Round 2 of the Sinquefield Cup 2019, was played on Sunday 18th August, in Saint Louis, United States of America. It saw a full round of draws, but this was not without action.
To begin with, the clash of Viswanathan Anand vs Magnus Carlsen, drew a lot of attention. It saw Anand as White, after a string of Blacks. Could he make it count?
Vishy must still have been on a high due to his win over Ian Nepomniachtchi in the previous round. That game should have been drawn, but a blunder from the Russian had gifted Anand an extra half point. It would be a real dream start to his tournament if he could manage to beat Magnus Carlsen also.
The game was a Sicilian, Nimzowitsch-Rossolimo, in which Black opts to fianchetto his King’s bishop. It also sees an early sortie by the Black Queen, developing to a5 and then going to h5. I have to admit, I am not familiar with this opening, but I don’t tend to play Sicilians these days and it does seem a rather obscure line. Did this indicate that Magnus had something up his sleeve?
To be honest, I think that the World Champion always has something up his sleeve, be it a good day or bad day, but in this game, he was quite passive from his opening. As you can see, his only really ‘active’ piece after his 14…Nf7, (shown in the diagram, below), was his Queen.
Actually, whether the Black Queen was indeed active there on h5, was a matter of debate. It was also a tad exposed. There soon followed 15.Ng3 Qg4 16.c5. One would have to say that White was a bit better. However, it seems that Anand did not feel that there was a good way to maintain the tension and avoid simplifying the position.
There followed: 16…e5 17.cxd6 c5 18.Qb3 (in effect, facilitating the exchange of Queens. 18.Qc2 was an interesting alternative, with White having a bit more to go at after: 18…cxb4 19.axb4 Rfc8 20.Qd3) 19.axb4 Qe6 20.Qxe6 Bxe6. As you can see in the next diagram, things have now worked out for Carlsen.
From here, the players had things under control I think. They steadily exchanged into a symmetrical knight and pawns endgame before repeating moves.
Ian Nepomniachtchi also brought out the Sicilian, against Fabiano Caruana. As already mentioned, it was a tough day at the office for Ian in the opening round, what would this one bring? Well, the Russian opted for the Najdorf and his American opponent wasted no time in thrusting his g-pawn up to g5. Did Caruana sense some vulnerability?
Perhaps, but though Ian Nepomniachtchi has his wobbles, he is also a very classy chess player. He managed things very well and was at least on terms at his 16…a5, (see diagram, below).
As you can see, the position is one of opposite side castling — we can assume that anyway as it would be rather silly for Black to castle Queenside. The open c-file and Black’s rolling a and b pawns, make him a very serious entity in this situation. White is under no immediate threat, but in these kinds of position, trouble can arrive very quickly if one isn’t careful.
That didn’t happen in this game, though, but it should have, when Fabiano Caruana very much was not careful. After the game, Nepomniachtchi was disappointed to learn that he had missed a chance to play for a win again, when Caruana blundered with 28.Qg2(??, see next diagram).
White had needed to be very accurate and it would seem that the correct way to go was not 28.Qg2 but 28.Rh1. This gives considerations for Black along the h-file, especially if White gets Qh3 in also. After 28…Bxg5 29.Qh3 Bf6, they would most likely be looking for a way to repeat. As it was, after 28.Qg2, Nepomniachtchi could have struck powerfully with 28…Rxa3(!!, see diagram, below).
The point of this move, is that after 29.bxa3 Qxa3 threatens mate. After White defends by moving his f-pawn (Rd2 would leave …Ra8 and White gets mated) Black simply pulls the Queen back to a7. This is the move that does the real damage. Not only is he able to play …b2, (threatening to mate again), but …Qa7 also marks the white rook on g1.
The reason that this is significant, is that it stops White from bringing his Queen over to b2. With his rook on h1 instead, White would be winning in this line, with either Qh2 or Qb2 available. With it on g1, the situation is dire. It wasn’t to be, however and the game was drawn 35-moves. As disappointed as Ian will be for not finding the win, he should not feel too bad as not many other humans did either.
One human who did find Nepomniachtchi’s missed tactic, (‘the’ human, according to International Master Rakesh Kulkarni, writing for chess.com), was American Grandmaster Wesley So. This is probably because his brain was woken up by a sharp game against France’s Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.
The game was a d3 Giuoco Piano, in which Vachier-Lagrave was White. Wesley managed to equalise quite comfortably, so Maxime decided to go for an exchange sacrifice (ultimately a rook in return for bishop and pawn) to create some imbalance. Vachier-Lagrave managed to get his pieces nicely active, but So was able to liquidate into a better ending. The diagram, below, shows the end of the game, Vachier-Lagrave having just played 36.Bd5 as shown. 36.Rxb5 37.Bxb7 Rxb7 sees the material evened up and repetition came soon after.
Anish Giri and Levon Aronian also had quite an eventful game. In the Giuoco Pianissimo, both players moved quickly and seemed comfortable. Exchanges came thick and fast and it looked like the game was going to be a rather dull draw. However, Giri managed to engineer himself a rather frisky looking passed pawn on the b-file. When he then claimed Aronian’s a-pawn, with 37.Rxa6, (see diagram, below), the Armenian will have been fearing the worst.
However, Levon Aronian is one of the most resilient defenders in chess and he managed to keep Anish’s pieces tied up enough that he could not make his advantage count for the full point. This, coupled with an ‘un-optimum’ move or two from Giri, left nothing but repetition.
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov had a good go at Hikaru Nakamura in their game. The Azerbajani Grandmaster was White in a Queen’s Gambit Declined, Hastings Variation. The players castled on opposite wings and this can often be an indication of sharp things to come. It was in this case, with Shakh thrusting his g-pawn with intent. The diagram, below, shows the situation upon White’s 14.g5.
As you can see, the players are expanding on the flanks that their opponent’s King is situated. They want to use their pawns in order to open lines and/or make the enemy pieces move, preferrably backwards. The first to achieve this will usually have the advantage. There followed: 14…Nh5 15.Bd3 b4 16.Bxh7+ Kh8 17.Be4 and White’s bishops were looking particularly harrassing.
Luckily for Hikaru Nakamura, he had his own threats on the Queenside and was able to use them in order to do some liquidation. He will have been rather happy when the Queens came off also. When Mamedyarov’s bishops were also removed from the board, it was not going to be easy for White to make much of the situation and the players steadily exchanged down to lone Kings.
Karjakin-Ding was quickly drawn (in 35-moves) and the first to finish. It was a Ruy Lopez Marshall Counter-Attack, in which niether player looked up for it.
All of this left Viswanathan Anand in the lead. Round 3 will see him play Levon Aronian and to be honest, I wont be expecting too much from that game. No doubt the focus will be on World Champion, Magnus Carlsen, who takes White against his beaten Challenger of 2018, Fabiano Caruana.
The Sinquefield Cup 2019 is held between August 15th and 29th, in Saint Louis, United States of America. It is part of the 2019 Grand Chess Tour and follows on immediately from the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz. It is a 12 player round-robin over classical time controls. Prize fund is $325,000 (£267,468 / €292,938), 1st prize is $90,000 (£74,068 / €81,121). Official website: https://grandchesstour.org/2019-grand-chess-tour/2019-sinquefield-cup