Sinquefield Cup: Five leaders

by Venkatachalam Saravanan
8/22/2018 – Fabiano Caruana joined the leading pack at the fourth round of the Sinquefield Cup after using a daring novelty against Hikaru Nakamura. With this result, no less than five players are co-leading at the fourth leg of the Grand Chess Tour. Closing on half-time, those still in the run will start taking into account the results they need in order to qualify to the GCT finale in London, adding interest to the event. V. SARAVANAN reports. | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

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Caruana is the day’s winner

The fastest game to end did not have much action in it, but the point of curiosity was Mamedyarov’s mysterious intentions. He has played the Bf4 against the Queen's Gambit Declined a lot before, even against Aronian himself!


Curiously, Aronian too has played this exact position, and it will remain unclear what was it that Mamedyarov wanted over the board…and why a tame draw was agreed.

Grischuk’s game against 'Mr.Najdorf' looked promising initially, but they ended up analysing the position pretty soon | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes


Vachier-Lagrave is indeed Mr. Najdorf right now. Have a look at the position and try to understand: he played 15…d5 against Caruana in the Saint Louis Rapid a week ago, 15…Nxd3 against Anand in the second round and 15…h5 in this game, which he has also done in previous occasions. Still, he got into the Confession Booth during the game and said, “I keep playing the Najdorf, I change variations…Sasha must be in his preparations, but still trying to navigate things…as far as I know I am fine, but…obviously I could have missed something…this is what can happen in the Najdorf…”

But the Frenchman’s confidence in his Najdorf was not misplaced, though at some point Grischuk looked like he was cooking something up:


Grischuk now uncorked 20.Rxg4, making all of us sit up in our seats, but nothing much really happened: 20…hxg4 21.Qxg4 Rb8 and now they repeated the moves after 22.Na2 Qa4 23.Nc3 Qb4.

Wesley So – Sergey Karjakin was a game that went on for a long time with seemingly little activity, but the game had its interesting moves, though the struggle never really heightened to any crescendo.


For his king, White has many things going on in his favour. So did not seem to act decisively at this point, continuing with 20.Rae1. White had many alternatives, which were all worth of deeper analysis, something we obviously cannot afford to do here. Sample variations:

a) 20.Qg5 f6! (20…Qxg5 21.hxg5 g6 gives way to 22.g4!) 21.Qxh5 Be6 and Black has compensation, as White’s queen will remain inactive for a long time.

b) 20.c5!? (The idea is simple — if Black captures 20…dxc5? then 21.Qg5 becomes critical) d5!? and it is a mess here. For example: 21.exd5 Qxc5+ 22.Qd4 Qc1!? with a dynamic position.

c) 20.g4!? This is our favourite. This position is so crazily complicated that we will not even attempt to analyse here. Suffice to say that after 20…hxg4 21.f4 Nd7 22.Bxg4 a4 we do not know what is going on and probably we cannot fault So for not to going into this line, as it is extremely risky.


The balance has tilted now — Karjakin went easy here with 25…Rb8 26.cxd6 cxd6 27.Bc3 and the game remained equal. In the diagrammed position above, 25…d5 seemed critical. Logically, since the black king is much safer than the white king, it made sense to open up the centre, as Black’s pieces seemed to be getting more active than White’s: 26.exd5 Bxd5 27.Re1 Qf7 and White has too many targets to take care of here.

So – Karjakin, a struggle which never reached a crescendo | Photo: V. Saravanan

Without doubt, the clash between the World Champion and his predecessor was a game which generated a lot of interest.

Anand and Carlsen have played each other the maximum number of times among everyone here — my database gives the number of their mutual encounters: a whopping 112 times! Does it feel significant for Anand to play against Carlsen in a tournament after all these years, which included two World Championship matches? “It is special definitely, but it happens three or four times in a year. So, he is also [just] a guy on the circuit. [The matches] happened too far back”, said Anand in a chat.

Anand – Carlsen, 112 and counting! | Photo: V. Saravanan

The other significance is Carlsen’s choice of 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 in today’s game, as he had done against Vachier-Lagrave in the first round. Either the Sveshnikov or the Accelerated Dragon might have been on the cards, but he has not employed them since 2015!

The point is that, when playing Vachier-Lagrave and Anand, Carlsen might have been indirectly playing against Caruana as well! The World Championship match being just about two months away, Carlsen may probably be hiding his real preparation from his challenger just for this single tournament. Or, by inverse logic, he may actually be planning to play the Sicilian in the match at least for a limited number of games, and playing them here might give his challenger a wrong scent? A classic 'Hidden Ball Trick' situation?!

Anyway, Vishy seemed to be quite well prepared, making his moves quickly in the opening and trying to inject dynamism in the position as early as possible:


16.h4 In many of his games against Carlsen, Anand has done well when he creates dynamic activity, rather than playing the strategic kind of chess which is Carlsen’s forte. 16…Nd4 17.h5 g5 and it looked like we were going to have a fight in our hands after all.


21.Kf2? This is where things started going wrong for Anand. He was later wondering if he could have done the whole thing with some more preparation, and he was correct! (21.Rd1!? The idea is to get Black’s knight on d4 away before revealing his cards: h6 22.c3 Nb3 23.Qc2 and it is still debatable if White’s control of the f5-square means anything at all). After 21…Qe7 22.Qd1?!, White probably overlooked the following opponent’s resource: 22…c4! 23.dxc4 f5!? (Needless to say, Anand was ready to sacrifice his queen after 23…Nb3 24.cxb3 Rxd1 25.Rxd1) 24.exf5 Nxf5 and it was obvious that White was under pressure.

The former World Champion was obviously under pressure | Photo: V. Saravanan


Later Anand opined that this was the position where he was a little ‘concerned’ about 31…Rdf4, but Carlsen allowed the simplification 31…Rxg4 32.Nxg4 e4 33.Qe5 and the resultant ending did not offer much to any side, though precise play was required…and carried out.

Carlsen’s support system, Peter-Heine Nielsen and Senior Carlsen | Photo: V. Saravanan

A relieved Anand went to the Confession Booth during the game and really confessed! “Yes, so…(sigh!)…A very tense game…I had to bring my king back… I was getting a bit worried. Lots of back and forth, and now I think I have things under control…” Hey, did not our coaches taught us earlier in our youths that we were neither to have panic nor to feel relief during the game, but to keep constant vigil all the time?! Anyway, the guy who invented these confession sessions was definitely a genius…

Since the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz did not go too well for him, the former World Champion seems to have given his safety instincts a miss, which pushed him to go for dynamic complications in three of his games so far. Was it a conscious decision to choose sharp openings in these games? “I am not making my decisions on stylistic grounds! I try to play good lines, whatever is called for. I am not choosing a style…It’s not like I have a theme and the opening choice is [made accordingly]”, asserted Anand.

Fabi joins the lead

This was the round when Caruana’s persistence finally paid off. The challenger has remarkably pressed his opponents in two of the earlier rounds and was close to being rewarded. Today’s game took on the same path as well:

Fabiano Caruana, Mr. Persistent | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Spectrum Studios


And here came Caruana’s preparation as he introduced the new move 14.0-0-0!? — an open challenge for a lively battle. True to his character, Caruana calmly revealed during the post-game chat that he had prepared this new move a ‘few months’ ago! His logic was that, against the regular 14…Bb7 15.f3 Nd5 16.Bd4, White can now start pushing his pawns on the kingside and mount an attack on the black king, since the white king is on c1 instead of g1. Simple!

Caruana’s novelty caught Nakamura unaware | Photo: V. Saravanan


Though Fabi liked his position, he was not sure about what he wanted to do here, but his opponent did not play perfectly: 24.Qf2 Bc6 25.Qc5 Be8?! The queen exchange gives White a pleasant position, mainly because of the relative difference in strength between the knight and the bishop, and White’s rooks dominating the d-file. 26.Qxc7 Rxc7 27.Rd6 and White started probing on the queenside.

Though Nakamura fought on grittily, his decisive mistake came in time pressure:


36…fxe4? 37.Ke3! Bc6 The extent of Nakamura’s blunder is revealed in the variation 37…Kxg5 38.Rg7+ Bg6 38.Kd4! and Black is lost! If 37…hxg5 38.g4, Black’s pieces are a thoroughly disjointed lot. The game followed with 38.Re7, again threatening 39.Kd4!, 38…Rxg5 39.Rxe6+ Kg7 40.Re7+ Kg6 41.Rd1 and White was completely better. Fabiano thus won a well conducted game and jumped to joint lead.

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Current standings


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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