Reports Sep 6, 2014 | 4:28 PMby Colin McGourty

Carlsen and Caruana let wins slip in St. Louis

You can't always trust the computer! Magnus Carlsen was held to a draw by Levon Aronian despite an apparently overwhelming edge | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

Round 9 of the 2014 Sinquefield Cup was the first occasion on which every game was drawn. While the outcome of the encounter between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Veselin Topalov was logical, Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana both let clear wins slip through their fingers. Jan Gustafsson was on hand to provide video analysis of where it all went wrong.

by IM Georgios Souleidis

Round 9 results

GM Fabiano Caruana1/2 - 1/2GM Hikaru Nakamura
GM Magnus Carlsen1/2 - 1/2GM Levon Aronian
GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave1/2 - 1/2GM Veselin Topalov

After Nakamura sank without trace playing White against Topalov’s Berlin Defence, he wanted to turn the tables against Fabiano Caruana, picking the same Ruy Lopez variation with Black. Typically of the ensuing endgame that's been analysed inside out, the players remained in their preparation deep into the game – on this occasion, until around move 20. The critical position, in which Nakamura made a pioneering error of his own, arose after 29.c4:

Caruana-Nakamura after 29.c4

Black is at a crossroads. Where should the knight go? A tough choice, as there are a lot of squares to choose from. 29…Nb4? is bad due to 30.Rf7! Nxc2 31.Bh4+ Kc8 32.f4 and Black won’t be able to stop the white pawns. Nakamura ultimately went for the passive retreat 29...Ne7 and after 30.Rf8+ Kd7 31.f4 was confronted with similar issues that he was unable to deal with. 

29...Nc3! instead appears to solve the problems. From this square the knight attacks the a2-pawn, but it also defends – e.g. in the variation 30.Rf7 Ne2! it hits the bishop, and in case of 31.Bh4+ Ke8 32.Rxc7 Black has at least a draw due to the perpetual check 32...Ng1+ 33.Kh2 Nf3+ etc.

Hikaru Nakamura got off lightly in Round 9 | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

In the wake of that decision Caruana was able to build up an advantage, but he failed to convert. The clearest and also most attractive win slipped away in the following position:

Caruana-Nakamura after 39...Kg7

The 21-year-old Italian played 40.Bf2. Instead 40.Rxg6! would have ended the game on the spot. After 40...Rxg6 41.e6 the e-pawn is threatening to queen. As the black rook is pinned down 41...Kh7 must follow, but after 42.e7 Rg8 43.g6+ Kg7 44.Bf6+ Kh6 45.Be5 Black is powerless against the invasion of the white king. 

Although Caruana still had a big edge after move 40 he lost his advantage in only a few moves – replay the full game with computer analysis.

Jan Gustafsson takes a look at the game in the video below, where he describes Nakamura's rook on g6 as "not a happy camper":

The American had chosen not to comment on his poor tournament on Twitter up to this point, but seized on the fortunate draw to make a comparison:

Nigel Short also made a memorable contribution!

Both players were interviewed afterwards by Maurice Ashley:

Carlsen kicking himself 

Magnus Carlsen missed an easy victory in a rook ending against Levon Aronian, and was subsequently furious with himself, as his interview with Maurice Ashley made very clear:

The reason Carlsen ever reached a winning position can be traced back to Black’s 25th move:

Carlsen-Aronian after 25...b5?!

Replay the game to witness the breathtaking precision with which the World Champion exploited the error and forced a better rook ending. Don’t let the computer evaluations fool you, though – Levon Aronian found a means of forcing a totally drawn ending.

Who else would we choose to analyse a hugely complex rook ending but Jan Gustafsson? 

Topalov has the better of a draw

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave chose a variation of the Reti Opening against Veselin Topalov, but was unable to put any pressure on his opponent and even had to settle for a slightly worse position after 20 moves - Topalov’s pieces were all excellently placed and he had a space advantage. The Bulgarian was able to convert that into a better ending, but it wasn’t enough for more. The logical consequence was a draw in 41 moves that you can replay here.

Veselin Topalov was better for almost the whole game against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, but he was unable to catch Carlsen with a round to go | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

Sinquefield Cup - Standings after Round 9

1.Caruana, Fabiano28011½11111.1½83152
2.Carlsen, Magnus28770½½.½½1½½152831
3.Topalov, Veselin277200½.1½0½112799
4.Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime276800½½0½1½½.2730
5.Aronian, Levon28050.0½1½0½½½2721
6.Nakamura, Hikaru27870½½000½.½½2642

Today sees the final round of the 2014 Sinquefield Cup, which starts as usual at 14:00 in St. Louis (21:00 CET). Don’t miss live commentary with GMs Maurice Ashley, Yasser Seirawan and WGM Jennifer Shahade here on chess24!

See also:

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