While the first day’s play was all about the big guys beating up the little guys and included a mass of entertaining moments (see our bumper Day One report), on Day 2 it got serious fast, since there were only five rounds in which to stake a claim for the £8,000 first prize.
The game of the round was clearly Anish Giri vs. Vladimir Kramnik, an early opportunity for the young Dutchman to exact revenge for the brutal loss he suffered at the ex-World Champion’s hands in the Qatar Masters. Would he manage? Well, it’s perhaps worth once more quoting Giri’s tweet after Day 1:
Kramnik is most certainly a solid guy, but this wasn’t one
of his most solid efforts!
You have the impression this might have worked against Kramnik’s Day 1 opponents, but Giri switched on the modern super-elite GM’s engine mode and followed the computer’s best or near best selections for the next dozen moves. Kramnik never had a chance.
In the same round Hikaru Nakamura conceded what turned out to be his only draw of the whole tournament, to Matthew Sadler. We say conceded, but actually it was another great escape for the American. The game had a picturesque beginning:
But it went downhill fast for the American no. 1, who
eventually found himself two pawns down for absolutely no compensation. Once
again, though, he simply began to blitz out good moves until his opponent
eventually went astray.
The blunder of the round was by Simon Williams, who had been pressing for a win against Luke McShane until his king took a fatal misstep:
42…Rf1+ picked up the f5-bishop.
Caruana and Giri were the only players who remained on maximum points, so they were paired in Round 7. Giri repeated the line he’d used to provoke Kramnik and while Caruana took a much more sober approach the computer at least felt White was better in the final position where the players repeated moves. One grandmaster felt it was a worrying sign:
Perhaps, though, it was simply that Giri feared the Curse of
Caruana! Both he and Kramnik had lost when they tried to emulate Caruana’s
seven-win streak from St. Louis at the recent Qatar Masters. Giri had won his
last six in London, so he may have felt a draw was already a success.
Hikaru Nakamura of course won, though he was given a helping hand by Michael Adams. The English no. 1 was 8 minutes 46 seconds late to the board, which is not ideal when you’re Black against a speed demon.
Four players were now on 6.5/7 – Nakamura, Giri, Caruana and McShane, and their games didn’t disappoint. Caruana enhanced his reputation as the world’s best Berlin Wall demolition expert against Luke McShane, but his opponent’s position only finally collapsed when Luke went for a disastrous pawn grab:
The English GM had rightly seen that 35.b3? wouldn’t pick up the bishop after 35…d3!, but simply 35.Ra1 Bd5 36.Rxa7+ Bb7 37.Rxf6 left Black dead and buried.
Nakamura also went for a slow grind against Giri, which brought rich dividends when the black king became stranded in the middle of the board. Nakamura was ruthless to the last. He’d just captured Giri’s rook on g3, but it seemed Black would at least get a knight in return:
But no! 82.Ne4! Kxh3 83.Ng5+ - Nakamura was a rook up and his opponent resigned.
Elsewhere Hawkins-Kramnik was a beautiful game. Hawkin’s fell for a neat trick when he played 16.f4?
16…Rxc4! White can’t take back with 17.Qxc4 due to 17…Qd2! and White will lose a rook trying to defend g2. After that, though, Hawkin’s continued to make Kramnik work extremely hard in a position where Black could also get mated if he wasn’t very careful. It all ended in an exquisite zugzwang after 43…Bb5.
Just try to find a move for White!
This was the round that finally gave us a sole leader, after
Fabiano Caruana cracked in a very tough position against Nakamura:
46.Nxb3? axb3 47.Qe3? b2! 48.Qe1 Rd4 Resigns
There’s simply no sensible way to stop the b-pawn queening. The queen on f5 is already eyeing b1, and Black has the idea of Qf4-c1 in reserve.
…and the endgame
It’s been half-joked that Kramnik’s passed pawns always queen, and that certainly looked on the cards, but he couldn’t quite pull it off against Matthew Sadler and in fact came perilously close to losing. That meant he could no longer challenge for first place. His opponent in the final round would be the young American GM Daniel Naroditsky. He got to 7.5/9 by beating Loek van Wely:
How does White save his piece here? Not 39.Rxc5 Rxc5 40.Rxa3 (to stop mate) 40...Nxg6 as played in the game. There was a path to salvation, though: 39.Rd8+ Kg7 40.Rxc5 Rxc5 41.Bb1! – both stopping mate and saving the bishop. Of course such study-like positions are hard to solve with seconds on your clock!
So suddenly the situation had clarified going into the final round. Hikaru Nakamura led on 8.5/9 and only one person could catch him – unbeaten Vishy Anand on 8/9. It was the situation it seemed we would get in Sochi, with Anand needing to win to take first place and anything else meaning his opponent would triumph. Statistics weren’t on Vishy’s side, though. Magnus Carlsen may be a tough opponent for him, but his record vs. Hikaru Nakamura (including rapid games): 0 wins, 12 draws, 7 losses (!).
What strategy would Nakamura adopt? Well, chess24’s Jan Gustafsson actually predicted the first move, though in a spectacularly misjudged attempt to save face he deleted the tweet when he realised Nakamura only needed a draw:
No, a day later it still doesn't count!
Nakamura ultimately got just what he needed – a position it
was very tough to imagine him losing. Anand seemed caught in two minds as to
what to do: try to unbalance the position to push for first place or accept a
draw that would leave him second. In the end he took the first option with 28…Rh5,
but it was almost instantly obvious that White’s queenside pawns would win the
race and the game.
And that was that!
Nakamura tweeted afterwards:
So Nakamura had repeated his victory in the 2013 London Chess Classic (where the rapid was the main event), but who would finish second?
Of course it was that man Anish Giri, who repeated his Qatar Masters second place by beating Matthew Sadler, while Fabiano Caruana and Vladimir Kramnik came up against rock solid play from Aleksandr Lenderman and Daniel Naroditsky.
The players in the big tie for third included Simon Williams, who played a hugely enjoyable attack against Loek van Wely:
16.Bh7+!, striking against thin air, was perhaps the most aesthetic move of the day. Black soon had to give up his queen to prevent mate on h8.
So the final standings looked as follows:
We've cut it off there so as not to have to show Lawrence Trent among the group on 7.5/10
The best thing? The rapid was only the entrée for the chess feast ahead. Tonight things heat up again with a 10-round blitz tournament featuring only the Super Six of Caruana, Anand, Giri, Nakamura, Kramnik and Adams. You can of course watch it live here on chess24!
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