Sinquefield Cup: Confessions of the World Champion

by Venkatachalam Saravanan
8/19/2019 – Whenever we see the pairing of Anand vs Carlsen, it is expected to be nothing short of spectacle. It did not disappoint this time either. Carlsen kept things interesting in both game and his choice words at the confession booth. Mamedyarov and Nakamura had a sharp game which fizzled out to a draw. Caruana missed a good opportunity against Nepomniachtchi. All games in round two ended up in a draw. IM VENKATACHALAM SARAVANAN reports from the venue. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

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Anand maintains lead as all games drawn

What promised to be a spectacle of bloodbath turned into a let down in the second round of the Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis. About half an hour into the round, commentator Grandmaster Maurice Ashley proclaimed in his inimitable way, “there is a sizzle today!” aptly capturing the mood in all the games at that point. Indeed, they evoked lots of interest.

The biggest attraction of the round was the game between the pair who fought two world championship matches between them — Anand and Carlsen. Carlsen arrived a couple of minutes late for the game, as Anand sat sipping his tea. Once they started playing, it was obvious that this was a day when both of them were going to play a full-fledged battle. The game featured intriguing opening choices aimed at surprising each other, and had just entered a complex phase. 

 

Isn't the Rossolimo Attack supposed to keep the position closed? What was Anand's intention in opening up the position with d2-d4, after playing the Rossolimo?! (Not to mention giving up the Bishop early in the game for the Knight!)

Anand explained after the game:

This morning, I was telling my second, 'We should check all the sidelines in the Rossolimo'. I said 4...bxc6 is a possibility, though (Carlsen) had never played before — he had always been taking (on c6) with the d-pawn...And then I got absorbed in all the other things I had to check, and I forgot to check this! (Now) I (felt) slightly exposed (when he played 4...bxc6 on the board) because he is targeting my game with Shakh (Mamedyarov) from Norway (2019) and Boris (Gelfand) in Amsterdam (2019). I had not really revised (that variation), so the question is should I go in for something and basically ask him what he prepared today morning?! And then I realised that there is this idea 5.d4, which is quite interesting, (following) with taking on c5 and continuing with a2-a3 and b2-b4.

Anand

Vishy Anand — opening intricacies | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

 

This was the position Anand was discussing from his earlier games with Mamedyarov and Gelfand continuing with 5.0-0 ♝g7 6.♖e1 here. That explains why he had gone for the unusual continuation of 5.d4 in spite of having given up his bishop already, and confidently violating the middlegame principle we all learn at school: do not open the position when you have knights and your opponent has the bishops, and do not close the position when you have bishops and your opponent has knights!

But Carlsen continued calmly, and left the spectators puzzled with an unorthodox plan.

 

Carlsen's 9...f6 was intriguing, to say the least — count for yourself the number of positional principles thus violated! However, Carlsen had one more shock (though a pleasant one) for the spectators — he went into the confession booth and acknowledged that he was delaying castling which was not really ideal, but expressed it in a jolly way,

I think the general rules for opening play is that if you are one move away from castling you are pretty much always fine. If you are three moves away from castling, you are never fine, and if you are two moves away from castling, it could go either way! So, right now I am two moves from castling, let's see how it goes!

It also meant that he was in quite a relaxed mood, and wasn't really feeling any concern about his position.

Later, asked about the confession on the basics of castling quickly in the opening, if this was a rule they wrote in the Norwegian children's book or something?, a smiling Carlsen said, "I recently thought (it) up myself! But I think it makes perfect sense. That's the point".

Magnus Carlsen was in a relaxed mood | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Sergey Karjakin and Ding Liren were involved in a 'sharp' Marshall Attack game, and went deep into their preparation to enter a complex ending pretty early. We emphasize on the sharpness part of the opening because, at the highest levels of chess nowadays, due to deep opening preparations, even ultra-sharp openings have been analysed — and concluded to lead to drawn positions. Considering that, Karjakin's prepared novelty seemed to have caught Ding in some trouble. 

 

Karjakin's last move, 23.a5 seemed to be an improvement over So – Ding, from Candidates 2018 which had continued with 23.Qxf5. After Ding's 23...xf3 24.xf3 e8?! (24...b4 looked better) 25.b4! Karjakin seemed to have taken over the initiative.

Sergey Karjakin with deep preparation | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Vachier-Lagrave had shown his aggression by playing quite sharp from the opening phases in the first round itself, and he continued with the same spirit in the second round too.

 

MVL in an ultra-aggressive mood | Photo: Justin Kellar / Grand Chess Tour

At this point, Magnus Carlsen stole the thunder, when he once again appeared in the Confession Booth, to talk about... MVL's position!

I forgot one thing last time (in the confession booth), which is to congratulate Maxime on playing some really classical positional chess, apart from the fact that he sacrificed a pawn. So, as a kid you are taught that the perfect setup for your pieces is Bishops on f4 & c4, Knights on c3 & f3, and then pawns on e4 & d4 because then you control the maximum amount of central squares. He already has a rook on e1, he just misses the rook on d1 for perfect positional harmony, at least the way we are taught as kids.

Now, we leave it to the reader to conclude whether this was out of a general sense of fun or trolling the Frenchman!

Anish Giri's Italian Game against Levon Aronian was another deep theoretical battle where the Armenian had a prepared improvement for the Dutchman in the opening phase.

 

Anish Giri in a theoretical battle against Aronian | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

By this time, the other two games seemed to be developing as direct and open confrontations.

 

A typical position from a Najdorf where both sides were poised for a violent kingside attack. The most interesting place at this point was the Kingside Diner, the restaurant next to the tournament hall, where Grandmasters Alejandro Ramirez and Cristian Chirila have a live interactive commentary sessions with the audience. Everyone was treated to a violent attacks and bold sacrifices at this point, the position being ripe for tactical play.

Ramirez and Chirila enjoying at the players' expense | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

But without doubt, the most inspired performance of the round came from Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who showed original home preparation in a well-known position from the Queens Gambit, and initiated ambitious play from the start against Hikaru Nakamura. 

 

A very common position, existing since 1994, where 11.g4 has been the established mainline with its own twists and turns. Here, Mamedyarov unexpectedly came up with 11.g1!? immediately infusing life into the position. But more than anything, his opponent went into hilariously surprising contours.

Thus, when the Sunday crowd had eagerly settled down, further course of the games was disappointing for the expectation levels of the spectators.

The biggest drama was seen in the following game:

 

On pointing out that he missed this crucial 'shot', Nepomiachtchi — who turned up for the second round with a different and more common haircut than we saw on Saturday — admitted that he missed out the crucial idea 30...♛a7 after the sacrifice 28...♜xa3. “It hurts! I was calculating ♜xa3 literally each move — may be now ♜xa3 works? May be now? But the position was extremely unclear to calculate clearly”, said Nepomniachtchi after the game. 

Ian Nepomniachtchi on missing a sacrifice | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Thus, all the games deceiving the disappointed spectators, only Giri soldiered on after winning a pawn against Aronian, but couldn't make any headway.


Round 2 round-up show

GM Daniel King covers the highlights of the second round


Round 2 games annotated by V. Saravanan
 

Standings after Round 2

 

All games

 

Commentary webcast

Links




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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Peter B Peter B 8/20/2019 02:48
And what happened to the "forfeit if you are late" rule? Is that only for FIDE events?
Peter B Peter B 8/20/2019 02:47
Regarding Magnus' comments on MVL, I remember a book decades ago, by Bill Harston I think, mocking this as the ideal Fred Reinfeld setup. [The context was a game where white had this setup, but a losing position].
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