2015 Sinquefield Cup: Round #9

2015 Sinquefield Cup
August 23th – September 3rd, 2014 (St. Louis, USA)
Round #9 – Tuesday, 1 September 2015
1 Topalov, V
BUL
½-½
Aronian, L
ARM
2 Anand, V
IND
½-½
Carlsen, M
NOR
3 Vachier-Lagrave, M
FRA
½-½
Giri, A
NED
4 Nakamura, H
USA
1-0
Grischuk, A
RUS
5 Caruana, F
USA
½-½
So, W
USA
Official Site

Aronian wins 2015 Sinquefield Cup!

Levon Aronian, 2015 Sinquefield Cup champion! Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

Aronian’s wins over Caruana and So highlighted his form.
Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

The 2015 Sinquefield Cup ended in a blaze as Hikaru Nakamura and Alexander Grischuk battled time pressure in a thrilling game. It was a battle for second place as Levon Aronian had already taken first place after drawing with Veselin Topalov.

In this game, there was a surprising asymmetry in the game in which black seem to have a solid position despite a weakened kingside. Aronian even castled on a weakened kingside, but knew that the black king would be hard to get at. In fact, black lashed out with 17…c5! and 20…f5! with a slight edge, but Topalov saw a drawing maneuver involving an exchange sacrifice and a draw by perpetual check. Topalov was the first to congratulate the Armenian.

The champion played below expectations.
Photo by Lennart Ootes.

A rematch of championship rivals is always highly-anticipated, but Carlsen-Anand did not live up to the excitement it may have evoked. The game was a Berlin Defense, but there was nothing remarkable about the game as it went down to an opposite-colored bishop ending. White had a minuscule edge in the end and all that was left to do was shake hands and agree to a draw. Not the best result for either player and perhaps even more disappointing for the world champion.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave had a solid result as did his opponent Anish Giri. Both tallied 5/9 and tied for second place. MVL tried an interesting pawn sacrifice for a better structure and mobility, but there was really no pull in the position and the game suddenly simplified into a basic rook ending.

Caruana-So was a matchup between two old rivals who go back to their first encounter in the under-12 World Youth tournament. Caruana actually remembered that game which started 1.e4 c5 2.f4 d5!? in a very poor showing by the American. This game would certain be more refined and controlled in a positional English.

Caruana was having a poor tournament and So even worse, but this was actually quite an interesting game. Caruana played a Qd4-h4 maneuver and then followed up with 14.Bh3 and 15.g4!? This was an unusual way to carry out an attack and So was up to the challenge. Adopting a nice hedgehog setup, So played many of the typical ideas such as 14…Rc7 and 15…Qa8 striking at the center (diagram #1 below).

However, he committed a cardinal sin in the hedgehog when playing 16…h6? which gives white targets to attack. So also played 18…e6 allowing white to offer an exchange with 21.Rxd6 when 21. Bxd6 was winning after 21… Rxc4 22. bxc4 Bxd6 23. Rxd6 Qxd6 24. Qh8+! (diagram #2 above)

It appeared that black would have chances after seizing the e-file and executing the Qd6-c5 maneuver. After missing the best chance with 35…Bxg5, So fell into horrible time pressure and actually made his 40th move (Bf8) with fractions of a second left. The game was still complicated. In the final position, there was enough play for both sides and three results were possible. The two took the draw.

Hikaru Nakamura was all business today. Photo by Lennart Ootes (for CCSCSL).

Hikaru Nakamura was all business today.
Photo by Lennart Ootes (for CCSCSL).

The last game to end was the Nakamura-Grischuk slug-fest. Out of a Rossolimo Sicilian, the position was very dynamic with many imbalances. Hikaru Nakamura upped the anti with 43.h4 showing his intentions. Alexander Grischuk continued to hunker down, but then tried to grab material with 45…Qxa5. This may have been a mistake.

Nakamura seized the chance with 46.h5 and with Grischuk falling into time pressure, it was not easy to fend off the attack. In fact, the same queen that went offside to grab a pawn retreated into a blunder. The move 48…Qd8?? was losing to 49.f6! totally tying black into knots. After 51.Qh6 Rg8, the engines were screaming for 52.Rg1! whereby black can resign due to 52….Rxg1+ 53.Kxg1 Nc7 (or else 54.Bxh7! is the kill shot) 54.Qg7+! and white wins a rook.

Nakamura who had also wandered into time pressure played 52.Re1 after which Grischuk got counterplay after 52…d5! In fact, it was discovered that black had drawing chances after 57.fxe7 Qg7! The Russian actually played the losing 57…Qd6+ 58.Kh3 Bd7+ 59.Bf5 Qd3+? All that was left was for Nakamura to finish the deal. The queens came off, Nakamura gobbled a couple of pawns and ended with a zugzwang maneuver with 75.Kh4 and 76.Kh5 to totally corner the black king.

The tournament was a fantastic showing as the atmosphere was electric. The enthusiasm of the fans and the exciting play made this a tournament to remember. There is something special about such a tournament that can command the attention of millions of fans around the world. Rex Sinquefield’s vision has produced quite a gem.

Battlefield for 2015 Sinquefield Cup. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

Organizer of world-class tournaments and…

Watering hole for the chess public. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

…watering hole for the chess public.
Photos by Daaim Shabazz.

The whole of America is benefiting from this renaissance and the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis serving as the main catalyst. While New York still has the most venerable chess history, indigenous talent (Fischer, Nakamura and Caruana), legendary chess institutions and self-sustaining organic chess culture, St. Louis has certainly taken the lead as an organizer and cultural magnet for chess.

Standings after Round 9:

1st: Levon Aronian, 6; 2nd-5th: Anish Giri, Magnus Carlsen, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Hikaru Nakamura, 5; 6th-7th: Veselin Topalov, Alexander Grischuk, 4½; 8th-9th: Viswanathan Anand, Fabiano Caruana, 3½; 10th: Wesley So, 3.

Daaim Shabazz

Daaim Shabazz is the founder of The Chess Drum, while serving as a tenured faculty member of Global Business & Marketing at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA. He holds a B.S. Computer Science from Chicago State University, an MBA in Marketing and a Ph.D. in International Affairs & Development, both from Clark Atlanta University. He has served the journalist community for more than 30 years and still competes in tournaments occasionally.

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