London Grand Chess Tour Takes Off With Fighting Draws
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Levon Aronian start their game. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

London Grand Chess Tour Takes Off With Fighting Draws

| 8 | Chess Event Coverage

Both the games Caruana-Nakamura and MVL-Aronian were drawn on the first day of the London Chess Classic, the final leg of the 2018 Grand Chess Tour. Meanwhile, the British Knockout Championship is underway as well.

The Grand Chess Tour ends in London this year with two semifinals (Tuesday-Thursday) and two finals (Saturday-Monday) between Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Levon Aronian, the top four finishers of the earlier Grand Chess Tour events in Leuven, Paris and St. Louis. A hefty $300,000 will be divided among these players.

Both the semifinals and finals consist of two classical games followed by rapid and blitz on the third day of play. The classical games are most important and yield six points for a win, three points for a draw and 0 points for a loss. It's 4/2/0 for the rapid (two games) and 2/1/0 for the blitz (four games). See our preview for more background.

The first day of the semifinals started in the head office of Google UK at Kings Cross, the location for the first three days before everyone will be moving to the London Chess Classic's regular venue, Olympia in Kensington. 

The first round of last year's event also took place at Google, the same location where, on the eighth floor of a modern, high-tech building, the leading AI company DeepMind is situated, bought by Google in 2014.

DeepMind has been in the news this month for releasing more games between AlphaZero and Stockfish as part of an article published in the journal Science.

Demis Hassabis first move London

DeepMind's Demis Hassabis made the first move for Caruana, just as he did three weeks ago for game eight of the world championship. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

The participation of Caruana brings a side story for Elo watchers. He is still three points behind Magnus Carlsen as all 12 games in their world title match ended in draws (FIDE doesn't adjust if ratings are that close). This means that if Caruana plays well in London, he could take over the number-one spot in the live ratings.

And there was definitely a moment where Carlsen might have been worried a bit, on Tuesday. The open h-file gave Caruana some chances for an attack, and some engines were as optimistic as giving White an advantage of more than a pawn. Nakamura defended well and was briefly the one with slight chances before a drawn rook endgame came on the board.

Giving comments on site, Garry Kasparov briefly joined the live broadcast produced by the St. Louis crew. He said he liked White out of the opening, and that he didn't believe Nakamura was much surprised about the opening ("how many new ideas can you find in the Queen's Gambit?").

The Boss suggested a knight maneuver Nf3-h4-f5 and afterward Nakamura had been worried about that indeed: "I thought this could be very close to losing," said Nakamura. 

16.Nh4 here was both Kasparov and Nakamura's suggestion.

When under pressure, Nakamura played rather quickly. He said: "I thought the moves that I played were almost only moves, and second I felt it was a position where you just play the moves and if you’re mated you’re mated, but that’s just how it goes!"

Hikaru Nakamura London Chess Classic 2018

Nakamura: "If you're mated you're mated." | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Caruana felt he had chances there: "I had the feeling after the game that I was winning at some point but so far nobody has told me what the win is. It seemed he was playing only moves for a very long time and each one I looked at, it seemed he was surviving by the skin of his teeth pretty much."

He admitted that when he had lost the advantage, he wasn't immediately ready to bail out. "When you’re better the whole game you don’t want to take a draw," Caruana said. "I just didn’t stop and think that maybe I was risking a bit."

Fabiano Caruana London Chess Classic

Caruana just keeps on drawing. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Nakamura couldn't complain: "A draw was good. The game was very interesting. It was a good way to start after a long break."

Although he had been on Caruana's team for preparing for the title match, GM Alejandro Ramirez, now in the role as interviewer for the live broadcast, was to the point when he asked if his former "boss" needs to take risks tomorrow because Nakamura should be the favorite in the rapid and blitz.

Caruana was down to earth as always: "I’m not gonna take any special risks. Of course if I get a better position I’ll try to win it but I’m not gonna do anything crazy."

Caruana vs Nakamura  London Chess Classic 2018

An excellent game from both players today. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

In the other game it was Aronian who had the better chances, with the black pieces. MVL's problems started early, as he wasn't happy with how he reacted to his opponent's queen maneuver from d8 to b8.

Aronian was surprised to hear this, and noted that he had played ...Qd8-b8-b5 in an earlier game against the same opponent. He mixed up (referring to their encounter at the Palma de Mallorca GP in 2017 where he meant their game at Grenke this year!) but the similarity was striking indeed.

"I tried to keep life in the position with 14.d4 but in hindsight it was not my best decision," said Vachier-Lagrave. "After 18...Re8 I was already looking for a bailout and not finding it."

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave  London Chess Classic 2018

MVL concentrating and trying to remember the opening lines. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

MVL decided to sacrifice an exchange in the endgame, and that worked out well ("As soon as I managed to give the exchange I thought my problems are over," he said) but mostly because Aronian missed some key tactics: first a trick for himself (36...d3!) and then a move by his opponent (35.Bb6!).

In this position from analysis, which could have come on the board, Aronian was shocked to realize that he had missed 36...d3! in his calculations. 

Aronian  London Chess Classic 2018

Aronian missed some chances in the first round. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Vachier-Lagrave played the endgame with two pawns and bishop versus rook for quite a while, but the result wasn't really in doubt. "The problem is that if Levon is not careful and I get f5 and g5 it’s probably still within the drawing margin but then suddenly it gets difficult," he said.

Aronian agreed that he had to be a bit cautious, and concluded about the game: "I tried. I was clearly pushing for a win; I wasn’t settling for a draw. At some point I think I got overly excited." 

Vachier-Lagrave Aronian  London Chess Classic 2018

Aronian's experience in the Ruy Lopez paid off, but only for half a point. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Pro-Biz Cup

Traditionally, the event was opened on Monday with a special event for sponsors and celebrities called the "Pro Biz Cup." Strong players were paired with weaker ones, and duos like that faced each other while having to alternate moves (and not too much discussion among the team members!).

The event raised funds for Chess in Schools and Communities. Alongside the two-vs-two matches, talented schoolchildren received masterclasses and from four British grandmasters.

Daniel King London Chess Classic MasterClass

Daniel King giving a masterclass elsewhere in the Google building. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Still attracting most of the attention, Kasparov was among the participants—he was paired with entrepreneur Terry Chapman. The other teams were Caruana & Chris Flowers, Michael Adams & Natasha Regan, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave & Gilles Betthaeuser, Nakamura & WIM Karina Vazirova, Gawain Jones & IM Nigel Povah, Matthew Sadler & Demis Hassabis, Ali Mortazavi & Shreyas Royal, Levon Aronian & Justin Baptie and David Howell & Rajko Vujatovic.

Kasparov Chapman Pro Biz London Chess Classic 2018

Kasparov and Chapman teaming up in the Pro Biz. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

The latter two teams tied for first, after which Vujatovic won a playoff blitz match versus Baptie to take the title. (More info on this event can be found here.)

Here's one game, from the first round. A strong display from the winning duo, although there was one chance for its opponents to hold the draw, and most probably it wasn't Kasparov to move there...

David Howell & Rajko Vujatovic Pro Biz

Howell & Vujatovic beating Kasparov & Chapman. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

British Knockout

Also at Google headquarters, the semifinals of the British Knockout Championship started. After preliminary rounds earlier this week, four players are left who follow a similar schedule of two classical games followed by rapid and blitz: Luke McShane vs Michael Adams and David Howell vs Gawain Jones.

Also here, both games ended in draws on the first day. Jones managed to equalize without too much trouble in a Fianchetto Gruenfeld vs Howell, while the other game was more tactical:

McShane Adams British Knockout 2018

A topsy-turvy game McShane vs Adams in the British Knockout. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

The London Chess Classic takes place December 11-17 in London. You can follow the games, starting from 2 p.m. local time (9 a.m. Eastern, 6 a.m. Pacific), at our new page with commentary by GMs Yasser Seirawan, Cristian Chirila, Alejandro Ramirez and WGM Jennifer Shahade.

Here you can replay the show from day one.

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Peter Doggers

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