The 2019 Sinquefield Cup was off to a slow start with only one decisive result, a definite change of pace after the action packed Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz. Seven of the twelve players were returning to action after a short break from the rapid and blitz event and were pleased with the peaceful result to start off the tournament. The only victor of the round was former World Champion Viswanathan Anand, who was on the receiving end of some luck. Anand had already accepted that the long endgame grind would end in a draw, when an unexpected blunder gave him the full point. “I’ll take it, was the former World Champion’s response to the question about his feelings towards such wins. After the round, he was greeted by a large crowd and generously spent some time signing autographs.
Standings after round 1
Ian Nepomniachtchi vs Viswanathan Anand 0-1
The epic battle came to a dramatic end on move 77 when Nepomniachtchi blundered his rook in a simple tactic, most likely overlooking that his en passant capture would be met with a recapture with a check . After outplaying his opponent slowly, Anand reached a much better endgame where Nepomniachtchi had a dark squared bishop which was stuck defending the pawns on the dark squares on the kingside. Nepomniachtchi defending relentlessly, exhausting every resource in the position. He eventually gave up his bishop for his opponent’s passed pawn, being left with a rook and a pawn against Anand’s rook, knight and pawn. The final position where he blundered was already almost drawn, with Anand expecting to shake hands after few more accurate moves. In fact, Anand was ready to offer a draw 10 moves before the unfortunate mistake had it not been for the “no draw offers allowed” rule in the event.
Viswanathan Anand in the postgame interview
Hikaru Nakamura vs Fabiano Caruana ½ - ½
This duo followed the game that transpired between Caruana and Carlsen in Zagreb. Nakamura spent some time contemplating whether he should repeat the line Caruana played with white, but decided to deviate on move 10. Nakamura had the superior pawn structure and the better minor piece. Caruana felt that his position was unpleasant and he was on the worse side of equality, while Nakamura thought that the game was closer to equal and Caruana misplayed it and made his defense slightly more difficult. Ultimately, Nakamura did not see a way to keep improving his position and a draw was reached with a repetition.
The all-American match up
Ding Liren vs Wesley So ½ - ½
The players followed a theoretical path in the Open Catalan, in a line that So is well versed in, having played it four times before. The critical moment of the game occurred on move 26. So decided to simplify the position via tactical means, offering a pawn in the process. Ding Liren opted out for a different variation attempting to take advantage of his opponent’s vulnerable back rank calculating a forced line which would have left him with an extra pawn. He missed Black’s 27...h6 move, which gave the king an escape square, thus stopping all the mate threats. After the queens and a set of rooks came off the board, draw was agreed.
Magnus Carlsen watching Ding Liren vs Wesley So
Magnus Carlsen vs Anish Giri ½ - ½
After a difficult Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz, the World Champion was pleased with his solid start at the Sinquefield Cup. The game started with the English Opening but resembled a Giuoco Piano structure in the middle game with the players exchanging three sets of minor pieces but no pawns. After a breakthrough in the center and some more simplifications, Giri temporarily sacrificed a pawn in order to exchange the queens and enter an equal rook endgame. Draw was agreed on move 36.
The pre-game handshake
Levon Aronian vs Maxime Vachier-Lagrave ½ - ½
The strategically fascinating battle came to an abrupt end with a threefold repetition. Aronian opted for a sideline in the 1.d4 opening, reaching a new position after 10 moves. In the postgame interview, the winner of this year’s Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz admitted that he did not understand the position. He also explained the difficulty of playing a classical event after one with quick time control as it puts one in a mood to play faster. Aronian felt that he was better when the engines gave clear preference to the black pieces. Vachier-Lagrave also did not think that he had an edge and did not decline the repetition.
Levon Aronian and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
Sergey Karjakin vs Shakhriyar Mamedyarov ½ - ½
Mamedyarov essayed the Scandinavian Defense, a rare opening at the top level, but one he has used before. These players followed the game between Caruana and Mamedyarov which was played in Zagreb. Karjakin deviated on move 10, allowing his opponent to neutralize the position with a lot of piece exchanges. By move 21, the game had petered out into a drawn rook and knight endgame and ended with a draw after the knights were exchanged as well.
Sergey Karjakin and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov