John Saunders reports: The
5th Pro-Biz Cup took place on Thursday 30 November 2017 at the London offices of Google on Pancras Square, London. This novelty event serves a number of functions; it’s a curtain-raiser for the main event, the London Chess Classic, which is the last leg of the 2017 Grand Chess Tour; it is a fund-raiser for the Chess in Schools and Communities charity, with the amateur players involved making generous donations to this worthy cause; and it enables everyone involved, players, organisers, technicians, press and guests, to meet and greet each other and generally acclimatise to the atmosphere at one of the world’s most prestigious and exciting chess competitions.
The tournament has been adapted so that everyone gets the same number of games. The eight pairs played a three-round Swiss, each consisting of one rapid game (20 minutes plus 5-second increments), with a number of novel tie-breaks lined up in the likely event of a tie at the end. As it turned out, these weren’t necessary so we’ll skip an explication of them.
With eight grandmasters required to partner the amateur contestants, it meant that not all ten of the London Chess Classic contestants would take part. In fact, just six of the elite group were called upon, with two other grandmasters not involved in the Classic being drafted in to make up the numbers. One was David Norwood, who, unusually, could qualify for both sides of the Pro-Biz equation; he’s both a ‘pro’ (having been a chess grandmaster since his teens) and a ‘biz’ (a highly successful businessman since his retirement from professional chess). The other was Garry Kasparov, who needs no introduction whatsoever. Thus, despite the light-hearted nature of the event, this provided the chess world with the tantalising prospect of the player generally reckoned to be the greatest of all time crossing swords sitting across the board from the player who has dominated the game during the past ten years of the century. Would it come to pass?
Some further rules: there was to be no conferring, with pro players moving first, but with players being allowed two one-minute time-outs to discuss the state of play during the course of a game. Having said that, the arbiting of this fun event was a million miles away from the zero tolerance regime favoured by the world federation. Though players adhered to the no-conferring rule, I’m pretty sure the number of time-outs exceeded the stipulated two per game by some margin.
Also, the strict move sequence of pro players making the odd-numbered moves and ‘biz’ players the even ones also became blurred at various points during the games, though this was more by accident than design. I never thought to hear a strong player asking “whose move is it?” but I heard this familiar beginner’s refrain several times today from the lips of legends of the game. This is quite revealing; despite their elephantine memories for openings and patterns on a chess board, a small adjustment to the move sequence such that four players are involved rather than two brings super-GMs down to a level of forgetfulness which is the norm for us ordinary mortals.
We were barely five minutes into play in round one when suddenly there was a rash of time-outs. This drew guffaws from the audience but I suppose an early time-out makes a lot of chess sense since the path through the initial moves of the opening is so critical. The other noticeable thing was the difference in atmosphere between one of the partnerships and the other seven. Dave Norwood and Ali Mortazavi have known each other most of their lives, and they have spent much of that time as business partners as well as blitz chess opponents.
Consequently their games were accompanied by a certain degree of banter and trash talk, not, I hasten to add, directed at their opponents but at each other. One particular exclamation from the GM to his IM partner – “here’s another fine mess you’ve got me into” – tempts me to dub them the Laurel and Hardy of chess. But, far from putting their opponents off, this had the positive effect of lightening the mood of what was anyway intended as a fun event. That’s not to say that the players didn’t take it seriously. For example, an examination of the photos and videos taken of the tournament show the full range of Kasparovian facial expressions that we older chess fans still remember and cherish, but Garry has since added a few indulgent smiles and grins to his repertoire, even whilst play is still in progress.
The final crosstable shows that tie-breaks were not required, despite there only being three rounds, with Ian Nepomniachtchi and Rajko Vujatovic scoring 2½/3, with a draw against Ali Mortazavi and David Norwood, followed by wins against the French team of Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Gilles Betthaeuser, and Levon Aronian and Justin Baptie. Rajko has been a winner of the event before and is a formidable, ebullient amateur player with a FIDE rating of 2222. He also has experienced of standing in a chess-boxing ring, albeit as a referee rather than a fighter, so he is used to being in a public arena, which probably helps. Word has it that he played more of a part in the opening planning of his twosome than the other partnerships.
Despite the bantering of their team, Norwood and Mortazavi scored a creditable 2/3 and finished in a three-way tie with Hikaru Nakamura and Lee Green, and Garry Kasparov and Terry Chapman. The latter pair had some experience of being adversaries when they met in a high-profile handicap match at Simpson’s in the Strand in 2001. That was from a time when Kasparov was still a full-time professional and, despite its exhibition status, he still took the match very much in earnest. I recall being in the press room on that occasion and seeing the result flash up on a screen saying that Kasparov had conceded a draw in the second game.
Quickly grabbing my camera to return to the playing hall to get pictures of the players still at the board, I found I was too late: just as I arrived at the swing doors to the playing room, they were suddenly flung open and followed by a chess legend intent on beating the world’s land speed record for vacating a tournament hall. But the Kasparov of 2017 is a much mellower figure, amiably mingling with the watching audience and happily kibitzing the games of younger super-GMs as they relax with a game or two of blitz.
The wished-for Carlsen-Kasparov clash did come about in round two but ended with an anti-climactic blunder losing a piece. The most notable feature of the game was the players losing track of the move sequence and having to call in the arbiter to help resolve the confusion. But it was all very amicable. Incidentally, it should be possible to identify the moves played by the pro players as the odd-numbered ones from the game scores but I’m not entirely sure this is true of all the games, so there may have been a number of moves played out of sequence throughout the tournament.
The games themselves are not readily publishable since they are inevitably variable in quality but here’s a king and pawn endgame – not too difficult to see what’s coming but the pro and partner had to be on precisely the same wavelength to pull it off.
Levon Aronian & Justin Baptie
Mickey Adams & Demis Hassabis
44.Rxd6 and the other black
pawns will drop off.
44.fxg6+ It’s handy
when the amateur’s turn
coincides with a routine
The pro player is on hand to
analyse and initiate the winning
Well played, Justin Baptie.
White’s two well-separated and
well-advanced passed pawns will
46...dxc5 47.h5+ Kf7 48.h6
e4+ 49.Kxe4 a4 50.h7 Kg7 51.h8Q+
Kxh8 52.d6 Only one
pawn left but it queens with
52...a3 53.d7 1 0
While their six
rivals were taking part in this
doubles chess event, the other
four super-GMs present for the
Classic, Vishy Anand, Wesley So,
Fabiano Caruana and Sergey
Karjakin, were engaged in simuls
and talks with some of the
children learning chess via the
services of the Chess in Schools
and Communities charity. This
was a wonderful opportunity for
the children to see the stars of
chess up close and personal. It
was great to see the children
interact with the players, and
will give them something to
Thanks are due
to Demis Hassabis and his
company DeepMind for hosting the
event at London’s Google HQ with
its stunning broadcasting
hospitality doesn’t end with the
Pro-Biz Cup as round one of the
London Chess Classic is also
being held at the same venue,
with live webcasting starting at
1400 GMT on Friday 1 December
& PGN from the
event are available