Nakamura Bests Aronian, Carlsen Tops Kamsky at Sinquefield Cup

GM Hikaru Nakamura took advantage of a late blunder by World No. 2 GM Levon Aronian to defend his home turf in the first round of the 2013 Sinquefield Cup.

By Brian Jerauld

Games Annotated by GM Ronen Har-Zvi and GM Varuzhan Akobian 

SAINT LOUIS, September 9, 2013 -- Welcome to the Sinquefield Cup. Please check your cell phones, your tablets – and all expectations – at the door.

Anyone visiting Saint Louis hoping to witness something they have never seen before just got their wish. For a moment, time stood still during Monday’s first round of the Sinquefield Cup, where Armenia’s Levon Aronian – the world No. 2 – offered up something nobody expected to see: A blatant blunder.

Round 1 of the strongest chess tournament in American history, showcasing four of the world’s top-20 players, is in the books with the first two games complete – and two full points already awarded. World No. 1 Magnus Carlsen put a slow squeeze on U.S. Champion Gata Kamsky, while the U.S. No. 1-by-rating Hikaru Nakamura was quick to attack a fatal misstep by Aronian.

GM Hikaru Nakamura took advantage of a rare misstep by World No. 2 Levon Aronian.

Despite the Ruy Lopez being one of Aronian’s main and productive lines, Nakamura showed no fear of familiarity by speeding quickly through the opening. Even as Aronian took the game into new territory with the first novelty of the tournament in 11. … Nfd7, Nakamura pushed 12. Nd4 with a nearly instant response, continuing with his own agenda. But Aronian’s response with an aggressive 12. … c5 sent Nakamura into his first deep think of the game, nearly 30 minutes before moving the seemingly natural 13. Nf5.

“I knew Nd7 was a novelty,” Nakamura said. “But after Nf5 and the correct response of Nf6, while I knew I could trade with Ne7, I had a feeling he was planning d5.”

Indeed, after Nakamura dropped Ne3 to bolster the pivotal square, Aronian challenged it just three moves later, eventually opening up the board to several avenues of attack for both sides.  With the white queen open to attack, Aronian was able to equalize with 25. .. Nf4, ushering a trade of several minor pieces that had Nakamura admittedly ready to offer a draw.

But the move heard round the world was 30. … Qb5??, a severe blunder that ushered a trade-off of queens and Nakamura’s instant response of 32. Nd7 – winning an exchange and a slight smirk from the American. It left the world No. 2 visibly rattled, and the game was quickly liquidated into a full point for Nakamura.

“I prefer not to lose in such a way,” Aronian said. “But that’s something about the game of chess: It’s very humbling to lose after such a blunder.”

On the other board, Kamsky was tenacious with a bend-but-don’t-break attitude, but Carlsen’s grip with the white pieces turned into a slow strangulation of submission for the reigning U.S. Champion.

Perhaps bait to pull Kamsky into one of his most-familiar Slav lines, Carlsen showed little interest in finding an advantage in the opening and let the middle game decide fate. Standard lines continued until Kamsky offered an unprovoked 9. … Bxc3, providing Carlsen the lone bishop on the board.

The game’s pivotal move came with Kamsky’s  14. … h5 – the penultimate risk-reward that brought Kamsky his first taste of counterplay, but eventually served as his demise. Despite equal material, Carlsen’s white pieces proved incredibly active, owning the c-file with a rook battery and eventually placing two major pieces on Kamsky’s back rank – surrounding his desperately exposed king.

GM Gata Kamsky defended valiantly but was ultimately bested by GM Magnus Carlsen's unrelenting attack.

That said, Kamsky’s play in the weakened position was sharp and precise down the stretch, forcing Carlsen to be even more accurate. Claiming the full point was not a walk in the park for the World No. 1, several times being forced into finding the only correct move.

“I didn’t think h5 was a good move; it left his pawn a bit weak there,” Carlsen said. “But it did confuse me into making some stupid moves.”

GM Magnus Carlsen had to play with extreme accuracy to knock off the reigning U.S. Champion, GM Gata Kamsky, in round 1 of the Sinquefield Cup.


Pairings for Round 2

No. White Rating Result Black Rating
1 Aronian, Levon 2813  -  Carlsen, Magnus 2862
2 Nakamura, Hikaru 2772  -  Kamsky, Gata 2741