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Hans Niemann competes in London Classic after stunning success in Zagreb

The traditional London chess classic begins Friday and Hans Niemann, the most controversial character in the game, arrives at the board in the form of his life. The 20-year-old American, who made headlines when world number 1 Magnus Carlsen refused to play him and who subsequently launched a $100 million lawsuit against Carlsen and others, has been in constant action since their extrajudicial settlement three times. months ago.

Niemann's form had dipped below 2700 elite grandmaster level, but he performed well at the recent Grand Swiss and US Championships before completing his stellar career best this week in Zagreb, Croatia, where he outlasted a strong field to take first prize won by a three-point margin in a complex, confident style.

In a message on X, Niemann is provocative compared himself to Bobby Fischerwho had also won in Zagreb in 1970 during his world title campaign that led to his victory over Boris Spassky in 1972.

Kresimir Podravec, the secretary of the Zagreb Chess Federation, which organized the tournament, reportedly told Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten after round seven: “Niemann's result is out of this world, but we have no definitive proof that he cheated. We have some leads, but we don't know if anyone wants to report him.”

Others then pointed out that the organizers themselves were responsible for anti-cheating measures, but had not included anything other than a delay in the broadcast of online games. The London Classic, which Niemann is competing in today, is expected to have full anti-cheating procedures in place, including body scanners.

The American's performance rating after scoring 8/9 was 2946. This number is not far behind the three best results in modern tournament history: Fabiano Caruana's 3098 in the 2014 Sinquefield Cup, Carlsen's 3002 in Pearl Springs, China, in 2008 , and Anatoly Karpov's 2985 in Linares, Spain, in 1994. All were much stronger events than Zagreb, but the quality of Niemann's matches was impressive.

Niemann defeated the top seed, Anton Korobov, in Last round on Thursday morning by a classic 39-move checkmate attack on the Ukrainian king, before taking the three-hour flight from Zagreb to London, where the Classic starts at 2pm on Friday.

Four of his other highlights were: victory over Vasyl Ivanchuk, where Niemann's king's rook performed a nine-move dance around the board before ending on d8 with an unstoppable checkmate threat; a tactical modern Benoni against Zdenko Kozul, played in the style of Mikhail Tal; an under-promotion to knight against Robert Zelcic, with the surprising decider 46 Nh6!; and a miniature of 25 moves against Ivan Cheparinovwhere a white knight was stuck on the edge on a4 by b7-b5 and the other on h4 by g7-g5.

Not all losers took the defeat well. According to observers of the live feed, Chaparinov just got up, grabbed his jacket and was gone. Ivan Sokolov, Uzbekistan's Olympic gold medal coach and former champion of Yugoslavia and the Netherlands, who had criticized Niemann for his admitted historic cheating in online events, reached out after the matchbut did not look or speak to the American.

3896: White gives checkmate in three moves (by Emil Palkoska, Sachove Listy 1898). Only one rule, but you would do well to find it within 10 minutes.

Later, Sokolov took to X (formerly Twitter) and posted: “It's hard to argue with 98 accuracy. There are no measures against fraud (apart from postponement). Not even a scan.”

World No. 3 Hikaru Nakamura told his YouTube subscribers that “Hans having a great tournament made sense because he started well and tends to be a streaky player.” Jacob Aagaard, the former British champion and chess author, wrote that Niemann had made some mistakes, but “no major blunders. These are the kinds of errors that will get you in trouble at 2750. He is a 2700 player, has an average of 2600 and has a good series.'

On Friday afternoon in London, Niemann will be competing in a much higher class tournament than Zagreb, so it will be interesting to see if he can keep up his frenetic pace. Nine grandmasters and an ambitious 14-year-old compete in the Classic for prize money of almost £40,000. The event is not open to spectators due to space limitations, but can be followed online via the tournament website or other leading chess sites daily from 2 p.m.

Dommaraju Gukesh is the top seed despite his recent poor form, and the 17-year-old Indian still has a chance to qualify for the 2024 eight-player Candidates in Toronto, especially if rumors are true that there will be a special tournament at the midway point are organised. -December to boost India's chances of fielding a third candidate besides Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa and Vidit Gujrathi.

If the top spot fails, England's new No. 1 Nikita Vitiugov, who won the Russian championship in 2021 and then emigrated and changed federations in response to the war with Ukraine, has a serious chance. The 36-year-old, whose new home is in East Anglia, impressed at the Fide Grand Swiss in the Isle of Man, where only a final round defeat kept him off a high place, and again among the final European teams. month. Vitiugov is strong in the opening preparation, having helped Peter Svidler in the Candidates tournaments and Ian Nepomniachtchi in his two world title matches.

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England's other representatives in the Classic are Michael Adams, the eight-time British and now world senior over-50 champion, Luke McShane, who narrowly missed out on a director's award among the European teams where he was England's top scorer, and Shreyas Royal, the 14 – year-old from Greenwich who already has one GM norm and misses a second Isle of Man norm by just half a point.

In 1980, Nigel Short, then also 14, made his debut, also in London, in a top tournament. Short then finished last, but thirteen years later he challenged Garry Kasparov, again in London, for the world crown.

World number two Fabiano Caruana won the traditional Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis on Thursday, raising his Fide rating to over 2800 and confirming that he will be the favorite for next year's candidates, for which he has qualified through three different routes has qualified. The final leading scores were Caruana 5.5/8, Leinier Dominguez 5, Wesley So 4.5. Alireza Firouzja was penultimate at 3/8. Caruana won a miniature of 25 moves against Zo.

The Fide Circuit and rating spots for the eight-player 2024 contenders, which will decide the next challenger for Ding Liren's world crown, remain undecided. Alireza Firouzja seemed assured of the rating place, but the twenty-year-old Frenchman performed poorly in St. Louis.

The rating contest is now close: So 2757, Leinier Domínguez 2756, Firouzja 2750, Anish Giri 2749, while Giri, Gukesh and So are the main circuit candidates

It is an individual race, but in the background there is an implicit battle for national supremacy between the two chess superpowers, India and the United States. They currently have two candidates each, Vidit and Praggnandhaa for India and Caruana and Nakamura for the US. A third qualifier for one or both countries could tip the balance in what looks like an open contest in Toronto, so the race for the final two candidates spots could continue into the last few days of December.

3896: 1 Kc4! Ka7 2 Qc7! Ka6 3 b8=N size!