Vachier-Lagrave achieved his biggest success to date with the triumph in the Sinquefield Cup. The play Vachier demonstrated, especially his last round win against Nepomniachtchi and the stubborn defence against Carlsen made him a deserved winner.
Vachier’s main strengths are his excellent opening preparation and his calculational abilities. In dynamic positions, whether better or worse, he feels at home and frequently outplays his opponents. The above-mentioned game with Carlsen (which eventually decided the winner) is a typical example. When facing problems he creates a mess on the board and manages to get the better of his opponents. What I found impressive though was his last-round win against Nepomniachtchi. The Russian was obviously out of form, but the way Vachier approached the game was exemplary. No sharp Najdorf lines, a controlled 6 Be2 e5 7 Nf3 and a firm positional squeeze. To create a positional masterpiece in a last-round game with so much at stake requires strong nerves and Vachier showed he possesses them.
Carlsen finally played a good tournament. He didn’t win, but he played good chess and missed too many chances. He should have beaten Vachier and Nakamura. The endgame with the latter was very instructive, but also very insightful about how Carlsen thinks and uses his intuition. About the first winning move, 41 Kg5, he said that he considered it, but “intuitively felt” that Black gets counterplay there so he went on to look in another direction. This is a crucial insight – it shows that he doesn’t always verify his intuition by calculating deeply! The second moment, choosing between the winning 43 h5 and the drawing 43 g5, showed a similarity with his “I don’t believe in fortresses.” He believes in the almost infinite possibilities of chess and believes that there will always be one that will lead to a win. Again he doesn’t verify this by calculation, but relies on his intuition to “tell” him that there will be a way. In the Nakamura game he thought the endgame was won in more than one way and consequently he didn’t realise that the path to victory was narrow.
These insights about Carlsen’s intuition were an eye-opener for me. It turns out even the World Champion doesn’t have everything thought through and relies heavily on intuition, even in positions where I would be inclined to calculate everything as far as possible. Lesson taken, rely on intuition more, but verify!
Aronian continued with his fine form, even though his tournament was somewhat spoiled by his last-round loss to Carlsen. I think Aronian was too optimistic going into that game, he thought he could beat Carlsen with Black and win the tournament. That’s what happens to him when he’s on fire – he gets over-optimistic. He was duly punished for it by Carlsen, but I am sure he got a lot of positives from the tournament. It is a good period for Aronian and I am curious to see how it will affect his play in the upcoming World Cup.
The revelation of the tournament was Vishy Anand, as strange as it may sound. He had the perfect tournament: his preparation was going in regularly and he was never in trouble in the openings. Later on he picked up everything that was offered. The combination he played against Caruana was magnificent and showed that he can still out-calculate the younger generation.
Karjakin finished on +1 together with Aronian, but he was mostly inconspicuous. He beat Svidler and the struggling So while losing the principled game with Carlsen. The result will probably give him the false impression that all is well and he won’t change his ways.
The Americans had an awful tournament. The worst one was So, who after losing a very promising position to Carlsen mysteriously collapsed. He will be back, though falling for 18 rating points from world’s number 2 to world’s number 8 is a big loss to handle. Caruana still suffers from his inability to win promising positions and his last-round loss to Svidler slumped him to -1. Nakamura’s solidity showed its ugly side – when out of form blunders creep in and it is next to impossible to adjust and be more active. Nakamura kept on toiling, but wasn’t even close to winning a game.
The Russians ended up where expected. As I said in my previous post Nepo is too unstable and Svidler never wins in such a company. It is amusing to listen to his constant whining about his openings and the positions he gets, though I don’t believe a word he says!
Next up is Garry K. himself! How will he fare against the new generation we will soon find out. I am looking forward to his opening ideas and I don’t expect him to win.