Reports Dec 14, 2016 | 2:13 AMby Colin McGourty

London Chess Classic 5: Adams strikes, Vlad escapes

Mickey Adams took full advantage of a Veselin Topalov in full tilt mode to score the only win of Round 5 of the London Chess Classic. That game featured some brilliant attacking chess, but the most memorable encounter of the day was perhaps the 6-hour epic in which Hikaru Nakamura came within a whisker of beating his third former World Champion in a row. Vladimir Kramnik walked a tightrope and found a beautiful stalemate trick to save the day.

Once again we had only a single decisive game in Round 5:

Yet again, though, the games were anything but dull, with a little of everything.  

Brilliant opening preparation

Vishy Anand and Anish Giri are two of the best prepared players in modern chess, and they both demonstrated that in style in Round 5 to score easy draws with the black pieces. 

In the end it would be a good day for both "veteran" World Champions | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

Vishy Anand came up with a new idea after Wesley So’s 10.Qd2, a move first introduced by our own Jan Gustafsson against Arkadij Naiditsch in the 2015 Spanish Team Championship:

Naiditsch and later Karjakin against Nakamura played 10…Nd5, while in the Paris Grand Chess Tour blitz tournament Carlsen played 10…Ne2 against Nakamura, with Vishy commenting:

No matter what you find in this position it’ll always be the second most beautiful move in the position, because the most beautiful by far is 10...Ne2.

Magnus did win that game, though not because of the opening. In London, though, Vishy unleashed yet another move, 10…Bxa3!?, which sent Wesley into a 31-minute think. 

The former World Champion could understand that:

When my second showed me this move I had to do a double take to realise it was even legal. Somehow this move doesn’t even occur to you, and apparently not to many others!

Wesley described his shock:

I was studying a lot earlier today and I was making sure that I outprepare him, but then suddenly he made this novelty on move 10. Obviously here I probably should take with the pawn, capture towards the centre, but at the same time it’s hard to go against a very well-prepared Vishy. As Anish once said, he’d like to play Vishy and not his machine.

Wesley rejected 11.bxc3 (fearing Black’s passed a-pawn), played 11.Qxc3 and saw the game fizzle out with mass exchanges and a draw in 30 moves.

During the post-mortem Giri was apparently present and teasing Anand about when he would retire and make it easier for the younger guys. Vishy told Maurice Ashley, “I’ll try to outlast him!”

Aronian must have wished he could have played the Giri from the day before who was worse in 12 moves | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

Anish showed he’d been learning from the master by going for a sequence of exchanges against Levon Aronian that culminated in the following position:

How does Black defend the b7-pawn? To the human eye 12…b6! isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind, but it turns out that if you take the rook on a8 then Bh3 and the threat of mate on g2 will regain the material. Anish summed up:

12…b6 is a very nice way to solve the problems. Maybe I would have found it myself, but it’s nicer when the computer confirms that Black will win the exchange back.

Levon resisted the urge to grab the rook and after 13.Rc1 Rc8 the game ended in a repetition on move 20. It was Giri’s fifth draw in a row, but he rightly wasn’t feeling apologetic about scoring an easy draw with the black pieces against a top class opponent. He couldn’t explain why he ended up with so many drawing streaks, but went on:

For me to make five draws in a row is business as usual, and I know myself the danger is to start getting annoyed at that and make it affect your judgement.

A missed opportunity

The other relatively quick draw came in MVL-Caruana, but in this case Fabiano came close to pulling off a win after he surprised Maxime with the Petroff Defence. For the fifth time in five games the French world no. 4 found himself outprepared, and when he miscalculated the position after 18…e5 things soon became critical. 

MVL: "I've been lacking energy so far" | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

The culminating moment came after 24.Bc1:

Caruana had seen the strong 24…Nb4 25.Qxe4 Nd3! but couldn’t resist playing the exchange sacrifice 24…Rd2!?, saying later:

I had a lot of time - I should have calculated it to the end. For some reason 24…Rd2 just felt natural. It’s what I intuitively wanted to do and I decided to trust my intuition.

Fabiano confessed that he’d assumed that White simply couldn’t capture on d2 since the black bishop would become too strong, but after 25.Bxd2 cxd2 26.Qxd2 he found nothing better than 26…Bc3 and winning back the exchange. A draw was reached by repetition on move 34, with Maxime very happy to have escaped (again):

Given the way I’ve been playing, -1 at this point of the tournament is kind of the lesser evil. I hope to be able to refocus. I haven’t been playing not even my best chess but just my chess.

The boring Berlin

Mickey Adams and Veselin Topalov both started the London Chess Classic with two losses, but since then their paths have diverged. Mickey held tough draws against Giri and Anand and has now beaten Topalov, while Veselin’s only half point in London came against MVL in Round 3. The Bulgarian former World Champion has been playing the Berlin Defence, but with an aggression seldom seen by advocates of the King’s Gambit.

Topalov's approach to setbacks has kept things lively in London | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

In their Anti-Berlin on Tuesday Veselin welcomed the coming storm, with Mickey happy to oblige with 15.e5!

After 15…fxe5 16.Qg4 Topalov had a last chance to castle but instead went all-in, after a 35-minute think, with 16…Qd3!?. Adams wasn’t exactly in his preparation at this point, but remembered the evaluation of the position:

I kind of knew the computer didn’t believe this 16…Qd3.

It was far from trivial to prove the error of Black’s ways, but Topalov’s task of defending the position would have been a tough one even without extreme time trouble interfering. The killer blow from Adams came after 29…Qg4:

30.Bg5! not only interfered with the rook and queen battery on the g-file but also joined the rooks so that the white queen was free to go on a mating rampage. 30…Rxe4 ran into 31.Qxa7! Bd5 32.Qa8+ Kd7 and an only move, but a simple one - 33.Rxd5+!

Mickey was keeping his feet firmly on the ground:

I’m happy I won a game because that wasn’t something I was at all sure about. Plenty of tough games to come!

Mickey had a lot to smile about | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

For Veselin, meanwhile, the tournament can’t end soon enough. He’s already shed 17.7 points to drop to 20th place on the ranking list, unaccustomed depths for one of only seven players ever to have topped the FIDE rating list (in fact his 27 months at no. 1 beat Anand’s 21 and Kramnik’s 9).

We’ve saved the best for last.

Irresistible force meets immovable object

The longest game of the tournament so far didn’t promise much for a long time.

Vladimir Kramnik repeated an opening that must have had bittersweet memories for him, since it was the line he’d used to draw with Pavel Eljanov during the recent Olympiad in Baku. The bitterness is that although Vladimir drew without too much trouble he had to sit helpless as Tomashevsky and Grischuk ruined good positions and lost the match to Ukraine.

Vladimir Kramnik, chess boss | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

The puzzle was that the opening seemed to catch Nakamura by surprise, since he spent over 18 minutes on the novelty 17.g3, and soon had nothing at all. That success ultimately led Vladimir astray, as he explained:

The problem was I didn’t know whether to play for a win or for a draw… Then my mistake was that I was kind of playing one move for a win, the next for a draw and then the next for a win again!

The net result was that by the time the players reached the time control Kramnik suddenly had to demonstrate true virtuosity to survive, with a series of only knight moves standing out!

1. The position after 41.Kg3

Black is close to zugzwang and needed to find 41.Nc8!, with the threat of transferring the knight via a7 to b5, gaining counterplay by hitting the d4-pawn.  When Nakamura blocked that plan Vladimir went for a deep think and said afterwards that when playing 45.Qe4! he saw almost the whole of the line that followed, including the idea in…

2. The position after 54.Qxe6

Black has strictly one move that keeps him in the game, with the knight again seemingly heading away from the action: 54.Nh8! Nakamura still felt he must be winning at this point, and it was only after 55.Qf5+ Nf7+ 56.Kf6 Qxf5+ 57.gxf5 Nd8! that the truth dawned on him.

There was no stopping the inevitable, so after thinking for almost 8 minutes he went for…

3. The position after 58.e6

And Kramnik blitzed out the most beautiful move of the day: 58…Nf7!! 

A beautiful late evening moment in London | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

Taking the knight is of course an instant stalemate, but there was no escaping that fate, with the game ending 59.Kg6 Nd8! 60.Kf6 Nf7 61.exf7 Stalemate

Vladimir admitted he’d been lucky that resource existed in the position, but it was still an incredible find. Both players were so enthralled by the game that despite having been alone on stage for hours already they stayed there for another half hour, going over all they could have done differently. It was one of those rare occasions when both players had performed at the very top of their ability.

Vladimir and Hikaru both saw the funny side of an amazing game | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

Kramnik summed up what it meant for his tournament:

In general if there was no rest day tomorrow it would be a bad sign, but fortunately I have a rest day!

Going into that rest day Wesley So is still half a point ahead of the field, knowing third place in London will guarantee him first place in the 2016 Grand Chess Tour:

On Thursday Wesley has Black against Topalov, while Nakamura is Black against Caruana. Adams will also face a true test with Black, against Kramnik. Tune in from 17:00 CET for all the Round 6 action, while you can replay the Round 5 show, including all the player interviews, below:

You can also follow the games in our mobile apps:


See also:

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