Sinquefield Cup: Xiong beats Caruana, MVL bounces back

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
8/23/2021 – Maxime Vachier-Lagrave is again sharing the lead at the Sinquefield Cup after beating Dariusz Swiercz in Saturday’s fifth round. MVL tops the standings together with Wesley So and Leinier Dominguez. Fabiano Caruana, who went into round 5 as a co-leader, was defeated by Jeffery Xiong (pictured). | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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So, Dominguez and MVL share the lead

Three short draws seemed to indicate that the players’ tiredness would finally end a streak of exciting rounds at the Saint Louis Chess Club. However, the remaining two encounters provided plenty of entertainment for the fans, as Maxime Vachier-Lagrave scored a fine victory over Dariusz Swiercz and Jeffery Xiong stunned top seed Fabiano Caruana in a thrilling game that saw the world number 2 blundering decisively in time trouble.

Sunday was a rest day, and the participants now enter the second half of the event with three co-leaders topping the standings on 3½ points. Vachier-Lagrave, Leinier Dominguez and Wesley So lead on +2; Caruana is the only player standing a half point behind; while Xiong, Richard Rapport and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov still have realistic hopes of fighting for tournament victory — they share 5th-7th place on 2½/5 points.

Wesley So

Co-leader Wesley So sitting next to the portraits of this year’s Sinquefield Cup participants | Photo: Lennart Ootes

After losing with black against Swiercz in round 4, Xiong confessed that he did not enter his game against Caruana with big ambitions. The youngster’s approach gave his famed opponent a positional edge in the middlegame.

 

It is by no means trivial to evaluate this position as advantageous for either side, but it is clear that Black has solved all his problems and now needs to find a plan to make the most of his positional trumps — to do the same with White is visibly more difficult. However, as Xiong noted later on, Caruana’s 22...g5 was not precise (preparing to attack the c2-weakness with 22...Rc8 mad more sense for Black).

Moreover, after 23.Qe2, Black’s 23...Nd8, permitting 24.Nb4, was rather inexplicable. White activated his knights and grabbed the initiative. A few moves later, Xiong failed to find an engine-like move from his already superior position.

 

White was still better after 29.Qxb5, but 29.Nh4 would have been an incredible find — Black cannot capture with 29...gxh4 due to 30.Rf6 and there is no way to stop the attack without making major material concessions.

Xiong had the upper hand, but converting against a player of Caruana’s calibre is never easy. The Italian-American star managed to deal with all immediate threats and seemed to be on his way to salvaging a half point — until he blundered on move 34.

 

34...Rd8 loses to 35.Rg6, which Xiong played rather quickly. After 35...Kh7 White has 36.Rf6, and Black is lost.

 

Caruana played 36...Rxd3 and resigned. There is no good way to save the knight without allowing White to break through decisively via a combination of Rxf7 and Nxg5, with a killer discovered check.

 

Jeffery Xiong, Fabiano Caruana

Jeffery Xiong beat rating favourite Fabiano Caruana | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Meanwhile, Vachier-Lagrave outplayed Swiercz from the white side of a Giuoco Piano.

 

White ‘fixed’ Black’s pawn structure with 22.Nxb6 cxb6, and after 23.cxd4 c5 24.Re7 Rxd4 placed his bishop on the strong c3-outpost — 25.Bc3. Black went for 25...Nd5, realizing how important it was to get rid of the unopposed bishop, albeit allowing 26.Rxa7 Nxc3 27.bxc3 Rdd8 28.Re1

 

MVL combined threats against Black’s pawn weaknesses with threats involving back rank mates to convert his advantage into a 47-move victory. The French grandmaster thus bounced back from his round-4 loss against Dominguez.

 

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave | Photo: Bryan Adams


Standings after round 5

 

All games

 

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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.
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