Sinquefield Cup Still Wide Open After 5 Draws
Wesley So looks at Hikaru Nakamura's game. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Sinquefield Cup Still Wide Open After 5 Draws

| 20 | Chess Event Coverage

Some of the previous rounds seemed to be going into the same direction, but now it really happened. All games in the 2018 Sinquefield Cup's fifth round ended in draws. The five-way tie is still there, going into the rest day.

World championship challenger Fabiano Caruana was quite successful with the Petroff during the 2018 Candidates', and still plays it a lot. Including rapid and blitz, he went 2...Nf6 no fewer than 13 times since Berlin. His score? Plus three!

After going for 5.d4 a couple of times, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave decided to try 5.Nc3 again in this game. Because he actually got a worse position against Caruana last time (London 2016), he spent a lot of time in the morning going through all the move orders and other details.

The homework worked out, as he said in the confessional booth after 19.Qd2: “I’m pleasantly surprised by the outcome of the opening. There are so many nuances that I have been able to keep some pressure going on the kingside. (…) I don’t see Fabi’s counterplay.”

Caruana agreed that he was “under some slight but annoying pressure” in this game, but he held with accurate moves like 22...Re7 and 26...Qe3. Accepting White's fate in most of the games against this opening, MVL remarked: “If you manage to refute the Petroff, you deserve more than a win!”

Fabiano Caruana Sinquefield Cup 2018

Caruana, still doing well with the Petroff. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

That was Vachier-Lagrave's fifth draw in the tournament. He shares that stat with Vishy Anand, who drew most comfortably as Black against Levon Aronian thanks to a prepared novelty on move 19 in a 5.Bf4 Queen's Gambit Declined.

Position after 16.exd4.

Anand told Maurice Ashley an anecdote about his 16...Qf6! novelty, a temporary pawn sacrifice that gives Black nice play:

"I've had it in my notes for a while. It's funny because periodically my seconds would jog my memory, and two or three times I would play 16...Qd5, thinking that was our improvement over 16...Qf6, and they would look at me and tell me: 'No, you mixed it up again! Qf6 is the improvement over Qd5.' So I had this nice note in block capitals saying: NOT Qd5!" (...) It's quite an important improvement because it kills this particular line."

Aronian agreed that the game was basically decided at this very moment, and lamented the early starting time of the rounds in St. Louis, which is 1 p.m.

“One of the drawbacks of starting the game two hours earlier than usual for most of the chess players [is] that once you focus on a certain line, then you have to play it. You don’t have the time to change your mind twice, as we usually do. I decided to play this opening in the morning, I checked 14…d4 but I didn’t analyze 16…Qf6. Of course it’s very disappointing to draw a game like that.”

Levon Aronian Sinquefield Cup 2018

Facing a novelty, Aronian couldn't get a real game. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Interestingly, Aronian said that he still gives long-term assignments to his helpers, but for short-term analysis during tournaments, he is not working with seconds anymore, trying make his own decisions.

Anand sort of apologized for his pragmatic approach:

“I know it doesn’t warm your hearts, this kind of draw. (...) It’s not that I’m trying to be solid but you have to play the move that is called for. The Queen’s Gambit is working well. I was happy to get an easy draw with Levon because he’s obviously quite formidable with White.”

Vishy Anand Sinquefield Cup 2018

Thanks to homework, Anand had an easy day at the office against an opponent he considers especially formidable with White. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

If anyone looked close to winning in this round it was Magnus Carlsen. In fact, Vachier-Lagrave predicted a win for the world champion around move 24, but Wesley So managed to hold eventually.

Carlsen was pleasantly surprised about 15...Qe7, which gave him more than one good option. He went for a forcing line that looked quite promising, but somehow Black could avoid real problems.

By then, Carlsen “couldn’t turn back” anymore and he said that “after that it was just frustration.” All White needed was to get his pawn to c7 ("and it’s game over" —Carlsen) but there didn't seem to be a way.

Magnus Carlsen security Sinquefield 2018

Carlsen, like all players, getting checked by security after entering the St. Louis chess club. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

The world champ praised his opponent: “I think today was one of those days were you just gotta say: 'Well done, good defense.' And try again next time.”

Analysis by GM Robert Hess

Sergey Karjakin and Alexander Grischuk drew in a Berlin endgame. Asked what he was trying to accomplish in this game, Grischuk replied: “I was trying to finish it!”

He said it was the problem of the anti-draw rule: “No one wants to win but you have to keep playing.” Grischuk isn't against the rule, but doesn’t like this particular aspect: “When Magnus plays this and wants to win, it’s fine. But if both players don’t want to win, it’s kind of stupid.”

Ashley then asked Grischuk about playing a game against a friend. That led to a small lesson of Russian vocabulary, as Grischuk pointed out that a direct translation of the word "friend" wouldn't really work: друг (pronounced as "droog") means close friend, while he sees Sergey more as a comrade, which would be товарищ in Russian, a word that was often used in Soviet times.

Alexander Grischuk Sinquefield Cup 2018

Grischuk called Karjakin a comrade but Karjakin considered Grischuk closer to a friend. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

The game between Hikaru Nakamura and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov was a Tarrasch! The fans of this opening didn't get to see a real theoretical battle, because Nakamura side-stepped the main lines with 9.h3. 

Although it might not have been objectively better for him, Mamedyarov liked his position out of the opening. However, Nakamura played better in time trouble and so both players had their chances in this game.

When the draw became inevitable, both players looked as if they had lost! Mamedyarov: “I think we were both unhappy. He thought he needed to win and I thought my position was good!”

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov Sinquefield Cup 2018

Mamedyarov's facial expression on move 40, when the game was headed for a draw... | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Nakamura vs Mamedyarov Sinquefield Cup 2018

....while Nakamura didn't seem too happy either. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.



Graphics courtesy Spectrum Studios.

Games via TWIC.

The Sinquefield Cup, the final qualification leg of the Grand Chess Tour, is a nine-round tournament from August 17-28. At the end of the tournament, four players will qualify for the London finals. The games in St. Louis begin at 1 p.m. Central U.S. time daily (8 p.m. Central Europe).

Earlier reports:

Peter Doggers

Peter Doggers joined a chess club a month before turning 15 and still plays for it. He used to be an active tournament player and holds two IM norms.

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