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After a first half that somewhat slumbered with an epidemic of draws, the second half of the 9th London Chess Classic at the Kensington Olympia dramatically came to life with lots of wins and plenty of high-drama, which along the way produced one overall Grand Chess Tour victor in World Champion Magnus Carlsen, and a playoff between Fabiano Caruana and Ian Nepomniachtchi for the bragging rights to the London title, after both players tied for first place on 6/9.

Overnight leader Nepomniachtchi took the gamble of an early draw against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave to be the clubhouse leader – but it didn’t pay off for the Russian, as he had to watch on as Caruana successfully ground down the home-crowd favorite, England’s Mickey Adams, to tie for first place. And in the playoff, Caruana beat Nepomniachtchi in the fourth blitz tiebreak game to take the London Chess Classic trophy.

The win comes as a welcomed early Christmas present for Caruana, as with the rating hike, the US #1 now ends the year on a high by leapfrogging both Levon Aronian and Shak Mamedyarov to be the new world #2, 22-points behind numero uno Carlsen – and the resurgence in Caruana’s form with the win all comes as a timely big boost for his chances of winning next year’s Berlin Candidates Tournament, that will ultimately determine the world champion’s title challenger.

And with many questions being asked of the world champion following a bizarre series of misfiring performances, Carlsen himself showed his mettle by staging a comeback from a worse position, as he beat Aronian to pip MVL at the post in the race for the overall GCT title. Carlsen himself was the first to admit that this was arguably one of his worst performances, but the last round win was enough to take the tour title and $100,000 bonus prize, on top of his year-long tour winnings of $245,417.

LCC Final standings
1-2. F. Caruana* (USA), I. Nepomniachtchi (Russia) 6/9; 3-5. M. Carlsen (Norway), M. Vachier-Lagrave (France), W. So (USA) 5; 6. H. Nakamura (USA) 4.5; 7. L. Aronian (Armenia) 4; 8. S. Karjakin (Russia) 3.5; 9-10. V. Anand (India), M. Adams (England) 3.

Photos: Caruana and Carlsen receiving their trophies from LCC tournament director IM Malcolm Pein | © Lennart Ootes (GCT)

GCT Final standings & prize money
1. Magnus Carlsen, 41-points ($245,417); 2. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, 38-points ($2017,917); 3. Levon Aronian, 29-points ($91,250); 4. Hikaru Nakamura, 25-points ($77,500); 5. Fabiano Caruana, 24-points ($95,000); 6. Sergey Karjakin, 23.5 ($75,000); 7-8. Wesley So, 22.5-points ($79,167) & Ian Nepomniachtchi, 22.5-points ($100,000); 9. Viswanathan Anand, 15.5-points ($75,000).

GM Fabiano Caruana – GM Michael Adams
9th London Chess Classic, (9)
English Opening, Bremen System
1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e5 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.g3 d5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Bg2 Bc5 7.0-0 0-0 8.d3 The English Bremen System is just a Reversed Sicilian Dragon- but Black has to be with White having the extra move, as often the sharpest lines in the Yugoslav Attack will backfire. 8…Re8 9.Ng5 Nf6 10.Qb3 Qe7 11.Nd5 Nxd5 12.Bxd5 Nd8 13.Qc4 Bd4 14.Bg2 h6 15.Nf3 Nc6 16.Be3 Bxe3 17.fxe3 e4 18.dxe4 It’s the ‘Irish pawn centre’, as the late great Tony Miles once famously coined the phrase, annotating his game from the 1978 Amsterdam zonal tournament against Ireland’s Eamonn Keogh, where England’s first grandmaster also found himself – like Caruana – with tripled, isolated e-pawns! 18…a5 19.a3 Ra6 20.Rac1 Rb6 Now here’s the rub for Caruana. He’s a pawn up, but Adams has a very solid position, and the fabled IPC is difficult to defend – and if the English No.1 manages to swipe one of the pawns off, he could well have the better position. 21.Rc2 Be6 22.Qc3 Rb3 23.Qd2 Rd8 24.Qc1 It’s all a little awkward for Caruana – but he still has the ace of the extra pawn! 24…a4 25.Rc5 Rd7 26.h3 Qd8 27.g4 g6 This is a little weakening and comes back to haunt Adams later in the game. Perhaps Adams’ best ploy here is to play a few waiting moves with the likes of 27…Qe7 and 28…Qd8 to see what other moves White is going to play in order to try to unravel. If Black keeps the position solid, then it is difficult to see just how White makes any sort of progress to try to win this without compromising his position somehow. 28.Kh1 Kg7 29.e5 Bd5 30.Kg1 Be6 31.Kf2 The king is perfectly safe here, and at least it is a good defender of both e3 and e2! 31…Qe7 32.Kg1 Rd5?! This is where it all starts to go wrong for Adams, as Caruana finds ways to unravel. He would have been better with the position in a ‘holding pattern’ with 32…Qd8 and 33…Qe7 etc., and let White worry about how to make progress. 33.Rc4 Ra5 If 33…Nxe5 34.Rxc7 Nxf3+ 35.exf3 Qf6 White still has the pawn and managed to unravel – but even here, Black has more than enough compensation with all the activity and lots of threats. 34.Rc2 Bd5 There’s no time for 34…Nxe5? as 35.Nd4! and White is on top. 35.Nd4! Caruana has successfully managed to unravel, and with it, the IPC breaks up favourably in his favour. 35…Nxd4 36.exd4 Rg3 It looks deadly, but Caruana has a brilliant resource that leads to a won ending. 37.Rf3! Far from winning the exchange, Black is now forced into a liquidation of the pieces, as his rook on g3 is trapped. 37…Bxf3 38.exf3 c6 39.Kh2 Rxg2+ 40.Kxg2 The position has stabilised, and now Caruana has emerged with the extra pawn and the prospects of a won game – but any ending still will not be easy to convert the win, especially against a tough opponent like Mickey Adams. 40…Rd5 41.Rc4 c5 42.Rxc5 Rxd4 43.Qc3 Qd8 44.Rc8 Qb6 45.Re8 g5 46.Re7 Kg8 47.e6! This soon forces a favourable rook and pawn ending, as allowing the queens to stay on the board will likely end with Adams’ king being mated. 47…fxe6 48.Qc2 Kf8 49.Rh7 Qc6 Forced. Exchanging queens is Adams’ only hopes of staying in the game, as any form of rook and pawn ending will always offer chances of a draw. But here, Caruana has such an active rook and Adams’ pawns are all weak, and the US #1 ruthlessly converts the win now. 50.Qxc6 bxc6 51.Rxh6 Kf7 52.Kg3 Rd2 53.Rh7+ Kf6 54.Rb7 Being a pawn down in a rook and pawn ending is not necessarily losing – but Caruana has the added advantage that all of Black’s pawns are weak and isolated and spread all over the board, making them easy to pick off. But still, he has to be careful. 54…Ke5 55.h4! The key to winning is to create a passed pawn. 55…gxh4+ 56.Kxh4 Kf4 57.Rf7+ Ke3 58.Kg3 Rd1 59.g5 It is impossible to stop the g-pawn marching up the board, as rook checks from behind will only see the White king heading up the board to support and be shielded by the g-pawn. 59…Rg1+ 60.Kh4 Rg2 61.Rf6 With the Black king cut-off from getting near to the g-pawn, if all the pawns are now exchanged off, White will have the technically won Lucena position – an ending which – along with its sister drawing Philidor position –  is an ending(s) that every chess player should have burnt into their memory. 61…e5 62.g6 Rxb2 63.Kg5 Rg2+ 64.Kh6 The king is shielded from the checks behind the pawn and the rook. 64…Rh2+ 65.Kg7 c5 66.Kf7 c4 67.g7 Rh7 68.Ra6 1-0 Adams resigns, as after 68…Kd2 69.Rxa4 c3 70.Rc4 c2 71.Kg6 Rxg7+ 72.Kxg7 c1Q 73.Rxc1 Kxc1 74.a4 and the a-pawn runs home.

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