Levon Aronian is back at world no. 2 for the first time since September 2014 after beating Hikaru Nakamura with Black to join Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Vishy Anand in the Sinquefield Cup lead. Garry Kasparov said Anand “was a World Champion not by accident” after being on hand to witness another effortless victory against the younger generation, though Vishy admitted that Ian Nepomniachtchi “kind of went nuts”. The other games were drawn, with MVL-Karjakin a cautionary tale of what happens when you forget crazily sharp computer analysis that runs 38 moves deep!
You can replay all the games from the 2017 Sinquefield Cup using the selector below – click on a result to open the game with computer analysis or hover over a player to see all his results and pairings:
The highlight of the live commentary on Round 7 was an hour-long appearance by Garry Kasparov, who’s preparing to play in the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz from Monday. He said of that upcoming event, “I'm not here to win - calm down Hikaru, I want to have fun!” – but no-one was buying that!
You can watch his appearance, and the whole show, below:
Ian Nepomniachtchi took on Vishy Anand in the Najdorf Sicilian, which some might think is asking for trouble, but he’d achieved what should have been a comfortably drawn position before he kept making one rash decision after another. The point of no return came on move 31:
With an hour on his clock Nepo didn't defend the pawn with 31...Rb8!, but almost instantly played 31…b4?, joining his rooks on the second rank with 32.cxb4 Rcc2. That gave him nothing, though, after 33.b3!, and when a pair of rooks was exchanged he was simply in a race he couldn’t win. He continued to blitz out moves until resigning after 40.Kb2:
The white king has no trouble dealing with the f-pawn. Vishy commented on the 31…b4 decision:
He had an hour on the clock here, so he kind of went nuts!
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who not only lost the sole lead but saw his beloved Najdorf beaten could barely hide his disgust:
It was a gift… there’s no other word. This one was sad to watch.
MVL has Black against Anand in the penultimate round, and when asked about what we were likely to see, he commented, “You can expect me not blitzing out my moves!”
Perhaps Nepo was inspired by a football example going around chess Twitter accounts...
That's to take nothing away from Vishy Anand, of course, who
simply beat what was put in front of him and did it absolutely effortlessly.
Garry Kasparov talked about the Indian’s “phenomenal class” and said, “it’s
good for our generation”. Vishy is unbeaten on +2 and only 6.8 points below
2800 at the age of 47.
One game was over almost before it began. So-Caruana saw Wesley So play a variation that Anish Giri had used to make Fabiano Caruana suffer in the recent Norway Chess tournament, but both players had done their homework and So was happy to take a quick 33-move draw after equally fast losses in his last two games.
Wesley explained how he’d tried to approach the game as if it was the start of a new tournament and talked about how professional sportsmen have to deal with ups and downs. He noted it was particularly tough in chess, where a couple of defeats can ruin your rating. The rating matters just now, with Caruana admitting he wasn’t too disappointed with the draw either since it keeps him ahead of both So and Vladimir Kramnik in the race to the Candidates Tournament. Wesley gave his perspective on that goal:
You want to get to the Candidates, but if you end up second or lower in the Candidates you haven’t really achieved anything.
The early draw for Caruana and So meant they could both comment on the extraordinary goings-on in MVL-Karjakin, a Berlin Endgame where the players raced up to 22.Bg3:
Here Karjakin had played 22...g5 against Anand in the 2014 Candidates Tournament, a move repeated by Wang Hao against Wei Yi in the 2015 Chinese Championship. Sergey varied with the computer’s first line, 22…Rh6, the engine’s evaluation climbed in his favour, but it soon became clear he’d let himself in for a world of hurt.
Wesley So's comments included:
From what I remember this endgame is very dangerous for Black… They’ll do anything to win these days! I’d prefer to be White. I think it’s really dangerous for Black because it’s either drawing or lost. If you make one mistake you can very well lose the game.
Caruana revealed Karjakin had a target on his back since he constantly plays this line of the Berlin and explained what was going on for laymen:
If they had both remembered their analysis the game would already have been over in a draw. The problem is that it’s so long and so complicated that you just can’t remember, and then you get an exciting game. I don’t know what the result will be, so I think that is the definition of suspense, although objectively the position is for sure a draw.
I think we’ve all analysed it - every player in the tournament has analysed this line and concluded that it’s a draw, but it’s very complicated, very difficult. Over the board anything can happen. I would bet on a draw, but I don’t know if I would bet very much!
The suspense grew with every deep think for Karjakin, who spent 29 minutes after 29.f5:
It’s a razor-sharp pawn race, and in this position, though other moves look perfectly plausible, we have no reason to doubt MVL when he called 29…Ke8!!, as played by Karjakin, an only move. The French no. 1 added, “over the board it’s almost impossible to find these moves”. Play continued 30.g5 a3 31.e6 a2 32.Kg7 fxe6 33.f6 a1=Q 34.f7+ Kd7 35.Be5 and another moment of suspense:
Black is a queen up, for now, but has to save himself, and with Karjakin’s clock running down he kept us waiting two minutes before playing 35…Qa5! (35…Qg1 may also work, with the same idea of rerouting the queen with tempo) 36.Bf6 Qc5 and Black was ready for 37.f8=Q Qxf8+ 38.Kxf8 Ne4! and the knight will eliminate the g-pawn while the phalanx of black pawns is more than enough to ensure a draw. This is a good point to stop looking at the game, since:
We learnt after the game that Maxime had checked this whole line
20 minutes before it started, while Sergey’s mistake was clearly to do his
preparation too early
The point is that also I was very good prepared [sic], at home, theoretically, but for today’s game I didn’t remember anything, even though I’d repeated this line one hour before the game.
The encounter gave cause for reflection:
Though Caruana reassured us that it’s still rare to see quite such theoretical battles.
Svidler-Carlsen, meanwhile, was a more mundane draw, though it started with the Scotch. Peter Svidler admitted afterwards that he wasn’t hopeful he’d get the great position Wesley So had out of the opening against Magnus and, struggling to remember move-orders, he took 20 minutes to play 12.Ba3. That was curious, since it had been played before in a highly-important game
Magnus returned the respect by spending almost 20 minutes himself to make Jan’s 12…Qe6 reply, and Svidler had soon sacrificed a pawn. When Magnus Carlsen moved his rook from a8 rather than h8 to e8 on move 17, though, Svidler said it thwarted his plans to get “very strong compensation for the pawn”, and instead he had “to bail”. He steered the game towards a 3 pawn vs. 2 on one side rook ending where even Magnus wouldn’t be able to extract water from a stone.
It was a normal result for both players, with Svidler refusing to get too excited about drawing his last six games after a losing start:
This is an extremely strong field and I’m not drowning, but once you start getting ecstatic about -1 something has gone wrong.
Magnus reflected on the tournament as a whole:
Clearly I missed the amount of chances I usually miss for a year in this tournament, which to some extent is a good thing because it means I’ve been getting chances almost every game, but today wasn’t one of them. Today there wasn’t much either of us could do.
His draw against Nakamura was still weighing on him:
The thing is I was most of all disgusted with the way I just jumped over the critical moments of that game because I thought the rook ending would gradually be winning anyway. I saw both of [the wins] but I didn’t bother calculating them to the end because I thought I was winning anyway. Obviously that wasn’t the case and obviously that’s not what you teach people to do.
The problem for Magnus in terms of the tournament is that three players are now half a point ahead of him with two rounds to go. One of those is Levon Aronian:
For a long time Levon Aronian was the world no. 2 and Magnus
Carlsen’s most natural challenger. He’s failed to make the breakthrough when
the pressure is on in World Championship qualifying events, however, with Garry
Kasparov saying that “in terms of chess strength he can give Magnus a run for
his money”, but:
Aronian always stumbles at the crucial moment. There's some kind of psychological problem he can't overcome.
Before the 2015 Sinquefield Cup Magnus defended having a training camp with Aronian… (here we’re simply obliged to once again publish the only known footage from that)
…by quipping that it was fine as Levon was no longer in the Top 10. That was true back then, but Levon would go on to win the tournament and he’s since been proving that he’s not only a good son…
…but a very good chess player!
The encounter with Hikaru Nakamura was curious, since Nakamura followed a line of the English Opening that had seen Peter Svidler get into such trouble against Sergey Karjakin in the 2016 Candidates Tournament that he commented:
Objectively I evaluated my position as close to lost, but I thought, ok, let’s not get mated and continue playing, because otherwise it’s a bit sad.
That game later turned around 180 degrees, since Svidler should have scored a win that might have changed chess history, but that wasn’t due to the opening. Of course Nakamura had something in mind, and he played the novelty 15.Ne4 (Svidler played 15.Bb2) after only 8 seconds:
Things soon began to slip for Nakamura, however, and he confessed to being rattled ("This kind of put me in a bad mood") when after 25.Nc3 he’d missed the reply 25…Re7, even though computers consider his move was the best and 25…Rf6 is also a good reply for Black. It was one of those cases where it was hard to pinpoint where things really went wrong, with Levon simply summing up, “probably it should have been a draw if he had played well”.
The moment the game’s outcome became all but inevitable was spotted before it happened by Peter Svidler, as he gave his own post-game interview.
33…Nxf3+! What followed was all but forced: 34.exf3 Ra2+ 35.Bg2 Rg7 36.Rg1 Rg3 37.Kh1 Bh3 38.Bf1 e2 39.Bxe2 Rxe2 40.Nd5:
And here Hikaru’s pain was palpable as he commented on Aronian playing 40…Rxf3!?:
Levon should have just played 40…Bg2+ and finished the game. He played 40…Rxf3 to give me some false hope, I guess you can say.
If that was Levon’s plan he was denying it:
I saw that 40…Rxf3 is like a technical win, so I thought why do I need to calculate any variations? The bishop against the knight – I wanted to play some kind of homage to my friend Maxime!
Once again Hikaru was left playing the last game of the day in a position where powerful computers were counting down to mate. There was no redemption this time, and he resigned on move 54.
That left Nakamura in joint bottom place with his Sinquefield Cup and perhaps also Grand Chess Tour hopes lying in ruins. He tried to look on the bright side:
I can just try and tinker with a few things and play some good chess before the World Cup, as that’s the tournament that really matters.
It seems the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz isn’t uppermost in Nakamura’s thoughts. For Levon, meanwhile, it was a special moment, since the win, in a year when he’s already won two supertournaments, saw him climb to world no. 2:
He gave the perfect answer when asked about that
Yasser: How does it feel being no. 2 in the world?
Aronian: I think being no. 1 will feel better!
With just two rounds to go we therefore have a trio of leaders, with Magnus Carlsen breathing down their necks. Remember, a tie for first will be broken with a rapid playoff.
A lot will depend on Thursday’s penultimate round, when Anand has White against MVL, Aronian is White against Svidler and Carlsen is Black against Nepomniachtchi, but will no doubt be out for blood. One of the games that matter less for tournament standings, Caruana-Nakamura, is of course also a big match-up. If Fabiano wants to have any chance of first he needs to win.
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