After dramatically losing a won game to Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, all the pressure was back on Magnus Carlsen, as the world champion not only found himself knocked off the top spot in the 5th Sinquefield Cup at the Chess Club and Scholastic Centre of Saint Louis (CCSCSL) but also at stake was his standing as the overall leader in the Grand Chess Tour. Worse still, his coveted #1 spot was also in jeopardy now.
Less than 10-points separated Carlsen and America’s Fabiano Caruana on the unofficial live ratings - and all it would take for Carlsen to lose his once unquestionable
numero uno standing for the first time in seven years was two results in round five going the wrong way for the Norwegian: losing to world #3, Wesley So, and Caruana beating five-time ex-champion Vishy Anand.
So no pressure then.
But one thing we’ve come to respect about Carlsen is that he’s a very resilient combatant, and even after a defeat (shock, or otherwise), he has the remarkable capability of quickly rebounding in a tournament. And that’s just what happened in round five of the 5th Sinquefield Cup at the CCSCSL, as Magnus struck back immediately, as he easily outplayed So to beat his rating and title rival in just 29 moves for a second win of the tournament.
Not only that, but Anand also came to Magnus’ aid, as he similarly rebounded in the standings and the world rankings, as the veteran ex-champion cleverly outplayed and beat Caruana in a stunning game to safeguard his position in the top 10. In the post mortem, Caruana magnanimously admitted he’d simply missed Vishy’s clever queen sacrifice with 26.Qd4!, where the forced sequence starting with 25...Qe5 looks to be holding for Black.
Now, Carlsen and Anand are just half a point behind leader Vachier-Lagrave going into Monday's rest day - and in the process, Carlsen is nearly 20-points clear of Caruana and So in the world rankings, and Anand has avoided dropping out of the top 10 for the first time in his long and distinguished career.
Vachier-Lagrave ½-½ Aronian
Anand 1-0 Caruana
Karjakin ½-½ Nepomniachtchi
Nakamura ½-½ Svidler
So 0-1 Carlsen
1. M. Vachier-Lagrave (France) 3½/5; 2-3.M. Carlsen (Norway), V. Anand (India) 3; 4-6. L. Aronian (Armenia), F. Caruana (USA), S. KArjakin (Russia) 2½; 7-10. H. Nakamura (USA), P. Svidler (Russia), I. Nepomnichtchi (Russia), W. So (USA) 2.
GM Wesley So - GM Magnus Carlsen
5th Sinquefield Cup, (5)
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 The famous 1824-28 correspondence match between Edinburgh and London chess clubs gave birth to the Scotch Opening/Gambit - but after being in the wilderness for almost a century at top level, it was very dramatically rehabilitated by World Champion Garry Kasparov, who used it as a stunning secret weapon against Anatoly Karpov during their 1990 title match, scoring 1.5/2 with it, as he went on to retain his title. 3...exd4 4.Nxd4 Bb4+ A pet-line of the late great Tony Miles, who in 1976 became Britain's first grandmaster. This line has since been adopted by top guns Vladimir Kramnik and Levon Aronian - and now Magnus Carlsen! It may look like a waste of a move, as White kicks the bishop with c3 - but the idea is (of course) to hamper the natural development of the Nb1. 5.c3 Be7 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.Bd3 d6 8.O-O Nf6 9.Re1 O-O 10.Nd2 Re8 11.Nf3 Nd7 The knight is heading to either c5 or e5, depending on how White reacts. Magnus has achieved a solid and equal position from the opening, so what's not to like here for the world champion? 12.Bf4 Nc5 13.Bc2 Bg4 14.h3 Bh5 15.Be3 Nd7 16.Ba4 c5 17.g4 Bg6 18.e5 White has to keep his wits about him here, as after 18.Bc6 Black could well just simply offer to sacrifice the exchange with 18…Qc8!? and Black will have lots of play against e4 - and there's also a white-squares weakness that could see White's kingside becoming vulnerable to an attack. 18...Rb8 19.Bf4? Sorry, but I just fail to see the logic of this move from Wesley - and indeed his position goes rapidly downhill from here. I can only fathom it was a serious miscalculation on his part. He really had to play 19.b3 when after 19...Bf8 20.Bf4 Rb6 he has to take what little White has in this position. 19...Rxb2 A rook on the seventh, winning a pawn, and White's queenside pawns now crippled - Magnus probably thought all his birthdays and Christmases had come at once here! 20.exd6 Bxd6 21.Rxe8+ There's no escape from this horrible position Wesley has gotten himself into. If 21.Bxd6 Rxe1+ 22.Nxe1 cxd6 23.Qxd6 Qh4! 24.Qg3 Qxg3+ 25.fxg3 Nb6 26.Bc6 h6 and Black is wonderfully placed to win the ensuing endgame. 21...Qxe8 22.Bxd6 cxd6 23.Qxd6 Qe2! Getting out of the pin with a mating attack on f2 - and with it, leaving White in dire straits of just how to defend this wretched position. And that's leading me to suspect that perhaps Wesley had simply overlooked that Magnus had a mate. 24.Qg3 Nf8 The knight stops any foolishness of a back-rank mate, and could well re-emerge via e6-f4 to pile on the agony for Wesley. 25.Re1 What else is there? If 25.Bd1 Qe4 26.Bb3 c4 27.Ba4 Qd3 28.Nd4 Rb1+ leads to a better ending than happens in the game. 25…Rb1! Forget about the mating attacks - Magnus is very quick to spot that this ending is easily won, as Wesley is going to have big trouble defending his weak pawns on a2 and c3. 26.Rxb1 Bxb1 27.Bc6 Bxa2 28.Qd6 Qc4! A wonderful, multi-purpose move from Magnus that virtually seals the deal. With 28...Qc4, his queen not only defends c5, it also hits c3 and reinforces his defence of f7 - and it threatens to quickly run his passed a-pawn up the board. The end now comes quickly. 29.Ne5 Qxc3 0-1