Sinquefield Round 3: Players Still Stuck In Neutral
Fans, players, everyone is looking for a little more action in St. Louis after only one win in 18 games. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Sinquefield Round 3: Players Still Stuck In Neutral

| 27 | Chess Event Coverage

Getting 5.5% return on your money will satiate most long-term investors, but not many chess fans. After day three of the 2019 Sinquefield Cup, a field that now includes the top 10 players in the world are all choosing a conservative portfolio. Again all games ended drawn, leaving Viswanathan Anand in the lead.

Only one game in the first 18 clashes has produced a winner, and even that only came at the hands of a last-minute slip by Ian Nepomniachtchi. Contrast with the 2019 Grand Chess Tour event in Croatia, the only other classical tournament on the tour, and Nepo already had three wins all by himself after the same 72 hours of play.

Magnus Carlsen
Maybe this kid should get a wildcard? At least he seems to be winning games. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

The tournament's unfulfilling nature can be best summarized in round three's longest game. Hikaru Nakamura pushed and pushed with white against Sergey Karjakin but after 104 moves, the American couldn't find a breakthrough against the "Minister of Defense."

The two players even approached the 50-move rule at one point:

Nakamura said he was more frustrated after the game than normal, specifically for closing things with c5. He said White's position looks "overwhelming" but that Karjakin found some precise moves to defend.

"When you see this stuff during the game, then it's much worse," he said about spotting a mistake before a game's conclusion.

Vishy Anand
Vishy Anand might be looking up at his opponent, but in the standings table, everyone is looking up at him.  Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Most online chess engines were evaluating Nakamura as significantly better for most of the ending, but this was a fallacy based on White's useless space advantage.

Speaking of computers, and their lack of understanding for closed positions, let's all harken back to 2003. Before you go thinking that this type of pawn structure is inherently drawn, recall that it was good enough to make a pretty tough chess computer look feeble back then:

Perhaps the tussle with the best chance to produce a winner was the exciting middlegame between Ding Liren and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. It was the Frenchman who ended Ding's 100-game unbeaten streak last year on the Chinese player's home turf, but today there would be no revenge.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
Lace up your shoes MVL, here comes the h-file attack. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

You can hardly fault the world number two for effort. In trying to notch only his second career classical win against MVL, he forwent castling, threw his h-pawn forward, and momentarily offered a piece. None of that was enough as Vachier-Lagrave traded queens to quell the pressure, and the ending was dead equal.

More draws came from Levon Aronian versus tournament leader Viswanathan Anand and from Magnus Carlsen against Fabiano Caruana. In addition, Wesley So agreed to peace with Anish Giri.

Curiously, it was Nepomniachtchi who could have again shaken things up, and had a better chance to get his own tournament back to par against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. "Passed pawns must be pushed" is a well-known chess axiom, and applied directly to his game today. 

Ian Nepomniachtchi
Ian Nepomniachtchi ponders how best to use his strong pawn. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

A more incisive rule of thumb was once offered by GM Miron Sher at a chess lesson this author once attended many years ago. The former coach of Caruana claimed that advancing a passed pawn that is on the fifth rank or farther will be the correct move about 20 percent of the time.

Here's another position Sher can add to his teaching. Although the win is far from forced, at least White could keep the passer and the pressure:

One last note about the above game: MVL went into the confessional booth and stated that he once played the same opening 10 years ago against GM Vladislav Tkachiev. He said the game is a "reminder of how young I used to be."

Images courtesy Spectrum Studios.

"If everyone is fresh and not making any mistakes, it's just hard to get anything in classical chess," was Nakamura's take. Here's the second day in a row with six handshakes.

Here's the pairings for round four. Nakamura has never lost to Ding Liren.

Round three coverage:

Watch Sinquefield Cup with hosts IM Rensch and GM Hess #grandchesstour from Chess on

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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