Reports Dec 9, 2014 | 10:17 PMby Colin McGourty

London Blitz: Adams wins cliffhanger

Michael Adams edged out Hikaru Nakamura and Vladimir Kramnik on tiebreaks to clinch victory in the blitz tournament that decided the seeding for this year’s London Chess Classic. It was a deserved victory, though no player could claim to have played well from start to finish. Anish Giri fell at the last, losing his final three games, while only Fabiano Caruana and Viswanathan Anand were out of contention for first place before the final round.

The top players had finally made it onto the stage at this year's London Chess Classic | photo: Ray Morris-Hill

The Monday evening event saw the “Super Six” playing mini-matches of two consecutive 4 min + 2 sec blitz games against each other. That meant lightning fast rounds that could be followed live and can now be replayed with computer analysis and even video here on chess24 (click the 3 flags under the video to change board). 

The final standings were delayed by the fact that neither number of wins nor number of wins with Black could separate the players, so their head-to-head results had to be used:

1Adams, Mickey17/302715
2Nakamura, Hikaru17/302906
3Kramnik, Vladimir17/302731
4Giri, Anish16/302757
5Anand, Vishy10/302811
6Caruana, Fabiano9/302695

It didn’t make a great difference in any case, since all three players who finished on 17/30 will get the advantage of having the white pieces three times in the five classical games.

Let’s take a look at how the tournament went for each player:

Michael Adams, 1st place

Michael Adams may be 43, but he can still given the young guys a run for their money | photo: Ray Morris-Hill

Score: 17/30 – 5 wins, 2 draws, 3 losses

Highlight: In the penultimate round Anish Giri had just forked Adams' knight and rook with 42.Nd7. Giving up the exchange would suffice, but why do that when you can end resistance on the spot with 42…Qe6!

Exchanging queens doesn’t win the b8-rook due to the …Rb2+ zwischenzug, but any attempts not to exchange queens and also to save the knight fail to the same move, with Qxh3 ready to deliver mate.

Lowlight: Anand’s smooth Round 7 win was a rare case of Adams getting a dose of his own medicine.

Curious moment: Adams' fine day began with a thrilling win with Black vs. Kramnik. This was the final position after Mickey played 37...Kh7?

What's strange is that after being dead lost for the last 10 moves or so Kramnik could suddenly have got back into the game with 38.Rxg6! Kxg6 (otherwise you lose the rook with check) 39.Qd3+! and the e2-rook is lost. But that didn't happen, as the game was over  

Verdict: Adams was the only one of the Super 6 not to actually finish in the Top 6 of the Super Rapidplay at the weekend – but he showed why he was feared as one of the world’s best speed chess players before some of his opponents were born. His combination of nerves of steel and formidable technique is hard to counter, and despite a wobble mid-tournament he started and ended in imperious style.

Hikaru Nakamura, 2nd place

Nakamura fell just short of adding a blitz victory to his rapid title - at least this time there was no money at stake! | photo: Ray Morris-Hill

Score: 17/30 – 5 wins, 2 draws, 3 losses

Highlight: Nakamura’s attack vs. Adams was the kind of thing Nakamura built his reputation on:

37...Rxa4+! 38.bxa4 Qb4 39.Qc1 Rb8 resigns

Lowlight: The final game against Kramnik could hardly have gone worse for Nakamura. His opening play was already a little too experimental before he tried a zwischenzug too far with 13...Qf6:

Kramnik simply replied 14.Nc3! and Black's losing a piece e.g. after 14...Nd8 there's the unsubtle 15.f4. Nakamura fought on, and on, but by the end Kramnik gave the impression he was getting distinctly bored.

Curious moment: It was curious enough already to see the insane-looking theoretical battle (=it had been played before) between Nakamura and Giri in Round 8 played out at blitz speed, but it was more of a surprise to see Hikaru Nakamura miss a simple mate-in-two:

25.Qb7+ Ka5 26.Qxa7# would have done the job... Nakamura played 25.Nxf7, but since everything was winning there was no harm done.

Verdict: Hikaru wasn’t overly impressed with his own performance:

To be fair, though, it was all going pretty well until the very end, and even in the penultimate round Nakamura had shown his incredible resilience to extract himself from a very tough position against Kramnik. There’s no doubt he’s in good shape going into the classical tournament, though it remains to be seen if he’s as good going from blitz to classical as he was going from classical to blitz in his recent St. Louis match vs. Aronian!

Vladimir Kramnik, 3rd place

Vlad has been showing flashes of his best chess in the last month | photo: Ray Morris-Hill

Score: 17/30 – 5 wins, 2 draws, 3 losses

Highlight: Kramnik's Round 7 game against Caruana was an onslaught that never stopped. First Vlad sacrificed a knight on f7, and just when it seemed Fabiano was back in the game with 17...Bg4 there came 18.Nd6+!

From then on he never let his advantage slip.

Lowlight: Adams has just played 77.Qc3 in their Round 2 game:

77…Qxc3+ 78.Kxc3 f4! is a simple draw, but Kramnik played 77…Qd5+ and managed to lose.

Curious moment: All of Kramnik's early games, in fact, had something curious about them. This was the position from his Round 4 game after Giri played 42...Rg2:

Queening the b-pawn now is one winning decent move for Kramnik (as Paco Vallejo points out in the comments Black would most likely set up an impenetrable fortress). It would certainly have been better than what he played: 43.Rd1? Ree2! 44.Re1 (not wanting to prolong the suffering?) 44...Rxe1#

Verdict: Kramnik’s problem in 2014 has usually been starting a tournament well and ending it badly. This time round it was the exact reverse. He began with 0.5/4 and ended with 5.5/6 (using the normal scoring system), whitewashing Anand and Caruana in the process. Big Vlad has looked in great form in Qatar and now in the rapid and blitz in London, so the classical event should be fun. He’s also a player for whom having three rather than two Whites could make a very big difference.

Anish Giri, 4th place

At least Anish Giri ended his sequence of finishing second! | photo: Ray Morris-Hill

Score: 16/30 – 5 wins, 1 draw, 4 losses

Highlight: Giri got off to a great start and it looked as though his games against Nakamura in Rounds 7 and 8 might determine the tournament winner. When he won the first, it was all going his way. Hikaru mistakenly took a pawn on d3:

It was an understandable mistake, but after 25.Qxe5! Rbe8 Giri retained his extra piece with the move Nakamura must have missed: 26.Nf4!.

Lowlight: Giri lost his last three games, and the final one against Adams was particularly crushing. Here's the final position of his tournament:

Curious moment: Giri had an extra pawn for a long time against Kramnik, but may have gone a bit far in his efforts to win their Round 3 game

You didn't really need to be a super-GM to calculate this "pawn race", but they played it out to bare kings.

Verdict: Giri’s verdict is hard to argue with:

The 20-year-old again showed he’s ready to pounce on the slightest mistake by his opponents and has no reason to fear the very best. He may also have breathed a sigh of relief when it turned out he'd nevertheless have the white pieces against Vladimir Kramnik in the main event.

Vishy Anand, 5th place

It isn't often we've seen Vishy Anand looking vulnerable at blitz | photo: Ray Morris-Hill

Score: 10/30 – 3 wins, 1 draw, 6 losses

Highlight: This one was clear. In Round 3 Vishy scored his first win in 22 attempts against Hikaru Nakamura:

He could have finished his opponent off in more dramatic fashion - e.g. with 18.Nxd6+ exd6 19.Nxf6+ Ke7 20. e5! here, but it was still some measure of revenge for the Rapidplay finale the day before.

Lowlight: The very first game against Anish Giri set the tone of the event for Vishy, with some misjudged tactics eventually leading to an endgame where he was totally dominated:

Now Vishy knows how Magnus felt 

Curious moment: In the last round against Caruana it seems as though Anand blundered in a drawn position and then decided to fall on his sword:

A keen student of the live broadcast noted:

Verdict: It was perhaps only Anand who really disappointed in the blitz tournament, since he was a pale shadow of the player who was long almost unrivaled at speed chess. Still, we probably shouldn’t read too much into it, especially since in rapid, the final game excluded, he did very well. Vishy himself passed over the blitz event in silence:

Fabiano Caruana, 6th place

Is blitz Caruana's Kryptonite? | photo: Ray Morris-Hill

Score: 9/30 – 3 wins, 0 draws, 7 losses

Highlight: As Caruana finished rock bottom let’s make up for it by allowing him two highlights!

His first win, against Adams in Round 4. Not the hardest final blow, but nice nonetheless: 

And how he suddenly won a pawn, then the game, vs. Giri in Round 6:

Lowlight: Caruana’s loss on time vs. Nakamura was an unfortunate end to a game Fabiano looked set to win, but perhaps his loss to Giri was worse:

The computer evaluation of the position before 46.Nf5 was +5.95 in White’s favour. After 46…Rxe2 it was -5.64. The white knight and queen can’t really worry the black king, and a rook is a rook.

Curious moment

Verdict: Fabiano’s finishing last is, strangely enough, unlikely to worry him. He's used to struggling in blitz and then having to play more games with Black. The mystery remains, though: why is Fabiano Caruana, the world’s second best classical player and perhaps even the world’s best rapid player (1.4 points ahead of Carlsen on the live rating lists), so poor* at blitz?  

* by poor we mean 2679 and world no. 71, though of course such a level is beyond the dreams of most of us.

Frankly, your guess is as good as ours, but here are at least a few hypotheses:

  1. His style is based more on deep calculation than intuition and he simply doesn’t have the time to calculate properly at blitz pace.
  2. He lacks practice – perhaps he’s played less than his peers and doesn’t, for instance, play much on the internet!?
  3. He has some kind of mental block due to his previous bad results and it’s become a vicious circle?!

Yes, we agree, it’s not convincing! It’s clearly an issue, though, since many events and even, potentially, World Championships can be decided at blitz. His recent interview with Vlad Tkachiev touched on the issue:

Tkachiev: If the match included not only games at the classical time control but also rapid and blitz would Anand’s chances be greater?

Caruana: Of course in that case it would all become more unpredictable, although in principle I consider Carlsen even stronger in rapid time controls. Personally it’s more comfortable for me to play Carlsen at “slow chess”. 

Despite the fact you’ve already beaten Magnus in both rapid and blitz?

I consider myself a decent rapid player, but I’m a lot less comfortable in blitz. In the latter case my score against Carlsen isn’t too good, although of course I was bound to beat him at some point. 

In any case, the London Chess Classic classical tournament will finally kick off tomorrow at 16:00 London time (17:00 CET) and Caruana will have a chance to once more prove he's the most likely future challenger to Magnus Carlsen. Of course some of the rest of the field may have something to say about that!

A lot more has been going on in London, including former World Champion Garry Kasparov giving a simul in the Houses of Parliament - the photographer captioned this photo: "Garry Kasparov moves on to his next victim" | photo: Ray Morris-Hill

And this is what all scoresheets should look like! "Me vs. Garry Kasparov" | photo: Ray Morris-Hill

All the London Chess Classic games will be live here at chess24 with video and commentary by IM Lawrence Trent and friends. Don't miss the show! 

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