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Sinquefield Cup: Viswanathan Anand draws against Wesley So; Magnus Carlsen escapes defeat in 6th round

The sixth edition of the Sinquefield Cup chess tournament came alive dramatically on Friday, the day after the rest day here at Saint Louis, USA. The sixth round proved to be the most interesting of the tournament with Fabiano Caruana scoring a win to capture the sole lead while Magnus Carlsen was lucky to escape from a lost position. Hikaru Nakamura and Levon Aronian were involved in a see-saw battle that finally ended in a draw after changing of fortunes changed many times. Viswanathan Anand played his second successive game with black pieces against Wesley So and had to tread carefully before holding the game to a draw.

 Sinquefield Cup: Viswanathan Anand draws against Wesley So; Magnus Carlsen escapes defeat in 6th round

File image of Viswanathan Anand. Image credit: Lennart Ootes

The luck of the draw saw Anand playing with black pieces for the second successive game and curiously found himself in a repeat of the variation in the Queen’s Gambit Declined as adopted by Levon Aronian just in the previous round. Exhibiting confidence in his preparation, Anand repeated the same line against Wesley So too, only to see his opponent coming up with an unexpected bishop move on the 14th turn, obviously a prepared improvement invented at home prior to the game, which is known in chess parlance as a ‘Novelty’.

Confronting home preparation is a difficult task in chess even at the highest levels, as it involves responding accurately to the new idea and its follow-ups conceived by the opponent at leisure and analysed thoroughly. Under the constraints of the chess clock and psychological tension, even the strongest of Grandmasters in the world wilts and does not respond properly even to fundamentally unsound but new ideas.

Though he consumed about 30 minutes in the few moves made after Wesley So’s new idea, Anand seemed to cope well and defend the position admirably. However, the next few moves saw surprising inaccuracies from both the players and that led to the game finally reaching a position by the 25th move where Wesley So had a lasting advantage due to the defined nature of the position. However, his advantage was largely reduced because of an inaccuracy on the 27th move as the game coasted towards an endgame with bishops of opposite colours. Such endings are generally deemed as draws, even if one of the sides possesses material advantage, as So had in this game. The game ended on the 66th move when white could not make any progress and decided to repeat the position thrice.

The most eagerly followed game of the day was, undoubtedly, the high voltage clash between Russian Alexander Grischuk and the Norwegian world champion Magnus Carlsen. Playing with black pieces, Carlsen surprisingly chose the sharp Kings Indian Defence and further went for a bold strategy of sacrificing a pawn early in the opening in the queenside. Grischuk calmly gobbled up the pawn and kept playing active moves, true to his style.

On the 12th move, Carlsen entered into a forced sequence of moves which would result in a position with material imbalance, thus making it very difficult to judge and play over the board. However, instead of pursuing with the most logical course of action, Carlsen tried to exert psychological pressure on the opponent by playing unexpected moves in quick tempo. But his 15th move was a big mistake and that gave an overwhelming advantage for Grischuk, who increased it gradually and achieved a winning position by the 20th move.

However, this is the point where the prospect of defeating one of the all-time greatest players in the history of the game seemingly started weighing on Grischuk. He admitted solemnly after the game, “I wanted to win without allowing any counter play and when you start to have this attitude... it leads to losing your advantage”. Carlsen achieved his equality by the 26th move. He didn’t allow even an inch of play for Grischuk subsequently and held the draw in 34 moves.

Carlsen’s challenger in the upcoming World Championship match, Fabiano Caruana, did not show any such nerves in his game. Fabiano gave an excellent exhibition of his form and determination, when he systematically outplayed Russian Sergey Karjakin. Incidentally, the Russian was Carlsen’s erstwhile challenger for the World Championship in 2016.

Had Carlsen lost on Saturday, Caruana might have equalled or even overtaken him in Elo ratings as their current ratings stand close at 2836 and 2828, respectively. Just as Caruana is breathing down at Carlsen’s neck in Elo ratings and with the psychological advantage of sole lead in the tournament, it is going to be a fascinating clash when these two contestants for the next world championship match will be playing each other on the 7th round tomorrow, already billed as ‘Super Saturday’ by chess press.

Results: (6th round)

Caruana (4) Beat Karjakin (1.5)
Grischuk (3.5) Drew Carlsen (3.5)
Mamedyarov (3.5) Drew Vachier-Lagrave (3)
Nakamura (2) Drew Aronian (3.5)
Wesley So (2.5) Drew Anand (3)



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Updated Date: Aug 25, 2018 17:35:04 IST