The $350,000 Grand Chess Tour Finals at the London Chess Classic are starting on Monday, December 2 at Olympia. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave squeezed into the fourth qualifying place after the dramatic elimination of Vishy Anand.
Anand narrowly lost out on his ticket to London after going down in the penultimate blitz game against Magnus Carlsen at the Tata Steel India Rapid & Blitz in Kolkata. Missing a one-move opportunity for a brilliant rook sacrifice (48…Rh6+!!) meant that the Indian former World Champion, playing in front of a heartbroken home crowd, was not going to the Grand Chess Tour Finals.
MVL, who was not playing in India due to already having played in his allotted five GCT qualifying events, thus squeaked through – setting up a semifinal clash with the Norwegian World Champion in London.
The timing is problematic for the Frenchman, however, who must now play two tough matches in London on December 2-4 and December 6-8, just two days before starting his challenge at the final FIDE Grand Prix event in Jerusalem. At that knockout tournament, which runs from December 10-24, Maxime is bidding to qualify for the first time for the World Championship Candidates tournament.
Magnus Carlsen will be most pundits’ strong favorite to win the Grand Chess Tour first prize of $150,000 in London after an impressive victory in Kolkata. After four days of dominating the super-strong field, Magnus was laid low by a stomach bug early on the fifth and final day and was forced into taking some unprecedented quick draws before recovering and winning the Rapid & Blitz a full 4 points ahead of the second-placed player, American Hikaru Nakamura.
Ding Liren, while not challenging for first place in Kolkata, had the distinction of beating Carlsen twice in blitz there – setting up the mouth-watering prospect of a possible Ding-Carlsen final in London. The Chinese star became the first player to beat Carlsen in a playoff for a dozen years this summer at the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis in August, so a final between the two at London Olympia would promise a brilliant end to the 2019 Grand Chess Tour – and be a foretaste of a potential challenge by Ding Liren for the World title next year.
Levon Aronian, the ever-popular Armenian, qualified for the London GCT Finals by dint of his overall 3rd place finish in the Tour events, but he will be desperate to recover his form after finishing last in Kolkata.
Whoever gets to lift the Grand Chess Tour trophy in London on Sunday 8th December, chess fans can be assured of a brilliant and fitting climax to the biggest Grand Chess Tour to date, thanks to its expanded roster of tournaments in Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Alongside the Grand Chess Tour Finals, the London Classic will also play host to the British Knockout Championship Semi-Finals and Final, which take place simultaneously with the GCT Finals. A strong line-up includes England Open Team members Mickey Adams, Luke McShane, David Howell, and Gawain Jones.