The first session of the Round 3 of the London Chess Classic's Super Sixteen Rapid featured major match-ups between the leaders of Groups C and D, while the players at the foot of the table had to slug it out to rescue their chances of staying in contention beyond the end of the all-play-all phase on Friday.
By John Saunders | Photos © Ray Morris-Hill
Caruana ½-½ Howell: this was an epic encounter in which the British Champion stood and fought toe-to-toe with the world number seven and had several chances to win. Fabiano’s opening didn’t look too sharp and David gradually outplayed him, with his b-pawn becoming a monster. Watching in the VIP room, the pitch and volume of Julian Hodgson raised higher and higher as David’s chances improved (Julian is unashamedly partisan towards the English representatives, though obviously he has nothing against the overseas ones). The silicon – we’re using the excellent Hiarcs engine here – showed that various chances went begging, Julian veered somewhere between falsetto and castrato when David played the powerful 78...e3 but subsided back into the lower registers after David missed the devastating 81...Qc7. Thereafter the win became problematic. “White is lost but not completely lost,” opined the watching Vlad Kramnik. The game went on so long that the next batch of games had to be put back a quarter of an hour but Fabiano managed to hold the draw.
Nakamura ½-½ Gelfand: such was the excitement generated by the above game that it wasn’t possible to follow what happened here. It came down to an unusual endgame in which Boris’s sole remaining piece, a bishop, had to fend off a cluster of three pawns, two of which were doubled. The Hiarcs Tablebase gives it as a draw and so it proved.
Sutovsky 0-1 Short: Nigel Short was true to his promise to wake up for today's games after yesterday's warm-up. "Played with a very straight bat against Sutovsky. That's more like it!" was his comment on Twitter (@nigelshortchess - Nigel is a 'must-follow' on Twitter). Nigel got a grip on the black squares and Emil's attempts to wriggle free and secure some play only served to make his position worse. Eventually Emil took one risk too many and succumbed to a winning finish...
Sutovsky - Short, Round 3, after 39.Kh3
Nigel wants to play ...h5 and ...g4+, winning the house but at the moment White might be able to reply to ...h5 with the boring Qxh5. So he needs a way to lure the white queen away from its defence of the h5 square. So he played 39...Qb2! The white queen now has to attend to the defence of the bishop on b1 - 40.Qd1 - to which Nigel replied 40...h5! and now it's all over. Emil played 41.Qc2 but resigned without waiting to see 41...Rxb1! 42.Qxb1 g4 mate. Had White played his bishop away on move 40, say, with 40.Bd3, Black would have played 40...Ra2 when the pressure along the rank is too much.
Jones 0-1 Polgar: I've already alluded to the rapidplay phenomenon whereby you can't always guess the result of a game based on who emerges best from the early middlegame. Rapid chess can be a game of two halves - or even three, four or five halves (maths never was my strong suit). Judit Polgar seemed to have the worst of things against Gawain Jones, but as history has taught us, hell hath no fury like a Polgar scorned. It was quite similar to Sutovsky-Short in that the Englishman had a mighty dark-squared bishop, but Judit took the chance to give up a rook for Gawain's marauding bishop. There was still nothing much in it until Gawain blundered irrevocably with 63.Rxd4, allowing Judit’s h-pawn to touch down.
Istratescu 0-1 Anand: more misery for the genial French GM, playing a genius Indian world champion. Andrei tried to attack the black king but Vishy flashed out the amazing 21...Nxe5, exploiting the weak situation of the white bishop on c2. It wasn’t quite the end of the story as Vishy had to give up the exchange but he gained two pawns by way of compensation. The game was finally by Andrei’s blunder 49.Rb1 which opened the door to a winning attack.
Adams ½-½ McShane: a well-contested game which favoured White first, and then Black, and then White again. One big chance for Mickey came and went on move 59 when the computer screams out for 59.Qb8!, shepherding home the passed c-pawn, but Mickey missed it. I can’t remember whether it was after this game or his fourth round game when Mickey Adams revealed the secret of rapid chess. I’ve given you my take on it, rather long-windedly, but Mickey was succinct. Lawrence Trent asked him the key question: “Do you have any particular strategy in rapid chess?” Mickey gave the wonderfully laconic reply: “I play a bit faster.”
Rowson 0-1 Svidler: Jonathan is one of a number of players in the line-up who are either a bit rusty from shortage of play or else keen not to be out-booked by the illustrious theoreticians present. He opted for some sort of King’s Indian Attack against Peter’s Sicilian and then gave up a pawn to be able to harass Peter on the dark squares. Peter gave up the exchange to get a big centre and an initiative. Then there was a mutual oversight, starting with 23...e3, where White could have played 25.Rxf6 when 25...Qxh4+ to win it back allows 26.Bh3! attacking the rook on c8. These things happen at rapid chess.
Sadler ½-½ Kramnik: Matthew decided to risk a theoretical encounter with the great Russian and an accurately-played game brought him a fairly steady draw.
Polgar ½-½ Gelfand: Judit had a much better day two than day one, though she is still unlikely to qualify as Gelfand and Nakamura are now four points clear of her. This was a steadily played game, with Boris perhaps now happy to coast his way to qualification for the final stages.
Nakamura 1-0 Jones: Gawain’s third loss means he can no longer qualify for the quarter-final stage and will be playing for fun on Friday. He has certainly had his money’s worth with four games lasting 70, 77, 67 and 84 moves respectively. Hikaru started with 1.b3 and Gawain looked better out of the opening. But gradually Hikaru started to show why is so good at quick chess, steadily forcing his opponent onto the back foot. Gawain tried to stay active but it proved a hopeless task.
Howell 0-1 Short: this was a well contested game, with the mistake coming on move 35 when David allowed his central pawns to become blockaded, instead of launching a promising attack with 35.e5!? He did play it a while later but by then Nigel was racing his a-pawn down the board. David tried to attack the black king but Nigel defended easily and launched an overwhelming counter down the e-file. So, a good day for Nigel, and he must his chances of qualifying for the quarter-final.
Sutovsky 0-1 Caruana: our lesson here comes from Matthew 13:12: “For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.” As a result of winning this game, Fabiano is almost certainly through to the quarter-final, while Emil now has four zeroes to counterbalance the four points he scored in the FIDE Open. Chess is a cruel game, and rapid chess cruel but a bit faster (as Mickey Adams might have said). Emil seemed out of sorts in an insipid opening and was simply pushed off the board by a rampant Fabiano.
Anand 1-0 McShane: Vishy is really enjoying life now he no longer has to sit opposite a certain Norwegian player. This was like the teenage Vishy, going all-in with a speculative piece sacrifice. It’s always good to have the initiative at rapid chess, and Luke was faced with a major defensive problem. Your computer will suggest a range of reasonable solutions, but Luke didn’t have time to sort them out and he soon came unstuck. Vishy is now almost certain of qualification, while Luke is four points adrift of Mickey and unlikely to go forward.
Adams 1-0 Istratescu: lots of material came off early but Andrei relaxed too soon and played the injudicious 27...f5, allowing Mickey to snaffle a pawn. It wasn’t long before Andrei’s position worsened further and he was gone. Like Emil, he has followed four aces in the FIDE Open with four duck eggs in the Super Sixteen Rapid. Mickey, meanwhile, looks good to accompany Vishy into the next phase.
Svidler 1-0 Kramnik: Peter took his revenge for his first round misfortune against Vlad, who found himself obliged to mix it after a slightly streaky opening. Peter emerged with two bishops against a rook and this time he made no mistakes in converting his advantage. The two of them now share the lead in their group, two points clear of Matthew Sadler.
Sadler 1-0 Rowson: this was another revenge match in group B. After maintaining a steady edge for a long while, Matthew suddenly launched a kingside attack with a piece sacrifice, rather like Vishy had done against Luke. Unlike Luke, Jonathan didn't go wrong immediately but managed to put up a more than decent defence, to the point where he was objectively winning on the board but in the ensuing time trouble mayhem he fell victim to Matthew's much smaller commando force.
STANDINGS AFTER ROUND 4 (OF 6)
Group A: Anand 10, Adams 8, McShane 4, Istratescu 0.
Group B: Svidler, Kramnik 7, Sadler 5, Rowson 3.
Group C: Gelfand, Nakamura 8, Polgar 4, Jones 1.
Group D: Caruana 10, Short 7, Howell 5, Sutovsky 0.
Report thanks to John Saunders | Photos © Ray Morris-Hill