Levon Aronian beat Hikaru Nakamura to join Vishy Anand and Veselin Topalov only half a point behind Wesley So going into Sunday’s final round of the 2016 Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis. A day that had looked like ending quickly with draws all round developed into a test of endurance, with Peter Svidler finally breaking down Anish Giri’s resistance in the 7th hour of play to gain his first win and leapfrog his opponent out of last place.
Replay all the games from the 2016 Sinquefield Cup with computer analysis:
As has so often been the case, the most anticipated game of Round 8 was a very damp squib. Fabiano Caruana played the Berlin, Wesley So chose the notoriously drawish 5.Re1 line and a game in which nothing of note happened ended in little over half an hour.
Wesley’s motivation was clear, since a draw against the US no. 1 was enough to maintain his lead in the tournament. He described his pragmatic approach as, “one that suits my style personally”.
Fabiano, meanwhile, explained that it was a reaction to seven hours spent in vain the day before trying to beat Ding Liren:
I just didn’t have the energy to even think about trying to win. It’s very difficult to win for Black and I just didn’t have the energy to consider it.
It was Fabiano’s eighth draw in St. Louis, and inevitable comparisons are starting to be made with Anish Giri, though Caruana responded:
Nothing can compare to 14 draws in the Candidates – I’ll never reach that level of mastery!
While that game was still going on Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was once again one of the few players to visit the confessional:
My game is not the one with the least content today, but not by very much… Of course it’s a pity that my opponent didn’t really consider this pawn sacrifice at all… if he’d taken it would be much more interesting for you guys. He took the natural safe option, and there it’s probably going to end in a draw, unless I screw up big time.
Maxime’s thoughts were already drifting to the French Chess Championship (he asked Maurice to find out the results for him) and the easy draw did indeed follow.
The moment he was talking about was after 10…0-0 (the move Ding Liren said put him out of book) 11.Nxc6 bxc6:
Our Database tab under the live broadcast shows this had been played once before, when Gulishan Nakhbayeva took the pawn and drew in an all-female encounter against Lei Tingjie in the 2015 Moscow Open. Ding Liren, perhaps wisely, rejected the bait, with Maxime not wanting to go into too many details but pointing out Black is ready to sacrifice another pawn in many lines.
It seemed at first when Anand-Topalov reached a Berlin Endgame that it would be another game with nothing to write home about, but the players were soon on their own and began to allow their creative juices to flow. This is the position after move 20:
As you can see, Topalov has tripled c-pawns, but the knight on h6 has nowhere to go. The play that followed was very complex, and if you want to get a better idea of what happened the best approach is to watch the players after the game:
Both felt Vishy had misplayed his position and was in danger, with the Indian star noting:
I was playing quite badly and it’s a miracle that the position is still drawn.
It’s perhaps worth noting, though, that the computer doesn’t give Black the slightest advantage at any moment in the game.
It was a case of careful what you wish for in Round 8! There was widespread criticism for the two quick draws, including from some very high-rated sources:
After that, though, the remaining games ensured we were all stuck watching the action for seven long hours.
Levon Aronian, who suffered food poisoning after an earlier round, could
fully sympathise with his opponent, Hikaru Nakamura, who said:
It wasn’t my intention to play this opening, but then I got very sick last night. I decided to play something safe instead of sticking to the original plan… Maybe (tomorrow) I can not have a headache and throw up. Right now I just feel terrible.
The good doctor Aronian was indeed waiting for his patient (as he’d mentioned after the first round), and showed no mercy. Although queens were exchanged on move 12, by move 33 Hikaru was jettisoning a pawn to try and slightly relieve the pressure. However he was feeling he remained true to his style and launched counterplay against the white king, but Aronian defended with 36.Rf1 and then 37.Bc4!
The simple attack on the f7-pawn brings an end to the kingside fun, since 37…Ng4 would run into 38.Be6!, skewering the rook and knight. Hikaru was forced into the miserable 37…Ne8 retreat, and the rest should have been a matter of technique, though Levon was critical of his own attempt to make sure of the full point:
I was trying to avoid any complications, but when you try to avoid complications they follow you! Maybe I should have been more aggressive at certain moments – instead of trying to contain the position just grab it.
You can’t argue with results, though. Approaching move 60 the Armenian no. 1 won a second pawn, and by move 70 he’d correctly judged a rook ending to be a simple win. Nakamura fought on to move 87, before finally calling it a day. There was just time for Aronian to share another profound thought on the game:
I’m very happy, because generally winning a game is the goal. It happened!
Peter Svidler could make the same exclamation after he finally got a win after three defeats in St. Louis.
He was faced with the same 3.g3 invitation to the Symmetrical Grünfeld that had seen him go slightly haywire against Ding Liren in Round 6. This time Svidler spent only 6 seconds on heading for familiar territory with 3…c6, and it proved to be an excellent choice. Giri burned 23 minutes on move 15 and then another 13 on the next move, 16.Ne5, which sacrificed the e2-pawn:
Peter famously prefers the compensation to the pawn, and Giri definitely had compensation with his bishop pair, space advantage and control of the d-file, but in this case Svidler played the defending role perfectly – soaking up pressure until eventually he could reach a position when White’s trumps had vanished and it was simply a matter of counting pawns to identify who was better.
Everything from them onwards happened in slow motion, but, although it could have been played earlier, Svidler’s 48…a4! was, “objectively speaking”, all but decisive:
Peter was very critical of his technique in what followed, which will be familiar to fans of his Banter Blitz shows, but he did little that was obviously wrong. That was fortunate, as he mentioned that if he hadn’t won:
I don’t know what this evening would look like. That would be bad. That would be pretty bad!
The 7-time Russian Champion got a helping hand when Giri went for 75.Bxc3:
Svidler found the sequence of only moves to ensure the full point: 75...Rc4! 76.Kd3 Rxc3+ 77.Ke4 Rc4+! 78.Kxd5 Rd4+! and the king was cut off and Giri could do nothing to stop the e-pawn’s advance. Resignation came on move 84.
Svidler was asked about his emotions on finally getting a win in the 2016 Sinquefield Cup:
It’s nice, because I felt, not that this redeems me or anything, that I’ve not been really doing the tournament justice with my play, and it’s nice to show a glimpse of what I assume the organisers wanted when they invited me. I’m pretty sure they didn’t want what they got in the first seven rounds.
That means the table looks as follows going into Sunday’s final round:
The key point to make here is that if players are tied after Round 9 we get a playoff on Monday, with two 10+5 rapid games followed (potentially) by two 5+2 blitz games and then 6 vs. 4 Armageddon (if only two players tie - if there are more we enter round-robin territory).
The commentary team has been preparing hard for the finale of the Sinquefield Cup...
These are the final round pairings:
The only result that ensures we won’t get that playoff is a win for Wesley So in the final game, but he faces top-seed Maxime Vachier-Lagrave with the black pieces. Maxime’s only chance of tournament victory is to beat So, with the French no. 1 agreeing with Maurice Ashley:
I have no choice… you put it so eloquently! I wouldn’t have it any other way (of course I would have it another way, if I was on +2 or +3 or something…). It’s actually a bit of a miracle that I have theoretical chances to win the tournament. I’ll go for it!
If So draws or loses all eyes will be on the players’ half a point back, with Topalov and Aronian playing each other, while Anand has Black against Svidler, though given the pairings it can’t be entirely ruled out that we could get a 7-way tie on 5/9! It should be unmissable, and you can follow live coverage with Yasser Seirawan, Jennifer Shahade and Maurice Ashley from 8pm CEST!
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