Wesley So, the tournament leader, drew with Fabiano Caruana, the player in second, to preserve his lead in the London Classic.

The penultimate round of the London Chess Classic did not change things at the top of the leaderboard as Wesley So of the United States, the leader since Round 2, drew with Fabiano Caruana, his compatriot, who was in second place. 

With one round to go, So leads with 5.5 points, followed by Caruana with 5, and three players — Vladimir Kramnik of Russia, Viswanathan Anand of India and Hikaru Nakamura, the third American — each with 4.5. 

So, in addition to being in great shape to win the tournament, has also now clinched first place in the Grand Chess Tour. The Classic is the last tournament in the year-long series. 

Round 8 was relatively quiet, with only one decisive game. Not surprisingly, Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria was involved and, not surprisingly, it was because he lost again, this time to Anand. It was Topalov’s sixth loss of the tournament.

Topalov has been unrecognizable this event and some observers have said that a result like this indicates that he is completely unmotivated  and signals the end of his career. I am not at all convinced that this is the case, but if he wants to keep playing chess at the highest level, he will definitely have to do something differently next time. He was steamrolled by Anand, and with the White pieces no less.

Topalov, Veselin vs. Anand, Viswanathan
London Classic | London | Round 8 | 17 Dec 2016 | 0-1
10. O-O-O Topalov has always had problems playing against Anand when he chooses the Queens Gambit Decline. For example, he lost against it in Game 12 of their World Championship match in 2010, which allowed Anand to retain the title. Six years later, not much seems to have changed.
10... e5! Energetic and strong. Black tries to advance in the center.
11. Bg5
11. cxd5 exf4 12. dxc6 Qc7 Practice has shown that Black has enough compensation for his pawn deficit.  )
11... d4 12. Nd5 b5!? A novelty. The computer is not impressed, but it might not be assessing the position correctly.
12... Be7 This is by far the most common move. After
13. Nxe7+ Qxe7 14. exd4 Nxd4 15. Nxd4 exd4 16. Rxd4 Qe5 17. Be3 I'm not convinced Black has equalized.  )
13. Bxf6?! Not the most challenging move, and probably a byproduct of Topalov's poor form in the tournament and being a bit thrown off by the surprise of 12... b5.
13. cxb5 Qxd5 14. Bc4 Qd6 15. bxc6 The engine gives this line (among others) with a clear edge for White. It would be interesting to know what Anand had in mind if Topalov had played 13. cxb5.  )
13. Bd3!? bxc4 14. Bxh7+ Kh8 15. Be4 Bb7 The computer evaluates White's position as better, but it looks very unclear to me.  )
13... gxf6 14. cxb5
14. Qe4 f5 15. Qh4 Qxh4 16. Nxh4 Rd8! And Black has good chances.  )
14... Na5 15. exd4 exd4 Black's position is in ruins strategically. He is down a pawn and has a dreadful pawn structure, but he has a lot of concrete plans to make up for those deficits. White must already deal with the attack on his knight on d5.
16. Nb4?!
16. Ne3 In hindsight, this might have been a better choice, but White's position was already difficult.
16... Be6! 17. Nc4 Rc8 18. Kb1 Qd5 And Black has a strong initiative.  )
16... Bxb4! 17. axb4 Be6! 18. Nxd4
18. Kb1 Qd5! And White has severe problems.  )
18. bxa5 Rc8 Black wins the White queen.  )
18... Rc8! 19. Nc6 Nxc6! The point of Black's play; his queen is immune.
20. bxc6
20. Rxd8 Nxd8 And Black remains up a piece.  )
20... Qb6 21. Qa4
21. b5 If White had one more move to consolidate, he would be winning because of his two extra pawns. Instead, after
21... a6! He loses both b5 and c6, and his king will soon be caught in a net.  )
21... Rxc6+
21... Bg4! The engine prefers this funny move, but I see no reason to criticize Anand's choice.
22. f3 Bf5 And Black should win since
23. Bd3 Fails to
23... Qe3+ 24. Kc2 Qe2+ 25. Kc3 Re3  )
22. Kb1 Rd8! 23. Rxd8+ Qxd8 24. Be2
24. Qxc6? Qd1+ 25. Qc1 Bf5+  )
24. Bb5! This move offered a little more resistance, but after
24... Bf5+ 25. Ka1 Rc2 Black would still have had a huge edge.  )
24... Bf5+ 25. Ka2 Rc2
25... Qd7! This move was even stronger. The simple threat is Qe6+, which is surprisingly difficult to meet.  )
26. Rd1 Qb6 27. Bg4 Qe6+ 28. Ka3 Qe5 29. Qb3 Bg6 White got more chances than he deserved to save the game, but one look at his king's position is enough to appreciate the danger he is facing.
30. Bf3
30. h4 This move was stronger.
30... Rxf2 31. Rd5 Qf4 32. Bf3  )
30... Rxf2 31. h4? This allows Black's pieces to invade White's position again.
31. Rd5! Seemed to hold the fort, for example:
31... Qe1 32. Qd1 Qe3+ 33. Qb3 And it's not so easy for Black to make headway.  )
31... Bc2! 32. Rd8+ Kg7 33. Qc3?
33. Qc4 This move offerd more resistance, though after:
33... Qe3+ 34. Ka2 Bf5! White would still have had a lot of problems to solve.  )
33... Qb5! 34. Qc6 Rxf3+! White resigned instead of facing
35. gxf3
35. Qxf3 Qa4#  )
35... Qxc6

The other games were pretty level throughout. So played a very solid game with Black against Caruana.

Caruana, Fabiano vs. So, Wesley
London Classic | London | Round 8 | 17 Dec 2016 | 1/2-1/2
12. Nf1 e4! This move forces a series of exchanges in a symmetrical position, allowing So to gain a draw with little difficulty.
13. Ng3 Bh7 14. dxe4 Qxd1 15. Rxd1 Bxe4!
15... Nxe4 16. Nxe4 Bxe4 17. Bf4 This position is not quite clear-cut, but Black should not be worse. I prefer the actual game continuation.  )
16. Bf4 Bb6 17. Nxe4 Nxe4 18. Bg3 Rae8 19. Rd7 Nxg3 20. hxg3 Ne5 21. Nxe5 Rxe5 There is a 30-move rule in place, which is the only reason that the game would otherwise not already be agreed a draw. White's ever so slightly more active pieces mean nothing in a position with opposite-colored bishops and with a symmetrical pawn structure where neither side has any weaknesses.
22. Rad1 Rf5! Freeing the rook on f8.
23. R1d2 Re8 24. Kf1 Kf8 25. f3 Re7 The rest was unnecessary
26. Rd8+ Re8 27. R8d7 Re7 28. Rd8+ Re8 29. R2d7 Rxd8 30. Rxd8+ Ke7 31. Rg8 Rg5 32. g4 Bc5 33. Bd3 Bd6 34. Kf2 Kf6 35. Re8 Rd5 36. Ke2 Re5+ 37. Rxe5 Kxe5

Anish Giri of the Netherlands drew against Kramnik. Giri has now drawn all his games — which was the same thing he did in the Candidates tournament in Moscow last March. I am totally at a loss as to how this is possible. In London, he has played sharp openings with both colors, including playing the Najdorf Sicilian four times. I expect he will have more decisive results in future tournaments if he continues to play such sharp positions.

Kramnik, Vladimir vs. Giri, Anish
London Classic | London | Round 8 | 17 Dec 2016 | 1/2-1/2
29. c4 Nxe4!? I like this decision by Giri. White's king is quite safe with a bishop on g2, and Black has to worry a little bit about White's bind on the queenside. While Black's position was not bad, I like changing the nature of the game.
29... Qh5 30. Kf1 Chances are about equal, but I would prefer to play White.  )
30. f3! The point of White's play.
30... Nxd2 31. fxg4 The knight is trapped on d2. But after:
31... Nxc4! 32. bxc4 Rxc4 Black has three pawns for the piece and a lot more White pawns are weak. Black's bishop is passive and his light squares are weak, but he wins enough pawns for it not to matter.
33. Nd5 Bd8 34. Ra1 Rxg4 35. a5 e4! Black wants to put his pawns onto light squares to limit the scope of the bishop on g2.
36. Rb3 Rh5! 37. Ne3 Rgg5 38. Kf2 Rxa5 39. Rxa5 Rxa5 40. Bxe4
40. Rxb7? d5! And White would be in big trouble becaue the center pawns, which were previously blockaded, are now charging forward.  )
40... b5 41. Rd3 Be7 42. Kf3 Ra1 43. Nd5 Bd8 44. Nf4 Be7 45. Rc3 d5! The simplest solution. Black sacrifices one pawn to force an exchange of rooks and open up the position for his bishop.
46. Bxd5 Ra3 This position would probably be a draw even without the pawns on a6 and b5. With them, Black is not even worse. It's time to agree to a draw and shake hands.

With one round to go, only Caruana can pass So, but he will have to beat Giri with the Black pieces and hope that So, who will have White, loses to Maxime Vachier-Lagrave of France. Kramnik and Anand play against each other in a game that could potentially decide third place, or even second.


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.