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Sicilian Dragon Sparkles Up Peaceful 2nd Round In London
A Sicilian Dragon in Vachier-Lagrave vs Nakamura. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Sicilian Dragon Sparkles Up Peaceful 2nd Round In London

After two days the fans are still awaiting the first decisive game at the London Chess Classic. However, among the five draws in Sunday's second round was a sharp and highly entertaining Sicilian Dragon between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Hikaru Nakamura.

"Everyone's sharp, everyone's well-prepared," said Vachier-Lagrave about the fact that the first 10 games in London ended in draws. It's a draw fest so far, but to call it an uninteresting tournament would be highly exaggerated. This round, So vs Nepomniachtchi and MVL vs Nakamura were great fights.

2017 London Chess Classic | Round 2 Results

Fed Name Result Fed Name
Wesley So ½-½ Ian Nepomniachtchi
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave ½-½ Hikaru Nakamura
Viswanathan Anand ½-½ Michael Adams
Sergey Karjakin ½-½ Magnus Carlsen
Fabiano Caruana ½-½ Levon Aronian

With the tournament returning to its traditional venue, the Olympia Convention Center on Hammersmith Road, the game of the day was that Dragon Sicilian between MVL and Nakamura. This line, potentially one of the sharpest opening variations in the whole spectrum of theory, is not very common at top level but will always remain popular at club level because of the abundance of mutual attacks and pretty sacrifices.

Afterward Nakamura revealed that he had prepared it for his game with Vachier-Lagrave two weeks ago at the Palma de Mallorca FIDE Grand Prix: "I was gonna play this against Maxime in Palma and I was gonna win or I was gonna lose. Either I was gonna take the lead in the tournament or he was gonna qualify for the Candidates', that was my attitude."

In Palma he didn't get the chance because the French GM went for 3.Bb5+. Today, Nakamura figured "why not use it."

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave vs Hikaru Nakamura in London

This time Vachier-Lagrave didn't shy away from the main lines vs Nakamura. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

It didn't come as a complete surprise to MVL, who nonetheless lamented his lack of proper study. But, the principled player that he is, Vachier-Lagrave didn't shy away from the main line and then it was Nakamura who took the first long thought, on move 17.

After more than 50 minutes the American player went for 17...Na5, which was virtually a novelty. "I was trying to figure out the different variations. I just couldn't remember the lines." He had some worries about the (theoretical) move 17...Qc8.

Chess.com's interview with Nakamura.

MVL admitted that he "made a couple of miscalculations" which included taking on c6, which took Nakamura "totally by surprise." Still, the endgame was tougher to defend than it seemed, and Naka was happy with his accurate play in the ending.

Dejan Bojkov Game of the Day

Chess.com's interview with Vachier-Lagrave.

Ian Nepomniachtchi said he wanted to disrupt his opponent's preparation, and for that he played something quite remarkable as Black: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.f3 (an invitation to the Saemisch King's Indian...) d6 4.e4 e5 (...maybe...) 5.Ne2 c5!? (...or maybe not!) which led to a closed position after 6.d5.

"It does look very playable for Black; he just lacks a bit of space," said So.

With his 12.g4, shortly after playing g2-g3, So "won" the e4-square but also allowed a knight on f4. "The computer really likes it because White has a space advantage and computers like that," said So.

But especially for the loss of tempo, he was mocked by his opponent: "If there is some logic in chess, Wesley clearly didn't follow it."

Both players were of the opinion that White should have continued his strategy of using e4 as a blockading square and keeping the g7-bishop bad, instead of trading it for a knight.

In the final position Black is very comfortable, but without seeing a way to get his knight to d4 Nepomniachtchi felt he couldn't play for a win.

Vishy Anand watches as Wesley So moves.

Vishy Anand watches as Wesley So moves. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The battle between Sergey Karjakin and Magnus Carlsen, the fourth after last year's world title match in New York, looked quite promising when the latter uncorked 9...g5!? in a Giuoco Pianissimo. Karjakin knew the move from the recent game Oparin-Matlakov and came up with an improvement. What followed might have been an over-the-board by the world champ.

"Maybe he was chosing the line over the board because he had a big choice in the opening," Karjakin told Chess.com. "11.Nb3 was the first choice, he had to know this."

The Russian GM was surprised that his opponent went for 12...gxf3, which leads to a slightly worse endgame. "Certainly I was intending to play aggressively but then I kind of bailed out at the first moment when I saw this alternative that I could actually go for this endgame and we still had some very interesting play, I was tempted."

Sergey Karjakin talking to Maurice Ashley in London.

Karjakin talking to Maurice Ashley with Carlsen waiting in the background. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

With Carlsen and Karjakin making their appearance, the commentary room got fully packed with about 60-70 people, some standing around and at the back, and outside another 50 or so were waiting. The players had trouble getting out because of the mass of people, gave several autographs and posed for selfies.

At some point Henrik Carlsen, who had left the commentary room early to catch his son outide, went back in an attempt to help Magnus leaving the scene. However, before he knew it, the father was also asked for a selfie with a chess fan!

It goes to show that London is never a bad choice for a tournament, or a world championship for that matter.

Magnus Carlsen among many fans in London.

Magnus Carlsen among many fans in London. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The games Anand-Adams and Caruana-Aronian can be found in the PGN file.

Download Tournament PGN

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On the other side of the building the Open tournament is underway, and the British Knockout Championship is also being played there. Today the semifinals were played, with Luke McShane vs Nigel Short and David Howell vs Matthew Sadler.

Remarkably, the two classical games and two rapid games in each match had also ended in draws. McShane, who had missed a mate in two in the second rapid game, convincingly defeated Short in the Armageddon game where Black's opening setup, designed to play for a (must) win, completely backfired:

Luke McShane vs Nigel Short at the British Knockout Championship.

Short holds the draw vs McShane but later loses the Armageddon. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

In his Armageddon, poor Sadler was outplaying Howell from the black side of a double fianchetto, won an important won and reached a technically winning position—only to blunder everything away in one move. The resulting position wasn't so clear actually but Howell's time and psychological advantage were too much.

David Howell vs Matthew Sadler at the British Knockout Championship.

Sadler resigns the Armageddon game with Howell, with GMs Simon Williams and Gawain Jones among the spectators. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Howell and MShane will now play four classical games (one on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday) and four rapid games on Saturday, which count half. The winner gets a cheque of £20,000 (€22,700 / $27,000) and the loser get half of that.


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