London Chess Classic – Round Three

Vishy Anand beats Magnus Carlsen, report and photos by John Saunders

Today was the big one – world number one plays world number two, right here in London town (we had to pinch ourselves that it was really happening). Note that I didn’t specify precisely which was which – Vishy is numero uno on the official November list but Magnus is no.1 on the unofficial but authoritative ‘live list’. Prior to today they had met nine times in 2010 with five of those at longplay chess (the other shorter stuff doesn’t really count to purists).

This year Vishy leads 3-2 with one win (in Bilbao, with Black, two months ago to the day) and four draws. Linares 2009 was the last time Magnus beat Vishy in a longplay head-to-head. So Magnus needed a win to emphasise to the chess public that he is not just a serial conqueror of lesser names, while Vishy’s immediate problem was his position in the tournament: two draws are only worth two points under the 3-1-0 system and McShane was already on 6. Plenty to play for, then.

The game started with a fairly standard Ruy Lopez and Vishy thought his opening had gone wrong around move 24 – nothing too drastic but not quite the position he was aiming for. But then the move 24…Be6, which Magnus described as a “huge oversight”, changed the complexion of the position in the world champion’s favour. It was still mind-numbingly hard to convert and came down to an endgame where White’s main advantage was his vastly superior king safety and his ability to point all his pieces at Magnus’s weak pawns.

London Anand Carlsen rd 3

Carlsen tried a desperate last stand as Vishy’s pieces circled and tormented his depleted forces but in the end he couldn’t hold out. This was a great win for Vishy (the day before his 41st birthday) and a psychological blow for the young man with designs on his crown.

Anyone watching big-time chess for the first time in London today will have learned that the elite game can be highly attritional. If Vishy versus Magnus was tough, Vlad versus Luke was utter torture. Eventually, via Vlad’s favourite Berlin Wall (patented right here in Hammersmith), it came down to rook and bishop versus rook – the endgame dreaded by players, arbiters and chess journalists who fancy putting their feet up for the evening, dammit. A draw with best play, apart from a few specific positions, but always damnably hard to defend at the end of a long game. As British chess writer Bill Hartston once said (I’m probably misquoting): “other players make you suffer when they get the chance, so you have to make them suffer when you’ve got the upper hand.”

Why do chessplayers put themselves through this punishment? Love of the game? More like because we are total masochists. Come on, FIDE – you like messing around with the rules of the game? Why don’t you declare rook and bishop versus rook to be a statutory DRAW so that some of us with lives to lead can go home, have something to eat and maybe reacquaint ourselves with our poor suffering spouses and children? Sorry – got a bit emotional there – I’ve calmed down now.

Anyway, finally, at 9.37pm, 7 hours and 37 minutes after they started play, Vlad stalemated his opponent – draw! Thus Luke remains the overnight leader going into round 4 and ensured that not one Englishman lowered his colours in this toughest of tough rounds of chess. No wonder the delighted home fans went on their way chanting ‘Enger-land, Enger-land, Enger-land!’.

London McShane Kramnik rd 3

David Howell once again showed his talent for brinksmanship, both on the board and on the clock. He defended a Fianchetto Grünfeld Defence, following a line played by Karpov and Kasparov in their ‘nostalgia match’ of 2009. David, who had not expected the opening played, ate up gigantic amounts of time on his clock trying to decide what to do around move 12, while Hikaru evidently thought he was playing an online bullet game. Only kidding – the real reason for his speed was that he had prepared the line in some depth.

After around 25 moves played, David only had five minutes or so left while Hikaru had only used some 12-15 minutes for all the moves on his clock. However, David came up with a very nice plan to save the day; his rook, knight and king huddled together for safety whilst simultaneously protecting a couple of key pawns and preventing Hikaru’s king from entering the fray. Hikaru’s queen prodded and poked, and his king huffed and puffed, but the American couldn’t blow the Englishman’s house down.

Mickey Adams and Nigel Short have long been rivals for the title of English number one. Nigel pinched it from Mickey a year or so but Mickey raised his game and pinched it back again. Their game today was hard fought, with Nigel playing a g6 move in the Caro-Kann which has been played quite a lot by his fellow Greek residents Skembris and Nikolaidis (for those who didn’t know, Nigel lives in Athens and occasionally likes to refer to himself as an “olive farmer”).

London waiting to play rd 3

Mickey played the very plausible 11. e6 to break up Black’s structure and then start an attack rolling down the kingside. Some cagey shadow-boxing ensued. It was a tough game though not quite the grim struggle the other three games were. White had a long-lasting initiative but nothing came of it – draw agreed (slightly naughtily, without consulting an arbiter, but it was the deadest of dead draws.

Scores after round 3: Luke McShane 7/9, Vishy Anand, Hikaru Nakamura 5, Adams 4, Kramnik 4, Carlsen 3, Howell 2, Short 1. (Note, games are scored 3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw and 0 points for a loss)

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