Sinquefield Cup: Magnus lets Fabi escape

by Venkatachalam Saravanan
8/26/2018 – The much-awaited encounter between Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana took place on Saturday in Saint Louis. The World Champion faced Caruana's Petroff and obtained a decisive kingside attack, but was not able to round off the game to a win. The rest of the games also finished with draws, so the World Championship challenger remains the sole leader with two rounds to go. V. SARAVANAN tells us all about the big clash. | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

The Reliable Petroff The Reliable Petroff

The Petroff (or Russian) Defence which is characterised by the moves 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 has been popular at the highest levels for many years and enjoys the reputation of being an extremely solid defence.


Near miss

What do Americans do when a hurricane hits town? They first name it nicely, of course! Ever since the Sinquefield Cup started, the final showdown between the World Champion and his challenger before their world championship is the talk of the town. And their mutual encounter yesterday was nicely named ‘Super Saturday’.

When you reach the Saint Louis Chess Club and see crowds lining up to enter the tournament hall it hits you — it is much more than just this game and tournament. This is a crowd to watch their own ‘Fabi’ take on the World Champion today, to see a hint of a prelude to their summit clash in November.

Spectators in queue waiting to get into the tournament hall | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

Crowded reception area, tickets being sold | Photo: V. Saravanan

Lobby telecasting the live commentary | Photo: V. Saravanan

Then you go up the stairs to the tournament hall and it hits you even more! Entry to the hall was restricted for about half an hour to allow only the press, and a good heap of sports channels had descended to the hall — Sports Illustrated, ESPN, HBO...

Press photographers and videographers inside the tournament hall | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

Then you find peculiar signs — reservations for photographers?! | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Austin Fuller

Then you realise this encounter has attracted even acclaimed legends of photography to Saint Louis! | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club /Lennart Ootes

And then you spot Harry Benson himself! The iconic photographer with an endearing connection to our game, with his unforgettable portraits of Bobby Fischer. Is he getting ready for the next American World Chess Champion?

The scenario inside the tournament hall just after the start of the games, with only media allowed access

Onsite commentary room with Grandmasters Alejandro Ramirez and Cristian Chirila is even fuller than usual | Photo: V. Saravanan

Amid all the hype, the game got on. Carlsen showed his class early on:


14.Be2!? Subtle play. Carlsen reasons that at c4 the bishop is misplaced, open to be attacked with ...Nc6-e5. Hence, he retreats the bishop before planning the advance of the g-pawn. Remarkable. Carlsen simply excels in identifying such deep resources. Only a thorough analysis of the position reveals the soundness of his idea, but apparently Caruana panicked… 14...Bg4?! 15.Nh2 Bxe2 16.Qxe2 Ne5 Black is getting ready for ...Qd7-c6 and ...Ne5-c4. 17.Bc1! and White is ready to roll his kingside pawns.

Carlsen gave a determined demonstration over the board | Photo: V. Saravanan


Fabiano played 19...Qe4 hoping that a queen swap will halt White’s attack on the kingside. 20.g4 Ne3 21.Rde1 Qxd3 22.cxd3 Nd5 23.Reg1 and White’s initiative cannot be underestimated. After indifferent play by Caruana, Carlsen was soon on his way to score a win, it looked...


With his position apparently overwhelming, Magnus went to the confession booth here, and did an epic act. Check it out yourself!

Though this might remain an embarrassment for Carlsen, we have to give it to him for showing a sense of fun and gamesmanship during the game. We need more competitors like him, don’t we?

You cannot fault him — the position looked too good! 25...Rxh6 26.f5 Rh7 (A cute mate is 26...Rxh5 27.Ng4 Rxh1 28.Nf6+ Kh8 29.Rxh1) 27.Ng4 Kh8 28.f6 Ng8 29.fxg7 Rxg7.


But the inexplicable happened after this, as Carlsen started taking too long for his moves, and played below par too: 30.Be3 c5 31.Bf4 (31.Bd2! with the idea of c3-c4). 31...Re8 Carlsen had less than a minute here. After 32.Ne3 Rxg1 33.Rxg1 Re6 34.Nd5 Nf6 35.Nc7 Re2 36.Nb5 Re6 37.Rf1? he should have grabbed with 37.Nxa7 Kh7 38.Rh1 and hope that the extra pawn gives him a good advantage. The game petered out to a draw.

But we have to credit Caruana too — in a difficult position, the challenger played quickly and put forth the best defence to hold the draw.

Fabi, cool under pressure | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club /Lennart Ootes

When the time came to repeat the moves and settle for a draw, the World Champion was obviously distressed:

Carlsen obviously suffering when agreeing for a draw | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club /Lennart Ootes

Uncharacteristically, he was very critical of himself in the after-game chat: “In all of my games I am not being practical. I kind of follow my intuition to make decisions. It’s frustrating for sure....particularly today was not a good day. Draw with Fabi is not a disaster and I couldn’t calculate. Obviously there was a lot at stake today, obviously I was a bit nervous”. Remarkable words from the guy who is estimated to become the all-time greatest!

Reminded about his Confession Booth mischief, Carlsen chuckled, "That kind of backfired, eh? At that point I was pretty sure I was winning. I just wanted to have some fun. But it didn't work out”...

The commentary team had the friskiness to play the Confession Booth clip to Caruana too, just after the game, and Caruana gave a big grin, “I guess he thought it was already over. But it wasn’t!”


There was nothing much happening in the other games, as fatigue is overtaking all the players who are nearing the end of the second tournament in succession. Only Vachier-Lagrave tried to be nicely creative:


And this is where Maxime decided to do-a-Karpov with his rook: 22.Ra3!? Watch out! Nf6 23.Bf3 c6 24.Rb3! Re7 25.Rb4! and the elephant march had given him a considerable edge…

Maxime ‘Karpov’ Vachier-Lagrave, the Frenchman with three names?! | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club /Lennart Ootes


But this is where he squandered it, when he could have played 32.Bg4! Rd8 33.Ke2 and keep pressing Black. Instead, he erred with 32.h5? f5! and the black knight found a home on f6...

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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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Chanakyan Chanakyan 8/29/2018 03:45
@Petrosianic - playing Ng4 & f5-f6, or f5-f6 & Ng4 gave the same amount of advantage. It was not better in anyway, in my opinion, as much as I analysed. Actually, Bd2 is a very nice way to get an advantage, makes very interesting analysis. For example, one of my lines went 31.Bd2 Kh7 32.Nf2 Rxg1 33.Rxg1 Bh6 34.Bxh6 Kxh6 35.Ne4 Rd8 36.Ng5 Rf8 37.Nxf7 Rxf7 38.Rxg8 Rd7 39.Kc2 Kxh5 40.Kb3! and white has a nice advantage, due to the 'bottled up' black king on the h-line
Ryan Ortega Ryan Ortega 8/27/2018 08:10
@Daniel Miller

I agree with you totally.

Sports Illustrated had Fischer on its Cover when he was Winning the Match for the World Title; 11 years and a month prior, Lisa Lane graced the Cover of SI, and it would be fitting for Carlsen to have the same honor, although if Kasparov was not awarded it, then it must be xenophobia more than recognition, and that means Caruana will be on November's Cover.
Ryan Ortega Ryan Ortega 8/27/2018 08:04
Carlsen was as Gentlemanly as possibly in the post-mortem. Caruana actually acted like he thinks he too can look forward to a career in Modeling wherein dates with Supermodels are the norm...

I don't mean to hate, I just found Carlsen played so well, and then turned into a different person; perhaps he is that much better, and perhaps he suffers feom an attention span that sees the Win and stops being able to retain even a modicum of focus.

I just do not know how I immediately saw his error, how I knew that the Knight had to be chased away before anything at all could happen, and how Carlaen did not see this when he followed a Line he must have calculated...
Is this another 1.e3? Was it a simple mistake? Was it Karpov in Seville? Karpov picked up the wrong Rook. He would have had the Title had he picked the correct Rook up. No one disputes it...
Pupil Pupil 8/27/2018 10:53
Good reading, my friend. Keep it up.
Petrosianic Petrosianic 8/27/2018 04:06
Yeah, I'd agree that Nxa7 was better than what was played, although the h pawn seems to remain weak. 31. Bd2 I'm not sure about. There may be a win, but I haven't seen it.

Someone else suggested to me that the critical mistake was that White should have played f6 a move earlier. This also looks better than what Carlsen played. After 27. f6 Nd5 28. Ng4 g6 29. hxg6 Rxh1 30. Rxh1 fxg6 31. c4 Nb6 32. Nh6+ Bxh6 33. Rxh6 Rd8 34. Rxg6+ Kf7 35. Rg7+ Kxf6 36. Rxc7 Rd7 37. Rxd7 Nxd7, White is a clear pawn up. But all the pawns are on the same side, and White's Bishop is the wrong color for the RP. I think Black can hold this.
yesenadam yesenadam 8/27/2018 01:48
"Hence, he retreats the bishop before planning the advance of the g-pawn."..wasn't the bishop move part of preparing g4? Before advancing, not before planning.

"Obviously I was a bit nervous" - admirable candour.
Chanakyan Chanakyan 8/26/2018 08:22
@Petrosianic I have only mentioned that Carlsen should have grabbed 37.Na7 and 'hope that the extra pawn gives him a good advantage'. He missed 31.Bd2 which I have mentioned, which would have meant a winning advantage for him - for HIM! I thought it was implicit, maybe I could have mentioned more elaborate...
Babysplitz Babysplitz 8/26/2018 05:29
What a game!! I thought Fabi was busted.
Petrosianic Petrosianic 8/26/2018 05:16
Both Chessbase and Chess24 have assured us that Carlsen was winning this game, but neither one has actually shown a win. 37. Nxa7 seems far from winning, just because the h pawn is permanently weak. It looks as though Fabian's game was merely difficult without being losing.
Daniel Miller Daniel Miller 8/26/2018 02:40
Magnus's confession booth was the best thing I saw this tournament. Regardless of whether Fabiano came back from the abyss to draw, Magnus is epic. He is is great for the game. Fabiano has gained great confidence this year and is pressing games and acting like the world's best player. Can't wait for November.