Big chess in London! Upset! Nail-biting defense! Sacrificial attack! Checkmate! The English Opening in England! Best of all, a Berlin Defense getting blown off the board. Such is the day that was at the London Classic. The biggest blow was landed by underdog Luke McShane, or should that be English Bulldog? His bite was definitely bigger than his bark today as he took out world #2 Magnus Carlsen in a wonderful attacking game. McShane's raw talent has never been in doubt; when he gets a chance to attack he can be as good as anyone this side of Topalov. It's the "raw" part that was always likely to limit him to the occasional good result and spectacular game as a semi-pro. You don't make 2700 playing a few dozen league and open games a year. But McShane played regularly in 2010 and pushed his rating up some 50 points. Now he's started the London Classic off with a big bang, which has added value in that Carlsen will now have to push hard to come back in this quick, seven-round event.
Not that Carlsen wasn't pushing hard already. All credit to McShane, but Carlsen clearly was looking for a fight with black all the way through. Moves like 19..f5 aren't generally made if you are looking for equality. The provocation started earlier though, with the Tarrasch-burning move 9..Ne5, moving the knight a second time only to retreat it to the d7 square a few moves later. That was more than enough tempi to serve as waving a red flag in front of the English bull(dog), and he didn't disappoint. Carlsen could have groveled with 19..a5 or perhaps 20..e6, but such passivity and weak-square creation are more for computers to enjoy. After that it was a romp, with McShane offering the same knight to the black b-pawn first on c6 and then on a6. Lovely stuff. The former Goldman Sachs trader finished cleanly, scoring the biggest win by a Brit since, well, since Adams beat Carlsen at the Olympiad a few months ago.
Since just about everyone on the planet has a poor record against Vladimir Kramnik it's no insult to say Nigel Short consistently has trouble with the former world champion. He's lost to Kramnik three times since he last beat him way back in 1997 (Kramnik played the Dragon. Seriously.) and even the former WCh challenger's draws feel like losses. At Corus this year Short built up a crushing position that Svidler or Ivanchuk might well have resigned. But Kramnik, perhaps relying on their personal hoodoo, kept on and was rewarded with several mistakes and a draw. Short, who plays the King's Gambit on occasion, went Romantic again with the Bishop's Opening. Kramnik was not impressed and built up a massive center that eventually, inevitably, crashed through Short's position like a hot knife through a Christmas pudding.
One of two Berlin Defenses was an admirably brief encounter between Adams and young David Howell, who both accomplished plus scores at this event last year. Howell grabbed a few pawns on the queenside and paid a very high price. The computer sez 16..Ba6 is already the only move to save the game and that's not pretty at all if White finds 17.Re7!! Bxc3 18.R1e3! and Black is in serious trouble. None of that was called for after Howell blundered with 16..Bxg5 and White's attack is irresistible. 20.Nxh7 is nice, but nothing to strain a player of Adams' caliber once he found 25.Re5. Howell, probably in his usual time scramble, played until being mated on e6 by a knight. The gallery is appreciative.
It's a bit rude to put the game between the world champion and the US #1 at the end, but I do usually go with decisive games first around here. Nakamura also went for the Berlin -- he drew with it twice at the Tal Memorial last month -- and soon had reason to regret it. Anand played the now-typical e5-e6 pawn sac for strong play and scooped up a pawn on the kingside during the general liquidation. But Nakamura found a remarkable blockade setup and there was nothing White could do. By some miracle the position with two extra doubled pawns is drawn, even with the bishops of the same color. Wow. Anand has always been a bit lackadaisical in his approach to technical positions so it would be interesting to see where he might have diverged to keep more material and winning chances on the board. The game has a faint smell of "well of course this must be winning so I'll get there and then figure out the details." Or maybe it's just as Nakamura tweeted post-game, "Pretty horrendously bad game against Anand today, but luckily the Berlin Wall is a forced draw!" And happy birthday to him, btw!
Blockades are always a tough test for computers. They can't push the horizon all the way to see every repetition so they piddle around endlessly with "+1.5" or whatever until finally seeing it's 0.00. So it's interesting to see this endgame given everything from +1.7 down to +0.2 by different engines. But as I said above, humans aren't immune to this weakness, if for different reasons. Anand may have seen this coming and figured it was at least +1.7, so to speak, while Nakamura may have figured out it was likely drawn. I wasn't watching live, so am curious what the commentators were saying as the game went into the ending.
Fantastic start! Round 2: Kramnik-Nakamura, Howell-Anand, Short-McShane, Carlsen-Adams. Live here at the special time of 1600 local, 11am NY.