Thrilling battles & enjoyable events at the London Chess Classic

by Tim Wall

The 2021 London Chess Classic, this year held at the superb Cavendish Conference Centre in central London, was inevitably a smaller affair this year due to Covid concerns.

But what the chess festival lacked in numbers, it made up for in exciting, hard-fought and enjoyable competitions.

England take Rest of the World match to the wire
Gelfand contemplating his next move
Former World Championship Challenger Boris Gelfand led the Rest of the World team.

The main event this year was the Scheveningen Team Tournament between England and the Rest of the World, with a strong England team (GMs Michael Adams, Gawain Jones and Luke McShane) taking on an equally strong Rest of the World team: GMs Boris Gelfand (Israel), Nikita Vitiugov (Russia) and Maxime Lagarde (France).

After various adventures (the Rest of the World won rounds 1, 3 and 5, while England won rounds 2 and 4, the scores were tied at 7.5-7.5 going into the last round.

In a dramatic finale, Luke McShane and Nikita Vitiugov traded blows in a tactics-rich slugfest. McShane’s excellent exchange sacrifice gave him the advantage but in mutual time pressure his slightly shaky king’s position was exploited by Vitiugov’s excellent bishop sacrifice 30 Bxg6!. Vitiugov emerged victorious, clinching the match. On the other two boards, Mickey Adams always looked better and held onto the extra pawn against Maxime Lagarde’s Reversed Blumenfeld Counter-Gambit, eventually executing a neat mate-or-lose-a-piece trick. Boris Gelfand unveiled a theoretical novelty in a King’s Indian Defence Bayonet Variation that he told tournament organiser Malcolm Pein he had been “ analysing since the start of the tournament.” Gelfand secured the advantage and never let go and smoothly took the advantage in the endgame as a runaway a-pawn decided the issue.

Nikita Vitiugov
Russia’s Nikita Vitiugov (4/6) was the highest scorer in the England v Rest of the World match

Overall, the match had been superbly fought, with Vitiugov (4/6) and Gawain Jones (3.5/6) the respective highest scorers for their teams with Rest of the World edging it 9.5-8.5.

Gawain Jones triumphs in English Rapidplay
McShane and Jones in action at the board
Luke McShane and Gawain Jones topped the field in the English Rapidplay with 7/9, and then fought a playoff match to decide the title, which Gawain won 2-0.

If the final score in the match v Rest of the World was a slight disappointment to GMs Gawain Jones and Luke McShane, they hardly showed it in the English Rapidplay, held after the conclusion of the RoW match.

Both Jones and McShane finished top of the field in the English Rapidplay with 7/9, with McShane only losing to IM Andy Horton and Jones also losing just one game, to blitz and rapid specialist IM Ameet Ghasi.

With a 2-0 playoff win, Gawain Jones triumphed against Luke McShane to take the title.

The field was a very strong one, with GMs Mickey Adams and Jon Speelman in third equal place, followed by Ghasi on 5 and Marcus Harvey, another blitz and rapid expert, on 4.5.

Lan Yao wins English Women’s Rapidplay
Lan Yao
New English Women’s Rapidplay Champion Lan Yao.

The surprise winner of the English Women’s Rapidplay was Lan Yao, a London-based student at University College London who has newly transferred her affiliation from China to England. With 5/7, Yao finished half a point ahead of England’s top female player, IM Harriet Hunt, on 4.5. Lan Yao defeated Hunt in Round 2 in a Scheveningen Sicilian, demonstrating textbook technique to exploit a good knight against a restricted bishop and mop up the central pawns in the endgame.

After speeding to 3/3, Lan Yao then neatly played four draws to finish top of the tournament.

There were also encouraging performances by promising young players Louise Head (4), Zoe Varney and Julia Volovich (2.5 each).

Kameron Grose & Mickey Adams win Pro-Biz Cup
Kameron Grose and Mickey Adams
Kameron Grose and Mickey Adams take a time-out to discuss their next move in the Pro-Biz Cup.

Rounding off the high-profile events at this year’s Classic was the Pro-Biz Cup, a perennial event at Classics through the years – where entrepreneurs team up with GMs in a friendly but hard-fought contest. Played in the magnificent surroundings of the RAC Club on London’s Pall Mall, this year’s Pro-Biz was no exception.

Among the stars taking part were the England and Rest of the World teams, plus commentators Nigel Short, Julian Hodgson and Stuart Conquest.

The decisive encounter was between England junior Kameron Grose and Michael Adams, playing White, versus Terry Chapman and Nigel Short, playing Black. A solid Caro-Kann Exchange Variation slowly evolved into a tactical battle, with first an exchange sacrifice by Kameron and Mickey being countered by an exchange sac of their own by Terry and Nigel. Eventually an extra pawn settled matters in Kameron and Mickey’s favour as the seconds ticked down towards zero.

Evening blitz just the ticket
Blitz tournament
The evening blitz events attracted a strong and varied mix of club and tournament players.

However cautious the organisers had to be due to Covid, it would still not be the Classic without events for club players to take part in. This was provided this year by four evening blitz tournaments, which were won by IM Peter Roberson, FM Tanraj Sohal, Peter Lalic and FM David Haydon, respectively.

And finally...
Blitz tournament
Aga Milewska, ECF Director of Women’s Chess, helping children at the Classic Schools events.

Lastly but by no means least, the CSC Schools Events took place as always, bringing parties of children from schools where CSC teaches from around the country to enjoy a day of chess instruction, fun and competition. While again, there were smaller numbers than usual, the visit to the London Classic was as special as always for the children involved.

Blitz tournament
FIDE Vice President Nigel Short congratulates schoolchildren taking part in the Classic.
1. Rest of World (Average Rating: 2677, 9.5 Points)
Bo. Name Rtg FED FideID 1 2 3 4 5 6 Pts. Games RtgAvg
1 GM Gelfand Boris 2663 ISR 2805677 ½ 0 ½ 1 ½ 1 3,5 6 2673
2 GM Vitiugov Nikita 2731 RUS 4152956 ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 4,0 6 2673
3 GM Lagarde Maxime 2638 FRA 662399 1 0 ½ ½ 0 0 2,0 6 2673
2. England (Average Rating: 2673, 8.5 Points)
Bo. Name Rtg FED FideID 1 2 3 4 5 6 Pts. Games RtgAvg
1 GM Adams Michael 2700 ENG 400041 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 3,0 6 2677
2 GM Jones Gawain C B 2665 ENG 409561 ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 0 3,5 6 2677
3 GM McShane Luke J 2655 ENG 404853 0 1 0 ½ ½ 0 2,0 6 2677
Rank Name FED Rating Score
1 GM Mcshane Luke J ENG 2698 7,0
2 GM Jones Gawain C B ENG 2604 7,0
3 GM Speelman Jon S ENG 2523 5,5
4 GM Adams Michael ENG 2670 5,5
5 IM Ghasi Ameet K ENG 2539 5,0
6 FM Harvey Marcus R ENG 2443 4,5
7 IM Trent Lawrence ENG 2440 3,0
8 IM Horton Andrew P ENG 2298 2,5
9 GM Gormally Daniel W ENG 2534 2,5
10 IM Haria Ravi ENG 2337 2,5
Rank Name FED Rating Score
1 WIM Yao Lan ENG 2297 5,0
2 IM Hunt Harriet V ENG 2391 4,5
3 Kueh Audrey ENG 2099 4,0
WFM Head Louise ENG 1853 4,0
5 WGM Jackson Sheila ENG 2065 3,5
6 Volovich Julia ENG 1587 2,5
WCM Varney Zoe ENG 1864 2,5
8 FM Kalaiyalahan Akshaya ENG 1869 2,0
Blitz Tournaments
Tournament Winner
Blitz 1 IM Peter Roberson
Blitz 2 FM Tanraj Sohal
Blitz 3 Peter Lalic
Blitz 4 FM David Haydon

Rachel Reeves MP, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, came to the Classic to meet children playing their first chess tournament.