London Chess Classic 2015 – Rounds 6-9
The decisive game of the round was Anand’s second loss in the tournament. This was surprising as the previous day he beat Topalov very convincingly and this gave him confidence. It was also Grischuk’s second win against Anand ever and second in a row, after his win at the Sinquefield Cup in August. Playing white in both these games Grischuk opened 1 d4 Nf6 2 Bf4 in St. Louis and 1 c4 e5 2 d3 in London. It is apparent that he tries to get off the theory as soon as possible and get a game, but he tries this against Anand for the second time in a row, while against anybody else he seldom uses this approach.
Things started to happen starting from Round 7. Anand fell to a second loss in a row, he has always been unstable after losses and the loss to Grischuk affected him. But all credit to the Frenchman who played directly and aggressively. To make things worse for Anand, he celebrated his 46th birthday on the day. It’s tricky to play on one’s birthday, the most famous case that comes to mind was Capablanca’s loss to Alekhine in the AVRO 1938 (with Alekhine visiting the hairdresser before the game, especially for the occassion!)
Aronian beat Topalov easily, which can happen when Topalov is completely out of sorts. The game of the day was undoubtedly Carlsen-Nakamura. I was curious to see whether the game from St. Louis when Carlsen squandered a winning position and gifted Nakamura the draw would alter the trend between these two. And the answer turned out to be a resounding “No!” In fact, the game was very similar to many other Carlsen wins against Nakamura: Nakamura botched the opening and obtained a prospectless position and then Carlsen went on to win. In London the prospectless position was facing the pair of bishops with a pair of knights. Carlsen demonstrated excellent technique (I wouldn’t be writing this if there weren’t examples of his failed technical attempts lately) and won deservedly. The score between these two in classical games now stands at 12-0 (counting only wins – it must be very depressive for Nakamura – see the next round). I am quite certain that this win made Carlsen’s tournament – he has been suffering in the second half of the year and this win provided the necessary self-confidence booster that he badly needed.
Round 8 saw the despondent Nakamura slump to a second loss in a row against Giri. I was watching a video where there the players were asked to describe each other (and themselves) with one word. I was struck by Nakamura’s description of himself, I’ll paraphrase: aggressive, but also sometimes very passive. Obviously the second characteristic was the surprise, but the game against Giri (and now that he mentioned it, many games against Carlsen!) clearly showed he was correct.
Carlsen followed Kramnik once again in the opening, this time by implementing the Semi-Tarrasch against Topalov. And when you follow Kramnik in the opening only good things can happen to you. Soon Carlsen was pressing in a symmetrical position and although he didn’t manage to win it was clear his ability of squeezing out water from stone was back in full swing.
The last round brought a three-way tie for first when Carlsen beat Grischuk and everyone else drew: Vachier, Giri and Carlsen finished with 5.5/9 and then the tie-break followed (note that the winners of the first Grand Chess Tour tournament, Topalov and Anand, this time finished 10th and 9th respectively). I won’t go into the obscurity of the tie-break regulations that saw Vachier play Carlsen in the final and lose and then be awarded points for 3rd (!!) place and Giri, who lost to Vachier in the tie-break was awarded points for 2nd (!!) place. Going back to the final round, it was daring of Grischuk to repeat Topalov’s 7…g5 against Carlsen, but as he said, he was playing for a win. This desire to win led him to take too many risks and eventually lose, thus single-handedly “creating a monster” (Grischuk).
Carlsen won the tie-break against Vachier (who deserves full credit for coming back and winning with black against Giri’s bunker and then winning the Armageddon) comfortably, as he wasn’t in any danger while the Frenchman was exhausted.
So Carlsen won the Grand Chess Tour. Convincingly? Hardly. Deservedly? Definitely. Things weren’t going well for him at all, but he kept on fighting and eventually was rewarded for never giving up.
Now that the Tour finished I can share my impressions of it. While I am all for good chess and seeing the best players in action, I am not sure at all we need 3 tournaments where 9 out of 10 players are always the same: some diversity will bring more excitement of the possible match-ups. I know that the general public and quite a lot strong GMs were chanting “boring, Berlin, boring, Berlin” in every round, but I cannot agree. For me, anything that happens on the board is interesting. Sometimes what is interesting is what the moves on the board tell us is happening in the minds of the players and their preparations. Having no access to this information it is very challenging for me to try to understand what they were preparing, what they were trying to achieve, why they played certain openings against certain players and many other questions of this kind. I try to dig under the surface of the “boring Berlin” and this opens a fascinating world that amazes me. I remember a quote by Spassky: “There is only one thing Fischer does in chess without pleasure: lose.” What he meant is that Fischer wouldn’t mind studying “boring” positions and lines that he will never play. And, besides, I can never think chess is boring just because of a variation.