Caruana joins Anand in the lead

by Venkatachalam Saravanan
8/21/2019 – The spell of draws was finally broken when Levon Aronian blundered under time pressure handing Fabiano Caruana a well-deserved victory in the only decisive game of the fourth round. All other games ended in draws, as Vishy Anand messed up a complicated calculation to miss a certain win while Magnus Carlsen overlooked another opportunity to grind his opponent down. IM VENKATACHALAM SARAVANAN reports from the venue. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

The Berlin Wall The Berlin Wall

On top level the Berlin Defense is a popular defensive weapon but it also offers Black good chances to win if White does not proceed precisely. On this DVD Victor Bologan shows what Black can and should do if White tries to avoid the main lines of the Berlin Defense.


Aronian blunders, Anand misses a win

It looked like Caruana's show all the way against Aronian, as the American erstwhile challenger showed impressive opening preparation for the second day running. He would reveal that his opening idea was from 'remnants of preparation for the World Championship' against Carlsen.


In a position where 7.♘bd2 and 7.♗g5 are the common moves, Caruana surprised Aronian with 7.d4 b6 8.d5 e7 9.xe5!? leading not to 'any advantage for White...but Black has a difficulty because he has a wide choice of moves'.



Though the position did not give any kind of advantage, it was probably difficult to withstand the aesthetic nausea playing with the black pieces. It was precisely at this point that Anish Giri went into the confession booth — more on that later — and started with 'a moment of silence for Levon's c8-Bishop'!

Aronian's c8-bishop | Photo: Justin Kellar / Grand Chess Tour

From this moment on, pressure on the clock and a realization that he was caught in concrete preparation, drove Aronian into a difficult position in the middlegame.


Applying relentless pressure, Caruana gained the upper hand and won a pawn here after 27...a5 28.xd5 xd5 29.xd5 xe3+ 30.xe3 b6 31.d3 c4? 32.d5+ with a clear advantage for white.

Another important reason for Aronian's loss was the time control for the classical games in the Grand Chess Tour: 130 minutes for the whole game with a 30-second time delay from the first move, which means that, unlike with increment, it is not possible to gain time in the game.


Though the position was roughly equal, Aronian was reaching his final minutes on the clock. The commentary for this session was particularly lively, with Yasser Seirawan judging, “the position is equal here”, which was disputed by Maurice Ashley: “But clock is the key here! Clock is the enemy here!”

Ashley turned out to be right, as the subsequent play by both the players proceeded to be anything but accurate.


When Aronian played 39...h5, he barely made it with 1 second left in the clock, which means that he had 31 seconds after the move was made. He played the remainder of the game in the same state. Though Caruana had more than 20 minutes on his clock at this time, the game can hardly be considered well-played from this point on.

But Caruana wasn't overly concerned about his imperfect play even after achieving a winning position:

It seemed that he was defending very well, and I was misplaying it, and he was gaining drawing chances, which I couldn't believe. I thought my position should be winning by force at some point.

After playing with seconds to spare for a long time, ultimately Aronian made the fatal blunder.


Caruana observed:

He blundered with ♛c5 which is kind of typical when you are playing in delay — as in this case — for so long...When you are down to your (last) few seconds, your mind works in mysterious ways. There is lot of indecision.

46...c5?? 47.e8+ h7 48.xc8 xc8 49.axb5 with a winning advantage.

Fabiano Caruana and the mind's mysterious ways | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Anand was the only other closest to scoring a win in the round, having a good chance to beat Wesley So but missing a complicated sequence of moves in the late middlegame. But in no way were the calculations straightforward.

This game is an interesting example to understand just how strong the strongest players in the world are when calculating complicated variations — variations with lots of uneven and unnatural thinking which is probably only possible for engines.

It is one thing to understand all the tactical finesses in a long sequence with forced moves assisted by a computer. But it is entirely different to actually work them out during the game under competitive pressure, which was the problem for Anand. It's worth considering the key calculations and those particular moves he missed. 


This position presents a unique forced win but Anand admitted after the game he couldn't calculate clearly in this position, explaining his thought process. The main variation goes 20.♕f1!! which he of course saw. But remember — retreating moves are the most difficult moves to find and evaluate in tactical sequences.

20...♛xa2 21.♖e1!! Missed by Anand.


The point is that, after the forced 21...♜f8, 22.♕e2!! wins for White.

After 20.♕f1!! h6, Anand missed the point behind 21.c5!


21...bxc5 22.dxc5 ♝xc5 23.♕c4+ ♚h8 24.♕f7 ♜f8


25.♕g6! hxg5 26.♗c3!! and wins! Is it possible to calculate the whole thing over the board? Even by the best of the best?

After Anand's 20.f3 h6 he erred again in a complicated position.



21.a3 hxg5 22.♕b3! Again missed by Anand — he had only seen 22.axb4. Once again, it is up to the readers to decide...

Finally, after uneven play by So, Anand again achieved a good position only to throw it away.


Anand handed over the draw with 36.xa5? allowing Black a perpetual check. Instead, 36.♕c5 ♛b3 37.♔e2 b4 38.axb4 axb4 39.d5 and black still has to work to hold the draw.

Vishy Anand – missing a complicated win | Photo: Justin Kellar / Grand Chess Tour

World champion Magnus Carlsen was the other one who disappointed his fans by bringing up promising positions but messing them up twice in the game. 


Carlsen inexplicably went wrong with 22...b6? and lost all his advantage after the simple 23.a4 a7 24.c5 ac8 25.d7 allowing simplification. He could have kept his edge after the simple 22...♛e7, though it is not clear if he had anything substantial. 


Mamedyarov is obviously going through a tough time at Saint Louis, both in the Rapid and Blitz, and carried over into the Sinquefield Cup. Once again he has allowed Carlsen to come back into the game and build significant pressure. When it was expected of Carlsen to cement his advantage with 37...♛d7, he suddenly erred with 37...f5 losing a lot of his advantage. 

Magnus Carlsen is still searching for his form | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Nothing much happened in the other games.

Karjakin vs Nepomniachtchi looked like one of those games you might arrange for a friendly draw and play out coyly at the board. Only, in this case, it was played between two top grandmasters of the world in an elite event. Though we can understand Nepomniachtchi being fine with it having the black pieces, it was a puzzling piece of play by Karjakin. After all, till 12.fd1 it had all been played before by Nepomniachtchi himself, and a draw by repetition followed after just five more moves. Perhaps those complaints of not much fight at the Sinquefield Cup are justified after all?

At least it was aesthetic to look at the drawn position. 


18.a7 c7 19.b5 c8 and repeated once more to achieve a draw.

Anish Giri missed a cute point in his game against Vachier-Lagrave, who once again showed enormous tactical guts to defend a difficult position. 


26...c6!? Elegant, and missed by Giri. The position petered out into a draw: 27.xc6 xc6 28.d6 f6 and White couldn't win the ending.

Perhaps the best entertainment of the day was Giri at the confession booth and his story of a $10 gain!

Nakamura vs Ding too was a lifeless game without much happening.

What makes the finest players in the world play such low quality games in Saint Louis?

Caruana had the perfect answer:

Probably because we are playing so much! Because of that, players are not at their freshest, and that leads to shaky technique. We saw that in a few games. Anish [Giri] against Levon [Aronian] had some serious winning chances. Sergey [Karjakin] agreed for a draw [against Ding Liren in the second round] in a much better position which was surprising. Players are not quite finding their form, which is needed to win games in this tournament.

Hitting the proverbial nail on its proverbial head!

Round-up show by Daniel King

Round 4 games annotated by V. Saravanan


Standings after round 4 


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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