The top group gets most of the attention, but there are two other tournaments, with very strong players, as World Chess’s columnist highlights.

The elite event at the London Chess Classic, with 10 of the world’s top players, attracts most of the attention among the media and fans, but there are two other tournaments taking place as part of the same festival: the British Knockout Championship and the London Chess Classic Open. Both events finish Friday.

With one round to go, grandmaster Etienne Bacrot of France leads the open section with 7/8, having defeated grandmaster Chithambaram Aravindh of India in Round 8. The 17-year-old Aravindh had been enjoying a spectacular tournament up to that point, and is still just half a point back, tied   with one of his compatriots, grandmaster Abhijeet Gupta, and with Sebastien Maze, another French grandmaster. In the last round the French players have White against the two Indians: Bacrot vs. Gupta and Maze against Aravindh. [Editor’s note: Bacrot drew with Gupta and Maze beat Aravindh in the last round, so the two French grandmasters ended up tied for first, with Bacrot taking first on tiebreaks. Finaly standings are here.]

Aravindh got off to a great start in the tournament, winning his first three games against non-grandmasters before scoring 3½ points out of 4 against other grandmasters, including Florian Handke of Germany, Sebastian Bogner of Switzerland and Ilia Smirin of Israel.

Handke, Florian vs. Aravindh, Chithambaram VR
London Classic Open 2016 | London ENG | Round 4.5 | 11 Dec 2016 | ECO: B90 | 0-1
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. h3 e5 7. Nde2 h5 8. Bg5 Be6 9. Bxf6 Qxf6 10. Nd5 Qd8 11. Qd3 g6 12. O-O-O Bh6+
12... Nd7 was played in Anand,V (2796)-Topalov,V (2803) London 2015, 1-0 (74). More importantly and interestingly, Black did not castle kingside in this game.  )
13. Kb1 O-O 14. g3 A little slow, but not bad.
14. f4  )
14. g4!?  )
14... Nd7 15. Nec3 But now
15. f4 should be played, getting on with the kingside play.  )
15... b5 16. a3 Nb6
16... Nc5 17. Qe2 Rb8  )
17. h4 This wasn't played for the sake of a kingside attack, but in the hopes of swapping light-squared bishops. White's dream is to trade all the minor pieces except for one of his knights and Black's dark-squared bishop. The knight will sit on d5, and the bishop will fire into empty space.
17... Rc8 18. Bh3 Nxd5 19. Nxd5 Rc5
19... Bxh3? would be a dream come true for White, but with the very odd exception of Polgar-Anand, Wijk aan Zee 1998 (in a slightly - only slightly - different context), no GM would even consider this move for more than an instant.  )
20. Nc3 Correlatively, White often doesn't want to initiate the swap if it means putting a Black pawn on e6, as White loses access to d5. However, this exchange *can* be considered, as the cluster of black pawns on the d- and e-files can be weak. In fact, it's probably the right decision here, as
20. Bxe6 fxe6 21. Nc3 Rxf2 22. Qxd6 favors White.  )
20... Rc6 21. f4?! Is the d5 square worth a pawn? Handke thinks so, and Aravindh seems to agree. The engine is skeptical, however, but it appears that even Aravindh's more circumspect choice gives him an edge.
21. Bxe6! fxe6 22. f4! transposes to a line given in the preceding note.  )
21... Bc4!?
21... Bxh3! 22. Rxh3 exf4 23. gxf4 Bxf4 24. Nd5 Be5 25. Rf1 gives White some practical chances, even if they're not worth a pawn and Black has a powerhouse bishop on e5.  )
22. Qf3 exf4
22... b4! 23. axb4 Qb8  )
23. gxf4 Qf6 24. e5! dxe5 25. f5 e4! White sacrificed a pawn, hoping to seal up Black's position with Ne4 followed by a kingside attack. Black promptly returns the pawn to unseal the position, especially the long dark-squared diagonal.
26. Nxe4 Qe5 27. Rhe1 Bg7 28. c3 Bb3 29. Rd2?
29. Rd3 was better, shoring up the target on c3.  )
29... b4! This looked like something on Black's wish list, but Handke might have thought it was impossible at the moment. If so, he was mistaken. This strong move gives Black a winning attack.
30. cxb4?
30. axb4 had to be played. Still, after
30... Qb5 31. fxg6 fxg6 32. Qd3 Qa4 33. Bd7 Rf3!! Black will win, e.g.
34. Bxc6 Qa2+ 35. Kc1 Rxd3 36. Rxd3 Kh7! and so on. This little finesse is even better than the immediate check on a1. That check is coming next, and Black is winning.  )
30... Bc2+! Threatening ...Qxb2#.
31. Rxc2 Rxc2 32. Nc3
32. Kxc2 meets an elegant refutation:
32... Qxb2+ 33. Kd3 Rd8+ 34. Ke3 Bh6+ 35. Ng5 Qd2+ 36. Ke4 Qd4#  )
32... Rxb2+! 33. Kxb2 Qxe1 Black is up a full exchange, and the attack will continue. The rest was simple:
34. f6 Bh6 35. Bf1 Rc8 36. Bxa6 Bc1+! 37. Kb3 Other moves lose the knight instead, e. g.
37. Kc2 Qd2+ 38. Kb3 Qb2+  )
37... Qe6+
Aravindh, Chithambaram VR vs. Bogner, Sebastian
London Classic Open 2016 | London ENG | Round 5.1 | 12 Dec 2016 | ECO: B40 | 1-0
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. g3 An interesting sideline that has been used occasionally by everal top players, including Carlsen, Karjakin, Anand, and Nakamura.
3... Nc6 4. Bg2 Nf6 5. Nc3
5. Qe2  )
5. d3  )
5... d5
5... d6  )
6. exd5 Nxd5
6... exd5 is considerably more common.  )
7. O-O
7. Nxd5  )
7... Nf6
7... Be7  )
8. Re1 Be7 9. b3 O-O 10. Bb2 Rb8 11. a4 b6 12. d4 Bb7 13. dxc5 Bxc5 14. Nb5 a6
14... Ng4  )
15. Nbd4 Nxd4 16. Nxd4 Black has done swimmingly in the opening, and has equalized without any problems. (If anything, he may even be a very little bit better.)
16... Qc7
16... b5!  )
17. Qe2 Rfd8 18. Rad1 White is threatening to take on e6, but this threat can be neutralized in various ways. The most obvious and direct method is to play ...Rd6 or ...Re8, and he can also swap bishops and then play ...Bb4 if he so chooses. Unfortunately for Black, he failed to see the need for accuracy in implementing this last idea.
18... Bb4? Attacking the rook, yes, but leaving the bishop on b4 unprotected. "LPDO", as John Nunn wrote in Secrets of Practical Chess, quoting a friend of his: Loose Pieces Drop Off. It is surprising that the unprotected bishop will matter, but it will.
19. Nxe6! fxe6 20. Bxf6! Rxd1
20... Bxe1 21. Bxd8 Rxd8 22. Rxd8+ Qxd8 23. Qxe6+ Kf8 24. Bxb7  )
20... gxf6 21. Qxe6+ The simpler and arguably more practical move is
...  Kh8 22. Qxf6+ Kg8 23. Bh3 h5 24. Be6+ Kh7 25. Bf5+ Kg8 26. Qg5+ Kf8 27. Be6 leads to a quick mate.  )
21. Rxd1 Bxg2
21... gxf6 falls prey to the usual tricks: 22.Qg4+ immediately, or the even stronger
22. Qxe6+  )
22. Kxg2 Qc6+ 23. Kg1 Bf8 Acquiescing in the loss of a pawn, but with weaknesses on a6 and e6 Black's woes go beyond the immediate material situation.
23... gxf6 Now there's no Qxe6+, and Black can even take on c2 after White takes on b4. And yet even here Black loses.
24. Qg4+ Kh8 25. Qxb4 Qxc2 26. Re1 Qc6 27. Qe7 e5 28. Rxe5!  )
24. Be5 Rb7 25. Bd6! Rf7 26. Bxf8 Rxf8 27. Re1 Rf6 28. Qxa6 Qxc2 29. Qxb6 Conveniently covering both b3 and f2. The rest is simple.
29... e5 30. Qe3 Qb2 31. Re2
Aravindh, Chithambaram VR vs. Smirin, Ilia
London Classic Open 2016 | London ENG | Round 7.1 | 14 Dec 2016 | ECO: B42 | 1-0
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 a6 5. Bd3 Bc5 6. Nb3 Ba7 7. O-O Nc6 Smirin has had this position before quite a few times, with mixed results.
8. Qg4
8. Qe2 is the other top choice.  )
8... Nf6 Does Black have sufficient compensation here? In practice Black's results haven't been too bad, but the engine doesn't believe in this pawn sac.
8... Qf6!? 9. N1d2!? Ne5 10. Qg3 Ne7 11. Nc4 Nxc4 12. Bxc4 Nc6?! 13. Bf4! 1-0 (58) Adams,M (2729) -Smirin,I (2649) Kemer 2007  )
9. Qxg7 Rg8 10. Qh6 Ne5 11. Be2 b5
11... d5 turned out alright for Smirin against Salgado Lopez around five years ago after White played 12.Bg5, but the engine thinks the developing move
12. Nc3 will cause Black trouble, and White's score of 3.5/4 here offers that conclusion some confirmation.  )
11... Neg4 is the second most popular move, after 11...b5. Here too Black seems to be in trouble:
12. Bxg4 Rg6 13. Qh4 Nxg4 14. Qxd8+ Kxd8 leaves Black with some play for the pawn, but probably not enough, after something sensible like 15.Bf4, 15.h3, or
15. g3 followed by Kg2.  )
12. Bg5 Rg6 13. Qh4 Bb7 14. N1d2 h6 15. Bxf6 Rxf6 This has all been played before - 11 times, including several battles including GMs - and White does very well both in practice and on the computer screen. Going down this path seems an odd decision by Smirin, especially given his fealty to this variation of the Kan Sicilian; he is unlikely to have caught his opponent by surprise in this opening.
16. Qg3! Ng6 17. a4! White follows the computer's recommendation and enjoys a clear edge.
17... Bb8
17... Nf4  )
18. Qc3!
18. Qe3 Ba7  )
18... Be5 19. Qe3! Only now, since Black can't (safely) attack the queen on the a7-g1 diagonal.
19... Nf4 Continued chase leads nowhere:
19... Bf4 20. Qd3 Ne5 21. Qd4 Nc6 22. Qc5 d6 and now
23. Qh5 /+- finally brings the pinpricks to an end, and White is comfortably better.  )
20. axb5! Why not?
20... d5? 21. bxa6 d4 22. Bb5+ Kf8 23. Qf3 Black is down three pawns with a bad position, so he tries a final randomizing option.
23... Nxg2 Taking on g2 (either way) costs White his queen, although his position is so good he could play 24.Qxg2 and still win easily. Aravindh's move is best, however, winning another piece without allowing any mess.
24. Qh5! Now White is attacking b7, e5, and g2.
24... Rg6 25. Qxe5
25. axb7 Rxa1 26. Qxe5! is also crushing.  )
25... Ne3+ 26. Kh1 Ng4 27. Qh8+ Rg8 28. Qxd4 Qg5 Black doesn't actually have a mating threat on the g-file, so White - already up a piece and three pawns - can take the bishop on b7 with impunity.

Bacrot trailed Aravindh by only half a point at this point, thanks in part to an impressive win of his own against Bogner in Round 7:

Bacrot, Etienne vs. Bogner, Sebastian
London Classic Open 2016 | London ENG | Round 7.2 | 14 Dec 2016 | ECO: C42 | 1-0
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 As stable as ever, but somehow a refreshing change of pace in the 1.e4 e5 universe given all the Berlins and Italian Games played nowadays.
3. Nxe5 d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4 5. d4
5. Nc3 had taken over as the main line, but it seems players are once again taking a fresh look at the traditional main line.  )
5... d5 6. Bd3 Bd6
6... Nc6 7. O-O Be7 is the absolute main line, at least within the 5.d4 complex, and now instead of 8.c4 attention has been drawn to
8. Nbd2 of late.  )
7. c4!? This is unusual, because the received wisdom is that Black is doing well after 7...Bb4+.
7. O-O first is usual, and only after
7... O-O to play
8. c4 , when
8... c6 transposes to the game.  )
7... c6
7... Bb4+! is the move, and we'll see it in a modern game and a classic.
8. Nbd2 O-O 9. O-O Bf5 10. Nb3 dxc4 11. Bxc4 Nc6 12. Bd3 Bg6 13. a3 Bd6 14. Re1 f5 15. Qc2 Kh8 16. Be3 Qf6 17. Nc5 Bxc5 18. dxc5 Rae8 19. Rad1 Bh5 20. Be2 f4 21. Bc1 a5 22. Qc4 Re7 23. h3 Rfe8 24. Kf1 h6 25. Qc2 Nxf2 26. Kxf2 Bxf3 27. gxf3 Qh4+ 28. Kf1 Qxh3+ 29. Kf2 Qg3+ 30. Kf1 Re5 31. Bxf4 Qxf4 32. Qc4 Re4 33. Qb5 Qg3 0-1 (33) Caruana,F (2727)-Giri,A (2714) Reggio Emilia 2011  )
8. O-O O-O 9. Nc3
9. cxd5  )
9. Qc2  )
9. Re1  )
9... Nxc3 10. bxc3 dxc4 11. Bxc4 Bf5
11... Bg4 is the main move.  )
12. Re1
12. Bg5!?  )
12... Nd7 13. Bg5 Qa5 14. Qd2 Nb6 15. Bb3 Nd5 16. Bxd5 cxd5 17. Be7 Bxe7 18. Rxe7 b6 Black has equalized, but the position is not dead.
19. Rae1 Rac8 20. Nh4 Be4! 21. f3 Qa3! 22. Re5!? f6! 23. Rh5! g6 24. fxe4! gxh5 25. Re3 It's still equal, but again, not dead. Despite his material advantage, Black must tread carefully not to be worse, as all of White's pieces enjoy various avenues into Black's kingside.
25... dxe4?
25... Kh8 26. exd5 Rfe8! 27. Rg3 Rg8! 28. Qh6 Qe7 29. Re3! Qf7 30. d6 Rce8 31. Rxe8 Rxe8 32. h3 Rd8 33. Nf5 Rg8  )
26. Rg3+ Kf7
26... Kh8? 27. Qh6 wins immediately.  )
27. Nf5! Perhaps Bogner overlooked this, expecting only
27. Qh6 , which allows Black to escape. For example:
27... Ke6 28. Qf4 Qxa2 29. Qxe4+ Kd7 30. Nf5 Rfe8 31. Rg7+ Kd8 32. Ne7 Qa1+ 33. Kf2 Qb2+ 34. Kg1 Qc1+ 35. Kf2 Qd2+ 36. Kg1 Qc1+  )
27... Ke8 28. c4! Discovering an attack on Black's queen while preventing the rook on c8 from joining a counterattack.
28... Qa5 29. Nd6+ Kd7 30. Rg7+! Kc6 White must find one more accurate move before the game is clearly won, and he does.
30... Kxd6 meets a grim fate:
31. Qf4+ Kc6 32. Qxe4+ Kd6 33. Qe7+ Kc6 34. Qd7#  )
31. Qe3! Threatening d5+ without allowing ...Qe1# in reply, and maintaining Qf4+ in case Black reconsiders his decision to ignore the knight on d6.
31... Rce8 32. Nb5 Not the only winning move, but it's a crusher. White threatens both 33.d5# and 33.Rc7#, and as Black has nothing better than the obviously hopeless 32...Qxb5 he decided to call it a game.

In the matchup between Aravindh and Bacrot in Round 8, Aravindh had White. Had he even been able to draw, his chances for winning the tournament would have been excellent. Instead, Bacrot – once a child prodigy himself – convincingly outplayed his young adversary and now he’s the strong favorite to win the event.

Aravindh, Chithambaram VR vs. Bacrot, Etienne
London Classic Open 2016 | London ENG | Round 8.1 | 15 Dec 2016 | ECO: C65 | 0-1
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. d3 The Berlin endgame seems to have disappeared, with White choosing either this line or 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.Re1 in current practice.
4... Bc5 5. c3 O-O 6. O-O d6
6... d5!?  )
7. Nbd2 Ne7 8. d4 exd4 9. cxd4 Bb6 10. Re1 Bg4 This line has been tested in some extremely high-level games, with players like Caruana, Kramnik, Vachier-Lagrave, Karjakin, Anand, Giri, Svidler, and Topalov on one side or the other, and sometimes trying both sides.
11. h3 Bh5 12. Qb3 Nc6 Practically a novelty, and a new move at the grandmaster level.
12... d5 13. e5 Nd7 is standard, with 14.a4 the usual move and 14.Qd1 a recent entry in the theoretical battle.  )
13. d5 Nb8 14. Nf1
14. Qc3 may improve, getting out of both bishops' way. (One bishop could retreat to b3 or c2 via a4, the other can now be fianchettoed on the long dark square diagonal.)
14... c6 is still possible for Black, however:
15. dxc6 Nxc6 16. Bxc6 bxc6 17. Qxc6?! Rc8 18. Qa4 Re8 gives Black loads of compensation.  )
14... c6! 15. dxc6 bxc6 16. Ba4 Nbd7 17. Qa3 Rb8 18. Bd2
18. Qxd6? Bxf3  )
18... Bxf3!? 19. Qxf3 Bd4 20. Bc3 Ne5 21. Qd1 Bxc3 22. bxc3 Qa5 23. Bb3
23. Ng3! Qxc3 24. Nf5  )
23... Qxc3 24. Qxd6
24. Ng3!  )
24... Nd3 25. Qg3! Nh5 26. Qe3 Nhf4 27. Red1 c5 28. Nd2 Rb6!? A tricky and challenging move for White to deal with (especially if there was any time trouble).
28... Qf6  )
29. Kh2! Rh6 30. Nc4
30. Bc4! was best, highlighting the one awkward aspect of Black's position.
30... Qd4 31. Qxd4 cxd4 32. Bxd3 Nxd3 33. Nf3! Nxf2 34. Rxd4 Ng4+ 35. Kg1 Ne3 36. Rc1 f5 37. e5 Black has maintained material equality, but White's pieces are more active and the e-pawn needs watching.  )
30... Qf6! Getting out of the pin. Now Black has the edge, and White must be very careful about his king.
31. e5
31. Rg1  )
31... Qc6 32. Rg1?
32. f3 was necessary.
32... Qg6  )
32... Rg6! 33. f3 Qd7
33... Qe6! was more precise.
34. g4 Rh6 35. Rg3 and the difference is that here Black can play
35... Rh4 followed by ...Qh6, winning.  )
34. g4 Rh6 35. Rg3 Qd4! 36. Qxd4 cxd4 This isn't as bad as it could have been for White, but even so the news isn't very good. He's tied down to h3, the e-pawn is weak, and Black's pieces are more active than their counterparts.
37. g5 Rc6
37... Rh5!  )
38. Rg4 Rfc8 39. Rxf4?
39. Rb1! h5 40. gxh6 Rxh6 41. Nd6 Rc7 42. h4 Nxe5 43. Rxf4 Rxd6  )
39... Nxf4 40. Rb1
40. Nd6 may have been Avravindh's original idea, only to realize that
40... Rc1 41. Bxf7+ Kf8 42. Rxc1 Rxc1 offers White no real hope. The e-pawn will drop and the d-pawn will advance.  )
40... d3! Obviously not
40... Rxc4? 41. Bxc4 Rxc4?? 42. Rb8+ and mate next move.  )
41. Rb2 Ne6
41... h6  )
42. Ne3 Rc5

Correction: Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Sebastian Bogner plays for Germany. He plays for Switzerland. 


Dennis Monokroussos is a FIDE master who has written about chess on his blog “The Chess Mind,” since 2005. He has been teaching chess for almost 20 years and for the last 10 years has been making instructional chess videos, which can be found at Between 1995 and 2006, he taught philosophy, including a four-year stint at the University of Notre Dame.