Sinquefield Cup: Caruana grabs the lead

by Venkatachalam Saravanan
8/25/2018 – For the first time in this year's Sinquefield Cup, a sole leader tops the standings — Fabiano Caruana took advantage of Sergey Karjakin's bad form to get his second win of the tournament. Alexander Grischuk could have easily joined him in the lead, as he missed a big chance to defeat Magnus Carlsen, while Levon Aronian and Hikaru Nakamura exchanged errors to draw the longest game of the day. DANIEL FERNANDEZ analysed all the games from the round and V. SARAVANAN sent his impressions from Saint Louis. | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

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Come rain or shine

Friday was a day of rain at Saint Louis, and as one reached the tournament hall, one could not ignore the damp around the place, especially the ‘biggest chess piece in the world’:

The huge king in front of the hall of fame, fresh with damp from the drizzle | Photo: V. Saravanan

Rain always brings out a feeling of sedateness, calm. But everything was bound to change within an hour of the start of the round...

On the rest day, we were treated to an inspiring spectacle from the World Champion:

But not only to him…the rest day indeed seems to have done wonders to everyone’s spirits as the sixth round exploded at Saint Louis, as full-fledged bare-knuckle fights were witnessed on all the boards.

Wesley So was the first one to create the buzz on Friday, with a novelty on the fourteenth move of a Queen’s Gambit Declined, in a line Anand had used efficiently to shut down Aronian’s play with White in the previous round. Following the same variation, he came up with…


14.Bb1! Novelty. The most remarkable fact about this new move is that it has not been played neither in correspondence chess nor in computer chess. That is a rare factor — in current top level chess, many moves get played on the board for seemingly the first time, but have already been played between correspondence players or computers, hence mostly assumed to be known by everyone even if it has not been played before between humans. So, Wesley deserves all our praise for unearthing this remarkable move.

Anand seemed to do reasonably well with 14...d4 15.Qd3 Bg6 16.e4 Re8 17.Re1 Qe7 18.Qb5:


18...f6?! Here, Anand probably should have waited with 18...h6. After 19.Nh4?! Wesley probably should have continued 19.e5 Bxb1 20.Rab1 fxe5 21.Be5 with some advantage. When Chessbase asked both the players after the game, Anand freely admitted that he “didn’t like my position, though I am not sure [at that time] how White could have improved his play after the opening stage”. But Wesley felt that he did not have ‘any significant advantage out of the opening’. 19...Bf7 20.Nf5 Qc5 with near equality.


Here came one of Anand’s favourite elements of play, giving up his bishop for the knight: 24...Bxf5?! and, once again, Black could have simply waited with 24...Kh8 or 24...Rac8. 25.exf5 Qd5 26.Qc2 Kf8 27.Re6? Wesley pointed out to us that this was probably his biggest mistake in the game, preferring the simple 27.Rac1 maintaining the advantage. 27...Rxe6 28.fxe6 g6 and though White still held a little advantage, he could not make such headway.

So and Anand chat up after the game, though both of them were not sure at this point if White missed any clear way to increase his advantage | Photo: V. Saravanan

Though Wesley’s game initially attracted a lot of attention, by now the whole world was astonished by the World Champion’s downslide:


7...b5!? Though Carlsen has dabbled in the Benko Gambit a decade ago, this is the first time that he played it in a King’s Indian Defence hybrid. Someone is expanding his repertoire indeed! And once again, another inevitable question: is it another smokescreen before the world championship match?  8.cxb5 a6 9.bxa6 Bf5!?

This was a real surprise, as this is not the square you envisage for the light- squared bishop in the Benko, but the curious fact is that this move has been played by Kasparov in 1994 and Anand in 1996!

Carlsen’s problems could have been fixed in the following position:


12...Nc2? Played after a 15-minute think (12...Bc2 was called for, and after 13.Qd2 Bb3 it all gets messy). 13.g4? Here, 13.e4 would have been met with 13...Nxe4! 14.Nxe4 Nxa1 and Black is close to winning. However, White was much better after 13.Rb1, aiming to play e2-e4… 13...Nxg4 14.e4 Nxa1?!

14...Bxe4 was better here, as pointed out by Peter Svidler who was surprised by the speed with which Carlsen went for the text. In his colourful words, “For Magnus to play this fast in a position of such complicatedness, I think it speaks to a degree of shock. It is very very unusual for Magnus not to consider his possibilities quite carefully in a position this difficult and a game which is important…as every Russian schoolboy gets taught, you just sit on your hands — just don’t allow yourself to make a move!”



15...Bxc3? The move which put Carlsen on the mat. For Carlsen’s known prowess at playing chess, this was a surprising tactical mistake. He should have gone for 15...Ne5 16.Nxe5 Bxe5 17.fxg6 hxg6 18.Bd2 and allow the knight to capture on a1. 16.bxc3 Nf6 17.Qe2!

Now White can afford to support a2 first, and gobble up the knight on a1 in his own leisure. White is winning here!

This was the crux of the whole game. As he admitted to Grischuk later, here Carlsen missed 17....Ra4 18.Bh6 Nc2 19.Bxf8 Kxf8 20.Nb2, winning.

As the ancient Tamil wisdom goes, ‘when an Elephant slips, word does travel fast in the jungle!’ | Photo: V. Saravanan


Looking at this position, Vachier-Lagrave admitted that he “thought Magnus was busted”. But here was Grischuk’s first slip, as he captured with 20.Bxf6, when 20.h4 could have kept his large advantage intact. It is a typical engine suggestion, but it is not something you can decide on easily on the board. However, the logic behind the silicon suggestion is fantastic:

After 20.h4, Black can never hope to capture on d5 due to a lot of simple tactics:

A] 20...Nxd5? 21.Bxd5 Qxd5 22.Nb6.

B] 20...Nh7 21.Bd2 Nf6 23.a4! Ra7 [23...Nxd5? 24.Be4 Qe6 25.Qf3] 24.Bg5! and White is clearly better, as both 24...Nh7? and 24...Nxd5? are met with 25.Nxd6!

However, you cannot fault Grischuk’s decision, as he probably thought he could reach a ‘defined’ position and increase his advantage in an ending where his a-passer could be a trump.  He summed up his sins thus, “Somehow I already wanted to win without allowing any counterplay, and when you start to have this attitude too early a lot of times it leads to losing your advantage”.

Even though he still held some advantage, he missed a crucial move of Carlsen later on:


Grischuk was still under the impression that he was better here after 29.Qc2, but he had overlooked Carlsen’s counter 29...Qf4! and the game ended in a draw soon.

After the rapid, blitz and more chess in classical format, is everyone getting tired here? | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

Another guy who missed out on converting a big advantage was Vachier-Lagrave:


After building up an advantage meticulously, Maxime played 30...f3? quickly here, allowing 31.Nf6+ Bxf6 32.exf6 and the white king comes up to g3 and picks up f3. Instead, in the diagrammed position, he could have increased his advantage with 30...a5 31.Rxb6 Rxd4 32.Rd6 (32.Rxd4 Rxd4 33.Nf6+ Bxf6 34.exf6 Kh7 and the king comes up to g6 and picks up f6) 32...Rxc4 33.Rxd8+ Kh7 and White loses the e5-pawn, one way or the other.

One guy who exudes a grim determination with his body language is Hikaru Nakamura. Leader of the Grand Chess Tour standings before this tournament, he is definitely thirsting for a comeback, and he has missed converting wins in the previous two rounds. A similar fate awaited him today, however:


Nakamura had fought hard until this point — just like in his game against Mamedyarov in the fifth round — and had amassed a considerable advantage, only to squander it away with 34.Rb8+? Kg7 35.Rxa7 Re6+ 36.Kf3 Rf6+ 37.Ke4 Re6+ 38.Kd3 Rg2 39.g4 Rg3...

Mamedyarov voiced big surprise with this sequence of moves, “I don’t understand why he played this Rb8 check — 34.b4 is winning! I don’t think the position after 39...Rg3 is winning anymore!”

He was right, of course. If he keeps the rook battery on the seventh rank, Black cannot attack the g3-pawn, as White captures the pawn on f7: 34.b4 Re6? 35.Kd3 Rg2 36.Rxf7 wins.

Hikaru Nakamura, showing grim determination over the board, but missing crucial moments towards the time control for the second successive day | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Spectrum Studios

Going ahead, he even managed to get himself into a soup:


Here, Aronian could have preserved a huge advantage with 45...Rg2+ 46.Kb1 Rf1+ 47.Ka2 Rg4! and Black would succeed in doubling his rooks on the a-file. Instead, he went wrong with 45...Ra4 46.a7 g4??, giving up a whole rook!? 46...Rf1 with the idea of Rf1-a1 was the only way to fight back. Aronian simply lost a whole rook after 47.Rc8 followed by queening on the a8-square.

Do not leave your seats yet. Just as this long rook ending was going on, we had some desperate people here at Saint Louis who wanted an early evening, including…the tournament director:


Here, Nakamura missed the only win with complicated play: 52.Ra3! Rf2+ and the white king gets activated with 53.Kd3. Along with the actively placed rooks on a3 and g8, the monarch wins the game for White. Instead, he blundered again with 52.Ra6?? Ke7! 53.Rh6 Rf2+ 54.Kd3 Rh2 and the black pawns got monstrous.

And this is when Maurice Ashley came up with the typical American expression, “Nakamura blew what should have been a straightforward win after Levon blew what should have been a straightforward draw!”

It is easily possible to write a small book on analysing this game, so we shall abandon it here for the reader’s further intrigues!

There is a huge buzz in Saint Louis on the upcoming World Championship match between Carlsen and Caruana. When he enters the Saint Louis Club at the time of the round, Caruana almost always gets shouted with, “Good luck, Fabi!” by children, and a typical American, “Go get them, Champ!” by adults. He keeps it simply, honours as many people who come looking for autographs and almost never disappoint fans. No wonder that Fabiano Caruana is right now the darling of the spectators who come to watch him play:

Big fan followings for Caruana | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes


No doubt Karjakin is suffering with poor form, and he has already got himself into knots here. When people all around him are missing winning positions, Caruana finishes off in style: 23.c5! opening up the position and going for the kill — Caruana expressed big confidence with this move. 23...Ra5 24.Qb2! Cool! The point is that Black’s pieces are badly placed here. To recall Doctor John Nunn’s principle, ‘Loose pieces drop off’. 24...Qxd5 25.cxb6 cxb6 26.Nc4 Rc5 27.Qxb6 f6?? 28.Rd1! Qxd1+ 29.Rxd1 Rxd1+ 30.Kg2 1-0 as 30...Nd7 is met with 31.Qe6+ Kf8 32.Nd6 winning.

From all the mistakes of the day, we can only expect more of them in the coming days, and those who succeed will probably be the ones that avoid mistakes rather than those who make good moves…

Karjakin is having a tough time in Saint Louis | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Austin Fuller

Round 6 games analysed by GM Daniel Fernandez


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IM Lawrence Trent presents the highlights of the day

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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