Shreyas Royal Eyes GM Norm; Gukesh's Candidates Hopes Fade
Shreyas Royal is closing in on the grandmaster title. Photo: Chess in Schools and Communities.

Shreyas Royal Eyes GM Norm; Gukesh's Candidates Hopes Fade

| 21 | Chess Event Coverage

IM Shreyas Royal won a seemingly hopeless position against GM Jules Moussard to go into his final-round game against GM Michael Adams needing a draw to make a second GM norm. A draw would also see Adams at least tie for first in the London Chess Classic 2023, ending GM Gukesh Dommaraju's slim hopes of the sole first he needs to overtake GM Anish Giri in the FIDE Candidates race. The day's other win was for GM Andrei Volokitin, whose eccentric time management didn't stop him defeating GM Mateusz Bartel

The London Chess Classic ends with round nine on Sunday, December 10, at 9:15 a.m. ET/15:15 CET/7:45 p.m. IST.

London Chess Classic Round 8 Results

Rating Title Player Result Title Player Rating
1 2659 GM Andrei Volokitin 1-0 GM Mateusz Bartel 2659
2 2704 GM Nikita Vitiugov ½-½ GM Hans Niemann 2667
3 2720 GM Gukesh D ½-½ GM Amin Tabatabaei 2692
4 2635 GM Jules Moussard 0-1 IM Shreyas Royal 2438
5 2661 GM Michael Adams ½-½ GM Luke McShane 2631

Vitiugov, Niemann Lick Their Wounds

Giri was back on duty for the penultimate round of the London Chess Classic and immediately flagged up the decision by GM Hans Niemann to play the Berlin for a fourth time, despite suffering a heavy loss to Volokitin in round six.

This time, however, there was no battle ahead, as Vitiugov acquiesced in a rapid-fire 30-move draw. The game had been seen before, for instance in Tabatabaei-Niemann from the Dubai Open earlier in 2023, and there are at least two plausible explanations—one is that both players wanted to stem the bleeding after suffering their second losses of the tournament in the previous round. The other is that Niemann was ill, as Bartel had noted in his round-seven recap.

Gukesh Needs A Candidates Miracle

The main storyline of this year's London Chess Classic has been Gukesh battling to take sole first place and overhaul Giri as the leader of the FIDE Circuit. That now looks all but impossible, however, since Adams goes into the final round with a half-point lead after making a very solid draw against GM Luke McShane.

The draw was nothing for McShane to complain about, since he'd lost his previous three games with the black pieces in this year's event.

For a brief moment that draw meant that a winner of the second-place battle, Gukesh vs. GM Amin Tabatabaei, would catch Adams, but almost immediately that clash also ended in a draw. Tabatabaei's position might have given him painful flashbacks to the 2022 FIDE Grand Prix in Belgrade...

...but although the structure and particularly the isolated pawn on e6 were the same, Tabatabaei's position was much healthier than back then. Gukesh made no headway and the game fizzled out into a 37-move draw that left the Indian star needing the most unlikely of final days to get the Candidates result he has been hoping for. To finish in sole first place:

  1. Gukesh with the black pieces must beat Niemann 
  2. Adams with the black pieces must lose to Royal 
  3. Tabatabaei with the white pieces must fail to beat Moussard 

It's more likely Gukesh's thoughts will turn to the prizes in London, with £15,000 (about $19,000) for first place, and £10,000 for second. It also seems he'll be playing in a strong round-robin in Chennai in a week's time, giving him another shot at Candidates qualification.

Another storyline on the final day will be 14-year-old Royal gunning for a second GM norm.

Moussard 0-1 Royal: GM Norm In Sight

For English teenage prodigy Royal, the London Chess Classic had already been a great success, with a win over Tabatabaei and draws against 2700-players Gukesh and Vitiugov.

For a grandmaster norm, however, there was still a lot of work to do, with Royal needing to score an unlikely 1.5/2 in the final two rounds. That seemed even more unlikely when he found himself a pawn down in a near hopeless position against Moussard, until one careless move allowed the shocking 41...Nf6!, which transformed the game.

Moussard collapsed in what followed, with the win for Royal our Game of the Day, analyzed by GM Rafael Leitao below.

That means Royal now "only" needs a draw against Adams in the final round for a second GM norm. For the title he would then need one more norm—for instance in the Hastings Masters he's set to play at the turn of the year—plus a 2500 rating to become a grandmaster. If he completes the requirements before he turns 16, he'll take over from GM David Howell as England's youngest-ever grandmaster.

The final game to finish was a tough one for Bartel, who maintained his record of 100 percent decisive games, but not in the way he would have hoped.

Volokitin 1-0 Bartel

In his latest recap, Bartel explained that Volokitin, while living in Poland since the outbreak of war, is from the Lviv school of chess, characterized by principled opening preparation and very deep analysis. Bartel hoped to exploit the downsides of that approach, explaining, "I counted on surprising him, that he would sink into thought, and it would go well!"

Bartel did manage to surprise Volokitin, who did use oceans of time... but from there on the plan failed!

Two out of three isn't bad. Bartel played the French and we got the hypersharp Winawer Variation, but he confessed it was "unforgivable" that he'd been unprepared for Volokitin's 12.Nxc3 instead of the standard 12.Qd3.

In fact, Volokitin had previously played and won four games in that line, but nevertheless, Bartel kept playing fast and well until his 14...Qc5!?, an over-the-board novelty, achieved the aim of getting Volokitin out of book—the Ukrainian grandmaster invested an epic 49 minutes and 46 seconds in the position. He would later get down to 10 seconds on his clock by move 30, but that didn't stop him from picking up a third win in London.

That win means that Volokitin goes into the final round with a mathematical chance of finishing in a tie for first place, but all eyes will be on the players above him: Adams, who has Black vs. Royal; Gukesh, who has Black vs. Niemann; and Tabatabaei, who has the white pieces against Moussard. 

Standings After Round 8

How to watch the 2023 London Chess Classic

You can keep up with all the games and results of the tournament on our live events platform by following this link.

The 2023 London Chess Classic is a 10-player classical all-play-all tournament taking place in London during December 1-10. The players compete for a £15,000 (~$19,000) top prize, with games starting at 9:15 a.m. ET/15:15 CET/7:45 p.m. IST.

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