Reports Aug 28, 2019 | 1:05 PMby Colin McGourty

Sinquefield Cup 10: Magnus wins just in time

Magnus Carlsen finally won what he described as a “homage to Botvinnik” against Wesley So to go into the final round of the 2019 Sinquefield Cup just half a point behind Ding Liren. The Chinese no. 1 is now the sole leader after he drew with Levon Aronian while his co-leader at the start of the day, Ian Nepomniachtchi, committed a disastrous “finger-fehler” against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Garry Kasparov, who phoned into the live show, compared Vishy Anand to Robin Hood and disagreed with Anatoly Karpov that he and Garry had understood chess better than Magnus.

Magnus Carlsen ended his 9-game drawing streak with a win | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

You can replay all the games from the 2019 Sinquefield Cup using the selector below:

And here’s the day’s live commentary:

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Carlsen breaks through

Garry Kasparov phoned into the live broadcasts from St. Louis, and it seemed to inspire his former student. Garry commented in English:

He’s getting frustrated, and when you’re getting frustrated it doesn’t help. With Magnus we know he needs one win and then he’s unstoppable. Something just didn’t work out here… Something is just preoccupying his mind. He’s still the best player, there’s no doubt about it, but it’s not enough to be the best player, you have to win every game!

Those are impossibly high standards, but Magnus isn’t just any player. 

Garry Kasparov will be in St. Louis on Thursday for Ultimate Moves, before playing in the Chess960 event next week

On the Russian broadcast with Evgeny Miroshnichenko and Almira Skripchenko, Garry took issue with a recent interview Anatoly Karpov gave on a trip to Novokuznetsk in Siberia. Anatoly was asked what score a 10-game match between Magnus and Garry would end with if they were both at their peak:

It’s clear that now Carlsen is the strongest player, and recently he’s improved even further, but still, it seems to me that we understood chess better. Perhaps our endgame technique is also better. I think that Kasparov would win 5.5:4.5 or 6:4.

And if there was a match between Karpov at his peak and Carlsen at his peak?

I think the score would be bigger. In my favour.

Garry was having none of that:

I’m not a fan of such anti-historical statements. From my point of view [Karpov] has a rather vague idea of the playing strength of Magnus. Of course it would be interesting, but the idea itself is absurd, because the Magnus of 2018 simply knows much more about chess than Karpov and I knew. As for his understanding of chess, I don’t want to get into a long-range argument with Karpov, but I spent quite a lot of time with Magnus and, in general, he understands chess no worse than we do.

The topic also touched on who would follow Magnus, with Garry explaining that in his work with young talents in Europe or America he hadn’t yet come across anyone comparable:

There are many very strong chess players, let’s say in Russia Artemiev, but it’s clear that he’s no Magnus, and not even close to Magnus. I see a lot of young chess players who will get to 2750, maybe even 2800, but the World Champion is another category.

Garry added that, “the way Ding is playing I think a Carlsen-Ding match could be interesting”, and while he still feels Caruana is a strong challenger for Magnus in classical chess he also feels Fabi is suffering something of a crisis at the moment. Garry will get to test out that theory himself in a week’s time, as his opponent for a 20-game Chess960 match in St. Louis will be none other than the world no. 2. When Yasser asked if Garry was giving himself the 2nd toughest challenge in chess, the 13th World Champion responded:

It’s not classical chess, it’s not real chess, it’s 960, and at the end of the day it’s fun!

Meanwhile back in the Sinquefield Cup Magnus Carlsen would go on to get that “one win in a row” he’s so needed against Wesley So, who had suffered a hugely painful 132-move defeat the day before. 

There would be very mixed fortunes for Wesley So and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in Round 10 | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour 

The way the game went saw Magnus follow a pet line of Maxime Vachier-Lagrave's in the Giuoco Piano, with only the radical 17.Nc4!? a new move. 17…Qxd1 18.Raxd1 Bxc4 18.bxc4 was all but forced, and left a critical position on the board:


At first glance, and this was also the opinion of a positional chess player as strong as Yasser Seirawan, it looks as though Black is doing very well, since White’s pawn structure is crippled, but the pawns on c3 and c4 are greatly restricting the black knights while inviting the white knight to come to d5. Here Wesley played the most natural move in the position, 19…b6!?, but in hindsight two computer suggestions deserve serious consideration. One is to defend the c5-pawn with 19…Rac8, put the rook on c7 and transfer the knight via c8 to b6. The other is to give up the pawn with 19…Nc8!?, planning to win it back with Ra6-c6 and an active position.

The way Wesley played in the game allowed Magnus to pull off what he described as a “homage to Botvinnik”:

That strategy was crowned on move 32, after 31…Ne7?! had only allowed White’s desired move to come with greater impact:


32.Nd5! Nxd5 33.cxd5 forced Black to hold the position together with 33…Rb7, since otherwise Bxc5! would be playable due to the unprotected rook. That theme could have resulted in a beautiful zugzwang pointed out by Magnus:

Try to make a move for Black!


In the game Wesley played more actively, and was almost rewarded, since Magnus made a serious mistake with 39.Ke2? instead of putting the king on c2 or d2 to stop 39…Rc3! Magnus said he was “a bit ashamed” of his play and called his move “insane” and later “unforgivable”, since he’d had over an hour on the clock. In the end it didn’t matter, but only because Wesley did something even more unforgivable at the very end of the game by playing 42…Kf6?? in just seconds:


Wesley must have been ready to resign, and after 43.d6! that’s what he did, since after 43…Rd4 44.e5+ there’s no stopping d7, e6, Re8 and queening the d-pawn. Instead Wesley needed to play 42…Kf8!, when 43.d6? Rd4 44.e5 no longer gives White anything, since d7 would lose the rook. Magnus was planning to play 43.Re6!, but explained:

I didn’t see a clear win. I thought there would be definite winning chances after it, but I didn’t see a clear win at all.

Magnus wasn’t complaining, “I guess at this point I’ll take anything that I can!”, and overall wasn’t so disappointed with his performance in St. Louis:

I was very, very happy after Zagreb, because in such fields with only top players I’ve generally struggled a bit. I’ve had a couple of bad Norway Chess tournaments. I usually make +2, maybe +3, something like this, so I was sort of trying to say that Zagreb was a bit of an outlier. I don’t expect to score like that against this kind of opposition every time. I don’t expect to go winless either, but something in between. 

I haven’t played well at all. I’ve been in control, there have been basically no counter chances in any of my games… but the very few chances that I’ve gotten I haven’t really taken. If I’d been at my very best at the crucial moments I definitely could have been in the shared or even clear lead. I’m not at all happy with my play, but again, to even maintain my rating in such a field would have been a huge feat.

Magnus politely enquires why Levon couldn't have beaten Ding Liren to make it a perfect day for him?  | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour 

The main obstacle in the path of Magnus still emerging as an unlikely winner of the Sinquefield Cup is Ding Liren, who despite being surprised by Levon Aronian’s line in the Two Knights Defence (“I forgot the preparation. I forgot how to equalise!”) still managed to steer that game to a comfortable draw. That put Ding half a point ahead of Magnus before the final round, and it would turn out to be sufficient to make him the sole leader.

Payback for Nepomniachtchi

When you can either laugh or cry...  | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour 

Garry was made to feel very at home at the start of Round 10 as Nepomniachtchi-MVL followed a very old Anti-Grünfeld line that he’d championed back in the 80s and even prepared for his 2000 World Championship match against Vladimir Kramnik. Peter Svidler in his Grünfeld series comments on the 6.Bb5+ N8c6 7.d4 cxd4 8.a3 dxc3 line Nepo played:


There's a lot of theory here but nobody plays this line anymore with the white pieces because Black has finally learned how to make a draw.

While it’s true the line has very rarely been seen at the top level, games have kept cropping up, most notably Levon Aronian’s second in St. Louis, Manuel Petrosyan, winning a game with White in the recent Abu Dhabi Masters. After 9.Qxd8+ Kxd8 10.axb4 cxb2 11.Bxb2 f6!? (Garry noted Jan Timman had played 11…Bd7 here against Mikhail Tal in 1985) 12.e5 Garry had every reason to have fond memories of this position:


Here Viktor Korchnoi was much worse against Garry in 1989 after 12…Bg4? and had a lost position three moves later, before the game ended in just 23 moves. Garry explained it was “very dangerous” and felt Maxime had gone astray – “I think MVL is in terrible shape now and Nepo made a very good choice”. 

But perhaps we shouldn’t underestimate the French no. 1’s preparation. After 12…Bd7 13.Bc4 e6 he was inviting 14.exf6 Bxb4+ 15.Ke2 gxf6 16.Bxf6+ Kc7 17.Bxh8 Rxh8, commenting:

I actually think it’s very likely I looked at this two years ago, and there should be enough compensation for the exchange.

Judge for yourself:


In any case, Nepo went for the modest 14.0-0 and by move 20, although the position remained very sharp, it seemed as though it was about to fizzle out into a draw:


21.Nc6+! and after 21…bxc6 22.Bxc6 Black has to give back material with a likely draw. Instead Nepomniachtchi spent just half a minute on 21.Nd7??, which ran into 21…Bd6!, and suddenly the knight is trapped. Maxime commented:

From what I can see he just made a blunder and I’ll be a piece up. Of course if he goes Nc6+ instead of Nd7 we would have shaken hands already probably, but after Bd6 I don’t think he can do anything.

Maxime also told the confessional, “There’s probably a prize for most minutes away from a chessboard and I think we’re both not at the chessboard for like 10 minutes already.” Nepo’s absence could only be explained by self-disgust. He would later tweet:

In the end Maxime was two doubled pawns rather than a piece up, but although he felt he made his life “a bit complicated” he eventually won convincingly in 46 moves. 

Anish and Magnus survey the damage | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Afterwards he talked about the blunder being a kind of payback:

I was so surprised, but I guess it’s a bit of a payback for him playing so fast in every game. Today it cost him. He’s been putting pressure on time against all his opponents. Against Levon he won like this, but he had an interesting idea in the opening, against Wesley he definitely won like this, and yesterday I was pretty pissed about my play and I’m looking at Ian and he’s winning all his games, he’s playing so fast, and then I look at his game and I see it’s mistake after mistake. So I thought, let’s not be confused by his quick play and let’s punish his mistakes!

Elsewhere all the games were tense, though Nakamura-Giri was suddenly aborted on move 23 after the players found one of the bizarre repetitions that the inability to offer draws forces upon them.

Caruana retains some outside chances of winning the tournament, but he needs Ding Liren to lose in the final round | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Mamedyarov-Caruana lurched out of control, but Fabiano explained that it shouldn’t have done so:

It’s not a crazy position. It’s a huge theoretical line, which is known to be kind of a forced draw. It’s a very drawish line, basically. It’s kind of the line you play when you want to test your opponent’s memory, or you just don’t really feel like playing that day, but I couldn’t remember anything, so I tried to make normal moves.

The normal, sub-optimum moves were enough to knock Mamedyarov out of the preparation he could remember, and he actually ended up worse at some point, until he spotted the flaw in 23…Bh3?! (23…Kh8!):


24.Bf5! drew on the spot, since 24…Bxf5 25.Nxf5 Qxf5 runs into the fork 26.Qxb7+ and White will be a pawn up in the queen ending.

Vishy Anand finally had a "normal" day at the office | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Karjakin-Anand was also a big theoretical battle. Sergey Karjakin joked afterwards:

Actually my plan was to make a very, very solid draw and after the game to say to Vishy that, “this is the first game where you were not winning”. But unfortunately I didn’t manage.

Instead Vishy, who Garry Kasparov credited with playing “very freshly” in some of his games in St. Louis, had checked everything in advance up to 20…hxg4:


Here he remembered that 21.Ne5 Nxe5 22.dxe5 Qd2 was the first line, and a draw, but instead Sergey went for 21.Ne1!? and Vishy was on his own. From that point until the end of the game, however, Vishy played just one move, 25…Bd6, that wasn’t strictly the engine’s first line. He found a nice continuation that forced a draw, and was understating things when he commented afterwards:

I think I had to do some work at the board and I did a reasonable job.

For once it wasn’t the story Garry had outlined at the start of the day:

What makes me feel a bit sick is Vishy’s performance - I say he’s playing Robin Hood! He keeps every day, it’s almost painful to watch him, building a strong position, winning some games by force, and then age tells.

Garry noted that Vishy could be the clear leader, but nevertheless he still goes into the final round alongside Carlsen, Nepomniachtchi and Karjakin, half a point behind Ding Liren:


It’s brilliantly set up for the final round, where none of the five top challengers play each other. Of course if Ding Liren can win his game then he’s the 2019 Sinquefield Cup Champion - and Mamedyarov is a player who’s likely to go for fighting chess. Shakh commented on his games against Ding:

Of the top chess players in the world it’s only Ding who I’ve never beaten – not one game, in classical. I cannot [beat] him in the last two games in +10 positions, in the Olympiad and in Zagreb, in +10 he defends very easily, he thinks +10 is ok for him! It’s like Vishy had +10 against him, it’s not important, he plays to the end.

If Ding Liren beats Mamedyarov in the final round he'll be the 2019 Sinquefield Cup Champion - if he draws he's guaranteed at least a playoff | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Magnus has Black against MVL, a player he’s beaten with White in the last rounds in the GRENKE Chess Classic and in Zagreb this year. A lot may depend on whether Maxime feels he needs to win to qualify for the Grand Chess Tour finals in London. Magnus commented:

I’m kind of hoping that he calculates and ends up deciding that he has to win tomorrow, so we get ourselves a fight!

The other key games are Caruana-Karjakin, Anand-Nakamura and Giri-Nepomniachtchi. If there’s a tie for first place we’ll get a playoff on Thursday, and if Mamedyarov was to beat Ding that could easily feature six players! Tune in to live commentary here on chess24 at 13:00 in St. Louis or 20:00 CEST!

See also:


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