and is boosted this year by English no. 2 Nigel Short, who had to pull out at the last moment a year ago. Each semifinal and quarterfinal match consists of two classical games then possible tiebreaks, while the final is six games long. A curiosity is that last year’s finalists David Howell and Nicholas Pert meet immediately this year:

There’s also a 9-round FIDE Open from 9-16 December that will have around 250 players, including Bacrot, Fressinet, Safarli and Aravindh. Then on the final weekend, from 17-18 December, there’s the 400+ player Super Rapidplay, with 10 rounds of 25+10 games. The likes of Short, McShane and Trent will join that event.

The knockout starts tomorrow, while the main action will begin on Friday with Yasser Seirawan, Tania Sachdev and Alejandro Ramirez broadcasting live from St. Louis! Check out the information tab at the tournament broadcast page for more information and the start time where you are.

You can also follow the games in our mobile apps:


See also:

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