London Chess Classic 2009

day 1 report, videos, and game with Magnus Carlsen

London chess classic

Note: Follow the live games with commentary at Chessdom/Chessbomb arena

Today was the day when the much-anticipated London Chess Classic tournament opened its doors to the press. The conference kicked off with an upbeat address from organiser Malcolm Pein. Most of us were already pretty impressed by the line-up and playing arrangements at the Olympia Conference centre – but Malcolm tells us that this year’s tournament – the biggest London has seen for 25 years – is just for starters. He has even bigger and better plans on the horizon, working towards a possible World Chess Championship match in 2012 (the World Chess Federation has already given London its option for the title match, in London’s Olympic year). He also stressed the importance of the charity that is to emerge from the event: Chess in Schools and Communities has been set up to get youngsters interested in the game and its first activity would be to bring lots of schoolchildren to Olympia to soak up the palpable excitement of a really big chess tournament.

The eight grandmasters themselves played their part in some PR activities staged around the landmarks of England’s capital city. Nigel Short and Luke McShane went off to the London Eye to play blindfold chess while Magnus Carlsen stayed at the plush Hilton Hotel to play a game with Guardian journalist Stephen Moss. Despite the small matter of 1,100 rating points that separate Magnus and Stephen, the Guardian man gave the Norwegian wunderkind quite a good pre-tournament work-out. We’ll return to this in due course.

Videos by Raymond Boger

Back at the press conference: next on the agenda was the drawing of lots. For this the organisers had provided a beautiful giant wooden chessboard. Underneath each of the eight white pawns was a hidden number. Each player was asked to step forward, choose a pawn and hold it up for all to see. The honour of being the first player to uncover his pairing number went to the man with the highest rating – at 2801, this was 19-year-old Magnus Carlsen. Magnus didn’t hesitate – he went straight to the c2 pawn, picked it up and – yes, it was the number one. The audience laughed but the serene look on Magnus’ face seemed to say “of course!”. Vladimir Kramnik shook his head and exclaimed “exactly the same as in Moscow!”. He then stepped forward to choose a pawn – it was the number eight. Knowledgeable members of the audience knew immediately that it meant he would Black in round one against Magnus Carlsen.

After the players had all drawn their lots, and arbiter Albert Vasse had read out the first-round pairings for Tuesday, they proceeded to the photo-call. As the players lined up in front of their images on the wall, some paparazzi were perplexed at the large difference in height between the very tall Kramnik and players flanking him. One even dared suggested Vlad stoop or kneel so that his head was in line with some of his colleagues. But Vlad is not for bending and he politely demurred. This recalled to mind a similar occasion in London more than nine years before, when the newspaper snappers wanted Vlad to smile. “Russian grandmasters do not smile!,” exclaimed the then world title challenger. Then, after a pause: “well, perhaps after I win the title!” Which he did, of course – he is still the only chessplayer in history to win the world championship title in London (though we must not forget that Kasparov made a couple of successful defences here).

Once the photographers had their fill of pictures, the players returned for an open question session. Malcolm Pein pointed out that Vladimir Kramnik’s recent “double happy event” (birth of a child and victory in Moscow) bucked the trend. Usually, said Malcolm, paternity led to an inevitable loss of rating points. Nigel Short felt that evidence that consisted of nothing more than one newly-born child and one tournament success didn’t really add up to much. The look he gave Vlad seemed to say “wait till you have two children!”. Magnus Carlsen, not much older than Nigel Short’s eldest child, looked off into space whilst this fatherly badinage was being exchanged but, when called upon to answer a few questions which came his way, he did so poise and confidence.

For the record, the draw was as follows: 1 Carlsen, 2 McShane, 3 David Howell, 4 Hikaru Nakamura, 5 Ni Hua, 6 Michael Adams, 7 Nigel Short, 8 Vladimir Kramnik. The first four named get an extra white, of course; quite an advantage in such a short tournament (full pairings list here). Magnus Carlsen, as number one, starts with two whites, which means that if he exploits his first-move advantage twice he has already taken a big step towards winning the tournament. But Vladimir Kramnik is a very large obstacle. One of the photographers had earlier tried to get Vlad to move to one side when composing his shot because “you are blocking your own picture”. Vlad retorted: “wherever I go, I will be blocking!”. And, he might have added, this is especially true in London, as Garry Kasparov will know only too well.

Moss-Carlsen encounter was played just before the press conference at the Hilton Hotel. Stephen is a very decent club player, with an ECF grade of 138 (which converts to an Elo of 1704), and he put up a sterling effort against his illustrious opponent. Every club player must envy him this chance to play a superstar. Since we don’t have any other moves to show you yet, let’s have a look at this game with annotations by John Saunders.

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