LONDON CHESS CLASSIC 2011: OPENING PRESS CONFERENCE
John Saunders reports:
The opening press conference of the 3rd London Chess Classic took place at the Olympia Conference Centre, Kensington, London at 2pm on Friday 2 December 2011.
As tournament organiser Malcolm Pein pointed out in his opening address, this is something very special for British chess: it’s quite simply the strongest chess tournament ever held in these islands. That is quite an achievement for a country which held a stellar chess tournament as early as 1851, to celebrate the Great Exhibition of that year.
This year’s tournament is held under the auspices of the Chess in Schools and Communities, a charity set up to promote the teaching of schools in UK schools. As such, the tournament is not just about the elite grandmasters, it caters for players of all ages and abilities, with a general congress for competition players, numerous fun events in the foyer for those trying chess for the first time, plus organised tuition for the children.
The players were asked questions, both from the people assembled in the room and spectators on the internet who had sent their questions earlier. Elite GMs can often be reticent about saying too much before the tournament and this was no exception, but they responded well to a few of the light-hearted questions. One of this year’s innovations is to have an odd number of players. OK, not totally unprecedented in itself but the novelty is to require the ‘bye’ player to join the commentary team for the day. It so happens that Nigel Short will have the bye in the very first round, so he will be the elite commentator to start the tournament. He is also scheduled to play a fun game with star guest, former Wimbledon champion Boris Becker. Boris has ‘form’ as a chessplayer, having played Garry Kasparov, opening 1 e4 e5 2 Qh5!?. “Ah, he hits the ball over the net,” the former world chess champion is alleged to have said. Today a questioner suggested that, since Boris has a broken foot, Nigel ought to take the opportunity to play him at tennis as well.
Mindful of what was coming next in proceedings, a questioner asked the panel about their attitude to Twitter, Facebook and other social websites, with Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura and Levon Aronian being the only players in the line-up to tweet so far. Mickey Adams took the microphone to answer: “You haven’t done your research properly,” he replied. “I joined Twitter this morning!” He acknowledged the technical support of his wife in so doing. So, as well as the website, followers of the tournament might like to make a note of the players’ Twitter sites, to see if they make any comments as the London Classic unfolds – @magnuscarlsen, @GMHikaru, @LevAronian and @MickeyAdamsGM.
After the press conference came a new departure – a chess game on Twitter. Billed as London Chess Classic versus the World – the strongest chess game ever held on the medium (and it would be to argue with all those 2800 ratings), it was really just a bit of funny. Nobody quite knew how it would work out but in fact it was great fun. At least, it was good fun for the grandmasters, who entered into the spirit of the thing and bantered happily together as they plotted world destruction. A very good ice-breaker: perhaps all tournaments should start with this pleasant diversion, allowing the players to warm up a bit with the crowd. Maybe they should do this at tennis too – invite people from the crowd to knock up with the players for a few minutes. We can ask Boris Becker what he thinks tomorrow.
But you want to see some action? Have a look at the game between the GMs and the Twitter audience.
London Classic Twitter Games London, 02.12.2011
The World on Twitter – London Chess Classic
First serve, Boris Becker. He wasn’t there in the room but is alleged to have started the game. It is unclear to what extent the great German tennis star participated thereafter.
The GMs were taking it in turns to make moves, but there were some discussions between them about plans. It was all very informal and the strict laws of the game were not being adhered to. At one point I was shocked to hear what sounded like an arbiter giving advice to a player. Well, to be honest, I was not so much shocked that an arbiter should break the rules in this flagrant manner as incredulous that he should imagine that someone rated about 700 points above him would take his advice in a million years.
2 d4 Nf6
A whim of Nigel Short’s, designed to tease Magnus Carlsen. It elicited a large guffaw from the knowledgeable super-GMs when Nigel suggested it. Magnus was game for a laugh and agreed to Nigel’s whim.
3 e5 Nh5
Why did the GMs laugh? This is a line once played by Tony Miles that Magnus took up but with which he lost to Michael Adams at the 2010 Khanty-Mansiysk Olympiad. First psychological blow to the English GMs – but they may pay for it later.
4 Be2 d6 5 Bxh5
5 Nf3 Nc6 6 exd6 exd6 7 d5 Ne7 8 c4 Bg7 9 Nc3 0–0 10 0–0 Bg4 11 Re1 was Mickey Adams’ more measured approached against Magnus Carlsen at the 2010 Olympiad. The Twitter audience decides to grab the offered pawn. It looks like a freebie but you may be surprised to find that even your materialistic analysis engine is sceptical.
5…gxh5 6 Qxh5 dxe5 7 Qxe5 Rg8
The GMs have good play for a pawn here. Whatever White does, Black will soon gain a tempo – and with four 2800s leading the debate, one tempo is going to hurt a lot.
8 Nf3 Nc6 9 Qh5 Nxd4
Someone, I think Vishy Anand, asked Luke McShane why he hadn’t snaffled a pawn with 9…Rxg2 around here. But of course the enquiry was made in the mildest tone. There were no recriminations amongst the GMs. In fact, the game acted as a pleasant ice-breaker after the press conference. By now they were fully absorbed in the chess game, discussing its nuances in the most affable, relaxed terms – and, of course, utterly confident of a successful outcome. Levon Aronian showed himself to a natural chairman, summarising the various ideas and plans.
10 Nxd4 Qxd4 11 0–0
Malcolm Pein sat at the computer keyboard, fielding and sifting the Twitter suggestions as they came in. No easy task, and he had arbiter Albert Vass sitting at the electronic board, chivvying him along, to keep the game moving. For their part the GMs were moving more or less instantly.
11…Qe4 12 g3 Bg7
Kramnik’s idea. Black has the edge with development and weak white squares to aim at.
13 Nc3 Bxc3 14 bxc3 Bd7 15 Ba3?!
Well, the idea is clear, but unfortunately Black gets a big threat in first.
15…Bc6 16 f3 Qe3+ 17 Kg2 0–0–0
Black is now piling the pressure on White’s king. Unless a few thousand of them had Rybka switched on, they were in big trouble.
18 Rae1? Qxc3
The massed ranks of GMs can’t see what your analysis engine sees instantly: 18…Rxg3+!! 19 hxg3 Rd2+ 20 Kh1 Bxf3+!! 21 Qxf3 and now the real point of 18…Rg3+ is revealed: 21…Qh6+! giving mate in a couple of moves.
19 Bxe7 Rd2+ 20 Kh1 Rf2!
Standing close to Magnus Carlsen when he played this, I opined to the arbiter that he was “showboating” (doing something unnecessarily flash when a more routine move would serve as well) but on reflection I’m inclined to think that it was all about the mystical gravitational force which draws Magnus Carlsen in the direction of the right move. Which it is.
21 Qf5+ Kb8 22 Rxf2 Qxe1+ 23 Kg2 Qxe7 0–1
At this point Nigel Short suggested to Malcom Pein that the GMs offered the World “resigns” since White is a bishop down with no hope of salvation. “And if that doesn’t work, we offer them a draw,” suggested a smiling Vladimir Kramnik, who was prepared to trade a half point in favour of an early return to the hotel with his wife and daughter. He is unlikely to be so generous from tomorrow onwards. But Malcolm took the hint and brought the curtain down on the Twitter crowd’s game.
What to say about the world’s performance? I know what Homer Simpson would say: “You tried your best, and you failed miserably. The lesson is: never try.” But I apologise immediately for that ignoble, defeatist thought. And many thanks to everyone who joined in and were good sports – hope you had some fun. A better idea would be to sit down and relax at your computer screen, and watch the chess stars knocking lumps out of each other, starting tomorrow. Believe me, it’s going to be good…
Round 1 games start on Saturday 3 December 2010 at 2pm British time, after the ceremonial opening moves are made at 1.45pm.
For more information and to buy tickets to the London Chess Classic, please go to www.londonchessclassic.com
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