Sinquefield Cup 2015, Round 8: Aronian Leads By A Point Entering the Last Round
For the first time in the tournament, all five games were drawn, leaving Levon Aronian a full point ahead with a round to go. Had he won against Viswanathan Anand he would have guaranteed himself of clear first, and Anand's opening surely gave him hopes of a full point. Garry Kasparov was watching on site, and remarked that Anand's opening choice (on the black side of an English, the reversed Rossolimo) was something he had dismissed many years earlier. In fact, Anand himself admitted after the game that he needed some convincing before he would take the variation seriously! But after some hard work he rehabilitated it to his satisfaction, and at best Aronian might have had some chances for an edge. In the game he was unable to keep an advantage for very long, and Anand achieved a comfortable draw.
Four players came into the round a point behind Aronian, so this was their chance to make up some ground before the final round. Two of them, Alexander Grischuk and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, played each other, but unfortunately there weren't any fireworks. The game transposed to the same line of the Symmetrical English MVL tried against Magnus Carlsen in round 3. Vachier-Lagrave lost that game, but improved this time and was never in any serious danger. The players called it a day after just 30 moves, one less than was required in Aronian-Anand.
Another player with a chance to gain ground was Anish Giri, who had the white pieces against Fabiano Caruana. Caruana played a Gruenfeld and chose the unusual move 9...e5. He equalized quickly and even won a pawn thanks to some poor play by Giri prior to the time control. Caruana may have had some opportunities to improve, but when they reached a rook and two pawns vs. rook and one pawn ending the draw was inevitable. Caruana played until move 69 before accepting the inevitable.
The big game of the day was Magnus Carlsen vs. Hikaru Nakamura, and after a terrible opening choice by the American and some further inaccuracies after that Carlsen obtained a completely winning advantage. With an 11-0 score against Nakamura in decisive games at a classical time control the point seemed to be in the bag, and with a win Carlsen would close to within half a point of Aronian. Somehow, it wasn't to be. Nakamura defended resourcefully, and when Carlsen played 39.Be3?? ("A moment of insanity" - Carlsen) Black was able to escape to an ending with rook and two pawns vs. two bishops and two pawns, with all the pawns on the same side. Carlsen tried until move 95, but there was no breaching Black's fortress. A second consecutive huge disappointment for Carlsen, and for Nakamura this may just be the confidence-builder he needs to finally get a win against Carlsen in the near future.
Finally, Wesley So and Veselin Topalov went 50 moves, but the only especially noteworthy feature of the game is that So finished with more time than he started with.