Magnus Carlsen will face Ding Liren in a two-game rapid match today to decide the fate of the 2019 Sinquefield Cup. “It’s a bit surreal,” said Magnus, of how he followed nine draws by winning his final two games to catch Ding. He was helped by MVL, who took under two minutes to commit chess suicide in a tricky position where he had over an hour and a half on his clock. Ding survived some tough moments against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov to ensure a playoff, while Sergey Karjakin fell just short of making it a 3-way tie when he failed to convert against Fabiano Caruana.
You can replay all the games from the 2019 Sinquefield Cup using the selector below:
And here’s the day’s live commentary:
We also had a 36-minute cameo by Peter Svidler, who joined Jan Gustafsson and Robert Rabiega on the German show:
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After the draw doldrums mid-tournament we couldn’t have asked for a better finale to the 2019 Sinquefield Cup. There was only one game in the final round where neither player could win the tournament, and it was no great surprise when So-Aronian ended drawn in under half an hour. Wesley So and Levon Aronian finished joint last after both scoring nine draws and two losses. It was a particularly dramatic fall from grace for Levon, who had won the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz. He put some of the blame on the crazily packed chess schedule, commenting “you're in deep waters and it's impossible to give 100%”. We’ll get to more of his post-game comments later!
The next game to end was Anand-Nakamura. Hikaru Nakamura had scored a winless minus one and his choice of the Berlin Endgame suggests he wasn’t planning any heroics in the final game. Vishy Anand responded with a “a little idea which somehow fell flat” and the game ended drawn in 26 moves, crowning a bitter-sweet 3rd place finish for Vishy:
I think it’s the first tournament where I’m completely gutted with my +1. I think with my positions Magnus would have made +6! I’m really embarrassed for my technique.
Peter Svidler agreed, commenting that, “by rights this would have been one of Vishy's biggest triumphs” and calling +1 “a travesty” with +3 “the absolute rock bottom estimate of where he should have been”. The missed wins against Ding Liren and Anish Giri in particular were hard to explain, but Peter did agree with Jan that things have been getting tougher:
Winning a chess game has become a lot harder in recent years, I feel in general, and the young brigade will continue calculating, will continue putting up resistance, and you do need to finish them off somewhere.
The torchbearer of that generation is Magnus Carlsen, who had a dream finish to the event:
Magnus Carlsen went into the Sinquefield Cup on the back of a disastrous run in the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz and went on to draw his first nine games. With Vishy failing to convert no-one else was setting the world on fire, but with two rounds to go Ding Liren and Ian Nepomniachtchi had opened up a one-point gap on Magnus. The World Champion commented after the final game, “I have to say I didn’t believe it one bit before today, or especially before yesterday.”
The win over Wesley So in the penultimate round was the spark Magnus needed to ignite his tournament, with Garry Kasparov’s words becoming a prophecy: “With Magnus we know he needs one win and then he’s unstoppable”. Carlsen repeated the 4…bxc6 Sicilian Rossolimo he’d played against Vishy Anand in Round 2, and was this time prepared with 5…cxd4 (not 5…Bg7) to meet the rare 5.d4. Overall the opening went exactly as Magnus would have wished, with Peter Svidler commenting:
He sort of got exactly what he wanted out of today's game, which is a very playable position with a very unclear, very unbalanced structure - all things that he generally enjoys.
Maxime was also clearly in the mood to play for a win and help his chances of qualifying for the Grand Chess Tour finals in London, but Magnus felt his opponent went for the wrong plan on move 14:
Aronian at this point was telling Alejandro Ramirez in the Kingside Diner that White’s plan here was to play f4, with the computer agreeing by recommending the immediate 14.Nh4 to facilitate that move. Instead Maxime went for 14.h4!? Rb7!? 15.h5, with Carlsen later commenting:
I was sort of happy to see this h4, h5 stuff, because I didn’t think it was very good, to be honest! I thought he should aim for f4 instead, but then somehow it felt like it got very complicated.
Magnus further detonated an already ragged pawn structure with 21…f5!?, which Svidler called “a very Magnusy solution”:
Objectively White seems to be doing fine after 22.exf5, when Svidler commented that, “your pieces start breathing a lot better” and White is happy to give up an exchange for Black’s dark-squared bishop. This, however, was where Maxime, who the day before had castigated Ian Nepomniachtchi for a rushed and reckless move, suffered from his own moment of madness. After just 1 minute and 50 seconds, with 1 hour and 32 minutes on the clock, he played 22.Nf3??, thereby giving up the game. Magnus said, “I couldn’t believe my eyes”, since though he could see Maxime was hoping for the trick 22…Bd4 23.e5 what the Frenchman had overlooked was 22…Bxc3! 23.Rxc3 e5!
If the bishop now retreated Magnus would follow up with f5-f4 and, as Peter explained live, “you just give mate on the kingside”:
MVL showed he was still one of the world’s most resourceful players by instead coming up with 24.Rd3!, which took Magnus aback:
Then he made this amazing move Rd3, which I hadn’t seen at all , but fortunately I have enough after exf4.
What was the World Champion’s heart telling him at that point?
It’s telling me, it wasn’t as easy as you thought! I always presume that my opponents have missed things, and they haven’t always. I felt intuitively that I must be much better, I just had to find the precise way, and I thought for a long time.
Unfortunately for Maxime, however, there were multiple ways for Black to win, with the path Magnus chose – 24…exf4 25.Qb2+ Rbg7 26.h6 fxe4! perhaps the most aesthetic:
The French no. 1 tried to make a virtue of the speed he’d played by applying pressure on the clock, and although to some extent it worked in the long run he was doomed to fail. As Magnus put it:
Anyway he’s going to lose gradually. There’s no way really for me to spoil the position except allowing the perpetual, and if I’m a little bit careful I don’t do that.
Magnus had somehow managed to keep a wonderful year in classical chess going:
“It’s a bit surreal, but now I have to get back to earth
because there’s more chess to play tomorrow,” said Magnus, who felt the stars
had aligned for him but he’d still been the one who made his own luck in the
last two rounds. Anish Giri would have the most enjoyable take on the late dash to the finish line by the World Champion:
I thought what he did was very clever. He basically had this absolute cultural shock here during the Rapid and Blitz. He had this incredible year and suddenly he was totally out of shape, and I think it was such a big shock for him that he needed some kind of recovery therapy, and I think such a huge amount of draws in a row was for him this recovery therapy! He made so many draws he forgot all his life before that. He started like it was a rebirth. He started fresh, and by the time he had to play Wesley he forgot about St. Louis, he forgot about everything, he forgot what’s his name, it was just playing chess again and I think then he managed to do well.
Anish also summed up:
There’s no such thing as a deserving winner, there’s only a winner!
In terms of the Grand Chess Tour that’s Magnus, who as well as qualifying for London has already ensured he’ll go into London as the top seed, since no-one can now catch him despite there still being two events to go (one of which he plays in):
It’s not all over in St. Louis, however, since Ding Liren ensured a playoff by gaining a nervous draw against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. It was obvious that the Chinese no. 1 and world no. 3 doesn’t have the experience Magnus does of going into a last round of a tournament as the leader. Ding admitted:
He surprised me in the opening and I cannot decide to play for a win or just play solid moves.
In the end Ding didn’t do either, with Svidler commenting, “I would be quite scared with White” of the rook ending that ensued, but ultimately Ding managed to hold a slightly worse position and book his place in the playoff.
The question then was whether more players would join the
playoff. Ian Nepomniachtchi had a mathematical chance, but it was soon clear
that despite playing a nice tactical trick (17…Nc5!) in the early middlegame it
was only Anish Giri who could be better in their game. The Dutchman won a pawn,
but it should still have been a straightforward draw until Nepo crumbled. He’d
already made his task much tougher than it needed to be before 72…Rg3? (Black
should have kept attacking the f3-pawn with 72…Kf7) was the final straw:
Giri played 73.Ra7+! and ultimately won by picking up the g6-pawn. He commented afterwards:
I received a very peculiar remark by my opponent at the end. He said he thought I’m going to repeat moves. I understand what he’s implying, but I am the one with an extra pawn, so he should be defending. I should not be the one to give him a draw there.
There must have been an awful feeling of déjà vu for Nepo, who as in Zagreb had won three games and been in with a great chance of winning the tournament only to end on 50%. He was also left tweeting his bemusement at a terrible blunder for a second day in a row:
On that topic, Peter Svidler clarified with Nepo personally that the Nd7 blunder against MVL the day before hadn’t exactly been a finger-fehler:
He was looking only at Nc6, and then he reached for the knight and while he was still finally calculating all these positions it just occurred to him that Nd7 looks quite attractive, and he says, “of course I didn't see Bd6 or I wouldn't have done it”, but all of his calculating time prior to playing Nd7 was spent looking at Nc6 exclusively, and then in the very final moment he just kind of corrected himself to Nd7 and had to resign, more or less. So yeah, not ideal!
With that win Giri leapfrogged Nepomniachtchi back into the world no. 4 spot on the live rating list, but the very fact that he’s in the world’s top 5 suggests things haven’t been going badly for the Russian.
Peter felt there had been a watershed a couple of years ago after Nepo curtailed video games and his other extra-curricular activities to focus on chess. Jan asked Peter if Nepo could improve still further if he could slow down at critical moments:
You never know what will happen to someone like him if you try to completely curtail his natural instincts, and his natural instinct has always been to play extremely fast, because in particular when in good form he can definitely afford to play very fast because he is a very fast calculator and he generally understands the game well enough not to do very many things too wrong.
Giri was asked a similar question by Maurice Ashley:
He is like an ideal guy to show you the pluses and the minuses of the quick approach. He has won so many brilliant games very quickly. He crushed here Levon, for example, he also crushed Wesley. I remember a game in Dortmund when he beat Nisipeanu when he won that tournament - I think he just destroyed the guy, it was so impressive to watch, and he did it to me as well a few times. The guy’s playing fast, good and it looks like this is just the next World Champion, and at the same time you see things like that. He just shows you the absolute two extremes. I wouldn’t say it’s his weakness, I think it’s his strength too, but it’s basically two sides of one coin.
When it came to his own play Anish was satisfied that he’d ended with one loss and one win:
I was really struggling here. I didn’t have any flow to my play and everything I was doing was with so much effort and so much suffering and spirit and pain. There was just a showcase of willpower! Things were not working out, but I really tried and I tried every day. I’m really glad with my score.
That still leaves one game, where Sergey Karjakin got to the brink of joining Ding Liren and Magnus Carlsen in the playoff. It all stemmed from one decision Fabiano Caruana described as “insane” – 19.h4?!:
For the second time in St. Louis Fabiano immediately spotted the flaw in his move:
After h4 once I got up from the board I wondered what I’m doing after [19…Qf6! 20.Ra2] Rf8. I had this moment of, "maybe I can play 21.e7 and still keep it together", but then 21…Rf7. I had to go for probably just a dead lost ending.
The surprise, however, was that Fabiano then barely had to suffer, with both players concluding that Black missed a chance to play a4 and fix White’s pawns on a3 and b4.
Fabiano summed up that the tournament had been one “of small margins”, but that after his win over Aronian in Round 4, and a fighting draw against So in the next round, there had been little for him to celebrate. Sergey Karjakin, meanwhile, finished in joint 3rd place with Vishy, and also felt he could have done better:
I actually had three very good chances, against Ding Liren, against Levon and today, so I had three very good positions but I didn’t manage to do anything… It’s much better than last year. I think last year I was lucky to have -3 in the end, and this time I am not lucky with +1. I think I am on the right way!
Meanwhile to finish our wrap-up of the day’s play we have to return to Levon Aronian, who talked to Alejandro Ramirez in the Kingside Diner in a broadcast shown on the St. Louis Twitch Channel. He pointed out how the clash of the Grand Chess Tour and the FIDE World Championship qualification events had forced the players to make some tough choices even when playing in both series. Levon was trying not to expend maximum effort, though confessed it hadn’t worked out so well, and we summarised his quotes on Twitter:
That was an opportunity for some trolling from Giri!
But then when Karjakin joined in it all got a bit complicated!
And that was all before we get the Ultimate Moves “trash-talk” event with the Sinquefields, Garry Kasparov and the other players on Thursday! First, however, there’s a little matter that still needs to be resolved:
Will Magnus win his 3rd Sinquefield Cup title, or will Ding Liren lift his first? The battle will start 3 HOURS EARLIER at 10:00 local time (17:00 CEST) with the players competing in two 25+10 rapid games. If that doesn’t prove decisive the match will switch to two 5+3 blitz games, with the potential to play three pairs of those games if we don’t get a decisive result. After that we can expect Armageddon, though it seems that’s up to the arbiters’ discretion.
Of course a playoff against Magnus is not easy…
…and he's feeling he has nothing to lose by this point…
…but all runs have to end sometime! Tune into live commentary here on chess24 at 10:00 in St. Louis or 17:00 CEST.
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