Another day, another marathon in St. Louis, as Alexander Grischuk took 89 moves and over six hours to beat Hikaru Nakamura and join a 4-way tie for the lead. His co-leaders Levon Aronian and Magnus Carlsen drew a quiet game, though questions remained about a brief skirmish in which Levon could have tried for more. The other leader, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, said both he and Fabiano Caruana “played like an engine” in a fighting draw, while MVL-So and Karjakin-Anand never threatened to see blood spilt.
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And here’s the live commentary on the day’s action, which again stretched to almost 7 hours:
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Let’s first start with the draws, and in particular with the two that were instantly forgettable.
MVL-So was a Berlin Endgame, but for once Maxime never came close to tearing down the wall. Wesley commented that he wasn’t feeling very well the day before, and was clearly happy with an easy draw in the circumstances.
Karjakin-Anand could boast of a black pawn reaching g2 on move 15, but it was a familiar position that Anish Giri, Wei Yi and Viktor Korchnoi had all drawn with the black pieces. Vishy proved worthy of their company and went on to equalise effortlessly, though the good news for Sergey was that after three rounds he was finally off the mark.
The showcase game of the round was Aronian-Carlsen, and it got off to a promising start when Levon once again showed his new determination to play 1.e4, whoever the opponent.
Lev went for the Italian Game with 3.Bc4, and the key moment came when Carlsen deviated from a Shankland-Sevian Millionaire Chess game in 2016 with 17…d5!?:
When Levon entered the Russian studio after the game Peter Svidler said he had to ask the big question of the day – what was wrong with 18.dxe5 now? They looked at 18…Nxe4?!, when White simply seems to end up with a healthy extra pawn, but 18…Nxe5 19.Nd4 Ree8! should be sufficient for Black.
That was a curious exchange, because what Levon must have expected was to be asked about the position after 18.Nxe5 Nxe5 19.dxe5 Qxe5 20.exd5 cxd5!?
Here White could have gone for 21.Bxa7 Qxe1+ 22.Rxe1 Rxe1 23.Kh2 Rxa7 24.Qd2…
…and it’s not clear how easy this would have been to play for Black. Magnus commented:
I wasn’t too concerned. Maybe I should have been, but I felt that once my rooks get coordinated I can even afford to shed a pawn.
Aronian had a similar impression, telling Maurice:
The general feel is that Black should be ok generally in such positions, but maybe this is the case that White is slightly better here. It seemed to me that Black should have enough time to consolidate and make a draw, but now it looks good when you guys are moving the pieces!
That “controversy” continued on Twitter, when Levon took exception to a comment by Ukrainian Grandmaster Mikhail Golubev:
Back in the game, 21.Rad1 followed, and as Magnus had begun by summing up:
It wasn’t the most exciting of games, obviously. I guess the critical moments came pretty early on, and then after this little skirmish in the centre it was all pretty quiet. I guess nominally he’s very slightly better, but there’s just no way to make any progress.
The World Champion wasn’t complaining after his 6.5 hour victory over Karjakin:
Yesterday I was a little too excited even after the game, so I kind of found it hard to sleep, because my mind was still working on that game. It was nice to have a quiet day.
The remaining draw, Mamedyarov-Caruana, was a battle from start to finish. Fabiano played the aggressive 5…b5 in the Queen’s Gambit that Radek Wojtaszek had used in one round of this year’s Polish Championship to get a draw against Grzegorz Gajewski, only to get beaten by the same move from Jan-Krzysztof Duda in the next.
Shak said he knew the move, but not how to play as White, though that didn’t prove a problem since he had his opponent worried until Fabi described 16.f4!? as “a huge relief”. Mamedyarov admitted he'd “absolutely missed” that after 16…Nd5 17.Nxd5 Bxd5 18.Qc3 Caruana didn’t need to play passively:
After 18…Rb5!, with the threat of doubling rooks on the b-file and taking on b2, Shak said it wasn’t easy for him to play, but the position soon simplified until on move 30 it looked about to end in a repetition. Fabi deviated at the last moment, though, drawing praise from his opponent, who felt it’s good for Caruana “to play to the end” in preparation for his World Championship match against Carlsen.
Things sharpened up, and after 36.Rb3!? it was possible to imagine Black winning:
36…Ra2+ looks interesting, while 36…Rxb3 37.Qxb3 Qxh3 in the game saw Caruana pick up a pawn. Black had weaknesses of his own, however, and after 38.Qb8+ Kh7 39.Qc7 White was able to restore the material balance. The weakness of both kings made the draw that followed, on move 61, a logical outcome.
The terms of praise for chess players in the modern era have changed, with Mamedyarov commenting:
We both played like an engine - very strong moves, very interesting moves… He played like Houdini 8, aggressive, I’m Houdini 7!
That leaves the game of the day:
Alexander Grischuk’s time management is legendary, and on move 12 we got another example. It wasn’t that the position after 12.Ne4 didn’t merit serious thought, but it had been seen around 70 times before, including in games involving the very best players. In his video series on Fighting the Italian Jan Gustafsson recommends 12…f5.
Jan also mentioned Grischuk’s choice of 12…Re8, and in practice it turned out to be a great option, since Hikaru himself sank into an 18-minute think before going for 13.Bg5, a line Magnus Carlsen had once played against Levon Aronian in a Grand Chess Tour blitz game. There Magnus played 17.d4!?, which while not without its drawbacks would at least have avoided the chronic weakness of the d3-pawn that followed after Hikaru’s 17.c4.
Grischuk deftly manoeuvred his pieces, and while time was a factor it was a factor for both players. He found the nice shot 39…c6!, which left Hikaru with a bleak choice with just over 3 minutes remaining to reach the time control:
40.Nxh5 cxd5 would not only allow Black a beautiful line of pawns on the 5th rank, but would leave the knight on h5 dangerously stranded after 41.cxd5 f4. That may still have been better than Nakamura’s choice, though, since after 40.Nc3 Nf4 41.Qf1 Nxd3 White’s position was in ruins. Grischuk, to the exasperation of the commentators, managed to spend over half an hour on that "obvious" capture…
…and it was easy to see how, despite Black’s advantage, we might still end up with a time trouble thriller like the day before.
Sure enough, in trying not to spoil the position Grischuk missed some clear chances to take home the full point (for instance, 52…e4!) and at the end there may well have been a fortress. As we saw in Carlsen-Karjakin, though, all it takes is one slip to undo hours of hard work:
68.Qf1 and White probably survives, but Nakamura tried to shore up his defences differently with 68.Nf2?, when after 68…Qh4! it was no longer possible to defend both the f3 and h3-pawns from the threat of Qg3+.
Grischuk’s conversion was as ruthless as that of Carlsen the day before, with 76…f3! and 81…Kg5! among the star moves:
It takes real clarity of thought after six hours to see that 82.Bh4+ Kf4 83.Bxd8 is an easy win for the black pawns, despite the loss of the bishop.
Grischuk and Nakamura have a long rivalry that stretches back to online blitz battles on the ICC, and this game recalled the final round of the 2010 Tal Memorial. Back then it was Nakamura who had three extra pawns and countless ways to win, until disaster struck on move 84:
Nakamura’s 84…Qf3?? allowed 85.Nxe5+ Bxe5 86.Qxe5, when it was suddenly a dead draw, with the game ending in perpetual check on move 90. That result meant that Nakamura failed to tie for first place with some familiar names: Aronian, Karjakin and Mamedyarov. The pain of that 7-hour miss, in the GUM Department Store overlooking Red Square, was obvious for all to see:
Eight years later back in St. Louis the game did have the logical outcome, a black win on move 89, but Hikaru had come close to saving the game. The pain was the same:
That means that after three rounds we now have four leaders on 2/3:
Hikaru will have to bounce back fast since he has the black pieces against Caruana in Tuesday’s Round 4, while Anand-Carlsen is another classic match-up. Watch all the action live here on chess24 from 13:00 local time (20:00 CEST)!
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