Vishy Anand has ended Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s 67-game unbeaten run at classical chess after spotting a piece-winning tactic when he was on the ropes. It was the same story elsewhere, as Veselin Topalov let Fabiano Caruana pull off a great escape and Hikaru Nakamura almost let Anish Giri do the same. Ding Liren saw his edge slip away in a single move against Wesley So, while Peter Svidler fell to a 2nd defeat after rushing headlong into an ending that only Levon Aronian could win.
What a round! Play through all the games with computer analysis using the selector below, and remember you can make moves on the board to see what might have happened:
Simply too much was going on in Saturday’s long second round of the Sinquefield Cup to attempt a full summary, so let’s take a look a 7 turning points in the days action:
Ding Liren had spoken of nerves the day before when talking about his St. Louis debut, but against Wesley So he could feel right at home. The best two Asian players had met in China earlier this year in a match that Ding Liren dominated more than the 2.5:1.5 scoreline reflected.
That balance of power looked set to continue when Wesley had huge difficulty developing his pieces, but suddenly Ding Liren went for a sacrificial combination he must have thought won a pawn. He’d missed a sting in the tail:
After 21…Bxg2! 22.Kxg2 Qb7+ 23.Qf3 Qxb6 material was level, and it was Black, if anyone, playing for a win. A quick draw followed, leaving Wesley among the joint leaders.
While that game featured an abrupt end, the others were all thrillers, and none more so than Topalov-Caruana. Fabiano admitted his play was shaky, and when playing 21.Ba2? he’d completely overlooked a bolt from the blue:
21…Nxe4!! put White in a world of trouble, since he wasn’t winning a piece after 22.Bxe7 Ned2! In fact, it was so bad that Caruana gave up his queen a few moves later:
It was a good practical choice – and almost the only option – but there would have been no fairy tale ending if Veselin had chosen differently on move 28.
Here 28…Re8! looks to be winning, since the black queen enters on the e-file and the black queenside pawns can’t be stopped. Instead 28…Qxd4?! allowed White to untangle with tempo by playing 29.Bf3! and ultimately achieve a two minor pieces vs. rook fortress position that Topalov was in no mood to try and topple.
The Bulgarian explained how his pragmatic approach had let him down on this occasion:
I’m just playing normal games and not always trying to find the best moves, to be perfect. Instead of 28…Re8 taking the pawn seemed natural to me. Somehow I’m just trying to play simple chess.
You can rewatch all the day’s action and player interviews below:
Vishy surprised Maxime by opening with the Caro-Kann, but then mixed up his lines and ended up in real trouble, later commenting:
I’m literally just hanging on every move, just trying not to lose on the spot. It was extremely scary!
Maxime needed two Confessional appearances to share his thoughts with the internet audience, first remarking of the fact that there was no Berlin on the board: “I was not expecting all this excitement!”
When he returned the excitement had only grown:
Things took a turn for wild compensations. Still, I managed to develop my pieces the way I wanted to. I always have some tricky ideas in mind. I feel like I should be better, one way or another.
Levon Aronian later agreed with Maxime’s assessment:
He played a really good game up to the point where he blundered. Maxime was playing a brilliant game.
Alas, first he squandered some of his edge on a queen foray where he’d overlooked something straightforward (25…Qe7!) and then he was the one to fall for a trick, though Vishy admitted to a moment of horror after playing 29…Nd5:
I was mainly happy I couldn’t see anything easy for him, but I couldn’t believe I’d gotten away with it. Then the game really turned. To be honest, I had the same hallucination as him. I played 29…Nd5 and I thought, “Oh my god, what have I done? I’ve allowed 30. Nxe6 - what an idiot I am! And then I thought, oh, but wait, I can start with e3. I had this happy thought and left it at that, and I was really amazed he took.
Maxime spent 6 minutes and 9 seconds on 30.Nxe6?, but after 30…Bxe6 31.Bxd5 he ran into the deadly zwischenzug 31…e3! Instead of winning a pawn White was losing a piece, and none of the French no. 1’s tactical ingenuity could prevent Vishy from hauling in the full point.
Let’s take a quick break from spectacular tactics for a game where the mistake was almost imperceptible. Levon Aronian claimed to be surprised by Peter Svidler’s opening choice and went for the odd move 7.Qd2, that had only previously been played by - by Levon against Karjakin – in the Amber blindfold tournament in Monaco in 2009.
If the plan was to get Peter thinking early it worked, but then it backfired, as Svidler explained:
Somewhere around move 20 I was actually ahead on the clock. The idea I found caused enough problems for Lev to actually outspend me on the clock as well. This is why I feel somewhat dejected today, because I think I played a very interesting game, up to a point. I probably shouldn’t have won it, but losing it is really unnecessary.
Since we’re going for turning points, let’s give the one Aronian pointed out, after 30.Na5:
The Armenian had received a scare and had just chosen to neutralise the position:
I thought the logical move is 30…Rcb8 and the game will end as a draw. I was already thinking that the game is level, but Peter… I think he underestimated the danger of this endgame. It’s probably still drawn, but it’s definitely Black who’s on the receiving end.
Svidler was short on time and after 30…Be7 31.Rc1 all the rooks were exchanged on the c-file and it turned out the knight vs. bishop ending was very hard to hold. He resigned on move 54, completing a 0-2 start to the Sinquefield Cup. The last-minute replacement for Vladimir Kramnik didn’t want to fall back on using jetlag as an excuse:
Finding excuses… If you want me to, I can provide a number, but it’s not really very interesting, I think. I’m not dying! I have been fresher in my life, but I expected worse, to be honest. I do get some sleep every day. My play at the beginning of today… and actually yesterday’s game wasn’t my crowning achievement, but I have seen up to the blackout a lot of very interesting stuff, which did not arise because Veselin was avoiding all the sharper variations and going for the quieter lines. It’s not as if my mind isn’t working at all. It’s just that I make these mistakes…
Aronian shared some more wisdom worthy of a T-Shirt:
Winning and not losing, I think, is the secret of chess!
Last to finish, but definitely not least in terms of excitement, was Nakamura-Giri. It was a curious game in which Anish emerged absolutely fine from the opening battle, but lost the thread when he sought to punish what he felt was his opponent’s inaccuracy. Soon the strategic battle was lost on the queenside, and Giri surprised Nakamura, the watching world and himself (“normally I would just lose slowly…”), by flinging his pieces into an all-or-nothing assault on the kingside.
The biggest surprise, though, was that it worked!
Here you can understand Nakamura’s problem, because although the computer says White is absolutely winning after 39.gxh4! Rd3, you still need to find another move before the time control. Black is down a whole rook, but his king is safe, while the a2-knight is undefended, the c3-bishop is defended only by that knight, the queen is out of play and three black pieces are eyeing h3. Doing nothing isn’t an option, since after 40.a5, for instance, there's a draw with 40…Qf4+, while some natural attempts to free the position end in a quick mate.
Giri continually said Nakamura was “confused”, and the US player himself admitted he “didn’t really know what was going on”, which led to the safe 39.Qf3? Rxh3+! 40.Kg1 Qxf3 41.Bxf3...
When things are going badly, as they are for Anish just now, you tend to make bad decisions, and in this game he committed one of those classic errors. He’d made the time control and just been given an extra 60 minutes on his clock (+ increment), when he took just 13 seconds to condemn himself to defeat:
41…Ng4! is a move Nakamura said he spotted “to my horror”, since after something like 42.Bxg4 Rxg3+ 43.Kf2 Rxg4 Black has three pawns for the piece and very active pieces. White may still retain winning chances, but it’s close to a draw.
Giri explained his choice:
Initially I thought I was just lost, but then I saw 41…Nd3 and I had some chances, so I played it. I didn’t realise there was another move.
The players continued for another 20 moves, but there was no second amnesty, meaning Nakamura is so far following the plan he outlined the day before of emulating Magnus Carlsen’s comeback in Bilbao. He also had some fun:
I enjoyed today’s game. I think today’s game was more like chess in its purest form… I almost think it’s criminal that I lost the game [against Wesley So] because I forgot one move in preparation.
Giri, meanwhile, last won a classical game in Shamkir in May, and has now lost five since and dropped out of the world’s live Top 10. He commented on previously drawing too many games:
Last year’s problem seems like a joke compared to what it is now!
When Maurice Ashley suggested the losses might be because Anish was trying to play more aggressively, the young Dutchman wasn’t convinced:
When I lose it’s not because I’m trying to improve, obviously – I just play badly!
That means that after two brilliant rounds we have three of the old guard, and Wesley So, in the lead:
In Round 3 Svidler finally gets the white pieces, though Caruana is no pushover as an opponent. Anand-Nakamura is perhaps the pick of the other games. Don't forget to tune in to live coverage of Round 3 of the Sinquefield Cup with Yasser Seirawan, Jennifer Shahade and Maurice Ashley from 8pm CEST on Sunday! You can also follow the games on our free mobile apps: