Fabiano Caruana inflicted a second loss in a row on Hikaru Nakamura as he became the latest player to join what is now a 5-way tie for the lead at the 2018 Sinquefield Cup. Once again the remaining four games were drawn, with the excitement coming in Grischuk-MVL, a razor-sharp Najdorf, and Anand-Carlsen, a game in which Vishy seemed to win the opening battle but then needed to be at his best to ward off a powerful counterattack by the World Champion.
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Magnus Carlsen offered a summary of Day 4 in St. Louis:
This round might be pretty much a copy of the two previous ones, with one game going long and the others being not dull draws but relatively short ones.
He was only wrong in that Caruana-Nakamura ended surprisingly quickly, with Hikaru perhaps not having the appetite for another marathon game. Let’s first get to the draws, though, and take them in order of excitement, beginning with the utterly nondescript Mamedyarov-Aronian, which was a 24-move, 45-minute Queen’s Gambit Declined between two players who were happy to consolidate their good start to the tournament.
So-Karjakin, meanwhile, looked promising. Wesley was dressed for the occasion…
…and followed the modern trend on the chessboard…
Sergey parried that aggression with an immediate 18…h5, and later counterattacked with 24…Ra4:
The position was unbalanced, both sides had potential pawn breaks and there were weak kings. In the play that followed, though, it seemed as though both players set themselves the task of organising a draw as quickly as possible – not always easy, since draw offers aren’t allowed in this year’s event. Material was exchanged on almost every move that followed until a draw by repetition on move 48.
Grischuk-MVL, meanwhile, was a full-blooded encounter in which Alexander Grischuk tested Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the same Najdorf line Vishy Anand had used in Round 2. This time with 15…h5 Maxime returned to the move he’d used against Anish Giri in the 2017 Palma de Mallorca Grand Prix, with 17…Qb6 the first new move. Alexander spent a “mere” 10 minutes on 18.Kb1, but then after 18…b4 19.axb4 Qxb4 he sank into a 30-minute think:
To pass the time, Maxime went to the confessional booth, where he summed up:
As far as I know, I’m fine, but I might have missed something. This is what can happen in the Najdorf!
He also expressed the view that Grischuk was actually still in his home preparation – “he likes to add his own thoughts to his analysis” – though it later turned out that wasn’t the case:
Then of course it’s a huge relief for me, because he’s clearly not going to invent something drastic in these kind of positions without good preparation.
20.Be1 was an option, though objectively Black seems fine there as well, and the play would have been more complex. Grischuk’s 20.Rxg4, following Giri’s sacrifice from the original game, looked to be a wise choice, and the encounter ended 20…hxg4 21.Qxg4 Rb8 22.Na2 Qa4 23.Nc3 Qb4 24.Na2 with a repetition it was too dangerous for either player to deviate from.
Maurice Ashley reflected that the Najdorf wasn’t dead. Maxime:
The Najdorf has no reason to be dead. It’s a pretty good opening!
By far the most interesting of the draws was Anand-Carlsen, even if before the game expectations weren’t high:
They rose when it started as a Sicilian Rossolimo (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 g6) and Vishy played the opening fast and confidently, including unleashing a novelty with 12.a4.
Magnus spent 8 minutes there, but otherwise didn’t waste much time either, until the crunch came after 22.Qd1?!:
Magnus seized his chance to go on the offensive with the pawn sacrifice 22…c4! 23.dxc4 f5! (23…Nb3 was a move Vishy was half-hoping for) and suddenly it was all to play for. Magnus commented:
I was kind of hyped to get this one chance to play actively, because otherwise I felt like I would be very slightly worse with very little counterplay.
Vishy entered the confessional during the game to confess, “It’s not that I didn’t see c4 and f5 – I thought my position was better than it was”, while he later elaborated on the opening stage:
I came up with this complicated scheme with the knights on g3 and e3, but I forgot how exactly I’m supposed to conduct it. I don’t think allowing c4 and f5 is exactly part of the plan, so I must have mixed something up!
The position was balanced on a knife-edge, but Vishy stayed afloat with a series of accurate moves, including one Magnus had missed in advance, 30.Rh4!
Vishy had also missed something, since he initially thought he could meet 30…Rd4 with 31.Rxd4?! exd4 32.Nd5? cxd5 33.Qxd3...
...only to spot just in time that 33…Qf6! was winning for Black there. If White continues 34.cxd5 there’s 34…Qf2+ 35.Kh1 Rf4 36.g3 Rf5! and it’s game over.
Luckily, though, 31.Rg4! was a fully valid alternative, and Magnus admitted that when he captured on g4 it was “basically an admission that I had nothing”. Vishy was more worried by 31…Rdf4, but it seems Magnus was correct that 32.h6 also equalises there.
In the game it was Vishy, if anyone, who was better with his strong centralised knight, but although it survived right until the end there was no stopping the game ending in a draw:
The tweet was mainly just a joke, of course, since as Chief Arbiter Chris Bird and others pointed out the game is officially over when a mate is no longer even theoretically possible.
The dream scenario for Fabiano Caruana is that he ends the Sinquefield Cup as world no. 1, ending Magnus Carlsen’s 7-year reign and sowing doubt before their match. It’s certainly not impossible, since the gap on the live rating list after Round 4 was cut to exactly 13 points, with their head-to-head encounter to come in Saturday’s Round 7.
Fabiano showed he’s not going to keep all his weapons hidden before the match when he played a novelty on move 14:
Peter Svidler’s 14.0-0 against Hikara Nakamura here in the 2017 Palma de Mallorca Grand Prix was the standard approach, but Fabi went for 14.0-0-0!? instead, sending Hikaru into an 18-minute think.
I found this move a few months ago. I think it’s a relatively new move. I don’t know if it’s been played before in any format, but it’s very interesting. It leads to very similar positions (for instance, to Carlsen’s game against Karjakin in Round 2) but instead of the king on g1 the king is on c1… so I can try to attack much faster with g4, h4 etc.
Fabi was playing down the strength of the move, claiming it was a “throwaway” idea for one game or to be used in rapid chess. It worked better than that, though, and Caruana said he got everything he could hope for, before he also misplayed the position. The worst seemed to be over for Nakamura, until one rash decision on move 35:
35…f5?! (“horrible, because even if you win this pawn it’s not worth anything” – Anand) 36.hxg5 fxe4? (“out of desperation” – Caruana) 37.Ke3:
Suddenly it’s total positional domination for White, with Vishy making a nice slip when he commented, “White’s king is so cuddly… cosy on e3/d4, because nothing can ever happen”. The same can't be said for Black's king, which is at the mercy of the white rooks and knight.
The assumption was that Nakamura would dig in for a long defence for a second day in a row, but instead he puzzled Caruana: “He was playing very quickly, and he was also surprised by all of my moves”. 43…h5? (43…Rh8) was identified as a blunder that hastened the end, with the king’s triumphant appearance on d4 provoking resignation:
The game might have continued 49…Rcc5 50.e4! ("It’s a very sad situation for his rooks" - Caruana), with Nf5+ the main threat to win material, though Svidler was disappointed that Nakamura hadn’t chosen to allow the game to end with the rare best-by-test beauty of 50.e4 Black resigns.
I’ve done choreographed resignations myself to get to a very nice final position in a game, so for me, as a bit of a connoisseur of resignations, resigning after 49.Kd4 felt wrong, but I understand people aren’t obliged to keep my high standards.
For more details on that, and it’s a lot of fun, check out the 2nd game in Peter Svidler: The Glory Days of 1999.
It was understandable that Nakamura, in joint last place, wasn’t too focused on aesthetics. He now finds himself 1.5 points behind the leading pack, which is made up of half of the line-up!
The curiosity in Round 5, the last before the rest day, is that none of the leaders are playing each other. The highlights are perhaps Carlsen-So, where Magnus may be out for revenge after his loss to Wesley in Norway Chess, and MVL-Caruana. Watch all the action live here on chess24 from 13:00 local time (20:00 CEST)!
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