Reports Aug 24, 2015 | 9:11 AMby Colin McGourty

Sinquefield Cup, 1: An explosive start

It’s not often you can start a tournament report by noting that Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana and Vishy Anand all lost on the same day, and it’s even rarer when that still doesn’t cover all the day’s action. All five games were decisive as the second stage of the Grand Chess Tour got underway on Sunday in St. Louis, and chess fans were treated to a real feast of action. Veselin Topalov, who beat the World Champion, commented, “even as a professional I like to see this kind of chess”.

There are many ways to lose a game of chess, and Round 1 of the 2015 Sinquefield Cup gave us an exhibition:

1. Those who live by the sword... Aronian 1-0 Caruana

Levon Aronian pointed out America is the "land of opportunity" in the pre-tournament press conference - can this be the start of his comeback?

When Fabiano Caruana went on a 7-game winning streak at the start of last year’s Sinquefield Cup he did it with some razor-sharp opening preparation, showing that a well-prepared player can still hope for more than a “playable” position – with either colour. This year against Levon Aronian that backfired, though, when he repeated a sharp line he’d used against Anish Giri earlier this year. Anish explained:

Fabiano’s opening preparation was very concrete. I know this variation and clearly Black has to know exactly what he’s doing because he’s weakening himself all over the place. He has a bad bishop, he has a weak king, but he has his own trumps and he has to be really precise. Probably Fabiano was unable to recall the details.

Caruana was already tempting fate when he followed up an early g5 with 19…f5?!, with Aronian later drily remarking, “I kind of like when my opponent has a weakened king”. A few moves later the Armenian no. 1 announced the beginning of the end with 25.Ne4!, and Black’s house of cards came tumbling down:

What about the knight fork on d4? Well, the commentators worked hard explaining why it doesn’t work (nothing does), but for once Caruana gave us the pleasure of seeing the critical lines on the board. After 28…Nd4 26.Qh5! (a rook is only a rook) 26…Nxc2 27.Nxg5 Bf5 Aronian took a long gulp of water before playing the only winning move, 28.Rf1!, with a flourish:

That moment when you know you're winning and doing it in style

Aronian joked, “here I saw millions of wins, so that’s good enough for me!” He perhaps didn’t pick the most incisive, but commented of his 28…Qf6 29.Ne6+:

It’s kind of a lazy choice, Ne6. Capablanca, I think, said if you have a choice between taking the opponent’s queen for free or giving mate, you should take the queen.

He encountered little resistance from Black and scored a beautiful win that we may return to later on.

Fabiano Caruana, meanwhile, has at least got any pressure to repeat his Sinquefield Cup heroics of last year out of the way quickly. He noted that after a good start in Norway Chess things went badly (including a loss to Aronian), while a bad start to Dortmund had ended in his tournament victory.

Below you can replay the whole live commentary show, including interviews with the players:

2. Pawn grabbing, or those who don’t know history: So 0-1 Vachier-Lagrave

If that was cutting edge opening theory, Wesley So found himself outplayed by the reincarnation of Anatoly Karpov. The Philippine born US-player grabbed a pawn on move 13, but must have guessed he was in trouble after the reply 13…e5!

If you click our “Database” tab under the live broadcast you’ll see that of the three games featuring this position, Stefano Tatai 0-1 Anatoly Karpov, Las Palmas 1977, stands out. It wasn’t just any game, but featured in Karpov’s My Best Games and is annotated in Edmar Mednis’ How Karpov Wins, which you can find in Google Books. Edmar calls the game, “a textbook demonstration of the utilization of the initiative” and notes Karpov spent a whole hour on 13…e5. It’s not clear if Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was aware of that game, but the same move took him 7 minutes and 5 seconds. He was so relaxed he was the only player of the round to visit the confessional:

Wesley So’s 14.Qc2?! already looks like an inaccuracy, with Mednis noting that Arshak Petrosian’s 14.d3 Be6 15.Bg5! is a better try. After the move in the game Maxime finally varied from Karpov’s play with 14…Be6 instead of 14…Nd4, but the outcome was just the same, with the beautiful 19…Bxe4! leaving White dead and buried:

After the forced 20.Nxe4 Bxa1 Black was already up material and went on to win with no trouble whatsoever.

Anatoly Karpov also won in some style with 23...Qd3!!

Maxime had repeated his winning start to Norway Chess and commented:

We're giving the fans a bit of entertainment... we're not here to play some stupid draws!    

Maxime will now hope to improve on Norway Chess, where he followed up with six draws and two losses...   

3. Time trouble junkie: Giri 1-0 Grischuk

Grischuk stops the clock

The time control in the Sinquefield Cup, as in Norway Chess and the Grand Chess Tour in general, is unusual in having no 30 second per move increment before move 40. That means we get to see good old-fashioned time trouble, and almost condemns Alexander Grischuk before a pawn is pushed. Sure enough, he ended up with 3 minutes for 12 moves in his loss to Giri, though it wasn’t all about the clock. Giri, who noted he’d beaten Grischuk “basically out of the opening” in the first round of Norway Chess as well, pointed out:

In today’s game his position was really, really bad. It was not only the time but mostly the position that cost him the point.

This was another case where the Database tab comes to our aid. All the way until 18…Qa3 Grischuk was following two games played by Peter Leko (in 2009 against Anand, and in 2013 against Le Quang Liem). Getting to this known position had already taken Grischuk over an hour, though you can’t deny he was right to smell a rat:

19.Re1! was Giri's novelty and suddenly leaves Black in deep trouble, since the threat is Re3 and then a discovered attack on the black queen. Here Grischuk thought for another 27 minutes and 58 seconds but all he ended up doing was rescuing one piece at the cost of another. It’s not often you see a black rook trapped deep behind enemy lines like this:

The whole game saw Grischuk’s chess problems compounded by his clock handling, and the end result was a winning start to married life for Anish Giri, who is now a single win away from 2800.

4. No country for old men? Nakamura 1-0 Anand

This was the one game in the first round that seemed as though it was heading towards a draw, which would have been a familiar story. Vishy Anand managed the only draw in Round 1 of Norway Chess, when he couldn’t press home an advantage against Caruana.

Nakamura watches as his latest US colleague loses in the first round | photo: Lennart Ootes

In St. Louis he was defending a tricky Catalan position, but seemed to have things under control. US no. 1 Hikaru Nakamura pointed out afterwards, though, that the slow approach was part of his plan for combatting “old men”. He already outlined this theory when talking about Boris Gelfand earlier in the year, and won’t be winning any prizes for political correctness in the near future!

Vishy’s a very strong player and he tends to be pretty well-prepared, so I knew it was going to be a difficult struggle. I think the way you beat him – I don’t want to make fun of him – but the way that you beat someone like Vishy, because he is a bit older, is to get these sorts of positions where you have very slight edges and just keep pressing, because he is 45 years old. That’s what I was aiming for – to get a small advantage and just play chess really as long as I could. I got a bit lucky that Vishy played f5. He had some better moves in the position, but I’ll take it, certainly.

35…f5 (“I wanted to play something precise and I blundered instead”) was arguably not as bad a move as both players thought, but when followed up by 36…Nb8? (the computers suggest 36…Rb8) it led by force to a bleak position for Black after 40.Nc5!

The e6-pawn can’t be defended as Bc4 will follow, and suddenly all the black pawns are falling. Nevertheless, it was perhaps the shock of the round that Vishy resigned a pawn down only three moves later, when at the very least he still had swindling chances. You could understand his annoyance, though, and at least this way he preserves energy for the struggles ahead:

I just had a very bad day... I don’t think this game I’ll forget easily, but there’s nothing much to be done.

5. An opening bomb: Carlsen 0-1 Topalov

Magnus Carlsen and Veselin Topalov shake hands before a crowd of fans and photographers | photo: Lennart Ootes

Veselin Topalov has now beaten the World Champion twice in a row, in the process climbing to his highest ever live rating (2821.5) and narrowing the gap to Carlsen to a mere 26 points. While the last game was a freak occurence - Magnus losing on time in a winning position - this was a quintessential Topalov display that started with a trademark opening bomb. As Magnus put it:

I was trying to play a solid line today but then he played 7…g5, and that sort of turned the game around a bit.

Magnus thought for 29 minutes and 16 seconds before taking the bait. Anish Giri would later quip:

I was surprised in the opening because I think my wife is aware of the move g5 in the Najdorf, and I don’t know why Magnus isn’t. Of course once you have to calculate this complicated position by yourself it’s quite difficult.

We should point out that Anish’ wife Sopiko Guramishvili has actually produced a series of videos on the Najdorf that deserves to be taken very seriously (long-time Anand second Rustam Kasimdzhanov and Anish himself helped out in places):

Magnus has never been one to shy away from a fight, though, and on move 11 he upped the stakes still higher by sacrificing a piece:

11.Nxc4!? He explained he felt that Topalov, who loves the initiative, “wouldn’t be comfortable defending these type of positions”, but he regretted the time he took to go for the line:

I also knew I was going to sacrifice a piece – at least in my mind there was no way back. I should have played it quickly to have more time at critical junctures later.

Veselin, meanwhile, claimed to have welcomed the turn of events:

He sacrificed a piece, which was a surprise for me. It’s not what White’s supposed to do on move 10 – a piece down and fighting for equality.

In the play that followed Magnus’ reasoning at first seemed to prove correct, but he noted he was failing to see his opponent’s replies until just after making his own moves, and then after 17.e5? the game was all but up:

17…Qc6! 18.f3 Qg6! left Black in the driving seat, with 19.Nf6+ simply parried by 19…Kd8. Ironically, perhaps, the clocks were again a factor, as both Magnus and Veselin found themselves forced to blitz out moves to make the time control. The Bulgarian didn’t put a foot wrong, though, and resignation came on move 40.

Magnus was making no excuses:

Today I just lost fair and square. I wasn’t good enough and he just navigated the complications better than I did.

It was quite a day, though haters gonna hate 

So Magnus has again started a Grand Chess Tour event by losing to Veselin Topalov with the white pieces. Now again, as in Norway, he faces Fabiano Caruana with Black in Round 2. In that game Caruana of course won, but will things be different in St. Louis, especially as Fabiano goes into the game after suffering a tough loss himself?

If Magnus needs any opening tips from Sopiko she's in the St. Louis audience, as is Giri's coach Vladimir Tukmakov | photo: Lennart Ootes

You can replay all the games and see the pairings for the later rounds in the viewer below (note you can also hover over a player’s name to see his results and upcoming games):

Needless to say, don’t miss Round 2, when GMs Yasser Seirawan and Maurice Ashley and WGM Jennifer Shahade will again be hosting the live Sinquefield Cup show

You can also watch all the games in our free mobile apps:  


See also:

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