Caruana Back In Action For 4-Man London Chess Classic
With the setting and the various time controls, this year's London Classic will be nearly de ja vu for Fabiano Caruana. | Photo: Mike Klein/

Caruana Back In Action For 4-Man London Chess Classic

| 47 | Chess Event Coverage

Fabiano. London. Classical match. Then rapid.

Sound familiar?

No, it's not a continuation of the world championship, it's the new format of the 2018 London Chess Classic, which will take place December 11-17. This 10th edition will be split up between DeepMind's Google headquarters and the traditional venue of London Olympia.

Fabiano Caruana will travel back across the Atlantic and be joined by three other qualifiers—Hikaru Nakamura, Levon Aronian, and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave—in a four-person head-to-head event that also doubles as the culmination of the season-long Grand Chess Tour. One enduring plot line is that Caruana will once again have a chance to become world number one (Magnus Carlsen is dormant during this period).

London Chess Classic

The fearsome foursome in London. Graphic: London Chess Classic official site.

The players earned their spots by finishing as the top four in the tour. By winning two of the GCT's three rapid/blitz events, Nakamura led the way with 34.5 points. Aronian finished second with 34.0 and the Frenchman third with 31.0. Recall that Caruana's two-event late rally in August in St. Louis catapulted him into an unlikely tie with fellow American Wesley So for fourth.

Caruana then eschewed a playoff for the Sinquefield Cup to concentrate on a tiebreaker with So, which he duly won to become the fourth seed. There was some confusion over whether Caruana had to accept his invitation (he would, after all, just be coming off a month in London with an unknown result). But as he told right after winning the playoff, there was no confusion in his mind—he wanted to play regardless (according to GCT officials, he is required to play).

There's a guaranteed payday of at last $40,000 even if one loses both matches, and he is the defending champion to boot.

Thus the opening-round matches will be between Nakamura and Caruana, while Aronian will face Vachier-Lagrave. The semifinal matches will be at Google's London offices while the finals will revert to the Olympia, where the conjoined open and scholastic events will take place.

While the London Classic is traditionally a "normal" round robin, it has always been a chameleon, experimenting with other formats. It used to comprise eight players, but one edition added a ninth player, giving every GM one round to try his hand at commentary on the off day. Once it abbreviated itself to six players and altered the scoring system, while another year 16 players attended in an all-rapid format. 

Now with three years of GCT alignment, in 2015 the tournament became a 10-player round-robin like other classical tour events. This year, however, the qualification process mandated only four players attend. Since the GCT itself is a mashup of all three chess time controls, this year's tour winner will fittingly be required to excel in each.

Unlike the world championship, where the rapid was a necessary evil to some, this year's London Classic will make it very much a part of the battle (and this is also the first time that blitz games will play a required part of the Classic).

Grand Chess Tour Final Standings

The 2018 Grand Chess Tour complete standings. Graphic: Grand Chess Tour and Spectrum Studios.

December 11 and 12 will be one classical game each day, then the semifinals will accelerate to rapid and blitz on December 13 (two games of rapid and four of blitz). After a rest day on the 14th, the same three-day format will recur in the finals from December 15-17. There will also be a consolation bracket to decide third place since all four prizes pay out differently.

Here's the complicated scoring system for all matches. There's no extra weight given to wins over draws, but naturally more points are given to longer time controls. Should someone go 2-0 or even 1.5-0.5 in the classical, then he would have a commanding lead, but not insurmountable, going into the third day.


Screenshot: Grand Chess Tour regulations.

Should any match end in a tie, then two rapid games (10+5) will be contested, then the players would go immediately to Armageddon if still tied. Note that the regulations also require that all rapid and blitz games be played, even if someone has clinched victory in the match.

The hefty prizes total $300,000: $120,000 for first; $80,000 for second; $60,000 for third; and $40,000 for fourth. This year's event is sponsored for the first time by the Lohia Foundation, a charitable trust that "focuses on education and health care initiatives."

One other similarity between this event and November's world championship? Day tickets are already getting scooped up. The semifinal matches, which cost £25 daily, are all sold out according to the online purchasing system. Of course, the tour regulations state that those matches are "by invitation only."  According to press officer Tim Wall, there was a lottery whereby some members of the public got in.

All tickets to the Olympiad are free for women and for those under the age of 25, as per the event's desire to get more women and children involved in the game.

Caruana will be only slightly more anonymous than during his last trip to London—four players instead of two only marginally deflects the attention of the chess public. But as you can see from his brief respite back in St. Louis, everyone is still watching his every move.

Tickets also grant access to the London Classic Open and various other GM lectures and events at the Olympiad Conference Center (this GCT event has more of a "festival" atmosphere than others). The official website notes that tickets also give access to live commentary, which will alternate amongst GM Danny King, IM Lawrence Trent, and GM Chris Ward. Members with access to the VIP room will have additional live commentators, including the attacking wizard GM Julian Hodgson.

Two other high-profile events will also occur. From December 8-17 the British Knockout Championship will take place, led by Michael Adams. The 12-player event mixes genders, and the top four seeds get a bye to round two. Then after winnowing down to four players, the knockout will come in tandem with the same format as the London Classic for the semifinals and finals. Luke McShane will be attempting to defend his title from 2017.

Also, on December 10, the Pro-Biz Cup will kick off the Classic. The four GCT players will join Kasparov and other GMs in the "pro-am" tandem chess event. The quotes around "pro-am" reflect that many of the grandmasters' partners are not exactly slouches (this is not Bill Murray joining the competition). Several IMs and FMs will be the tandem partners, including one world champion (of the underwater variety!).

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