Ian Nepomniachtchi took down Levon Aronian while Sergey Karjakin exploited an MVL opening howler on a great day for the Russians in the 2019 Sinquefield Cup. It was a great day all round, as all but one game featured a real battle. Magnus Carlsen gained what he described as “a ferocious attack” against Ding Liren, but once again his opponent defended perfectly, with the Chinese no. 1 admitting it was “a miracle” that he survived. Despite drawing all 8 games Magnus is one of three players just half a point behind the leaders with three rounds to go.
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After two rounds without a win even Anish Giri, in his heart of hearts, probably wanted to see some blood in Round 8, and that’s what we got. In Karjakin-MVL that ultimate outcome was disguised for much of the game, since Maxime Vachier-Lagrave played the Grünfeld and didn’t pause for thought for 20 moves. The fact that by that stage he was a pawn down would have meant nothing if he was just following deep analysis, but in fact an opening disaster had occurred.
The line he chose, 10…b6!? against the 7.Bc4 Grünfeld, was one Peter Svidler had played against Magnus Carlsen in the 2011 Tal Memorial, but Peter wasn’t recommending it in his chess24 series, since, “the idea of holding an endgame a pawn down, even if you do truly believe it's holdable, isn't to everybody's taste”. It was also a position Maxime had played himself with White, against Boris Gelfand in Round 4 of the 2013 World Cup:
Here Maxime played 17.Bxf7+ and drew, with it being notable that after 17…Kh8 18.Nd4 Boris correctly responded 18…bxc5!.
In St. Louis, Sergey instead went for a move tried once before by Matthias Bluebaum, the immediate 17.Nd4. And this is where disaster struck, as Maxime played 17…bxc5?, which in this case was a blunder. He explained afterwards:
It’s a very well deserved loss, because I just played a move without thinking, and immediately after I played it, bxc5, I realised it’s not what I’m supposed to play.
The move he needed to play was 17…Bh3! and it seems the odds would be heavily in favour of the game ending in a draw. Sergey wasn’t shocked by the opening mistake, but claimed he’s usually on the other side of the board:
It always happens with me because I normally mix up moves when I play, so this time when I was preparing to the game I repeated the line like 100 times, just not to mix up anything, but still, of course Bh3 had to be played instead of bxc5 - it’s very important.
A shaken MVL didn’t put up the greatest resistance, but stopping White’s passed a-pawn was always going to be tough, and Sergey calculated a beautiful finish by sacrificing his pride and joy with 46.Qf3!
It seemed he might have missed something since after 46…Qxa7 47.Qxf6 Qa3+ 48.Bd3 Qxd3+ Black is a pawn up in a queen ending, but no - Sergey had seen he could switch to playing for mate! 49.Kh4 Qd4 50.Qf8+ Qg7 51.g5#
It was pretty enough for Maxime to allow it to appear on the board:
Karjakin curiously said afterwards:
Of course I’m very happy to win, because it was a huge series of draws, but at the same moment I was dreaming to have one tournament without winning or losing, just to make all the draws. I think I never made it. Probably I will never make it… I’m not Anish.
This was a case of someone forgetting a dream they’d already achieved, since at the very least Sergey did manage in the first edition of Shamkir Chess back in 2014, when he drew all 10 games.
The day’s other decisive game is unlikely to win any beauty prizes, but it saw Ian Nepomniachtchi become the first player to score two wins in the 2019 Sinquefield Cup, making his blunder and loss to Vishy Anand in the first round a distant memory. His victim was Levon Aronian, who was caught out in a Giuoco Piano opening.
Nepomniachtchi played a line he’d meant to play against Karjakin in Zagreb, but back then he mixed up the move-order, was much worse out of the opening and only survived since Sergey exchanged off queens at the wrong moment. This time his “a little bit tricky” idea worked to perfection, with Levon allowing himself to be provoked into some unjustified aggression on the kingside. Nepo seized control of the centre and felt the point of no return came after 28.Re2:
He was worried that Levon might simplify with 28…a5!, while in the game after 28…Rad8?! 29.Rf1 Nd6 30.Qe1 Nhf5 31.a5! it was the white a-pawn that again decided the game. Nepo was soon able to capture on a6 and at the end a forced exchange of queens made the pawn unstoppable:
Levon, perhaps the trickiest player in chess, came close to muddying the waters enough for a draw, but once again, just as in his game against Fabiano Caruana, he was thwarted by the Grand Chess Tour time control. This time he was playing only with the 30-second delay while his opponent had an hour on the clock.
Elsewhere only Nakamura-So was anything less than a battle, with the US players quickly exchanging pieces in a 29-move draw.
Magnus Carlsen showed his sense of urgency once again as he unleashed some devilish home preparation on Ding Liren. For 11 moves they followed a Nimzo-Indian line seen in a Topalov-Ding game last year, then the novelty finally came on move 14 when Magnus went straight for a queen swap instead of delaying as had occurred in an early game featuring Peter Leko. It was only 17.f4! that sent the Chinese no. 1 into a deep think:
Despite queens being off the board, White’s idea is to smash open the kingside and deliver mate before Black can coordinate. Ding would later say:
I was not sure if I had prepared this line before. If I did it was long ago and I just totally forgot my preparation.
Ding is an astoundingly good calculator, however, and Magnus went on to lament:
That is the disadvantage of playing forced chess in the opening. If your opponent just calculates very well he’s going to be fine - but people don’t usually do that every time!
Ding’s 28 minutes invested here paid off as he then almost blitzed out a sequence where you could give an exclamation mark to almost every move: 17…Nc6 18.fxg5 Bxg5 19.Rh5 f6 20.Nf3 Bxe3 21.Re2 Bc1 22.Re4 e5 (the first move that may not have been the first line of the computer – it gave Magnus hope!) 23.Bc4+ Kg7 24.Reh4 Kg6 25.Rh7 Bg4:
After the game Magnus suggested he could have tried 26.Rxb7!? here, but it looks as though that was no better than what he played: 26.Bd3+ f5 27.Nxe5+ Nxe5 28.Bxe5 Kg5
The last king move was absolutely an only move for Black, and even Ding admitted it was hard to believe his monarch could survive and even hold everything together:
I kept playing the only moves and my position after Kg5 I thought it might be lost, but when I look at the position for a long time I think my position is not worse – it’s just a miracle!
Caruana later echoed that sentiment:
I would not have liked to be in Ding’s shoes. It felt to me like it’s a miracle that Black doesn’t get mated. It always felt that White was just one tactic too short of mate, but maybe he also had some chances.
And of course Magnus felt it more than most:
I don’t feel like I could have done too much differently. I had a ferocious attack and he needed to defend by the skin of his teeth. I was threatening mate in two moves, or in one move, several times.
Here, for instance, 29.g3, threated Rg7#, but the only move 29…Rg8 was a sufficient defence. Magnus did now go for 30.Rxb7, but after 30…Rae8! 31.Rb5 Rg6!, with the idea of Rb6, the game swiftly fizzled out into a draw.
That game had some competition for the most dramatic non-decisive game from Mamedyarov-Giri, where Anish was kicking himself for not believing that Shakh would know and go for the line with Ne5, f4 and h4 that he chose. The Azerbaijan player said that was where his preparation ended, but it seems he kept playing well until 14.g4! made the situation critical for Black:
Both players here realised that if White could play g5 he has a great chance of slowly crushing his opponent, so Giri responded 14…f6! He was most worried by 15.exf6 in reply, but Mamedyarov almost immediately went for 15.Qxg6 instead.
That sent Giri into another 34-minute think, meaning he’d spent 90 minutes on his last five moves. Time would prove a factor, since after Giri survived the sacrificial attack that followed he had a chance to switch to playing for a win, but instead he went for a continuation that allowed Shakh to immediately force a draw:
I should have played like I played but faster, and then in the end I’d get chances.
The final game to finish was a tense battle where both players had chances after Fabiano Caruana went for a somewhat unconvincing pawn sacrifice against Vishy Anand. If there was any doubt how Vishy felt about his missed chances in St. Louis, and particularly the multiple missed wins against Ding Liren the day before, they were removed when he responded to a question by Maurice about his tournament situation:
I don’t care! After yesterday I’ll just play and see.
He was also unhappy with the Round 8 game, and particularly his decision on move 23:
Both players felt Black could force a draw here with 23…c5, while computers actually give Black an edge. Caruana said Vishy “played more ambitiously” with 23…c6, though Anand called it “a bad ambition”, as he’d simply missed something, and summed up, “I just played terribly”. That seems unduly self-critical, and there were still many twists and turns ahead in a very complicated game. For more detail check out Caruana’s post-game analysis:
So with just three rounds to go that means we now have five leaders, while Levon Aronian is the one player adrift more than a point behind first place:
In Round 9 four of the games feature leaders, while one which doesn’t, Aronian-Carlsen, is likely to see Magnus attempting to inflict more misery on the Armenian player. Tune in to live commentary here on chess24 at 13:00 in St. Louis or 20:00 CEST!
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