Magnus Carlsen Wins London Chess Classic, Grand Chess Tour
A long day at the office it was, in Kensington Olympia, London. The London Chess Classic, and with it the first Grand Chess Tour, came to an end on Sunday night at 11:38 p.m. local time.
The reason was that the tournament ended in a three-way tie between Magnus Carlsen, Anish Giri and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and the regulations had stipulated a rapid playoff. And so, 9.5 hours after the chess started, it was the world number one who emerged as the winner.
With Gary Lineker in mind, chess can be described as a game between two players and 32 pieces, and in the end Magnus Carlsen wins. The world champion came from behind (he was trailing from the very first round in Norway Chess, which he lost), but won in the end.
Here's Magnus Carlsen speaking with Chess.com right after he won in London:
It all started with a round like almost any other. There was one win and four draws — where have we heard that before?
The first game to finish was between co-leader of the tournament Anish Giri and ex-world champion Viswanathan Anand. The two played no less than 26 theoretical moves in a Berlin, one of 13 Berlins in total in the classical games.
The drawing percentage in this tournament: 77.8 percent. The “Berlin percentage:” a stunning 29 percent. (Which went up even further with MVL-Giri in the first playoff game, but more about that later.)
Giri had done his homework. He first deviated from a game where he was White (Giri-Radjabov, Tashkent 2014) and then from a game Carlsen-Anand from the Sochi 2014 title match.
A few accurate moves were enough to reach a drawn position where “White is only playing for a moral victory,” as Anand said.
Giri certainly was aware of what was at stake. “Of course I was thinking about all possibilities,” he said. “I'm also a spectator and I like to speculate all imaginable possible scenarios. This time I'm also involved as a player, which is nice, but it didn't affect my play.”
The Dutch GM had decided that playing solid made the most sense. “Since I'm playing this Berlin variation I am basically saying a draw is fine.”
At the press conference he also pointed out that, because he is sometimes mistaken for being a very drawish player, he was “very happy” that Michael Adams and Fabiano Caruana had played only draws. “I have actually never played a single tournament in my life where all my games ended in draws!”
And so Giri didn't lose a single game in all three tournaments: Norway Chess, the Sinquefield Cup and the London Chess Classic.
Anand about Giri: “Undefeated in the Grand Chess Tour, that's a remarkable result. Plus four overall. Very impressive!”
And indeed, not long after that Adams and Caruana did finish their last game with a draw. In a Ruy Lopez with ...Bc5 (Caruana had told Chess.com earlier that he had “kind of grown tired” of Berlins), Black seemed fine from the very start.
Adams said he was fairly happy with his tournament. “My big problems was that in the openings I wasn't doing well. I was getting surprised. But I think this was a general problem: most of the players weren't getting much out of the opening.”
Caruana: “Nine draws isn't the best record. I missed some chances but near the end I played OK.”
The next game to finish was Levon Aronian vs Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Aronian really had to win this one to reach shared first, but he was actually worse out of the opening. MVL could have won the tournament outright (and with it the Grand Chess Tour!) but he never had any serious winning chances either.
“I knew all the different possibilities. I have to admit I was a bit tense after the game,” said Vachier-Lagrave. “In the rook endgame I was just in time to create enough counterplay.”
Aronian: “At the end of the day I don't have reasons to be too much disappointed. I had a solid tournament; except yesterday I think the games went OK for me.”
The game between Hikaru Nakamura and Veselin Topalov was just for the books, and didn't get much attention from the commentators. The fact that it was another Berlin didn't help either.
This time it was Topalov who employed it, but his preparation won't have helped much because Nakamura went for the rare 9.Rd1+ and 10.b3. At some point he got his kingside pawns moving, but Topalov found the right setup.
By this point Giri and Vachier-Lagrave had reached the playoff, and the question was whether Carlsen would join them. The world champion had a promising position, so most of the experts (including Garry Kasparov, who visited the tournament for a few hours) expected him to win.
The game was exciting from the start as Grischuk repeated Topalov's 7...g5!? in the Moscow Sicilian — you might remember him beating Carlsen in the first round of the Sinquefield Cup in that line.
Carlsen improved upon his play with 10.Nc3, a more natural square than putting it on a3 as he had done in St. Louis. Grischuk then spent almost 17 minutes trying to remember his preparation.
Time trouble seemed inevitable for the Russian, but somehow he managed to avoid it this time. More surprisingly, with about six minutes on the clock (“Oceans of time!” — GM Julian Hodgson) Grischuk missed a good winning chance, and then also missed the route to a draw.
“He proved better in this game. In the end he outcalculated me,” Grischuk admitted.
8. Nxg5 Ne5 9. Be2 bxc4 10. Nc3 (Deviating from 10. Na3 Rg8 11. Nxc4 Nxc4 12. d4 Nb6 13. Bh5 Nxh5 14. Qxh5 Rg7 15. Nxh7 Qd7 16. dxc5 dxc5 Carlsen,M (2853)-Topalov,V (2816) Saint Louis 2015 )10... Rb8 11. Rf1!? A remarkable move. Not only Nimzowitsch would call it mysterious!
11... h6 (The idea behind White's mysterious rook move was 11... Rg8 12. f4 Nd3 13. Qa4+ Qd7 14. Qxc4 whoch wins when the knight doesn't attack a rook on e1. )12. Nf3 Nd3 13. Ne1 Nxb2 14. Bxb2 Rxb2 15. Bxc4 Rb4 16. Qe2 Bg7 17. Nc2 Rb6 18. Rab1 O-O 19. Rxb6 Qxb6 20. Ne3 e6 21. f4 Kh8 22. f5 a5 23. a4 Qd8 24. h3 Qe7 25. Ba6 Bxa6 26. Qxa6 Nh5 27. Rf3 Rg8 28. Nb5 Be5 29. Ng4 Qh4 30. fxe6? fxe6 (Missing the chance of 30... Rxg4! 31. hxg4 Qh2+ 32. Kf2 Nf4 33. Rg3 Nxe6 34. Rf3 Kg7 and Black is the one with good winning chances. )31. Nxe5 dxe5 32. Qxe6 Qe1+? (32... Qg5! would still be OK for Black: 33. g4 (33. Rf2 Nf4 34. Qg4 Qxg4 35. hxg4 Rxg4 )33... Nf4 34. Qf5 Qg7 )33. Kh2 (33. Rf1! was in fact possible: 33... Rxg2+ 34. Kxg2 Qxd2+ 35. Kg1 Qe3+ 36. Rf2 Qg3+ 37. Kf1 Qd3+ 38. Ke1 Qxe4+ 39. Kd2 Qb4+ 40. Kc2 Qxa4+ 41. Kb2 Qxb5+ (41... Qb4+ 42. Ka2 )42. Kc1 and wins. )33... Rxg2+ 34. Kxg2 Qxd2+ (34... Qe2+ 35. Kg1 Qxf3 36. Qxh6+ Kg8 37. Qe6+ Kf8 38. Qf5+ Qxf5 39. exf5 should be a winning ending. )35. Kg1 Qe1+ 36. Rf1 Qe3+ 37. Rf2 Qe1+ 38. Kg2 (38. Kg2 Qxe4+ (38... Nf4+ 39. Rxf4 )39. Kh2 and Black runs out of checks. )
This meant a three-way tie for first place among Carlsen, Giri and Vachier-Lagrave — in that order. Thanks to his win over Grischuk, Carlsen finished with the most Sonneborn-Berger points (the first two tiebreaks were all equal).
According to the Grand Chess Tour regulations this meant that Carlsen basically had secured himself a direct spot in the playoff final.
The semifinal started with Giri playing another Berlin against Vachier-Lagrave. And whereas the opening is usually a way of being solid as Black, it can certainly be one to play for a win as well.
It turned into a strong weapon for the Dutchman as soon as MVL played an inaccurate knight move. Black freed himself and was left with a very strong bishop against white's knight. Still, White would have be doing OK if it hadn't been for a brilliant tactic that won a pawn for Black.
21. a4 Kf5 22. Ke3 Re8 23. Nd5?! Rac8 Now White is not well prepared for break moves ...f6 or ...g5.
24. Rd2 f6 25. Rf1 fxe5 26. fxe5+ Kg5 27. Nc3 (Probably MVL was planning 27. Ke4 here, but it is refuted beautifully: 27... Rxe5+!! 28. Kxe5 Re8+ 29. Ne7 Rxe7# )27... Rxe5+ 28. Kf2 Rf8+ 29. Kg1 Rxf1+ 30. Kxf1 Rf5+ 31. Kg1 Rf4 This is a relatively simple, technical win.
32. Re2 Kf6 33. b3 a6 34. Nd1 Bd5 35. c4 Be6 36. a5 Rd4 37. Nf2 Bf5 38. Ra2 Rd6 39. Kf1 Ke5 40. Re2+ Kf4 41. Ra2 g5 42. Ke1 Re6+ 43. Kf1 Re3
And so all Giri needed was a draw, and that's what he played for in the second game, it seemed. He chose an unambitious but hyper-solid system against the Grünfeld, and who could blame him?
If went fine for the Dutchman, but right when he got a chance to get a real advantage (27.g4) he started to play inaccurately. Vachier-Lagrave took over the initiative, and Giri held on for long but eventually he went down after missing a forced draw right at the end.
“You can sort of say I made the childish mistake of playing for a draw, blah, blah, blah, but everybody is doing it. It is beyond you,” Giri would later say.
“I had already lost something very similar to Le Quang [Liem],” said Giri. “The knight on d5 is a monster. I knew that there is danger.”
A tough blow for Giri, who then lost the toss as well. Vachier-Lagrave chose to play Black in the Armageddon game. Alexander Grischuk, who joined the commentary team for several hours, said he would have done the same.
Giri, who is a Grünfeld player himself, decided to avoid it this time with 1.Nf3 but nonetheless Vachier-Lagrave equalized comfortably, then got the advantage and then won because Giri had to avoid a repetition (which MVL played despite having a mate in five on the board!).
“In Bilbao, when I lost the tiebreak to Wesley So, it was fatigue. But here I played well for my own miserable standards. I'm not ashamed of the way I played.
“In the final game I thought I'd please Garry Kasparov because it was the way he played when he needed to beat Anatoly Karpov.
“Somehow the opening didn't work out but also, to be honest, Black in Armageddon is basically an advantage. It's like you just won a game in a minimatch. This one minute is not so relevant at the end of the day. And also, he is a great blitz player,” added Giri.
“It was a pity to lose the tiebreak because I was definitely one of the best players here, if you look at my play. Not otherwise; most players are better. But my play here was very good. I think I should have fought for the first places but unfortunately it didn't work out.
And so the playoff final was between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Magnus Carlsen. The funny thing was that if the Frenchman would beat the world champion, the two would finish shared first in the Grand Chess Tour.
Per regulations, another playoff would have to be played to determine the absolute winner, so MVL would have to beat Carlsen twice! Giri said about this situation:
“It's quite frustrating that this guy Magnus gets so extremely lucky, it's just absurd! I heard that if [MVL] wants to win, he needs to beat [Carlsen] twice. He needs to beat him one match, then they share the Grand Chess Tour Standings, and then he needs to beat him again to win the Grand Chess Tour.
“As you can see there is a trend of luck. In our match the luck shifted to him towards the end and Magnus clearly has his day today. I mean, not only is he fighting for the first place, he also has enormous advantages. First of all he doesn't have to play this match that I played now, and secondly he has a second chance to win the Grand Chess Tour. He can beat him in a second match after losing one.”
But that funny scenario didn't happen: Carlsen immediately won the first game. He was pressing right out of the opening, MVL defended fantastically and reached a theoretically drawn rook endgame, but failed to keep it.
50... Kd6 51. Kh5 Rf1? (...but only 51... Rc1 )(51... Rb1 or )(51... Ra1 draw here. )52. Rxh3 Ke7 53. Kg6 Rf6+ 54. Kg7 Rf7+ 55. Kg6 Rf6+ 56. Kg5 Ra6 (After 56... Rf1 White wins with 57. Rh7+ Kf8 58. Kg6 Kg8 59. Rg7+! (59. g5? Re1 )59... Kf8 (59... Kh8 60. Rf7 )60. g5 )57. Rf3
Vachier-Lagrave had to win as White, but failed to do so. Carlsen chose a rock-solid setup where a loss of a tempo hardly mattered, and in the endgame he even won an exchange. MVL got only a passer on a4 for it, which was not enough.
In the commentary two 2700+ GMs were treating the audience with some top analysis, and the following dialogue:
Grischuk: “So Magnus is winning everything yeah? I created a monster.”
Aronian: “Yeah, you're Dr. Frankenstein!”
Soon Vachier-Lagrave decided to repeat moves. The audience started applauding the winner in London, and the winner of the whole Tour: Magnus Carlsen.
“It feels very good,” Carlsen said. “I was trailing the whole tournament bit since it was so close I always had a chance. Today I was good and lucky enough.”
Carlsen said that his experience in world championship matches helped. “I was a bit nervous in my game against Grischuk today, I couldn't keep my head completely cool but once I got to the rapids I was very calm.”
Carlsen told Chess.com that he only watched the first rapid game between Giri and Vachier-Lagrave. “The second game I was resting and just getting into the mood for my own games. Basically once I got into the rapids I was pretty relaxed. I felt that I'd done this before and will have very good chances whoever I face.”
Does this make a bad year a good year? Carlsen: “It goes a long way to help. The highs have been pretty high this year; it's just that the lows have been lower than they usually are.”
Vachier-Lagrave didn't finish second in London, as you might expect, but third. A different version of the tiebreak regulations were uploaded to the Grand Chess Tour website during the last day. Originally it stated:
The play-off shall determine the winner of the tournament, the other positions in the crosstable and the distribution of the prize money.
This was changed, following the players' contract, into:
The play-off shall determine the winner of the tournament and the distribution of the first prize money.
This meant that for the rest of the crosstable (including Giri and Vachier-Lagrave) the final standings were based on Sonneborn-Berger points.
Garry Kasparov said about the London Chess Classic: “The tournament showed that classical chess is not dead yet. There were not many decisive games here but we can hardly complain about a lack of fighting spirit. There were many mistakes, but mistakes are always part of a good show.”
About the Grand Chess Tour Kasparov said: “It will probably compensate for some of the failures of FIDE but unfortunately several tournament organizers who are wishing well for the game of chess and who are ready to create a professional infrastructure, they cannot replace the global chess system that is still the responsibility of the world chess federation.”
The dates for the 2016 Grand Chess Tour are already known: Norway Chess, April 16-29; Sinquefield Cup, August 19-September 2; London Chess Classic November 30-December 13. The organizers have stated that they will try to learn from mistakes and improve the tiebreak system next year.
2015 London Chess Classic | Pairings & Results
|Round 1||04.12.15||16:00 GMT||Round 2||05.12.15||14:00 GMT|
|Round 3||06.12.15||14:00 GMT||Round 4||07.12.15||16:00 GMT|
|Round 5||08.12.15||16:00 GMT||Round 6||10.12.15||16:00 GMT|
|Round 7||11.12.15||16:00 GMT||Round 8||12.12.15||14:00 GMT|
|Round 9||13.12.15||14:00 GMT|
2015 London Chess Classic | Round 9 Standings
Final Standings Grand Chess Tour
|11||GM||Jon Ludvig Hammer||2677||NOR||1||0||1|