The 2022 Sinquefield Cup came off to a good start with one win and four draws. The win came courtesy of World Champion Magnus Carlsen who in convincing fashion took down the recent winner of the 2022 Candidates Tournament, GM Ian Nepomniachtchi.
With all the other games concluding in draws, the reigning World Champion has taken the early lead in this year’s event.
Freed from the pressure of keeping the crown on his head, Carlsen is continuing his quest for a 2900 Elo while the rest of the pack seems focused on other things, such as finding their way to 2800 or just playing better chess.
In the first classical game between the combatants in last year’s World Championship match since Carlsen announced that he will not defend his title against the winner of the Candidates tournament, the Norwegian champion was clearly determined to demonstrate to all the doubters that Nepo version 22.0 is no more a threat than Nepo version 21.0 was.
In a quiet Queen’s Gambit Declined, Carlsen quickly allowed an exchange of queens while retaining the bishop pair. The engines were not exactly impressed by Carlsen’s opening choices, but they did not have the mindset of the World Champion who just wanted a playable position, where he could squeeze his opponent and allow him to make mistakes.
As it turned out, Carlsen asserted the kind of dominating play that propelled him to the world number one spot, making the win against the current world number three look rather easy.
The game is our choice as today’s Game of the Day.
The meeting between Carlsen and Nepomniachtchi was much anticipated. With the white pieces the best player in the world, who gave up his title of World Champion. With Black, the undisputed winner of the Candidates Tournament. A game that was certainly seen as special by both players as well.
And what happened was a victory with the hallmark of the best games of the Norwegian genius: an opening with no special advantage, but that leads to a game that fits his style. After that, sublime technique, which goes back to the best examples of Capablanca, Smyslov, or Karpov—a maneuvering game that flows with delicacy, giving the impression that one move logically leads to another.
This win looked uncomfortably smooth. If anyone thought Nepo would have had a chance against Carlsen in a world championship match, they may have to revise their opinions after this display of dominance.
GMs Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Wesley So have of late played quite a bit against each other. For the last few years when doing so, with Shakhriyar behind the white pieces and playing 1.d4, they have been debating a particular line of the Queen’s Gambit Tarrasch/Semi-Tarrasch. That was also the case in today’s encounter.
Nevertheless, it seemed like the Azeri had something special in mind because after numerous times trying out 9.Be2, he went for 9.Rd1 and gained a slight edge. However, with his imprecise 19.Qd3, White seemed to have underestimated So’s counter, the aggressive 19…g5, after which Black was fully back in the game, maybe even pressing for more.
However, in the middlegame, Mamedyarov managed to apply pressure and gain the upper hand. Although he had some chances here and there, Black was never in serious danger of losing the game.
Having substituted GM Richard Rapport, who got hit by the US Covid-19 travel restrictions, young GM Hans Niemann seemed ready to shake his disappointing result in the FTX event in Miami off and showed excellent preparation against GM Levon Aronian‘s Berlin Defense, playing the rare 6.a4!? and demonstrating an interesting positional idea that put Black under pressure.
This is, of course, not Aronian’s first circus and with determined precision, he kept the game flowing without allowing White any additional targets to play against. After the time control, Black was finally allowed an active move when playing 41…g5 followed by 43…f5 securing sufficient counterplay to convince Niemann to take a draw by repetition.
Dominguez Perez-Vachier Lagrave
This event’s two biggest experts on the Najdorf, GMs Leinier Dominguez Perez and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave set each other summit in the first round. Thankfully, they didn’t disappoint their most devoted supporters when wheeling out a Najdorf line, that had those lost souls that consider themselves hardcore Najdorf fans shaking in their boots with excitement and anxiety.
Dominguez has this pet variation as White in the Byrne Variation (6.Be3) that he has played several times, including just a few months ago against GM Bogdan-Daniel Deac in the Superbet Chess Classic in Bucharest. Rather oddly, Vachier-Lagrave seemed somewhat unprepared for this line and thought long and heavy in the early phase of the game, while Dominguez blitzed out the moves.
White gained an advantage, but when led astray by a tempting exchange sacrifice, the majority of the advantage vanished. In the endgame, there was nothing to be gained by either side, despite considerable effort by the French grandmaster.
Having just won the preceding 2022 Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz in sublimely convincing fashion, GM Alireza Firouzja must have shown up for today’s game with maximum confidence. However, the former world number 2, GM Fabiano Caruana didn’t exactly intend to roll over and play dead like an opossum. He came to fight.
Against Firouza’s English Opening, which had served him so well during the Rapid & Blitz event, Caruana played the combative Symmetrical English with 4…e5, against which White responded with the peculiar 5.Qb3—which I, despite writing several books on the English Opening, had never seen before. It did, however, turn out to be a less than impressive idea.
Caruana sacrificed a pawn for the initiative, and although the queens came off the board, the unsafe position of the white king gave Black full compensation. However, the precise calculation had cost a lot of time on the American’s clock. When, in emerging time trouble, Caruana didn’t follow up accurately, White managed to stabilize his position and even had chances for a solid advantage.
These opportunities also went by the wayside and eventually the players steered the game toward a drawn pawn ending.
All Games Day 1
Standings after round 1
|8||Dominguez Perez, Leinier||2745||–||–||–||–||–||½||–||–||–||½|
|9||Niemann, Hans Moke||2688||–||–||–||½||–||–||–||–||–||½|
The 2022 Sinquefield Cup is the fifth and final leg of the 2022 Grand Chess Tour. The ten players compete in an all-play-all round-robin for their share of the $319,000 prize fund.
Coverage of the 2022 Sinquefield Cup