Reports Dec 11, 2016 | 11:31 PMby Colin McGourty

London Chess Classic 3: Birthday blues

Hikaru Nakamura got over the misery of losing on his own birthday by sharing the pain and defeating Vishy Anand on the legend’s 47th birthday. That was the only decisive game of Round 3 of the London Chess Classic, but we got to watch some high quality chess. Wesley So needed to dig very deep to escape against Levon Aronian, Vladimir Kramnik showed ingenuity against Fabiano Caruana while Maxime Vachier-Lagrave needed more than a little help from Veselin Topalov. Anish Giri won a pawn out of nowhere but couldn’t prevent Mickey Adams finally getting off the mark.

Vishy Anand's legacy for Indian chess looks like being enormous, but it seems only Magnus has mastered the trick of playing well on your birthday... | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website


It could easily have been another day of decisive games in London, but for once the shield proved a match for the sword (click on a game to replay it, or hover over a player's name to see all their results):

Nakamura 1-0 Anand

The one exception was Hikaru Nakamura beating his “client” Vishy Anand. That’s a strange sentence to be able to write, but the score before this encounter was already 7 classical wins for Hikaru to only 2 for Vishy, with the American afterwards having no real explanation for the anomaly:

I think it helps that I seem to get White a lot, but in general I think it’s just certain people you do well against and certain people you don’t do so well against.

It wasn’t the ideal way for Vishy Anand to spend his 47th birthday, with the game taking a strange turn after Nakamura’s 22.Qd2?!


It seems this was an inadvertent bluff, since there was nothing wrong with Vishy picking up a pawn with 22…Bxc5 23.dxc5 Qxc5. Hikaru commented, “there’s counterplay, but I was a bit lucky there”, before going on to explain that he felt what followed reflected the fact that both of them had spotted that possibility too late and were shaken up by it.

Up to a point it had all been going well for Vishy... | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

Neither found the perfect moves in the sequence that followed, but it was Black’s position that collapsed, with 26…Rxe4? 27.Nxe4 Qg6 already smacking of desperation:


28.Nf6! Qxf6 29.Rxf6 Kxf6 30.Qc3! already looked very unlikely to be one of the 5-time World Champion’s famous fortresses, while 39…Bf2? allowed a fast and clean win:


40.Qd8+! Kh5 41.Qe8+ Kg5 42.Qe5+ Kg6 43.Qf4 and Vishy resigned, since the bishop will soon be lost.

The result meant saw Nakamura join Anand and Giri on 50%, with the American not yet thinking about trying to win the tournament and perhaps the Grand Chess Tour. First things first:

Let’s see if I can play a good game from start to finish!

On Sunday we witnessed some draws that did great credit to the world’s best players, and for the first time it seemed they might be in a position to criticise the games in Carlsen-Karjakin, as Vladimir Kramnik, for instance, did before the tournament:

In Aronian-So it was initially Wesley who was demonstrating deep analysis of a sharp opening line, but when he castled queenside Levon suddenly showed the kind of human creativity that allowed him, paradoxically, to find the computer’s first line!


19.Rg4! Kb8 20.Rf4! was an unusual rook manoeuvre that pointed out the weakness in Black’s position, while he soon went on to open up the queenside, causing Wesley So to plunge into a 53 minute 42 second think on move 22. 

Aronian's assistant showed the same self-confidence Levon is famous for | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

It was time well-spent, though, since Wesley also found the very best moves and equalised after Aronian’s choice on move 32:


Computers suggest 32.c7+ may offer White more, though there’s no obvious killer blow, while 32.Qxf7 Qf6! 33.Rf4 Qxf7 34.Rxf7 Rxb5 35.Rxe7 saw all the fighting units eliminated and a draw agreed a couple of moves later.

Aronian commented, “Maybe I should have tried to grind it instead of trying to crash through”, but he stayed philosophic with words that applied to both players: “The points will come if you continue producing good moves”.

World no. 2 Fabiano Caruana, meanwhile, felt the opposite about his game against world no. 3 Vladimir Kramnik!

Sometimes it’s better to get an out-of-control position. Yesterday I might have been dead lost… but today I might have been better the whole game but it was never enough.

Big Vlad is not only a towering presence at the board | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

Fabiano seemed better prepared in another highly theoretical opening line, but Vladimir was on top of the situation, demonstrating fine positional judgement combined with razor-sharp tactics. He sacrificed a pawn, then a bishop, then finally a knight with 28…a3!


Of course it was a pseudo-sacrifice, since 29.Rxc6 axb2! 30.Bxb2 Rxb2 won back the piece. Caruana did win a pawn and could make a draw from a position of strength, but the outcome was never in doubt.

After the shakiest of starts to the London Chess Classic, Maxime at least ensured he didn't trip over on the stage... | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

The closest we came to a decisive result among the drawn games was MVL-Topalov, where yet again the French no. 1 found himself outprepared and in trouble in London. Veselin’s 12…g5! ensured the first Berlin in London 2016 wasn’t going to be a snoozefest...

...while by move 30 White was in dire straits:


Yasser Seirawan noted that the big change in the modern generation of players is that they put up much more resistance in such positions, while sangfroid is a French expression… but if Topalov had maintained the tension here with a move like 30…Qf5 White’s life would still have been very tough. Instead, failing to find a knockout blow he felt must be there (as he admitted after the game), he allowed a queen exchange with 30…cxd5?! 31.Qxd5 Qxd5+ 32.Nxd5 and the game fizzled out into a draw. Maxime summed things up neatly:

I was in a fighting mood and I got a fight, but not in the sense I hoped for!

Veselin Topalov did get off the mark in Round 3, but not quite as spectacularly as he would have hoped | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

The final game of the day featured a fine Sicilian d5-pawn break:


Mickey Adams has the d5-square marshalled by four pieces and a pawn and spent 22 minutes on his last move, but nevertheless 17…d5! followed. Soon Anish Giri was better but the game looked destined for an early draw, before Mickey conspired to lose a pawn and condemn himself to playing the longest game of the London Chess Classic so far.

Old age didn’t catch up with Adams this time and Anish’s mini draw streak continued, while Mickey finally made it off the mark.

Anish Giri was looking sharp as ever, but couldn't stop himself standing out, a little unfairly, after scoring a mere three draws in a row | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

The standings after three rounds look as follows, with the only change being Nakamura and Anand joining Giri on 50%:


Let’s interrupt proceedings for perhaps the best move of the day in London, from the FIDE Open. Simon Williams has just played 22…dxc4:


Aleksandr Lenderman took 7 minutes to uncork 23.Kc3!!, sacrificing the knight to get connected passed pawns supported by the rook. The a-pawn completed its mission on move 37 to give the US grandmaster a famous win! (replay the game here)

It takes two to tango - Simon Williams did his bit to create a classic game | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

The London Chess Classic Round 4 games on Monday (two hours later at the “weekday” time of 17:00 CET) feature two all-2800 clashes, Caruana-Aronian and Kramnik-MVL, while leader So has Black against Giri. Tune in from 15:00 CET for all the action, while you can replay the Round 3 show, including all the player interviews, below:

You can also follow the games in our mobile apps:

         

See also:


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