You could almost hear the collective groan around the chess world when the last round began with Hikaru Nakamura and Vishy Anand both playing the Berlin Defence with Black, while the leaders, Anish Giri and Vladimir Kramnik, blitzed out twenty moves of theory.
Peter Svidler took desperate measures to lighten the mood!
We needn’t have worried, though, as all three games developed into thrilling battles that kept us on the edge of our seats. It was helped by the remarkable fact that five of the six players had a very real chance of finishing first.
It’s hard to imagine two more different tournaments than those
played by Adams and Anand in London this year. Adams won an epic game against
against Caruana, missed a clear win against Kramnik and lost to Giri and
Nakamura. Anand, meanwhile, never left his prep against Kramnik, drew in 16
moves against Caruana, got into some bother against Nakamura’s Evans Gambit and
let an edge slip against Giri. Although he was still in contention for first
before the final game his tournament winning chances weren’t as much of a
talking point as those of Adams – who could win due to the 3 points for a win “football”
scoring system despite only scoring 50% while Kramnik and Giri finished on +1.
In the end, though, that particular can of worms was never opened!
It was only one move later than the brilliant 23…b5! in the final game in Sochi, but this time it didn't backfire for Anand. A poorly timed e6-pawn sac left Adams defending a difficult knight ending in time trouble, where he faced a simple problem:
The end came surprisingly swiftly, with Adams resigning after 36…a5:
The plan is simply a4-a3-a2-a1=Q and, again in stark contrast to Sochi, there’s nothing White’s kingside pawns can do to counter it (replay the game here).
Afterwards (see the video above) Vishy was, of course, in fine spirits:
Given how things were looking last year obviously I’m very satisfied with this year. Khanty, Bilbao… even Sochi, as I think I played well but my nerves gave way at the wrong moment.
Vishy also mentioned he’d be playing in Baden-Baden next year, which means he’s likely to face Magnus Carlsen. Anand was happy, though, that after eight years of preparing matches against a single opponent he wouldn’t have to do that for at least another year or two.
Giri “improved” his record against Kramnik to 6 losses and now 3 draws at classical chess, but it was another harrowing experience for the young star. He explained after the game that while preparing the Catalan line that featured in today’s game he’d noticed an idea with 11…c6!? (Kramnik: “it looks absolutely ridiculous”) but Giri disliked the positions it led to. Eventually, though, he told himself:
I shouldn’t be paranoid – he’s never played it so why should he play it today?
Of course Kramnik did play it, and although Giri managed to infiltrate with his queen on c7 he didn’t like the position on the board any more than he had while preparing. Things sharpened still further after 26.e4!?
Kramnik replied with the pawn sac 26…d4 to keep White’s pieces tied up, with Giri remarking:
I didn’t even consider 26…d4. I played 26.e4 in a little bit of an impulse as I was so disgusted by my position.
On move 30 Giri played what Kramnik called absolutely the only move, Ra7:
The curious detail is that the computer, at least initially, think White is doing better than in the game after 30.Qd4 Bc5. Kramnik said this “is just gone”, but after 31.Qa4 the fat lady is yet to sing. In the game queens were exchanged with 30…Qxa7 31.Qxc8+ and Giri managed to hold with some very precise play (replay the game here).
Grandmaster Jan Gustafsson has now annotated the game for chess24:
So it was another moral victory for Kramnik, although he reduced the effect with a few moments in the press conference, such as when he wanted to play ...Qc1, much to Giri's amusement:
had to concede tournament victory to Anand, though, since they'd both only won a game with the white pieces (the compensation is the prize money is shared equally!).
Afterwards the players were asked how they decided what moves to play, and if it resembled the (in)famous tree of analysis recommended by Alexander Kotov in his book, Think Like a Grandmaster. Kramnik went first:
I really don’t know how it works. I just think and come up with it. I never have any structure. I read all these books and I never followed it. Something comes to my mind, I start one move and then I move to another. It’s a mess in my head.
When I think I’m completely lost or winning to be completely sure I start to check all the moves, which happens really rarely. In a normal position all reasonably strong players probably have some combination of an algorithm and inspiration.
We got one last snippet of information – Vladimir Kramnik is planning to play in the 2015 World Cup since he feels it’s his last remaining chance to qualify for the 2016 Candidates Tournament. He actually won the World Cup in 2013, though that was a bit superfluous since he’d already qualified on rating.
The final game to finish was the only one in which one of the players, world no. 2 Fabiano Caruana, was unable to win the tournament. Hikaru Nakamura could, but he needed a win that seemed a long way off when he chose the Berlin Defence. He did at least choose the line with 10…Be6:
He later commented:
Be6 was my attempt at winning today. Maybe I should have played h5 like Vishy, as he actually won, but I don’t think I would have been so lucky.
Nakamura couldn’t complain about the position he got, though, and with his 30…g5! pawn sac he really set the cat among the pigeons:
Short on time, Caruana now had to find a very narrow path to safety, which he managed with a fine exchange sacrifice (replay the game here). In the end it was Caruana who had any winning chances, but the best it seems he could have hoped for was to force Rook + Bishop vs. Rook, which might have extended the game even further than the six hours it took, but was unlikely to alter the outcome.
Afterwards both players were critical of their play, with Nakamura indulging in a little hyperbole:
The problem is I went completely insane. I thought I was just mating.
Caruana, in turn, was worried that he’d missed a win in the ending, but a quick computer check of their play suggests another version of events – it was a well-played and interesting game by both players!
Caruana repeated his assessment from the day before that it
was hard to mount a comeback after losing in the first round of an event lasting only
five rounds. Nakamura, meanwhile, was content:
I felt that overall I played well. I just ran into a very well-prepared opponent [Kramnik] on one day. What’s the point of playing chess if not to have some fun!
Replay the full press conference:
So the final table looked as follows:
It was obviously a close-run thing, but Vishy Anand has now finished first in three major tournaments in 2014, reminding everyone that he still has a thing or two to teach us about chess. If you enjoyed the free live coverage of the London Chess Classic provided by chess24 you might want to help the project by becoming a premium member – giving you access to videos by Vishy and many more well-known players:
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That’s just about all from this year’s London Chess Classic, but stay tuned for our continuing coverage of all the top events in the chess world.
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