So Suffers At Sinquefield; Carlsen Misses Another Win
Wesley So is playing his worst tournament in two years. The American grandmaster lost his third game at the Sinquefield Cup today against Levon Aronian. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave drew with Fabiano Caruana and kept his sole lead, as Magnus Carlsen spoiled a winning endgame vs Hikaru Nakamura.
Wesley So lost his third game of the tournament. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.
Today Wesley So was the first to arrive at the Chess and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, but at the end of the day he was the only player to lose a game. That was his second loss back-to-back, and his third in total here in St. Louis.
After a great period of classical chess, which got him up to world number-two in the FIDE rankings, So is now suffering a setback. The last time he lost three games in a classical tournament was in the very same venue, two years ago.
Today the Philippines-born U.S. grandmaster dropped below 2800, and to world number-six in the live ratings. This was good news for Vladimir Kramnik, who saw his chances to qualify for the 2018 Candidates' Tournament by rating increase.
Live ratings after today's round. | Source: 2700chess.
Meanwhile, Levon Aronian scored his second win in the tournament, and joined the group of three players who are half a point behind the leader. The Armenian GM said that So was playing some strange moves today, and exploited them ruthlessly.
There was some similarity with the Anand-Caruana game, since So also went down in flames quickly instead of choosing the slow death, i.e. suffering in an endgame an exchange down.
"People are just understanding that their opponents are very good players and they don't want to suffer!" smiled Aronian.
A quick and good win for Levon Aronian today. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.
Besides Aronian, one of the other players on plus-one is Magnus Carlsen. He could (should?) have been on equal first, but he failed to win a (difficult!) rook endgame where he was objectively winning two times.
Against Hikaru Nakamura the world champion reached an endgame with rooks and bishops where he was up a pawn. "Clearly he must have underestimated this idea with 16.Bb5. I guess he found a decent solution there; he gave up a pawn," said Carlsen.
There were many ways for Carlsen to win that pawn. As it went, Nakamura got to confuse him a little by playing the risky-looking 19...f5. "That looks insane but I couldn't refute it," said Carlsen.
The endgame might have been objectively drawn, but Carlsen got far, very far.
Nakamura was close to losing today but defended well when it mattered. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.
"I played a reasonably good game for the first 25 moves or so, but then I got really careless. I played many bad mistakes," said Nakamura afterward.
The American was quick to point out where his opponent could have played better moves. By that time, most fans already knew that those better moves were actually winning moves for Carlsen. The website analysis.sesse.net, which runs a very powerful computer, had announced a forced mate.
"That was extremely sloppy of me," said Carlsen about spoiling the rook ending. First there was this position...
...where White did not play 41.Kg5.
Carlsen said he expected 41...Ke5. "I just intuitively felt he should have enough counterplay and then I went on to look at other variations. The problem was that I thought at that point that it should be winning anyway and that there was no reason to rush."
No rush indeed, but two moves later Carlsen gave up all his winning chances by playing his pawn to g5, shutting off the road for his king to h6. "I knew that 43.g5 was a bad move but somehow I did it anyway. To have some chances I need to preserve h5 but I thought I'll somehow to manage to make progress but there was just wasn't anything. That wasn't any good."
One move earlier than their 95-move draw at the 2015 edition, Carlsen and Nakamura agreed to a draw. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.
Nakamura, who found a pretty way to force the draw after more than six hours of play: "A difficult game, but at least I defended well at the end when I had to with very little time."
Right after the game Nakamura pointed out to his opponent that 41.Kg5 was probably winning, and Carlsen already knew his other mistake as he said to his opponent: "43.g5 was stupid." | Photo: Maria Emelianova.
The game between Carlsen's opponents in his last two world championship matches was a rather quick draw. Sergey Karjakin, with the white pieces, decided to try a position in the London System that he had looked at as Black. "I wasn't quite sure that it's so easy to equalize," Karjakin said.
However, after taking on d5 too quickly it was suddenly not a problem for Vishy Anand, who is the third player on plus-one.
Karjakin contemplating on when to take on d5. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.
From an opening theoretical perspective, Fabiano Caruana vs Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was the game of the day. The Frenchman never shies away from his beloved Najdorf, even if it means a little suffering every now and then. Today it was more than a little, as Caruana uncorked a novelty as early as move 10 in the sharp 6.Bg5 line.
"My Norwegian friend Torbjørn [Hansen] suggested it to Rustam [Kasimdzhanov, his second] and he suggested it to me. I thought it was a very dangerous idea."
After spending some time for his reply, Vachier-Lagrave entered the confession booth for a couple of minutes:
"Running into this opening surprise was sort of unpleasant. It took my time but I couldn't find a concrete way to equalize. Probably there is but it was going too far... I could take on b2 but my queen ends up being in trouble and I couldn't take that chance. I played something more solid. I'm far from out of the woods," said MVL.
Caruana and MVL, good friends off the board, just before their game, while World Chess Hall Of Fame chief curator Shannon Bailey rings the bell to start the round. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.
But as Najdorf player you shouldn't get scared of a novelty. As Caruana said himself: "The Najdorf is an opening where even if you find an idea it's still tremendously rich in possibilities."
After the game it turned out that MVL was not so much worried about the move itself, but disappointed that he hadn't found it himself at home. "It was a pity that I missed this idea and that I had to work on my own."
That's what he did, and once again the Frenchman defended successfully.
Chess.com's interview with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. "Mr Najdorf" speaks about the game, his Giant Blitz match with Danny Rensch and his favorite Netflix series.
Ian Nepomniachtchi vs Peter Svidler didn't get much attention, because it was a game where the suspense was gone before it really appeared. Svidler was hardly surprised by his opponent's Ruy-Lopez-without-h3 and deviated from one of his own recent games. He did lose a pawn, but the opposite-colored bishops saved Black.
Svidler survived another test in his Ruy Lopez repertoire. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.
2017 Sinquefield Cup | Round 6 Standings