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On Chess: Halftime report from the 2015 London Chess Classic

Hikaru Nakamura has reason to celebrate: His birthday fell on the off day halfway through the tournament.
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The 2015 London Chess Classic had its first, and only, rest day Wednesday, Dec. 9, just past the halfway point. Thus far, five rounds are complete and almost everyone still has a chance to win the tournament.

This is the third and final leg of the Grand Chess Tour, which consists of Super-GM events in Norway (June 2015), St. Louis (August-September 2015), and finally London (December 2015). The same nine players play in each event, and each local organizer nominates a wild card player to make each event a 10- player all-play-all round-robin tournament.

I would be remiss if I were not to mention current U.S. Champion, and co-leader of the tournament, Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura celebrated his 28th birthday on the rest day.

Hikaru has had an interesting event thus far, winning one and drawing four of his games, although, it looked more likely he would have four decisive results and only a lone draw. Hikaru has had several positions that were either close to winning or close to losing; somehow, the player with the worse position seemed to defend precisely when needed, and the player pressing could never find the knockout blow.

Draws are pretty common at the top level, since the world’s best are excellent defenders and can sense when it is time to try to make a draw when things aren’t going as planned.

After five rounds of play, there is a three-way tie at the top with Nakamura, Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and the Dutchman Anish Giri. Each of the co-leaders collected one win and four draws in the first half of the event.

There is a six (!) way tie for 4th place, half a point behind the co-leaders, one of them being World Champion Magnus Carlsen. In fact, five of the players have all draws thus far. As noted, when chess is played at the highest levels, a draw is the most likely result, but the games have been fascinating.

The big surprise of the event is the poor form of Bulgarian GM Veselin Topalov. Veselin has not played up to his usual standard, and has already lost three games. In fact, the only other player in the event to lose a game was former World Champion Viswanathan Anand, when he was outplayed in round 4 by Nakamura.

Although many chess fans are unhappy with 21 draws in the first 25 games, it is actually good from a sporting point of view, since nine of the 10 players in the field are still fighting for first place. The draws are not happening due to a lack of trying; many of the contests last over five and, in some cases, six hours.

There is fantastic coverage of the event, with games shown live with commentary from GMs Yasser Seirawan, Alejandro Ramirez and Maurice Ashley. You can follow all the action live at grandchesstour.com/2015-london-chess-classic/watch-london-chess-classic-live

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.