Wesley So still leads the 2016 Sinquefield Cup by half a point with two rounds to go, after all games were drawn in Round 7. The closest we came to a decisive result was Fabiano Caruana’s almost seven hours spent trying to bamboozle Ding Liren, but the Chinese no. 1 passed the test with flying colours. Fabiano has now drawn all seven games in St. Louis, with Anish Giri fighting a valiant campaign to have such streaks described as “pulling a Caruana”.
Replay all the games from the 2016 Sinquefield Cup:
It seemed almost as though the players needed a round to recover from the excitement of Round 6, with a high number of draw predictable soon after the start. That was most on the cards in the highest rated clash of the day, where Hikaru Nakamura played the Berlin Defence and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave took him on in the infamous endgame. It was only on move 18 that Nakamura “improved” on Carlsen’s play against MVL in Norway Chess earlier this year, but although there was the potential for Maxime to gamble with an exchange or even a piece sacrifice, he played steady chess and the draw was soon inevitable.
Nakamura summed up:
Basically the moral of the story is all Berlin Endgames are drawn, no matter how they look, so keeping that in mind, even though it looks quite scary knowing that there’s always going to be some way out it’s much easier to be positive and just keep calculating and trying to find the best solution.
The next game to finish was Svidler-So, where Peter Svidler played a variation of the English Opening he’d never tried before in the hope of surprising Wesley So, but instead he found the tournament leader knew exactly what he was doing.
Peter had last played a very young So in 2010, and was full of praise for his opponent:
I was very, very impressed with him here. I thought in some of the previous tournaments he played – although the results were excellent – I felt that some kind of a drive was maybe a bit missing in some of the games. Here he’s clearly very motivated. As I said, very, very well prepared and also of the people playing here he is probably the most practical player. The speed with which he plays, the ease with which he takes decisions is very impressive, and it also creates additional problems for his opponents. You suddenly find yourself giving an hour odds to somebody. It’s not a comfortable situation.
Wesley felt he never had a chance to get an advantage, but he was satisfied with the result, using some colourful (and mixed) metaphors to describe his opponent:
If you’re Black you’ve got to play objectively… Also I was a bit worried. I know Peter is going to be a very dangerous player. As they say, the wounded animal is the one that attacks, especially if an animal like a snake is cornered it’s going to turn and attack you, so I know he’s going to come out here with all guns blazing and be looking for a fight. But simply in the end there was nothing in the position for us to do.
And then there was Anand-Aronian, which featured two stand-out moments. A Giuoco Piano could have got a whole lot less “piano” if Levon had exploited Vishy’s novelty with 11.Bb3?!:
11…Bxh3! was playable, when after 12.gxh3 Nf4! Black will pick up another pawn as well as having demolished the white king’s cover. The game recalled the first game of the 2014 Candidates Tournament where Levon missed a big shot and then went on to lose a technical game that put Vishy on the path to a second match with Magnus Carlsen.
This time, though, there was nothing so dramatic. After 11...Re8 Aronian still ended up with what he called his “Marshall bishops” and held his own, even if he felt he could never quite equalise. In the following position he sprung a mild surprise on both Vishy and the watching commentators:
I was really surprised when he did it. I came back to the board wondering what he would do, and there it was…
It proved a masterstroke, though, since after 34.axb6 Bf7 – announcing the simple plan of bishop takes knight and rook takes on b6 – Vishy had seen enough and offered a draw. Aronian was a somewhat relieved man and was in good form in the post-game press conference. When Maurice described him as one of the good guys, he shot back:
First of all, I just want to mention that every time I have a good tournament people are saying that I’m a good player, but every time I have a bad time people say I’m one of the good guys!
Later he talked about his salsa dancing prowess:
I’m not a salsa dancer, but I love to do it. So my skills and my passion – this is like two completely different stories. They’re separate by 2000 rating points!
We’ve saved the best for last, though. First we have:
It’s not about the game, though that was an interesting clash. Veselin admitted his reversed Najdorf “wasn’t a very good experiment” and made it difficult to play for an advantage with White. In fact it was Giri who came close to claiming the full point:
Giri said it was “lucky” that Topalov had the pawn sacrifice 29.e5! here, when the game eventually petered out into a draw. Anish was on fire after the game, though. First he summed up:
I’m satisfied that I’ve played a good game. Lately I’ve been a little bit shaky and a game like this definitely gives me confidence that someday, with god’s help, I will win a game as well!
Then he was asked who had impressed him most in the tournament, which was when things began to veer off the normal track of chess post-game interviews:
I have a feeling that you’re trying to make me say that I’m impressed by Wesley! So far I’m impressed by Fabiano. His stability is impressive, but I think today he’s got some winning chances, so he has to show some class again in order to retain his perfect score. Other than that, it’s always nice to see Vishy playing well – I could have beaten him yesterday, actually, he would have been playing less well then! – but in general as an observer it’s nice to see that Vishy keeps his determination, and when I was thinking about that a couple of days ago I realised that he’s probably the most professional of all players. He’s basically doing things as I would be doing them, and other players are doing things which I would not be doing.
What do you mean by that?
Everything in his life is based on doing everything and achieving the best result. He also doesn’t sacrifice his life for it, but he doesn’t do any bullshit, so to speak.
Wow! Strong words…
I was trying to find a substitute, but I’m too tired to find it. I’m not American as well. I don’t know how bad a word is…
What are other players doing?
Whenever things go wrong most other players are giving into temptations, they either get depressed or they start doing weird things.
Weird things? What are you referring to?
Well, plenty of weird things. You can indulge in depression, drinking, women, whatsoever!
Giri was naming no names, and the banter continued for some time. He called it “karma” that Caruana was now suffering from an excess of draws after Fabiano had been a driving force behind Giri’s own reputation for draws.
Just when it seemed you couldn’t really improve on that interview as a talking point, Anish talked about doing a plank, and, moments later, the two of them were together on the floor of the interview room!
So if you only watch one thing from Round 7 of the Sinquefield Cup it has to be that interview:
Meanwhile, there was still a game of chess going on… and on… and on!
Ding Liren has now played the three last games to finish in the last three rounds – a painful loss to Topalov, an impressive win over Svidler, and now this slow-burning fight against Caruana. While the other games were reaching their climax and draws were being agreed, this Ruy Lopez was just getting going. The impression was that Fabiano had decided this was the day he’d finally end his drawing streak, and he ratcheted up the pressure until it seemed one mistake from Ding Liren might cost the game. He waited, and waited, but that mistake never quite came. The Chinese no. 1 again and again found tactical resources just when it seemed he’d lost the strategic battle and, crucially, kept a time advantage over his opponent, who ended up living on the increment.
Caruana never gave up fighting, though:
With his time running out Fabiano snatched his last chance with 76.Nf5!, realising he could let the g-pawn queen first but emerge with an advantage after 76…g2 77.Ne7 g1Q 78.Nc6+ Kc8 79.b7+ Kd7 80.b8Q. Soon Ding Liren had forced an exchange of queens, but it seemed like he was in real danger in this simple ending:
Here, though, he demonstrated that he knew exactly what he was doing with 85…Kb6!, immediately giving up the doomed d6-pawn but heading to capture the e4-pawn and ensure a certain draw. Hostilities finally came to an end on move 95.
That left Caruana off the pace in the group of five players on 50%, though as both he and MVL still have to play leader Wesley So absolutely anything could happen:
It’s Caruana who gets the first shot, with the black pieces against So in Round 8. Svidler noted that’s good news for the leader, since it means something not to have Black against Fabiano. The other critical encounter is Anand-Topalov, with both players poised a mere half point behind So with two rounds to go.
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