Maxime Vachier-Lagrave scored his career’s best performance today by winning the fifth Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis. The French GM beat Ian Nepomniachtchi and his main rivals Vishy Anand and Levon Aronian couldn’t follow suit.
And the winner is… Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.
“I am really happy for him,” said Magnus Carlsen. The world champ not only proved to be a good sportsman, as he finished the final interview with Maurice Ashley that wrapped up the day. Carlsen’s remark was also exemplary for the general feeling in St. Louis: that everyone is happy for MVL winning this Sinquefield Cup.
MVL is back to 2800+, and the new number-two in the live ratings.
The “Frenchman with two names” has been in the top 10 (or close) for three years now, and his best achievements so far were multiple victories in Biel, and also Dortmund 2016. A tournament as strong as this one was still missing on his cv.
MVL changed clothes, returned to the club and got a high-five from Aronian on the way. | Photos: Maria Emelianova.
“I had a job today and I did it,” said Vachier-Lagrave. He won his game vs Nepomniachtchi, after co-leader Anand had drawn, and then saw Aronian losing his game. One more win got much less attention: that of Svidler vs Caruana.
With the top half of the tournament still in contention, Viswanathan Anand was the first to drop out. Playing Black against Wesley So, he never really believed in it. “You know, I’ve been there, I’ve had a bad event. You really wanna play solid, cut your losses and get out,” Anand said about his opponent’s state of mind before the round.
Anand himself felt he had “the unlikeliest chance” of the five people who could still win, but nonetheless the five-time world champion was happy with his result after this draw. “Plus-two is my highest score in St. Louis!”
So: “After that game yesterday I figured enough is enough of this tournament and I really cannot play good chess here, this time, unfortunately. But I still like to thank the Lord for all the experience that he’s given me and for giving me a career.”
Anand wasn’t in the mood for a big fight. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.
The next to drop from the group of contenders was Sergey Karjakin. Also playing Black, the Russian GM drew quickly with Hikaru Nakamura in a game where both players played well, and suddenly all the pieces just left the board.
“There was nothing in this game probably better than what I did,” said Karjakin.
Nakamura said he had a “difficult tournament.” His didn’t have his day vs Nepomniachtchi. “After that it was definitely not going to be my tournament,” he said. “I felt I played reasonably well after that.”
Nakamura-Karjakin, one of the two draws today. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.
Three games were still going, and White was better on all boards. Eventually, all three ended in victories for the first player.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was the first to strike. He got a promising position with good knight vs bad bishop against Ian Nepomniachtchi, exactly the kind of thing you’re hoping for when you play the 7.Nf3 line against the Najdorf.
He actually wasn’t too happy with how he played the early middlegame, but had everything under control after move 40.
The Frenchman started to stroll through the playing hall after each move, and although he kept hesitating a bit with every move he made, knowing what stakes he was playing for, he finished the game like a champion
“At some point I just focused and tried to make the best use of my advantage,” said MVL. “I had no doubt that my position was somehow going to be winning.”
Heinous result. Guess it wasn’t really deserved, but this is sport. Congratulations to @Vachier_Lagrave, my help hasn’t gone to waste!
— Yan Nepomniachtchi ( @lachesisq) August 11, 2017
Full house today in the chess club. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.
MVL’s win meant tournament victory… but not yet. Magnus Carlsen and Levon Aronian were still playing, and theoretically the latter could still join Vachier-Lagrave with a win. But by that point Carlsen was a piece up for two pawns, and in fact just winning.
Still, when Vachier-Lagrave was congratulated by Ashley, the first thing he replied was: “Let’s not jinx it!”
The game between the world number-one and two in the live ratings was a Ruy Lopez, Anti-Marshall with 8.a4. “He overestimated his chances a bit,” said Carlsen about his opponent’s play right after the opening.
The world champ found 19.Bxc5! and 21.Rf1! with which he neutralized Black’s activity, and he took over the game. But then he “relaxed a bit” and lost track. In upcoming time trouble he decided to play something that “wasn’t losing” but he “wasn’t sure if it was winning.”
Carlsen won but not before getting in big time trouble. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.
Aronian was back in the game, but then he made a big mistake on move 31. “I hadn’t seen that move at all but fortunately it wasn’t very good,” said Carlsen.
Also after that Carlsen should have won more quickly, and he even almost lost on time, making a move with two seconds left on the clock. Losing like that would have been pretty disastrous, and annoying for MVL, who lost playoffs to Carlsen in London 2016 and Paris 2017.
Carlsen: “It makes a huge difference for me to become shared second instead of fourth, fifth or whatever.”
Carlsen and Aronian talking variations afterward. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.
Peter Svidler started with a loss against Karjakin, and then drew seven games in a row. He managed to end on 50 percent with a last-round win over Fabiano Caruana, in an interesting sideline of the English. Caruana had also played it against Veselin Topalov in Paris.
After a few quiet moves, Svidler suddenly came up with a brilliant 14th move. He played his pawn to b4, where it can be taken by four pieces! This was a great concept, mainly to speed up his development. Svidler remained a pawn up, and was up to the technical task.
“I think my position should have been fine but in the early middlegame I got outplayed,” said Caruana, who thus ended on a disappointing minus-one.
Caruana resigns his game vs Svidler. | Photo: Maria Emelianova.
And so, also in the fifth edition, the Sinquefield Cup didn’t need a playoff. That was a relief, because this year’s tiebreak rules are controversial, to put it mildly. The tournament winner Vachier-Lagrave was again critical in his interview with Chess.com, and called it “senseless.”
But nobody speaks about that anymore. Everyone is busy congratulating the winner at the moment!
“Maxime played well,” said Carlsen. “He was only in trouble in one game and that was against me, and that makes the difference.”
Although he again didn’t win, this time Carlsen leaves the tournament with a smile. “I’ve been playing so poorly lately that this is a huge encouragement actually what’s been going on here,” he said. “I mean, it’s been far from perfect but I feel like I’ve created chances in nearly every single game instead of just pushing wood, as I have been recently. I’m really looking forward to [the World Cup] after getting some rest.”
2017 Sinquefield Cup | Final Standings
Who doesn’t want a signature from the tournament winner? | Photo: Maria Emelianova.
Next is the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz, which will probably be the most publicized event of the year thanks to the participation of Garry Kasparov. It starts on Tuesday.
Karjakin said about playing the Boss: “I’m honestly speaking very excited because I’ve never played against him. […] I hope to use that he didn’t play for 12 years!”
Unfortunately we won’t get to see Carlsen playing Kasparov. He certainly didn’t avoid it; in fact the Norwegian has stated that he would have loved to be in this tournament. But, like any chess fan, he is looking forward to it. “I will be glued to the screen,” said Carlsen.
Correction: an earlier version of this article stated that Anand’s “You really wanna play solid, cut your losses and get out” was about his state of mind before the round. However, he said this about Wesley So’s state of mind.