“It must be embarrassing for the World Champion to lose to me — I feel bad for him!” said Hans Niemann after an incredible Round 3 of the Sinquefield Cup. He not only beat Magnus with the black pieces, ending a 53-game unbeaten streak, but also crossed 2700 on the live rating list and took the sole lead. That overshadowed big wins for Alireza Firouzja (over Levon Aronian) and Wesley So (over Fabiano Caruana).
Round 3 of the Sinquefield Cup may yet go down as a turning point in chess history, with Hans Niemann scoring a stunning victory over Magnus Carlsen. That was one of three wins, which were very nearly four.
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Jan Gustafsson and Rustam Kasimdzhanov commentated on all the action.
Let’s take a look at the games in reverse order of drama.
The one quiet clash of the day was the draw in Mamedyarov-MVL. Shakhriyar admitted afterwards that he just wanted to play solidly after his loss to Hans Niemann the day before. He put that defeat down to one bad move, 20…a5?, and said the funny thing was that the move had been in his notes… precisely as something not to do!
The only other draw was in Dominguez-Nepomniachtchi, where Ian had an almost one-hour lead on the clock… but blundered in an already difficult position.
Leinier put it down to clock pressure that he here went for the “safest option” 23.Rxd2? instead of 23.Bxd6!, where White picks up the d6 and b7-pawns in all lines and simply ends up with a winning 2-pawn advantage.
Leinier had seen the move, but half misevaluated it and half simply trusted his opponent. In a karmic sense it was fair that the game fizzled out into a draw, however, since Leinier had escaped from similar positions against Caruana the day before.
The fastest win of the day was for Alireza Firouzja, who said it hadn’t been so hard for him to bounce back from the loss to Ian Nepomniachtchi, since he felt his opponent “just played an amazing game”.
Alireza was helped by Levon Aronian coming in the mood to play, first with the rare 6…Na5?!, tempting White to take the e5-pawn and capture on f7.
Alireza instead allowed Levon to capture his c4-bishop with the modest 7.a3, which proved an inspired choice, since a few moves later 11…g5?! from Levon really was asking for trouble.
Alireza went for it with 12.Nxg5!, having seen that after 12…hxg5 13.Bxg5 Kg7 he had 14.f4! exf4 15.Ne2!. Alireza thought he was just winning, and even if that wasn’t quite true, it was an extremely tough position for Black to defend.
Levon lost his way, and after 23…Nxe4 Alireza could have delivered a winning blow.
24.Nxd5! was the move, which Firouzja, like Dominguez, had seen. What he was less sure about was what to do after 24…cxd5 25.Rxf7+ Kg6 26.Rxd5! Qxh4. He said he’d also seen the only winning move 27.Qf3!, but after 27…Nf6 28.Rxf6+! Qxf6 he’d stopped calculating.
White is a rook down for just two pawns, but in fact 29.Qh5+! Kg7 30.Rg5+ wins the house.
Alireza decided not to rely on calculating long lines and instead played 24.Ne2?!, when it seems Levon could have held on with a move like 24…Re7. There was no punishment, however, as Levon played 24…Nd6? and after 25.Qd3+! Alireza was right back in control.
Levon tried to give back material to survive, but his king was just too exposed and Alireza went on to wrap up victory.
A game which on any other day might have been game of the day was So 1-0 Caruana, which saw Fabiano Caruana sacrifice a pawn in a Petroff in exchange for a kingside attack. It led to a fantastically complicated position.
When the time control was reached Wesley still had an extra pawn, but the limited material made a draw a likely outcome… until Wesley began to go on the offensive.
First Wesley found the brilliant plan of 46.Nh4! and targeting the black king, then he saw that his king would be completely safe on h3, with the potential to go further.
It all came together perfectly, when despite time running low Wesley found the key move 57.Nh6!
It was poetry in motion as Wesley managed to end by completing a Nigel Short-style king march with 67.Kh6!, setting up a mating net.
It was a modern masterpiece of a game, and one that saw Fabi drop out of the Top 10, though immediately afterwards Wesley’s thoughts were more pragmatic.
I’m very pleased to win, because if you push for 5.5 hours the last thing you want is a draw.
Wesley was asked about our last game of the day, and commented of Hans Niemann:
I was watching his games in Miami, where they called him the chess villain. Basically he learned a lot from losing all his matches in Miami. The chess villain strikes again!
He’s very determined, he’s very angry at himself and his opponents, and he works hard, so he’s got a bright future. It’s nice to know that we have very strong juniors here in the United States and not only in India or Uzbekistan. We have Hans Niemann. It’s a good change — we also have Sevian and Jeffery.
And now it’s time to turn to what has to be the game of the day, Carlsen 0-1 Niemann.
“Chess speaks for itself”, Hans Niemann infamously said after crushing Magnus Carlsen in Game 1 of their Round 2 match in the FTX Crypto Cup in Miami. He’d won with the black pieces, but Magnus went on to win the next three games, while Hans lost all his matches in the event.
Fast forward a few weeks, and the same players sat down in Saint Louis for their first ever classical game. It was a clash of the leaders, but while Hans had the incentive of being able to cross 2700 in the most glorious fashion possible, it seemed a tough ask to do it against Magnus with the black pieces. After all, this was classical chess, and Magnus was unbeaten in the last 53 games.
The impossible suddenly seemed possible after the opening, however, which proved to be wildly unfortunate for Magnus. His 4.g3 immediately raised eyebrows.
It was classic Magnus to go for something offbeat with the aim of both getting a game and being better prepared than his opponent, but the calculations were off. Hans noted:
Even I played this g3 Nimzo myself five years ago, so maybe he should have checked my white database to see how familiar I’d be.
The real problem, though, was that Hans had looked at exactly what would follow on the morning before the game.
I didn’t guess it, but by some miracle I checked this today, and it’s such a ridiculous miracle that I don’t even remember why I checked it. I just remembered 12…h6 and everything after this, and I’ve no idea why I would check such a ridiculous thing, but I checked it, and I even knew that 13…Be6! is just very good. It’s so ridiculous that I checked it.
Our commentators were equally surprised.
Magnus found himself with nothing better than to go for a difficult endgame, and when he played 28.g4?! he suddenly found himself in deep trouble.
Powerful computers were already claiming this position as winning for Hans, but 29…Nc4!? was, objectively, a stumble. The computer claims that after 30.Bxc4! the rook endgame is a draw, but when Hans was confronted with that fact he launched into an entertaining tirade.
To say that Bxc4 is a draw is like the most computer-thing ever! I guarantee turn the engine off, you ask 100 grandmasters, 30.Bxc4 Rxc4 31.gxf5 Ra4, maybe 99 will say it’s lost. I don’t even want you to explain it to me, because I’ll lose my humanity!
I don’t care what the computer says, it’s not a draw! If you explain to me that Bxc4 is a draw I’m not a chess player anymore… we’re speaking different languages here.
Hans talked about the practical side of the game, and how he felt Magnus was “demoralised”. He explained:
He has little ticks… I shouldn’t use that word. He has mannerisms — I don’t want to get cancelled here, please, thank God I said that, I corrected myself, mannerisms — so when I’ve played him I’ve noticed sometimes when he wants a certain dominance he cracks a little smile. He wasn’t cracking many smiles. Maybe one or two, and that made me feel very good.
What else made Hans feel good?
Of course, I grew up watching him, I grew up and I’ve watched all his interviews, and he said once in an interview that if he spends more than 10 minutes on a move that’s a very bad sign, and he did that a lot this game, so that boosted my confidence. But I think even if there was a draw, I think he was just so demoralised, because he’s losing to such an idiot like me. It must be embarrassing for the World Champion to lose to me. I feel bad for him!
After 30.a4 Nd6! 31.Re7 fxg4 32.Rd7 Hans got to demonstrate a brilliant idea that would also have occurred after 31.Rd8.
32…e3! had the point that you can’t take the d6-knight due to 33...Rc1+ 34.Rd1 Rxd1+ 35.Kxd1 exf2 and the pawn queens, while after 33.fxe3 Ne4! the Rc1+ threat is again renewed.
After 34.Kf1 Magnus was on the ropes, but he made it to the time control and looked to have decent chances of survival until blitzing out 42.Rd7? after just 5 seconds (42.Re7! and 42.Rf4! were the best tries, even if Hans was again sceptical).
Here Hans had to find one more star move, 42…Ng5!, and it turns out Magnus can’t win the d2-rook with 43.Bf7+ because after 43…Kf5!? 44.Rxd2 Black wins back the piece with the fork 44…Nf3+.
In fact the more precise 43…Kf6! might have spared Hans a lot of effort, but it would have denied us a study-like finish. Magnus summoned up all his reserves of resourcefulness to create a position where the black knight could pick up the a5-pawn only to get trapped.
Here the natural 55…Ke5??, aimed at freeing the knight, would be a terrible mistake, since after 56.Kg3! Magnus would have tamed the black pawns and made a draw.
Hans was alert to the danger, however, and went for 55…h5! 56.Bf7 h4 57.Bd5 when Magnus resigned, since 57…Ke5! is now entirely playable, though far from the only winning option.
So Hans had done the seemingly impossible and beaten Magnus with Black to take the sole lead in the tournament.
He said he wasn’t too bothered what happens now in the event, since “this chess thing is a very long marathon” and he has his eyes on another goal.
The eventual goal is to improve your chess and become World Champion, because in my opinion I see it’s sort of black and white for me. I see a lot of players who have been Top 10 for very long in their career, they’re happy with cashing in, but for me Top 10 doesn’t really mean much. I think in chess striving to be the greatest is for me the motivation.
The 7.3 point rating gain made Hans the 5th junior on the live rating list over 2700, after Firouzja, Erigaisi, Gukesh and Abdusattorov. “That’s ok, but it’s only the beginning!” Hans commented, while also reflecting on how far he’s come:
A year and a half ago I was 2480. Then life’s great. You can just play any tournament. I was playing GM round-robins, and then ok, I reached 2600, and then I won every single open there was, and then I reached 2650, and then it was really difficult. I had to try and get the round-robin invitations, I had to try and play in the strong opens, and even then it was difficult. Now all of a sudden I’m very thankful to have the opportunity to play the Sinquefield Cup, the US Championship, this is great. With these tournament opportunities, that thankfully the St. Louis Chess Club provides, it’s possible, but not all top junior players have the opportunities.
Hans later tweeted:
So it was quite a day, but the tournament is just getting going, and no-one can rest on their laurels. Up next for Hans is a game with the white pieces against a fellow 19-year-old who has already crossed 2800 in his career, Alireza Firouzja, while Magnus will be looking to bounce straight back when he takes on Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.
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