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Sinquefield Cup 2017 Round 8: In for a tense finish!

by Saravanan Venkatachalam - 12/08/2017

The penultimate round at the Sinquefield Cup 2017 kept all the possibilties open. Vishy Anand drew his game against MVL. The duo maintained their lead with 5.0/8 along with Levon Aronian. Magnus Carlsen was unable to win against Nepomniactchi. He is now joined on 4.5/8 by Sergey Karjakin who was able to outplay Wesley So. Five players have a theoretical chance to win the title! We are in for a tense finale! Complete round 8 report from Saint Louis.

As stakes got higher and the Sinquefield Cup looked to be up for grabs for a probable four players who occupied the top slots, things suitably hotted up on the board from the word go, a delightful sight for the spectators:

 

 

First of all, Aronian decided to be faithful and got involved with his h-pawn from early on:

Aronian - Svidler, position after 8.h5:

Dare-Devilry (is that a word?) is even more admirable than Bravery on the chess board - when shown especially if a lot at stake in such a high level competition. It was really admirable that Aronian decided to pick the gauntlet against such a strong opponent in such a crucial round when a win will probably give him best chances for the title but a mishap means exile to obscurity. Absolutely no doubt that Levon Aronian is one of our bravest knights in a shining armour!

Levon Aronian - The shining knight who went beyond Bravery to demonstrate Dare-Devilry | Photo: Austin Fuller

The game followed Aronian’s first round victory over Nepomniachtchi, quickly became a violent combat, and gave visions turning into an exciting contest. Complimenting on Aronian’s choice, Maurice Ashley called the thrust with h2-h4-h5 as the ‘Aronian Variation’. When Peter Svidler took a long think for Aronian’s improvement for this particular game - 9.Be2 instead of 9.Ba3 which he played in the first round against Nepo - it was difficult to understand if he had come well-armed for the game, or he was thinking for a move on the table. However, as the game developed, it was obvious that Peter Svidler indeed was thirsting for a fight with a prepared armour.

Svidler, deep in concentration and characteristic stare into blank space, reacting for Aronian’s novelty | Photo: V.Saravanan

Aronian - Svidler, position after 14...g5: 

Such a heightened tension gave hopes of a violent clash, and Peter Svidler had chances to go for a brilliant sacrificial attack: 15. Bb5 Qd5 16.Nf2 Qd6?! (Svidler missed for a chance of eternal glory with 16... Qxg2! 17. Bf1 (17.e4 0-0!! 18.Bxc6 Rxc6!! 19.Qxc6 g4 and Black is close to winning!) 17...Qg3 18. Bb5 O-O! 19. Bxc6 gxf4 and Black gets sufficient compensation due to White’s weakened King) and a draw was agreed after 17. Ne4 Qd5 18. Nf2 Qd6 19. Ne4 1/2-1/2

 

Svidler admired the analysis thrown in by the computer with 17...0-0 and 18...Rxc6 but pointed out that it was very difficult to decide on such sacrifices unlike the commentators who are armed with Chess engines when analysing, for whom it was ‘very easy to give (pieces) away when they are not your pieces!’ But for posterity, he gave the best comment of the day: “This is very beautiful. This is not impossible to find, but it is not easy to find also!”

[Event "5th Sinquefield Cup 2017 GCT"]
[Site "Saint Louis"]
[Date "2017.08.10"]
[Round "8"]
[White "Aronian, Levon"]
[Black "Svidler, Peter"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "A34"]
[WhiteElo "2799"]
[BlackElo "2751"]
[Annotator "Saravanan,V"]
[PlyCount "37"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[SourceTitle "playchess.com"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceQuality "1"]
1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. e3 Nxc3 6. bxc3 g6 7. h4 {
Svidler - Once White plays h4, you don't expect the game to go back to
normality!} Bg7 8. h5 Nc6 9. Be2 {[Aronian's improvement for this particular
game, obviously. And from the speed with which Aronian played it, it was clear
that he had come well-armed for this game]} ({The newly famous game from the
first round went} 9. Ba3 Qa5 10. Rh4 $1 {and Aronian was well on his way to a
imaginative beauty: Aronian -Nepomniachtchi, Sinquefield Cup 2017}) 9... Bf5 $5
{This was a surprise for Aronian} 10. Qb3 b6 11. Ng5 {[Svidler - I expected
Ng5, trying to punish me for leaving so many pieces hanging]} e6 12. f4 h6 {
Aronian had assumed this to be not possible} 13. Qa4 Rc8 ({Svidler: I actually
missed that I cannot take on g5 here, (after which) I will be better:} 13...
hxg5 14. Qxc6+ Kf8 15. e4 Rc8 16. Qa4 b5 17. Qc2 {and I still lose the Bishop})
14. Ne4 ({Svidler expected Aronian to do} 14. Nxf7 Kxf7 15. e4 b5 $1 {[Svidler]
} 16. Bxb5 (16. Qc2 Nb4) 16... Bg4 17. Bxc6 Qd3 {and Aronian didn't quite like
his position}) 14... g5 15. Bb5 Qd5 16. Nf2 Qd6 ({Here is what Svidler missed,
and it could have been the best of the event!} 16... Qxg2 17. Bf1 (17. e4 O-O
$3 18. Bxc6 Rxc6 $3 19. Qxc6 g4 {and Black is close to winning! When shown the
position, Svidler came up with the memorable quote: “This is very beautiful.
This is not impossible to find, but it is not easy to find also!” But he
also pointed out the other side: it was ‘very easy to give (pieces) away
when they are not your pieces!’}) 17... Qg3 18. Bb5 O-O 19. Bxc6 gxf4 20. Kf1
(20. Ke2) 20... f3 21. Rg1 Bh3+) 17. Ne4 Qd5 18. Nf2 Qd6 19. Ne4 1/2-1/2

 

One of the main reasons for Anand’s longevity as a performer in chess has been his ability to reinvent himself periodically in his long and illustrious career spanning more than three decades now. Until his World Championship Match in 2008 against Vladimir Kramnik, Anand was always a player who opened with 1.e4. When he expanded his repertoire to 1.d4 for the match and emphatically defeated Kramnik, his arsenal got richer by the addition, as it combined with his meticulous opening preparation which would ultimately become one of the hallmarks of his strengths.

 

Playing many different openings can also provoke a change of style in one’s play, along with the ability to play more varied types of positions and pawn structures, and a general widening of one’s knowledge. This is one of the main reasons for Anand’s rejuvenation in the post-2008 period. Here in the 2017 Sinquefield Cup, when he opted for 1.c4 — the English Opening — in his fifth round game against Caruana, it must have raised quite a few eyebrows of his fellow competitors, especially as he won that game and proved his knowledge of the position to be the result of deep preparation rather than speculative play.

 

However, his rivals also have to cope up with another possibility: that this whole change is just a smokescreen to keep opponents guessing his opening move intentions in the forthcoming World Cup in September — a crucial event for many of the top players.

Vishy Anand - Camouflaging with a smokescreen or serious expansion to even more territories? | Photo: Spectrum Studios

Against Vishy Anand’s switching back to the English Opening, Vachier-Lagrave decided to be active very early too:

 

Anand - Vachier-Lagrave, position after 6...Nb4 

Soon, Anand seemed to be developing one of those nagging edges, and seemed to be well on his way to creating a serious stranglehold:

 

Anand - Vachier-Lagrave, position after 19...f6

Anand missed improving his advantage when he played the routine looking 20.Rad1, whereas 20.Bd7 Rc7 21.Be6+ Kh8 and now 22.Rad1 would have preserved his advantage. The game petered out into a draw after the move played.

Anand - Vachier-Lagrave: the positional fight between the joint leaders unfortunately petering out into a draw | Photo: Austin Fuller
[Event "5th Sinquefield Cup 2017 GCT"]
[Site "Saint Louis"]
[Date "2017.08.10"]
[Round "8"]
[White "Anand, Viswanathan"]
[Black "Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "A31"]
[WhiteElo "2783"]
[BlackElo "2789"]
[Annotator "ChessBase"]
[PlyCount "60"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[SourceTitle "playchess.com"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceQuality "1"]
1. Nf3 c5 2. c4 Nf6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 d5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. e4 Nb4 7. Bb5+ Bd7 8.
Bc4 N8c6 9. Nxc6 Nxc6 10. O-O e6 11. Nc3 Be7 12. Bf4 O-O 13. Qd2 Be8 14. Rfd1
Qxd2 15. Rxd2 Rc8 16. Nb5 e5 17. Bg3 Na5 18. Bf1 Bxb5 19. Bxb5 f6 20. Rad1 (20.
Bd7 Rc7 21. Be6+ Kh8 22. Rad1 {with a clear edge for White}) 20... Kf7 21. f3
a6 22. Bf1 Nc4 23. Bxc4+ Rxc4 24. Rd7 Rb8 25. Kf1 Ke8 26. Be1 Rd8 27. Rxd8+
Bxd8 28. Ke2 Rc2+ 29. Rd2 Rxd2+ 30. Bxd2 Kd7 1/2-1/2

 

And then came the incredible Nakamura, who seemed to be looking skywards and trying to remember where he had hidden unique stuff in his brain. With patience, we realised that he did have something special for the occasion.

Nakamura - Looking upwards at heaven but actually looking inwards into his preparation well | Photo: V.Saravanan

First of all he played the complex Kings Indian Defence against Caruana (good!), faced the h3 variation (sure), moved his d-pawn and then his c-pawn (ok), and then moved the d-pawn AGAIN! (What!?)

 

Caruana - Nakamura, position after 7...d5

His surprise for the day had good effect, as he managed to get an advantage with a fantastic break eventually:

Caruana - Nakamura, position after 16.Rfe1

Now Nakamura uncorked 16...b5! and soon wrested the initiative, which he held on till tragedy struck in time trouble.

 

 

Caruana - Nakamura, position after 38.gxf4

Holding on an advantage for a long time in the game, Nakamura erred with 38...Be4?? (38... Rd7 39. Rc1 Bd5 and Black pieces are dominating the board, with a weak pawn structure on the kingside for White) 39. Nxe4 fxe4 40. Qc3 Qa6 41. d5+ Kh6 (Tables are turned - White is better now) 42. Rg8?? Now it is Caruana’s time to blunder away a very good advantage! Allowing an easy but pretty combination (42. Rxe4 and White is clearly better here: 42...Ra1+ 43. Re1 Rxe1+ 44. Qxe1 Qd3 45. Qe3) 42... Ra1+ 43. Kh2 Rh1+!! 44. Kxh1 Qf1+ with a perpetual check

[Event "5th Sinquefield Cup 2017 GCT"]
[Site "Saint Louis"]
[Date "2017.08.10"]
[Round "8"]
[White "Caruana, Fabiano"]
[Black "Nakamura, Hikaru"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "E90"]
[WhiteElo "2807"]
[BlackElo "2792"]
[Annotator "ChessBase"]
[PlyCount "96"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[SourceTitle "playchess.com"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceQuality "1"]
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. h3 O-O 6. Bg5 c6 7. Nf3 d5 $5 {
[Hardly a novelty but an excellent choice for the surprise value]} 8. cxd5 cxd5
9. Bxf6 exf6 10. exd5 b6 11. Be2 Na6 12. O-O Nc7 13. Qb3 Bb7 14. Bc4 Rb8 15. a4
a6 16. Rfe1 b5 17. axb5 axb5 18. Bd3 b4 19. Ne4 f5 20. Ned2 Nxd5 21. Bc4 Nb6
22. Qxb4 Nxc4 23. Qxc4 Bd5 24. Qc3 Qb6 25. b3 Rfd8 26. Rac1 Bh6 27. Rc2 Qb7 28.
Qd3 Qa8 29. Qf1 Qb7 30. Rc5 Qb4 31. Rc2 Ra8 32. Rd1 Qb7 33. Re1 Rd6 34. Rc5 Ra2
35. Re8+ Kg7 36. Qe1 Bf4 37. g3 Bxf3 38. gxf4 Be4 $4 {Short of time, Nakamura
blunders his advantage away} (38... Rd7 $1 39. Rc1 Bd5 {and Black pieces are
dominating the board, with a weak pawn structure on the kingside for White})
39. Nxe4 fxe4 40. Qc3 Qa6 41. d5+ Kh6 42. Rg8 $4 {Allowing an easy but pretty
combination} (42. Rxe4 {and White is clearly better here:} Ra1+ 43. Re1 Rxe1+
44. Qxe1 Qd3 45. Qe3) 42... Ra1+ 43. Kh2 Rh1+ 44. Kxh1 Qf1+ 45. Kh2 Qxf2+ 46.
Kh1 Qf1+ 47. Kh2 Qf2+ 48. Kh1 Qf1+ 1/2-1/2

 

Caruana - unfortunately countering Nakamura’s blunder in time pressure with a blunder after reaching time control | Photo: Spectrum Studios

And then you find Wesley So in his amazing dark glasses having planted an amazing black knight at f4!

 

Karjakin - So, position after 15...Nf4

Wesley So - Looking brilliant in dark glasses but unfortunately in poor form in this event | Photo: Lennart Ootes

And then he got another chance to replant the Knight at the same square but missed it!

 

Karjakin - So, position after 22.g3

Here So missed an excellent chance to seize the initiative with 22... Nf4! 23. axb5 (23. gxf4 Qg6+ 24. Kh2 exf4 - Watch THAT Rook on e3!) (23. Nxf4 exf4 24. Ree1 24... bxa4 25. Qxa4 fxg3 26. fxg3 Qxc3) 23... axb5 24.Nxf4 exf4 25. Ree1 Ne5 with initiative for Black.He got slowly ground down by Karjakin in a lengthy protracted struggle.

[Event "5th Sinquefield Cup 2017 GCT"]
[Site "Saint Louis"]
[Date "2017.08.10"]
[Round "8"]
[White "Karjakin, Sergey"]
[Black "So, Wesley"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C54"]
[WhiteElo "2773"]
[BlackElo "2810"]
[Annotator "ChessBase"]
[PlyCount "125"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[SourceTitle "playchess.com"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceQuality "1"]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. O-O Nf6 5. d3 O-O 6. h3 d6 7. c3 a6 8. a4 Ba7
9. Re1 h6 10. Nbd2 Be6 11. Bxe6 fxe6 12. b4 Qe8 13. Nf1 Nh5 14. Be3 Bxe3 15.
Rxe3 Nf4 16. Rb1 b5 17. Ra1 Qg6 18. Ng3 Qf6 19. Ne2 Ng6 20. Qb3 Kh8 21. Rf1
Rab8 22. g3 Qf7 ({So misses} 22... Nf4 $5 23. axb5 (23. gxf4 Qg6+ 24. Kh2 exf4
$17 {[%csl Re3] Watch THAT Rook on e3!}) (23. Nxf4 exf4 24. Ree1 (24. gxf4 Qg6+
25. Kh1 Rxf4 $17) 24... bxa4 25. Qxa4 fxg3 26. fxg3 Qxc3 $19) 23... axb5 24.
Nxf4 exf4 25. Ree1 Ne5 {with initiative for Black}) 23. Nh2 d5 24. Rf3 Qd7 25.
axb5 axb5 26. Kg2 Rxf3 27. Nxf3 Rf8 28. Neg1 Ra8 29. Rc1 Qd6 30. Ne1 Nge7 31.
Ngf3 Ng8 32. Nc2 Nf6 33. Re1 Rf8 34. Na3 Rb8 35. Nc2 Rf8 36. Na3 Rb8 37. Nb1
Nd7 38. Nbd2 d4 39. Rc1 dxc3 40. Qxc3 Rb6 41. Nb3 Nxb4 42. Qxc7 Kh7 43. d4 Qxc7
44. Rxc7 Nf6 45. Nc5 Na6 46. Rc8 Nxc5 47. dxc5 Ra6 48. Nxe5 Nxe4 49. c6 Ra2 50.
Kf3 Ng5+ 51. Ke3 Nxh3 52. Rb8 Rc2 53. f4 h5 54. Rxb5 Nf2 55. Kd4 Rd2+ 56. Kc5
Ne4+ 57. Kb6 Rc2 58. c7 Nd6 59. Rb3 Ne8 60. Nc6 Nxc7 61. Kxc7 Rc4 62. Kd6 h4
63. Ne5 1-0

Facing the World Champion, Ian Nepomniachtchi had the enviable record of having beaten Magnus Carlsen thrice apart from three draws. He also came up with an Almost Novelty by playing an early Bishop sorties early in the opening.

 

Nepomniachtchi - Carlsen, position after 8.Bf4

But the important moment of the game came much later on:

 

Nepomniachtchi - Carlsen, position after 20...Bg4

White holds a slight edge here, and Nepo missed a cute little more here: 21.Bxg4? (21. Be2!! (More than the strength of the move, it is the backward movement of the Bishop which matters - ANY movement of a piece going backward is always difficult to spot for the human eye!) 21...Bxe2 22. Rxe2 Rd8 23.e5 Ne8 24. Red2 and white maintains an edge) 21... Nxg4 22. Kg2 Ne5 23. B3 Nc4 24. bxc4 Bxc3 25. Rc2 Bg7 and Carlsen managed to hold the position.

Nepomniachtchi - missing cute little things | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Later on when asked about how he got into difficulties, Magnus Carlsen came out with a memorable justification: starting with a confession about not being able to find a plan to play the queenless middlegame, he complimented Nepo’s plan to centralise by doubling the Rooks as quite strong. “Maybe I should have played for a draw, but I did not WANT to play for a draw! I used up all the time, and I realised that my position was worse. I am lucky that I got off so easily - I could have been much worse for sure. I am lucky today, I am still in with a chance (to play for top places) Obviously, tomorrow only a win counts”. Well, what do we say?! Welcome to planet Magnus!

Magnus Carlsen - to play is to win, to win is to live, to live is to win | Photo: Lennart Ootes

When Marice Ashley asked Nepomniachtchi later on, “Magnus wanted to beat you to get into a tie for First, MVL says he HAS to beat you tomorrow with all guns blazing, (to have chances to win the title), what are your thoughts about that?”, Nepo kept an amused demeanour and replied, “(MVL) will have to atleast try a little bit! So far in this tournament, it is not like anyone is beating me! I am losing the games myself, that’s a little bit annoying”, in good humour. And admirable balance after a difficult tournament (so far).

 

Now, going into the final round, we have much possibilities about who will win the title - all reasonable probabilities not counting bizarre happenings, and yes, all in good humour without prejudice to any:

 

Points position: 1 - 3: Anand, Vachier-Lagrave and Aronian - 5 points each 4 - 5. Carlsen and Karjakin - 4 ½ each

 

1. Aronian plays Black against Carlsen. Aronian is half point ahead, and either wins the title or ties for first with a win. Ties for the title with a draw. Looking at the colour and the opponent, has the most difficult of tasks. Carlsen might tie for the title ONLY if he wins and if other joint leaders do not win.

 

2. Anand plays Black against So. Anand either wins the title or ties for first with a win. Depends a lot on the opening choice and the opponent’s approach to the game. So has been in indifferent form but has the White pieces.

 

3. Vachier-Lagrave plays White against Nepomniachtchi. MVL either wins the title or ties for first with a win. Has the best chance among the joint leaders. Nepo has been in indifferent form too.

 

4. Karjakin plays Black against Nakamura. Karjakin might tie for the title ONLY if he wins and if other joint leaders do not win

 

5. If there is a tie for the first place between 2,3 or 4 players. Toughest to understand, especially if you can read the regulations and make sense! Simply put: if two people tie, they have a match against each other. If more than two tie, the tie will be resolved by the following tiebreakers to determine the first two placings:

 

1. Number of games won by each of the players involved in the tie. 2. The results of the games between or amongst the players in the tie. Thus, two people will be picked up to play the tie-breaks matches. If the above tiebreakers do NOT produce clear placements, then:

 

3. If more than two players remain tied for first place after the application of the above ties, there shall NOT be a playoff and the Grand Chess Tour Points shall be shared amongst all players involved in the tie.

 

4. If two or more players remain tied for second place after the application of the above tiebreakers, there shall not be a playoff. The player in first place after the application of the above tiebreakers shall be declared the winner of the event. No wonder, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave came up with the memorable lines that the tie-break rules of the Grand Chess Tour have to be re-organized. If anyone of our readers who has the above correctly will probably increase 200 ELO points instantly, and if you don’t, welcome to the party!

Standings after round 8:

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

Viswanathan Anand remains joint leader after draw with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave