2016 London Chess Classic (Round #4)

2016 London Chess Classic
1 Caruana, F
Aronian, L
2 Kramnik, V
Vachier-Lagrave, M
3 Topalov, V
Nakamura, H
4 Anand, V
Adams, M
5 Giri, A
So, W
Official Site

Round #4: Monday, 12 December 2016
Is this it for Topalov?

Different day… same sh… stuff. Not really. Today’s round had four draws and one win by Hikaru Nakamura and more unorthodox openings, so that the same. Anish Giri tried the London System perhaps an inside joke in honoring the moment. Everyone was in on it, even his opponent…

He ended with the same result as Carlsen’s “Trumpowsky Attack” but not before Wesley So tried to deliver a knockout blow with 12…f4!? It seemed as if Giri was busted, but he calmly gave back the pawn and consolidated. So bishops were much better and he ended up winning a pawn, but didn’t capitalize on his opportunities.

While the games have been hard fought and inspiring, one player wanted to inspire with his attire. He became the focus of a trivia question by Press Officer Fiona Steil-Antoni. Who is this man?

After many guesses, it turns out that it was not Anish Giri, nor a Michael Jackson impersonator, but…

Levon Aronian!!

The effervescent Aronian definitely made a fashion statement!
Photo by Lennart Ootes

As Spike Lee said to Michael Jordan, “It’s gotta be the shoes!” I’m sure Lev wishes his shoes would’ve brought as much flair as his outfit. Caruana-Aronian was an anti-Berlin where black spent a tempo to place his bishop on c5 to the surprise of many commentators. Thus, it appears that elite players today are breaking traditional rules to gain a psychological edge and to sidestep prepared lines. We’ve seen castled kings with no pawn cover, strange pawn thrusts, rooks lifts and spent tempi. We have entered a new era.

Nevertheless, the tense battle that ensued was a fairly equal affair with an interesting feature that only one pair of pawns had been exchanged before black captured another pawn with 29….Qxe3 allowing a three-fold repetition. Anand-Adams was another Guioco Piano Where the five-time World Champion got nothing special. Adams, who had a rough start with two losses held his second game and seems to be steadying himself… or a least increasing in confidence.

After 21.d5! and 22.dxc6 white seemed to be on top after the ensuing complications.

In Kramnik-MVL, a Grunfeld saw the sharp 7…e5!? as theory continues to take new turns. There was some fireworks in the middlegames with 13…f5!? 14.Nc5 c6 15.Bb2 Qd6 16.e3.Nxc4!? but black did not equalize… not just yet. White increased his advantage with the powerful 21.d5! as black’s pieces were flat-footed on the first rank. It appears after white’s 22.dxc6! he is clearly better. There was a frantic exchange of pieces and when the smoke cleared, white was a pawn up with a superior bishop over the knight. However 28.Kf1 may have allowed black adequate counterplay and MVL scrambled for the half-point.

The decisive game of the day was Hikaru Nakamura coming off a win over a former world champion, faced another in Veselin Topalov. This game had an interesting sidenote with the retrograde opening of 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5!? which ventures into a type of French without the c8-bishop being hemmed in. Immediately, the game became un-French like with violent skirmish in the opening.

Topalov watching the new powers in chess pass him by. Photo by Lennart Ootes

Topalov went in for a speculative queen sacrifice after 17.Nxe7 Rb8 18.Nxf5 Rxb5 19.Nxg7+ Ke7 20.cxb5. White had three pieces for the queen, but was unable to coordinate them due to the far-reaching tentacles of the black queen. If one puts this game into a database and play the moves from move 22 forward, notice that the black queen roams the entire board hunting down and devouring white material.

In the end, the queen had devastated the white army and after 53…Rc6 was ready to deliver mate. This game would make a good drama tragedy! Tragedy indeed. This is what describes Topalov’s performance thus far. He has now dropped to #19 on the live rating after being over 2800 in last year’s London Classic. The question may be swirling, “Is this it for Topalov?” Is he readying for retirement from professional chess? Certainly appears so.

Round Highlights

Video by GM Daniel King

Full Broadcast (Round #4) 5:33:19

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


  1. GM Fabiano is shaking up his management squad in preparation for a solemn run for the WC title in 2018. I certainly hope that he gets the opportunity, but GM Wesley So (former Webster U student) could also be an actual candidate. He’s slowly tiptoeing up the ratings chart and he is quietly dangerous and have nerves of steel. Watch out for him!

    1. Certainly!

      Both has the right attitude, but I would say Caruana has a very strong chance. I’m interested in seeing how Wesley handled the rarified air. It’s pretty thin up there and one can get altitude sickness. We have seen so many top ten players tumble after rising quickly.

  2. Objectively speaking, we can say for certain that the US definitely has two good prospect, no disrespect to Naka. Of course he is always one who can surprise at any moment, but in years past, he failed to live up to expectations. Unfortunately, making it through the candidates is not a given, not even for the Super Elite. Yet, I am confident that we may get to see an American take up Magnus in 2018; if that happens, hopefully it will be played in Westchester NY.

    1. We’d be kidding ourselves if we thought Hikaru is not a strong candidate to compete for the World Championship, just having made 29 years old. He has as much a chance as any of the top ten if you understand how top level chess works.

      Notice… no one was singing Wesley So’s praises this time last year after an abysmal showing in the Sinquefield, but now everyone is picking him to be a world beater now. Top chess evolves in cycles and one player is hot one year (So) while another player tumbles (MVL). The next year it is a different set of players with different fates. Not sure what your impression of Hikaru’s championship expectations were. In fact, they were never overly-positive, according to fans. I remember when people were saying he’d never make 2600 because he was only a bullet player. Then they said he was too arrogant for not being an elite player. Then they said he would never make 2700. They said he would never beat a top ten player… win an elite tournament… be a top ten player (accomplished in 2011). Then they said he would not make 2800 (accomplished in 2015). Then people would say he can’t beat Carlsen. When he beat him, they said he can’t beat him in a match. People keep moving the line for Hikaru and he is never good enough. Some have visions of a brash teen and hold onto those ideas to spite him. Others believe he will compete for the title, but expectations are not high. That’s the sentiment I gather from the chess scuttlebutt.

      Yes, there is always the head-to-head record with Carlsen, but people don’t realize that match play is very different from tournament play. Sergey Karjakin proved this and held Carlsen in classical. In fact, Nakamura has proved it. He played Karjakin in a classical match years ago. About 80-90% of people picked Karjakin to win (because Hikaru was apparently only good at blitz) and Hikaru crushed him by +3.

      Objectively, Hikaru has only had one legitimate chance to qualify for the WCC since becoming an elite player and he barely missed in the last Candidates match. The previous cycle he skipped a tournament to qualify thinking he’d get in by rating.

      I addressed some of these issues about Hikaru’s readiness in an article I wrote years back…

      Is Nakamura the ‘Real Deal’?

  3. Daaim,
    I completely agree with everything you‘ve claimed on the general feeling out there about Hikaru, but I for one always had reasonable expectation that he would someday become the World Champion and I still do. I have stated, that he has the capability to amaze at any given moment, but up to now, it appears that something, and it’s not talent, is precluding him from getting to the ultimate bout. He is the one player that I believe who could absolutely upset Magnus in a long match and drag him into a brawl. However, so far it’s been Anand and Karjakan who have risen to the hope. But, there’s plenty of time, as we are reminded that he is only 29! In the interim, there’s nothing wrong in acknowledging the chances of other elite players like Wesley and Fabiano. And in doing so, we take absolutely nothing away from Hikaru’s possibilities.

    1. We also have to realize how difficult it is to play for a world championship. Some of the strongest players in history never played in one. Vassily Ivanchuk who many would concur is a chess genius has only played in the FIDE Knockout final against Ponomariov. However, ut he is likely one of the strongest never to compete for the official title.

      Players like Morozevich and Grischuk may never get a chance either and both were considered top world contenders not long ago. I believe one of the three (Caruana, Nakamura and So) will one day play for the title, but it is possible the all or none will get their chance to wear the crown.

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