Fabiano Caruana finally ended the draw curse in the London Chess Classic with a fine Sicilian win over Sergey Karjakin. That not only made him the sole leader but took him back above 2800 and into the world no. 2 spot. Elsewhere in Round 4 it was a familiar story, with three draws in just over 30 moves and the day’s big clash, MVL-Carlsen, again seeing the World Champion down a pawn for scant compensation. He held on, though, and summed up, “Fortunately you get as many points for playing poorly and making a draw as for playing well and making a draw”.
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Rewatch the day’s action with commentary from Jennifer Shahade, Yasser Seirawan, Cristian Chirila and Maurice Ashley:
Fabiano Caruana and Sergey Karjakin had both teased Anish Giri on Twitter about his drawish tendencies, so it was perhaps fitting that their game was the one that finally ended decisively after 19 draws. Giri took some of the credit!
We probably can’t put it all down to Twitter trolling, since Caruana revealed afterwards that he’d wanted to play the same Sicilian line against Ian Nepomniachtchi the day before. He was thwarted by Ian’s 1.Nf3, though funnily enough Giri may have been on the players’ minds anyway. Anish is the top player to have defended the setup after 8.Qg3 with Black.
On all four occasions, though, he played 8…h5, which was also the move rising star Jan-Krzysztof Duda chose in the recent European Team Championship in a game he won despite being essentially busted after 9.0-0-0 b5? (perhaps 9…h4 was meant to be played first). In any case, Caruana’s near novelty was to play 8…b5 immediately.
I was surprised, of course. I didn’t repeat it and basically any line instead of this would be much better, because I got a bad position and I was also down on time.
He started to sink into long thinks while Caruana was blitzing for the sequence 9.0-0-0 Nf6 10.f4 Neg4 11.Bg1 h5 12.e5 b4 13.Na4 Nd5 14.Nb3 Bb7 15.Nac5 Bc6, which ended up in a position Fabiano knew the computer approved of for Black. He was only on his own after 16.Ne4:
This was the key moment of the game, and Caruana correctly unleashed 16…f5!, a move he felt was crying out to be played:
It feels like White has wasted so much time that Black should have some kind of concrete idea.
Sergey spent 25 minutes trying to find a response, but was unhappy with his options, including the computer suggestion of 17.exf6. He eventually played 17.h3 with a heavy heart, knowing he faced an uphill struggle:
I knew that I’m worse but I was hoping to get some small compensation, but I spoilt everything very quickly.
Things simply worked like clockwork for Caruana, with 22…Ng6! ensuring he retained an advantage:
The moment at which he felt he would win was on move 25:
Here Karjakin retreated his bishop with 25.Bg1?, doing nothing to improve White’s position and freeing Black’s dark-squared bishop from protecting the g7-pawn. Caruana immediately took advantage to bring his bishop into the game with 25…Be7. Karjakin admitted he’d played “a terrible move”, but he no longer saw any realistic chance of survival anyway. What followed was painful for the Russian’s fans, with the only hope lying in Caruana losing his way choosing between so many winning continuations. Fabiano was clinical, though, and the game didn’t last long after the time control. The US star finished with a flourish:
That meant Caruana was the tournament’s first sole leader (everyone had led for three rounds!), while he also inched ahead of Aronian to 2803.1 and 2nd place on the live rating list behind Magnus Carlsen on 2833.9.
For Sergey it had been a tough two days:
Of course it’s unpleasant, because yesterday I could be in clear first and now I’m in clear last!
The consolation is that he’s only half a point behind eight of his rivals, since once again draws dominated the day’s play elsewhere.
Hikaru Nakamura surprised Ian Nepomniachtchi by playing 6.g3 against the Najdorf and then the 9.b3 that Magnus Carlsen had used against him in Bilbao 2016 (Hikaru won that game with Black, but not because of the opening). Ian decided to play solidly in response and held the draw, though he wasn’t thrilled:
It’s very boring and even more boring to play this position with Black… It should be enough to hold this position, but I’m not going to repeat this!
Vishy Anand varied with 12.a4 from the game that he’d won against Levon Aronian at the start of the 2014 Candidates Tournament, a victory that gave him the momentum to force a rematch against Carlsen. This time there was no glory, though, as Levon successfully got in the standard Marshall pawn sacrifice (“Any time I can sacrifice a pawn I love that kind of stuff!”) and it was Vishy who was glad when he found a way to hand the pawn back and bail out for a draw.
The most enterprising opening choice was perhaps Wesley So playing the Benko Gambit with White against Mickey Adams. He explained later:
I looked at some lines with the Benko Gambit before and I thought a tempo up it can’t be that bad!
Mickey put the case for Black, though, since, “it’s quite a slow position and there are limited open files”, meaning the value of a tempo isn’t that high. Wesley still got pressure and Levon commented on the following position, “this looks kind of scary for Black”:
It turned out Black had counters for all White’s options, though, with 20.d5 in the game met immediately by 20…Ne5! 21.Nxe5 Qxe5 22.Qxe5 Rxe5, when Mickey would have been happy to give back the pawn if White tried 23.Raf3 by responding 23…Rf5. The game was drawn on move 31.
In terms of sporting significance the game of the day was clearly Maxime Vachier-Lagrave against Magnus Carlsen, since the French no. 1 is the only player with a realistic chance of overhauling Magnus to win the $100,000 1st prize for the Grand Chess Tour.
It was looking promising for Maxime, who surprised himself with the ease with which he built up a good position against the World Champion in an Italian Opening:
I was happy with the way the opening went - I got a slightly better position and somehow was even a pawn up.
After that he felt he “messed up”, though it wasn’t clear what he should have done next. All that can be concluded is that the knight manoeuvre in the game didn’t work out, and eventually White also had to be careful. The game ended in a repetition on move 42.
Levon had by far the best “explanation”, trolling Maurice Ashley in the process!
In case your initial response was, “video or it didn’t happen”…
Magnus found himself being asked for a second day in a row if he’d been worried, and he gave the same response:
I didn’t think my position was at all good, but I didn’t spend time being concerned. I’m just trying to play.
That’s an approach that’s easier said than done, but it helps explain why Magnus is so difficult to beat even when down a pawn. He was happy that the other players had been drawing while he wasn’t yet firing on all cylinders:
Fortunately you get as many points for playing poorly and making a draw as for playing well and making a draw.
It’s time to give the crosstable, since we finally have something to show apart form a sea of draws:
Round 5 is the last before the rest day, with Carlsen-So perhaps the game where we can expect the World Champion finally to wake up. You can watch all the London Chess action here on chess24: London Chess Classic | British Knockout Championship | FIDE Open.
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