The usually irrepressible Magnus Carlsen couldn’t put away Fabiano Caruana today at the 2018 Sinquefield Cup. They drew, and the chess world will now wait 76 days until the two do it all over again, 12 more times in London.
“Considering the position, this was a great result,” Caruana said. He’ll need a few of those days to repair some newfound issues with one of his main defenses as black, the Petroff.
Better get used to this picture. London is right around the corner. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.
In the game that everybody wanted to see, the two players that will contest the next world championship were situated on the middle board at the Saint Louis Chess Club. Before the round, the press marked their territory with tripods and chairs, while fans endured several queues for entry into the tournament hall.
Even fellow players unwittingly took part. One by one, like lapped race cars moving to the apron to allow the leaders to pass, the other four outlying games all ended drawn. Carlsen (4.0/7) and Caruana (4.5/7) had the room to themselves, but the champ said he couldn’t trust his normally reliable intuition.
“A lot was at stake today; I was a bit nervous,” Carlsen said after the afternoon ended.
Magnus Carlsen listens to what Fabiano Caruana thinks after the game. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.
Taking white and trailing Caruana by a half point in the standings, the world champion got a sizable edge against the challenger’s now-trusty Petroff. His mounting pressure caused the American to play very precisely in limited space. After the first slip-up, all of Caruana’s kingside pieces huddled for warmth.
Carlsen felt so confident in his position that he made a rare visit to the confessional booth. Note that he didn’t actually “confess” anything. Carlsen didn’t even utter a word. How to show confidence in the most laconic way possible?
Well let’s just say maybe the recent information sharing wasn’t a one-way street with NBA star Klay Thompson.
A pair of current champions: Golden State Warriors star Klay Thompson has received chess advice from Magnus Carlsen, and NBA superfan Carlsen got to imitate Thompson today, at least in a small way.
Carlsen conducted most of the on-air interview with his hand over his mouth. His dour mood only lightened briefly when asked about the confessional booth gesture.
“That kind of backfired!” he said with a laugh. “At that point I was pretty sure I was winning and I just wanted to have some fun.”
About the game, Carlsen said that while he made a specific mistake, that it was not a one-off this tournament.
“First I was slightly better then he missed this Ng4, f6 trick,” Carlsen said. “Then I felt that I was close to winning, but I miscalculated. My intuition told me to go f6 before Ng4.” Alas, he inverted those moves, explaining that he didn’t originally see how to “refute” 27… Nf6 if he had played 27. f6 first.
Not quite time to put the jacket back on — the challenger faced duress but survived the onslaught. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.
All of these lines became possible because Caruana thought the f-pawn couldn’t even advance to f5, let alone f6. He had planned to answer the discovered attack on his rook by taking the h-pawn.
“As soon as he took on h6, I realized that there’s Ng4 and I can resign now,” Caruana said, adding that a little earlier he thought he was just fine from what he understood about the position.
Not a “clean” draw, but Caruana showed some resilience today by find a few “only” moves. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.
“It felt like it must be winning. I was absolutely sure I was winning,” Carlsen said, adding that once Caruana balled up with 28…Ng8, he already couldn’t find anything convincing.
“The problem is, in all my games, I’m not being practical. I just can’t make up my mind, can’t follow my intuition and make decisions.”
Full analysis by GM Robert Hess coming soon:
“A draw with Fabi is not a disaster, but I got serious chances,” Carlsen said. “I just couldn’t calculate.”
Only after the game was Caruana shown Carlsen’s finger-on-lips moment.
“I guess he thought it was already over, but it wasn’t,” a pleased Caruana said after watching the replay.
Caruana got to play “Magnus, Level 27” today. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.
For the first time all event, Carlsen left the club without giving the (now sizable) media pool a chance to ask any questions.
For full disclosure, Caruana spoke with Chess.com. But after that, he left out the back door, something this reporter has never seen him do (although no additional media outlets explicitly asked him for an interview prior to him leaving).
Watch Fabiano Caruana On Trash Talk with Magnus Carlsen from Chess on www.twitch.tv
An anguished Carlsen furtively checks his notation sheet in the moments before claiming the repetition. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.
Carlsen, a portrait. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com (note this picture was edited with software for artistic effect).
All four other games ended drawn, so Caruana maintained his half-point lead over the chase group.
The most interesting of the other draws was Sergey Karjakin’s attempt to get his first win. Eventually, all of the play collapsed onto the queenside, and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov held.
Sergey Karjakin, not having his best tournament, but still bearing down. | Photo: Mike Klein/Chess.com.
The game followed another big clash from the exact same room: Dominguez-Kasparov from last year’s Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave got a noticeable advantage against Hikaru Nakamura, but yet another American held today. (For completeness, Wesley So was nominally down a pawn in the ending to Levon Aronian, but he held down the host country’s barracks, too.)
The Frenchman got the two bishops nearly for free, but couldn’t grab the win.
In the final game, Viswanathan Anand drew Alexander Grischuk in a very quiet Giouco Piano that was the first to finish.
The hunters become the hunted: A look at the larger-than-normal press corps, all assembled for one game. Far right is Harry Benson, past photographer of Bobby Fischer. Also arriving today were the likes of HBO, Sports Illustrated, and ESPN. | Photo: Austin Fuller/Grand Chess Tour.
Graphics courtesy Spectrum Studios.
Games via TWIC.
The Sinquefield Cup, the final qualification leg of the Grand Chess Tour, is a nine-round tournament from August 17-28. At the end of the tournament, four players will qualify for the London finals. The games in St. Louis begin at 1 p.m. Central U.S. time daily (8 p.m. Central Europe).