News release
Tuesday 15th December 2009



For many years now there has been a unique and rather touching tradition that the people of Norway make an annual Christmas gift to Britain of a 20-metre high Norwegian spruce tree, which is put up in Trafalgar Square and festooned with Christmas decorations. This year the Norwegian tree was sent to London as usual and can be seen in all its glory in the famous square, but Norway also thoughtfully sent another present – not as tall but every bit as impressive to anyone who appreciates top-quality chess. 19-year-old Magnus Carlsen came, saw and conquered at the London Chess Classic and, in the process, launched himself to the top of the official world chess ratings. Nobody has ever achieved this at a younger age.

So, “Magnus venit, vidit, vicit” (I knew all that school Latin would come in handy one day)… but, before we get too carried away with all this hyperbole, we must give credit to his last-round opponent, Nigel Short, who gave him a terrific run for his money and provided excellent entertainment for the chess fans at the Olympia Conference Centre.

Let’s take things chronologically. The first game to finish was Nakamura-Kramnik, in which both players made strenuous efforts to win. Ex-world champion Vladimir Kramnik, needing a win to give himself a realistic chance of the first prize, gave up a rook for a bishop and pawns, and some threats against White’s king but the American stood firm and the players eventually repeated the position for a draw. Both players will be slightly disappointed with their final results in London but they both deserve great credit for their part in making the tournament a roaring success and entertaining the audience in the commentary room.

Three-time Chinese champion Ni Hua played the Ruy Lopez opening against England’s top-rated teenager David Howell. The young man from Seaford in Sussex played an excellent game. First he made an energetic pawn sacrifice to block up Ni Hua’s bishop in the corner of the board and then attacked the weakened white defences in the centre. Ni Hua used too much time at the critical juncture and made some mistakes as his time ebbed away. David Howell made no mistake and launched a lethal counter-attack. As the lowest-rated player in the field as well as the least experienced, David’s final score of one win, six draws and no losses, and third place after the two megastars, was a superb achievement. Asked afterwards where this result ranked in his chess career, David had no hesitation in pronouncing it his best ever.

Ni Hua – David Howell
Ruy Lopez C84

1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Ba4 Nf6 5 d3

Not seen very often and probably designed to dodge the more thoroughly analysed lines.

5…b5 6 Bb3 Be7 7 0–0 0–0 8 a4 Bb7 9 Nc3 b4 10 Nd5 Na5 11 Ba2 Nxd5 12 exd5

12 Bxd5 avoids some of the problems that accrue after the text.

This sacrifice of a pawn is designed to make a mess of White’s pawn structure and also hem the bishop in on a2.

13 cxb3 Bxd5 14 Nxe5 Rb8 15 Nc4 Nc6 16 Bd2

Theory in the much-analysed Ruy Lopez goes deep into the game and can be quite antique. Here the moves 16 d4 f5 17 Ne3 Bf7 18 Nxf5 Bf6 19 Be3 Kh8 20 Rc1 , etc, were played in the game Leonhardt-Duras, Gothenburg 1909 – that’s exactly 100 years ago.

16…Be6 17 Rc1 Re8 18 Re1 Bc5

White is still a pawn up but the extra pawn is worth less to him than the powerful dark-square grip is to Black.

19 Ne3 Ba7 20 Bc3 Nd4

White had threatened to play d3-d4 so Black quickly slams the door on that possible escape for the entombed a2 bishop.

21 Qh5 h6 22 Nc4 Qg5 23 Qxg5 hxg5 24 Nd2 Bf5

25 Bxd4?

Faced with the attack on his d3 pawn, White should probably just play 25 Ne4 when his position looks uncomfortable but playable. As played the two bishops become too powerful and the d3 pawn remains under attack.

25…Bxd4 26 Ne4 Bxb2 27 Rb1 Ba3 28 f3?

28 Nxg5 Bxd3 29 Rbd1 Bc2 30 Rxe8+ Rxe8 31 Rf1 d5 leaves White with a number of positional problems to solve but the text, played in time trouble, was worse still.

28…d5! 29 g4

29 Nf2 Bb4 30 Rxe8+ Rxe8 31 Kf1 c5 32 Rd1 a5 33 Bb1 leaves White very tied up.

29…dxe4 30 gxf5 exd3 31 Rxe8+

The point is that a move such as 31 Red1? runs into 31…Re2 when the a2 bishop is lost.

31…Rxe8 32 Rd1 Re2 33 Bb1 d2 34 Bc2

34 Kf1 Rxh2 wins in easy stages.

34…Bc5+ 35 Kh1

35 Kf1 Rxh2 is hopeless.

35…a5 36 Rf1 Kf8 37 Bd1 Re1 38 Kg2 Ke7 39 Bc2 Kf6 40 h3 Ke5 0–1

All roads lead to zugzwang. David Howell exploited his opponents weaknesses with great skill. This game was later adjudged the best played in the round, though there was no monetary prize for this in the last round.

England’s Michael Adams too had an excellent last round, making the same final score as David Howell and remaining unbeaten. His game against Luke McShane started as a classic Adams squeeze: he applied gradual pressure to the weak spots in his opponent’s position, to the point where Luke could barely move. But Luke then demonstrated why he is such a dangerous fighter. His ingenious attempts to wriggle out of trouble brought about an exceedingly complicated position, but Adams somehow defused all the counterplay and won. This will be great fillip to Adams and should help to narrow the rating gap between him and England’s number one, Nigel Short. For McShane, there was tangible consolation in the shape of the tournament brilliancy prize of 10,000 euros, given for his win against Hikaru Nakamura in round five.

Michael Adams – Luke McShane

Ruy Lopez C95

1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Ba4 Nf6 5 0–0 Be7 6 Re1 b5 7 Bb3 d6 8 c3 0–0 9 h3 Nb8 10 d4 Nbd7 11 Nbd2 Bb7 12 Bc2 Re8 13 Nf1 Bf8 14 Ng3 c6 15 a4 Qc7 16 Be3 Rad8 17 Qc1 h6 18 b3 Qb8 19 Rb1 Qc8 20 Qb2

You are probably wondering why no comments have appeared until now. Because it has all been played before (as both players were aware) by Michael Adams against Alexander Morozevich in Lugo in 2007. That game continued with 20 b4 Qc7 21 Nd2 d5 22 dxe5 Nxe5 23 Bd4 Ned7 24 exd5 Nxd5 and they then agreed a draw – not an option for the players in London, of course.

20…Qc7 21 Rbd1 Bc8 22 c4 bxc4 23 bxc4 exd4 24 Bxd4

The Ruy Lopez is sometimes referred to as the “Spanish Torture”. Despite his mild-mannered appearance, Michael Adams is one of the most skilled torturers in the business. He is in his element in this sort of position, gradually creeping forward to exploit barely perceptible weakness in the enemy camp.


Black creates another weakness (on d5). An alternative may be 24…Re6 but it is getting uncomfortable for Black.

25 Bc3 Bb7 26 Nf5 Re6

26…Bxe4? 27 Bxe4 Rxe4 28 Rxe4 Nxe4 29 Bxg7 would be disastrous.

27 Nd2 Rde8 28 f3 Nh5 29 Nf1 Ne5 30 N1e3 Rg6 31 Kh1 Nf4 32 Qc1 Qc8 33 Ng4


Luke McShane feels he has to make a game of it. He could play 33…Nh5 but one imagine the ‘creeping barrage’ would continue slowly with 34 a5 followed by weaving the web tighter with the knights on the kingside.

34 Kxg2

You may find your computer suggests 34 Rg1!? which could be very good, but the super-GM prefers to keep the amount of calculation required within bounds; he doesn’t want any nasty surprises.

34…h5 35 Kf2 Nxf3!?

What was I saying about avoiding complications? Sometimes, however hard you try to keep things under control, the position gets messy anyway. Of course, when forced to play tactically, as here, Michael Adams is well up to the task.

36 Nfh6+!

The point was that 36 Kxf3? is answered by 36…Qxf5+ 37 Qf4 hxg4+ 38 hxg4 Qe6 . But Adams answers fire with fire.


36…gxh6 37 Nf6+ Rxf6 38 Bxf6 is another variation which is hard to evaluate.

37 Kxf3 f5

37…hxg4+ 38 Nxg4 f5 39 Ne3 leaves White’s king very exposed but Black only has a pawn for the sacrificed piece and it may not be enough.

38 Kg3!

Stepping into the line of the g6 rook’s fire looks very risky but Michael has subjected the position to some concrete analysis and worked out that he can survive.

38…fxg4 39 e5!

This opens up the b1–h7 diagonal and pins the rook with deadly effect.

39…h4+!? 40 Kxh4!

Luke gambles on some hesitation from Michael (but is not rewarded). If White retreats with, for example, 40 Kh2?? he is lost: 40…g3+ 41 Kg1 Qxh3 and Black wins.


41 Kg3

You may find your computer suggests 41 Kh5!? but it could be quite hard for a human to figure out what is happening after, say, 41…Qe6 42 exd6 Bf3 (although a computer can find a couple of good moves easily enough). Instead, Michael plays something more readily calculable.


41…gxh6 42 Qb1 Reg8 43 Rxd6! Bxd6 44 exd6 and now the threat of 45 Re7+ is very powerful.

42 Rf1 gxh6 43 Qb1 h5 44 Bxg6+ Kh6 45 Bxh5 Rg8

45…Kxh5 46 Qh7+ Kg5 47 h4 is mate.

46 Bd2+ 1–0

46…Bg5 47 Rf6+ mates very soon.

That just left Magnus Carlsen’s crucial game against Nigel Short. It lasted around five and a half hours and was a game of considerable fluctuations. Once Kramnik had agreed a draw, Carlsen only needed a draw to secure the first prize. However, the tournament rules precluded the agreeing of a draw in a position with life in it, so the two players got on with the job of playing the game through to its logical conclusion. After a fairly equal opening, Nigel Short made a mistake around move 25, and Carlsen seemed to be on the verge of victory. As with many sports stars on the brink of victory (e.g. a tennis player needing to serve out for a grand slam title or a golfer needing a straightforward putt for an open championship), nerves played their part. Magnus sometimes plays chess like a machine but he is human like the rest of us.

The game swung in favour of Short as they reached a queen and pawns endgames where Nigel had checkmating threats and even the chance of having two queens operating together on the board. It was an enthralling finish for the spectators but Carlsen recovered his equanimity and picked his way through a minefield of tricks laid for him by the former world title challenger. At the end of the game, just the two kings were left on the board – and there can be no better proof of a game fought to the bitter end.

Nigel Short – Magnus Carlsen
Sicilian Dragon B76

1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 g6

Magnus goes for the Sicilian Dragon, virtually guaranteeing the spectators an entertaining game. One imagines that his coach, Garry Kasparov, would have had some say in this opening choice.

6 Be3 Bg7 7 f3 Nc6 8 Qd2 0–0 9 0–0–0 d5 10 Kb1 Nxd4 11 e5 Nf5 12 exf6 exf6 13 Bc5

Nigel can recapture the pawn more or less when he wants and the priority is to preserve the e3 bishop.


Looks very daring but the players are still following established theory.

14 Bxf8 Qxf8 15 Nb5 Ne3 16 Rc1

16 Re1 has been played before in an obscure game and should have continued 16…f5 17 Nxd4 f4 when Black’s powerful knight on e3 and potential pressure against the c2 pawn would have given him some compensation for the exchange sacrifice.

16…Bh6 17 Qxd4

Giving back the exchange is not quite forced but probably best.

17…Nf5 18 Qc3 Bxc1 19 Kxc1 Bd7 20 Bd3 Rc8 21 Qd2

21 Qxf6 Qh6+ 22 Kb1 Bxb5 23 Bxb5 Qd2 is probably about equal.

21…Bxb5 22 Bxb5 Qc5 23 Bd3 Ne3 24 Re1 Re8

25 Qf2

After the game, Nigel berated himself for this move, though computers seem to think better of it. The position is fairly balanced.

25…f5 26 f4?!

Maybe this is some kind of concession. Fritz advocates 26 Be4!? fxe4 27 Qxe3 Qxe3+ 28 Rxe3 f5 29 fxe4 fxe4 30 Kd2 as being a little better for White.

26…Qd4 27 g3 Re6 28 Qd2 Ng4 29 h3?!

White’s position becomes difficult after this. One neat path to a draw found by Fritz is 29 Rxe6 fxe6 30 h3 Nf2 (after 30…Nf6 White has 31 Be2!? Qg1+ 32 Qd1 Qxg3 33 Qd8+ , also with perpetual check) 31 Bc4!? Qxc4 32 Qd8+ and it is drawn by perpetual check.

29…Rxe1+ 30 Qxe1 Nf2 31 Bf1 Ne4 32 Bg2 b6

White is now forced on the defensive.

33 c3 Qd3 34 g4 Ng3 35 b3

Not 35 Qe8+?? which loses after 35…Kg7 36 Qe5+ Kh6 37 g5+ Kh5 38 b4 Ne2+ 39 Kb2 Qd2+ 40 Ka3 Nxf4, etc.

35…Ne2+ 36 Kb2 Kf8 37 Bc6 fxg4

Around here, the commentators looked at 37…g5!? with a view to forcing a passed f-pawn. They were working without benefit of a computer engine. Fritz gives 38 fxg5 f4 39 a4 a6 40 Bd5!? b5 41 axb5 axb5 42 Bg2 f3 43 Bf1 Kg7 and Black certainly looks to have some chances.

38 hxg4 h5 39 gxh5 gxh5 40 a4 a6

Black cannot allow the killing Bb5.

41 f5!

This maintains the balance. Though he stays tied to the defence of his c3 pawn, White will have a few threats of his own once this pawn comes to f6.


41…f6 has some merit but White can play 42 Bb7 and it is not entirely clear if White can make progress.

42 Bg2 Ng3 43 f6 Qd6

43…Qe2+!? 44 Qxe2 Nxe2 looks quite promising for Black, but White may be able to hold.

44 Qf2 Kg8 45 b4 a5 46 bxa5 bxa5 47 Kc2 Kh7 48 c4 Qa3! At this stage Black is in the ascendant and White has a difficult defensive task.

49 Be4+ Kg8

49…Nxe4? would be very bad: 50 Qxh4+ Kg6 51 Qxe4+ Kxf6 and only White could win.

50 Qf4 Qxa4+ 51 Kd2 Nxe4+ 52 Qxe4 Qa2+ 53 Kc3 Qa1+ 54 Kb3


What is wrong with 54…Qxf6 , you ask? The answer is “nothing”. Nigel was amazed that Magnus didn’t play this move, after which Black could well be winning.

55 Kb2 Qh5?!

Magnus is suffering a momentary wobble. 55…Qd2+ is the safe way to bale out for a draw (which by now was all Magnus needed to secure a tournament victory).

56 c5!

Suddenly things are not so clear. Nigel only has two pawns to Magnus’ three, but the English duo are a couple of stops nearer their destination than the Norwegian trio, and the f6 pawn provides the white queen with some mating possibilities.

56…h3 57 c6 a4 58 Ka2!

Nigel was rightly pleased with this quiet little move, which sets Magnus a horribly difficult puzzle to solve with only a few seconds left on his clock. Black to play and find the only move to draw, secure a famous tournament victory and go to number one in the world rankings. Imagine the pressure – would Magnus do it?


Online commentator Daniel King was one of the many who were staggered by the young man’s ability to find this crucial move as his time ebbed away.

59 Qe8+ Kh7 60 Qxf7+ Kh6

The time control. Now the players had 15 minutes each, with 30–second increments. Perhaps I am too fanciful for my own good, but it struck me that the pawn race was a sort of chessboard re-enactment of the 1911 race to the South Pole between the great English hero Captain Scott and the legendary Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen.

61 c7

At the moment the English horses seem to have the better of the Norwegian husky on h3.

61…Qc2+ 62 Ka3 h2! 63 Qg7+ Kh5 64 Qh8+ Kg6 65 Qg8+ Kxf6 66 c8Q Qxc8 67 Qxc8 h1Q 68 Qa6+ Ke5 69 Qb5+ Qd5 70 Kxa4 Qxb5+ 71 Kxb5

So “Scott-Amundsen: The Rematch” ends in a draw. A goodly share of the credit for some fighting chess goes to “Short of the Antarctic” but Carlsen wins the tournament and claims the right to plant the Norwegian flag. A fitting conclusion to an historic tournament in London.

The single point gained from this draw was enough to put Magnus Carlsen just ahead of ex-world champion Vladimir Kramnik and clinched a momentous tournament victory. As a result of his result in London, Carlsen will become the first teenage chessplayer in history to occupy first place in the official world rankings (to be published on 1 January 2010).

Final scores (after applying tie breaks):

1st Carlsen 13/21
2nd Kramnik 12
3rd Howell 9
4th Adams 9
5th McShane 7
6th Ni Hua 6
7th Nakamura 6
8th Short 5


That is not quite the end of the story. At the gala prizegiving, held at Simpsons in the Strand in the evening, where the trophy and winner’s cheque for 25,000 euros were presented to the tournament winner, and the 10,000 euros prize for the tournament’s brilliancy prize awarded to Luke McShane for his round five win against Hikaru Nakamura, tournament director Malcolm Pein announced that there would be another London tournament (dates not yet fixed) in 2010 and also that it was the intention to hold a world chess championship match in London in 2012. Watch this space…

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