Anand, Caruana and Ding in a three-way lead at Sinquefield Cup 2019
Ding Liren joined the leaders Viswanathan Anand and Fabiano Caruana at the top of the table with 3 points after a round of hard fought battles in almost all games at the Sinquefield Cup. Nepomniachtchi was the other winner of the round after his opponent Hikaru Nakamura played unevenly to lose a game where he didn't seem to be in his best of form. Anand, Caruana and So demonstrated very sharp opening preparations which made this round the most memorable of the tournament so far. IM Venkatachalam Saravanan reports from the venue. Photo: Crystal Fuller / Grand Chess Tour
Caruana weathers So storm
The spectators present at the Saint Louis Chess Club were presented with a treat when the all-American clash between Wesley So and Caruana produced a full fledged battle right from the opening stages. To start with, in an English Opening resembling a reversed Alapin Sicilian, So mildly surprised Caruana with 4.Nf3, as he had gone for 4.d4 against Anand in the Zagreb GCT game in June 2019. But Caruana had a bigger surprise in store.
So - Caruana, round 5
8...Bc5!? A surprise. Caruana has played this position with black pieces four times before, and has always gone for 8...d5. 9.0-0 This natural move is a novelty. Wesley played the whole of the opening phase fast, thus indicating that he had come to the board well armed 9...e3 10.fxe3 Bxe3 11.Kh1 Ng4!? Though he hesitated a wee bit, Caruana resumed playing fast through the opening phases, indicating his level of preparation and gladdening the spectators who were thirsting for a full fledged tactical clash.
13...d5!? Carauana sacrifices a pawn! Fantastic. 14.cxd5 and the game became a complicated mess.
There is a beautiful sentence of annotation which I read as a kid, something I could never forget. The moment I saw Caruana's move on the board, I was reminded of it. “Having retreated his only developed piece to the first rank, Black feels that he is fine here!!"
Think of it: Black has sacrificed a pawn, which he claims to compensate by creating a certain 'looseness' in white's strategic construct – lessening of pawn cover around the white king and the potential light square weakness. At the same time, white is almost fully developed whereas black, as we said before, is confined to the first rank. Who would be better off here?! (Silence your engines for a moment and start thinking, you will understand the dynamics behind this position).
18.Qg5 f6 19.Nxf6!? and thus broke out a fantastic battle!
It would be next to impossible to analyse and understand such a sharp position fought by two of the best brains of world chess. Hence, let us just limit ourselves to certain snapshots.
23...Bd7 Here, the engines were evaluating this position as equal, but impossible to believe that rationally. If you try to understand such a tactical position strategically, these are the rationale -
From the first look, though all White's armory is all developed and ready to strike, 'The Force is not with him'. Not much firepower to crash his way through the kingside. This was the feeling White probably got here, which made him go the way he went in the game. The engines recommend a line here which can take the battle to its highest tactical flashpoint, but it is inconceivable that a human brain can process it and understand it.
24.d6 Qg8 Seriously?! Is this the best place for the black queen?! 25.e5 h6 26.♕e3 Nh7 But why in the world the natural looking 26...Nd5 is rejected by the engines?! 27.Rf7 Bh3+! How many chess players can even find such a candidate move?! 28.Kxh3 Ng5+ 29.Qg5!! Of course, the most natural move in the world – a queen sacrifice! 29...hxg5 30.Kg2 and the engine finds this position equal. Please try solving various points raised above – good luck with that!!
Considering the crazy variation above, it makes perfect sense why So chose what he chose.
A simple solution for the human brain. The black king doesn't have enough cover anymore, and white can either capture the piece back or settle for perpetual check. Peace. The game ended in a draw after 36 moves. Undoubtedly, a wonderful clash.
But at the same early opening phase when this clash was shaping up, there was another guy showing why he is a past master in inventing opening surprises.
Vachier-Lagrave - Anand, round 5
8...a5!? A novelty in this particular position, just along the lines of his game against Aronian in the third round.
9.d4 Ba7 10.h3 g5!? and it was obvious that the former world champion had come to the board heavily armed, as he is already on his way to sacrifice a pawn. When I asked him about his preparation,"Yes, I had glanced at this quickly (before the game). It is a mix of knowing that it is my preparation but not completely sure of what it is that I had prepared! (chuckles)."
14...g4!? Played fast, making it obvious that he has it all covered in his preparation. After all, if this sequence was inspired play over the board, Black might atleast have hesitated to consider 14...Re8 or 14...Ke7. 15.hxg4?! It was better for White to give the pawn back with either 15.Be3 or 15.Bc4 15...Nxg4 16.Be3 Bxe3 17.fxe3
When I asked him what was the need to go for this, (especially when he wasn't too sure of his exact preparation) Anand replied,“I didn't remember everything, but why should I allow the Bishop to go to h5? It didn't make sense to me”.
But it was exactly this reasoning which wasn't accurate, as Black had a better move in 17...Ke7! 18.Bh5 The move Anand was apprehensive about 18...Nf6 19.Bf3 Rd8! and white can't develop his pieces at all – a huge compensation for the sacrifice of a pawn, which is as now doubled. Is it too much to expect from Anand, with all his phenomenal strength and understanding? Difficult to say.
The best move, by the way, after 17...Ke7 was 18.Bd5 c6 19.Bc4 Be6! 20.Nd2 Rad8 and black is even pressing here, a pawn deficit being a negligible factor.
However, the move played in the game gave Anand complete compensation and it ended in a draw after 25 moves.
Observing Ding Liren's game today, I couldn't help but get reminded of the Tamil proverb, 'Be concerned of the rage of the quiet man!' as it seemed to suit the occasion perfectly.
If you study his games, the quiet and mildly (rarely?) speaking Chinese ace gives the impression of an erudite and concept-loving chess player rather than an aggressor, most of the time. But today, when Anish Giri uncharacteristically played moves which seemed to flirt with danger a little too much, Ding unleashed his potential.
Ding - Giri, round 5
One of those positions which might seem to be 'regular' but actually required alertness from Black. May be he was too distracted by the isolated & backward pawn on c3? Can anyone find fault with him for assuming so?! Whatever, Giri didn't appreciate white's inherent potential to get dynamic.
23...Bf7?! The starting point of black's problems. 24.Rcd1! Rdc8 From the first look, everything seems to be going fine for black, but watch out. 25.Bb5! Only now, does it get clear that white has dynamic potential, the weak f5-pawn being the immediate target. 25...g6 Weakening the kingside pawn structure but probably black didn't have a choice. 26.Ne2 and suddenly, black doesn't have a good course of action, and he is probably regretting weakening of the position.
Anish Giri is known for his nuanced understanding of strategic positions. It is difficult to understand why he goes for such a rash course of action. Did he actually overlooked white's strong retort?
32.Nd5 Rc6 33.c5! and the white's c-pawn became a monster, and he coasted to a win in 47 moves.