11 Dec

Whose Turn To Win Today?


Some have asked me about the number of draws in this tournament - but at least these are real draws, and no artificial “grandmaster draws” that has blighted the game in the past. But for those wondering, the worst offending tournament on record for the abuse of GM draws is still the 1999 Petrosian Memorial, where the ten players "competing" found a fitting way to pay tribute to the 9th World Champion Tigran Petrosian - who I can’t help feel would have approved! - by managing 42 draws from 45 games, and at an average of just 26 moves!

But a lot of the games at the London Chess Classic, the third and final leg of the Grand Chess Tour, have been epic struggles ending in draws. This is the result of top elite players being so close together in the ratings; they don’t give anything away against each other. And these are players who - along with their teams - thoroughly prepare before battle, cancelling each other out.


Another reason for the abundance of draws could well be the LCC’s superb wild card choice. Unlike the other two wild cards, Wesley So and Jon Ludvig Hammer, England’s Michael Adams is a highly experienced campaigner at this level of elite chess - he’s been there, seen it, done it. Adams is a former top ten player who is a past-master at hanging on in the most difficult of positions, often frustrating the very best in the game, from Garry Kasparov to Magnus Carlsen et al. And  in London, he's had some epic saves that must have frustrated higher, elite stars. 

So whose turn will it be to win next? With the big round seven pairing seeing rivals Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura meeting, the smart money will be on Carlsen’s side, as the World Champion has such a big plus score against the US champion. Can Nakamura get over his hex to record what could be a Grand Chess Tour-winning victory, or will it be business as usual for Carlsen?

Round 6:

Giri draw Carlsen
Nakamura draw Aronian
Topalov draw Adams
Grischuk 1-0 Anand
Vachier-Lagrave draw Caruana

Round 6 Standings: 1-4. Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Alexander Grischuk (Russia), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Anish Giri (Netherlands) 3.5/6; 5-8. Levon Aronian (Armenia), Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Fabiano Caruana (USA), Michael Adams (England) 3; 9. Vishy Anand (India) 2.5; 10. Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria) 1.5.

Alexander Grischuk - Vishy Anand
7th London Classic, (6)
English Opening
1.c4 e5 2.d3 The simple 2.d3 is the least seldom seen move in the English Opening here - and it is Grischuk's very original twist to the English. It doesn't work against 1...Nf6, but against 1...e5, it is more effective as it cuts out some of the main ideas against the ...Bb4 systems. Black also has to be careful he doesn't fall into a reversed Sicilian Najdorf, especially as White will have an extra tempo. It does it's job though, as it knocked a normally thoroughly prepared Anand off-kilter, as he ponders for three minutes before replying. 2...Nc6 3.Nf3 f5 4.g3 Nf6 5.Bg2 Bb4+ 6.Bd2 Bxd2+ 7.Qxd2 Usually in the ...e5 and ...Bb4 systems, Black will have captured on the knight on c3 - but here, Grischuk has not only kept his pawn structure intact, he's also made d5 available for his own knight. 7...0-0 8.Nc3 d6 9.0-0 Bd7 Usually in this system we see ...Qe8 folloed by ...Qh5 - but this is now well met by White playing Nd5. 10.Nd5 Nxd5 11.cxd5 Ne7 12.Qb4 Nxd5 Black will come under great pressure down the c-file after 12...b6 13.Rac1! Nxd5 14.Qb3 Be6 15.Ng5!; But interesting was 12...a5!? as taking on b7 looks bad for White: 13.Qxb7 Rb8 14.Qa6 Rxb2 15.Rab1 Rxa2! (15...Rxe2?! 16.Qc4! and suddenly the rook on e2 looks vulnerable.) 16.Rfc1 Ra4 - Black is a pawn to the good, but White has strong pressure on the queenside. 13.Qxb7 c6 Vishy is banking on his central pawn mass winning the day. 14.Nd2! A typical - and effect - English manoeuvre. The knight drops back and heads for the excellent c4 outpost, while at the same time activating the potential of his bishop down the long diagonal. 14...Nb6 15.Qa6 d5 16.Rac1! Anand may have denied Grischuk's knight the c4 square, but now Grischuk has ways of hitting back at the Black pawn centre. 16...f4 17.Nf3! Hitting again at the pawn centre; and Anand's awkwardly placed pieces makes it difficult to defend. 17...Qf6 18.Qa5 Kh8 It's tempting to keep on pushing, but the pawns just become a liability: 18...e4 19.dxe4 dxe4 20.Ne5 and suddenly all of Black's pawns become very vulnerable. Instead, with no constructive move available, Anand decides to tuck his king in the corner for safety. 19.b3 Bg4 20.Qc3 e4 21.Qxf6 Rxf6 22.Nd4 Not only hitting c6 but also defending e2. It's now we begin to see Anand's pawns being successfully chipped away at. 22...f3 This was Anand's only realistic option; although it closes in Grischuk's bishop, this is only a temporary measure. 23.exf3 exf3 24.Bh1 Rc8 25.Rfe1! Activating his remaining rook on a juicy, open file, and stopping ...c5 as it will lose to the back-rank mate after Rxc5! 25...h6 26.b4 Stopping ...c5 again, and fixing all of Anand's weak pawns - something has to give now. 26...Na4 27.Re3 Rcf8 28.h3! Bxh3 29.Rxf3 Bd7 30.Bg2 The problem for Anand now is, if c6 falls, then d5 will quickly follow. 30...g5 31.Rxf6 Rxf6 32.Nf3 Kg7 33.Ne5 Be8 34.Bh3 h5 35.d4 Nb6 If 35...g4 36.Bf1! and all Black has succeeded in doing is fixing both his kingside pawns - along with his pawns on c6 and d5 - on white squares, making them difficult to defend in a later endgame. 36.Rc3! Now Grischuk is threatening Ra3 winning the a7-pawn. Rather than see his position collapse with the fall of a7, Anand decides to let the d5 pawn go by exchanging off the powerful White knight; and hoping in the process his bishop can have a good outpost on d5 to seek a further exchange down into a saveable rook and pawn ending. 36...Nc4 37.Nxc4 dxc4 38.Rxc4 Rd6 39.a3 Bf7 40.Rc5 Rxd4 41.Rxg5+! The correct pawn capture - Grischuk has succeeded in leaving Anand to defend three isolated pawns split across the board. Not an easy task to defend - but at least exchanging down to a rook and pawn ending is Anand's only hope. 41...Kf6 42.Rf5+ Kg6 43.Rc5 Rd1+ 44.Kh2 Bd5 45.Bg2 Rd2 46.Bxd5 cxd5 47.Kg2 Kf5 48.Ra5 Ke4 49.Rxa7 d4 50.b5 Rb2 (See Diagram) 51.a4? It's that age-old adage that "all rook and pawn endings are drawn." An elementary mistake from Grischuk, just when he'd completed the all the hard work to get a won game, and now turns the win into a technical draw. What Grischuk missed was a crucial check forcing Anand's king to the d-file: 51.Re7+ Kd5 (51...Kd3 is too slow, and loses as in the game.) 52.Rb7 Kc5 (52...d3 53.Kf3! and now the White king corrals the dangerous d-pawn.) 53.Rc7+! Kb6 54.Rd7! and White has succeeded in shuffling the Black king across to the opposite end of the board, where it has been cut-off from the kingside, and now the d- and h-pawns will easily fall. 51...Kd3? Luckily for Grischuk, Anand returns the compliment. The only way to play it was 51...d3! 52.Rb7 Kd4! (now see the difference with what happened in the game, with the Black king behind the pawn instead of in front of it, blocking its queening path?) 53.a5 d2 54.Rd7+ Kc3! 55.b6 Kc2! and Black draws as ...Rb5 will win one of the advanced pawns. 52.Rb7! Ra2 Another example is: 52...Kc3 53.Rc7+! Kb4 (if 53...Kd3 or d2, all Black has done is block the path of his d-pawn.) 54.b6 Kxa4 55.b7 Ka5 56.Kf3 d3 57.Ke3 d2 58.Ke2 Ka6 59.f4 and White easily wins the king and pawn ending. 53.b6 Rxa4 54.Rb8 1-0

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