Penultimate Round of Sinquefield Cup Features First Day of Draws

The 2014 Sinquefield Cup had seen 14 wins in 24 games, with at least one win in each of its first eight rounds. Friday's penultimate round of the decisive event was the first afternoon in nine to see all three games finish in draws.

By GM Ian Rogers

A dramatic and protracted ninth round of the Sinquefield Cup saw the tournament leaders display unexpected frailty, each of them held to draws by the underdogs.

The game of the day was the battle between the two highest-rated players in the world, GMs Magnus Carlsen and Levon Aronian, which ended in a draw five hours and 84 moves after its start -- leaving only kings on the board at the finish.

The game began with Aronian choosing the solid Lasker Variation of the Queen's Gambit Declined. Queens came off the board early but the Norwegian maintained a slight pull, and the game exploded after Aronian broke out with 25...b5!.

Carlsen's response -- 27.f4! and 28.Nc5! -- was brilliant. But incredible defense by Aronian, highlighted by 31...Be8!, led to a rook ending a pawn down which, though complex, should have been a draw.

As usual, Carlsen managed to set continuous problems for his opponent and, after the first time control, the fun -- and the mistakes -- began.

Aronian's 41...h5! was the only way to hold the game, and he found the follow-up 46...Rb3! one move too late. It gave Carlsen a chance to win via 46.Kc2! when Black will run out of moves, have his king forced to the back rank and be forced to abandon the c3 pawn.

Instead, Carlsen's 46.h6 allowed Black to reposition his rook on b5, leading to the famous Vancura position. Aronian was three pawns down, with the computers giving White up to a +5 advantage, but Aronian had calculated that Carlsen could make no progress. Carlsen tried every trick he could find for the next 35 moves but eventually had to concede a draw.

Game Analysis by GM Varuzhan Akobian

The game between first and last, Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura was equally eventful.

Having been beaten by the Berlin against his Ruy Lopez on Thursday, Nakamura decided to try it himself with Black. Caruana followed a game between Anand and Karjakin from 2013 before Nakamura varied with 18...Rd8, a move which he speculated might have been in faulty order. Caruana began burning time, trying to find a way to exploit Nakamura's curious line and, after the American tried an original way to solve his problems with 22...Rg6!?, the Italian was able to create some threats via 23.Rd4!

Nakamura thought he was in trouble and took 23 minutes on his reply, and another 18 minutes on 25...Nd5.

Unfortunately for Nakamura, faster play ushered a flow of mistakes: 27...Kd8?! instead of 27...Kd7! 28.e6+ Kc6! and, more seriously, 29...Ne7? instead of the brave 29...Nc3!

After 32.Bh4, Nakamura knew he was in trouble, because the obvious 32...Nf5 leaves the Black rook trapped after 33.Bg5! Instead, Nakamura found his only chance with, 33...g5!, playing fast to put time-pressure on Caruana, who was running short.

Nonetheless, the tournament leader continued to pile on positional pressure but, with one minute left at the final move of the time control, he missed 40.Rxg6+! Rxg6 41.e6 to end the game.

Revitalized, Nakamura found 41...Ra4! to entice another error out of White, 42.Re6?, after which the win was soon out of reach.


Game Analysis by GM Varuzhan Akobian

The final game of the round was a sharp battle between GMs Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Veselin Topalov.

A Reti Opening by Vachier-Lagrave gave Topalov the chance to occupy the center, after which Vachier-Lagrave, having eschewed the chance to play the crazy line 9.Nxe5!? Nxc3 10.Nxc6 Nxd1 11.Nxd8 etc, went for a flank attack 10.a4 and 11.a5 that looked rather futile.

Topalov gradually took control, on the board and on the clock, but his 27...e4 was too hasty and after 29...Rxe4?! 30.Rd1, any Black initiative was gone. Multiple exchanges followed and the game was drawn on move 41.

Game Analysis by GM Varuzhan Akobian