- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 15, 2017

VL was the MVP in St. Louis.

With the best result of his career, French GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave topped a world-class field to win the 5th Sinquefield Cup, with an undefeated score of 6-3 at the St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center. A half-point back in the 10-grandmaster field with an average rating of 2788 were reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway (whose only loss in the event was to Vachier-Lagrave) and former world champ Viswanathan Anand of India.

Especially disappointing for U.S. fans were the results of the American Big Three, playing on home soil. GM Fabiano Caruana was seventh at 4-5, and rival Hikaru Nakamura failed to win a game with an eighth-place finish at 31/2-51/2. GM Wesley So, who won the 2016 Sinquefield Cup and was recently among the hottest players on the planet, finished in a tie for last at 3-6.

MVL’s victory was in doubt until the very last round, with both Carlsen and Anand among the players having a chance to catch him. But the 26-year-old Frenchman took care of business with an impressive dismantling of Russian GM Ian Nepomniachtchi from the White side of a 6. Be2 Sicilian Najdorf. When “Nepo” as Black fails to get in a timely d-pawn break, White methodically trades down to a position where his knight is far superior to Black’s bishop.

As Black is reduced to passive defense, the square in front of his backward d-pawn plays a key role in Vachier-Lagrave’s final breakthrough: 40. Ne3 Bg5? (GM Robert Hess, analyzing the game at Chess.com, says Black can hold out longer with 40Qe6, although White’s positional edge remains clear) 41. Rd5 Qf6 42. Nf5! Re6 (see diagram; Black can’t play the more challenging 42Re5 because of 43. Nxd6! Rxd5 44. Nxe4 Qd4 45. cxd5 Qxd5 46. Qf3 Qd8 47. Nxg5 Qxg5 48. Qxb7, and White is winning) 43. c5!, opening up the d-file and soon putting the Black king in serious danger.

After 43dxc5 44. Qc4 Qf7 45. Rxc5 h6 46. Rc8+ Kh7 47. g4, White has a winning positional bind. MVL mops up on 47Re7 (e3 48. Nxe3 Bxe3 49. Qc2+ g6 50. Rc7 Re7 51. hxg6+ is crushing) 48. Qd4! (and not 48. Nxe7?? Qf3+ 49. Kg1 Qxg4+ 50. Kf1 Qd1+ 51. Kg2 Qg4+, with a perpetual check) Re6 (the threat was 49. Qd8) 49. Qd5 g6 50. hxg6+ Kxg6 (or 50Qxg6 51. Rc7+ Be7 52. Kf1 Qxg4 53. Nxe7 Qh3+ 54. Ke1 Qh1+ 55. Kd2 e3+ 56. fxe3 Qh2+ 57. Kd3 Qxc7 58. Qxe6) 51. Rf8! (the cleanest win, though 51. Rh8 also does the job) Qxf8 52. Qxe6+, and Black resigned as 52Bf6 53. Qxe4 Qf7 54. Nd6+ is decisive.

The other big news out of St. Louis was the return of former world champ Garry Kasparov to rated play. Kasparov, who dominated the game for 20 years starting in the mid-1980s, retired from competitive chess in 2005. At the ongoing St. Louis Rapid and Blitz Tournament, Kasparov drew his first two rapid games Monday against Nakamura and strong Russian GM Sergey Karjakin.

There’s some local action on tap, with the 6th annual Washington International wrapping up Wednesday at the Rockville Hilton. Through Monday’s play, GM Eugene Perelshteyn was setting the pace at 4-1. And the 49th annual Atlantic Open, long the area’s premier summer event, will be held Aug. 25-27 at the Hilton Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia. Check out ChessAction.com for details.

Vachier-Lagrave - Nepomniachtchi, 5th Sinquefield Cup, St. Louis, August 2017

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be2 e5 7. Nf3 Be7 8. Bg5 Nbd7 9. a4 O-O 10. Nd2 Nc5 11. Bxf6 Bxf6 12. Nc4 Be7 13. a5 Rb8 14. Nb6 Nd7 15. Ncd5 Nxb6 16. Nxb6 Be6 17. Bc4 Qc7 18. Qd3 Bd8 19. c3 Qc6 20. Bd5 Qe8 21. Bxe6 Qxe6 22. Nd5 f5 23. O-O Rc8 24. Rfd1 fxe4 25. Qxe4 Qf5 26. Qe2 Kh8 27. c4 Bh4 28. g3 Bg5 29. Ra3 Rce8 30. h4 Bd8 31. b4 Qg6 32. h5 Qf5 33. Ne3 Qe6 34. Rad3 Be7 35. Nd5 Bd8 36. Rf3 Rxf3 37. Qxf3 Kg8 38. Kg2 e4 39. Qe2 Qe5 40. Ne3 Bg5 41. Rd5 Qf6 42. Nf5 Re6 43. c5 dxc5 44. Qc4 Qf7 45. Rxc5 h6 46. Rc8+ Kh7 47. g4 Re7 48. Qd4 Re6 49. Qd5 g6 50. hxg6+ Kxg6 51. Rf8 Qxf8 52. Qxe6+ Black resigns

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at [email protected]

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