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Reports Sep 7, 2014 | 12:50 AMby GM Jan Gustafsson

Sinquefield Cup: The last round

This year's Sinquefield Cup has given us quite a bit:

  • The strongest rating average ever assembled
  • The greatest tournament run we have ever seen
  • Great fighting chess from all the players, even when drawing - remember that MVL-Carlsen game from Round 1?
  • Insomnia (9pm - 2am CET). The live coverage was great, I just couldn't stop watching!
  • This face:

Relax, Veselin, Rc5 was still a draw!

However, it's all over now. Back to real life.

Here's what happened in Round 10, in chronological order:


No Rc5s this time around | photo: Lennart Ootes

The fight for best player not named Fabiano (and the $75,000 second prize) was over before it began. With Carlsen half a point ahead of Topalov, he played it safe:

1. e4 e5 2. ♘f3 ♘c6 3. ♗b5 ♘f6 4. 0-0 ♘xe4 Brr, another Berlin. I don't get these endings! However, Carlsen clearly does. With a draw guaranteeing him clear second place, it is no surprise he returns to his solid main weapon.

5. d4 ♘d6 6. ♗xc6 dxc6 7. dxe5 ♘f5 8. ♕xd8+ ♔xd8 9. h3 ♔e8 10. ♘c3 b6 Magnus sticks to his guns.

10... h5 is supposed to be the main line here, but the World Champion has always had a soft spot for going b6 in this structure. 11. ♗f4

11. ♗f4

11. ♖d1 ♗b7 12. ♗f4 ♖c8 13. a4 ♘e7 14. a5 c5 looked good for White in Polgar,J (2682)-Carlsen,M (2826), Kristiansund 2010. However, 0-1 (38)

11... ♗b4 12. ♘e4 ♗a6 13. ♖fc1 ♗e2 14. ♘fd2 Allowing the exchange of the dark-squared bishop for a knight, which tends to solve Black's problems in this line, other things being equal.

14. ♘h2 looks more ambitious, even though it is hard to argue White is better. 14... ♖d8 15. c3 ♗e7 16. ♖e1 ♗c4 Karjakin,S (2727)-Kramnik,V (2788), Moscow 2008 0-1 (49)

14... ♗xd2! Of course!

15. ♘xd2

15. ♗xd2 ♖d8 16. ♗c3 c5= Pacher,M (2453)-Warakomski,T (2503), Polanica Zdroj 2013 1/2-1/2

15... ♘d4! Still nothing new. However, Black already looks totally fine to me. With Nd4 he seizes his chance to reroute the tradtional Berlin problem horse on f5 to a nice post on e6. Get in h5-h4 now to restrict White's standard plan of g4, f4, f5 and Black can start thinking about more than equality.

15... ♗a6 16. c3 was seen before as well.

16. ♗e3

16. c3 is the only sensible way to avoid repeating move and has actually already been played as well. 16... ♘e6 17. ♗e3

a) 17... h5 was mentioned by Carlsen after the game. Only Black can be better. 18. f4 ♗d3 And a light-square blockade is in the making. 19. g4 (19. ♔f2 ♔e7 20. ♘f3 h4=/+ Zhigalko,S (2587)-Mastrovasilis,A (2486), Budva 2009 1/2-1/2 (35)) 19... hxg4 20. hxg4 ♖h4! is no good

b) 17... ♗d3

16... ♘f5

16... ♘e6 is too slow now. 17. f4! g6 18. ♘e4 can only favour White. That f6-square is quite a juicy landing spot.

16... ♖d8 was possible. 17. f3 a5 18. ♔f2 ♗a6 19. ♘e4 c5 with rough equality, is one plausible line.

17. ♗f4 ♘d4 18. ♗e3 ♘f5 19. ♗f4 ♘d4


I don't blame them. Topalov got lost in the Berlin jungle of lines and could only avoid the repetition by getting a slightly worse position against the World Champion.

He has good reasons to be happy with his result, let's not forget that 0/2 start! As a natural fighter, the brutal pace of the event seemed right up his street. The Olympiad and this one pretty much confirm there is still plenty of great chess left in the 39-year-old Bulgarian.

It even looks like Silvio has forgiven him for the move repetition!

Carlsen probably had less reasons to be excited about the final result, but he was not playing for more than second place (which he got) in this one either. 

Then there are the added storylines:

  • He has to decide if he wants to play that World Championship match (until tomorrow, wasn't it?)
  • He openly admitted how annoyed he was at missing the win in Round 9 against Levon, which might have cost some extra sleep.
  • It's not that easy to beat a 2772 former World Champion with Black.
  • 5.5/10 is only +1, not the +2 or more Carlsen had had for the last 21 major tournaments in a row... Still, hard to call it a disaster. Every other player would have gained rating with his score. But Carlsen is not every other player. He's the World Champion. And human.


Speaking of human, in Caruana's case we weren't all that sure at some point. After 7/7, rumours began to spread, ranging from Jor-El being his biological father to his adopting a new diet.

None of those were true, of course. And most of them were started by us. The streak is over, the glory remains. 9/9 was certainly on the boards, but going into the last round on 8/9 can hardly be called a disaster either. He is human, humans get tired, but even tired humans can still play chess pretty well:

1. ♘f3 No 1. d4 from Levon this time around. No 1. e4 either - his one recent outing with it didn't go well for him as a last-round weapon in the Candidates Tournament. However, 1. Nf3/1. c4 have been more en vogue than ever in top-level chess. We haven't seen it all that much in this tournament, but that might have been due to the higher proportion of 1. e4 guys (MVL, Topalov, Nakamura) than in some others. Yeah, I know they can all go 1. d4/1. Nf3 too, but e4 guys are less dependent on the English than pure closed game players like Levon.

1... c5 Not afraid of 2. e4!?

2. c4 ♘c6 3. ♘c3 ♘f6 4. g3 d5 5. d4

5. cxd5 ♘xd5 6. ♗g2 ♘c7 with a reversed Maroczy is not everybody's cup of tea. I find Levon's choice more appealing.

5... e6 6. cxd5 ♘xd5 7. ♗g2 cxd4

7... ♗e7 has been the main line here, but defending the resulting IQP pawn positions is not to everybody's liking either. Caruana chooses a more concrete line.

8. ♘xd4 ♘xc3 9. bxc3 ♘xd4 10. cxd4 But that is a surprise, at least to me. White keeps queens on the board and is willing to give up his rights to castle in return. I used to think that the endgame after

10. ♕xd4 ♕xd4 11. cxd4 favours White, but recent practice says differently.

10... ♗b4+ 11. ♔f1

11. ♗d2 ♕xd4

11... 0-0 12. ♖b1

12. ♗b2 ♕e7 13. f4 ♖b8 14. ♔f2 b5 worked out well for Black in Giri,A (2690)-Anand,V (2817), Monte Carlo 2011

12... ♗d6 A natural enough novelty, played after some thought. Do central control and active pieces outweigh a king on f1? We shall see.

12... ♗e7 had been seen before, but d6 is just a better square, controlling and potentially preparing e5.

13. h4 Multi-purpose! The king might gain a future home at h2 - don't blunder Qxh4+! - at the same time both Bg5 and h5-h6 could feature in Aronian's plans.

13. ♗xb7? ♗xb7 14. ♖xb7 runs into 14... ♗xg3! 15. hxg3 ♕d5

13... ♖b8 14. h5 I guess Bg5 wasn't that high on the to-do list after all.

14... h6 15. e4 This move reeks a little bit of overextension. White seizes the center, but with his king on f1 and the rook therefore out of play on h1, he is not fully ready to do battle in it. The quiet

15. ♖h4 looks odd, but it could be a way to include this guy into the game. As I read in some old book, people are obsessed with open files for the rooks, but we tend to forget about open ranks! 15... b6 16. ♕d3 ♗b7 17. d5 would be a scenario where the rook gets a nice view on the 4th floor.

15. ♗f3 , planning Kg2, would keep the position balanced.

15... b6 preparing Bb7 or Ba6 while making sure this pawn is safe once and for all.

15... e5 came into consideration as well 16. ♗b2 (16. d5 looks like a bad idea. The passer is safely blockaded and Black can choose between mobilising his queenside and looking for a timely f5 ; 16. ♗e3 exd4 17. ♕xd4 ♗e6 ) 16... ♕a5! when only Black can be better.

16. ♗e3

16. ♗b2 would stop Caruana from going e5 for a while, but he wouldn't have too much to complain about after 16... ♗a6+ 17. ♔g1 ♖c8

16. e5 ♗xe5 is better avoided

16... e5! Now White was ready to go e5 followed by Qg4, but Caruana nips the attack in the bud.

16... ♗a6+ 17. ♔g1 helps White more than Black.

17. dxe5 Pretty much forced.

17. d5 ♗d7 is still great for Black, as is

17. ♔g1 exd4 18. ♗xd4 ♗c5! 19. ♗xc5 bxc5 exploiting some cute geometry, based on the fact that the white rooks are not yet connected.

17... ♗xe5 18. f4 ♕xd1+ Caruana keeps playing fast, logical, no-nonsense chess, as he has all tournament. The more enterprising

18... ♕f6 kept the queens on the board and should be fine for Black too. 19. ♔g1 ♖d8 20. ♕e2 ♗d4 and equalising is no easy feat.

19. ♖xd1 ♗g4 Developing with tempo. Aronian's self-inflicted lack of coordination persists well into the endgame. White is not necessarily in trouble yet, but he certainly has to careful.

20. ♖d5 ♗b2 21. ♖b5 It is tempting to get out of the way of Be6, but a better way to stop that threat was

21. ♗h3! Did the Armenian dislike that Black can repeat moves here with 21... ♗f3 22. ♗g2 ♗g4 ?

21... ♗a3 22. ♗h3 ♗xh3+ Caruana rightly avoids the possible repetition

22... ♗f3 23. ♗g2 ♗g4 What's 8.5/10 when you can go for 9?

22... ♗d1 23. ♔f2 ♖fd8 might be good too, but it looks a tad artificial. And surely finishing the tournament without a loss must be somewhere in the back of Caruana's head. Bxh3 makes sure he can never be worse.

23. ♖xh3 ♖bc8 This endgame is pretty much a Grünfeld player's dream. Queenside majority, lead in development and the open c-file for the rooks. Here it's even the open c and d-files. In the Grünfeld White tends to have at least a passed pawn on d5 for his troubles. Still, if Black can win this is very much an open question.

24. ♖h2! Keeping an eye on c2.

24... ♖fd8 This might be a tiny inaccuracy, but what could be more natural? Don't rooks belong on open files?

24... ♖fe8! The half-open file has its pros too - there are targets on it! 25. e5 f6! and White has a tough fight for a draw ahead.

25. ♖b3! Aronian uses his rooks very well too. They look less pretty than their black counterparts and their open files, but they do a decent defensive job to cover the entry squares on c2 and d3. Oh, a3 is under attack, too.

25... ♗c1 Consistent - Caruana is still trying to create entry squares for his rook. He tries to clear c1. However, material is reduced further and a draw is the most likely result by now.

25... ♗f8 26. ♖e2 f6 was playable too, but a black edge is no longer obvious.

26. ♖e2 ♗xe3 27. ♖bxe3 Turns out the c1 entry is not that scary after all. The position is now fully equal. A nice Houdini job by Aronian.

27... ♔f8 28. e5 ♖c5 29. ♔g2 ♔e7 I don't expect a lot of action ahead. Draws are only allowed after move 30 (unless you find a move repetition between moves 16 and 19). I would not expect this game to last much longer. White has consolidated, but Black has been solid from the start.

30. ♖b2 ♖dc8 With a draw offer, which was accepted.


World-renowned photographer Harry Benson was no doubt thinking the same as Caruana - seriously, are you going to put your king on f1? | photo: Lennart Ootes

8.5/10. A 3098 performance. 2836 on the rating list.

A real discussion as to who's the strongest player in the world at this moment.

Congratulations, Fabiano Caruana!

As for Levon Aronian, I've no doubts he'll be back. He is pretty good at chess.


Sometimes even Red Bull doesn't work... | photo: Lennart Ootes

I have to admit I followed this game less closely. A 6.h3 Najdorf turned into a Sveshnikov structure. The black bishop pair compensated for his weakness on d6 and the strong squares for the white knights.

The position after 27...Rc6 - now that's what we call dynamic equality!

MVL played great chess at the start of the event but ran out of steam near the end. He did achieve his goal of avoiding a collapse by finishing with two draws. He'll be back.

The US number 1 Hikaru Nakamura has already said he can't wait for 2014 to end. Less than 4 months to go!

2014 Sinquefield Cup Final Standings

Caruana maintained his 3(!) point lead.

1GM Fabiano Caruana28018.5
2GM Magnus Carlsen28775.5
3GM Veselin Topalov27725
4GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave27684
5GM Levon Aronian28054
6GM Hikaru Nakamura27873

All that was left was a final press conference with all six players. 

The greatest laugh was generated by a certain Magnus Carlsen when Fabiano's rivals were asked to describe his performance in a single word:

Nakamura: Fantastico

Topalov: Memorable


Vachier-Lagrave: Ruthless

Aronian: Surprising!

Can you do any better in the comments below? In any case, the Sinquefield Cup has been a blast! 

Time for one last recap:

Thanks to Rex Sinquefield and the team at the St. Louis Chess Club for putting together this fantastic event. We want more. Just start the rounds at 9am next year, please.

And thanks to Maurice Ashley, Yasser Seirawan and Jen Shahade.

Great job guys!

All our tournament coverage here on chess24:

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