Peace With The Pieces: 5 Draws At Sinquefield Cup Round 3

Peace With The Pieces: 5 Draws At Sinquefield Cup Round 3

The results don't suggest it, but Sunday was not a day of rest at the 2016 Sinquefield Cup. Although all five games ended without a resignation or checkmate, the session may have been the most entertaining so far.

  • GM Fabiano Caruana hurriedly made the time control with a solitary second on his clock (video below).
  • GM Ding Liren's brilliant exchange sac could have netted the win by walking his black king to e4 with queens still on the board.
  • GM Veselin Topalov blundered badly and nearly had to resign in the first half hour, yet still survived.
  • GM Viswanathan Anand got his white knight outposted on e7 while GM Hikaru Nakamura's king had to stare at it from home base on e8. 

Two of the leaders also drew, as GM Wesley So diffused some interesting home preparation, a quasi-sac on f2, from GM Levon Aronian.

Going into round four, the quartet atop the standings with 2.0/3 remains the same: Aronian, So, Topalov, and Anand.

Topalov and GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave played like they had a train to catch. After starting at 1 p.m. local time, the clock hadn't even completed one-third of a revolution before 25 moves had appeared on the board. A few minutes later, Topalov had a "blackout" as commentator GM Yasser Seirawan put it.

GM Hikaru Nakamura checks out his fellow Najdorfer, GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

After 27. Rd3? White's rook on f2 was suddenly pulling double duty guarding c2 and the back rank. Couldn't Black just take on c2 for a free pawn?

The question was so intriguing that Caruana entered the confessional booth to discuss it instead of his own game. "It looks like it wins on the spot," was his quick assessment. "It would be strange to lose the game in the first half hour."

It was so strange, in fact, that even the on-air talent was flummoxed. Was the ending more convoluted than it seemed? Could White's king derive counterplay?

GM Veselin Topalov wasn't playing poker today. He remained remarkably composed despite a blunder that's below his standards.

Perhaps the Bulgarian was bluffing that Vachier-Lagrave would smell a rat and not go for the pawn-up ending? (One issue with this theory is that Vachier-Lagrave had an even better reply than in the game, so this would be closer to recklessness than extreme bravado.)

In the end, there wasn't anything close to that level of intrigue. It was just plain old forgetfulness.

MVL's secret revealed?

"Yesterday I had the position [on a study board], and I knew Rd3 was a bad move," Topalov said. He couldn't give a complete explanation as to why he forgot, but he guessed that he misremembered that the ensuing 29...Qxd3 pinned the c2-rook. "My idea was not to play for a draw, a pawn down, from the very beginning."

Topalov spent a lot of time at the board considering the other route for his king on move 35  to a5, via a4 or b4. But there's no going back from this assault. Once White picks off the a-pawn, his passers are still on the starting line, while Black's four-on-two kingside majority will try to cross the court faster than this other conquest of Missouri.

Vachier-Lagrave lamented that winning the pawn meant trading queens. He didn't see the idea of a preparatory ...d5 — which would have given his queen safe harbor on f5  until the minor piece ending had already begun. He claimed his oversight showed his "stupidity."

What strong criticism from the world number two. That doesn't leave much hope for the rest of us.

Nakamura has a fantastic historical record against Anand, winning seven and only losing one. That dominance also includes three wins as Black emanating from the Ruy Lopez, but Nakamura eschewed another attempt today.

"I just felt like playing something interesting, something a bit different" he told Chess.com. "The Najdorf is obviously a very solid opening, and I felt like changing it up. ... I got the kind of position I wanted."

Halfway through the Red Bull, and eyes wide open.

The knight sitting on his king's neck on e7 wasn't his first noose. Nakamura said that he was reminded of the same obstacle in his last-round game versus GM Gata Kamsky in the inaugural Sinquefield Cup.

Likewise, Anand didn't think they should break out the trombones just for that piece.

"It's not like I was ecstatic," he said. "In many positions, if it doesn't work, you're just lost. ... It was a very original setup, but we're still groping in the dark a little bit."

Nakamura agreed that things were highly tenuous: "One wrong move and I just lose on the spot."

Although today they split the point, Nakamura couldn't pinpoint why he scores so well against the legendary Indian player.

"I really don't know. Obviously Vishy's a really strong player, probably the second-greatest player in history, I would say," Nakamura told Chess.com. "It's clear who I think is first."

For full clarification, that would be Garry Kasparov, although in this "Ask Me Anything" on Reddit from 2014, Nakamura also praised several facets of Bobby Fischer's play. In his view, the longevity of Kasparov and Anand is a huge factor in his rankings.

Two of Nakamura's idols, together one last time in 2014. Nakamura said he never got a chance to meet Bobby Fischer. (Photo: Peter Doggers)

When asked if he could ever do anything to become the best American player in history, Nakamura said he didn't think so.

"I think I would have to do something on par with what Magnus has done," Nakamura mused. Even a world title wouldn't change the pecking order, in his estimation.

"Fischer was 120 points stronger than the next-best player during his era. He was so much further ahead of anyone relative to any time. Since Fischer, there hasn't been that big of a gap between the top player and other competitors. What Fischer did was spectacular. I don't think either myself or Fabiano, even if we became world champion, would be considered the best American player."

So-Aronian could be characterized by a single move. After the rare 7...Bb6 retreat, Aronian got to show his new idea: giving up two minors early on for a rook and pawn.

GM Levon Aronian's idea was original and sound, but GM Wesley So didn't panic and found a way to bail out.

Why execute the usually dubious trade without provocation? Chess.com asked So to give a brief master class, and So explained, "It's not better for White because [Aronian] has better development. My pieces are kind of stuck, and it takes time to mobilize them."

Aronian hasn't done anything to hurt his chances of repeating as champion.

So said White's extra material but looser king reminded him of White's position in the Marshall Gambit, something Aronian knows a lot about. Despite this, and despite walking into his opponent's preparation, he said he "wasn't worried. I had a lot of pieces to defend my king." 

So told Chess.com that Aronian said he cooked the idea in advance. "He has very good opening preparation that is based on practical decisions."

In round one, So credited his second for helping him beat Nakamura. Today Chess.com asked who that mystery helper is, but So demurred, adding, "No one can do it on your own."

Don't fall asleep something's about to happen to your kingside, Wesley.

Both GMs Anish Giri and Ding Liren came into round three hunting for their first win. Neither got it, but for the second day in a row, Ding had the better chances.

Yesterday he miscalculated a tactic, but today his squandered opportunity came much later in the game. To be sure, walking one's king to e4 required some chutzpah, but we've no idea how Hebrew translates into Chinese. 

Before that ending miscue, Giri said he really didn't see the ramifications of the critical difference of the advance c4 versus a4.

He mentioned that, late in the game, 29. c4 is paradoxically better than 29. a4. Despite giving Black a passed pawn supported by his rook, play will continue in the exact same fashion as in the game, but "the rook is numb on c5." The evaluation is equal with this change.

"Probably it's easy for good players, but not for me," said Giri of finding this resource.

A bonus second game from GM Robert Hess!

Despite sitting on an even score instead of possibly being 2.5/3, Ding said that he was "satisfied with my performance."

The last game to finish was GM Peter Svidler's draw with Caruana. The result put Svidler on the board, but the bigger news was Caruana's 40th move. He began the move with nine seconds on the clock, and it didn't take much obliviousness to run that time down perilously close to zero.

Caruana glanced to his right at two seconds, and he immediately moved his rook with just enough celerity to be able to press his clock with a mere one second remaining. Here's the replay:

"Once you're down to a couple seconds, they go fast!" Caruana said. This mini time scramble worked out far better for him than last year's with GM Magnus Carlsen.

"I missed a very decent opportunity today," Svidler said. "This is not the first game we played that goes something like this. He's a very good defender."

GM Alejandro Ramirez's discusses strategy with GM Peter Svidler before the round. Unluckily (or luckily!?) for Svidler, they were chatting about a card game, not chess.

Svidler said that tomorrow's matchup with Vachier-Lagrave will add to the 11 they've played in the last few days. "It's not enough. It has to be a level dozen."

Here's the full pairings for round four:

Graphic by Spectrum Studios.

2016 Sinquefield Cup | Round Three Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 Pts SB
1 So,Wesley 2771 2899 ½ ½ 1 2.0/3 3.25
2 Anand,Viswanathan 2770 2926 ½ ½ 1 2.0/3 2.50
3 Aronian,Levon 2792 2879 ½ ½ 1 2.0/3 2.25
4 Topalov,Veselin 2761 2912 ½ ½ 1 2.0/3 1.75
5 Ding,Liren 2755 2777 ½ ½ ½ 1.5/3 2.50
6 Caruana,Fabiano 2807 2761 ½ ½ ½ 1.5/3 2.25
7 Nakamura,Hikaru 2791 2770 0 ½ 1 1.5/3 2.00
8 Vachier-Lagrave,Maxime 2819 2647 0 ½ ½ 1.0/3 1.50
9 Giri,Anish 2769 2668 ½ 0 ½ 1.0/3 1.25
10 Svidler,Peter 2751 2508 0 0 ½ 0.5/3

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).

Your daily Olympics update is coming soon, once competition ends for the day. After day one (Saturday) we had:

USA - 3 Golds, 5 Silvers, 4 Bronzes.

China - 3 Golds, 2 Silvers, 3 Bronzes.

Russia - 1 Gold, 2 Silvers, 2 Bronzes.

Netherlands - 1 Gold.

France - 1 Silver.

Bulgaria, India, Armenia - no medals yet.

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