The second leg of the inaugural Chess Grand Tour, the 3rd Sinquefield Cup, at St. Louis’ Chess Club and Scholastic Center in Missouri, is now underway and will hold the attention of the entire chess world over the next ten days. Not only is this the strongest field in the history of US chess, it is also the strongest in the world with five players rated 2800+ playing for the first time in the one tournament.
Each of the three tournaments on the Chess Grand Tour has the same nine players competing, plus one wild-card. The field in St. Louis is headed by World Champion Magnus Carlsen and includes Vishy Anand and Veselin Topalov (joint #2-3 in the world rankings); also there’s the top two US players, Hikaru Nakamura (world #4) and Fabiano Caruana (world #5); and Anish Giri (#6), Alexander Grischuk (#9), Levon Aronian (#11) and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (#16). The wild-card is US number three Wesley So (world ranked #8).
And after Norway Chess 2015 in Stavanger a couple of months back, when Carlsen crashed to one of the worst tournament performances of his career, the big question everyone was asking was whether the world champion could bounce back from his dismal seventh place finish in Norway? And the answer seems to be no, as Carlsen’s horrific losing streak continued over to the opening round in St. Louis, as he lost yet again to Topalov - though this time there was no luck involved in it for the Bulgarian!
Carlsen has now lost 7 (out of 39) classical games in 2015, more than he has done in any year since 2010 (8 loses). And with his live rating now slipping to 2847.5, Topalov is now just 26 points behind him in the rankings - and the fear is that another Norway Chess "Carlsen carnage" could see him dramatically being replaced as the world number one.
And this wasn’t the only exciting start in St. Louis - all the other games proved to be decisive, which could make for the Sinquefield Cup being a memorable tournament for all sorts of reasons!
Giri 1-0 Grischuk
So 0-1 Vachier-Lagrave
Aronian 1-0 Caruana
Carlsen 0-1 Topalov
Nakamura 1-0 Anand
Magnus Carlsen - Veselin Topalov
3rd Sinquefield Cup, (1)
Sicilian Defence, Moscow Variation
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bb5+ The Moscow Variation - this is a cousin of the Rossolimo Variation (2...Nc6 3. Bb5), and the idea is to steer the game more towards a quieter position; several of which resembling the Ruy Lopez. 3...Nd7 4.0-0 Ngf6 5.Re1 a6 6.Bd3 This may look funny for many, but the US author, chess teacher and former Scottish Champion, IM Danny Kopec played 3.Bd3 successfully throughout his career, and it was christened "the Kopec System". Again, the idea was to take the game into quieter Ruy Lopez set-ups with c3, dropping the bishop to c2, playing d3 and Nbd2-f1. 6...b5 7.c4 Far from being a strange position, we are following the rapid encounter between Carlsen-Nakamura Zurich 2014. 7...g5!? “I was trying to play a solid today, but then he played …g5” said Carlsen after the game. And this is where Carlsen's Achilles heel is being "found out". Topalov immediately improves on Carlsen-Nakamura with a double-edged move, taking the game back into the sharp, dynamic labyrinth of the Sicilian Defence. Rather than sitting, waiting to be ground down in an ending by Carlsen, his opponents are working out that he doesn't like it when the dynamics change early in the game. Perhaps now, after this loss, it's time for Carlsen to rethink his openings? 8.Nxg5 White has to pick up the gauntlet, as the alternative places the knight awkwardly and allows Black easy piece-play for the pawn. One example being: 8.cxb5 g4 9.Nh4 e6 10.bxa6 Bh6! Aiming for ...Bg5. 11.g3 Bg5 12.Ng2 Ne5 13.Bb5+ Kf8 and Black will capture on a6 and still have great play with the the knight aiming for f3 and d4 to dominate. 8...Ne5 9.Be2 Better than 9.Bf1. 9...bxc4 10.Na3?! The start of a bad plan from Carlsen, who is looking to complete his development. He had to confront the e5 knight now with 10.Nf3! Nd3 11.Bxd3 cxd3 12.e5! dxe5 13.Nxe5 The position is messy, but now Black's king is looking vulnerable in the center, and the best square for the bishop on b7 is bad. 13...Qd4 (13...Bb7 14.Qa4+! Nd7 15.Nxf7 Kxf7 16.Qb3+ and after recapturing on b7, White will have a winning position.; 13...Qd5? 14.Nc3 just help's White to develop with tempo.) 14.Qf3 Qd5 15.Qxd5 Nxd5 16.Nxd3 Nb4! 17.Nxb4 cxb4 18.a3 Rg8! and Black has plenty of compensation for the pawn, with excellent outposts for his bishop-pair and rooks. 10...Rg8! Exactly! The pressure down the half-open g-file is difficult to defend against. 11.Nxc4 Carlsen had no other option other than to sacrifice the piece for two pawns, and look to make the game "messy". This was the easy option when you looked at the alternative: 11.f4 Nd3 12.Bxd3 cxd3 13.Qb3 d5 14.Qxd3 h6 15.e5 (15.Nf3 Nh5! and f4 will soon fall with Carlsen's king to follow.) 15...c4 16.Nxc4 dxc4 17.Qxd8+ Kxd8 18.Nxf7+ Kd7 19.exf6 exf6 and White is in grave danger of losing the knight on f7, and now has to resort to 20.d3 cxd3 21.f5 Bb7 22.g3 h5 23.Bf4 Bb4 and Black is winning. 11...Nxc4 12.d4 Nb6 13.Bh5 Simplifying the position with 13.dxc5 dxc5 14.Qxd8+ Kxd8 15.e5 Nfd5 16.Nxf7+ Kc7 17.Bd2 e6 leaves Black with the easier task of converting this position. This is a golden rule for new players to always remember: When you go material down, always try to keep as many pieces on the board, especially the queen, and make the game as complicated as you can - and Carlsen obviously knows this. 13...Nxh5 14.Qxh5 Rg7?! Topalov also had the solid - and better - option of 14...Rg6 15.Qxh7 (15.Nxh7? Bg7!) 15...Rg7 16.Qh8 cxd4 17.Nh7 Rxh7 18.Qxh7 e5 with a solid position and two minor pieces for the rook. 15.Nxh7 Unbelievably, Carlsen's strategy has worked - this is a messy position and Black can easily go badly wrong here with lot's of possibility for the World Champion to save the game now. 15...Qd7? I rest my case - Topalov errs in the difficulties. He had to play 15...Nd7 or better still 15...Rxh7 followed by taking on d4 and ...e5 as in the previous note. 16.dxc5 dxc5 Carlsen has salvaged his position and may even be slightly better now. But alas he over plays his hand here. 17.e5? Threatening e6. But after the simpler approach with 17.Nxf8 Qh3 18.Qxh3 Bxh3 19.g3 Rc8 20.e5 Kxf8 21.Bh6 Kg8 22.Bxg7 Kxg7 23.Rac1 Carlsen has a small advantage and is certainly not losing this; but most likely it will peter out to a draw. 17...Qc6! (See Diagram) And this is what Carlsen had missed - it not only threatens mate on g2 but swings the queen across to g6 with a winning game as the queens will be forced off. 18.f3 Qg6 19.Nf6+ If 19.Qxg6 Rxg6 and now there's no pin on h6 - Carlsen would be a piece down here. The miss of 17...Qg6 has turned his great escape into yet another humbling loss at the hands of Topalov. 19...Kd8 20.Qxg6 Rxg6 21.Ne4 Bb7 The rest of the game is academic; Topalov is easily winning now, and the remaining moves just takes the game through to the time control. 22.h4 Rc8 23.h5 Rg8 24.Bd2 Nc4 25.Bc3 Bh6 26.Rad1+ Ke8 27.Rd3 Bf4 An extra piece always comes in useful - even when you are playing Carlsen! 28.Nf2 Bc6 29.Nh3 Bg3 30.Re2 Bb5 31.Rd1 Bc6 32.Nf2 Bxe5! 33.Ng4 If 33.Bxe5 Bxf3! didn't bare thinking about, as it attacks both rooks and simultaneously hits g2. 33...Bxc3 34.bxc3 Kf8 Casually sidestepping the threat of Nf6+. 35.Kf2 Rh8 36.Ne5 Nxe5 37.Rxe5 Be8 38.g4 f6 39.Re6 Bb5 40.Rde1 Rc7 0-1