General Dec 10, 2018 | 2:42 PMby Colin McGourty

Caruana back in action for the London Chess Classic

Fabiano Caruana is back in London this week for the finale of the Grand Chess Tour, knowing that a win at the start of his semi-final against Hikaru Nakamura would see him become the first person to overtake Magnus Carlsen on the live rating list in over 7 years. The other semi-final pits Levon Aronian against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, while the stage will be shared by Mickey Adams, David Howell, Gawain Jones and Luke McShane, who made it through to the semi-finals of the British Knockout Championship.

Fabiano Caruana partners Chris Flowers in the Pro-Biz Cup before his match against Hikaru Nakamura - it's a big match, but not the toughest he's faced in London recently... | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website 

Fabiano Caruana could be forgiven for not wanting to be back in London in December after how he spent November, but tying for first place in the Sinquefield Cup and then beating Wesley So in a playoff means he’s one of the four players fighting for the $120,000 first prize in this year’s Grand Chess Tour:

They begin their battle with semi-finals that start on Tuesday 11th December in the DeepMind offices in London’s Google Headquarters. First they play classical games on Tuesday and Wednesday, with a win worth 6 points and a draw 3. Then on Thursday there are two rapid games, worth 4 points for a win, then four blitz games worth 2 points. If the matches are still tied two more fast games will be played before Armageddon.

Friday is a rest day before the final and 3rd place matches take place in the traditional Olympiad Conference Centre venue of the London Chess Classic from Saturday to Monday. At stake is a $300,000 prize fund, with $120k for 1st place, $80k for 2nd, $60k for 3rd and 40k for 4th.

The semi-finals can both be considered classics, with the main highlight a US grudge match:

Caruana vs. Nakamura

We already mentioned that if Fabiano Caruana can beat Hikaru Nakamura in classical chess he can, at least for a day, overtake Magnus at the top of the live rating list – gaining some consolation for the World Championship result. If he doesn’t win, however, he’ll be dropping points, since at 2832 and world no. 2 he currently has a whopping 86-point lead over Nakamura, who’s down at 2746 and world no. 16 after a miserable Olympiad in Batumi.

The grudge aspect has been fuelled by Hikaru dismissing Fabiano’s chances in the run-up to the World Championship match, then saying at the start he was “rooting” for Magnus, since, “it would seem a bit odd to have a World Champion who is not strong in all the formats”. That referred to Fabiano’s perceived weakness in rapid and blitz, but before the rapid playoff in the match Hikaru found something else “a bit odd”:

Of course Fabi did go on to lose when the games speeded up, and speed chess skills will play a big part in London, since unlike in the World Championship or World Cup it’s impossible to win the matches in the classical stage. We may get to see some evidence of the training Fabiano no doubt did in the run-up to playing Magnus.

Aronian vs. MVL

The battle of the Armenian no. 1 and the French no. 1 is a clash between friends, but that hasn’t stopped them having some epic battles in the past, most notably in the semi-final of the 2017 World Cup in Tbilisi. That went all the way to Armageddon and ultimately cost Maxime a place in the Candidates Tournament in Berlin, despite his best efforts to recover fast:

You’ll be able to follow all the action live here on chess24, with commentary from Yasser Seirawan, Jennifer Shahade and Maurice Ashley in English and Peter Svidler and Evgeny Miroshnichenko in Russian, though we may also have some extra commentary of our own.

Big four to compete for British Knockout Championship

David Howell

The London Chess Classic is a festival of chess that’s always accompanied by a number of attractive events, the most notable of which is again the British Knockout Championship. The event has a healthy £15,000 first prize, and this year it’s going to see Luke McShane vs. Mickey Adams and David Howell vs. Gawain Jones semi-final matches take place alongside the Grand Chess Tour event – with exactly the same format employed.

That was probably the ideal outcome for the organisers, but 8 players, including 8-time British Women’s Champion Jovanka Houska and 4-time Champion Harriet Hunt, were also given a chance to fight for places in the semi-finals. They competed in a preliminary round on Saturday followed by quarterfinals on Sunday, with both played to an exhausting schedule: two classical games on the same day followed, if necessary, by two 10-minute games and then Armageddon.

One of the highlights was to see 63-year-old John Nunn back at the board, and unafraid to play extremely bold chess against young Alan Merry. In the first classical game he managed to sacrifice two exchanges but went astray after move 40, when there was no extra time added. In the second it was time to play the King’s Indian in the old-fashioned way – with no fear of computer evaluations!

It wasn’t entirely convincing… 

...but in the end the game was drawn. 

The position was also drawn in the following 10+5 game after more KID madness, but in the end John stumbled and lost. He came back to give mate with White, though, and forced an Armageddon, where he was on the verge of victory with the white pieces:

White can play 29.f4! here and trust in his kingside play being more than a match for Black’s a-pawn, or there are some alternatives, but Nunn showed his lack of recent practical experience by spending 1 minute 18 seconds over 29.Bc1. The move itself wasn’t bad, and when the game ended on move 34 John had a mating net, but it didn’t matter, as there were no increments and he'd lost on time.

Waiting for the successful players in the prelims were Adams, Howell, Jones and McShane, and in the end they all made it, though not without Simon Williams giving Mickey Adams a scare by winning a pawn in the first classical game (and note which pawn!):

Mickey crashed through in the second game, though. 

The player who came closest to causing a sensation was IM Ravi Haria, who had a totally winning position against David Howell in the 1st classical game. He let that advantage slip, but drew both classical games to reach blitz. Then, however, David blew him away to set up the semi-finals mentioned above!

Ravi Haria was close to making it onto the stage with Caruana and co. | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

Replay the games:

There’s also the traditional FIDE Open, which began with a shocker on board 2:

It turned out Daniel hadn’t just pushed his doomed h-pawn to h4 to exchange off rooks. If Sebastian had thought for a moment (he had almost an hour on his clock) he would have realised the trap instead of capturing the pawn, but instead after 38...Nf5+! it was time to resign.

Kasparov is in town

Terry Chapman took on the daunting task of teaming up with Garry Kasparov for the Pro-Biz Cup | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

The traditional opener of the top-level events in London is the Pro-Biz Cup, where top players and businessmen play in tandem against each other. Among those involved are Fabiano Caruana, chess legend Garry Kasparov and DeepMind co-founder Demis Hassabis. He partners with 2-time British Chess Champion Matthew Sadler – will their time spent with AlphaZero have influenced their play?

Matthew Sadler and Demis Hassabis grew up together as English chess prodigies | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

You can follow all the games here:

All that remains to say is that the main event starts Tuesday, and you can tune in to live commentary here on chess24 from 14:00 London time (15:00 CET).

See also:

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