Magnus Makes His Move at Sinquefield Cup

World No. 1 Magnus Carlsen took over sole posession of first place by besting the reigning U.S. Champ Gata Kamsky in round 4. Carlsen was exhausted after the game.

By Brian Jerauld
Games Annotated by GM Varuzhan Akobian and GM Ronen Har-Zvi 

SAINT LOUIS (September 14, 2013) -- It was another round of fighting chess and another day of decisive results at the inaugural Sinquefield Cup. The event, held at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, now features five wins through eight games.

Friday’s fourth-round victories were good enough to rattle the overall standings: World No. 1 Magnus Carlsen toppled an uninspired Gata Kamsky to move into clear first with 3/4, as Hikaru Nakamura lost his leader-status after stumbling out of the gate against Levon Aronian. The loss brings Nakamura into second place with 2.5/4, while Aronian has climbed back into the tournament with 2/4. Kamsky has a half-point through four rounds.

After his game, Nakamura expressed clear displeasure with his opening choices, highlighting 7. … a6 and 8. … b5 in his King’s Indian Defense as poor decisions. A questionable 10. … h6 also proved to be a dog that would bite him later in the game.

GM Levon Aronian crept back into contention with a victory tourney leader GM Hikaru Nakamura.

After Nakamura took his king’s knight on a queenside run from f6-e8-c7-a6, ultimately finding a cozy outpost with 17. … Nb4, Aronian offered an interesting relocation of his own cavalry with 19. Ne2. He followed with 20. h4, the first charge toward the black monarch.

He was not met with adequate resistance. Nakamura answered with 20. … c4, which opened the fight on the queenside but allowed Aronian to push a pawn to the pivotal h5 square. White instantly took the advantage, ushering a desperation sacrifice from Nakamura with 23. … N6xd5, trading his minor piece for both of white’s center pawns with the hope for some counterplay.

“[Nakamura] had to do it,” Aronian said of the sacrifice. “It was hopeless for black, but any way was hopeless ... of course, I should have played Qd1 after Bd5, and then just win by attacking his king – an extra piece helps, normally.”

GM Levon Aronian's defeat of GM Hikaru Nakamura helped allowed GM Magnus Carlsen to grab hold of clear first after four rounds.

Indeed, Aronian’s selection of 25. Rxc8, instead of dropping his queen to safety, left some light in Nakamura’s tunnel. The American quickly traded queens off the board.

“Levon tends to do this quite often,” Nakamura said of the queen trade. “He gets in these winning positions and doesn’t convert them in time or makes them very difficult. … It’s not the first time. It gave me some practical chances, but it’s not like I was playing a weak player.”

Aronian converted his winning position just fine. After picking up an extra pawn with 37. Nxe5, the minor piece endgame served as a masterful display of technique for the World No. 2, who executed down the stretch of the longest game of the Sinquefield Cup thus far. The American conceded on the 61st move.

“Overall, just a bad decision in the opening to try and play this a6-b5 gambit,” Nakamura said. “All credit to Levon for playing well. I should have made better decisions in the opening and made them out to work, at least, instead of just giving him a free point.”

Aronian-Nakamura annotations by GM Varuzhan Akobian 

Kamsky had found his way into several decent positions through the first cycle of the tournament, perhaps only imploding after some admitted over-aggression, but on Friday he never found comfort.

He attacked Carlsen with the exchange Ruy Lopez and took the game down an uninspiring line, which was quite unlike the aggressive Kamsky from the start of the tournament. Not waiting around, Carlsen’s 14. … Ng4 gave the game the flair it needed as he eyed the h2 pawn.

Kamsky lost more than a tempo with a questionable 17. Nd2 and, by 18. … Bg3, Carlsen’s army was dangerously active on the open board while white sat uncomfortably undeveloped. Desperate to activate, Kamsky pushed 22. c3?, essentially sacrificing the pawn with nothing to show.

GM Magnus Carlsen squandered an early advantage with inaccurate play, but ultimately converted the win against GM Gata Kamsky.

For a while, however, it appeared Kamsky, who had fought valiantly down the stretch in his first-round tilt with Carlsen, might hold the draw. The Norwegian did not display his standard razor sharpness, choosing an uncertain path through the middle game that allowed white to hunker down. 

Carlsen’s 45. … Rxd2+, which appeared to push toward a bishop endgame with no clear lines to victory, looked like the antidote Kamsky needed – but 50. Bc3?? was a clunker. Carlsen was quick to march his b-pawn with tempo, eventually creating passers on both wings and then challenging the remaining bishop for the important a1-h8 diagonal.

“At some point I lost control, but fortunately it was enough,” Carlsen said. “Today, in the fourth hour of play, I was playing so badly. The same against Levon the other day: hesitating and burning huge amounts of time.”

Kamsky-Carlsen annotations by GM Ronen Har-Zvi