Major drama in connection with the Monday round at the 2022 Sinquefield Cup: World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen withdrew from the event without explaining publicly the reason, but from the overall reaction, it seemed clear that accusations of foul play had been leveled because anti-cheating measures were stepped up considerably.
After this happened, it seemed like the remaining games carried less importance. However, the good news for GM Fabiano Caruana was that he climbed out of his long funk to win his first game of the event, while the draws in the remaining games mean that GM Wesley So now has the lead with 2.5 points. As the results from Carlsen’s previous games no longer count for the standings, GMs Hans Niemann and Ian Nepomniachtchi are now in second place with two points but for only three games.
It was clear that something was afoot when all players were subjected to enhanced anti-cheating checks before entering the tournament hall. This was followed by an announcement that the broadcast of the moves would be delayed by 15 minutes.
Despite Carlsen’s announcement, GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov showed up at the board and dutifully waited for 10 minutes before being declared the winner of the game.
I doubt that Magnus’s tweet had been communicated to the Azeri ahead of arriving at the tournament hall.
I’ve withdrawn from the tournament. I’ve always enjoyed playing in the @STLChessClub, and hope to be back in the future https://t.co/YFSpl8er3u
— Magnus Carlsen (@MagnusCarlsen) September 5, 2022
As we know now, the game will not count toward the final standings as less than 50 percent of the rounds had been conducted. Though for rating purposes, the results and games in the first three rounds will be calculated.
I would be surprised if Team Carlsen does not reach out to Mamedyarov to apologize for putting him in this situation that undoubtedly had been under consideration since Sunday evening.
For more about the circumstances surrounding Carlsen’s withdrawal and the speculations, check out our flash report on the matter.
To say that Caruana needed a win is like saying you might be thirsty after crossing the Sahara Desert on foot. He was painfully close in round two but missed his chances, and on Sunday, some inexplicably questionable decisions caused his loss to So.
In this round, he was up against the Najdorf connoisseur par excellence, French GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, and thus if Caruana was willing to do it, he would know what to prepare against.
And prepare he did. The first 20 moves followed a couple of games between Dominguez and Vachier-Lagrave, including one from the rapid and blitz event that took place immediately prior to the Sinquefield Cup. Caruana varied by playing 21.Rc1, which my computer also likes, albeit not suggesting White has what would be considered a meaningful advantage.
Nevertheless, something went wrong for the Frenchman; possibly he forgot his preparation because his 23…f6? was an outright mistake that gave White a clear advantage. However, Caruana’s follow-up was less than precise. When all but the queens and some pawns had been exchanged, it looked likely that Vachier-Lagrave would escape with a draw despite his earlier indiscretion.
In the ensuing queen ending, Caruana reminded us all that just because it smells like a draw, sounds like a draw, and looks like a draw, it isn’t necessarily a draw. Some inaccuracies by the headmaster of what Carlsen has dubbed the “French School of Suffering” sent Vachier-Lagrave fighting for his survival.
Caruana played determinedly and exceedingly well until he threw it away with 67.Qc5?? and again 20 moves later with 87.a6??. However, as fellow Frenchman (at least eventually so) GM Savielly Tartakower, the winner is the one who makes the second-to-last mistake, and that was Caruana.
We have picked this dramatic game as our Game of the Day.
Aside from Carlsen’s none-game, this game was the first to finish. The players entered a line that Nepomniachtchi had played against GM Hikaru Nakamura in the rapid and blitz event that preceded the Sinquefield Cup. In the post-game interview, Nepomniachtchi questioned the wisdom of repeating this line as So undoubtedly would be prepared for it.
As it turned out, it seemed that both players were indeed supremely prepared in this line, particularly So, who, aside from the 30-second increments given for each move, only used 40 seconds, yes seconds(!) of the initial 90 minutes allotted to the first 40 moves, while Nepomniachtchi used just over eight minutes!
Despite his amazing preparation, GM Leinier Dominguez in his previous game as Black had ended up in serious trouble against Caruana. Therefore, probably not wanting a repeat adventure in the Petroff, an opening he has used multiple times against fellow Olympiad teammate GM Levon Aronian, he opted for another opening he knows exceedingly well, the Sicilian Defense, inviting to a Najdorf.
Aronian, however, has been giving the 3.Bc4 Anti-Sicilian a lot of love lately, playing it repeatedly against all comers. It isn’t a terribly ambitious line but an invitation to play chess rather than one to deliver moves prepared by engines at home.
In Monday’s game, the equilibrium was never seriously challenged by either side, and when Dominguez invited a repetition of moves, Aronian didn’t spend a lot of time considering alternates.
After Sunday’s high-flying victory against the world champion, Niemann was undoubtedly at a similar altitude moodwise while preparing for his game against GM Alireza Firouzja.
The French-Iranian grandmaster similarly was on a high after his round-three win versus Aronian. Who would benefit more in this clash of positive emotions? Well, it came down to who would handle the stress of Carlsen’s departure better.
In the opening, Niemann played 1.e4, thus repeating his first move against Aronian in round one. Firouzja, in turn, went for 1…e5, soon going into the Italian Game.
Despite playing the so-called Giuoco Piano, the quiet game, things quickly became very sharp. When Firouzja on move 19 played the weak 19…Kh8?, he landed in serious trouble. To his luck, Niemann did not find all the critical moves, and eventually, Black managed to neutralize White’s strong initiative. When Niemann then played the overly ambitious 31.g4?, it was suddenly Black who could play for the win.
In the end, however, Firouzja decided to exchange down to a queen ending where a draw by repetition was readily available. That option was grabbed by Niemann, concluding a stressful day and an entertaining game in an appropriate fashion.
All Games Day 4
Standings after round 4
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