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Christmas is a season of peace and goodwill. But it seems for the fans and even the tournament director at the 9th London Chess Classic, there was perhaps just a little bit too much peace and goodwill going on for their liking, with all the games of the first three rounds ending in mainly uneventful draws – and a further four draws was added to the tally in round four to make it 19 games. But thankfully, Fabiano “Scrooge” Caruana broke the deadlock and the all Christmas peace and goodwill by outplaying Sergey Karjakin. And with it, the US No.1 now moves into the sole lead with five rounds to play.

The reason for there being so many draws, as pointed out by tournament director IM Malcolm Pein, is that the nine regulars on the Grand Chess Tour are the best in the world, and they tend to be über-cautious and not make many mistakes. Added to that, the wildcard in London is Michael Adams, one of the toughest players in the game to beat, meaning the ten-player field make very few mistakes and therefore lose very few games.

“If grandmasters are intent on making a draw, even flame-throwers can’t make them want to fight,” once commented the great Mikhail Tal. But draws are a part and parcel of the game – the trouble is that, unlike any other sport, players themselves have the option of offering draws to end the game at any stage they like. Several tournaments have rules preventing players from offering draws until after move 40; some not even allowing any offers of draws at all; though in both cases, there’s a ‘loophole’ of a repetition of moves.

There’s nothing wrong with a draw in chess, they are an essential scoring part of the game, and many are often entertaining and appealing than wins can be. The solution is simple – and even Levon Aronian agreed with the solution when quizzed yesterday: “There is nothing wrong about a draw but offering a draw should be taken out of the game.” He’s right, and I dare say next year that the Grand Chess Tour rules may well be revised to go in this direction.

Although Caruana moves into the lead with the sole win so far of the tournament, all eyes were on another big match-up of round 4, the one between tour leaders Magnus Carlsen and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Although MVL won a pawn, Carlsen’s bishop-pair vs the knight pair was enough to secure an easy draw, a result that will at least keeps the tension in the tournament right to the final round. To win the tour, Carlsen needs to stay on level terms with MVL or better.

Karjakin v Caruana | © Lennart Ootes (GCT)

Leaderboard
1. F. Caruana (USA) 2½/4; 2-9. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), W. So (USA), V. Anand (India), H. Nakamura (USA), I. Nepomniachtchi (Russia), M. Adams (England), M. Carlsen (Norway), L. Aronian (Armenia) 2; 10. S. Karjakin (Russia) 1½.

GM Sergey Karjakin – GM Fabiano Caruana
9th London Chess Classic, (4)
Sicilian Taimanov
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 Qc7 The Sicilian Taimanov, named after Mark Taimanov, the multi-talented Soviet grandmaster who was equalled gifted as a leading concert pianist as he was a leading chess player of his era; though perhaps somewhat unfairly remembered by everyone as Bobby Fischer first 6-0 Candidates whitewash ‘victim’, en route to the American winning the world crown in 1972. 6.Be3 a6 Here’s the thing about the Sicilian Taimanov – once dubbed in a popular book as “The Safest Sicilian” – that should make more club players think about playing it: It’s a solid defence; it’s very flexible; it’s not overly risky; it’s giving Black very good results, and especially, very good positions. What more can you ask for in a Sicilian? 7.Qf3 This is the fashionable way to play against the Sicilian Taimanov these days – but in hindsight, Karjakin should have been alert to the strong possibility that Caruana had something prepared for this. And with this in mind, he should really have opted for one of the many other continuations here, such as 7.Bd3 or 7.Qd2, rather than walking down the popular in-vogue line. 7…Ne5 8.Qg3 b5 9.0-0-0 Nf6 10.f4 Neg4 11.Bg1 h5 A Black knight on g4, in conjunction with …h5, is a common theme in the Sicilian Taimanov. 12.e5 Attempting to kick the knight has never been tried, as yet – but it does look worth a little “adventure”. If 12.h3 b4 13.Nd5!? Nxd5 14.exd5 Nf6 15.dxe6 dxe6 – we have an equal game but with lots of open lines and two sets of bishops. 12…b4 Just in the nick of time – if Black has to retreat the knight, then he is in a bad, bad way. 13.Na4 Nd5 14.Nb3 Bb7 15.Nac5 Bc6N [And this is the novelty Caruana had up his sleeve. Usually seen here has been 15…Rc8 16.Bd3 a5 17.Kb1 Bc6 – but with White’s king well-protected against an onslaught down the half-open c-file, Caruana is hoping to forgo …Rc8 and perhaps get a jump on pushing his queenside pawns up the board to attack the White king. 16.Ne4 According to Caruana, “I was on my own here”. The US No.1 was banking on the critical reply of taking the a6-pawn – or, instead, if White plays 16.Kb1, then …a5 and a strong attack. The critical line does look to be taking on a6 with 16.Nxa6 (Not 16.Bxa6? as 16…d6! and Black will regain his pawn with f4 hanging with check and a good game) 16…Qc8 17.Nac5 d6! where it all getting just a little awkward for White with Black opening the position up for his bishops and pieces. And also note that 16.h3 doesn’t achieve anything, as after 16…Nh6 the knight is where it really wants to be, heading to f5. But unsure of taking on a6, and perhaps fearing being hit over the head by an overworked playing engine, Karjakin avoids the critical line and instead aims for a side variation – but it all backfires for the Russian with one very accurate move from Caruana. 16…f5! “It seems as White wasted so much time that I should be doing great,” commented Caruana. And indeed he is! 17.h3?! Hesitation, plain and simple. Karjakin has discovered that his Ne4 isn’t so good, as Caruana has emerged with a promising position – and he was probably getting a little worried he was going to lose a pawn after 17.exf6?! gxf6 18.h3 Qxf4+! 19.Qxf4 Nxf4 but after 20.Re1! f5 21.hxg4 Bxe4 22.gxf5 Bxf5 23.g3 Ng6 24.Be2 Bg4 25.Bd4 Rg8 26.Nc5 White looks to have enough compensation for the pawn. 17…h4 Karjakin really has to be careful here, as he’s carelessly wandered into a very difficult and tricky position. 18.Qe1 fxe4 19.hxg4 Nxf4 20.Rxh4 Rxh4 21.Qxh4 Qxe5 22.Bd4 Ng6! A very precise move from Caruana that had to be finely calculated – and in executing it, Caruana has emerged with a very strong position. 23.Qh3 What else is there? The endgame after 23.Qh5 Qxh5 24.gxh5 Nf4 25.g4 g6! looks doomed for White. 23…Qg5+ The opening experiment by surprising Karjakin with the Sicilian Taimanov has worked a treat for Caruana – not only is he a pawn up, he also has a solid centre, two weak isolated g-pawns to target, and to boot he also has a big lead on the clock. 24.Kb1 Bd5 25.Bg1 Be7 26.g3 Ne5 27.Be2 Nf3 [see diagram] The knight on f3 is the final nail in Karjakin’s coffin. 28.Bxf3 It’s a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If Karjakin takes the knight, then the f-pawn will be huge; and if he doesn’t take it, the knight on f3 will be huge. 28…exf3 29.Bd4 Kf7 30.Nc1 d6 31.Nd3 e5 The pawns running down the board now simply seal the deal – there’s just no stopping them. 32.Bf2 Be6 33.Nxb4 e4 34.Qh1 Rc8 35.Nxa6 Qa5! The sudden switch to the queenside forces an exchange of queens – and with it, White can start thinking of resigning. 36.Qh5+ Qxh5 37.gxh5 Bg5 38.Re1 Bc4 39.Nb4 Re8 40.Re3 Bxe3 41.Bxe3 Re5 42.g4 Rg5! 0-1

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