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MVL wins Sinquefield Cup 2017, Anand finishes second

by Venkatachalam Saravanan - 12/08/2017

Maxime Vachier Lagrave has won many super tournaments in his life. He is also called as Mr. Biel for his excellent performances over the years in the Swiss grandmaster event. However, this Sinquefield victory surely trumps everything else that he has conquered. In the final round he won a smooth game against Nepomniachtchi and won the title with a score of 6.0/9. Vishy Anand drew his game with Wesley and achieved an admirable second spot with 5.5/9. Third place went to Magnus Carlsen. Final report of the event from Saint Louis by V. Saravanan.

The last round seemed to be happening as any other at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. The players glide in with about 10 minutes early, they write their scoresheets, they even make polite banter in the resting arena:

Peter Svidler, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Vishy Anand in a light banter before the game | Photo: V.Saravanan

Some of them seem to look cool | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Some of them seem to mean business | Photo: Lennart Ootes

But then, you look around really really closely, carefully, and you see more

Some of them have turned up not in their usual gear - glasses, to be exact | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Some of them seem to take a lot of interest in happenings which will actually affect their own placings too (Vachier-Lagrave looking at the World Champion fight it out with the fellow joint leader of the event Levon Aronian) | Photo: Lennart Ootes

And many other of them have turned up watch this cliffhanger of a round, in spite of this NOT being a weekend| Photo: Lennart Ootes

Thus , it dawns on you that as push comes to shove, many things might happen, and then moves unravel on the chessboard… The most watched games were Carlsen - Aronian and Vachier-Lagrave - Nepomniachtchi, for obvious reasons. The World Champion’s game for the very simple reason that it was a summit clash between World Numbers 1 & 2 on the Live Rating list. MVL was obviously given high chances to win the event, as he seems to have played consistently so far, and he was playing White against Nepo who doesn’t seem to be in great form in this event.


So, when the games actually started, it was one of the best spectacle in town. First of all, Wesley So employed one of his usual solid systems against Vishy Anand’s Nimzo Indian Defence and at some point, Vishy Anand seemed to have botched up his preparation and was looking at an ugly pawn structure for himself, not to mention his minor pieces:


So - Anand, position after 18.Be2 

Anand’s passivity seemed to start somewhere here, and instead of 18...Nd7 which was played in the game, an interesting line with 18...Na6 19.Qc3 Ba4 20.Rd2 Nc5!? to go on offensive, seemed an interesting alternative. They say, over the chess board, players simply do not know what to do with their hands while their eyes and minds are busy with the position. So, was Anand’s posture indicating the pressure he was feeling?

Hands, what to do with them hands? | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Ultimately, So’s inconsistent play of the event continued, as he allowed Anand to equalise and the game ended in a draw after 33 moves. Probably, his best chances came up the following point:


So - Anand, position after 20...a5 

So preferred the simple 21.Qc3 and exchanged the queens with 22.Qd4 next. Instead, he had at his disposal the clever 21.Qe1. Not only does he wish to focus on c4 with a later Qe1-f1! He also can think of Nf3-d4 followed by f2-f4, when Black’s king suddenly feels unsafe.

[Event "5th Sinquefield Cup 2017 GCT"]
[Site "Saint Louis"]
[Date "2017.08.11"]
[Round "9"]
[White "So, Wesley"]
[Black "Anand, Viswanathan"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "E32"]
[WhiteElo "2810"]
[BlackElo "2783"]
[Annotator "ChessBase"]
[PlyCount "66"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[SourceTitle ""]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceQuality "1"]
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Qc2 O-O 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. Qxc3 d5 7. Nf3 dxc4 8.
Qxc4 b6 9. Bg5 Ba6 10. Qa4 h6 11. Bh4 c5 12. dxc5 bxc5 13. Rc1 Qb6 ({Much
common seemed to be} 13... Qe7 14. e4 Bxf1 15. Kxf1 {as in So - Topalov,
Istanbul 2012}) 14. Bxf6 gxf6 15. Rc2 c4 16. e3 Bb5 17. Qb4 Rc8 18. Be2 Nd7 (
18... Na6 19. Qc3 Ba4 (19... Nc5 20. Qxf6 Nd3+ {was an alternative}) 20. Rd2
Nc5 21. Qxc4 Nb3 22. Qg4+ Kf8 23. Qxa4 Nxd2 24. Nxd2 Qxb2 {might have been
very interesting}) 19. O-O Rab8 20. Rfc1 a5 21. Qc3 (21. Qe1 $1 {White wishes
to involve the Queen in attacking c4, and also has another idea in mind here}
Rc5 (21... Ba6 22. Qf1 {keeps c4 on 'spot'}) 22. Nd4 Ba6 23. f4 $1 {and
suddenly white queen can switch over to the kingside}) 21... Kg7 22. Qd4 Qxd4
23. Nxd4 Ba6 (23... c3 $3 24. Nxb5 $4 (24. Bxb5 cxb2) (24. bxc3 Bxe2 25. Nxe2
Ne5 {and Black has enough compensation to equalise the game}) 24... cxb2 {wins!
}) 24. Kf1 Ne5 25. Ke1 f5 26. Nf3 Nxf3+ 27. gxf3 Rb3 28. Bxc4 Rxc4 29. Rxc4
Bxc4 30. Rxc4 Rxb2 31. Rc5 Rb1+ 32. Ke2 Rh1 33. Rxa5 Rxh2 1/2-1/2

But there was no doubt that the clash between the strongest players in the world was the most interesting. Starting from a quiet Anti-Marshall variation of the Ruy Lopez, Aronian showed his intentions of playing for a win with Black against the World Champion by shifting his Queen to the kingside in a deeply theoretical position:


Carlsen - Aronian, position after 13.c3

Now, Aronian pitched for 13...Qe8!? Aiming to go ...Qe8-g6 to drum up an attack on the kingside, thus making all the followers of this crucial game very happy with his brevity. And then we all understood that old brilliant compliment:

Even when the game was in progress, Nakamura dismissed Aronian’s attempt at activity, “It seemed to me that Levon was kind of bluffing in the sense that he was playing very quickly,... and especially his pawn structure”. But at the same time he admired Aronian’s attitude towards the game, “It was a good idea by Levon to go all out try to win the game and try to win the tournament!”

Aronian, courage in a crucial game | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Carlsen - Aronian, position after 17.Ncd2

But this was probably the position where Aronian still had to play objectively rather than aggressively, as instead of 17...bxc3 18.bxc3 Nc5 19.Bxc5! Bxc5 20. Qa4 when all his troubles started. Instead, the cool 17...Bc5 18.Bxc5 (18.d4 Bd6 with a messy position) 18...Nxc5 19.Qe2 bxc3 20.bxc3 Rb2 and Black seemed to be doing fine.


As the game wore on, it looked at a certain point even the mighty Magnus lost his composure in defending, though just for a moment:



Carlsen - Aronian, position after 31.Qb5

Here, instead of the impulsive 31...c5 which lost the game for him after the simple 32.a6 when Aronian was left without any counterplay, he had 31...c6!? Magnus had to find out the accurate 32.Qc4 Bxe5 33.Nxe5 Qg5 34.Ng4 h5 35.Ne3 with a clear advantage for White anyway. And there was another moment of high drama when THIS happened:


Carlsen - Aronian, position after 38...Qe5

Though clearly superior, Magnus Carlsen the World Champion, completed his move with just TWO seconds remaining in his clock! But he won anyway…

Even the World Champion does it, keeping just 2 seconds for dear life

But even though Anand and Aronian’s challenges for the title didn’t happen tangentially, there was probably no doubt to anyone that Maxime Vachier-Lagrave had things going his way from the very beginning, when his opponent began pulling faces during the opening itself:

[Event "5th Sinquefield Cup 2017 GCT"]
[Site "Saint Louis"]
[Date "2017.08.11"]
[Round "9"]
[White "Carlsen, Magnus"]
[Black "Aronian, Levon"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C88"]
[WhiteElo "2822"]
[BlackElo "2799"]
[Annotator "ChessBase"]
[PlyCount "103"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[SourceTitle ""]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceQuality "1"]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 O-O 8. a4
b4 9. a5 d6 10. d3 Be6 11. Bxe6 fxe6 12. Nbd2 Rb8 13. c3 Qe8 $5 {Aiming to go .
..Qe8-g6 to drum up an attack on the kingside, thus making all the followers
of this crucial game very happy with his brevity} 14. Nc4 Qg6 15. h3 Nd7 16.
Be3 d5 17. Ncd2 bxc3 {The exact point where Aronian crossed the threashold of
'brave' to 'rash', as Carlsen shows the weaknesses in Black's position} (17...
Bc5 $1 18. Bxc5 (18. d4 Bd6) 18... Nxc5 19. Qe2 bxc3 20. bxc3 Rb2 {and Black
has all the reasons to be optimistic about his position}) 18. bxc3 Nc5 19. Bxc5
$1 Bxc5 20. Qa4 $1 {White has an edge here - Carlsen judges accurately that
Black's attack isn't dangerous} Rb2 21. Rf1 (21. Qxc6 Bxf2+ $1 {The point} 22.
Kh1 (22. Kxf2 Rxd2+ $19) 22... Bxe1 23. Rxe1 Rxf3 $1 $19) 21... Na7 22. Nxe5
Qh6 23. Ndf3 Nb5 24. Rae1 Nxc3 25. Qc6 Bb4 26. Kh1 dxe4 27. dxe4 Ne2 28. Rb1
Rxb1 29. Rxb1 Bd6 30. Qxa6 Nf4 31. Qb5 c5 $2 ({Missing the opportunity to play
} 31... c6 $5 {Now Magnus had to find out the accurate} 32. Qc4 $1 (32. Nxc6
Nxh3) (32. Qxc6 Bxe5 33. Nxe5 Qg5 34. Ng4 h5 35. Ne3 Qxa5 {and Black is still
worse, but with fighting chances in a tense tournament situation}) 32... Bxe5
33. Nxe5 Qg5 34. Ng4 h5 35. Ne3 {with a clear advantage to White}) 32. a6 {
Simple - Magnus wraps up rest of the game. Just about!} Bxe5 33. Nxe5 Qg5 34.
Ng4 h5 35. Ne3 Nxg2 36. Nxg2 Rxf2 37. Rg1 Kh7 38. Qd3 Qe5 39. Qe3 Ra2 40. Qf4
Qc3 41. Ne3 Qf6 42. Qxf6 gxf6 43. Rc1 Rxa6 44. Kg2 Ra2+ 45. Rc2 Ra5 46. Kf3 Kg6
47. h4 Rb5 48. Ra2 Rb1 49. Rc2 Rb5 50. Rc3 f5 51. exf5+ exf5 52. Rd3 1-0


Unable to contain the surprise- Nepomniachtchi | Photo: V.Saravanan

When checked the reasons for the extreme reactions over the board, it was found that Vachier-Lagrave had employed 6.Be2 against the Najdorf which he has hardly played with White in his career, and repeating an obscure line which Carlsen had played Nepo in the Leuven Leg of the Grand Chess Tour a month ago. Clever!

Pic 11: Clever bit of pickpocketing by MVL, repeating an obscure Carlsen game from not so long ago | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Very soon, MVL established a kind of control which was hard to believe. Do we not assume that these are the kind of strategically lost positions which every Russian schoolboy knows?



Vachier-Lagrave - Nepomniachtchi, position after 22.Nd5

Starting from this point, there was almost no analysis that could be done with the position, as Black’s position steadily seemed to go downhill, and things finally came to a conclusion at this point:


Vachier-Lagrave - Nepomniachtchi, position after 42.Nf5

White has steadily increased the pressure and he signs off with a couple of nice touches: 42...Re6 (One of the points of the position was that, the natural 42...Re5 was failing to 43.Nxd6! Rxd5 44.Nxe4 Qd4 45.cxd5 Qxd5 46.Qf3! and White wins instantly) 43.c5! So, the weak pawn on d6 is never captured indeed! dxc5 44.Qc4 Qf7 45.Rxc5 and White's advantage is near winning.


In fact, standalone, this was game wasn’t exciting at all, and seemed like an one-sided positional squeeze which happened due to MVL’s superior understanding of the position and Nepo’s indifferent form in the tournament. But considered in context with the tournament situation, his rivals’ positions and the way he conducted the whole game displaying admirable control and balance even in such a crucial game, he deserved to claim the title all atop at 6 points.

Pic 12: The Champion! Clever opening preparation, admirable control and balance in a crucial game | Photo: Lennart Ootes
[Event "5th Sinquefield Cup 2017 GCT"]
[Site "Saint Louis"]
[Date "2017.08.11"]
[Round "9"]
[White "Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime"]
[Black "Nepomniachtchi, Ian"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B92"]
[WhiteElo "2789"]
[BlackElo "2751"]
[Annotator "ChessBase"]
[PlyCount "103"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[SourceTitle ""]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceQuality "1"]
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be2 {[A real surprise
in the opening - MVL has played this variation only twice in his entire career]
} e5 7. Nf3 Be7 8. Bg5 {[A surprise for Nepomniachtchi, who started pulling
faces as soon as this was played]} Nbd7 9. a4 O-O 10. Nd2 Nc5 11. Bxf6 Bxf6 12.
Nc4 Be7 13. a5 {[A mild improvement over an earlier Nepo game]} (13. O-O Be6
14. a5 Rc8 15. Nb6 Rc6 16. b4 Nd7 17. Nbd5 Bg5 {was Carlsen - Nepomniachtchi.
Leuven 2017 played just a month ago}) 13... Rb8 14. Nb6 Nd7 15. Ncd5 Nxb6 16.
Nxb6 Be6 17. Bc4 Qc7 18. Qd3 Bd8 19. c3 Qc6 20. Bd5 Qe8 21. Bxe6 Qxe6 22. Nd5 {
Starting from this point, there was almost no analysis that could be done with
the position, as Black’s position steadily seemed to go downhill} f5 23. O-O
Rc8 24. Rfd1 fxe4 25. Qxe4 Qf5 26. Qe2 Kh8 27. c4 Bh4 28. g3 Bg5 29. Ra3 Rce8
30. h4 Bd8 31. b4 Qg6 32. h5 Qf5 33. Ne3 Qe6 34. Rad3 Be7 35. Nd5 Bd8 36. Rf3
Rxf3 37. Qxf3 Kg8 38. Kg2 e4 39. Qe2 Qe5 40. Ne3 Bg5 41. Rd5 Qf6 42. Nf5 {
Finally MVL creates a simple winning position} Re6 (42... Re5 43. Nxd6 Rxd5 44.
Nxe4 $1 {The point of the White's play} Qd4 45. cxd5 Qxd5 46. Qf3 {and Black
is lost}) 43. c5 $1 {So, the weak pawn on d6 is never captured indeed!} dxc5
44. Qc4 Qf7 45. Rxc5 {White's advantage is near winning} h6 46. Rc8+ Kh7 47. g4
Re7 48. Qd4 Re6 49. Qd5 g6 50. hxg6+ Kxg6 51. Rf8 Qxf8 52. Qxe6+ 1-0


And praise started pouring in, from all directions and heights:

Compared with the all the other games, Karjakin had a narrow chance to beat Nakamura with White and hope for a place in the tie-break, but the game never really took off, as Nakamura kept a tight lid on everything to draw an uneventful tournament.

An uneventful draw | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Which brings us to Peter Svidler who, unchained to any competitive considerations, just decided to enjoy himself!



Svidler - Caruana, position after 13...Nc6

14.b4! And Svidler was well on his way to a good attack here, it seemed, but then he got into the confession box and ..confessed:

Svidler - Caruana, position after 17...Bb4

Svidler came up with the memorable “The fact that I couldn’t make 17…Bb4 18.Nf4 Bxd2 19.Nxe6 work is absolutely soul-destroying... Life is hard”. But the point was that, it WAS working…

The confession which actually confirmed his Sin rather than a merciful pardon.But he still gobbled up a central pawn in the middlegame and registered his first win of the tournament.

Final Standings:

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

Viswanathan Anand pays the price for inaccurate play as Maxime Vachier-Lagrave wins title

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