“It hurts!” commented Ian Nepomniachtchi after missing a knockout blow against Fabiano Caruana, though it was much harder to see than the tactic he’d blundered a day earlier against Vishy Anand. Anish Giri also had good chances of beating Levon Aronian in an endgame, but nothing could stop all games ending drawn in Round 2 of the 2019 Sinquefield Cup. That meant Vishy, who found a clever way to dodge Magnus Carlsen’s opening surprise, is still the sole leader.
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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All games were drawn in Round 2 of the Sinquefield Cup, but the only one that saw anything less than a full-blooded fight was Karjakin-Ding Liren. It was only on move 23 of a Marshall that Sergey Karjakin varied from the 23.Qxf5 that Wesley So had played against Ding Liren in the 2018 Berlin Candidates with 23.Ra5. It seemed Sergey’s new move worked well, but he took a draw by repetition in a position where the computers were claiming a healthy edge for White.
Much more typical of a battling day’s play was Anand-Carlsen, where the mind games started early with Magnus Carlsen playing 4…bxc6 instead of 4…dxc6 in the Rossolimo Sicilian:
Vishy immediately had a lot to think about:
This morning I was telling my second we should check all the sidelines in the Rossolimo, and I said bxc6 is a possibility, though he’s never played it before. Then I got absorbed in all the other things I had to check and I forgot this, and then I felt slightly exposed. He’s basically targeting my game with Shakh from Norway and my game with Boris in Amsterdam [and also a rapid game against Carlsen’s second Dubov in Paris], and I had not really revised it, so the question is should I go in for something and basically ask him what did he prepare today in the morning? And then I remembered that there was this idea 5.d4, which I think is quite interesting.
5.d4 had been played almost 20 times less than the 5.0-0 Vishy had always chosen before, and it was soon the turn of Magnus to get creative in the opening. The World Champion later explained, “when playing Black you often take risks to gain some positional advantages, but you lose time”, and that was how he justified going for 8…d6 and 9…f6 rather than developing pieces:
To gain the bishop pair you usually have to give up some time, and that’s what I also felt like I had to do with d6 and f6, just lose a lot of time in order to actually keep the position stable, and who knows, if I’m lucky I get time to develop and eventually my bishops may be pretty good, and that is more or less what happened in the game.
We didn’t need to wait until after the game to get some insight into his thought processes, however, since Magnus dropped by the confession booth early on to share an unusual rule of thumb:
I think the general rule for opening play is that if you are one move away from castling you're pretty much always fine, if you're three moves away from castling, you're almost never fine, and if you are two moves from castling, well, it could go either way. So right now I'm two moves from castling - let's see how it goes!
Magnus later revealed that was an idea he recently came up with himself. He still needed to play Nh6 and 0-0, but he managed in the next three moves, and then when he got to break out with 16…e5! he knew he was out of the woods:
Somehow I completely forgot about e5, which actually kills my knights on g3 and f3, and after this I think it’s fair that I’m playing for equality.
Magnus felt the same:
e5 is the kind of move that feels really, really good to play once you understand the ideas behind it.
As well as restricting the knights, Magnus had seen that he could delay recapturing the d6-pawn, and that after 17.cxd6 he also had 17…c5, hitting the white queen. Vishy had to be careful, but he felt he “nailed” the following stage of the game where he safely liquidated into a drawn position – a task that he’s often found very far from easy against Magnus!
Carlsen’s attention was also drawn to MVL-So, where Maxime sacrificed his b4-pawn for the “perfect” position. This diagram is after 16.Rad1 was played:
Before that move Magnus went to the confessional again:
I forgot one thing last time which is to congratulate Maxime on playing some really classical positional chess, apart from the fact he sacrificed a pawn. As a kid you’re taught that the perfect setup for your pieces is bishops on f4 and c4 and knights on c3 and f3, and pawns on d4 and e4, because then you control the maximum amount of central squares, and he already has a rook on [e1], he just misses the rook on d1 for perfect positional harmony, at least the way we were taught as kids.
You might assume that was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but no, from the World Champion’s comments later it seems he was genuinely impressed. He added, “Maxime is not thought of as a very classical player, but I think that reputation is not quite just”, and he compared this game to the harmony MVL found after a stunning queen sacrifice against Rapport in the St. Louis Rapid & Blitz.
This time the quiet harmony didn’t last long, as just four moves later Maxime had a pawn on b7 and was offering a queen sacrifice!
Wesley didn’t take on b3 but played the stronger 20…Rb8. Eventually Maxime was an exchange down in the ending, but with sufficient play to hold a comfortable draw.
That game got wild, but it had a lot of competition in Round 2. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov said he was in a good mood before the game, so he went for what he felt was possibly only an idea for rapid and blitz, 11.Rg1 instead of the immediate 11.g4, against Hikaru Nakamura. It had the advantage of forcing Hikaru to think deeply while Shakh could blitz out his moves.
That changed on move 19:
19…Nxf4! looks to be the continuation of the computer lines, but even if 19…Qxa3?! was a “very bad move”, as Mamedyarov said (and the engines agree), it had the dual virtues of forcing an endgame and getting Shakh to think on his own. White had much better pieces, but the Azerbaijan no. 1 lamented, “Normally I think if I play with Black I lose this position, but with White I cannot win!” We all know the feeling, and the game ended as drawn as it could possibly be on move 44:
Caruana-Nepomniachtchi was also a bar brawl, in the Najdorf, and was perhaps the closest we came to a decisive result in Round 2. This is the critical position, after Fabiano had played 28.Qg2?
“It looked like such a clever move”, Nepo would later say, with Caruana ready to meet 28…Rxa3! 29.bxa3 Qxa3 with 30.f3, securing the e4-bishop and allowing the white queen to defend along the second rank:
Here, however, there was one move that not only doesn’t lose for Black but wins – 30…Qa7!! After that queen retreat Black is now able to play b2, with lethal threats, while the white queen can’t come to b2 to defend since the g1-rook is under attack.
Nepomniachtchi commented “it hurts!” about missing that. He’d been trying out Rxa3 on every move, but here had missed Qa7, which he described as, “a move from a puzzle”, adding, “I would say you need to be more brilliant to calculate these tactics than yesterday to calculate b5!” How difficult was the move to spot? Well, the general consensus was, “very difficult”, though Yasser Seirawan in the studio felt you could find it, and Wesley So came up with it quickly when he knew there was something to look for:
There was also another reason for Nepo to miss the idea – he’d completely overestimated the strength of 28…Bf8, as he played in the game. Objectively the position was completely equal, and the players soon manufactured a repetition to bring the clash to an end on move 35.
Afterwards Nepo, with a reputation as one of the fastest players around, shared some tips on combating time trouble:
That brings us to Giri-Aronian, which seemed to promise good prospects of Anish Giri’s first ever classical victory over Levon Aronian (Levon has a 7-0 score in decisive games!).
The best chance may have come right at the end after 47…Rb5:
Giri evaluated the rook ending he could force with 48.Nf6+ as “50:50 – it’s either winning or it’s a draw”. Instead he played 48.b7?!, when he thought his opponent was forced to do something active, but Levon instead came up with 48…Rb2!, “a very strong waiting move”. Giri was forced to move his knight, but after 49.Ne7 Nd6! the advantage had gone and a draw by repetition swiftly followed.
That means that Vishy Anand is still the sole leader, on 1.5/2, Nepo is last on 0.5/2 and everyone else has 50%. Round 3 has plenty to offer, with Carlsen vs. Caruana the cherry on the top! As Magnus commented:
It’s always interesting. I look forward to the challenge and it’s as good a time as any to actually beat him in a classical game!
Will he manage? Tune in to find out live here on chess24 at 13:00 in St. Louis or 20:00 CEST.
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