Sinquefield Cup: Grischuk joins the race

by Venkatachalam Saravanan
8/21/2018 – Three rounds have already been played at this year’s Sinquefield Cup. Four different players have achieved a single win to share the lead on 2/3 — the last one to join this group was Alexander Grischuk, who defeated Hikaru Nakamura with the black pieces on Monday. V. SARAVANAN tells us about yet another day in the United States’ capital of chess. | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

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Something's gotta give

The third round at Saint Louis followed a similar script to the one seen the previous day. Three games ending early in draws, two games being fought on and one result finally in the seventh hour of play.

So comes across as a plain young man, and he did not have any qualms in admitting that he was not in a good frame of mind during the previous game — which he drew with white — as the first round loss against Mamedyarov was still haunting him. In the third round, it was his turn to adopt the Berlin, and the game followed one of Vachier-Lagrave’s earlier outings:


Maxime improved on an earlier game against Eljanov (13.Be3) here with 13.Bh2 Rh6 and came up with 14.e6 after 15 minutes of thought, but did not seem to gain anything after 18…Bxe6 19.Bxc7 Rc8, ending in an uneven draw after 44 moves.

No offence meant, but the click is indicative of the game — not much happened! | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

After two consecutive losses, it was understandable that Karjakin was not really ready to burn it all to look for a win. He chose a quiet continuation against Anand’s Open Ruy Lopez, and there were almost no fluctuations in equilibrium:


Choosing the comparatively quite Be3 system, Karjakin did not think much against Anand’s choice of 11…Bg4 and reached the diagrammed position quickly. He came up with 16.Rfc1 after a 5-minute think, but Anand seemed to equalise quite comfortably: 16…Rab8 17.a4 b4 18.cxb4 Bxb4 19.Bxg2 c5!?. Once again the question had to be posed: is it possible in modern chess to get a tangible position to play with White at all? But you should also remember the grind he suffered yesterday…

Karjakin – a quiet day after two difficult losses | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Spectrum Studios

After his incredible effort yesterday, Carlsen returned to the board to face Aronian’s 1.e4 again, which he has been boldly executing since the Norway Masters Blitz 2018. When praised for his boldness in pursuing his new love against the World Champion, Aronian came up with the quote of the day, “…it is risky, but as they say in Russia, the one who doesn’t risk, doesn’t drink champagne!” 

Aronian, the champagne man! | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

For a moment in the game, he even seemed to be smelling more than the drink:


Here, it seemed inevitable that Black was forced to go into the simplification involving an exchange sacrifice with 19…Bxe3 20.Rxe3 (if 20.exf6 Ba7 Black is threatening …Qxg3) 20…Rxe5 21.f4 Rxe4!? 22.Nxe4 Nxe4 and Black seemed to be enjoying enough compensation for the pawn. But Carlsen unexpectedly continued 19…Qxe5 and after 20.exd5 cxd5 seemed to be staring at difficulties.


Carlsen himself acknowledged that this was a critical moment. Aronian preferred 21.Rad1, but what would happen here after 21.Bxa7? Aronian had seen it of course and offered the following variation: 21…Qxe1 22.Rxe1 Rxe1 23.Kh2 Rxa7 24.Qd2.


Carlsen came up with the enigmatic proclamation, “I wasn’t too concerned. Maybe I should have been, but I wasn’t!” Here, Aronian was not happy with the position after 24…Re8 25.Nf5 Raa8, and somehow he felt that this should be okay for Black. But not everyone was convinced:

Grandmaster Mikhail Golubev got onto twitter, and got onto an open discussion:

And suddenly, Aronian got into replying, and it all became a little messy:

It is not often that we see such exchanges between the world’s elites and the other elites…

Mamedyarov has this ability to choose lines that are fundamentally not unsound, but that can create their own peculiar dynamics. Having chosen such systems, he plays them with maximum energy and strives for initiative from the very beginning, thus setting enormous problems for his opponents if they are caught unaware. Curiously, the line he chose on Monday against Caruana was such an offbeat system in the Queen’s Gambit Accepted, which has been adopted by two of Anand’s seconds, Wojtaszek and Gajewski, interestingly.

Mamedyarov, the energetic! | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

However, he found his preparation not helping him much, after Caruana played a new move:


11…Rb8 (11…Bb7 has been played before) and it looked like Mamedyarov did not respond quite well here. In hindsight, it seems like he could have gone for 12.b3 here, as 12..axb3 will open up the a-file — after 12…Ba6 13.Qc1 Black’s pieces look to be in a bind. However, after 12.a3 (the idea was to keep the queen on c2, connect the rooks and look forward to operating on the kingside, presumably) 12…Bb7 13.Rad1 Na5 Black seemed to be fine.

Mamedyarov played surprisingly weakly here:


16.f4?! Nd5 This wouldn’t have been possible if Be3 had stayed supported by the pawn on f2, as the pawn on c4 would be hanging. 17.Nxd5 Bxd5 and White has nothing to show anymore. Shakhriyar later admitted that he initially wanted to play 18.f5 exf5 19.Rxf5 Be6 and Black is fine (19…Qe6 was fine too). He had only considered 19…Rxb2 20.Qxb2 Qxf5 21.Qb5 and White wins, initially.


27.Qd5 Rd8 28.Qc4 Rb8 29.Qd5 Rd8 30.Qc4 and just when everyone was waiting for the threefold repetition came 30…a5! Caruana would later proclaim that he felt his position was comfortable, even though Mamedyarov “seemed happy to repeat” and despite the fact that the position was still equal — “Black was on the better side of equality”. Mamedyarov praised this fighting moment shown by Caruana on the board. Shakh suggested that when Caruana faces Carlsen in the World Championship, he better learns to milk positions like this one. And Caruana calmly replied, “If I get the same position, I would probably play it against Magnus as well! In general, you have to try to take your chances. You don’t win games every day in these tournaments. Wins usually come with a great deal of difficulty, so when you have the slightest chance you have to take it”. Brave words!

Caruana, the brave! | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Spectrum Studios

Now, finally the game of the day, between Nakamura and Grischuk, which followed known paths for a long time:


This position had already occurred in Carlsen – Aronian, Leuven Blitz 2016 (which continued 17.d4 here). Hikaru varied with 17.c4, obviously a prepared improvement. But he did not seem to be handling the white side too well…


We had talked about Nakamura’s ‘coiled spring strategy’ when referring to his game against Vachier-Lagrave in the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz, but in the current position he seemed to be taking it to dubious heights with 22.Nd2?! Qd7 23.Nb1 (where is the knight going?) axb3 24.axb3 Bg6 25.f3 Rad8 and Black seemed to be doing fine. After a long manoeuvring game, Hikaru finally cracked in the following position:


Here, White is forced to play 40.Nxh5 cxd5 41.cxd5 f4! and remains better. But under clock pressure, Nakamura erred with 40.Nc3? Nf4 and the d3’pawn ultimately fell. Though the game progressed for a long six hours and more, the outcome was almost never in doubt, though Hikaru fought valiantly. Grischuk’s moment of perfection came at…


76…f3! 77.Bf2 Bf6 78.Be1 Bg5…


81…Kg5! Not caring for 82.Bh4+ Kf4 83.Bxd8 Kxe4! 84.Bb6 Kd3 85.Bxc5 Ke2 86.Kg3 e4 as Black’s pawns are too powerful. 82.Bxe5 Bf6 83.Bd6 f2! 84.Kg2 Bd4 and Black won as his h-pawn rolls down…

And out came our friend Lennart Ootes with his click and caption:

Sums it up quite well…| Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

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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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