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.
Lennart Ootes / London Chess Classic
Veselin Topalov, left, and Viswanathan Anand discussing their game from Round 8, which Anand won.
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-OTopalov 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. cxd5exf412. dxc6Qc7Practice has shown that Black has enough compensation for his pawn deficit. )
11... d412. Nd5b5!?A novelty.
The computer is not impressed, but it might not be assessing the position correctly.
( 12... Be7This is by far the most common move. After 13. Nxe7+Qxe714. exd4Nxd415. Nxd4exd416. Rxd4Qe517. Be3I'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. cxb5Qxd514. Bc4Qd615. bxc6The 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!?bxc414. Bxh7+Kh815. Be4Bb7The computer evaluates White's position as better, but it looks very unclear to me. )
13... gxf614. cxb5
( 14. Qe4f515. Qh4Qxh416. Nxh4Rd8!And Black has good chances. )
14... Na515. exd4exd4Black'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. Ne3In hindsight, this might have been a better choice, but White's position was already difficult. 16... Be6!17. Nc4Rc818. Kb1Qd5And Black has a strong initiative. )
16... Bxb4!17. axb4Be6!18. Nxd4
( 18. Kb1Qd5!And White has severe problems. )
( 18. bxa5Rc8Black wins the White queen. )
18... Rc8!19. Nc6Nxc6!The point of Black's play; his queen is immune. 20. bxc6
( 20. Rxd8Nxd8And Black remains up a piece. )
20... Qb621. Qa4
( 21. b5If 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... Bg4!The engine prefers this funny move, but I see no reason to criticize Anand's choice. 22. f3Bf5And Black should win since 23. Bd3Fails to 23... Qe3+24. Kc2Qe2+25. Kc3Re3 )
22. Kb1Rd8!23. Rxd8+Qxd824. Be2
( 24. Qxc6?Qd1+25. Qc1Bf5+ )
( 24. Bb5!This move offered a little more resistance, but after 24... Bf5+25. Ka1Rc2Black would still have had a huge edge. )
24... Bf5+25. Ka2Rc2
( 25... Qd7!This move was even stronger. The simple threat is Qe6+, which is surprisingly difficult to meet. )
26. Rd1Qb627. Bg4Qe6+28. Ka3Qe529. Qb3Bg6White 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
The other games were pretty level throughout. So played a very solid game with Black against Caruana.
Lennart Ootes / London Chess Classic
Fabiano Caruana, left, and Wesley So during their Round 8 game.
Caruana, Fabiano vs. So, Wesley
London Classic |London |Round 8 |17 Dec 2016 |1/2-1/2
12. Nf1e4!This move forces a series of exchanges in a symmetrical position, allowing So to gain a draw with little difficulty. 13. Ng3Bh714. dxe4Qxd115. Rxd1Bxe4!
( 15... Nxe416. Nxe4Bxe417. Bf4This position is not quite clear-cut, but Black should not be worse. I prefer the actual game continuation. )
16. Bf4Bb617. Nxe4Nxe418. Bg3Rae819. Rd7Nxg320. hxg3Ne521. Nxe5Rxe5There 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. Rad1Rf5!Freeing the rook on f8. 23. R1d2Re824. Kf1Kf825. f3Re7The rest was unnecessary 26. Rd8+Re827. R8d7Re728. Rd8+Re829. R2d7Rxd830. Rxd8+Ke731. Rg8Rg532. g4Bc533. Bd3Bd634. Kf2Kf635. Re8Rd536. Ke2Re5+37. Rxe5Kxe5
Vladimir Kramnik, left, and Anish Giri talking after their Round 8 game ended in a draw.
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. c4Nxe4!?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... Qh530. Kf1Chances are about equal, but I would prefer to play White. )
30. f3!The point of White's play. 30... Nxd231. fxg4The knight is trapped on d2. But
after: 31... Nxc4!32. bxc4Rxc4Black 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. Nd5Bd834. Ra1Rxg435. a5e4!Black wants to put his pawns onto light squares to limit the scope of the bishop on g2. 36. Rb3Rh5!37. Ne3Rgg538. Kf2Rxa539. Rxa5Rxa540. Bxe4
( 40. Rxb7?d5!And White would be in big trouble becaue the center pawns, which were previously blockaded, are now charging forward. )
40... b541. Rd3Be742. Kf3Ra143. Nd5Bd844. Nf4Be745. Rc3d5!The simplest solution. Black sacrifices one pawn to force an exchange of rooks and open up the position for his bishop. 46. Bxd5Ra3This 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.
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