The London Chess Classic's Super Sixteen has now become the Super Eight and Saturday’s exercise saw the eight whittled down to four. One of the curiosities of this tournament is that, despite the alleged ‘randomness’ of rapid chess, all eight top seeded proceeded to the knock-out stages at the expense of the rest. With all the quarter-finals being between players who were fairly close together on the rating, there were no real surprises there either. Another thing to note is that three of the semi-finalist have an average age of about 40. So much for rapid chess being a young man’s game, though Hikaru Nakamura may yet cause us to revise that notion.
The semi-finalists who will get to play on the last day in London are Vladimir Kramnik and Hikaru Nakamura (who won their rapidplay matches without recourse to a quicker form of chess), and Mickey Adams and Boris Gelfand (who needed tie-breaks to get the better of their opponents).
By John Saunders | Photos © Ray Morris-Hill
"DOWN AND OUT IN CHENNAI AND LONDON"
Kramnik 1½-½ Anand: This mouth-watering pairing of two world champions got off to a cagey start with a Semi-Slav opening, Vladimir having White. 12.e4 looked a bit unusual (recapturing with 12.Nxc4 being the normal move), though it would probably have been a bit risky for Vishy to try hanging onto the pawn with 13...b5. A lot of material was hoovered off, leaving an endgame where Vlad had what grandmasters like to call a 'symbolic edge' (i.e. the position looks better but is not good enough to win).
The second game of the mini-match saw Vishy Anand succumb to defeat after some hesitant moves in the early middlegame of a Semi-Tarrasch. 15.Ne4 looked shaky, as did 17.Qb1, and Vlad didn't need any further encouragement, launching a vicious counter-assault with his pawns and bishops on both sides of the board. Vishy was already in some trouble when he played 20.0-0 after which Vlad gave him no chance. So Vishy goes out in the quarter-finals; a pity the two big names had to meet at this stage, but after a generally bright performance, it seems that Vishy might still be suffering some after-effects after Chennai.
“TEST MATCH SPECIAL”
Adams 1-1 (2-0) Svidler: This clash of cricket-loving grandmasters saw the first blood go to Mickey Adams with White, after Peter blundered in a rook and pawn endgame. Mickey was able to swap rooks and convert to an easily winning king and pawn endgame. Mickey's King's Indian Attack didn't look particularly dangerous but Peter's 16...Bxe5 looked rather suspect. Mickey regained his pawn easily enough and had a better developed position as a result. Peter was then subjected to typical Adams torture under his calamitous 41...g5 move.
The second game featured a Réti-ish opening (what we ancients called the 'King's Fianchetto Opening'), though it hardly looked like the approach of a man who needed to win to play another day. But sometimes less is more and Black's reaction around moves 11-14 looked a bit suspect. Peter was soon pegging his opponent back in his own half. He established a knight on c5 and a rook on d4 and suddenly it looked very nice. Eventually it came to a rook and pawn endgame. The good news for Mickey was that the pawns were all on the same side of the board – but the bad news, that Peter had two more of them (albeit doubled). Peter used to be a Russian schoolboy so of course he knew how to convert.
Tied at 1-1, they had to return later in the day to decide their match in a blitz play-off. With Mickey playing White, things proceeded normally until Peter suddenly blundered with 16...Nc5??. After 17.Bxf6 Peter found himself obliged to surrender a pawn with 17...Bxf6 and went on to lose. Had he played 17...gxf6, Mickey would have played 18.Bg4 when he gets his knight to d5 and then a massive kingside attack.
Probably shocked by this calamity, Peter played poorly in the return game, lost a pawn and soon resigned in despair. A shame to see Peter leave the tournament but a great performance by Mickey and ensuring some interest for the home crowd on the final day.
“BORIS THE SPIDER”
Caruana 1-1 (0-2) Gelfand: it seems the Super Sixteen stars are keeping most of their front-line opening ammunition dry and resorting to all-purpose King's Indian Attacks or Réti Openings. The first time I raised my eyebrows in this game was when Boris played 14...g4. Perhaps he felt that a pawn sacrifice was the best way to shake up the position. Anyway, White's extra pawn was doubled. As often happens, there was an 'engine moment' when the silicon watchdog started yapping loudly. In this case it was on move 31 when the move 31.Bc3! would have won the game for Fabiano. One point behind it is that 31...Qd6 is answered by 32.Qe2, attacking the queen and the g4 pawn at the same time. If Black retreats with 31...Qc7, White lashes out with 32.Qh6, winning everything in the vicinity. After the move played, Fabiano thought long and hard to find a way to capitalise on his positional advantage but couldn't find a way. This was actually one of the best defensive efforts of the tournament from Boris to hold the draw.
The second game looked pretty good for Caruana (with Black) but once again Boris's immaculate defensive skills saw him through a tricky middlegame and endgame. Most of us wouldn't have fancied playing against Fabiano's two bishops but the rather clever 40.Ng6 held things together and the black king couldn't seem to cross to the other side of the board and support Black's pawns.
So to a tie-break, and here the script of the match, which had hitherto seen Fabiano in the ascendant, changed inexorably. In their first game, Fabiano thought to attack the queen with 28.Rd2 but was shocked by the devastating reply 28...Nc4!, weaving a horrible spider’s web around White’s heavy pieces. 29.Rxc2 was answered by 29...Nxe3 forking the two rooks. He had to resign a few moves later.
The return game was even Stevens until the careless 32...exf4? allowed a powerful intermezzo check 33.Qb7+. Boris could probably have settled for a perpetual check but found a risk-free tactic to secure the full point.
Short ½-1½ Nakamura: Nigel, playing White, played a Closed Sicilian (that suddenly fashionable kingside fianchetto yet again) and seemed to get a pretty decent game against Hikaru in their first game. But then things became a bit murky as he advanced his rook to a2, then a3 and captured the pawn on c3, and murkier still when he went in for 31.f4. VIP room commentator Julian Hodgson's falsetto voice suddenly plunged to basso profundo when he saw Nigel obliged to surrender the exchange, but maybe it wasn't too bad an involuntary sacrifice (the euphemism I usually reserve for my own chessboard calamities) if it had been followed up more vigorously. Thereafter, as Fred McMurray put it in the film noir 'Double Indemnity', Nigel found he had bought a one-way ticket to the cemetery.
In the second game Hikaru, needing only a draw, went in for 1.b3. He didn't play too obviously for a draw, but took every opportunity to exchange material without conceding more than a 'symbolic advantage'. Nigel seemed to have a slight advantage at times but nothing to frighten a 2800+ rated rapid chess wizard. Eventually he acquiesced to a draw and Hikaru was through to the semi-finals.
Kramnik - Nakamura
Adams - Gelfand
The Super Sixteen Rapid semi-finals and final take place on Sunday 15 December 2013, starting at 1300 UK time (PLEASE NOTE, THE EARLIER START TIME). There are further sessions at 1430, 1600 (only if tie-breaks are required) and then the final matches take place at 1730 and 1900, with play-offs at 2030 (if required).
Please consult the website for the timings of playing sessions (click on ‘Schedules’ on the left and select ‘Super Sixteen Rapid’ or go directly to the page here).
More photos can be found here and here.
Report thanks to John Saunders | Photos © Ray Morris-Hill