Sinquefield Cup: Carlsen withdraws, Caruana scores

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
9/6/2022 – For the first time in his career, world champion Magnus Carlsen has withdrawn from a professional tournament. Before the start of the Sinquefield Cup’s fourth round, the Norwegian shared his decision on Twitter, adding a short clip in which football coach José Mourinho says, “If I speak I’m in big trouble”. Since the withdrawal came before the halfway point, Carlsen’s results will not be considered. As for the chess, round 4 saw Fabiano Caruana beating Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, while Wesley So is now the sole leader with 2½/4 points. | Photo: Crystal Fuller

ChessBase 16 - Mega package Edition 2022 ChessBase 16 - Mega package Edition 2022

Your key to fresh ideas, precise analyses and targeted training!
Everyone uses ChessBase, from the World Champion to the amateur next door. It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.

More...

Speculation

Sadly for the chess world, a potentially dramatic situation became the talk of the town among fans and pundits on Monday. Magnus Carlsen, a well-respected, highly professional competitor — also the strongest player of this era — has withdrawn from the Sinquefield Cup after shockingly losing his third-round game against rising star Hans Niemann.

Unfortunately, all circumstances surrounding the situation up to this point indicate that the world champion’s reason to withdraw was a suspicion of cheating. Of course, this is all speculation, since Carlsen did not communicate the exact basis for his decision. The tweet he shared, however, clearly signals that his silence is fully deliberate.

The Chess Pit Podcast later shared a screenshot from a forum in which David Sedgwick, a British arbiter working at the tournament in Saint Louis, mentions, “For much of the day, I was working behind the scenes in an unsuccessful attempt to forestall the outcome which has now transpired”. All that after confirming Yasser Seirawan’s report that the live feed will have a 15-minute delay for the remainder of the tournament.

As noted in the reply to this tweet, this means that the organizers at least attempted to prevent this outcome. Perhaps via stricter security measures? We do not know.

Of course, it must be pointed out that Carlsen’s tweet also — at least tangentially — exonerates the organizers, as he mentions that he hopes to play at the Saint Louis Chess Club in the future. Tony Rich, the club’s Executive Director, emphasized that he hopes to see Carlsen playing in Saint Louis in future events as well, and explained the technical consequences of the withdrawal to Alejandro Ramirez.

Hikaru’s take

Unlike other sports, chess fans are privileged in that one of the strongest active chess players in the world also works full-time as a streamer. Hikaru Nakamura’s channel became immensely popular following the online-chess boom during the pandemic, and the outspoken grandmaster decided to put significant effort into keeping the machine running.

Nakamura shared his views on the subject live, and later uploaded a recap to YouTube. According to him, the fact that there was no delay in the transmission and now a delay has been put in place is no coincidence. According to Naka, Carlsen could only have withdrawn either because he contracted Covid-19 or if he suspects his round-3 opponent cheated.

Of course, Nakamura clarifies repeatedly that he is in no position to judge anyone, especially since Carlsen has not publicly stated the reason for his withdrawal. He does share, however, that there are previous instances of suspicion regarding Niemann’s play, especially in online tournaments.

Trym Sørsdal made a great point on Twitter, too.

We hope the situation is clarified sooner rather than later, noting that both of the following cases might seriously damage the reputation of the sport:

  • an innocent player who has been getting otherworldly results is unjustly accused of cheating and sees his career damaged due to false allegations
  • a cheater goes unpunished

Hans Niemann

Hans Niemann | Photo: Lennart Ootes

The fourth round

Now that Carlsen has withdrawn, the tournament has effectively turned into a 9-player single round-robin. The world champion’s opponent in round 4 would have been Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who thus rested before his fifth-round game against Fabiano Caruana.

After Carlsen’s results were taken out of the tournament table, Wesley So ascended to the sole lead with 2½/4 points. Ian Nepomniachtchi, Levon Aronian, Hans Niemann and Mamedyarov have one game less than the Filipino-born grandmaster, though.

On Monday, So had the black pieces against Nepo, and signed a 25-move draw. Aronian and Leinier Dominguez played 35 moves out of a Sicilian Defence before splitting the point, while Alireza Firouzja drew Niemann with the black pieces after being surprised by the US grandmaster’s 19th move.

 

Firouzja, a gifted technician, described 19.Qg3 — the engines’ first choice — as ‘insane’. Since he was shocked by his opponent’s decision, instead of capturing with 19...dxc4, which is correct, he went for 19...Kh8.

The youngster confessed that he simply trusted his rival, telling Alejandro Ramirez that “[Niemann] is in really good shape”.

After the text, White grabbed the initiative and got what computers evaluate as a clear, albeit not huge, advantage. Niemann soon gave up an exchange to open up the centre, but did not find the most accurate continuations that would have helped him increase his advantage. It was a double-edged battle which ended drawn after 43 moves.

Hans Niemann, Alireza Firouzja

A tense struggle — Hans Niemann versus Alireza Firouzja | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Following his memorable interview from Sunday, Niemann again shared some intriguing comments after his draw with Firouzja. This becomes all the more apparent in Nakamura’s recap, as Ramirez asked Niemann what he had in mind had Firouzja grabbed the knight in the position from the diagram above.

Niemann mentioned the line 19...dxc4 20.Bxh6 g6 21.f4 Qe7 22.Bg5 Qc5+ 23.Kh2 and added, “I don’t see any universe where this is holdable [for Black]”.

 

Ramirez, a 2561-rated GM, immediately found 23...Bd8 (with the engine off), which is one of the lines that actually gives Black a clear advantage. Nakamura also found that move instantly while following the interview live (see from 13:58 onwards), later mentioning, “Alejandro is not even using the engine here, and is outplaying him”.

Yet another enthralling interview, indeed. It must be noted that Niemann confessed to have been struggling to focus throughout the game after finding out about Carlsen’s withdrawal. Perhaps he was nervous for the same reason during the interview.

Alejandro Ramirez

A magnificent shot — Alejandro Ramirez interviews Hans Niemann | Photo: Lennart Ootes

 

Finally, in the one decisive game of the round, Caruana bounced back from his loss against So by taking down Maxime Vachier-Lagrave with white in a lengthy 92-move encounter.

Caruana played a strong new idea out of a Najdorf Defence, MVL’s pet opening with black, but failed to make the most of his advantage soon after, despite knowing that his opponent’s continuation had not been the most precise in the position.

 

The former World Championship challenger went for 24.Qh2 instead of the more accurate 24.Qd2. As he told Ramirez, he did not see that after 24.Qd2 fxg5 25.hxg5 Bxg5 26.Qxd6 Bxc1 there is 27.Bd3, winning.

 

White does not grab the rook and creates attacking chances instead. Chess is hard!

After the text, a sharp struggle ensued, with Caruana eventually reaching a queen endgame with two extra pawns. These endings are extremely tough to convert, though, or as Caruana himself put it:

Generally, with the two pawns up, there are a lot of positions which are drawn and a lot of positions which are winning, but they all kind of look the same.

This time around, despite missed chances by both sides, Caruana prevailed, thus returning to a fifty-percent score after facing two very dangerous opponents in a row.

 

Fabiano Caruana, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

Fabiano Caruana defeated Maxime Vachier-Lagrave | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Round 4 results

 

Standings after round 4

Grand Chess Tour 2022

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.
Discussion and Feedback Submit your feedback to the editors