Reports Dec 11, 2017 | 9:36 AMby Colin McGourty

London Classic 8: Carlsen crashes to Nepo

Ian Nepomniachtchi beat Magnus Carlsen to win his third game in a row and take the sole lead in the 2017 London Chess Classic going into the final round. Magnus blundered in time trouble to take his classical score against Nepo to an incredible four losses and no wins, with the World Champion now out of contention to win the event, though he still has good chances of a consolation $100,000 for winning the Grand Chess Tour. The other four games were drawn, while it was announced that in next year’s Tour the final event will be a knockout in London among the star performers.

Even superman has his kryptonite | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Replay all the 2017 London Chess Classic games using the selector below – click a result to open a game with computer analysis or hover over a player’s name to see all of his results:

You can replay all the commentary and player interviews below:

Magnus crashes and burns

Carlsen had earlier characterised his play in London as “awful”, but despite being lost or very close to lost against both Hikaru Nakamura and Mickey Adams, he’d picked up 1.5/2 from those games. Fabiano commented:

Considering what happened in his last two games I don’t think he can be unhappy with anything just now!

Magnus went into the penultimate round with every chance of still justifying the old paraphrasing of what Gary Lineker had said of the German football team: “Chess is a game of two players and 32 pieces and in the end Carlsen wins!” 

The only disconcerting sign for his supporters was perhaps that the World Champion arrived even later than usual and didn’t seem in high spirits. He managed to smile for a fraction of a second as his first move was made for him – and Lennart managed to capture that in a photograph...

The start of a dramatic game | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

...but a moment later he’d turned away and blanked the young girl’s hopes for getting any approval of her move. It was well-known that he’d been feeling unwell during the tournament, though he wasn’t using that as an excuse (Nepomniachtchi made the point on his behalf after the game).

Nevertheless, the openings couldn’t have gone much better for Magnus, as his rivals looked unlikely to win while he seemed to have his nemesis Nepomniachtchi on the ropes. The Russian admitted his 23…a5?! hadn’t been great, and soon found himself living on the edge:

Here 25.Bxh6! was strong, since 25…gxh6 loses to 26.Ne4! (the f6-knight is pinned to the weak f7-pawn) while inserting the zwischenzug 25…Bxc3 26.bxc3 gxh6 doesn’t solve all Black’s problems due to 27.Qg3+! Magnus instead went for the preparatory 25.Re3, which was perhaps more in his style and did little to spoil the position.

A bad day at the office | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

The issue, though, was that Nepomniachtchi’s rapid play had left Magnus on the verge of time trouble, and while playing fast hasn’t always worked out well for the Russian he was on the back of two wins in a row and limited his mistakes to inaccuracies. At first Carlsen did the same, missing a trick on move 31:

31.c5! would have left White in a stable and better position, with the d6 and e5 outposts for his minor pieces and the potential to play g5 at any moment. Instead 31.Nc6?! was more ambitious, but the advantage had gone after 31…Qf6!. When Magnus followed up with 32.Nxa5 Nb6 33.c5? he’d completely lost the plot:

Objectively the move isn’t so bad, but a dejected Carlsen admitted in the post-game interview that he’d simply blundered that his opponent could reply 33…Rxc5!, exploiting the unprotected rook on a1.

Magnus commented:

I missed everything. There’s not much else to say. I think I failed to predict a single one of his moves.

He could have treated the loss of the pawn as a mere “flesh wound” and played something like 34.Be5, when the ending would likely be drawn, but instead he pressed ahead based on a fatal oversight: 34.dxc5 Qxa1+ 35.Kh2 Qxa5 36.Qc6?? (It wasn’t too late to play 36.cxb6!, though Nepo noted that the 4 vs. 3 pawn position was far from an easy draw with so many pieces left on the board)

Nepomniachtchi comforted Magnus after the game that he hadn’t immediately spotted the crusher here, but it was cold comfort – he took a mere 43 seconds of the 40 minutes he had on his clock to spot and play 36…Qa4!, a beautiful move that defends the e8-rook and hits the loose bishop on f4. There was no choice but to play 37.Qxa4 Nxa4 38.c6, but after the simple 38…Nb6 White was down a piece for no compensation. Magnus had pulled off a miracle save against Nakamura but here he limited himself to playing 39.c7 f6 40.Rb3 Nc8 before resigning.

The end | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

But Magnus could still manage a smile with his friend | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

That third win in a row surprised Nepomniachtchi, who admitted, “out of the opening I didn’t really have any hopes for anything bigger than a draw,” and who was still expecting a draw before the final blunder. He’s climbed 11 places and 20.9 rating points to 2749.9 on the live rating list, while more importantly he leads the London Chess Classic alone on 5.5/8 going into a last-round clash with the white pieces against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

A job well done | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

For Magnus, meanwhile, winning the tournament is a mathematical impossibility, meaning he’s failed to meet the challenge Garry Kasparov set during Round 1:

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 added on Twitter:

By his standards, it’s been a very bad year for Magnus, who has a title defence coming up in 2018:

It’s not all over in London by a long shot, though, since if all the final games are drawn (among other scenarios) he'll still win $100,000 as the winner of the Grand Chess Tour. It could be tricky, though, since Black against Levon Aronian isn’t the ideal game to end a tournament. What does he think about the final day?

Maurice Ashley: Your thoughts about the next game?

Magnus Carlsen: I don’t care at all – I have zero thoughts about the next game!

Another four draws

For the 7th round in 8 in London there was no more than one decisive game, with the other players seeming unwilling to distract from the drama of the top game.

All smiles before Adams and Aronian signed off on a quick draw | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Adams-Aronian was a 5.Re1 Berlin that Mickey wasn’t pretending was about anything other than securing half a point after a painful two losses in a row:

The last couple of days were quite tough, so I wasn’t too ambitious today.

Levon wasn’t going to rock the boat and said he was tired after a third consecutive tournament and hadn’t been playing so well. Asked whether he should have chosen something less drawish than the Berlin:

I play Marshall – but what’s more drawish, the Berlin or Marshall? I’m not sure! Against 1.e4 you have to play something like 1…g6 if you want to win against an experienced opponent, and take some big risks. You have to be prepared for that, and I wasn’t prepared for that today.

Nakamura checked if Caruana had done his homework - to no-one's great surprise, he had | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Taking risks wasn’t in the air, and Levon noted that Hikaru Nakamura had decided to play things safe by testing Fabiano Caruana in a long theoretical line. It wasn’t necessarily so innocuous, since Caruana had played 21…f6 and lost to David Navara in a memorable game from Tata Steel 2016, but Caruana said he’d checked the line again “pretty recently” and comfortably held a draw after 21…Ba6:

The sharpest draw was between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Vishy Anand, with the French no. 1 ambitious but disappointed:

Vishy is always very well-prepared, so I was hoping to find a way to get some play. It seems I did, but then I messed up very quickly, which was not so nice.

A sharp sequence in a Giuoco Piano led to this position:

The game continued 24.Rc7 when Vishy played the move Maxime said he’d missed from afar, 24…Bb6! and the players repeated the position for a draw. MVL was asked if he’d considered 24.Rxg7, which looks very dangerous for Black as the white queen and knight soon attack the black king. He said he had, but he rejected it for the not unreasonable reason that he correctly calculated that the ensuing lines end “White resigns”!

Anand steadied the ship before playing the final round on his 48th birthday | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

By far the longest game of the day saw Wesley So trying to exploit the smallest of endgame advantages against Sergey Karjakin. The Russian went some way to rehabilitating his defensive reputation, though, and made no mistakes before he was able to break and simplify the position:

The game continued another hour and 14 moves, but 42…e5! was the first step on the path to a draw.

A long grind came to nothing for Wesley So, who, like Aronian and Nakamura, has drawn all 8 games in London | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

So the crosstable looks as follows going into the final round:

The key games are Aronian-Carlsen, Caruana-Adams and Nepomniachtchi-MVL, with Maxime hoping to repeat the victory he scored over Nepomniachtchi to win the 2017 Sinquefield Cup in the final round. For full details of the complexities of possible Grand Chess Tour scenarios check out the link below - our recommendation, as usual in such cases, is not to worry too much and just watch the show, since it gets much clearer as games end:

Grand Chess Tour changes to knockout finale

This year there’s Grand Chess Tour tension right up to the final round, but it could easily have been, as it was last year with Wesley So, that a player was confirmed as the winner long before the end. To avoid that anti-climax in 2018 the Grand Chess Tour organisers are switching to holding a 4-player knockout final in London among the players who have scored best over the previous events, which are as in 2017: the Paris, Leuven and St. Louis Rapid and Blitz and the Sinquefield Cup classical tournament.

The Grand Chess Tour will therefore be similar to the chess Grand Slam that started in 2008 and held a final event in Bilbao each year. For fans of classical chess it may be a disappointment, since now there’s just one normal classical tournament on the Tour, with the final matches in London set to be played in classical, rapid and blitz. It may also be a disappointment if your favourite player doesn’t qualify, but overall we can expect more excitement and much more clarity about the outcome – not to mention an increased Tour prize fund.

For some more details check out the press release

The penultimate round of the London Chess Classic is on Monday 10 December at 12:00 UK time. You can watch all the action here on chess24: London Chess Classic. You can also follows the games in our free mobile apps:


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