Sinquefield Cup: Viswanathan Anand strives to regain form, draws with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in 2nd round

Having played the Najdorf with black pieces himself for about two decades, Viswanathan Anand is known to be a specialist playing the opening or its cousins in the Sicilian defence from the white side too. Thus, the stage was set for an interesting clash.

 Sinquefield Cup: Viswanathan Anand strives to regain form, draws with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in 2nd round

Viswanathan Anand was involved in a very interesting theoretical battle in the 2nd round of the Sinquefield Cup. Image Courtesy: Saint Louis Chess Club / Spectrum Studios

Employing the Bg5 variation, one of the sharpest variations to play against the Najdorf, is considered as a theoretician’s right, as many of the variations involved have been researched extensively with the use of computers, and hence require a deep and precise knowledge, thorough understanding and boldness. Anand has not employed this system since 2009, when he played it against Russian Grandmaster Ian Nepomniachtchi.

But as the game progressed, it became obvious that Anand had a clear target in mind in opting for the surprise. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave regularly employs an offbeat system of the ‘Poisoned Pawn’ variation, which involves bringing the black queen out early in the opening and capturing a white pawn at the b2-square, the reason behind the variation being named thus. The original variation was a favourite of many of the legends of the game including Bobby Fischer, Garry Kasparov and Anand himself, while Vachier is considered one of the main proponents of the hybrid system.

Curiously, the game followed in the same lines of the Caruana–Vachier clash seen in the Rapid & Blitz tournament a week ago in the same venue. Being aware that Anand might have prepared a surprising concept from that very game, Vachier opted for a different move on his 15th turn, thus sidestepping Anand’s pre-game preparation.

What followed after Vachier’s deviation was an interesting middle game battle. Though Anand could not make much headway with the initiative of the white pieces, but retained a strategic advantage. On the 26th move, Anand boldly offered the sacrifice of a pawn, as Vachier’s light squared bishop on b7 offered him positional compensation. However, even though he captured the offered pawn, Vachier played it safe and found a way to effect perpetual check forcing three-fold repetition of the position, which is automatically declared as a draw as per the rules of the game.

The day belonged to the Norwegian world champion Magnus Carlsen, who showed characteristic grinding ability in pursuing for a victory from a seemingly harmless position, and forced a victory over Russian Sergei Karjakin. Both having fought for the title of world champion in the previous summit clash in 2016, Karjakin is not a markedly inferior player to Carlsen. Karjakin is even known for his doggedness, thus earning the nickname ‘Minister of Defence’ among his peers.

However, Carlsen showed ingenuity in playing a long game and slowly applying pressure on his opponent, and changing the nature of the game by sacrificing his Rook for the opponent’s Bishop in the endgame.. He brought another element into the psychological battle, when he prolonged the game for an astonishing six and a half hours and entered into mutual time scramble testing Karjakin’s resolve. Carlsen was rewarded when his opponent blundered in the final minutes of the game.

Results (2nd Round):

Carlsen (1.5) Beat Karjakin (0)
Caruana (1) Drew Aronian (1.5)
Grischuk (1) Drew Mamedyarov (1.5)
So (0.5) Drew Nakamura (1)
Anand (1) Drew Vachier-Lagrave (1)

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Updated Date: Aug 20, 2018 19:11:30 IST