Ding Leads Sinquefield Cup; Carlsen Ends Draw Streak
Ding Liren goes into the final round in pole position. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Ding Leads Sinquefield Cup; Carlsen Ends Draw Streak

| 38 | Chess Event Coverage

Drawing his game in round 10 was enough for Ding Liren to grab sole lead at the 2019 Sinquefield Cup with one round to go, as Ian Nepomniachtchi blundered and lost to Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. After nine draws, Magnus Carlsen won his first game.

Nepomniachtchi dropping to second place involved a small drama early in the endgame, although as MVL pointed out, it seems part of the Russian's strategy is to think less and put clock pressure on his opponents.

“I guess it’s a bit of a payback for him playing so fast in every game. Today it cost him,” said Vachier-Lagrave.

On move 20, Nepomniachtchi had spent 41 minutes thinking (vs. 45 minutes for Vachier-Lagrave) when he "mouse-slipped" with 21.Nd7??—on which he spent just 26 seconds.

Here White went 21.Nd7 where 21.Nc6+ was correct.

After playing 21...Bd6, almost trapping the white knight, MVL entered the confession booth (note that the tweet's 21.Nc7 should be 21.Nc6).

MVL pointed out that if White had played 21.Nc6+ instead of 21.Nd7, the players would have shaken hands and agreed to a draw shortly.

Probably devastated by this error, Nepomniachtchi stayed away from the board for more than 10 minutes, which led to a surreal image with both chairs completely empty.

Nepomniachtchi MVL 2019 Sinquefield Cup
Giri and Carlsen could have sat down to study the position more closely. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.


He’s been putting pressure on time against all his opponents. Against Levon he won like this, but he had an interesting idea in the opening. Against Wesley, he definitely won like this.

You know, yesterday I was pretty pissed about my play, so I’m looking at Ian, he’s winning all his games, he’s playing so fast…and then I look at his game and I see it’s mistake after mistake so I thought: let’s not be confused by his quick play and let’s punish his mistakes!

Nepomniachtchi MVL 2019 Sinquefield Cup
A wry smile for Nepomniachtchi after blundering. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Nepomniachtchi would later send a tweet himself:

A win like this was a "gift" that was "absolutely massive," said Carlsen, referring to MVL's chances to qualify for the Grand Chess Tour playoffs in London in December. Vachier-Lagrave said he would do his calculations before deciding on his game strategy in the last round against Carlsen.

Carlsen, the world champ, said about that: “I’m kind of hoping that he calculates and ends up deciding he has to win tomorrow so that we get ourselves a fight!”

Carlsen So 2019 Sinquefield Cup
A point in the bag for MVL, who will face Carlsen in the final round. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Ding Liren scored that important half-point with the black pieces in his game with Levon Aronian, in which the Two Knights was seen—a welcome deviation from all those Italians lately!

Although he couldn't remember his preparation (saying “I forgot how to equalize”), Ding was only slightly worse out of the opening and then held everything together. 

“Of course he’s better but I didn’t see how to play with White,” he said.

Carlsen finally ended his long streak of draws, and in a good way. He won his game with Wesley So like we've seen him doing so often, grinding down his opponent in an endgame that looked close to equal from the start.

Or so it seemed. As Carlsen himself admitted—what he has in common with e.g. Garry Kasparov is that he's always completely honest about his mistakes—he made a big error with 39.Ke2? (allowing 39...Rc3), which he called "insane" and "unforgivable" especially since he had an hour on the clock there.

So failed to grab his chance (42...Kf8!) but instead ”collapsed immediately,” according to Carlsen.

Game of the day Hess

“I guess at this point I’ll take anything that I can, there’s no doubt about that. Now there’s something to play for in the last round so that’s a good thing,” said a relieved and cheerful Carlsen in the post-game interview.

“I am happy to get at least one win in this tournament," he said. "Frankly I didn’t think it was going to happen the way the tournament was going.”

Magnus Carlsen 2019 Sinquefield Cup
Carlsen: "I am happy to get at least one win in this tournament." | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

He went on to compare the event with his previous classical tournament, also in the Grand Chess Tour.

"I was very happy after Zagreb because in such fields with only top players I’ve generally struggled a bit," said Carlsen. "I’ve had a couple of bad Norway Chess tournaments. I usually make plus-two, maybe plus-three, something like this. I was sort of trying to say that Zagreb was a bit of an outlier; I don’t expect to score like that against this kind of opposition every time. I don’t expect to go winless either but something in between.

To even maintain my rating in such a field would have been a huge feat.

—Magnus Carlsen

Carlsen continued: “No, I haven’t played well at all. I’ve been in control; there basically haven’t been counterchances in any of my games really, at least not to a great degree. But the very few chances that I’ve gotten I haven’t really taken. If I had been at my very best at the crucial moments I definitely could have been in the shared lead or even clear lead so I’m not at all happy with my play. To even maintain my rating in such a field would have been a huge feat.”

Magnus Carlsen black white 2019 Sinquefield Cup
Scoring just one win, Carlsen now has a chance to even win the tournament. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Vishy Anand keeps on having good positions in this tournament, and by now it's hard not to feel sorry for him not scoring more wins. It must be noted that a clear advantage hasn't been proved in his last game, despite Sergey Karjakin joking:

“My plan was to make a very solid draw and after the game to say to Vishy: ‘OK this is the first game where you were not winning’ but unfortunately I didn’t manage. Maybe this was the first time he was not winning but at the same time it was very dangerous at some point for me!” said Karjakin. 

Karjakin 2019 Sinquefield Cup
Karjakin felt he was in danger, but didn't see the win for White. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Anand repeated the ultra-topical 6...b6 move against the 5.Bf4 Queen's Gambit Declined. It has now been played seven times already in this tournament alone.

Moving up both the Garry and Harry pawns as Black (prepared by Anand) led to a very exciting game that ended in a draw in a spectacular way.

It was one of the best rounds of the tournament as the draw between Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Fabiano Caruana was an exciting game as well. In a sharp line of the 4.Qc2 0-0 5.e4 Nimzo-Indian, the players followed a game by Vladimir Kramnik for 16 moves.

”It’s a huge theoretical line which is known to be kind of a forced draw," said Caruana. "It’s kind of the line you play when you either want to test your opponent’s memory or you just don’t like feel like playing that day. But I couldn't remember anything; it was just a blank at the board. I just made moves that seemed logical.”

Caruana  2019 Sinquefield Cup
Caruana: "I just made moves that seemed logical." | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

What followed was a bit similar to Karjakin-Anand as the position also became equal here despite remaining sharp:

Especially compared to all the excitement on the other boards, Hikaru Nakamura vs. Anish Giri was nothing more than a damp squib:

2019 Sinquefield Cup round 10 standings
The round 10 standings. | Image: Spectrum Studios.
2019 Sinquefield Cup round 11 pairings
The round 11 pairings. | Image: Spectrum Studios.

Ding is now the sole leader going into the final round, where he has White against Mamedyarov. In classical chess the score is two wins to zero with eight draws for Ding. In case of a tie for first place, a playoff is scheduled for Thursday. With a win, Ding can avoid that and clinch the tournament.

When reminded of his positive classical score against Mamedyarov, Ding was surprised: “I remember I lost to him. I thought my score was bad,” he said. 

Ding Liren 2019 Sinquefield Cup
Unlike 11 other players, Ding has fate in his hands. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

He does have a negative score in rapid and blitz games, where Mamedyarov scored six to three, with four draws. About this upcoming game, the Azerbaijani GM said:

“I will give one small secret. Of all the top players in the world, only Ding I’ve never beaten. Not in one game. I could not beat him in the last two games in plus-10 positions! He defends these positions very easily, he thinks like +10 is OK for him,” said Mamedyarov. 

Round 10 coverage:

You can find all games here as part of our live portal. More photos from the event can be found here. The official site is here.

Previous reports:

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