Reports Aug 24, 2019 | 1:46 PMby Colin McGourty

Sinquefield Cup 6: Vishy misses his chance

Vishy Anand had a great chance to take the sole lead in the 2019 Sinquefield Cup after Anish Giri admitted he was “totally lost” in their Round 6 game. Instead all six games were drawn, though not without some real fights. Caruana-MVL in particular was a super-sharp Najdorf that featured a double exchange sac by Black in the opening. Hikaru Nakamura frustrated Magnus Carlsen, with the World Champion notching a 6th draw in a row.

Anish Giri escapes with a draw against Vishy Anand | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

You can replay all the 2019 Sinquefield Cup games using the selector below:

And here’s the live commentary from St. Louis:

We also had the bonus of an hour of 8-time Russian Champion Peter Svidler, who phoned into the German stream with Jan Gustafsson. As well as discussing the games they addressed such important topics as Magnus Carlsen’s seemingly out-of-control hair!

There are two special chess24 offers during the event. Go to the Premium page and enter the voucher codes:

  • 2FOR1 – buy 1 month ($9.99) and get 1 month free
  • SINQUEFIELD2019 – buy 24 months for just $135 (under $6 per month)

You would think that on a single rest day in an 11-round tournament the players would strictly only rest, but instead many of them were active. World Champion Magnus Carlsen got to make the first pitch as the St. Louis Cardinals Major League Baseball team beat the Colorado Rockies:

It looked good as a still photo, but he wasn’t thrilled with the result:

To be honest I was a bit embarrassed by my pitch. I just got nervous when I got out there, which is stupid… but everything was suddenly unfamiliar, the home plate seemed far away. I’d been practising the last week and it had been going so well, and then when I was up there I just couldn’t handle the limelight!

He was also less than thrilled with the Rossolimo Sicilian in his game against Hikaru Nakamura, where Hikaru captured on c6 rather than going for the adventurous 6.b4!? as Fabiano Caruana had in Game 5 of the London World Championship match

Another of those chess handshakes with carefully avoied eye contact | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Hikaru eventually did play b4 on move 11, spoiling Black’s structure and giving White a lasting grip on the position, until the players drew by repetition on move 30:

Magnus summed up:

I remember I was worried about this exact line before and during the World Championship, because the computer doesn’t really show it for White, it thinks it’s just equal, but I was kind of worried that I’m just completely stuck and White can slowly improve. But it seems like Black is just too solid - there’s absolutely nothing positive to say about my position, but he just cannot get to my weaknesses. He’s got this nice blockade but there’s not much to do. It’s not the sort of position you dream of getting from the opening, obviously, since there is so little excitement, but I’ve been playing this repertoire for a while, so if I want something else I’ve got to change, I suppose.

The second most active player on the rest day was Anish Giri, who perhaps got more than he bargained for when he shared a photo from his trip to the St. Louis zoo!

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A post shared by Levon Aronian (@levonaronian) on

Then Giri showed surprising recall of a quote from Levon’s wife Arianne Caoili, “This is what balls look like. Big balls” about Aronian’s Armageddon win over MVL in the 2017 World Cup, and things only got weirder from there…

There was no lack of balls in Giri’s opening choices against Vishy Anand, but he was less than thrilled with what he’d done afterwards:

I think it was my own fault. I did a terrible thing in the opening. I played the Sicilian, which is a good thing, but then I switched to playing the French, which is a disaster - you should never play the French!

The real problem, however, came after Vishy stopped Black’s queenside play in its tracks with the radical 11.b4:

Giri thought for 38 minutes here, explaining that his first instinct was to play 11…a5!? 12.Rb1 axb4 13.axb4 d5, even though he spotted that 14.e5 Ne8 15.Nxb5 Nxb4!? runs into 16.Bxh7+ Kxh7 17.Rxb4 and eventually White wins back a piece on b4 with a fork at the end of a spectacular line:

Giri admitted, “as I noticed that, I should have just let go of my ridiculous idea of a5, but I decided to hold onto it and I tried to make it work and I came up with this 15…Ba6!? move”. Soon things became critical, and when 18.f5! appeared on the board Giri knew he was in deep trouble:

At first I realised I’m worse, and then suddenly it dawned on me that I’m just totally lost and not even because of something but just in general - I’m just lost.

Giri's prayers would be answered | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

He was soon thrown a lifeline, however, since Vishy eschewed a direct attack on the black king in favour of winning a pawn. Anish commented:

If he just keeps giving me moves I will lose it at some point, because there is no move for me - I’m going to blunder something bigger than a pawn. As he went for a pawn I was really happy, because at least I have chances now. It’s much worse to be uncoordinated and have equal pawns than to be a pawn down.

The endgame was still no bed of roses:

30.Rc1! here looks strong, ready to meet 30…f6 by doubling the rooks on the 7th rank. Instead in the game after 30.g3!? Rf5! 31.Kg2 f6! Giri was able to successfully break up the white pawns. Even then 36.Rb8+! looks like a forced win for White, but by that stage time was running low for Vishy and the game fizzled out into a draw.

Jan Gustafsson revealed on our live show that he’d talked to Giri about Vishy’s recent form:

He feels something’s changed in Vishy. Vishy’s no longer super-solid and somehow he’s back to being the old Vishy.

The 5-time World Champion could currently be running away with the 2019 Sinquefield Cup on +3, but he’s now missed clear wins against both Wesley So and Giri. His frustration was obvious in some one-word answers to Maurice Ashley in the post-game interview. Giri, meanwhile, feels his overall play has been “pretty fine”:

I lost one game, but there Ding played a masterpiece, he played very, very well. I think he was familiar with the position because he played within minutes. He was manoeuvring his pieces so quickly and so powerfully and I don’t think it’s so obvious where the pieces go, at least to me.

Svidler also commented on Ding Liren 1-0 Giri from Round 5:

Yesterday I think was an incredibly impressive game and I have some support for that opinion from very respectable quarters.

In Round 6 Ian Nepomniachtchi had clearly come ready to challenge Ding Liren in a Giuoco Piano line the Chinese no. 1 had used to beat Etienne Bacrot in the 2018 World Team Championship, but Ding was prepared with a sharp new idea that saw him equalise without any trouble.

Ding Liren's haircut was quite a contrast with Carlsen's | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Two games competed to end first on Friday, with Karjakin-Aronian featuring early exchanges after which a draw seemed inevitable. That only finally came on move 38, however, while Shakhriyar Mamedyarov admitted, “I just want to relax” as he took a 14-move draw against Wesley So. He explained he’d slept badly on the rest day.

Levon Aronian - not only sharp on social media | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

The remaining game, Caruana-MVL, saw two of the sharpest theoreticians around engage in a no-holds-barred fight in the Najdorf. It’s not often you see Black sacrifice two exchanges!

12…Rxc3!, and then…


Fabiano Caruana remains a co-leader | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

The odd thing, however, was that up until 20.Bxg5 Qxg5 21.c4 everything had been played almost instantly:

Svidler commented:

There is this kind of a hive mind in action these days, when top players armed with the same or very similar machines are looking at topical things, and they will end up getting to very, very similar or exactly the same answers. There’s no way you blitz out 20 moves in this position unless they both got to this position two exchanges down, and you have to suspect they kind of disagreed about the assessment of the position, because they both seemed pretty happy about it.

This was where it all got a little weird. Maxime stopped to think for 33 minutes, with Fabiano telling Maurice afterwards that it must be that his opponent had simply stopped analysing in his preparation after the exchanges on g5, since it looked so good for Black. He also explained that c4 is “surprisingly tricky”:

The point of c4 is that I want to play Rb4 and not allow b5, and if he doesn’t create fast counterplay against my king then I’ll start to attack him.

When it was Maxime’s turn to be interviewed, however, he said he’d had the position on the board 30 minutes before the game, but, “there’s just too many lines and in the game I thought I might as well take some time to figure out what’s going on”. In a way that was challenging a narrative Peter Svidler proposed during the live show:

What do you think is happening with MVL recently, because it really feels like he’s not exactly himself, and one thing I kind of noticed, and I’m reasonably confident in that observation, is he appears to be struggling to get out of blitz mode even when playing classical, and it was very noticeable in the rapid, for instance. It seems like it’s really hard work for him to force himself to think, and that makes mistakes obviously a lot more frequent, because he is playing against the best fields in the world and people will punish you for not actually taking the time to make important decisions. It feels like something kind of broke in the engine there.

Jan responded: “I have an answer, but it’s not very sexy - I think he has just played way too much in 2019”. Jan added that Maxime’s narrow repertoire makes it more important than for some other players to have time for maintenance and fine-tuning. 

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave playing it by ear | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

In any case, the next few moves, 21…Qh4!? 22.Qe1 Qxe1 23.Rxe1 Bh6 were played at glacial speed, though Fabiano said he was very happy when he got in 24.Rd1! (he felt if he had to play 24.Re2 Kd7 he risked getting overrun by Black’s pawns):

Maxime admitted he’d overlooked that 24…e3 could now be met by 25.Rxd6!, while in the game after 24…Kd7 25.c5 d5 Fabiano was sure that only he could win. As so often in such cases the game ended up as a well-played draw, though Caruana took offence when Maurice suggested it had been “equal”:

It’s not equal! White is borderline winning, but it’s just not. It’s a fine line between a draw and a win.

That result kept Fabiano Caruana in with a share of the lead, while MVL is on 50% after drawing all his games so far:

In Round 7 Caruana has Black vs. Giri, while Ding Liren has White against co-leader Vishy Anand. Magnus also has White, against Nepomniachtchi, before playing White again against Ding Liren in Round 8. He commented:

I’ve got myself two white games in a row now, so this is definitely the time to make a move, and anything can happen still.

The hair has less potential for growth... | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Will he manage to pick up a first win? Tune in to live commentary here on chess24 at 13:00 in St. Louis (20:00 CEST) to find out!

See also:

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