Reports Dec 7, 2014 | 2:59 AMby Colin McGourty

London Rapid, Day 1: Brilliancies and great escapes

The Super Six have been living up to their billing so far! | photo: Ray Morris-Hill

Caruana, Kramnik, Nakamura and Giri all on 5/5, Anand and Adams only half a point behind – the sharks are where you’d expect them to be at the midway point of the Super Rapidplay Open! That’s only half the story, though, as the fish also showed some bite on a wonderful afternoon of chess. We saw brilliant wins, miraculous escapes and countless enjoyable storylines. There was more chess in the German League and in Russia, and to approach the impossible task of summing up the 124 games we broadcast live on Saturday we’ve decided to hold an awards ceremony.

So let’s begin. Cue drum roll…

1. Most ungentlemanly behaviour

Before the game it was all smiles between Kramnik and 15-year-old Naomi Wei (rated 1762) | photo: Ray Morris-Hill

Vladimir Kramnik wins this award... for deceiving us. The first round of the Rapidplay event pitted the crème de la crème of world chess against young juniors who had a snowball’s chance in hell of withstanding the onslaught. While Kramnik’s fellow elite grandmasters went straight for the jugular, though, blitzing out aggressive moves with no consideration for their opponents, it seemed Vladimir was going to ease his way home. Yes, he would win, but in a slow, unflashy style that minimised his opponent’s suffering. He played an unambitious opening and then exchanged off queens early on…

…then this happened:

How could you, Vlad?  (replay the whole game here)

2. Best pawn structure

It doesn’t get much better than this. White, International Master Ali Mortazavi, is two pawns down, but just look at the beautiful square in which he’s arranged four of his remaining pawns!

3. Best slugfest

Fabiano Caruana couldn’t resist spoiling the pawn structure in a couple more moves by capturing on f5, but that only led to pure mayhem. By the time he played 37…Qf4 it had all gone very wrong:

38.fxg6 hxg6 39.Rxg6+ Kxg6 and e.g. 40.Qxf8 is easily winning for White. Caruana was let off the hook with 38.Rf1, though, after which he went into Hulk mode and put together a stunning sequence of power moves. Don’t miss replaying the game.

4. Best demolition

Frankly there were a lot of candidates here (see e.g. Gawain Jones 0-1 Caruana), but it was hard to match the ferocious ease with which Kramnik downed IM Richard Bates (2346). 

On move 10 Richard thought for a couple of minutes before using a double attack to win an exchange with 10.Ng5:

What followed was brutally efficient attacking chess from Kramnik, who finished with a flourish, queening his f-pawn:

After exchanges on f1 Qc6+ would pick up the white rook, so Bates resigned.

5. Dimmest knights

Up to a point it was all going well for multiple French Champion Sophie Milliet | photo: Ray Morris-Hill 

Our last award for Vladimir Kramnik is a joint one, since his opponent, 4-time French Champion Sophie Milliet, also had a big role to play. Here’s a snapshot from their hugely tense Round 3 game:

A knight on the rim is dim, but what about four of them? What was even better was that Kramnik played 28.Na2! and 29.Nh2!! on consecutive moves, while Sophie was so impressed she immediately went for 29…Na3!!! (exclamation marks for aesthetic effect, although to be fair they were all sensible moves as well). In the diagram position Sophie, short on time, took a fateful decision. Some voice in her head must have warned her that it was unlikely the former World Champion sitting opposite had simply blundered a piece, but adrenaline took over and she removed a knight from the board with 32…Rxa2? (32…Qf6 was strictly the only move).

The punishment was swift and equine. 33.Ng4 and 35.Nf6+ soon led to mate – rather unsportingly Sophie resigned before Kramnik could mate with a pawn for the second time in three rounds (and get mate on the board for the third time in three rounds!), so we added the finishing touch:

6. Best never-say-die attitude

Round 4, Board 1, and after 10 moves IM James Adair had this position against world no. 7 Hikaru Nakamura:

Hikaru no longer had anything better than at least picking up a pawn for the bishop with 10…Bxc2. And then? Well, Jonathan Rowson perhaps put it best:

But still, Adair nursed his advantage for almost 30 moves before he reached the following position:

To be fair, it’s already tricky, but 38.Nh4 or 38.Ne5 would have kept him on top. Instead 38.Nxf4? meant the end of his advantage, and three moves later he was lost. An amazing turnaround, which you can replay here.

7. Most trapped piece

Inspired by that escape Nakamura pulled off a 15-move win in the next game. His English opponent, Jonathan Hawkins, wrote a well-received book, “Amateur to IM”. In fact, he recently overshot that target to become a grandmaster elect. 

He’ll probably want to forget this game in a hurry, though, as the pawn on b2 and rook on a1 that his queen gobbled up turned out to be laced with poison. You can’t get much more trapped than the black queen:

At least an honourable mention, though, should go to the black rook of Daniel Fernandez in a game where he initially seemed to have great chances of beating Loek van Wely:

This is also the final position.

8. Best kick-off

It was a good day for veterans, with 58-year-old Jon Speelman beating Loek van Wely and drawing with Luke McShane to finish on 4.5/5. The greatest fairy tale, however, was that after four rounds and four wins 68-year-old IM Michael Basman made it onto the live boards, where he faced the world’s top junior, Anish Giri. 

What followed was Basman's trademark move… 1.g4! – the famous Grob’s Attack.

Although Basman hit his rating peak over 30 years before Giri was born, he emerged from the opening with a position that may even have been better. In the end, though, it was the young star who handled the complications better. Play through the game here.

There was a close runner-up for this award, though. World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen performed the ceremonial kick-off at a Real Madrid game for the second time in a year.

Real went on to win thanks to the efforts of the Magnus Carlsen of football, Cristiano Ronaldo.  

9. Best winning streak

So Giri, not Basman, moved to 5/5 and was joined in a streak of five wins by Nakamura, Caruana, Kramnik, Sadler and Howell. Anand and Adams are in a group of seven grandmasters just half a point behind (full standings here), and Daniel Gormally reminds us that it’s too early to count any chickens:

None of the above win the prize for the best winning streak, though, as that goes to Valentina Gunina, who after losing her first two games at the Russian Women’s Championship has now won her last six in a row. In Saturday’s Round 8 she outplayed Natalia Pogonina in a long manoeuvring game, although it wasn’t enough to break clear of Alisa Galliamova, who also won to share the lead going into the final round. As fate would have it they also meet in Sunday’s final round, with Alisa getting the white pieces. That game starts two hours earlier than usual at 11:00 CET, and if they draw they’ll face each other again in tiebreaks.

Can Valentina Gunina avoid the Curse of Caruana when she plays for a potential 7th win in a row on Sunday? | photo: Eteri Kublashvili, Russian Chess Federation

There are no streaks of any kind in the men’s event, and it’s frankly hard to summon up too much enthusiasm for the tournament as a spectator. Igor Lysyj (the Bald) is still half a point ahead before the final round, but his heroic days seem to be over. He lost in Round 7 but still retained a reduced lead since all the other games were drawn. In Round 8 he took a draw by repetition in an unclear position against Ian Nepomniachtchi, but once again no-one was able to catch him. He now has the black pieces against Boris Grachev in the final round, and must have excellent chances of overall victory. With Sergey Karjakin and Peter Svidler bottom of the table and the likes of Vladimir Kramnik and Alexander Grischuk elsewhere, though, this Russian Championship isn’t going to be looked back on as a classic.

10. Most painful defeat

This has to be Li Chao’s "snatching defeat from the claws of victory" game against Alexei Shirov from the Chess Bundesliga.

Over to the man who deserted Baden-Baden in their hour of need, Jan Gustafsson:

That just about rounds up all the day’s chess action, but before we end, one final award:

11. Best disguise of the day

David Howell didn’t get to 5/5 just on the basis of his chess. I think you’ll agree he’s essentially unrecognisable when he goes from...

Maybe he picked it up from Clark Kent.

So all that remains to say is… don’t miss Sunday’s chess action!

See also:

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