Anand Ends Vachier-Lagrave's Streak, Leads Sinquefield With Three Others

Anand Ends Vachier-Lagrave's Streak, Leads Sinquefield With Three Others

If round one of the 2016 Sinquefield Cup was a stroll across flat ground, then round two was rich with ups and downs. Almost no result could be taken for granted, with several games swinging a half-point, and one key game reversing completely.

Four men stand atop the plateau at 1.5/2, but GMs Viswanathan Anand, Wesley So, Veselin Topalov and Levon Aronian still have a lot of hiking left before reaching the victor's peak.

The lack of perfect scores means there will be nothing close to a "Caruana" this year. Back in 2014, GM Fabiano Caruana took a helicopter to the top, while his opponents walked.

It wasn't the cleanest effort, but after an imprecise opening, Anand ended GM Vachier-Lagrave's unbeaten streak in 2016. The Indian's botched opening necessitated a king dance to b8, and the five-time world champion admitted that he stood on the precipice with each move. He hung around long enough for the Frenchman to forget about a crucial intermezzo.

Poof! As fast as Anand could play it, he ended Vachier-Lagrave's streak in a single move.

It was easy for him to laugh about it afterward, but Anand could not have been too happy about having to create a piecemeal shelter for his monarch. "I'm literally just hanging on every move, trying not to lose on the spot," he said. "It was extremely scary."

Vachier-Lagrave really liked his position early, and rightly so. Even a few of his competitors remarked that it was a pity he blew such a well-played game.

The culprit was a single move, which cost him the game and ended his streak of unbeaten games. "I had the same hallucination as him," Anand admitted. "But then I had this happy thought about [31]...e3." The difference is that Anand saw the rejoinder in time; Vachier-Lagrave didn't.

The move and the reversal came out of nowhere, like the sudden twist in an M. Night Shyamalan movie. Like the Indian-American director, Anand had "The Sixth Sense" when he needed it.

"My fortune has been better in the last month," Vachier-Lagrave remarked. "But this can happen. I've been on the other end as well." 

"He seemed to be shaken by [25]...Qe7," Anand said. "And then I had some hope." Anand expressed joyous incredulity that he wasn't finished off.

On several occasions, the winner commented that he decided upon certain moves simply because they continued the game longer. "I didn't see a win against [26]...Bd6, so I'm just going to hold my breath and play it," Anand said.

By his own count, GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave came to St. Louis with a 66-game unbeaten streak. That's over now, but stop by the Missouri History Museum for the exhibit!

Chess.com caught up with Anand for a video interview:

In Aronian's game with GM Peter Svidler, all seemed destined for a split point, but this is where 2700s know secrets that mere mortals don't. Neither the relative stasis of the pawns in the endgame, nor the knight squaring off against bishop on an open board, seemed to point to White converting a win.

Red pants? Aronian the bullfighter won a protracted endgame battle.

But Aronian isn't the defending champion for nothing he said he knew the ending would be more difficult than it looked.

"I think he underestimated the danger of the endgame," Aronian said.

"I feel somewhat dejected today," admitted Svidler. "Losing it was really unnecessary."

Svidler was a last-minute replacement, whose hasty travel and study plans have led to an 0-2 start. To what extent was he affected? He refused to make overt excuses, even when prompted.

"I'm not dying! I have been fresher in my life," was the only allowance he offered for the unideal circumstances.

As you might guess from the smiles, this photo came prior to the round. Vachier-Lagrave and Svidler went 0-2 on the day.

Nakamura thought his 1.0/2 start was expected, but he arrived there in an unconventional way. He explained that Black against So and White against Giri both usually produce draws. His loss-win start is less stable, but he's nonetheless back where he thinks he should be.

Unlike yesterday, in which an opening error led to a loss, today Nakamura played the kind of chess he prefers. His pleasure after the the game was visceral and almost childlike.

"I enjoyed this game," he said. "I think it was like chess in its purest form." 

Nakamura said that he thought Giri equalized out of the opening, but then got too optimistic about his chances.

"I played like five horrible moves in a row," Giri lamented. What about making the fatal error just when he'd acquired the time to find it? He remarked, "I've committed too many sins recently."

GM Anish Giri often makes this pose, even early on, while in innocuous positions. It would have been more fitting later on.

Chess.com spoke with Nakamura:

Lightning doesn't strike twice, but Topalov nearly rewrote science today. He was one or two accurate moves away from his second-straight 2-0 start in St. Louis.

Instead, Caruana somehow got his Faraday cage past the metal detectors, offering his queen for a collection of pieces and living to tell the story.

There's a special tournament "rule"  if you lend your name and your bank account to the tournament, you get a free lesson from the leader:

In the final game, GM Ding Liren had notable pressure against GM Wesley So before going wayward with a mistimed tactic.

For Michael Jordan, "it's gotta be the shoes," but for So, "it's gotta be the earplugs."

Ding-So also served as a prelude to USA-China Olympic basketball, which took place later in the evening....

... And maybe So was checking out the score?

Here are the matchups for Sunday's round three. Of the four leaders, So and Aronian will face one another. The other two, senior statesmen Anand and Topalov, both get White.

Graphic courtesy Spectrum Studios.

2016 Sinquefield Cup | Standings After Round Two

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 Pts SB
1 So,Wesley 2771 2963 ½ 1 1.5/2 1.50
2 Anand,Viswanathan 2770 3003 ½ 1 1.5/2 1.00
3 Aronian,Levon 2792 2943 ½ 1 1.5/2 0.50
4 Topalov,Veselin 2761 2969 ½ 1 1.5/2 0.50
5 Caruana,Fabiano 2807 2766 ½ ½ 1.0/2 1.50
6 Ding,Liren 2755 2781 ½ ½ 1.0/2 1.50
7 Nakamura,Hikaru 2791 2770 0 1 1.0/2 0.50
8 Vachier-Lagrave,Maxime 2819 2579 0 ½ 0.5/2 0.25
9 Giri,Anish 2769 2615 0 ½ 0.5/2 0.25
10 Svidler,Peter 2751 1977 0 0 0.0/2

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).

Now that the Olympics have started, we'll also bring you updates on how the national teams and players are doing from the Sinquefield Cup participants.

China - 2 Silvers (1 Shooting, 1 Swimming) and 3 Bronzes (2 Shooting, 1 Fencing) today.

USA - 1 Gold (Shooting) and 4 Silvers (3 Swimming, 1 Archery) today.

Russia - 1 Gold (Judo) today.

Bulgaria, Netherlands, France, India, Armenia - no medals today.

Other assorted highlights (and feel free to include yours below):

  • USA beat China in men's basketball, 119-62.
  • Armenian Harutyun Merdinyan won 4th place standing in pommel horse.
  • Bulgaria took 11th place in Rowing, double sculls.
  • France women's 4x100 freestyle relay finished 7th place.
  • India Men's Field Hockey beat Ireland, 3-2.
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