Reports Aug 8, 2016 | 2:15 AMby Colin McGourty

Sinquefield Cup 3: Five battles, five draws

After the explosive start to the Sinquefield Cup, Round 3 was something of a breather, but before the games fizzled out into draws they overflowed in incident. Anand planted a knight on e7, Aronian sacrificed one on f2, Ding Liren picked the c4-square only for Giri later to give up a rook for a knight himself, while Topalov amused everyone by blundering a pawn on his first unprepared move of the game. Svidler-Caruana was the most “normal” encounter, but Peter could find no way through Fabiano’s defence of a 3 vs. 4 ending.

Topalov-MVL featured the day's most memorable blunder  | photo: Austin Fuller, Grand Chess Tour 

Replay all the games from the Sinquefield Cup so far using the selector below:

Some days chess games are simply destined to end in draws, whatever the players do.

Topalov - MVL

Veselin Topalov repeated Anish Giri’s long theoretical line against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s Najdorf, deviated on move 22, played the first move not seen in an Anand-Grischuk game on move 26 and then, after his first real think of the game, played the blunder 27.Rd3??

It was so glaring that Fabiano Caruana felt impelled to go the confession box and ponder whether Veselin hadn’t just lost the game in around half an hour. The Bulgarian didn’t make it seem any less ridiculous when he explained that he’d had the position on the board in his preparation the day before and had known, but forgotten, that the move “was just a blunder”.

Maxime failed to accept the gift | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

The saving grace, though, was that the obvious line to win the pawn – 27…Rxc2 28.Rxc2 Qf1+ 29.Bc1 Qxd3 – actually led to an ending that was tough to impossible to win. Maxime was well aware of that fact, but missed the computer’s 27…d5! 28.exd5, which would have meant that after 28…Rxc2 29.Rxc2 Qf1+ 30.Bc1 Qxd3 31.Qd2 Black had the f5-square – the 31…Qf5 pin poses White far more problems. Or rather, he only spotted it when it was too late to matter:

It was a blunder, but at the same time this endgame felt like a draw, so I was actually looking for ways to avoid queen exchanges, and in the circumstances not finding 27…d5, but only thinking about it when we were well into the endgame, showed unnecessary stupidity.

The game only finally came to an end on move 54. You can rewatch the full Round 3 show, including all the player interviews, below:

And in case you were wondering that the players were really thinking during their interviews...

Giri – Ding Liren

The other player to accuse himself of blundering was Anish Giri, but he was being a bit harsh – on both himself and his opponent! Giri was so satisfied with his opening that he visited the Confession Booth to tell his supporters in Europe they could go to sleep, since “Vachier just looked at me with a face of approval”. Everything was going his way, and he said he might have spotted his upcoming blunder if his opponent hadn’t lulled him into a false sense of security by playing bad moves… The critical moment came with 20.Be4, preparing the positional threat of Nd5:

But then Ding Liren seized his chance with 20…c4! 21.dxc4 Nxc4!! 22.bxc4 Rxc4 23.Bc6 Rxc3 24.Bxe8 Qxe8 and when the dust had settled Black had a lot of play (and a pawn) for the exchange. Giri commented on missing the idea:

Shocked is a big word – I thought it was kind of ironic that I managed to blunder even in a position like this. I’ve got kind of a numb feeling to miscalculations by now.

Later when Maurice Ashley mentioned that Giri was “quite a good player”, Anish shot back, “I used to be!” The game was far from over, though, and Giri went on to sacrifice first a pawn and then an exchange on the f6-square. It seemed to be a return to the Giri of old – always capable of finding a spectacular line to seal the draw  - but it appears this one may have had a flaw:

The fearless computer promises Black a healthy future after 35…Ke4!!, though Giri did note:

When the computer says it’s -2.5 you feel much safer with the king on e4 than when you don’t see the evaluation.

Ding Liren said he’d missed that he could respond to 36.Qg6+ with 36…f5!, but looking on from the sidelines his main problem seemed to be an underestimation of his position, considering himself “slightly worse” after his exchange sacrifice and admitting, “In the end I was not so brave – I just saw it was a draw and went for it”. 

Ding Liren and Anish Giri end hostilities | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

He’d still played a brilliant game, and there was plenty of bravery on show elsewhere.


With the white pieces, Vishy Anand has been showing some really creative ideas in the last couple of years, and this was another gem:

It’s hard to believe, but in the space of just seven moves Vishy managed to play f4-f5-f6 and establish his knight in an outpost on e7! 

Grzegorz Gajewski, here following a smartly dressed Anand into the venue, is behind many of Vishy's opening ideas | photo: Austin Fuller, Grand Chess Tour

Both players appreciated the threat and risk involved, with Anand tempering his enthusiasm:

It’s not like I was ecstatic, because I know that in many situations if it doesn’t work you’re just lost. For a while I felt very optimistic, but it was hard to get anything practical going.

Nakamura agreed:

I was always ok, I think. It was all very tricky for both of us. One wrong move by me and I think I’m losing on the spot, and one for Vishy and it can all turn around.

In the end the players soon reached a draw, with the magnificent e7-knight giving up its life mundanely for a bishop on c6. 

Vishy was all smiles after the game | photo: Austin Fuller, Grand Chess Tour

Afterwards Anand talked about how he’s had to “unlearn” classical principles:

Our understanding of many things has to keep evolving – nowadays everything is so tactical. Something works or it doesn’t, which is maybe the biggest change to get used to.  I’ve had to learn that a lot of moves that are very ugly are very strong, and I’ve had to learn that a lot of moves that I think are very good are not. I wouldn’t say we’ve discarded all classical principles, but there are so many nuances in chess, and that’s probably the hardest thing to slowly learn. I wonder what kind of conversation I would have with Polugaevsky or something. If we ever sat down somewhere for a chat it would be slightly disorientating… for him! We always used to wonder, what would happen if Morphy came back in the 60s – would he recognise chess, but I think that question is much stronger now!

Hikaru Nakamura, meanwhile, described himself as a product of America:

I grew up with the American chess culture – winning at all costs. I didn’t grow up with classical principles.

He went on to say that he’d later learned from the greats of the past, though it was only from Capablanca onwards that those players would be “grandmasters by modern standards”. He forgot that it’s not the done thing to speak ill of the dead, especially if they have a Twitter account 

As if to illustrate the defiance of classical principles we have…

So – Aronian

No classical principles known to man could explain Levon's shirt... | photo: Austin Fuller, Grand Chess Tour

Up to this point the position was still familiar – it was reached in a Gelfand-Eljanov game – but from the time usage it was clearly much more familiar to Levon:

Here Aronian committed that very familiar beginner’s “mistake” of giving up two pieces for the f-pawn and a rook, though it’s unlikely any beginner in the history of chess followed up 9…Nxf2 10.Rxf2 with a move as subtle as 10…d6! That was the computer’s first line (Levon said he’d cooked up this idea as a “backup variation” half a year ago), and sent Wesley into a 34-minute think. Perhaps if Aronian had later played 14…Ne5 things might have got tricky for the US player, but as it was a dynamically balanced position ended in perpetual check.

And then finally there was…


Peter Svidler has so far kept his focus, not visiting the Confessional once | photo: Austin Fuller, Grand Chess Tour

As we mentioned earlier, Caruana visited the confessional early in the games, but he dropped only the dead-pan “so my game is fun” before switching to the more entertaining events in Topalov-MVL. Svidler himself admitted to playing what “wasn’t the most ambitious opening I’ve ever played”, but it worked perfectly – Fabiano drifted into a very unpleasant position. His instincts to complicate matters kicked in in time, though, and Svidler felt he went astray when it came to picking a pawn to grab:

Svidler could have taken on e5, when it gets very interesting – since the knight is undefended the black bishop can take a pawn on h3 or a2. Instead after 23.Qxa6 Fabiano managed to liquidate into a 3 vs 4 pawns on the kingside rook ending. It was still potentially winnable for White, but doing it against Caruana was a lot to ask. The closest Peter came was actually on move 40, when Fabiano had nine seconds for his last move and let them run down (“They run fast!” - Caruana) until he executed the move with 1 second remaining. 

The players then had abundant time to assess the damage, with the US-Italian star breathing a sigh of relief:

I think I was very lucky after the time control that he wasn’t winning, or close to winning.

Another member of Team Caruana couldn't watch:

The draws all round left the standings unchanged, with Aronian, So, Anand and Topalov out in front on 2/3. Svidler remained in last place, but with the welcome addition of half a point to his name. In Monday’s Round 4 Svidler has Black against, “the dude who I’ve played 11 games against in the last month!” (MVL), while Aronian-Caruana is a clash of the 2014 and 2015 Sinquefield Cup Champions.

Tune in to live coverage of Round 4 of the Sinquefield Cup with Yasser Seirawan, Jennifer Shahade and Maurice Ashley from 8pm CEST on Monday! You can also follow the games on our free mobile apps:


See also:

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