Reports Sep 2, 2015 | 5:03 PMby Colin McGourty

Sinquefield Cup 9: Aronian cruises to victory

“The chess world is a better place when Aronian is playing well”. That was Garry Kasparov on Twitter, summing up the feelings of chess fans everywhere after Levon Aronian drew with Veselin Topalov to win the 2015 Sinquefield Cup by a full point. Despite his troubles, Magnus Carlsen took second on tiebreaks ahead of Hikaru Nakamura, who was the hero of the final day for giving everything to finally beat Alexander Grischuk after 6.5 hours.

There was no competition for the biggest smile in St. Louis as Maurice Ashley interviewed Levon Aronian after his tournament triumph | photo: Lennart Ootes

You can replay all the 2015 Sinquefield Cup games, with computer analysis, using the selector below:

Let’s take a look at the games and how things went for the players:

Topalov ½ - ½ Aronian

The game: Although the hopes of four other players were resting on Veselin Topalov’s shoulders he had no burning need himself to beat Levon Aronian in the final round. Nevertheless, he went for a sharp pawn sacrifice, aiming to surprise his opponent. It didn’t work, as he ran in to some theory Levon had worked out ten years ago. Topalov told Maurice Ashley:

Not only was he well-prepared but over the board he played quickly and at some point it looked like this morning it was him looking at this exact line and not myself. Finally it was a drawn result, but I think that’s because he needed it. He could have pushed maybe for a win.

Aronian claimed he was “a pragmatic guy” and added:

My biggest fan is probably my mother. I was actually thinking today, ok, I have a better position. Maybe I should think about coming up with a good plan, but then I just thought I’ll exchange all the pieces and make a draw so my parents can go to sleep! Because they’re watching from Europe.

Jan Gustafsson looks at the game that gave Levon Aronian clear first place in the 2015 Sinquefield Cup:

Afterwards Levon claimed he was going to celebrate calmly:

Victories don’t come as a big celebration thing. You feel like the job is done - now you’re free to relax. You get really upset when you play badly, but when you play well you accept it as if it’s something expected. I don’t think I’ll have much time to celebrate because I have upcoming tournaments. I’ll just probably take Arianne for some oysters and a glass of wine. That’s the best thing to do.

But you should never entirely trust Levon  Shortly afterwards he posted the following on Facebook!

Some victory goat action! #SinquefieldCup

Posted by Levon Aronian on Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Levon Aronian: 1st, 6/9, 2922 performance, +19.2 rating points | Grand Chess Tour: 3rd, 15 points

Levon talked a lot about how much he enjoyed playing in America, comparing the playing hall in St. Louis to an opera house in New York: “You have to dance your best if you’re in the Metropolitan – it’s the same here”. That didn’t stop him crushing all three US players, with beautiful wins over Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So and a straightforward victory over Hikaru Nakamura. After each win he drew the next two games, cruising through the tournament. How did he rate his performance?

I guess the best performance of this year so far. I generally try to win at least one strong tournament a year. A year ago I managed to win a big tournament in Wijk aan Zee, also with a good score. This time I won here, so now I kind of did my planned minimum. Now it’s time to win some more!

Despite finishing second last (and effectively last, as Jon Ludvig Hammer was a wild card) in Norway, he’s now in the position of knowing that clear first in the London Chess Classic would win him the Grand Chess Tour.

So how did it all change around after a terrible year and a half?

I feel that my desire to play chess has risen after I had so many unpleasant experiences. I really wanted to show to myself that I can play good chess and I managed to do it and I will look forward to the next tournaments to solidify my performance here.

He talked about his team, and his fiancée Arianne Caoili:

She’s the psychologist of my team, definitely. The chess part is Ashot Nadanian, from Armenia, a guy who I’ve been working quite a lot with lately. I think results are coming. They didn’t come immediately, but after two months of work we finally have something.

Aronian made an early appearance on the local Fox 2 News the next day, with viewers perhaps surprised to hear him claim, "chess is one of the most brutal sports that I know of". He also agreed that Magnus would be angry about their joint training session!

Aronian now faces a big challenge in a week’s time - the FIDE World Cup. Not only is it a huge event that represents his best chance of playing in the 2016 Candidates Tournament, but it also takes place in Baku, the capital city of neighbouring Azerbaijan. That casts a political shadow over his participation, but he was looking for the positives:

Surely it’s not very easy for us chess players to do our best, because our countries are in conflict, but I get along well with Azeri players and I’ll just try - as many people from our artists and musicians go to Azerbaijan - to perform as people who want to bring peace to the region. I’ll just try to continue doing the same thing, showing that I respect the neighbouring country. Just to show my best chess and maybe bring excitement in Azerbaijan for people who follow chess.

Veselin Topalov: 7th, 4.5/9, 2792 performance, -3 rating points | GCT: 1st, 17 points

Veselin started the Sinquefield Cup in awesome style, beating the world’s top two rated players, Carlsen and Nakamura, in the first two rounds. After that it was all downhill, though despite losses in rounds 5 and 6 the 50% result kept Topalov in the lead of the Grand Prix series, with winnings of $90,000. 

Note: Vachier-Lagrave actually has 12 points, though he remains in 7th place, while Jon Ludvig Hammer, who only played in Norway Chess, could appear in 10th or 11th place with 1 point, like So

He summed up:

Before Norway if I was told I was going to lead after two tournaments I wouldn’t really believe it. Actually ending up in the Top 3 would be a great result – that’s what I thought – and winning would be amazing.

Anand ½ - ½ Carlsen

The game: The moment Carlsen played the Berlin and Anand headed for the notorious endgame, it never looked likely this game would end in anything other than a draw. Magnus soon knew he couldn’t win the event, while Vishy wasn’t going to risk finishing with a defeat that would haunt him for weeks to come.

Vishy never really got out of damage control mode after a tough start | photo: Lennart Ootes

Vishy Anand: 9th, 3.5/9, 2712 performance, -13 rating points | GCT: 6th, 12 points

After so many brilliant performances in 2015 this was a tournament to forget for Vishy, who lost the first two games and drew the rest:

Obviously I was very disappointed to get off to this start. I was very shaky at the start. Obviously I should never have lost this game to Hikaru, and right the next day again some very, very bad emotional choices. [Grischuk] played a surprise and I decided to repeat our line – which is really quite silly if you’ve got a guy who’s checked it – and after that my tournament stabilised but I never really got going. I missed too many chances. All in all, pretty disappointing.

The good news, though, is that he’s still in the hunt for Grand Chess Tour prizes, noting (Giri is an exception):

It is interesting, though, that everyone who made a plus score in Norway is 50% or below here. It’s literally inverted!

Vishy is skipping the World Cup but will play in Bilbao, in the World Rapid and Blitz and in a rapid tournament in Kazakhstan before the final leg of the Grand Chess Tour in London. He admitted he had to improve:

Clearly this tournament has shown some alarming symptoms. I’ve got to go and fix it. That’s all… I have some serious work to do now. If that works it should work everywhere, not just in London.

Magnus Carlsen:  2nd, 5/9, 2831 performance, -3.3 rating points | GCT: 4th, 14 points  

A decent performance from the World Champion, though perhaps only in the London Candidates have we seen him look as vulnerable mentally as he looked after Rounds 7 and 8 | photo: Lennart Ootes 

In the post-game interview with Maurice Ashley it was a relief to find Magnus Carlsen back to his old self after the toll the 13-hour marathon of his previous two games had taken on him. He found himself in a quintessentially Carlsen-like situation. Even when so much had gone wrong he was in second place on tiebreaks:

At least this time I was fighting for something and I think it’s kind of normal that when I feel that I’ve played a bad tournament it should be +1, it shouldn’t be a minus score. That’s the way it’s been when I feel that I’ve played badly - then it’s second or third or maybe even fourth place.

Magnus summed up the event:

I think there was a four-game stretch in which I at least fought quite well, but apart from that I wasn’t good enough. It was a bad start, then it turned around and everything looked normal and then the last few rounds were back to what it was in Norway, but overall I think a plus score is not a disaster, but the way it happened doesn’t leave me very satisfied.

He was glad for Levon, though, who he’d worked (and played) with before the event:

I’m very happy for him. He hasn’t played this well in a long time and I’m really happy for him that he’s finally getting his game together. It seemed after six rounds, after we’d made the draw, that I would at least give him a very good fight for first place seeing as I had as many points and two Whites coming up, but it wasn’t to be this time.

Vachier-Lagrave ½ - ½ Giri

The game: The action flared up in this game when Maxime played an attractive pawn sacrifice 18.c5!

Although after 18…dxc5 19.e5! queens soon left the board the position remained very sharp, with Giri remarking, “I was actually planning to win the game at some point” until he saw the “very strong” 28.Bf3 and, with one or two more adventures, the game finally petered out into a 44-move draw.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: 4th, 5/9, 2844 performance, +14 rating points | GCT: 7th, 12 points

There were signs of the old Maxime Vachier-Lagrave returning in St. Louis, and he also played to the popcorn gallery with his multiple confessional appearances. "I'm not a French linguist, per se", will go down as one of the more curious utterances from the event! | photo: Lennart Ootes

Maxime built on his improvement in Norway Chess, scoring two wins and a single loss:

I definitely played better chess. I’m not sure I guessed so many openings, so that was not a change, but in general I was playing much sharper and much more to the point, with fewer mistakes. It was good.

The French no. 1 has finally almost repaired the damage done by a terrible few months earlier in the year, and he had the self-confidence to state that he should be a Top 10 player:

Yes, definitely. I feel like I belong there. In general, in Norway and here I proved that I’m not far from it, and right now I’m probably already very close. Of course it’s interesting to play this tournament and the good thing is that if you make a draw against any of these guys you win one rating point, but it’s not the goal in itself!

Anish Giri: 5th, 5/9, 2837 performance, +5.2 rating points | GCT: 5th, 13 points

Anish Giri has now stretched his unbeaten streak to 18 Grand Chess Tour games against the very best opposition in the world, although he failed to build on his single victory in the first round against Grischuk. 

Giri went in to a mock rant when Jennifer Shahade suggested Magnus might just win the prize for the best-dressed player in the Sinquefield Cup: "Have you got some problems with that, Jennifer? Tying with Magnus, did you say? Magnus? The guy’s wearing the same thing every day and he doesn’t even buy it, he got it from the sponsor. Jesus. I cannot believe it. I cannot believe it! Incredible! I’ll talk to Rex, she’ll get fired for next time" | photo: Lennart Ootes

He described his play:

I was playing very solid. My opening was very good here in all the games. Nobody managed to pose me any real problems except for Hikaru, but he mixed up the move order right away.

Giri didn’t shy away from giving opinions on the other players. On Carlsen:

He definitely did better but somehow it was not the same guy as we were used to see before.

Or Anand:

Vishy of course is quite unstable. He’s a great player and he’s very well-prepared, but he’s not very young and clearly he’s doing all he can to stay at the very top, but it’s probably physically impossible to maintain a high level throughout the whole year, so I think it’s imaginable that from time to time he has some mediocre results.

21-year-old Giri is still to cross 2800 on the official rating list (he’s now live-rated 2798.1), but at least he could claim to have made it on the live list:

At least I’m not like Radjabov. There’s this live rating list of the best ever players – I’m higher than Fischer, I feel completely awful about it, it makes no sense – but it records the ratings and there are these people like Magnus 2880, Kasparov 2850 and then I have there 2804 or something because I once crossed it in the live rating. And then there is Radjabov, who has like 2799.6, and now he’s just so much lower that he probably might never cross it again. For him it’s a real pity!

Anish Giri on the all-time "live" Top 10 list | source:

Caruana ½ - ½ So

The game: This was symptomatic of the tournament for both players. The opening went wrong for Wesley So, then Fabiano missed the kind of tactic that would be his bread and butter if he was in form, rejecting the crushing 21.Bxd6! because it seems he’d missed a famous idea:

Vishy Anand not so long ago talked about how he’d manage to find the same idea against Peter Leko since he knew the history of Alekhine-Euwe (it wasn't played) and Petrosian-Spassky (Tigran found it!).

Caruana once again got into time trouble, and though in fact he managed to emerge with an edge he was unable to make any progress.

Fabiano Caruana: 8th, 3.5/9, 2713 performance, -11.9 rating points | GCT: 8th, 9 points

Fabiano was unrecognisable from the player who terrorised the 2014 Sinquefield Cup participants with a 7/7 start. First he was blown off the board by Aronian in Round 1 and then he was the unlucky loser of a wild time scramble against the World Champion. Though he briefly seemed to get back on track with a win over Topalov he went on to lose to Grischuk the very next day.

An explanation for his poor form might be the transition to a new coach, with Rustam Kasimdzhanov replacing Vladimir Chuchelov. As Aronian noted, work done now may take some months before it actually pays off. At any rate, Fabiano’s thoughts will swiftly turn to the World Cup in Baku.

Wesley So: 9th, 3/9, 2671 performance, -12.8 rating points | GCT: 10th, 1 point

Wesley continued the tradition of the Grand Chess Tour wild card entry coming last but, apart from a smooth win over Grischuk, he had a lot less fun than Hammer did in Norway Chess. His St. Louis nightmare just continued:

Obviously it was a disaster – what else can I say? But I’m very glad to be here and facing such strong opponents and I hope I’m learning from each of my losses. Again, it was a disaster, I lost three games in a row in the middle and I lost three games with White. Overall it was a disastrous tournament, but it’s not the end of the world because there are a lot more other events after this.

What can he do to change the trend?

Hopefully more experience would help, more training. I think I have been playing a little too much recently. I didn’t have time to really seriously prepare for this event. It came as a surprise to me, playing here compared to playing in leagues. I’m playing the Top 10 players in the world here. It’s no joke! They’ll try to beat you whatever the colour, whether you’re White or Black. So more preparation and rest and experience. It’s very, very hard to tell. Of course before the tournament I wasn’t expecting my result.

Nakamura 1 - 0 Grischuk

The game: Just when it seemed the final two rounds of the tournament were going to end in ten draws, Hikaru Nakamura stepped up to the plate! 

Not this time for Sasha - Nakamura held on to score a 77 move win

He rejected a repetition when Grischuk was low on time, stumbled into a worse position, but then went on to play a brilliant attack. The game is best played through in full on our broadcast system (where you can try out alternatives on the board), but a couple of snapshots:

After sacrificing two pawns to get some wonderful piece coordination Nakamura could have finished off the job with 52.Rg1!, when one winning line is 52…Rxg1 53.Kxg1 Nc7 54.Qg7+! exploiting the way the h4-bishop eyes the queen on d8.

Instead after 52.Re1 Grischuk managed to hang on, though when he missed 57…Qg7! things began to slip away (Hikaru: “I didn’t see Qg7 at all - I’d probably have had a heart attack!”). Grischuk continued to play high quality moves with little time on his clock, but the objective assessment of the position was against him:

Nakamura put the finishing touches to the game with 75.Kh4! Nc7 76.Kh5! Ne8 77.c7! and that was all she wrote for the 2015 Sinquefield Cup.

Hikaru Nakamura: 3rd, 5/9, 2835 performance, +2.2 rating points | GCT: 2nd, 16 points

Nakamura emerged from a bruising tournament with an excellent result - he's now 2nd in the world, 33.9 points behind Magnus Carlsen | photo: Lennart Ootes

It was an amazing end for Hikaru Nakamura, who finished 3rd in the tournament and is now 2nd in the Grand Chess Tour standings and 2nd on the live rating list. All that after finding himself dead lost after 15 moves against Magnus Carlsen the day before. He noted:

The last two games have probably taken a lot of years off my life because they’ve been very stressful.

And summed up:

Well, I didn’t deserve +1, so I’m certainly happy with my result. Considering that I felt I played pretty badly in maybe six of the nine games then to end one point out of first place doesn’t feel so bad. The fact that if I’d not lost to Levon I would have tied for first… It’s hard not to be positive, considering I did not play anywhere near my best chess!

He plans to put that right when he returns to one of his favourite tournaments, the London Chess Classic, with the fate of the Grand Chess Tour in his hands.

Alexander Grischuk: 6th, 4.5/9, 2797 performance, +3.4 rating points | GCT:  9th, 8 points

What a difference a game makes! If Grischuk had beaten Nakamura he would have added that to the scalps of Caruana and Carlsen in his last four games and overtaken Carlsen for clear second place. Instead it was merely a good performance for the Russian, who balanced three wins with three losses and got to enjoy his opponents being in time trouble as much as he suffered himself. Although he picked up a few rating points it looks increasingly likely that Anish Giri will take the second rating spot in the Candidates Tournament alongside Veselin Topalov.

So the final standings of the 2015 Sinquefield Cup look as follows (you can also click on a result here to go to the game):

That’s not all, though! On Thursday 3rd September we’ll have a second edition of Ultimate Moves, when the Sinquefield Cup players - and a certain Garry Kasparov - will play a light-hearted exhibition involving teams headed by Rex Sinquefield and his son. We'll again broadcast it right here on chess24! 

Levon better not relax too much after winning the title! | photo: Lennart Ootes

You can expect lots of trash talk and entertainment – check out last year’s event:

See also:

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