Sinquefield Cup 2016 – Round 5

There is a strong tendency in these elite events, and chess in general for that matter, that it is almost impossible to win a game unless your opponent blunders. Winning positions are so difficult to convert because if the defender manages to put up resistance then the pressure is on the player with the advantage to find ways to advance and more often than not he falters in this.

The only decisive game of Round 5 is an excellent example of this. Topalov was a pawn up on move 16 against Ding Liren after the latter decided to jettison a pawn for some vague compensation. Vague soon become no and he was just lost, on move 34 he was two pawns down. But here comes the problematic part – he was not lost by force. And from that moment onwards he started to put up resistance and not allow white easy progress. It paid off – on move 47 he got one pawn back as Topalov decided to switch to a direct attack, but this was obviously not the best solution because the position transformed to a 3 vs 2 on the kingside, Topalov having a knight against Ding’s bishop and two pairs of rooks each. Objectively a draw, practically, still difficult for black. And the game went on and the players started missing things. You see, only when their level of resistance drops, due to fatigue in the later stages, can a game be won. But the pressing player also drops his level, so he may not take his chance! Hence missed chances for both sides. See for yourself:

Anand and So drew a correct game that started with the Giuoco Piano, with black precisely neutralising white’s material advantage, something akin to the Marshall Attack. Aronian could have tried for more against Giri’s English Opening, but decided to play it safe and draw.

Caruana’s problems in the Najdorf are well documented, so against the Najdorf-inclined Vachier he went 5 f3. Not the scariest option, but it seemed to take the Frenchman by surprise. What we got was a position very similar to the Najdorf, even if somewhat more pleasant for white, and here the preferences showed again – Caruana not feeling completely at ease, as opposed to the Frenchman who swims in these waters like a French salmon in the Seine. Eventually Caruana’s advantage was neutralised.

Nakamura probably surprised Svidler with the KID (OK, in the not-so-scary Fianchetto version) and was worse at some point, but Nakamura being the toughest of nuts to crack, managed to draw.

There are four rounds remaining and it’s a very open tournament. These types of overtly solid and grinding tournaments have become the norm when Carlsen isn’t playing. This implies that the playing field is so even that the winner can be anyone really – it depends on the form the player is in at the given moment. So we have different winners and situations when Topalov wins one tournament but ends with a big minus in the next one. All this shows just how much Carlsen is ahead of the others! 

Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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