Sinquefield Cup: Carlsen beats Nepo

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
9/3/2022 – In a rematch of the latest confrontation for the World Championship title, Magnus Carlsen took down Ian Nepomniachtchi to grab the early lead at the Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis. All remaining games finished drawn. Carlsen will face Levon Aronian with black in the second round, while Nepo will try to bounce back in his game with white against Alireza Firouzja. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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“Not in great shape”

Magnus Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachtchi played their first classical game since the 2021 World Championship match on Friday in Saint Louis. Nepo, who had a terrific performance at the Candidates Tournament, was caught amid a run of bad form and ended up being outplayed by a ruthless Carlsen playing with the white pieces.

The world champion’s victory was the only decisive game of the day, which means he became the early sole leader at the Sinquefield Cup. Talking to commentator Alejandro Ramirez after the game, Carlsen reflected on his opponent:

This was just a game of someone who is not in great shape. He was not finding the right manoeuvres, overlooking some of my ideas. Also he was playing too fast at critical moments. [...] I think I did well in creating a situation that was not pleasant for him, but yeah, certainly he should have done better.

Notwithstanding Nepo’s performance, as Ramirez noted, Carlsen was customarily effective in making the most of the chances provided by his opponent.

At the opening ceremony, celebrated outdoors in untypical fashion for chess events (kudos to the organizers), a simultaneous exhibition was part of the function. Well-known streamer Eric Rosen — an International Master — was surprisingly among Carlsen’s opponents. After beating Nepo, the world champion pointed out that it had been helpful to try out a game in the Carlsbad structure, a usual weapon of Rosen’s, a day before facing Nepo with white.

In the game against Nepo, Carlsen showed his intentions of going for the win with 9.g4, a move most often seen in encounters played by the ever-creative Baadur Jobava. The contenders left theory soon after, though, and entered a positional battle in which White had the bishop pair and Black had barely any active alternatives.

Nepo did not assess the situation correctly. As Carlsen noted, his rival’s best chance was to simply wait and see what would White come up with, since it was not at all obvious how to break through despite the positional edge.

Instead, the Russian tried a pawn break on move 23.

 

There followed 23...c5 24.Nxc5 Nxc5 25.dxc5 Bxc5 26.Bd2 Rhe8, and then began what Olimpiu Di Luppi described as “arguably the weirdest minority attack you’ll ever see” — 27.b4

 

By this point, Carlsen already felt very confident about his winning chances. A move later, Nepo correctly gave up his a-pawn to try to put up a defence, but there was little hope for him, especially given how strong the world champion is in this kind of technical, superior positions.

The Russian’s decisive mistake came on move 35.

 

White’s bishop is clearly the stronger minor piece here and, although the rook endgame arising after 35...Nxd3 36.Rxd3 does not look attractive at all for Black, it was his best chance to keep the battle going. Instead, 35...Kc7 allowed Carlsen to keep his bishop alive with 36.Bb1 and proceed to target the weak pawn on d5.

The world champion grabbed Black’s central pawn shortly after, and it did not take long before Nepo decided to throw in the towel.

 

Magnus Carlsen

All black clothes, brown shoes — world champion Magnus Carlsen | Photo: Crystal Fuller

All four remaining games finished drawn. The first ones to split the point were Alireza Firouzja and Fabiano Caruana, while both in Leinier Dominguez vs Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov vs Wesley So, long struggles in which one side had a tiny advantage were played out for over 60 moves.

Perhaps the player who was left most unsatisfied with his half point was wildcard Hans Niemann, who got a favourable position with white against Levon Aronian’s Berlin Defence.

 

Here Niemann played 33.Bf1, when 33.Nb6 Be6 34.h4 was the most trying continuation. Of course, beating the resourceful Aronian would have been a tall task nonetheless.

Moreover, this was a good start for the US grandmaster, who received the invitation to participate in this elite event at short notice — he received it while playing the Turkish League in Ankara, after having travelled from Belgrade to Miami and back to Turkey in a short period of time, as he told Ramirez in his post-game interview.

 

Hans Niemann

Hans Niemann | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Round 1 results

 

Standings after round 1

 

All games

 

Links


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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