Aronian Learns His Lesson, Vaults To Lead

Aronian Learns His Lesson, Vaults To Lead

The first two-thirds of the 2015 Sinquefield Cup portended a photo finish, but round seven suggested you may need a wide-angle lens.

GM Levon Aronian used a painful lesson from two years ago to beat GM Hikaru Nakamura after a surprisingly listless turn with White. GM Magnus Carlsen couldn't keep pace, or even limit the damage. His misguided aggression and resulting long endgame loss to GM Alexander Grischuk made the gap a full point with only two rounds remaining in St. Louis.

Where's Paul Revere when you need him? Without warning the win for the Armenian completes his American tour. Having already defeated GM Wesley So and GM Fabiano Caruana, Aronian finishes his tournament 3-0 versus the Stars and Stripes.

"I've been treated very well by the Americans!" he told Chess.com.

Don't adjust your glasses -- GM Levon Aronian is on the verge of winning the second leg of the Grand Chess Tour.

To understand today fully, we head back in time two years to the inaugural Sinquefield CupAronian achieved a promising position versus Carlsen in a must-win last round. He botched the intiative, eventually losing both the game and a chance at first. Lightning struck twice -- today's game was nearly an exact match.

"I was telling myself, 'I cannot let this one end badly,'" Aronian told Chess.com, completely aware of the similarities with that game. Well, not completely. When asked how his planning was different today without the doubled e-pawns of two years ago, Aronian smiled and said, "Ahh, that is why today felt different!"

GM Hikaru Nakamura's pieces could have used some Red Bull today.

While he had not remembered that small wrinkle from the 2013 pawn structure, Aronian opened the f-file in a different way, which proved to be the runway of attack. "Once I play ...f5, everything collapses there." Aronian didn't need to play it -- Nakamura's g4 weakened the f3 square on his own.

"I hope today showed that I can learn from my games," he said.

Analysis by GM Robert Hess:

"It was difficult to say what he had in mind," Aronian said after the game about Nakamura's choice of openings. After only one loss in all of 2015, Nakamura has now suffered two in one week. The game is surely his most lifeless effort on this calendar.

Just focusing on the American's light-squared bishop told the tale: it moved six times in the first 17 moves, and five of those moves were one square each.

The final sequence likely was overlooked by the American. After 39. Rad1, which expedited his demise, Nakamura offered a draw according to Aronian: "I am sure he underestimated how bad his position is."

The seventh round could be called "la séptima ronda" -- it featured two Spanishes and one Spanish-style pawn structure.

It seemed a pity that Aronian's girlfriend, WIM Arianne Caoili, couldn't see Aronian for most of the game. Once describing herself in an interview as "grasshopper height," she's grown a little but not nearly enough to see over the packed crowd of fans. She was seen at the beginning of the round jumping and searching for a vantage before giving up to watch on the monitors.

Spectators on the front row had more luck than Aronian's girlfriend.

It didn't matter to Aronian. "I don't see anyone," Aronian said about the people watching his games.

The big question after the game ended was how big the lead would be. It took Grischuk all afternoon and some of the evening to convert his extra pawn. The six-and-a-half hour marathon that reduced both players to single digits ended abruptly when Carlsen removed his blockade and allowed the d-pawn to advance.

Analysis by GM Cristian Chirila:

"At the end I got lucky because I missed this Re5 defense," Grischuk said. "I was only happy it wasn't a dead draw," he told Chess.com.

Carlsen played a move with four seconds remaining at one point; Grischuk got down to seven seconds.

After he allowed such an elementary win after all the effort to hold the balance, an anguished Carlsen couldn't face his tragedy. He bent his legs into the chair, covered his face with this hand, and turned away from the board.

"The way I lost is really shameful," Carlsen said. "It's just incredibly frustrating...to lose so many games with the White pieces is ridiculous."

A despondent GM Magnus Carlsen can't look at what he did. (Photo courtesy Lennart Ootes).
A long day at the office netted nothing but frustration for the champ.

Immediately after rising and putting on his jacket, a fan called to the world champion: "Don't worry, you can still win this thing!" Carlsen turned and softly replied, "No."

Grischuk has now won two in a row and out of nowhere is on a plus score. He said earlier in the game after 16...g6 he missed 17. b4.

"I had to start fighting for survival," he said. "I did not hope for the win of course. I didn't expect him to overpress but he did."

The Russian wasn't sure his extra pawn was enough. Indeed, both players spent more than half of their extra hour allotted in the second time control on the first few moves.

After the game, Grischuk had a candid conversation with chief arbiter Chris Bird, who came over to talk with Grischuk near the game's end. The discussion centered on writing down moves before replying on the board (the second time control was played on increment, requiring accurate notation). Grischuk insisted that their discussion was "theoretical" and that there was no conflict.

GM Alexander Grischuk and IA Chris Bird discussed the rules of notation at the bottom of the tournament hallway.

Of the other three games ending in draws, GM Wesley So had the best chances, or maybe it just felt that way when you have a queen and your opponent doesn't. 

GM Viswanathan Anand said the "main feature" of the game was the pawn on c5 -- it kept Black's bishop at bay. He added that his defensive queen sacrifice was a "trick" after 27. Nc4 (the fact that it allows the menacing pawn to be captured made the trick all the more tempting).

"I was very happy with the queen sac," he said. "I felt I'm very safe in that position. I'm surprised he went for it so quickly."

The game was only their second career meeting -- Anand beat So earlier this year in Azerbaijan.


So eventually conceded the same point -- 27...Bxc5 may have been too hasty. "Maybe I shouldn't have went for this queen sacrifice," So said of this "crucial" decision. "For a moment I thought he simply blundered."

The draw does stop his personal streak of three consecutive losses. He borrowed Carlsen's joke from the opening ceremony by comparing himself to a spectator this year.

GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave locked everything up and split the point with GM Fabiano Caruana. The Frenchman is one of the quartet of players on plus one chasing Aronian.

The Frenchman is hot in St. Louis, just like his tea.

"I can still salvage the tournament in the last few rounds," Caruana said. When asked by Chess.com if there was less pressure on his rating since he's already qualified for the Candidates Tournament, he said, "Just because I qualified doesn't mean I don't want to do well."

Caruana said his new manager, IM Lawrence Trent, "helps me get my mind off my play." This year is a far cry from his 8.5/10 juggernaut in 2014.

"Last year was pretty unusual. It would be better to share some of those points from last year. Perhaps if I was plus four last year and plus three year? But that's not how these things work."

Chess.com spoke with Vachier-Lagrave about French chess, his giant chess bullet rematch with IM Danny Rensch, and more subjects. Here's the video interview:

Lastly, GM Veselin Topalov and GM Anish Giri also drew, retaining the latter's unbeaten record in the Grand Chess Tour


After starting with a win, Giri has now drawn six straight games.

"When you lose two, you want to play one calm game," Giri said of his opponent's play. Topalov lost in rounds five and six. 

Giri is still hopeful to win the tournament. "Even at just plus one, I still have some chances. Now every game is 10 times as important."

GM Anish Giri,  his wife IM/WGM Sopiko Guramishvili, and his coach GM Vladimir Tukmakov always arrive together.

 

GM Veselin Topalov was the early leader but now is clinging to 50 percent.

It's too early for Aronian to light a stogie, but he may want to get some matches ready.

Tomorrow is one of the headliner battles of the competition. The fact that both Nakamura and Carlsen are coming off painful losses heightens the anticipation, but not like the interviews shown today on the broadcast. 

Prior to the tournament, players were asked to "trash-talk" about their peers.

"Magnus doesn't like me," Nakamura said. "He never has really but I don't really care."

Some other player quotes from the contrived segment:

  • Aronian: "I can't really say I like any of the players here."
  • Giri: "I don't really like Magnus but I guess that's the case of everyone."
  • Grischuk: "Those guys you know -- Magnus, Giri, Nakamura -- they're just, you know, they say bullshit."
  • Carlsen: "[Nakamura's] still not the best player. Or second best. Or third best." How would you rank him? "Somewhere after that."

2015 Sinquefield Cup | Round 7 Standings

# Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 Pts SB
1 Aronian 2765 2951 phpfCo1l0.png ½ ½ ½ ½   1 1   1 5.0/7  
2 Giri 2793 2851 ½ phpfCo1l0.png 1 ½   ½ ½   ½ ½ 4.0/7 14.25
3 Grischuk 2771 2854 ½ 0 phpfCo1l0.png 1   ½   1 1 0 4.0/7 13.25
4 Carlsen 2853 2831 ½ ½ 0 phpfCo1l0.png 1 0   1   1 4.0/7 13.00
5 Vachier-Lagrave 2731 2857 ½     0 phpfCo1l0.png 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 4.0/7 12.25
6 Topalov 2816 2798   ½ ½ 1 0 phpfCo1l0.png 1 0 ½   3.5/7 12.75
7 Nakamura 2814 2787 0 ½     ½ 0 phpfCo1l0.png ½ 1 1 3.5/7 9.75
8 Caruana 2808 2694 0   0 0 ½ 1 ½ phpfCo1l0.png ½   2.5/7 8.50
9 Anand 2816 2686   ½ 0   ½ ½ 0 ½ phpfCo1l0.png ½ 2.5/7 8.00
10 So 2779 2633 0 ½ 1 0 0   0   ½ phpfCo1l0.png 2.0/7  
 
Images courtesy Spectrum Studios

Games will be played daily from August 23-September 1 except for a rest day August 28. Games will start at 13:00 local time (21:00 Moscow, 19:00 London, 14:00 New York, 11:00 Los Angeles). Chess.com is streaming the official live commentary of all rounds at www.Chess.com/tv, with GM Yasser Seirawan, GM Maurice Ashley and WGM Jennifer Shahade. Check chess.com/tv for listings. Games via TWIC phpfCo1l0.png


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