The elite GMs came back to the London Chess Classic with a real bang yesterday after their rest day on Wednesday. There was a real buzz of excitement around the venue as Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura contested a game that will live long in the memory. Credit Nakamura with going for it as he opted for a Sicilian Defence when he needed to win with the Black pieces to keep alive his hopes of winning the event and the Grand Chess Tour. Caruana also ‘brought it’ and the pair duked it out in a mind-bogglingly complicated Najdorf variation that must have had the spectators and the commentators alike in raptures. Caruana sacrificed his queen and crashed through to give check mate. If you haven’t seen it yet then the video below with Daniel King talking you through it is well worth a watch.
If only I’d been there to watch it too! I actually finished my own game some time after all the elite games had finished and so had to catch up on the exciting news from Peter Mason who had won his game somewhat earlier and was able to fill me in on the details. Peter and I also enjoyed making the acquaintance of Shaun Press (Rupert Jones’ Papua New Guinea team Captain at recent Chess Olympiads) and his son Harry who are over from Australia for a chess holiday and will be playing in the Hastings and Gibraltar Opens whilst they are here as well as spending some time in Yorkshire – Rupert might even persuade them to play a match or two whilst they are with us. Anyway, both Shaun and Harry have been playing in the same section as Peter and made it to 2.5/4 yesterday. We wish them well and success on their holidays!
As for me, I always intended to withdraw after four rounds as I didn’t want to spend a fifth night in London after I’d finished work there today. It was a shame to be leaving but I had a great time and managed to win my fourth round game to get back to 50%. That was a relief. My final game was possibly the least interesting of the four but did have some bright points notably an interesting combination that starts with 26…d3. In fact it transpires 26…Rxf2+ was the best way to proceed. This was one of those instances where I’d seen all the ideas but couldn’t quite get the sequencing worked out. In the end I only ended up with an extra pawn in a rook, knight and pawns ending. That should have been enough for my opponent to draw the game but he’d spent so long trying to figure out how to respond on move 27 that he’d very little time left to reach time control and took a huge risk in forcing the exchange of rooks when still a pawn down. The resultant knight and pawn ending seemed winning but of course it wasn’t straight forward and I’m pretty sure I didn’t always play accurately. Still, I found a way to force the win in the end which was a relief.
All in all I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Classic this week and would heartily recommend it to anyone who fancies some serious competition in one of the tournaments, or a real treat as a spectator watching the elite GMs in action.
I hope readers enjoyed this week’s blog and found some of the games entertaining. I certainly enjoyed playing them, even the defeats, and will at least come away from the event with a FIDE rating I guess.
Wednesday at the Chess Classic was a rest day for the elite Grand Masters and, as a result, the venue felt quieter and a little bit flat. Never the less there was still plenty of chess to be played. Those heroic souls taking part in the Open don’t get a rest day although they too started on Friday and continue until Sunday. It’s a really punishing schedule. No surprises then that it’s one of the younger contingent who leads that competition at present. Aravindh Chithambaram of India has 6.5/7 having beaten the experienced (and higher rated) Israeli GM Ilya Smirin yesterday. He is hotly pursued by Etienne Bacrot of France and Hrant Melkumyan of Armenia. Bacrot will challenging the leader in today’s eight round draw.
The British Knockout Championship also has an exacting schedule with the quarter finals and semifinals having taken place on Friday and Saturday. The two finalists (Nigel Short and David Howell) then play a match of 6 games at a classical time limit. They played the fourth in that series yesterday and, after three draws, Nigel Short broke through to win the fourth game. David now has two games to strike back and he has White today so you can be sure that I’ll be keeping an eye on that one when I have time to leave my board.
As for me, having lost my first two games, game three pitted me against a lower rated player (although he had a higher rating than the junior I played on Tuesday) also on zero. As you’ll see from the game below, he played the opening in a rather strange fashion and I was able to build up an overwhelming position, sacrifice a rook and force his king to take a walk that ended in mate on h4. I’ll have Black today against a Nigerian player with a similar rating. It would be nice to get to 50% in the tournament as I am unable to play the final round on Friday and will be withdrawing after my game this evening.
I realised yesterday that I forgot to mention that Pete Mason won his round 2 game in fine positional style rounded off with a mating attack. That earned him a game yesterday against the top seed in the section. Unfortunately this did not end in success for Pete so he has now rejoined me on 1 point and we’ll enjoy playing alongside each other today again.
Tomorrow I’ll give my final impressions of the Classic and will publish today’s game.
Well, I was right to be worried! My young opponent proved to be extremely capable and tenacious. Unfortunately I started the game very well, developed a winning attack and then fumbled it completely. My opponent returned the favour but over a period of time as he slowly frittered away his own huge advantage before finally leaving the door open for me to equalise and even force a draw… and then I walked into a knight fork!
More of this in a moment. Before that it’s worth reflecting on the theme of my day at the classic yesterday which was ‘Chess VIP spotting’ and the things I should have said to them, but didn’t. Of course with a Super GM tournament and a stellar line up in the Open event taking place in the same venue as the amateur event it’s highly probable that you are going to see some well-known chess players and pundits – even if you don’t go into the VIP room.
As I walked up Kensington High Street to the venue yesterday I saw Rustam Kazimdzhanov. Most people would have just passed him in the street without knowing that he’s a former World Chess Champion (well, that’s if you class the FIDE Knock Outs as genuine world championships as they were named when Rustam won one in 2005). It occured to me that Rustam was not playing in the Open and he certainly wasn’t in the elite event. So why was he in London heading for the Hilton Hotel next to Olympia where many of the players stay during the tournament? Only after I’d walked further up the street did I realise that he must have been a second for someone. I should have asked him who. Not that he’d have said. My guess would be Caruana, or maybe Anand who I think he may have worked with before. Do any of my readers know who Kazimdzhanov works for?
Now into the venu itself and yesterday I arrived in time to get into the auditorium and watch the players in the’Classic’ being introduced by Malcolm Pein. As I found a seat I saw Maurice Ashley sitting on the first row of the upper tier in a flashy blue suit. He’d got all his live broadcast gear on and was carrying a stern demeanor so I didn’t say ‘Hi’. I wanted to ask ‘Maurice, is that the same flashy blue suit that you wear for all your internet broadcasts or do you have lots of them?!
Now to the game. Towards the end of my game I paid a visit to the bathroom. There was just one other person in there. Nigel Short. He’s playing the final of the British Knockout Championship against David Howell in the same room as the amateur tournaments this week. As Nigel was still playing his game and clearly deep in thought I didn’t interrupt him to ask if he’d asked permission to go or been searched by the arbiters!
Finally, as I left the venue to return to my own accommodation I saw Levon Aronian standing outside the Hilton Hotel busy with his smart phone. It didn’t look like he was following the Nakamura vs. Kramnik game (the only one still in play when I left) so I didn’t stop to offer formal apologies on behalf of Danny Gormally on what was pretty much the tenth anniversary of the ‘incident’ in Turin.
So, opportunities wasted to insert some mischief into my day. I might have ended up getting hit myself so probably best I kept my thoughts to myself. Maybe next time I’ll just ask for a selfie! I also missed opportunities at the board. I was determined to make a total mess of the position against my 11-year old opponent yesterday. Just make it weird and see if he could cope. Sure enough, he tried for a mainline variation as we played a Spanish but after 3.Bb5 I opted for the Bird’s variations which I’ve employed occasionally for a while now. I also played 4…h5!? which is Bird’s original (but not necessarily good) idea aimed at preventing Qh5 by White.
I got a messy and highly bizarre position. My opponent went astray when he played c3 and I had a long think trying to figure out how I could capitalise on that move. I was very happy with my resultant play over the next few moves as I built a colossal sacrificial attack on his king. However, he found the most stubborn defensive moves and I could find the killer touch. From there on in it was mostly down hill until I out-calculated him again to win back my missing piece only to bodge it up for the second time. Oh dear!
I’m now the highest rated player on ‘0’ so it’s maybe time to stop ‘having fun’ and make sure I win today’s game even if I have to grind it out. I’ll let you know how I get on tomorrow of course!
I’m working in London this week and have taken the opportunity to play some chess whilst I’m here as the 8th London Chess Classic is currently taking place at Kensington Olympia. I’ll be sharing my games and thoughts on the event as the week progresses.
I have been to the London Chess Classic once before as a spectator in 2014. On that occasion I was lucky enough to be there on the day that Garry Kasparov was doing a book signing and also saw our Yorkshire Chess colleague Matty Webb playing against Grand Master Neil McDonald in the Open event where Matty employed a pet opening variation of mine to draw with his illustrious opponent.
Before I get into talking about my first day as a competitor at the Classic let me first say that my expectations from this event are zero. I’m playing in the Weekday Classic in the Under 2050 section. I already know that I won’t be able to participate in Friday’s final round and so really this is all about having some fun, hopefully testing my skills against some strong players and soaking up the atmosphere. I’m not alone either for, as I arrived (a little late) for my first round, I saw a familiar face controlling the Black pieces on the board above me. It was Pete Mason from the Leeds CCCC and Ilkley Chess clubs. What a nice surprise!
So the first point I have to confess is that I didn’t really get any time yesterday to get a good look round at what was going on. The rounds start at 4.30pm and I’m squeezing in a full day’s work before each one. Yesterday I couldn’t get to the venue before about 4.40pm and so I sat down at the board a little bit late. The game that then followed was so absorbing and intense that I barely got up from my seat again after that and when I’d finished analysing the game for half an hour with my adversary I was pretty much shattered and so beat a retreat to my hotel room.
If you’ve never played in the Classic before then I should tell you that it is not organised like your average weekend congress. First of all, the entry form is online. That may sound obvious but for many weekend congress participants who go to the trouble of filling out a paper form and sending it along with a cheque to the congress organiser it would be considered a luxury. The Classic don’t mess about with their own system. They just use Eventbrite to host their entry form including online payments via Paypal and it works very effectively.
Second of all (and this is a benefit of doing things online) I got a nice email from the organisers on Sunday confirming my entry and reminding me of the start time. They also provided me with a link to the draw for round 1!
That brings me to the third key difference. Because the organisers are using the excellent Swiss-Manager software to administer the pairings and results, all the details of the results and pairings are published on the Chess-Results website. That’s not just for the Open, where the superstars are competing, it is also in place for us nobodies taking part in the weekend and weekday events.
Finally, I must remark about the conditions in the venue. They are perfect. It’s great to be able to take your seat in the same room as the Open competitors. There are plenty of monitors around the place showing the top boards and also the boards from the Classic itself (about which I’ll write something in a post later in the week).
All in all, it’s pretty much the premium experience for all the participants. Malcolm Pein and his team should be congratulated for the level of attention to detail they pay to all aspects of the event. I’ve certainly never taken part in any event that is as slick and efficiently organised.
I’ll share more of my thoughts and experiences over the coming few days but for now, owing to the nature of my game yesterday, all I can really do is tell you a bit about it and publish it for your entertainment.
In round 1 I was paired to play White against Bernd Salewski (2029) from Germany. Seeing this draw on Sunday evening made me quite happy. I was going to be playing against the strongest player I’d ever faced over the board (outside a simul) and I had the White pieces. I immediately resolved to do nothing differently from usual. I’d play my normal opening repertoire and in my usual style and see how I got on.
As it happened Bernd played the French Defence and… yes, you guessed it. We reached a very familiar position after 9.Nf4 in the closed line of the French Tarrasch. By this point I was practically rubbing my hands with glee for my opponent had strayed into the opening line I am most familiar with and I now expected to give him a real test despite the difference in ratings.
By the time we’d reached move 11.fxe6+ he had realised that he was playing against someone who knew the opening variations and was fully prepared to launch into concrete complicated lines with impunity. He paused to think about his own 11th move before playing 11…gxf6!? This is by no means the most critical (and possibly not the best) line but it did succeed in getting me away from the areas of the variation I was most familiar with and so it was a sage decision. Now both of us were on our own and over the next dozen or so moves we both used pretty much all of our 90 minutes on the clock (time control is 90 minutes for all moves plus 30 seconds per move).
I’ve only had the chance to look at the game very briefly with an engine and will certainly be studying it in more detail but my 12th move 12.b3!? is an interesting one and set some interesting questions. The idea of course is to play Ba3+ at some point and inconvenience the Black king further. However, I tried to maintain tension in the position and also stay ahead with my development. As such I let Black occupy d4 and e5 with his knights and tried to get my army deployed as swiftly as I could for a direct assault on his king.
After the game my opponent praised 15.b4! which he hadn’t seen and caused him some discomfort. There are all kinds of tricks for him to look out for with Nxd5 in the air and various other ideas. He took his time and defended accurately and calmly as you’d expect.
Eventually, as I struggled to land a killer blow, I started to lose my way and Bernd consolidated his position. As my clock started to run down he launched a counter attack and seemed to be winning. But now he was in time trouble too and with 25.Qxg7 I felt I once again had some good chances. 25…Kd7? was a mistake that I might have capitalised on properly if I’d had enough time to fully absorb what was going on but instead I played incorrectly, missed my shot at a huge upset and enabled Black to get the queens off and emerge a rook up.
Finally I ran out of time playing on increments but I was already lost by that stage.
The full game is below. Needless to say I enjoyed it enourmously despite the result and look forward to round 2 laterr today when I will be playing Advait Bagri from Singapore who appears to be an 11 year old candidate master with a rating of only 1647. Alarm bells are sounding! It should be fun…