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01 Aug

The Sinquefield Sub

It's now August, and that means we're only a few days away now from the biggest tournament on US soil, as some of the world’s top players begin to make their pilgrimage to the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis to do battle for the $300,000 prize fund in the Sinquefield Cup, the third leg of the four stops on the 2016 Grand Chess Tour. But there’s a late replacement in the 10-player field with news of a Sinquefield sub.

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Late last week, ex-world champion Vladimir Kramnik regretfully had to announce that he had to pull out of the Sinquefield Cup due to the reoccurrence of a previous health issue that had blighted him in the past. However, there’s still a top Russian in the field, as seven-time Russian champion Peter Svidler was drafted in at short notice to be Kramnik's substitute.

The Sinquefield Cup, which will run Aug. 5-16, is headed by reigning US Champion Fabiano Caruana, with the field completed with Maxime Vachier Lagrave (France), Levon Aronian (Armenia), Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Ding Liren (China), Vishy Anand (India), Wesley So (USA), Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria), and now Peter Svidler (Russia).

All the action will be streamed live daily on www.grandchesstour.org, featuring play-by-play and analysis from the world-renowned commentary team of GM Yasser Seirawan, GM Maurice Ashley, and WGM Jennifer Shahade. For more information, visit www.grandchesstour.org.

Svidler arrives in St. Louis hot-foot from Biel, in Switzerland, where he lost a match there with man-of-the-moment Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. After beating Svidler in Biel (winning comfortably both the rapid and classical 4-game matches), the Frenchman - along with his big Dortmund victory ahead of Caruana and Kramnik earlier in July - has now jumped 20-points to move into the World No.2 spot behind Magnus Carlsen in the August Fide world rankings.

Vachier-Lagrave’s sizzling summer has seen the Frenchman’s rating rise to 2819, and now he becomes only the tenth player - alongside (respectively) Kasparov, Kramnik, Anand, Topalov, Carlsen, Aronian, Caruana, Grischuk and Nakamura - in history to breach the rubicon of the 2800 rating barrier.

Fide Top-10
1. Magnus Carlsen 2857 (+2); 2. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 2819 (+21); 3. Vladimir Kramnik 2808 (-4); 4. Fabiano Caruana 2807 (-3); 5. Levon Aronian 2792 (=); 6. Hikaru Nakamura 2791 (+4); 7. Wesley So 2771 (+1); 8. Vishy Anand 2770 (=); 9. Anish Giri 2769 (-16); 10. Sergey Karjakin 2769 (-4).

GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave - GM Peter Svidler
49th Biel Masters Match (Classical), (2)
Ruy Lopez, Marshall Attack
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.c3 d5 9.exd5 Nxd5 10.Nxe5 Nxe5 11.Rxe5 c6 12.d3 The tabiya of the Marshall Attack comes after the more usual mainline with 12.d4. But MVL's 12.d3 is an original idea from the great Soviet free-thinker in the game, David Bronstein, and therefore not as timid as it looks. 12...Bd6 13.Re1 Bf5 14.Qf3 Qf6 In last year's European Team Championship, Svidler successfully deployed the more standard continuation here with  14...Re8 against Vassily Ivanchuk and went on to win. Perhaps fearing an improvement from MVL, Svidler switches to the alternative - and a line that also fits into the Marshall Attack scheme of things. 15.Nd2 Qg6 White still has the pawn, but Black has the typically active Marshall Attack bishop-pair; and here, apart from attacking d3, the major threat is ...Bg4 somewhat embarrassing the White queen. 16.Bd1 Bxd3 Black has achieved material equality - but the price he has to pay for it is losing the bishop-pair and the queens being exchanged. 17.Ne4 Bxe4 18.Qxe4 Qxe4 19.Rxe4 f5 20.Re2 Rfe8 The reason for this and not the more "natural" 20...Rae8 is 21.a4! and White's rook on a1 has just a little extra scope to work with on the queenside. Aware of this, Svidler attempts to stop his opponent's activity on the queenside. 21.Bd2 Bf4 22.Be1 Nb6 23.g3 Bc7 24.Rxe8+ Rxe8 25.Bf3! There shouldn't be anything much in this position, but MVL has emerged with a niggling little edge going into the endgame, as he's the one now with the active bishop-pair. The other problem is that Black's queenside pawns are all committed and vulnerable, and this is what MVL plays on. It's not much, but he has something to bite on that leads to Svidler erring. 25...Re6 The only move, as after 25...c5 26.Bb7! and White is winning a pawn. 26.b3 Be5 27.Rd1 Kf7 28.Kf1 g6 29.Rc1 a5?! 30.c4! (See Diagram) MVL is alert to activating his bishop-pair while also pressing Black's queenside pawn weakness. 30...bxc4? Svidler obviously didn't fancy the alternative of 30...b4, as White will have excellent long-term prospects with his dark-squared bishop preying on those vulnerable Black pawns on a5 and b4. But trying to hold this ending was preferable to what now follows. 31.Bxa5! cxb3 32.axb3 Nd5 33.Rxc6! Unfortunately for Svidler, there's no way to escape to an ending with opposite colours and an inevitable draw. 33...Rxc6 34.Bxd5+ Re6 35.Bd2 Ke7 Svidler had to stop MVL playing Bg5 and an eternal pin on the rook on e6 (as the king can't move), or alternatively ...Bf6 and a forced exchange of pieces down to an easily won king and pawn ending. 36.Bxe6 Kxe6 37.Ke2 Kd5 38.Kd3 h5 39.b4 Bd6 40.Kc3 h4 41.Be3 h3 Svidler's only hope now is to play for the one and only trick he has, going for White's h-pawn. 42.b5 Ke4 43.b6 Kf3 44.b7 Bb8 If not this retreat now, then White wins easily with Bf4 exchanging off the bishops and the b-pawn queening. 45.Kd3 Kg2 46.Bf4 Ba7 47.g4! 1-0 Svidler resigns, as MVL counters the trick with his own trick, as after 47...fxg4 48.Bg3! Kf3 49.Kc4 the White king swiftly comes to a6 and forces home the queening of the b-pawn.

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