- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 9, 2015

It’s taking a while for the punches to start landing.

Like boxers feeling each other out in the early stages of the fight, the world’s top grandmasters were not exactly mixing it up in the first rounds of the 7th London Classic, now approaching the midpoint in the British capital.

The 20 games of the first four rounds have produced exactly three decisive results: Former Bulgarian world champ Veselin Topalov has lost twice — to Dutch GM Anish Giri on Round 1 and to French GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave two rounds later — and America’s Hikaru Nakamura had the only win of Monday’s Round 4 with a victory over former Indian world champ Viswanathan Anand. Unfortunately, some of the most anticipated pairings of the event — including the battle between the top two Americans, Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana, and Caruana’s match with Norwegian world champion Magnus Carlsen — are already in the books as draws.

The London event is the third and final leg of the new Grand Chess Tour. Topalov won the first leg in the Norway Chess tournament in June, and Armenia’s Levon Aronian took the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis two months later. The best overall performer in the three events will take home a $75,000 bonus.

The Topalov-Giri tournament-opener was a rare burst of belligerence in a sea of pacifism. With 12. b3 e5!?, Giri as Black hits on a new plan in this Fianchetto Grunfeld line, opening the center and initiating some sharp piece play. Black’s knight invades the White position, but Topalov finds a clever way to generate counterplay: 20. a4! Qxd4 21. a5 (Giri pointed out the nice line 21. Bf1 Nd7 22. Bxd3 Bxd3 23. Qxd3 Re1+! 24. Kg2 Rxd1 25. Qxd1 Qxc3 26. Be3, and White holds) Nd7 22. Ra4 Qe5 23. Nxd5 Nxc1 24. Rxc1 Nf6 25. Nc7! Rad8 26. Qf4, when 26…Re7 runs into 27. Qxe5 Rxe5 28. Nxa6 bxa6 29. Rc6 Kg7 30. Rxa6 Rd1+ 31. Kh2 Re2 32. Rf4, and White is better.

In a game with multiple tactical finesses, it’s only fitting that a subtle combinational point decides the affair: 31. Rab1!? (better may have been 31. Qxa7 Rdd2 32. Rc8+ Kg7 33. Rf1 Qxb3 34. Qxa6, when 34…Qe3? loses to the inspired 35. Qxf6+ Kxf6 36. fxe3+) Qd2 32. Bf3 Ne4! (see diagram) 33. Qxa7? (overlooking Black’s 35th move; drawish was 33. Bxe4 Rxe4 34. Qxa7 Qxa5) Nxf2! 34. Bxe2 Nxh3+ 35. Kf1 (Kg2 Qxe2+ 36. Kxh3 Rd2 and mate is unstoppable) Qd5! (White may have banked on 35…Rd6? 36. Rc8+ Kg7 37. Qe7 Rf6+ 38. Kg2 and holds), with the winning threat of 36…Qh1+.

White folds quickly: 36. Bh5? (a woozy response after a haymaker, but Black still wins on the tougher 36. Ke1 Qh1+ 37. Bf1 Qf3! 38. Rb2 [Bxh3 Re8+ 39. Kd2 Re2+ 40. Kd1 Qd3 mate] 39. Qxg3+ 39. Rf2 Re8+ 40. Be2 Nf4, and the attack breaks through) Qh1+ 37. Ke2 Qg2+ 38. Ke1 Re8+ 39. Kd1 Nf2+ 40. Kc2 Ne4+, and White resigns facing 41. Kd3 Qd2+ 42. Kc4 Rc8+ 43. Qc5 Rxc5 mate.

Topalov-Giri, 7th London Chess Classic, December 2015

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. g3 c6 4. Bg2 d5 5. Qa4 Nfd7 6. cxd5 Nb6 7. Qd1 cxd5 8. Nc3 Nc6 9. e3 Bg7 10. Nge2 O-O 11. O-O Re8 12. b3 e5 13. dxe5 Nxe5 14. h3 Bf5 15. Nd4 Bd3 16. Re1 Ba6 17. Qd2 Nd3 18. Rd1 Bxd4 19. exd4 Qf6 20. a4 Qxd4 21. a5 Nd7 22. Ra4 Qe5 23. Nxd5 Nxc1 24. Rxc1 Nf6 25. Nc7 Rad8 26. Qf4 g5 27. Qb4 Qb2 28. Raa1 Re2 29. Qc5 h6 30. Nxa6 bxa6 31. Rab1 Qd2 32. Bf3 Ne4 33. Qxa7 Nxf2 34. Bxe2 Nxh3+ 35. Kf1 Qd5 36. Bh5 Qh1+ 37. Ke2 Qg2+ 38. Ke1 Re8+ 39. Kd1 Nf2+ 40. Kc2 Ne4+ White resigns.


Congrats to Awonder Liang, the Madison, Wis. 12-year-old who just became the youngest American international master in history, eclipsing the mark set by (now-GM) Sam Sevian just two years ago. Liang picked up his third and final IM norm at the UT-Dallas Fall Fide Open last month. … Local players are already gearing up for the 42nd Eastern Open, a seven-round, five-section Swiss that traditionally rounds off the area chess calendar. Play this year runs from Dec. 26 to 29 at the Doubletree Hotel in Bethesda. Entry information, playing schedules and other details are available at easternopenchess.com.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at [email protected]

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