Sunday, December 15, 2013
London Classic Semi Finals Report
Sunday 15th December 2013
LONDON CHESS CLASSIC 2013: SEMI-FINALS
John Saunders reports:
SUPER SIXTEEN RAPID
Hikaru Nakamura of the USA and Boris Gelfand of Israel have qualified as finalists of the Super Sixteen Rapid at the London Chess Classic after an exciting afternoon's play at the Olympia Conference Centre, and the most dramatic of conclusions. The final two-game match between them follows at 1730 UK time this evening.
Gelfand 1½-½ Adams
Boris started with a joke, as the young ceremonial move-maker pushed Boris's pawn to e4. Malcolm asked him what he thought of it. Boris: "It's the best move." Malcolm: "Are you going to play it?" Boris: "Not today!" In fact, he went for a Catalan set-up against Mickey Adams. The game was 'book' until 14.Nxc5 was played instead of 14.Bf4. Despite Boris's two bishops, analysis engines seemed to favour Black, perhaps because White had yet to find a home for his king and because he had a weak pawn on c3. Boris's 18.Bxc5 allowed Mickey's rook to reach the seventh. He seemed well set but then made a serious error...
Gelfand - Adams
Mickey, in a good position, played 24...Nd7? allowing Boris the startling castling move 25.0-0-0!!, which Nigel Short had already spotted in a similar position which was being debated in the VIP Room. It sets up a double attack, on the b2 rook and the d7 knight. I used the phrase 'startling castling' deliberately as it is the title of a chess book by Robert Timmer. Julian Hodgson extolled the praises of this book, describing it as 'a perfect read in the bathroom'. (Chess & Bridge are currently offering it at a bargain price of £5.)
Mickey managed to cut his losses to the exchange for a pawn and chances came and went, but Mickey finally blundered when he played 46...Kf6, allowing 47.Rd4 winning material.
Mickey started patriotically with the English Attack of the Najdorf Sicilian, needing a win to force a play-off. But of course Boris's opening knowledge is encyclopaedic and he wasn't intimidated by Anglo-aggression. Things soon looked rather ominous as Boris freed his position with ...b4 and ...d5. 21.Ne3 may have been a mistake as Boris played 21...Qa5, piling on the pressure along the d-file. In order to defend d4, Mickey had to let his a-pawn drop. Soon a second pawn fell and, rather than strain himself trying to win, Boris traded his pawns in for a simple playable position with zero risk of losing.
Kramnik ½-1½ Nakamura
Vladimir Kramnik, with White, kicked off his semi-final match with Hikaru Nakamura by playing a double fianchetto English Opening. You could call it a reversed Sicilian. "Kramnik has played like Kottnauer," said Nigel Short in the VIP Room. "This is what Kottnauer advised me to do about 40 years ago." I'm guessing most younger readers won't know the name Cenek Kottnauer but he was a very fine player who emigrated to Britain from Czechoslovakia many years ago and became one of the country's best players, who was also responsible for coaching some of England's finest talents. Glad to hear Nigel name-czech him...
Things started to happen when Vlad went in for the risky 23.e5, when Hikaru simply took the proffered pawn on f4. But Hikaru's answer to 24.e6, namely 24...Qb5, was not approved by the massed ranks of GMs in the VIP room (they thought 24...Qd8 was significantly better). Kramnik grabbed his pawn back and then the pieces started to disappear from the board. Julian Hodgson predicted a draw, and he wasn't wrong as it came down to a knight and pawn ending, with Hikaru a not very useful pawn up. In the end the players amused the crowd by playing a stalemate.
Hikaru opened 1.d4 and the players went into a QGD/Grünfeld hybrid. Vlad took the opportunity to swap queens, settling for a fairly sedate middlegame. However, it soon livened up again when White allowed him a sneaky tactic with 16...Nb4, gaining him the exchange for a pawn, although White's position, with the two bishops, remained very solid. The late endgame was quite tactical and Hikaru missed various chances to make things difficult for Vlad, who exchanged off a pair of bishops and reached a position where his rook counted for rather more than Hikaru's knight. However, Hikaru clung on and created just enough play to make Vlad think. Vlad was probably still winning when he reached this position...
Nakamura - Kramnik, Game 2
Here Vlad played 42...Kf7 and was surprised by 43.Nc5! Bf8 44.Ba5 Be7 45.Bb6 and Black has no good way to make progress. Really, he should settle for a draw but he continued to press for a win, with calamitous consequences. First, he gave up a piece for the powerful white d-pawn. Even then he may have had a lost position but he then blundered catastrophically, after which there was no doubt whatsoever:
Nakamura - Kramnik, Game
This could still be a draw after a move such as 64...Rd6, but Vlad played 64...Re7+?!, which was answered by 65.Ne5+. This is already extremely unpleasant, and perhaps objectively lost, but he followed it with the hideous 65...Kf6, which allows the pin 66.Bd8, winning immediately and eliminating Black from the tournament. Vlad's sudden collapse sent shockwaves round the building as only two results (Kramnik win/draw) had seemed possible only a couple of minutes before it happened.
For photos to accompany this press release, please go to our Flickr Press Photos page here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/johnchess2/sets/72157638571169226/
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