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Sinquefield Cup 2017 Round 7: Vishy Anand beats Nepo in a complex rook endgame

by Saravanan Venkatachalam - 11/08/2017

Vishy Anand's detractors will surely take some rest after the Indian ace's excellent play at the Sinquefield Cup. Anand, who had already stunned everyone with some mind boggling calculations against Caruana, showed fine endgame technique against Nepomniachtchi and beat him in a complex rook endgame. He now leads the tournament along with MVL and Aronian. With two rounds to go, this might be Anand's chance to win the Sinquefield Cup for the first time in his career. Saravanan reports from Saint Louis.

Sinquefield Cup 2017, the tournament hall

‘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, aesthetics of the concept is more attractive than the surprise value. This is mainly because it is difficult to think of bringing complexity to the assault without unique ideas in such a position, and it was left to the genius of Levon Aronian to show us such a creation on the 7th round of the Sinquefield Cup.

 

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 of Nakamura early into the variation - 11.Qa4!?

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 & Computer games.

Nakamura - Aronian. Opening preparation beyond human Opening play | Photo: Austin Fuller

Thus, 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:

 

Nakamura - Aronian, position after 15.Ne4:

Though the engines find the position as slightly better for White, it is hardly the case when you look at it with naked yes, 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 made it fine here, and here’s the rub: in the last 3 moves, whatever moves were played by White were all fine at that point, but together as a strategy they haven’t made his position any better. And here started Aronian’s counterplay, focusing on the white king.

 

 

Nakamura - Aronian, position after 24...g5:

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:

 

Nakamura - Aronian, position after 32...Ra4:

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 less 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...

 

Nakamura - Aronian, position after 40.Nd5: 

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!

[Event "5th Sinquefield Cup 2017 GCT"]
[Site "Saint Louis"]
[Date "2017.08.09"]
[Round "7"]
[White "Nakamura, Hikaru"]
[Black "Aronian, Levon"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "A29"]
[WhiteElo "2792"]
[BlackElo "2799"]
[Annotator "Saravanan,V"]
[PlyCount "106"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[SourceTitle "playchess.com"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceQuality "1"]
1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e5 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. g3 Bb4 5. Bg2 O-O 6. O-O e4 7. Ng5 Bxc3 8.
bxc3 Re8 9. f3 e3 10. d3 d5 11. Qa4 $5 {[%cal Gd1a4]} h6 {was seen in Svidler
- Karjakin Candidates 2016.} 12. cxd5 Nxd5 13. Ne4 f5 14. Nc5 f4 15. Ne4 {
[Nakamura's improvement]} (15. Bb2 Rb8 16. c4 Nde7 17. g4 b6 18. Ne4 {with a
complex position in Svidler -Karjakin, Candidates 2016}) 15... Rb8 16. Qa3 Re6
17. c4 Nde7 18. Bb2 Nf5 {Standalone, White's moves were all fine when they are
played, but together as a strategy they haven’t made his position any better.
And here started Aronian’s counterplay, focusing on the white king} 19. d4 {
A mark of desparation? Nakamura decides to part back with the pawn to free up
his position a little} (19. gxf4 Ncd4 20. Bxd4 Nxd4 21. Nc3 {was an alternate
way to defend here, but White's positon is hardly inspiring}) 19... Ncxd4 20.
Bxd4 Nxd4 21. Qxa7 Nc6 22. Qa3 Qf8 23. Qxf8+ Kxf8 24. Rfd1 g5 25. Nc3 Re7 $1 {
Nakamura was very annoyed to see this move being played. He thought that his
knight on d5 will inconvenience Black greatly, but here the rook stands very
well on f7 and defends everything.} 26. Nd5 Rf7 27. h4 Ra8 28. a4 Na5 29. gxf4
gxf4 30. Kh2 (30. Rac1 Nb3) 30... Nxc4 31. Rac1 Nd2 32. Nxc7 Rxa4 33. Bh3 {
A slip, allowing a beauty!} ({Even if White tries to defend the 2nd rank, he
still gets into difficulties:} 33. Rc2 Bf5 34. Rc3 (34. Rc5 Ra2 35. Nd5 Nb3)
34... Ra2 35. Nd5 Be6 36. Nb4 Ra4 37. Nd3 Bc4 38. Bh3 b5 $1 {and Black
dominates the whole board}) 33... Nxf3+ $3 34. exf3 Ra2+ 35. Bg2 Rg7 36. Rg1
Rg3 $1 {Brilliant! Black’s attack is even more aesthetic as he conducts it
without queens, and with very less material on the board - he is threatening ..
.Rg3-h3 checkmate here!} 37. Kh1 Bh3 38. Bf1 e2 39. Bxe2 Rxe2 {and Black
achieves a winning position, which he converts easily} 40. Nd5 Rxf3 $4 {
Incredible! After playng such chess for most of the game, Aronian slips!} (
40... Bg2+ {won on the spot!!}) 41. Rg6 Re6 42. Rcg1 Rxg6 43. Rxg6 Bd7 44. Kg2
Rg3+ 45. Rxg3 fxg3 46. Kxg3 Kf7 {[Black has a huge advantage, which he
converts]} 47. Kf4 Ke6 48. Nb4 Be8 49. Nd3 Kd5 50. Nf2 Bd7 51. Ke3 Ke5 52. Ne4
Bc6 53. Ng3 Bd5 0-1

 

And 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 - Nempomniachtchi folowed 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 admitted by Anand himself.

 

Anand - Nepomniachtchi, position after 27.Bf3:

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) and White has all the reason to be optimistic about his chances here.

 

Anand - Nepomniachtchi, position after 31.Ra5: 

Incredibly, here followed 31...b4? ('There was no need for this kamikaze move - he kind of went nuts!' remarked Anand after the game. 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 (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
[Event "5th Sinquefield Cup 2017 GCT"]
[Site "Saint Louis"]
[Date "2017.08.09"]
[Round "7"]
[White "Anand, Viswanathan"]
[Black "Nepomniachtchi, Ian"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B90"]
[WhiteElo "2783"]
[BlackElo "2751"]
[Annotator "Saravanan,V"]
[PlyCount "79"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[SourceTitle "playchess.com"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceQuality "1"]
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. h3 e5 7. Nde2 h5 8. Bg5
Be6 9. Bxf6 Qxf6 10. Nd5 Qd8 11. Qd3 Nd7 12. O-O-O g6 (12... b5 13. Nec3 Rb8
14. Nb4 Qg5+ 15. Kb1 Nc5 16. Qf3 Be7 17. Ncd5 Bd8 18. Be2 Rb7 19. Ne3 Qf4 20.
Qxf4 exf4 21. Nf5 {and White went on to win in Anand -Nepomniachtchi, Leuven
Rapid 2017}) 13. Kb1 Nc5 (13... Rc8 14. Nec3 Bh6 15. h4 Nc5 16. Qe2 Bd7 17. f3
Ne6 18. Qf2 Rc5 19. g4 hxg4 20. fxg4 Bg5 21. Bb5 $1 {and White was clearly
better in Anand - Vachier Lagrave, Leuven Rapid 2017}) 14. Qf3 Bg7 15. Nec3 b5
16. Ne3 O-O 17. Rg1 {[Anand's improvement]} (17. g4 h4 {and Black controlled
the light squares in Eljanov - Oparin, Novi Sad 2016}) 17... Bh6 18. Ncd5 ({
Kasparov suggested an interesting possibility here:} 18. Nf5 gxf5 19. exf5 b4
20. fxe6 fxe6 (20... bxc3 21. exf7+ Kh8 {is messy}) 21. Qxh5 Qg5 {and Black
emerges better}) 18... Bxe3 {There was nothing wrong with this, but Black
could have simply played non-forcing moves too, waiting to see how the
position would develop} (18... Rc8 19. g4 Bxd5 20. Nxd5 h4 {is a probable
continuation too}) 19. Qxe3 Rc8 20. Be2 Kg7 21. f4 (21. g4 Bxd5 22. Rxd5 hxg4
23. Bxg4 (23. hxg4 Ne6 {dominating the dark squares}) 23... Rc6 24. Rgd1 Re8 {
with a level position}) 21... Bxd5 22. Rxd5 exf4 23. Qxf4 Re8 24. Rxd6 {
Allowing equality} (24. Rf1 Qe7 25. Bxh5 $5 Nxe4 (25... gxh5 26. Qg3+ {will
see the black king checkmated}) 26. Bf3 Rc4 {and though Black is not worse
here, this is a much more pleasant position for White to obtain compared to
the game, as White has the Bishop in an open position, and Black's weakness on
d6 is a minor factor}) 24... Qe7 25. e5 Qxe5 26. Qxe5+ Rxe5 27. Bf3 {The
ending is level, but not lifeless} Ne4 $2 {An inexplicable move. Having solved
his opening problems and achieving near equality, Black immediately allows a
questionable ending, giving up a pawn instantly} (27... b4 {followed by ...a5
and Black could have simply waited to see how things unfold. The position is
quite balanced}) 28. Bxe4 Rxe4 29. Rxa6 {Anand felt 'quite safe', and he
played a position which was risk-free for him but where he can 'probe around a
bit'} Re2 30. c3 h4 31. Ra5 {I already felt slightly confident here - Anand} b4
$2 {'There was no need for this kamikaze move - he kind of went nuts!'
remarked Anand after the game. 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} (31... Rc5 32. a4) ({Best move was} 31... Rb8 {Anand admitted
that after this, White's technical task is quite big} 32. Ra7 ({Anand had
intended} 32. Ra3 Rd8 33. Rb3 {but after} Rd5 {it is not clear how White could
improve his position easily, as Black simply can role his pawns on the kingside
}) 32... Rbe8 33. Rb7 Re1+ 34. Rxe1 Rxe1+ 35. Kc2 Re2+ 36. Kd3 (36. Kb3 Rxg2
37. Rxb5 Rg3 {and suddenly it may be Black who might emerge fast in case of a
pawn race to the queening square}) 36... Rxb2 37. a4 Rxg2 38. a5 {with a
complicated ending which may still hold for Black}) 32. cxb4 Rcc2 33. b3 {
A simple refutation of Black's strategy} Rb2+ 34. Ka1 Rxg2 35. Rxg2 Rxg2 36. b5
Re2 (36... Rg4 {In the analysis, Kasparov burst out laughing when this move
was shown to be a computer choice} 37. Ra4 f5 {Anand threw this move in for fun
} 38. b6) 37. b6 Re8 38. b7 Rb8 39. Rb5 f5 40. Kb2 {White simply brings brings
the King over to sto Black's pawns on the kingside, whereas his a-pawn will
march forward to win the game} 1-0

 

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

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 had a deep analysis of the position along with 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 | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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.

 

Vachier-Lagrave - Karjakin, position after 28.f4:

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) (35. f8=Q Ne4+ 36. Kg6 Nxg3 and Black has an extra piece) 35... Qa5 36. Bf6 Qc5 37.f8=Q Qxf8+ 38. Kxf8 and the game ended in a draw.

[Event "5th Sinquefield Cup 2017 GCT"]
[Site "Saint Louis"]
[Date "2017.08.09"]
[Round "7"]
[White "Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime"]
[Black "Karjakin, Sergey"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "C67"]
[WhiteElo "2789"]
[BlackElo "2773"]
[Annotator "Saravanan,V"]
[PlyCount "90"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[SourceTitle "playchess.com"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceQuality "1"]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. O-O Nxe4 5. d4 Nd6 6. Bxc6 dxc6 7. dxe5 Nf5
8. Qxd8+ Kxd8 9. h3 Ke8 10. Nc3 h5 11. Bf4 Be7 12. Rad1 Be6 13. Ng5 Rh6 14.
Rfe1 Bb4 15. g4 hxg4 16. hxg4 Ne7 17. Nxe6 Rxe6 18. Kg2 Bxc3 19. bxc3 Rd8 20.
Rxd8+ Kxd8 21. Rh1 Nd5 22. Bg3 Rh6 23. Rxh6 gxh6 24. Kh3 Nxc3 25. Kh4 Nxa2 26.
Kh5 Nc3 27. Kxh6 a5 28. f4 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 (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} (35. f8=Q
Ne4+ 36. Kg6 Nxg3 {and Black has an extra piece}) 35... Qa5 36. Bf6 Qc5 37.
f8=Q Qxf8+ 38. Kxf8 Ne4 39. Kf7 Nxg5+ 40. Bxg5 Kd6 41. Kf6 e5 42. Kf5 Kd5 43.
Bd8 Kd4 44. Bxc7 Kc3 45. Kxe5 Kxc2 1/2-1/2

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 | Photo: Lennart Ootes

As the other two games (Svidler - Carlsen & So - Caruana) ended in draws too, we have a situation where Vachier-Lagrave has been joined by Aronian and Anand on the leaderboard on 4.5 points with Magnus Carlsen trailing them on 4 alone. The last two rounds of crucial pairings will be: 8th Round: Anand - Vachier-Lagrave, Aronian - Svidler, Nepomniachtchi - Carlsen 9th Round: Carlsen - Aronian, So - Anand Vachier-Lagrave - Nepomniachtchi.

 

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!

Standings after round 7:

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 the 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.

Coverage on Firstpost

Firstpost and ChessBase India have collaborated to bring you extensive and detailed coverage of the chess scene in India and internationally.

 

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

 

 

 

Curtain Raiser: Viswanathan Anand faces acid test at the star-studded Sinquefield Cup

Round one: Viswanathan Anand draws first round game against Hikaru Nakamura of United States

Viswanathan Anand impresses despite draw with Peter Svidler in second round

Viswanathan Anand earns tough draw against World Champion Magnus Carlsen

Viswanathan Anand draws against Levon Aronian; Magnus Carlsen suffers shock loss

Viswanathan Anand steals show with brilliant win against Fabiano Caruana

Sinquefield Cup 2017: Wary Viswanathan Anand draws against Sergey Karjakin to tie for 2nd spot

Viswanathan Anand becomes joint leader after impressive win over Ian Nepomniachtchi


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