General Nov 30, 2015 | 5:13 PMby Colin McGourty

London Chess Classic Preview

Magnus Carlsen turned 25 today and on Friday the World Champion will head the field for the 2015 London Chess Classic. The 10-player event features eight of the world’s top 10 players and is the final stage of the 2015 Grand Chess Tour, meaning no less than $450,000 is at stake. We preview the event and some of the other action set to take place in London, including the impressive British Knockout Championship, which has its own £50,000 prize fund.

The final leg of the 2015 Grand Chess Tour has one of the strongest line-ups ever assembled | images: London Chess Classic

Pairings and other info

This year’s London Chess Classic needs little introduction, since it follows the format of the Grand Chess Tour events that preceded it. Nine players remain the same, and after Jon Ludvig Hammer for Norway Chess and Wesley So for the Sinquefield Cup the local wild card in London goes to English no. 1 Michael Adams. The pairings have already been released and you can see them all in the selector below — hover over a player’s name to see his full schedule:

Note players who had five Whites in the Sinquefield Cup have been given five Blacks here, and vice versa. So Carlsen, Nakamura, Aronian, Giri and Adams (since So had 5 Whites) start at a slight disadvantage.

Grandmasters Jan Gustafsson and Danny King will be providing video commentary, with the broadcast shown live here on chess24.        

Let’s look at some talking points:

Can Magnus Carlsen get back on track?

The December 2015 FIDE rating list published today confirmed what we already knew. After a bad European Team Championship and a calamitous Norway Chess tournament earlier this year the world no. 1 has fallen 42 rating points in six months to his lowest rating since 2011. Veselin Topalov in second place is now “only” 31 points back on 2803.

1Carlsen, Magnus283471990
2Topalov, Veselin280301975
3Anand, Viswanathan279661969
4Kramnik, Vladimir279601975
5Nakamura, Hikaru279301987
6Aronian, Levon278891982
7Caruana, Fabiano278701992
8Giri, Anish2784151994
9Ding, Liren277661992
10So, Wesley277561993

So what does Magnus feel about that? Well, for that we can turn to a great profile published in the UK newspaper The Telegraph: Football-mad, mobbed by girls and easily bored: Meet Magnus Carlsen, the world’s greatest chess player 

The discussion on Magnus' love life clearly caught Anish Giri's eye!

There are some other very interesting quotes, though. For instance:

I think I would beat Tal pretty easily. Fischer would be more difficult, but I think I could beat him too.

But when asked if he needed to invent personal goals to make up for the lack of real competition, Carlsen addressed his recent drop in form:

Maybe it was like that for a little while but recently I have been playing so poorly that I have to start comparing myself to the others again.

Despite a tough end to the tournament - here a loss to Alexander Grischuk - Magnus still managed to finish 2nd in the Sinquefield Cup, giving his Grand Chess Tour chances a big boost | photo: Nacho Soto

On the other hand, Magnus doesn’t feel too threatened yet. Did he consider Vladimir Kramnik the Rafael Nadal to his Roger Federer:

Up to a point. But the last few years for me have been like Federer’s first few years at the top, when he didn’t really have an opponent. And I think we’ve yet to see someone make the jump from a steady 2,800 guy to challenging me and being right there in every tournament. Although I haven’t been playing brilliantly lately, I’m still keeping a substantial lead in the ratings.

The one person Carlsen is keeping an eye on is 16-year-old Wei Yi, who won a brilliant game to win the China Kings and Queens tournament today. Wei Yi may play Carlsen in the Qatar Masters in December and they will definitely meet in the Tata Steel Masters in January. For now, though, Magnus thinks the extra attention he gets gives him an edge:

I think it’s a huge advantage. My opponents are inevitably a little more timid when they play me. Now I just need to reassert myself and get back to a level of play that justifies their attitude.

Magnus starts the 2015 London Chess Classic with Black against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. 

Who will win the Grand Chess Tour?

The biggest subplot to this year’s London Chess Classic is the Grand Chess Tour, which reaches its climax in London. After those who did well in Norway generally did badly in Saint Louis, things couldn’t be much closer in the standings:

RankNameRatingFederationGrand Tour Points
2Hikaru Nakamura2814USA16
3Levon Aronian2765Armenia15
4Magnus Carlsen2853Norway14
5Anish Giri2793Netherlands13
6=Viswanathan Anand2816India12
8Fabiano Caruana2808USA9
10Jon Ludvig Hammer2683Norway1
11Wesley So2773USA1

The Grand Chess Tour points on offer in London are 13 for outright 1st, 10 for 2nd, 8 for 3rd, 7 for 4th and so on down to 1 for 10th place. That means that mathematically all nine of the regular Grand Chess Tour players could still finish first, while Topalov, Nakamura and Aronian know that outright first in London would also win them the Grand Chess Tour whatever anybody else does. Magnus Carlsen is almost in the same situation, although if Topalov finished 2nd things might get complicated.

In any case, that means the $150,000 on offer for the Grand Chess Tour — $75,000 for 1st, $50,000 for 2nd and $25,000 for 3rd — is still completely up for grabs.

What difference will the Candidates Tournament make?

Fabiano Caruana has come a long way since he was photographed as an 8-year-old with his coach Bruce Pandolfini back in 2001 | photo: Liberty Science Center

Another subplot is the Candidates Tournament to be held in Moscow from 10-30 March next year. We recently learned Levon Aronian will play, and the December 2015 rating list was final confirmation that Anish Giri got the second rating place (he averaged 2787 to Kramnik’s 2783 over 2015). So no less than six of the players in London will be playing in the Candidates Tournament (the other two are Sergey Karjakin and Peter Svidler):

  • Veselin Topalov
  • Viswanathan Anand
  • Hikaru Nakamura
  • Levon Aronian
  • Fabiano Caruana
  • Anish Giri

Will those players be at a competitive disadvantage in London? Nakamura felt so after losing the Showdown in Saint Louis to Caruana, explaining that he only now understands Vishy Anand:

It’s strange. I’m going to try and play well, but it’s going to be difficult from a mental standpoint. I was thinking back a little bit to like 2008-9, and even 2010, when I think Vishy Anand prior to his World Championship match was losing games left and right, losing a lot of rating points and just struggling in general. At the time I kind of thought, what’s with him? It should be no different than just any tournament that you’re competing in, but as I’m finding out that’s not the case, obviously. As far as London goes I’ll try and play well, but it’s going to be interesting for everyone, because almost all the players there have qualified to play the Candidates and we’re going to see some different openings and chess than you would normally see in a tournament so strong.

Nakamura is convinced those playing in the Candidates won’t want to reveal any secrets in London, emphasising the point with:

It’s all about March, March, March and pretty much everything else just doesn’t matter.

Anand drew with Nakamura on his way to winning the 2014 London Chess Classic, which was a 5-round single round-robin | photo: Ray Morris-Hill 

Vishy Anand himself will, like Magnus, be looking to improve in London on some disappointing results since a very successful first half of 2015. He was recently quoted by IBN Live:

In the last two events I did not do well and somehow was not in the right frame of mind. So I will have to keep on working and developing more ideas. But it is getting difficult with time. At 20 and all tournaments were a piece of cake.

After the Showdown in Saint Louis, Caruana was much less inclined than Nakamura to play down events in London:

I don’t think it’s irrelevant. If it’s irrelevant you might as well not play.

Fabiano is another player whose 2015 has been uneven, with a change of coach and federation perhaps unsettling his routine. He seems to be getting used to life as a US player again, though, and recently got back to his roots in New York, where he recreated a photograph from 2001 with his former coach Bruce Pandolfini.

You can watch Caruana in the following video released by Liberty Science Center, where the US no. 2 played a simultaneous exhibition (note an appearance by our old friend IM Lawrence Trent):

It may still be, though, that Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Alexander Grischuk, Michael Adams and, of course, Magnus Carlsen can play with a little more freedom than the rest in London.

What else is going on in London?

The London Chess Classic has always had a busy schedule of accompanying events and this time round it’s certainly no different. The one that stands out is the London Chess Classic British Knockout Championship, which with a £20,000 first prize dwarfs the £5,000 that was on offer for the official 2015 British Chess Championship.

Although Nigel Short had to pull out at the last moment and Michael Adams plays in the main event, the tournament features most of the top British players and some promising young talents. The quarterfinals tomorrow are:

GMs David Howell, Luke McShane, Nicholas Pert (Nigel Short's replacement), Gawain Jones, Jonathan Rowson, Jonathan Hawkins (2014 & 2015 British Champion) and IMs Daniel Fernandez and Yang-Fan Zhou | photos: London Chess Classic

In the quarter and semi-finals there are two classical games then, if needed, two 15-minute games with a 5-second increment per move. If a winner still hasn’t been determined an Armageddon game is played, where White has six minutes to Black’s five but a draw counts as a win for Black. The final that follows will feature six classical games (to be played even if a winner is decided sooner) and take place alongside the main event.

There’s also a FIDE Open, weekend tournaments and a strong 10-round Super Rapidplay Open Tournament on the weekend of the 12-13th. Then on the final day in London there’s one more fun event, the Chess Pro-Biz Cup, which has its own website.

That features all the players from the main event, who will team up with an amateur and play alternate moves in a rapid knockout tournament. Potential players can bid on eBay for the grandmaster they want to accompany. At the time of writing Magnus Carlsen had yet to receive a bid with under five hours to go!

Former World Champion Vishy Anand is currently attracting the most interest | image: Chess Pro-Biz Cup

Why not go there and improve Magnus Carlsen’s birthday... while also supporting the UK charity Chess in Schools and Communities?

So all that remains to do is sit back and enjoy all the action! The London Chess Classic can be watched LIVE here on chess24 from 17:00 CET this Friday. You can also watch all the games in our mobile apps:


See also:

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