12 Dec

The Birthday Blues

Recently, Magnus Carlsen gave himself the ultimate birthday present as he retained his world title by beating Sergey Karjakin in a playoff on the day of his 26th birthday.  But there’s a school of thought out there - backed by stats - that playing on your birthday is not a good thing, and this was reinforced at the 8th London Chess Classic with a brace of fateful results on successive days that gave two players the ultimate birthday blues.

After 36...Re8!

In round one, Hikaru Nakamura ‘celebrated’ his 29th birthday by gifting a huge opening blunder to Wesley So that ominously moved the US No2 closer to capturing the 2016 Grand Chess Tour title. And the very next day, Nakamura found himself facing veteran five-time ex-world champion Vishy Anand on what was the Indian ace’s 47th birthday - and again it turned out to be a case of the birthday blues, this time with Anand doing all the ‘gifting’ to Nakamura.

Wesley So continued his winning run at the London Chess Classic by beating Michael Adams to reinforce his dominance in the Grand Chess Tour standings, as he takes the sole lead in the tournament and now moves up to fourth place in the unofficial live ratings to join a very select band of players to have broken the 2800 barrier. So could well become the player to watch in 2017 - but he’s not the only American with designs on Magnus’s No.1 standing nor the Norwegian’s world crown!

Under New Managment | © Lennart Ootes

After beating Veselin Topalov in a complex tussle in round two, Fabiano Caruana gained more rating points to stay close behind Carlsen as the world No2 - and today, the US champion announced from St. Louis a shake-up of his backroom team with Chicago attorney Rhonda S. Coleman, who has a wide experience in sport and entertainment management and law, as his new manager.

1. Wesley So (USA), 2.5/3; 2-4. Levon Aronian (Armenia), Vladimir Kramnik (Russia), Fabiano Caruana (USA) 2; 5-7. Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Vishy Anand (India), Anish Giri (Netherlands); 8. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), 1; 9-10. Michael Adams (England), Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria), 0.5.

GM Veselin Topalov - GM Fabiano Caruana
8th London Chess Classic, (2)
French Defence, Advance Variation
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 The Advance French was pioneered by the likes of Aron Nimzowitsch in the 1920s, who believed this to be White's best choice and enriched its theory with many ideas and strategies. We don't see it so much in elite praxis, but it has become a popular choice at club level as it involves a simple, straightforward plan with attacking chances and extra space. 3...c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nf3 Bd7 6.Be2 Nge7 7.h4 A thematic move in the Advance French, the aim being to grab more space on the kingside and also allow the possibility of the rook to swing into action with a later Rh3. 7...Qb6 8.Na3 cxd4 9.cxd4 Nb4 10.h5 h6 Black has to stop 11.h6 g6, as this will give White total control over all the dark squares on the kingside. 11.Bd2 a6 12.Bc3 Nec6 13.Rh3 The rook now swings into the attack with threats of Rg3. Here, Topalov has a nice and easy game - but Caruana does what he has to do by creating huge complications that become difficult to fathom what's really happening. 13...0-0-0 14.Kf1 Kb8 15.Qd2 f6 16.exf6 gxf6 17.Rg3 Be8 18.Nh4 Bd6 The only move in a difficult position, as the threat of Ng6 was too strong, as Black would either have to play ...Bxg6 or allow Nxf8, both of which were bad options. 19.Rg7 e5 20.dxe5 fxe5 Caruana is going all-in that his central pawns are better, regardless of how dangerous it becomes for him by allowing a very advanced passed pawn. 21.Ng6 Bxg6 22.hxg6 e4 Perhaps safer was 22...Rhf8!? 23.Rf7 Rxf7 24.gxf7 Qc7 25.Bh5 Qe7! 26.g3 (If 26.Qxh6? Qh4! and it is all rather awkward for White to defend here.) 26...Qe6 27.Kg2 and Black has an edge - but it is all extremely complicated, as it is easy for either side here to take a wrong turn. 23.Rf7 Rhg8 24.g7 The die is cast, and both players here are living on the edge. Certainly, it has become quite tense, and Caruana used up a lot of his thinking time getting to here and now beyond, and begins to run into to time trouble. 24...Ka7 25.Qxh6 Nd3?! Safer looked 25...Nd4 26.Bxd4 Qxd4 27.Rd1 Qc5 28.Nb1 d4 and it becomes a very interesting tussle ahead. 26.Bxd3 exd3 27.Re1 Bc5 28.Re6? Topalov begins to drift - and that's dangerous in a double-edged position such as this. He should have kept tabs on the dangerous d-pawn by playing 28.Qg6 and it is difficult to see how Black can defend the d-pawn - a pawn that comes back to haunt him. 28...Rc8 29.Qg5 Bd4 30.Re1? Now the drift starts to turn into an avalanche. It is an extremely complicated position, but Topalov simply had to play now 30.Qxd5! Bxc3 31.bxc3 Rgd8 32.Rd6 Rxd6 33.Qxd6 Qb2 34.Kg1! d2 35.Kh2 Qxc3 36.Rd7 Ne5 37.Qd4+ Qxd4 38.Rxd4 Rg8 39.Rxd2 Rxg7 where White, a pawn up, has the better endgame prospects. 30...Bxc3 In serious time-trouble, Caruana can be forgiven for missing what all the engines quickly spotted, namely an unbelievable winning tactic with 30...Rxg7!! 31.Bxd4 (The (full) point being that 31.Rxg7 Rh8! and the White king is either going to get mated or Black wins a big material advantage after the forced 32.g3 Bxc3 33.bxc3 Rh1+ 34.Kg2 Rxe1 etc.) 31...Rxg5 32.Bxb6+ Kxb6 and Black is much better here, with the better, more coordinated pieces and the active king heading into the endgame. 31.bxc3 Qb2 32.Nb1 Rce8 33.Qd2 Rxe1+ 34.Qxe1 d4 35.Nd2?? Topalov had to have missed what Caruana - despite the time trouble - hadn't here. He had to play 35.cxd4 Nxd4 36.g4 Qxa2 37.Re7 Qd5 38.Qe4 Qxe4 39.Rxe4 where it is not clear who is winning here; and indeed, all three results are still possible. 35...dxc3 36.Nc4 Re8! Unbelievably, anything else here from Black and White was winning - for this reason, I think we can safely assume here that Topalov simply missed Caruana's stunning reply. But, to Caruana's credit, in even deeper time trouble, with about a minute left on his clock for the remaining four moves, he did spot this other, brilliancy-inspired move that totally rocks Topalov. 37.Rxb7+ Topalov is totally lost here and looks to see if he can confuse Caruana in the time scramble, as the alternative led to an easy win: 37.Qxe8 Qc1+ 38.Qe1 d2 and White can resign. 37...Qxb7 38.Qxe8 Qb1+ 0-1

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