The players returned to action today but the rest day did not seem to impact the player standings in the tournament as all of the round 6 games ended in a draw. Each player is unique in how they choose to spend their day off; Sergey Karjakin played in an online Fischer Random qualifier, Anish Giri went to the Saint Louis Zoo, and Magnus Carlsen was invited to throw the first pitch for the Cardinals in their game against the Colorado Rockies. The World Champion discussed his experience with Maurice Ashley, explaining how uncomfortable and nervous he felt in an unfamiliar territory. Unfortunately these fun-filled activities did not influence their play over the board as the games unfolded slowly. For a good part of the game, it seemed as though Viswanathan Anand would emerge as the sole leader. Unfortunately, the former World Champion was not able to convert his material advantage. Unsurprisingly, Anand was seemingly disappointed about the result of the game, as this marks his second big miss of the tournament. Tomorrow, the two co-leaders, Ding Liren and Viswanathan Anand will be facing off.
Standings after round 6
Viswanathan Anand vs Anish Giri ½ - ½
Several of the players predicted a win for Anand but the conversion was more difficult practically. Giri joked that he did a good thing by playing the Sicilian but then the structure changed to a French, which he called a disaster. As a matter of fact, the structural change marked the beginning of trouble for the Dutch grandmaster. His knight landed on e8, while White had well placed pieces and could start an attack. Giri was actually relieved when Anand chose to exchange two sets of minor pieces in order to grab a pawn. He explained that it’s better to be pawn down with coordinated pieces than have uncoordinated pieces. In fact, Giri feared that if Anand didn’t force the position, he would run out of moves. The Dutch Champion defended fiercely, making the conversion more difficult with each piece exchange. Once he forced an exchange for a rook pair, it became clear that Anand’s extra pawn would fall shortly.
All eyes were on the final game of the day
Fabiano Caruana vs Maxime Vachier-Lagrave ½ - ½
The wildest game of the round captivated the attention of both commentators and viewers. The players blitzed out the first 20 moves of the game, which included a double exchange sacrifice by Vachier-Lagrave. The Frenchman went into a deep think the following move, explaining the he had the resulting position on his computer half an hour before the game but wanted to analyze it over the board. Caruana returned the favor but spending 30 minutes on the following move. After the queens were exchanged, the American gave up his rook for a knight and a pawn, entering an exchange up endgame. Caruana called the position borderline winning, while his opponent described it as “95% a fortress.” Vachier-Lagrave had a fortress with his dark squared bishop on the kingside, putting all his pawns on the dark squares while creating a passed pawn on the queenside. Ultimately, Caruana collected enough of his opponent’s pawns to give up his rook for the passed pawn, entering a theoretically drawn position where his opponent had the wrong color bishop to win with his h pawn.
Fabiano Caruana and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
Ian Nepomniachtchi vs Ding Liren ½ - ½
Ding put his opponent in an uncomfortable position with his superior preparation in the opening. In a closed Giuoco Piano after transferring the queen to a7, the Chinese player started resolving the tension in the center tactically, taking advantage of the fact that the f2 pawn was vulnerable. After all the central pawns were traded off, Nepomniachtchi decided to give up his queenside pawns in order to push his f pawn, destroying his opponent’s kingside. With limited material on the board, the Russian player never had any real attack and was looking for active counterplay as his opponent’s queenside pawns could become dangerous. On move 31, Ding could have defended the f7 pawn by centralizing his queen but instead chose a different line missing his opponent’s idea of simply not allowing him to make progress by exploiting the weakened Black king. After the rooks were exchanged, the resulting queen endgame quickly ended in a draw.
Hikaru Nakamura vs Magnus Carlsen ½ - ½
“It’s not the sort of position you dream of getting from the opening, obviously, since there is so little excitement”, Magnus Carlsen told Maurice Ashley in the postgame interview. Nakamura essayed the Rossolimo Variation avoiding Carlsen’s Sveshnikov. By move 13, they reached a position where Black’s pawn structure was compromised and White had a nice blockade of the pawns with his knights against Black’s bishop pair. Carlsen was worried about this line before and during the World Championship, as the computer doesn’t see the danger of the position and evaluates it as equal. The World Champion was concerned that he was completely stuck and White can slowly improve but in fact, Black is just very solid and it’s hard to get to his weaknesses. Neither player was able to find a way to make progress, ending the game with a repetition in 30 moves. Carlsen will have the white pieces in the next two rounds and told Ashley that “it’s time to make a move.”
Magnus Carlsen and Maurice Ashley discussing baseball
Sergey Karjakin vs Levon Aronian ½ - ½
In the 5.Bf4 variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declined, Aronian deviated on move 11 from his game against Wesley So from the 2017 Norway Chess tournament. Instead, Aronian played a line exchanging three sets of minor pieces and sacrificing his d5 pawn, following the game between grandmasters Baramidze and Fridman from 2011. Karjakin deviated on move 17 with a different queen retreat as to avoid forced repetition, but Black always had enough compensation for the pawn due to being ahead in the development. There was one point in the game on move 23 when Karjakin could have given up his a3 pawn in order to push his passed d5 pawn. After he chose to maintain his material advantage, Aronian managed to blockade and pick up the extra pawn, entering a drawn queen ending.
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov vs Wesley So ½ - ½
This 14-move draw with repetition was an anticlimactic way of ending the game. Mamedyarov explained that he normally doesn’t make quick draws and likes to keep the game going but was tired today and needed the day, even though yesterday was the tournament rest day. He also did not seem to mind the fact that he wasted his white pieces. Tomorrow, he will be black against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave while So will be facing Sergey Karjakin with the white pieces.