In round two of the 2022 Sinquefield Cup, the games went in two directions: solid, sensible play for some, and complicated battles for others.
The sole winner of round one, World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen, played a solid draw, allowing the American GM Hans Niemann to catch up to him with a win in a fascinating game against GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. They were nearly joined by GM Fabiano Caruana who had to settle for a draw despite having a winning position.
Lots of sharp play, missed opportunities, and excellent technique were on display in round two of the 2022 edition of the Sinquefield Cup.
In Miami, in the post-game interview after his game-one win in his match against Carlsen, Niemann famously said, “Let the chess speak for itself.” He may come to love or hate that line, but on Saturday, that’s exactly what he did, letting his chess speak.
After his machine-like play in round one, the world champion had to be wanded by security before play could commence in round two.
Even World Champions get wanded! 🕵️ #SinquefieldCup pic.twitter.com/Y0q5E6w4ip
— Grand Chess Tour (@GrandChessTour) September 3, 2022
He may be the man of steel, but nothing set off the alarm.
After Carlsen’s demolition of GM Ian Nepomniachtchi in round one, it seems like he was satisfied with a rest day in round two versus GM Levon Aronian. As Black, he channeled his inner Ulf (with reference to the great Swede GM Ulf Andersson, who was one of the best players of the 1970s and 1980s, often ranking in the top five in the world, and known as extremely solid and difficult to beat) by playing Andersson’s old favorite line in the Bogo-Indian, 4…Bxd2+.
The combatants had previously played this line against each other, but that was all the way back in 2013, and Carlsen deviated from that game by playing 8…dxc4.
The game soon petered out in solid equality, and when the world champion invited mass exchanges with 19…Qc5, the remaining excitement in the game vanished. Shortly after and in express pace, the players found a way to repeat moves and settle for a draw that clearly suited them both.
It is an exciting time for American chess. Never has there been such a fertile ground for chess players as right now. The influx of strong players from abroad supplemented by homegrown talents has made the top of U.S. chess rather crowded. Few, however, have made such leaps forward as Niemann who has gone from a promising international master to a strong grandmaster, approaching 2700 in Elo.
In Saturday’s game, he was up against the “veteran” Mamedyarov who loves a good fight, and that’s exactly what the players found.
In the English Opening, Niemann took on a pair of isolated c-pawns and then threw caution to the wind by castling queenside!
This was the shot with a starter gun to a fascinating middlegame where Mamedyarov seemed to have some chances for an advantage, but after an exchange sacrifice by White, Black missed the crucial 20…d6!, instead allowing Niemann to close the queenside long enough to secure an advantage.
What followed was an interesting battle where neither side played perfectly, but White consistently had the upper hand. In the end, Niemann converted his advantage to a full point.
The game is our choice as the Game of the Day.
Since settling in the U.S., GM Leinier Dominguez has made his mark on top chess in this country. Patient and pleasant, he joined the FIDE Grand Prix, the U.S. Olympiad team, and the Grand Chess Tour. He is a principled player, knows his openings really well, but is also a little predictable in his play. His recent games as Black against Caruana have all essayed the Petroff, in part, because he has succeeded in getting good or at least playable positions.
Therefore, it was no surprise that the players hammered out a bunch of moves in the Petroff. After 20 moves, Caruana had used just eight minutes, while Dominguez had spent about double that, 17 minutes. But then the former world number-two unleashed the fascinating temporary piece sacrifice, 21.Bxc5!?, which had clearly been overlooked by Dominguez in his home preparation, despite being the top move by the engines.
This sent Dominguez into the tank, spending a considerable amount of time on the next few moves. But despite this, Black didn’t find the best defense and soon landed in significant trouble. Caruana had several promising continuations, primarily 27.Qd7 that would have led to something resembling a relatively straightforward win.
But as all players who have experienced a crisis of form can testify to: when things don’t work, nothing will go your way, even the really good positions. Therefore, despite Dominguez giving him more chances to claim a big or clear advantage, Caruana let them all go to waste.
In the end, he had to accept a draw by letting Black deliver checks with his rooks.
Obviously, this was a massive disappointment for Caruana who has had form struggles since the midway point in the Candidates tournament and rattled down the rating list, having now lost a bucketload of rating points as well as the top spot among American players, currently residing at the nine-spot in the live ratings.
In round one, GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave had an expert’s matchup in a Najdorf Sicilian. In round two, he had another such encounter but this time with the white pieces in a Ruy Lopez Berlin Defense against American GM Wesley So, who is easily one of the greatest specialists on the black side of this opening.
The French grandmaster is one of the few top players who consistently enter the Berlin Wall endgame as White, apparently stubbornly insisting on trying to win a position that few others think is advantageous. If anything, you can call him consistent in his beliefs in himself and his somewhat predictable openings.
In round two, he obtained a minuscule advantage, but it never made much of a ripple in the calm seas that represent So. In the endgame, White won a pawn, but it was still completely even, and eventually, the players started repeating moves.
The respective victor and disappointment of the relatively recent Candidates tournament, Nepomniachtchi and GM Alireza Firouzja respectively, both didn’t play in the recent Chess Olympiad in Chennai and, therefore, had not played any serious games since the Madrid tournament. Neither had a particularly satisfying first round, the Russian losing to Carlsen and Firouzja getting in trouble as White versus Caruana.
In round two, Nepomniachtchi chose a very rare line in the Catalan. It involved a pawn sacrifice and in return, Firouzja would have to deal with a somewhat awkwardly placed queen and a passive position.
Eventually, Firouzja managed to exchange some pieces and enter a rook ending. It looked like he might be able to save it. However, in praxis, it turned out to be much more difficult than it appeared, and Nepomniachtchi picked up a nice victory after yesterday’s cold shower.
All Games Day 2
Standings after round 2
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