2016 London Chess Classic (Round #2)

2016 London Chess Classic
1 Kramnik, V
RUS
½-½
Aronian, L
ARM
2 Topalov, V
BUL
0-1
Caruana, F
USA
3 Anand, V
IND
1-0
Vachier-Lagrave, M
FRA
4 Giri, A
NED
½-½
Nakamura, H
USA
5 So, W
USA
1-0
Adams, M
ENG
Official Site

Round #2: Saturday, 10 December 2016
Boards blaze! Wesley So sizzles; Caruana swindles

After the World Championship match, the gap closed between Magnus Carlsen and the rest of the world. Only 14 points separate the World Champion from #2 and Wesley So seems to be gaining. After winning the Sinquefield Cup, two Olympiad medals and now winning his first two games at the London Classic, So eclipses 2800 for the first time at 2803.2. It seems only a short time ago that 2700 was the level of super-GM status. It was actually 30 years ago when only a few had reached 2700. Now the #45 player is 2700 and only three are over 2800.

Ironically So’s win over Michael Adams was his second in as many games and he did it from the slimmest advantages. So used the Catalan, which in the hand of his colleague Vladimir Kramnik, has been a killing machine. Adams attempted the interesting maneuver of 11…Ra6 tried first in an amateur game in 1991 and then by Peruvian Julio Granda Zuniga against Valery Salov six years later. After 13.Qc2 Adams deviated from 13…Bxf3 in Ruck-Moor (2005) with 13…h6.

In a critical line, after 18.Bxc6, Alejandro Ramirez pointed out three lines… 18…exd4, 18…Rxc6, 18…Bxc3. Adams went for the first option and got a playable position. However, he ceded the two bishops after So played 19.Bf3. So’s bishop pair was superior as the vice slowly tightened. Despite not being in time trouble, Adams blundered with 37…Nc7?? which loses material. In fact, after 38.f5! Qg5?? 39.Be5! forces Adams to donate a piece since Bf4 and e5 wins the queen or cedes mate. In the post-game interview, he Englishman was noticeably rattled after a second blunder in as many games.

While So-Adams made history, most exciting game of the round was undoubtedly Anand-MVL. This Najdorf Sicilian entered full hand-to-hand combat within the first ten moves after white’s provocative 9.g4. Of course this has all been seen many times and Anand’s preparation is legendary. In the other corner stood MVL, a noted Najdorf Expert who would be a credible foil. The game got tense in the middlegame after black sacrificed a pawn for fluidity in piece play.

Anand’s 24.Rxd5 was a bold try
in a critical position.

Anand kept a grip on the position with his pawn armada on the kingside and a strong bunker on the queenside sheltering the king. The move 19.Qf2! put an end to black’s violent incursion and MVL tried regrouping. In the meantime, Anand got a killer bishop on e5 and pieces melted off the board with 21…a4 22.bxa4 Bxc3 23.Bxc3 Nxd5 (diagram) 24.Rxd5! sacking the exchange for another pawn after 24…Rxd5 25.Bxe4. With two pawns for the exchange it appeared to be dynamic equality, but then black made a misjudgement by trading queens and a pair of rooks. The bishops controlled the knight and rook and the game ended on a well-known motif with 33.Bxb7! Indian fans were justifiably excited. Anand got an early birthday present.

Another “cracker” of a game was Topalov-Caruana. The Bulgarian made his intentions known early on with 13.Rh3 after 7.h4.

Caruana missed a star move in this position after 30.Re1. Can you spot it?

So… a French with white essaying a crude attacking formation encouraged Caruana to castle queenside and played the characteristic jab of 15…f6! Now white would try to raid the kingside after 17.Rg3 Be8 18.Nh4 Bd6 19.Rg7. The board exploded after 19…e5 and it would be clear that someone’s king would fall in this game. It appeared to be the American’s. White is completely winning after 25…Nd3 26.Bxd3 exd3 27.Re1. Caruana missed 27…d2! while still losing, confuses the issue.

There was a beautiful line pointed out after 27…Bc5 28.Re6 29.Qg5 Bd4 (better is 29…Bxa3! 30.bxa3 Qb5!) 30.Re1?? (diagram) Caruana played 30…Bxc3 missing 30…Rxg7!! On 31.Rxg7 Rh8!-+ wins and on 31.Bxd4 Bxg5 32.Bxb6+ Kxb6 black is much better. Topalov was still better until 35.Nd2?? dxc3, but missed 36.Nc4 Re8!! which wins on the spot. Tough ending for Topalov who has blundered two games in a row.

The two non-decisive games were tense with Aronian-Kramnik getting a wild position after 20.e5 Bxg2 21.exf6 Qb7 but the game petered out rather quickly. In Giri-Nakamura, the Dutch player bore in to the weak d6-square for the entire game, but there was clearly not much to play for in the position and a draw was the normal result.

Round Highlights

Video by GM Daniel King

Full Broadcast (Round #2) 4:47:29

Official Site: https://www.grandchesstour.com (live games)
Live Coverage: https://live.londonchessclassic.com/grand-chess-tour-2016.php
Drum Coverage: https://www.thechessdrum.net/blog/2016/12/09/2016-london-chess-classic-london-england/

Daaim Shabazz

Dr. Daaim Shabazz is the creator and webmaster of The Chess Drum. He serves as a tenured faculty member of Global Business & Marketing at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA. He holds an MBA in Marketing and a doctorate in International Affairs & Development. He has served the journalist community for more than 30 years and still competes in tournaments occasionally.

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