Fabiano Caruana unleashed some unused World Championship preparation on Levon Aronian and was able to join Vishy Anand in the Sinquefield Cup lead when Levon cracked in time trouble. Elsewhere Vishy’s preparation gave him a won position against Wesley So, but if he’d looked at the very tricky winning line at home he couldn’t recall it at the board. Magnus Carlsen also came close to opening his account against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, but the game fizzled out into an opposite-coloured bishops draw.
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For a while it looked as though we were going to get 18 draws in a row in the Sinquefield Cup, but Levon Aronian eventually succumbed to the pressure of playing under perpetual time trouble against Fabiano Caruana. We got there after Fabi played 7.d4!? in an Anti-Berlin, which he described as, “a very rare move”. By the time the pawn had reached d5 it was a novelty, and when it got to d6 it was clear that Levon had some very serious thinking to do:
While the Armenian no. 1 was taking a 17-minute pause Anish Giri began a visit to the confessional booth with the words, “So let’s start with a moment of silence for Levon’s c8-bishop!” Fabiano explained that his new idea was far from lethal:
It was one of the remnants of preparation for the World Championship - this was some sort of idea we had. It obviously doesn’t lead to an advantage, for many reasons, basically any move Black plays, it’s just that because he had such a wide choice it’s difficult. Sometimes a wealth of choice is not always your friend! Sometimes a straightforward path to equality, if you just have one, is easier than having tons of different options, and the line he chose was kind of natural, because you simplify things immediately.
Levon went for 11…cxd6 12.Nc4 d5 13.Nd6 Rf8 14.Bg5 Ne4 15.Nxe4 dxe4 16.Qxe4 f6 17.Be3 d5 18.Qf3:
The c8-bishop is alive again and Caruana described this position for Black as “slightly worse” but “tenable”. The issue was that after surviving the crisis Aronian still had to find a plan, and he invested almost an hour in his next four moves. There was a poor return on investment as Caruana took over and eventually picked up the isolated d5-pawn. After that Levon’s fortunes on the board improved, but his downfall was the clock. In any tournament other than the Grand Chess Tour he would have been the favourite to hold the unpleasant endgame, but here he was hit by a double whammy: there was no extra time at move 40, and the Tour uses the American system of delays rather than increments. That meant that when Levon got very low on time, and we mean very low…
…he could never get back above 30 seconds as you can do by moving fast with increments. Disaster finally struck when Levon, with a couple of seconds remaining, met 46.a4 not with 46…bxa4! but 46…Qc5??:
The e3-rook is under attack, but 47.Re8+! was a shot familiar to anyone who's ever worked on chess tactics. It doesn’t quite win the queen in this case, but after 47…Kh7 48.Rxc8 Qxc8 Fabiano could simply pick up the b-pawn with unstoppable passed pawns. All that remained was not to blunder perpetual check and Levon resigned a few moves later.
You can watch the critical moments of the game:
Caruana talked about the difficulty of playing on the delay:
At some point it’s hard to keep up the consistency and the blunder slips through. If he hadn’t played that it’s still not a draw, and he’s still suffering a lot, but the drawing chances are high, I guess given a normal time situation… When you’re down to a few seconds your mind works in slightly mysterious ways and there’s a lot of indecision. Of course it’s easy to take on a4, but you’re also wondering what your next move is, and he probably didn’t see a clear follow-up after Qxa4, and maybe he wanted something more forcing.
That game was enough to give Fabiano a share of the lead, though it wouldn’t have been if Vishy Anand had taken full advantage of his chances against Wesley So. Vishy is on a streak in the Sinquefield Cup:
With 3 draws and a win over Nepomniachtchi in the 2019 edition that makes it 38 games unbeaten for the 5-time World Champion since that bad start in 2015, but it could have been 2 wins and 2 draws in this year’s tournament. Wesley So confessed, “I play the Petroff terribly”, but on move 14 he was hit by a move played only once before (14.Rb1), while a move later there was a completely new position.
Wesley played all the computer’s first line moves, but that merely suggests the whole line is bad, since after 18.c4! Black was in deep trouble:
The computer gives 18…Qxd4!? as the only move, but against a player who knew what he was doing (and Vishy mentioned this was his prep) all Black has to look forward to is an ending a pawn down even if he can find a number of tricky moves to get there. Instead Wesley went for 18…Qa5?, when Vishy knew the computer gave a huge advantage for White. Unfortunately, however, he’d just “skimmed past” this moment, assuming he’d be able to work it out at the board if necessary.
He did find the right next move 19.Bd2!, but after the game he was wondering if even that had been a mistake. After the follow-up 19…Nb4 we got the critical moment:
This was the position that the commentators, in what’s becoming a theme of this year’s Sinquefield Cup, used to test and torture the players. It was soon clear that they’d all looked at Qb3, Qf3 and Qh3 first, while the killer move went almost unnoticed by anyone. That was 20.Qf1!!, with the main idea of 20…Qxa2 21.Re1! Rf8 (21…Rxe1 22.Qxe1 and the threat of mate on e8 is deadly) 22.Qe2! and it turns out White’s attack is impossible to parry. You had to have seen much more than that, however, such as spotting that 20…h6 is met by 21.c5! and that after e.g. 21…bxc5 22.dxc5 Bxc5 23.Qc4+ Kh8 24.Qf7 Rf8 25.Qg6! hxg5 White is winning…
…after 26.Bc3! It was completely understandable that Vishy instead went for the natural 20.Qf3 (it “looks so good I even played it kind of fast”) and he was much more disappointed to miss that after 20…h6 he could play 21.a3! hxg5 and then the zwischenzug 22.Qb3!! In the game after 21.Bxb4 White instead ended up in a queen ending a pawn up, but it fizzled out into a draw by perpetual check.
Magnus Carlsen was the other player who could have something to regret about his day at the office. In a line of the Slav that had been popular in the days of Anatoly Karpov, Magnus seemed to build up a healthy advantage with the black pieces until 22…Qb6?! looked careless:
That allowed 23.Na4! Qa7 24.Nc5 and White’s troubles seemed over, but as so often against Magnus, the slightest inaccuracy was pounced upon. Soon it looked as though the writing was on the wall for Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, with the Sesse computer giving Black a -2 pawn advantage, while Anish Giri pointed out it looked a lot like Ding Liren-Carlsen from Croatia, where the World Champion masterfully went on to win an ending with the bishop pair.
Giri explained that the question wasn’t, “how does Black win?”, but “how does White draw?”, and if there was no clear answer to that one Shakh was unlikely to hold on. The Azerbaijan grandmaster has shown impressive technique under pressure against Magnus this year, however, and this time he managed to make it look relatively easy to steer the game to a draw due to opposite-coloured bishops:
The frustration goes on for the World Champion, who despite being unbeaten in 83 classical games has now dropped 5.6 rating points in St. Louis.
There were two very quiet games in the round. The uneventful Ruy Lopez in Nakamura-Ding Liren was perhaps what Hikaru needed after his 104-move disappointment the day before, with the one curiosity being that for the 2nd day in a row an old MVL-Tkachiev game was being followed until the first new move of the game. Sergey Karjakin also had reason to want a shorter game, and Karjakin-Nepomniachtchi, a match-up between Russian players who share coaches, was perhaps predictably the quickest game of the round:
It was picturesque...
Giri-MVL, meanwhile, was a Grünfeld, with Anish Giri not
having too much to say about the opening when he visited the confessional:
Maxime looks very confident, but he’s thinking, so I’m not too depressed either. Let’s see what’s going to happen.
Instead he spent most of the time explaining that he was there because of an amusing incident that morning:
Watch his confession:
Later on in the game Maxime surprised Anish with the kind of move anyone could miss:
26…Qc6!? That little back-rank trick all but forces an exchange of queens, though Anish was fine with that after the shock wore off and he realised he was holding on to the pawn with 27.Qxc6 Bxc6 28.d6. Then Anish “decided to tempt” Maxime to capture his pawn on h4, only to regret it immediately when the Frenchman accepted the bait:
Giri’s thinking here had been roughly that he can play
Re1-e7, push the d-pawn and win the game, but Maxime had taken the h-pawn because
he realised 33.Re1 Rd4! 34.Re7 Bf5!, with h5 to follow to secure the bishop,
was a rock solid blockade. The game ended by repetition on move 45.
So after four rounds Caruana has joined Anand in the lead, while Aronian has joined Nepomniachtchi in the basement:
Giri was asked about all the draws in this year’s Sinquefield Cup and, after a more-than-half-joking comment on the hot weather, he pointed out another factor:
I think one thing is that Magnus hasn’t started winning yet. He’s usually a sure guy and usually when there’s someone already who gets going the others try to catch up. So I think Magnus will win today and things will unfold.
Well, Magnus still hasn’t won, but with Fabi joining Vishy there’s no doubt the World Champion will be very keen to get moving soon. In Round 5, the last before the only rest day, he has White against Sergey Karjakin, which as Tarjei points out has been a happy hunting ground for Magnus:
Will he make it 4-in a row (while Anand and Caruana have tough games with Black vs. MVL and So)? Tune in to live commentary here on chess24 at 13:00 in St. Louis or 20:00 CEST.
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