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  • Round 3 Report: 6 December 2015, John Saunders

    7TH LONDON CHESS CLASSIC (4-13 DECEMBER 2015)

    CLASSIC ROUND 3: 6 DECEMBER 2015

    John Saunders reports:

    At the start of every round at the

    London Classic we always have at

    least one special guest on stage to

    make the first move for one or more

    of the super-GMs. Sometimes its a

    sponsor or a celebrity but more often

    than not it is one of the many

    children learning to play the game

    courtesy of the Chess in Schools and

    Communities charity. Children make

    great honorary movers because you

    can never be quite sure what they are

    going to do! Today was a delightful

    example as Anum Sheikh, the self-

    confident little girl deputed to make

    Vishy Anands first move against

    Magnus Carlsen, not only plonked

    down the right move, 1.e4, but also helpfully pressed the 15th world champions clock for him. Never seen that done

    before: the CSC clearly teach them well. A lovely moment which dispelled the tension and was greeted with smiles

    all round. It obviously influenced the other players too, as that was the opening move chosen in all five games. Anum

    Sheikh is a smart girl: shell go far.

    Round 3 featured just one decisive game, as Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France defeated Veselin Topalov, who has

    thus lost the only two decisive games of the tournament so far. Scores: 1-2 Giri, Vachier-Lagrave 2/3, 3-9 Adams,

    Aronian, Anand, Carlsen, Caruana, Grischuk, Nakamura 1, 10 Topalov . However, despite unpromising opening

    choices made on all five boards, it was an absorbing round of chess in which there might well have been more

    decisive results had all the chances offered been taken.

    Following our quotations from the Athenian oracle quoted yesterday, we turn today to another favourite amongst

    oracular voices on Twitter. @GingerGM, or Simon Williams, as he's better known, was unimpressed when he logged

    in to follow play in the third round: "I excitedly just tuned into #londonchess had a quick look at the positions, quickly

    turned off - #bloodyberlin". We feel your pain, Simon. There were no fewer than three Berlins, plus another Ruy

    Lopez without 3...Nf6 and a Sicilian. He later added the comment: "In some ways I am happy that I am not a world-

    class chess player. Can keep playing interesting openings, without ever learning the Berlin [smiley face]." Yes, it did

    look a bit dull to start with but it soon got very interesting.

    There was another bit of onstage

    amusement before battle started.

    Mickey Adams came on stage to find

    his name card placed alongside the

    black pieces for his coming battle

    against Levon Aronian. You can

    imagine the English number ones

    bemusement, particularly as he had

    already had Black in rounds one and two! Was there perhaps some bizarre

    Grand Chess Tour rule that the wild card was assigned Black in every game? No the board/table had been set up

  • Round 3 Report: 6 December 2015, John Saunders

    incorrectly. Oops. The tournament director did his Lord Sugar impression, pointing a dismissive finger at a rueful

    Chief Arbiter, and after this bit of comic by-play Mickey was put in charge of the white bits. That said, he didnt look

    to be entirely in command of them in the early stages of the game, but he weathered the storm. OK, it wasnt exactly

    Storm Desmond blowing from the Armenian side of the board (a reference to the weather system thats been

    battering the northerly parts of our country these past few days), more of a brisk breeze. But Levon did seem to have

    much the more active position for a while. Mickey, however, is a cool head in a crisis and the white bishop's nagging

    pressure against the a6-pawn made it hard for Black to exploit his positional edge.

    Vachier-Lagrave - Topalov was not a Berlin (hurrah!) but a

    line of the Sicilian, which my software of choice (Hiarcs

    Chess Explorer) dubs the Adams Attack (an ironic

    soubriquet, that, given Mickeys grovellish position on the

    adjacent board). White's opening didn't look particularly

    incisive, but a long series of exchanges in the early

    middlegame brought about a position where material was

    level and White had a passed pawn on the queenside, with a

    queen and rook each. Surprisingly the passed pawn itself

    didn't prove to be the decisive factor so much as Vachier-

    Lagrave's deft manoeuvre to occupy the b-file with his

    queen and rook. Suddenly, from nowhere, the game was

    over. Topalov looked in poor form in this game, making a number of questionable decisions from move 21 onwards.

    Lets hope he finds his best form soon as hes such an entertaining player when hes at the top of his game. Kudos,

    though, to Vachier-Lagrave, whose sudden switch of focus, from lumping the a-pawn downfield to threatening mate

    via open file, rank and diagonal, was highly impressive.

    Round 3

    M. Vachier-Lagrave - V. Topalov

    1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.h3 e5 7.Nde2 h5 To prevent Whites

    intended g2-g4, instead of which he is obliged to move the g-pawn one square only. 8.g3 Nbd7 9.Bg2 b5 10.Nd5 Nxd5 11.Qxd5 Rb8 Julian Hodgson, in the VIP room, suggested 11...Qc7, with the point that 12.Qxa8 loses to 12...Nb6. The general consensus, however, was that Topalov

    was sufficiently tactically astute not to fall for a two-move combo. 11...Nb6 is a decent alternative,

    after which White has nothing special. 12.Be3 Be7 13.Qd2 Nf6 14.0-0 Various personages in the

    VIP room wanted to look at 14.0-0-0!? but GM John Nunn felt this was highly dubious. 14...0-0 15.Kh2 Bb7 16.Nc3 Rc8 17.a4 b4 18.Nd5 Nxd5 19.exd5 a5 20.Qe2 Bg5 Not necessarily wrong but 20...Qd7!? 21.Qxh5 f5! is an interesting alternative, e.g. 22.Qe2 e4 23.Rfd1 Bf6 24.Bd4 Bxd4

    25.Rxd4 Qe7 and Black should have no difficulty in regaining the pawn given Whites various weaknesses. 20...h4 was another feasible option, when Black is doing fine. 21.Bxg5 Qxg5 22.h4 (diagram) 22...Qf6?! This looks an illogical choice of square. Sooner or later Black is going to want to play 22...Qe7 anyway, to help defend the queenside and maybe think about ...f7-f5, so he should play it immediately.

    23.Qb5 Had Blacks queen retreated to e7 on the previous move, Black could now have played ...Rc5 to shoo the white queen away. 23...Qe7 24.Qxa5 Rxc2 25.Rac1 Instructive: White prefers to challenge the c2 rook, rather than play 25.Qxb4 and allow

    Black to strengthen his grip on the c-file with 25...Qc7, after which he would have good prospects of regaining the sacrificed pawn. Hell hath no fury like Topalov with more active pieces. 25...Rxb2 26.Rb1 Ra2 27.Qxb4 Ba6 28.Qb3 Bxf1 Dubious. Exchanging off

    the bishops costs Black a useful potential blockader of the a-pawn and defender of an entry square on b7. 28...Rd2 29.Qxa2 Bxg2

    30.Kxg2 Ra8? Topalov goes on the defensive, but soon than was necessary: 30...e4! immediately offers counter-chances, maybe exchanging a pair of pawns on e3 and opening up the white king to a few checks. 31.a5 e4 32.Rb3 f5 Black would like to start

    some counterplay with 32...Qe5, forcing White to defend the d-pawn but, unfortunately for him, it

    doesnt achieve its objective. Simply 33.a6! when 33...Qxd5?? loses to the crude cheapo 34.Rb8+ - which would not have been the case had the black rook still been on f8. 33.Qd2 (diagram) 33...Qc7? Another poor move from Black who has failed to spot Whites coming threat. Instead 33...Qf7! achieves the dual purpose of tying a white piece to the defence of the d5-pawn and staying in the vicinity of the g7-pawn to stop snap mating threats. Which the move played signally

    fails to do... 34.Qb2! A wonderful wrong-footing move from the Frenchman. He cheerfully abandons

    what had previously seemed like the all-important passed pawn on a5 in order to exploit the geometry of the position. Suddenly the only thing that matters is the triangle formed by the lines b2-b7, b7-g7 and b2-g7. More simply, the threat is Rb7 followed by Qxg7 mate. What to do? 34...Rxa5? Topalov fails the test. Instead, 34...Qxa5! 35.Rb7 Qa1 (Only move) 36.Rxg7+ Kf8

    37.Qxa1 Rxa1 38.Rg5 is Blacks only chance, though White still has pretty good winning chances.

  • Round 3 Report: 6 December 2015, John Saunders

    35.Rb7 Ra2 36.Qb5! Rxf2+ A forlorn attempt at perpetual. Instead 36...Qc1 37.Qe8+ Kh7 38.Qxh5+ Qh6 39.Qxf5+ Qg6 40.Qe6

    should be good enough to win. 37.Kxf2 Qc2+ 38.Qe2 1-0

    The all-American clash between

    Caruana and Nakamura started

    with a Berlin, proceeding into a

    theoretical sideline as early as

    move 6. Nakamuras queenside

    play starting with 15...b4 was

    dubious and he found himself

    obliged to surrender a pawn a few

    moves later, though Caruanas

    isolated d-pawn and backward b2-

    pawn were by way of

    compensation. Caruana may have

    been considered to be winning for

    much of the middlegame, and

    remained a pawn up to the end,

    but never looked like converting as

    his pawns remained weak and

    couldnt be usefully advanced.

    Grischuk - Giri meandered down a main line of the Berlin until

    Grischuk went into a long think over his 20th move. He revealed later

    that he was already familiar with some of the resultant endgame(!)

    positions but needed time to recall some of the side variations. In the

    end he took 1 hour 3 minutes before coming back to life and pushing

    20.f4. The software was so confused by the delay

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