Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is now the sole leader of the 2017 Sinquefield Cup after beating Magnus Carlsen in a rollercoaster game Garry Kasparov described as “great fighting chess”. Jan Gustafsson analyses that battle for us. The day’s only other victory couldn’t have been more different, with Ian Nepomniachtchi playing at his usual breakneck speed but this time simply rolling over Hikaru Nakamura. The three draws all had something to savour, with Levon Aronian providing the early entertainment by ramming a white pawn up to h6 against Vishy Anand on move 10.
You can replay all the action from Round 4 (and previous rounds) of the Sinquefield Cup using the selector below – click on a result to open the game with computer analysis, or hover over a player’s name to see all his results and pairings:
You can also replay the full commentary from St. Louis, with Jennifer Shahade, Yasser Seirawan and Maurice Ashley:
Both players came into this game in good form and ready for a fight, with queens being exchanged on move 6 fooling no-one. In fact the players were following Teimour Radjabov’s 31-move victory over Peter Svidler from the Geneva Grand Prix, until Maxime varied from Peter’s 9…Be6 with 9…Bg6. What we soon got was an incredibly complicated and unusual middlegame position, that had the players as confused as the fans.
Maxime went to the confession booth after the time control to pronounce some words he might have lived to regret:
I’d be very surprised if Magnus knows who’s better, but I certainly don’t.
Just around that point the World Champion entered beast mode and exploited Maxime’s drifting to seize what appears to have been a decisive advantage. Just when the last nails were being driven into MVL’s coffin, though…
…Magnus let the win slip away on move 46 (46…Rg2? not 46…Rd2!) and then made an all-but losing blunder with 48.Rf3?, which ran into 48…Be2!
Maxime would later say:
What’s ridiculous for Magnus is that after 48…Be2! there’s no draw.
The Frenchman was better everywhere since Magnus soon realised his intended 48.Re3 wouldn’t be a game-winner at all:
After 49…f4! if White plays 50.Rxe2 it runs into 50…Nc1+! Tricky things those knights, despite all the cruel worlds MVL had said about them! He would go on to win what became a knight vs. bishop ending that featured some hair-raising moments and brilliant calculation.
There were so many critical points in the game that it can’t be done justice except in video analysis, and this one was by popular demand!
And here it is in all its 35-minute glory:
Reaction poured in to Maxime’s victory:
You can watch MVL’s own words in his post-game interview with Maurice Ashley, when he pointed out there was nothing intuitive about winning the endgame – it was sheer calculation!
Until that game’s breathtaking final hours we’d been kept entertained by some relatively short but sweet games. Hikaru Nakamura will want to forget his encounter with Ian Nepomniachtchi in a hurry:
Ian Nepomniachtchi had come in for criticism for the reckless speed at which he lost his first two games, with even Wesley So joking, "When you sacrifice a pawn you don’t do it for nothing, unless you’re Nepomniachtchi!" In Round 4, though, we got to see what happens when he plays fast and well! Of course it helped that he was well-prepared for the Isolated Queen’s Pawn position, with only Nakamura’s 15…Qe7 a surprise, since it wasn’t in his files. That surprise caused Ian to spend almost three minutes on a move… and it was remarkable how fast things fell apart for Nakamura after Nepo played what he called the “provocative” 18.Rc5:
Nakamura took the bait and tried to undermine the rook with 18…a5 19.Qb1 axb4 20.axb4 b6?! 21.Rcc1 g6? and suddenly it was time for the killer blow:
22.Ba6! was simply winning an exchange (22…Ra8 23.Rxc6! Rxa6 24.Bd6!), and although Nakamura’s 22…Nxb4, played after 22 minutes, won back a pawn, that was only temporary. Nepo made very easy work of the victory, only spending over a minute (just) on one of his remaining ten moves. That was Nepo’s first classical win over Naka, and also some measure of revenge – in the 2015 World Cup Nepomniachtchi failed to win an appeal after being knocked out in an Armageddon game where Nakamura castled with both hands:
Perhaps that incident had been long forgotten by the players, but perhaps not
The remaining games were drawn, but not without some enjoyable moments. Levon Aronian electrified the round at the start by pushing his h-pawn all the way to h6 by move 10 against Vishy Anand:
It was some great chess art, but Vishy remained sceptical – “h6 and Ng5 wasn’t the most impressive thing I could think of” - and emphasised how safe his king felt by castling kingside. Aronian confessed (literally) that it was part of a test to see if the recent rumour about bishops being stronger than knights was true:
His conclusion was that his bishops’ best feature was defensive:
They were good to guarantee that my opponent will not try to beat me and take the pawn on h6 – if he does I’ll always have counterplay with my bishops. They’re good when you’re losing material!
Levon called his pawn on h6 “a weakness and a strength”, though he admitted it took him some searching to find the strength:
The only strength is that it guarantees White will have the g4-square for the queen.
Vishy was a dangerous man to test theories of bishops vs. knights against, since the Indian ex-World Champion is renowned for his play with knights and got them both into the fray with 21…Nb4, a move of which he said, “if Levon had got in Nb4 he would have been grinning so much!” After the game Vishy proceeded to demonstrate some of the potential acrobatics his knights might have performed, including cheekily taking up residence on the seemingly ridiculous a1-square:
Alas, Levon was well aware of the danger and decided to expel and exchange a knight, when the players repeated moves and took a draw on move 27.
Beauty staying hidden in potential variations was to be the story elsewhere as well. Peter Svidler and his already famous “Skype friends” came up with an idea of following a Najer-Vitiugov game from the Russian Team Championship – though Peter lamented that if he’d known Wesley So would agree to follow it he wouldn’t have had to do so much work on other possible variations. The games diverged on move 16:
Here Vitiugov played the run-of-the-mill 16…Nxe3, while Wesley went for the flashy 16…Nxd4! After 17.Bxd4 Bxd4 18.Nxd4 White doesn’t win a piece due to 18…Nc5!, while in the game after 18.Nxe4 it turned out just to be a case of swapping off lots of pieces.
Material was seriously reduced, but Peter was getting excited about some beautiful attacking options after he sacrificed a pawn, noting, “I still remain, in spirit, an attacking player”:
Here, though, Wesley played what he called “a cool move”, 25…Qg8!, and suddenly Black has everything covered. He thought about playing for more, but couldn’t see anything better than accepting a draw by repetition with 26.Nd7 Rf7 27.Ne7 Rff8 27.Nd7 and so on.
Finally the Caruana-Karjakin game also featured a dramatic early moment as Sergey Karjakin played 10…e4!?
He spent almost 23 minutes on that move, and Fabiano spent another 28 to reply, despite saying that this was still in his preparation and he knew that both recaptures were possible. After 11.dxe4!? Sergey took 28 minutes himself to play 11…Ne5, which was why both players eventually found themselves in real time trouble. However, the position was simplified enough that neither had much to fear and after mass exchanges it fizzled out into a draw in 31 moves.
Altogether that meant we had a new sole leader in the Sinquefield Cup, and also a player in clear second place, Fabiano Caruana:
Fabiano is also second on the live rating list, and after Magnus’s loss the gap is a mere 9.3 points from Caruana on 2810.8 to Carlsen on 2820.1. That means that potentially Fabi can go into the rest day on Monday as the world no. 1, but to do that he has to beat Vishy Anand with Black while Magnus loses to Wesley So with Black. It’s a big ask, but stranger things have happened!
The big game for the Sinquefield Cup standings will be MVL-Aronian, with Levon Aronian on top trash-talking form when asked how their previous games have gone:
It promises to be another great round, so don't miss all the action here on chess24 from 20:00 CEST! You can also follow the games in our free mobile apps: