World no. 3 Ding Liren scored an impressive positional victory over Anish Giri to join Fabiano Caruana and Vishy Anand in the Sinquefield Cup lead going into the rest day. For the first time this year we had two winners, as Ian Nepomniachtchi found a pawn winning “cheapo” (his word) against Hikaru Nakamura and, after many adventures, went on to convert. That took Nepo back to 50%, which is where Magnus Carlsen remains after five draws, the latest against Sergey Karjakin.
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World no. 3 Ding Liren is now over 30 points higher rated than world no. 4 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and the way he went about beating Anish Giri on Wednesday made a good case for his being, like Fabiano Caruana, a clear cut above the rest and below only Magnus. By move 24 it looked as though Giri was doing absolutely fine with Black – yes, White has doubled nicely on the d-file and has better minor pieces, but White’s pawns are scattered and Black is targeting the weak c3-pawn:
Here Ding found 25.Bb5!, that not only has an immediate tactical point (25…Rxc3 26.Bd7! and Black’s position falls apart), but was also the start of a powerful regrouping. After 25…g6 (defending the f5-pawn) 26.Ne2! (c3 is now covered) 26…Qf6 27.Ba4! Qe5 28.Bb3! there was nothing better than for Black to repair White’s pawn structure with 28…Nxb3 29.axb3.
A few moves later and it was time for the pawn break 33.c5!
Again tactics defend the c-pawn, with 33…Rxc5 met by 34.Nb6! and the threat of a killer fork on d7. The c-pawn did eventually fall, but although Giri was a pawn up he was totally busted:
43.g3! here emphasised how paralysed Black is, with the pinned c4-rook barely counting as a piece. The game ended 43…Rc8 44.R1d6 Kf8 45.Rxg6 b4 46.Rxh6 f4 and although e.g. 47.Qd2 was mate-in-10 there was nothing wrong with grabbing pawns a la Seirawan with 47.gxf4! Anish had seen enough and resigned:
Ian Nepomniachtchi blundered in Round 1 against Vishy Anand and was close to writing off the tournament:
It feels good because actually I think I a little bit gave up on this tournament after the start. It was pretty stupid in Round 1 and I missed a win as it turned out in Round 2 [vs. Caruana], then I was clearly winning in Round 3, but I just misplayed it badly and instead of a win it was an easy draw for Shakhriyar. This was too much – you can score 2/3, let’s say 2.5 if you’re lucky, but you score 1/3. This was really painful, so I didn’t really care too much about today’s game so I just wanted to keep some pressure after the opening and I was really excited when I found this cheapo.
You need self-confidence even to dare to believe that Hikaru Nakamura has miscalculated something with this knight jump, but he has. 15.Bxh7+! is crying out to be played, but if after 15…Kh8 you had nothing better than 16.Qb1 you’d be losing material to 16…g6. Of course Nepo had something else in mind, but it also looks at a glance as though 16.Qc7! Qxc7 17.Rxc7 Bd8 gets White nowhere:
It’s only here that the cheapo is revealed – the unusual tactical sting in the tail 18.Bd6!, hitting the f8-rook and the b4-knight. Hikaru had obviously seen this when he delayed capturing with the queen on c7 for 39 minutes, but there was nothing better, and Nepo emerged a healthy pawn up.
From there on the Russian grandmaster wasn’t particularly happy with his play, though even when he blundered a trick (he’d missed 23…Nxa2!) it didn’t dramatically alter the evaluation of the position. Despite numerous swings Nepo was still a pawn up deep into the ending, and Nakamura's 57…b4 seems to have been the final straw:
By this stage, however, there were no easy choices. Ian commented:
Of course putting a pawn on b4 leads to a lost position, but at some point it’s very unpleasant. Sooner or later I will trade on f5 and play Kd4, Kc5, making him play b4 anyway.
When the b4-pawn finally fell Nakamura resigned.
After the game Nepo recalled he’d beaten Nakamura in a similar style in the rapid section in Paris, a comparison also made by French Grandmaster Romain Edouard:
The remaining games were drawn, with Aronian-Mamedyarov a Petroff that never showed any signs of life.
Carlsen-Karjakin also failed to spark into life, with Sergey Karjakin commenting, “Finally I showed some of my preparation to New York!” 14…Re8 saw the World Champion sink into a 30-minute think.
He admitted afterwards:
I kind of got stuck after he played Re8, because he’s sort of trying to prevent my plan of playing e4 and e5, and then I don’t know. I thought for so long and I just couldn’t make up my mind, so finally I went for this ending [15.Nd2 Qb7 16.Qf3 Qxf3 17.gxf3] which I thought would be a bit better for me, but it turned out to be pretty easy to neutralise my pressure, so clearly I should have tried something else there. It was too easy.
The game at least ended in a nice stalemate:
Magnus was trying to see the positives afterwards:
It’s plain to the eye that I’m struggling a bit, I would say. I’m not really getting anywhere so far. Yesterday I had a bit of a chance [against Mamedyarov] and I squandered it. The good news for me is that I played pretty well after the rest day in Zagreb. Maybe I can do the same. Half a point is not an insurmountable lead, but for now it’s a major struggle.
One player not struggling is 49-year-old Vishy Anand, who managed to surprise Maxime Vachier-Lagrave with a novelty on move 8 of a Giuoco Piano and then followed up with a bold pawn sacrifice and kingside assault. “The opening went wrong and I’ll have to fix it,” said the Frenchman, who regretted his attempt to hang onto his extra pawn and was forced to go for a draw by repetition:
Vishy couldn’t play on at the end either, since as he pointed out:
If you look at the final position obviously Black’s well set to start an attack. Unfortunately Kd8, Bc8, Ra8 doesn’t make a good impression, so I have to take the draw.
Vishy was also looking to avoid any blunders away from the board:
The final game, So-Caruana, is one of those mind-boggling modern theoretical battles that it’s hard to know what to say about.
Fabiano claimed to have forgotten his opening preparation, “I think I mixed something up because I didn’t like what happened”, while Wesley So blitzed out the first 17 moves then took almost 40 minutes on the 18th despite his previous move having been met by the computer’s no. 1 choice. After 18.Qg5!? f6 it was immediately spectacular:
19.Nxf6+ Rxf6 was just the first sacrifice on f6, since after 20.Ne4 Nd7 21.Raf1 Kh8 22.Nxf6 Nxf6 23.e4 Bd7 it was time for one more:
24.Rxf6 gxf6 25.Rxf6 and, of course, after 25…Qe7 the computers were giving 0.00 as the evaluation of the position. That the players convincingly managed to justify that evaluation is testament to how well both are capable of calculating, with Fabiano summing up, “If the play was good then I’m very happy with the game!”
That leaves the unusual situation on the rest day of all 12 players in the tournament being within a single point of the lead, though of course it’s advantage Caruana, Ding and Anand for now!
From Friday onwards there are no more rest days (as Vishy commented, “To be honest I wouldn’t mind if Rex, by presidential decree, gave us another one at some point!”), with Round 6 including the match-up Nakamura-Carlsen. Tune in to live commentary here on chess24 at 13:00 in St. Louis or 20:00 CEST.
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