1st London Chess Classic 2009

 

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Round 5 Report 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

Sicilian B51

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 theory.

 

9...Ng6 10 Qh5!?

 

This sort of move is easily overlooked.

 

10...Bc6

 

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.

 

13...Qa5

 

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.

 

14 Qg5

 

 

It is not obvious where Black can stow his king in this position but Magnus comes up with what looks like a very risky solution.

 

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 annoyance.

 

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 Qxd8

 

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.

 

29...a5

 

 

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...

 

30 Kf3

 

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.

 

30...Kg8

 

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

 

 

35 b3?!

 

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 better.

 

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.

 

39...Qa7!

 

Black's command of the two diagonals catches the eye.

 

40 Qc8+

 

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.

 

40...Kh7

 

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 draw.

 

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 eventually won.

 

12 Be7!?

 

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 for.

 

18...Qxa6 19 Rac1 Bf8 20 Ne5 Qb6 21 Qf3 Qd6

 

 

22 g4?!

 

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.

 

22...Bh6!

 

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 Qh4

 

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

 

 

31 g5

 

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.

 

31...Qd6

 

Black has now completed his king's defensive set-up and can turn his attention to march his queenside pawns down the board.

 

32 Kf1 b5 33 Ke1

 

White wants to use his king to block the advance of the pawns.

 

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 Rd5?

 

42 Re8 Bd6 43 Ra8 gives Black a lot more problems than the text.

 

42...hxg5 43 hxg5 Kh7 44 Rd7

 

 

44...Bg7!

 

The loss of the f7 pawn, and what is effectively a self-pin, matter far less than the opportunity to advance the b-pawn another square.

 

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.

 

 

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