1 Sick GM, 9 Healthy GMs, 0 Wins Again

1 Sick GM, 9 Healthy GMs, 0 Wins Again

If the 50 percent win rate in the first two days in St. Louis resembled a supersonic jet, the last two days have resembled Delta Airlines. Fans, like passengers, have been waiting in the Sinquefield Cup terminal for something to happen.

For the second straight day, nothing did. Another five draws have kept the standings steady; GMs Wesley So, Viswanathan Anand, Veselin Topalov, and Levon Aronian all lead with 2.5/4.

(Poor IM John Donaldson, U.S. team captain, was stuck all day at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport en route to St. Louis so perhaps chess fans shouldn't complain.)

At least one of the players was just fine with a short day of work. Although drawing as White without a fight was not ideal, Aronian will take comfort that the day at the office is simply over. He was stricken with food poisoning some time after round three and told Chess.com that this is as ill as he's ever been at the board.

Caruana said that Aronian didn't look well during their game.

He considered asking for special dispensation to postpone the game and perhaps play against GM Fabiano Caruana on the rest day, but he decided that the arrangement wasn't fair to his sparring partner.

"I didn't want to do it," he told Chess.com. "It's not nice to my opponent to not play. He doesn't get a rest day." 

Aronian said he decided to go to the board and figure out how much fight he had in him. Shortly after 1 p.m., the clocks were started, and he admitted that his constitution wasn't primed for a protracted battle.

"I got there and decided I just had to make a draw." In the end, it amounted to only a wasted turn with the White pieces.

Aronian didn't feel it was sportsmanlike to ask for a last-minute postponement. He didn't even shirk his TV duties after the game.

It also deprived the chess world of one of those rare bird sightings that you hope you have your camera for — the Benoni. What we got was a Benoni only in the technical sense. Aronian didn't push d4-d5 to enter the main lines and "test" Caruana's ideas.

The American's choice wasn't a ploy to engage a stricken opponent. While he did find out about Aronian's sickness a few minutes before the game, he had already decided to play the Benoni well in advance. Caruana had been studying it for a while.

Here's the 2014 champion's explanation for the decision and another grandmaster's reaction.

Despite the haters, Caruana's proven himself fairly adept at managing the vicissitudes of the Benoni. He drew Aronian at the Candidates', drew GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave at the Your Next Move rapid event, and beat GM Alexander Grischuk in Norway, 2014.

The game only lasted an hour. What do to after such a short game?

Aronian headed for bed, but Caruana still had his entire supply of energy. That allowed for a little fun at the expense of the production crew. 

He crept up on cameraman Kevin Duggin and interrupted GM Alejandro Ramirez's broadcast with a video-bomb.

If you're wondering why silly machinations are this high up in the report, it was a slow news day.

The segment was tape-delayed, but everyone had a good laugh about it afterward so the show used the clip anyway.

Ramirez barely skipped a beat after Caruana's unexpected cameo.

Back to real chess, the most dynamic game of the round came from GM Hikaru Nakamura and GM Veselin Topalov. The action gained flavor after Topalov tried 9...Nxd5!? instead of accepting the isolated queen pawn.

Nakamura had a good think and decided that he had to take up the challenge.

"Veselin played 9...Nxd5 which is considered dubious, no one's ever played it before," Nakamura said. He was being dared to accept a queen sacrifice. He said that playing Topalov is tricky because "sometimes you're not sure if you're playing chess or if you're playing poker. You don't really know, is he prepared, is he just playing something random, or is he just completely bluffing outright?"

He pondered the question, and the position, for 30 minutes.

"I really didn't want to do it, but you have to kind of have play principled chess," Nakamura said. In this case, that meant taking Black's queen and running the risk that he has walking into some deep preparation. "You have to try and punish it."

"I saw many things," he told Chess.com. "I played this Ne5, Nb5 idea. I just missed [16...] Bd4. I'm a little bit annoyed."

Topalov explained that his big idea was similar to Aronian's against him around five years ago at Wijk aan Zee. "He sacked in almost the exact same way."

Here's the game he was talking about, where the queen sac didn't actually happen, but could have (hat tip to member UsingName and to GM Robert Hess for the research help):

On missing a few of the key ideas in the game, Topalov said, "I'm simply getting older. You have to be really concentrated for the whole game. If you look at me, I'm really quite relaxed."

Why should I give myself an isolated pawn when I can sac a perfectly healthy queen!?

Last year he told Chess.com he didn't train much before the Sinquefield Cup, and this year he repeated that regimen, or lack thereof. He told Chess.com there is diminishing return on using up his reserves away from the board.

"I've worked so much on my chess in my last years," Topalov said. "My problem is not my preparation. I'm trying to avoid complications and play naturally, but it takes energy."

Top-seeded Vachier-Lagrave was annoyed that he missed the mini-steamroll of ...a4, ...b4 against GM Peter Svidler. It wasn't enough to put a win on the Russian's card, but it was plenty to annoy the white player.

The Russian GM with impeccable English had not been to the U.S. this millennium.

The Frenchman came to St. Louis as the undisputed hottest Super-GM on the planet, but he remarked that his blistering July is already a memory.

"Compared to a month ago, I am playing much worse," he said. 

Svidler has found his footing after two losses. He told Chess.com that getting a visa at the last minute was a "minor miracle" and so having a second here was out of the question. So what's an elite player to do? Open a chess book!

Yes, those still exist. This isn't an obscure historical text. In fact, it seems to be a future text! He cited the analysis of GM Alexey Kuzmin in his book on the Zaitsev System, even though the publication date is set for October 15, 2016. Svidler has seen the future or at least an advance copy.

It's doubtful he would have used his new knowledge against any opponent — Check the person who wrote the forward.

Chess.com caught up with Svidler to talk about his tournament, his preparation, and his love for online card games:

We didn't get an IQP in Topalov's game, but GM Viswanathan Anand made up for that in his game against GM Ding Liren who hasn't really been worse all event.

That's about all the incisive commentary available on this game. The two players didn't go for much, and the resulting trades led to a mostly stress-free day.

GM Wesley So vs GM Anish Giri had a little more spark. Giri hoped he had some chances to create two weaknesses on opposite ends in the double-knight ending, but So held.

Coming off his "perfect" 14/14 draws at the 2016 Candidates' Tournament, Giri remains good-natured about all the jokes regarding his drawing tendencies. He called rounds three and four "two beautiful days so far."

Unfortunately, he dropped a game earlier in St. Louis, so he can't repeat an all-draw tournament. He mentioned that Caruana has a perfect four draws in as many games and may be the new master of futility.

"It was a nice run while it lasted," Giri said.

"The key to drawing is to fight hard, but not too hard," Giri did not say. One day he will tell us the jokes aren't funny anymore, but that day was not today!

Heading into the final game before the rest day, the "Girification" of St. Louis has meant no one has broken away from the pack.

Nakamura told Chess.com that he is surprised given the opening systems in use that the leaders are only on +1.

When asked if this tournament served double duty as a chance to also prepare for next month's olympiad, he said, "I'm not even thinking about the olympiad. The Grand Chess Tour is much more important."

A note to Svidler: If he's having trouble finding a second in St. Louis, it seems Russian GMs are stationed on every block.

Here's round five's pairings:

Graphic courtesy Spectrum Studios.

2016 Sinquefield Cup | Round Four Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 Pts SB
1 So, Wesley 2771 2865 ½ ½ 1 ½ 2.5/4 5.00
2 Anand, Viswanathan 2770 2881 ½ ½ ½ 1 2.5/4 4.50
3 Aronian, Levon 2792 2859 ½ ½ ½ 1 2.5/4 4.25
4 Topalov, Veselin 2761 2880 ½ ½ ½ 1 2.5/4 3.75
5 Ding Liren 2755 2775 ½ ½ ½ ½ 2.0/4 4.50
6 Caruana, Fabiano 2807 2769 ½ ½ ½ ½ 2.0/4 4.25
7 Nakamura, Hikaru 2791 2768 0 ½ ½ 1 2.0/4 4.00
8 Giri, Anish 2769 2696 ½ ½ 0 ½ 1.5/4 3.00
9 Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime 2819 2675 0 ½ ½ ½ 1.5/4 2.50
10 Svidler, Peter 2751 2604 0 0 ½ ½ 1.0/4

You can watch the games of the Sinquefield Cup in Live Chess. Commentary by WGM Jennifer Shahade and GMs Maurice Ashley, Eric Hansen, Alejandro Ramirez and Yasser Seirawan will be available at Chess.com/TV from Friday, August 5 until Sunday, August 14, with rounds starting at 1 p.m. local time (11 a.m. Pacific, 2 p.m. Eastern, 8 p.m. CET).

Your daily Olympics update is coming soon, once competition ends for the day. After day two (Sunday) we had:

USA — 3 Golds, 5 Silvers, 4 Bronzes.

China  3 Golds, 2 Silvers, 3 Bronzes.

Russia — 1 Gold, 2 Silvers, 2 Bronzes.

Netherlands  1 Gold.

France  1 Silver.

Bulgaria, India, Armenia  no medals yet.

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