As if the continued uncertainty of another Covid/Omicron variant surge is not enough for a tournament organiser to have to worry about, the much-welcomed return of the London Chess Classic was hit by another small snafu this year by having to find a new home, as the iconic old Olympia is sadly being demolished to make way for new apartments – but Malcolm Pein and his Chess in Schools and Communities organising team found a more than suitable replacement venue at the Cavendish Conference Centre in central London.
The highlight of the 12th edition of the London Chess Classic, which ran 3-12 December, was a match between a strong English squad of Michael Adams, Luke McShane and Gawain Jones and a Rest of the World selection that included Boris Gelfand (Israel), Nikita Vitiugov (Russia) and Maxime Lagarde (France). This intriguing match was a double-round Scheveningen contest, with each player facing every representative of the opposing team twice.
It proved to be a closely fought match. Before the final round, the teams were tied at 7½-7½. The decisive final round proved to be a hard-fought affair, with the ROW edging the match 9½-8½, with Gelfand and Vitiugov providing the winning points – the latter involved in a wonderful scrap against McShane – regarded as the world’s best amateur player – who tried his best to complicate the game with an heroic all-out-effort to save the match.
There was also a main side-event this year after the main-feature, with the LCC hosting the 10-player English Rapid Championship, with GM Gawain Jones running out the eventual winner, beating McShane in a play-off after the pair tied for first place on 7/9.
There was also some sad news in the run-up to the London Chess Classic with the death being announced of Jonathan Penrose at the age of 88. The 10-time British Champion was arguably the last of the true “English gentleman amateurs” who became famous overnight after beating newly-crowned World Champion Mikhail Tal at the 1960 Leipzig Olympiad. There’s a wonderful obituary of Penrose from the timeless Leonard Barden at The Guardian that’s well-worth reading.
Photo: Gelfand, Vitiugov & Lagarde emerge victorious for the R.O.W. | © London Chess Classic
GM Nikita Vitiugov – GM Luke McShane
London Chess Classic, England v ROW, (6)
Queen’s Indian Defence, Kasparov/Petrosian Variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.a3 The Kasparov/Petrosian Variation, named after two world champions, no less! Tigran Petrosian, who first popularised this system, and Garry Kasparov, who in the late 1980s honed it into a potent attacking weapon. 4…Bb7 5.Nc3 d5 6.Bg5 Be7 7.Qa4+ Qd7 8.Qc2 dxc4 9.e3 Bxf3 10.gxf3 b5 Despite being regarded as one of the world’s leading amateur players, in that quaint old English tradition, Luke McShane has never shown any fear when playing the world’s top pros, and alway – like here – willing to play provocatively. 11.a4 c6 12.Rg1 0-0 13.f4 a5 14.axb5 cxb5 15.Bh6 g6!? The “safe” option is 15…Ne8 16.Qe4 Qc6 17.Qxc6 Nxc6 18.Nxb5 Bb4+ 19.Kd1 Ne7! 20.Bg5 f6 21.Bh4 Nf5 22.Bg3 with equal play; and a repetition to-order, after 22…Rc8 23.Na7 Rc7 24.Nb5 Rc8 etc. But McShane would rather “mix it” up with an exchange sac for an unbalanced position. 16.Bxf8 Kxf8 17.Bg2 Nc6 18.Qe2 Rb8 19.Ne4 a4 20.Kf1 Nd5 21.h4 h5 22.Bf3 Bxh4 The game is really on a knife-edge here, with any result possible. 23.Nc5 Qd6 24.Ne4 Qd7 25.Nc5 Qd6 26.Ne4 Qd8!? A typically gutsy call from McShane, who would rather play for a win than accepting a draw by repetition with 26…Qd7 27.Nc5 Qd6 etc. 27.Nc5 Ke7 Both players were in a little time-trouble here, so you can understand McShane’s eagerness to avoid the possibility of a Bxh5 and Qxh5 moment, by just removing his king from the danger zone. But he had nothing to fear, and indeed, the best move our engine friend suggests is 27…Rc8!? setting up his own possible “moment” with …Nxf4!? followed by Nxd4 and Black is winning. Easy to see when you have an engine chugging away in the background, but a tough call in the heat of battle with the flag on your digital clock metaphorically rising. 28.Be4 Bf6 29.Qf3 Rb6? Objectively, McShane was better – but Vitiugov finds a tricky tactic just at the right moment as his opponent was running short of time. The right move was 29…Qd6 followed by 30…Ncb4 looking to solidifying the d5 outpost – and if 30.Bxg6 Nxd4 31.exd4 Bxd4 32.Rd1 Qxc5 33.Bxf7 Bxf2 34.Rg5 Qe3 with equal chances. 30.Bxg6! Nxd4 31.exd4 Bxd4 The only real chance to hang on, as after 31…fxg6? 32.f5!! gxf5 33.Re1! and Black’s king is going to get caught in the cross-fire, as 33…Bxd4 34.Qxf5! Qc8 35.Rg6! and e6 falls with devastating effect. 32.Bxf7! Bxc5 33.Qxh5?! It looks good, but it throws away White’s advantage. Stronger and better was 33.f5! Nf6 34.Bxe6 Qd3+ 35.Qxd3 cxd3 36.Rd1 Rd6 37.Rg3 d2 38.Ke2 Nd5 but despite White’s material advantage, this is still a tricky position, and not easy to convert your advantage. – indeed, here any three results would have been possible! 33…Nf6? McShane collapses under the pressure and the time-scramble. His only chance for survival was 33…Qd6! 34.Qg5+ Nf6 35.Bh5 Qd3+ 36.Kg2 Qf5 but after 37.Qg7+ Kd8 38.Rad1+ Rd6 39.Rxd6+ Bxd6 40.Bf3 White should be able to convert the material advantage into an endgame win. 34.Qxc5+ Kxf7 35.Rg3! [see diagram] By simply removing from the equation the threat of …Qd3+, Black’s position becomes uncoordinated, uncomfortable and difficult to defend. 35…Rb8?? Ultimately the fatal and final blunder in a wonderful scrap between these two enterprising players. The only try to hang on was with 35…Nd5 but simply 36.Re1 Qd6 37.Qd4 Nf6 38.Qe3 and White should be winning with ease now. 36.Qa7+ Now McShane would have seen the error of his last move, as Vitiugov now swings the ‘heavy furniture’ into action. 36…Ke8 37.Re1 Qd6 38.Rxe6+ The top engine pick is 38.Rg7! – but when a top player sees a win, he isn’t all that fussy whether it is +6 or +60! 38…Qxe6 39.Re3 Rb6 40.Qxb6 1-0