The 5th round of the Sinquefield Cup 2019, was played on Wednesday 21st August, in Saint Louis, United States of America. After four rounds, India’s Viswanathan Anand and America’s Fabiano Caruana, led the event. Out of the 24 games so far, their one win each, had been the only full points scored, putting them on 2.5/4. The other 22 games had been draws.
Round 5 would be the last round before the one and only rest day of the tournament. Rest days can sometimes change things in events, and so it was on this occasion. That is, it took the tournament’s decisive games from 2 to 4.
One of the points of the round, went to Russian Grandmaster, Ian Nepomniachtchi. Nepomniachtchi had not been having the most notable of tournaments going into round five. After blundering and losing to Viswanathan Anand in round 1, he had missed a good chance to get his point back against Fabiano Caruana in round 2 and could perhaps have tried for more than a half point in his round 3 game against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov also.
In this round there was good news for Ian and his supporters, when he did finally get a point on the board. This came at the expense of American Grandmaster, Hikaru Nakamura. Their game saw Nepomniachtchi as White in a Queens Gambit Declined. It followed a line in the Hastings Variation that Nakamura had also played against Carlsen in the 2017 Sinquefield Cup. That was until Nakamura, obviously smelling a rat, varied with 13…Qb6.
Funnily enough, the game could then have followed Grischuk-Anand, of the Sinquefield Cup 2018. However, Nepomniachtchi was ready and played 14.Qc2, which seems to be a novelty, rather than the 14.Nb3 of that game. What did he have in store? There followed the logical-looking 14…Nb4 and then 15.Bxh7+(!). It seemed that Nakamura had walked into some preparation, and this became even more apparant after 15…Kh8 16.Qc7(! see diagram, below).
Nakamura’s 16…Qxc7 was the most respectable continuation, but after Nepomniactchi’s 17.Rxc7, he was on the back foot. Had Black had 17…Nc6 available, things might not have been so bad, but here the move is quite useless. White would simply retreat his light-squared bishop back to c2.
Furthermore, the White rook is actually quite safe and handy on c7. Yes, Black could play …Bd8 and capture it, but with the White bishop on f4, this would just be giving the bishop and a pawn for a rook. It would be a bad deal at this stage in the game. Therefore, one must conclude that 17…Nc6 would just be wasteful.
Nakamura chose 17…Bd8, which goes for the rook in a more direct way, but I still find this the wrong way to go. Although it is somewhat counter-intuitive, I feel that Black has to live with the rook on c7 for now and try to find some activity, with 17…Bf6.
After 17…Bf6, White would have two main ways to continue. The first would be to play 18.Bd6, (forking rook and knight), and the second being to save his light-squared bishop with 18.Bb1. Admittedly, both of these seem good for White, but I feel that 17…Bd8 was even better for the Russian. Certainly, after 18.Bd6 Bxc7 19.Bxf8 a5(? …Kxh7 20.Bxb4 a5) 20.Bb1, Nepomniachtchi was sitting pretty. The position is shown in the next diagram.
Looking at the position, the way that I evaluate it is that there is not much in it. As crazy as that seems, if we discount White’s extra pawn for a moment, it is the case. Therefore, if Nakamura can get active, perhaps there will be some compensation for the pawn and he can get back into the game. And he did have a good crack at doing just that.
The problem was, that it just wasn’t quite enough. Exchanges gradually came and these helped White, being the one with the extra pawn. In the end it came down to Kings and dark squared bishops each, Black having two pawns and White three. It is extremely instructive to see how Nepomniachtchi played the endgame, converting his advantage on move 69. This was a really nice game from Ian and should do his confidence the world of good. It will certainly make his rest day a lot nicer!
The other winner of this round, was Ding Liren of China. He took a point from Dutch Grandmaster, Anish Giri. Their game also saw White getting the best of things in a Queen’s Gambit Declined, but a Ragozin this time. It looked a very tetchy game to me, with lots of extremely deep positional manoeuvring. Ding had a bit of an edge out of the opening, but then started to shuffle his pieces and got a little passive. The diagram below, shows how things stood upon Ding’s 17.0-0.
As you can see, Ding has been a little backwards in coming forwards as White. This allowed Giri to strike at the centre with 17…c5. There followed: 18.Rfd1 Rac8 19.Nf1 Bg6 20.Ng3 Qg5 21.Qb1 f5 and then I really couldn’t make much sense of Ding’s decision to play 22.dxc5. After 22…Rxc5, he was lumbered with a weak isolated c-pawn, which Giri was bound to stack up against. Why do that?
As Blackadder’s Baldrick would say, Ding had a cunning plan. This was, namely, to let Black have the c-pawn, (pretty much the whole Queenside as it turned out), in return for activity for his rooks along the d-file. There followed: 23.Rd4 Bf7 24.Rcd1 Rdc8 25.Bb5(! see diagram).
This was an extremely useful move to have available. Black has to watch out for Bd7, here. Currently, this would see his f5-pawn fall. Given the fact that without that pawn, the e4-pawn is rather weak, this was no small matter for Black. It was at least enough of a factor to deter Giri from playing …Rxc3 and opt for 25…g6 instead. This was quite a compromise to his Kingside, however and would come back to haunt him later on, (25…R8c7 was probably more prudent).
Black’s tendency to hang back and wait it out in this game is what really cost him I think. He became more and more passive and White took full advantage of that. Slowly, Ding took over the position, not only with a pair of rampant rooks in his opponent’s half of the board, but he manoeuvred his knight to the d5-square. From there, it had a lot of power, going to b6 and causing havoc with Giri’s Queen and rooks.
The knight ended up being exchanged for Black’s bishop easily enough, but White was left with two active rooks bearing down on his opponent’s rather airy King. The final position (shown below) is extremely interesting. As you can see, Black has completely surrendered the Kingside of the board, leaving his King to fend for itself.
Despite Giri’s passed pawn and pieces trebled along the c-file, he was completely lost here and resigned. A nice win from Ding, all credit to him for taking a couple of risks to go for the point. The way that Black was lured away from the Kingside was very interesting!
The other games were drawn, but there was a couple of points of interest. Not least was the American derby game of Wesley So versus Fabiano Caruana. This saw an English opening the likes of which I have never seen before. Black’s e-pawn had travelled all the way to e3 by move 9, as shown in the diagram, below.
This looks quite awkward for White, but actually it was not too bad. After 10.fxe3 Bxe3 11.Kh1 Ng4 12.Ne4 0-0 13.Nbc3 d5 14.cxd5 Bxc1 15.Qxc1 Ne3 16.Rf3 Nxg2 17.Kxg2 So had everything in hand. There then followed: 17…Qd8 18.Qg5 f6 19.Nxf6+, shown in the next diagram.
Although this looks rather spicy, Black has everything under control, here. There came: 19…Rxf6 (in effect giving up an exchange) 20.Ne4 (taking advantage of the vulnerability of Black’s back rank) Nd7 (…Rf8?? 21.Raf1!!) 21.Raf1 (not Nxf6, when after …Nxf6, Black has good compensation for his rook) 21…Kh8. 22.Nxf6 Nxf6 23.e4. White would very soon give the rook back for the knight on f6, which saw him a few pawns up in return for his piece. Black was able to arrange an active defence, though, and the game ended in perpetual not long after.
The other titillation, was the draw between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin. It was also a Hastings Queens’s Gambit Declined, which saw the World Champion unable to generate anything as White against his 2016 Challenger. Despite Carlsen’s best efforts, it was quite an uneventful affair in which exchanges came steadily to a simplified position.
The most spectacular part of the game was in its ending to a draw, funnily enough. As I am sure you have seen by now, Karjakin actually ended up stalemating his own King in order to bring play to a close, (draw offers not being allowed). Just in case you haven’t seen it, the position after Black’s 38…exf5 is shown below.
From here, there came: 39.Kf2 Kh4 40.Kg2 a5 41.Kf2 a5 42.Kg1 h5 43.Kh1 h4 44.Kg1 f6 45.Kh1 a4 46.Bxa4 b3 47.axb3 and with Black having no legal move, it is stalemate and the point split.
Levon Aronian found himself at the bottom of the standings after round 4. He had opened the tournament with draws in the first three rounds, but had lost in round 4 to Fabiano Caruana. This put the Armenian Grandmaster on 1.5/4, along with Ian Nepomniachtchi.
In round 5, Levon took the White pieces against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Unfortunately, the players were not up for it and the game was a rather dull Petrov. It saw White neutralised very quickly. Other than a few exchanges, the players kept to their own halves of the board and just milled around quite aimlessly. At move 39, Aronian had his knights on e1 and d1. It was that kind of game, and when the draw arrived at move 55, it was nothing short of an act of mercy.
Also rather uneventful, was the 25-mover between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Viswanathan Anand. This kept Vishy at the top of the standings along with Caruana, but with Ding joining it was starting to get rather crowded. The players have a rest day on Thursday 22nd August, with play resuming on Friday the 23rd. We wait to see what this will mean for round 6!
Standings after 5 rounds:
Anand, Caruana, Ding — 3.0
So, Nepomniachtchi, Carlsen, Vachier-Lagrave, Karjakin, Mamedyarov — 2.5
Nakamura, Aronian, Giri — 2.0
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