In the recent super-tournament in St Louis, Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana and Lev Aronian opted to share the laurels. According to the regulations, any tie for first place should have been resolved by a playoff. But the three co-victors decided that they would prefer to share the trophy. This peaceful solution was in line with the tournament as a whole, where no fewer than six of the ten contestants remained undefeated, with two of them, the former world champion Viswanathan Anand and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, drawing all their games. A staggering 82 per cent of the games were draws. As noted in this column last week, if this state of affairs continues, classical chess among the elite will die a natural death, with games at fast time limits, full of thud and blunder as they may be, taking their place. It is clear that rapid and blitz games, though possibly anathema to the purists, are far more exciting than the stolid fare served up in St Louis.
This week some highlights from those games which did end with a decisive result.
Aronian-Grischuk: Sinquefield Cup, St Louis 2018 (see diagram 1)
In the last round Aronian absolutely had to win to gain a share of first prize. In the following position he gambled everything on a rook sacrifice of dubious validity, banking on his opponent’s shortage of time. 18 Rxf7 Kxf7 19 Rf1+ Bf5 19 ... Kg8 fails to 20 Bxe4 Qxe4 21 Qxe4 Rxe4 22 Rf8 mate. Meanwhile 19 ... Kg6 20 Rf4 Bf5 21 g4 also leaves White winning. 20 g4 g6 21 Qc1 Kg7 Here 21 ... Re6 casts doubt on White’s sacrifice. 22 gxf5 gxf5 23 Bxe4 fxe4 24 Qf4 h6 25 Qc7+ Kh8 26 Bd6 Rg8+ 27 Kf2 Rg6 28 Be5+ Kg8 29 Ke3 Rd8 29 ... Re8, to prevent White’s next, was essential. 30 Qe7 b5 31 h4 The advance of this pawn causes a fatal disruption to the black camp. 31 ... a5 32 h5 Rg5 33 Rf6 Rxe5 34 Rg6+ Black resigns
Carlsen-Nakamura: Sinquefield Cup, St Louis 2018 (see diagram 2)
Rook and pawns endings of four pawns against three, all on the same side of the board tend to be drawn. In this case, also from the last round, the significant factor is that White’s h-pawn is both protected and passed. The world champion now embarks on a lengthy manoeuvre with his king in order to drive home his advantage. 75 Kf2 Kf7 76 Ke2 Rb7 77 Rd3 Ra7 78 Kd2 Ke6 79 Kc3 Ke7 80 Kc4 Rc7+ 81 Kb5 Rc1 82 Rb3 Kf7 83 Kb6 Rc2 84 Kb7 Rc1 85 Kb8 Kg8 86 Rb6 Kg7 87 Rb7+ Kg8 88 Rc7 Rb1+ 89 Kc8 Rb3 90 Kd7 This is the key to White’s plan. He is unconcerned about losing a pawn or two as the combination of his hyper-active king, rook and h-pawn win the game easily. 90 ... Rxf3 91 Ke6 Rf4 92 h6 Kh8 93 Rb7 Kg8 94 Rg7+ Kh8 95 Kf7 Rxe4 96 Kg6 Ra4 97 Rh7+ Black resigns After 97 ... Kg8 98 Re7 Ra8 99 Kxf6 Black will lose all his pawns.