Reports Dec 15, 2014 | 12:29 AMby Colin McGourty

London Classic 5: Anand ends 2014 on a high

A delighted Vishy Anand talks to Nigel Short after beating Mickey Adams | photo: London Chess Twitter account

Viswanathan Anand has won the 2014 London Chess Classic after a final-round win with the black pieces over Michael Adams gave him the tiebreaker edge over Vladimir Kramnik and Anish Giri, who drew their game. Fabiano Caruana came close to joining all the other participants in posting a single win in London, but had to accept a draw against Hikaru Nakamura after six hours and 81 moves.

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.

Adams 0-1 Anand: Sting in the tale

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!

"By now it can just be called the London!" quipped Vishy Anand of the Berlin Defence we saw in another two games in the final round | photo: Ray Morris-Hill

There was a subplot to today’s game. Michael Adams worked as a second for Magnus Carlsen during the World Championship match in Sochi, and today Anand repeated the line of the Berlin that led to what Carlsen himself called “my only real opening failure with White” (Game 9). On this occasion there was no quick draw by repetition, since Adams deviated on move 11. He couldn't avoid another echo of the match, though, since Anand was able to set his queenside pawns in motion with 24…b5:


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 1/2 – 1/2 Kramnik: You can never be too paranoid

Kramnik's next tournament is going to be Zurich in February, and he was sure Giri was going to play there. The Dutch star said he wasn't, and added, "unfortunately for you!" | photo: Ray Morris-Hill 

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:

Both players 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.

Giri agreed:

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.

Caruana 1/2 - 1/2 Nakamura: "I went completely insane"

The longest game of the day between two of the most combative players in modern chess | photo: Ray Morris-Hill

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:

Nr.NameFed.Rating123456totTPRTie break
1Anand, Viswanathan27931113172849Wins with black
2Kramnik, Vladimir27691131172854Wins with white
3Giri, Anish27681113172854Wins with white
4Nakamura, Hikaru27751013162781 
5Adams, Michael274501003426381 win
6Caruana, Fabiano28291111042698no wins

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:

Or how about making it a Christmas present for a friend or loved one - you know it beats a Christmas jumper 

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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