By Tatev Abrahamyan
The rest day was exactly what the doctor prescribed, as the players were rejuvenated and came ready to fight. After three days of quiet games, Round 6 produced five exciting games and three decisive results. The most dramatic result of the round came when Wesley So beat Veselin Topalov, surpassing him by half a point and taking the sole lead of the tournament. Ding Liren suffered a heartbreaking loss in Round 5, but came back today with a very nice victory defeating Peter Svidler, who hasn’t been able to find his form this tournament. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave scored his first victory in the tournament over Levon Aronian. The Frenchman spent his rest day playing bullet against Daniel Rensch with the giant pieces outside of the World Chess Hall of Fame and jokingly attributed his success to the exercise he got from running back and forth to move the pieces. Another exciting match-up was between Nakamura and Caruana, who became rivals and Olympiad teammates when Caruana started playing under the U.S. flag a year ago. Caruana chose a very sharp Benoni line and then played down a very complicated line. In the endgame, Nakamura had winning chances but the U.S. Champion played very accurately and found some great defensive resources. Giri had some winning chances against Anand, but with only 4 seconds left on his clock to make his 40th move, he couldn’t possibly calculate an accurate line and played a safe move, which lead to a draw.
Wesley So – Veselin Topalov 1-0
The American played a long variation but did not get anything out of the opening since his opponent played all the correct moves. As he put it himself, “fortunately, the opening is not the only part of the game.” So created some weaknesses just to keep the game going and to avoid the exchange of queens. Topalov made a very strange decision of allowing his opponent to have a protected passed pawn instead of capturing it, which he thought would equalize the position. So found a very precise continuation giving up a weak pawn just to trade the queens and get a winning ending, leaving his opponent helpless to create any counter play. Wesley So is now leading both the Sinquefield Cup and the Grand Chess Tour!
Levon Aronian – Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 0-1
This game was played quite poorly by Aronian and was very one-sided. Aronian’s computer crashed before the game, perhaps explaining his poor opening choice. The Frenchman played a fairly clean game winning several pawns, then giving two of them back just to trade down to a winning bishop vs. knight ending. Aronian missed one big opportunity in the game, which would have given him the opportunity to draw in a very unique way, but the rest of the game was also very well played by Vachier-Lagrave.
Ding Liren – Peter Svidler 1-0
It seems that the Russian is really struggling to find his groove in this event, as he has now suffered three losses. In the postgame interview, he shook his head and said that “something is not right.” Not wanting to play a slightly worse symmetrical position, Svidler tried to create some active counterplay on the queen side, which only helped his opponent whose pieces were very placed. After some tactical misses, Svidler found himself with a rook and a bishop vs. a queen and defended tenaciously. All Ding Liren needed to seal the deal was another mistake from his opponent, which came later in the game.
Hikaru Nakamura – Fabiano Caruana ½ - ½
This was the battle that the American fans had been looking forward to the most. For the second time in the tournament, Caruana chose the sharp and principled Benoni Defense. After 20 moves of theory, Caruana forgot his preparation but was still satisfied with his position. After some maneuvering and trades, the U.S. Champion’s queen had to defend against Nakamura’s two rooks – one of the most interesting imbalances in chess. In the postgame interviews, the players who had already finished their games were even asked about the position. Most of the players felt that, in human hands, the two rooks should overpower the queen. Anish Giri had actually analyzed this type of endgame in depth after his wife had a similar position and he analyzed the position extensively to show drawing ideas. Caruana played the endgame masterfully, weakening his opponent’s king and demonstrating why the queen is the most powerful piece on the board.
Anish Giri – Viswanathan Anand ½ - ½
The game started off with an English opening, but the structure resembled more the Alapin variation of the Sicilian, where white has a weak pawn but a lot of activity. The game was quiet for a while, until Anand blundered, letting his opponent’s pieces penetrate his side of the board. The day off was counterproductive for the former World Champion, as he admitted to not getting enough sleep the night before and even feeling ready to fall asleep during the game. He joked that he was fully alert when he blundered, as he did not want to make any excuses for himself. Giri played the position too safe, mainly because he only had seconds left to make his 40th move. After the dust settled and the players got their additional hour on the clock, there was not much left to play for and a draw was agreed.