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Sinquefield Cup 2017 Round 3: Five draws, but lot of excitement

by Saravanan Venkatachalam - 05/08/2017

The third round was a relatively sedate one from the point of view of results. All five games ended in a draw, but they were not without excitement. Anand was pushed back to the wall by Carlsen, but the Indian GM held his own in the rook endgame. Svidler and Nepo were both under pressure against MVL and Caruana, but with resourceful play survived. We have some exciting pictures, analysis and post game interviews. Round three report from Saint Louis.

Photos by Grand Chess Tour

If one can pinpoint Carlsen’s most effective winning tool over the board, his win against Anand in the 5th game of the World Championship Match at Chennai 2013 comes to mind. Liquidating into an endgame with a slight pull, Carlsen slowly pressurised Anand in an endgame with two rooks and a bishop each, improving his own pieces while specifically tightening focus on his opponent’s pawn weaknesses. Ultimately the tension of defending raises to such a level that an opponent who is forced to find only moves over the board for hours on end, cracks and even blunders the game - this was the method which helped him even dethrone Anand as the World Champion, and probably his main chess strength, in the broader analysis.


In contrast, whenever Anand has prevailed over Carlsen - ignoring those games where Vishy’s feared opening preparation set stage for a favourable outcome - it has been through creating dynamism and chaos, invariably directed against the opponent’s king. A clear example is Vishy’s attacking win over Carlsen from the 4th round of the Stavenger Tournament, Norway 2015.


When the third round game of the Sinquefield Cup did not produce any such chaos after a particularly sedate opening play seemed to favour neither side, it raised visions of a Carlsen speciality grind.

 Anand vs Carlsen - an important matchup of the 3rd round, between the current and past world champions who have faced each other 57 times so far in classical games | Photo: Austin Fuller


And when Carlsen played 22...Rb5, it looked exactly the turning point when the world champion would turn the screws on Anand and start applying pressure.


Anand - Carlsen, position after 22...Rb5

A favourite position for Carlsen - not facing any threats himself, black has strategic weaknesses to attack: the weak pawn on a5 and the kingside in general. Almost all his pieces are in the maximum state of development they can enjoy, and the opponent doomed to a long defence.

Anand had to undergo considerable pressure in the endgame | Photo: Lennart Ootes

And this is when Teimour Radjabov came up with his ominous line:

Thus, all looked set for a favourite Carlsen grind to start, and it was left to Anand to bring one of his best strengths over the board, his ability to defend difficult positions. By 37.Rac4 he looked to have found a decent defence construction, but missed the important 38.Nc4 after which his defence could have been easier.


Anand - Carlsen, position after 37...Rab4

Now, 38.Nc4 could have made white’s defence much easier.


And suddenly blunder alert sounded when Anand seemed to have blundered a pawn on the proverbial 40th move, seemingly overlooking a knight fork.


Anand - Carlsen, position after 40.Nb3

Another of those endless reminders that it could happen to the best of the best, too! Vishy seemed to have blundered into a knight fork losing a pawn, as Carlsen continued 40...Rxb3 41.Rxb3 Nd4 and ultimately pocketing the a5-pawn.


But the resultant endgame with an extra pawn turned out to be an anti-climax as Vishy held the draw without any fuss, after five and a half hours of play. Carlsen would later remark, “I was a little bit disappointed that I couldn’t get more once he made this mistake and missed this little fork. He gets a good version of a rook ending keeping my king out. I can advance the (a-pawn) as much as possible but I never managed to get the king in the game. I was hoping that there would be more practical chances”.


And the surrealistic moment came after the game when Carlsen admitted in the post game chat that he was ‘fairly weak in both the practical and theoretical endgames’!!


Maurice Ashley: When were you weak in endgames?! (laughter all around)

Magnus Carlsen: When I was little.

Ashley: How little you are talking (about) - Eight?!

Carlsen: No, like, 10, 11...Even a little later. I still have very much to learn!

Carlsen - Fairly weak in the endgames when he was little? | Photo: Austin Fuller
[Event "5th Sinquefield Cup 2017 GCT"]
[Site "Saint Louis"]
[Date "2017.08.04"]
[Round "3"]
[White "Anand, Viswanathan"]
[Black "Carlsen, Magnus"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "C78"]
[WhiteElo "2783"]
[BlackElo "2822"]
[Annotator "Saravanan,V"]
[PlyCount "131"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[SourceTitle ""]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceQuality "1"]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O b5 6. Bb3 Bc5 7. Nc3 O-O 8. d3
d6 9. Nd5 h6 10. c3 Rb8 11. Re1 Ba7 12. Be3 Bxe3 13. Nxe3 Re8 14. a4 b4 15. a5
bxc3 16. bxc3 Be6 17. Bxe6 ({Avoiding the Bishop exchange was moderately
better with} 17. Ba4 Bd7 18. Qc2 Na7 19. Bb3 {in Abramovic - Kupreichik,
Belgrade 1988}) 17... Rxe6 18. Nd5 Ne7 19. Nxf6+ Rxf6 20. d4 Ng6 {Black has
equalised, and now he begins to get his active and start 'probing'} 21. g3 Qc8
22. Re3 Rb5 {[%cal Gb7b5] Eyeing the pawn at a5, improving his piece acivity,
and getting ready to slowly apply pressure} 23. Nd2 h5 24. h4 Qh3 25. Qf1 Qg4
26. Qe2 Qxe2 27. Rxe2 Re6 28. Nf1 Nf8 {Getting ready to reroute the Knight to
d7, from where he can ultimately jump around to attack the centre pawns or the
a5-pawn} 29. Rc2 $1 {Nice! White indicates that, instead of holding on to
defend e4, he too can indicate a hidden weakness in black's positon: the
c7-pawn} exd4 (29... Nd7 30. Ne3 {and the white knight threatens to jump
around, too}) 30. cxd4 c5 ({Black cannot afford to give up c7 and allow the
white rook to get active:} 30... Rxe4 31. Rxc7 Rxd4 32. Rc6 {picking up a6})
31. dxc5 dxc5 32. Nd2 Rd6 33. Nc4 Rd4 34. Kg2 Ne6 35. Ra3 g6 36. Nd2 Kg7 37.
Rac3 Rdb4 38. Ra2 ({A stouter defence was} 38. Nc4 Nd4 39. Ra2 {probably
forcing exchange of a pair of rooks and arriving at an easier defence}) 38...
Rd4 39. Rac2 Ra4 40. Nb3 $2 {White drops a pawn, at the proverbial 40th move!}
(40. Nc4 Nd4 41. Rd2 {with an edge for Black}) 40... Rxb3 41. Rxb3 Nd4 42. Rcb2
Nxb3 43. Rxb3 Rxe4 44. Rb6 Re6 45. Rb7 c4 (45... Rc6 46. Rb6 Rf6 (46... Rc7 47.
Rxa6 c4 48. Rb6 c3 49. Rb1 {should hold for white}) 47. Rb7 c4 {transposes
into the game}) 46. Rc7 Re5 47. Rxc4 Rxa5 48. Rc6 {Ultimately, Anand finds a
way to head for a theoretically drawn rook ending} Ra2 49. Kf3 a5 50. Ra6 a4
51. Ke3 a3 52. Kf3 f6 53. Ra7+ Kf8 54. Kg2 Ra1 55. Kf3 Ke8 56. Ra6 Ke7 57. Kg2
Kf7 58. Kf3 Ra2 59. Kg2 g5 60. g4 gxh4 61. gxh5 Ra1 62. Ra7+ Kg8 63. h6 Kh8 64.
Kh2 f5 65. f4 a2 66. Kg2 1/2-1/2


If at all any of the other games promised to produce a result, one of them was Vachier-Lagrave vs Svidler, where the Frenchman pocketed a pawn sacrifice and looked to have a clear advantage.


Vachier-Lagrave - Svidler, position after 21.Qh5

A curious but familiar case of a player's intuition vs the machines dogmatism?

Svidler went for 21...h6 here, but felt 'the game was effectively over', whereas Vachier-Lagrave felt 21...f6 was still playable. Svidler considered 21...Bxe3 22.fxe3 f6 23.Rf3 followed by Rg3 and ‘I should eventually get mated!’, whereas the engines considered ...Bxe3 to be the best choice for black and not a disaster, yet. Svidler kept fighting and found a powerful counterpunch…


Vachier-Lagrave - Svidler, position after 32.Kh2

Here came the nasty blow 32...d5! after which Black created enough counterplay to draw the game. The point of the push was that, after 33.cxd5, Black’s rook joins the party with 33...Rb4, and after the forced 33.Qxd5, Svidler had an immediate draw in hand

 Peter Svidler - Dodging a bullet, digging himself in and fighting back when it mattered | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Vachier-Lagrave - ‘It looked like a matter of just consolidating, but Peter found resourceful defences’ | Photo: Lennart Ootes
[Event "5th Sinquefield Cup 2017 GCT"]
[Site "Saint Louis"]
[Date "2017.08.04"]
[Round "3"]
[White "Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime"]
[Black "Svidler, Peter"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "C84"]
[WhiteElo "2789"]
[BlackElo "2751"]
[Annotator "Saravanan,V"]
[PlyCount "85"]
[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. d3 b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. a3
Na5 9. Ba2 c5 10. Nc3 Be6 11. Nh4 O-O 12. Nf5 Nc6 13. Nd5 Bxf5 14. exf5 Nxd5
15. Bxd5 Rc8 16. a4 Bf6 17. axb5 axb5 18. c4 bxc4 19. dxc4 Bg5 20. Be3 Kh8 $6 {
Svidler singled out this moment as the starting point of his troubles, even
calling it a 'blunder'} ({Svidler's intended} 20... Qf6 {didn't look pleasant
to him:} 21. Ra6 Nd4 (21... Nb4 22. Rxd6 $1) 22. Bxd4 (22. b4 $5 cxb4 23. Bxd4
exd4 24. f4 Bh6 25. g4 g5 26. h4 $5 {with a mess which seems to favour white
ultimately}) 22... cxd4 23. b4 {which was 'scaring me a great deal' (Svidler)})
21. Qh5 h6 {Svidler felt 'the game was effectively over'} ({Originally
intended was} 21... Bxe3 22. fxe3 Qf6 23. g4 {and 'it is mate!' (Svidler)}) (
21... Bxe3 22. fxe3 f6 {was the way engines wanted to go,} 23. Rf3 {followed
by Rg3, and 'I should eventually get mated!' (Svidler) A curious but familiar
case of a player's intuition vs the machine's dogmatism?}) 22. Bxf7 Nd4 23. h4
Bxe3 ({Vachier-Lagrave came up with a beautiful variation here:} 23... Rxf7 24.
Qxf7 Ne2+ 25. Kh2 Bxe3 26. g3 Bd4 27. Ra7 {and Ne2 will fall}) 24. fxe3 Qf6 25.
Ra7 ({Later on, Vachier-Lagrave felt that his best practical chance was:} 25.
exd4 Rxf7 26. dxe5 dxe5 {and white is better}) 25... Ne2+ 26. Qxe2 (26. Kf2 e4
$1 27. Kxe2 $4 Qxb2+ 28. Ke1 Rb8 $1 {with a good attack for black}) 26... Rxf7
27. Rxf7 Qxf7 {Vachier-Lagrave felt that this position was about finding a way
to consolidate, but 'Peter found resourcesful defences'} 28. Qg4 Rb8 29. Ra1
Qf6 30. Qe4 $6 (30. Qg6 {was called for}) 30... Kh7 31. Ra2 h5 32. Kh2 d5 $1
33. Qxd5 (33. cxd5 Rb4) 33... Qxh4+ 34. Kg1 Qe1+ 35. Kh2 Qh4+ 36. Kg1 Qe1+ 37.
Kh2 Qxe3 38. Qf7 Qf4+ 39. Kh1 Qh4+ 40. Kg1 Qe1+ 41. Kh2 Qh4+ 42. Kg1 Qd4+ 43.
Kh1 (43. Kh1 Rb6 44. Ra8 e4 45. Qe8 Kh6 46. Rd8 {and 'losing this becomes a
possibility' (Svidler)}) 1/2-1/2

The other biggest fight of the day belonged to Caruana - Nepomniachtchi featuring an offbeat line from the closed Sicilian which has surprisingly been adopted a lot at the top levels. In a classic case of a race between white’s attack on the kingside and black’s inroads into the queenside, black appeared to be in some trouble after 22.g5


Caruana - Nepomniachtchi, position after 22.g5

White seems to be doing quite well here, as black’s rook at a2 ultimately comes under threat rather than being an asset. After further uneven play, white was poised to win the exchange but he captured it in the wrong way.


Caruana - Nepomniachtchi, position after 28...N7xe5

Here, rather than capturing the exchange with the straightforward 29.Rfd1, Caruana preferred 29.Nd4 Bd7 30.Rfd1 Qc5! And Nepo had messed up the position enough to force complications.

Even after starting the event with two losses, Nepo found enough gumption to engage in a complicated battle to his credit | Photo: Austin Fuller

 Pic 7: Caruana - Allowing a complete mess and not really liking it | Photo: Lennart Ootes
[Event "5th Sinquefield Cup 2017 GCT"]
[Site "Saint Louis"]
[Date "2017.08.04"]
[Round "3"]
[White "Caruana, Fabiano"]
[Black "Nepomniachtchi, Ian"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "B23"]
[WhiteElo "2807"]
[BlackElo "2751"]
[Annotator "Saravanan,V"]
[PlyCount "75"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[SourceTitle ""]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceQuality "1"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 d6 3. Nge2 Nf6 4. g3 g6 5. Bg2 Nc6 6. d3 Bg7 {An off-beat line
which has surprisingly been employed a lot at the top levels} 7. h3 Rb8 8. a4
a6 9. f4 Bd7 10. Be3 b5 11. axb5 axb5 12. Qd2 b4 13. Nd1 O-O 14. O-O Qc7 15. g4
Ra8 16. Rb1 Ra2 17. f5 Ne5 18. Bh6 Qa7 19. Kh1 Bb5 20. Bxg7 Kxg7 21. Nf4 c4 (
21... g5 $5 22. Nh5+ Kh8 23. Qxg5 Rg8 24. Qh6 (24. Qe3 Nxh5 25. gxh5 {and
black turns out fine here}) 24... Nxh5 25. Qxh5 f6 {with a complicated fight})
22. g5 Nfd7 23. Ne3 $2 (23. Qxb4 cxd3 24. cxd3 {with a balanced position})
23... b3 24. d4 bxc2 25. Nxc2 Nd3 26. Nd5 e5 {Came as a surprise for Caruana
but black had to create complications here} 27. Nc3 Qa5 28. dxe5 N7xe5 29. Nd4
$6 {Caruana admitted later that this was a mistake - he could have won the
exchange easier} ({Better was} 29. Rfd1 {and white wins the exchange in a
simpler way, giving himself fair chances to win the game}) (29. Qe3 Rxb2 30.
Rxb2 Qxc3 31. Rxb5 Qxc2 {'with a complete mess, which I wasn't sure about' -
Caruana}) 29... Bd7 30. Rfd1 Qc5 $1 {Black has enough complications to
compensate for the exchange} 31. Nxa2 Qxd4 32. Rf1 Bc6 33. Nc3 Rb8 {Black has
excellent compensation for the exchange here} 34. Qe2 Rb3 35. Nd1 Nc5 36. Nc3
Ncd3 37. Nd1 Nc5 38. Nc3 1/2-1/2

Compared to these three games, the other two games didn’t match up in terms of interest quotient. Even though the all American clash of So - Nakamura was a long drawn affair, Nakamura held his own to draw a pawn-deficit ending.

 So - Nakamura - an all American affair which ended in a long drawn draw | Photo: Austin Fuller
[Event "5th Sinquefield Cup 2017 GCT"]
[Site "Saint Louis"]
[Date "2017.08.04"]
[Round "3"]
[White "So, Wesley"]
[Black "Nakamura, Hikaru"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "C50"]
[WhiteElo "2810"]
[BlackElo "2792"]
[PlyCount "137"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[SourceTitle ""]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceQuality "1"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. O-O Nf6 5. d3 d6 6. a4 a6 7. c3 O-O 8. Re1
Ba7 9. h3 b5 10. Bb3 h6 11. axb5 axb5 12. Be3 Bd7 13. Bxa7 Rxa7 14. Nbd2 Rxa1
15. Qxa1 Nh5 16. Nf1 Qf6 17. Qd1 b4 18. d4 bxc3 19. bxc3 Nf4 20. Ne3 Qg6 21.
Kh2 Re8 22. Ba4 Qf6 23. Ng4 Qe7 24. Ne3 Qf6 25. Bb5 exd4 26. cxd4 Nb8 27. Bf1
Ng6 28. Nd5 Qd8 29. Qc2 c6 30. Nc3 c5 31. Rd1 Nc6 32. dxc5 dxc5 33. Nb5 Qb8+
34. Kg1 Nb4 35. Qxc5 Bxb5 36. Qxb4 Bc6 37. Qxb8 Rxb8 38. Bd3 Rb4 39. Rb1 Ra4
40. Bc2 Rc4 41. Rb8+ Kh7 42. Bb3 Rc1+ 43. Kh2 Bxe4 44. Bxf7 Ne7 45. Re8 Rc7 46.
Ne5 Bd5 47. Bh5 g6 48. Be2 Nc6 49. Ng4 Kg7 50. Ne3 Bf7 51. Re4 Rb7 52. Bf3 Rb4
53. Rxb4 Nxb4 54. Be4 Na6 55. f4 Nc5 56. Bb1 Nd7 57. g4 Nf6 58. Kg3 Nd5 59. Nd1
Be8 60. Be4 Ba4 61. Nb2 Nc3 62. Kf3 Bb5 63. Bb7 g5 64. fxg5 hxg5 65. Be4 Nxe4
66. Kxe4 Bf1 67. Kf5 Bxh3 68. Kxg5 Bxg4 69. Kxg4 1/2-1/2

Comparatively, Karjakin - Aronian was even shorter, with a 23 move draw from a three-fold repetition. The result was probably understandable, considering the defeats suffered by both the players in the previous round and their eagerness to have a large breath today. The only point of interest about  the affair was Aronian’s shirt, which found an admirer in the commentator Yasser Seirawan, who found it worthy of a fashion designer’s attention! And Karjakin came up with quite a pose when asked about his fitness.

Aronian - pretty pleased with his probably silk and definitely expensive shirt which he got from London or Paris | Photo: Austin Fuller
Asked about his fitness levels, Karjakin made it clear to Ashley that he ‘was not good as you or Giri in ‘these’ things’ | Photo: Austin Fuller
[Event "5th Sinquefield Cup 2017 GCT"]
[Site "Saint Louis"]
[Date "2017.08.04"]
[Round "3"]
[White "Karjakin, Sergey"]
[Black "Aronian, Levon"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "C54"]
[WhiteElo "2773"]
[BlackElo "2799"]
[PlyCount "46"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]
[EventCountry "USA"]
[SourceTitle ""]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceQuality "1"]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. c3 Nf6 5. d3 O-O 6. a4 a6 7. O-O Ba7 8. Re1
d6 9. h3 b5 10. Ba2 b4 11. d4 bxc3 12. bxc3 Re8 13. Be3 h6 14. Nbd2 Na5 15. Rb1
Be6 16. Qc2 Bxa2 17. Qxa2 Bb6 18. Qc2 Nd7 19. Qd3 Qe7 20. Rb2 Nc6 21. Qc4 Na5
22. Qd3 Nc6 23. Qc4 Na5 1/2-1/2


Crosstable after round three:

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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Viswanathan Anand earns tough draw against World Champion Magnus Carlsen