Levon Aronian scored the only win of Round 6 of the Sinquefield Cup, inflicting a 2nd painful loss in a row on an out-of-form Wesley So. That meant Maxime Vachier-Lagrave kept the lead despite having to fight for his life after running into another opening bomb in the Najdorf, this time from Fabiano Caruana. The longest game of the day was a thrilling encounter between Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura, where the World Champion described himself as “extremely sloppy” for missing some tricky wins in a rook endgame. Jan Gustafsson analyses that game for us.
Only one game was decisive in Round 6 of the Sinquefield Cup, but two of the draws were great battles. You can replay all the action using the selector below – click a result to open the game with computer analysis or hover over a player’s name to see all his results and pairings:
After a year in which he could do almost no wrong the wheels have come off for Wesley So. We said after his Round 5 loss to Carlsen that it was over a year since he’d lost that badly at classical chess, but we only had to wait a day for a loss that was if anything worse. Wesley played an opening line in which Aronian himself had lost to Veselin Topalov, with Levon commenting:
I think I invented this idea with Black myself – to take on c3 and just develop slowly… but I’m not a great fan of it!
It would be hard to blame the opening, though, since things only went badly wrong in the middlegame, with Levon highly critical of So’s decision to swap off his bishop on move 19:
19…Bxe4 20.fxe4 saw Levon gain the semi-open f-file and a threatening mass of central pawns. As he put it, that was “allowing me to do the only thing I can – attack! That’s not very wise”. Wesley was playing fast in a position where he was close to strategically lost already, with the knight on a5 never returning to the action. Aronian called 24…Rb7 “a very, very strange decision” and two moves later he was ready to press for a win with 26.h4:
He would later quip:
Wesley continued to play fast and go along with Aronian’s plans, playing 26…Qxh4 27.Qxe5, when in exchange for an outside pawn there was nothing to stop the white central pawns. 27…Qe7?! (27…Re7!) was a mistake while responding to 28.Qg3 with 28…Qc5, after 11 minutes’ thought, was already game over:
Levon asked himself, “what would the great Vishy do?” and came up with 29.Rf6!!, a crushing blow in a position where White still hasn’t had to invest any material for the attack. White already has multiple wins, and play continued 29…h5 30.Rh6! Qc3 31.Rxh5 (simple chess…) 31…g6 32.e5!
A fine multipurpose move after which Wesley resigned. The pawn blocks the queen from defending against a potential mate on h8, the bishop is finally unleashed to target g6, and the pawns can also keep on rolling. As Levon noted, after 32…Qxd3 he has multiple wins:
I can even play 33.Rh3, if I’m a big sadist!
There’s no defence against simply playing Qh4 and threatening mate, while Black’s woes include the fact that both of his rooks are undefended. A truly overwhelming victory.
You can watch Levon talk about the game below (as well as catch up on the whole day’s action):
That result ushered in big changes at the top of the rating list:
The remaining games were drawn, with two of them requiring little comment. Vishy Anand “consolidated” his fantastic win the round before with an effortless draw as Black against Sergey Karjakin. The Russian said he “wasn’t sure it was so easy to equalise” for Black, but Vishy was happy to demonstrate how, commenting:
Obviously a quick draw against Sergey with Black is not a bad result.
Nepomniachtchi-Svidler was completely swallowed up by other events, with neither player making it to a post-game interview with Maurice Ashley. This time on the black side of a Ruy Lopez Svidler faced his demons by allowing White a wedge of queenside pawns, something he’d avoided against Nakamura in the previous round due to traumatic memories of how he lost to Karjakin in Round 1. Nepo played at his usual speed and got a pawn to b7 but Peter was in time to neutralise it. The game fizzled out into an opposite-coloured bishop endgame draw.
The remaining two games, however, were thrillers:
Magnus Carlsen may have won 12 classical games to 1 against Hikaru Nakamura, but that 1 win for the US star was the last decisive game between the two, and it seems you have to go all the way back to the 2015 London Chess Classic for Carlsen’s last classical victory. On Tuesday in St. Louis, though, it was clear Magnus was out to regain his “client” in a game that was initially looking bad for Hikaru after 16.Bb5:
As Magnus commented,
He must have underestimated this idea with Bb5, because he thought for over 50 minutes, but I guess he found a decent solution.
16…Bd7 17.Qxd5 Be6! was the first of a series of impressive non-standard ideas that Nakamura kept finding to stay afloat. The game was wild, with the following position catching the eye for the mass of pieces under attack:
Sure enough, we got a shootout!
The next ten moves were all captures: 20…fxe4 21.Bxe7 Bxc1 22.Bxb7 Bxe3 23.Bxf8 Rxf8 24.fxe3 exf3 25.Bxf3 to leave an ending where White had an extra pawn.
Both players would go on to lament how they played it, with Hikaru commenting, “I got careless in this rook ending”, while Carlsen called his failure to go for the critical lines “extremely sloppy”. There were moments when wins could be guessed at by humans…
…and confirmed by silicon:
Magnus struggled to explain some of his choices and ultimately Nakamura was given a narrow path to a draw that he seized with both hands, concluding, “at least I defended very well at the very end when I had too!”
Jan Gustafsson will be providing commentary on that 6-hour game:
The remaining draw was quick but dramatic and crucial to the standings:
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was perhaps tempting fate when he commented on the Najdorf after Round 2:
I feel so confident in this kind of position. Of course there’s some risk of getting outprepared, and it happened a few times this year with these guys, but somehow I consolidated a bit and tried to be more focused and I’m confident that I can answer any question over the board. I have a great deal of experience and know where to look for the dynamics.
In Round 6 he played it again and, in a position he’d had against Caruana, Nakamura, Giri, Grischuk, Naiditsch and Solak before, and where 77 games had all gone 10.Bf2, Fabiano Caruana uncorked 10.Qd3!?
Afterwards he would explain that the move had been suggested to his second Rustam Kasimdzhanov by a Norwegian, and Tarjei J. Svensen was on hand to provide the name most of us had struggled to catch on the live broadcast!
Maxime would later tell the confessional how unpleasant a surprise it had been, and he spent 21 minutes reluctantly concluding that it was too risky to grab the pawn on b2 and open that particular Pandora’s box. What made the novelty so tricky, though, and what attracted Fabiano, was that the most natural alternative, 10…Nbd7, wasn’t particularly good. After 11.0-0-0 it was clear Fabiano was out for blood.
Here, though, is where MVL’s feel for the dynamics of such positions came to the fore, and he met fire with fire with 11…g5!?
That finally got Fabiano thinking on his own, and although Maxime later came to the confessional to explain he wasn’t “out of the woods yet” he managed to get play on his own terms. Fabiano commented:
Maxime is especially good in these types of very dynamic positions. Even if you get an advantage it’s not easy to beat him.
Caruana seems to have slipped when he decided to grab a pawn himself at the price of allowing an exchange of queens:
23.Rxg4!? Rxg4 24.Bxg4 Qg5 25.Qxg5 Nxg5 26.Bf3 Black was soon able to swing the rook over to the h-file and all White’s advantage had vanished.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave’s reward for that latest piece of escapology was to top the standings with three rounds to go:
He feels he needs another win if he’s going to claim the title, and has two games with White, first against Karjakin in Round 7 and then against Nepomniachtchi in the final round, though Black against Anand in Round 8 may be a tricky test.
Among the chasing pack Carlsen and Aronian have Black against Svidler and Nakamura in Round 7, while Anand has White against Nepomniachtchi and may have marked that game down as his best chance to make a play for tournament victory. So-Caruana will see Wesley trying to avoid a third loss in a row, though Fabiano is one of the most dangerous players out there with the black pieces.
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