Veselin Topalov saved the day and took the sole lead in the 2016 Sinquefield Cup just when it looked as though we were going to get a 3rd consecutive round without a decisive result. He beat Ding Liren in a six-hour marathon that finished after the other players had already left to watch a baseball game. The four draws were again packed with incident, though, with Fabiano Caruana coming incredibly close to beating MVL and shaking up the top of the live rating list.
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Even before Topalov won it would have been harsh if Round 5 of the Sinquefield Cup had only been remembered for draws, since we got some fantastic fights. The highest rated game of the day, Caruana-MVL, was everything you could ask for.
Maxime once more invited his opponent into the Najdorf, but Fabiano had prepared a surprise with an early f3. The position was hugely unbalanced and approaching move 20 the French no. 1 came to the confessional booth to explain that his choice was “absolutely committal… either I’ll have a strong initiative or it doesn’t work at all and I’ll look stupid”. His plan was to push e4, but Fabiano welcomed the coming onslaught and thought his best move of the game was a subtle side-step with his king:
After 20…Qe8 21.Re1 Maxime followed through with 21…e4, but when he brought his queen to the h-file and then allowed that file to be opened it looked like he was living very dangerously. He had no choice but to allow 28.Bxh7+:
Maxime had foreseen that, but in his calculations he’d overlooked that after 28…Kh8 Fabiano could play 29.Be4! and not just 29.Qe4. The situation was absolutely critical, but the time Caruana had spent grasping the complexities of the position meant he was short on time just when he needed to consolidate his material advantage. The decision that followed to exchange queens was understandable against as fierce a tactician as MVL, but the Frenchman proved just as sharp in the endgame. 37…Bf2! brought an elegant end to proceedings:
After 38.Rxd6 Rf6! there was no square for the rook to go where it could prevent itself from being exchanged. The pure opposite-coloured bishop ending that soon followed was a dead draw, meaning Maxime remained the world no. 2 and Fabiano the world no. 4, not vice-versa as would have been the case if Fabiano had won!
After the game Maxime revealed it wasn’t only Peter Svidler who had struggled with crossing time zones to play in the US:
I didn’t get over jet lag. I’m going to bed at 10pm, which is just awful by my standards!
It wasn’t just that he was missing out on the St. Louis nightlife…
The problem is I get up again at 2am!
Replay the Round 5 show in full, with all the player interviews:
Anish Giri also shared his best move of Round 5:
There was a lot of trolling and trash-talking going on in St. Louis. Giri had visited the gym with the likes of Robin van Kampen, Eric Hansen, Maurice Ashley and a certain Vishy Anand, since “desperate times call for desperate measures!”
Vishy summed up what he’d seen:
Anish looks like he hasn’t done this before, let’s put it that way!
Giri’s opponent in Round 5, Levon Aronian, cut straight to the chase:
Maurice Ashley: No-one realises how much chess players value physical activity.
Aronian: I think chess players more value the fact that people think that they value physical activity!
Whatever the case, their game wasn’t overly strenuous, though it took an interesting turn when Giri went for 14.f4 (“one of the most exciting things I could come up with”). Soon after that, though, Aronian was objectively well on top, with the computer recommending 19…b5!, where the trick that Levon had missed was 20.Rfd1 Rd7 21.Qe4 Nxb2!
Even there White gets to put his queen on the menacing e6-square, with Aronian explaining of 19…b5:
I took a look at it, but I didn’t believe in it, that’s my problem. I thought “such things shouldn’t work”… Maybe I should have convinced myself!
There’s just time for one more post-game quote from Anish:
Ashley: I don’t think you have any natural enemies…
Giri: Well, I hate a lot of people, but I’m very discreet about it!
That’s the spirit
As always in these reports we need a brief pause to catch our breath, and Anand-So provided that. Wesley was the first to spring a surprise with the novelty 9…Ne7 in a Giuoco Piano. So had prepared it for a game against Giri in Bilbao, but it didn’t catch Vishy off-guard – it always helps when a new move is the computer’s first line.
The players’ own private theory continued for some more moves, until Vishy admitted that his opponent had looked into a little more deeply. No great harm was done, though, with the 5-time World Champion assessing the position as follows:
I had it in my prep – it’s a very good try. You get something very close to a Marshall Gambit. It’s a pawn, but it’s a fraction of a pawn, let’s put it like that.
Wesley finally achieved a draw with a move that, temporarily, gave up a second pawn, 16…b4:
Black is just in time to prevent White consolidating with d4, and mass exchanges and some rapid-fire moves followed until a draw could be agreed.
Neither Peter Svidler nor Hikaru Nakamura are players inclined to make life easy for themselves, with Peter commenting of his Catalan-style opening:
The opening choice was mainly to get a position with many pieces and play, which both of us were happy about.
It looked, for a while, that this might finally be Svidler’s time to shine in the Sinquefield Cup. Although he rejected a pawn he could have taken on b5, his slower option soon seemed likely to push Black off the board:
Here, though, the fight back began, with Svidler calling 24…c6!, taking advantage of the fact the a5-knight is undefended and being eyed by the black queen, as “just a very strong move”. After that things got wild, with Svidler admitting he was ultimately the one looking for forced draws. Nakamura summed up:
We both missed some things, but we were both ok with what we missed!
He also outlined what, at times, could be the Achilles’ heel of his opponent:
More so than other players he tends to calculate very long forcing lines.
That involves the risk of costly errors, but there was a happy ending to this story, with Svidler going on to force perpetual check.
That leaves only Topalov-Ding Liren, which was a game the winner wasn’t overly proud of:
Somehow I believe it was really a very bad game. In a theoretical position I think my opponent just gave a pawn for free, and then I think I was pressing a lot.
16…b4 was that moment:
You can imagine that if Garry Kasparov played the move and 17.cxb4 exd4 18.Bxd4 c5 that followed, his opponent would be terrified of just what had been cooked up in the World Champion’s opening laboratory. Ding Liren may struggle to inspire the same fear, but if he’d also blitzed out his following moves the effect might have been similar. Instead, though, while Topalov played strictly the computer’s first line Ding Liren took a long time to ponder each decision.
It was clear something had gone wrong, but Ding Liren didn’t let that discourage him and went on to defend ferociously for the next 30 moves, until with three pawns vs. two on one side of the board the draw looked to be within his grasp. Veselin, though, was in no hurry to get to the rest day and began to weave a mating net. He didn’t believe in it himself, initially, and missed his first chance to play a sequence starting with 58.Rh8+ because he failed to see how to respond to 60…Bxg2:
As you can see, the white king can boldly go to h2, with no need to fear any discovered checks. With that wrinkle ironed out all it needed was for Ding Liren to fail to take the draw on offer and instead stumble into the same position. This time Topalov was able to finish in style:
66.g3! was the quiet end to an epic encounter, gently hinting at a mate that can’t be stopped without crushing material losses.
Ding Liren was visibly upset to have thrown away the draw after doing so much to recover from his opening mishap, while Topalov also wasn’t entirely satisfied:
Somehow it would be nice if my play was also good!
Well, you can’t have everything, but what he does have is the lead at the halfway stage of the 2016 Sinquefield Cup.
It seems a long time ago now that Veselin was talking about his rapid decline and potential retirement in the aftermath of the Moscow Candidates Tournament.
Wesley So summed up the players’ mood after Round 5:
Tomorrow is a rest day, which is a blessing!
It’s also a blessing that we only have to wait a day until we enter the finishing straight of the 2016 Sinquefield Cup. In Thursday’s Round 6 Aronian-MVL and Nakamura-Caruana in particular promise to be intriguing, while Topalov will be defending his lead with the black pieces against Wesley So.
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