Anand, Caruana and Ding continue to lead

by Venkatachalam Saravanan
8/24/2019 – Vishy Anand missed a great opportunity to finish off Anish Giri while holding the upper hand — many times during the game — to settle for a heart-breaking draw in the sixth round. He continues to share the lead with 3½ points along with Fabiano Caruana and Ding Liren after another all-draw round at the Sinquefield Cup. Caruana versus Vachier-Lagrave was a fantastic fight from a razor sharp Sicilian Najdorf, showing the depth of the players' opening preparation and boldness. Other games contained relatively less fighting content. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

The Classical Sicilian The Classical Sicilian

This DVD offers Black a complete repertoire against all weapons White may employ on move six. The recommended repertoire is not as risky as other Sicilians but still offers Black plenty of counter-play.


Anand's heartbreak against Giri

It was obvious that Anand vs Giri had undercurrents in the opening from the way it developed. Anand paused for a couple of minutes after Giri's 2...e6 itself, which might have been be an indication that he wasn't really expecting it on this day. Further on, when Giri played 5...c6 which he has employed relatively recently (though only once), it couldn't have been a total surprise for Anand.


Anand hasn't faced this position for a decade, having employed mainly 6.♘db5 here, which could also lead to the Sveshnikov. However, he took another minute to think and played 6.a3, which came across as a move to sidestep the opponent's opening preparation rather than a prepared reply. This too he has employed in the past but not regularly (remember, it's been a decade!) and it was obvious that this game between two of the best theoreticians of our time might just be an 'original' fight.

But both the players seemed to conduct the early middlegame erratically.


11.b4?! comes across as anti-positional 11...a5?! seems like aiming to punish the anti-positional with a flawed tactic! 12.b1 axb4 13.axb4 d5.

Giri described the whole plan as wrong later on, in his inimitable way:

I think it was my own fault — I did a terrible thing in the opening. I played the Sicilian, which is a good thing. But then I switched to playing French, which was a disaster. You should never play French!

Anish Giri — a disastrous French Defence that wasn't | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

14.e5 e8? A puzzling place for the knight. 14...♞g4 intending 15...♛b6+ was called for 15.xb5 and white looked better. After further inaccuracies by Giri, Anand's advantage grew sumptuously.


Anand took about ten minutes for his move here which was surprising, while Giri kept circling the arena. Commenting on the game at the Kingside Diner (adjacent to the Saint Louis Chess Club) for a live audience after his own game finished, Hikaru Nakamura was extremely surprised:

Vishy is taking a long time, but after 20.♘3d4 white should be clearly better here. The move is screaming to be played, I'm shocked that he hasn't played it immediately — he should play this one minute!

Nakamura called white's pieces as 'placed like in a dream', and delighted the audience to wonderful variations. 

When Anand finally played 20.c3?! Alejandro Ramirez declared that they 'didn't understand the move at all — why help Black get his pieces back to better squares?!' Analysis illustrated the complicated tactics for the audience.

After the further 20...c6 21.d3 a4 22.e3?! [22.♘3d4! was still possible] it was obvious that Anand was handling the position strategically, which disappointed Cristian Chirila, who said, “Vishy is taking it slow in a position which requires quick measures!”

However, Giri's play too lacked precision, and he again got himself into a nearly-lost position.



[Black's best chance of survival was to play the unorthodox 23...g6 24.♘h6 ♚g7 25.♕d2 and white will still have to find his way through, though he is better].

24.xc7 xc7 25.xd5 and, as Anand remarked after the game, “my pawn structure is broken, he has got counter play, but still it's a pawn”. At this point, Caruana — in his post-game interview — predicted that Vishy would win the game.

Anand | Photo: V. Saravanan

However, entering an endgame which was still better for him, Anand was down to his last 10 minutes, visibly nervous on the board and played erratically to allow Giri to escape with a draw.

The post-game interview wasn't long or energetic.

'You were cooking something today, but the punch didn't land'. A tired and disappointed Anand nodded his head in affirmative and said, “Yeah, basically”.

You seem disappointed?' A lone “Yeah”, which clearly expressed his feeling at that point.

Thus, for the second time in the tournament (as against Wesley So), Anand missed his chances to score a win through complicated tactical means in the middlegame as well as the endgame. This may mean that he is not in his best of form tactically. Or this may mean nothing too — wins for white were found only with the help of engines, and other players too have failed to score wins requiring such precise calculation in this tournament! Only the coming rounds will tell about Anand's form.

Giri too didn't seem to be putting up the best of defence, committing many mistakes for a player of his calibre, which questions his form. His play in this game was similar to the one against Ding Liren which he lost — resorting to active play probably when solid defensive moves were called for.

Caruana vs the Najdorf

Fabiano Caruana has been delighting the chess world with the range of his new ideas in this tournament. And Vachier-Lagrave is easily one of the best authorities of the Sicilian Najdorf ever, and their principled clash in a sharp battle simply delighted everyone.

Modern chess opening preparation doesn't necessarily follow only games played between humans; it pays to follow correspondence chess too. Especially when you are playing cutting edge sharp opening variations, like the Najdorf, and especially the variation employed by Vachier-Lagrave. 


All this has been played before in a correspondence game from 2017, which continued with 21.♕e2. Queen and two rooks and four pawns but with a weak king for white, against queen, a bishop and a knight and seven pawns for black, who has somewhat non-coordinating pieces — a glorious imbalance!

We can assume that Caruana had this position well-researched, as he came up with 21.c4 quickly over the board, once again showing his amazing opening preparation. Caruana felt that his opponent probably missed it in his preparations, as the position otherwise 'looks good for black'.

After 21.c4 it is quite tricky, as I want to play 22.♖b4. If he doesn't find counterplay against my king, I will start to attack him. It is not (really) winning for white — it's a very complicated position.

Fantastic fighting spirit!

MVL had seen the position with the double exchange sacrifice in his home research too, but decided to spend some time over the board to figure out what was going on! He was gladdened and proud with 'another day at the office for the Najdorf'.

Yes, I did check these lines with the double exchange sacrifice, and 30 minutes before the round it was on my computer! I took some time in the game to feel what was going on, but couldn't remember what to make of it!

Hence, MVL spent 33 minutes for 21...♛h4, after which Caruana took another 30 minutes for 22.♕e1. What followed was a 'very complicated endgame' as Caruana opined.


24.d1 and Caruana said 'I saw this and I was very happy'. It indeed looked like a good ending for White, but extremely difficult (even for the engines?) to look at avoiding the prejudice of the cushion of a double exchange.

After a forced sequence of moves, it reached a point where white had to give up one exchange.


28...d7 29.xd5 The only way to fight for an advantage. 29.♖d6 d4 gives a pawn armada for black in the centre.

29...xb6 30.cxb6 xb6 and in the resultant endgame, MVL found a simple construction to achieve a draw.



Not getting distracted by material, black creates a passer on the a-file, keeps his bishop and h-pawn guarded, and confidently marches towards the draw.

32.xf7 h6 33.f2 c6 34.e2 b5! ultimately achieving the draw. A short but intense fight!

Hikaru Nakamura played a simple looking Rossolimo setup against Magnus Carlsen and seemed to get a small edge from the opening but seemingly let a subtle moment pass him quickly.

When one uses a chess engine for anlaysing, the common perception is that openings are the only area where it is useful. But following is one of those instances when the engine points out a curious possibility, and by going along with its analysis, you understand the crux of its thought process, and ultimately understand the position itself better.


In this position, Nakamura continued 14.♘c4 which is perfectly fine, at least for looks. But this was where white could play for a minute advantage by playing precisely.

14.♖b1! The idea is not just to occupy an open file — keep watching: 14...0-0 15.♕c1! The point. The white queen has to come out immediately, but where is it going? 15...♝a6 16.♕b2 Keep watching! 16...a4 17.♕c3!


An unlikely position for the white queen in a typical middlegame, but it has its uses, keeping black's weak pawns on the queenside and centre under watch.

Nakamura went with a similar plan, but only after doubling his rooks on the f-file rather than keeping a watch on the b-file. When I pointed to him the possibility of bringing the queen to c3 after the game, he admitted that the engine's line does indeed looks interesting, but he liked his knight going to c4 too. “But the point is, even after I get my queen to c3 in the line (you say), it is not clear what white would do afterwards — probably the whole line isn't much for white”.

Hikaru Nakamura with Cristian Chirila, delighting the audience with his analysis | Photo: V.Saravanan

Essentially, the game was a defensive achievement for Carlsen's opening preparation. But he has gone through the tournament without a win for six rounds.

When is the 'magic' going to come back Magnus?

It is hard to say! There was just (with emphasis) nothing in the position. There was no magic for black there, no squares to take. I am going to have two whites in a row now — this is definitely the time to make a move.

We are definitely glad if he does!

Magnus — time to make a move with that messy hair too | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

In an interesting aside, Magnus Carlsen threw the first pitch at the Saint Louis Cardinals vs Colorado Rookies baseball match on rest day, which the world champion said was an 'embarrassing' incident.

Magnus Carlsen embarrassed by the occasion and couldn't handle the limelight! | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Probably tongue in cheek, he said,

I got very nervous...The home-plate seemed far away! I have been practising the last week, and was bowling so well. But when I went there, I couldn't handle the limelight!

Think about it — Magnus Carlsen claims he couldn't handle the limelight.

The rest

Two of the other games weren't as colourful, though there were moments of interest. 


'Nepo' deserves our praise for taking up the gauntlet and fight on with 24.♖d1!? here, when 24.♕e2 or 24.♖b1 would have preserved equality. The game continued 24...xb2 25.f6 xc3 26.fxg7 when there was all the justification to expect a full-fledged fight. But both sides traded minor mistakes in the ending and the game petered out into a draw.


White is a healthy pawn up but made a curious mistake to squander the advantage away. 23.a4? after which Aronian held the game with 23...c4.

Instead, 23.♕b2 preserves the pawn but it is not clear how white can make progress. But interesting was 23.♖fe1!? With the point 23...♜xa3 24.d6! ♜d7


25.g4! An unusual and insane concept! White exploits black's weakened king and gains a decisive advantage.

Karjakin – missing the insane | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

The game which raised a lot of eyebrows was the one which finished in around an hour's play and just 14 moves.


11.♘ge2 Aiming to attack the bishop with 12.♘f4.

11...f5 No thank you! 12.g3 Attacking your bishop anyway 12...g6 I go back — I don't have a choice! 13.ge2 Am going to do it again 13...♝f5 I don't have a choice! And then they did it once more to settle for a Draw!

Surprisingly, Maurice Ashley was a tad combative with his questions to Mamedyarov after the game,

'Shakhriyar! Help us understand — a lot of players are going to say — 14 moves, and such a quick draw! What happened here?'

...It is not nice to agree for a draw in 14 moves. But I just want to relax — I slept very bad (yesterday). I don't think my position is good — a draw is a good result. If we (had) played this game in another round, I (would have) play(ed). But today, a draw is good.

'You had a rest day yesterday!'

For me it was not (a) rest day! I slept very bad. Also (So) surprised me (with) this line... I just want to ...draw!

'You also had the white pieces!'

For me it is not a big difference — when I want to play I (can) play with white (or) black. But when I am not in a very good mood and feel not very good ...(it's) not important (I am) white or black. Draw is (a) good result.

Mamedyarov – difficult times at Saint Louis | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Mamedyarov explained that he wasn't feeling optimistic about making it to London for the finals anyway, as he doesn't feel his chances to be in top four are any good.

At the same time, there are spectators in the tournament hall everyday, paying $10 for a daily ticket. Just saying.

Round up show by GM Daniel King

Round 6 games annotated by V. Saravanan


Standings after round 6


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.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register