London Chess Classic Part I

December 13, 2010 • General

Greetings to everyone once again from the warm confines of my hotel room here at Hilton London Olympia! After five tough rounds of competitive chess, we have finally arrived at a rest day. Therefore, I figured it would be an opportune time to recap my tournament this far.

Coming off of a fairly disastrous tournament last year in which I finished last due to the highly questionable football scoring system, I knew that I had to improve upon that performance or at least give myself better chances. I came here in significantly better spirits this year than last for many reasons, but immediately things started going downhill at the opening ceremony and drawing of lots when I did not even get to choose a number and ended up with five! I knew this was not a good number since it meant I would start off the tournament with two blacks, but I was in for more of a shock when I found out I would get black against Anand, Kramnik and Carlsen in the first four rounds! Certainly not the start to the tournament that I was looking forward to!

Playing the World Champion, Viswanathan Anand is always a good experience since he’s considered by many to be the 2nd greatest player over the last 20 years behind a certain chessplayer named Kasparov. Much like my strategy in Moscow, but due to the very unfortunate pairings, I knew that the best chances I had were to play solid chess against the top three players and try to win a game here or there against the four Brits. I played the Berlin Wall against Anand’s Spanish and soon found myself in trouble after playing 20…Bd6 instead of 20…Bf6 would probably would have led to a relatively easy draw. However, after reaching a same color bishop ending (the first of three so far this tournament) down a pawn, I felt I defended incredibly well and managed to hold the draw. No doubt there are plenty of endgame experts who have already analyzed it as a win, but in practice during a tournament game, I am not surprised Anand could not find a precise plan to achieve the right position.

Continuing with my trend of ridiculous pairings, I got black against the previous World Champion, Vladimir Kramnik. After having not played in many elite events, I have become very familiar with Kramnik and seem to do battle with him in nearly every tournament I’ve played this year. In many ways, I enjoy playing Kramnik more than any other top player since we seem to have really exciting and interesting games every time. This time was a bit different as Kramnik chose to avoid mainline theory and preferred quieter sidelines. The position was relatively balanced until Kramnik went for 12.Qd2 which allowed 12…g5! Even now, I am still fairly confused as to what was actually going on. My best guess is that Kramnik couldn’t find a way to gain an advantage with other moves and decided to bait me and see if I would go for it or not. As it turns out, this simply wins a piece and I was very close to winning until I went badly astray and made a few serious inaccuracies during time pressure. This led to a position which was probably drawn at time control, but a subsequent blunder was one too many by my esteemed opponent and I converted with flawless technique. After this great victory, I was on 1.5/2 which was far better than anything I could have hoped for.

In round three I had white against David Howell. Recently, David has more or less stopped playing professionally as he is currently attending university. However, he is a very resilient player as his unbelievable third place finish in the London Chess Classic last year showed. This game was and probably will be the only one where I end up in preparation from start to finish. Prior to the round, Kris and I had concluded that in most variations of the fianchetto Grunfeld, White should have a small advantage. Unfortunately, David found the only variation in which we had not found anything concrete. Despite using up all his time, David found the right continuations at all the critical junctures in the game and was able to set up a nice fortress which I could not break through. This left me on 2/3 or 5 points according to football scoring system.

In the fourth round, I faced the last of the three-headed monster as I was black against Magnus Carlsen. Having survived my first two blacks in the tournament, I knew this would be an uphill battle as there is generally a tendency to suffer a letdown right before the danger has passed. Out of the opening which was an English, I was roughly equal throughout the middlegame, but several serious inaccuracies with time pressure looming cost me dearly as I ended up in a worse endgame. Perhaps I could have put up more resistance, but I would have probably just ended up suffering for a few more hours without the result being in doubt! Who wants to do that when you can go lose and eat some delicious Thai food at Blue Lagoon! After this loss, I was still on 2/4 and 5 points.

One of the great things about getting all the big guys out of the way at the start is that everyone else becomes a little bit less scary. In the fifth round I had white against Nigel Short. Nigel seems to be suffering the effects of age as he has now had two horrible results in a row both in Saint Louis and here in the London Chess Classic. Going into the game, I knew Nigel was going to try something which I certainly was not prepared for, and this prediction was certainly correct! Nigel chose a sideline within the Marshall Gambit. Although I had vaguely studied the variation a few years ago, I could not remember most of it and decided to just figure it out at the board! Fortunately, the line is so dubious that with a few precise moves, I ended up with a completely winning position after 20 moves! Nigel tried to simplify into an endgame, but it was hopeless and this victory put me back in the hunt for first place! 3/5 and 8 points with two huge rounds to go!

Tomorrow I will play McShane and then Adams in round seven. Hopefully I can do some damage in these final two rounds!





  1. Kick their asses then run fast. Brits get angry very easily 🙂

  2. You can get an advantage against McShane and exploit it. Be careful with Adams….he’s sometimes tricky. They are stunned that you took out Big Vlad so now they become more dangerous.

    We are pulling for you Hikaru!

  3. McShane’s strength is calculation. He won the Toronto Open this summer by complicated deep calculation. I think you can at least draw with Black with solid play and hoping to perhaps outplay him in the endgame. Best of luck, we are rooting for you!

  4. Congratulations on your awesome tournament so far! An amazing win versus Kramnik! Where are the nay-sayers now?? You can still win this tournament, and I for one will not be surprised!! GO USA!

  5. First off …thanks for blogging and checking in on us here 🙂 Key things …your in good shape to win this tournament. Second McShane is having a great series and has something to prove. So pls dont under estimate this guy. Get up at least 2 hours early and maybe even 3. They say the mind needs to be awake at least 2 hours to be at its optimal readiness. So get to bed early if possible. Adams is no joke either and will be very tuff too so a win over McShane may win this thing for you. If adams is out of contention …he will most likely be willing to draw and it might just be a smart choice should you win over McShane. Other then that you already know what to do and we are all rooting for you at home here. So go out there and just DO IT ! Lets put this kids lights out tomorrow !!!! GL AND GO NAKA GO USA!!!

  6. black against your top four competitors – unbelievable. you’ll likely need two wins to take this, so be aggressive against mcshane, naka… this is your tournament to win!

  7. Nakamura! This is one of your best blog! I really love how you talk about your opponents and to know what is going on in your mind. As you can see many fans are rooting for you here in America!

    Good news. The following was written on chessbase:

    “Nigel Short had another off-day. He tried a sideline of the Marshall Attack (9…e4) for which Hikaru was barely prepared but the American found a very sensible continuation based on 11 g3 which suggests that this line may not be feasible at super-GM level.”

    Congratulations! You are now a super-GM! Keep fighting. I believe you are the best talent out there in the London Classic. How in the world does someone reach top ten in the world without coaching at the GM level? (Carslen had Kasparov)

    You are awesome man. You are highly intelligent and much respect!

  8. congrats on your performance at the LCC! I see you earned some extra prize money for game of the day. I am wondering, what are you going to do to become the world champ?
    How are you going to break through? The games are so close! Must be nerve wracking to play at such a high level. There were some comments about your cap in the commentary room! Keep it up and i hope you become the next american to become world champ.

  9. Good finish … You’re still #10 in the world … that’s a fantastic accomplishment!! I always check your games first. Thanks for keeping up the blog so we can get a taste of your life!!

  10. Keep on keepin’ on. It’s great to see you in the top 10 and I’m looking foward to seeing you in the top 5 next!

  11. Great Tournament. You came within one or two moves in placing second. This is remarkable considering level of competition you have been playing lately. Your game is changing in the right direction. I see you challenging for world champion status this time next year. Remember ther is a process that you have to go through to get to the next level (the elite) you are on your way. Good luck

  12. Barone from Italy

    You played a great tournament in a great Tournament (especially for us people watching on the net: why aren’t there more top events with such a good, and free, coverage?).
    The game with Short is the one I liked the most, especially since it was played without opening preparation, but if I’m a little sorry for the istrionic Englishman’s tournament results that I suppose caused his absence from the commentary room chat after the final round.

    OFF TOPIC – The only thing I really didn’t like is you hat: in my opnion it’s completely not in tone with your face, and if I was you I’d like to show those fisical improvement so visible in your overall shape even on the head part. I mean that hat gives your face a wider aspect, while I think you don’t need to be Carlsen to attract sponsors if you’re young, successfull, healthy looking, and american-with-oriental-enthnic-features-when-eastern-world-is-going-up-and-western-goes-down-economically-speaking…

    Keep going, your tournament play is getting better and better!

  13. I am fan of your chess. However your recent twitter post suggest a bit of immaturity in your private life. How do you tell young kids who may be following you that you are doing 120mph in a 70mph speed limit?
    I am not much of a fan of Carlsen at all, yet his posts show maturity. I suggest you change this attitude.

    Cheers for 2011!

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