So Defeats Topalov, Seizes Clear Lead In Sinquefield Cup

So Defeats Topalov, Seizes Clear Lead In Sinquefield Cup

| 28 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Wesley So emerged the winner of an unbalanced, back-and-forth struggle with tournament leader GM Veselin Topalov in round six of the Sinquefield Cup. So's victory allowed him to swap places with Topalov and take the clear lead with three rounds to go. The tournament is hotly contested as So (4.0/6) holds only a half-point edge over the chasers, Topalov and GM Viswanathan Anand (3.5/6).

GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and GM Ding Liren both achieved fine victories (against GM Levon Aronian and GM Peter Svidler respectively) in this, the most combative round so far in St. Louis. Even the draws, GM Hikaru Nakamura vs GM Fabiano Caruana and GM Anish Giri vs Anand, were interesting. Spectators surely hope that today's fighting spirit is a sign of things to come in the final three rounds.

Photo Lennart Ootes.

Few would have picked So vs Topalov to be the first game to end decisively out of the opening. Fewer still would have picked So to win the battle in the play that followed after 25.g4!?

So's king position was not so bad, but it was certainly drafty. That worked in So's favor as Topalov overreached in an attempt to win with 32...Re5?

So wasn't surprised by the aggression: "Objectively, his move Re5 was a mistake and too ambitious, but that's how he is," So said.  

So eagerly grabbed the chance to ensure the c5-pawn's future with 33.b4! Topalov was not yet lost, but the constant threat of the c-pawn's advance hovered over his position, and the position gradually drifted from a clear edge for So to a clear win.

So's note-taking is getting specific.  | Photo Austin Fuller.

In the second decisive game of the day, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave demonstrated that "f" stands for forward! Aronian intended a creative pawn sacrifice with 12.d3, but he found that it was his opponent who was getting active after 13...f6 and the more-important follow-up 14...f5!

Aronian was under great pressure, but he found plenty of creative ideas to make things as difficult as possible for Vachier-Lagrave.

It's hard to say where the threshold between winning and drawing was in the later stages of the game, but 35.Rd6! was certainly a draw. After that eluded him, Vachier-Lagrave notched his first win of the tournament. That gets him back to 50 percent, and he was optimistic that he might still have some chances for a strong tournament if he makes good use of his Whites against Nakamura (tomorrow) and So.

Vachier-Lagrave appears rejuvenated by his victory. Or that shirt. One of the two anyway. | Photo Lennart Ootes.

The final decisive game was Ding Liren's victory over Svidler. Svidler has been struggling greatly after stepping into the tournament as a last-minute fill-in, and after the round today he expressed his frustration.

The tournament record for fill-ins is historically pretty rough and is a testament to the amount of effort that goes into preparations.

Still, there was no need for this game to go badly for Svidler. In one of the day's two Benonis, Svidler had a solid opening as Black. He proceeded to seek a win, but after 14...b5? he found himself struggling upmountain for a draw.

Svidler stated that his play was heavily influenced by his decision to recover from a poor start; he didn't seem to regret the decision.

"I will continue, probably, in the same fashion. Hopefully not with the same result," Svidler said. 

Ding made it back to 50 percent, and like the slew of players there, is in striking distance of a top spot going into the final rounds. | Photo by Lennart Ootes.

Caruana threw out a challenge after his game with Aronian and announced that he's been trying to play the Benoni Defense for month, and no one will let him play it.

Today, Nakamura eagerly accepted the challenge and was the first to play a new move (16.a4). The great fear when playing a sharp, not-entirely-vetted defense like the Benoni is that you are a sitting duck for any preparation your opponent can manage.

That wasn't the case today as Caruana out-prepped Nakamura with 18...Qb7! Leaving the knight on f6 en prise caused the computers to go wild, but after prolonged exploration, the variation seems excellent for Black. Nakamura decided not to accept the knight. Instead, he found his way to a safer, slightly superior middlegame.

On move 33, Nakamura thought he was generating good winning chances with 33.Ba4, which offered Caruana the chance to take on the queen versus two rooks. Caruana had studied this endgame thoroughly though and found it to be holdable. He cited the first match game between GM Vladimir Kramnik (who had to withdraw from the Sinquefield Cup due to back pains) and GM Peter Leko in the 2004 world championship as an example of high-level praxis in the endgame. In that game, Kramnik managed a win.

No win was available in this game though. Caruana had all the right moves and was extremely confident in defense. Despite his invigorating play, Caruana was self-critical about his fighting spirit after the game.

He asserted a particularly strong desire not to manage a "Giri" and draw all his games in the tournament.

Nakamura can't seem to believe that the two rooks are unable to defeat the queen. | Photo by Austin Fuller.

The final draw between Giri and Anand also seemed likely to be headed toward a decisive result. Anand summed up his and the spectators' impressions of the sudden problems that were occurring after 26.Qb7.

"This was a real shock because you think you are playing a normal game, and then you realize you are losing control," Anand said. "So I was a bit shaken by this."

Shaken (but not stirred), Anand made some further inaccuracies and was on the brink of defeat when Giri (with four seconds on his clock) played 40.Rc8+??

Giri intended 41.Rb8, but quickly realized it wasn't possible so he had to give back e5. The players immediately agreed a result: draw. 


2016 Sinquefield Cup | Round Six Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 Pts TB
1 So,Wesley 2771 2893 ½ 1 1 ½ ½ ½ 4.0/6
2 Anand,Viswanathan 2770 2843 ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ 3.5/6 10.75
3 Topalov,Veselin 2761 2840 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 1 3.5/6 9.00
4 Caruana,Fabiano 2807 2781 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 3.0/6 8.75
5 Vachier-Lagrave,Maxime 2819 2775 0 ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 3.0/6 8.25
6 Nakamura,Hikaru 2791 2772 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 3.0/6 8.25
7 Ding,Liren 2755 2769 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 3.0/6 8.00
8 Aronian,Levon 2792 2779 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 3.0/6 7.75
9 Giri,Anish 2769 2725 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ 2.5/6
10 Svidler,Peter 2751 2597 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 0 1.5/6

Courtesy Spectrum Studios.

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 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).

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