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    Sep062014

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 10: Three Draws Finish The Tournament

    And fairly peaceful draws at that, but after nine very exciting rounds at the Sinquefield Cup it's hard to begrudge the players the relative day off.

    The first game to finish went only 19 moves and featured two of the most combative players in the world and a situation where one might normally expect a big fight, but it was not to be. Veselin Topalov was apparently surprised by the particular line of the Berlin Magnus Carlsen chose, and without making a dent on theory the game ended in a quick repetition. If Topalov had won he would have taken clear second and jumped to #3 on the rating list, but in the final position the players agreed that playing on would have entailed more risk for White than for Black.

    The second game to finish was Levon Aronian vs. Fabiano Caruana. Even in this game it was Caruana who had what slight chances there were for a decisive result, but fatigued and possibly a bit undermotivated he didn't play energetically enough and Aronian managed to equalize. Concerned he might even be getting a little worse, Caruana offered a draw at the first available moment, on move 30, and Aronian accepted, happy to put a very unsuccessful tournament behind him.

    Finally, Hikaru Nakamura and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave made it to the time control and a bit further, but the game was equal all the way (but with play) and the draw was a normal result there too. (All three games here, with some comments and game citations for the first two.)

    An anti-climax, yes, but what an amazing tournament for Fabiano Caruana! His final score of 8.5/10 put him three points ahead of the second-place finisher (Carlsen 5.5, Topalov 5, Aronian & Vachier-Lagrave 4, Nakamura 3). He gained 35 rating points to take second on the rating list by a massive 43 point margin, has reached a rating level previously achieved (and surpassed) by only Magnus Carlsen and Garry Kasparov, and his 3097 TPR is unsurpassed in the history of chess (in events of this sort). Speaking of Kasparov, he himself said that this was the most amazing tournament performance he had seen, better than anything he achieved and even than Anatoly Karpov's 11/13 in Linares 1994. While I don't think it breaks his heart to put someone else's performance ahead of Karpov's, it is true that the players are getting better and better, and on top of that Caruana really had no lucky games; if anything, he was a bit unlucky against Carlsen in round 8 and Nakamura in round 9. (On the other hand, Karpov was close to winning three of the four games he drew in Linares, so we shouldn't be too quick to bury that event in the sands of time.) At any rate it was a fantastic performance by Caruana. Bravo!

    And now for dessert: rumors are floating that he may switch back to representing the USA. He was asked about it in the post-game press conference, and his "I don't want to say anything about this" seems like the kind of remark that suggests that it may in fact be in the works. (Yessssss!)

    Looking forward, it should be noted that while the Sinquefield Cup is over the festivities in St. Louis are not. First, the final press conference will begin momentarily. Second, on Monday they will have the "Ultimate Moves" competition. Here's how the tournament site describes it:

    Ultimate Moves will feature eight two-man teams made up of a GM and an amateur player each. The teams will compete in a double-round knockout bracket, with teammates alternating moves in games with a time control of 15 minutes and 2-second increments. Stay tuned for more details.

    Third and better still, Aronian and Nakamura are reportedly playing a 6-game Chess960 match on Tuesday, and as they are both former world champions at that version it should be especially entertaining to see.

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    A Curious Prognostication, An Immodest Proposal, or Carlsen Will Like This

    "You're good, kid. But as long as I'm around, you're second best. You might as well learn to live with it." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_HJlGWXzlLA

    The above quotation from The Cincinnati Kid starring Steve McQueen is to Carlsen's liking. Caruana failed the Aronian Draw Offer Test and as long as Carlsen is around, Caruana is second best.

    Carlsen declined Aronian's draw proposal (and likely would not propose a draw if in Caruana's position in 2014) then went on to win in the last round of the Sinquefield Cup 2013. Fischer once declined Geller's draw proposal in a "drawn" rook and pawn ending and went on to win. Seems like the great champions just want to win and play to win every game.

    [DM: I replied, but forgot to save my reply. Oops! To (approximately) repeat myself: it seems you're forgetting about Carlsen's last game in this tournament, a 19-move draw. Carlsen played on against Aronian because after suffering for a long time, he finally had the chance to play for a win against a tired and discouraged opponent. He is a fighter, but it doesn't mean that he just plays every position out, no matter who and no matter what the circumstances. If anything, it was Aronian today who failed the "Aronian Draw Offer Test", as Caruana had squandered a slight edge earlier in the game.]

    Chess talent, ability, and performance are required, but Carlsen's self confidence and will to win empowers him to stay ahead of Caruana for the immediate future.

    [DM: Got it: drawing in 19 moves shows a greater will to win than drawing in 30 moves. :)]

    Oh, by the way, congratulations to Caruana, King of the Sinquefield Cup 2014!

    September 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTrill

    I would apply a serious GK adjustment factor to anything Karpov-related said by Kasparov… But seriously, I think this achievement and Karpov’s Linares 1994 are more or less of the same caliber – taking into account both the percentage of points (Karpov’s was also ca. 85) and the strength of the field. I doubt if it’s at all possible to make a precise comparison in this regard, but the field in Linares was also super-strong; less exclusive, since it was a 14-player tournament, but going by the January 1994 rating list it included no less than 9 out of the top 10 (Kasparov, Karpov, Shirov, Anand, Ivanchuk, Kramnik, Kamsky, Bareev, Gelfand), another four of the top 25 (Beliavski, Topalov, Polgar, Lautier), and Illescas (as the local player), who was a top 50-100 player during that period. And as a point in favor of the Linares achievement I would mention that it was a longer tournament, so sustaining this kind of performance-level was harder (as Caruana’s final three games in the Sinquefield cup demonstrated).

    September 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEyal

    Thanks for this post. Do we know that the Chess960 match is actually going to happen? I'm getting ambiguous information from the Sinquefield cup schedule . Let's hope so!

    [DM: Yes, it was also announced at the final press conference a few hours ago, and I believe it will be transmitted live.]

    September 6, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterharry o

    With respect to Karpov's performance at Linares 1994, Karpov himself noted in an interview that he benefited from the pairings. In every game each of Karpov's opponents had just played Kasparov - and he "gave them a hard time!" (laughs)

    Its also been noted that many of Karpov's opponents played against him as if they were on suicide missions. I don't recall Karpov having to squeeze out one tough ending after another.

    [DM: In this tournament everyone played someone whose rating was nearly that of Kasparov's - or even higher - and every round! So the "Kasparov softened them up" dog won't hunt, IMO.

    I'm not sure who made the comment about Karpov's opponents looking like they were on suicide missions, but that doesn't seem to be the case except for Bareev's famously dropping a rook in round 2. (Beliavsky in the last round lost quickly, but that was to some nasty prep. And that loss isn't much worse - if worse at all - than Vachier-Lagrave's weird QGD loss where he played Qa4.)

    Endgames? Karpov ground out endings in rounds 1, 3, 6 and 11, and while his round 8 win over Gelfand may not have been an ending it was something close to it and took 52 moves.

    I agree that Caruana's performance was more impressive than Karpov's, though, as his opponents were stronger and all of the wins were exceptionally good. It wasn't just that everything went well, but that he played phenomenally good chess pretty much from start to finish during the run, missing only ...Bh4 vs. Nakamura.]

    September 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Steele

    "He's the world's clear #2 at the moment, and there's no obvious reason why he couldn't beat Carlsen in a match; likewise Vladimir Kramnik when he is on song. I don't mean that either would be a favorite against Carlsen, but if we're discussing "best chances" they look like the best options at the moment. One might also wonder why Nakamura is a better option for the next cycle than some of the younger players coming up, like Fabiano Caruana and Anish Giri." - The Chess Mind, Feb 2014 :)

    [DM: As the old joke goes, it's hard to make predictions, especially when they're about the future! Aronian has definitely struggled for most of this year, and so has Kramnik. (For that matter, Carlsen has experienced a bit of a post-championship hangover as well.) Caruana, however, and to a lesser extent Giri as well, have practically exploded up the charts while Nakamura, as great a player as he is, seems to have stalled a bit for now. But he is still young and energetic, and I would not write him off as a world championship aspirant yet.]

    September 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSuresh

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