After an exciting round 8, there is now a five-way tie for first place in the Sinquefield Cup. Sergey Karjakin and Ian Nepomniachtchi joined the leaders with wins over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Levon Aronian respectively, while the rest of the leaders drew their games. The trio of Magnus Carlsen, Wesley So and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov remain half a point behind. As the tournament is reaching the finish line, there is more pressure than ever to start winning games. The next three rounds promise to be action packed!
Standings after round 8
Sergey Karjakin vs Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 1-0
Vachier-Lagrave was very critical of himself and called the result well deserved, as he played a losing move too quickly only to remember the correct continuation a moment too late. The Frenchman once again essayed his beloved Grunfeld Defense and the players followed the game that Vachier-Lagrave played with the white pieces against Gelfand for 16 moves. As soon as Karjakin deviated on move 17, Vachier-Lagrave erred by playing too quickly and found himself in a very unpleasant opposite colored bishops endgame. The combination of Karjakin’s dominating d5 bishop, the passed pawn on the “a” file and Vachier-Lagrave’s weaker king was too overwhelming to save the game. The trade of rooks didn’t ease the task for the Frenchman, as he was forced to give up his bishop for the passed pawn and allowed checkmate on the board for aesthetics.
Sergey Karjakin in the postgame interview with Maurice Ashley
Ian Nepomniachtchi vs Levon Aronian 1-0
Nepomniachtchi used the idea he wanted to play against Karjakin in Zagreb, which he felt was nothing special but was tricky for his opponent. In Giuoco Piano, he chose the line exchanging the pawns on d5 and expanding on the queenside. Nepomniachtchi had the upper hand in the strategic middle game battle, as he had more space on the queenside and controlled the central squares with his three pawns on the third rank. After his knight landed on key c5 square, attacking his opponent’s weak a6 pawn, Aronian felt the need to do something urgent to change the course of the game by playing f5, which left him with even more weaknesses. Nepomniachtchi allowed some counterplay but Aronian was in severe time trouble in the resulting queen endgame and lost without putting up too much of a fight.
Ian Nepomniachtchi and Sergey Karjakin after the game
Fabiano Caruana vs Viswanathan Anand ½ - ½
Anand was still feeling jaded after his big miss yesterday and felt that he didn’t play well today either. Caruana felt tempted by a pawn sacrifice in the middle game, but misplayed the follow up immediately and had to fight for equality. In the resulting position, Caruana had a bishop against the knight, which was blockading his opponent’s extra pawn. The American felt that Anand was being ambitious and the game took a sharper turn. After Caruana declined a repetition, the former World Champion decided to give up the exchange for another pawn, entering an endgame. Caruana tried to find some resources but the position didn’t have much to offer.
Magnus Carlsen vs Ding Liren ½ - ½
Ding received a lot of praise both from his opponent and the commentators for his perfect defense. When asked what it takes to win a chess game, Carlsen responded with “a mistake from your opponent”, something that didn’t happen in today’s game.The World Champion came to the round equipped with a well prepared sharp line in the Nimzo Indian, while his opponent was unsure if he had prepared it in the first place or had forgotten his homework. Carlsen sacrificed a pawn and had a ferocious attack even after trading queens, but was met with the best defense every move, until his attack lost its steam and the game petered out into a draw. He went on to explain that the downside of playing a sharp line is that the opponent is fine if he can calculate well, which isn’t something that happens often but certainly did in this game.
Magnus Carlsen and Ding Liren
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov vs Anish Giri ½ - ½
Giri admitted that he underestimated the line his opponent played against the Semi-Slav, trading the dark squared bishop for the f6 knight, putting a knight on e5, supporting it with the f4 pawn and starting an attack against the Black king. The Dutch Champion spent over an hour on 4 moves in the opening, trying to remember and figure out what he needs to do, which resulted in deep time trouble later in the game. Feeling the urgency to do something in order to avoid having both the queen and the kingside getting locked up, which would allow a strong attack, Giri decided to break through with the desperate f6 move, weakening his king. Mamedyarov sacrificed a piece but went astray as he couldn’t find a direct win. Giri had one opportunity to play for the advantage, but as he had burned all his time in the opening and deciding to accept the sacrifice, he allowed a perpetual with a queen sacrifice.
Hikaru Nakamura vs Wesley So ½ - ½
Compared to the rest of the games, the all-American battle had the least amount of action. In the 5.Bf4 line of the Queen’s Gambit Declined that has already occurred several times in this tournament, Nakamura chose the less popular line with 7.Rc1. The forced line initiated by Nakamura on move 13 led to liquidation of all the pieces except for a pair of rooks. The game ended with a repetition as each player had four pawns on the same side of the board.