Sinquefield Cup: Round 7 - Three at the top

by Venkatachalam Saravanan
8/10/2017 – We now have a three-way tie for first, after wins by Anand and Aronian. Vachier-Lagrave only drew, and Magnus Carlsen remains a half point back. Garry Kasparov arrived and delighted fans with an appearance on the live commentary webcast! | Photos: Lennart Ootes

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The art of opening preparation


Garry Kasparov and Vishy Anand together on the live webcast (click or tap to expand) | Photo: Lennart Ootes

‘Attack’ is a word attached to the tactical side of the game of chess, and invariably, the queen is an important piece in kingside attack. It is next to impossible to think of a successful attack without having the queen to direct and participate in the attack as the main entity. But rarely, when such attacks on the kingside take place without the participation of the queen, the aesthetics of a concept is more attractive than its surprise value. This is mainly because it is difficult to think of bringing complexity to the assault without unique ideas in such a position. It was left to the genius of Levon Aronian to show us such a creation on the seventh round of the Sinquefield Cup.

Opening preparation is an art which gets ever more complicated in this vicious era we live. Thus, we might think the obscure variation which our opponent seem to be playing quite fast may be the result of burning of the midnight oil, but in fact he might have had the help of games not played in chess tournaments, but in the cyberspace or between silicon chips: Correspondence / Email games and engine games.

Nakamura and Aronian

Opening preparation almost beyond human comprehension | Photo: Austin Fuller

Playing with Black pieces, the Armenian played a curious variation first invented in a game between Kasparov and Karpov in the eighties, but was met with an obscure choice by Nakamura early into the variation 11.Qa4!?

Nakamura’s seemingly rare move and Aronian’s replies were all part of the non-human databases which top players of today use for preparation, and finally when they started thinking over the board like good chess players do, we had reached the following position:


Though the engines find the position slightly better for White, it is hardly the case when you look at it with naked eyes, due to the closed nature of the position, and when you look at the white bishops on g2 and c1.

15...Rb8 16.Qa3 Re6 17.c4 Nde7 18.Bb2 Nf5 and suddenly, the engines find Black has almost navigated it fine, but here’s the rub: in the last 3 moves, whatever White played was fine in that moment, but taken together as a strategy they haven’t made his position any better. And here started Aronian’s counterplay, focusing on the white king.


It is easy to see that momentum has shifted in Black’s favour in spite of the queen exchange, and Aronian slowly reconnects his pieces in the next few moves. 25.Nc3 Re7 26.Nd5 Rf7 (First, this rook settles down comfortably) 27.h4 Ra8 (Now, the other rook aims to come out!) 28.a4 Na5 (Now it’s the knight’s turn to get active and make inroads into the white position) 29.gxf4 gxf4 30.Kh2 Nxc4 and it’s clear that Black’s pieces dominate the position.

And then, this happened:


33.Bh3? Nxf3+! 34.exf3 Ra2+ 35.Bg2 Rg7 36.Rg1 Rg3 (Brilliant! Black’s attack is even more aesthetic as he conducts it without queens, and with very little material on the board — he is threatening ...Rg3-h3 checkmate here!)

37.Kh1 Bh3 38.Bf1 e2 39.Bxe2 Rxe2 40.Nd5 and now came...


40...Rxf3? (Incredible! After playng such chess for most of the game, Aronian slips — 40... Bg2 won on the spot!!)


Aronian, conducting a brilliant attack but finally proving ‘human’ | Photo: Austin Fuller

Thus, though Aronian proved that he was human too, he still wrapped up the ending in another 12 moves. And deservingly with this win, Aronian jumped to the second of the world rankings at 2807, admitting that still ‘being number 1 in the world will feel better’ instead!

Also joining Aronian was Vishy Anand, who got a ‘gift’ from Nepomniachtchi, as stated by the erstwhile leader of the event, Vachier-Lagrave!


Anand, happy to win by getting a ‘gift’ from Nepo? | Photo: V.Saravanan

Anand vs. Nempomniachtchi followed their earlier game from Leuven, and Nepo came to the board well-prepared, as he varied with 12...g6 and and seemed like achieving an equal position by the 27th move, as Anand himself admitted.


Now, all Black had to do was to hold the position with moves such as 27...b4 & 28...a5, inviting White to come up with a plan to make inroads. But, incredibly, Nepo first tossed away a pawn with 27...Ne4? — an inexplicable move. Having solved his opening problems and achieving near equality, Black immediately allows a questionable ending, giving up a pawn instantly.

28.Bxe4 Rxe4 29.Rxa6 Anand felt 'quite safe' about is position, and he played a position which was risk-free for him but where he can 'probe around a bit'. 29...Re2 30.c3 h4 31.Ra5

"I already felt slightly confident here," Anand said after the game, and White indeed has all the reason to be optimistic about his chances. 


Incredibly, here followed 31...b4? ('There was no need for this kamikaze move. "He kind of went nuts!" was how Anand described it.

Very impulsively, Black throws away a pawn hoping that planting his Rooks on the 7th rank would give him enough counterplay. And the most remarkable point was that Nepo had lots of time here — an hour on the clock — when he decided on this suicidal sacrifice of the second pawn! 

Black’s best plan was 31... Rb8 and Anand admitted that after this, White's technical task is quite big. 32. Ra7 Rbe8 33. Rb7 Re1+ 34. Rxe1 Rxe1+ 35. Kc2 Re2+ 36. Kd3! Rxb2 37. a4 Rxg2 38. a5 with a complicated ending which may still hold for Black.

Now, Anand simply gobbled up the pawn and won the game easily: 32.cxb4 Rcc2 33.b3! A simple refutation of Black's strategy and Anand wrapped up the game quietly.


Having a lot of time on the clock, still ‘a kamikaze move’ and ‘went nuts’ | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Now comes the most difficult game of the round, certainly for an analyst! Vachier-Lagrave decided to give the Berlin defence of the Ruy Lopez the treatment it does not deserve — he decided to go for a deep preparation where it all seemed to go White’s way, but Karjakin managed to hold on to his dear life and draw the game after extreme complications. One of these difficult days, we intend to analyse the game on its whole and give you the full picture in a separate report.

But did we say that there was another big happening on the venue today? Yes, Garry Kimovich Kasparov made a grand entrance!

Kasparov and Rex Sinquefield

Kasparov having a look at the games and a chat with the sponsor, Rex Sinquefield | Photo: Austin Fuller

Making his massive presence felt at the commentary booth, Kasparov joined Yasser Seirawan, Jennifer Shahade and Maurice Ashley, and had a deep look at the Berlin demon which played a major part in losing his crown. Incredibly, when Vishy Anand too joined them for a chat, it was a spectator’s bonanza.

The full team for the after-game analysis, a spectator’s bonanza

Anand revealed that he too had prepared the position lashed out by Vachier-Lagrave and Karjakin for "one of his matches" and considered Karjakin’s position to be "close to lost" as the white king was too strong in the position. However, Karjakin held his nerve under tremendous pressure — both from the position and the clock — to calculate accurately and find the draw among a maze of possibilities.


White’s position looks threatening, as he has the Bishop which should be a good source of comfort in these kind of positions, being a long-range piece, and his incredibly active king. However, Black plays tenaciously to hold the draw. Atleast that’s what we think now, till the position may be put to test with more in-depth analysis:

28...a4 It might look that it requires guts to push the pawn here, but the point is, it requires guts to play any move here! The position is simply too sharp. 29.f5 Ke8 Again, Black has to be careful with the variation 29... a3 30. e6 f6 31. Kg7 a2 32. Kf7
Nd5 33. c4 a1=Q 34. cxd5 and White wins!

30.g5 a3 31.e6 a2 32.Kg7 fxe6 33.f6 a1=Q 34.f7+ Kd7 35.Be5! An important nuance — White has to defend against the discovered check first, before queening his own pawn. Otherwise 35.f8=Q Ne4+ 36.Kg6 Nxg3 and Black has an extra piece, or 35...Qa5 36.Bf6 Qc5 37.f8=Q Qxf8+ 38.Kxf8 and the game ended in a draw.

And it was quite a moment for the young lads when Kasparov had a long chat with them about the variation, which played a cruel part in his career:

Kasparov lectures Karjaking and Vachier-Lagrave

Kasparov holds court with Sergey Karjakin and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave | Photo: Lennart Ootes

As the other two games (Svidler vs. Carlsen and So vs. Caruana) ended in draws too, we have a situation where Vachier-Lagrave has been joined by Aronian and Anand on the leaderboard on 4½ points with Magnus Carlsen trailing them on 4 alone. The last two rounds will be crucial!

Now, it is almost impossible to even predict who has the best chances going for the title, with form, colour and nerves playing a huge part. But, as we all know, we shall see only what we shall get to see!

Round 7 - Games and commentary



Commentary by GM Yasser Seirawan, GM Maurice Ashley, and WGM Jennifer Shahade


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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