Chaos and mayhem rules the roost in the Sinquefield Cup at the Saint Louis Chess Club, with the natural order of things not being quite so natural as many pundits thought it would be, following a couple of bloodthirsty rounds that witnessed three of the top seeds and leading Grand Chess Tour title-contenders crashing to defeats.
It all started in round four with the double whammy of Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave losing to spectacular attacks from the US duo of Sam Shankland and Leinier Dominguez respectively – and the latter result seeing the former Cuban not only in with a genuine chance now of victory and the $5,000 best game prize, but also on the cusp of a dramatic world top-ten breakthrough.
And the topsy-turvy in the world-rankings spilled over into round five, as Fabiano Caruana uncharacteristically faltered against Jeffery Xiong with a big blunder in an equal position induced by the mutual time scramble – and a blunder from which he couldn’t recover from, going on to flag to not only give the Lone Star victor the biggest win of his career, but one that also sent the US #1 and former two-time Sinquefield Cup winner again slipping down the world-rankings.
With the shock defeat, Caruana’s return to the ‘2800 Club’ and the world #2 spot in the world-rankings proved to be short-lived (well, for now anyway, as the tournament is only at its midpoint!), as he dropped to 2797.7 on the unofficial live rating list, and thus now supplanted by China’s Ding Liren.
And the rest-day on Sunday seemed to have tempered all the excitement and blood-letting of the previous two rounds, with all five games in round six ending in draws for the first time, in what’s turning out to be something of a rollercoaster ride of a tournament.
1-3. Wesley So (USA), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Leinier Dominguez (USA), 4/6; 4. Fabiano Caruana (USA), 3.5; 5-7. Jeffery Xiong (USA), Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), Richard Rapport (Hungary), 3; 8. Sam Shankland (USA), 2.5; 9-10. Dariuz Swiercz (USA), Peter Svidler (Russia), 1.5.
You can follow all the Sinquefield Cup action live going down the homestretch starting at 2:50 PM CDT with the top commentary team of GMs Yasser Seirawan, Alejandro Ramirez, and Maurice Ashley on grandchesstour.org as well as twitch.tv/kasparovchess.
GM Leinier Dominguez – GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
Sinquefield Cup, (4)
Sicilian Najdorf, English Attack
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 The English Attack, as popularised by John Nunn, Nigel Short, Mickey Adams, and Murray Chandler – but long before the top English quartet were hammering people to bits with it that saw the system being patriotically re-christened as such, Robert Byrne, the New York Times columnist and former US champion was really the first to deploy this easy-to-play, more positional system in praxis, as it avoided all the tricky big Najdorf mainlines. 6…e5 MVL is a Najdorf creature of habit, and this is the very old-school Najdorf reply. More common though is 6…e6 to play into a Sicilian Scheveningen that at least avoids the critical Keres Attack with its early g4 thrust. 7.Nb3 Be6 8.f3 Be7 9.Qd2 Control over the vital d5-square is key to White’s play in the English Attack – if he can stop Black getting in the freeing …d5, then he holds the advantage. 9…0-0 10.0-0-0 Nbd7 11.g4 b5 12.g5 Nh5 A concession of sorts from MVL, as in the past he’s favoured the forcing continuation 12…b4 13.Ne2 Ne8 14.f4 a5 15.f5 a4 as seen in Radjabov-MVL, FIDE Grand Prix Tashkent 2014. The problem for Black is that the forcing moves go deep, and Black is always walking a tightrope with White holding all the aces in this sharp position. 13.Kb1 Another more direct route is 13.Nd5 but after 13…Bxd5 14.exd5 f6! Black has good play. 13…Nb6 14.Na5 It looks dangerous putting the knight here, but it is a typical English Attack manoeuvre, as the knight not only covers the vital c4 square, but now threatens Nc6 or Nb7 hitting Black’s backward d-pawn. 14…Rc8 15.Nd5 Nxd5 16.exd5 Bxd5 It’s all ancient English Attack history now, but well-known to be “dodgy” is 16…Bd7 17.c4! that goes back at least a millennium(!), as seen in Adams-Svidler, Tilburg 1998. 17.Qxd5 Qxa5 18.c4! As in the above not, a known theme here – but this time more potent with the pin on the queen seeing the b5 pawn coming under pressure. 18…Nf4 19.Bxf4 exf4 20.h4!?N Dominguez hits MVL with a little novelty as such, as previously seen here is 20.cxb5 axb5 21.h4 Rc5!, as in Leko-Giri, European Team Ch, Heraklion 2017, that was OK for Black. 20…Qa4?! It all starts to drift for MVL after this error – he would have been better following the Giri treatment noted above with 20…Rc5!? 21.Qe4 (Alternatively, 21.Qd4 Qa4 22.Rc1 Rb8 and Black has good counter-attacking prospects for his inherent pawn weaknesses.) 21…Re5 22.Qxf4 Qb4 and again, Black is not without his own counter-attacking chances on the queenside. 21.Bd3! The offer of the second pawn exposes just how dangerous White’s kingside attack is. 21…bxc4 22.Qe4 The key to the attack is the second pin on MVL’s queen, which the Frenchman fails to accurately respond to. 22…g6 23.Bc2 Qd7? The crucial mistake – the engine soon points out what needs to be played here, but it is not human nature to retreat the queen further with 23…Qe8! 24.Rde1 (The point is that 24.h5 is well met by 24…Bxg5!) 24…Rc7 25.h5 d5! and despite it all looking very scary, Black seems to be holding everything together, for example 26.Qe5 Qc6 27.hxg6 fxg6 28.Rxh7 Kxh7 29.Rh1+ Kg8 30.Rh6 Bf6 31.gxf6 (The attack backfires spectacularly after 31.Rxg6+? Bg7!!) 31…Rxf6 32.Bxg6 Rxg6! and White has to bailout now with the draw of 33.Rh8+ Kf7 34.Rh7+ Kf8 35.Rh8+ Rg8 36.Qxf4+ Kg7 37.Qe5+ Kf8 38.Qf4+ Kg7 39.Qe5+ Kf8= etc. Engines, eh? 24.h5 Qe6 What else is there now? If 24…Bxg5 25.hxg6 hxg6 (If 25…fxg6 26.Qd5+ picks up the loose bishop.) 26.Qd4 f6 27.Rdg1 Rc5 28.Bxg6 and the attack is simply crashing through. 25.hxg6 hxg6 The lesser of two evils may well have looked like trading the queens, but there’s a little snafu. After 25…Qxe4 Black is still doomed after 26.gxf7+ Rxf7 27.Bxe4 Rg7 28.g6! as 28…hxg6 crashes quickly to 29.Bd5+ Kf8 30.Rh8+ Rg8 31.Rxg8#. 26.Qxf4 Qe5 27.Qh4 Qg7 28.Rd2! Your “Spidey-senses” are tingling, telling that there’s a forced win here, and after a near 30min think, Dominguez finds it – though it is not so easy to see! For now, the major threat is Rd2-h2 and Qh8 mating, but this can easily be defended against, so you have to see just a little further, as Dominguez does, hence his going into the “tank”. 28…Rc5 29.f4 f6 And surely now with an escape route, the Black king can escape? 30.Rdh2 fxg5 31.Qe1!! [see diagram] Hailed by the commentary team to be “a very sexy move”, this is what Dominguez spotted, and one of the hardest things to spot in chess, namely a strategic queen retreat all the way to his own back-rank to win! 31…Bf6 Stopping 32.Qe6+ Rf7 33.Rh8+ and the rook hanging on f7 at the end. 32.Rh6 Qb7 33.Qe6+ 1-0 And MVL resigns, faced with 33…Qf7 (Also a pretty mate is 33…Rf7 34.Qe8+ Rf8 35.Qxg6+ Qg7 36.Rh8#) 34.Rxg6+ Bg7 35.Rxg7+ Kxg7 36.Qh6+ Kg8 37.Qh8#