Garry Kasparov bet on decisive games in Round 1 of the London Chess Classic, but despite Carlsen-Caruana and Nakamura-Anand being balanced on a knife edge all five games ultimately ended in draws, with the other three games having little to set the pulses racing. The one player with real cause for disappointment was World Champion Magnus Carlsen, who pressed from start to finish but couldn’t find a clear path to victory against Fabiano Caruana. He commented on his rivals afterwards, “They’re all pretty good, so it’s not going to be easy.”
You can replay all the games from the 2017 London Chess Classic using the selector below – click on a result to open the game with computer analysis:
In case you missed the live show, which included brief interviews with all the players as well as Garry Kasparov, you can rewatch it below:
The first round of this year’s London Chess Classic took place in Google’s Headquarters and would be followed by a rest day before the tournament returned to its familiar Olympiad Conference Centre venue on Sunday. That gave the players ample cause for distraction, and also, as Fabiano later explained:
I’m glad I didn’t lose because it’s really, really unpleasant to lose before a rest day.
Three of the games had very little to write home about, and the great Garry Kasparov may have been protesting too much when he commented:
Even today we could feel a lot of tension. There are already a couple of draws but I’m quite satisfied with the spirit, with the passion that we could feel at the boards, and I think it’s just another refutation of the rumours about the end of classical chess. As long as the players are engaged, as long as they want to win, there’s a passion, determination, so the game is still very much alive.
They say variety is the spice of life, but Wesley So meeting 1.Nf3 c5 with 2.b3!? did little to liven up his game against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. The French no. 1 noted the move was “not supposed to bring any advantage for White”, and he went on to prove that, surprising Wesley by developing his dark-squared bishop to e7 rather than g7. “Hostilities” ended on move 31, exactly the moment at which draw offers were allowed, although the players actually repeated three times.
Maxime has a double incentive to win the tournament since that would at least get him into a playoff for the $100,000 Grand Chess Tour first prize, but he had no problems with a draw with Black in the first round. He said he’d visited the Google Headquarters in Paris as well and felt he fitted in, since he “studied math and a little bit of computing”. Wesley lamented not having got to see too much of the building apart from the elevator and floor where they were playing, but did add, “I heard they have the best Wi-Fi here in the world!”
Adams-Karjakin was following Korchnoi-Olafsson 1971 until move 15, but soon after that local hero Mickey Adams didn’t quite follow-up in the spirit of Viktor the Terrible:
Sergey Karjakin afterwards said, “I think he played too deeply” of Mickey’s 17.Qd2!? Qb8 18.Qe2!? queen manoeuvre. Adams didn’t disagree, noting he kept playing for an e5-trick that never materialised and summing up, “I’m happy to get on the scoreboard but it wasn’t so impressive!” On the other hand, it was a significant improvement on Adams’ two losses at the start of the 2016 event, while Sergey had also made a solid start on his debut at the London Chess Classic.
Ian Nepomniachtchi was also a debutant and his game against Levon Aronian was the only one of the day not to end up with both sides having two queenside pawns on the a and b files, and four kingside pawns from the e-h files. The Ruy Lopez opening was also notable for Levon choosing to repeat what Nepomniachtchi called “a little bit suspicious line” that had earned him a very easy draw in a classical game and then a thumping defeat in the first World Cup semi-final tiebreak game against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Back then the Armenian no. 1 had come in for some criticism! (for more details see our report)
This time Aronian deviated with 17…Rfe8 rather than the clumsy-looking 17…Qc6?! he tried in the tiebreaks:
Generally I like playing something that brought me unhappiness in the past! I want to rehabilitate the openings - I just want to prove that I lost this game from my stupid play and there’s nothing wrong with the opening.
He managed, since Nepo got nothing and the game was drawn by repetition on move 28. Aronian quipped, “In married life you better stay away from home!” before getting back on script with “In general it has been a joyful year”.
Nepomniachtchi said it was “brilliant, really inspiring” to play in the Google Headquarters, though he didn’t quite want DeepMind to do for chess what they’d done for Go!
I hope there will be some big history of cooperation between Google and chess. It’s not about creating an AlphaGo, an AlphaChess, which will kill chess, but maybe in some friendly mode.
With the quiet draws out of the way we can get to the real meat of the day’s action.
It was Garry Kasparov who called this game “a hell of a
fight”, and he was happy that the guy who’ll celebrate his 48th birthday during the tournament was
a real match for the guy who’ll celebrate his 30th:
The guy is quite soon turning 50, but he’s so determined. I’m very proud for our generation, because I could see him around, he’s not as energetic and as deadly as he used to be some years ago, but still those young players who would like just to take his scalp are in for some very nasty surprises!
The Reversed Grünfeld seemed to be going well for White, but Nakamura admitted his idea of 25.g4 and later 28.g5!? was optimistic:
Probably this g4 idea was a little bit too rash - it was just trying to force things too quickly. Probably I could have come up with a better plan than that.
Suddenly things swung Black’s way:
After 28…hxg5 29.hxg5 Nh7! Aronian described the g5-pawn as “a little bit wobbly”, though it was a hugely complicated tactical position that Nakamura and Anand, two of the most gifted tacticians of their generations, struggled to navigate. Even the computer is short on easy advice, but in hindsight perhaps Vishy should have bitten the bullet here:
Anand is a pawn up and could have exchanged queens, but feared a long ending where although better a draw was still the most likely outcome. Instead Vishy went for 41…Qb2, which Nakamura noted “from a practical standpoint makes a lot of sense”, but had the drawback that White had the “nifty” (Nakamura’s word) 42.Ne3! Vishy played along with 42…Nf6 43.Bf3 Kh7 44.Nf5!, with Nakamura accompanying the last move with a draw offer:
Vishy had been planning 44…Kh8, but admitted to having missed 45.Qxg6 and wasn’t sure if White might not have more than a draw after 45…Rh7. He’d also missed in advance that White had the threat of Rh2 and a discovered check with Kg2, so we has happy just to be able to end the game, even if afterwards he regretted not taking a 20-minute think first.
In actual fact, though, he had no reason for regrets, while Nakamura’s reasoning on offering the draw in the first place was also sound:
At the end I saw that there were at least a couple of ways he could make a draw, so I didn’t see the point in hoping he made a blunder.
They were no longer in time trouble. Vishy summed up:
It’s a pity not to have won but I’m also relieved not to have lost!
The remaining game, though, was all one-way traffic:
Garry Kasparov isn’t one to go easy on his former students, and despite Magnus seeming to have turned the corner after a tough year Garry feels there’s more to do:
It’s another interesting challenge for Magnus, because he won recently one tournament on the Isle of Man, but he’s yet to win a round-robin classical tournament and I think it’s important not only for him, but also for the confidence of the world of chess, that a Magnus who dominates chess today, but mainly on the rapid and blitz side, is still as dominant in classical chess. He has been pressing hard today against Fabiano Caruana, but I have to say he missed a few better options to increase his advantage. He got a small edge after the opening and then he tried to develop his initiative, but I think his game is yet to be convincing.
Things were all going Carlsen’s way when Caruana persisted with playing the Queen’s Gambit Accepted and only realised too late that something had gone wrong:
Fabiano told Maurice Ashley:
At some point I thought my position was very unpleasant. After he played a4 at first I thought I should be ok, and then I realised that my position is just not good at all. My bishop on b7 is very blunted – not only is it not doing anything, very often it hangs in a lot of endings and a lot of tactical sequences. So my position was just bad and then I just had to kind of grovel.
Play continued 16…bxa4 17.Nxa4 Bd6 18.Nb3 and it was like the old days when Carlsen would go on to make 30 subtle moves, that all get the engine’s stamp of approval, and his opponent would simply be worn down and crushed. This time that didn’t happen, though it’s extremely hard to pinpoint where exactly the World Champion went wrong. Caruana was surprised to see 34.Nc5 on the board, helping him to exchange off pieces, and also by the decision taken on move 38:
I’m not sure about his whole 38.Nd3 idea. If he had played 38.Bd3 my pawn on b4 is still very weak. He had many chances, but it’s not clear which one was the biggest one for him, because it’s the sort of position where you just have 1000 options.
As you can see, it wasn’t an easily digestible game, and Magnus still seemed to be trying to fathom it while answering Maurice Ashley’s questions. He concluded:
I’m obviously a bit disappointed since I was pressing the whole time. I thought that I had a very pleasant position early on, then I spent all my time searching for a forced win in a very promising variation. I didn’t go for it, and then perhaps I didn’t have so much after that. Then maybe I got some chances again, but I couldn’t make anything of it because I missed a crucial detail close to the end. It’s disappointing, but I also have to give props to him for good defence.
It had been a long day, and the “colour questions” at the end didn’t go so well. On what it felt like to play in “such a magnificent space” in the Google building:
I was mostly thinking about the game.
And about his next game against Sergey Karjakin:
I don’t know. He’s a good player. They’re all pretty good, so it’s not going to be easy.
So the Google day of the London Chess Classic had ended with five draws and the players now have a rest day until battle commences on Sunday.
There will be action in London, though, since the strong FIDE Open is just starting (at 17:30 CET)…
…and the British Knockout Championship reaches the semifinals, after a tough day of knockout action:
Some favourites, such as Matthew Sadler, won convincingly:
But Nigel Short’s 2:0 victory over 21-year-old IM Alan Merry deserves a closer look. Alan was winning the first game if he spotted 32…b4! in time trouble, while he was doing fine in the second until blundering a full piece.
Luke McShane, meanwhile, scored one of his trademark 100+ move wins to
defeat Gawain Jones, getting revenge for his loss to the same opponent in the
British Championship playoff earlier this year.
The action there also continues from 17:30 CET, with one semifinal game on Saturday and the deciding games on Sunday.