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    Entries in 2018 Sinquefield Cup (10)

    Tuesday
    Aug282018

    Sinquefield Cup, Grand Chess Tour Playoff: Caruana Defeats So to Reach the Final Four

    Congratulations to Fabiano Caruana, who rebounded from a very poor start in the Grand Chess Tour to sneak into the grand finale in London later this year. He played well in the St. Louis Rapid & Blitz and then tied for first in the Sinquefield to catch Wesley So, the early leader of the Grand Chess Tour, in a tie for the fourth and final spot in London. They played a rapid tiebreaker today, and Caruana won in the professional way, drawing with Black and then grinding out a win with White. (Games here, with my notes.) He'll join top seed Hikaru Nakamura, who will be his semi-final opponent, Levon Aronian, and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (who will face off in the second semi).

    Tuesday
    Aug282018

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 9: Caruana, Carlsen, and Aronian Share First; Caruana-So Playoff Tomorrow for the GCT Final

    What an eventful round! After two rounds (and three rounds out of four) with only draws, today there were two wins, and both of them saw the winners catch Fabiano Caruana in first place.

    Had Caruana won his last round game against Wesley So, he'd have taken clear first. The game was a staid Petroff, and though Caruana obtained a tiny edge with Black it was nowhere near enough to achieve anything serious, and the game finished in an uneventful draw. That guaranteed Caruana at least a tie for first, but four other players - two of whom faced each other - had the opportunity to catch him in the lead.

    Levon Aronian and Alexander Grischuk both entered the round half a point behind Caruana, so if either player beat the other they'd tie for first. An equal but unbalanced position went completely out of control when Aronian offered a gutsy semi-bluff of a rook sac on move 18. Grischuk was relatively short of time even before the sac, and never managed to consolidate his material advantage. He'd alternate, making a series of good defensive moves followed by the occasional error, and after a total of three errors he was lost. Fortune favored the brave, and Aronian caught Caruana.

    Magnus Carlsen was also rewarded, but not so much for bravery as for doing his thing. He had a slight advantage against Hikaru Nakamura, and while the position was objectively drawn Carlsen had nothing to lose and everything to gain by continuing to try, and eventually it paid off. It has to be said that Nakamura's 62nd and 66th moves were very strange. My guess is that he believed the setup he went for was drawn, and was therefore willing to burn all his bridges to head for it. Considering that the position prior to those decisions was only barely worse and had a big margin for error, this was a needlessly risky decision. As it turned out, he missed something, and the result was a technical win that Carlsen successfully executed. That made it a three-way tie for first.

    If Shakhriyar Mamedyarov had managed to defeat Viswanathan Anand with the black pieces it would have been a four-way tie. But this wasn't going to happen. Anand enjoyed a slight edge in a very theoretical line of the Open Ruy, and Mamedyarov was never going to do more than work his way to a draw after some suffering - which is what happened.

    Finally, in the one game that didn't matter in the race for first, Sergey Karjakin barely avoided a fourth loss in the tournament when he held a rook ending two pawns against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. (Today's games, with my notes, are here.)

    Will there be a playoff tomorrow? Yes...but not to settle the race for first. The rules called for a three-way tie to resolved by a drawing of lots to eliminate one of the players, followed by a playoff involving the other two. Apparently Carlsen was less than thrilled with this idea, and proposed either a three-way playoff or shared first. As I understand it, the other two players were on board with Carlsen's rejection of the scheme presented in the rules, but one of the two was against the playoff and preferred the shared crown.

    My guess is that the objection came from Caruana, and with good reason: he's already committed to a playoff against So for the fourth and final slot in the Grand Chess Tour final. Therefore the three leaders are also the three champions, each of them a repeat champion. Here are the final standings from the tournament:

    1-3. Aronian, Carlsen, Caruana 5.5 (out of 9)
    4. Mamedyarov 5
    5-7. Grischuk, Vachier-Lagrave, Anand 4.5
    8. So 4
    9-10. Karjakin, Nakamura 3

    And these are the final overall standings for the Grand Chess Tour:

    1. Nakamura 34.5
    2. Aronian 34
    3. Vachier-Lagrave 31
    4-5. Caruana, So 26
    6. Karjakin 25.5
    7. Mamedyarov 25
    8. Grischuk 18
    9. Anand 15

    The Caruana-So tie will be settled by a pair of 25'+10" games, and if it's still tied there will be up to three pairs of 5'+3" games. After that, the arbiter and the players will decide on another way of resolving the tie (presumably an Armageddon game, but who knows).

    Sunday
    Aug262018

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 8: More Draws

    Judging only by the numbers, the 2018 Sinquefield Cup is getting to be like a correspondence chess tournament. After eight rounds, only six games out of 40 have finished with a winner. All five games today (as in rounds 5 and 7) were drawn, but it wasn't for a want of effort of opportunity. In three of the games, one player enjoyed at least a clear advantage, so things could easily have turned out different.

    The most important of these missed opportunity games featured the leader. Fabiano Caruana was outplaying Viswanathan Anand after 26 moves, but the whole advantage was lost after a single careless move. Had Caruana won this game and all the other games finished as they did, he'd have entered the last round with a full point lead over his closest pursuers. Instead, he keeps a half-point lead over the next four players.

    In fact, it could have been three players, as Alexander Grischuk's risky plan with 17.f5 and 18.g4 made it easy for things to go wrong, and when he played 23.gxf5 they did. Wesley So enjoyed an extra pawn for nothing, but as with Caruana, So surrendered his advantage in a single move, on move 30. The third relatively near-miss involved the third U.S. player, Hikaru Nakamura. Sergey Karjakin was in trouble in a sharp Queen's Indian line, but was bailed out when Nakamura went for the tactically tempting 20.Bd5. Instead 20.Bc6 kept Karjakin tied up and in danger of losing his fourth game in the tournament.

    In the other games, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov had a pull against Magnus Carlsen after the opening, but after a small oversight the burden had shifted to him to make the draw (which he handled very competently). Finally, Levon Aronian was better with the black pieces in a Berlin ending against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. A win would have given him the share of the lead, but an inaccuracy allowed Vachier-Lagrave to force a draw with an elegant temporary pawn sac on move 25.

    The tournament finishes tomorrow unless someone catches (or passes) Caruana; if there is a tie for first the playoff will take place on Tuesday. But first we have round 9 tomorrow, with the following pairings:

    • Aronian (4.5) - Grischuk (4.5)
    • So (3.5) - Caruana (5)
    • Anand (4) - Mamedyarov (4.5)
    • Carlsen (4.5) - Nakamura (3)
    • Karjakin (2.5) - Vachier-Lagrave (4)

    Finally, the round 8 games are here, with my annotations.

    Saturday
    Aug252018

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 7: Caruana Narrowly Survives Against Carlsen, Continues to Lead As All Games Are Drawn

    While more than half the field remained in contention for first entering the round, the only game most fans really cared about was the world championship preview between Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana. Caruana entered the round half a point of Carlsen and three other contenders, but had to face him with the black pieces.

    It has been an interesting year for the two. Since Caruana won the Candidates in March they've played three times. The first game was in the Grenke Chess Classic several days after the Candidates. Caruana had white, the game was drawn, and Caruana won the tournament a full point ahead of Carlsen. Then they played twice in Norway, once in blitz (that was to determine pairings) and once in the "real" event. Carlsen had white in both games and won both games. He finished ahead of Caruana in the blitz event, but in the main event Caruana again won the tournament and again finished ahead of Carlsen. Reminiscent of Vladimir Kramnik and Garry Kasparov back in 2000, the two players were #1 and #2 in the world, but the player who did better against the rest of the world (Kasparov then, Caruana now) did worse in the critical head to head matchup against his main rival.

    So how would Caruana fare this time? Would he manage to hold on with Black, preserving his lead in the tournament and his confidence heading into the match? And what if he won? That would not only be a huge boost to his confidence, but would be an epochal moment on the rating list, marking the first time since 2010 or 2011 that anyone passed Carlsen for the #1 spot. On the other hand, a Carlsen win would be great for his confidence and bad for Caruana's, and would let the world champion leapfrog the challenger into at least a tie for first.

    As it turned out, Caruana could feel satisfied with the result but little else. Carlsen had a little surprise for Caruana in the opening, and he was able to parlay the resulting edge into a winning queenless middlegame with shocking ease. Everything was going swimmingly, but maybe Carlsen counted his chickens too quickly. (At one point Carlsen took a bizarre trip to the "Confessional" booth where he didn't say anything, just put his finger to his lips in a "shh" gesture, as if quieting Caruana's fans. Classy. I guess he could have chosen more tasteless gestures, so we have something to be thankful for.) Caruana found some nice defensive resources, and while Carlsen didn't make any major, overt errors a string of inaccuracies allowed his opponent to sneak out with a draw.

    The remaining games finished in draws, with no one missing any major opportunities (at least none that I noticed). The games are here (I've only annotated Carlsen-Caruana), and tomorrow's pairings for the penultimate round look like this:

    • Vachier-Lagrave (3.5) - Aronian (4)
    • Nakamura (2.5) - Karjakin (2)
    • Mamedyarov (4) - Carlsen (4)
    • Caruana (4.5) - Anand (3.5)
    • Grischuk (4) - So (3)

    Friday
    Aug242018

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 6: Caruana the Sole Winner, Sole Leader

    My dream of seeing a six- or seven-way tie for first fell on hard times today. Five players shared the lead coming into the round, but with one of them - Fabiano Caruana - being the only winner on the day, there was just one leader when it finished.

    That win came with surprising ease against Sergey Karjakin, but the latter is having a terrible tournament. Karjakin has lost three games and is alone in last place. Caruana obtained a serious edge after Karjakin's 12...Qd8, but bit by bit the "Minister of Defense" almost managed to equalize. But before the escape could be complete it was time for fresh mistakes: 21...e5? got him back in the frying pan and 27...f6?? was a suicidal move that lost material and resulted in his resignation on move 30.

    While the other four games were drawn, it's not because there weren't winning chances waiting to be exploited. Alexander Grischuk had a thoroughly winning advantage against Magnus Carlsen on the white side of a Benko Gambit, but after a few inaccuracies the champion escaped. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave's game with Shakhriyar Mamedyarov generally hovered around equality, but Mamedyarov's 30.Rbb4? was a serious error that might have left MVL with a winning rook ending, had he played 30...a5. But then again, having a winning rook ending is no guarantee of an actual win, as both Hikaru Nakamura and Levon Aronian discovered...against each other! Nakamura had the greatest and most enduring winning opportunities, but neither player managed to solve the very complicated ending with both sides having multiple passed pawns on opposite flanks. Only the game between Wesley So and Viswanathan Anand was a "proper" draw, although even there So might have been able to push for a win had he chosen something other than 27.Re6.

    Complicated games one and all, and you can replay them (with my notes) here. Tomorrow (Saturday) is the day of the Carlsen-Caruana clash, a big deal both because it's their final game before the match and because of its importance in the tournament. If Carlsen wins he'll leapfrog Caruana and be guaranteed of at least a share of the lead, while if Caruana draws he'll maintain at least a tie for first. Here are the full pairings:

    • Aronian (3.5) - So (2.5)
    • Anand (3) - Grischuk (3.5)
    • Carlsen (3.5) - Caruana (4)
    • Karjakin (1.5) - Mamedyarov (3.5)
    • Vachier-Lagrave (3) - Nakamura (2)

    Wednesday
    Aug222018

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 5: Five Draws

    After three straight rounds with four draws, the players went one better today and drew them all. There were a couple of games where one player had real winning chances, but in the end the relative standings remained as they were heading into the rest day. After round 5 and five draws the five-way tie for first remains in place.

    The games, with my notes, are here; here's what we have to look forward to in round 6, on Friday:

    • Nakamura (1.5) - Aronian (3)
    • Mamedyarov (3) - Vachier-Lagrave (2.5)
    • Caruana (3) - Karjakin (1.5)
    • Grischuk (3) - Carlsen (3)
    • So (2) - Anand (2.5)

    Tuesday
    Aug212018

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 4: Caruana Beats Nakamura to Become the Fifth Co-Leader

    It has been a rough tournament for Sergey Karjakin and Hikaru Nakamura. Both are -2, with Karjakin losing in rounds 1 and 2 and Nakamura doing so in rounds 3 and 4. Nakamura's troubles today came at the hands of his countryman, Fabiano Caruana, who joined what is now a five-way tie for first at +1 with the win. (He has also leapfrogged Shakhriyar Mamedyarov to regain the #2 spot on the live rating list - or at least that's what it will say when the site's proprietor awakens and fixes the mistaken report that Caruana-Nakamura was drawn. It wasn't.)

    The game was a slightly offbeat Catalan line that Nakamura has played before, and that appeared with one slight difference in the game between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin two rounds ago. Caruana's 14.0-0-0 was something new, and Nakamura gradually allowed Caruana to obtain a slight edge. That's more or less how things remained until near the time control, when Nakamura wrongly played for activity with 35...f5 and especially 36...fxe4. Then he was in serious trouble, and soon he was lost. All his pawns were weak, his bishop was useless, and his king was in big trouble. The position could not be held.

    In the other four games, by contrast, everything was held. Carlsen had a micro-edge with Black against Viswanathan Anand, but he couldn't turn it into anything tangible given Anand's excellent defense. Wesley So and Karjakin never had more than very slight chances for an edge against each other in their game, and Mamedyarov's game with Levon Aronian looked fated for a draw from the start (which was almost the finish). Finally, Alexander Grischuk's game with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was also short in the number of moves - only 25 - but lively. MVL played his beloved Najdorf - the Delayed Poisoned Pawn in particular, for the second time in two days - and played a novelty on move 17 that improved on, or at least varied from, the move he played against Anish Giri a year ago. There were plenty of tactical possibilities for Grischuk to work through, and he burned lots of time on the clock before heading for a repetition. For Vachier-Lagrave it was probably just remembering what was in his notebook, and so he used almost no time for the game. (Najdorf fans, if you're not following MVL's games closer than your own you're going to get into serious trouble.)

    Today's games, with my notes, are here. Tomorrow's pairings are:

    • Aronian (2.5) - Anand (2)
    • Carlsen (2.5) - So (1.5)
    • Karjakin (1) - Grischuk (2.5)
    • Vachier-Lagrave (2) - Caruana (2.5)
    • Nakamura (1) - Mamedyarov (2.5)

    Unfortunately, there isn't any way for tomorrow's action to produce a six- or even a seven-way tie for first, but with four rounds after this one (and a rest day) time remains for this "dream" scenario.

    Monday
    Aug202018

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 3: Four More Draws, and Grischuk Beats Nakamura

    Today's draws were meatier than their predecessor, even if they were identical in quantity. The game of the round was, like yesterday's, a marathon, with Alexander Grischuk squeezing out a win over Hikaru Nakamura - with Black - in 89 moves. The game saw a trendy line of the trendy Italian, one in which White allows a quick ...d5 and tries to punish Black by wrecking his queenside structure at the cost of the two bishops. On this occasion it was the bishops that proved more valuable, even if it took a very long time to prove it.

    With the win Grischuk has made it a four-way tie atop the leaderboard, as he, Magnus Carlsen, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, and Levon Aronian share the lead at +1. Oddly, the three players with minus scores (Nakamura, Wesley So, and Sergey Karjakin) are three of the four overall leaders of the Grand Chess Tour. They still have plenty of time to right the ship, but if they don't their qualification to London may not be secure.

    In the draw department: Aronian missed a couple of nice opportunities to preserve a significant edge against Carlsen, who was "too excited" by his win yesterday and slept poorly. Mamedyarov's game with Fabiano Caruana was a great fight in which both players demonstrated very high-level chess. Caruana was pressing, a la Carlsen, and Mamedyarov had to play very accurately to stay alive. He did, and maintains his #2 spot in the world rankings (he nosed ahead of Caruana after round 1 of the tournament). Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and So contested the Berlin ending, and So had no trouble neutralizing MVL's novelty and achieving an outwardly easy draw. Likewise, Karjakin achieved nothing against Viswanathan Anand on the white side of another theoretical Ruy Lopez - this time the Open Variation - and Anand found it an easy technical job to split the point. The achievement was as much to Karjakin's "credit" as Anand's, however, as the former was understandably looking to get on the scoreboard after losses in rounds 1 and 2.

    Today's games, with my notes, are here. These are the pairings for round 4, tomorrow:

    • Mamedyarov (2) - Aronian (2)
    • Caruana (1.5) - Nakamura (1)
    • Grischuk (2) - Vachier-Lagrave (1.5)
    • So (1) - Karjakin (.5)
    • Anand (1.5) - Carlsen (2)

    Monday
    Aug202018

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 2: Four Calm Draws and a Carlsen Grinder

    After the excitement of round 1, round 2 of the Sinquefield was mostly a wet blanket. Four games were drawn without much ado, and the last game, between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin, could very easily have finished in a fifth draw as well. But Carlsen avoided it, finding ways to create fresh problems for the "Minister of Defense." Karjakin grimly hung on, and when Carlsen himself missed some opportunities it looked like a draw would still be the result. It should have been, but after having solved the most difficult problems Carlsen could pose Karjakin self-destructed in a position where there were no threats. Instead of maintaining the status quo, Karjakin's 77...Kc6?? blundered the a-pawn, and then it wasn't a draw any more.

    Carlsen thereby caught up with the first round's winners, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Levon Aronian, to share the early tournament lead with 1.5/2. The round 2 games (with my comments) are here; the round 3 pairings look like this:

    • Aronian - Carlsen
    • Mamedyarov - Caruana
    • Vachier-Lagrave - So
    • Nakamura - Grischuk
    • Karjakin - Anand

    Saturday
    Aug182018

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 1: Wins for Aronian and Mamedyarov

    The series in St. Louis has come to its culmination with the start of the Sinquefield Cup on Saturday. (Always avoid alliteration, I know.) 10 of the world's top 14 are playing, including the top 3 - which includes world champion Magnus Carlsen and his challenger, Fabiano Caruana.

    It was the world's #3 player who won first though, as Shakhriyar Mamedyarov - one of the hottest players in the world going back to the end of last year - took advantage of the suddenly ice cold Wesley So. Alexander Alekhine (world champion from 1927-1935 and 1937 until his death in 1946) used to boast that an opponent would have to beat him three times to win a game: once in the opening, once in the middlegame, and once in the endgame. On this occasion So managed to lose three times, once in each stage of the game. He came out of the opening with a poor (but not technically lost) position, immediately went wrong in the queenless middlegame with a miscalculated idea that wasted multiple tempi, and then after Mamedyarov tried taking a shortcut in the ending So missed a bonus chance to draw. It was a good game by Mamedyarov but a remarkably poor one for So. Hopefully he will bounce back from the problems he has suffered in St. Louis over the past week and return to his world-beating form straight away.

    Levon Aronian was the day's other winner. Surprising Sergey Karjakin (and just about everyone else) by playing 1.e4, he took the white side of the Berlin ending and ground his opponent down in a long (69 move) game. Overall it was a very good effort by Aronian, even if he was disappointed in himself for allowing Black to play ...g5 late in the game.

    In the day's draws, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave had a better position against Magnus Carlsen for a while, before letting it slip. Then Carlsen may have been a little better, but there wasn't much he could do after MVL closed up almost all the lines on the board. Hikaru Nakamura had a little surprise for Viswanathan Anand in a well-traveled line of the QGD. He obtained an edge, but 19.Qe2 let Anand liquidate his way to a speedy draw. Finally, Fabiano Caruana and Alexander Grischuk played a very long game. Grischuk was slightly better in the middlegame, despite playing Black, but by the end of the first time control Caruana was winning. He either missed or underestimated his best plan, however, and Grischuk managed a narrow escape.

    Here are today's games, with my comments.