John Brezina's 2018 London Chess Classic Report

5:16pm Sunday, December 30th, 2018

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On to the large playing hall that seated a large group of chess school children each day.

Globe trotting John Brezina has wrote an excellent summary of the 2018 London Chess Classic. Of course, he has also provided great pictures for us to enjoy. Mr. Brezina once again allowed me to select and caption the photos used in this report. See all of John's photos from this event here:

I went back to London for the final leg of the Grand Chess Tour, the London Chess Classic. This years Classic would only include the top four players from the tours standings list. On board 1, Hikaru Nakamura would play Fabiano Caruana in the semi-finals while on board 2, Levon Aronian and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave would compete. Classic games would be played on days one and two, then two rapid games followed by four blitz games on day three. In addition to these games there would also be the four man British Knockout following the same format. Luke McShane would play Mickey Adams on board 1, while Gawain Jones and David Howell would be on board 2. The semi-final matches would be played at the beautiful headquarters of Google's DeepMind.

Google employees are gone for the day, but I'm sure DeepMind is awake and thinking.

Those familiar may know this is where AlphaGo and later AlphaZero were developed. DeepMind is well worth looking into for those interested in Artificial Intelligence. DeepMind's CEO Demis Hassabis would not only play host for the event but also compete in the Pro Biz Cup which would kickoff the tournament. This event raises funds for Chess in Schools and Communities and pairs leading business leaders next to the world's leading Grandmasters in a blitz competition.

Shreyes Royal, A serious young man indeed.

In addition to all the Chess Classic players the perennial favorite Garry Kasparov would play, as well as the young Shreyas Royal. He made British news recently over a deportation possibility after his father's work visa expired. At only nine years old he is the youngest FIDE candidate master ever in the UK. Certainly one to watch as I was very impressed by his professional demeanor at such a young age.

A friendly pre-game chat. Mattew Sadler and DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis on the left. Shryas Royal and Ali Mortazavi on the right. 

Deepmind CEO Demis Hassabis, a strong player himself, would be paired with two time British Champion Matthew Sadler. A formidable group for sure and a joy to watch as each teams players took turns moving. The format also allowed a timeout where teams had a short break to confer with one another over a position at the board. This made for some great and interesting chess games. And despite being a fundraiser event I can attest that the games were very competitive. In the end, British pair David Howell and Rajko Vujatovic would triumph.

 Rajko Vujatovic, is about to move, while David Howell looks on.

The idea of the teams being able to take a timeout and discuss the position is intriguing. Here,  maybe GM Kasparov is suggesting to Terry Chapman to move this piece...

...and GM Caruana is doing the same with Chris Flowers. 

...and GM Nakamura might be suggesting an idea to Karina Vazirova.

The next day would be the start of the Classic tournament. The check in at the lobby of Google's headquarters was quite orderly and secure. Being an invite only event, your name had to be on a list in order to receive a security ID badge. Then we were escorted up to the eighth floor where everyone could mingle and enjoy food and drinks throughout the afternoon. One back room was used for master lessons for area kids chosen for their chess skills. Then during the games it was turned into a commentary room for Lawrence Trent and Daniel King. Also an area was set up for the St. Louis Chess Club to do a live broadcasts hosted by Alejandro Ramirez. He would do interviews during and after the games. On to the large playing hall that seated a large group of chess school children each day.

 Alejandro Ramirez. interviewing GM Caruana

An outstanding young player was chosen each day to make the opening move for the players. Malcolm Pein, the main organizer and IM himself, opened the tournament with a warm welcome and introduction of players. He introduced CEO Demis Hassabis and thanked him for such a wonderful playing venue and hosting the Classic. After a few words himself, Mr. Hassabis then made the first move on board one for Fabiano Caruana, a short two weeks after his World Championship match. There was talk about Fabiano possibly taking over the #1 live rating spot from Magnus Carlsen with a win over Hikaru Nakamura.

Main Organizer, Malcolm Pein observing as a youngster makes the 1st move. GM Aronian looks pleased with her choice. 

Throughout the day there was plenty of live commentary of the games with special guest, Garry Kasparov. There is no denying what a great ambassador of chess Mr. Kasparov is, and his presence always makes everyone take notice. After long struggles, day one would end in all draws and Magnus would remain number one on the rating list. Day two had Fabiano playing with the black pieces against a determined Nakamura. However all but one game would end in a draw,.Gawain Jones would win the only classical game of the semi-finals.

Gawian Jones with the White pieces against David Howell.

Day three would see more decisive games than draws as my favorite format of blitz would decide the matches. First the British Knockouts where Luke McShane stunned Mickey Adams by winning both rapid games. Then Mickey won the next three blitz games leaving the final blitz game the decider. Luke "Skywalker" would prevail as the veteran would hang his queen on move 23 and had to resign. Board 2 had Gawain Jones losing one rapid game but winning three out of four blitz games and a spot in the finals.

GM Mickey Adams against GM Luke "Skywalker" McShane, playing Black. 

On the Super GM side the first rapid games would both end in draws, ending Fabiano's rapid games loss streak in London recently. These would be the last draws for the remainder of the semi-finals match. Hikaru would strike first on board one with the black pieces in a 54 move masterpiece. And board two had Levon Aronian falling to Maxime Vachier-Lagrave as the Frenchmen's g pawn neared promotion.

Sunil Weeramantry with his son GM Nakamura. 

A jubilant Nakamura would give a great interview and analysis of his game afterwards while his proud father Sunil Weeramantry and I looked on. The final four games of blitz would decide the outcome. Game one had Caruana upsetting the heavily favored Nakamura, who would then return with a vengeance and take the final three games. MVL would show why he is number two in blitz, also winning three out of four.

A Nutcracker Ballet performance...

...where John Brezina's daughter was the star of the show.  John said this was the only thing that could pull him away from London. I said, well, yeah :-)

I could not cover the finals match at the Olympia Conference due to an even greater performance I attended. Watching my lovely daughter in a performance of the Nutcracker Ballet. 

But as many of you may know, Hikaru went on to win by narrowly defeating MLV with the final blitz game being the only decisive game. This also gave him the Grand Chess Tour title for the year and the number 2 ranking on the Universal Rating System. GM Caruana would narrowly defeat GM Aronian in their final by only one decisive game in the rapids ensuring his place in next years Grand Chess Tour. Interestingly this placed MVL at number three on the rating list, followed by Caruana and then Aronian respectively.

Kris Littlejohn, GM Nakamura's long time second

Another great tournament run by great organizers. I enjoyed the opportunity to meet some great people including Kris Littlejohn, GM Nakamura's long time second. Also great seeing Hikaru's father Sunil once again and a pleasure seeing his mother there as well. The St. Louis Chess Club staff there were gracious as usual and a what special treat meeting CEO Demis Hassabis and visiting his headquarters. The Grand Chess Tour is a favorite of mine and I highly recommend the St. Louis stop for anyone that can make it out next year.

DeepMind resides in what must be a really cool building.

I hope everyone had a great year and I am excited to see what next year brings for Colorado and world chess! Keep playing, sharing, and teaching chess...

John Brezina, Parker Chess Club

Last Modified: 12/30/2018 at 9:41pm Views: 322