2015 London Chess Classic (Round #7)

Round #7: Friday, 11 December 2015

Fabiano Caruana ½-½ Anish Giri
Viswanathan Anand 0-1 M Vachier-Lagrave
Michael Adams ½-½ Alexander Grischuk
Levon Aronian 1-0 Veselin Topalov
Magnus Carlsen 1-0 Hikaru Nakamura

The world’s top ten is packed with only 20 Elo points between the 2-10 positions. Magnus Carlsen was still on top despite losing a boatload of points since reaching 2889 last year. He was on tap for a huge matchup today against his nemesis Hikaru Nakamura. Certainly this was an anticipated matchup.

No matter the record, these two are intense rivals… and it shows.
Photo by Amruta Mokal.

What would Carlsen play? Would we see yet another Berlin Defense? A King’s Indian? Would we see 1.Nf3? The World Champion essayed 1.d4 and the game went into a Queen’s Gambit follow a little-tested path. Carlsen 16.d5! was the right idea to open up the position for his two bishops, a theme that would serve him well later on.

An epic endgame ensues. Will the bishops reign supreme over the tricky knights?

Nakamura’s 22…Bxc3 even gave Carlsen two bishops versus two knights with an objectively better structure… or was it? Soon black was finding difficulty in employing his knights and the bishops exerted tremendous pressure on the queenside. However, would Carlsen have enough? He has made a career out of playing out “drawn” ending only to goad his opponent into making unforced errors. Alas… that’s chess… a war of wills.

The black knights trotted about the board looking to stifle the bishops. Maurice Ashley made an interesting point about the minor piece duel. Essentially bishops can determine when trades occur moreso than knights. After trading the rooks with 37.Rxd7 Nxd7 we entered an era where a masterpiece was painted.

At first glance, It appears that black can hold this position, but white’s active king played a major role. After walking up the board with 38.Kg3, 43.Kf4, 44.Kg5, Carlsen weakened the black kingside with 46.h4, 52.h5 and 53.h6. Carlsen was very patient in probing the weakness, but hatch an ingenious plan. the bishops immobilized the knights, but Nakamura’s 62…f6? further weakened the defense.

A brilliant stroke after 67.Kxf6!! Nxf4 68.Ke5 Nfe2 and black’s knights are locked out of their own house!

As the black knights flailed away, Carlsen uncorked 67.Kxf6!! sacrificing one of his prized bishops. After 67…Nxf4 68.Ke5 Nfe2, both of black’s knights were simply banished in exile!
In a very unique situation, the knights became clumsy behind a barrier trying to track down two streaking passed pawns. It turns out that Nakamura missed 71…Kg6! while battling severe zeitnot. Carlsen would not allow another chance. Instead Nakamura played 71.Kf8? and after 72.Ke4! (threatening Kd3!) the knights had to scramble to stop the pawns.

Unbelievable.

Black tried to sacrifice a piece to stop one of the passed pawns with the king blockading the other. However, in the end black was in total zugzwang. Heartbreaking loss for Nakamura who now is winless against 12 losses against Carlsen. You would think that eventually Nakamura would find a breakthrough. When this does happen, it will be interesting to see how Carlsen reacts. Here was Nakamura’s take on the game.

Video by CCSCSL.

In another thrilling encounter, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave played a brilliant attacking game against Viswanathan Anand to move into sole first place. The game was another Najdorf Variation, but this time we’d see the positional 6.Be2 variation championed by Anatoly Karpov in the 70s.

The move 10.Qd3 has been seen as a modern way of playing this line. It was played recently by Carlsen in his white loss against Alexander Grischuk. After 10…0-0 Carlsen played 11.0-0 and lost a tough game. Anand decided not to repeat this discussion and opted for 11.c4!? MVL had certainly done homework and punched out with 11…b5!

Nice finish by the Frenchman. There is no saving grace for Anand who did not receive a good birthday present today.

MVL continued to play actively with 19…f5! and soon Anand was trying to untangle his mass of pieces. While black has good play, all three results were possible. That would be until white was forced to sacrifice the queen for a rook and knight. The material was practically equal, but black had a passed pawn while holding many threats on the kingside. After 32.Ne6 it appears white wins more material, but black hit with 32…Bxh2+ 33.Kh1 Rxf2! Thud.

Devastating loss for Anand who has had a disappointing tournament. Certainly the flooding disaster in Chennai must be heavy on this mind despite him mentioning the safety of his family. Those close to the situation say that flooding plains reach six feet in some areas and is a national disaster. Health pandemics are quite possible in a country where the infrastructure is already quite shaky. Prayers go to India and to Indian chess community.

Topalov was throttled by Aronian. When it rains, it pours. Photo by Amruta Mokal (CheBase India).

Topalov was throttled by Aronian. When it rains, it pours.
Photo by Amruta Mokal (ChessBase India).

The other decisive game was between Armenia’s Levon Aronian and Bulgaria’s Veselin Topalov. This main line symmetical English that ended up with a sharp skirmish with 9.b4!? After 9…cxb4 10.Nd5. It is not clear what black expected to get from this position, but was totally overrun after the suicidal 18…g5? Black’s pieces were cut off of its king’s defense by the strong white center and in the final position white has a bevy of threats. No mas!

With the tournament clearly a lost cause, Fabiano Caruana trotted out the “Trompowsky Attack” against tournament Anish Giri. This opening is sometimes seen for shock value and can often catch black off guard. “Fabi” was hoping to hold onto his pawn long enough to gain time and lead in development. No dice. Giri was able to win the pawn back and go toe-to-toe in the middlegame which fizzled into a draw. Caruana weighs in on his “Tromp”.

Video by CCSCSL.

Adams-Grischuk saw a Najdorf with the 6.g3 variation. The Russian chose a Dragon setup, but the game quickly liquidated into an equal position. Not the most ambitious way to play for white, but with seven draws, Mickey Adams is holding his own and is on 50%.

Games of Round #7

Standings after Round #7

1st: Vachier-Lagrave, 4.5
2nd-5th: Carlsen, Giri, Grischuk, Aronian, 4.0
6th-8th: Caruana, Nakamura, Adams, 3.5
9th: Anand, 2.5, 10th: Topalov, 1.5

Games (Round #7): https://www.thechessdrum.net/palview7/london15-7.pgn

Video by CCSCSL.

Official Site: https://www.grandchesstour.com (live games)
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Drum Coverage: https://www.thechessdrum.net/blog/2015/11/29/2015-london-chess-classic-london-england/

Daaim Shabazz

Daaim Shabazz is the founder of The Chess Drum, while serving as a tenured faculty member of Global Business & Marketing at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA. He holds a B.S. Computer Science from Chicago State University, an MBA in Marketing and a Ph.D. in International Affairs & Development, both from Clark Atlanta University. He has served the journalist community for more than 30 years and still competes in tournaments occasionally.

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