Magnus Carlsen’s shock withdrawal from the Sinquefield Cup overshadowed everything else in Round 4, but the chess went on. Fabiano Caruana scored the only win, defeating Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in 92 moves, while Hans Niemann lost his lead to Wesley So after failing to convert a winning position against Alireza Firouzja.
At a glance there were two decisive results in Round 4 of the Sinquefield Cup, but Carlsen-Mamedyarov wasn’t played and will be annulled after Magnus Carlsen quit the event before playing half of his games.
Jan Gustafsson, Rustam Kasimdzhanov and Lawrence Trent commentated on all the action.
We’ve reported elsewhere on Magnus Carlsen’s withdrawal from the Sinquefield Cup, which saw Shakhriyar Mamedyarov waiting around until Magnus had failed to appear in 10 minutes and forfeited his game.
Magnus pulling out had some curious consequences, including the appearance of a new leader. Hans Niemann’s win over Magnus was chalked off from the tournament standings, with Hans joking (though Alejandro Ramirez checked to make sure):
That’s pretty ridiculous. I guess he just didn’t want me to win the tournament so he had to leave! He knew that that would happen.
That meant that Wesley So, who had beaten Fabiano Caruana the day before, was able to take the lead with a quick draw against Ian Nepomniachtchi. Wesley noted the players were distracted by other events, while Ian summed up the game:
Wesley chose one of the most solid lines against the Catalan… If Black knows his lines, it’s more or less a draw.
You needed to have done some computer work to find Wesley So’s outlandish drawing resource 18…Qa7!
Our commentary team pointed out that it just looks like a “mouse-slip”, blundering a piece in two ways, but in fact after 19.Qxc6 Rb6! the queen is trapped, while it was now Nepo’s turn to demonstrate an almost absurd draw with 20.b3! Taking the queen does no good, so Black had nothing better than to force the draw with 20…Bf8 21.Qa4 Ra6 22.Qb5 Rb6 and a repetition of moves.
That draw was enough for Wesley to take the sole lead, since Hans Niemann was unable to convert a winning position against Alireza Firouzja. All eyes were on this game — and the post-game interviews — and Hans didn’t disappoint. When asked if he’d missed something, he set the belligerent tone with:
Of course I missed a chance! It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.
He then summed up the early stages with, “this entire game was just brilliant for me”, with the standout move the stunning 19.Qg3!, which was played after less than a 2-minute pause.
Alireza was rocked by the move, commenting:
Qg3 is insane! He played it also very quickly, I think maybe 5 minutes he thought about it, and it’s just insane. So I immediately understood that if I take, this was my plan originally, that he wants to take and just play h4, or f4, h4, and I was just scared. Somebody giving me a piece like this and there is no immediate mate, I don’t understand this position, so I didn’t go for this.
The question of what would have happened after 19…dxc4 20.Bxh6 is one Alejandro decided to probe in his interview with Hans, with the engine switched off. Hans noted the forced 20…g6, but then commented, “I don’t even need to show variations, you just look at the position”.
Alejandro insisted, and this was where Hans got into difficulty. He continued:
The only reason Bg5 isn’t working immediately is because maybe f6 works… Just f4, what’s happening? My pieces are literally perfect, his pieces are just terrible. I have Bg5 next, I expect to go h4, h5. Come on, it has to be lost! I don’t understand in what universe this is not completely lost.
The problem is the position does appear to be lost, but for White, with the computer giving Black a decisive advantage. In fact there’s nothing better than 21.Bg5 f6 22.Bh6, when it should be a draw with best play.
Hans wasn’t put to the test in the game, since Alireza reasoned, “I just wanted to play a bit more,” and instead of going for the forced lines he played 19…Kh8?!, allowing 20.Nd6! and a very clear advantage for White.
Neither player found the perfect moves in what followed, but the next and final turning point came after 24…Qf6.
25.Be3! wins, while 25.Bd3?!, as played by Hans, gave away the lion’s share of the advantage. Hans explained that after 25…Bf5 he’d missed that he wasn't winning after 26.Be5 Qg5 27.Rg4.
Hans pointed out the spectacular win 27…Bxg4? 28.f4!, but said he’d missed 27…Qc1+! , which saves the day.
Alireza was refreshingly honest when he admitted that he’d completely missed 27.Rg4, saying, “I never noticed anything — he told me after the game!”
In what followed Alireza may even briefly have had an advantage (“How could I ever be in danger when I have the d6-pawn?” — Hans), but he was happy to call it a day after having survived the Qg3 shocker.
Hans was asked about the elephant in the room, Magnus withdrawing, and managed to answer as if it didn’t occur to him at all that he might have been a factor in the decision.
I was struggling to even focus, I was thinking about it the entire game. I’ve never, ever in my life heard of a top player forfeiting a game, even the World Champion. For me to see him forfeit the game…
I’m speechless, to be honest. It’s very weird. First he gives up the title, which I was certainly surprised about, and then now this. I don’t want to draw any conclusions, but it’s very strange. At least I got to beat him before he left — that’s the good thing!
With all the drama, a quiet game or two were welcome, and Aronian-Dominguez was exactly that.
Levon dodged the Najdorf with 3.Bc4 and then tried a small strategic idea to keep life in the position, but the game fizzled out into a 35-move draw by repetition. Afterwards Levon put the case for the benefits of trusting fast-climbing young players.
I personally played against Magnus when he was very young, and I’ve learned from him a great deal. If I was sitting there thinking that there’s something suspicious about how strong he plays I don’t think it would be very beneficial for me. I could never learn from him.
A day of immense chess drama off the board threatened to end with only draws on it, but Fabiano Caruana, who had lost to Wesley So the day before, eventually managed to take home the full point against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.
Fabi commented of his opening choice:
I realised something, which is that, even though I played pretty awfully recently, I do destroy one opening, which is the Najdorf. All my wins are in this one opening.
He came prepared with a near-novelty that he’d worked on for the FIDE Candidates, 21.Rc1.
I expected him to know what to do, but even if you know it, you might not remember all the details, and it remains very, very difficult. 21…Rc5 is the most natural move, but 21…Rfe8 is the best move. It is a forced draw, but it’s a very, very complicated forced draw.
21…Rfe8 was actually played by Leon Mendonca against Surya Ganguly in the MPL Indian Chess Tour but it highlights the difficulties that Leon was soon lost in that game. Maxime was also all but lost after 21…Rc5 22.Qe4 Re5 23.Qxf4 f6, with Fabi soon a pawn up in a queen endgame.
One pawn became two, but it was far from as easy as you might imagine, with Fabi commenting:
Two pawns up there are a lot of positions which are drawn, and a lot of positions which are winning, and they all kind of look the same.
We got to see that in action when Maxime was suddenly drawing, with perfect play by both sides, on move 67.
Practically speaking, however, it was a nightmare of a position to play. Fabiano was winning again on move 80, then it was drawn on move 87, and then finally from move 88 onwards there were no more swings as Fabi took over.
92.a7+! was a nice final move.
Whichever way Maxime captures the pawn,Fabiano can exchange off queens into a winning pawn endgame i.e. 92…Kxa7 93.Qc5+!, or 92…Qxa7 93.Qd8+ Kb7 94.Qd7+ and Qxa7+ next move.
Fabi summed up:
This was great! This was exactly what I needed after yesterday. Two very difficult games in a row, so I’m quite tired as well.
He wasn’t too tired that he couldn’t come up with arguably the best tweet of a difficult day for chess (the Magnus Effect is the new podcast on which Magnus previously announced he wouldn't defend his World Championship title).
So the standings now look as follows. Note it’s not only that Magnus has zero points, but that those who were already paired with him — Nepomniachtchi, Aronian, Niemann and Mamedyarov — have played one less game.
Round 5, the last before the rest day, would ideally have featured Firouzja-Carlsen, but now Alireza will have an extra rest day. The remaining games are Mamedyarov-Caruana, Dominguez-Niemann, So-Aronian and MVL-Nepo.
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