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Caruana Wins In 110 Moves, Now 1 Of 3 Leaders

Caruana Wins In 110 Moves, Now 1 Of 3 Leaders

It's hard to top a world championship rematch, but GM Fabiano Caruana tried his best on day two of the 2017 Sinquefield Cup. On an afternoon when GM Magnus Carlsen won with relative ease over his November 2016 sparring partner, Caruana played into the evening.

He grinded for nearly three times the number of moves as the world champ, but his imperfect technique became perfect when it mattered.

GM Fabiano Caruana wasn't flustered that his game took so long. | Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour.

The 110 moves and nearly seven hours of play produced the usually theoretically-drawn rook+bishop vs. rook ending vs. GM Levon Aronian, but with an asterisk. The starting pawnless position was particularly bad for Aronian, and Caruana knew it. 

"I wasn't 100 percent sure, but I didn't have time to doubt myself," Caruana said of transitioning all of the pawns off the board. His intuition was right.

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This picture doesn't tell a thousand words; merely it just tells 110 moves. | Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour.

Speaking about the bishop-up ending that began some 70 more ago, Caruana said, "From the start I thought that the endgame must be winning."

He wasn't wrong, but there were simpler measures than going into triple-digit moves.

"I was kind of surprised at how difficult it was to do anything...I had to sweat a bit.

"I would play 150 moves if it meant I would win a game."

With Carlsen taking out GM Sergey Karjakin for the second time in classical since their 2016 month-long duel, that left only GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave with a chance to begin 2-0. Instead, his draw with Black against GM Hikaru Nakamura meant he still shares the lead with two other players -- they just happen to be different men than after round one.

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Unlike their New York world championship match, photographers can actually get a picture of the end of their game. | Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour.

Also winning on day two was defending champion GM Wesley So, who sent GM Ian Nepomniachtchi home from the corner of Maryland and Euclid with a second straight loss. Finally, GM Peter Svidler drew GM Viswanathan Anand.

It's a good thing Caruana is not still 11 years old with one of his parents waiting for him outside the tournament hall. Today, he may have caused a coronary.

The on-again, off-again highest-rated American botched a few surefire wins right at the time control. That meant 70 more moves and many more hours of chess.

Maybe the guy just likes Sinquefield records? His 2014 performance of 8.5/10 may never be matched again and now he also has played the longest game in the event's history. This was the first 100+ move game in the five years of existence; the previous longest game was 84 moves in Carlsen-Aronian, 2014.

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The end of a long day. | Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour.

Before you take a deep dive into the ending, don't feel bad if you struggle to comprehend everything. You're in good company.

"I'm sure it's winning, but I'm actually not sure, like, how?" the world's highest-rated player said as a bystander at move 45. Carlsen then made the claim that "he cannot trade rooks." It was never made clear what the antecedent was to the pronoun "he."

Perhaps Carlsen meant "Aronian" could not trade rooks, but if Carlsen was referring to Caruana, that would be incorrect. The position the Norwegian was examining (at move 45) is a win for Black without the rooks on the board.

You can trust the tablebase, or trust GM Teimour Radjabov.

How does Radjabov know this with certainty? Apparently it's something that every Azeri schoolboy knows, and we'll do our best to explain it below.

"Levon didn't seem himself the whole game," Carlsen said. "He looked a little bit off."

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The world champ sensed that GM Levon Aronian wasn't his normal self today. | Austin Fuller, Chess Club & Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.

But what about the world champion's own game? Although it looked straightforward, Carlsen said his win was not without minor tribulations.

"I wasn't overly optimistic after the opening," Carlsen said. He tried to make a pawn break, but still wasn't convinced of his own superiority.

"I tried to get this c4 stuff, but there wasn't so much I could do. I tried to make some waiting moves and wait for the right moment to play cxb5, d4. I didn't really find anything."

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GM Magnus Carlsen now polishes his hair before he polishes off your king. | Spectrum Studios.

He then switched gears, saying his "operation" on the kingside was a gamble. His dark-square bishop became the scalpel, and he claimed that once Karjakin was forced to trade on e5, the black king was quite weak. Add in some time pressure, and Karjakin was unable to defend.

Karjakin called the game "very hard and complicated." He pointed to 31...exf4 as a possible improvement, since he "underestimated" the play with f5. Carlsen demurred, saying that the recapture with the queen still gave him active play against the king.

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Some quirks in the results and pairings: Carlsen noted that so far he has the same results in St. Louis against the same players as he did in at this year's Norway tournament. Also, the pairings assigned Carlsen his other past world championship foe, Anand, in round three. Last, for the for the second year in a row, a player has begun 0-2. The ignominy this time goes to Nepomniachtchi, and like 2016, Caruana will face this player in round three (in 2016 Caruana played an 0-2 Svidler in round three).

Nepomniachtchi couldn't get on the board today despite his originality, losing to So in the first game to finish. The Russian tried an early queen recapture on d4.

"There are very few games with this," Nepomniachtchi said, adding that it reminded him of the same queen sortie in the slightly more typical line in the Sicilian without a pawn on c4, whereby White can answer ...Nc6 with the pin Bb5.

"It's hard to make so much commentary on this game because after 17. f4 White is just so much lost," Nepomniachtchi said.

So was clearly relieved to get back to 50 percent after getting the dreaded "two Blacks in a row" beginning -- only one player must endure this in any given 10-player round robin.

Starting with a loss and now a win, he talked a lot about the "ups and downs" of tournament play. He even referenced a fellow competitor's own cycle, reminding that Caruana suffered a "terrible loss" against GM Varuzhan Akobian at the 2017 U.S. championship, but has "bounced back pretty well."

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GM Wesley So thanked "the Lord" after the game, but commentator GM Maurice Ashley was thanking anyone who didn't make him work overtime with a seven-hour game. | Spectrum Studios.

"Clearly I'm far off my best, not even decent condition if I blunder like this," Nepomniachtchi said after the game.

In a recent episode of The Perpetual Chess Podcast, Nakamura explained that most positions are defensible until the evaluation gets to about +/-0.9. Today against Vachier-Lagrave, you'd be hard-pressed to find any position that even rose to the level of +/-0.3. Necessarily, the equal positions ended with an equal result.

Svidler-Anand was the second English of the day and had a little more imbalance thanks to the isolated queen pawn. That still wasn't enough to give either side any chances, and when the pawns all came off the queenside, it was time to call it a day.

The 2017 Sinquefield Cup is a 10-player round robin from August 1-12 with a $300,000 prize fund. Games begin daily at 1pm Central U.S. time (GMT-5). Commentary can be watched live at the official site or at www.Chess.com/TV.

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Image courtesy Spectrum Studios.

Rank Name Fed. Rating 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Score
1 GM Carlsen, Magnus 2822 x ½ 1 1.5
2 GM Caruana, Fabiano 2807 ½ x 1 1.5
3 GM Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime 2789 x 1 ½ 1.5
4 GM So, Wesley 2810 0 x 1 1.0
5 GM Aronian, Levon 2799 0 x 1 1.0
6 GM Nakamura, Hikaru 2792 ½ x ½ 1.0
7 GM Anand, Viswanathan 2783 ½ x ½ 1.0
8 GM Karjakin, Sergey 2773 0 x 1 1.0
9 GM Svidler, Peter 2751 ½ 0 x 0.5
10 GM Nepomniachtchi, Ian 2751 0 0 x 0.0

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