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On Chess: London Chess Classic proves better than Moscow

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 7, 2011 - Chess at the top is not easy. After a tough tournament in Moscow, St. Louis resident Hikaru Nakamura headed to London (after stopping in New York City for a few days to see his family) to play in the London Chess Classic.

The tournament in London has a great line-up that features the four highest-rated players in the world, the four highest-rated players in England and Nakamura! Normally, round-robin (all-play-all) formats have an even number of players, but having nine players is advantageous for the players and organizers. Each round, one player sits out, and that player goes to the commentary room and helps the live broadcast analyze the games. The players also each get an equal number of white and black colors during the tournament (in this case, four of each color).

The tournament is at its half-way point, and thus far Hikaru is having an excellent tournament. Strangely, Hikaru was paired against the top four players in the first four rounds and the British players in the last four. Hikaru has two wins, one loss and one draw so far, which is a fantastic start considering the competition.

Hikaru drew former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik in round one, beat world No. 3 Levon Aronian in round two, lost to world No. 1 Magnus Carlsen in round three, and won a fantastic game with the black pieces against reigning World Champion Vishy Anand in round four. Hikaru should expect to improve his score greatly over the last four rounds, as his remaining opponents are all lower ranked.

Carlsen has won two games and drawn two, and he is not surprisingly tied for first at the moment. However, British GM Luke McShane is also tied for first place. Luke is not even a full-time professional, as he also works in the banking industry in London and only plays in top-level events sparingly.

Many people felt Hikaru simply wasn't ready for the top level after his sub-par performance in Moscow, but I felt it was simply a bad tournament, and that he would shake it off and learn from his mistakes. Hikaru is going to play in many "Super-GM" tournaments this winter, and we can only judge his progress after he completes this tough circuit. Next, he is going to Reggio Emilia in Italy followed by Wijk aan Zee in January, which he won spectacularly earlier in the year, to try to repeat as champion.

Many people wondered why Hikaru went back to New York City to visit his family after Moscow instead of flying to London directly. As can be seen by the above schedule, he was away during Thanksgiving, and will not be in the U.S. to celebrate Christmas or New Year's either. Although some think that is a high price to pay, beating the reigning World Champion with black is a nice way to celebrate the holidays!

Ben Finegold is the resident Grandmaster at the St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center.

Ben Finegold
Grandmaster Ben Finegold learned the rules of chess at age 5 and was dubbed “The 40-year-old GM” after receiving the title in 2009. In between, Finegold was a U.S. Junior champion in 1989, a recipient of the prestigious Samford Chess Fellowship in 1993 and a competitor in nine U.S. Championships. He is a popular scholastic coach and commentator for elite events.

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