Reports Aug 11, 2017 | 3:39 PMby Colin McGourty

Sinquefield Cup 8: Karjakin heaps misery on So

Sergey Karjakin inflicted a 4th loss of the 2017 Sinquefield Cup on Wesley So to join Magnus Carlsen half a point behind the leaders going into the final round. The famously hard to beat So has now dropped 18 rating points, plunging from world no. 2 to world no. 8. All the remaining games were drawn, though Aronian-Svidler and Caruana-Nakamura were great fights. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Vishy Anand and Levon Aronian continue to lead, with the latter having the advantage that if all games are drawn on the final day he’ll take first without a playoff.

Anand, Aronian and MVL are the leaders going into the final round of the 2017 Sinquefield Cup, but if everyone draws Levon will win his 2nd title! | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Replay all of the games from the 2017 Sinquefield Cup using the selector below – click a result to open the game with computer analysis or hover over a player’s name to see all his results and pairings:

You can replay the full live commentary with Jennifer Shahade, Yasser Seirawan and Maurice Ashley below:

The leaders draw – in very different ways

Carlsen catches up with events in Anand-MVL | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Vishy Anand chose to dodge the Najdorf of his co-leader Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, meeting 1.Nf3 c5 with 2.c4 and sending the French no. 1 into a 9-minute think after 2…Nf6 3.d4. MVL also decided to dodge any preparation lying in wait for him by playing 3…cxd4 4.Nxd4 d5!? rather than the more standard 4…Nc6 or 4...e6:

Vishy wasn’t entirely caught off-guard:

He surprised me a bit with d5, but I was at least aware of the existence of Giri-Svidler from earlier this year in China.

Giri came within a whisker of winning that game, but Maxime varied on move 6 and, despite having a somewhat uncomfortable position, held a 30-move draw without much drama. As Vishy commented, “it fizzled very fast”.

The game of the other co-leader, Levon Aronian, was even shorter, but it was anything but a quiet draw. Levon said that in terms of the tournament situation he should have played solidly, but as he’d also famously said just recently, “you have to play h4 whenever you can!” He repeated the line of the English opening with an early h4-h5 that he’d used to beat Ian Nepomniachtchi in Round 1, but varied with 9.Be2 rather than 9.Ba3. Peter Svidler was duly surprised, but he was far from unhappy, soon coming to the confessional to make the game a little more like the Banter Blitz we know and love here on chess24!

I’ve looked through the games I played in this tournament in my mind and it seems like maybe this is the first position by move 14 which it feels like I might enjoy playing - which is a scathing indictment of what I’ve been doing before and probably doesn’t even bode well for this game, but by this point I don’t care. It’s a welcome change!

We’ll see what happens from here. I really don’t understand what’s going on and Lev probably has it all worked out at home. Once again, probably not the greatest situation to find yourself in, but at least there is some air in the position as opposed to most of the stuff I’ve been getting with both colours. Happy about that!

The position was phenomenally complicated, with plenty of alluring possibilities for both sides before a crisis was reached when Aronian played 15.Nf2:

Svidler said he’d relatively quickly concluded that 16…Qxg2! doesn't work, but it seems it does! We could have witnessed a game for the ages if 17.e4 0-0 18.Bxc6 Rxc6!! (“not impossible to find, but it’s not easy either” – Svidler) 19.Qxc6 g4!! had appeared on the board. 20…g3 will follow and Black is close to winning.

Peter commented that he, “stopped one ply short of something beautiful”, though in any case we might have been starved of that beauty, since Levon was planning to play 17.Bf1, and though Black is better the outcome would have been far from clear.

Instead Svidler was contemplating 16…Bh7 before settling on 16…Qd6 when Aronian decided his position was “too wobbly” to go pawn grabbing and we got a repetition after 17.Ne4 Qd5 18.Nf2‌. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Such games deserve a good old-fashioned post-mortem | photo: Austin Fuller, Grand Chess Tour

What were we thinking? | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

With the leaders all drawing there was a chance for Magnus Carlsen to catch them:

Nepomniachtchi ½-½ Carlsen: A scare for the World Champion

Given Ian Nepomniachtchi’s erratic performance in the Sinquefield Cup it seemed Magnus Carlsen should have excellent chances of beating him, even with the black pieces, and catching the leaders before the final round. Here, though, their personal record comes into play. Growing up together – they were both born in 1990 – Nepomniachtchi had the edge, scoring two classical wins in European and World Youth Championships. The Russian also went on to grab a fine win in Wijk aan Zee in 2011, and has since retained that +3 unbeaten record against the World Champion.

Nepomniachtchi - the man with the world's best score against Magnus? | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour 

It’s not just a matter of statistics. Chess experts are united in recognising Nepomniachtchi’s native talent, with Alexander Morozevich even citing Nepo alongside Vassily Ivanchuk as players more talented than Carlsen. We’ve seen in St. Louis, though, why Nepo has largely missed out on the supertournament invitations his ability should merit. He recognises it himself, commenting:

Generally so far it’s not like anyone has beaten me – I’m losing the games myself.

He explained his almost ridiculous loss to Vishy Anand the day before as occurring because he’d reached move 27 but wasn’t able to offer a draw until move 30, so he just blitzed out a move based on a simple oversight. His explanation for why he could concentrate in his game against Carlsen was revealing:

I’m not getting bored, like yesterday.

Nepo has also worked with top quality coaches such as Vladimir Potkin and worked as a second for Carlsen, so he’s no slouch in the opening. On move 8 of an English sideline he unleashed a subtle novelty that sent Magnus into a 30-minute think. The World Champion eventually picked the principled line, but in order to regain a pawn his king’s rook had to go on a long journey:

Magnus commented:

Basically I have an excellent position if my rook is somewhere normal – then I’m probably just better.

He tried to retain winning chances, but things nearly got out of hand:

Then I used up all my time and realised my position was just worse. This whole Bg4 business was basically just panicking. I didn’t want to lose on time as I was thinking, thinking and didn’t find anything.

20…Bg4!? might have proven unwise if Nepo had played the subtle 21.Be2 that he demonstrated after the game, when 21…Bxe2 22.Rxe2 gains White a tempo to push the e-pawn. Instead after 21.Bxg4 Nxg4 more exchanges followed until the game ended in a 32-move draw. Magnus:

I was lucky I got off so easily – it could have been worse.

One person for whom things can’t get much worse is Wesley So.

Karjakin 1-0 So: The nightmare continues

Wesley So has been around supertournaments long enough to know how wounded animals are treated, with the polite and quietly spoken Sergey Karjakin saying afterwards that he hoped to, “just get a position where I can play for a long time and after some time he can make some mistakes”. 

Desperate times call for desperate measures | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

But the glasses didn't help Wesley against Sergey Karjakin | photo: Austin Fuller, Grand Chess Tour

The game followed a Giuoco Piano setup Magnus Carlsen had played with both colours recently and which brought Anish Giri the crucial win with Black in his match against Ding Liren this week. From move 12 onwards, though, the players went their own way and we did indeed get a long manoeuvring struggle, though if Wesley had been on top form he might have spotted a fleeting chance to transform the game on move 22:

22…Nf4! is a surprising double attack, hitting both the h3-pawn and the e2 knight, since if the e3-rook moves the knight on f3 is a goner. 23.gxf4 would be met by 23…Qg6+ and then 24…exf4, trapping the rook and winning back material. White can fight on with e.g. 23.axb5 axb5 24.Nxf4, but it would have been Wesley dictating play.

Instead he played 22...Qf7 and was unrecognisable as the player who had gone 67 games unbeaten as he drifted into trouble. Karjakin pinpointed 39…dxc3?! rather than 39…Rb7 as the start of Black's woes, while he was “very happy to find a very nice manoeuvre, perhaps the hardest in the game”: 45.Nc5! Na6 46.Rc8:

Sergey pointed out that the natural move is 46…exd4, which seems to solve all Black’s problems, but in fact White has 47.e5! and all options are bad for Black. 47…Nxc5 is met by 48.exf6 and Black can’t defend the knight without allowing the f-pawn to queen. Any move by the attacked knight like 47…Nd5 runs into 48.Nd7! and White combines an attack on the b6-rook with the lethal threat of Nf8+. Wesley avoided all that with 46…Nxc5, but after 47.dxc5 the c-pawn was a monster and would decide the game.

This was the grimly determined Karjakin who had qualified for and almost won a World Championship match | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

That result left Wesley So in clear last place in the tournament and as world no. 8 with one round to go in an event he had started as world no. 2, with realistic hopes of overtaking Magnus Carlsen:

Wesley So in freefall, though Nakamura's event hasn't been too much better | photo: 2700chess

Karjakin explained it might be due to fatigue after all the events Wesley had played recently, though he also added:

I think we all had bad tournaments… and finally he has also! It happens.

That win brought Sergey Karjakin level with Magnus Carlsen half a point behind the leaders, where they could have been joined by Fabiano Caruana…

Caruana ½-½ Nakamura: US blues

Caruana-Nakamura was as exciting as ever | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

It’s been a tough event for the US players and this wasn’t the finest advert for their talents – except in terms of fighting spirit! With his chances of tournament victory gone Hikaru Nakamura seemed to decide to have some fun with the King’s Indian, though knowing super-GMs it may have been more connected to a plan to trap Fabiano with the extremely rare 7…d5!?

If that was the plan it worked, with Black taking over until things slipped in mutual time trouble. For the second day in a row Nakamura was knocked off balance by missing an opponent’s move (here Caruana’s 37.g3) and then went astray shortly afterwards:

Panicking he played 38…Be4?!, which immediately turned the tables, though it has to be admitted the computer’s icily cool 38…Rd7! (ready to meet 39.Qe5 with 39…f6!) was tough to find. As Nakamura put it when it was pointed out to him, "that’s really amazing – wow, that’s why computers are so strong!"

Looking for inspiration| photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

Instead after 39.Nxe4 fxe4 40.Qc3! (better than simply picking up the pawn) Nakamura did well to avoid immediate disaster with 40…Qa6!, but after 41.d5+ Kh6 (41…Rf6!) he should have been tortured for a couple of hours in a queen ending a pawn down, after 42.Rxe4. Instead Caruana, in his own words, “got a little too excited” and blundered with 42.Rg8?

42…Ra1+! 43.Kh2 (43.Kg2 Qf1+ and White even loses) 43…Rh1+! 44.Kxh1 Qf1+ and Black drew with perpetual check.

Nakamura would take solace wherever he could: 

Fortunately I’m not the only one who’s playing pretty terribly! It’s been a strange tournament.

The tournament is now coming to an end, with the standings going into the final round as follows:

Until yesterday we expected to be able to write here that if players tie for first place there will be a rapid playoff on Saturday, but it’s all much more complicated than that!

As you can see, we can have a 2-player playoff, but not one involving 3 or more players, for reasons that are hard to fathom. Perhaps the aim was to avoid a repeat of the London Chess Classic in 2015, when in a 3-player tiebreak Maxime Vachier-Lagrave first had to beat Anish Giri before facing a final against a rested Magnus Carlsen. To add insult to injury he not only lost but ended the tournament in 3rd place behind Giri, since it turned out the playoff only determined first place. That initially cost MVL a place in the 2016 Grand Chess Tour, but if the aim was to help people like him it hasn’t worked, since as he explained before the last round, “according to the tiebreak rules I pretty much have to win tomorrow!” (when his opponent Nepomniachtchi heard of that he responded, “good to know!”)  Maxime explained, “If the system stays the same then tomorrow there’s no playoff and Aronian wins with most wins”.

Maxime doesn't only have to calculate his own game | photo: Lennart Ootes, Grand Chess Tour

A draw might be enough for MVL if Anand loses, but it does seem to be the case that if all games were drawn Aronian would win outright due to his higher number of wins. Karjakin and Carlsen will also have the advantage of a higher number of wins if they win and the leaders draw, so their position is stronger than it looks. Of course there are also much simpler scenarios. If only two of the leaders win they’ll play a playoff against each other, while if only one wins he’ll be champion without the need to puzzle over regulations! The pairings are as follows, with none of the leaders playing each other:

The best policy for chess fans is no doubt just to watch the show and, gradually, clarity should emerge! Don’t miss all the action here on chess24 from 20:00 CEST! You can also follow the games in our free mobile apps:


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