Sinquefield Cup: Round 2 - Carlsenomics

by Venkatachalam Saravanan
8/4/2017 – The Sinquefield Cup continues to delight the spectators and chess fans, with its indomitable fighting games and typical drama. The second round too saw three games ending decisively and near-complete effort from all the players. | Photos: Lennart Ootes (Grand Chess Tour)

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Sinquefield Cup

Start of round 2

Anticipation for another eventful round | Photo: Spectrum Studios

Round 2

It was classic Carlsenomics in action in the second round at the Sinquefield Cup! And it was delightful to see the World Champion come up with such a strong display of pressure chess against his most recent challenger, Sergey Karjakin. The game had many ingredients of typical Carlsen ‘water-torture’: an innocuous developing of pieces in the opening, keeping all forces at his disposal ready to spring into action, looking to expand his influence on the board while at the same time making it difficult for his opponent to find any dynamism for his pieces…


More than trying to understand White's objective behind the move, it is useful to think how Black should respond here. Karjakin's 17...Na4 allowed Carlsen to expand with 18.c4. Every school kid knows "a knight on the rim is dim" but Na4 is in fact the first line of chess engines!

Carlsen and Nielsen

The man and his second, Peter Heine Nielsen | Photo: Austin Fuller

“I was just trying to find waiting moves, and find a correct moment to play cxb5 or d4 but really didn’t find anything. Then I started to gamble with this whole operation on the kingside”, said Carlsen about the middlegame phase.

You can replay the full interview:

Maurice Ashley chats with Magnus Carlsen after round 2

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Carlsen-Karjakin and crowd

An absorbing clash | Photo: Austin Fuller

And typically, things reached a crescendo when Carlsen played 26.Rc6, bringing about a position where objectively Black was still doing fine, but he had strategic weaknesses which were hard to properly defend.

Vishy Anand, asked during the game for his take quipped, “Oof! I don’t know what he intends to play against 31.Rc5 - it’s getting unpleasant. Without thinking very much about (the position), I would rather be White (here). But, Sergey is the best defender in the world!”.


Classic Carlsenomics! Objectively, Black is still doing fine here, but he is now pushed to defend precisely. But even such established defensive skills couldn’t help Karjakin much on this occasion, as his position steadily went downhill under the pressure of the clock.

“At some point I played badly — probably my biggest mistake was 31...Rc8, but I underestimated his play with f4-f5, but probably I was already lost”, opined Karjakin about his own play.


A well-deserved victory for the World Champion.

Karjakin and Nepomniachtchi

Karjakin and Nepomniachtchi, not commisurating, but at the opening ceremony | Photo: Lennart Ootes

On the other end of the spectrum we had Ian Nepomniachtchi, who handled a chaotic Symmetrical English in an original and confident way, but paid the price of playing fast. 

“The opening was more or less good for me. But I managed to blunder in one (move) with 17.f4, after which it was basically over. Maybe, I am not [concentrating] well, but far off my — not even best but even decent condition”, said Nepomniachtchi after the game.


Wesley So had no trouble in converting his advantage, and curiously raised his score against Nepo to an impressive fine wins, no losses!

Wesley So

So bounces back | Photo: Spectrum Studios

Totally inexplicable was the play by someone who delighted everyone with his free spirit, boldness and imagination, and who conducted his game with energy in the first round. Even Carlsen opined that Levon didn’t seem himself throughout the game. We couldn’t agree more. Starting with an insipid 7.Be2, Aronian’s handling of the opening was puzzling, especially as the Queen’s Gambit Accepted is part of Caruana’s repertoire. Even then, Aronian’s play seemed a notch below par for throughout the game and a horrendous blunder with 33.Ke2? brought about a painful defeat.



A painful defeat for Aronian | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Nakamura - Vachier-Lagrave was a triumph for Black’s opening preparation, and careful play by both sides brought about a draw in 33 measured moves.

Vishy Anand did his favourite act of giving up his bishops for the opponent’s knights. He did it even better by doing it twice! However, he got rid of one of White’s bishops too and sounded confident in defending the resulting position.

Svidler - Anand, 13...Bxf4


Position after 16...Bxf3



Anand in action | Photo: Lennart Ootes

This prompted the following curious exchange in the post-game chat:

Maurice Ashley: I have seen you doing it often, in terms of bishop trade for knights. It doesn’t seem as though you prefer the knights to the bishops! (Anand starts chuckling) Is that true?

Anand: (with a straight face) Quite a few people have said that of me! Yeah, I think it is true. Quite a few people have made that observation, and even I have noticed that more often than not my bishops are gone but my knights are still there!

Maurice Ashley chats with Viswanathan Anand after round 2


Current standings 


Round 2 - Games and commentary


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


Saravanan is an IM from Chennai, the southern-most state of Tamil Nadu, India. He has been an active chess player in the Indian circuit, turning complete chess professional in 2012, actively playing and being a second to strong Indian players. He has been consistently writing on chess since late 1980s and is a correspondent to national newspapers and news channels.
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Resistance Resistance 8/5/2017 12:17
It is kind of telling that during Round 2's live broadcast, neither Yasser Seirawan nor Maurice Ashley managed to point out the actual reason behind Sergey Karjakin's "inability" to hold that rather drawish position against Magnus, nor the one behind Levon Aronian's painful blunder in his game against Caruana (which eneded up costing the former the game), nor the one behind Caruana not finding 40... g6-g5+ (a pretty basic tactic that would've put an immediate end to a game that, instead, ended up lasting 3 more exhausting hours), namely: TIME.

Although during the live transmission of the games you can almost always clearly see the remaining time of the players in their respective clocks, the hosts of the Sinquefield Cup chose to ignore the fact that Karjakin was under 5 minutes when his "inability" to defend what was an evidently complex position (at move 36) got the better of him. Instead, they merely showed surprise after the "sudden" turn of events (--yes. Suddenly, Karjakin forgot about how to defend(!)--).

Same thing in the game between Levon an Fabiano. After a tense middlegame phase against the American, Aronian managed to equalize the position and reach a drawn endgame, only to blunder a piece! (--Aronian was under 6 minutes, and in move 33, when he "forgot" about his piece--). Then, at move 40, and in a clearly winning position, Caruana decided to complicate things for himself and "completely forgot" about basic tactics (40... g6-g5+ was curtains). It wasn't that he had like 60 seconds left in his clock when he chose the lesser 40... Bb4-d2: he just wanted to play for 3 more hours... (--the voice of reason in that broadcasting studio, Jennifer Shahade, had at least the humanity of pointing out to the other two stooges there, Seirawan and Ashley, that Fabiano didn't really have much time to relax and find the winning move--).

Time has been a significant issue in this Sinquefield Cup (they've shortened the players playing time even more than in previous years). Now, you only get 100(!) minutes for the first 40 moves, plus a 30 seconds delay from move 1, which is not the same as adding 30 seconds to your clock every time you make a move...

(--Because the clock, my friends, as anyone who has played competitive chess knows, from amateurs to World Champions, also adds a lot of pressure to a player. You cannot create, you cannot come up with great ideas, and then make them work at the board, if you don't have enough time for it: you need to actually think in chess, and real thinking takes time... --)