Pawns Don't Equal Points In Sinquefield Rd. 3

Pawns Don't Equal Points In Sinquefield Rd. 3

| 17 | Chess Event Coverage

After two rounds of more wins than draws, nobody parked his car in the winner's circle after round three of the 2017 Sinquefield Cup. Despite the five draws, it sure seemed like a few more wins were coming in a tournament that had produced a 60 percent win rate over the first 48 hours.

GM Peter Svidler had the toughest of the grinds today. | Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour.

The first two games finished with early repetitions, but the remaining games all held hope for one side. None could complete the task. Call it a day for defense -- when was the last time players of the caliber of GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, GM Wesley So, and GM Magnus Carlsen all could not eke out wins with an extra pawn?

With five draws, the three pre-round leaders remain: Vachier-Lagrave, Carlsen, and Caruana. They are all still plus one and atop the tables.


Everywhere you looked, somebody was up something, but no one converted. | Spectrum Studios.

It was also an afternoon for showing some love for a recently-departed chess legend. On the same day that the Chess Journalists of America bestowed IM Mark Dvoretsky with the posthumous shared honor of best book of the past year, one of his eponymous tomes was referenced by several players as their favorite book on the endgame.

Of the trio of would-be winners, Vachier-Lagrave had easily the best chances, whereas So and Carlsen didn't have the needed positional dynamism to really have a path to victory.

The Frenchman, still trying for his first Sinquefield Cup title, had GM Peter Svidler on the ropes early. Black was close to throwing in the towel, but Svidler, ever the pop-culture connoisseur, must have remembered "Rocky."


GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is either pondering his move or wondering if he chose the wrong sport to play in France. | Austin Fuller, Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.

"I was thinking the game is effectively over, but you don't like to resign on move 20," Svidler said. He was particularly perturbed that he was getting outplayed in an opening that he's supposed to know inside and out.

"It's extremely annoying because this is very much a part of my repertoire. And I've been repeating this line more or less against anybody who can play 1. e4 against me for the past year and a half."

He said that he'd spent "immense machine hours" on the position after 12...Nc6. But even Amazon knows that automation needs a human operator. The trouble was that the network of variations was too great.

"I had this haze in my mind, where precise lines should be," Svidler said.

After the mistake 20...Kh8, and faced with the prospect of being "rolled over" in some of the variations he conjured, Svidler offered his f7 pawn on purpose.

"I couldn't find anything that would allow me to continue the game apart from ...h6. [It's] not a move you make lightly. I have to be lost after that somehow."

He called the move a "change of scenery" but it was another pawn move much later that really staved off defeat.

"There's no explanation for what I did," Vachier-Lagrave said. He said he was aware of the ...d5 break, but just forgot to look at it in the vital position where it happened.

"I realized immediately to my horror that I had let things slip away," he said about releasing his king on h2. "It's a bit embarrassing."

The other game with the best chance for a 1-0 also left some chances for an 0-1. Instead, Caruana-Nepomniachtchi ended like all the others.

It differed in one way: it was the only non-double-king-pawn of the day. But it wasn't standard -- a Closed Sicilian! Black wasn't taken by surprise.

"A few months ago he played this against Topalov, but it was blitz," GM Ian Nepomniachtchi said. "I played a couple of such positions with colors reversed in the English Opening. It's very unclear every time."


Perhaps GM Ian Nepomniachtchi was in trouble, or perhaps GM Fabiano Caruana was, but they both had their reasons not to play it out. | Austin Fuller, Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.

Eventually Nepomniachtchi sacrificed an exchange and could have faced some troubles on his king, but Caruana, extremely low on time, played passively. With 10 moves to play before move 40, he had only three minutes to Black's 40 minutes.

The Russian player, still trying to get on the tournament scoreboard, then faced a choice a few moves later: extend the game and force Caruana to make time control, or call it a day and accept the tacit draw offer by repetition. He chose the latter.

"In another tournament situation I may have played on," Nepomniachtchi said. "I really didn't want to mess up with this endgame."


"White is very passive but very solid," Nepomniachtchi said. "I probably should have played on, making some cold move, but I wasn't sure after he plays Qe3 and trade queens."

Commenting on the various chances for Caruana to go after his own king with Qe3 ideas, Nepomniachtchi slowly changed his tune.

"I think Black should have enough firepower to protect his king," he said. Shortly later, and after a cursory look, he softened his stance. "I don't think it is so dangerous as it may seem. Well, OK, it looks like White is going to mate, I don't know. This was critical."

Commentator GM Maurice Ashley, lobbying for the effectiveness of the plan, had a more "colorful" way of expressing fear of Black's position.

"I would be peeing in my pants seeing this attack coming at me," he said.

So also harbored some ideas of turning a pawn into a point, but GM Hikaru Nakamura was up to the defensive challenge after admitting he was too ambitious in a position where he "couldn't really do anything."


GM Hikaru Nakamura is likely wearing photochromic lenses that change from light to dark, as stated in previous interviews. | Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour.

Both sides of this contest agreed on chess literature.

The four-time U.S. Champion explained that he didn't read many endgame books growing up, but the one that impacted him most was "Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual." The current U.S. Champion cited the same book first before naming a few others.

Nakamura said every player in the Sinquefield Cup would choose it as well. Nakamura's review of the book, which he simply referred to by the eponym "The Manual," came with a caveat.

"It's almost impossible to study cover to cover," he said. "For The Manual, unless you're probably like 2450 minimum, I think it's almost impossible to really follow or understand."

So don't go rushing out to buy a copy, or do, depending on your rating. One thing The Manual taught Nakamura: Trading rooks down into a minor-piece ending with four pawns vs. three would probably not be tenable. "I need to get to three against two," he said, and he did.

The Manual wasn't done on this day. Nakamura was asked after his game to give his evaluation of the rook ending between GM Viswanathan Anand and Carlsen. He was certain: draw.

"This one that Vishy has against Magnus, I've looked at this probably 100 times from The Manual," Nakamura said.

"I was a little bit disappointed that I couldn't get more once he missed this little fork," Carlsen said.

When asked of his favorite endgame book, he didn't follow in line with Nakamura's prediction that The Manual would be unanimous.

"I was fairly weak in both practical and theoretical endings," Carlsen said of his formative years. He praised "Fundamental Chess Endings" as helping him through that.


Chess fans have seen this confrontation "just" a few times before. | Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour.

The first game to finish and the last of the report was the most placid of the day. GMs Sergey Karjakin and Levon Aronian repeated moves before the fire was warm.

2017 Sinquefield Cup | Standings After Round 3

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

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

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FM Mike Klein

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Mike Klein began playing chess at the age of four in Charlotte, NC. In 1986, he lost to Josh Waitzkin at the National Championship featured in the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer." A year later, Mike became the youngest member of the very first All-America Chess Team, and was on the team a total of eight times. In 1988, he won the K-3 National Championship, and eventually became North Carolina's youngest-ever master. In 1996, he won clear first for under-2250 players in the top section of the World Open. Mike has taught chess full-time for a dozen years in New York City and Charlotte, with his students and teams winning many national championships. He now works at as a Senior Journalist and at as the Chief Chess Officer. In 2012, 2015, and 2018, he was awarded Chess Journalist of the Year by the Chess Journalists of America. He has also previously won other awards from the CJA such as Best Tournament Report, and also several writing awards for mainstream newspapers. His chess writing and personal travels have now brought him to more than 85 countries.

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