Sinquefield Cup: Round 4 - Vachier-Lagreat!

by Venkatachalam Saravanan
8/6/2017 – Maxime Vachier-Lagrave became "the Frenchman with two names...and three points"! On Saturday he eked out a win with Black over World Champion Magnus Carlsen. He now leads Fabiano Caruana, who drew, and five players with an even score a point back. Hikaru Nakamura slipped to -1 with a loss to Neponiachtchi. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


Sinquefield Cup

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave on his way to defeating the World Champ. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Round 4

After benefitting from a humble knight fork tactic in the third round, it was the turn of Mighty Magnus himself to fall to the ruse, when he overlooked a simple detail and lost to Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the fourth round, thus allowing the Frenchman to gain the sole lead. The game also reinforced for the umpteenth time the all-too-often repeated and glorified cliché that chess is 99% tactics.

When Tony Miles passed away prematurely in 2001, Mathew Sadler, his teammate from the Elista Olympiad recollected how the legendary grinder unexpectedly played 6.dxc3 (instead of the established 6.bxc3) in an English Opening game and then went on to slowly outplay a Lithuanian International Master in a queenless grind of a game, much to the amusement of his colleagues. Carlsen chose exactly the same path in the same position on Saturday, only he chose one of the top five in the world for the treatment, and one who may soon be reaching 2800 himself, thanks to this victory and form in this tournament.

By move 17, with Black’s pieces looking more harmoniously placed towards the centre against his own uncoordinated army, it didn’t look like Carlsen was the one to be grinding this time.


Except for the bind on the queenside, there seemed almost nothing for White to be happy about in this position. But mercifully for Carlsen, in the words of Anatoly Karpov, it seemed to be one of those typical minus positions where White could improve his pieces whereas it was difficult for Black to chalk out a path of play, when you are not sitting with an engine next to you.

Carlsen continued nonchalantly, concentrating on improving his pieces in deliberate fashion, stopping Black from achieving anything meaningful.

Vachier-Lagrave and Carlsen

Starting up slowly, game between the joint leadersdeveloped into a gripping fight | Photo: Lennart Ootes


Now there is dynamic parity, but this is where Carlsen starts with his ‘little’ games. 34.Ka4 (just checking!) Rgd8 35.Kb3 (fine thank you!)

It is in such probing and rearranging that the World Champion excels, constantly unsettling his opponents, not allowing them to let their guard down even for a moment. Ultimately, after the time control was reached, he managed to extract an edge and once again looked to be taking over the initiative. Getting desperate, Vachier-Lagrave took his chances:



‘Great eagles fly alone; great lions hunt alone’ | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Understanding that he was not doing well tactically, MVL went for 45...Bxg3?! (The forced 45...Bf6 will run into 46.Bc6 when black will have scrap for compensation for the exchange). And now, disaster struck:

46. Rg2? A rare tactical blunder by Carlsen. Later, MVL would explain the fundamental flaw which happened in Carlsen's calculation. (Forced was 46.Rd2 Rb8 [46...Rg8 47. Nxb6 !! axb6 48.Bc4] 47.Ka3! and Nd3 is in trouble.)

46...Bh3 47.Rxg3 Bxf1 48.Rf3? Blunder number 2! But this was follow-up of the flawed calculation which started off with Rg2 earlier (48.Bxd8 Rxd8 49.Rf3 Be2 50.Rxf5+ would have still led to equality)


48... Be2 and only now did Carlsen realise that he missed a simple tactic here, the reason for his misery: 49.Re3 f4 50.Rxe2 Nc1+ and this knight fork nets the rook.

Remarkably, the position was beyond repair and the Frenchman triumphed.

Carlsen and Vachier-Lagrave

‘I held you in my hands / Oh how did I lose you? ’ | Photo: Lennart Ootes

After the game, Maxime visited the webcast studio:

Vachier-Lagrave interviewed by GM Maurice Ashley | CCSCSL

Needless to say, the victory has been noted by all and sundry:

Earlier in the day, drama had already been sparked elsewhere, and the perpetrator was Nepomniachtchi, who showed no signs of the impulsiveness which made him lose the first two games.

Pursuing a slight advantage from an Orthodox Queens Gambit Declined, 'Nepo' exploited Nakamura’s inconsistent play very energetically and was playing fast, taking just 33 minutes for the whole game.


Nakamura made life difficult for himself with 20...b6? (20...h6 or 20...g6 would have maintained parity) after which, 21.Rcc1 g6 22.Ba6! and Black was in trouble. The variation which Nakamura could not go into was quite pretty: 22...Ra8 23.Rxc6 Rxa6 24.Bd6 Qb7 25.Bf8 Qc6 and now the pretty fork 26.b5 wins the game for white!

To his credit, Nepomniachtchi played flawlessly and fast to win the game in just over two hours of play.


Nakamura (above) making life difficult for himself | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Elsewhere, Levon Aronian overcame his sluggishness of the last two days to once again start playing a favourite piece of wood on the board: the h-pawn!


Aronian echoed his first round pawn thrust, and played 7.h4!? Bg7 8.h5 Bf5 9.Ng5 e6 10.h6!? and seemed to be working on another creative concep.

But to his credit, the former World Champion remained calm and went back to his trusted up the bishop for the knight.

Aronian and Anand

Levon Aronian (left) back to his first round love, the h-pawn | Photo: Austin Fuller | Vishy Anand (right) had to work hard to beat back Aronian’s unconventional assault | Photo: Lennart Ootes

This was a game in which Anand probably missed some chances opened up by his opponent’s reckless push of the h-pawn in the opening:


Here, Anand could have pursued a push with 22...Nb3 23.axb4 (23.Rcd1 Nc2 24. Rf1 c4 is good for Black) 23... Nxd2 24. bxc5 Bxc5 25. Rc2 Nb3 26. Ne4 Be7 27. Rc3 Nc5 28. Nxc5 Bxc5 and Black still keeps an edge — remember the pawn on h6?! But instead the game ended after five more moves after a three-fold repetition.

Svidler and So

Svidler vs. So wasn’t as tense as the picture would indicate | Photo: Austin Fuller

Peter Svidler against Wesley So was the bane of the spectator’s curse; the chaotic looking attacking game petering out to a simple draw due to the professionals’ deep opening preparation.


Even though the position looks threatening for black, So came up with the coldblooded 25...Qg8 to maintain simple equality.

Caruana-Karjakin and police officer

The bell rang only at the start of the round, not with a knockout | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Caruana - Karjakin was another of those perfect games where even though Black sacficed a pawn, the game never got out of control, ending in a draw in 31 moves.

Current standings 


Round 4 - 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.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register