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Anand maintains lead at Sinquefield Cup 2019

by V Saravanan - 19/08/2019

Whenever we see the pairing of Anand-Carlsen, it is expected to be nothing short of spectacle. It did not disappoint this time either. Carlsen kept things interesting in both game and his choice words at the confession booth. Anand kept trying to push for an advantage but the World Champion did not budge. Neither side made any mistake and the game reached to an equal knight endgame where draw was the only natural result of the game. Shakh and Nakamura had a sharp game which fizzled out to a draw. Caruana missed a good opportunity against Nepo. All games in round 2 ended up in a draw. IM V Saravanan reports from the venue. Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Confessions of the World Champion

What promised to be a spectacle of bloodbath proceeded to be a day of damp squib at the 2nd round of the Sinquefield Cup at Saint Louis. About half an hour into the round, commentator Grandmaster Maurice Ashley proclaimed in his inimitable way, “There is a Sizzle today!” aptly capturing the mood in all the games at that point. Indeed, it evoked lots of interest.


The biggest attraction of the round was the game between those who fought two world championship matches between them – Anand and Carlsen. Carlsen arrived a couple of minutes late for the game, as Anand sat sipping his tea. Once they started playing, it was obvious that this was a day when both of them were going to play a full-fledged battle. The game featured intriguing opening choices aimed at surprising each other, and had just entered a complex phase.

Anand - Carlsen, round 2

Position after 8...d6

Isn't the Rossolimo Attack supposed to keep the position closed? What was Anand's intention in opening up the position with a d2-d4, after playing the Rossolimo?! [Of course, we are not even going to ask him about giving up the Bishop early in the game for the Knight!]


Anand explained after the game,

"Today morning, I was telling my second, 'We should check all the sidelines in the Rossolimo'. I said 4...bxc6 is a possibility, though (Carlsen) had never played before – he had always been taking (on c6) with the d-pawn...And then I got absorbed in all the other things I had to check, and I forgot to check this! (Now) I (felt) slightly exposed (when he played 4...bxc6 on the board) because he is targeting my game with Shakh (Mamedyarov) from Norway (2019) and Boris (Gelfand) in Amsterdam (2019). I had not really revised (that variation), so the question is should I go in for something and basically ask him what he prepared today morning?! And then I realised that there is this idea 5.d4, which is quite interesting, (following) with taking on c5 and continuing with a2-a3 & b2-b4."

Vishy Anand – Opening intricacies | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Position after 4...bxc6

This was the position Anand was discussing about, his earlier games with Mamedyarov and Gelfand continuing with 5.0-0 Bg7 6.Re1 here. That explains why he had gone for the unusual continuation of 5.d4 in spite of having given up his bishop already, and confidently violating the middlegame principle we all learn at school: do not open the position when you have knights and your opponent has the bishops, and do not close the position when you have bishops and your opponent has knights!


But Carlsen continued calmly, and left the spectators puzzled with an unorthodox plan.

Position after 9.Re1

Carlsen's 9...f6 was intriguing, to say the least – count for yourself the number of positional principles thus violated! However, Carlsen had one more shock (though a pleasant one) for the spectators – he went into the Confession Booth and acknowledged that he was delaying castling which was not really ideal, but expressed it in a jolly way,

"I think the general rules for opening play is that if you are one move away from castling you are pretty much always fine. If you are three moves away from castling, you are never fine, and if you are two moves away from castling, it could go either way! So, right now I am two moves from castling, let's see how it goes!"

It also meant that he was in quite a relaxed mood, and wasn't really feeling any concern about his position.

Magnus Carlsen was in a relaxed mood | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Vachier-Lagrave had shown his aggression by playing quite sharp from the opening phases in the first round itself, and he continued with the same spirit in the second round too.

MVL - ultra aggressive | Photo: Justin Kellar / Grand Chess Tour

At this point, Magnus Carlsen stole the thunder, when he once again appeared in the Confession Booth, to talk about... MVL's position!

"I forgot one thing last time (in the confession booth), which is to congratulate Maxime on playing some really classical positional chess, apart from the fact that he sacrificed a pawn. So, as a kid you are taught that the perfect setup for your pieces is Bishops on f4 & c4, Knights on c3 & f3, and then pawns on e4 & d4 because then you control the maximum amount of central squares. He already has a rook on e1, he just misses the rook on d1 for perfect positional harmony, atleast the way we are taught as kids."


Now, we leave it to the reader to conclude whether this was out of a general sense of fun or trolling the Frenchman!

But without doubt, the most inspired performance of the round came from Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, who showed original home preparation in a well known position from the Queens Gambit, and initiated ambitious play from the start against Hikaru Nakamura.

Mamedyarov - Nakamura, round 2

Position after 10...Be7

A very common position, existing since 1994, where 11.g4 has been the established mainline with its own twists and turns. Here, Mamedyarov unexpectedly came up with 11.Rg1!? immediately infusing life into the position. But more than anything, his opponent went into hilariously surprising contours.

Thus, when the Sunday crowd had eagerly settled down, further course of the games was disappointing for the expectation levels of the spectators.


The biggest drama was seen in the following game

On pointing out that he missed this crucial 'shot', Nepomiachtchi - who turned up for the 2nd round with a different and more common haircut – admitted that he missed out the crucial idea 30...Qa7 after the sacrifice 28...Rxa3. “It hurts! I was calculating Rxa3 literally each move – may be now Rxa3 works? May be now? But the position was extremely unclear to calculate clearly”, told Nepo after the game.

Ian Nepomniachtchi – better hairstyle but missing a sacrifice | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

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