Sinquefield Cup 2017: Viswanathan Anand becomes joint leader after impressive win over Ian Nepomniachtchi
Anand now leads the tournament with Vachier-Lagrave and Aronian with two more rounds to go, and he is scheduled to play Vachier-Lagrave and Wesley So in the remaining games
As Viswanathan Anand won his game and entered the commentary box, American Grandmaster and commentator Maurice Ashley quipped, "The number of world champions present here has just doubled!" referring to the presence of Garry Kimovich Kasparov, arguably one of the greatest players ever in the history of Chess. It was only fitting that Kasparov had entered the commentary box at the very moment when Anand, who took over the mantle from Kasparov and dominated the World Championship crown from 2007 to 2013, had scored a crucial win over Russian Grandmaster Ian Nepomniachtchi and had joined the leader table after the seventh round of the Sinquefield Cup.
What followed was a fascinating display of combined analysis with mutual respect and deep insight, between two former rivals who fought against each other many a great battles, including the World Championship match at New York in 1992, till Kasparov retired from the game in 2005.
Anand has been a connoisseur of the Najdorf variation of the Sicilian Defence for his entire career, scoring many memorable victories with both colours. Of late, he has been specialising the uncommon variation which starts with the move 6.h3 which he has already employed many times in the past – his recent win against Nepomniachtchi himself and a loss to Vachier-Lagrave at the previous leg of the Grand Chess Tour at Leuven, Belgium in June 2017 being examples. Hence it was no surprise that variation figured on the board once again, and both the players blitzed out the moves till the 17th move.
It was obvious that Nepomniachtchi had come to the board armed to the teeth, as he varied with 12...g6 in compared to his game from Leuven, and played a clear-cut strategy, regularly exchanging White’s minor pieces and achieving an equal position by the 26th move, as admitted by Anand himself.
However, Nepomniachtchi's downward spiral started at this very point. Probably after achieving equality and stepping aside the feared opening preparation for which Anand is known for, the Russian was surprisingly careless in his defence in the resulting position, which still had its venom left. First he sacrificed a pawn on the 27th move to exchange off Anand’s Bishop for his Knight, and then sacrificed another pawn four moves later to activate his rooks. Anand himself was surprised by the Russian’s impulsiveness, calling the second sacrifice as ‘kamikaze’, especially as Nepomniachtchi had an hour on his clock to consider his position carefully.
Though his rooks had doubled up on the strategically important seventh rank, it was obvious that it was not enough to compensate for a two-pawn deficit, and the former world champion kept his nerve and coolly pocketed the point with precise play in 40 moves.
The seventh round also saw a remarkable game between the France's Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Sergey Karjakin of Russia. Exhibiting deep opening preparation, Vachier-Lagrave blitzed out moves in quick tempo and entered a highly complex endgame where Karjakin had to carefully wade through a minefield and numerous ways to go wrong in a tactical maze of an ending between a his Knight and the opponent’s Bishop. To his credit, he held his nerves and found the perfect defence to hold the draw in 45 moves.
Another important win of the round came from the Armenian Grandmaster Levon Aronian, who played a brilliant attacking game sacrificing his Knight on the 33rd move to pursue White’s King, even when there were no Queens present on the board – a rare occurrence in chess. He liquidated into a won endgame with Bishop against the black Knight and converted his advantage in 53 moves
Anand now leads the tournament with Vachier-Lagrave and Aronian with two more rounds to go, and he is scheduled to play Vachier-Lagrave and Wesley So in the remaining games, with White and Black pieces respectively. A delighted Anand remarked to Kasparov and other commentators, "The tournament situation has changed. I will take it one game at a time and play tomorrow."
Results: (7th round)
Viswanathan Anand (3 ½) 1 - 0 Ian Nepomniachtchi (2 ½)
Hikaru Nakamura (2 ½) 0 - 1 Levon Aronian (3 ½)
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (4) ½ - ½ Sergey Karjakin (3)
Peter Svidler (2 ½) ½ - ½ Magnus Carlsen (3 ½)
Wesley So (2) ½ - ½ Fabiano Caruana (3)
Points position after 7 rounds:
1 - 3: Anand, Vachier-Lagrave and Aronian 4 ½ points each
4. Carlsen 4
5 -6. Caruana and Karjakin: 3 ½ each
7. Svidler: 3
8 - 10. Nakamura, So and Nepomniachtchi: 2½ each
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Anand missed a better defence on the 38th move and blundered a pawn on the 40th move, landing himself into difficulties. However, pulling himself together and putting up his most stoic foot forward, he defended stubbornly to steer the game into a rook ending where he was down a pawn but the game being theoretically drawn.
Playing black for the first time in the tournament, Anand was up against an English opening that got transposed to the Queen pawn game against Svidler.
London Chess Classic 2017: Viswanathan Anand falters at crunch moments against Fabiano Caruana; Magnus Carlsen held
Anand, who had the black pieces in this game, went into the realms of the Berlin Defence and tried to keep things stable. But Caruana had no intentions of striking a truce.