Overnight leader Fabiano Caruana caught a huge slice of luck en route to beating veteran five-time ex-world champion Viswanathan Anand in round five of the 9th London Chess Classic at the Kensington Olympia, as the US No.1 won for the second successive round to extend his lead at the top, as World Champion Magnus Carlsen’s legendary squeezing powers just wasn’t quite enough to beat reigning US champion Wesley So.
It was a round that could well have ended so differently, with Carlsen and Anand tied for first place on +1 ahead of a big group on 50% – but, instead, after a marathon playing session that almost went to the very end, Carlsen was only denied by some very dogged resistance from So, and Anand very spectacularly collapsed in a very promising position to gift Caruana an unlikely wins that now moves him a full point clear of the field on +2.
But yet again, there was genuine disquiet from the fans and pundits as the three other games finished almost in synchronicity with each other around the 30-move mark, with little or no fight – and with it, the not-very-healthy tournament statistic for the game’s leading players of 23 draws in 25 games (95%) and counting, with Caruana’s two-game winning streak proving to be the only standout.
Several commentators have noted that this is on par to beat the world record performance for the most draws in a grandmaster tournament, namely the much-maligned – but yet so very apt for whom they were honouring! – Tigran Petrosian Memorial of 1999 in Moscow, with 42 draws from 45 games (93.3%), and five of the ten players drawing all their games. But in mitigation for the players concerned, unlike the London Chess Classic, they were all of veterans and retired from active play.
Although Caruana is the runaway leader in the London Chess Classic, this is the final leg of the Grand Chess Tour, and there’s still a close two-horse race for the overall GCT title between Magnus Carlsen and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. To win outright and take home the $100,000 bonus-prize, Carlsen has to stop MVL finishing ahead of him in the final standings.
Photo | © Lennart Ootes (GCT)
1. F. Caruana (USA) 3½/5; 2-8. I. Nepomniactchi (Russia), M. Carlsen (Norway), L. Aronian (Armenia), M. Vachier-Lagrave (France), W. So (USA), H. Nakamura (USA), M. Adams (England) 2½; 9-10. S. Karjakin (Russia), V. Anand (India) 2.
GM Fabiano Caruana – GM Viswanathan Anand
9th London Chess Classic, (5)
Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 The notorious tough-to-breakdown Berlin Defence that, 17-years ago, hadn’t been seen at elite level for nearly a century until a certain event in London rehabilitated it big time. This was the line that Vladimir Kramnik so dramatically bamboozled Garry Kasparov with to take his title in London back in 2000. 4.d3 Caruana opts for a quiet and popular sideline, avoiding in the process the dreaded ‘Berlin Wall’ endgame that nowadays has practically become the tabiya of the Ruy Lopez at elite-level after 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.d4 Nd6 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.dxe5 Nf5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 etc. 4…Bc5 5.Nc3 0-0 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.h3 Nd7 8.Be3 Bd6 Anand rightly preserves his bishop-pair. 9.Ne2 Re8 10.g4 Anand may well have the bishop-pair, but Caruana has potential also by making a strong outpost on f5 for his knight. 10…Nc5 11.Ng3 Ne6 12.Nf5 c5 13.h4 Caruana is going to grab some space on the kingside – but will it all be enough if Anand finds a way to open the position for his bishops? 13…a5 14.h5 Ra6! Anand finds a very useful little rook lift that not only threatens …Rb6 to attack the queenside, but indirectly could also be useful defending against White’s pawns trying to crash through on the kingside. 15.Qd2 Nd4! Nicely timed by Anand, as the Qd2 no longer defends the Nf3, and if N3xd4 then …cxd4 wins the Be3. 16.Rh3 It’s becoming just a little awkward for Caruana, as Rh3 will hinder his plans to expand on the kingside. Now, if Anand can consolidate, he will have a promising position by exploiting pawn weakness later in the game with his bishop-pair. 16…Bf8 17.0-0-0 Be6 18.Kb1 f6 19.c3 Nxf3 20.Rxf3 c4 21.Qc2 Exchanging queens with 21.dxc4 Qxd2 22.Rxd2 Bxc4 will, in the long-term, just work to Black’s advantage with the bishop-pair harassing those far-flung kingside pawns. 21…cxd3 22.Rxd3 Qc8 23.g5 Caruana is still in the game, but his pieces are just that little bit more awkwardly placed compared to Anand’s well-placed pieces. 23…fxg5 24.Bxg5 Bf7 This forces Caruana into a pawn sacrifice – but he’s hoping for compensation by causing a little confusion in Black’s defence of his king. 25.h6 gxh6 26.Bc1 Qe6! A strong centralising move from Anand that brings his queen swiftly back into the game with tempo, as the attack on a2 has to be defended. 27.b3 a4 Caruana’s queenside defence of his king is hanging by a thread – and if Anand finds a way through, then it is hard not to see him winning now. 28.c4 axb3 29.axb3 Qc6 Anand is looking to strip White’s defences to the bone by playing …b5. 30.Rg3+ Kh8 31.Rd1 b5 32.c5?! A difficult position for Caruana to defend against, and not helped by the fact that all of Anand’s pieces look primed and ready to crash through at any moment – but 32.c5 didn’t help the cause. He should have tried complicating matters by opening lines to Anand’s king with 32.f4!? as now 32…Bg6 seems to lead to the forced continuation of 33.Bb2 bxc4 (Black can’t play 33…Bg7? as 34.cxb5 Qxb5 35.Nxg7 Kxg7 36.Qxc7+ and White’s winning.) 34.Rd5! cxb3 35.Qxc6 Rxc6 36.Rxe5 Rxe5 37.Bxe5+ Kg8 38.Nd4! and, despite Black still having the bishop-pair and an extra pawn, White should have more than enough here to hold the position. 32…b4? It’s a very ‘senior moment’ from veteran Anand – and one that no doubt will have everyone yet again questioning his imminent retirement from the game. The danger lurks for Anand down the long b2-h8 diagonal – and for this reason, he really needed to take the c5-pawn to exchange queens and lessen the dangers of being mated, by 32…Qxc5! 33.Qxc5 Bxc5 34.Bxh6 Bf8 and perhaps in calculating this position, in his defence Anand may well have been overly worried about 35.Rd7, but after 35…Bg6! 36.Bxf8 Rxf8 37.Rxc7 Raf6! Black will again emerge with the extra pawn and the slightly better endgame. But then again, any sort of rook ending arising from here will be very difficult to win. 33.Bb2 Bg6 34.Rd5! [see diagram] Sometimes, when you are playing well, full of confidence and in the lead, good fortune can often shine on you. And here, after defending for much of the game, Lady Luck is now firmly with Caruana, as his pieces are now hitting Anand like a tsunami – and if e5 falls, then Black’s king is doomed. 34…Qb5 35.Rg1 All roads led to Rome here…but with a little time trouble, Caruana opts for the safety-first options of stopping Anand’s queen getting to f1. But for the purists, the clinical win was with 35.f4! Qf1+ as after 36.Qc1 Black can’t play 36…Qxf4 as 37.Qxf4 takes full advantage of the bishop pin on the king! 35…c6 36.Rxe5 Rxe5 37.Bxe5+ Kg8 38.Bd4 Again, safety-first with the time trouble, but the retreat to 38.Bb2! will soon lead to a mating attack, with Black not able to play 38…Qxc5 as 39.Nxh6+ wins the queen. But Anand is doomed anyway now 38…Kf7 39.Nh4 1-0 Anand resigns, as there’s no defence to Nxg6 followed by e5 crashing through with the queen for a mating attack