Sinquefield Cup: Round 6 - Aronian arises

by Venkatachalam Saravanan
8/9/2017 – Levon Aronian was the sole winner of the sixth round, impressively defeating Wesley So and moving into shared second place with Vishy Anand and Magnus Carlsen. The latter missed chances to beat Hikaru Nakamura in a long drawn-out rook endgame, but had to settle for a draw after six hours of play. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave remains in the lead. | Photos: Lennart Ootes

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Aronian is back

Wesley So’s self-destruction — arguably for the 3rd time in this tournament — was the a main point of curiosity of the round, at the Sinquefield Cup on Tuesday.


Two aspects of the position stand out: White’s potential to grab the centre, and Black’s knight on a5 — rim, grim, dim and all that. A cautious approach to the position could have enabled Black to play 17...Qh4 18.f3 (18.f4 doesn’t make it any different for Black here) 18...Nc6 (Watch that knight!) followed by 18...Ne7 will simply improve Black’s position while sticking to the basics. But what happened in the game was surprising:

18...Qf5 (Not bad in itself, but not strictly conforming to the basics…) 19.Bd3 Bc6 20.f3 and now came the shocker:


19...Bxe4? Shocking, almost. This extreme example of 'doing' at the cost of being sees Black's position going rapidly down the hill. Instead of 21...Nb7 was called for - another move which encourages ‘being’, trying to re-route the knight to a better square and letting the opponent play, after checking first if he faces any tactical threats here.

20.fe4 Qg5 21.Rf3 and without doing much, White gained an advantage and now the kingside getting opened up for invasion. Enough for Aronian to pursue further this pleasant turn of events.


Aronian: Just ‘being’, and winning | Photo: Lennart Ootes

What Grandmasters Don't See Vol. 1: Protected Squares

Many times when a top player blunders, it is routinely described by the esoteric term „chess blindness.“ In the series What Grandmasters Don‘t See, chess trainer and world-class commentator Maurice Ashley strips away the myth, and for the first time explains why the root of these mistakes is more often based on the psychology of human learning.
In Volume 1 of the series, Ashley coins a new term Protected Squares, and shows how many errors occur on squares that seem invulnerable because they are clearly guarded by pawns.

Master of 'being'

This was followed by another game conducted by a player who is the absolute master of ‘being’ in our times: Magnus Carlsen.


Carlsen found 16.Bb5! here, which had a hidden exchange sacrifice in the variations with favourable outcome: 16...Bxb2 17.Bxc6! Bxc1 18.Bxd5 Ba3 19.Bh6 and White holds the initiative due to the threat of Qd1-d4. Ultimately winning the pawn, he let Nakamura up to simplify into an ending with reasonable chances.


Carlsen: The ever perfect ‘being’? | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Grinding away, the World Champion reached a favourable ending where his material advantage of a pawn wasn’t clear enough to decide on a win. Nakamura admitted that he was quite 'careless' in his play here, allowing Carlsen to reach a favourable endgame. Carlsen played energetically and exchanged off the Bishop, reaching a very favourable Rook endgame.


34.g4!? Be6 35.Kf3 Ra5 36.Bxe6 and an endgame — the kind which Carlsen generally excels. The following were the crucial junctures, when Carlsen had assumed that he 'was winning anyway', which led to a couple of crucial misses:


White had an attractive path to the h7 pawn, and thus an eventual win with 41.Kg5 here, but he admitted to being 'sloppy' here, as he intuitively felt Black had enough counterplay after 41...Ke5 here. After the further 41.Rb6+ Kf7 42.Rc6 Rd7 he came up with the puzzling 43.g5? after which the game ended in a draw. White could have still gone for 43.h5 preserving winning chances) and with a curious explanation, “I knew that 43.g5 was a bad move but somehow I (played) it anyway”.


Above: Not the pawn, but the King should have landed on h5 |  Below: Nakamura, relieved that he quite managed the uphill task | Photos: Lennart Ootes


Thus defending uphill of this game, Hikaru revealed his recently ran half a marathon at the Pie High Trail Run on the 22nd of July where the course "meanders through mossy forests, along tranquil ponds, creeks, and wetland preserves" with "a combination of single-track, old logging road, maintained hiking path, and a few bridges for good measure".

Admirable indeed, as Nakamura finished the run in 3 hours & 20 minutes. The preparation definitely came good indeed on Tuesday!



Pie Hie Trail Run Half!!!

A post shared by Hikaru Nakamura (@gmhikaru) on

Pie Hie Trail Run Half!!!

A post shared by Hikaru Nakamura (@gmhikaru) on

Nakamura after the uphill, creeks, mossy forests and tranquil points | Photo: Nakamura Instagram page

Among the other games, Caruana - Vachier-Lagrave was worth of noting, as Caruana came up with an early interesting novelty.


White uncorked 10.Qd3 where even the computers and correspondence chess has not visited — a true novelty in the sense, which is a very big achievement in these times. Caruana later credited his Norwegian friend Torbjørn Hansen for the idea, who also happens to be  Magnus Carlsen’s first coach.

Though he was better in the early part of the game, Caruana’s best chance to win the game came at the following juncture:


Caruana erred with 23.Rxg4 and the game petered out to a draw after 23...Rxg4 24.Bxg4 Qg5. From the diagram, Caruana could have aimed for more with the dynamic 23.Qg3 Qg5 24.Kb1 Nf6. Caruana stopped his calculations here, but White still preserves the initiative with 25.Rf1! Nxh5 26.Qf2 and Black is in difficulties.

Round 6 - 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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