There was only one decisive game in Round 7 and the top of the leader board in the London Classic remained unchanged.
Wesley So is inching closer to the title at the London Chess Classic. After a draw in Round 7 with Vladimir Kramnik of Russia, So, who now plays for the United States, held on to his slim half-point lead with only two rounds to go.
Lennart Ootes / London Chess Classic
Interested parties. Hikaru Nakamura and Anish Giri looking at the game between Vladimir Kramnik (back to camera) and Wesley So, the tournament leader, during Round 7.
So remained in first place because most of the games in Round 7 were drawn. Indeed, just as Rounds 3 and 4, there was only one decisive game, and just as in those earlier rounds, it was a win by Hikaru Nakamura of the United States.
Lennart Ootes / London Chess Classic
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, left, and Hikaru Nakamura talkng after their game in Round 7. Nakamura won.
After an opening disaster in Round 6 on the Black side of the Najdorf Variation of the Sicilian Defense, Nakamura got to play the opening from the White side against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France, who also often plays the Najdorf. Nakamura employed the same line as White (beginning with 6 Bg5) that he had faced in Round 6.
It’s possible that while preparing the defense for Black, Nakamura believed he had found a good to way to equalize. After losing in Round 6, Nakamura may have changed his opinion and then, fortuitously, was presented with a chance to test it out from the White side the very next day. Vachier-Lagrave has had a lot of success with Black against Bg5 Najdorf, but in Round 7 he suffered the same fate that Nakamura had in Round 6.
Nakamura, Hikaru vs. Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime
London Classic |London |Round 7 |16 Dec 2016 |1-0
g516. Qh3!Computer engines initially do not evaluate this move very highly, but once they have time to calculate, they come around. White is much better. 16... Nc5?!This was probably not the best move, but the position was already difficult for Black.
( 16... Rg8The computer engines initially thinks Black in this position, but after 17. e5!dxe518. fxe5Nxe519. Bg3White has a very strong initiative )
( 16... Nh7At high depths of calculation, the computer recommends this move, but just looking at it, no human who likes the Najdorf would ever want to play it. )
( 17... gxf418. g5Nfd719. g6And White has a massive attack. )
( 18. fxg5Nxg419. Bg3This was simpler and also good for White, but I like the move played by Nakamura even more. He is playing with a lot of energy. )
( 18... exf519. exf5Bxg220. Qxg2Black is losing badly and fxg5 is going to make his position even worse. )
( 18... gxf4Would have been my choice, trying to at least create a strong passed pawn, but after the engine's suggestion of: 19. Bxc5!Qxc520. Nxe7Kxe721. e5!White wins material. )
19. Bxe4!Nxe420. Bd4!A very accurate move from Nakamura. Black's position is falling apart at the seams. 20... Rg821. Nxe7Kxe722. gxh5!gxf423. Qh4+Kf824. Ka1
( 24. h6This was even stronger. For example: 24... e525. h7Rh826. Ka1!!And White is winning easily. It's possible Nakamura missed
this quiet move, which is difficult to find. )
( 24... e5 )
( 24... Qe7!25. Qxf4Qg526. Rxe4Qxf427. Rxf4e5This would have offered Black some chances to save the game, but after: 28. Rf2exd429. Rxd4I think White would still win. )
25. Nxe4Bxe426. Rxe4Qxc227. Ree1
( 27. Rde1This was a little more direct but the move played by Nakamura is also fine. )
27... bxa328. Qxf4!The only winning move. White
needed to guard the a4 square. 28... axb2+29. Bxb2If Black could play Qa4+, he could draw. 29... Rg5The best practical try in a lost position. Black
threatens mate with Ra5 and the rook cannot be taken without allowing a draw. 30. Qxd6+!
( 30. Qxg5Qa4+With a draw by perpetual check. 31. Kb1Qc2+ )
( 32... Kh7!This move offered a bit more resistance, but it's pretty inhuman and White will probably win anyway. 33. Rxg5Rd834. Rg7+!Kh635. Rd4!Qxd4+36. Qxd4Rxd437. Rxf7Black cannot win both h-pawns, and the White bishop is the right color to support the promotion of one of them, so White should win. )
33. Rxg1+Kh734. Qd3+!Kh6
( 34... f535. Qd6!White returns to d6 now that the f7 pawn is gone and threatens Qe7. )
With Bg5 notching two top-level victories in the last two rounds, as well as a win by Kramnik over Boris Gelfand of Israel earlier this year, it’s possible that this ultra-sharp system largely thought of as a forced draw among top players will make some kind of comeback.
Lennart Ootes / London Chess Classic
Veselin Topalov, left, and Anish Giri during Round 7.
The other games were pretty uneventful draws. The only missed chance Anish Giri of the Netherlands, who could have dealt Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria his sixth loss in seven games.
Giri, Anish vs. Topalov, Veselin
London Classic |London |Round 7 |16 Dec 2016 |1/2-1/2
Qa4White has had a slight edge for a long time, but Black's position is very solid. This was the only moment when Giri could have given himself real winning chances. 51. Nf2
( 51. g5!fxg552. fxg5hxg553. f4!g454. f5!And with the queen sidelined on a4, Black is ill-equipped to deal with the opening of lines on the kingside. 54... exf555. Qf4Nf856. Qxf5+Kg857. Qxg4White is winning. )
51... Qa8White missed his chance. From this point forward, Topalov defended well enough to hold on for a draw. 52. Nh3Qc853. Qc2Nf854. Nc1Kg855. Nd3Nh756. Qe2Nf857. Qe3Qd758. Ng1Qe859. Ne2Bc760. Nec1Kf761. Nb3Ke762. Qe1Kd763. Nbc1Kc864. Ne2Nd765. Ng3Qf766. Qe3Kb767. Ne2
While the Classic is capturing most of the attention, there’s also been some pretty decent chess played in the concurrent British Knockout Championship, which ended Friday with a victory by Nigel Short. The final match was between Short and David Howell and was tied going into the final game at 2.5-2.5 points apiece. Short then clinched the match with a victory in the final game.
Short, Nigel vs. Howell, David
British Knockout Ch. |Lodon |Round 10 |16 Dec 2016 |ECO: A35 |1-0
( 18... Kd7I'm not sure why Howell chose to put his knight on c4. One drawback is that it blocks the c-file. 19. h4Rhc8 )
19. h4!Black is unable to prevent h5, opening lines on the kingside. White's rook on h1 will spring to life. 19... Rc820. h5!Rg821. hxg6hxg6
( 21... Rxg6This would be my choice in this position, though after 22. Rgh5Black is still in serious trouble. )
22. Rh4Nxe323. Bxe3Bb724. cxb6axb625. Rb5Bd5
( 25... Rxc326. Rxb6 )
26. Rxb6Kd7White is up a pawn and Black's pawn structure is in ruins. But the opposite-colored bishops give Black some chances to hold a draw. 27. Rh7
( 27. Bd4There was nothing wrong with hanging on to the extra pawn, but Short is looking for more active play. )
27... Rxc328. Bg5Re829. Ra6Material is equal for the moment, but Black's structure is horrendous, the pawn on e7 is liable to be lost at any moment, and White has an unopposed, passed a-pawn. 29... Rc2?!
( 29... Rc7In hindsight, this move offered more resistance, but Black would definitely have to suffer a long time if he managed to draw. )
30. Bxe7Rxe7?I don't understand this move.
( 30... Rxe2+31. Kxe2Bc4+32. Ke3Bxa633. Bb4+Kc634. Kxe4Black still has some drawing chances, but it will be an uphill battle. )
31. Ra7+Kd632. Rhxe7White is up an exchange and Black has no compensation for his material deficit. 32... Bc4This seems to win the pawn on e2, but White has more than enough ways to maintain a winning edge. 33. Red7+Ke534. f4+!I prefer this move for its simplicity.
( 34. Kd1This also move would also lead to a winning advantage. 34... Rxe235. Rd2! )
In Round 8, So will face Fabiano Caruana, who, like So, recently switched federations to the United States (and helped the team win the gold medal at the 2016 Chess Olympiad). Caruana is in second place, so the game may decide the fight for first place.
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.
FIDE and World Chess announces today that the 2018 World Chess Championship Match will take place in London in November 2018. The world’s most prestigious chess tournament is to be the climax of a season of high-profile activity to extend the sport’s appeal among global audiences – and make 2018 the Year of Chess in the UK.
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Katerina Lagno, one of the strongest Russian women-grandmasters won the historic Moscow Blitz Tournament, beating her fellow Russian Olympic team members Alexandra Kosteniuk, Valentina Gunina and Olga Girya.
After a draw against Ian Nepomniachtchi, Teimur Rajabov won the tournament. One of the strongest players, Rajabov had not won a major tournament lately, but has shown phenomenal form in Geneva and managed to overpower some of top world’s players