Three in the Hunt for Sinquefield Cup

GM Hikaru Nakamura, GM Levon Aronian and GM Magnus Carlsen all have chances at winning the inaugural Sinquefield Cup.

By Brian Jerauld

Game annotations by GM Ben Finegold and GM Ian Rogers 

SAINT LOUIS (September 14, 2013) -- There’s just one round left in the strongest tournament ever held on American soil—one game to play for the Sinquefield Cup.

After draws on both boards on Saturday, including a pivotal match between frontrunner Magnus Carlsen (3.5/5) and Hikaru Nakamura (3.0/5), the tournament standings remain the same.  Levon Aronian (2.5/5) stays within striking distance of both leaders, and the result of his impending Sunday morning duel with Carlsen could play out to several storylines.

The two played to a draw in their first meeting on Tuesday. Nakamura seeks his second win against Gata Kamsky (1.0/5), who looks to play spoiler with the white pieces.

It is no secret that Kamsky is having a rough stay in Saint Louis. So if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

The reigning U.S. champ united with the newly popular theory that Aronian’s 1.d4 needed some work against the Dutch defense, a secret that Carlsen had revealed with great effect in round 2. Last Tuesday, Aronian had quickly lost white’s edge against Carlsen’s Dutch, falling into a middlegame that offered him no initiative and a grueling path to a draw.

GM Gata Kamsky jumped on the bandwagon, employing the Dutch against GM Levon Aronian in round 5.

It was a decent enough idea for Kamsky, who is seasoned in the Dutch and was yearning for a balanced game of chess in the Sinquefield Cup. He looked to lean on an advantage where Carlsen could not.

“I’ve played the Dutch for a number of years now; it’s an interesting opening. If white screws up, he can possibly get in a worse position,” Kamsky said. “I’m curious why [Aronian] defensed this Bf4 set up. After the game, of course, it was justified, but I don’t think white has such a serious advantage by playing this line.”

Indeed, 5. Bf4 was a questionable move against Kamsky, just as it had been against Carlsen. The improvement on Saturday afternoon, however, came at 8.Bg3, a move that did avoid the tactical mess that Carlsen had introduced, but still did little to prevent black equality. Kamsky earned himself the bishop pair with 10…Nxg3.

GM Levon Aronian controls his own fate as he squares off against GM Magnus Carlsen, the tourney leader, in the final round.

By the middlegame, the American was pushing with initiative, ultimately introducing the clever 27…Qf6. The interesting double attack threatened Aronian both in material, via a queen-rook skewer, as well as position, setting up for the h4 break. It baffled Aronian, who went into a deep think on his response, at a time when his clock wasn’t forgiving. It fell below ten minutes before he decided on 28. Nxh5. 

“I couldn’t really see a good way for me to play,” Aronian said. “I’m not sure [28. Nxh5] was the best move, but I felt that at least there is some simplification, and I thought, ‘I’m not getting ‘mated, so I shall play that one.’”

It worked, though not without drama. The pawn grab did little more than open up the h-file and a direct lane to the white monarch, an exploit that Kamsky pressed immediately. A rook-and-queen battery briefly brought the leading lady too close for comfort, though ultimately into a futile position. The queens and eventually rooks were traded, leaving the curse of the opposite-colored bishops. The game drew on the 44th move. 

Aronian - Kamsky annotated by GM Ian Rogers

Though the Sinquefield Cup has already featured five wins through ten games, Saturday’s Nakamura-Carlsen tilt was what most might expect from a super tournament: Two of the world’s elite, refusing to give an inch. The draw-by-repetition served as the quickest match of the tournament, only 32 moves, and featured a delicate balance of the smallest advantages.

Perhaps the only prize Nakamura could grab from Carlsen’s Berlin defense was the bishop pair, moving his queen’s knight six times to achieve 15. Nxc8. Nakamura brought the game into new territory with 16. g3, though it was Carlsen who pressed the issue with 22…f4.

GM Hikaru Nakamura donned shades once more in his tilt against GM Magnus Carlsen, but his first victory against the World No. 1 remained elusive.

“I thought that I might be a little bit better, but I think it’s a question of whether this whole idea of f4 works or doesn’t,” Nakamura said. “Unfortunately, at the end, he was able to bail out.”

Clearly, f4 did not work to anyone's favor. Though it looked precarious, the attack found no future, and Nakamura simply chased Carlsen’s queen into repetition.

“I’m usually not too unhappy with a draw with black against such strong players,” Carlsen said. “I was kind of hoping he would over-press, and at the end I decided not to play out of a draw ... because I was hoping he would play on and play for a loss. But obviously he’s much too good of a player to screw it up.”

Nakamura - Carlsen annotated by GM Ben Finegold 

Standings After Round 5

No. Name Rating Total
1 Magnus Carlsen
2 Hikaru Nakamura
3 Levon Aronian 2813 2.5
4 Gata Kamsky 2741 1

Pairings for Round 6 - 09/15/2013

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