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!