London Chess Classic 2017: Viswanathan Anand falters at crunch moments against Fabiano Caruana; Magnus Carlsen held
Anand, who had the black pieces in this game, went into the realms of the Berlin Defence and tried to keep things stable. But Caruana had no intentions of striking a truce.
Wednesday was the second consecutive day which ended with four draws and one win. And yet again, it was the Italian-American Grand Master Fabiano Caruana who took upon himself the charge of producing a decisive game while all his other colleagues asserted their love for the 'silent life'.
The fifth round at the London Chess Classic finished just like Round 4, with four draws and one decisive game. Yet again, Caruana played with fire and brought home full points while others in the competition were not as assertive.
Owing to his seeding in the tournament, Caruana got black pieces in three out of his first four games, though he will now get white in three out of his remaining five. But the high number of blacks at the start of the tournament concerned him a little. Before the tournament, Caruana was of the opinion that if he could at least break even in this first half, he might well finish among the toppers at the event. And it seems that the prophecy of this young genius is about to be proven true. His second win of the tournament has catapulted him a full point ahead of his closest rival. And going by the fact that none of the other players have been able to score a win so far, Caruana’s chances to win the title look bright.
In Round 5, Caruana was playing none other than the ‘Tiger from Madras’, Viswanathan Anand. Anand, who had the black pieces in this game, went into the realms of the Berlin Defence and tried to keep things stable. But Caruana had no intentions of striking a truce. Immediately avoiding the main line of the Berlin, he went for a pawn thrust on the kingside and castled his king on the opposite wing.
But this was perhaps a bit overambitious. Anand played the opening and most part of the middlegame brilliantly and even outshined his opponent on the time management front. Although the position was objectively equal, it was quite volatile. The ensuing complications demanded accuracy of the highest order. Of course, both Caruana and Anand are capable of meeting this demand but time is a crucial factor in such situations.
By the time the players had reached move 24, Caruana had around 19 minutes remaining to reach the first time control, not an easy task to accomplish with such a wild position at hand. Anand, on the other hand, had around 45 minutes. In fact, Anand’s pieces were also placed in a way to ideally attack and defend at the same time. Of course, the position was still objectively equal, but the odds were definitely in Anand’s favour given the time situation and the volatile position.
One of the commentators, Grand Master Yasser Seirawan, pointed out at one point how practical a player Anand was and how he was using his time advantage in his favour by playing fast. Unfortunately, a couple of bad moves on his part was all it took for the tables to turn in Caruana’s favour. Just two poor pawn moves by Anand cut off his heavy pieces from defending the kingside while Caruana’s army, especially his bishop, unleashed their wrath on the black king.
Explaining his play, Anand said, "I had completely lost the plot. By move 29 or so, every move is a blunder; if not actually a blunder, then by intent." When asked what caused him to lose thread of the position, he said, "If I knew, I would tell you. It just happens."
Caruana, on the other hand, said that he was surprised when Anand resigned because he thought there was still one try that black had in the position. "I felt like I would lose at some point. But when I saw Bc1, I suddenly started to get a bit more optimistic about my chances. I mean, I realised my position was bad but at least I had a plan. And that was really all I needed to have some confidence in the position,” said Caruana after the game.
"In a tournament where people are making so many draws, I think plus two is already a very big result (two wins, three draws and no losses). But I really don’t think I am going to run away with it," he added.
In another important encounter of the day, Magnus Carlsen grilled Wesley So for 68 moves before agreeing to a draw in a rook-plus-opposite-coloured-bishop endgame. Carlsen, just like Caruana, was faced with the Berlin Defence in response to his King’s Pawn Opening. The world champion got a promising position out of the opening after So’s bishop penetrated too deep into the white camp. The bishop was chased back giving Carlsen a welcome pawn expansion on the queenside.
The position liquidated by the time the first time control was reached. Carlsen, with his far advanced pawn in the centre, seemed to have the advantage. But So put up a herculean defence to hold on to a draw.
After the game, the world champion said he thought he had a better position by the time the game had reached move 40 but wasn’t able to see a clear path to victory. So, on the other hand, was thankful to the lord for being able to save the game as he thought he played a few moves too fast and had the worse position at some point.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was another player who had a very good chance of scoring a win in his game against Levon Aronian. From the black side of a Gruenfeld Defence, the Frenchman played enterprisingly by sacrificing two pawns early in the game. However, on his 19th move, Vachier-Lagrave missed the strongest continuation and ended up repeating the position soon afterwards.
After the game, Vachier-Lagrave said that he got frustrated after he was unable to find a clear-cut route to victory and probably bailed out a bit too early. As for Aronian, he was clearly disappointed because he had come to the board with the hopes of winning and ended up “begging for a draw”.
Hikaru Nakamura put his faith in the Dragon variation of the Sicilian Defence once again in Round 5 against Michael Adams. Adams responded with the Yugoslav Attack, the most exciting variation, but chose not to go for the most testing sub-variation in the line. As a result, Nakamura got a central break pretty early in the game and even though he was structurally worse, he had enough dynamic resources in the position. In the end, the players settled for a draw after 33 moves.
Ian Nepomniachtchi’s game against Sergey Karjakin was a tepid 30-move-affair which cropped out of a Classical Nimzo-Indian Defence. Right out of the opening, there was a mass exchange of minor pieces. The ensuing heavy piece endgame also did not offer much of a chance to either side. The players agreed to a draw on move 30 when Karjakin had an extra pawn in a rook-and-pawn endgame but his structural weaknesses completely deprived him of any advantage whatsoever.
After the fifth round, Caruana is at the pole position, a full point ahead of his nearest rival, with 3.5/5. Carlsen along with six other players share the second spot with 2.5 points while Anand after his loss has slipped down to the bottom of the table along with Karjakin with a score of 2.0/5.
Thursday is a rest day in London. Play would resume on Friday at 9.30 pm IST.
Crosstable after five rounds
Aditya Pai is an editor at ChessBase India.
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