Sinquefield Cup 2015 – Round 9
Aronian finished last a few months back in Norway and now he finished clear first. It is my firm belief that the world of difference was made by the joint training camp with Carlsen – just hanging out with the World Champion fills the player with confidence and positive energy. Aronian is a player who heavily depends on his levels of self-confidence in order to play well, so perhaps now we will see a resurrection of the former number 2.
Anand and Carlsen were both tired of the pains and tribulation of the tournament so they conveniently entered the Berlin endgame where if white knows what he’s doing he can easily make a draw. The only thing worth noting is Carlsen’s peculiar move order:
While Anand’s start of 0/2 couldn’t really allow for a good tournament, he should be fairly happy with drawing all the remaining games, where he was his usual composed self. Carlsen’s tournament was far more dramatic and it seems the horror of that Round 1 loss to Topalov in Norway still haunts him. We are not used to see Carlsen so unstable, unable to win winning positions (the game with Nakamura) and spoiling normal positions (Grischuk). Botvinnik said that he could only play chess when he was calm inside. Carlsen isn’t at the moment and that is his main problem. The moment he regains his inner tranquility the self confidence will come back and all will be well again… maybe! The difference is that the chasing pack realised that they can actually bite and hurt him. Now they have confidence that they can be successful against him and this will make things harder for Carlsen. It will be interesting to see how things develop from here – the situation reminds me of the mid-90s when Kasparov was experiencing some sort of a crisis, but he reinvented himself and raised his level to destroy the competition again. Carlsen needs to do the same.
The duel of the Americans Caruana-So appeared to be heading to a win for the former Italian. They played the double fianchetto line of the English Opening (again! Caruana went 1 Nf3 to avoid the Grunfeld. He’s experimenting lately with moves other than his favourite 1 e4, probably trying to broaden his repertoire and get experience in these positions before the Candidates next year), and what today is a common idea, playing g4, back in 2003 it was new and I was very surprised by it when GM Pogorelov played it against me (see the game in the comments). Caruana obtained an advantage with a new move but then missed two clear chances to capitalise on it. The draw ends a disappointing tournament for both players. And while So can still claim to be inexperienced in this company, Caruana will certainly feel something is amiss and that he should be performing on a more stable level. This is a must for him if he is to mount a serious challenge in next year’s Candidates.
The draw between Vachier and Giri was a correct one and probably made both players happy. They maintained their +1 scores and shared 2nd place in the tournament. But things are different for these two players – after the Grand Chess Tour it’s unclear whether Vachier will keep on getting invitations for these elite events, while the future is certain for Giri – he’s there to stay. Kasparov questioned Giri’s ambitions, as I also have in my previous posts, and that is something that will determine whether he will make that jump to the Top 2 or 3 or just remain a solid Top 10. Things have gone really smoothly in Giri’s career (being well-taken care of from the very start, not having to fight for anything except on the board) and I am not sure he has it in himself to fight for the highest honours as if they were a matter of life and death. That is the only way how you become the best.
The last game to finish was the duel of the blitz-players Nakamura and Grischuk. In a 3 Bb5+ Sicilian things were set for a protracted struggle. Grischuk had a comfortable position in the middlegame, the comp even gave him an advantage, but over-thinking and time-trouble spoiled it all again for him, only this time it was after the first time control. The game got out of control at one point, after being won for Nakamura, but Grischuk missed his chance and went down all the same. Nakamura ends the tournament on a high, sharing 2nd and certainly feels as if he had won it – yesterday’s draw against Carlsen and today’s win should give him enough positive emotions for quite some time. What impresses me is that he is now quite capable of bouncing back from setbacks (that horrible loss to Aronian in Round 7), something that he wasn’t capable of before. He hasn’t had a bad tournament since last year’s Sinquefield Cup, when he finished dead last and has apparently risen his level. As for Grischuk, he will surely be very happy to have beaten both Anand and Carlsen, but on the other hand he will be bitter because he ended the tournament with a loss. But his wins here (the third one was against Caruana) show that perhaps his form is improving and that is vital for him on the eve of the World Cup in Baku which starts in less than 10 days. Baku is his only chance to make it to the Candidates, and, personally, I’d love to see him there!
The World Cup in Baku is next on the program and with all the world playing (except for Carlsen and Anand) it should provide for a lot of excitement. The knock-out is not my favourite format, but as a spectator I won’t say I’m not going to enjoy it!