Tuesday 10th December 2013
LONDON CHESS CLASSIC 2013: NOVELTY EVENTS
John Saunders reports:
SUPERSTARS LIMBER UP WITH SOME NOVELTY CHESS
The fourth day of the 2013 London Chess Classic, held at the Olympia Conference Centre in London saw the arrival of the superstars, to take part in some novelty events, with celebs, amateurs and representatives of the business world, and maybe to try to gain a psychological edge over their rivals. There was also some crucial action in the FIDE Open, to decide the last two places in the Super Sixteen Rapid. Two top GMs, Andrei Istratescu of France and Emil Sutovsky of Israel, won their fourth straight games and earned instant promotion to the main event.
Action began early in the main auditorium with two Pro-Amateur matches. This was the first of three ‘chess doubles’ events of the day, where the GM makes the first move of the game for each side and thereafter the pairs alternate moves. A PGN file has been appended of all games played: all you have to remember is that the GMs made the odd-numbered moves and their partners the even ones. (I nearly made the mistake of writing that the ‘GMs made the odd moves’, thereby risking several expensive lawsuits.)
In the Pro-Am. In this event Luke McShane was paired with Sean Ingle, Sports editor for the Guardian newspaper, against Nigel Short and Raijko Vujatovic, strong chess player, writer, well-known Chessboxing referee and all-round nice guy. I don’t think Sean has played competitive OTB chess but he’s got pretty strong playing online. I’ve played him a few times and was very impressed by his chess ability, so it was no surprise to me when he and Luke got the better of Nigel and Raijko. Incidentally, Sean is also an impressive football pundit. His uncannily accurate 2010 FIFA World Cup predictions can still be found on the web (http://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2010/jun/10/world-cup-guardian-predictions), so if you want to know who is going to win in Brazil in 2014, you could do worse than ask him.
The other Pro-Am contest saw Boris Gelfand and Robert Mitchell take white against Vladimir Kramnik and Matthew Lunn. Matthew’s extra OTB strength probably made the difference here, as he and former world champion Kramnik triumphed after White’s promising early middlegame attack foundered.
The Pro-Business Cup was played on a semi-final and final basis, with Matthew Sadler and Daniel Lindner, who works in the wealth management division of Barclays, coming through to beat David Howell and Ali Mortazavi in the final. Ali is Chief Executive of Silence Therapeutics, and of course also a chess IM in his own right, which must have made him and his partner the favourites, but 37-year-old Daniel Lindner from Germany, though not a familiar name to us Brits, is also a more than handy chessplayer, with a peak rating in the high 2200s, which would probably have been even higher had he been able to devote more time to the game. In the semi-finals Matthew and Daniel had beaten the Italian pairing of Fabiano Caruana and Fabio Buanne, director of International Business Development for Orange, while David and Ali had beaten Gawain Jones and Jeremy Hodgson, Senior Systems Programmer with Interactive Data, but perhaps better in our world as brother of several times British Champion Julian Hodgson. Jeremy took a long sabbatical from the game but has recently been bitten by the chess bug again and is now regularly seen playing in chess competitions.
BRING ON THE CELEBS
The Pro-Celeb matches were played on the same doubles basis but in a much more informal way, in front of a huge audience of children, whipped up to a frenzy by compères Malcolm Pein and Lawrence Trent, after a warm-up act fronted by Chris Ward and Stephen Gordon. This was very reminiscent (at least to my aged self) of BBC Television’s much-loved children’s programme ‘Crackerjack’, with the children being incited to shout out ‘yes to chess’ at various intervals. I think I can safely say it was the first time I had ever been in danger of being deafened at a chess tournament. It was good fun.
The celebs themselves, though confident enough as performers in their own right, were understandably nervous at being expected to move chess pieces on the board in front of legendary players and a vocal live audience. However, they benefited from some kindly treatment from their chess partners. A few minutes before they took the stage, I saw Vishy Anand giving his partner, Rude Tube presenter Alex Zane, some advice on various pitfalls to avoid (Vishy’s advice centred on the f7 square, so experienced chess players can probably figure out the content of Vishy’s advice).
Vishy and Alex faced Peter Svidler and Shingai Shoniwa, singer and bassist for the Noisettes, an English indie rock band from London who are best known for the single “Don't Upset the Rhythm (Go Baby Go)” (or so it says on the website. Your reporter has to confess that his knowledge of popular music is about as up-to-date as that of the average high court judge, and for whom ‘The X-Factor’ means the symbol we use to denote a capture in chess notation). Actually, ‘Don’t Upset the Rhythm’ sounds like excellent advice for doubles chess, where, as you make your move, you have to figure out whether your partner is in rhythm with your plans.
Shingai also had a personal adviser during the game in the shape of Candidate Master Josh Altman, who was permitted to whisper advice into her ear. During the game, Shingai said she was reminded of the Queen song, ‘Under Pressure’ but the warmth of the audience soon put her at her ease. Malcolm asked the predominantly under 12 audience whether they had heard of Queen and remarkably they had (or said they had).
The game looked good for Vishy and Alex but as time marched on and a long rook endgame loomed, world Champion Vishy reached out his hand to offer Shingai a diplomatic draw.
Music also featured in the other pro-celeb game, where world number three Hikaru Nakamura was paired with rapper Lethal Bizzle, facing England number one Mickey Adams and two young representatives of the CSC, Jamie and Lily. Hikaru and Lethal looked an intimidating pair at the board – judging from his physique, Lethal looks like he could be a useful boxer – and this seemed to translate into chessboard dominance as the pair whipped off their opponents’ queen and soon proceeded to give checkmate, but not before Lethal had risen to Lawrence Trent’s challenge to compose and perform a spontaneous rap during the game. Check it out on the video.
LET’S GET SERIOUS
That was all good fun but, suddenly with the celebs and hordes of infants departed, things got deadly serious again on the auditorium stage. The top five boards were relocated there for the evening, as two of the ten players there would qualify for promotion to the Super Sixteen Rapid on Wednesday. Nine of the ten contenders were on 3/3 and it was always a racing certainty that the qualifiers would need 4/4 to have a hope of going through. The tie-split was the player’s published rating, in order to ensure that only the best quality players would go through to the Classic final.
Andrei Istratescu and Emil Sutovsky, with ratings of 2670 and 2657 respectively, and with the white pieces against players rated under 2500, started favourites and duly qualified. In fact, as it turned out, the tie-break rule did not have to be invoked as they were the only two players to reach 4/4.
THE SUPER SIXTEEN
So we now know the final two names of the Super sixteen. Here are the groups for the first part of the competition: