The talk of round two of the 5th Sinquefield Cup at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis (CCSCSL) was the ease with which the world champion, Magnus Carlsen, systematically and expertly squeezed the very life out of his former title-challenger, Sergey Karjakin, to open his account with his first win of the tournament - yes folks, Magnus is back!
It was vintage Magnus, the Magnus of old as he dramatically rediscover the sort of non-play play we normally used to associate with the Norwegian: where from a seemingly equal position, he just went about the job of slightly improving his position, seemingly making something out of nothing, and then wham!, he’s suddenly squeezing the very life out of his opponent.
And that Carlsen-like win will come as a major boost for Magnus, as the world champion finds his number one spot in the world rankings coming under mounting pressures of late from the likes of Wesley So and Vladimir Kramnik, and the unaccustomed position of not having won a classical tournament yet in 2017!
Recently, the world champion had a reasonably good outing with a doubleheader victory in the GCT Paris and Leuven Rapid & Blitz tournaments - but he lost out to Wesley So at Wijk ann Zee, and then had to watch on as a resurgent Levon Aronian snatched the limelight with a brace of classy victories at the Grenke Chess Classic and Altibox Norway Chess Tournament.
But the ease with which Magnus dispatched Karjakin has to come as a much-needed confidence booster for the world champion, especially if he wants to win the Sinquefield Cup and increase his lead in the year-long chase for the GCT title, and along with it this go a long way to reassert his standing as the numero uno.
Carlsen 1-0 Karjakin
Nakamura ½-½ Vachier-Lagrave
Aronian 0-1 Caruana
Svidler ½-½ Anand
Nepomniachtchi 0-1 So
1-3. M. Carlsen (Norway), F. Caruana (USA), M. Vachier-Lagrave (France) 1½/2; 4-8. H. Nakamura (USA), V. Anand (India), S. Karjakin (Russia), W. So (USA) 1; 9. P. Svidler (Russia) ½; 10. I. Nepomniachtchi (Russia) 0.
GM M. Carlsen - GM S. Karjakin
5th Sinquefield Cup, (2)
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 c5 3.Bg2 Nc6 4.O-O e5 5.e4 d6 6.d3 g6 7.a3 Bg7 8.c3 What Magnus has in mind here, is not to push for the central thrust with d4, but instead going on the flank with b4, the idea being to play Nbd2 and push for b5 where he can perhaps secure the c4 square for his knight. 8...O-O 9.b4 a6 10.Nbd2 b5 Better to deny Magnus the c4-square now, to stop the knight coming to c4, as then if ....b5 Nc4-e3 and his knight has a good outpost stopping ...Bg4 and perhaps looking to hop into d5 at an opportune moment. 11.Rb1 Nd7 Instead, 11...Be6 had its merits. 12.Nb3! You could sense in the playing hall, just from Magnus' body language here, that he was starting to feel a little comfortable with how the game was beginning to shape up. 12...cxb4 13.axb4 Nb6 14.Be3 Be6 15.Qd2 This is the sort of position where a club player just wouldn't be able to resist hitting the bishop right away with 15.Ng5. But it doesn't really gain anything here, as Black will regain the time by attacking the knight - so now, if 15...Bd7 16.Qd2 f6 17.Nf3 Be6 and we are back to an equal position. 15...Rc8 16.Rfc1 Magnus just wants to 'get on' with opening up things on the queenside, where his pieces are better developed. And again, he was looking more confident at the board by this stage. 16...Re8 17.h4 Magnus stakes his claim for a little space advantage on the kingside, where later a possible h5 could well tip the balance. But in reality, this is a nice little waiting move, as it keeps Karjakin worrying about what he's going to do about his queenside problems, and he now has to make a commitment there. 17...Na4 Another problem Karjakin had, was that the immediate 17...h5 could well have been answered by 18.Qa2!? Na4 19.Ng5 and suddenly the bishop can't be preserved, as moving it will unleash a discovered attack on f7 with the queen and knight. 18.c4 h5 19.Kh2 This is vintage Magnus now! He had equality from the opening, a simple position, and now he's in no hurry to rush things, as he systematically makes little improvements to the placement of his pieces, and then suddenly he's squeezing the very life out of Karjakin - and he makes it all look so, so easy! 19...Bg4 20.cxb5 axb5 21.Na5! Nd4 There's no time for 21...Nxa5 as after 22.Rxc8 Qxc8 23.bxa5 Black has serious issues defending b5 - and not only that but once b5 falls, White's a-pawn will win the game. 22.Rxc8 Qxc8 23.Rc1 Qd7 24.Nxd4 exd4 25.Bh6! Magnus is quick to realise that if the dark-squared bishops come off, then, long-term, Karjakin will have trouble defending his pawns on d4 and d6. So hence Karjakin's reluctance for now to swap the bishops. 25...Bh8 26.Rc6 It's amazing that, with some simple moves, Magnus is now squeezing the very life from Karjakin's position. 26...Nc3 27.f3 Be6 28.Bf4 Be5 Forced, but the undoubling of Karjakin's pawns just exposes how vulnerable the Russian's position has now become, as Magnus's pieces are primed to attack. 29.Bxe5 dxe5 30.f4 $1 Qe7 31.Rc5! Rc8 What else is there? If 31...exf4 32.Qxf4 and White has many options here to force home the initiative, such as Nc6-e5 or xd4, not to mention Rc7 being available. 32.Rxc8+ Bxc8 33.Nc6! The start of a winning knight trip over to the kingside. 33...Qd6 34.Nxe5 Qxb4 35.f5! The defences are set to be stripped from around Karjakin's king. 35...Qd6 36.Nf3 gxf5 37.Qg5+ Kh7 38.e5! As we'll soon see, the least of Karjakin's worries is going to be 38.Qxh5+. 38...Qg6 39.Qd8 Be6 40.Ng5+ Kg7 41.Qxd4 Na4 42.Nh3! 1-0 A wonderful winning concept from Magnus, whose knight has majestically traversed the board with the tour Nd2-b3-a5-c6xe5-f3-g5-h3, and is now heading to its ultimate destination of f4, from where Black's position will simply collapse, as in its wake we’ll see lots of pawns dropping off. So faced with that scenario, Karjakin resigned.