Reports Aug 31, 2015 | 2:32 PMby Colin McGourty

Sinquefield Cup 7: Carlsen’s despair

It's not often we see Magnus Carlsen like this. After losing a six and a half hour battle against Alexander Grischuk the World Champion was close to inconsolable as he slumped at the board and later struggled to form sentences to express his self-disgust. Elsewhere Levon Aronian grabbed a full-point lead with two rounds to go after exposing a gaping hole in Hikaru Nakamura’s opening preparation. Vishy Anand lived dangerously against Wesley So, but found a fine queen sacrifice leading to a fortress draw.

Sometimes chess is a cruel game even for the very best | photo: Nacho Soto

There’s nowhere else to start but with by far the longest game of Round 7.

Carlsen 0-1 Grischuk

In the early stages of this encounter Magnus Carlsen came to the confession booth and then, after a dramatic pause, uttered a single sentence:

I don't like my position.

He didn't need to return later to show us he still felt the same. 

A tough day at the office! | photo: Nacho Soto

Jan Gustafsson takes us through the epic encounter that followed:

When Magnus eventually came to talk to Maurice Ashley afterwards he started by describing it as “an absolutely dreadful game”. After giving details of the defeat he summed up:

The way I lost it is really shameful. It’s the sort of loss I’ve had too often. It’s just incredibly frustrating. I feel that I played badly in the middlegame - I don’t make a draw when I need to make a draw - and then I play badly in the endgame as well. Or course he deserves credit for pushing, but it’s frustrating. To lose so many games with the white pieces is ridiculous!

Grischuk explained why it was so hard for Magnus at the end in time trouble:

As it turned out he had to make some precise moves. He was very low on time and here it’s a bit of a study-like position, so you have to think - you cannot just play by hand.

Got him! Grischuk has scored his first classical wins against both current World Champion Magnus Carlsen and former World Champion Vishy Anand in the 2015 Sinquefield Cup | photo: Nacho Soto 

For Grischuk, meanwhile, time pressure forced him to focus:

You don’t have too much time for some outside thoughts. That’s actually why, for example, I always get into time trouble, because during the game I always have these stretches when it’s my move but I’m not really thinking about which move to make. I’m just floating!

The Russian no. 1 (now just ahead of Kramnik on the live rating list), was happy with his play:

As I said, what’s important for me is that I managed to play three chess games, with Aronian, Caruana and Carlsen. So far I’m satisfied with this. If you play good, results are likely to come, but when you play awful... Thinking about results and the tournament situation never brings any good.

You can rewatch the whole live show, including all the player comments, below:

The other decisive game was another win for Black, and an absolutely critical one for the tournament standings.

Nakamura 0-1 Aronian

Seldom has a player with the black pieces been in such total control against another elite player as Aronian was against Nakamura | photo: Nacho Soto

We quoted Hikaru Nakamura in our last report:

I think, for example, it’s a very bad idea that Levon Aronian was hanging out with Magnus Carlsen prior to this event. As far as Magnus goes he’s clearly established as the best player, so if anything, he has more to gain. I think it’s much more to his benefit than it is to Levon’s.

Suddenly, however, it looks as though the New York training session was just what the doctor ordered for Levon Aronian. 

Those weren’t the main words Hikaru had to eat after Round 7, though, since he’d also been scathing about Wesley So’s opening preparation. That came back to haunt him:

There was nothing positive you could say about Hikaru’s handling of the Ruy Lopez with White. He played into a line his opponent had played many times before – most notably in a painful last-round loss to Carlsen in the final round of the 2013 Sinquefield Cup – but had nothing to offer. Levon later summed up:

It was difficult to say what he had in mind, but probably he just had a day off [sic], which happens to all the good players, once in a while… It’s a huge advantage for Black. I’m sure I misplayed it at some point because I was just admiring my position too much… With the deficit in time I felt that there’s no way Hikaru is going to be able to save the game.

A critical moment arose on move 34:

The best try for White here is 34.Bxd4 Rxd4 35.h4, but instead Hikaru went for 34.Bxg5?! fxg5 35.Rd1 – and offered a draw. Levon merely took that as a sign that his opponent had misunderstood something:

I think Hikaru underestimated the danger of his position. Otherwise I think he would never offer a draw, because you can see that the position is almost lost for White… I’m guessing he thought 34.Bxg5, 35.Rd1, 36.Rd3 and he’ll be able to solidify his position and underestimated that the position is very bad for White.

To add to Nakamura’s woes he was low on time, and after 39.Rad1?! Rbf8 trouble was brewing on the f-file, just as it had for Wesley So against Nakamura:

Still, Hikaru could have grovelled with 40.Nd2, when after 40…Nxc2 41.Rc1 White at least has a half-open file of his own to compensate for the pawn deficit. Instead he went all in with 40.Nxe5? but after 40…Kxe5 41.Rxd4 Rxf3+ the black rooks took up residence in the white position.

The half an hour the game dragged on afterwards was more about frustration than an objective evaluation of the position.

The black invasion had begun | photo: Nacho Soto

So both of the world’s highest live-rated players had lost on the same day, and Levon Aronian had climbed back up to world no. 7 after completing a clean sweep of the three US players in the event.

A fan on Twitter provided some new imagery to suit the Armenian no. 1's achievements:

The remaining three games were drawn, though one of them was a great struggle.

Topalov ½ – ½ Giri

Not this one! In fact, with queens exchanged on move six this probably qualified as the least exciting game of the event. 

Topalov's facial expressions were nevertheless in top form in the post-mortem! | photos: Nacho Soto

The sharply dressed Anish Giri summed up:

I was hoping my game would match my attire, but once he exchanged the queens the position is basically quite dry. It was not a game you should have been following.

Topalov was no doubt satisfied to get back on track after two losses in a row, while Giri, unbeaten in the Grand Chess Tour so far, wasn’t too upset at his lack of wins:

The tournament so far is very tough, as you can expect. It’s quite recent that there are such tournaments where there’s practically no single outsider at all. There’s always a Van Wely of some sort! There’s always a local guy, but here the local guy is world no. 7 or something.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave helpfully made sure that quip got back to Giri’s Dutch rival and friend Loek van Wely 

Caruana ½ – ½ Vachier-Lagrave

Fabiano had prepared an improvement over the play of Michael Adams, who lost to Maxime in Biel, but although the French no. 1 felt he was briefly outplayed a draw was quickly agreed on move 30. Perhaps the most exciting moment in the game was a move that wasn’t played, 19.Nxe5!?, though both players agreed it would probably have given White nothing and might have backfired.

Caruana tries to use a Jedi mind trick to make the knight go where he wants... (probably) | photo: Nacho Soto

It was much more interesting to hear Caruana’s thoughts on his loss to Grischuk the day before:

I can still salvage the tournament somewhat in the last two rounds. Yesterday was just very bad, because I played well up to a point and I gave up a piece, which was correct, and then I just… I don’t know why I didn’t take on e3.

Caruana played 17...b5?! instead of the "obvious" 17...fxe3

It was the correct move. It was obviously the critical move and I should have done it. After that the game probably would have gone a different way. Maybe I wouldn’t have won, but I would definitely have been pressing. If I had won that game it would be a different tournament for me. So I sort of managed to recover somewhat after a bad start, but yesterday was a pretty big setback… I just got lazy over the board. I calculated something, I thought it was dangerous for me and I wanted to play a simpler way without allowing all sorts of tactics. It was just a very bad moment – one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in a long time. For some reason I didn’t want to do it, which was very wrong. Usually you should have the self-control to analyse things to the end, which I didn’t do.

And that brings us to a game that could have seen Wesley So bounce back in style.

Anand ½ - ½ So

It looked as though little was happening in this game until, in Vishy Anand’s words, “somewhere I just lost my concentration a bit and just blundered something”. The former World Champion was soon a pawn down, which is why his opponent Wesley So felt obliged to play on rather than take a draw by repetition on move 24.

Vishy now has five draws in a row after his bad start in St. Louis | photo: Nacho Soto

Strangely, though, that was good news for Anand, who got to show a glimpse of his talent after what had so far been a very disappointing tournament. First he put a pawn on c5 (“the main feature of the game is this pawn on c5, shutting that bishop out” (Anand) and then he manoeuvred his knight to c4:

Anand explained:

I set this trap with 27.Nc4 and I was very happy with the queen sac, because I thought I’m very safe in that position. I was surprised he went for it so quickly, because he could have played 27…a4 and kept things going along a bit. If it doesn’t turn out that he missed something then probably my judgment was correct and this endgame is a kind of fortress.

After 27…Bxc5 28.Nxe6 Bb4 29.Nxg7 Bxc3 30.Nxe8 Bxe8 31.Rxc3 the landscape was utterly transformed:

The game went on to move 39, with Wesley commenting:

For a moment I thought he simply blundered, but apparently it’s a very solid fortress for him. He has no weaknesses and all my pawns are isolated and vulnerable.

Wesley So - surprisingly back at university in St. Louis | photo: Nacho Soto

The draw gave So a chance to reflect on the Godfather Trilogy of spectacular defeats he’d suffered in the previous three rounds:

It’s very tough. Obviously things aren’t going very well and I lost three games in a row, but as Magnus said during the opening, last year he was a spectator and this year he wanted to come as a player. So hopefully for me my first year I came here as a spectator! I’m not going to make any excuses for my bad play. It’s just things haven’t been going very well with my chess. Hopefully I can learn from it. It’s like a chess university for me and I’m paying with my rating points!

The players find themselves at the bottom of the table, with Wesley facing Topalov and Caruana in the final two rounds, while Vishy has Aronian and Carlsen – no-one said it was going to be easy!

The standings after Round 7 show the one-point gap that Levon Aronian now holds over four players:

While he has White against Anand in Round 8, all eyes will be on Carlsen-Nakamura, perhaps the fiercest rivalry in world chess – despite the 11 classical wins to 0 score in Magnus’ favour. To warm up for it there was a curious segment on the live show that Jennifer Shahade introduced as follows: “We’ve got a lot of rivalries in the competition and we asked the players to talk a little trash about each other… and some of them said nice things too!” Here are their contributions:

Aronian: I can’t really say I like any of the players here.

Giri: I don’t really like Magnus, but I guess that’s the case with everyone. One chess fan came to the autograph session. He asked Magnus to draw a smiley on the board – obviously Magnus refused – he’s not really the smiling type of person!

Grischuk: Those guys – you know Magnus, Giri, Nakamura, they’re just saying BS.

Which brings us to:

Carlsen: Nakamura’s been playing pretty solid chess this year and... he’s still not the best player… or second best… or third best. We’ll see.

Q: How would you rank him then?

Carlsen: Somewhere after that!

Nakamura: Magnus doesn’t like me, he never has really, but I don’t really care. He tries to play a lot of psychological games with his opponents and sometimes it works, but at this point in time, like I said before, I just don’t really care.

Needless to say, don’t miss today’s penultimate round of the 2015 Sinquefield Cup! You can see all the pairings and results and click through to the games below:

You can also watch all the games in our mobile apps:


See also:

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