London Chess Classic – A personal retrospective

Now we’ve had a bit over a week since the end of the London Classic I decided it was the right moment to look back at the tournament and take stock. My final score was somewhat disappointing; my aim was to pick up at least one win and, while I knew it would be difficult I succeeded in playing interesting chess.

For much of the event I felt very nervous. I think this was understandable. I hadn’t played a lot of these players before and playing on such a stage with the world looking on. Playing the odd game against the world’s elite is one thing but when you have to play the very best in the world with no break it becomes extremely tough. I was also the whipping boy to some extent – the lowest rated my some margin and so every player had me in their sights and weren’t going to let me off easily.

The loss in round one to Mickey was of course a bad start. We had looked at the line in a lot of depth but overlooked the precise move order employed by Mickey and he equalised quite comfortably. Probably I should have been able to hold onto the draw but Mickey is a very strong player who was on good form during the event and squeezed out the win.

Round two I made a move order error and was suffering but managed to complicate enough to hold the draw a pawn down against Judit. Round three I managed to get in some preparation successfully for the first time in the event against Hikaru Nakamura but he came up with a few strong moves out of the opening and equalised. The position became very complicated and I used up too much time before deciding to simplify into an endgame where I was a little worse but managed to hold the draw.

Using up too much time is a sign of nerves and affected me throughout the tournament. Of course I knew that the tiniest slip would be punished but it meant that I was double and treble checking my calculation which used up time I could ill-afford. Round four with Black against Magnus illustrated this well. He played an offbeat opening and I used up too much time but reached a reasonable position. I then saw the possibility of an interesting queen sacrifice. I know that in the past I have been rather too ready to give up my queen for nebulous compensation and so I dismissed it from my mind but it kept bubbling back to the surface. I fought myself but eventually played it; not a bad sacrifice but the time spent considering it cost me dearly and I failed to follow it up accurately short on time and my position quickly went down hill.

The second half of the tournament started with White against the World Champ and was the most disastrous of the tournament. I was surprised by his choice of the Grunfeld. Perhaps I chose the wrong method against it; a line he employed with White in the World Championships and knows probably better than anyone else alive. I couldn’t remember my analysis, tried something offbeat and was under pressure and collapsed.

A bad game but I was expecting something like this to happen in one game. I was playing 1.d4 for the first time seriously and it meant I had a lot to prepare every morning and one day I was bound to get caught up in something.

Round six saw me Black against Luke who also had a bad tournament. I wasn’t at all sure what line he would play but was happy with the result of the opening. I had some time advantage and must have equalised. However again, instead of being happy with equality decided to sacrifice the exchange for a pawn and the initiative. I don’t think the sacrifice itself was necessarily wrong (as with my game against Magnus) but I needed to play accurately to justify it and I was too short on time to do it properly.

The penultimate round was probably the best from my viewpoint. Playing White against Levon Aronian he tried surprising me again with the Grunfeld but this time I was more prepared. I managed to play a line I’d looked at in the morning but Levon came up with a good novelty and I could find no better than a draw. However this game did show that when my preparation came off I shouldn’t be scared of these guys.

The last round was Black against a Kramnik who was on top form. He played a cunning move order and got me out of my theory. I used up a lot of time and found myself worse out of the opening and Vlad played a very powerful game giving up the exchange for two pawns but with a pair of fantastic bishops. Perhaps I could have held on but I’d used up too much time out of the opening and misplayed it in time trouble.

So what are my final conclusions from the tournament? The players at this level have such a fantastic overall understanding of the game. The majority of them tried to play sidelines or tricky move orders to reach positions where their experience would count for more than my hard work on the mainlines before the tournament started. As a consequence of this I used up too much time and found myself in time trouble in a lot of games, an unusual situation for me in general. Nerves were obviously a large part of this but now that I’ve played these guys once then the next time it’ll be a lot easier.

I tried to play very interesting chess and in that I think I succeeded. I think I could have managed a couple of extra draws had I just put the shutters up with White but I was ambitious and am happy with my decision, even if it didn’t pay off in the short term. I also tried to keep faithful to my usual aggressive style (mainline Dragon against Judit, queen sacrifice, exchange sacrifice) and I hope the spectators appreciated it!

I feel I learnt so much from the experience and hope to get my revenge soon; what are these 2700s when you’ve played a 2860? 🙂 I’d like to thank Malcolm and the sponsor for giving me this opportunity. If you enjoyed watching it I urge you to donate to the Chess in Schools and Communities Charity at ensuring there’ll be plenty more of these tournaments and giving me more chances to fight with the World Top Ten. Watch out I’m on my way!

Here are all my games from the Classic

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