"On tilt" - usually associated these days with poker, though it originated from pinball - is a term used to describe a negative emotional state that clouds a person's judgement, leading them to continue to make mistakes, often growing in magnitude as frustration mounts. And this perfectly describes Wesley So’s mood right now in the 5th Sinquefield Cup at the Chess Club and Scholastic Centre of Saint Louis (CCSCSL), as the defending champion finds himself languishing at the foot of the table.
After two horrific back-to-back losses, suddenly So - the reigning US Champion, defending Sinquefield Cup champion and GCT champion, who was the dominant force through 2016 and early 2017 - seems to be playing on tilt and looking vulnerable, as he finds himself in last place as he haemorrhages rating points at an alarming rate.
So has slipped four places in the unofficial live rating list, while in the process Fabiano Caruana has risen to #2 behind Magnus Carlsen. And this slip comes at a crucial time for So, as he once looked a virtual shoo-in for one of the two year-long average rating qualifying spots into next year’s Candidates’ Tournament that will determine Carlsen’s official title challenger.
Only last month, So led the race as Vladimir Kramnik bled rating points at the Dortmund Sparkassen Chess-Meeting. But now, Caruana is on the ascendancy, rising to 2811, while So has dropped to 2809, and only 2-points adrift of Kramnik on 2807. The cut-off date for the race is 1 Dec. 2017. If So has a poor finish in the 5th Sinquefield Cup, he may now have to rely on making it to the final of next month’s Fide World Cup in Tbilisi, Georgia to be sure of a berth in the candidates’.
Aronian 1-0 So
Carlsen ½-½ Nakamura
Caruana ½-½ Vachier-Lagrave
Karjakin ½-½ Anand
Nepomniachtchi ½-½ Svidler
1. M. Vachier-Lagrave (France) 4/6; 2-4. V. Anand (India), L. Aronian (Armenia), M. Carlsen (Norway) 3½; 5-6. F. Caruana (USA), S. Karjakin (Russia) 3; 7-9. H. Nakamura (USA), P. Svidler (Russia), I. Nepomniachtchi (Russia) 2½; 10. W. So (USA) 2.
GM Levon Aronian - GM Wesley So
Queen’s Gambit Dec., Ragozin Variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Bb4 Something akin to the Nimzo-Indian, the Ragozin variation - named after the leading Soviet player and opening theorists of his day, Vlacheslav Ragozin (1908-1962) - is a very flexible, solid and a reliable system against the QGD, that found a new lease of life recently following the New in Chess publication of a refreshing new book on it, The Ragozin Complex, by IM Vladimir Barsky. 5.Bg5 Also a popular option is the line 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bg5 h6 7.Bh4 c5 with equal play. 5...h6 6.Bxf6 Qxf6 7.Qa4+ Nc6 8.e3 O-O 9.Be2 dxc4 10.O-O Bxc3 11.bxc3 Bd7 12.Qxc4 This is a sure sign that So's opening preparation has perhaps backfired on him, as it's dangerous to leave Aronian with total control of the centre and an easy game playing around it. 12...Rac8 13.Rad1 Rfd8 14.Nd2 Na5 15.Qb4 b6 16.Ba6! This puts a spanner in the works for So getting in - for now, anyway - the freeing …c5. And with the time wasted getting it in - not to mention Black's pieces looking awkward in the process - Aronian has all his pieces on wonderful squares and primed and ready to pounce. 16...Rb8 17.Ne4 Qf5 18.Bd3 Bc6 19.f3 Bxe4 20.fxe4! The club player would perhaps play here 20.Bxe4 and rightly claim to have the upper-hand - but a top GM, such as the ever-creative Aronian, sees that much further at the board, as the recapturing with the pawn opens a very dangerous attacking avenue for his rooks down the newly-opened f-file. 20...Qg5 21.Rf3 c5 22.Qb2 e5 23.Rdf1 cxd4 24.cxd4 Rb7 25.d5 Rc7 26.h4! The die is cast now, as this one move brings all of Aronian's heavy assets quickly into the attack. 26...Qxh4 27.Qxe5 Qe7? So's only hope of trying to hang on here was with 27...Re7, but after 28.Qc3, there's a total disconnect with the Black position with his knight and queen awkwardly placed on either edge of the board. Yes, it is difficult to defend, but as difficult as it is, it is surely better than what happens now in the game. 28.Qg3 Qc5 29.Rf6!! Aronian's rooks and queen have successfully infiltrated right into the very heart of the Black defence - and from here, there's no escaping their clutches. 29...h5 What else is there? The obvious 29...Kh8 30.Rxf7 Rxf7 31.Rxf7 allows a trivial winning position. 30.Rh6 Qc3 31.Rxh5! Who needs the bishop anyway, as the 'heavy furniture' of the rooks and queen are ready to strike for the win? 31...g6 There's no time for 31...Qxd3 as 32.Qh4 is either mating quickly or a heavy loss of material for Black to stop the mate. 32.e5! 1-0 Wesley So resigns, as after 32.e5!, Aronian blocks the path of the queen tracking back to defend g7 and h8 after the sacrifice Bxg6 etc. Also, after 32...Qxd3 33.Rh3!! Rxd5 (No better is 33...Rc4 34.Qg5 mating quickly) 34.Qh4 is decisive.