by John Saunders
There were two decisive games in an exciting round at the
London Chess Classic today. Magnus Carlsen stretched his
lead to three points over Vladimir Kramnik, while Luke
McShane won again to move into third place.
Before moving onto a blow-by-blow account of round five,
let’s clear up a couple of errors from round four. One was
in the original issue of the press release, where we tried
to tell you that Short-Ni Hua was the round four best game
winner. I hope neither of those gentlemen nipped out to
spend their 500 euros (each) on Christmas presents on the
strength of this comment because it was wrong. The best game
winners of round four were Carlsen and Nakamura (shared).
The other error was by the aforementioned Carlsen and (to a
lesser extent) Nakamura. At yesterday’s press conference
Carlsen told the audience that he regretted playing 32 Qe2
and wished he had played 32 Re2. Nakamura backed him up and
the opinion was related to a packed commentary room. Nobody
present spotted that 32 Re2 had a huge flaw and would have
lost instantly (we’re assuming that, at the chessboard,
Hikaru would have found what he missed during commentary),
but all our computers found it instantly (you can find it
mentioned in yesterday’s game annotations).
After his game today, and before commenting on his round
five, Magnus Carlsen came to the commentary room and
delivered rather a delightful little speech, owning up to
the unsoundness of the line he advocated at yesterday’s
commentary session and advising us against taking anything
he said in his post-round comments as gospel. It went down
very well with the audience. Magnus has remarkable poise for
a young man of tender years and he’s made a big hit with the
London chess audience. You’ll remember that Big Vlad had
some problems getting into the country; I’m rather hoping
that Britain’s over-zealous passport authorities will take
similar action when Magnus tries to get out of Britain after
the tournament. We’d like to keep him.
In today’s round, Carlsen was soon out of the ‘book’ (as he
admitted afterwards) and the watching grandmasters were not
too convinced about the safety of his position for the first
part of the game. It is possible that Ni Hua could have made
more of some early attacking chances but the Norwegian soon
consolidated and, slowly but surely, outplayed his opponent.
The game seemed to hinge on a couple of judgement calls; in
particular, compare and contrast the trajectory of the two
kings in the final phase of the game.
Ni Hua - Magnus Carlsen
1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 Bb5+ Nd7 4 d4 a6 5 Bxd7+ Bxd7 6 dxc5 dxc5
7 Nc3 e6 8 Bf4 Ne7 9 Ne5
This sort of thing has been played before but not in this
exact position. Magnus admitted that he was soon out of his
9...Ng6 10 Qh5!?
This sort of move is easily overlooked.
10...Nxf4?? allows mate in one, while 10...Nxe5? 11 Bxe5
makes it very hard to develop Black's kingside.
11 Bg3 Nxe5 12 Bxe5 c4 13 0–0
Magnus said he was wasn't so concerned about this move. He
had expected 13 f4 which is a bit more aggressive.
Magnus's view given in the commentary room was that most of
his problems were over around this point. But to the less
sophisticated eye (i.e. virtually everybody else on the
planet), he doesn't seem to be out of the wood yet.
It is not obvious where Black can stow his king in this
position but Magnus comes up with what looks like a very
14...h6 15 Qg3 f6
This looks like a self-inflicted wound: the horrid weakness
on g6 most chessplayers would find repellent. But chess
geniuses can assess a position on its merits.
16 Qg6+ Ke7
The previous day Ni Hua had gone in for a similar ugly king
move which blocked his own bishop on f8.
17 Bf4 Be8
This patches up the light square weakness but does nothing
to help develop the pieces or connect the rooks.
18 Qg3 Kf7 19 Rad1 Bc6 20 Rd2
Magnus thought 20 a3 was better and, for once, it is
possible to understand fully what he has in mind. It stops
the black bishop coming to b4 where it causes some
20...e5 21 Be3 Bb4
This line is not without risk for Black as White can try to
open up lines against his king.
22 f4 Rhe8!
A key defensive move. Carlsen had calculated that his king
should be reasonably safe from attack after this.
23 f5 Bc5 24 Rfd1 Rad8 25 Rxd8 Bxe3+ 26 Qxe3 Rxd8 27 Rxd8
Once the rooks are off, the position starts to turn
inexorably in favour of Black.
28 Kf2 Qd6 29 a3
Otherwise Qb4 will be a nuisance.
This looks like a fairly balanced position and your chess
engine will probably pronounce it equal, or perhaps slightly
better for Black because he has bishop for knight. That is
probably about right and yet the position soon swings
markedly in favour of Black. One crucial aspect over the
next few moves is what the players do with their kings. Keep
a watchful eye on the monarchs as the game unfolds...
Here the game gets very grandmasterly. Carlsen felt that 30
Ke2 was more precise though he did not articulate this
sentiment in such a way that that we chess mortals could
fully appreciate the difference.
Carlsen chooses to move his king backwards to safety. He
wants it to have the option of hiding on h7 should a white
queen attack it along the back rank. Another motive was
possibly the provision of a square for the bishop to occupy
and put pressure on the a2-g8 diagonal.
31 g3 b5 32 Ke2 b4 33 axb4 axb4 34 Nd1 Ba4
Magnus thought the text was inferior. We looked at 35 Qd2
Qd4 and Black certainly gets a lot of pressure but nothing
absolutely decisive. 35 b3 opens up the f1–a6 diagonal and
this exposes the white king to danger.
35...cxb3 36 cxb3 Qa6+ 37 Kd2?!
In time trouble, Ni Hua starts to make a few slight errors
which, when added together, make a big one. 37 Ke1 is
37...Bb5 38 Qc5 Qa2+ 39 Qc2?
The final error. 39 Kc1 is better, though Black still has
problems after 39...Be2 . That said, 40 Ne3!? Qxb3 41 Qd5+
Qxd5 42 exd5 might just be OK for White.
Black's command of the two diagonals catches the eye.
White reaches the time control with a check. There doesn't
seem to be anything significantly better for White since 40
g4 Kh7 41 h3 Qd4+ 42 Kc1 Bd3 wins the e4 pawn, with a very
comfortable positional plus.
Black's king finds a safe haven but its adversary remains
horribly exposed. Notice that the e8 square, where White
would dearly like to post his queen to threaten perpetual
check, is controlled by the bishop.
41 Kc1 Qa1+ 42 Kc2 Qd4 0–1
The e4 pawn cannot be saved and, without any hope of
positional compensation, White decides he has had enough.
Some months ago Nigel Short took back the title of England
number one from Michael Adams; surprisingly so, perhaps,
since Nigel is 44 to Michael’s 38 and we have become
accustomed to other leading players fading in their forties.
So their meeting today was a chance for Michael to regain
his crown. The opening was a Open Ruy Lopez, which Nigel has
only recently started playing for Black but with some
success. He has evidently hit upon a system which suits him
well as he seemed to have an edge for much of today’s game
with Michael. Just before the time control he may have
slipped up slightly with 39...g5 as he admitted he had
completely overlooked Michael’s reply 40 e6, threatening to
queen a pawn. In the commentary room Nigel confessed he was
relieved to find he had one saving move which led to the
Next up, a mouth-watering pairing between Hikaru Nakamura
and Luke McShane: Hikaru never fails to entertain and Luke
is once again fully focused on chess so this was a sure-fire
winner as far as the crowd was concerned. Luke decided to
stick with his Na6 variation of the King’s Indian Defence
with which he lost to Magnus and his bravery was rewarded,
not just with his second win but with the round’s best game
prize of 1,000 euros. Well done, Luke, but also credit to
Hikaru for a battling performance.
Hikaru Nakamura - Luke McShane
King’s Indian E94
1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 Bg7 4 e4 d6 5 Be2 0–0 6 Nf3 e5 7 0–0
Na6 8 Be3 Ng4 9 Bg5 Qe8 10 c5!?
This imbalances the position and ensures that it will not be
a stereotypical KID game.
10...exd4 11 Nd5 Be6
11...Nxc5 12 Nxc7 Qxe4 13 Re1 Rb8 14 Bc4 Qf5 15 Be7 was
played in Navara-McShane, Gothenburg 2005, and White
Another bold decision by Hikaru. He probably looked at 12
Bxa6 Bxd5 13 exd5 bxa6 14 cxd6 cxd6 15 Nxd4 Qd7 and decided
it didn't offer him enough. Chess engines seem to like it
but it is not clear that White has sufficient play.
12...Bxd5 13 Bxf8 Qxf8 14 exd5 dxc5
Black has two pawns and a knight for the rook, so the
material situation is fairly balanced.
15 Qb3 Rb8 16 Rfe1 Qd6 17 h3
White has to be wary of all those black pawns on the
queenside. For example, 17 Bc4? b5! and if 18 Bxb5 c6! 19
dxc6 Nc7 20 a4 a6 and the bishop is lost; 17 Qa4!? may be a
canny move to restrain a queenside advance.
17...Nf6 18 Bxa6
After this, Black seems to be slightly in the ascendant.
Perhaps something less committal, such as 18 a3, was called
18...Qxa6 19 Rac1 Bf8 20 Ne5 Qb6 21 Qf3 Qd6
Too gung ho. 22 Nd3!? was more cautious, restraining Black's
queenside pawns: 22...b6 23 b4 Nxd5 24 bxc5 bxc5 25 Rxc5 Nf4
26 Rec1 looks playable.
Grabbing some important dark squares. Black even has dreams
of advancing a pawn to d2 one day. 23 Rc2 Re8 24 Rce2 Rf8 25
Nc4 Qxd5 26 Qxf6 Bg7!? Probably better than the immediate
26...Qxc4 27 Re8 when, for example, the pawn grab 27...Qxa2?
runs into 28 g5! Bg7 29 Rxf8+ Bxf8 30 Re8 and Black finds he
has no defence to 31 Qe7 and mate.
27 Qf4 may be better but Black still has 27...Qxc4 28 b3 Qd5
29 Qxc7 d3 30 Re7 Bc3 with a probable win in sight.
27...Qxc4 28 Re8 Qd5 29 Rxf8+ Bxf8 30 Re8 Kg7
It's beginning to look very difficult for White. He could
try 31 Qd8 Qxd8 32 Rxd8 but that may be quite similar to the
text in the long run.
Black has now completed his king's defensive set-up and can
turn his attention to march his queenside pawns down the
32 Kf1 b5 33 Ke1
White wants to use his king to block the advance of the
33...c4 34 Qe4 c5 35 h4 c3 36 bxc3 dxc3 37 Qe5+
A difficult decision but probably best.
37...Qxe5+ 38 Rxe5 a5 39 Kd1 a4 40 a3 b4 41 Kc2
White appears to have stymied the pawn advance but Black has
one more trick in his locker. 41...h6! The idea behind this
move is simply to give his king a square on h7 so that he
can put the bishop on g7 and play b3+.
42 Re8 Bd6 43 Ra8 gives Black a lot more problems than the
42...hxg5 43 hxg5 Kh7 44 Rd7
The loss of the f7 pawn, and what is effectively a self-pin,
matter far less than the opportunity to advance the b-pawn
45 Rxf7 b3+ 46 Kb1 Kg8 47 Ra7 Bd4 48 Rxa4 Kf7 49 Ra6
If 49 Ra7+ Ke6 50 Rb7 c4 and the phalanx of black material
is invulnerable, e.g. 51 Rc7 Kd5 52 Rd7+ Ke4 and the black
king sets up a mating finish.
49...Be5 50 Ra4 0–1
The rook has to stop the big threat of c2+ and Bf4+ and so
lets the black king in. 50...Ke6 51 Rh4 Kd5 52 a4 c4 53 Rh1
c2+ 54 Kc1 c3 55 Rh4 Bd6 Mate follows in only two moves.
The final game to finish was Howell-Kramnik. Watching this
game brought back memories of 1 March 2002 when the
11-year-old David Howell played a short exhibition match,
sponsored by Einstein.tv, against world champion Vladimir
Kramnik in London. Take a look at the photo I took then...
Was that only seven years ago? David was just a little boy
then but he’s a tall young man these days (though not as
tall as Big Vlad – few people are). David got a draw in the
fourth of four games in 2002, setting a record for the
youngest player to draw with a world champion. Of course,
that was just a bit of fun – let’s say that Vlad may not
have been playing at full throttle. But he certainly was
today and he couldn’t overcome England’s top teenager.
The game featured an early repetition but it was David who
stopped the sequence. That is not to say that Vlad would not
have desisted from a possible threefold repetition himself
next move. This is favourite psychological trick of many
grandmasters. At move 20 there came a tactical trick from
the ex-world champion and it looked as though Howell’s
defences might have been seriously breached. But, not for
the first time in the tournament, Howell showed
resourcefulness under pressure to reach a fairly decent
middlegame position where he had bishop and knight for rook
and two pawns. Kramnik huffed and puffed but couldn’t blow
his house down. He went out on a limb rather and even seemed
at risk of losing at one point. It ended in a draw but was a
splendid game which is worthy of study.
Another great round, with huge numbers of spectators
watching in person and online. The current scores are
Carlsen 11/15, Kramnik 8, McShane 7, Adams, Howell 5,
Nakamura, Short 4, Ni Hua 3. It is curious to note that just
three of the eight players have wins to their names as yet,
but all three of them have at least two of them. Magnus and
Vlad are two of the three but the third is home-town boy
Luke McShane who is showing how to exploit the 3-1-0 scoring
system, as he is two points up on the two other players who,
like him, have a 50% score.