London Chess Classic 05: Anand suffers a shocking loss to Caruana
Fifth round of the London Chess Classic began promisingly but ended with a shocking defeat for Vishy Anand at the hands of the tournament leader, Fabiano Caruana. With this win, Caruana has pushed himself a point ahead of his nearest rival, leaving Anand at the bottom of the leaderboard. Trying his best to keep Caruana's lead minimal, Magnus Carlsen grilled Wesley So for 68 moves trying to carve out a win, but So put up a heroic defence to save the day. MVL also got a promising position with black against Aronian but failed to convert. In this report, we have games, pictures and analysis of round five.
Yesterday was the second consecutive day which ended with four draws and one win. And yet again, it was the Italian-American GM Fabiano Caruana who took to himself the charge of producing a decisive game while all of his other colleagues asserted their love for a silent life.
He’d had the black pieces in three out of his last four games. And before the tournament, the American number one had even declared that if he could break even out of these initial rounds he might have a decent shot at scoring big at the event. And it seems the prophecy of the young genius is about to be proven true. With his second win in a row, he has now catapulted himself a point ahead of the rest of the field. Judging by how things have gone so far, the chance of someone catching up with him with just four more rounds to go seems bleak.
With the black pieces, Anand went into the realms of the Berlin Defence and tried to keep things stable. Caruana, however, was in no mood for placid play. 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. In fact, it was Anand who played the opening and most part of the middlegame brilliantly and even outshined his American 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. Vishy, on the other hand, had around 45 minutes. In fact, Anand’s pieces were also placed ideally to 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, GM Yasser Seirawan, pointed out at one point how practical a player Anand is 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 the American’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 caused him to lose the thread of the position he said, “If I knew, I would tell you. It just happens.”
“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 realized 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. He also said he was surprised when Anand resigned because he thought there was still one try that black had in the position. 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.”
*Special thanks to Tanmay Srinath for annotating this game
In another important encounter of the day, Magnus Carlsen grilled Wesley So for sixty-eight 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 passed 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 five 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 where 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, Fabiano Caruana is at the pole position, a full point ahead of his nearest rival with 3.5/5. Magnus Carlsen along with six other players share the second spot with 2.5 points while Anand after his loss today has slipped down to the bottom of the table along with Sergey Karjakin with a score of 2.0/5. Thursday is a rest day in London. Play would resume on Friday at 4:00 PM GMT (9:30 PM IST).
Crosstable after five rounds
About the Author
Aditya Pai is an ardent chess fan, avid reader, and a film lover. He has been an advertising copywriter and is currently pursuing a Master's in English Literature at the University of Mumbai. He loves all things German and is learning the language. He has also written scripts for experimental films.
Previous reports on the London Chess Classic