Round seven at the 2022 Sinquefield Cup seemed like the complete counterpoint to the exciting sixth round. Leader GM Wesley So had a bye but with no winners in Friday’s round, nobody caught up to him.
So leads with four points from six games. GMs Ian Nepomniachtchi and Alireza Firouzja share second place with 3.5 points, also from six games, while GM Fabiano Caruana has the same score but from seven games.
The eighth and penultimate round starts Saturday, at 11:00 a.m. PT/20:00 CEST.
While the games were not exactly quick draws, they most definitely were not that exciting. Three games almost seemed preordained to become draws from early on, while one game carried on the battle long after the others were done.
GM Leinier Dominguez has played six draws but several of them could have gone in one direction or another. Against Firouzja, who has fired up his campaign to battle for first place and the win in the Grand Chess Tour, he went for his trusty 1.e4 and took the game down a heavily traveled highway of mainstream theory in a line of the Najdorf Sicilian.
On move 19, however, he opted for 19.gxf3 which the computer assesses as equally good as the main line 19.Qxf3 which had seen action in nearly 400 grandmaster or correspondence games. Only after 27.h4 the players entirely departed what was previously known.
At this point, White had a small material advantage but due to his exposed king and rotten pawn structure, it was doubtful that he could make any meaningful progress.
The battle went on for a while, possibly longer than necessary, due to Firouzja playing the optimistic 40…e5?!. In the end, however, the game ended in a draw.
Nobody in this tournament has shown more prepared lines than Caruana. Round after round, he has fired off lengthy lines that gave him a healthy lead on the clock as well as a very manageable position on the board. Today seemed to be heading in the same direction when he faced Olympiad teammate GM Levon Aronian, who in round six had the opportunity to use a piece of preparation that they had worked on together during the Chennai Olympiad, but which Caruana didn’t get the opportunity to use on that occasion.
In their face-to-face encounter in round seven, the players decided to head down a path they have trodden together before. Back in 2018 in London, Caruana won a technical endgame in the very same line with 19.Kb2. Unfortunately for him, it has later been determined that Black does not have many issues if Black abstains from eating the pawn on f2. Therefore, in this game, Caruana went for the less obvious and possibly worse 19.Kc2, a line that involves a pawn sacrifice, because now the best move was indeed capturing the pawn on f2, something Aronian happily agreed to.
In the resulting endgame, it looked a bit dicey for White, but afterward the engines told both us and the players that a draw was always the logical result.
The French grandmaster must have thought “with Black my Najdorfs have not brought much joy and as White, I haven’t achieved much either, so how about playing my other favorite black opening as White?”
Whether that was the thought process that led to GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave abandoning his usual 1.e4 is anyone’s guess. But he went 1.Nf3 and played the Grunfeld Indian with the white pieces. Technically speaking though, the opening, as it turned out, is actually classified in the opening encyclopedia as Black playing the Grunfeld, not White, but who cares about that when the music is playing and Vachier-Lagrave is happy?
His opponent, GM Hans Niemann, who has dealt with a deluge of emotions, trolling, hating, sympathy, support, and so on, seemed back to his usual combative self.
After getting under some pressure, Niemann accepted a doubled f-pawn that exposed his king a bit, however, this was compensated by him being able to exchange some pieces and activate the queen and remaining knight.
When some more pieces were exchanged, it became clear that the players would be playing a drawn rook ending. While they took a good deal of moves to get there, the draw was never in doubt.
After the painful loss against Firouzja in round six, GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov expressed as much both on the board and to his opponent afterward. The game went like a bullet train from move 1 to 34 and draw agreed in about an hour.
His Russian opponent, Nepomniachtchi, then headed to the studio of the official broadcast where he entertained the commentators, GMs Peter Svidler, Yasser Seirawan, and Alejandro Ramirez with insights and analysis of the other openings being played. While Seirawan seemed almost pleasantly surprised, Svidler more soberly pointed out that “the fact that he knows how to play chess, in general, has been known for some time.” In this game, however, that skill was not required.
Hopefully, after this rest day, both players will be fit for fight in round eight.
Due to GM Magnus Carlsen‘s withdrawal, Wesley So had a bye for the Friday round.
All Games Day 7
Standings After Round 7
The 2022 Sinquefield Cup is the fifth and final leg of the 2022 Grand Chess Tour. The 10 players compete in an all-play-all round-robin for their share of the $319,000 prize fund.
Coverage of the 2022 Sinquefield Cup