Viswanathan Anand remains on top of the leaderboard after a peaceful second day in Saint Louis. Although all the games ended in a draw, the results weren’t indicative of the fights that ensued across the board. Ian Nepomniachtchi missed a golden opportunity to recover from his first round loss, after Fabiana Caruana blundered, whereas Anish Giri did not manage to convert his extra pawn against Levon Aronian. World Champion Magnus Carlsen extended his undefeated streak to 81 games after drawing his long time rival Viswanathan Anand. Tomorrow, he will be facing his 2018 World Championship challenger Fabiano Caruana with the white pieces, while the leader of the tournament will have the black pieces against Levon Aronian.
Standings after round 2
Fabiano Caruana vs Ian Nepomniachtchi ½ - ½
Nepomniachtchi had the perfect opportunity to bounce back from his tragic loss from round 1 as Caruana made a grave error on move 28. The game started as a complicated Najdorf, with opposite side castling and each side trying to attack the enemy king. The players reached an opposite colored bishop middle game, with both bishops restricted by the pawn structure. Caruana retreated his queen on move 28 in order to consolidate his position which gave black the opportunity to play a beautiful winning tactic. The combination was difficult to find as it involved a queen retreat, an atypical motif in an attacking line. Caruana actually found the line after playing his move but Nepomniachtchi did not and the game ended with a repetition a few moves later.
Ian Nepomniachtchi in the postgame interview
Viswanathan Anand vs Magnus Carlsen ½ - ½
Anand opted out for the Rossolimo Variation in the Sicilian; surprisingly Carlsen recaptured the knight with the b pawn as opposed to with the d pawn which he prefers. Anand essayed a variation which he thought his opponent spent the least amount of time preparing, getting a lead in development. The turn of events prompted the World Champion to enter the confessional booth and share his thoughts, explaining that being two moves away from castling can be dangerous. In the postgame interview, the former World Champion explained that he had many continuation which would him give him a pleasant position but there was no major hitter waiting. Amidst these choices, he missed a move by Carlsen which rendered his knights quickly. Sensing the long term danger, he quickly reacted, exchanging the minor pieces thus getting rid of his opponent’s menacing bishop pair. The resulting endgame was completely equal and quickly ended in a draw.
Viswanathan Anand watches as Magnus Carlsen makes a move
Anish Giri vs Levon Aronian ½ - ½
The longest game of the round did not prove to be fruitful for Giri. After a long grind, the Dutchman won a pawn on the queenside in a rook and knight endgame but the conversion remained difficult. Giri gave up a pawn in order to create a potential mating on the kingside with the pawn structure. The critical moment in the game was on move 48, when Giri pushed his passed pawn all the way to 7th rank instead of exchanging the knight pair to enter a rook ending. The rook endgame would have been winning, but Giri chose his continuation missing his opponent’s defensive resource - he couldn’t activate his king due to the mating net Aronian could create. With no winning resourced left in the position, the game ended in a draw with repetition.
Anish Giri and Levon Aronian in the postmortem
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave vs Wesley So ½ - ½
In a standard Giuoco Piano, So repeated the line Aronian played against Vachier-Lagrave just days ago in the Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz. The Frenchman deviated quickly, sacrificing a pawn in order to grab the center and centralize his pieces. The position blew up after the center opened and So’s bishops developed, with Vachier-Lagrave offering a queen sacrifice. So did not want to enter the imbalanced position, and grabbed an exchange instead. In the endgame, Vachier-Lagrave had a rook, a bishop and an extra passed pawn for Black’s two rooks. So decided to exchange his rook for the bishop and pawn, entering a drawn rook endgame.
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov - Hikaru Nakamura ½ - ½
Mamedyarov played an enterprising move, 11.Rg1 in Queen’s Gambit Declined after castling queenside, signaling his readiness to enter murky waters. He explained that it’s a risky move, one that he would normally play in a rapid game but he was in the mood for a fight. Nakamura looked uncomfortable in the opening, as it is always an unpleasant feeling to walk into one’s opponent’s preparation. After a tactical battle, the players entered an endgame that was favorable for the white pieces due to black’s misplaced knight and bad pawn structure. Mamedyarov felt that his position was always good and joked that it was the kind of position he would lose with the black pieces but can’t win with white. Nakamura survived the storm by putting up an obstinate resistance and ultimately entering a drawn endgame with a tactical shot.
Hikaru Nakamura faces an opening surprise while Carlsen watches the games
Sergey Karjakin vs Ding Liren ½ - ½
The first 20 moves of the game followed the game between Wesley So and Ding Liren from the 2018 Candidates Tournament. While many players choose the anti Marshall, Karjakin did not shy away from facing Ding Liren’s pet line in the Ruy Lopez, the Marshall Gambit. The Russian had the advantage due to his piece activity and superior pawn structure, but Ding maintained activity due to his bishop pair, always attacking white’s h5 pawn. Karjakin did not know how to keep building his position as there was no way to maneuver his knight to a better square and decided to end the game with a threefold repetition.