It’s December, the Christmas trees are trimmed and the lights are flashing - and that can only mean it’s now time for the 8th London Chess Classic, Britain’s one and only super-tournament, and with it the fourth and final leg of the Grand Chess Tour that will ultimately decide who is going to take the title, after tournaments this year in Paris (France), Leuven (Belgium) and St. Louis (USA).
Of course, after the recent World Championship Match in Manhattan, both Magnus Carlsen and his challenger, Sergey Karjakin, were unavailable to commit fully to the Grand Chess Tour due to a combination of preparing for/recovering from their match - although Carlsen, last year’s inaugural tour winner, did accept a wildcard invitation to play in the successful new tour speed events added this year in Paris and Leuven.
In the absence of defending champion Carlsen, America’s Wesley So has been the one to shine and he holds the lead with 30 points going into the final tour event. And mathematically, his only realistic challenger now is his fellow countryman Hikaru Nakamura, so much will be riding on their big opening round showdown at the London Classic!
Another American involved in a race of a different variety in London is Fabiano Caruana. With Carlsen losing rating points during his successful title defense, the US champion has dramatically closed the gap on the world champion’s No.1 spot. Only 18 points separate the two at the top now, and a good performance by Caruana in London could see him move to within easy striking distance of Carlsen going into the new year.
The full 8th London Chess Classic line-up is (in rating order): Fabiano Caruana (USA), Vladimir Kramnik (Russia), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Wesley So (USA), Levon Aronian (Armenia), Viswanathan Anand (India), Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria), Michael Adams (England).
A pre-cursor to the big event is the traditional Pro-Biz Cup, held at the grandiose the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall in central London. This is a successful and fun fundraiser for the charity Chess in Schools and Communities, and it sees business people paired up with one of the super-grandmasters, and they play against other duos while alternating moves.
Despite it being a friendly, charitable warm-up to the main event, everyone takes it very seriously and the games become highly competitive. The top seeds were former world champion Vishy Anand and Terry Chapman, who was a former top English junior before giving up competitive play for business. Now semi-retired, Chapman is a leading force in the English senior team, and his pairing with Anand proved to be an unstoppable force as they went on to beat Vladimir Kramnik and Justin Baptie in the final.
There’s full live coverage each day of the final tour event with Yasser Seirawan, Tania Sachdev and Alejandro Ramirez in St. Louis with Maurice Ashley in London at the official Grand Chess Tour site.
Vishy Anand & Terry Chapman - Anish Giri & Rafic Daud
London Classic Pro-Biz Cup, (1)
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.g3 g6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 Bg7 6.Bg2 0-0 7.Nc3 Nc6 8.0-0 Rb8?! With the grandmasters having the odd-numbered moves, and the amateurs the even-numbered moves, here we see a simple error from the amateur that basically just gifts White an extra move, and with it, a big advantage. Instead, they should have gone for 8...Nxd4 9.Qxd4 d6 with a balanced game. 9.Bf4 Ra8 Black would love to play 9...d6 but it just loses a pawn to 10.Bxc6! e5 11.Bg2 exf4 12.gxf4 Qb6 13.Qd2 and White has a pawn and the better position. 10.Nc2 White has harmonious development and steadily builds on this. 10...d6 11.Qd2 Bd7 12.Rfd1 Rc8 13.Rac1 Qa5 14.Bh6! Smart chess! The best piece Black has here is his dark-squared bishop, which in the long run could cause havoc down the h8-a1 diagonal, so White simply exchanges off the potentially problematic piece. 14...Rfd8 15.Bxg7 Kxg7 16.b3 Now with the dark-squared bishops exchanged, White simply protects his pawns and now looks to swing his knight from c2-e3 for a firm grip of the all-important d5 square. 16...Rc7 17.Ne3 Rcc8 18.h3 h6 19.Qb2! White now takes full advantage of the pin on the knight. 19...Qe5 20.Ned5 Nxd5 21.Rxd5 Qf6 22.Qd2 Piling the pressure on the d-file - and also looking to play Ne4 without exchanging queens, as here Black's queen is somewhat short of good squares. All the mounting pressure begins to tell now for Black. 22...Nb8 23.Ne4 Qe6 24.Rd3! Threatening Re3 further harassing the hapless queen. 24...Bc6 25.Nc5?! Wrong. The knight can't be taken as d8 falls - but Messers. Anand & Chapman have deviated from the original game-plan, where instead 25.Re3! further harassing the queen was good and strong. The attempt at winning material, though, isn't so clear. 25...Qf5 26.Nxb7 Bxg2! 27.g4 White - or rather, Terry Chapman - had overlooked that if 27.Nxd8 Qxh3! turns the tables and now sees White struggling for survival, as after the forced continuation 28.f3 Rxd8 29.Qe1 Nc6! Black is on top. 27...Qd7?? This just loses, and the gamble from Anand & Chapman has paid off - but instead, after 27...Qxd3! 28.Qxd3 Bxb7 29.Qd4+ f6 30.Qxa7 Rd7 31.Qe3 Nc6 there's lots to play still in the game, with Black having active pieces for the queen, though White having those potentially dangerous queenside pawns ready to run up the board. Now this would have been an interesting tussle! 28.Nxd8 Ba8 There's nothing better than the full retreat here.If 28...Be4 29.Qf4! f5 (29...Bxd3 30.Qxf7+ Kh8 31.Ne6 Rg8 32.Nf8) 30.gxf5 gxf5 31.Rg3+ is winning. 29.Nxf7! Kxf7 30.Qxh6 Black would still be in this if it wasn't for the precarious state of his king. 30...Rg8 31.c5 Qe6 32.cxd6 Qxe2 33.Re3 Rc8 34.Qh7+ 1-0 Black resigns, as it's mate after 34...Ke8 35.Qxe7#