Anand still in the sole lead, Nepomniachtchi's woes continue

by Venkatachalam Saravanan
8/20/2019 – For the second day in succession, it was six draws in Saint Louis at the Sinquefield Cup. That enabled Vishy Anand to continue to lead as the only winner from the first round. The story of the day was the players with white pieces getting good advantages only to fritter them away in a spate of carelessness. IM VENKATACHALAM SARAVANAN reports about all action from the venue. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

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Carlsen vs Caruana — rematch of the ages?

The biggest clash of the day was between Magnus Carlsen and 'local boy' Fabiano Caruana, who fought for the ultimate crown just an year ago. There was added expectation to the game, as Carlsen had lost his rapid game, and had lost and drawn the two blitz games just a week ago. And the prelude to the third round game had started during the studio interview after the second round itself. On being reminded by Maurice Ashley with the leading question, “You play Fabi, tomorrow?!” Carlsen answered with a smile, “yes, I play Fabi tomorrow; It's always interesting; I look forward to the challenge”, etc. Politically correct noises as a prelude to the shooter, “It is as good a time as any, to actually beat him in a classical game”!

To remind ourselves, the last occasion when Carlsen defeated Caruana in a classical game was at Altibox Norway Chess in Stavanger, May 2018. But to his credit, he hasn't lost to Caruana in a classical game since June 2015, in the same tournament.

Curiously, both the players turned up late, leaving the spectators, photographers and arbiters waiting for a few minutes for the game to start — an unusual sight for an elite tournament.

An unusual sight of an empty board even after the start of a round | Photo: V.Saravanan

But once the game started, the moves rolled quite fast, especially for Caruana, who seemed to have come well prepared for the game unleashing an important novelty on the ninth move.



A new move in the position, a novelty. But Caruana said the position was 'still kind of sad for black — you are always suffering'. Caruana has played and held this position twice before, against Aronian — when he made a draw after minor suffering — and Mamedyarov — a draw after major suffering. “And today was a moderate suffering! It's not a fun line,” proclaimed Caruana.

Fabiano Caruana — moderate suffering | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Carlsen was revealingly forthcoming on his thoughts when Caruana flashed out the moves. "I thought, here we go again — he has novelties in every line!" It is quite refreshing to hear Carlsen's frank views in the post-game interviews, which have made his visits to the studio occasions to look forward to.

Magnus Carlsen: 'Here we go again!' | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Continuing to show that he was theoretically armed to the teeth, Caruana continued playing apace, and by around move 20 he even commanded a 20-minute advantage on the clock. But Carlsen aimed for an ending, which he got.


Carlsen was quite happy with the position here, and the audience too were expecting for a lip-smacking typical 'Carlsen grind' in the endgame. He seemed to have a little more edge when the position reached another important moment.


27.f4? Inexplicable, as this simplification was unnecessary.

White could have increased his advantage after 27.♔f1 ♚f8 28.♖c7 ♚e8 29.♗c4 with a resemblance to one of those countless endgames in which Carlsen has ground down his opponents.

The game continued with 27...exf4!? — an extremely ugly pawn structure for Black and something which you won't see often! Ironically this was the best defence, despite wrecking his pawn structure even more: 28.f3 a6 29.f2 e6 and White could never drum up any pressure thereafter.

Competitively and aesthetically, the encounter Ding Liren vs Vachier-Lagrave turned out to be a glorious fight. Surprisingly, Ding held an unenviable score of 1:6 in classical chess against Vachier-Lagrave, with eight draws, before their third round game. Whether it was this factor or a desire to get aggressive and shake off a sense of general passiveness, is anyone's guess. But it was a different Ding who turned up for the third round.

First, he surprised Vachier-Lagrave by playing 5.d2 against the Gruenfeld — not part of his usual repertoire and was promptly surprised in return when his opponent too played a variation not employed regularly in the past. But there was no doubt that both the players were well prepared.

A 'different' Ding | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

And MVL delighted the audience with a visit to the confession booth, where he explained the nuances behind playing 14...f6 against 14...c6.

But Ding upped the ante when he played the daring 15.h4!?​


This was quite atypical Ding! Not like the player with the highly nuanced positional play we have gotten used to for the past week and before. Also, it was intriguing that Ding preferred to play this way against MVL, who is regarded as one of the most dynamic players around.

Very soon, the game reached a boiling point, but the experts did not trust Ding's daring play, keeping the white king in the centre and trying for an assault along the h-line without much ammunition. GM Cristian Chirila opined, “I wonder what Ding prepared — I have no clue!”, while Alejandro Ramirez said, “something went wrong for the Chinese player today”.


The pivotal moment of the game. 

Ding went for direct action and went for 22.g4 here, which turned out to be a premature moment as Vachier-Lagrave came up with the energetic 22...f5! backed up by accurate calculation and admiring boldness.

It is not easy to defend against an opponent's kingside attack, and even more difficult to trust himself and make an accurate reply which is also an aggressive one! One needs completes trust in his intuition and calculation abilities. MVL did just that, which was admirable. Bravo!

The energetic MVL | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

The game reached near parity after the forceful 23.h6+ g7 24.hxg6 hxg6 25.xf5!? xf5! 26.exf5 xf5 and White's attack turned out to be non-existent.

The position in the above diagram is the most important moment in the whole game, and we can say that sheer practical skills will not help a player completely, even the best of the best. (After all, it was a 2805 Elo who played white here!)

When one has to make the choice between:

a) to go on the offensive as Ding did in the game, or

b) to refrain from direct action yet, and choose a move like 22.♖a3!? (The justification being, instead of direct action which doesn't seem to be leading anywhere, you calmly bring another piece into attack)

What could be that intricate factor which helps a player to choose between alternatives in such positions? In my humble opinion, the answer lies in the fact that this is not a variation which Ding Liren plays regularly, and this is not the kind of chess he plays often, at least at the highest levels after he reached the peaks of world chess. Whereas, Vachier-Lagrave coming up with the best defence which is equally daring, wasn't surprising at all — he plays the opening regularly, knows the kinds of positions which arise further on, and generally — and most importantly — this is the way the guy earns his bread every day!

A well fought draw which thrilled the audience.

By the way, in the above confession, MVL had also voiced his opinion on the Nepomniachtchi vs Mamedyarov encounter:

“The game Shakh versus Nepo remind(s) of how young I used to be because I played this exact position ten years ago against Vlad Tkachiev, and of course 16.c4 c8 it is a very nice grouping of pieces for black”.

However, inaccurate play from 'Shakh' had resulted in 'Nepo' slowly gaining the upper hand.


20...a6? This turns out to be a misplacement. And after 21.c1, White surely took over the initiative. 


White is firmly in the driver's seat, and he just needs to find that decisive continuation cementing his advantage. Nepo blundered with 31.d6?

Overlooking a simple detail. 31.♕e3! Covering the b6-square 31...♛xb2 32.♔h2! and there is no stopping the d6 passer anymore

31...f5 32.f3 d8 33.c2


33...xd6! and the position was equal. It ended in a draw further on.

What could be the reason for Nepomniachtchi's blunder? Such oversights in calculation should concern a player in his form. That he missed 77...b5 from Anand, missed his own 28...♜xa3 against Caruana, and now this simple shot in the game, makes one wonder if there is a pattern here...

Nepomniachtchi – third time not the charm | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Two of the encounters were fought well but never developed any big excitement barring a few interesting moments.


Aronian's Italian opening had a curious pair of moves in the early stages. Having started with 8...a6, Anand played 9...a5!? on the very next move in the diagrammed position, wasting a move but all fine at the highest level — he has played the move himself twice in the past. 


We got to see a strange spectacle on the board, with Aronian having the knight pair against Anand's bishop pair — quite unusual for the latter! But this nasty psychological warfare of taking away his knights did not dishearten Anand. He succeeded in achieving equality once he found ways to — you guessed it right! — exchange off the bishops for his opponent's knights, one by one. This game was the first to end in a draw in 42 moves. 

Aronian – Anand: nasty psychological warfare? | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour


Wesley So vs Anish Giri revolved around the backward c6-pawn from a typical QGD pawn structure, and Giri amusingly explained to a live audience that he made sure the pawn was always protected more than extra all the time! 

In the ideal scenario White should have an endgame and then you should lets say put the pawn on g4, then make sure h6 is a weakness and there've been some classical games like that. And then if you have two weaknesses you are really pressing very hard. But as long as I put the pawn on h5, even the endgame should be fine because you have only one weakness on c6, I protect it also and in come case I have Ng8-e7. 

Finally, we move to the longest game of the day. Apparently, Nakamura held a long-term advantage against Sergey Karjakin, but never managed to find a way to breakthrough in 104 long moves. The only conclusion about the game I could achieve was the Naka was really disappointed with the lack of 'levers' in his position towards the end of the game.


And my Komodo engine seems to have lost its marbles, as it finds the final position winning for white, with a 1.60 advantage!

After the round ended, I saw murmurs among netizens that the tournament isn't turning out lively enough, as there were too many draws. Seriously?! Did everyone feel that way if they followed all the games in depth and their background stories today?!

Round 3 round-up

GM Yannick Pelletier reviews the games of the third round

Round 3 games annotated by V. Saravanan


Standings after round 3


All games


Commentary webcast

Commentary by WGM Jennifer Shahade and GMs Yasser Seirawan and Maurice Ashley


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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