Magnus Carlsen would have lost his world no. 1 spot if he’d fallen to Wesley So while Fabiano Caruana beat Vishy Anand on Sunday in St. Louis, but instead the reigning and previous World Champions both won in 29 moves. Magnus was surprised in the opening but grabbed a pawn and never looked back, while in the twilight years of his career Vishy Anand added one more sumptuous brilliancy to his legacy. The three remaining games were interesting draws, with Minister of Defence Sergey Karjakin rehabilitating himself by surviving a grim position vs. Ian Nepomniachtchi.
Before the one and only rest day we were once again treated to a great day’s chess at the 2017 Sinquefield Cup. You can play through all the action using the selector below, while if you hover over a player’s name you’ll see all his results and pairings:
Replay the full Round 5 show from St. Louis, including all the player interviews:
There’s nowhere to start but with a vintage attacking game from 47-year-old multiple World Champion Vishy Anand. He absorbed Fabiano Caruana’s ambition – the world no. 2 may have seen Carlsen struggling and begun to dream of the no. 1 spot – and then pounced on errors in a game that Vishy said involved “a hell of a lot of calculation”. There’s no better way to understand the encounter than through Jan Gustafsson’s video analysis:
The moment of truth came after Anand’s 25.Qc3+:
The black king’s cover is blown but here after 25…Qe5! White has nothing better than to go for an ending an exchange up with 26.Rxe2 Qxc3 27.Re8 Qd4+ 28.Rf2 Qxb4 29.f8=Q+ Qxf8 30.Rfxf8 Rxd3, and while it might be objectively winning Black would have excellent drawing chances.
Vishy Anand reflected on that afterwards:
I’m going to run into this boring ending… I went to this place and all I got was this lousy T-shirt!
Instead Fabiano, who Vishy called a “phenomenal calculator”, blundered with 25…Re5? He’d seen and spent most of his time calculating the strong 26.h3 (which Vishy felt would be enough to reject the rook move), but had totally overlooked the bone-crunching creeping move 26.Qd4!!
It’s mate-in-two if the queen is captured, but 26…Qg5 27.Rc5! was the coup de grâce of a fine combination. Caruana finally took the queen with 27...Rxd4 but resigned after 28.f8=Q+ Kg6 29.Qf7+, with mate just moves away.
Later when recommending middlegame books Vishy explained
that game collections had aged much better than books that tried to teach
rules, since “the game of chess is turning out to be much richer than we knew”.
We had the privilege to witness some more of that depth in St. Louis on Sunday.
While Magnus saw one of the contenders for his no. 1 spot thwarted in that game, he got the job done himself against Wesley So.
Wesley So had been touted as the world’s best player for much of the previous year, but for now he’s yet to prove he can overthrow Carlsen. In their individual encounters he can boast of only two wins in rapid chess, while Magnus now has a 3:0 score in classical.
In Round 5 everything initially looked good for Wesley, whose Scotch Defence (perhaps inspired by Sopiko Guramishvili’s new video series!) caught the World Champion off-guard (perhaps he'd only watched the first video of the series in which Sopiko looked at the 4...Bb4+ sideline that he played ). Magnus smiled afterwards as he explained:
I’m not particularly proud of what I did early in the game. He surprised me with the Scotch and I thought, “yeah, let’s just play something and see how it goes!” My position wasn’t very good and I missed this Be3 followed by Ba4. Perhaps it’s not quite as bad as it looks, or at least it’s not easy for White to gain anything substantial. He can win a pawn in many ways, but I always get some kind of counterplay.
The game turned when Wesley played 19.Bf4?!, offering a pawn on b2:
Wesley had joked just a round earlier, “when you sacrifice a pawn you don’t do it for nothing, unless you’re Nepomniachtchi!”, so it was understandable Magnus had some doubts:
I was shocked that he played Bf4 so quickly, and then I sat there thinking for a while, wondering what I’d missed, and then I decided I can’t live like this and I’ll take on b2 and hope for the best! Probably there wasn’t anything there, and after that he didn’t put up much resistance.
The crucial move that makes everything work for Black came after 23.Qxd6:
23…Qe2! used the attack on the f3-knight to finally get out of the pin, while with the black army on the second rank it was clear So had gone badly wrong somewhere in his earlier assessment. It was still astounding, however, how fast the game ended. First the a2-pawn dropped, then it seemed Wesley was perhaps bluffing when he brought another piece into the “attack”, leaving the c3-pawn to its fate:
Magnus called that bluff as well and Wesley So, a famously resilient defender, simply chose to resign.
Carlsen felt it was premature, but he’d still have been a huge favourite to convert:
It was of course early to resign, but he’s not mating.
Carlsen afterwards talked about his loss to MVL the day before as well, confessing he’d seen the “extremely good” 46.Rd2! but decided 46.Rg2? was a “better and a more stylish move”. Then after MVL’s killer 48…Be2! turned the tables:
Initially when he went Be2 I thought, “ok, that sucks, but there’s no reason to panic”, but then I sat there and was thinking and it’s shocking that there’s nothing close to a draw anymore. That was perhaps more tragi-comical than anything.
It’s clear that Magnus didn’t think he played badly apart from that one miscalculation, though, and why should he? Nakamura said after his own game that, “Magnus was the only person I thought was playing good chess” and now that quality of moves is reflected in a reopened gap at the top of the ranking list:
Nakamura is up next for Carlsen, but not quite yet!
On that rest day Magnus got to rub in how easy his win had been:
On the topic of draws, Yasser Seirawan shared a great anecdote about when he disobeyed unspoken team orders and rejected one against the great Mikhal Tal:
The one game that didn’t look destined for a draw was Karjakin-Nepomniachtchi. First Ian Nepomniachtchi responded to 1.e4 with 1…d6, and then on move 7 Sergey Karjakin puzzled the watching world with 7.Be2, after he’d put the bishop on d3 just a couple of moves earlier:
Things only started to get weirder after that. Nepo said he didn’t know that move, but he spent under three minutes on his next move, 7…Bg4, which put Karjakin into a 12-minute think before playing 8.Be3.
On the Spanish broadcast Caruana’s second Rustam Kasimdzhanov gave his theory that Karjakin had been surprised in the opening and didn’t want to go for sharp lines he hadn’t revised just before the game, so he tried to get his opponent out of preparation with a random move.
Karjakin defended the move, though:
Actually the move is not stupid at all… I played stupidly and then it looks very stupid.
My friend and big opening expert recommended this move – it’s very serious, but I couldn’t remember the point of the move…
As you might imagine, that proved to be a problem! Karjakin guessed that the point of the move was to prevent Black playing …e5, while he felt after 7…Bg4 he should have played 8.e5 himself. Instead Nepo seized the initiative and took control of the d-file and the kingside. All Karjakin had left was the queenside, but that might not have been enough if Nepo had played 28…Kf6 instead of 28…Kg8. The point was to stop or at least seriously discourage 29.b5!
Black had little choice but to play 29…cxb5 allowing 30.Qxc7 Rxc7 and, with both players blitzing out their moves, Karjakin once again went on to show that he’s one of the best defenders in world chess, holding the ending. After 28…Kf6 the black king would have been defending the pawns and much closer to the centre, making the ending a less likely source of salvation for White.
So it was a missed chance, but another example of Nepomniachtchi’s recovery after a bad start in St. Louis. His next opponent, Peter Svidler, was a bit disappointed that “the Real Slim Shady” had finally shown up in St. Louis:
I really like that guy who played the first two rounds, as an opponent!
Peter Svidler himself was full of surprises in his game against Hikaru Nakamura, first playing 10…Nxe5 rather than 10…dxe5 for the first time in his career and then playing the novelty 11…Ned7 - it was a day when pieces had second thoughts in the opening. At a glance it looked as though he’d blundered when 23.Qd3 appeared on the board:
That double attack on a6 and h7 won a pawn, but as Nakamura himself noted, “Peter likes to do this in general, giving up material for active play”. He said he felt Svidler was trying to be “a little too active”, and Peter himself admitted later, “it felt like I could be very close to completely busted”, but in the end there was a never clear winning line that Nakamura missed.
The remaining game, MVL-Aronian, was also anything but clear.
A suspicious character?
Levon Aronian repeated the Giuoco Piano line he’d tried against Karjakin in Round 3, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave varied… and soon the game ground to a halt!
Both players were flummoxed, with Maxime commenting about this position:
In the game I was running into some danger, but I was very happy to find 19.Ra3. Simply none of us could make a move - it was some kind of reciprocal zugzwang.
Levon echoed those comments, calling it “mutual zugzwang”, and wasn’t too happy about his 19…f5. Those two decisions cost the players a combined 50 minutes but soon the position would heat up...
Maxime seemed to secure his knight with 21.d4, but...
21…Nxd4! 22.cxd4 Bxd4 23.Rxb3 Rxe5 24.Qc4 Rxe1 25.Bxe1 was the start of wave after wave of complicated exchanges that eventually left White with two minor pieces for a rook.
It was the kind of position White sometimes wins, but Aronian held it with no trouble. He wasn’t thrilled with his play, but lightened the mood after a confusing game with a quip:
MVL responded (he may need to work on his trashtalking!):
That draw was enough to keep Maxime in the sole lead, with chess legends Magnus Carsen and Vishy Anand breathing down his neck:
After the long-awaited rest day Carlsen will no doubt try to fight for first place by beating Nakamura with White on Tuesday, while Caruana will try to get back on track with White against leader MVL. Don’t miss all the action here on chess24 from 20:00 CEST! You can also follow the games in our free mobile apps: