All or Nothing at the London Classic

"I started out really well, but before today I really couldn't have expected that I would win it. Everything had to go my way." -Fabiano Caruana
Fabiano Caruana was the first victor of the tournament, winning two games in a row while every other player (except the ones he defeated) was still on 50%. Yet, entering the final day, Caruana was a long shot. For Caruana to win the London Classic, 2-3 things had to happen: >>>1) Caruana had to win on demand against GM Mickey Adams >>>2) His tournament rival, Ian Nepomniachtchi, had to draw or lose (with the white pieces) to >>>>>Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. >>>3) If Nepo and MVL drew, Caruana had to defeat Nepo in the rapid/blitz tiebreak. >>>

Round 9: A Must Win Game

Photo: Lennart Ootes
Often, when super-grandmasters face must-win last round situations, it goes awry. Most 2750+ players train to become well-rounded, consistent players with very few weaknesses in their game. They compete in mostly closed events where a win usually isn't as ideal as a loss is detrimental and where a draw is almost always an acceptable backup plan---or, even the goal, if playing Black against a higher ranked player. Each rating point they lose could cost them invitations to prestigious tournaments. Super-GMs don't get many opportunities to play in a win-at-all costs fashion, and, consequently, it can be very hard to adjust when the situation arises. In fact, it was only Vachier-Lagrave's previous tournament that he faced a win-at-all costs game against Dmitry Jakovenko to attempt to qualify for the 2018 Candidates Tournament. MVL lost tragically while fighting for the win. Caruana himself also has not-too-distant memories of a particularly brutal must-win situation. One of the most important must-win games in recent history was Caruana vs.  Sergey Karjakin in the last round of the 2016 Candidates---where a chance to challenge Carlsen for the World Championship as well as around half a million euros in WC match prize money were at stake. Caruana used the sharp Rauzer Sicilian to create an unbalanced and dynamic position with winning chances as black and even gained an advantage in the proceeding middlegame. However, he ultimately blundered in the complex position and lost. Despite this, Caruana showed great resilience at the London Classic---none of his previous setbacks or current obstacles seemed to faze his composure. Caruana attempted to create play in the middlegame, but it backfired, and Adams, who is highly experienced in these types of positions, ended up with the better game. By move 31, Caruana had resorted to repeating moves with his king and was willing to accept a draw, but when Adams decided to play for more, Caruana found a key resource to fight for the win.
[pgn][Event "London Chess Classic"]
[Site "0:01:33-0:11:33"]
[Date "2017.12.11"]
[Round "9"]
[White "Fabiano Caruana"]
[Black "Michael Adams"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A29"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "8/1pp1qpk1/6pp/r2bP3/p2P2P1/P5rP/1PR1P1B1/2Q2RK1 w - - 0 37"]
[PlyCount "63"]
[EventDate "2017.12.01"]37. Rf3 $1 {A very clever defense.} Bxf3 38. exf3 c6 39. Kh2 Rxg2+ 40. Kxg2 {
And Caruana went on to convert his extra pawn.} Rd5 41. Rc4 c5 42. Rxc5 Rxd4
43. Qc3 Qd8 44. Rc8 Qb6 45. Re8 g5 46. Re7 Kg8 47. e6 fxe6 48. Qc2 Kf8 49. Rh7
Qc6 50. Qxc6 bxc6 51. Rxh6 Kf7 52. Kg3 Rd2 53. Rh7+ Kf6 54. Rb7 Ke5 55. h4
gxh4+ 56. Kxh4 Kf4 57. Rf7+ Ke3 58. Kg3 Rd1 59. g5 Rg1+ 60. Kh4 Rg2 61. Rf6 e5
62. g6 Rxb2 63. Kg5 Rg2+ 64. Kh6 Rh2+ 65. Kg7 c5 66. Kf7 c4 67. g7 Rh7 68. Ra6
1-0[/pgn]

 >>>

Nepomniachtchi vs. MVL: A Quick, Mutually Unsatisfying Draw

Photo: Lennart Ootes
Ian Nepomniachtchi and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave drew their game very quickly---in under 20 moves. This was a bit of a surprise because Nepomniachtchi had the white pieces and an extra half point over his closest rival, Caruana. Thus, there was a lot of incentive to fight for a victory, which would've sealed first place without a playoff. MVL also had motivation to play for a win as he was competing against Carlsen for 1st in the Grand Chess Tour. After the game, both players seemed discontent with the result.
"Of course, I'm not very happy with what I did today. I think no one really liked it. But, at some point, it could be a long game and end in a draw anyway, and then, if Fabi wins, at least I'll have some rest for the tiebreak. That's not perhaps the most brilliant strategy, but I didn't have any other." -Ian Nepomniachtchi
[pgn][Event "London Chess Classic"]
[Site "1:36:33-1:32:33"]
[Date "2017.12.11"]
[EventDate "2017.12.01"]
[Round "9"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[White "Ian Nepomniachtchi"]
[Black "Maxime Vachier-Lagrave"]
[ECO "A33"]
[WhiteElo "?"]
[BlackElo "?"]
[PlyCount "38"]1.Nf3 c5 2.c4 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e6 6.Bf4 d5 7.e3
Bb4 8.Be2 Bd7 9.Nb5 e5 10.Bg5 a6 11.a3 axb5 12.axb4 Rxa1
13.Qxa1 dxc4 14.O-O O-O 15.Rd1 Qe7 16.Nd5 Qe6 17.Nc7 Qe7
18.Nd5 Qe6 19.Nc7 Qe7 1/2-1/2[/pgn]
Despite Nepomniachtchi's uninspiring last round draw, closing out 2017 with a tie for 1st at the London Classic, including a victory over the World Champion, was highly impressive---especially since Nepo described his chess year before the tournament as "awful." Prior to the London Classic, Nepo had lost 40 FIDE rating points over the year. "It shows that I can still play decent chess," were the modest words he used to describe his 2900+ performance.
Photo: Lennart Ootes
"I wasn't sure about Ian's intentions in the game because Fabiano can catch him. So, I wasn't sure if he would play with the intention of forcing a draw like what happened in the game. But, then that's the problem with my narrow repertoire. I mean, I could play something to create off balance, but it's not that easy because, let's say I play the King's Indian, after ...e5, there's dxe5, queen exchange, and it's an easy draw. I felt like I should play what I know, and, well, he if forces a draw, then it's bad luck. " -Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
It was particularly tough to watch MVL’s post-tournament interview. Both his expression and words were full of disappointment, not just about not being able to fight for a win and for the Grand Chess Tour victory, but on so narrowly missing out on qualifying for the Candidates just weeks before. Over the last 2 years, MVL has grown into a serious contender as Carlsen’s challenger, breaking 2800 for the first time, reaching 2819 to become the 6th highest rated player of all time, and winning the Sinquefield Cup. In addition, MVL did everything he could to try to qualify for the Candidates through raising his rating, competing in the World Cup, and competing in the Grand Prix. In the final round of the Palma Grand Prix, he went all out for the win because it was his last chance.
"The Frenchman achieved a sizable advantage and was quite possibly winning according to the Russian [Jakovenko] after the game, but nerves failed him and the game went wrong in a big way." -Albert Silver, "FIDE GP in Palma: Jakovenko and Aronian share first!"
I think MVL's overall results and efforts make him deserving of a spot in the Candidates, and it’s unfortunate that his successes didn’t occur at the right events to qualify. https://twitter.com/davidllada/status/934464413893095424 https://twitter.com/PelletierChess/status/934722599078256640
“This one [Grand Chess Tour] was all sorts of lucky, and Maxime deserved it just as much as I did.” -Magnus Carlsen

 >>>

The Playoffs: Caruana vs. Nepomniachtchi

Photo: Lennart Ootes
Rapid Game 1: A Balanced Fight
The first 10-minute rapid game (with a 5 second delay) displayed Caruana's stellar technique. Although he struggled to retain compensation for his middlegame exchange sacrifice, when the players reached the endgame, he steadily outplayed Nepomniachtchi---as if he had no material deficit at all. Watch the game segment below as Caruana clearly improves his pieces and deprives his opponent's pieces of good squares---all with less than 30 seconds left on his clock. In the end, Caruana had the the preferable position, but accepted a draw because he had only 7 seconds left.
[pgn][Event "London Chess Classic (Tiebreaks)"]
[Site "London ENG"]
[Date "2017.12.11"]
[Round "1"]
[White "Ian Nepomniachtchi"]
[Black "Fabiano Caruana"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "A07"]
[WhiteElo "2729"]
[BlackElo "2799"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "8/1ppnb3/2b1k1p1/4p1Pp/p1N4P/P1N1P3/1P3K2/3R4 b - - 0 48"]
[PlyCount "30"]
[EventDate "2017.12.11"]48... b6 49. Nd2 Nc5 50. Ke2 Bb7 51. e4 Ba6+ 52. Kf3 Bd6 53. Nf1 Bc4 54. Ne3
Bb3 55. Rd2 c6 56. Nf1 Ke7 57. Ng3 Ne6 58. Nge2 b5 59. Nd1 Bc5 60. Ne3 Bb6 61.
Nc1 Nd4+ 62. Kg3 Be6 63. Rd3 1/2-1/2[/pgn]
Rapid Game 2: Nepo's Chance
Game 2 was the shortest game and also Nepomniachtchi's best chance to win. On move 20, Caruana miscalculated and used up a substantial amount of time in the process, leaving himself with a loose position and granting Nepo a bishop vs. knight in an open game. However, Caruana was able to stabilize his position, and the players soon agreed to a draw. At that point, Nepo still had some advantage in his position, but he couldn't find a way to make progress.
[pgn][Event "London Chess Classic (Tiebreaks)"]
[Site "London ENG"]
[Date "2017.12.11"]
[Round "2"]
[White "Fabiano Caruana"]
[Black "Ian Nepomniachtchi"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "A07"]
[WhiteElo "2799"]
[BlackElo "2729"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "1r1q1rk1/1b4bp/p2p1np1/1p2p3/1P1pPP2/P1P3PP/3QNBB1/1R3RK1 w - - 0 20"]
[PlyCount "26"]
[EventDate "2017.12.11"]20. cxd4 $2 Nxe4 21. Qd3 Nxf2 22. Rxf2 Qb6 23. Rd1 Kh8 24. Bxb7 Rxb7 25. dxe5
dxe5 26. Qd6 Qa7 27. Rd5 Rbf7 28. Qc5 Qb7 29. Rd1 Rc7 30. Qe3 Rcf7 31. Rdf1 Qc7
32. fxe5 Rxf2 1/2-1/2[/pgn]
Blitz Game 1: Extra Knight = Draw
Despite Nepomniachtchi's knight blunder on the 13th move, Caruana was unable to convert the 3rd game into a victory. Photo: Lennart Ootes
"Fabi must be kicking himself. Winning a piece on move 14 and not being able to win?" -Commentator Maurice Ashley
The 5-minute (plus 3 second delay) blitz segment began very dramatically---Nepomniachtchi blundered a knight on move 13. With a full 3 minutes and 30 seconds left on his clock, one would expect this to be an easy win for Caruana, but Nepo kept fighting and carefully defending. In the time scramble endgame, Caruana missed the win by inches, and Nepo was able to trade off Caruana's final pawn. Can you find the winning idea that Caruana overlooked with 6 seconds on his clock?

Nepomniachtchi vs. Caruana

Black to move.
Show Solution
[pgn][Event "London Chess Classic (Tiebreaks)"]
[Site "London ENG"]
[Date "2017.12.11"]
[Round "3"]
[White "Ian Nepomniachtchi"]
[Black "Fabiano Caruana"]
[Result "?"]
[ECO "A05"]
[WhiteElo "2729"]
[BlackElo "2799"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "8/8/4kp2/2n5/5PPK/8/8/8 b - - 0 64"]
[PlyCount "9"]
[EventDate "2017.12.11"]64... Kd5 (64... Nd3 $2 {is what happened in the game, which led to an
immediate draw:} 65. f5+ Ke5 66. g5 fxg5+ 67. Kxg5 Nf4) 65. f5 Ne4 {Preventing
White's attempt to trade pawns with g5.} 66. Kh5 Ke5 67. Kg6 Kf4 68. Kh5 Kg3 {
and White will lose both of his pawns.} *[/pgn]
Blitz Game 2: Caruana's Revenge
"I think, in blitz, you're so in the zone. You have nothing you can do but think about the game. There's no way to wallow in your suffering. That would be maybe later tonight, Fabiano will kick himself. But, right now, he's zoned in. He's ready to battle." -Commentator Jennifer Shahade
Despite missing the opportunity to win game 3, Caruana seemed unaffected during the final blitz game, and won in clean style, weakening Nepo's kingside and then sacrificing a knight to draw Black's king into the center for a deadly attack.
[pgn][Event "London Chess Classic (Tiebreaks)"]
[Site "London ENG"]
[Date "2017.12.11"]
[Round "4"]
[White "Fabiano Caruana"]
[Black "Ian Nepomniachtchi"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B52"]
[WhiteElo "2799"]
[BlackElo "2729"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "1r3bk1/4pp2/2n3p1/1qNpPn1p/3P4/1P2BN1P/2Q2PP1/1R4K1 w - - 0 35"]
[PlyCount "63"]
[EventDate "2017.12.11"]35. e6 $1 Bg7 36. exf7+ Kxf7 37. Nd7 $1 {"A star move!" -Commentator Yasser
Seirawan} Ncxd4 38. Nde5+ Bxe5 39. Nxe5+ Ke6 40. Bxd4 Nxd4 41. Qxg6+ $1 Kxe5
42. Re1+ Ne2+ {At this point, both players had only about 30 seconds left on
the clock.} 43. Kf1 Kd4 44. Rxe2 e5 45. Qg3 e4 46. Qe3+ Ke5 47. Kg1 {Caruana's
time: 11 seconds.} Qxb3 48. Qg5+ Ke6 49. Qg6+ Kd7 50. Rd2 h4 51. Qf5+ Kc6 52.
Qf6+ Kc5 53. Qd4+ Kc6 54. Qf6+ Kc5 55. Qxh4 Rb7 56. Qd8 Rb6 57. Qc7+ Rc6 58.
Qa5+ Kd6 59. Qd8+ Kc5 60. h4 e3 {Despite having only 8 seconds left, the quality of Caruana's final moves is superb.} 61. Qe7+ Kb5
62. Qb7+ Rb6 63. Rxd5+ Kc4 64. Qf7 exf2+ 65. Kxf2 Qb2+ 66. Rd2+ 1-0[/pgn]
"The players were so calm throughout that storm. They were just playing their moves, taking pawns, pawn after pawn. Take the pawn on h4. Then, go hunt the king. It was an amazing experience to watch these players." -Commentator Cristian Chirila
Photo: Lennart Ootes
This win ended the playoff and sealed Fabiano Caruana's first ever victory at the London Classic. In addition, he gained 12 rating points from the event, making him the clear #2 in the world, just 22 points away from Carlsen. Currently, in live ratings, Carlsen and Caruana are the only players in the world over 2800. >>>

Magnus Carlsen: 2nd Grand Chess Tour Victory

The 2017 Grand Chess Tour Champion, Magnus Carlsen. Photo: Lennart Ootes
Although Carlsen struggled to play his best throughout the tournament, he showed a high amount of fighting spirit in difficult positions. This paid off, especially when he managed to save a piece down ending against Hikaru Nakamura. In the final round, Carlsen needed only a draw to clinch the GCT Championship. After a mistake by Aronian, Carlsen even managed to win, finishing his tough event on a positive note.
"I didn't have any energy at this point or at any point during the tournament. You don't really get nervous because I know I cannot play anyway, so there's nothing to be nervous about. I was trying to hang on. I was very happy when I got to sacrifice these two pawns because at least I had stabilized the position, and I had something to play for. ...Then, he decided not to take the draw when he should've, and that was my good fortune in this game." -Magnus Carlsen
[pgn][Event "London Chess Classic"]
[Site "London ENG"]
[Date "2017.12.11"]
[Round "9"]
[White "Levon Aronian"]
[Black "Magnus Carlsen"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "A40"]
[WhiteElo "2805"]
[BlackElo "2837"]
[PlyCount "106"]
[EventDate "2017.11.29"]1. d4 e6 2. Nf3 c5 3. g3 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Qb6 5. Bg2 Bc5 6. e3 d5 7. Qg4 Bf8 8. O-O
Nf6 9. Qe2 e5 10. Qb5+ Bd7 11. Qxb6 axb6 12. Nb3 Nc6 13. Bd2 Bd6 14. Nc3 Ne7
15. a4 O-O 16. Nb5 Bxb5 17. axb5 Rac8 18. Bc3 h5 19. Rfd1 Rfd8 20. Nd2 h4 21.
Nf3 hxg3 22. hxg3 e4 23. Ng5 Ng6 24. Ra7 Rb8 25. Bd4 Bc5 26. Bxc5 bxc5 27. c4
Ne7 28. cxd5 Nc8 29. Ra4 Nb6 30. Ra3 Nc4 31. Rc3 Nd6 32. Rxc5 Ra8 33. Bh3 Re8
34. Rc7 Kf8 35. b6 Re5 36. Ne6+ fxe6 37. dxe6 Nfe8 38. Rd7 Raa5 39. b4 Rad5 40.
Ra1 Rb5 41. Ra8 Rxb6 42. Bg4 Rd5 43. Kg2 Rxb4 44. Ra1 Rbb5 45. Be2 Rb2 46. Bg4
Rdd2 47. Kh3 Rxf2 48. Kh4 Rh2+ 49. Bh3 g5+ 50. Kh5 Rxh3+ 51. Kg6 Rf2 52. e7+
Kg8 53. Rxd6 Rh7 0-1[/pgn]
For more information on the London Classic, visit the Official Website.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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  

Comments

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Good article

Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Plain Text Comments

Share Your Feedback

We recently completed a website update. If you notice a formatting error on this page, please click here.