“I thought here we go again!” is how Magnus Carlsen described walking into a novelty from Fabiano Caruana, and although the US star still had some suffering ahead he secured yet another draw against the World Champion. There were draws everywhere else as well, despite Hikaru Nakamura spending 104 moves trying to break down Sergey Karjakin’s fortress. That makes it one win in 18 games at this year’s Sinquefield Cup, with Vishy Anand still the sole leader.
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And here’s the day’s live commentary:
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If Magnus Carlsen is going to cross the 2900 barrier in St. Louis he can afford only one more draw in his remaining 8 games. It’s fair to assume his goals are more modest than that, with the first task, as for every player other than Vishy, being to get one win in a row. It would have been sweet if that first win could have come against the man who’s been frustrating him in classical chess since Norway Chess in May 2018, but in a sharp variation of the Vienna Fabiano Caruana came up with the move 9…Bd6 instead of the 9…Rb8 he’d played in two previous games:
Well I thought, here we go again! He has novelties in every line, but the way the game turned out I was pretty happy.
Fabiano admitted it wasn’t the kind of novelty that gives you an easy day at the office:
Bd6 is a new move, as far as I know. The problem is that you play a new move and your opponent is out of book and you expect this to be a good thing, but in this position it’s still kind of sad for Black. You’re always suffering, at least slightly. I’ve played this line I think this is my third time. Against Levon, I made a draw after some minor suffering, against Shakh, I made a draw after some major suffering, and today some moderate suffering… It’s not a fun line, but if you play well then you should make a draw here.
Magnus already from here saw the contours of the ending that arose after 19…gxf6:
After 20.d5 e5 White was clearly better, but despite later playing a bold pawn sacrifice (giving Black tripled isolated f-pawns) he was unable to make progress. Magnus summed up:
I felt like it very quickly got a bit unpleasant for him, but then I just couldn’t find anything and it fizzled out.
The post-game interviews were a chance to revisit Caruana’s near disaster against Ian Nepomniachtchi the day before, when the Russian had a chance to win if he’d spotted a clever queen retreat. Fabiano revealed he saw the tactic when he got up after playing the losing 28.Qg2, with the main shock being that White is completely defenceless.
Then there was the struggle not to reveal what he’d seen to his opponent:
The first thing is panic, and then after two minutes I did think I should probably not look too scared. But I think if he had looked at me my face gave it away. My coach saw the broadcast and he said it was immediately obvious from looking at me.
Magnus felt it was perfectly possible to see the move, but there was a caveat:
It’s very, very thematic, but to hit on the idea during the game when the no. 2 player in the world plays this move against you, it ain’t that easy! So I can understand that he missed it, but if you get this position as an exercise you find it. Otherwise you really have to look for it - maybe he just didn’t believe it enough.
The quickest game to finish in Round 3 was Aronian-Anand, where Vishy varied from a Giri-Karjakin game in Shamkir Chess earlier this year by meeting 10.d4 with 10…Bb6 (Karjakin played 10…Ba7 and won that game, but was busted out of the opening). A few moves later the draw already looked inevitable and the players needed barely an hour to wrap things up.
So-Giri was a game for fans of minority attacks, but though it took an hour longer there was very little to report.
Perhaps the most promising game early on was the Grünfeld in Ding Liren-MVL, both for what happened on the board and what didn’t. It was easy to understand why the line Maxime saw after 14…c6 15.Nd1 was so beautiful he felt compelled to come to the confessional booth and point it out:
It’s not just that Black can meet 19.Qxb4 with 19…Nd3+, but that 19.fxe5 runs into 19…Qe4+, forking the king and h1-rook.
Alas, Maxime was sad to note that 15.Rc1! refutes that line, so out of necessity he went for 14…Qf6 instead. As so often in the Frenchman’s games, he was living dangerously, but after 22.Ng4 (22.Kf1! may be stronger) he found a tactical solution:
22…f5! 23.Nh6+ Kg7 24.hxg6 hxg6 25.Nxf5+ Nxf5 (not 25…gxf5?? 26.Qg5+ and White gives mate) 26.exf5 Rxf5 and although Black’s king is weak the black pieces were so active that a draw was a good result for both sides.
While in the confessional Maxime recalled his youth:
Nepomniachtchi-Mamedyarov is a reminder of how young I used to be, because I played this position 10 years ago against Vlad Tkachiev, and he proved at the time that there was absolutely no advantage for White, seeing as Nc4 Bc8 is a very nice regrouping of pieces for Black.
17.Rxa4 instead of Maxime’s 17.Nxb6 in the 2019 French Team Championship was a new move, but not one that seemed to alter the evaluation of the position.
That leaves Nakamura-Karjakin, which was the slowest moving game you could imagine. By move 25 there had been no exchanges:
25.Nxg6 was the first, but it was a move Hikaru Nakamura would bitterly regret during and after the game:
First of all, going into this was insane… When I exchanged the knights and opted for this 26.c5, 27.b4 it looks very nice optically, and the position’s completely dominating, but Black probably is too solid.
He later felt that 25.Be1 would have been technically winning and would always end in a win for a computer, although initial silicon evaluations don’t really back that up. In any case, Minister of Defence Sergey Karjakin began to do his thing, with the plan of Bc7-a5 and Qd8 impressing Nakamura.
The plan of defence became a lot simpler after 44…Bd7:
48 of Black’s remaining 58 moves involved shuffling the bishop between d7, e8 and f7, until on move 104 Hikaru, who described himself as, “pretty disgusted with the whole thing”, finally acknowledged it wasn’t going to be his day:
His explanation for all the draws?
Everyone’s playing super-solid. Everyone’s fresh and isn’t really making that many mistakes. It’s just hard to get anything in classical chess.
So that leaves Vishy Anand still with the lead he gained from Ian Nepomniachtchi’s blunder in the first round:
In Round 4 perhaps the most-anticipated clash is Mamedyarov-Carlsen. At the opening ceremony Shakhriyar reminded everyone that he’d been the last person to beat Magnus in a game of classical chess – more than 80 games ago back in Biel in July 2018:
Magnus commented, “that was a very different tournament situation where I desperately needed to beat him”. This time there’s no desperate need, but no doubt the players, and especially the World Champion, are feeling a bit frustrated by the lack of decisive action. At some point the dam will burst!
Tune in to live commentary here on chess24 at 13:00 in St. Louis or 20:00 CEST.
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