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Sinquefield Cup: Caruana holds Carlsen in their final bout before world title clash

by V. Saravanan - 26/08/2018

The seventh round of the 2018 Sinquefield Cup was the most awaited round of the event. The reigning world champion, Magnus Carlsen, was slated to face his title challenger, Fabiano Caruana, one last time before their World Championship match in London later this year. At some point, Magnus came very close to breaking through Caruana's seemingly bulletproof Petroff but with precise play, the newly elected world championship challenger managed to hold the mighty Magnus. With this draw, Caruana also maintained his lead in the tournament as all other games ended peacefully. We have a very exciting report of the round by IM V. Saravanan and annotations of the game Anand-Grischuk by Tanmay Srinath.


Rock you like a hurricane!

What do Americans do when a hurricane hits town? They first name it nicely, of course! Ever since the Sinquefield Cup started, this being the final showdown between the world champion and his challenger before their world championship, is the talk of the town. And their mutual encounter yesterday was nicely named ‘Super Saturday’.


When you reach the Saint Louis Chess Club and see crowds lining up to enter the tournament hall it hits you - it’s much more than just this game and tournament. This is a crowd to watch their own ‘Fabi’ take on the world champion today, to see a hint of a prelude to their summit clash in November. 

Spectators in queue waiting to get into the tournament hall | Photo – Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes.

Crowded reception area where tickets were being sold | Photo – V.Saravanan

Lobby telecasting the live commentary | Photo – V.Saravanan

Then you go up the stairs to the tournament hall and then it hits you even more! Entry to the hall was restricted for about half an hour to allow only the press, and a good heap of sports channels have descended on the hall - Sports Illustrated, ESPN, HBO... 

Press photographers and videographers inside the tournament hall | Photo – Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

Then you find peculiar signs - reservations for photographers?! | Photo – Saint Louis Chess Club / Austin Fuller

Then you realise - this encounter has attracted even acclaimed legends of photographers to Saint Louis! | Photo – Saint Louis Chess Club /Lennart

And then you spot Harry Benson himself! The iconic photographer with an endearing connection to our game, with his unforgettable portraits of Bobby Fischer. Is he getting ready for the next American World Chess Champion?

Scenario inside the tournament hall just after the start of the games, with only media allowed access | Video - V.Saravanan

Onsite Commentary room with Grandmasters Alejandro Ramirez and Cristian Chirila is even fuller than their regular fullness | Photo – V.Saravanan

Amid all the hype, the game got on. Carlsen showed his class early on:

Round 7: Carlsen - Caruana

position after 13...h6

14.Be2!? Subtle play. Carlsen reasons that, at c4 the Bishop is misplaced, open to be attacked with ...Nc6-e5. Hence, he retreats the bishop before planning the advance of the g-pawn. Remarkable. Carlsen simply excels in identifying such deep resources. Only a thorough analysis of the position will reveal the soundness of his idea, but apparently Caruana panicked… 14...Bg4?! 15.Nh2 Bxe2 16.Qxe2 Ne5 [Black is getting ready for ...Qd7-c6 & ...Ne5-c4] 17.Bc1! [Now white is ready to roll his kingside pawns]

Carlsen gave a determined demonstration over the board | Photo – V.Saravanan

position after 19.Qd3

19...Qe4 [Hoping that a Queenswap will halt white’s attack on the kingside] 20.g4 Ne3 21.Rde1 Qxd3 22.cxd3 Nd5 23.Reg1 and white’s initiative cannot be underestimated. After indifferent play by Caruana, Carlsen was soon on his way to score a win, it looked...

position after 25.gxh6

With his position apparently overwhelming, Magnus went to the confession booth here, and did an epic act - check it out yourself!

Source : Twitter

[Though this might remain an embarassment for Carlsen, we have to give it to him for showing a sense of fun and gamesmanship during the game. We need more competitors like him, don’t we?]

You can’t fault him - the position looked too good! 25...Rxh6 26.f5 Rh7 [A cute mate is 26...Rxh5 27.Ng4 Rxh1 28.Nf6+ Kh8 29.Rxh1 mate!] 27.Ng4 Kh8 28.f6 Ng8 29.fxg7 Rxg7

position after 29...Rxg7

But the inexplicable happened after this, as Carlsen started taking too long for his moves, and played below par too: 30.Be3 c5 31.Bf4 [30.Bd2! with the idea of c3-c4] 31...Re8 [Carlsen had less than a minute here] 32.Ne3 Rxg1 33.Rxg1 Re6 34.Nd5 Nf6 35.Nc7 Re2 36.Nb5 Re6 37.Rf1? [He should have grabbed 37.Nxa7 Kh7 38.Rh1 and hope that the extra pawn gives him a good advantage] and the game petered out to a draw.

But we have to credit Caruana too - in a difficult position, the challenger played quickly and played the best defense to hold the draw.

Fabi - Cool under pressure | Photo – Saint Louis Chess Club /Lennart Ootes

When the time came to repeat the moves and settle for a draw, the world champion was obviously distressed:

Carlsen - Obviously suffering when agreeing for a draw | Photo – Saint Louis Chess Club /Lennart Ootes

Uncharacteristically, he was very critical of himself in the aftergame chat: “In all of my games I am not being practical. I kind of follow my intuition to make decisions. It’s frustrating for sure....particularly today was not a good day. Draw with Fabi is not a disaster and I couldn’t calculate. Obviously there was a lot at stake today, obviously (I) was a bit nervous”. Remarkable words from the guy who is estimated to become an all-time great ever!

Reminded about his Confession Booth mischief, Carlsen chuckled, "That kind of backfired, eh? At that point I was pretty sure I was winning. I just wanted to have some fun. But it didn't work out”...

The commentary team had the mischief to play the Confession clip to Caruana too, just after the game, and Caruana gave a big grin,”I guess he thought it was already over. But it wasn’t!” and he gave a large grin too!!

There was nothing much happening in the other games, as fatigue is overtaking all these players who are nearing the end of the second tournament in succession. Only, Vachier tried to be nicely creative:

Round 7: Vachier-Lagrave - Nakamura

position after 21...Rxe5

And this is where Vachier decided to do a Karpov with his rook: 22.Ra3!? [Watch out!] Nf6 23.Bf3 c6 24.Rb3! Re7 25.Rb4! end the elephant march had given him a considerable edge…

Maxime ‘Karpov’ Vachier-Lagrave, the Frenchman with THREE names?! | Photo – Saint Louis Chess Club /Lennart Ootes

position after 31...Rd7  

But this is where he squandered it, when he could have played 32.Bg4! Rd8 33.Ke2 and keep pressing black. Instead, he erred with 32.h5? f5! and the black knight found its square on f6...

Round 7: Anand - Grischuk

Annotations by Tanmay Srinath

Round 7: Aronian - So

Round 7: Karjakin - Mamedyarov

Graphics courtesy Spectrum Studios.

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.

Firstpost and ChessBase India have tied up to bring you high quality chess news coverage. You can follow the Firstpost website for daily articles published by Saravanan on the Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz and also Sinquefield Cup 2018.

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