Sinquefield Cup: MVL WINS!

by ChessBase
8/12/2017 – Maxime Vachier-Lagrave wins the Sinquefield Cup, the first classical event of the 2017 the Grand Chess Tour. He settled the matter without consideration for tiebreak rules by winning over Ian Nepomniachtchi to reach 6 points. Magnus Carlsen gave it his best shot by beating and leapfrogging Levon Aronian to reach 5½ points. Viswanathan Anand earlier drew with So, and only reached 5½ | Photos: Lennart Ootes

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Sinquefield Cup

The last round at the Sinquefield Cup began as any other: The players glide in with about ten minutes to spare, they write on their scoresheets, and some make polite banter in the resting arena. Some of them seem to look cool, while some of them seem to mean business, and when you look around really carefully, and you see that someone has not turned up in his usual gear. Some are focused on their own boards, while others seem to take a lot of interest in what's happening elsewhere.

Start of round 9

Start of Round 9 — Click or tap to expand | Photo: Lennart Ootes

And many spectators have turned up to watch this cliffhanger of a round, despite it not yet being a weekend. Thus, it dawns on you that when push comes to shove, this may be an eventful day. And then moves unravel on the chessboard…and you see you were right!

Round 9

The most watched games were Carlsen vs. Aronian and Vachier-Lagrave vs. Nepomniachtchi, for obvious reasons. The World Champion’s game was a summit clash between world numbers one and two on the live rating list. So, when the games actually started, it was one of the best spectacles in town.

Vachier-Lagrave watching Carlsen-Aronian

Vachier-Lagrave looking at the World Champion fight it out with joint leader of the event Levon Aronian | Photo: Lennart Ootes

'MVL' was naturally given high chances to win the event, since he played consistently through eight rounds, and had white against 'Nepo' whose form seemed wanting. Anand, the third leader had a tougher task, playing with the black pieces against Wesley so, though the latter too has struggled mightily over the past week.

So employed one of his usual solid systems against Anand’s Nimzo Indian Defence and at some point Vishy seemed to have botched up his preparation and was looking at an ugly pawn structure, not to mention his minor pieces:


Anand’s passivity seemed to start somewhere here, and instead of 18...Nd7 which was played in the game, an interesting line with 18...Na6 19.Qc3 Ba4 20.Rd2 Nc5!? to go on offensive, was an interesting alternative.

They say, over the chess board, players simply do not know what to do with their hands while their eyes and minds are busy with the position. So, was Anand’s posture indicating the pressure he was feeling?


Hands, what to do with them? | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Ultimately, So’s inconsistent play of the event continued, as he allowed Anand to equalise and the game ended in a draw after 33 moves. Probably, his best chances came at the following point:


So preferred the simple 21.Qc3 and exchanged the queens with 22.Qd4 next. Instead, he had at his disposal the clever 21.Qe1. Not only does he wish to focus on c4 with a later Qe1-f1! He also can think of Nf3-d4 followed by f2-f4, when Black’s king suddenly feels unsafe.


World number one vs. world number two | Photos: Lennart Ootes

There was no doubt that the clash between the highest rated players in the world was the most interesting. Starting from a quiet Anti-Marshall variation of the Ruy Lopez, Aronian showed his intentions of playing for a win with black against the World Champion by shifting his queen to the kingside in a deeply theoretical position:


Now, Aronian pitched for 13...Qe8!? Aiming to go ...Qe8-g6 to drum up an attack on the kingside, thus making all the followers of this crucial game very happy with his bravery, while everyone understood that old compliment from Kasparov: "The chess world is a better place when Aronian is playing well!"

Even as the game was in progress, Nakamura dismissed Aronian’s attempt at activity:

“It seemed to me that Levon was kind of bluffing in the sense that he was playing very quickly... and especially his pawn structure”. But at the same time he admired Aronian’s attitude towards the game: “It was a good idea by Levon to go all out try to win the game and try to win the tournament!”


But this was probably the position where Aronian still had to play objectively rather than aggressively, as hist trouble started after 17...bxc3 18.bxc3 Nc5 19.Bxc5! Bxc5 20. Qa4. Instead, the cool 17...Bc5 18.Bxc5 (18.d4 Bd6 with a messy position) 18...Nxc5 19.Qe2 bxc3 20.bxc3 Rb2 and Black seems to be doing fine.

But as the game wore on, it looked at a certain point like even the mighty Magnus lost his composure in defending, though just for a moment:


Here, instead of the impulsive 31...c5 which lost the game for him after the simple 32.a6 when Aronian was left without any counterplay, he had 31...c6!? When Magnus would have had to find the accurate 32.Qc4 Bxe5 33.Nxe5 Qg5 34.Ng4 h5 35.Ne3 to retain a clear advantage for White.

There was another moment of high drama:


Though clearly superior, the World Champion, completed his move with just two seconds remaining in his clock!

Webcast screenshot

Even the World Champion cuts it close sometimes. But he won anyway… | Source: CCSCSL on YouTube

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Even as Anand and Aronian’s challenges for the title didn’t pan out, there was little doubt to anyone that Maxime Vachier-Lagrave had was gunning for the win from the very beginning, when his opponent began pulling faces while still in the opening:


Nepomniachtchi was unable to contain his surprise | Photo: V.Saravanan

It emerged that Vachier-Lagrave's 6.Be2 against the Najdorf — which he has hardly played with white in his career — was repeating an obscure line that Carlsen had played against Nepo in the Leuven Leg of the Grand Chess Tour just a month ago. Clever!

Clever bit of pickpocketing by MVL, repeating an obscure Carlsen game | Photo: Lennart Ootes

But very soon, he established a kind of control which was hard to believe. Do we not assume that these are the kind of strategically lost positions which every Russian schoolboy knows?


Starting from this point, there was almost no analysis to be done, as Black’s position steadily seemed to go downhill, until things finally came to a head:


White has steadily increased the pressure and he signs off with a couple of nice touches: 42...Re6 (One of the points of the position was that, the natural 42...Re5 fails to 43.Nxd6! Rxd5 44.Nxe4 Qd4 45.cxd5 Qxd4 46.Qf3! and White wins instantly) 43.c5! So, the weak pawn on d6 is never captured indeed! 43...dxc5 44.Qc4 Qf7 45.Rxc5 and White's advantage is near winning.

In fact, taken on its own, this was game wasn’t terribly exciting, and seemed like an one-sided positional squeeze stemming from MVL’s superior understanding of the position and Nepo’s indifferent form in the tournament. But considered in context with the tournament situation, his rivals’ positions, and the way he conducted the whole game displaying admirable control and balance even in such a crucial game, he deserved to claim the title alone at the to with 6 points.


The Champion! Clever opening preparation, admirable control and balance in a crucial game | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Praise started pouring in, from all directions and heights:



Nakamura and Karjakin

An uneventful draw | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Compared with the all the other games, Karjakin had a narrow chance to beat Nakamura with White and hope for a place in the tie-break, but the game never really took off, as Nakamura kept a tight lid on everything to draw an uneventful tournament.

Which brings us to Peter Svidler who, unchained from competitive considerations, just decided to enjoy himself!


14.b4! And Svidler was well on his way to a strong attack here, it seemed, but then he got into the confession box:

“The fact that I couldn’t make 17…Bb4 18.Nf4 Bxd2 19.Nxe6 work is absolutely soul-destroying...Life is hard”


And indeed, Svidler's intuition was correct; it was working! Even so, he still gobbled up a central pawn in the middlegame and registered his first win of the tournament.

Games and commentary


Commentary by GM Yasser Seirawan, GM Maurice Ashley, and WGM Jennifer Shahade

Final standings 


Correction August 13 - Due to an editing mistake the teaser text initially stated that Carlsen scored 6 points. As is made clear elsewhere including the final standings, in fact only Vachier-Lagrave did.


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macauley macauley 8/13/2017 09:50
@ apinto99 @ savantKing99 - Thanks, corrected.
bbrodinsky bbrodinsky 8/13/2017 12:54
Oh my gosh, what happened to my American players? Did I count right, 2 wins, 8 losses? In America? Wow, this isn't exactly the National Basketball Association as far as home court advantage! Let's get these guys airborne to another country so they can play better!
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 8/12/2017 09:04
There are always many persons to criticize the players (...Carlsen because he didn't won, Aronian because he lost his last game, Anand because he played passively the last day, etc. etc....), but why not see the (quite real, in my opinion) positive side ?

Vachier-Lagrave : "no comment" (tournament victory against the World n° 1 - playing above his present average level, as Carlsen's performance was 2864, for a 2822 rating -, World n° 2, World n° 3, and the ex-World Champion Anand, this for a global 2913 performance and a live Word n° 2 ranking at the end of the tournament...).

Carlsen : a 2864 performance for a 2822 rating, thus gaining 5 points - quite important at the present moment, when he is rather under pressure for his World n° 1 ranking.

Anand : a 2868 performance, above the World n° 1 rating (2822) and nearly 100 points above his own rating (2783).

Aronian : "only" a 2829 performance (nonetheless above the World n° 1 rating...), but, quite importantly, this takes him from below 2800 (2799) to above 2800 in live ratings (2802).

Karjakin : a 2832 performance (also above the World n° 1 rating) for a 2773 rating.

Svidler : a 2792 performance for a 2751 rating.

This make 6 players out of 10 who have very good reasons to be quite pleased with there tournaments.

Obviously, it isn't possible for everyone to be satisfied... Caruana had quite a bad tournament, and, as for So, it was a complete catastrophy : a 2660 performance for the World n° 2 player (with a 2810 rating), this for a loss of 6 places (from 2 to 8) and 18 points in the live ratings... this happens from time to time even to the best players... (... and I hope for him that he will come back stronger than ever as soon as possible...). And Nakamura and Nepomniachtchi weren't in good form either...
jackyessir jackyessir 8/12/2017 05:55
WELL DONE MVL !! We all look forward to seeing you on the Isle of Man next month in September 2017 International Chess Tournament. In accordance to Kasparov's earlier tweet: "Congratulations to MVL on a big win! As they say, if you can make it in Saint Louis you can make it anywhere!" In this twilight we remain highly hopeful that you have every chance of BIG success. Good Luck and stride on. Antony, Isle of Man
keda mhaswade keda mhaswade 8/12/2017 03:04
Great performances by MVL, Carlsen, Vishy and Aronian! I liked the way Vishy played, however he did not push enough when he got better in his games. Still, not bad for the ex-WC.
savantKing99 savantKing99 8/12/2017 02:26
There is written that Carlsen has 6 points?? he and Anand has both 5.5 points
Bojan KG Bojan KG 8/12/2017 10:19
This is another proof Carlsen is not undisputed king of chess as many commentators on chess24 praised him (Yasser Seirawan, Maurice Ashley ...). Fourth strong tournament this year (Wijk, Grenke, Norway, Sinq) and each time he did not take overall victory. Congratulations to MVL and Anand for their unbeaten performance here. What to say about others - Russians solid but nothing special and US team was disastrous with none player scored at least 50% at home event. Aronian from hero to zero again. In three weeks time World Cup starts with all best players taking part making it superstrong event so gruelling because number of games you play in relatively short time is huge.
apinto99 apinto99 8/12/2017 02:05
Magnus Carlsen gave it his best shot by beating and leapfrogging Levon Aronian to reach 6 points.

MAGNUS is at 5.5
Halflash Halflash 8/12/2017 01:42
Bravo Maxime
Tournoi monumental !
Rudakov123 Rudakov123 8/12/2017 12:50
Congratulations MVL, beat Carlsen and now won the tournament, amazing performance
Brendan T McGowa Brendan T McGowa 8/11/2017 08:44
Thanks Macauley. Forgive my misread
macauley macauley 8/11/2017 07:57
@ Brendan T McGowa - Thanks for the comment. The article never stated there could be a 5-way tie, just that 5 players could theoretically win the tournament, which is true!
Brendan T McGowa Brendan T McGowa 8/11/2017 05:58
There is no theoretically possible "5-way" tie as the article states. Aronian is playing Carlsen in the final round. 8/11/2017 10:13
I don't want to think that he is just lucky to have won last year elite tournaments. 8/11/2017 10:10
Wesley really played badly. Move 45 was a blunder. He still have more time to think to simplify the position. Even an amateur can see that's it is a blunder.
truthadjustr truthadjustr 8/9/2017 03:03
Wesley So lacks balance and resilience. Sometimes, he produces spectacular games and sometimes he plays very poorly. 8/9/2017 10:54
Wesley is not in proper form in this tourney. On his game with Carlsen BF4 is not the move I prefer as I'd analyzed it prior to his move without the aid of any chess engine. He's having difficulties balancing his game against Aronian.
dwigley dwigley 8/9/2017 07:54
Looking at the annotations for the Carlsen-Nakamura game reminds me not to rely on Chessbase's Live Book, because it has some serious problems. For instance, look at the annotation for move 12 for the Carlsen-Nakamura game. The annotator says that the Live Book says there are 5 games that have 12...Be7. The database statistics say there are 5 games, but if you look at the actual list of games, you will see that there are 10 games, not 5. Looking at the statistics given in the Live Book will give annotators and players bad information. Their database is not working properly.
Kilovs 2016 Kilovs 2016 8/9/2017 12:03
Go Wesley Dugong Pinoy, Laban, Bawi! Kaya yan!
macauley macauley 8/8/2017 05:54
@saguni - Round 5's report is here:
saguni saguni 8/8/2017 02:34
Where is the Round 5 report? I can't find it..
benonijump benonijump 8/8/2017 03:55
In the analysis of the 5th round game Karjakin-Nepomniachtchi, given is 57) Kd1 Re8 58)Rb4 Rh8?. The analysis suggests that 58) …Re4 is -+ after 59) Re4 fe4. A couple of things are curious about this evaluation. First, if 58) …Re4 is strong, why wouldn’t it be strong a move earlier after 57) Kd1 since white’s rook on a4 or b4 hardly makes any difference in the suggested line? Second, after 58) …Re4 59) Re4 fe4
60) Kd1 it is a dead draw after 60) …Kf4 61) Kf2 =. Perhaps the analysis expects the game to go 59) Re4 fe4 60) f5 Kf2 61) f6 e3 62) f7 e2+ 63) Kc2 *not allowing black to queen with check* 63) …e1=Q 64) f8=Q+ but even this more complicated, from a calculating perspective, line is a draw.
jonkm jonkm 8/6/2017 02:05
The autoanalysis leaves out some key moves in Carlsen v MVL. After 61 Ke4 Ng6! would have won more easily.
macauley macauley 8/5/2017 06:36
This article will always contain the live round. So it was active Friday with Round 3, though indeed the teaser text was not updated. Now we're preparing to broadcast Round 4.
skipmate skipmate 8/4/2017 11:41
@Arminio12 I agree with you. To reiterate: "Let's not dramatise, on the basis of one game"
Arminio12 Arminio12 8/4/2017 09:37
4th of August? Then why bring this old news? Aronian and Karjakin lost in round 2, and Caruana now shares 1st place with Carlsen and MVL (and has the best performance). And things may be different again after tonight. Let's not dramatise, on the basis of one game or so: whether Carlsen risks losing 1st elo spot and/or anyone can "get nearer to planet Carlsen" is speculative and sensationalist. Let's focus on (the quality of) the games, shall we?
startstek startstek 8/3/2017 10:39
Aronian played a handicap game without the rook a1 :-)