Late Blunder Gives Anand Early Lead At Sinquefield Cup
Many Indian fans who stayed until the sixth hour were rewarded with their countryman's win. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Late Blunder Gives Anand Early Lead At Sinquefield Cup

MikeKlein
FM MikeKlein
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102 | Chess Event Coverage

In several recent tweets, Viswanathan Anand explained that his son has taken quite a liking to the instructional videos on ChessKid.com. Well, Akhil, turns out your dad can teach you about winning tactics, too.

"I'll show him the position and see what he says!" Anand joked to Chess.com about whether or not Akhil knows about discovered attacks. "He's progressing nicely and soon hopefully he will understand some of my positions. I think he solves slightly harder ones than this."

Vishy Anand
Viswanathan Anand was all smiles after his swindle. He told Chess.com it partially made up for his loss against Nepo in Croatia this year. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

"This" was the late blunder on Ian Nepomniachtchi's 77th and final move, which produced the only decisive game of the opening round of the 2019 Sinquefield Cup. By placing his king on c4 instead of c5, Anand was allowed to initiate a discovered attack that also thwarted en passant by means of a zwischenzug. Friends of ChessKid, for which Anand is now the Chief India Mentor, will have to complete levels Rook 2, Queen 7, and King 64 to master what comes easily to a five-time world champion.

The slip came after the Russian struggled for several hours under the weight of Anand's more active pieces. Anand said the idea was the last trick to play in the position. But there was almost no drama at all on day one.

Anand admitted that about 40 moves earlier, he was ready to call it a day with Nepomniachtchi, but the Grand Chess Tour rules forbid draw offers. So the two played on, and suddenly Anand's king gained activity while White's bishop became feeble.

Ian Nepomniachtchi
Ian Nepomniachtchi couldn't watch what he had just done. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Funnily enough, a few days prior, Anand said in passing that he's come to accept some rule changes to chess throughout his storied career. This one certainly helped him today, although he wouldn't make any sweeping statements about it.

"I'm afraid of saying anything that will popularize this format," he said, choosing his words carefully.

No other player seriously scared the win column, although Hikaru Nakamura and Ding Liren had some chances.

The world number-three pressed Wesley So and forced the American to liquidate into a worse ending after 24...Nf4. The official commentary thought Black had panicked, but So told Chess.com he thought going into the all-heavies ending was the only way.

Ding Liren
Ding Liren miscalculated his best chance to press the ending today. Photo: Crystal Fuller/Saint Louis Chess Club.

"If I don't exchange knights, the position is worse for me," So told Chess.com. "My plan was to sacrifice a pawn to exchange knights to weaken his pawn structure [rather than] defend with the knights on the board.... I'm very fortunate to have ...Nf4; otherwise, my position would be very bad.

Ding didn't go for the surplus pawn, which would have been won after 26. exd3. "He probably has to try this; it's his best try," So said.

"I have to play some accurate moves, but I'm confident they should be them," So said about holding the pawn-down variation that Ding declined to enter.

Nakamura also held firm to a lasting advantage for much of the game, but Fabiano Caruana never let the positional deficit get serious. That's the thing about bishops guarding weak pawns: The bishop has no life but does provide solidity to the isolated queen pawn.

Hikaru Nakamura
Hikaru Nakamura pressed but couldn't make headway against Fabiano Caruana. Photo: Austin Fuller/Saint Louis Chess Club.

Nakamura's biggest lament was taking 10 minutes to play the inventive 11. b3 idea. Only a few weeks ago, Caruana had white in the same position against Magnus Carlsen and played instead 11. Nc3, eventually drawing. The U.S. Champion debated whether to go for that but instead went his own way, causing Caruana to take 15 minutes on his response.

"I felt really stupid for not doing this after five seconds," Nakamura said about his choice. The slowness might not have been as quick as he expected, but Nakamura's idea was intriguing. By trading off the dark-squared bishops, even though he lost many tempos, he ensured a long-term advantage of good knight versus bad bishop.

Caruana said the preparation for his game was difficult because of Nakamura's expansive repertoire. 

"This was not entirely an improvisational choice, but it wasn't as well prepared as I would have hoped," Caruana said.

Levon Aronian and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave repeated moves with only a few pawns leaving the board. The winner of the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz couldn't enact revenge for his two blitz losses against the Frenchman, explaining that he "didn't really understand the position to be honest."

Sergey Karjakin and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov drew without too many fireworks. The two have a penchant for peace, as even Mamedyarov admitted as such last year.

Like in Norway 2018, Magnus Carlsen again reminded today that "everybody knows what's going to happen" when these two meet, although it must be said that Mamedyarov did at least shake things up with the Scandinavian today.

Finally, what about his own game? Would the world champion rebound in classical following one of his worst events ever? Although he's recently more than erased his previous futility against Anish Giri, today Carlsen played one of the most placid games of the day.

Anish Giri
Anish Giri didn't give the look of a man who had been struggling recently against the world champ. Photo: Austin Fuller/Grand Chess Tour.

"After all my misery in rapid and blitz I was happy to get one more-or-less quiet game," Carlsen said.

He said it "would have been fun" if Giri had fallen into this trap:

The joke at the opening ceremony on Thursday was meant to explain Carlsen's poor showing. You see, he did not play the preceding rapid and blitz event, but instead his twin brother had. Carlsen then continued the joke when it was his turn with the microphone. Chess.com wanted to ask Carlsen which one showed up today, but he declined to be interviewed.

Everyone laughed when it was suggested that the man in the blue shirt may be Carlsen's long-lost twin.
Everyone laughed when it was suggested that the bearded man may actually be Carlsen's twin. Mike Klein/Chess.com.

Giri told Chess.com it was hard to say who he played today but noted that he thought if Carlsen had been more confident then he would have taken more risks. Giri mentioned that taking on d5 with the e4-pawn was more ambitious.

"Then we would see if we were playing the twin brother or not," Giri said. "But the way he played he decided not yet to reveal his identity."

Henrik Carlsen
Who are you and what have you done with my son? Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.

For his part, Giri noted that after being +1 lifetime against Carlsen for years, he had dropped a string of games against the Norwegian recently. "I almost became one of his clients."

Anand is all alone at the top after day one. He's never won the Sinquefield Cup:

Images courtesy Spectrum Studios.

Round two features the always memorable encounter between Anand and Carlsen. After contesting two world championship matches in the course of about a year and then fighting each other on the regular tournament circuit, Carlsen once told Chess.com that they were like two "punch drunk boxers."

Round one coverage:

Watch Grand Chess Tour: Sinquefield Cup with IM Danny Rensch and GM Eric Hansen from Chess on www.twitch.tv

All games of round one for replay/download:

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.

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