News release
Sunday 4th December 2011


John Saunders reports:

Fewer Interesting Games, Please – I Can’t Cope

With two rounds played, it is time to talk about the scores. Here are the unofficial scores, straight from the arbiters, Albert Vasse and David Sedgwick:

No Name Score/game Tie break Rating TPR

1 Kramnik Vladimir 4.0/2 Black win 2800 2921
2 Carlsen Magnus 4.0/2 White win 2826 2845
Nakamura Hikaru 4.0/2 White win 2758 2994
4 Adams Michael 2.0/2 2734 2722
McShane Luke J 2.0/2 2671 2814
6 Anand Viswanathan 1.0/1 2811 2734
7 Aronian Levon 1.0/2 2802 2522
Howell David W L 1.0/2 2633 2587
9 Short Nigel D 0.0/1 2698 2065

We are using 3-1-0 scoring, in case you were wondering why players seem to have scored more points than those available to them (4.0/2 means 4 points out of 2 games played).

One other complication is that players have played different numbers of games, so the players having the bye at an early stage can appear further down the scoreboard than those who will have the bye later. I had a think about this anomaly some time ago and came up with a simple relatively scoring system based on the familiar ‘below/above par’ system used to show relative scores during a golf tournament. We already talk in terms of plus and minus scores in chess so it is very familiar. Here it is, in a nutshell: players get +2 for a win, 1 for a loss, draws don’t count. It works exactly the same as the 3-1-0 scoring system but caters for the imbalanced number of games played in order to produce a more meaningful ongoing leader board, showing who is plus and minus and by how much.

Under this unofficial relative scoring system, the leader board is currently: 1 Kramnik +2 (on tie-break), 2-3 Carlsen, Nakamura +2, 4-6 Adams, Anand, McShane 0, 7-9 Aronian, Howell, Short 1. The only difference from the official leader board is to show the bye players doing a bit better: Anand bracketed with Adams and McShane, and Short level with Aronian and Howell instead last on his own (which seems a bit unfair). An alternative way to achieve the same effect would be to use the 3-1-0 scoring system as now but award the player receiving the bye one point.

When I arrived at the venue today, there was a frantic three-minute blitz game on a giant set going on in the foyer between (I think) Stephen Gordon and Lawrence Trent, refereed and commented on by Malcolm Pein. I say “I think” because it was hard to see who was playing through the hordes of spectators thronging the area. Don’t forget to mention this to anyone who tries to tell you that chess is not a spectator sport. The place was packed out all day today and yesterday. You could also mention the levels of physical stamina and dexterity required to shift all those giant chess pieces in double quick time. Mind you, Messrs Gordon and Trent might have regretted this later after their energy-sapping seven-hour session at the microphone.

As for the tournament proper: I’m not sure what happened in the time between the Tal Memorial (where there were only 10 decisive games out of 45) and the London Classic, but the top players are looking hungry for points again. In fact, I am going to submit a formal complaint to the players today – the games are far too interesting and I can’t cope. They should be rationed to only one interesting game per round as it is not fair to chess journalists.

A rather more significant downside of having an early bye became apparent in Nigel Short’s game against Vladimir Kramnik. Having had to sit out round one, play an exhibition game against Boris Becker and supplement the commentary team, he joined the tournament a day later than his opponent and perhaps was not ‘warmed up’. He opted for a line of the Four Knights’ Defence which the watching GMs characterised as ‘notoriously drawn’. But it didn’t turn out that way. A couple of wrong turns and Nigel Short found himself in a dreadful fix, with one of his bishops entombed in a corner and with no prospect of stemming an eventual invasion of his position.

Round 2

N.Short – V.Kramnik
Four Knights’ Defence

1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 Nf6 4 Nc3
An instant transposition from the Berlin Defence to the Four Knights’ Game.

4…Nd4 5 Nxd4

A solid line, suggesting that Nigel Short is setting out his stall out for safety first in his opening game. The database is littered with GM draws after this move.

5…exd4 6 e5 dxc3 7 exf6 Qxf6
7…cxd2+ is a little risky, e.g. 8 Bxd2 Qxf6 9 0–0 and White is galloping ahead in development with open lines to exploit.

8 dxc3 Bc5 9 Qe2+ Qe6 10 0–0 0–0 11 Qf3 d6 12 Bg5 Qf5!?
“If Kramnik allows this then it probably isn’t very good for you.” (Anand)
13 Be7 Short allows himself to be tempted. In some ways this is highly commendable, as it shows that he was not just playing for a draw, but with the benefit of hindsight it turns out to be rash.

13…Qxf3 14 gxf3 a6 15 Ba4
The snag with 15 Bxf8 is that Black has 15…axb5 16 Be7 f6 and the white bishop’s path back to safety has been cut off. 15 b4 may be better.

15…b5 16 b4
After 16 Bxf8 bxa4 17 Be7 f6 18 Rfe1 Bb7 19 Kg2 Kf7 20 Re2 Re8 21 Rae1, White’s pieces are tied up in the defence of the bishop and Black can probe with his two bishops.

16…Re8 17 Rfe1 Bb6 18 Bb3 Bb7
Now White must be regret allowing the breaking up of his kingside pawn structure. However, with his next two moves, White finds that he is suffering an even worse positional problem on the queenside.

19 Kg2 d5
“I was actually very surprised by that. And then I thought, I’ve just lost.” (Short)

20 Re5 c6
Both light-squared bishops are hemmed in behind pawns but, whereas the black one has an escape route via c8, the white bishop has no way out – ever. Nigel Short admitted that resignation crossed his mind at this point since he is effectively a piece down.

21 Rae1 Bc7 22 R5e2 Bc8 23 a4 Bd7 24 Bh4 Rxe2 25 Rxe2 Re8 26 Rxe8+ Bxe8 27 Bg3 Bd8 28 Be5 f6 29 Bb8 Bg6 30 axb5 axb5 31 Kf1 Kf7 32 Ke2 Ke6 33 Ke3 Bb6+ 34 Ke2 Bh5 35 Ba2 g5 36 Bb3 f5 37 Ba2 f4 38 Bb3 Kf5 39 Bd6 g4 40 Kf1 g3 41 fxg3 fxg3 42 Bxg3 Bxf3 43 Ba2 Be3 0–1

Most of us would want to see a few more moves before resigning but at the elite level it is the right time to surrender. For Vlad Kramnik it brought the first positive result after his winless run in Moscow, and also the position at the head of the table by virtue of it being a win with Black.

Howell-Adams was a Ruy Lopez, anti-Marshall variation, in which Black gives up a pawn for long-term pressure. Mickey Adams duly obtained some good play for his pawn, having disarranged David Howell’s kingside pawns, blockaded his pawn advantage and created a passed a-pawn, but it proved not to be enough to win the game. It was a very interesting game but has been crowded out by two even more exciting encounters.

The other two games saw fierce, fluctuating battles involving the joint winners of the Tal Memorial tournament. In Moscow they proceeded to +2 scores to share first place without losing games, but in London they came under fierce pressure. One of them succumbed and the other… well… how did he escape?

In Nakamura-Aronian, it seemed for much of the game that the American grandmaster could be in trouble. The game became complicated just out of the opening, with Aronian giving up the exchange for two pawns and gaining some sort of advantage. But it was a far from stable advantage, and before long the time used up by the Armenian GM in trying to prove his superiority became a more important factor. Nakamura first blockaded the extra pawns, eventually reduced the pawn deficit to one and, in the flurry of moves leading up to the time control, surrounded Aronian’s remaining passed pawn. The exchange down, and with his pawn configuration weakened on both sides of the board, Aronian quickly succumbed to defeat. But it was a brave defeat and accepted with his customary good grace. Perhaps he tried a little too hard to win.

For Nakamura, after a miserable run in Moscow, it marked a new beginning and he was clearly much encouraged by his excellent performance. He tweeted after the game: “The single most important thing in life is to believe in yourself regardless of what everyone else says.” Like Kramnik, his win came after a disappointing result in Moscow. Things could be very different here in London.

Or they could be the same. Magnus Carlsen’s game looked incredibly grim against Luke McShane but somehow the world number one clung on and drew. Last year in the same round the same two players met and Luke won. So, with his draw, Magnus is doing better than last year, when he finished first anyway – a good omen for the Norwegian.

McShane played the Ruy Lopez and they entered a fashionable line where Black gives up a pawn for… something or other. This one should definitely be labelled “elite GMs only – not to be played by club chessplayers”. OK, you get to threaten mate in one, which is nice, but to the untitled eye Black simply emerges a pawn down, with a knight on a silly square, and with nothing much to show for it.

However, in fairness, there should also be a government warning on any advice I give about openings. I admit no responsibility for any losses sustained as a result of following my glib pronouncements in this series of reports. You follow my theoretical comments at your peril. (I think I might put this in tiny print somewhere on everything I write from now on.)

By about move 25, Luke McShane was simply a pawn up and cruising. And things became worse for Carlsen as he lashed out on the queenside just before the time control. By move 55 he had established a platform to finish the game in his favour. But, evidently not finding anything concrete, he became hesitant and backed off, allowing his wily opponent just enough play to get back into the game. The moment had passed for the English GM and a draw ensued.

Round 2
L.McShane – M.Carlsen
Ruy Lopez

1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Ba4 Nf6 5 0–0 b5 6 Bb3 Bc5 7 c3 d6 8 a4 Rb8 9 d4 Bb6 10 axb5 axb5 11 Qd3

This line for Black is unappealing for the materialists amongst us as in involves giving up the b-pawn.

11…0–0 12 Bg5 h6 13 Bxf6 Qxf6 14 Qxb5 Na7
And it involves putting the knight on what looks like a revolting square. It reminds me of Muhammed Ali and his ‘rope-a-dope’ boxing tactics. We know the guy is good at what he does but the tactic doesn’t look too smart to the amateur’s eye.

15 Qa4 Qg6 16 Re1 Bh3 17 g3 Qf6 18 Nbd2
Black has succeeded in weakening some squares around the kingside and he has the two bishops. But give me Luke’s extra pawn any day.

18…Rbd8 19 Qc4 g5 20 Qd3 Bg4 21 Nc4 Nc6 22 Nxb6
If you downloaded the game within 12 hours of the game being played, you might find your copy of the game score says 22 Re3 here. It’s wrong, so please amend to what you see here. Some gremlin crept into our electronic board / broadcasting system yesterday and garbled the score. It was only when I looked at the score critically today, with my favourite engine, switched on that the error made itself apparent. I checked with the arbiters and they told me the score was as given in the text.

22…cxb6 23 Re3
Magnus is doing his best to probe various weaknesses in Luke’s position but he’s not really getting anywhere. A pawn is still a pawn and Luke is better.

23…Kg7 24 Kg2 h5 25 h3 Bd7 26 Ba4 Ra8 27 Bxc6 Bxc6 28 Rxa8 Rxa8 29 Qc4 Rc8 30 Qa6 Rb8 31 d5 Bd7 32 h4
Luke can’t stop the black pawn coming to g4 but he doesn’t want to have to exchange the h-pawn when it arrives and risk opening the h-file.

32…g4 33 Nd2 Qd8 34 Qa3 Qc7 35 Re1 b5 36 Ra1 b4
Magnus is getting desperate and trying to bluff his opponent.

37 cxb4 Bb5 38 Qe3 f6 39 Qc3
39 Ra7 Rb7 40 Rxb7 Qxb7 41 Qc3 is possible but there are vague chances of Black coming round the back of the white position with his queen and perhaps establishing the bishop on f3.

39…Qb7 40 b3 Kg6 41 Rc1 Qb6 42 Kg1 Be2 43 Qc6 Qd8
Not falling for the devilish trap: 43…Qxb4?? 44 Qd7! when 44…Qxd2 loses to 45 Qf5+ Kh6 46 Qxf6+ Kh7 and now the white rook enters the game with check: 47 Rc7+ and it’s all over.

44 Nc4 Rxb4 45 Nxd6 Rb6 46 Qc2 Qxd6 47 Qxe2 Rxb3 48 Rd1
The black queen cannot move or the d-pawn would advance.

48…Rb4 49 Qc2 Rb8 50 Qc3 Ra8 51 Qc6 Rd8
51…Qxc6 52 dxc6 Rc8 53 Rc1 Kf7 54 f3 and White can soon engineer a passed pawn on the other flank.

52 Rb1 Qd7 53 Kg2 Qd6 54 Rb3 Qd7 55 Rb1
White gains time with repetitions.

55…Qd6 56 Rb3 Qd7 57 Qa6
Luke hesitates but in truth it is very, very hard to come up with anything concrete here and actually very easy for White to mess it up, e.g. 57 Rb6?! Qxc6 58 dxc6 (58 Rxc6 Ra8 and the rook can menace the e-pawn and police the advance of the d-pawn from d4) 58…Rd1 and Black can mount an ideal defence, cutting off the king and preparing to play Rc1 and keep tabs on the c-pawn.

57…Qc8 58 Qd3 Qc5 59 Rc3 Qb4 60 Rc4
Time control reached but this is probably an error.

With seconds left on his clock, Magnus follows his instincts. He cuts off his opponent’s king and prepares to invade with his rook via the a- or b-files.

61 Qc3 Qxc3 62 Rxc3 Ra8
Again, Magnus is contemplating active defence behind the d-pawn, and also threatening the e-pawn from the flank.

63 Rd3 Kf7 64 f3
What to do? If 64 Kf1 Magnus replies 64…Ra2 to keep the king cut off; if 64 Rd2, Magnus can play 64…Ra3 to stop f2-f3 and also keep the king at bay. Meanwhile the black king is near enough to stop the advance of the d-pawn.

64…Ra2+ 65 Kf1 Ra1+ 66 Kf2 Ra2+ 67 Kf1
67 Ke3 Rg2 also leads nowhere.

67…Ra1+ 68 Ke2 Ra2+ 69 Rd2 gxf3+ 70 Ke1 Ra4 71 d6 Rxe4+ 72 Kf2 Ke8
Is Luke in danger of losing? No. Magnus doesn’t fall for the oh so tempting 72…Re2+?? 73 Rxe2 fxe2 which looks like a Black win until White bangs down 74 g4!! and White wins after all with two passed pawns. The black king cannot intercept them both.

73 Kxf3 Ra4 74 d7+ Kd8 75 Rd6
“Oh no!” IM Lawrence Trent in the commentary room couldn’t disguise his partisan sympathies and kept chanting this like the chorus of a Greek tragedy. In truth it’s a dead draw and the players could stop now.

75…f5 76 Re6 Ra3+ 77 Kf2 e4 78 Rd6 Rf3+ 79 Kg2 f4 80 gxf4 Rxf4 81 Kg3 Rf3+ 82 Kg2 Rf4 83 Kg3 Rf3+ ½–½

A very close run thing for the world number one, and a near miss for the English grandmaster. Incidentally, I was quite wrong in saying that Luke is ‘working from home’. He did that in the first two of the London Classic but this year and last he took up residence in the same hotel as the other players. Well, it saves having to do the washing up, doesn’t it?

Round 3 games start on Monday 5 December 2010 at 2pm British time. Former world champion Vladimir Kramnik has the bye and will be joining the commentary team for the day.

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For further information please call:
John Saunders
Press Chief, London Chess Classic
Mobile: 07777 664111
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