The first round after the break produced three decisive games, but no change in the overall leader as Wesley So won again.
There were several exciting games in Round 6 of the elite section of the London Chess Classic and three of them ended decisively. The most important results were that Wesley So of the United States, the overall tournament leader, won again, while Hikaru Nakamura, his compatriot, lost. That may mean that the battle for the overall winner of the Grand Chess Tour — the season-long series of tournaments for which the London Classic is the capper — may be effectively decided and that So has won. Nakamura had stood the best chance of overtaking So, but he needed to win the London Classic and have So finish no better than fourth, and neither of those things seems likely anymore.
Lennart Ootes / London Chess Classic
Veselin Topalov, left, and Wesley So during Round 6.
So’s victory came over the increasingly hapless Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria, who lost his fifth game of the event. He played a really lousy game against So, making several big mistakes while not using much of his time. He was basically dead lost after just 18 moves, and that despite playing White.
Topalov, Veselin vs. So, Wesley
London Classic |London |Round 6 |15 Dec 2016 |0-1
d518. Be2?A terribly passive square for the bishop. Topalov played this move after thinking for four minutes. I have no idea what he had in mind.
( 18. Bd3After this move, chances would be about equal. 18... Qg519. Nb3f520. exf6Nxf621. Qc1White is fine )
18... Qg5This is totally forced and gives Black a winning position. White can do nothing as Black plays f5 and f4. 19. a5
( 19. Nb3f520. exf6Rxf6With the bishop on d3, White would have good play with Re1. As it is, his pieces are blocked and passive and Black threatens Rh6 followed by Qh5. )
19... f520. exf6Nxf621. Ra4Black has no shortage of winning moves. Basically anything that brings rooks to the h-file will do the trick. 21... Rf7Also threatening Nh5 since Bxc7 is no longer possible.
( 21... Kg7This move would probably also have been enough for Black to win. )
22. Re1Nh5!What to do about the bishop on g3? White's position falls apart rapidly. 23. Bxg4Nxg324. Re8+Kg725. Rxc8Bxf2+26. Kh2Qe527. Kh3Ne2
So now has 4.5 points and is a half point ahead of Fabiano Caruana, who aided him in his quest for the Grand Chess Tour title by beating Nakamura.
Lennart Ootes / London Chess Classic
Fabiano Caruana, left, and Hikaru Nakamura during Round 6.
It was a very nice victory for Caruana as he outprepared Nakamura, who is now his teammate. The win gave Caruana 4 points, while knocking Nakamura back to an even score. Nakamura has now lost both of his games to the supertalents who transferred to the American federation to help it win the gold medal at the 2016 Chess Olympiad.
Caruana, Fabiano vs. Nakamura, Hikaru
London Classic |London |Round 6 |15 Dec 2016 |1-0
13. g4g5!?This is a common idea in this opening. Black is content leaving his king in the center and tries to use his g-pawn to secure the e5 square for a knight. But Caruana came prepared with a new plan. 14. h4!gxf415. Be2b4!?
( 15... Rg8Was the move once played by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in this position, but this also is no bed of roses for
Black after: 16. g5!hxg517. hxg5Ne518. Qxf4Nfd719. Be3Bxg520. Qxg5Rxg521. Rh8+!Nf822. Bxg5And White has a fierce attack. )
16. axb4Ne517. Qxf4Nexg418. Bxg4e519. Qxf6Bxf620. Nd5Qd8Up to here Hikaru was playing very quickly, suggesting that he had prepared this line before the game. But he must have not seen
White's next move in his preparation. 21. Nf5!At first, the computer engine does not understand this move, but after it runs for long enough, it says White is much better.
( 21. Nc6This natural and forcing move is the computer's top choice at first, but after 21... Bxg422. Nxd8Bxd8I think Black should be fine. )
21... Rb8Not the best, but Black was in big trouble anyway.
( 21... Bxf522. Bxf5Rb823. Kb1The longer the computer runs, the poorer its evaluation of Black's position becomes. Black has no active play at all and a lot of weaknesses. White's two pieces are better than the queen. )
22. Nxf6+Qxf623. Rxd6Not a bad move of course, but White had better.
( 23. Nxd6+!Was even stronger. 23... Kf824. Bf5!The point. It's possible Caruana missed this move. White can follow with Bc5 and Black's troubles will deepen. )
( 25... Rfe8!This move was much more resilient. White would then have to maintain the tension with a patient move since a direct assault doesn't really work: 26. Bh4Qh827. Ne7+Rxe728. Bxe7Bxg429. Rd8+Rxd830. Rxd8+Kh731. Rxh8+Kxh832. Bf6+Kg833. Bxe5Bxh5Black should be able to hold a draw in this endgame. )
( 26... Qxg427. Nxh6+ )
27. Nxh6+Kh828. Bf5Black is practically in stalemate. 28... Qe729. b5
( 29. Nxf7+Rxf730. Rxe6Qxb431. Rh6+Kg732. Rg1+Kf833. Rh8+Would be a similar continuation to the game. )
29... Qe830. Nxf7+!Rxf7
( 30... Qxf731. Rxe6This move offers no salvation either as Rh6+ will soon follow. )
31. Rxe6Qxb532. Rh6+Black resigned in view of 32... Kg833. Rg1+Kf8
The final decisive result of the day was the win by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France over Levon Aronian of Armenia, who suffered a strange meltdown in a level position.
Vachier-Lagrave vs. Aronian, Levon
London Classic |London |Round 6 |15 Dec 2016 |ECO: C50 |1-0
1. e4e52. Nf3Nc63. Bc4Bc54. O-ONf65. d3O-O6. a4a57. c3d58. exd5Nxd59. Re1Bg410. Nbd2Nb611. Bb5Bd612. h3Bh513. Ne4f514. Ng3Bxf315. Qxf3Ne716. Bg5c617. Bc4+Nxc418. dxc4e419. Nxe4fxe420. Qxe4Rf721. Rad1Qc722. Rxd6Qxd623. Bxe7Qd224. Bc5h625. Qe2Rd826. Bd4Qg527. Qg4Re728. Rxe7Qxe729. Qf5Re830. Qxa5Qf731. Kh2This position is around equal. White has three pawns for the exchange but he will shortly lose one of them, leading to a material balance where neither side has any weaknesses. 31... Qf4+?!Objectively, Black is still fine, but now he has to play accurately.
( 31... Qxc4Why not take the pawn? )
( 32... Qf333. Qc7And Black does not
have time to play Re1. )
( 33... Qxc4Again, restoring the material balance should lead to a position of roughly equal chances. )
34. g4Rd1?Black is now clearly worse. 35. Qe5!White's centralized queen dominates the board, he will keep all three pawns for the exchange, and Black has no counterplay. 35... Qg636. b4b6?I'm not sure what Aronian overlooked in this position.
( 36... h5White should still win, but Black can still fight on. )
37. Bxb6!Calling Black's bluff. 37... c5
( 37... Rd3 )
( 37... Qd338. Bd4Qf1+39. Kg3Black is not threatening mate or anything even close. )
38. Bxc5Qc6+39. f3Rd340. Qb8+Kh741. Qf4Now with five pawns for the exchange, Black has no reason to continue to play.
I think that the most interesting game to watch in Round 7 will be between Anish Giri of the Netherlands and Topalov. Giri has drawn all his games, but he might try to play more aggressively to take advantage of whatever is wrong with Topalov.
Lennart Ootes / London Chess Classic
Anish Giri pausing in front of the giant display screen during Round 6.
Samuel Shankland is a United States grandmaster ranked No. 4 in the country. He is a professional player and recipient of the Samford Fellowship in 2013, the most prestigious award in the United States for young chess players. He was also a member of the team that won the gold medal at the 2016 Chess Olympiad. He is at @GMShanky on Twitter and is also on Facebook.
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