Things changed quickly in London after the first half of the tournament. Unsurprisingly, people stopped complaining about the draws.
After Caruana’s two in a row it was Nepomniachtchi who improved on it and scored three in a row! He was helped by Adams’s “Christmas presents” (his own words). In a drawn rook endgame 2 vs 1 on one wing Adams blundered and lost.
Nepo then went on to beat Anand, who had a bad tournament, and none other than the World Champion. It was a shocking collapse for the World Champion – he played the game well up to a moment, but then what happened is impossible to explain. When you see the World Champion make beginner’s blunders the only thing you can do it scratch your head in disbelief.
While Carlsen did play the second part of the tournament with a severe cold, this is in no way an excuse for the blunders he committed. To his credit, even though visibly shocked by the loss and with more blunders to come in his last round game with Aronian, the World Champion did manage to win that game and finish on a shared third with 5/9. This lack of stability in his game has become quite a plague for Carlsen in the last year or so and he doesn’t seem to have found a way to deal with it. Still, even with those problems he easily holds his rating and the others don’t seem to be capable to catch up.
Carlsen was also the winner of the Grand Chess Tour 2017, thanks to his dominance in the rapid and blitz sections. In these formats he dominates as he did in classical chess. I wonder whether he can dominate in classical again…?!
Caruana’s last round must-win situation was playing White against Adams. In his own words, he would have accepted the repetition had Adams repeated, but Adams played on! Things really must go your way if you are to win a tournament! Adams not only played on, he also blundered (his last Christmas present in London) and Caruana secured a tie-break with Nepomniachtchi.
The tie-break was dominated by the American, especially the blitz games (the two rapid games were drawn). Caruana doesn’t have a great reputation as a rapid/blitz player, while Nepo does, but he has been improving in this aspect as well. He’s beaten Nakamura and Grischuk in matches with faster time controls, so he shouldn’t be underestimated. Still, what he didn’t win in the first blitz game is no less shocking than what Nakamura didn’t win against Carlsen earlier in the tournament. It seems being a piece up is no guarantee to win anymore…
The missed chance didn’t seem to disturb Caruana too much. He went on to win the second blitz game convincingly. Now compare that to the position from Nakamura-Carlsen.
Well, at least these guys provided some comfort to us lesser mortals, who sometimes fail to win with a big positional advantage.
As a personal observation, what the London Chess Classic showed is that Karjakin doesn’t stand a chance to play well in the Candidates. He’s been having too many bad results and it is impossible to just suddenly wake up, play fantastic chess and win a tournament as serious as the Candidates. Which probably makes Caruana the favourite, but I will write in more detail about the Candidates after Tata Steel and Gibraltar (where almost all the Candidates are playing, 5 in Wijk and 2 on the Rock, only Ding Liren is not playing anywhere).