Wesley So exploited Veselin Topalov’s ambition to win the key encounter of Round 6 of the Sinquefield Cup and snatch the sole lead with only three rounds remaining. The day’s other headline story was Maxime Vachier-Lagrave getting back to winning ways against Levon Aronian, who blamed a computer glitch for his disastrous opening against the French no. 1. The final decisive game saw Ding Liren inflict more misery on Peter Svidler, who said “something is broken” about the events of the game.
This was the most exciting round of the Sinquefield Cup so far, with the players returning hungry from the rest day. Replay all the games below:
Let’s start with the draws, that were anything but empty formalities.
Vishy Anand didn’t have the easiest of rest days:
I actually did a lot of work, because Anish has a very wide repertoire… for a rest day it didn’t work out brilliantly!
That effort nearly proved costly for the 5-time World Champion, who said afterwards, “there were moments when I would happily have just gone to sleep during the game”.
Up to a point, chess fans might have felt the same, but then things started to get interesting. Vishy pinpointed his problems as stemming from the “blunder” 25…Rc4, since after 26.Qb7 his plan had been to capture the pawn on e5. As you can see below (and you can enter/analyse these moves on our broadcast page), 26…Nxe5 wouldn’t be met by a recapture but 27.Ra8!, which wins in all lines:
Anand said, “I was a bit shaken” by that glimpse into the abyss, and he hastily switched plans with the retreat 26…Rcc8 (“it doesn’t do much for my dignity”), though it seems the spectacular 26…Qc2 27.Rd2 Nh4+! would have forced a face-saving draw.
Instead Anand “bailed out” (Giri’s words) into an ending, but it remained tough for the Indian star, until he was saved by his opponent’s time trouble:
It’s the dreaded move 40, and Giri found himself with only four seconds remaining on his clock. He did what people do in such situations and gave a check, with 40.Rc8+, but after 40…Kg7 he realised his planned 41.Rb8+ offers nothing after 41…Nxe5. He therefore became the second player in the game to have to swallow his pride and retreat a rook on the c-file, this time with 41.Rc3. Instead 40.Ke3!, with the king rushing to support the passed a-pawn, would have made Anand at the very least suffer for a draw.
Giri explained why he’d run out of time to take such a crucial decision:
I was considering the alternatives and I kept playing the other move. I was considering which move leads to a draw, and then I made the other move.
Replay the Sinquefield Cup Round 6 show, including all the player interviews:
This game brought Fabiano his sixth draw in six games in St. Louis (and, for instance, he drew all nine games in the 2015 London Chess Classic), but that didn’t stop him getting in a little dig at his younger colleague afterwards:
Shouldn't that be "a Caruana is the new Giri", but in any case, it would be hard to criticise Fabiano for this game, since he welcomed his opponent’s challenge in the main-line Benoni:
He played the most principled line. It’s very complicated, because I basically give up my entire centre in exchange for a few tricks!
One of those was the spectacular 18…Qb7!, offering up the knight on f6 for an immediate assault on the uncastled white king.
Against Topalov, Nakamura had got into trouble for taking the “principled” approach, and here as well he said he was sorely tempted to head straight down the main line, but, no doubt wisely, he decided to sidestep the sharpest lines and play 19.Ra1 after 14 minutes’ thought.
The game took another twist when Fabiano went for an ending that had the world’s super elite scratching their heads:
Nakamura himself commented:
I was just shocked that Fabiano allowed this ending. It had serious potential to be losing.
Anand and Giri felt the same, though Giri said he’d analysed something similar in a game by his wife Sopiko Guramishvili, and been amazed that the computer always finds resources to defend. Caruana was relying on the fact that he remembered even the pure ending without Black’s a-pawn is supposed to be a draw, which he based on the first game of the 2004 Kramnik-Leko World Championship match. Kramnik did win that game with the rooks, emphasising the danger, but both players in St. Louis agreed that there was nothing White could do to stop Black eventually forcing a draw with g5, opening up the white king.
That draw between the US stars leaves us with the three wins, which are all enjoyable games to play through. That’s highly recommended, so here we’ll focus on just one or two moments from each game:
Easy for him to say after reeling off 20 moves of opening preparation, but Wesley So went astray soon afterwards, with Topalov correctly noting that it was wrong of So to reject a queen exchange.
It was actually Topalov’s good position that led him to take a fateful decision:
Fearing his edge was slipping away, Topalov, in his own words, “left that pawn just for nothing” with 32…Re5?! (simply 32…Qxc5 and Black is at least no worse), when after 33.b4! Bg5 34.Rd1!! Bxe3 35.Qd7 the passed c-pawn was already all but unstoppable. The game lasted until move 41, but Topalov could have resigned sooner. Was So shocked by Topalov’s decision to give White a pawn?
I wasn’t surprised. Veselin is a fighter. That’s been his style for many years… He plays for a win every game.
This wasn’t Levon Aronian’s finest hour and he gave a partial explanation of how he’d prepared for the game:
I thought this was what I was planning in 2011, and before the game my computer crashed and I couldn’t recover it, so I played something like this… During the game I didn’t like what happened.
He was close to busted in less than a dozen moves:
After 11…c4, I didn’t like my position, and then I played ridiculously!
As you can see, the white pieces were soon struggling for air, while the dark-squared bishop flopped around like a dying fish:
There was a repetition on offer there, but Maxime had a simple explanation for why he instead played on: “I’m just clearly better”. At least what followed was highly entertaining, and it turns out Levon’s pure desperation almost bore fruit:
He went for 25.Rxa3?! here, but after 25.Nxb7! White has some real chances, with the trick being to combine the threat of Bd5 and Rb3, hitting a3 and threatening mate on h3. Even then, though, an ending like the one that occurred in the game might have ensued, when time trouble prevented Aronian putting up much resistance to Black’s passed pawn and powerful bishop.
And finally, for the second round in a row, Ding Liren played the longest game of the day:
This was an encounter that a neutral chess fan would perhaps have liked both players to win, since the two wild cards had suffered setbacks in St. Louis. Such things aren’t possible, though, and it was Svidler who sank to a long and painful defeat.
His troubles started early, after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.g3, when he stopped to think for six and a half minutes. It wasn’t, of course, that he was pushed “out of book” by a move he’d faced over 30 times during his career.
When I saw 3.g3 I thought, ok, I’m having a very poor tournament. I can play another one of those Symmetrical Grünfelds, or I can try something else. What I did is an experiment, maybe not a very successful one, objectively, but I thought, this will result in a game as opposed to something I’ve done and my opponent has done a number of times. It’s kind of repetitive to play the Grünfeld theory.
In the game that followed Svidler constantly seemed to be falling into little tactical traps, but it was also possible he foresaw them and decided the ensuing positions were holdable, including when he gave up his queen for a rook and bishop. Matters became critical around the time control, when the 7-time Russian Champion took the critical decision to push his c-pawn, which was captured:
He told Maurice Ashley:
Mainly I’m slightly baffled as to why I didn’t take on c4 on move 40. Something seems to be broken.
Is that just sometimes the moves don’t flow?
It’s just that you take certain decisions and then you can’t really explain, even to yourself, why you take them. It’s difficult to play like that.
Just to rub it in, it seems that Svidler’s suggested 40…dxc4 may be worse than the 40…dxe4 move he played, at least if Ding Liren found the surprisingly strong 41.e5!!.
It seemed Black might still mount a successful blockade on the dark squares, but the fortress loosened and the moment Ding Liren said he knew he was winning was when he played 54.Qc3!, pinning the knight:
If the king goes to g8 the queen can skewer all the black pieces on the a3-f8 diagonal, exploiting the pinned f8-bishop. The only surprise, perhaps, is that Svidler played on for another five moves before resigning.
After three losses Svidler isn’t throwing in the towel just yet, commenting:
Already my decisions are hugely influenced by my tournament situation. I thought I owe it to myself and to the tournament to try and do something today. I will continue probably in the same fashion – hopefully not with the same result!
For Ding Liren, meanwhile, it meant a return to the big group on 50%, that includes all four of the tournament’s highest rated players. He said he’d watched the Olympics on the rest day, and perhaps he was inspired by the success of the Chinese team – or the appearance of Caruana!
It should be noted Caruana might be able to fly...
The table therefore looks as follows with three rounds to go:
Given eight players are within a single point, there is, of course, everything to play for. The leader has Black against Svidler in Round 7, while MVL-Nakamura is perhaps the pick of the other games. Follow the live coverage with Yasser Seirawan, Jennifer Shahade and Maurice Ashley from 8pm CEST! You can also watch the games on our free mobile apps:
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