The nine annual London Chess Classic will take place in the Olympia Exhibition Center in London from Dec. 1-11. Once again, it will be the final stop of the 2017 Grand Chess Tour and will produce this year’s winner. It has all come down to this event as the players will battle it out one last time for tour points, a $300,000 prize fund and a $150,000 bonus for the top two finishers of the tour. Of course, the much coveted titles of tournament winner and GCT champion will be on the line as well.
What is special about the London Chess Classic is the fact that is not just an exclusive tournament for the top players but rather a chess festival. There are enough events to engage players of all levels, including a strong FIDE open, rapid and blitz events, simultaneous exhibition, and events for children. Those who are not tournament players but simply enjoy the game can watch their favorite players or try their luck in a simul.
The festival will kick off with the Pro Biz Club, in which corporations partner with the London Chess Classic participants and the legendary Garry Kasparov in an event to raise money for the UK charity Chess in Schools. A 2,000 pound donation allows the patron to pick a partner of their choice and engage in a fun game of alternating moves against other grand master and amateur paired teams. The first confirmed donor is Demis Hassabis, the co-founder of DeepMind, who will be partnered with local legend and wild card of the event, Michael Adams.
After the festivities, it will be all business for the players. Going into the event, World Champion Magnus Carlsen and the winner of 2017 Sinquefield Cup, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, are neck and neck. The World Champion is currently leading the tour with 34 points, but the Frenchman is only three points behind. In third place is Levon Aronian with 25 tour points. It is still mathematically possible for him to win the tour, but it requires the unlikely event of both Carlsen and Vachier-Lagrave will finish in the last two places. Given the standings as they are, it will almost certainly be a race between Carlsen and Vachier-Lagrave.
Since the last time the tour players faced off during the Sinquefield Cup in August, Carlsen has played in two classical events: the Isle of Man and the World Cup. He won the former convincingly, but he got knocked out of the World Cup in the third round. Vachier-Lagrave had a more successful showing there, but he suffered a heartbreaking loss in a dramatic Armageddon game to Levon Aronian, thus failing to qualify for the Candidates Tournaments – the winner of which challenges the World Champion. His last round loss in the final Grand Prix event once again put off his aspirations of claiming the crown for another two years. Even so, his impressive Sinquefield Cup win proved his ability to win any given super tournament.
Even though the competition for the Grand Chess Tour crown is between Carlsen and Vachier-Lagrave, the London Chess Classic title can still be claimed by any player. One of the favorites is certainly Levon Aronian, who has had a phenomenal year, both on and off the board. After winning the fourth stop of the tour, the Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz, he went on to win the World Cup as well. On the non-chess front, he followed up his World Cup victory by marrying his longtime girlfriend, Arianne Caoili. Once again, he established himself as the second highest rated player in the world, a spot he comfortably occupied for many years.
The rest of the star-studded field includes five time World Champion Vishy Anand of India, current U.S. Champion Wesley So, last year’s U.S. Champion Fabiano Caruana, four time U.S. Champion Hikaru Nakamura, last year’s World Championship challenger Sergey Karjakin of Russia, former Rapid and Blitz World Championship silver medalist Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia and, the wildcard of the event, the highest rated player in all of the U.K., Michael Adams.
The Saint Louis Chess Club will provide online commentary on www.grandchesstour.org with Yasser Seirawan, Cristian Chirila and Jennifer Shahade with Maurice Ashley reporting from the site. Commentary will also be provided in Spanish and Russian. You don’t want to miss this nail biter!
Tatev Abrahamyan started playing chess at eight after her father took her to the 1996 Chess Olympiad in Yerevan, Armenia. There she met Grandmaster Judit Polgar, arguably the greatest female player of all time and the only woman in the tournament. Currently the third highest rated female in the U.S., she has represented the United States in four Olympiads and two World Team Championships since 2008.