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Sinquefield Cup 2017 Round 4: A knight fork spells Carlsen's doom against MVL

by Saravanan Venkatachalam - 06/08/2017

After gaining from the humble tactic of the knight fork in the 3rd round, it was the turn of Mighty Magnus himself to fall to the ruse, when he overlooked a simple detail and lost to Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the 4th round, allowing the Frenchman to gain the sole lead with 3 points. The game also reinforced for the umpteenth time the all too often repeated and glorified cliche Chess is 99% tactics. Magnus' defeat and Nakamura falling to Nepo were the only decisive games of the round. The other three ended in draws. We have a comprehensive round four report from Saint Louis.

When Tony Miles passed away prematurely in 2001, Mathew Sadler, his teammate from the Elista Olympiad recollected how the legendary grafter unexpectedly played 6.dxc3 (instead of the established 6.bxc3) in an English Opening game and then went on to slowly outplay a Lithuanian International Master in a queenless grind of a game, much to the amusement of his colleagues. Carlsen chose exactly the same path in the same position on Saturday, but only, he chose one of the top 5 in the world for the treatment, and MVL may soon be reaching 2800 thanks to this victory and form in the tournament.

The unambitious 6.dxc3

By move 17, with black’s pieces looking more harmoniously placed towards the centre against his own uncoordinated army, it didn’t look like Carlsen was really the grafter of the day.


Carlsen - Vachier-Lagrave, position after 17...Ne5

Except for the bind on the queenside, there seemed almost nothing for white to be happy in this position. But mercifully for Carlsen, in the words of Anatoly Karpov, it seemed to be one of those typical minus positions where white could improve his pieces whereas it was difficult for black to chalk out a path of play, when you are not sitting with an engine next to you.


And Carlsen continued nonchalantly, concentrating on improving his pieces purposedly, stopping black from achieving anything meaningful.

 Starting up slowly, game between the joint leaders Carlsen - MVL developed into a gripping fight | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Carlsen - Vachier-Lagrave, position after 33...Rg8

Now, it is dynamic parity, but this is where Carlsen starts with his ‘little’ games. 34.Ka4 (Just checking!) Rgd8 35.Kb3 (Fine thank you!) …


It is in such probing and rearranging that the World Champion excels, constantly unsettling his opponents, not allowing them to let their guard down even for a moment. Ultimately, after the time control was reached, he managed to extract an edge and once again looked to be taking over the initiative. Getting desperate, Vachier-Lagrave went for his chances: 

 ‘Great eagles fly alone; great lions hunt alone’ | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Carlsen - Vachier-Lagrave, position after 45.Bg5

Understanding that he was not doing well tactically, MVL went for 45...Bxg3?! (The forced 45...Bf6 will run into 46.Bc6 when Black will have scrap for compensation for the exchange). And now, disaster struck: 46. Rg2?? A rare tactical blunder by Carlsen. Later, MVL would explain the fundamentals of the flaw which happened in Carlsen's calculation. (Forced was 46. Rd2 Rb8 (46... Rg8 47. Nxb6 !! axb6 48.Bc4) 47. Ka3! and Nd3 is in trouble)


46... Bh3 47. Rxg3 Bxf1 48. Rf3?? Blunder number 2! But this was follow-up of the flawed calculation which started off with Rg2 earlier (48. Bxd8 Rxd8 49. Rf3 Be2 50. Rxf5+ would have

still led to equality)


48... Be2 and only now did Carlsen realised that he missed a simple tactic here, the reason for his misery: 49. Re3 f4 50. Rxe2 Nc1+ and this knight fork nets the rook, which Carlsen overlooked. The position was beyond repair and the Frenchman triumphed.

 ‘I held you in my hands / Oh how did I lose you? ’ | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Needless to say, the victory has been noted by all and sundry:

But the day’s drama had already begun elsewhere and the perpetrator was Nepomniachtchi, who showed no signs of the impulsiveness which made him lose the first two games. Pursuing a slight advantage from an Orthodox Queens Gambit Declined, Nepo exploited Nakamura’s inconsistent play very energetically and playing fast, taking just 33 minutes for the whole game.


Nepomniachtchi - Nakamura, position after 20.axb4

Naka made life difficult for himself with 20...b6? (20...h6 or 20...g6 would have maintained parity)


21.Rcc1 g6 22.Ba6! And black is in trouble. The variation which Nakamura could NOT go in was quite pretty: 22...Ra8 23.Rxc6 Rxa6 24.Bd6 Qb7 25.Bf8 Qc6 and now the pretty fork 26.b5 wins the game for white!

Nakamura: Making life difficult for himself | Photo: Lennart Ootes

To his credit, Nepomniachtchi played flawless and fast to win the game in just over two hours of play.

Nepo - increasing in confidence, spending just 33 minutes for the game | Photo: Grand Chess Tour
[Event "5th Sinquefield Cup 2017 GCT"]
[Site "Saint Louis"]
[Date "2017.08.05"]
[Round "4"]
[White "Nepomniachtchi, Ian"]
[Black "Nakamura, Hikaru"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "D37"]
[WhiteElo "2751"]
[BlackElo "2792"]
[Annotator "Saravanan,V"]
[PlyCount "65"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[SourceTitle ""]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceQuality "1"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 Be7 5. Bf4 O-O 6. e3 c5 7. dxc5 Bxc5 8.
cxd5 Nxd5 9. Nxd5 exd5 10. Bd3 Bb4+ 11. Nd2 Nc6 12. O-O Be6 13. Nf3 {Nepo goes
differently from an earlier Nakamura game} (13. Nb3 Qf6 14. a3 Be7 15. Qd2 Rfd8
16. Nd4 Nxd4 17. exd4 Bf5 {and black achieved equality in Yu Yangyi - Nakamura,
Gibraltar 2017}) 13... Be7 14. Rc1 Bf6 15. a3 Qe7 16. b4 a6 17. h3 Rac8 18. Rc5
a5 19. Qb1 axb4 20. axb4 b6 $2 {The start of Nakamura's problems. Now,
Nepomniachtchi conducts the game accurately to come up ahead in tactics} (20...
h6 {and black should be able to defend the position}) 21. Rcc1 g6 22. Ba6 Nxb4
({The most logical move wasn't working due to a nasty tactical detail:} 22...
Ra8 23. Rxc6 Rxa6 24. Bd6 Qb7 25. Bxf8 Qxc6 26. b5 $1 {The point!}) 23. Bxc8
Rxc8 24. Rxc8+ Bxc8 $18 {Nepo wraps the game flawlessly now} 25. Rc1 Bf5 26.
Qb3 Nd3 27. Rc7 Qd8 28. Bg3 h5 29. Qxb6 h4 30. Bd6 Be4 31. Qc6 Kg7 32. Rc8 d4
33. Qxe4 1-0

Elsewhere, Levon Aronian overcame his sluggishness of the last two days to once again start playing his favourite piece of wood on the board: the h-pawn!


Aronian - Anand, position after 6...g6

Aronian remained consistent with the first round, and played 7.h4!? Bg7 8.h5 Bf5 9.Ng5 e6 10.h6!? and seemed to be working for a creative concept once again.

Levon Aronian - back to his first round love, the h-pawn | Photo: Austin Fuller

But to his credit, the former world champion remained calm and went back to his trusted ways and up the bishop for the knight.

Vishy Anand had to work hard literally to beat back Aronian’s unconventional assault | Photo: Lennart Ootes

But this was a game in which Anand probably didn’t exploit his chances, which might have been created by his opponent’s reckless push of the h-pawn in the opening:


Aronian - Anand, position after 22.a3

Here, Anand could have pursued a push with 22...Nb3 23.axb4 (23.Rcd1 Nc2 24. Rf1 c4 is good for black) 23... Nxd2 24. bxc5 Bxc5 25. Rc2 Nb3 26. Ne4 Be7 27. Rc3 Nc5 28. Nxc5 Bxc5 and black still keeps an edge - remember the pawn on h6?! But the game ended after five more moves after a three-fold repetition

[Event "5th Sinquefield Cup 2017 GCT"]
[Site "Saint Louis"]
[Date "2017.08.05"]
[Round "4"]
[White "Aronian, Levon"]
[Black "Anand, Viswanathan"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "A35"]
[WhiteElo "2799"]
[BlackElo "2783"]
[Annotator "Saravanan,V"]
[PlyCount "54"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[SourceTitle ""]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceQuality "1"]
1. c4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. g3 d5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. Bg2 g6 7. h4 {[Back to
the past! Aronian once again goes back to his ally from the first round, the
h-pawn]} Bg7 8. h5 Bf5 9. Ng5 e6 10. h6 Bf6 11. Nge4 Be7 12. d3 Bxe4 {
Favourite operation for Anand - giving up the bishop for the knight} 13. Bxe4
O-O 14. Bd2 Qd7 15. Rc1 Rfd8 16. Bg2 b6 17. Qa4 Rab8 18. O-O Nd4 19. Qxd7 Rxd7
20. Rfe1 Rbd8 {Black is more than fine here} 21. g4 Nb4 22. a3 (22. e3 $2 Ndc2
23. Re2 Rxd3 24. Nb1 Na1 $1 {showed by Anand - a cute little move which
guarantees him a clear advantage}) 22... Nd5 ({It was probably worth trying}
22... Nb3 23. axb4 (23. Rcd1 Nc2 24. Rf1 c4) 23... Nxd2 24. bxc5 Bxc5 25. Rc2
Nb3 26. Ne4 Be7 27. Rc3 Nc5 28. Nxc5 Bxc5 {and black still keeps an edge -
remember the pawn on h6?!}) 23. Nxd5 exd5 24. Rc3 Nb5 25. Rc2 Nd4 26. Rc3 Nb5
27. Rc2 Nd4 1/2-1/2

Peter Svidler - Wesley So was the bane of the spectator’s curse, the chaotic looking attacking game petering out to a simple draw due to the professionals’ deep opening preparation.


Svidler - So, position after 25.Kh1

Even though the position looks threatening for Black, So came up with the coldblooded 25...Qg8 to maintain simple equality

 Svidler - So: the game content wasn’t as tense as the picture, as the entire defence was a piece of So’s home preparation | Photo: Austin Fuller
[Event "5th Sinquefield Cup 2017 GCT"]
[Site "Saint Louis"]
[Date "2017.08.05"]
[Round "4"]
[White "Svidler, Peter"]
[Black "So, Wesley"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "C54"]
[WhiteElo "2751"]
[BlackElo "2810"]
[Annotator "Saravanan,V"]
[PlyCount "58"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[SourceTitle ""]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceQuality "1"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. c3 Nf6 5. d4 exd4 6. e5 d5 7. Bb5 Ne4 8. cxd4
Bb6 9. Nc3 O-O 10. Be3 Bg4 11. h3 Bh5 12. Qc2 Bg6 13. Qb3 Ne7 14. O-O c6 15.
Bd3 Nf5 16. Rae1 Nxd4 17. Bxd4 Bxd4 18. Nxe4 dxe4 19. Bxe4 Bxe4 20. Rxe4 Bb6
21. e6 {Tension seemed to be building up} Qe7 22. exf7+ Qxf7 23. Re6 Kh8 24.
Ne5 Bxf2+ 25. Kh1 {White's position looks quite impressive here, but So
diffuses the danger with a calm retreat} Qg8 {White has nothing here} ({
Attractive variations include} 25... Qc7 26. Qb4 a5 27. Qe4 Bc5 28. Nf7+ $1 Kg8
(28... Rxf7 29. Re8+ Bf8 30. Rxf7 Qxf7 31. Rxa8) 29. Rh6 $1 {Beautiful!} Rxf7 (
29... gxh6 30. Qg4#) 30. Qxh7+ Kf8 31. Qh8+ Ke7 32. Re1+ Kd7 33. Qxa8 Rf8 {
and the queen is trapped at a8, forcing white to pursue the perpetual check}
34. Rd1+ Ke7 35. Re1+ Kd7 $11) 26. Nd7 Rf7 27. Ne5 Rff8 28. Nd7 Rf7 29. Ne5
Rff8 1/2-1/2

Caruana - Karjakin was another of those perfect games where even though black sacficed a pawn, the game never got out of control, ending in a draw in 31 moves.

The big bang didn’t really happen on the board | Photo: Lennart Ootes
[Event "5th Sinquefield Cup 2017 GCT"]
[Site "Saint Louis"]
[Date "2017.08.05"]
[Round "4"]
[White "Caruana, Fabiano"]
[Black "Karjakin, Sergey"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "C65"]
[WhiteElo "2807"]
[BlackElo "2773"]
[PlyCount "62"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[SourceTitle ""]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceQuality "1"]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. d3 Bc5 5. c3 d5 6. exd5 Qxd5 7. Bc4 Qd6 8.
Nbd2 O-O 9. b4 Bb6 10. a4 e4 11. dxe4 Ne5 12. Qe2 a5 13. O-O Bg4 14. bxa5 Rxa5
15. Ba3 Bc5 16. Bb4 Bxb4 17. cxb4 Qxb4 18. Rfb1 Qd6 19. h3 Bxf3 20. Nxf3 b6 21.
Bb5 Raa8 22. Re1 Rad8 23. Rac1 c5 24. Rc3 g6 25. Rb3 Nxf3+ 26. Qxf3 Qe5 27. Bc4
Rd6 28. Rb5 Rd4 29. Rxb6 Rxc4 30. Qxf6 Qxf6 31. Rxf6 Rxa4 1/2-1/2

Crosstable after round four:

Official Website 


About the Author:

Saravanan Venkatachalam is an International Master and has been an active chess player in the Indian circuit, and has been consistently writing on chess since late 1980s. He turned complete chess professional in 2012, actively playing and being a second and a trainer to a handful of Indian players. He reports on chess tournaments, occasionally being a correspondent to national newspapers and news channels. Apart from chess, he is also interested in Tamil and English literature, music and photography.

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The Sinquefield Cup and Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz is being extensively by Venkatachalam Saravanan. 




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