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    Entries in Sinquefield Cup (7)

    Monday
    Sep162013

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 6: Carlsen Beats Aronian, Takes Clear First

    In the first round of the Sinquefield Cup, Magnus Carlsen played indifferently in the opening (against Gata Kamsky in that game) before responding to the pressure, rising to the occasion and winning the game. That's just what he did this time, too. Hikaru Nakamura held on against Kamsky in a hair-raising game to make a draw, and so if Levon Aronian could defeat Carlsen - albeit with the black pieces - he would create a three-way tie for first and thereby force a playoff.

    With Carlsen in first and playing White, such a scenario would seem unlikely, but he nevertheless got into huge trouble. Around move 25 Aronian decided on the unfortunate plan of rounding up White's a-pawn. He was still a touch better after that, but he would have been seriously better, maybe strategically won, had he played 25...Nb5, aiming to put that knight on c3 and its partner in gallantry on d4. Aronian admitted missing 31.Ne1, eschewing the exchange to create a fortress.

    So, a draw? Not quite. Aronian kept playing, and correctly so, but finally around move 47 he realized that there was no win to be had, and finally offered a draw. Many players would accept and collect all the rewards of taking first, but Carlsen felt safe and also recognized that Aronian was starting to lose the thread, and he continued. Sure enough, Aronian quickly collapsed, and Carlsen finished the tournament with a big exclamation point, finishing a full point ahead of Nakamura, two points ahead of Aronian and three ahead of Kamsky. (Games here, sans notes.)

    What does the tournament mean for Carlsen's match against Anand? As far as openings go, the answer is probably this: absolutely nothing. How about Carlsen's form? That is a mixed bag, I think. Even taking his hiding his openings into account, he white games were awful: plenty of nothing in round 1 and very bad positions in round 3 (against Nakamura) and in this last game. The good news is that he still finished +3 and almost morphed into a computer whenever he was in trouble. His IPRs were very good, and here, courtesy of Ken Regan, are the IPRs for everyone in the event, both pro and con.

    Carlsen: 2948 (+/- 90), his opponents 2679 +/- 200

    Nakamura: 2797 +/- 150, vs. 2721 +/- 150

    Aronian: 2654(!) +/- 230, vs. 2850(!) +/-150

    Kamsky: 2535(!!) +/- 240, vs. 2765 +/- 170

    The bottom line is that unless Anand plays very accurately with the opening advantages he gets, there's almost surely going to be a new world champion by the year's end.

    Saturday
    Sep142013

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 5: Two Draws Leave Carlsen in Clear First Entering the Last Round

    The penultimate round of the Sinquefield Cup saw the players leave the round the way they started, relatively speaking, with Magnus Carlsen half a point ahead of Hikaru Nakamura, a point ahead of Levon Aronian, and two and a half points ahead of Gata Kamsky.

    Nakamura started the day winless against Carlsen in classical chess, but armed with the white pieces and his trusty sunglasses he hoped to win and thereby leapfrog his way into first place. It was not to be. He played the very safe 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.Re1 line against Carlsen's Berlin, and although the game started to get interesting thanks to Carlsen's later advance of the f-pawn both combatants played excellently and the game finished in a repetition.

    With a win against Kamsky Aronian could have caught Nakamura in second, half a point behind Carlsen, and that would have meant that his fate would be in his own hands for tomorrow's last round. (It isn't now, because even if he defeats Carlsen tomorrow Nakamura can win the tournament by defeating Kamsky.) Conditions looked good for that, as Aronian had won nicely yesterday and had the advantage of the white pieces against a desperately out of shape and discouraged opponent. Despite that, he didn't even come close to a victory. Kamsky played the Dutch, following Carlsen's lead in round 2 against Aronian, and although he didn't obtain quite as serious an edge as Carlsen did he still wound up with a good position. He also seemed to have a better feel for the play than Aronian did, but while it was enough to press it wasn't enough for a victory. (Games here, with my comments.)

    The games tomorrow start two hours early, at 11 a.m. local time (12 noon ET/6 p.m. CET), as they are alotting time for a playoff in case of a tie for first. It is possible; in fact, there could even be a three-way tie for first (or next-to-last place, if you prefer) if everything works "properly". Here are the pairings:

     

    • Carlsen (3.5) - Aronian (2.5)
    • Kamsky (1) - Nakamura (3)

     

    Saturday
    Sep142013

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 4: Nakamura Loses, Carlsen Wins and Leads

    It was quite a turnaround in round 4 of the Sinquefield Cup. Hikaru Nakamura had been the confident leader through the first three rounds, but that changed at the start of the second cycle. Ever combative, Nakamura played the King's Indian against Levon Aronian, who went for Makagonov's 5.h3. The position took on more of a Benoni-like character, and two moves were critical. First there was Nakamura's 10...h6, which created the preconditions for a weak kingside down the road. Second, there was his decision not to meet Aronian's 20.h4 with ...h5. After 20...Rc8? 21.h5 Nakamura was lost or nearly so, and while he managed to avoid a crushing attack by sacrificing a piece for two pawns, the resulting ending was probably technically lost, and Aronian managed to reel in the point.

    Meanwhile, Magnus Carlsen inflicted a bit more misery on Gata Kamsky, who now has just half a point out of four games. (That's half a point more than 99.9% of us would score, not that that's much consolation for him.) Kamsky appeared to be unfamiliar with Carlsen's 14...Ng4 in the line of the Exchange Ruy Lopez that transpired, and quickly found himself in a miserable bind. His decision to sac a pawn with 22.c3 was understandable but probably mistaken, but he did gain a second chance to hold later on. Carlsen seemed to be stuck between two approaches: going for a technical win, or attempting to finish the game off by more direct means. The result was that he threw away a large portion of his advantage, but once he decided to go for pure technique he managed to win the game again, and Kamsky didn't get a third chance. (Games here, with my comments.)

    The upshot is that Carlsen leads with 3/4, half a point ahead of Nakamura and a full point in front of Levon Aronian. Today - starting in about 30 minutes - Nakamura will have White against Carlsen, while Aronian will have White against Kamsky, so there's still plenty of time and opportunity for the places to shift at the top.

    Wednesday
    Sep112013

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 3: Two Draws and a Corey Hart Song

    Both games were drawn today in the Sinquefield Cup, keeping Hikaru Nakamura in solo first, half a point clear of Magnus Carlsen, a point and a half ahead of Levon Aronian and two full points ahead of Gata Kamsky.

    Starting with the less significant game for the standings, Gata Kamsky wanted to make a draw with White against Aronian, just to stop his skid and recover on the rest day. He ultimately got his wish, but Aronian obtained decent winning chances until he acceded to the trade of queens. In particular, ...Qf6 on moves 34 or 36 would have been very strong. If White met this the way he met ...Qg7, then Black has ...f4 and can recapture in case White takes the pawn, while on Qf4 there's ...Ne4+. Fortunately for the American, Aronian avoided it and Kamsky got on the scoreboard.

    The other American was less fortunate. Going into the game a draw would have seemed an excellent result for Nakamura with Black against Carlsen, but as things went it got a little dicey for the world's #1. Carlsen was forced to sac an exchange, and although he was never in desperate trouble Nakamura was always playing with the draw in hand, while the Norwegian was short of time, too. Unfortunately for Nakamura, Carlsen defended very well and got a well-earned draw. (Games here, but without notes.)

    Their game was interesting, but if anything is likely to be remembered from today's game it will be Nakamura's playing the game with sunglasses on. Why? Some saw this as harkening back to Pal Benko's decision to wear sunglasses in a famous game against Mikhail Tal in the 1959 Candidates' Tournament, to prevent Tal from "hypnotizing" him with his (in)famous stare. Benko had a horrible record against Tal, and Nakamura's record against Carlsen (in classical games) is pretty dreadful as well. To the extent that he had the better of the play today, it worked, though depending on how reflective the glasses were the stunt might have been a little un-kosher. Whatever the case, we'll award him the song of the day:

    Tuesday
    Sep102013

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 2: Nakamura Wins Again

    It's so far, so good at the Sinquefield Cup for hometown hero Hikaru Nakamaru. Playing in (one of) his home city(/ies), Nakamura has the pleasure of avoiding the exhaustion of travel, the nuisance of jet lag and the unfamiliarity of a new city and climate, and at least so far it is paying off. He has converted his second white game into a second victory, this time defeating countryman Gata Kamsky. Kamsky defended very well with a suboptimally placed king for a long time, but the ongoing pressure resulted in time trouble, and near the time control his position slipped from defensible to lost.

    Magnus Carlsen was the other round 1 winner, but while he pressed against Levon Aronian, with Black, he was unable to find a way through, and Aronian escaped with a draw. Tomorrow the first cycle will conclude with Carlsen having the white pieces against Nakamura, while Kamsky will have White against Aronian.

    The games are here, with my comments.

    Tuesday
    Sep102013

    Sinquefield Cup, Round 1: Carlsen and Nakamura Win

    In round 1 of the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis, both players with the white pieces won their games, but in rather different ways. Hikaru Nakamura enjoyed some opening advantage against Levon Aronian before the latter managed to equalize, and the game was rapidly headed for a draw. Unfortunately for Aronian, he committed a pretty simple blunder with plenty of time on his clock (30...Qb5??), and that cost him the exchange and the game.

    The battle between Magnus Carlsen and Gata Kamsky was richer. After a rather unambitious opening and somewhat vague play in the early middlegame, Carlsen failed to enjoy any advantage; if anything, Kamsky was starting to feel his oats and went in search of an attack on the kingside. At this point Carlsen started playing very well, and his kingside jiu-jitsu led to a crushing counterattack. Kamsky opened the kingside, and the result was that Carlsen's heavy pieces soon surrounded the hapless black king.

    You can find the games here, with my notes. Round 2 starts in just under half an hour, with the pairings Aronian - Carlsen and Nakamura - Kamsky.

    Friday
    Sep062013

    Coming Up: The Sinquefield Cup Starts Monday

    Only four players are participating in the Sinquefield Cup, but they aren't just any four players! The world's #s 1 and 2, Magnus Carlsen and Levon Aronian, will take on the United States's top duo of Hikaru Nakamura (#7 in the world) and Gata Kamsky (#19). The event will be a double round-robin running from Monday, September 9 through Sunday, September 15, with a rest day on Thursday after the first cycle. This is Carlsen's last event before his world championship match with Anand, and while one can expect he'll hide all his real openings he'll surely take this tournament very seriously as a tune-up. For Aronian it will be a chance to bounce back from his poor performance in the World Cup and to make an early statement in advance of next year's Candidates. For Nakamura, a great result would be a huge confidence boost, and for Kamsky his fans can hope that a strong result will lead to him to delay is plans to retire in a year or so.

    Predictions?