Magnus Carlsen moved ominously into second place in the Sinquefield Cup, half a point behind Veselin Topalov, after grinding out a trademark win over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in Round 3. The only other winner was Wesley So, whose comfortable edge turned into a winning advantage in Alexander Grischuk’s time trouble. The most interesting games were perhaps the draws in Aronian-Giri and Nakamura-Caruana, while Vishy Anand took no risks against Topalov after his 0/2 start.
After a loss to Topalov and then the shakiest of wins over Caruana, this game was all about Magnus Carlsen getting back to what he does best – converting the slightest of edges into a win while giving his opponent no counterplay at all. First he gained that edge from the opening when Maxime spent over 11 minutes on 8…Qxc4?!:
That led by force to just the kind of position
you don’t want to get against Carlsen:
The isolated d7-pawn is a permanent weakness in Black’s structure. Both players visited the confessional during the game to talk about what they’d done. First Magnus:
The last couple of times I’ve played Maxime with White he’s played b5 on the second move, so today I decided to go 2.c4 and prevent that move. Now we’ve got a line which is quite popular. I didn’t quite expect him to do this, so we’ll see what happens, but don’t expect any fireworks. That’s all I can say.
That last comment was followed by raised eyebrows and a devilish smirk. Maxime knew he was headed for trouble:
I think I could have played the opening better. Now I think I’m in for a long game. Against Magnus it’s not so pleasant. Nevertheless, I guess I have good chances to hold, but I will have to play very precisely from now on.
When it comes to precision it’s hard to compete with Carlsen, though, even if the World Champion did think he made slight inaccuracies, allowing an exchange of b-pawns and then a sacrifice of the d7-pawn in return for activity. He felt it should have been enough for a draw, but Black had to act fast:
Carlsen noted that Black should take the a5-pawn now while he had the chance, since after 25…Kg7 26.a6! it became a monster. After exchanging queens Maxime attempted to whip up activity on the kingside, but Magnus had correctly calculated that was just a temporary nuisance. Resignation came on move 43.
The French no. 1 is far from the first elite player to have gone down meekly against the World Champion, but Magnus was still puzzled he can find such willing gluttons for his punishment:
I was surprised that he played kind of submissively, just accepting a slightly worse position. Actually he’s kind of done that against me before and held slightly difficult positions, but you cannot hold these positions every time.
Magnus later summed up: “we played on my terms”.
You can rewatch the full live show, including all the player comments, below:
In our Round 3 Sinquefield Cup preview show Peter Svidler commented that, “Vishy with White is a very dangerous animal”, but after two losses with Black in the first two rounds he clearly wasn’t ready to burn any bridges in Round 3. In fact, the most tense moment of the whole game was arguably the very start, when Anand repeated the 3.Bb5+ Sicilian line that Carlsen had used against Topalov in Round 1. Were we going to see a repeat of the 7…g5! pawn sacrifice in that game (a move so famous it featured in a theme tournament last night on chess24 )?
Veselin had to overcome some doubts:
Somehow I didn’t expect Vishy to go like this at the beginning, and I was hesitating if I should repeat what I did against Magnus or not, but I believe that ok, that’s what I somehow always do, so I shouldn’t be afraid.
In the end, though, Anand varied on move 4, and the game ended in a “correct… but not very spectacular” (Topalov) draw.
The result suited both players. Veselin kept the tournament lead, while Vishy had followed the old Soviet wisdom of taking a draw after two losses. Or to put it another way:
That was the only quiet game.
When Levon Aronian put his bad form behind him and blew Caruana off the board in Round 1, chess24’s Jan Gustafsson didn’t let his customary modesty stand in the way of taking credit for the Armenian no. 1 switching from 1.c4 to 1.d4 (watch the full show here):
Alas, in Round 3 Aronian turned his back on the “play 1.d4 and start crushing people” advice and returned to the dreaded 1.c4 e5 systems. To be fair, though, it got him a very interesting position, and like Carlsen he later commented:
I really liked my position and I thought my opponent played extremely passively, giving his white bishop, although he thought he was doing fine.
This was the position where the bishop was given up:
Aronian went against everything you're taught in chess school to recapture 16.exf3?! and then showed himself to be a reality TV natural when he visited the confessional booth:
Just wanted to share! I’m not really sure about my last move because it looks weird, but it looked really cool, so I decided to play it just for the sake of fun. Of course if I played 16.Qxf3 or 16.Bxf3 White is slightly better. With 16.exf3 I’m trying to play for more. I hope that it’ll be fun!
At first it seemed nothing, but then the extra f-pawn suddenly lurched towards Black’s position, and 33.f6! tore apart the black kingside structure:
Luckily for Jan, though, Aronian didn’t go on to score another magnificent win, commenting:
Somewhere after 33.f6 I should probably play more subtle moves than what I did. I’ve been trying to play very slow moves because I’ve studied the books and games of Petrosian before the tournament. I was trying to keep the pressure, but then somewhere I went wrong. It’s not easy to point out the point where I missed a good move, but it felt pretty nasty for Black.
Perhaps it’s simply that his compatriot and the 9th World Chess Champion Tigran Petrosian is tough to imitate, as Levon Aronian himself expressed in an interview late last year:
You know, sometimes you watch a performance, in whatever sport, and you see a player who’s strange and awkward, but nevertheless succeeds. For example, a short basketball player or, on the contrary, a very tall hockey player. It’s the same with Tigran Vartanovich. He’s an “offbeat” player. I’m sure people will agree with me that he’s the most mysterious chess player of all time. Petrosian is an icon. In your childhood you simply worship him, but then, when you start to grasp more about chess, you realise that it’s impossible to imitate Tigran Vartanovich. It’s like trying to draw like Modigliani. It’s just not going to work out.
More prosaically, Levon pointed out that it was only after he played 37.Rc4?! that he realised his intended 37…Qe6 38.Qc5 f5 39.Qb6 Qc8 40.Rb4 fails to 40…Bf8!.
A draw soon followed, leaving both Giri and Aronian tied with Carlsen half a point behind the leader.
The day’s other win was yet more evidence that Wesley So has a Carlsenesque talent for winning games while seemingly doing nothing special. He said that for him it was “an honour” to play Alexander Grischuk for the first time, but while Grischuk had taken 15 years to get a first classical win over Anand the day before, Wesley got off to a flyer.
Wesley noted that he started with the English Opening for the third game in a row, and although he had some edge it seemed as though Black was perfectly solid. A few wasted tempi, though, and the black position began to become uncomfortable, until Grischuk again drifted into time trouble:
It’s hard to pinpoint where the Russian went wrong, though 29…f5?! didn’t help his cause.
Grischuk spent less than a minute on each of his remaining 11 moves and resigned a pawn down with another set to fall. Wesley was happy to be back to 50%, noting that it’s quite possible to go through a tournament at this level without a single win.
Nakamura has an amazing five classical wins to one record against Caruana, but Fabiano didn’t get to where he is today by backing down from a fight, and despite his two opening losses he went for a sharp sacrificial novelty in the Grünfeld Defence. It was a surprise, therefore, that after giving up a pawn he stopped to think when he saw the natural response 11.g3:
Caruana’s explanation is perhaps the only one that makes any sense:
It was supposed to be interesting, but I just couldn’t remember what to do after that.
In the event he continued to play well, though he was aware he was taking risks and only felt confident in the future when he played 22…Rxd4 and knew he could follow up with 25…e4. Neither player showed any interest in a draw and it seemed as though Fabiano was taking over until move 30:
Fabiano took a tempo to capture on a2, while the computer ignores the pawn count and suggests pushing the c-pawn immediately. In the game there were worrying signs for Caruana’s fans when he was down to under two minutes to make five moves after 35.Rc6:
He had a plan, though! 35…Rc8!? 36.Rxb6 c3 37.Nxc3 Bxc3 and he’d reached a 4 vs. 3 pawns on one side of the board opposite-coloured bishop ending. Caruana remarked, “there are probably ways to equalise without any suffering”, but his confidence he could survive the test proved well-founded.
The game dragged on and on, but at least provided plenty of room for humour amid chess fans. Nakamura had apparently (it seems only Norwegian TV got to see it) talked in the confessional about how his salmon bagel for breakfast had helped him feel good, which led to:
Later the bagels were everywhere:
Maurice Ashley, meanwhile, could afford to take things easy:
In fact the whole Saint Louis commentary team struck one viewer as familiar:
The game was finally drawn on move 76, leaving Nakamura on 50% and getting Caruana off the mark:
In Round 4 Giri – Carlsen is an obvious game to watch, since Giri famously has a plus score against the World Champion, having won one classical game and lost none. As usual, though, all the games promise to be intriguing contests, and you can see the pairings and replay the games from earlier rounds using the selector below:
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