Vishy Anand grabbed the only win of Round 1 of the 2019 Sinquefield Cup after Ian Nepomniachtchi blundered a rook and the game on move 77 of a hard-fought contest. Elsewhere it was all draws, with Magnus Carlsen commenting after his draw against Anish Giri, “after all my misery in rapid and blitz I was happy to get at least one more or less quiet game”. It turned out afterwards that Giri had been surprisingly close to falling into, “a very cute trap”.
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And here’s the day’s live commentary:
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Round 1 of the 2019 Croatia Grand Chess Tour had exactly the same players and pairings as in St. Louis, but with colours reversed:
As you can see, we had an explosive round in Zagreb, with the World Champion’s miniature victory over Anish Giri drawing high praise from the watching Garry Kasparov. There would be no repeat of that drama at the start of the 7th edition of the Sinquefield Cup, though there was one similarity – good friends Sergey Karjakin and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov once again played out the day’s quickest draw.
Although with different players the Scandinavian Opening that Shakh chose would have been an interesting provocation – IM Greg Shahade had conducted a poll earlier in the day…
…it was no surprise when the game ended in a 31-move draw.
I think when Karjakin and Mamedyarov play everybody knows what’s gonna happen.
Levon Aronian quipped on the Russian broadcast that, “Sergey and Shakh always play something beautiful”, though in this case queens had been exchanged on move 13 and there were no spectacular tactics to amuse watching fans. Robin van Kampen was pulling no punches:
But how exactly can you prove a draw was pre-arranged and legislate against it? And, in defence of the two players, it’s worth noting that the same thing doesn’t always happen. All three of their games were decisive in the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz and, if you dismiss that as a rapid and blitz event, what about Round 1 of the 2018 Berlin Candidates, when Mamedyarov won and dealt a huge blow to Karjakin’s chances of qualifying for another match against Magnus?
The more surprising early draw came in Aronian-MVL:
Instead of playing on here with 25…Bg6, when Black seems to be at least somewhat better, Maxime repeated moves and drew with 25…Bd3. Levon confessed, “I didn’t really understand the position”, but he also felt that Black’s g5-pawn was a weakness and it was unclear what either side should do. He added that the problem was that after playing the Rapid and Blitz he was still in the “wrong rhythm” for classical chess, and Maxime isn’t an easy player to fool:
Generally it’s good to play fast when your opponent also plays fast in a classical game, when he’s not alert that it’s actually a classical game, but it’s not the case with Maxime, because he’s a very tricky guy, so he will pretend he’s playing fast and then just start thinking when it counts!
In Zagreb Hikaru Nakamura was hit by an opening novelty from Fabiano Caruana and was lost before Fabi had begun to think. Nothing so eventful happened in St. Louis, but this time it was Hikaru who got his opponent thinking with 11.b3:
That varied from the 11.Nc3 Fabiano himself had played against Magnus Carlsen in a thrilling encounter in Zagreb.
Caruana thought for 15 minutes here and Hikaru later felt his opponent was “a little bit imprecise” to allow his pawn to make it to h6:
It was kind of a Magnus type position here. Maybe if you could get the right setup you could press forever, but I didn’t really see it during the game.
Caruana never felt he’d been significantly worse, but was happy to come out of the game with a draw.
Wesley So could also be happy with his draw against Ding Liren, since at some point he was running the risk of being significantly worse. Afterwards Maurice Ashley focused on the position after 25…Rxd3 by Wesley:
Ding could have gone for 26.exd3 Qxc5 27.Rxa6 g6 28.Qf6 and it would be up to Black to prove he had sufficient compensation for the pawn. Instead the Chinese no. 1 chopse 26.Rc8+ Rd8 27.Rac4 which would have been a promising line if Wesley had played, as Ding expected, 27…Rd7. Instead 27…h6! led very swiftly to simplifications and a draw.
Carlsen-Giri was perhaps the most anticipated game of the round. It wasn’t just their past rivalry, or what happened in Zagreb, but that the biggest potential storyline of the 2019 Sinquefield Cup is whether Magnus Carlsen can set new rating records. Tarjei Svensen outlined what he needs to do:
It turned out, however, that Magnus wasn’t in the mood to burn any bridges. He commented afterwards:
After all my misery in rapid and blitz I was happy to get at least one more or less quiet game, so I’m actually not at all unhappy with the game today… It’s 10 rounds to go, so that’s why I thought one draw is not going to hurt me much, and it’s not like I wasn’t trying at all, I was just trying in a more conservative way than normally.
Giri proved to be up to the task, with 23…e4! perhaps the move that sealed a peaceful outcome:
Magnus saw nothing better than 24.dxe4 Qxe3 25.fxe3 Rxe4 26.Rxa5 Rb4 27.Ra8:
The game was swiftly drawn after 27…Rxa8, but Giri delayed that move for a few minutes. Magnus takes up the story:
Just on move 27, basically a few moves from the finish, I asked him what he was thinking about, because it looks like he might have a tricky try with 27…Rf8, but actually there is a very cute trap there, which when he started to think I had some very, very slight hope for, which is 28.Nc8!. Then after the game we talked about it, and he said that well he could also do this, and then it’s a draw, but it’s not that obvious actually, since 28…Nxd5? 29.Rd1! Rc4 is mate in 3 moves!
30.Ne7+! Nxe7 31.Rxf8+ Kxf8 32.Rd8# would have been a shock end to the game!
Both players were in good form after the game. Anish regretted not wearing a tie after seeing Maurice’s tie (“But at least I tied my game today, so that’s ok!”), revealed how the St. Louis Rapid & Blitz made him feel better about finishing last in Paris (“I think it was a very fine tournament for me!”) and mused on how to get people to use the confessional:
I think you should pay players for going into the confessional booth, because there is little motivation for me to go. I can go, I can also not go - what can I gain? I think it should be, enter the confessional booth, receive a $10 bill. Chess players are cheap people, just give them 10 dollars and they’ll start confessing like mad! You’ll see Levon walking in, “I have a new confession to make”. Every visit 10 dollars, Rex doesn’t care!
It seems Magnus, meanwhile, is going to make the first pitch when the St. Louis Cardinals take on the Milwaukee Brewers in a baseball game on the rest day:
Maurice asked if it would intimidate Magnus that he might be pitching to one of the best catchers around, Yadier Molina:
I don’t know who they’re putting out, but I don’t think you should be intimidated by the catcher if you’re a pitcher, right? You’re intimidated by the batters!
The final game of the day to finish was between two players who hadn’t played in the rapid and blitz:
The early stages of this English Opening were puzzling, as Ian Nepomniachtchi developed his knights to c3 and f3, had them carry out some business elsewhere, and then returned them to those squares again. Vishy spent a lot of time and commented, “actually it’s a pretty sophisticated attempt”, but he was less impressed by how his Russian opponent then exchanged off queens on move 13. Black was soon better, and then it was just a question of whether Vishy could covert his advantage:
He later regretted not going for 57…Rf7 here, since after 57…Kxg3 58.Rxf6 Nxh4 Nepomniachtchi was able to give up his bishop for the h-pawn and reach what seemed to be a straightforward fortress. At least that’s how Vishy saw it, and he claimed he would have offered a draw if draw offers had been allowed in the Sinquefield Cup. Anish Giri, for one, wasn’t buying that!
In the end it all came down to one moment of madness at the end of what looked like being a day of all draws. 77…Kc4?? from Nepo, when he still had 12 minutes on the clock, threw away the game (to be fair, he didn't rush the move, as he took a relatively leisurely 3 minutes over it):
77…b5+! came as a body blow to Nepomniachtchi, who had probably seen that 78.axb6 seems to hold, but forgotten that 78…Nxb6+ is then also check and wins the rook on a7.
The camera angle of our German live coverage by Jan Gustafsson and Steve Berger caught Nepo’s reaction perfectly:
Vishy summed up:
This was a shocker. I was waiting for him to make two correct moves and then we could shake hands, and literally when he went Kc4 I had to check for a minute what had happened and then bam, I went b5. Look, I’ll take it! Obviously I’m very happy.
So after one round Vishy leads, Nepo is last and everyone else has half a point, but we of course have a very long way to go. Up next for Anand? White vs. Carlsen in Round 2!
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