Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave all came close to increasing their lead in Friday’s Round 3 of the 2017 Sinquefield Cup, but no-one could put the ball in the back of the net. Vishy Anand did what he’d sometimes struggled to do in their matches and defended a drawn ending against Carlsen, Ian Nepomniachtchi got on the scoreboard by bamboozling Caruana in time trouble and Peter Svidler came back from the dead with the most beautiful move of the day against MVL. Wesley So also won a pawn against Hikaru Nakamura, but that was the end of his achievements.
All games opened 1.e4 in Round 3, but Bobby Fischer wouldn’t have been thrilled with the outcome of that best-by-test choice. You can play through all the encounters using the selector below – click a result to open the game with computer analysis, or hover over a player’s name to see all his results and pairings:
Let’s first briefly get Karjakin-Aronian out of the way. Levon played a line of the Giuoco Piano he’d used to beat Dmitry Jakovenko in the Geneva Grand Prix. Karjakin went for the move Harikrishna had used a round later to draw with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, and a move later his 11.d4 was already a novelty. So there was something for theory buffs to ponder in “one of the most critical lines in the Italian now” (Karjakin), but little for the rest of us to latch onto. The players repeated the position and had signed their scoresheets by move 23.
Neither player was too disappointed, since Karjakin had lost to the player he perhaps least wants to lose to the day before and Aronian had of course lost in the worst manner possible, after 110 moves and an ultimately futile defence:
After big disappointments and unexpected turnarounds like yesterday you need some adjustment and it was good to have a short game. Not that I wanted a short game, but the position… I don’t think I could extract more than half a point out of the position.
Everywhere else we got a real fight, and the most enjoyable game was probably MVL-Svidler:
This had it all, beginning with a fine confession… Maxime is the only player who’s been a regular in the confession booth, and he admitted the only reason he went was to share his love of bishops. He noted “he hadn’t lost a bishop” yet, before remembering he did give up one bishop at the end of the draw the day before, and then gave us some words of wisdom (hopefully knight-fan Anand didn’t overhear):
Svidler had given up his light-squared bishop for a knight on move 13 of a Ruy Lopez, and now after 19…Bg5 saw MVL refuse to willingly exchange the cleric by playing 20.Be3:
So far, so expected, but here Peter started to see problems with his planned 20…Qf6 after 21.Ra6! , though he added that, “later in the game I would have given my first-born for a position like this!” He sank into a 21-minute think that produced 20…Kh8?, which he described as “one of the worst moves in the position”. MVL later chimed in with, “Peter played horrendous at the start of the game with 20…Kh8”. Then after 21.Qh5! Svidler said he “couldn’t find anything that would allow me to continue the game”, though the fearless computers see no mate after either 21…Bxe3 or 21…f6. In any case, another 17 minutes’ thought produced 21…h6?!, and a somewhat puzzled MVL simply picked up a free pawn on f7.
Let’s interrupt now to mention that you shouldn’t miss Peter Svidler’s commentary on the game, that as well as that willingness to sacrifice his first-born child features the word “befuddled” and the usual combination of eloquence, chess knowledge and self-deprecation:
Back in the game there was little if any compensation for the pawn and MVL said there was “no explanation for what I did after I consolidated”. Svidler felt his opponent was going for something a little too beautiful, and when Maxime forgot about a key move and played the hapless 32.Kh2? Peter didn’t waste his chance to pounce:
32…d5!! was an instant equaliser, since 33.cxd5 allows 33…Rb4! and White is somewhat lucky not to be losing. MVL commented:
I realised immediately, to my horror, that I’d let things slip away.
He went for 33.Qxd5 Qxh4+ and had to suffer the ignominy of Svidler not immediately taking a draw but wondering whether to try and push for a win. He decided against in the end:
Losing this game again will be painful, so let’s quit while we’re slightly ahead!
It just wasn’t the day for players with an extra pawn:
The longest game of the day saw Magnus Carlsen absorb Vishy Anand’s pressure on the black side of a Ruy Lopez before gradually starting to probe White’s weaknesses. Vishy had been there before and knew from bitter experience what he was up against, but managed the task ok until the time control move, when he played 40.Nb3?!
Magnus wasted no time in going for 40…Rxb3! 41.Rxb3 Nd4! 42.Rcb2 Nxb3 43.Rxb3 Rxe4 when he was a pawn up and had full licence to torture his opponent until the cows came home. We all know how rook endings end, though, and this one was no different, with a draw agreed on move 66:
I was a little bit disappointed that I couldn’t get more after he missed this little fork.
A pawn wasn’t enough for Wesley in this game either, though initially it looked as though Hikaru was seizing the initiative. It started to go wrong, though, when he overlooked something straightforward:
Here he was planning 21…Qh5, hitting h3 a third time, but admitted to completely forgetting about 22.Nf5. Instead he played 21…Re8 but after 22.Ba4 White was on top. Soon, in fact, Wesley had simply won a pawn on the queenside.
I was happy to win a pawn, but I didn’t really expect to win.
Wesley managed to keep things alive with some inventive play, but Nakamura had a very clear idea of what he needed to do, pointing out that 4 pawns vs. 3 without rooks would probably be lost, while 3 vs. 2 should be a draw:
Therefore 41.Rb8+! Kh7 42.Bb3 Rc1+ 43.Kh2 Bxe4 44.Bxf7 left White only needing to exchange of rooks, which he managed shortly afterwards. It's good to know what you're doing in endings, though Nakamura felt his favourite book, Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual, is really for the exclusive club of 2450+ players.
Magnus failing to win meant Fabiano Caruana could have closed the gap at the top of the rating list if he’d inflicted a third loss in a row on Ian Nepomniachtchi. That certainly seemed a possibility when Fabiano started 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3!? - Nepo mentioned his opponent had played this in blitz, but he wasn’t expecting it in a classical game - and we got an extremely murky position. It seemed to swing in Caruana’s favour when he was allowed to play 24.d4!
Fabi felt his opponent had overlooked this, since although 24…c3 would let White win an exchange on f1 the e5-knight is stuck. Nepo is absolutely at home in chaos, though, and got his opponent thinking after 24…bxc2 25.Nxc2 Nd3! 26.Nd5 e5!
26…e5 came as a surprise, even though it’s probably the only move, and I started to realise it’s far from clear.
The octopus knight on d3 made it tough for White to operate and Caruana never managed to get an attack going on the kingside. Instead, very short on time, he took a draw by repetition. In other circumstances perhaps Nepomniachtchi would have tried to play on in his opponent’s time trouble, but it was time to get on the scoreboard!
That meant Round 3 changed nothing in the standings, with Carlsen, Caruana and MVL still out in front:
In Saturday’s Round 4 two of those players meet, as Magnus has White vs. MVL. In our preview of the tournament we quoted young Russian GM Daniil Dubov:
The only clear “client” [Carlsen] has left is Vachier-Lagrave, who just can’t play against him.
Harsh words, but the score is currently 6 classical wins to 1 in Carlsen’s favour, and that matchup looks like the one to watch! [As Eyal01 points out in the comments below, the score is actually 4:1 and recent games have been drawn] Svidler-So had a good build-up from the players, with Wesley commenting on how good a commentator Svidler is, including on chess24, while Peter summed up:
So far he’s playing better chess here than I am, but I do have the white pieces!
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