Reports Dec 9, 2017 | 1:24 PMby chess24 staff

London Classic 6: Carlsen survives Nakamura scare

World Champion Magnus Carlsen came back from the dead against Hikaru Nakamura to scrape a draw in the most exciting game of the 2017 London Chess Classic so far. The only decisive result of Round 6, however, was Ian Nepomniachtchi's 85-move victory over Mickey Adams, making him the only player other than Fabiano Caruana to win a game in the event. Levon Aronian had serious winning chances against Wesley So, but they fizzled out to nothing. 

Carlsen, suffering from a cold, goes head to head with his old rival Nakamura | photo: John Saunders, London Chess Classic

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 or hover over a player's name to see all his or her results:

You can also replay the day's drama with the live commentary from St. Louis and London:

John Saunders reports for the official website:


Magnus escapes by the skin of his teeth

The sixth round of the 9th London Chess Classic followed the rest day and was played on Friday 8 December 2017 at the Olympia Conference Centre. There was just one decisive game but this was by some way the most exciting round of the competition so far. US number one Fabiano Caruana retained his lead with a draw against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave but it was reduced to just half a point when Ian Nepomniachtchi prevailed against the home player Mickey Adams in a rook and pawn endgame to move into the second spot. The star game of the day was Hikaru Nakamura versus Magnus Carlsen which ended in a draw after the American squandered a golden opportunity to defeat the world champion. The other two games also had considerable merit.

There was a salutary reminder here for everyone who has been lamenting all the draws in this competition. Nakamura-Carlsen was another draw - but what a game it was! I remember a year or two ago comparing one of Carlsen’s games to a whodunit, except that his long grinds would be better entitled ‘howdunits’. You know the scenario – one of those seemingly lifeless positions where you couldn’t imagine him having the remotest chance of beating anyone rated over 2700 but which he would nurse patiently until eventually forcing an error which he would pounce on and exploit. The joy is in trying to guess how he is going to do it. It happens less often these days, either because his rivals have got fed up with being a sort of Agatha Christie victim that gets brained with the lead piping in the conservatory and have become resistant to his murderous technique, or else (whisper it softly) he’s not quite as sharp as he was now he has reached the grand old age of 27.

But, anyway, this game was very different because here Carlsen was very much on the receiving end and it was his opponent administering the torture. However, it was every bit as entertaining as games where Carlsen is in the driving seat as he tried to wriggle out from under.

“Excuse me, Mr Arbiter?” A relieved Carlsen summons the arbiter to ratify his threefold repetition | photo: John Saunders, London Chess Classic

It didn’t start too badly for Carlsen. Indeed, quite early in the game there had arisen a position where he could simply have opted for a repetition, unless Nakamura had taken a big risk and tried to diverge. Spectators, now well used to early truces here, rather assumed Carlsen would bale out, especially since it had become apparent that he was suffering from a cold. But he didn’t and decided to press for a counterattack, probably because he was fed up with all those draws and felt obliged to win a game. In the end he would have been glad of a half-point.

1. e4 e5 2. ♘f3 ♘c6 3. d4 exd4 4. ♘xd4 ♘f6 5. ♘xc6 bxc6 6. e5 ♕e7 7. ♕e2 ♘d5

8. h4 Nepomniachtchi and Morozevich are devotees of this kingside thrust.

8. c4 ♗a6 9. b3 g6 happened in Svidler-Carlsen, Sinquefield Cup, last August and was drawn.

8... ♗b7  8...d6 or 8...f6 are more usual here.

8... ♕e6 was tried by Kramnik against Nepomniachtchi in a blitz game in July, but he lost.

9. c4 ♘b6 10. ♖h3 This is new ground.

10... ♕e6 11. f4 O-O-O 12. a4 White threatens 13. a5, forcing the knight back to a8, and then 14. a6, trapping the bishop. Black finds a tricky reply.

12... d5 13. a5 ♘xc4 14. b3 White has now trapped the knight but his development is shaky and his dark squares vulnerable.

14... ♗b4+ 15. ♔f2  ♘xa5  Previous to this appearing on the board, there had been a multitude of groans as spectators assumed that Black would take a draw with

15... ♗c5+ The GMs in the VIP Room also looked at 16. ♔e1 (16. ♔g3 which also leads to a draw, except in a more unusual way: 16... ♗g1 17. bxc4 h5 18. ♖h1 ♕g6+ 19. ♔h3 ♕f5+ 20. ♔g3 ♕g6+ draw) 16... ♗b4+ repeats the position. But Carlsen, despite suffering from a cold, decided to be bold and play for a win. Rashly, as it turned out, but a great boon to the watching spectators who were able to witness a classic battle between two deadly and resourceful rivals.

16. ♗d2  c5 

16... ♗c5+ 17. ♔e1 ♘xb3 18. ♖xb3 ♗b6 would have been another way to give up some material - three pawns for a piece.

17. ♖xa5  Not

17. ♗xb4? cxb4 18. ♖xa5 ♕b6+ , which is winning for Black.

17... ♗xa5 18. ♗xa5 ♕f5 19. ♘c3 ♕xf4+ 20. ♔g1 ♖he8 21. ♘b5! Nakamura plays the middlegame very forcefully.

21... a6 22. ♖f3 ♕xe5 Allowing the queens to come off doesn't help Black.

23. ♕xe5 ♖xe5 24. ♗xc7 ♖ee8 25. ♗xd8 ♖xd8 26. ♘a3 ♖d7 

27. ♗d3! "From afar I missed his move 27. Bd3," admitted Magnus Carlsen. "Then it was awful, of course." 

27... ♔d8  After

27... g6 28. ♖f6 the threat to the a6-pawn is troublesome.

28. ♗xh7 Not so much to win a pawn but break up the kingside.

28... g6 29. h5 gxh5 30. ♖f6 Black has three pawns for the knight but he has no real prospect of forcing a pawn through to promotion as they can so easily be blockaded by White's minor pieces.

30... ♔e7 31. ♖b6 ♖c7 32. ♘c2 a5 33. ♘e3 c4 34. ♗c2 ♗c6 35. bxc4 dxc4 36. ♖a6

36. ♘xc4? ♗xg2 eliminates White's last pawn and makes the win problematic.

36... a4  37. ♗xa4  At his interview with Maurice Ashley, Hikaru Nakamura criticised this move, suggesting that he should have played

37. ♘f5+ and then 38. Nd4 with what he thought was an easier way to win. After the text, though there was still a technical win, he felt it was harder. "I started seeing ghosts."

37... ♗e4 38. ♖a5 ♔e6 39. ♖xh5 c3 40. ♗b3+ ♔d6 41. ♗c2 ♗xc2 42. ♘xc2 ♔e6 43. ♔f2 f5 44. ♖h3 With his compensation whittled down to just one pawn for the knight, I'm not sure anyone gave much for Carlsen's chances of saving the game.

44... ♔e5 45. ♖d3 ♔f4 46. ♖d4+ ♔g5 47. ♔f3 ♖c8 48. ♖a4 ♖c7 49. ♖a8 ♔f6 50. ♖a6+ ♔g5 51. ♘d4 ♖c4 52. ♘e6+ ♔f6 53. ♘f4+ ♔e5 54. ♘d3+ ♔d5 55. ♖a2 ♔d4 56. ♘c1 c2 57. ♖a5 ♖c3+ 58. ♔f4 ♖c8  59. ♖xf5?

59. ♖a3 is the only winning move for White here, but it might not be too hard to find, even for lesser mortals, given its logic in keeping the black king cut off from the defence.

59... ♖e8! Carlsen realised when he had this position on the board that he was moving towards the draw. His assessment was backed up by the online Norwegian super-computer that provides analysis of his games in real-time.

60. ♖f7 ♖e1 61. ♖d7+ ♔c3 62. ♖c7+ ♔d2 63. ♘b3+ ♔d3 64. ♘c5+ ♔d4 65. ♘b3+ ♔d3 66. ♘c5+ ♔d4 67. ♘b3+ ♔d3 Around here Carlsen had the first check of his scoresheet to see if it might have been a threefold repetition, or perhaps more likely how close the repetition was. Nakamura nodded his head up and down like the toy dog in the back of a car window, acknowledging his miss of the win.

68. g4 ♖f1+ 69. ♔g5 ♖b1 70. ♘c5+ ♔e3 71. ♘b3  ♔d3  Obviously not

71... ♖xb3 72. ♖xc2 with a won endgame for White.

72. ♘c5+ ♔e3 73. ♘b3 Here Carlsen called over the arbiter to say that he intended to play 73...Kd3, bringing about a threefold repetition (see position's after Black's 69th and 71st moves). White did not demur but agreed the draw.

1/2-1/2

Adams was ground down in a rook and pawn endgame by Nepomniachtchi | photo: John Saunders, London Chess Classic

Adams-Nepomniachtchi was decisive but somewhat less exciting than the Nakamura-Carlsen roller-coaster. Adams was doing OK until his 36th move which cost him a pawn. 


Adams' 36.c4 allowed Black to win a pawn with 36...Nd6! 37.Rc7 dxc4 38.Bxc4 Ra1+ 39.Kf2 Rc1, but the 4 vs. 3 rook ending that ensued should have been defendable

Even so he reached an endgame a pawn down but with the pawns all on the same side of the board, which tends towards a draw. Super-GMs in this event have been defending pawn deficit endgames so regularly that we are getting blasé about them, but Nepo redressed the balance with a cannily played endgame perhaps more akin to those former Carlsen grinds where he would make something out of nothing. His finish was crisp.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Fabiano Caruana shake hands before their game | photo: John Saunders, London Chess Classic

MVL versus tournament leader Fabiano Caruana had its moments, starting from a Petroff. Caruana told he was booked up to move 23. “I was optimistic and I thought I might be able to get better but it turned out to be nothing.” With a full point lead he didn’t have to press too hard, of course, but now has Nepo breathing down his neck. 

Levon Aronian was at his most creative against Wesley So | photo: John Saunders, London Chess Classic

So-Aronian was entertaining and threatened to be game of the day with its radically imbalanced material. Aronian played on instinct, taking on f2 with a bishop in a way that normally happens in beginners’ games, but with a super-grandmasterly twist. Another crunching combination won him Wesley So’s queen but at a high material price. Even so, the queen had good control of the board and might have netted him a more tangible advantage had he found a more precise continuation. As things turned out, the two players fought each other to a standstill so another draw resulted.

1. e4 e5 2. ♘f3 ♘c6 3. ♗b5 a6 4. ♗a4 ♘f6 5. O-O ♗e7 6. ♖e1 b5 7. ♗b3 O-O 8. a4 The standard Anti-Marshall, though some Black players find a way to play ...d7-d5 anyway.

8... b4 9. d4 d6 10. dxe5 dxe5 11. ♘bd2 ♗c5 12. a5 ♗e6 13. ♗xe6

13. ♕e2 ♕e7 14. ♗c4 ♘d4 15. ♘xd4 ♗xd4 16. ♘b3 ♖fd8 was Dominguez-Aronian, from a Saint Louis blitz game last August, which Black won. The text is a new move.

13... fxe6 14. ♕e2 ♘g4 15. ♖f1 ♗xf2+ So admitted he was surprised by this and underestimated it. Aronian concocted the idea over the board.

16. ♖xf2 ♘d4  17. ♕c4  So said that the text move was made on gut instinct but that he should have preferred

17. ♕d3 here. Then 17... ♘xf2 18. ♔xf2 and Aronian was thinking about 18... b3

17... ♘xf2 18. ♔xf2 ♕h4+ 19. ♔g1 ♕g4 Around here So started to realise that the position was not so easy to untangle.

20. h3 ♕g3 21. ♕d3 The only move. White's defences are quite stretched.

21... ♖xf3 22. ♘xf3 ♖f8 23. ♘xd4 ♕e1+ 24. ♔h2 ♖f1 25. ♕xf1 Another forced move.

25... ♕xf1  26. ♘f3 Black has a queen and pawn for rook, bishop and knight, but the evaluation is far from clear. Wesley later wondered whether

26. ♘b3 might have been a better bet, but didn't sound sure. The VIP GMs also agonised over this difficult choice.

26... c5 27. b3 ♕d1! Black wins the c-pawn. Things are becoming problematic for White.

28. ♗b2 ♕xc2 29. ♗xe5 ♕xb3 30. ♖f1

30... h6?

30... ♕c2! is more to the point, targeting the e4-pawn and also getting ready to trundle the b-pawn towards the queening square. Perhaps more importantly it prevents White's plan of playing Rf2 and Rd2, as happened in the game. Aronian admitted he didn't see 30...Qc2 but at the interview with Maurice Ashley came up with a line for his opponent, thus: 31. ♔g3 c4 32. ♖f2 ♕xe4 33. ♖d2 ♕g6+ 34. ♔h2 ♕e8 35. ♖d4 which he thought "should be a draw, somehow. White is too active".

31. ♖f2! An important move to co-ordinate the defences and stop Qc2 happening.

31... c4 32. ♖d2 Another reason for 31. Rf2 was to relocate the rook safely to the d-file, from where it can counterattack against the enemy king.

32... c3 33. ♖d8+ ♔f7 34. ♖c8 ♕b1 35. ♖c7+ ♔e8 36. ♖c8+ ♔f7 37. ♖c7+ ♔e8 38. ♖c8+ The position was still very unclear. Discretion was the better part of value.

1/2-1/2

Vishy Anand was surprised in the opening by Sergey Karjakin | photo: John Saunders, London Chess Classic

Anand-Karjakin had its moments, despite being only 20 moves long. “I must admit he caught me with 12...Qa6,” admitted Vishy Anand after the game about the line of the English which they played down. Karjakin followed up with another queen moved that surprised Vishy, 15...Qd6, which he found he could not exploit. Having run out of ideas to make progress, he and Karjakin found a repetition to end the game.


David Howell won the fourth and final classical game of the British Knock-Out Chess Championship against Luke McShane to lead the match by 5 points to 3 (note that the scoring system for this first part of the match was 2 points for a win and 1 for a draw). The game swayed back and forth, with Luke close to win for some of its course but losing the thread and blundering first the win and then the draw in time trouble. The two players contest a rapidplay series of four games on Saturday, with the normal scoring system of 1-½-0.

Luke McShane was doing well but blundered against David Howell in Game 4 | photo: John Saunders, London Chess Classic

In the London Open, Hrant Melkumyan of Armenia leads on his own with 7/8 going into the ninth and final round on Saturday, where he is paired with top seed Alexander Motylev (Russia) who is one of seven players on 6½. The other three pairings of players on 6½ are Gabriel Sargissian (Armenia) v Jonathan Hawkins (England), Alexander Donchenko (Germany) v Tamir Nabaty (Israel) and Thi Kim Phung Vo (Vietnam) v Sebastien Mazé (France). Thi Kim Phung Vo is a WGM, rated only 2380, with a current TPR for the tournament of 2606.

Thi Kim Phung Vo is just half a point behind the leader | photo: John Saunders, London Chess Classic

India's 13-year-old Nihal Sarin is also just one win away from a 2nd grandmaster norm. 

Round 7 of the London Classic is on Saturday 9 December but note that the start time is 14.00 UK time. You can watch all the London Chess action here on chess24: London Chess Classic | British Knockout Championship | FIDE Open

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