MVL, Nakamura To Play London Grand Chess Tour Final
Aronian, MVL and the photographer Lennart Ootes in good spirits. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

MVL, Nakamura To Play London Grand Chess Tour Final

| 32 | Chess Event Coverage

In today's rapid and blitz games, Hikaru Nakamura and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave defeated their opponents—Fabiano Caruana and Levon Aronian respectively—to reach the final of the London Chess Classic.

It was a long and fun last day at Google headquarters (after this the tournament returns to Olympia in Kensington) with two games of rapid and four games of blitz. With both matches on an equal score after two classical games, everything would be decided in the faster time controls (25 minutes plus a 10-second delay per move in rapid, 5+3 for blitz).

The first rapid round again saw draws in both games, but then the friendliness was finally over with the eventual winners, Nakamura and Vachier-Lagrave, scoring their first wins. The victory might have been especially sweet for MVL, who lost to Aronian in the 2017 World Cup tiebreak.

Aronian might have regretted playing the Berlin; his main repertoire has always been the Marshall and MVL is one of the few top grandmasters who has consistently tried the endgame. He showed his experience:

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave London Chess Classic 2018

MVL adjusting his pieces before the second rapid game. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Nakamura's win wasn't smooth from the start. In fact, he probably fell into Caruana's world championship preparation in the Queen's Gambit Declined, as Fabiano was blitzing his moves beyond move 20. 

Nakamura admitted his position was quite bad, and said that "he lost the thread with 25.Nd4" which, by the way, would have been strong two moves earlier.

After that, Black's moves came naturally and his extra pawn started to tell.

Hikaru Nakamura London Chess Classic 2018

Hikaru Nakamura arriving early for the second rapid game. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

That meant a four-point lead for Nakamura and MVL going into the blitz games, where a win would only be worth two points. And so both Aronian and Caruana needed to score plus-two to tie the match and force a playoff.

Caruana kept hopes alive as he struck immediately in the first blitz game. Nakamura missed a simple pawn push and didn't react well, as he missed a big chance right after.

Caruana London Chess Classic 2018

The start of the first blitz game, won by Caruana. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

The lead for Nakamura went back to four points as he won the next blitz game. "I was able to sort of outcalculate Fabiano; he missed some tactics," he said.

Nakamura secured his place in the final as he won the next blitz game as well, and then finished with another win to further show his blitz prowess.

"The last two were very straightforward. A good victory," Nakamura said.

Nakamura interview London Chess Classic 2018

Nakamura being interviewed afterward. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Aronian also needed to win the blitz with at least a 3-1 (or rather, 6-2) score. However, things became very difficult when he started with a loss. After two days of struggle, Vachier-Lagrave had clearly found his form.

"It went very smoothly. When I won the first black game, of course it was very important because basically then the match was virtually over," MVL said.

Aronian MVL London Chess Classic 2018

Always a friendly chat between Aronian and MVL. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Aronian had to win the next game, and so his Hippotatomus opening made some sense. However, his last move made clear that it simply wasn't his day.

Aronian Kasimdzhanov Caruana London

Aronian chatting with Caruana's second Rustam Kasimdzhanov. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

And so with two games to go, MVL was in fact the first to reach the final. He lost blitz game three, but finished with another win, and a nice one:

Aronian resigns MVL London Chess Classic

Aronian resigns in the last game of the semifinal. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Meanwhile, MVL has also overtaken Magnus Carlsen to become the new number one in the live blitz ratings:


The Frenchman's comment on this was rather humble: "I don’t take too much importance; it’s nice but blitz ratings come and go so. I don’t think it changes what I said earlier: Magnus is the best blitz player in the world, doesn’t matter the rating!"

Vachier-Lagrave London Chess Classic

MVL might not be strongest blitz player on the planet, but he's still in the running to win the 2018 Grand Chess Tour. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Nakamura and Vachier-Lagrave will begin their final on Saturday. Again, two classical games will be played over the weekend, and then on Monday we'll see more rapid and blitz. The winner will earn $120,000 while the loser goes home with $80,000.

Alongside the final, Aronian and Caruana will play for third place which is worth $60,000; there the loser gets $40,000.

Nakamura and MVL met for a quarterfinal match of the 2018 Speed Chess Championship, played on October 11. Nakamura won that one 21.5-13.5. They also played a playoff at this year's Gibraltar tournament, which Nakamura eventually won in an Armageddon game. 

MVL admitted that his results online against Naka are "borderline miserable" but over the board it's "quite good." This year, they drew their rapid game and their two blitz games in Paris. In St. Louis, Nakamura won the rapid game but MVL won the blitz 1.5-0.5.

British Knockout

The final of the British Knockout Championship will be played, also Saturday-Monday, between Gawain Jones and Luke McShane. They defeated their opponents David Howell and Michael Adams respectively.

Jones went into the rapid and blitz with a six-point lead, as he had won the second classical game on Wednesday. Howell did what he had to do and started with a win, which brought down the gap to two points.

After a quick draw in the second rapid game, Jones won the first blitz game and then also the next one, which secured him a spot in the final. It was a remarkable moment where, under the pressure, Howell failed to hold a R-vs-B endgame:

Jones Howell British Knockout 2018

A tough and decisive loss for Howell. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

After two draws in their classical games, McShane managed to win both rapid games against Adams. In the first, he got a strong attack on the king in a Berlin endgame(!) and ended up checkmating his opponent:

Luke McShane British Knockout 2018

An excellent start for Luke McShane today. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

This meant that Adams had to win all four blitz games to tie the match, which seemed too much to ask until he duly won the first three! However, it must be said that it included the following howler of a move by McShane in a completely winning position:

Adams McShane  British Knockout 2018

Adams won three blitz games in a row, but not the crucial fourth. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

A worse move can hardly be played at this level, you might think, but in blitz, with little time on the clock and lots of pressure around, even this is possible:

Sunil Weeramantry London 2018

Nakamura's stepfather Sunil Weeramantry is supporting him in London. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Aronian Caruana Trent phones

Aronian and Lawrence Trent on their phones (doing some Puzzle Rush?) with Caruana in between. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Malcolm Pein blitz London

Even the organizer IM Malcolm Pein (pink shirt) found the time for some blitz. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

The London Chess Classic takes place December 11-17 in London, with a rest day on December 14. 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 three.

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