14 Dec

The Tour de Force

For the last two years the Grand Chess Tour has been a breath of fresh air in elite chess circles, and with each event, the tour has gone from strength-to-strength with the organizers always looking at ways to innovate and improve.  And earlier this week, the GCT announced an expansion that will see a fifth tournament added to the mix, the field expanded, and the overall prize fund increased to $1.2 million. 

After 41...e4!

Last month, the GCT announced that the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, Chess Promotions Ltd, Colliers International France, Vivendi S.A. and Your Next Move™ had all renewed their partnership for the 2017 season. And this week, they announced also that there will be a new rapid and blitz tournament, sponsored by the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, to be held from August 13 to 20, 2017. It will immediately follow on from the Sinquefield Cup, which will be held at the same venue from July 31 to August 12, 2017.

A total of nine players will be selected as full 2017 Grand Chess Tour participants. Three spots will be awarded to the top finishers in the 2016 GCT, another three to the top players by average 2016 rating and the final three shall be determined by the GCT as tour wildcards. Players are required to participate in both classic events and two of the three rapid and blitz events.

The GCT further expands its scope by including 14 event wildcard positions in 2017. These coveted invitations allow up to 14 additional players to vie for a share of the $1.2 million in prizes. Each classical event shall award one wildcard invitation, while the rapid and blitz events will have four event wildcards.

That’s all next year, but for now, there’s still the little matter of the 2016 edition of the tour with the final leg taking place at the 8th London Chess Classic at the Olympia Conference Centre. America’s Wesley So still holds the outright lead on 3.5/5, and looks a shoo-in to capture the 2016 Chess Grand Tour title - however, outright victory in the London Chess Classic is not so sure, as half a point behind lurks an ominous chasing pack of Levon Aronian, Vladimir Kramnik, and So’s fellow compatriots, Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura.

One player though looking down and out - save for a wildcard spot - for the 2017 Grand Chess Tour is Bulgaria's Veselin Topalov, whose career continues to nosedive. Topalov is now on a -4 score in London and firmly rooted at the foot of the table - but more critical is the fact that he’s hemorrhaging rating points at such an alarming rate now, that he’s dropped five places to plummet out of the top 20 on the unofficial live ratings.

Toppling Topalov | © Lennart Ootes

The last time Topalov - who in 2005 won the world championship tournament - was as low as 20th in the world, was 24-years-ago on FIDE’s July list in 1992. And since January ’93 the Bulgarian has always been in the top 18. Now, unless he can stage a second half rally, he could appear on FIDE’s January 2017 list lower than 20th in the world.

1. Wesley So (USA) 3.5/5; 2-5. Levon Aronian (Armenia), Vladimir Kramnik (Russia), Fabiano Caruana (USA), Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 3; 6-7. Anish Giri (Netherlands), Vishy Anand (India) 2.5; 8-9. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Michael Adams (England) 2; 10. Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria) 0.5

GM Veselin Topalov - GM Hikaru Nakamura
8th London Chess Classic, (4)
Caro-Kann Defence, Advance Variation
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 The Advance Caro is a byword for double-edged play on both sides. Usually, Black sacrifices a pawn for safe and active pieces, hoping to cash in later in the game. 3...c5 4.dxc5 Nc6 5.Nf3 Bg4 6.c3 e6 7.b4 a6 8.Nbd2 Nxe5 9.Qa4+ Nd7 10.Ne5 Ngf6 11.c4?! This is a risky plan and, if anything, a little too premature as White has fallen behind in his development. 11...a5 12.Nb3 axb4 13.Qb5 Be7 14.c6 If 14.cxd5 exd5 15.Nxg4 Nxg4 16.Be2 Ngf6 17.0-0 0-0 and Black is ahead in development and starting to eye-up the weak pawn on c5, which will soon be corralled with ...Ne4 etc, leaving Black with a nice advantage. Faced with this, Topalov opts to press the gamble button. 14...bxc6 15.Nxc6 Qc7 16.f3 Bf5 17.Nxe7 Rb8! 18.Nxf5 Now if 18.Qa4 Qe5+ 19.Kf2 Kxe7 Black is ready for ...Rhc8 and a big advantage. Rather than this, Topalov goes for the spectacular - though unsound - continuation, where at least he'll go down fighting. 18...Rxb5 19.Nxg7+ Ke7 Also an option was 19...Kf8 20.Nxe6+ fxe6 21.cxb5 Qc2 22.Bd2 Ne5 and again, Black has a big advantage. 20.cxb5 Nc5 21.Bb2 Nxb3 22.axb3 Qf4! Not only defending the knight on f6, but also attacking at the same time, as Topalov now finds he can't castle to safety to fully develop his pieces due to the threats of ...Qd2 or even ...Qe3+ - and also, if Bc1 then ...Qe5+ would be winning. Faced with this, Topalov now has to waste time finding a safe haven for his king as he tries to coordinate his pieces - and this gives Nakamura all the time he needs to start his attack. 23.Be2 Rc8 Now the threat of ...Rc2 becomes a major problem. 24.Rd1 Qg5 25.b6 Rc2 Also good and strong was 25...Qxg7 - but here, rather than any complications with White's b-pawn, Nakamura takes the safety-first route. 26.Bxf6+ Qxf6 27.Nh5 Qc3+ Topalov may have a slight material advantage with his pieces for the queen - but the nub of all his problems is that he is restricted from successfully finding a way to develop his rook on h1 due to the pressure on his king from the combined forces of Nakamura's queen and rook. 28.Kf1 Qe3 29.Re1 Qxb6 The problem pawn removed, Nakamura can now concentrate on honing in on the kill now. 30.Nf4 Qe3 31.g3 Qxb3 32.Kg2 Kf8 A prophylactic move; Nakamura, anticipating later that he'd like to return the queen to e3 and then ...e5 to shift the knight defending the bishop on e2, without having to worry about a potentially problematic Nxd5+. 33.Kh3 Qb2 34.Rb1 Qf6 There's just no safe haven for the White king, and this leads to Topalov losing a piece, and with it soon after the game. 35.Rhe1 e5 36.Nxd5 Topalov has decided he may as well hang for a sheep than a lamb. If 36.Nd3 Qh6+ 37.Kg2 Qe3! 38.Kf1 Rxe2 39.Rxe2 Qxd3 40.Rxb4 Qxf3+ 41.Rf2 Qh1+ 42.Ke2 d4 with an easy win, as Black's passed pawns begin to march down the board. 36...Qe6+ 37.Kg2 Qxd5 38.Rxb4 Qd2 39.Rb8+ Kg7 40.Kf1 Qh6 41.Kg2 e4! A crucial hammer blow, as Nakamura opens more lines towards Topalov's king, where he's likely to lose something in the crossfire. 42.Rb3 If 42.fxe4 Qh5! 43.Kf1 Qxh2 and all the cover has been stripped from White's king, leaving it open to the elements. 42...Qe6 43.Re3 exf3+ 44.Kxf3 Qh3! The final blow - the rest of the game now is just a technicality, as Nakamura successfully hunts down his quarry. 45.Rd1 Qh5+ 46.Kf2 Qxh2+ 47.Kf3 Rc6 48.Rd4 Rg6! A very clinical finish from Nakamura. If 48...Rf6+ 49.Rf4 is still losing, but Nakamura's method prevents this defence. 49.g4 Rf6+ 50.Ke4 Qh1+ 51.Kd3 Qb1+ 52.Kd2 Qb2+ 53.Kd3 Of course, if 53.Ke1 Qc1+ picks up the rook on e3. 53...Rc6 0-1 Topalov finally resigns, as he going to lose either a) his king b) one of his  rooks c) his bishop or even d) all of the above! 

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