Caruana vs. Draws at the London Classic

After 5 rounds at the London Classic, more than half the tournament, only one person has been able to win any games: Fabiano Caruana.

After 19 straight draws between the participants, in round 4, Caruana won the first decisive game with black against Sergey Karjakin in a sharp Sicilian.

In round 5, Caruana again produced the only decisive result, defeating the 15th World Champion, Vishwanathan Anand.

This gives Caruana a full point lead over the field—with 7 players tied for 2nd-8th place at an even score.

Caruana’s victories have propelled him to #2 in the world, currently reaching 2807.9.

Almost victories

While there have been many, many draws (92% of games so far), it’s not because there have been a lack of exciting games and close calls.

One such game was the topsy-turvy game between Levon Aronian and Sergey Karjakin. Karjakin aggressively advanced his kingside pawns while Aronian sacrificed a pawn (and offers a second) to generate activity. In time trouble, Aronian made a mistake, and, in the final position, Karjakin overlooked his winning chances and accepted a draw offer.

In round 5, Magnus Carlsen fought hard for over 5 hours against Wesley So, gaining an advantage and trying in his usual style to convert it into a victory, but So defended accurately.

“It was tough. You gotta fight for every half-point these days. He was pushing hard, trying his best.”

-Wesley So

In an attempt for exciting games, Hikaru Nakamura has tried the hyper-aggressive Sicilian Dragon in both of his rounds with black. The games were sharp, especially his battle against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, but ultimately ended peacefully.


Why so many draws?

Even with a 92% draw rate, this isn’t anything new for super-GM chess. In fact, for the London Classic 2017 to take over the world record for the most draws, every single remaining game would have to end in a split point.

The current record holder for the highest percentage of draws in a tournament is the 1999 Petrosian Memorial, where 42 games out of 45 were drawn, 93.3%. In that event, half the players drew every single one of their 9 games.

Here are a few of the players’ thoughts on the high frequency of draws and possible solutions.

“At the end of the year, before the Candidates’, you see slightly more cautious play. Players are not going all out as they normally would.”

-Fabiano Caruana


“There is nothing wrong about a draw, but offering a draw should be taken out of the game.”

-Levon Aronian


“I think we should keep classic chess, but we should maybe play more tournaments with a knockout system where one has to win at some point. It’s much more interesting to watch, like the World Cup.”

-Sergey Karjakin

The drawmaster himself, Anish Giri (who isn’t playing in the event), even joked about the draw percentage on Twitter, to which Caruana replied with a suggestion to rename the tournament.

Personally, I think we will see more decisive results in the second half. It’s unlikely that the players of this caliber and will to win, especially Carlsen, will let Caruana run away with the tournament without making a fight of it.

Pairings – Round 6

Tune in for Round 6 and watch live commentary by Yasser Seirawan, Jennifer Shahade, Maurice Ashley, and Cristian Chirila on Friday, December 8, starting at 10 a.m. CST. For more information on the London Classic, visit the Official Website.


Vanessa West is a regular writer and digital assistant for US Chess News. She won the 2017 Chess Journalist of the Year award.

You can follow her on Twitter: @Vanessa__West



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