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London Chess Classic 2009 (Opening Ceremony)

Opening Ceremony and Stephen Moss plays Carlsen

Malcolm Pein, Magnus Carlsen and Vladimir Kramnik

Malcolm Pein, Magnus Carlsen and Vladimir Kramnik |

Press release dated 7 December 2009 by John Saunders.


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.

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. 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.

I haven't got the score of the blindfold Short v McShane clash at the London Eye, but I do have the moves of the Moss-Carlsen encounter, 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.

Olympia, Hilton Hotel London, 07.12.2009

Moss,S (1704) - Carlsen,M (2801) [B22]
Olympia / Hilton Hotel London, 07.12.2009
[Notes Saunders, John]

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.c3

Magnus Carlsen


Stephen Moss

Position after 3.c3

Transposing into what is known, unimaginatively, as the c3 Sicilian. Its reputation is so boring that English grandmaster Michael Stean once proposed that the move c2-c3 should be banned for all eternity. The current writer is very pleased that this hasn't happened because he has been anaesthetising opponents with it for about 30 years and robbing them of their points. Perhaps now is the time to reveal that I have been coaching Stephen Moss in recent months. A bit of a come-down from his former chess adviser (Nigel Short), but perhaps it is a bit like consulting your local GP for those minor ailments for which a Harley Street specialist is not needed. Anyway, enough analogising, let's get back to the game.

3...Nf6 4.e5 Nd5 5.d4 cxd4 6.cxd4 d6 7.Bb5+

[Not what the doctor ordered. I would probably have advised 7.Bd3 (although it is little more than a placebo). Like 'Herr Nimzovich', Mr Moss goes his own way in the openings. Or, to put it another way, one word from me and he does as he likes.]

7...Bd7 8.Bxd7+ Qxd7 9.0-0 Nc6 10.Nc3 Nxc3 11.bxc3 Rc8

[11...dxe5 has been played here before but it seems the text move hasn't. So it is the world number one, and not the Guardian journalist, who departs from the well-trodden path.]

12.Ba3 dxe5 13.Bxf8 Rxf8

[This looks a bit odd to me. I didn't get the chance to ask Magnus why he chose this over 13...Kxf8 which is also Fritz's preference.]


[An imaginative try. Magnus was complimentary about this after the game.]

14...exd4 15.cxd4 g6

Magnus Carlsen


Stephen Moss

Position after 15...g6


[An ambitious try but 16.Ne5! is a very nice move here for Stephen. If 16...Qxd4? 17.Qxb7 wins for Whit e, so Black probably has to go in for 16...Qe7 when White has quite a pleasant game for the sacrificed pawn.]

16...exd5 17.Qb2?

[Giving Black just enough time to reassert himself. 17.Re1+ is both natural and best. Black is obliged to play 17...Kd8 because 17...Ne7? 18.Ne5 and White will either take the b7 pawn or play a rather powerful check on b5.]

17...f6! 18.Rfe1+ Kf7

[Now it's just lost as Magnus has his two extra pawns.]

19.Nd4 Rfe8 20.Qd2 Nxd4 21.Qxd4 b6 22.Red1 Rc5 23.Rd3 Qc7 24.Rad1 Re4 25.Qa1 Qe5 26.Qxe5 fxe5 27.Rxd5?

[Falling on his sword but of course it is lost anyway.]

27...Rxd5 28.Rxd5

I think Stephen may have actually resigned some time after the rook left d1 and arrived on d5, as he suddenly noticed the 'down train' which is on its way to the 'terminus' on e1.


Magnus Carlsen


Stephen Moss

Final Position

I think Stephen may have actually resigned some time after the rook left d1 and arrived on d5, as he suddenly noticed the 'down train' which is on its way to the 'terminus' on e1.

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